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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Summer Book Review

Summer is my favorite time to read.

I love kicking back with a glass of iced tea or lemonade (or occasionally something stronger) and a good book. I'll read just about anything, but I wanted to share with you what I've read so far this summer.

Full disclosure, I started reading The Graveyard Book while it was still the school year, but I'm reviewing it here for you anyway. Neil Gaiman is kind of weird guy (Coraline, anyone?) but I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The premise is that of The Jungle Book (which, much to my sister's amusement, took me about half the book to realize even though it pretty much says so on the back cover), except it takes place in a graveyard instead of the jungle. Baby boy is adopted by dead parents who live in the graveyard. He is raised under their care, as well as that of the mysterious caretaker, Silas.

This book blurred the lines beautifully between the fantastical and the realistic. It has a seamlessly timeless feel, made possible by the vastly different eras represented through the characters (Saxon England to the very recently dead). There is just enough symbolism and mythology entwined in the plot to be fun, and enough suspense to make you read faster.

Jeannette Walls is rapidly becoming a favorite author of mine. I read her memoir, The Glass Castle, in college when I worked in a bookstore. She redefined biographies for me, gifted storyteller that she is. This is her second novel, and I intend to get ahold of her other novel as soon as I can.

The Silver Star is a coming-of-age book, which is among my favorite genres. It is also about the relationship between sisters, something close to my heart. Ms. Walls reveals beautifully the depth of love and closeness even in a seemingly dysfunctional family, and how even broken families can be there for one another in their own way. The story takes place mostly in a little town in Virginia, stuck in the 1950's and happy to stay that way. Two sisters travel across the country to find a new home in this little town, and they learn to navigate through a whole new world there. The relationships are so authentic and the quirks of her characters are extremely lovable. Definitely a great summer read.

Yes, yes, I know. It's going to be a chick flick! It's a NYT Bestseller! Whatever your thoughts are (and frankly, I find John Green a funny enough guy to be interested in his work anyway) I knew I wanted to at least give this book a shot.

My friend told me she didn't want to read this book on principle, and I understand that. It's a romance, it's about teenagers and puppy love, and it's just popular enough to make you think it's going to be all sap. But really, I thought this book was all guts and humor. Sure, it's puppy love and false noblesse oblige and teenage angst. But it's also heart and laughter and honesty. Main character (and narrator) Hazel has terminal cancer and is pretty stoic about it. Her life sucks and she knows it, and she makes no bones about how short that life going to be. Her partners in crime are equally frank about their situations, and very little attempt is made to gloss over the harder aspects of terminal illness. The overarching theme is fairly simple--"pain demands to be felt." And guess what? You feel it. Yes, I cried, and yes, parts of it were sappy. But it felt like an honestly-come-by sappiness, rather than excessive, Nicholas-Sparks-eqsue sap. Totally worth your time, and your tissues.

My sister recommended this book to me, and my sister reads awesome stuff so I usually try to follow through when she gives me books.

This is a futuristic dystopian novel, and a very creative one at that. It takes place in the not-too-distant future, when the natural resources of the Earth have been drained and the planet is in shambles. Most of the world spends the majority of their time inside the OASIS, an all-encompassing virtual reality. It's a video game like none have ever seen before--children can go to school, people have jobs and build relationships, and there's plenty of magic, fantastical technology, and excitement for "traditional" RP (role play) gamers. The creator of the OASIS dies before the book begins, and he leaves behind an incredible quest through the virtual reality, the winner of which will inherit his vast fortune and control of the OASIS. We follow the main character and narrator, Wade (or Parzival, as his avatar is named), through the quest, which is almost entirely based in 1980's trivia and pop culture.

This book wowed me with the depth of knowledge conveyed by the author of the 1980's. I was a child of the 90's and I knew almost none of the intricate details covered in the novel. I also enjoyed the adventure elements of the book, and I'm always a fan of a good dystopic novel. However, I am not quite enough of a geek to appreciate all the gaming details in the book. I know it's hard to believe that there's a limit to my nerdiness, but I'm not a video or computer gamer, so the parts where the main character simply turned on his jet pack shoes (which were previously unknown to the reader) was a little hard to swallow. However, I have a strong feeling that this is just my bias. My lack of gaming knowledge didn't make the story less enjoyable, and someone with more gaming background would probably have an instant connection to those jet pack shoes or experience levels.

The only thing about this book that disappointed was the lack of discussion surrounding why the Earth was in such bad shape, and what the future would look like once the quest is won. I would have appreciated a little more dystopia (and fewer wizards, but again, I think that's just me).

What have you been reading this summer? Do you have a favorite genre or author?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Mrs. H: Kindergarten Teacher

Beginning in September, I will have my very own class of kindergarten students!! 

I am beyond thrilled and thankful for this opportunity. 

After three fantastic years with Upper Dublin, I am leaving for a permanent position with a local private school, teaching kindergarten. You can be anticipating plenty of teachery posts coming soon as I get my classroom and curriculum ready! 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Summer Part 2

Almost immediately after getting home from San Diego I left again, this time to visit the Midwest and my parents.

(Mostly my parents. The Midwest does very little for me aside from visiting family. No offense, billions of acres of cornfields.)

First stop, my mom's house. She and her husband John live in South Bend, which is actually a very nice little city with an awesome walking trail around the river. She, my brother, and I decided to take her dog Fin for a walk and enjoy the beautiful summer weather.

Mama! And handsome brother. 

Isn't it pretty? 

Such a peaceful view. 

Little Fin. 

Good lookin' fam.

We also spent the better part of one day cooking, but we didn't take pictures because it was a pretty lazy, laid-back process. We made Lemon Thyme Chicken,

Smells so good. 

These pictures are from the first time I made the recipe. It's a good one! 

We also made Summer Vegetable Tian, Spinach and Apple Salad, and Chocolate Eclair Icebox Cake. All Pinterest recipes, and all delicious.

The next day Mom and I hung out and did girly stuff (you know, shopping and pedis). That evening all four of us went to a Silver Hawks game, the South Bend AAA Division baseball team.

We had awesome seats. 

The next day Josh and I trekked up to Michigan to visit our dad. We went to a flea market, stopped at the local brewery and winery so Dad could send some things back to PA with me, and then settled in at his house for a nice game of Scrabble.

Josh kicks butt at this game.

I do not. 

They also have a cute little furball named Grace. 

After Dad and his wife Cathy took us out to an awesome dinner, Josh and I headed back to South Bend. I headed for home the next day.

But not without the obligatory bottle of Three Floyd's. Mmm.

And thus ends my travelsome escapades for the summer. Have you been anywhere awesome? Planning to go?

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Summer So Far

Yikes. For some reason, the whole "schedule your posts! post regularly! consistency is key!" part of blogging has totally fallen through lately.

My apologies, friends.

So, to catch ended beautifully, and literally 6 hours after logging out of my Upper Dublin computer for the last time, I was en route to sunny San Diego, one of my absolute favorite places in the world.

If you've never been, go. Like, now.

If you can't magically transport yourself to the gloriousness that is Southern California, you can console (torment?) yourself with the following pictures from our trip.

My first day there (Dan had already been there for a few days for a business trip) we went to Balboa Park, which the 1200 acre urban park in San Diego that encompasses the San Diego Zoo, and a vast array of other museums, gardens, and architecture. About halfway through our day there, after visiting two museums and enjoying glorious foliage and buildings, Dan asked, "How have we not visited here before?"

Balboa Park

Botanical House at Balboa Park

Gorgeous lily

Balboa Park

If you'll remember, this is our third visit to San Diego, and he was astonished that we had missed out on this huge awesomeness. I told him that it had previously been passed over in favor of good beer.

He was glad we got to do both this time.

That evening we went to Coronado Beach, one of the most famous beaches in SoCal due to the crazy expensive hotel on the island.

Sunset over the Pacific. 

Also, I feel the need to point out: do you notice the slight haze on the horizon? Yeah, apparently that's called the "June gloom." That haze, which exists on every skyline in Philadelphia from May until October due to the ridiculous smothering humidity, occurs for a couple weeks every June in San Diego. And it's the worst weather they get.

It's not even humid. Just hazy.


We asked some super friendly and chatty natives to take our picture. 

The next day we went to La Jolla Beach, where we took a kayak/snorkeling trip with a guide company. It was completely awesome, but sadly we did not get any pictures. Frankly, I'm ok with it...I was fine walking around in a wetsuit, but I don't mind the lack of photographic evidence.

We did get to kayak from the beach to the cove, and then we snorkeled around for probably an hour. The water is so.freaking.clear. This Philly gal, raised on the grayishness that is the Mid-Atlantic, was in awe. And I swam until the last possible moment, even though I was shivering as I flippered. One of our tour-mates told me that I looked like Rose in the last scenes of the Titanic.


And, being the major geek that I am, I immediately pictured this.

I digress.

Back to San Diego!

We had an absurd red-eye flight home on our last day, so we decided to check out of our hotel and drive up the coast a bit. We drove through Encinitas and Carlsbad, and stopped at a local farmer's market along the way. Dan was in awe at that. Best peaches of the summer.

Finally we found a scenic look-out point.


The weather is ALWAYS perfect. 

Finally, we drove back down the coast to the airport.

So, yeah. If you've never been to San Diego, you definitely need to go.

More coming soon!

Thursday, July 10, 2014


Summer posts coming soon...check back on Saturday for some regularly scheduled updates!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Lessons Learned (Thoughts on 5 Years)

Yesterday Dan and I celebrated our five-year anniversary. Since I'm a contemplative person, I like to think back to those five years and all that happened. Somewhere along the way we went from this, 

To this, 

And this, 

To this. 

I like to think that I've picked up a few notions along the way, and dropped other notions as I've learned that they are not useful. However, five years by no means makes me knowledgeable about the ways and means of marriage. 

Thus, I'm not really surprised at my surprise that yesterday was (I think) my favorite anniversary so far. 

See, Dan left this morning for a business trip in San Diego. I'm joining him in a few days after school lets out, and we're doing "real" anniversary stuff there (you know, exciting/romantic/adventurous). However, since yesterday was a Friday and I strenuously object to cooking dinner on a Friday night after a long and busy week, we decided to get Chik Fil A with my calendar card. 

(Thanks, Mom!) 

So our anniversary was pretty simple. We did chores together, got Dan packed and ready, ate dinner watching our new (to me) Netflix show, and just relaxed together. I didn't get dressed up or worry about my hair or how the evening would progress. I didn't think about what we should talk about, or set up weird expectations about how it's going to be this idyllic romantic evening (it never is, and if you've known us for any length of time as a couple, you know we're not really into traditional "romantic" stuff). 

It was, in short, a really lovely evening together. 

Happy anniversary, my love. 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Finally...Garden 2014

I tend to hold to the philosophy "better late than never," mostly because I'm usually late for things. This year, that happened to include my garden.

My in-laws graciously allow me to use their yard for my garden, and there was some back-and-forth this year about if the garden would move across the yard to a sunnier spot, debating the cost of moving it, whether we should increase or decrease the size, build raised beds...on and on.

It went on long enough that I was ready to let it go for this year, and just try again next summer. Not because of any upset, just because circumstances kept adjusting. But then, surprise!

Mom- and Dad-in-law went ahead and put some raised beds together, ordered soil, and voila! Garden started. I was super excited, both because it was minimal effort and my part, and we can still have a small garden.

I especially like the woodchips around the bed. No more weeding, or even mowing, around the garden!

Since it's smaller this year (and I'm very ok with that) I planted tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, carrots, and arugula. I'm hoping to add some herbs--mint, lavender, thyme, parsley.

Three tomatoes and four pepper plants. 

Arugula, and those little stalks in the back? Green onion roots I stuck in there. 

Even Little Dog approves.