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currently … wrapping up christmas

Christmas Eve - presents

Christmas Eve, 2015

Currently
It’s our last night of our Christmas vacation in Philly. We’ve been here just shy of a week, enjoying a nice balance of seeing family and friends (usually over brunch or dinner) while also having some downtime (usually spent reading or writing).  It’s always impossible to fit in everyone who we’d like to see and all we’d like to do, but I think it worked out well this time.

Tomorrow’s a travel day back to the “Burgh, then I’m off on Tuesday. Whenever possible, I try to give myself a “re-entry day” on the tail end of these trips. It’s back to work on Wednesday — along with one final dentist appointment this year to use up some insurance dollars — before another few remaining vacation days segue into a long weekend.

Christmas Reading

Like FamilyRDear Mr. You

I admit, I’m scrambling to meet my goal of 52 books read in 2015.  Right now, my tally is 47 (much lower than previous years).  This may be attainable if I stick to shorter books, but I’m not sure.

Reading short books was my strategy for this trip.  So far on this vacation, I’ve read one —Like Family by Paolo Giordano. I was so excited to see this one at the library because I loved (but, sadly, didn’t review) his previous novel, The Solitude of Prime Numbers.  I really liked this new one, which I breezed through in a few hours (if that). Told in flashback and set in Italy, it’s about a couple who hire a housekeeper, Mrs. A., to help out during a difficult pregnancy and who stays on as a nanny for several years. After Mrs. A. is diagnosed with cancer, she decides to leave the household abruptly. The book, then, is about how she has changed the course of the couple’s marriage and their lives.

Right now I’m reading Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker, which is incredibly well-written and very likely to be on my favorites list. This exactly the reason why I usually don’t post my best-of lists before year’s end; this time of year often brings more opportunities than usual to read and more often than not, something I read while we finish up this trip around the sun surprises and delights me.  Dear Mr. You is going to be that book. The concept is fantastic: it’s structured as a collection of letters that Ms. Parker has written to each of the significant men in her life.

Christmas Not Reading …
For the past few years, I’ve enjoyed spending part of Christmas week with a holiday-themed story. The timing of this needs to be carefully considered and calibrated; I don’t like to start this particular book much before Christmas Eve and I like to be finished by the day after Christmas. This started in 2011 when I reviewed A Clockwork Christmas, a collection of four steampunk tales.

A Christmas Carol was my 2012 selection, followed by The Chimes last year. (I’m not sure what happened in 2013. Maybe A Christmas Carol again, I don’t know.)  I wasn’t impressed with The Chimes, and I was even less enamored with this year’s selection, The Cricket on the Hearth. Slightly less than halfway through this one, there was still no sign of Christmas in Dickens’ long-winded and discombobulated narrative.  This happened to be one of my Classics Club selections, too (although not the one for this most recent spin), so I’ll probably replace it with something.

Christmas Listening …
Between wrapping gifts and a few bouts of insomnia, I’ve been listening to more podcasts than usual. Here are some of the best:

The Writer’s Almanac: “The Meeting” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (12/25/2015)
Such a perfect poem for Christmas when you’re missing someone special.

Burnt Toast: “Someone Put a Diaper on the Turkey” (12/17/2015)
Listeners’ stories of hilarious holiday disasters involving food.

New Yorker Poetry: Ellen Bass Reads Adam Zagajewski (12/16/2015)
Adam Zagajewski’s poem “Try to Praise the Mutilated World” resonated with me.

On Being: Martin Sheen: Spirituality of Imagination (12/16/2015)
Fantastic interview with actor and activist Martin Sheen about his spirituality.

“Yeah, the love that I longed for, and I think all of us really long for, is knowing that we are loved. A knowingness about our being that unites us to all of humanity, to all of the universe. That despite ourselves, we are loved. And when you realize that, and you embrace that, you begin to look at everyone else and you can see very clearly who in your vision knows they’re loved and who does not. And that makes all the difference. And I began to give thanks and praise for that love. You know how, so often, people say they go on this journey — and I said it, too — that “I’m looking for God.” But God has already found us, really. We have to look in the spot where we’re least likely to look, and that is within ourselves. And when we find that love, that presence, deep within our own personal being — and it’s not something that you can earn, or something that you can work towards. It’s just a realization of being human, of being alive, of being conscious. And that love is overwhelming. And that is the basic foundation of joy. And we become enviable joyful. And then we see it in others, and we seek to ignite that love in others. You can’t do it. You can’t force someone to realize they’re loved, but you can show them.” – Martin Sheen

The Moth Podcast: Eve Plumb and The Pittsburgh StorySLAM (12/15/2015) 
Eve Plumb (you know her as Jan Brady) is hilarious in this episode of The Moth where she shares stories about her childhood on and off the set of The Brady Bunch, and her relationship with her mother. In another story (not involving Eve Plumb or Jan Brady), a slideshow of photos intended for an audience of two winds up being shown at a family gathering.

Christmas Shopping …
The Husband, The Girl, and I all received some great books for Christmas — and The Girl and I went on a little bit of a shopping spree (thanks to her Christmas cash burning a hole in her pocket) at two local independent bookstores.  I need to wrap up this post, though, and get to bed, so I’ll plan on doing that recap separately.

Anticipating … 
I can’t believe this is the last Sunday Salon/Currently for 2015!  I really like doing these posts (even though they tend to take me forever) and in looking back over my blogging this year, oftentimes they’ve been the only posts I’ve written in a particular week.  I’m hoping to remedy that in 2016.

In addition to the book haul from this week, I have a few other fun posts planned.  Hope your holidays were good ones and that you have a great last week of 2015!

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Podcasts of the Week: Ep. 7 and 8: You Downloaded How Much Data?!

Apple iPhone 6 - PDI

Photo Credit: Public Domain Images; Apple iPhone 6; click through for source

A weekly (more or less) blog feature where I talk about podcasts and recommend a few shows from my playlist. 

Conversation at the Verizon Wireless store two weeks ago while signing our lives away reviewing my current plan in order to add The Husband’s new phone:

Verizon guy: “You only used about 10 GBs of data in April and May, but your data usage nearly tripled in June. Something happened in June ….”

Me: “Hmm, I’m thinking maybe it was subscribing to 107 podcasts?”

Yes, friends. As of right now, I’m subscribed to 107 podcasts. One hundred and SEVEN. And that’s with deleting some and adding others that sound good, and then deleting some more. I certainly don’t listen to every episode from every podcast I subscribe to, but apparently this has gotten a little out of control.

I’m trying to be more selective. I really am. But, there’s so much damn good stuff out there. And because there is, I’m grateful for unlimited data plans, of which I was grandfathered into a long time ago and am not inclined to give up anytime soon.

My latest listening discovery is On House of Cards, a podcast produced by On the Media. I am a huge HOC fan. Love, love, love that show. I finished Season 3 over the Fourth of July weekend and cannot possibly wait until February when new episodes are released. Until then, I’m going to try and handle my withdrawal through the On House of Cards podcast, mostly for what the guests themselves have to say. I’m going in backwards order; I listened to the May 20 episode, “The End of the Road” with guest Beau Willison.

Speaking of all things Presidential, last week I finally got around to checking out WTF with Marc Maron, who showed up on my PocketCast app as being one of the podcasts I should discover. This was about a week or two before Marc’s interview with President Barack Obama, which you may have heard a little something about. I still haven’t listened to that episode because of some technical issues on my end (it keeps failing to download on my phone). I definitely plan to, though.

Last Thursday, I happened to catch Episode 618: Ed Asner and Adam Goldberg  (7/9/2015) which I enjoyed and not just because I was listening to a podcast practically in real time, on the same day it was … what’s the word? Podcasted? Anyway, I like Marc’s interview style – very casual, just shootin’ the shit.  They talked about the acting that Asner did before Mary Tyler Moore (for me and many other people, Asner will always, always be Lou Grant) and about being shunned by casting directors for his comments on El Salvador. Great interview – very entertaining and funny.

Almost every podcast I downloaded this week focused on Go Set a Watchman, which, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know as the controversial “new” novel by the legendary Harper Lee. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to read this; I have a strong appreciation for To Kill a Mockingbird as a literary classic, I don’t consider it one of my “taking with me on a desert island” books. I’m more curious than anything, I suppose. I’m #24 on the library’s e-book holds list for this one, and while I’m waiting, I’ve listened to more than a few podcasts this week about Go Set a Watchman.

The ReadersThe most enjoyable episode was from The Readers, a (new-to-me) podcast that I knew I would love because Simon Savidge ISavidge Reads) and Thomas Otto (Hogglestock) are two of my favorite book bloggers.  In “Ep. 131: Go Set a Headline and Ten Classic Books You May Not Have Read But Should” (7/13/2015), they discuss the spoilers that several major news outlets have shared and how that has influenced whether they will be reading the book. I will admit I was also more than a little annoyed by the spoilers, so hearing Thomas’ take on this was validating.

In addition to the various book podcasts I’ve been listening to, I’ve found that short stories work great in this medium and are usually perfectly timed for my commute to work. The Moth offers some of the best storytelling and Episode 1202: Blue Men, Psychopaths and a Bad Date (6/30/2015) was fantastic. John Grady, formerly of the Blue Men Group, tells us about a particularly memorable performance; Neuroscientist James Fallon shares a personal discovery from the lab and former SNL cast member Rachel Dratch recounts a bad date.

My final recommendation from the past two weeks comes from WNYC’s Death, Sex and Money with Anna Sale. Siblinghood (7/1/2015) looked at the relationships we have with our brothers and sisters and the impact that this bond has on ourselves and our lives.

’til next week …

 

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