Books I Read in December

I was about to put together my favorite books of the year post, but since one or two (maybe THREE?) I read this month stand a chance of going on the list, I thought I should do the monthly roundup first!  (For some yearly favorites, here's 2012, 2013 and 2014.)


An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

This was SO worth the hype!  I'm glad I got it in before the end of the year, because I'm pretty sure it's going on my best of 2015 list.  Much like Cinder (on my 2014 list), this book is reminiscent of so many great stories - yet wholly original.  If I had to pin it down, it's like Game of Thrones with Harry Potter, Romeo & Juliet and The Hunger Games thrown in.  That narrows it down, right?  The world building (complete with a map in the opening pages, which I love) is so vivid, as are the unforgettable (and bad-ass) characters.  Following the story of Elias (a graduating soldier from Blackcliff Academy) and Laia (a scholar who's family has been killed by said soldiers) is complex, intense, romantic, engrossing and exhilarating.  I CAN'T WAIT for the next book.


The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Oh man, I have a love/hate relationship with WWII novels, and try to read no more than one a year.  Or in some cases, like after reading Sarah's Key, I needed a few years to recover.  Having read All the Light We Cannot See back in January,  I was able to squeak this one in before the end of the year.  I'm having a hard time deciding if I like one better than the other (they were both outstanding) - and if one, or both, should be on my favorites for the year.  This story of French sisters Vianne and Isabelle is heartbreaking, obviously in terms of their struggles during the war, but also in terms of their struggles as sisters.  At the heart of the novel is a beautiful story about family, and what we do for love.  Another book worthy of the hype.

A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan

I received this book via NetGalley and you can read my review here!


Winter Stroll by Elin Hilderbrand

I think I could just copy/paste my reviews for every Hilderbrand book, they are all very much the same to me - and still very enjoyable.  Her fallible characters are people you'd love to know and be friends with, the island of Nantucket is another prominent and fully realized character, and she tells her stories with great humor and heart.  This one ended on a BIG cliffhanger, and I'm looking forward to next Christmas' fluffy read about the Quinn family.


Euphoria by Lily King

This book was EXCELLENT!  It reminded me so much of one of my all time favorite books, State of Wonder by Ann Patchett.  I also LOVE The Poisonwood Bible, so maybe there's something about missionaries, scientists, anthropologists in far flung lands trying to communicate and interact with natives that intrigues me.  Probably because anything can happen, and usually does.  And, of course, the drama of the stories revolve not around those being studied, but those doing the studying.  As with the aforementioned novels, this book is equal parts disturbing and enlightening.  The tension wrought between this love triangle of anthropologists studying tribes in New Guinea just builds and builds until the inevitable gut-punch conclusion.      


A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan (NetGalley Review)

I got my first denied request on NetGalley (wah!), and realized that I should probably do some catching up on all the books I requested after I joined.  The ratio of reviews to requests is a factor in whether a publisher chooses to give a galley.  And, though I have EVERY intention of reading all the books I requested, I've only read about one a month!  Without further ado...

A Window Opens, by Elisabeth Egan, is the story of Alice: a middle aged mom of three, who is forced to begin working full time after her husband quits his job as an attorney.  This was a very familiar feeling story, with nuances of Where'd You Go Bernadette and a little bit of every Liane Moriarty book I've read.  Maybe it was also familiar because of the myriad similarities to my own life.  This quote cracked me up, when her company 'Scroll' was talking about their target customer as a female who is 25-45, has pets, shops at Anthro, splurges on face cream, averages 3 books a month, etc:

"I felt like I was watching a nature program about myself.  'She dwells in that gray area between family obligation and a desire to satisfy her own sense of adventure.  Here she is now, coming in for the kill.  Watch as the mom sinks her unmanicured claws into the dad's neck.  He has failed in his mission to gather food for their young, so she must feed them tacos instead...'"

Not only does Alice have kids the same ages as mine, but she's a total bibliophile.  Novels that include books as another main character are always compelling to me (see also: The Storied Life of AJ Fikry and Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore).  The job she takes at a big box retail conglomerate aiming to put small bookstores out of business gives Alice a great deal of angst, and the corporate culture satire was HILARIOUS.  I'm not a working mom, but I certainly remember those corporate days and the ridiculousness of such phrases as: deep dive, shift gears, and (new to me) pivot.  In addition to her crazy stressful job, she's also worrying about her husband's downward spiral, a beloved nanny who is moving on with her career, and a parent going through cancer (another life similarity).  

This book is very fast paced, and I blew through it in just over a day.  With all of the heartrending chaos in Alice's life, I wanted desperately to see her get back on track.  Most of the narrative was predictable, but nonetheless enjoyable.  I'd categorize it in the 'grown up chick-lit, with some heft' category, and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to my mommy contemporaries.  Outside of that audience, I'm not entirely sure how it would go over, but I'd say the commentary on corporate culture, books and media would make it worth checking out.


Year in Running 2015

This has been a fun tradition over the last couple of years linking up with Amanda at Miss Zippy (here's my 2013 in running and 2014 in running), and I'm so glad that my Oiselle buddy Courtney has taken over the linkup, now that Amanda is doing a podcast.  Without further ado:

Best race experience?

Hands down it was the Lake Sammamish Half.  Admittedly, it was my only PR of the year.  However, I would have said the same even if I didn't finally improve my time in the half after three darn years!  The race is such a great course, the weather was beautiful: chilly turning to sun by the end, and a lovely post race brunch with friends - which is always the best way to celebrate a race.

Best Run?

I'd have to say the 7 miles we put in while at Birdcamp in Leavenworth.  I was not doing a lot of longer runs at the time and was wary of anything more than 5 miles.  It just goes to show that running with good friends can make the miles FLY, even after 7 miles and over 1500 feet in elevation gain!

Best new piece of running gear?

I got a pair of Stance socks at Birdcamp this year and I LOOOOVE them!  The mid-calf length, the support and feel is just great.  Plus they have so many super stylin' options, including Star Wars themed socks!

Best running advice you've received this year?

I did a gait analysis in January and I'm sure that it's contributed to being injury free all year!  I try my best to remember to 'run tall' - great advice.

Most inspirational runner?

Such a hard question, as there are so many and for so many different reasons.  I learned to find inspiration from within a bit more this year, and I'm inspired by all the other mother runners out there: from those with Olympic level aspirations (HUGE shout out to Sarah who just ran an Olympic Trials Qualifier in the marathon as a full time working mom with a ONE YEAR OLD), to those that are taking the leap to trying a 5K.  
Favorite picture from a run or race this year?

I love the composition of this shot that Lauren captured, with the shadow and a nice stride I had goin' at the end of the Brooks Trailhead 15K.  Despite the fact that I felt like poo by the end of that race!

Race experience you would repeat in a heartbeat?

The Lake Sammamish Half seems like the obvious answer here, and it's SUCH a great event.  But I feel like I want to take another break from the half and go for 5Ks.  So, I'll say Hot Chocolate because of course I run that every year as a Chambassador (and because it's awesome), and I miiiight just get up earlier this year and try to race the 5K instead of 'funning' the 15K.  

If you could sum up your year in a couple of words, what would they be?

Injury free and CONSISTENT (still streaking since Memorial Day 2014!).  Which is really the main goal, right?  To just be able to run!


Book Advent Activities for the Kids (and my steady decline thereof)

Years ago, I came across a great idea to wrap up a book to open daily as an advent activity.  I did this successfully ONE year for ONE child with a combination of books from the library (yep, I'd wrap them up and then return!), gifts from family and a few new ones I'd buy.  

Once I had a second kiddo, that felt overwhelming.  So I did a 'Twelve Days of Books' to whittle things down - either the first 12 days of December, or the final 12 days leading up to Christmas.  And, lo, this became an overwhelming endeavor as well with two kids (especially when they have different preferences in books).  

I really wanted to keep the yearly fun of new holiday books in some way.  So now I include it as an activity in our personalized advent calendar.

This is the best way to go with books for advent, in my opinion!  I can fit two chocolates in each day's pouch, as well as a note with a fun activity for the day.  Some are just 'listen to Christmas music' or 'drink hot chocolate' for days we're busy or days I just can't even, versus the days we go out to see lights, make ornaments or cookies, etc.  Now I pile up all the holiday books at the beginning of the month, and dole out the cards for a 'open a Christmas book' activity throughout the calendar.  

At the end of November, the library puts out the displays of holiday books and I grab as many as I can (and maybe throw in a book of my own).

Then I do some investigating on what's new, or what I think the kids would love, and put a bunch on hold for a second round of books (and maybe a Seth McFarlane CD, because I love that dude).

We got a good haul this year and I must say that both kids are entertained by Little Red Gliding Hood.  And I must give a shout out to my favorite kid Christmas book that we own: Minerva Louise on Christmas Eve is just adorable, funny and sweet.

So if the idea of a wrapped book every day in December is a new and cool idea to you, give it a go next year!  And know that if it's a bit too difficult to accomplish, the kids still love getting surprises, however they arrive.


This Weeks Eats 12.13.15

Another year, another fabulous holiday/husband's birthday outing to Daniels Broiler.  I quite enjoyed the Winter Whiskey Sour for my pre-dinner cocktails.

The addition of cinnamon flavored simple syrup and pamplemousse (which I had to look up, and now want to find in a grocery store) were a delicious touch along with the standard rye whiskey and lemon.  I love trying new things when it comes to cocktails, unlike my standard favorite filet and baked potato dinner.

Mmmmm. Let the holiday weight gain begin!

This week:

Monday - Pizza

Tuesday - Panang Curry (trying this recipe I found on Pinterest from Carlsbad Cravings)
Wednesday - Veggie Masala Tacos (a favorite Trader Joe's inspired recipe)
Thursday - Avocado Pine Nut Salad with Chicken (from Recipe Girl)
Friday - Baked Chicken Taquitos (go-to recipe from Our Best Bites)
Saturday - Seven Flavor Beef (recipe from local outstanding restaurant Wild Ginger)
Sunday - Jalapeno Popper Chili (yummy and easy recipe from Everyday Reading)

As always, I'm linking up with Org Junkie, Mommy Run Fast and Jill Conyers - be sure to check out all the great weekly menus!


Redmond Turkey Trot Race Recap

This might be a record for me on late race recaps.  I had hoped to have lots to say about it, since I actually trained for it and the training went well.  Although, sometimes, I suppose you just have an off day.  I was barely hitting paces that I could maintain at the end of an hour long progression run.  Bleh!  I suppose I could blame my so-so running on the beginning of a craptastic head cold.  But, I ran my half marathon PR in a similar situation.  Sudafed did NOT help for this 5K.  

I could blame it on the coldest weather experience I've had in over a decade!  Most Seattle-ites do not spend significant time in the great outdoors when it's below freezing.  And, I haven't felt that "my fingers are in pain and might fall off" feeling since we lived in Chicago.  We did do a nice little warm up, but only a half mile.  Maybe I should've done more?  I felt fine, as far as body temp goes, once we got started.  But there were one or two patches were I was wary of ice.  

could also blame my time on a bad start and messing around with my electronics.  Which is the LAMEST thing ever, I know.  I was discombobulated since the gun went off a few minutes EARLY (when does that ever happen??) while my watch was still looking for a signal and I had yet to start my music.  At least a got a lovely picture with my buddy Lauren in the first mile.

Lastly, I could cite the fact that the results were probably not in chip time, but gun time.  Both Dawn and Lauren's Garmin's reflected this, as I'm pretty sure mine did.  My final time was recorded as 26:56 and my Garmin missed the first .4 miles of the race.  Here's what I did get on my Garmin.

I REALLY don't think it took me 4 minutes and 47 seconds (a 12 minute pace) in the beginning. Plus, I didn't stop my watch immediately after crossing the mats.  Either way, I certainly didn't place in the top three of my age group to get a pie (which I was secretly hoping for).  But Lauren did!  Yay!

Looking at the results, if I'd run my PR of 25:29 I would've got a second place pie for my age group.  Wah!  Ah well.  Maybe next time?  Getting 5th out of about 30 wasn't terrible.  I'm also happy with the fact that I finished strong, with slightly faster paces as I went along.

As for the event, it was all around a nice little race (VERY LITTLE with just 230 participants) and checked all the boxes on things I love about races: Saturday! (also NOT the weekend of Thanksgiving!) Inexpensive! Local! Small! Easy parking! Free photos! (Thank you Woodinville Bicycle!)  There were even medals for all, and pies for age group winners.  The course was nice, starting and ending in the middle of Redmond Town Center Plaza, while utilizing the nearby Samammish River Trail.  I would CERTAINLY run it again if they keep the date the same; it could be a nice little tradition.

In the meantime, I'm seriously considering throwing out the idea of constantly obsessing over a sub 2 hour half marathon and gunning for a freaking 5K PR that has eluded me for THREE YEARS.  Sheesh.  2016 might be the year of the 5K Revolution... (Because when Lauren Fleshman says it's awesome, it is.)


The Stack - December 2015

Ahhhh, I'm so excited to finally get my hands on An Ember in the Ashes!  It's the first one I'm reading from my December library haul, and can definitely see why it's on so many best of 2015 lists (including Amazon's top 20 of the year).

I didn't get around to Euphoria last month, and that's good because it's a KCLS pick of the month and I can renew it two more times!  A Man Called Ove was also on the paperback picks.  I'm curious about this book after reading this really interesting article from Shelf Awareness about it's growth from word of mouth

I also didn't get around to Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson last month, but I have the ebook ready on Overdrive whenever I want to cancel my suspension and pick it up.  I may read Seveneves first (also a SciFi novel), since it trumped Aurora on best of 2015 lists. 

Speaking of best of 2015, I also have The Nightingale on ebook, and will definitely read that this month.

Lastly, I had to pick up Winter Stroll for a little holiday reading since I already finished Winter Street.

Any feedback or opinions on this stack, or otherwise, is very much welcome!


This Weeks Eats 12.6.15 (And Some Holiday Recipes)

Our menu this week is not all that exciting, as I'll be doing lots of eating out and easy meals while my Mother-In-Law pays her annual visit!  So, I thought I'd share some favorite things I'll be making, or that I WANT to make.

After our successful trip to see Santa yesterday,  I put together a batch of Cranberry Bliss holiday bark for gifts (working on my to-do list) while sipping on a new whiskey recipe and DAMN.  You've got to try a Bourbon Bomber, STAT.  Apple cider is not usually my jam, so I was skeptical.  I went all out with the fresh grated ginger, etc. and it was so tasty I had two more after dinner.  Kinda feeling it today, but they were worth it.  Next recipe I'll test for holiday cocktail-ing: Cranberry Ginger Whiskey Smash.  YES.

As I mentioned above, I'm baking up bark (some with white chocolate/orange/cranberry/walnut and some with dark chocolate/sea salt/cranberry/walnut) and our favorite cranberry bread.  Next week, I'm going to get the Linzer Muffins going and maybe try this Oatmeal Coffee Cake for something with a little nutritional value for breakfasts.

I'm debating whether to go for Cinnamon Rolls for Christmas morning, since I had a bad couple of years working with yeast.  However, I was successful in making homemade crescent rolls for Thanksgiving this year and feel like I have my mojo back... Either way, I think I'll make this easy (and DELICIOUS) Overnight Monkey Bread to have on hand just in case.

This week:

  • Monday - Pizza
  • Tuesday - out with friends!
  • Wednesday Greek Turkey Meatball Salad (a favorite from The Perfect Pantry)
  • Thursday - out for holiday fun with Grandma!
  • Friday - Spaghetti with Ground Turkey (same as our Saturday Night pasta, but we sub out sausage for the turkey)
  • Saturday - date night!
  • Sunday - Alpine Chicken Casserole (this Cooks.com recipe is the same as our old family recipe)
As always, I'm linking up with Org Junkie, Mommy Run Fast and Jill Conyers - be sure to check out all the great weekly menus!


Books I Read in November

A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meiser

I'm a sucker for books that weave a story together from narratives taking place in the past and the present.  This story connects fictitious characters during the time of the New York Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911, and during September 2001 in New York.  It's the first time I've braved any kind of 9/11 lit, and I'm glad I did.  It reminded me a great deal of The Girl You Left Behind with lovely (yet flawed) characters who find their way through unimaginably horrifying circumstances.  Upon further research, I gather that Meiser writes all of her books with this technique and so I shall probably be reading more!


Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead

At first I thought that this was going to be another 'manic pixie dreamgirl' who is devoid of emotion story - see also: Unbecoming, Hausfrau, Paper Towns.  But the story of Joan, the corps ballerina who assists the Russian star dancer to defect, becomes way more complex than the aforementioned titles.  There is a 'secret reveal' plot point past the halfway mark that isn't at all surprising, yet where the story goes afterwards and with the supporting characters is, well, astonishing.    


This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith

I've always wanted to pick up a book by Jennifer E. Smith.  Her novels always seem to resurface on top YA lists and Bookriot posts.  Plus I really dig the whimsical covers.  It was a sweet read and I my inner pre-teen LOVED the premise of just a regular girl happening upon a correspondence with a celebrity, unbeknown to her - a fun take on a fairytale romance.  I'd also recommend it as a summer read, as the setting of a sleepy little Maine town that bustles during the summer months (and during the filming of a movie) really comes to life and feels like another character.


The Lake House by Kate Morton

You can read my full review here, but in brief: I thought it was excellent and was slightly miffed at myself for not reading one of her books in so long.  I read The Forgotten Garden years ago, but I hope to read The Secret Keeper soon.


Winter Street by Elin Hilderbrand

After finishing The Lake House, this felt like reading a short story in comparison.  Yet in a welcome manner, as I was ready for a good chaser of light, fluffy and entertaining.  Hilderbrand definitely sticks to formulas, especially ones that involve people not seeing the perfect love for them that happen to be right under their noses.  But, she writes them well and with great humor and heart.  I enjoyed getting to know the Quinn family and hope to get around to reading Winter Stroll, the follow up, before the end of the holidays.  


December Goals and November Recap

FINALLY, my favorite month of the year is here!  For all my bellyaching about things that need to be done in October for Halloween, I have NO PROBLEM WHATSOEVER doing all the crap that needs to be done for the holidays.  I love family traditions and food and time off school and my mother-in-law's yearly visit...  But, before I get ahead of myself, time to check in on November goals.

November Goals

Get some more content going over at zee new blaaagh! Yes, I started up another blog for funsies over at Born and READ in Chicago.  

Yay! I'm having a lot of fun with it and may even do a total redesign for the new year.  In the meantime, I got to review my first NetGalley book and completed my reviews by author page.

Thanksgiving prep!  

It was touch and go there for awhile, since my husband and I had colds, but we persevered.

Participate in Oiselle's #Chasethebird challenge: commit to 15 minutes of exercise a day from November 1st until Thanksgiving.  

The streak is going strong (day 554 today!), and I made sure to do a few extra minutes on my one-miler days during the challenge.

Do what I can to get ahead of the game for Christmas this year.  Make gift lists by Thanksgiving, decide on teacher gifts and perhaps buy a few things before December. 

I, as always, didn't get as much done ahead of time as I'd like.  However,

I did go a bit nutty in Target and checked off a major holiday task in finding stocking for our dogs Vader and Chewie!  I'm simultaneously thankful and resentful that this year is the big resurgence in Star Wars.  No, I didn't just jump on the bandwagon and name my dogs after Star Wars because of the new movie.  Please.  

Anyway!  I only have my own gift list done (of course!) and my husbands done with only one more thing left to buy - we don't go to crazy with gifts because we'd rather just buy our own stuff.  There are two or three presents and most of the stocking stuffers (I pick up something almost every trip to Target from the $1 bins) hoarded away for each of the kids, but we're feeling a little clueless as to what they really want this year.  The letters to Santa need to happen ASAP.  As does all the teacher gifts, and baking, and...

December Goals

  • Finish gift shopping. Pretty straightforward!  Hopefully done 99% from my couch.
  • Purchase and assemble teacher gifts.  I make holiday bark every year and put it in a fancy container along with a Target gift card.
  • Baking, so much baking.  It's really not a to-do item (other than for gifts, like the aforementioned teacher gifts), it's a 'treat yo self' item.  Because I can't fully enjoy the holidays without bark, making Christmas cookies, cinnamon rolls for Christmas Day and these AMAZING Linzer muffins I discovered last year.
  • Holiday Cards. We're running a little late on this one, but my biggest concern is getting that yearly picture for posterity.  So, I'm not going to stress about it and hopefully we'll get that done this weekend, along with ordering the cards.
  • Come up with some 2016 goals.  I had set the Turkey Trot 5K as my most recent run goal, and I felt like poo that day.  I need a redo on that one, probably the annual Valentine's Day Dash.  Oh, and maybe I should put together a race recap on the Turkey Trot...
  • Stay well, and pray to the weather gods that I get a whole calendar year of streaking done in 2015. 'Nuff said.