Category Archives: Holidays

First Book of the Year 2018

Every New Year’s Day, Sheila from Book Journey hosts First Book of the Year where bloggers share … well, the first book they plan to read in the new year. I love this event because for as long as I can remember, I’ve always put considerable thought (perhaps too much) into the perfect book to launch another trip around the sun. Just like the invitation for a special event,  I think the first book can set the tone for the year.

Sometimes I’ve chosen something that aligns with my goals for the year, sometimes it has been a classic I’ve been wanting to read, and other times my choice is simply a book that seems to be right for the moment. I like my first book to be upbeat, perhaps somewhat inspirational, preferably by an author I’ve previously enjoyed.

For 2018, I’ve chosen a book by one of my favorite authors: Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan. I loved each of her previous books (The Middle Place, Glitter and Glue, Lift) and can’t wait to read this new one which is scheduled to be published next week (release date January 9).

(Truth be told, I’m probably going to be reading this and a review book since my first freelancing assignment is due January 6 — so this may very well wind up not being my actual first book — but we’ll just stick with this one in case the latter doesn’t work out.)

One of the fun things Sheila does for First Book of the Year is to create a photo collage of participants with our books. I can’t imagine how much work this is, but I love seeing what everyone else is reading.  You can check out our photos and book selections here.

Happy 2018 and happy reading!

 

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Sunday Salon/Currently … Wrapping Up 2017

“And that’s what I think I need to focus on more in 2017 — the moments themselves. Otherwise, the weighty expectations, anxiety, and emotional quagmires become too overwhelming. This isn’t a new realization or epiphany—just one that’s become more clear to me lately. Because yes, even in this craptastic and depressing year, there were some good moments. There’s always some good. Sometimes it’s hidden and hard to find, which means we need to look closer, go deeper. Make no mistake, though: count me among those glad to be drop-kicking 2016 into the ether of time while remaining vigilant of the dark days awaiting this brave new world arriving in 2017.”

~ written by me ( “may we all have our hopes, our will to try“) 12/31/2016

And here we are, at the end of another year … and my God, what a year it was, right? What can I say that hasn’t already been said about 2017? I’m certainly glad it’s over, but at the same time, I’m apprehensive about what the new year will bring. I mean, there’s always some uncertainty but living in these times makes it even moreso. Still, we survived the first year of this godawful regime, which is no small feat.

For this last post of 2017, though, I don’t want to focus on the political.  There’s been plenty of that and next year promises more of the same. I’m planning to resist just as hard — if not more–in 2018. Nor do I want to dwell too much on what was difficult about this year. There have been more than a few disappointments and challenges, ones that won’t vanish at the stroke of midnight. They will still be with us in the days to come. But instead, as I wrote last year, I want to spend the last remaining hours remembering the good moments of the past 365 days while looking ahead to 2018.

Best Moments: Reading 
Reaching my goal of reading 50 books. For those of you who care about such things, I have a separate post in the works with my favorite books of the year and other fun bookish stats.

Best Moments: Writing
Writing for Shelf Awareness where I had 29 book reviews published. In addition to those, I had the privilege of interviewing Douglas Abrams (The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World), John Boyne (The Heart’s Invisible Furies), Heather Harpham (Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Happily Ever After), Natasha Pulley (The Bedlam Stacks), and Beatriz Williams (Cocoa Beach).  I only had one review in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, of a book (Lucky Boy) I didn’t like. I say this every year, but I’m hoping to write more in 2018, both on the blog and elsewhere. I need to develop a plan to make this happen.

Best Moments: In the Kitchen 
Getting an Instant Pot!  It has changed my life.

Best Moments: With the Family
Although the weather didn’t cooperate, we enjoyed a relaxing vacation at the shore. It was a nice break in the midst of an intense time. The Boy went to a four week day camp this summer, which also didn’t work out as well as we had hoped. It just wasn’t the best fit. He’s made at least one close friend this year at school and has actually joined an after-school club. He’s been doing a lot of writing. He helped another friend who was considering suicide.

The Girl volunteered at the library this summer, learned how to play the drums (and wants to learn the guitar) as part of Girls Rock Pittsburgh, and participated in two summer writing camp programs. She’s also become quite the artist and is in the Art Club at school. She’s helped several friends in crisis situations, too. Both kids made the High Honor Roll this semester. They’re not perfect — none of us are — and while I wish they would get along better, I’m incredibly proud of both of them.

Best Moments: In Music
Seeing Bon Jovi in concert with The Girl. A great show, even though it was a bit abbreviated because of Jon not feeling well.

Best Moments: At Church
I joined a women’s group at church. We meet monthly and discuss various topics. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know these women. The Girl became more active in the youth group.

Best Moments: Healthwise
I had some routine bloodwork done last week and was surprised to learn my cholesterol and triglyceride levels have actually gone DOWN! I’ve also maintained the 10 pound weight loss from when I was running. I haven’t kept up with running but in September, I decided to try yoga — and I really liked it. That’s among my goals for 2018. Oh, and I’ve also gotten into essential oils.

So, here we are. Another New Year’s Eve. Tonight is no different than any other night. We’re hanging out at home, just the four of us, no big plans. I’m finishing up my 50th book of the year. The Husband’s watching something on his iPad — basketball, I think. The kids are in their rooms, doing whatever. Maybe we’ll stay up till midnight and watch everyone freezing their asses off in Times Square. Maybe not.

Wishing you and yours a happy 2018. See you on the other side.

 

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until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow

There was an unsettled feeling to this Christmas, a kind of betwixt and between sense of things. Or, perhaps more accurately, the feeling of being on the precipice of a new, still unsettling normal in our lives. I mean, sometimes one’s new normal descends quickly; it’s here, deal with it, like it or not. Then there are times when the change is more gradual yet still palpable — you see it and you feel it and you know in your heart that everything from here on out will be different.

None of this probably makes much sense, does it? I’m not sure it makes sense to me, despite rewriting that paragraph dozens of times, over several days. I should probably state that the kids are fine. The Husband and I are fine. We’re muddling through some issues (obviously), some of which I’ve discussed here (my father-in-law’s dementia) and some which I haven’t. It was just a reminder of how much has changed, the absence of certain people, and the uncertainty that the future brings.

We spent a few days in Philly for Christmas. It was mostly fine, but there were a lot of reminders and memories of what once was and what is missing. My father-in-law racing around collecting all the wrapping paper as soon as the gifts were opened. My mother-in-law baking cookies. Getting together with several of our longtime friends. For various reasons, none of those things happened this year and I missed all of it. I tried really hard to “get out of my head” and focus on the here and now, to enjoy the holidays. I was semi-successful.

Here are some photo highlights:

Winter solstice sunrise. I happened to catch this in the parking lot of the hospital where I had to get some routine bloodwork done and I was glad I did.

On Christmas Eve, my mom was looking for some things in a closet when some papers fell out. Among them was this Christmas list of gifts for me and The Husband, written in my Mom-Mom’s handwriting. We never saw this list before. Christmas was a big deal for my Mom-Mom.  Her house was always beautifully decorated and she always went overboard with the presents (she shopped for Christmas year round). She has been gone almost 14 years now, and I chose to look at this as her way of wishing us a Merry Christmas.

(Also? The fact that this is written on an investment advisor’s notepad is laughable because my grandmother spent every dime she had (and the dimes she didn’t) on her grandchildren. We were the bonds she chose to invest in. At 48, I can tell you it paid off bigtime.)

I like going back to our former Unitarian Universalist church for Christmas Eve services. The service is generally the same and many of the congregants are familiar faces from when we first attended 17 years ago. It’s a time for me to slow down and reflect on the season. During trips like these that have so much change, it’s a place and a routine that remains constant for me and I love that.

Philly didn’t get a white Christmas this year (completely fine by me) but rather a sunny and extremely windy one. This was a quiet moment at my mom and stepfather’s house on Christmas morning.

We kept the gifts for The Boy and The Girl to a minimum this year — only three per kid, including a bag of small stocking stuffer items.   Some popular gifts, from left to right: For The Boy, Wii Survivor (he’s an expert on all things Survivor — he absolutely loves anything and everything having to do with the show and can talk strategy and eliminations for days); for The Girl, an issue of Teen Vogue guest-edited by Hillary Rodham Clinton; also for The Girl, a Litograph of Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, her absolute favorite author.

My mother-in-law’s traditional Christmas morning breakfast of French toast casserole (on left) and an egg casserole. We all look forward to this every year. As we did for Thanksgiving, we arranged to bring the meal to my father-in-law at the long-term care facility where he is living (The Place) and we were able to eat together. We also had fruit, coffee (which we picked up at Dunkin Donuts beforehand), and juice. For Christmas dinner we did Chinese.

The Girl and I attempted a Scrabble game. It didn’t go well. As soon as I started winning, she wanted nothing to do with the game. (I don’t believe in letting kids win, especially when they’re 16.) So much for trying to start a new tradition.

 

I’ve been off from work since last Wednesday, thanks to having a bunch of vacation days to burn. This week between Christmas and New Year’s is my favorite time of the year. As usual, I had grand plans to accomplish ALL THE THINGS — decluttering the house, collecting certain receipts for tax purposes, organizing my overflowing bookshelves, cleaning out my closet, reading my January review books (and writing the reviews), prepping some blog posts, revamping the blog, going to yoga ….

I wound up doing some of those things. A corner of the kitchen is in the process of being decluttered. I have the majority of the receipts in one place. I prepped some blog posts. I also watched a movie (“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”) and did a “Glee” marathon with The Girl. I cooked some homemade freezer dinners (minestrone soup, chicken breasts with mashed sweet potatoes and vegetables) to take to my mother-in-law and, once in Philly, we took her grocery shopping. I got my required bloodwork done (thyroid level monitoring). I finished one book (H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald) and am almost finished with a second (Autism Adulthood by Susan Senator), putting me within one book of my 2017 Goodreads goal of 50 books. I’ll have some bookish wrap up posts throughout the next few days.

“And I do come home at Christmas. We all do, or we all should. We all come home, or ought to come home, for a short holiday–the longer, the better–from the great boarding-school, where we are for ever working at our arithmetical slates, to take, and give a rest. As to going a visiting, where can we not go, if we will; where have we not been, when we would; starting our fancy from our Christmas Tree!”  ~ Charles Dickens

“After so long an absence
At last we meet agin:
Does the meeting give us pleasure,
Or does it give us pain?

The tree of life has been shaken,
And but few of us linger now,
Like the prophets two or three berries
In the top of the uppermost bough.

We cordially greet each other
In the old, familiar tone;
And we think, though we do not say it,
How old and gray he is grown!

We speak of a Merry Christmas
And many a Happy New Year;
But each in his heart is thinking
Of those that are not here.

We speak of friends and their fortunes,
And of what they did and said,
Till the dead alone seem living,
And the living alone seem dead.

And at last we hardly distinguish
Between the ghosts and the guests;
And a mist and shadow of sadness
Steals over our merriest jests.”
“The Meeting” ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

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Light Up the Holidays with Rachel Cole

We are all about holiday music in our house. Beginning on Thanksgiving Day, we start listening exclusively to Christmas tunes; this lasts until New Years Day when we switch back to our regular playlists. There are two exceptions during this time: November 29 when we honor the life of the late great George Harrison by playing his entire catalogue and December 8, when we pay homage to the brilliance of John Lennon with his oeuvre.

Otherwise, we’re fa-la-la-la-la’ing and oh-by-gosh-by-golly’ing 24/7.

This is all festive and merry for a good, say, two or three weeks.

It’s usually around this time that I get a little weary of marshmallow worlds, reindeers running over grandmas and Christmas shoes. In other words, the same old, same old.

Not this year.

On heavy rotation is “Light Up the Holidays” by Rachel Cole, her fifth studio album that celebrates several of the light-filled holidays that so many of us enjoy during the cold, dark Winter months.

“We’re living in a very divisive time right now,” Rachel says, adding that her intent with this album was to bring people together through music. “The focus is on the celebrations that we all share during the Winter months, honoring and recognizing our similarities rather than our differences.”

(Full disclosure time: Rachel has been a personal friend of mine since our high school days. She and her husband Jason are exceptional people. They’re incredibly generous, kind, and are the kind of folks who just radiate love and goodness. They — along with their kids and Rachel’s parents — are some of my favorite people in the world. I love them. So, yeah, she’s a friend but one who just so happened to be nominated for “Best New Artist” at the New Music Weekly Awards in Hollywood, among her many other accomplishments.)

“Light Up the Holidays” is an upbeat, pop and jazz inspired collection of music that includes covers of standards such as “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and  “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” alongside three of Rachel’s original compositions. “Savor the Joy”, “‘Tis the Season” and “Hanukkah is Here” are excellent additions to any holiday playlist.

Along with Rachel’s talented lead vocals (she also plays piano and strings on this album), “Light Up the Holidays” features several other accomplished musicians and singers. Among them are Peter Vantine (piano, keyboard, strings, arrangements), Peter Tentindo (guitar, vocals, arrangements), Lou Spagnola (bass), Tom Major (drums and percussion), Peter Levesque (saxophone), Jacyn Tremblay (backup vocals), Lily Horst (making her studio recording debut on this album with backup vocals), Rory Martinelli and Kenny Lewis (producer, sound engineer, mixing engineer, mastering). Rachel and her husband Jason Cole duet on “Let It Snow.”

Here’s how to get your own copy of “Light Up the Holidays”:

Entire album “Light Up the Holidays” is available now at:
http://cdbaby.com/cd/rachelcole
www.rachelcolemusic.com
Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/2dxBrAPb0BQbhOEYigLbMG
iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/…/album/light-up-the-ho…/1311089172

And here’s a YouTube clip of Rachel’s “Jingle Bells/Dreidle Song” mashup which is included on “Light Up the Holidays.”

“The holiday season is a time of gathering together with family and friends and bringing light into the darkness of December,” Rachel said. “It is my hope that this album and its music will be a light to you, the people you love, and to the world around us all days.” 

 

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Sunday Salon … Reading Elf

That’s a photo of one of my favorite ornaments on our tree and among the oldest. I remember receiving it as a child — I’m thinking it was a gift from my grandparents, because it’s the sort of thing my Mom-Mom would have bought me as a kid — but I can’t remember how old I was. Maybe 10? Anyway, I love it. We decorated the tree on Wednesday (I had a vacation day from work).

It’s been a lazy weekend, which is fine with me. Other than grocery shopping, I haven’t done much of anything. The Girl and I had plans to go to the art museum and a craft fair yesterday, but I just needed a quiet day. I planned our meals for the week and prepped some chicken tenders for the kids’ dinners — that’s about it.

We have a mere dusting of snow outside, but nothing compared to what others have gotten. I’m planning to be a reading elf today. I need to write a review of a book I think is going to be a huge hit early next year (can’t say much about it yet) and I have to spend some time with another book for an author interview I’m doing on Tuesday. It’s a nice feeling to be heading into 2018 with several freelance assignments on tap.

This week’s reading included Promise Me, Dad by Joe Biden which was everything I expected it to be — heartfelt, sad, real and honest. I’m planning a full review here on the blog soon, but one takeaway I had from this is while Promise Me, Dad is a memoir about a father’s (and a family’s) grief, first and foremost, it’s also a poignant and sobering reminder about how much we have lost as a country. While his son Beau was in treatment for aggressive glioblastoma, Joe was negotiating and managing world events in the Ukraine and Iraq. His recounting of those situations is like reading a national security brief. The depth of knowledge and understanding about the most volatile and complex regions, the familiarity and trust with global leaders … in a week that included the POSOTUS’s actions in regard to Jerusalem, it just underscores what should be apparent to any rational individual — that these fragile unprecedented times in which we live are being made even more so by the callousness and ignorance of the current regime.

And no, Joe Biden isn’t the author interview I have scheduled on Tuesday — how I wish! — but if I was so lucky, I know I’d be all full on Leslie Knope.

I could watch that Parks and Rec clip on a loop.  I love it.

Hope your Sunday is going well.

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the blessings of a blue thanksgiving

 

Towards the end of our family’s Thanksgiving dinner, our 9 year old nephew started doodling on the paper tablecloth.

“I’m going to draw … a submarine,” he announced, followed by a necessary clarification.

“It’s really yellow, but I’m going to make it blue.”

The submarine was perched on a rainbow next to a leprechaun (“he’s really green, but I’m going to make him blue”), a cowboy (“really brown, but now blue,”), as well as a turtle, camel and dollar bill, among others.

All — you guessed it — blue.

He had no choice. All he had was a blue pen; hence, things that aren’t typically blue became such.

And with that, a little boy’s imagination summed up everything I want to remember about this Thanksgiving.


We traveled to Philadelphia this year, knowing that this Thanksgiving was going to be different than any other we had before. (Except for, of course, the Thanksgiving dinner when the husband suffered a seizure and I had to revive him on the bathroom floor.)

I’ve alluded to the Ongoing Family Situation in recent posts and have gotten permission from The Husband to share a bit more on the blog about what’s happening. My father-in-law, who is only 71, was diagnosed with dementia this spring. I know many of you have experienced this within your own families and loved ones, so you know how this horrible disease changes everything and affects everyone. We’re fortunate that my father-in-law is able to be in a long-term care facility, which, after evaluating several options, is where we gathered for Thanksgiving dinner.

We had no idea what to expect. We just knew it wasn’t going to be like anything we experienced before.

It’s really supposed to be _______ (insert blank with whatever vision we have in our heads of what Thanksgiving should be like). 

But I’m going to make it blue. 


My sister-in-law ordered a delicious dinner and brought it to the home, where our reservations were for 3 p.m. in one of the facility’s conference rooms.

We ate, and then for more than two hours, we sat around the table as we laughed and talked about old family memories. My father-in-law was, thankfully, having a really good day.

I had asked The Husband if he was OK with me taking photos. He agreed, but in the end, I didn’t take a single picture — not of the food (which I’m notorious for doing), not of the relatives, not of our nephew’s drawings on the tablecloth.

One of the things dementia does is force you to be more present in the here and now. It’s all about today, this very moment, because the future is too damn uncertain and the past is … well, gone. You can wish things to be different all you want but that’s not going to change the reality of what is.

It’s not going to make something that’s blue suddenly turn back into green.

Or whatever color you think things should be. 

So I deliberately kept my cell phone in my purse, didn’t take any photos or post any updates to Facebook.

Remember this, I told myself, in all its uncertainty and all of its sadness.

Remember how much laughter  and smiles and light and love there was, in a moment and a time when you didn’t expect there to be any.

Remember that you always, always have the power to change the color. That even if it’s different, it can still be beautiful.

Remember the blue.

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being thankful, even when it’s hard

Thanksgiving 2017.

Grateful for you, for being there amidst the hard.

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