Thursday, June 22, 2017

A Thursday List

1. I know you all are on the edge of your seats wondering what happened with my hair care dilemma. Four words: apple cider vinegar rinse. I know! After a little bit of reading and research, I came across that suggestion and gave it a try: diluted some apple cider vinegar, washed my hair like normal, and then rinsed with the vinegar. Magic. Soft, silky hair with no more of the weird dandruff-y like buildup. That was over a week ago, and I'm just now thinking of doing it again. So...problem solved!

2. Potty training.

3. Jeremy's birthday is next week, so this weekend is birthday celebration extravaganza. Houston Dynamo soccer game tomorrow night and a game day with friends on Saturday. He likes to do a come-and-go all day kind of thing.

4. I've finally jumped on the British Baking Show bandwagon and I am officially hooked. And hungry.

5. I've recently discovered a new-to-me artist: Brady Toops. Soulful singer-songwriter with a super chill vibe. I downloaded his newest album and am enjoying it quite a bit.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Watching...Anne with an E

Like many women and girls across the world, I consider Anne Shirley to be a kindred spirit. The Anne of Green Gables series is hands down one of my absolute favorites -- and I have a tough time naming favorite books! I have watched and own the most well-known film adaptation by Sullivan Entertainment, and I have re-read the books countless times. Last year, PBS put out a new Anne of Green Gables adaptation, which I have not seen yet; then this month, Netflix released an adaption of a Canadian Broadcasting Company adaptation called Anne with an E. Over the past few weeks, my dear friend Nicole and I simul-watched (she lives in North Carolina, so we couldn't actually watch together in person, so we just schedule a time to watch and text each other) the seven episode series of Anne with an E.

Prior to watching the new show, I'd read an interview with the creator, so I knew going in that the Anne with an E adaptation was going to skew a little more melancholy than previous adaptations. I knew that they were expanding on Anne's tragic childhood prior to Green Gables, so I was prepared for significant differences between the show and book. Which, to be honest, I would have expected anyway, given that there have already been television adaptations of the material, so it makes sense that they would want to make their own mark in a different way. And I'm not generally a true purist when it comes to book to movie/tv adaptations anyway. The thing that matters most to me in adaptations is how true is the visual version to the characters, relationships, and world. Does the adaptation stay true to the spirit of the book? That's more my concern.

So. Anne with an E. How did it stack up? I have definite mixed feelings. (I'll try to stay spoiler free, but read at your own risk. Also, I have lots of words to say about this, apparently so....it's long. Sorry not sorry)

The bad:
1. Matthew. This was the most heartbreaking disappointment, because Matthew is one of the true gems of Anne of Green Gables. The actor did a great job portraying Matthew's quiet, shy sensitivity, and his love for Anne. They added a bit of extra back story for Matthew in this version, but I didn't mind that. It was sweet. But there were a couple of instances where they had Matthew doing things that were EXTREMELY out of character in my opinion, and out of character in a way that really bothered me.
2. Billy Andrews. There's this whole drama with Billy Andrews in the show that was completely absent from the books (because Billy doesn't really do anything at all in the books until the second one). Which...fine, whatever. But I didn't like the drama, and I didn't like the way they changed his character into a bully and a jerk. And kind of tagged on to that -- some of the kids and other towns people in general were just a lot meaner at the very beginning. I understand what the show creators were going for, but it wasn't my favorite and didn't sit well.
3. Heavy handedness. One of the negative critiques I read of this series was the heavy handed approach to feminism, and I have to say while it didn't bother me as much as it did that reviewer, I can definitely see her point. Anne of Green Gables -- the original book -- is remarkably feminist. Anne is smart and intelligent -- her number one rival in school is a boy, and not just any boy, one with a gigantic crush on her BECAUSE she's so smart. She's a successful teacher and principal. She goes to college when that wasn't the norm (her best friend Diana wasn't allowed to study past high school since it wouldn't help her get a husband, according to her mother). She's independent and a published author. When she gets married and has a family, you never get the sense that she's settling, or that she's just doing what's expected -- it's clear that it's her choice. Anne with an E just takes a much less subtle approach to those themes. Similarly, there is a much more heavy handed approach to establishing how hard it is for Anne to settle in and fit in in Avonlea. There are some storylines that just go on for too long with lots of extra (and in my opinion unnecessary) tension and drama. While a little bit may have added some richness and a fresh perspective to the story, I think they could have benefited from a little more subtlety.
4. The cliff hanger ending. I'm not opposed to a cliff hanger in general, but this particular one -- which involves a brand new storyline -- was a hard no for me.

Now the Good!
1. Anne. Fortunately, Anne was still Anne (heavy handed feminist comments aside). She was still resilient and creative and imaginative and optimistic despite all of the reasons she had to not be. She was still flighty and forgetful, yet level headed and extremely handy to have around in a crisis. She was still adorably vain about her looks, and still big-hearted, loving, and generous.
2. Marilla, Diana, Gilbert. Other than Matthew and Anne, these are the three most important characters and relationships to get right, in my opinion, and thankfully, they were fantastic. Marilla was spot on: stern, practical, and no-nonsense on the outside, but with a soft, gooey center and a dry sense of humor that she just needed to put into practice before Anne came along. Diana seemed completely true and authentic, just a normal girl with a big heart and a sweet spirit. And I loved the portrayal of the Anne-Diana dynamic: Diana being the string on Anne's balloon, grounding her when she needs it, but also liking her for who she is and always letting Anne be completely herself. Diana was quick to stand up for Anne and try to smooth things over with the other girls, and it was just a delight and really faithful to the spirit of their relationship in the books. And finally...Gilbert. Even though they changed his storyline quite a bit, I don't think they could have done better at capturing the heart and spirit of the boy who is simultaneously oh so dreamy and yet completely deserved that slate over the head. Every interaction between Anne and Gilbert was just right.
3. Jerry Buote. I'm not sure how many people would agree with me on this, but I actually enjoyed the way they significantly expanded Jerry's character. In the book, he's a name -- the hired hand who helps out on the farm and who never even gets a line of dialogue. In Anne with an E, he and Anne often interact like brother and sister, and I think it's kind of a fun addition.
4. A lot of little things....like the fateful Rasberry Cordial Tea, Ruby Gillis, the Story Club, the amazing opening credits, and Miss Josephine Barry. There were a lot of delightful moments in these seven episodes. Characters and small scenes or interactions that were just right, things that really captured some of the best things in the book. And even some scenes that weren't in the book, but could have been: like a scene where Marilla is worried and deals with it by staying up all night cleaning and baking.

Bottom line (finally, you say): There was enough I liked that if they make more I will keep watching. I'd recommend it, but with reservations, depending on your tolerance for changes to the source material. Ultimately though -- like I told Nicole -- if I'm hankering for the real thing, I can just pull out my books and dive into the familiar and wonderful world of Avonlea.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A Wednesday list

1. Met some friends at their neighborhood pool this morning. Last summer going swimming felt like a huge headache. C had just turned 2 and M wasn't even a year old yet. It all felt complicated and hard. But now that they're both walking, and no one's still drinking bottles, and C will stay beside me until she gets on her floaties it's much less of an ordeal. Plus, I've reached the stage of toddlerhood where leaving the house -- even for a trip to the pool -- doesn't require a bunch of stuff. So, we all had fun, the kids are napping, and it was a good mood booster for me.

2. I needed a mood booster because before we left, the kids were playing outside and both me and the littlest managed to step in some kind of animal poop in the middle of the yard. We don't have a pet. But my money is on one of the stray cats that roam our street or one of the litter of stray kittens that, while adorable, seem to think our backyard is their backyard (and no, we DO NOT feed them). I just want to be able to send the kids out to play without wondering if they will get covered in poop. They aren't going to look for it, or avoid it. This isn't the first time this has happened, and I'm just really, really over it. BUT! Pool time. I'm feeling much more chill now.

3. Yesterday, I finished reading First Impressions, by Charlie Lovett, and it was....pretty good. I have and really enjoyed Lovett's first novel; The Bookman's Tale, and First Impressions follows the same basic format: a literary mystery told half in present day and half in the past. I enjoyed the format (as I did with The Bookman's Tale), and I enjoyed the plot and the mystery. I thought the historical chapters -- which followed a fictionalized Jane Austen -- were well-done for the most part. Unfortunately, aside from the setting and plot, the present day chapters left a lot to be desired in my opinion. The characters -- even the main character, Sophie -- just felt completely flat and unrealistic. Lovett added a little romance into the story and while the idea was solid the execution was awkward and passionless and left me rolling my eyes so. hard. I'm of the opinion that authors can write fantastic characters of the opposite gender, but in this case it just felt like the author had a really hard time writing a woman character (not to mention that cringe-worthy romance). That said, I enjoyed the book enough -- and really enjoyed The Bookman's Tale -- that I wouldn't hesitate to pick up another book by the author again.

4. But let's talk about a really GOOD story.  Girlboss, on Netflix. It's a little vulgar (so, Mom, I don't think you'd like it), and the first couple of episodes I wasn't sure I could handle watching the main character for 12 more episodes, but it just kept getting better and better. It's the story of an early twenty-something girl who can't keep a job, can't figure out what she wants, has a complicated relationship with her Dad, and a pretty big chip on her shoulder. But one day she finds an expensive vintage leather jacket in a thrift shop for only $6 and sells it on Ebay for enough money to pay her rent and then some. So she starts a business. In her words: "You know when people flip houses? I do that, but with old clothes." What really kept me watching the show, was the storytelling. I love watching (or reading) characters grow, and watching them navigate relationships that feel authentic and complicated. And the pacing was spot on. Just enough tension and time to earn each step forward, each new development, but not so much that any one storyline dragged too much.

5. MEGAN WHALEN TURNER HAS A NEW BOOK OUT IN THE QUEEN'S THIEF SERIES. Y'all. I loved this series. Deceptively complex fantasy, with a unique world, brilliant storytelling, and one of my favorite characters of all time. It's been a while since I read the first four books in the series, but they're not too long so I'm going to reread them before I dive into number five. But you better believe it's sitting in my Kindle waiting for me!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

A Wednesday list

1. Recently finished At Home in the World, by Tsh Oxenreider. It's a travel memoir about a family of five who spent a school year traveling around the world, and I really enjoyed it. It's conversational, thoughtful, and full of gratitude. It made me want to travel, but also made me feel like it's okay to be a homebody sometimes. And it's not just a travel log or list of cool things the family got to see and do. It's more about self discovery, family, relationships, stepping out of your comfort zone, and longing for the familiar.

2. I'm a big Date Lady fan (my cousin's wife owns the company, but I'd be a fan anyway. It's delicious, award-winning stuff), and today tried one of their new products for the first time: Coconut Caramel Sauce. I am in LOVE. Y'all. I can't even with how good it is. The coconut is subtle, and the date-sweetened caramel is not too sweet. It's good on fruit, on ice cream, in coffee, on a spoon.

3. Apparently today is Global Running Day! I ran 3.18 miles to celebrate. Don't know if it's the humidity or what, but the runs have felt hard the past couple of weeks. I'm hoping my body stops rebelling soon.

4. I've been trying out new personal care products by Akamai Basics. The idea behind Akamai and their products is "personal care, radically simplified." Plus, everything is natural and organic and full of ingredients that are good for your body. Anyway, they have three products: a 3-in-1 bar, toothpaste, and skin fuel (an oil-based moisturizer). It's a subscription based company, so you get your box of goodies every two months, and you can customize the box as needed. I love the toothpaste. It's pretty reasonably priced for that kind of all-natural, organic, etc. product, so I'll probably keep buying it. It tastes a little weird at first, but it makes my mouth and teeth feel amazing. The skin fuel is nice and light. Right now, I use it in my hair, after I shave, and basically how I'd use lotion. The 3-in-1 bar I am torn on. 3-in-1: body/shave, face, hair. I like it as a soap/shaving cream replacement. My skin feels clean, but not dry, and it really does work well in place of shaving cream. It's fine on my face too (see: not dry). But it's the hair that I can't decide on. My hair feels clean but...different. I think it's the feeling you get if you don't wash your hair often, or don't use shampoo when you wash (people who wash with baking soda or other non-shampoo washes). Basically, I think it's just my hair returning to a more natural state. So, it feels clean...but also dirty? I think it LOOKS fine (at least, no one's told me it looks dirty), and I can go longer between washing, it, which is awesome (except, that when I'm running I wash it anyway, because -- sweat). So again, I'm torn. One day, I love it, then next, I hate it. And honestly, I'm overthinking it, which is ironic, since the whole idea is to make my life SIMPLER.

5.  I've got a library book sitting on my table and a stack of old advanced reader copies I've been meaning to read since I worked at the New Hanover County Public Library. My goal the next few months is to make my way though those and a few other library book sale purchases that have sat on the shelf unread for several years. I admittedly tend to get distracted by shiny new things (see: library book sitting on table), but I recently read one really good one, and put one unfinished in the donate pile that I just couldn't get into.

Happy Wednesday!


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Reading...A Study in Charlotte

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro is a delightful re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes. Imagine that James (Jamie) Watson and Charlotte Holmes are teenagers whose family legacy goes all the way back to the infamous Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. Imagine that Jamie and Charlotte are teenagers, and finally meet at a Connecticut boarding school where murder and attempted murder bring them into the thick of what one might consider a fated partnership.

There are many adaptations, re-tellings, and twists on the Sherlock and Watson story, and this one more than holds its own. I liked the idea of Holmes and Watson being real people whose families are connected for generations. You get a modern day Holmes trained in deduction and science and logic from birth, a teenager who consults with Scotland yard, but who's family legacy also includes a bit of neurosis, emotional detachment, mental illness, and drug addiction. I like that you get a Watson who is an aspiring writer, whose youthful fascination with the story of Charlotte Holmes turns into a genuine -- if unconventional -- relationship and deep bond.

There are other small gems in the story: Jamie's dad, Charlotte's brother, a couple of boarding school friends and one genuinely caring dorm mother. There are a lot of bits of humor and levity, just enough to offset some of the heavier elements like Charlotte's drug addiction and an (off camera) instance of sexual assault.

All in all, a great read if you like mysteries and boarding school and fated if slightly unconventional relationships. An especially great read if you like Sherlock Holmes.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Reading...Strange the Dreamer

I've decided that Lanie Taylor is basically a wizard. You know the story-within-a-story where the things an author writes come true? Taylor's writing is that way -- just magical. She writes captivating stories set in fantastical worlds that I can see unfurling across the page. Taylor's writing is lush and decadent. In the hands of a different author, it's the kind of writing that might seem overwrought, but Taylor's stories are the perfect vehicle for that kind of evocative prose -- they're fairy tales.

Strange the Dreamer is the story Lazlo Strange, a boy orphaned by war and raised by dutiful but somewhat uncaring monks in the city of Zosma. He finds solace in his imagination, and in stories. And for Lazlo, one story stands out above all the rest: the story of Weep, the legendary unseen city across the vast desert called the Elmuthaleth. Caravans full of stories and marvelous treasures would entice the countries on this side of the Elmuthaleth. Adventurers would set out to attempt the dangerous dessert crossing, but none returned, as outsiders were forbidden in the Unseen City and put to death. But two hundred years ago, all the caravans stopped coming, and people began to forget about Weep. For Lazlo, it was the story of all stories, a mystery that captivated him so much it helped him earn his nickname "Strange the Dreamer," and just a little bit of ridicule among his eventual colleagues at the Great Library.

Until one day, a company of legendary warriors from the Unseen City rode into Zosma, and everything changes. Lazlo is given the chance to accompany the Tizarkane warriors and the scholars they've recruited to help them solve a mysterious problem in Weep. It's the adventure he's always dreamt of, and one that will give him more questions than answers.

Strange the Dreamer is a story that lives in the gray areas -- where good people do bad things, where centuries of oppression and torture breed hate and fear, and where sometimes there is no clear path forward. It's a story about hoping and striving for the best, but sometimes having to face the worst.

Clearly, I loved this book. It's a duology, and I can't wait for book number two! But, I realize fairy tale-esque fantasy isn't for everyone. But if that IS your jam (or you are open to trying it) here's an excerpt from the book that I think represents it really well:

All his life, time had been passing in the only way he knew time to pass: unrushed and unrushable, as sands running through an hourglass grain by grain. And if the hourglass had been real, then in the bottom and neck --  the past and present -- the sands of Lazlo's life would be as gray as his robes, as gray as his eyes, but the top -- the future -- would hold a brilliant storm of color: azure and cinnamon, blinding white and yellow gold and the shell pink of svytagor blood. So he hoped, so he dreamed: that, in the course of time, grain by grain, the gray would give way to the dream and the sands of his life would run bright. 
Now the bird. The presence of magic. And something beyond the reach of understanding. An affinity, a resonance. It felt like...it felt like the turn of a page, and a story just beginning. There was the faintest glimmer of familiarity in it, as though he knew the story, but had forgotten it. And at that moment, for no reason he could put into words, the hourglass shattered. No more, the cool gray sift of days, the diligent waiting for the future to trickle forth. Lazlo's dream was spilled out into the air, the color and storm of it no longer a future to be reached, but a cyclone here and now. He didn't know what, but as surely as one feels the sting of shards when an hourglass tips off a shelf and smashes, he knew that something was happening.
Right now. 
 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Every mile counts


Travel survival skill: sleep when you can, where you can.
Nailed it.

This post was inspired by a book launch campaign from Tsh Oxenreider with the release of her new book At Home in the World (which I just started reading). I'm too late for the official launch-week "party," but I figure it's never to late to talk about something that's occupying brain space and capturing my interest!



I’ve always enjoyed traveling. Maybe it was the frequent trips to visit grandparents a few hours away. Or being an avid reader, visiting numerous places through the pages of books. Or maybe it was the two week road trip my family took when I was nine, driving from our home in Missouri to Michigan, Niagra Falls, New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., Tennessee, and Atlanta. Maybe it was seeing my Dad come home from a trip to China, full of stories and excitement from experiencing a new culture and connecting with people from across the globe. Aside from those few experiences, my family’s travel was mostly limited to trips to see grandparents and great-grandparents. But we took advantage of opportunities when we could:  a trip to Spain with my Dad in high school. A senior trip to England and Scotland. A family camping trip through Oklahoma and North Dakota. And those experiences planted the seed of wanderlust, a desire to travel and see and experience other places.  Fast forward a couple of decades, I've logged more miles and continued to take advantage of seeing new places when I can. The travel bucket list just keeps growing, and my husband and I slowly get ourselves into a position to continue see more of the world.

These days, any kind of dream factors in two sweet kiddos – a three year old and a one and a half year old. Travel is on my mind lately because I recently listened to a couple of podcasts talking about travel, in particular traveling with children. One constant theme: to have kids who are good travelers you just have to ….travel. Like most things in life, if you want to get better at something, or if you want it to be easier, you have to practice. At first, I thought to myself: well, better get busy planning family trips! And then the other day, as I was packing suitcases for a weekend trip to visit cousins in Austin I realzed: this was the sixth time in the past six moths that I’ve packed suitcases for a trip. A two-legged trip to Missouri in December to visit family, followed immediately by a vacation in North Carolina in January, a week in the country with the grandparents, followed two weeks later by a week in Florida (Disney World!). Back to the grandparents’ for Easter, the aforementioned last-minute trip to Austin, and most recently a weekend road trip to Oklahoma  for a half marathon. And there you have it: practice. And I realized, practice doesn’t have to be glamorous. Travel doesn’t have to be glamorous. Maybe it’s “just” going up to Nana and Grandpapa’s, but that’s still learning to be comfortable away from home. Maybe it’s “just” a trip to Oklahoma, but it’s still experiencing something beyond your neighborhood (and for a three year old from Texas, Oklahoma is probably pretty exotic). It’s getting used to flying, riding, and watching. It’s getting to a point I can pack for three in an hour (30 minutes if it’s just an overnight). It’s knowing what things I’m so thankful I packed, and what things just took up space.

It’s family together time, it’s (mostly) a lot of fun, and it’s growing travel and life skills one mile at a time.