Family Photos

When we were out in California, Tony’s mom undertook the monumental task of having a four-generation photo shoot. Tony forgot to tell me about the dress code beforehand, but we were fortunately able to scrounge up blue and grey clothing from what we had packed for the trip. I’m not sure if this is the photo that ended up being THE family photo, but here we are with his parents, his grandma, and Tony and his siblings,with their significant others and kids.

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It was a little chilly and windy, and it had been raining almost the whole week beforehand, so the shoot had to be moved from it’s original picturesque rural location in front of a barn (which happened to be surrounded by a very muddy field) to a more urban setting. I think it turned out nicely, though. After the big shoot, we got some individual family shots taken too. Here are the four of us:

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And just my two little Bobbles:

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And another, because I think they’re cute

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Especially laughing.

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Here are Tony and I

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And just my hot husband:

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Being hot.

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And here’s one of just me:

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And this one, because as you know, I just like photos of myself looking off into the distance and laughing at some unexplained object.

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Happy New Year from the Familias!

Battlestar Galactica and Paranormal Romance

So, this was me last week:

I’m home alone, OK? And since I’ve been through all eight seasons of the new Doctor Who multiple times, it was really time to branch out. Battlestar Galactica is kind of fun, because it was originally created by a Mormon, who included stuff like the home planet being named “Kobol,” a Council of Twelve, and the inclusion of the phrase “with every fiber of my being” in the presidential oath.

As with Doctor Who, I’m watching the 2004 reboot, rather than the original 70’s show. There’s plenty of interesting political drama, as well as gut-wrenching moral dilemmas and, of course, lots of sci fi themes and action. Also, I think it’s hilarious that they made up their very own expletive (did a little research, but was unable to find out whether the usage of “frak” was simply atmospheric, or intended to get around television profanity restrictions at the time). And the series is pretty placatory to my inner feminist, passing the Bechdel test in nearly every single episode.

In short, living alone hasn’t been too terrible this time. And despite the temptation to spend every waking moment (and a significant percentage of moments that ought to be sleeping moments) watching Battlestar Galactica, I have made a concerted effort to get out and do stuff, rather than just staying home. Even my introversion has its limits. For example, I went out and shopped for my own clothes for the first time in years (I normally try to get by on whatever Tony brings home for me; he has great taste, so it usually works pretty well). I got some screaming deals on several really cute outfits. Yes, they’re all in shades of black, grey, and navy, but that’s me. I’m terrible at The Bathroom Mirror Selfie, so I won’t post any photos. Maybe when Tony gets home to be cameraman I’ll do a fashion blog, but maybe not. No promises.

Sunday my friend Ali came over for the afternoon and we cooked dinner together, per his recipes. He’s a pretty amazing cook. We had chicken with brown and green cardamom, ginger, and garlic, raita, a lovely minty yoghurt sauce, and cardamom rice with caramelized onions. The food was divine, and it was great to catch up with him.

Monday I went to my very first Meetup group ever (“Area O” – The Orlando Area Sci-Fi Meetup). It’s a fairly geeky group that gets together and talks about science fiction every month. We sat around eating Panera soup and talking about The Hobbit, Doctor Who, Marvel movies, and even Downton Abbey. Plus a bunch of other sci fi and fantasy I hadn’t even heard of. It was pretty cool. They were an intelligent, well-read group, and I enjoyed myself, although I did duck out a little early, at 8:15. I didn’t tell them it was so I could get in an episode of Battlestar Galactica before bed, but I could have. They would totally have understood.

Yesterday I went out to lunch with Carole, one of my favorite people from our former Mormon ward. And then yesterday evening I went to the first instance of a new yoga class I’m taking this year. It was awesome. I can’t believe I haven’t been to a yoga class in almost ten years. I do yoga at home (or on the beach), sometimes regularly, sometimes sporadically. But when I do it on my own, I usually skip the poses I don’t care for, and I rarely (O.K., never) spend an entire hour on it. It’s nice to have an instructor, not to mention a room full of other people who are also trying to balance on one leg while twisting themselves into the shape of a pretzel. And I slept very well last night.

I’ve also done some (very) light reading lately. YA Dystopian/Paranomal/Romance novels are just the thing for pure literary escape. Indulgences for the week include:

These Broken Stars (Starbound, #1)These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This reminded me vaguely of Sylvia Louise Engdahl and some of Ursula LeGuin’s other-planetary adventure novels, but it really lacked depth. In the end, it was just another story about a boy and girl stuck in a remote and dangerous location, who predictably fall in love. I kept waiting for there to be some kind of twist, but their relationship continued to be both stereotypical and annoying. Oh, well.

Also, there were multiple plot elements that stretched credulity, among which the fact that I don’t think this author has really thought about how big a planet is. Because the fact that her characters could reliably determine within such a short time that an entire planet was uninhabited is weird. Even the hints at alien life were cliche and uninspiring.

Oh well, what do I expect from run-of-the-mill YA sci fi? More than this, apparently.

Fallen (Fallen, #1)Fallen by Lauren Kate

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’m afraid I have nothing more to add to the litany of reviews marking this as an even more cloying version of YA paranormal romance than Twilight.

I’m also embarrassed to say that I listened to this entire book, along with two of the three sequels. I can’t explain it. I just get in these sappy romantic moods, and nothing will do but reading about some teenage couple’s impossible but eternal true love.

The Age of MiraclesThe Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book reminded me rather a lot of The Adoration of Jenna Fox, not because the plots or characters necessarily had anything in common, but because of the pacing of the book, and the slow uncovering of devastating truths. Also, I think the reader on the audiobook may have been the same for both books, and she’s quite good–perfect for this sort of story.

Like a great many dystopian YA novels these days, this one deals with a disaster scenario that threatens the survival of humankind. But unlike most such novels, it describes the disaster with a calm, measured rationality very different from the sensationalized tone more usual for such descriptions. Somehow, the sanguine approach, rich in small details of how their lives are slowly but irrevocably affected by the disaster, rings truer and hits closer to home.

I was especially impressed with how she explored the subtle but important long-reaching effects of such a tragedy on her characters’ psychological health and relationships with one another. Rather than focusing on the short-term trauma of a devastating natural disaster, Walker was more interested in exploring the long-term effects of the aftermath of such a disaster.

If you need a fast-paced plot and a lot of excitement, this book is not for you. But it’s a pretty impressive debut novel, and an illuminating twist on the usual dystopian trope.

View all my reviews

Next week Tony is coming back by himself. My in-laws have graciously offered to watch our children while we spend two weeks packing up our house. So it will be basically like a second honeymoon. Except that I am working full time and we will be packing up an entire four-bedroom house. But still, I’m sure we will still find some nice quality time to spend together.

Our Family Christmas Letter (+ a Destination Change)

If you are Facebook friends with me or on our woefully outdated Christmas email list, this may be the second or third time you’ve seen this. But if you missed it, here’s 2014 in a nutshell:

Dear friends and family,

It’s been another year in Florida. Probably the most exciting thing we did was get out and actually see some Florida landmarks. At the beginning of the year we visited St. Augustine, which locals like to call the oldest city in the U.S, although Wikipedia uses rather more adjectives to define it precisely as “the oldest continuously inhabited European-established settlement in the Continental United States.” Whatever its exact claim to fame, St. Augustine is atmospheric, in a Pirates of the Caribbean sort of way. Our first stop when we got there was the Pirate Museum, which boasts a creepy life-sized talking Blackbeard head, as well as a variety of real-life artifacts recovered from sunken pirate vessels off the coast of Florida. Our trip also included a visit to St. Augustine’s main landmark, the Castillo de San Marcos, which isn’t actually a castle, but an impressive fort built out of the native coquina stone, with seashells embedded in it. The highlight of our fort visit was watching the cannon being fired by a bunch of guys in red stockings and tri-cornered hats.
Firing the Cannon
The 4th of July found us in Miami, where we ate amazing ceviche while watching the World Cup with a large, noisy crowd of various Latin American nationalities. On the way home, we popped into the Everglades, which we experienced unforgettably via airboat. The mangrove-lined waterways had a sort of dramatic, unearthly beauty, at least until the still air and reflective water were shattered by the deafening roar and roiling wake of our airboat. We’re still nursing some environmental guilt over that.
    Airboat in the Everglades
Axa and Raj had another great year with Irish Dance, culminating in going to the Oireachtas (the big regional competition) with their team.
Irish Dance
Sarah’s still doing marketing at work, and has developed an obsession with Doctor Who, which has spilled over to the rest of the family in the form of a homeschool history class based on the Doctor’s travels in time and space, and a Whovian Halloween. Tony is still doing marketing from home, as well as managing the homeschooling. He also bought a massage table, and has become quite an accomplished masseuse (yet another reason to come visit us).
Whovian Halloween
Actually, if you want to visit us here, you’ll have to make it soon, since we’ve already begun packing up our house. Yes, the time has come to say goodbye to Florida. Our original plan was to move to a Greek island and start a commune. However, after our prospective co-communists eventually all bailed on us (you know who you are, and how much we’ll miss living on a commune with you!) we decided to try a different plan: Amsterdam! We leave in March. Sarah will keep working remotely for her company, and Tony is planning to do a Master’s program at VU University in Amsterdam. We are excited to get back on the other side of the Atlantic, and start a new international adventure, not to mention ditch our car and start biking everywhere like true Amsterdammers.
Tony&Sarah
We hope it’s been a great year for you, and that next year will be even better. Let us know what you’ve been up to, and have a wonderful new year!
Love,
Tony, Sarah, Axa & Raj

New Year’s Eve, Blooper Reel Edition

After a lovely week with family in California, I’m pulling a solo couple of weeks again, while Tony and the kids spend some more laid-back grandparent time. Fortunately, it’s not summer this time around, so the lawn looks to be in a fairly dormant state (which for Florida means bright green still, but not shooting up like a jungle). So I don’t think I’ll have to mow it, which is good, because I hate mowing the lawn, it takes me forever, and I’m terrible at it. I may trim the bushes, which I actually enjoy, and which by itself goes a long way toward preventing our house from turning into The Haunted Mansion.

I haven’t been quite as successful in other areas. For example, I have been home exactly three days, and I am 0 for 3 when it comes to breakfast. The first day I made my regular breakfast (oatmeal smoothie), but left it in the blender and realized halfway to work (at which point I would have been an hour late for work if I’d turned back) that I’d forgotten it. At least I remembered my laptop, which I have forgotten before, inspiring Tony to make me this sign and tape it on the inside of our front door:

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I stuck the unused breakfast in the fridge when I got home, and then enterprisingly took it to work the next day, realizing only belatedly that I should have smelled it first. When I opened it to take a swig, I was assaulted by the heady aroma of highly fermented milk. And not fermented in a trendy, health-food way either. More like a milk-left-out-on-the-counter-for-ten-hours-even-if-it’s-amond-milk-spoils kind of way. I know, I know. Cue food safety lecture.

Today I actually made it out the door with my (freshly made) breakfast smoothie. Precariously balancing my lunch bento, my green lunch smoothie (OK, I’m into smoothies), and my breakfast smoothie, I turned to responsibly lock the door, recalling that there would be nobody in the house all day. The lock is a little sticky, so turning the key requires some force. Unfortunately, the force required sent my breakfast smoothie tumbling to the ground, where the plastic blender bullet bottle shattered, spilling breakfast smoothie all over my front porch, my welcome mat, my shoes, and my feet.

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As you can see, my first thought was that I should take a foot selfie so I could at least get something out of the situation by blogging about it. Since I was now balancing only my lunch smoothie and lunch bento, I was able to easily re-open the front door. I removed my shoes and cleaned off the worst of the smoothie with a rag, but eventually determined it would be best to reserve the shoes for a more thorough cleaning at my leisure. Fortunately, seven wet wipes later, I was able to salvage my tights, which was good, since I knew that all my other black tights and leggings were dirty, so changing would have required me to change my entire outfit. (Maybe it’s time to do some laundry?) I put on another pair of shoes, and headed back out the door. I really need to stop doing this, because it resulted in my third straight day eating kit-kats out of the office candy jar for breakfast. Don’t tell my kids.

With only a slight twinge of guilt, I left the puddle of slowly congealing smoothie on the porch. Nobody is likely to visit me and see it while I’m gone today anyway. By the time I pulled out of the driveway on my way to work, I was, of course, running rather late. So when I glanced behind me and saw that my garbage can (which I had forgotten to put out Monday morning) had been knocked over in the night, probably by a black bear, a gang of rabid raccoons, or a conglomeration of tortoises, armadillos, and opossums (thank you, Florida!), I just left it.

Tony, I love and appreciate you for many things, among which two of the more minor, but very present in my mind today, are that you always remember to put out the garbage, and that you spoil me by making me breakfast.

But not everything is bleak. The breakfast smoothie disaster is now completely cleaned up, and the garbage can is upright with its contents replaced, hopefully to be put out and emptied (by waste management, not the local wildlife) this coming Monday. And this is me, ringing in the new year with seared scallops in white wine sauce (with a little more white wine on the side for good measure), quinoa, green bean salad, bruschetta with Trader Joe’s artichoke tapenade, and Battlestar Galactica.

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I’m actually rocking this whole living alone thing. Happy New Year to all, and to all a good night!

Footloose and kid-free in San Francisco

This year, Tony’s parents gave us the best Christmas present ever-a totally kid-free anniversary! Like so many BYU students, we got married between semesters (I seriously have at least half a dozen friends with the same anniversary as ours). It seemed like a good idea at the time, but having an anniversary two days after Christmas can make it difficult to have the energy or resources to plan anything special in the middle of the holidays. It’s been at least five years since we went a full 24 hours without seeing our children.

So celebrating our anniversary in San Francisco alone together was pretty much the most enjoyable thing we’ve done in a long time.

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Actually, spending the day in San Francisco was one of the first things we ever did together (our second date, to be precise). In fact, Tony has a photo-of-the-month for every month since we met, and the very first one is me in front of The Stinking Rose, the iconic San Francisco restaurant where they “season [their] garlic with food.”

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Here’s Tony in front of the same restaurant, eleven years later.

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We took BART into the city, which was fun and saved us from trying to navigate the narrow, crazy San Francisco streets and paying exorbitant parking rates. It did not, however, prevent us from getting lost on multiple occasions, even with our tourist map in hand. San Francisco tourist maps should really be topographical. I forgot how insanely hilly it is. We did eventually make it to dinner at the Stinking Rose, and probably also preemptively walked off every single calorie contained in all the delicious black linguini and clams that we subsequently ate.

After dinner we went home to our hotel room, where we hung out with cheese and grapes and champagne and reveled in our kid-free state.

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Next morning it was down to Fisherman’s Wharf to watch the sea lions and street performers. My favorite was this guy, who was playing Scarborough Fair on a twelve-stringed piece of wood.

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Of course, we also had to eat clam chowder out of a sourdough bread bowl. Yum!

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And before we came home, because we had not yet climbed enough hills, we hiked up the hill to Coit Tower, which I think is built on the highest point in San Francisco. We skipped the 40-minute wait to ride the elevator to the top of the tower, but the view from the bottom, next to the grandiose statue of Christopher Columbus, was still pretty breathtaking.

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Here’s to another 11 years! (after which we may actually be permanently kid-free. How crazy is that?)

 

Period Presents

quotes

“He wrapped himself in quotations – as a beggar would enfold himself in the purple of Emperors.” ― Rudyard Kipling

I try to stay away from those braggy “my husband is so awesome” types of posts, because I know they’re insufferably annoying. Typically, I only indulge when Tony is off in California for weeks on end without me, because I feel like if I have to suffer through living without him, the least the rest of you can do is indulge me in my mushy ramblings about how dreamy he is.

But we’re going to California at the end of this week, and I’ll be coming back a couple of weeks before he does, so I guess I’m already in gushy romantic mode again. And I have to tell you about this one snuggly thing he does. Hopefully, this will not be TMI. I promise it has nothing to do with sex, if that’s what you’re worried about, but this post does have to do somewhat with my period.

Now, I’m not one of those women who has periods so bad she has to take industrial-strength painkillers and curl up in the fetal position in bed for a week every month (my sincerest condolences if that is you). In fact, as long as we’re doing TMI, I have pretty light periods, that usually last 3-4 days from start to finish, with a day or so of moderate cramping and maybe a bit of a headache at the beginning. I don’t think I complain unduly about my period, but maybe I do.

In any case, several months ago, out of the blue, Tony came up with an idea to make my period a time of celebration. He proposed that each month during my period he would give me a full-body massage, make me liver (to keep my iron levels up), and give me a “period present.” Of course I agreed to the proposition. What was not to love about it? Who minds a little bit (or a lot) of extra pampering, especially at that time of the month? And plus, it fit in well with my determination for my daughter to grow up feeling positive about her body and her period.

I confess that I was secretly skeptical that his plan would last more than a month or two. After all, it’s a lot of work to do all that stuff, and it’s not even something I asked him to do. But he’s been doing it all every month, without fail, ever since that first month. He makes a mean liver and onions, even if the kids do complain about having to eat it. He’s an amazing masseuse. In fact, he got a massage table a few months ago, which makes it even more heavenly. And he somehow manages to come up with a new, thoughtful gift every month.

The gifts range from the romantic and traditional (jewelry) to the more pointed and personal (a twelve-pack of tweezers, since I have a habit I can’t seem to break of losing them/leaving them all over the house). But this month he went above and beyond thoughtful gift-giving, and presented me with this:

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In case you’re perplexed, yes, that is a copy of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. Be still, my heart. I was one of those kids who habitually read things like dictionaries and encyclopedias in linear fashion just for fun. But my favorite recreational reference book as a kid was Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. The quotes in this book introduced me to a number of authors, whose books I subsequently read, always with a little thrill of pleasure when I happened upon the original quote. But Bartlett’s Quotations also gave me intimate and tantalizing glimpses into history, since many of the quotations in the book were things people actually said at dinner parties or during Parliament debates or on the eve of battle. There’s often a sketch of the context in the footnotes, to set the scene for the reader. I used to go through the book, page by page, and write my favorite quotes on 3×5 cards, which I kept in a file box, organized by subject. Nerdy, I know. But so much fun.

If you’re my Facebook friend (aka denizen of my global village), you’ve probably noticed that I’ve recently taken my addiction to quotations public, and post a regular quote-of-the-day (and if you’re not my Facebook friend, I would love to be yours, if you’ll have me). I think of those quotes as a constantly evolving poetic expression of my philosophy of life, expressed in more beautiful words than I could come up with, by people far wiser than myself. As Oscar Wilde said, “Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit.” You might think it would be hard to come up with new quotes every day (although I’ll confess here that I typically use life skills I’ve learned at my marketing job to schedule a month’s worth of quotes all at once). It is hard. But so satisfying.

Lately I’ve been much enamored of the Quote section in Goodreads, which can be searched by topic, author, or keyword. The only problem with Goodreads is that anyone can add quotes. So I usually have to wade through dozens of quotes by people like Cassandra Clare and John Green before I even get to Montaigne or Whitman. To say nothing about the fact that not everyone is, shall we say, meticulous about avoiding misquotations. I’m pretty good at telling by feel if a quote is legit (and being especially wary of things supposedly said by Abraham Lincoln or Mark Twain), but I also make liberal use of Google and wikiquotes’ misquotations page.

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So I’m quite thrilled to have my very own copy of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations to provide me with flawlessly attributed quotes from the time of the Ancient Greeks all the way up to . . . I’m not sure when. I think the introduction mentioned something about the moon landing, but I haven’t made it to the end of the book yet. It’s already filling up with tiny post-it notes marking my favorite passages.

So to end this post on an appropriately gushy note, thanks, Honey Bunny, for a gift that is thoughtful on so many levels. And thanks for being my lover, partner, and favorite person ever.

“There is one friend in the life of each of us who seems not a separate person, however dear and beloved, but an expansion, an interpretation, of one’s self, the very meaning of one’s soul.” ― Edith Wharton

photo credit

Flunking the Holidays

So, here’s how Thanksgiving actually went down: shortly after I published my somewhat pathetic blog post about our (virtually nonexistent) plans for Thanksgiving, we received an invitation to Thanksgiving at the home of our friends, the Larsons. They are also the first people who invited us over for dinner when we moved to Florida almost three years ago, and the family who invited me over when I went to Church alone while Tony and the children were in California last year (and the year before). So, good people. And good cooks too.

Thanksgiving dinner was delicious, and followed by an impressive selection of pies, AND a gorgeous Brazilian flan contributed by another guest. (We contributed the somewhat more prosaic Not Your Mother’s Green Beans.) It was my first time trying butterscotch pie, and it was delicious, as were the flan, the brigadieros (Brazilian chocolate fudge balls), the berry pie, and the cherry cheesecake, all of which I also sampled.

To round off a lovely afternoon, after we’d let the pie settle a bit we adjourned to the sitting room, where Andrew Larson and his über-talented family, along with the guest who had contributed the Brazilian flan (who, it turns out, not only makes amazing desserts, but is also an accomplished vocalist) entertained us with vocal performances. And later that week we did make our traditional pineapple bacon wraps, and ate them for dinner with broccoli and quinoa, where they actually tasted even better than they normally do paired with a bunch of other rich foods. All in all, it was a delightful, stress-free Thanksgiving.

Which brings me to Christmas. We have a tradition of visiting a Christmas tree farm and cutting our own tree. In past years, this has involved a relatively quiet trip to a nearby farm where we chose our tree in the peaceful silence of an early December afternoon and then brought it home with relatively little fanfare. However, last year the tree farm was incredibly crowded, and they’d added a ton of carnival-type activities like a maze and a huge jumping pillow and pony rides and the whole shebang, which of course, being the great parents that we are, we couldn’t pass up. AND there were huge lines of people for every activity from measuring and netting the tree to getting in the petting zoo. It was like Disney World, but without the rides. So, yeah. When Axa said out of the blue, “we don’t really need to get a Christmas tree this year, because we’re going out to California for Christmas,” I opened my mouth to protest, and then closed it again. This was an unexpected parenting windfall, and I should take advantage of it.

So, we’re not getting a tree this year. I feel a little guilty, and a little wistful, but mostly pretty relieved. And lest Andrew Larson or another charitable soul think that this is a veiled plea for someone to drop a Christmas tree on my front porch, it totally isn’t. Also, full disclosure: I kept last year’s tree up until, oh, I don’t know, sometime in September. It was kind of a complex, emotional thing. I just couldn’t bring myself to take it down until I was ready. So I think my longing for a Christmas tree has not quite reset itself yet. No doubt next year I’ll be dying to put it up the moment Thanksgiving is over.

We HAVE done one pretty awesome thing for Christmas already though: made handcrafted consumable artisan Christmas presents for everyone in our families. I can’t be more specific, since they are meant to be a surprise, but I am absolutely dying to post a photo right now of how absolutely charming and vintage and–I don’t know-just completely Pinterest-worthy they are. It’s seriously one of the most domestic, and simultaneously the most chic things I’ve ever done (which, admittedly, may not be saying all that much, but I’m pretty pleased about it).

And since I can’t post a photo of either my domestic exploits or our nonexistent tree, here’s a photo of our very first Christmas tree.

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Yes, that is my seven-months-pregnant belly literally overshadowing the tree. At the time, awash in nesting hormones, I thought this was the most artistic, profound photographic composition ever. So much so that I made an artsy faux-tile piece out of it, which still hangs on our family photo wall. Now I think it’s a little strange.

Anyway. I’ll leave you with the perfect vocal accompaniment to this blog post, appropriately illustrated by some random person’s schmaltzy Christmas photos (some of which actually include a dry Christmas tree being disposed of). Right at minute 3:21 is the melodramatic line Tony would start belting all last year whenever the subject of taking the tree down came up and I refused to entertain the idea. Merry Christmas, and you’re welcome.

Thanksgiving in Florida, 2014

We’re kind of foodies at our house, so Thanksgiving is generally a gala affair. (See Last Year’s Menu and the Even More Dramatic Year Before) However, I’ve noticed that since I started working full time, I have less and less of a desire to spend my entire day off cooking when it’s a holiday. Go figure. Tony has even less of a desire to cook a big Thanksgiving, possibly due to the fact that nearly all of the everyday cooking at our house currently falls to him.

So this year we’ve decided to pare down Thanksgiving a bit. No, make that a lot. In fact, I’m embarrassed to even say what we’re contemplating, nay have actually determined to do. Suffice it to say that our plans for Thanksgiving do not involve either brining the turkey, wrapping it in bacon, cooking it upside down, or even stuffing it. In fact, they don’t involve a turkey at all. Are you ready for it? We’re going to pick up a rotisserie chicken. It was Tony’s idea, since I wouldn’t have been able to bear coming up with such an travesty. However, once he brought it up and I weighed the merits of a rotisserie chicken against the hours of preparation and the reality of turkey leftovers in the freezer for the next several months, I could see he had a point.

But his next idea was the real bombshell: Stovetop stuffing. I was not amused. Stovetop stuffing is too far even for me. I think he was mainly attracted by the ease of preparation, but he claimed (out loud!) that he actually prefers it to homemade stuffing. I was offended. Was he referring to the Leek and Wild Mushroom Stuffing I made last year? Or the  Apple, Sausage & Parsnip Stuffing the year before? Only when I promised to make a completely normal and unadventurous stuffing this year (and reminded him that I’d already consented to rotisserie chicken) did he relent and agree to the compromise.

So I am passing over recipes like Spinach, Fennel, and Sausage Stuffing with Toasted Brioche, Rustic Bread Stuffing with Red Mustard Greens, Currants, and Pine Nuts, and Masa Cornbread Stuffing with Chiles with many a sigh and backward glance. Instead, I have chosen the irreproachable “Simple is Best” Dressing, featuring those old staples of Thanksgiving and Simon & Garfunkel, parsley, sage, rosemary and time. Per the reviews on Epicurious (which one should always, always read, for entertainment value as well as culinary wisdom), I’ll double the herbs and add more broth, especially since I’ll probably sub in sourdough bread if I can get away with it under the nose of Tony, the Thanksgiving Grinch.

High on Axa’s list of important foods for Thanksgiving dinner is pumpkin pie. In fact, she’s been asking if we could have pumpkin pie this year since early October. Pumpkin pie is not my favorite thing, but since it doesn’t have a top crust, it is a candidate for my secret weapon/pie crust dodge (aka the easiest French Tart Crust recipe I have ever encountered). She’s looking forward to making it from an actual pumpkin, so there’s no cutting corners there. I am thinking of using this recipe, which includes white pepper, since I love using pepper in desserts and getting away with it. We fell in love with white pepper when we discovered it in Italy, and started putting it in everything. Everything was better with white pepper, until Tony put it in the breakfast oatmeal one morning. It took me awhile to figure out what the weird taste was, but I could barely choke down my oatmeal. We’ll have whipped cream (NOT the kind from a can) with the pie.

Pineapple bacon wraps are a Bringhurst family tradition. We used to make them for Christmas Eve, but since we’re so often out of town at Christmastime, we make them for Thanksgiving now. They are as easy as they sound–just slices (or half-slices) of bacon wrapped around chunks of pineapple. I think we sometimes might have used canned pineapple growing up, but we always get a fresh pineapple now. Tony learned how to efficiently cut up a pineapple on his mission in the Philippines. Here’s Benjamin managing to burn the pineapple bacon wraps when we invited him to Thanksgiving at BYU eight or nine years ago. No, that’s not a bad quality photo. It’s the smoke in the air.

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True to form, Tony suggested that we just buy rolls this year, and get berry jam instead of making cranberry sauce. So no recipes to post for that. And our final menu item is roasted veggies, which we usually cook without a recipe, and are somewhere along these lines. And that’s it; the entire contents of our Thanksgiving spread this year.

What are you planning for Thanksgiving? Is your turkey already marinating? Will you be making homemade rolls, mashed potatoes from scratch, and fourteen kinds of pies? Or will you choose the quick and easy path as Vader did? Remember,

Book Reviews: Proud Tower, Delivered, Infernal Devices, And Then There Were None

Besides my slow but productive progress through Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, I’ve made some time for a few other books lately. Among which:

The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914 by Barbara W. Tuchman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve been thinking a lot about World War I during this centennial year, and I am fascinated by anything to do with the Long 19th Century, so when I was browsing for commute audiobooks on Overdrive and saw this, I knew I had to read it. It’s an engagingly written history of the Western world before WWI that tries to paint that world as it was and seemed at the time to those who lived in it, and not as it looked (or looks) through the rosy glasses of war-wearied remembrance.

The book consists of several loosely interconnected essays on different themes, and with shifting geographical foci. I had no idea, for example, how widespread and organized (after its fashion) the international movement toward anarchism was. I can’t decide whether I liked the chapter on British politics or the chapter on German culture more. They were both good, although the German chapter might win just for the brilliantly descriptive and insightful observation that “Strauss was a string plucked by the Zeitgeist.” And yes, I spent time listening to Strauss and other music of the time in between chapters.

The chapter on American imperialism as defined by the Spanish-American war and the conquest of the Philippines was also illuminating for me. Tony and I spent a summer in the Philippines and used to often wonder why after 300 years of Spanish rule and only a few decades of American rule the Filipinos still looked on America with suspicion while seeming to have much softer feelings toward their erstwhile Spanish rulers. I no longer wonder. There’s also a good chapter on the Dreyfuss affair and its long-reaching effects on French politics and culture.

I think the thing that surprised me the most was how familiar so many of the issues and controversies sounded. Although there was a certain optimism that might be difficult to find again any time soon. I was almost amused to find that Alfred Nobel had originally only intended for the prize bearing his name to be given out for the next thirty years, since he expected that world peace would have been worked out by then.

Also, if the Doctor turned up in the Tardis and offered to take me anywhere in time and space, I might just choose pre-WWI Europe.

DeliveredDelivered by J L Van Leuven

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wanted to review this one around the holidays, because it deals with the birth of Jesus, and would be such a perfect gift for a midwife, mother-to-be, or anyone else who cares about birth and views it as an event with something of holiness about it.

Told from the point of view of the midwife who attended Mary on the night of Jesus’ birth, it recounts her story, her calling as a midwife, and the ways her life prepared her for that all-important first Christmas night. In some ways, it reminded me of the Red Tent, although Delivered is very devotional in tone and much less “earthy,” and would be appropriate for audiences that might not enjoy the Red Tent because of the sex and unorthodox views of Old Testament prophets.

I loved the descriptions of natural midwifery techniques using herbs and traditional birthing accessories like birthing stools or scarves. The scenes that involved births were very well articulated, and took me back in time to my own lovely homebirths.

Full disclosure: I copy edited this book. The author, Jessica Van Leuven, was a joy to work with, and works in labor and delivery as an RN. She knows her stuff when it comes to birth, and it shows.

Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices, #1)Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m kind of a sucker for anything having to do with 19th century Britain, and I’ve read all of Clare’s Mortal Instruments books, so I was going to get around to reading this prequel series eventually. My favorite thing about it was meeting everyone’s ancestors. Clare has a flair for colorful characters, and it was interesting to see what all those Shadowhunter families were up to a hundred years ago.

That said, the characters are a little weird, and the plot is not that–convincing? That’s probably a meaningless criticism for YA fantasy, so maybe “not compelling” is what I should say instead. Plus, one of the characters was a shape-shifter, and I was constantly imagining ways she could solve the various problems by just changing shape, which she did very rarely. What’s the use of having such a great talent if you’re not constantly using it? So there’s that.

Still, Cassandra Clare is always a fun read.

Clockwork Prince (The Infernal Devices, #2)Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Boring love triangle alert. Alas, the female protagonist cannot choose between the nice guy and the bad boy. What else is new in YA fiction? Really, my favorite person in this series is Magnus Bane, and he appears disappointing infrequently.

But for some reason I find Cassandra Clare’s books so relaxing on my work commute that I can’t stop listing to them.

Clockwork Princess (The Infernal Devices, #3)Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The crisis at the beginning of this book was kind of disturbing and gross to me. Spoiler: man gets bizarre venereal disease that turns him into giant ravenous worm. Like, literally–a huge, voracious invertebrate creature. I mean, it was kind of an interesting twist on everyone promiscuous in the 19th century getting syphilis, but still.

Come to think of it, these books also feature a fantasy take on consumption, that old Victorian standby of doomed romances, and a magical kind of opium, as well as some 19th century technology gone bad. The whole thing is very steampunk, and not badly done. Also, Oscar Wilde makes a cameo appearance as a fastidiously dressed werewolf. So the premise is great fun, but the characters and plot, not so much.

And Then There Were NoneAnd Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m not a big mystery reader. Come to think of it, I believe I dislike mysteries because they generally make me feel stupid. I am never a step ahead. I’m always surprised at the end, and I always feel dumb for not figuring it out. Also, I find the idea of murder disturbing, and hate books that rehash gory details over and over from different angles. However, after recently seeing not one but two Doctor Who episodes based on Agatha Christie (The Unicorn and the Wasp and Mummy on the Orient Express), I decided it was high time to give her a chance.

And giving myself permission to just let the story progress without feeling pressure to solve the mystery before it unfolded itself in front of me was quite helpful. It allowed me to enjoy Christie’s superb character development and subtle exploration of moral issues. The way she gets inside her characters’ heads and explores their darker tendencies, their fears, their justifications, and their sometimes strange points of view is frankly brilliant. She has a peculiar knack for apt descriptions, both of physical details and personal character.

The premise of this particular book is interesting, as it explores different degrees of guilt and the nature of justice, as well as human nature when put in stressful and suspenseful situations. I enjoyed it enough that I think I’ll try reading some more Agatha Christie.

View all my reviews

Shopping for Luggage

One of the fun things about moving to Greece is that we are desperately in need of new luggage. Most of our current motley assortment of luggage has traveled many thousands of miles, been sat on, spilled on, overstuffed, and bumped down countless flights of stairs and cobblestone streets.

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When we first moved to Italy in 2008, we had a total of fourteen bags of all sizes and descriptions. I vividly remember being at the airport, and dragging suitcase after suitcase over to be loaded on the conveyor belt. Miraculously, they didn’t charge us extra. Remember the good old days when it was actually kind of hard to pack enough stuff into even a large suitcase to go over the weight limit? Sure, it was hard on everybody’s backs, but you could take pretty much whatever you wanted on vacation.

My, how times have changed. Nowadays, with airline baggage regulations getting tighter all the time, every bag had better have the perfect dimensions down to the centimeter and the perfect weight, down to the gram.

Which led us on Saturday to drive down to the outlets on International Drive in Orlando armed with a tape measure and luggage dimensions for the two airlines we’ll be flying to Greece next March (Norwegian and Easyjet). I threw in the measurements for Ryanair as well, since I figured if our bags were kosher for Ryanair, they’d be kosher for any airline. Yes, the measurements for each airline are slightly different.

I reproduce the measurements here, on the off-chance that someone else might benefit from having them collected in one place. Measurements are in centimeters, since we are talking about flying European carriers.

EasyJet Cabin Luggage

Option 1: ONE piece of cabin baggage no bigger than 50 x 40 x 20cm including handles and wheels. Guaranteed to always travel with you in the cabin.

Option 2: ONE piece of cabin baggage within our maximum allowed size limitations, 56 x 45 x 25cm including handles and wheels. On some busy flights your bag may have to go into the hold, at no extra cost.

EasyJet Hold Luggage

Each individual item of hold luggage should not exceed total dimensions of 275cm (length + width + height), except for sporting and medical equipment.

Standard hold baggage allowance is 20kg per bag. Minimum of 1 hold bag per passenger is required to trigger the baggage allowance of 20kg.

Ryanair Cabin Luggage

One cabin bag weighing up to 10 kg with maximum dimensions of 55cm x 40cm x 20cm, plus 1 small bag up to 35 x 20 x 20 cms may be carried per passenger*.

Ryanair Hold Luggage

15kg or 20 kg (different prices)

For health and safety reasons Ryanair does not accept for carriage any individual item exceeding 32 kilos or with combined dimensions of more than 81cms (height), 119cms (width) and 119cms (depth).

Norwegian Cabin Luggage

One item of hand baggage (max 10kg – 55x40x23cm) in addition to one small personal item onboard the aircraft. Your personal item (e.g. small handbag or laptop case) must fit comfortably under the seat in front of you.

NOTE: When travelling to/from Dubai, your hand baggage must not exceed 8kg in total weight.

Norwegian Hold Luggage

We accept individual items up to: length 250cm, height 79cm, width 112cm. The total circumference (L+H+W) must not exceed 300 cm. 20 kg weight limit.

To Spin or Not to Spin

Conveniently located in one parking lot were Ross, TJ Maxx, DD’s, and two luggage shops with very insistent salespeople and a distinctly Central American vibe. We started out with Ross, and were immediately confronted with our first choice: spinner wheels or not. If you have bought luggage during the past few years, you’ve probably noticed that spinner wheels are all the rage.

I don’t know who came up with the term “spinner wheels” (it gives at least me a mental picture of someone spinning madly around the airport with a suitcase as counter-balance–probably due to the fact that I have children to whom that activity would occur). All wheels spin, of course, but these wheels spin horizontally as well as vertically. They distribute the weight of the bag evenly even when you’re moving with them, and you can easily move the bags along in any direction without tipping them. I can see how this would definitely be useful when turning corners or inching along in a passport line.

However, there are also some equally obvious disadvantages. First many of the wheels we looked at were pitifully small and flimsy-looking. The idea of them bumping along on cobblestone streets or unpaved roads (both, unfortunately, places I have taken rolling bags) did not inspire confidence. Sturdiness is a serious criterion for me when it comes to luggage, and we generally opt for large, solid-looking wheels.

Second, and possibly more important, spinner wheels have the distinct disadvantage of making your bag taller without increasing the space inside it. Here, for example, are two bags that both fit within all the above airlines’ measurements for carry-on bags.

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You can see right off that the bag on the left would give you at least 25% more space.

A Note about Dimensions and Weight

Extra space is especially important for carry-on luggage, since most airlines (Ryanair excluded) won’t actually weigh your carry-on bag, even if they do have a posted weight limit. In fact, one of Easyjet’s major marketing ploys is that they have no weight limit for carry-on bags. This is both an obvious jab at Ryanair and a practical advantage for the majority of their customers, who travel without checked-in baggage. You’ll notice that Easyjet also gives another nod to baggage planning by having a smaller dimension that is guaranteed to always travel in the cabin, and a larger carry-on dimension that will be checked without charge if space doesn’t permit.

For checked-in luggage, unless your packed belongings are made entirely of styrofoam, you don’t need to worry about the dimensions at all, as the maximums are typically gigantic. Here, weight is the limiting factor. So large check-in bags are not really worth buying if you plan to travel by air. I’ve sadly had to retire a gorgeous, high-quality bag I snagged years ago for $10 at a thrift store because it’s so huge that #1 I could only pack it halfway full and meet the weight limit and #2 It weighs like fifteen pounds empty. Still, we refrained from buying the “World’s Lightest Luggage,” which weighed only five pounds and looked like it might fall apart after one trip.

There were some other, weirder luggage innovations, including this one, a handle thoughtfully adapted for people with three hands.

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We spent most of our time with the tape measure out, measuring carry-ons. Eventually it turned into a sort of existentialist version of Goldilocks and the 500 bags: “This bag is too high at the head. And this bag is too high at the foot.” Most of the bags were either too tall (some by ten centimeters or more) or too fat, especially at the bottom, where the wheels tended to widen out the bag. All the airline websites specifically stipulate that wheels and handles are included in the maximum measurements. Strangely, we found only one bag that took advantage of the full 40 cm of width. Most bags were 36 cm at the most. We would discover why later.

Hard-Sided vs. Soft-Sided

I confess that I did zero research on this question, and went with my gut. We only even considered soft-sided luggage. I had several reasons, among which:

  • Soft-sided luggage is both expandable–which gives you a bigger space inside if you need it, and contractible–meaning it has some “give” to it and can be squished into small or slightly irregular-shaped spaces (such as the little box you have to stuff it in to prove that it is indeed regulation size for the airline).
  • Most of the hard-sided suitcases were rounded on the front, which would make it pretty difficult to stack anything on top of them on a luggage cart or in a car, or anywhere else. If you did stack something on top of them, the weight wouldn’t be evenly distributed, leading to a higher chance of breakage.
  • The hard-sided luggage we were looking at (and granted, we were not looking at high-end luggage) seemed pretty thin and flimsy. One of the big upsides of hard-sided luggage is that it tends to be very light, but there’s such a thing as too light. We tend to end up sitting on our bags at some time during most long journeys, and at any rate they’ll be stacked in precarious towers and thrown about by the airline. The ones we looked at seemed very accident-prone.
  • We are pretty good packers, and tend to use clothes and other soft items to cushion breakables. Also, we don’t typically transport expensive breakables, or messy stuff like wine and olive oil. When we do, we use multiple layers of ziploc bags to prevent spillage. So the extra protection afforded by hard-sided luggage wasn’t as important to us, and besides, if the bag breaks (see above), it won’t protect your stuff anyway.
  • We’re used to fabric luggage, and we like it.

If you have hard-sided luggage, I’d be interested to know how well it has performed, and whether you like it.

What We Picked in the End

We did end up choosing luggage, after at least two visits to every single store. Unfortunately, I was the only one in the family fantasizing about sophisticated-looking matching luggage. The children’s primary consideration was color (the brighter the better), and Tony was becoming obsessive about what was looking like the latest incarnation of his personal luggage. We eventually determined that we’d compromise by getting four identical check-in bags and letting each person pick his or her own carry-on luggage. Axa and Raj chose the same bag, but in hot pink and neon green respectively. Tony found a really posh bag that was by far the biggest carry-on that approximated the stipulated dimensions (mainly because it was a full 40 cm wide). Since I wanted matching bags more than I wanted any specific bag, I chose one identical to his.

For our large bags, we were especially wary of small, puny wheels, which unfortunately were abundant in both the two-wheeled and four-wheeled spinner varieties. We did, however, find some with large, wheels and sturdy construction. They weigh 3.5 kilos apiece, and they’re bright orange, which Tony loves because it makes them easy to spot on the luggage claim carousel. Here are the receptacles for what will soon be all our worldly possessions (yes, you can see that Axa and Raj matched their bags to their Halloween candy pumpkins).

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It was only on the way home that we thought to look up the luggage dimensions for United, the airline we’re flying next month when we go visit our parents in California for Christmas. The verdict? 55 x 35 x 22 cm. So now we know why it’s so difficult to find bags that are 40 cm wide. And now we have carry-on bags that won’t work for U.S. travel. Oh well. Complete perfection is hard to attain.