My Kitchen Year – Ruth Reichl

I certainly didn’t intend for Ruth Reichl’s My Kitchen Year to be the first book I blog about in the new year. I had really hoped, after seeing my dad devour it over Christmas, to start the year off with Stephen King’s Revival. I think starting the year off with the right book is, for me, as important as going to the gym and starting diets is for others. But, as seems to be the case ever since moving to Toledo, fate has had other plans, and I haven’t been able to get to a bookstore or library yet. I couldn’t just dive into any fiction, though, so I was delighted to discover the cookbook I received for Christmas is basically a memoir, with recipes included.

I am not particularly fascinated by cooking. Oh, I read food blogs for recipe ideas and I like good food – I’m no longer the girl who will wax poetic about a sandwich from subway – but generally speaking I am happier if someone else is willing to prepare meals for me. For years Sam was the primary cook in our house while I tackled the grocery shopping, but since his job keeps him out so many nights I’ve had to assume the majority of the cooking duties, and by now even I am bored with my handful of chicken, pasta and seafood dishes. In thinking about the new year, while I am mostly avoiding resolutions this go-around and instead sticking to a few key words to keep in mind, I did realize I wanted to become fearless in the kitchen. I don’t particularly need to be known for my cooking – it’s not an ego thing – but I would like to feed my family and myself better.

My Kitchen Year was a great place to start. While I am never going to be the type of person to write haikus about eggplant, Reichl’s book really spoke to me. Born from notes and recipes she began cooking after “Gourmet” magazine – she was its editor in chief – was abruptly discontinued, Reichl takes us through her year of recovery as she tries to figure out what to do next with her life. While I didn’t lose my job back in Pittsburgh, I continuously struggled with feeling successful in my career and now that I am currently without a job, I find myself still struggling with the aftermath of what I can only think of as that particular failure of mine, even though it wasn’t exactly that. I’ve always liked the length of a year as a frame for nonfiction, and Reichl’s book does a beautiful job of demonstrating how long – and how short – a year really is.

Her recipes alternate between the straight forward and the exotic, and there are a few I can’t even imagine trying – tomatoes and cream, for one. But enough of them spoke to me that I know I’ll be trying them this month, if not this week, including her recipe for one of my favorite meals, polla alla diavola – and I am pretty sure I am going to serve her giant chocolate cake the same night.

I loved Reichl’s voice in this book – it is always interesting to learn from people who have followed their passion from a young age, I think – and she discusses her recovery really forced me to examine my own life.

For too long I’d been waiting for the wonderful. But there is so much joy in everyday occurrences: a butterfly in the sun, the first crisp bite of an apple, the rich aroma of roasting meat. Maybe I had to break my foot to open my eyes, but I finally understood why cooking means so much to me. In a world filled with no, it is my yes.

This passage echoes one of the sermons my minister gave at East Liberty Presbyterian Church last year before I moved…something along the lines of carrying and raising Jesus despite the hardships, prejudices and hate was Mary’s yes to God. Ever since that sermon I’ve been contemplating what my “yes” to God should be and coming up without any answers, but as I’ve perused job openings in my field I’ve realized a couple of things: 1. My children are one of my “yes”s to God, and 2. the best thing I can do is return to my roots, to what I did for decades until I had my babies – reading, writing, maybe a little bit of theater. More on the career later – I am nearly ending my thirty minutes in this space for the day – but before I leae I will share this: last night I roasted a leg of lamb for the first time, using my favorite Mark Bittman recipe. In the past I always waited for Sam or his dad to make me this dish but last night I made it all by myself and served it, and it was wonderful. I didn’t find anything sublime or therapeutic about getting the spice rub all over my hands – frankly that was a little disgusting – but I did it. I fed myself, fed my family and took a tiny step toward being my own kind of fearless.

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#AMonthofFaves – My Reading Year

For the first post in #AMonthofFaves, bloggers are taking a look at their reading year and discussing all things bookish – how many books they read, genre breakdowns, books that moved them, books they hated – admittedly, I kept much better track of the books I read, and participated in more challenges and reading discussions, before I had kids. This year has been particularly difficult in terms of reading since our relocation to Toledo and everything that has happened since (including a very recent ER trip for my husband due to an undiagnosed allergy). I’ve done an awful job even of updating my “reading” widget on the sidebar.

Of course, this doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading – frankly, reading and exercise are the two things that sustain me through good times and bad. So, my reading year. I gravitated toward large books – books I could lose myself in for days, or even weeks, at a time. I began the year reading Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, a book I was so moved by I actually did blog about it! This book broke my heart time and time again but the conclusion was so exquisite – so perfectly perfect and satisfying, that it was really hard to follow up with another book! I chose the second book in the Outlander trilogy – Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon, and while I wasn’t sure at the beginning if it was going to be as strong as the first book, I didn’t need to worry. It was wonderful to spend time with Claire and Jamie as a married couple, and even though the second installment wasn’t quite as action packed as the first book, it was still remarkably engaging. It’s now a tradition for me to spend part of my January with Claire and Jamie and I’m looking forward to the third book in early 2016.

After Dragonfly in Amber Sam began interviewing with his current employer, and my reading was somewhat hit or miss for a long time as I prepared my kids for the relocation. I read Amy Poehler’s Yes, Please on my tablet and really enjoyed learning more about her – she is fierce and mighty – and I read a couple of mindless murder mysteries as well. Since I’ve been in Toledo, I’ve immersed myself in the first two books of Gregory Isle’s trilogy about the long history of racial violence in the deep south, Natchez Burning and The Bone Tree, breaking them up with Meg Wolitzer’s The Ten Year Nap. Isle’s novels have fully engrossed me, and, on top of my utterly predictable obsession with the music from the new play “Hamilton,” have reignited my old love of American history.

Over the course of my life, I’ve found that some of the books I remember the most clearly are the ones I read during periods of illness and recovery, and this continues to hold true. I read Natchez Burning while I was quite ill mid-fall with bronchitis, and every detail of the book remains so clear to me. I wonder if it’s because I read more slowly or intentionally? Or do I limit other distractions? I’m not sure, but it would be great to have the same kind of experience with the books I read while entirely well.

At any rate, this pretty well summarizes my bookish year! I didn’t read a lot, but I read great books, and reading remains one of the constants in my life – I am so grateful for it. And I’m moderately hopeful for a bit more reading in 2016, so if you have any suggestions for me, be sure to let me know!

Life After Life

I can clearly recall the first time I experienced the feeling of deja vu. It happened during the extraordinarily hot summer after my second grade year on a day most of my extended family was in town. Our gathering was somewhat desultory, wilting beneath the heat as we we were, and when my parents learned it was at least ten degrees cooler in Presque Isle, a town just a short drive north of us, we made a caravan and relocated our party to a breezy stretch of Lake Huron for the day’s duration. In the late afternoon I went for a walk with one of my uncles to get ice cream, and as we walked back along the beach I was overcome with the idea that I had been there before – that I had done this exact thing with these exact people just as the sun was setting just so – before. It was incredibly anxiety-producing and when I tried to describe it to my parents the term they provided – deja vu – and their explanation of it – only mildly calmed my anxiousness. I only knew I did NOT want it to happen again.

But of course, it did – a fleeting moment talking to a friend, rocking Duncan late into the evening, on a hike with my father, cooking a meal side by side with Sam – it’s always disconcerting and often powerful enough to make me question my religious faith – maybe the Indian religions are on to something, and life just begins again and again in new body. Frankly, it’s as appealing to me as Heaven – I know this world and am in awe of how broken and beautiful it is at the same time.

I’d read about Kate Atkinson’s Life After Lifearound the blogosphere but it came out while Duncan was a newborn and for several months I didn’t feel like I had the brain space to tackle it, despite my devotion to her Jackson Brodie series. My dad brought me his copy on a recent visit after he finished it for a book club he resents joining. He generally has an unique way of trying to interest people in the books he appreciates, and this one was no different.

“We complain about terrorists threats but let me tell you – read this book and you’ll learn what real terrorism is – try London during World War II,” he said, handing me his battered copy of Life After Life. “That was terrorism.”

Which, you know. I learned a LOT about the European side of WWII from reading this book, but I am not sure that would be Atkinson’s ideal introduction.

This book – I loved it, actually. At first I thought the premise was a little trite for Atkinson but as the book grew and the characters grew, I found it fascinating to think through how a single choice here or a different action there affected Ursula’s life. And (spoiler alert at this point, in case you haven’t read the book) I found it especially fascinating how Ursula continued to learn subconsciously from her past. Like so much of Atkinson’s work, the character development propelled the book – she always manages to create characters I could spend endless amounts of time with. And I did learn so much about what people in London and Berlin went through during World War II – I never realized how prejudice my reading about that particular war was until reading this book. That said, I felt like there were two different ideas explored in the book. First of all, the idea of reincarnation, and second of all, the whole “what would happen if someone had killed Hitler” thing, which frankly, I could have done without. Compared to the rest of the novel, which was heartbreaking, stunning and generally intriguing, the Hitler assassination felt like an unnecessary diversion – fun for the author to finally explore but ultimately not necessary to the overall set up of the novel. I honestly think if her marriage to the (at first) unassuming Nazi and time spent with Eva Braun had been the some total of Ursula’s life spent in Nazi Germany, the book actually would have been more powerful. I also didn’t like particularly how that part of Ursula’s story was positioned at the beginning of the novel, so the entire time, as a reader, I was waiting for it, when so much else was happening in the book.

Overall, though, I thought the book was brilliant and I look forward reading her follow up – God in Ruins this fall sometime. Even when I’m not sure what to make of Atkinson, her work is always, always worth reading.

it’s time for a bullet post!

Last week I sat down to blog and couldn’t think of a flipping thing to write about. No big deal, I thought. Just take a few days off and try again. Sure enough, on Friday I started a post I thought had potential but when I revisited it this morning I felt all blah about it, like who could possibly care about that particular piece of writing? My fingers paused above the keyboard, actually, literally, paused, as I considered potential posts. Part of me considered venting about some family drama I’m going through, but that didn’t feel necessary, although it maybe would have been funny. I’m still working my way through the second novel in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series and while I’m enjoying it I doubt I’ll be moved to review it. I thought about skipping another blogging session, but if there is one thing I know, it’s that writing begets writing and the only solution to any kind of writer’s block, apart from a long walk alone, is to just keep at it.

Time for a bullet post, then! Eight bullet posts about the here and now mostly now.

* This is me, today yesterday. I’ve been avoiding taking selfies ever since my minister went on a small rant about how self-indulgent and ultimately joyless they are and I found myself agreeing with him, but yesterday, feeling exhausted from over 24 hours without sleep and managing a croupy one year old, I was feeling particularly blue about my appearance. To pass some time I tried snapping some pictures of me with Duncan but even sick, he won’t sit still, so I ended up with this. In our culture it’s easy to feel defeated in the face of so much manufactured beauty, and it’s only recently I not only came to terms with my appearance but have been proud of it and, at times, even felt beautiful. I like this shot because I haven’t had any sleep, I don’t have a stitch of makeup on, I’m covered in pasta sauce and yet I was able to look at it and think, well. Not too bad for a 37 year-old mom of two:

croup

* I’ve come to the realization recently that I’ve been shying away from fully utilizing my intellect at work, and yes, I realize how ridiculous that sounds. Since I’m in healthcare PR I spend a lot of time with doctors and I don’t ever expect to know the same kind of stuff they do, but within my own department I often still act like the 30 year old I was when I started, instead of owning and using my knowledge, making recommendations and believing in myself and my decisions. A lot of different events have brought me to this insight, and since realizing it I’ve taken a much more active role in my department. I don’t expect this to cure any of the frustrations I have with the position but it feels great – and belated – to have confidence in what I believe is right.

* Plenty has been written about the power of saying no, and I don’t need to belabor it all here, but I’ve recently found a ton of freedom in saying no to things that make me feel uncomfortable financially. As I’ve written about previously, paying for the cost of two children in daycare has put a strain on our finances, and our previous lifestyle – one where we could pick up whatever food we wanted to cook, whenever we wanted it without a budget, go out to eat on a whim, take vacations without saving – is temporarily gone. I occasionally get down about this and feel as though I’m failing, somehow – and then I hit myself on the forehead and remember in the last six years Sam graduated law school, we bought a house, and we had two kids. That’s quite a lot for such a short time frame and financial growing pains are to be expected. Because money is always hard to talk about, however, I’ve struggled with explaining to my friends who earn more money than we do that I can no longer afford to regularly go out for expensive dinners but I took the leap and you know what? It’s never about the expensive dinners. My friends are just as happy to come to my house and eat bad Chinese or have me at theirs for impromptu parties – some of them, I think, are even secretly relieved we aren’t spending 60 dollars on miso blackened cod. I took this approach a step further and told my parents that as much as I would love to, Evangeline and I wouldn’t be joining them in Florida this April. Frankly, this decision is crushing for all of us but my brother is also getting married this summer so I am being fiscally responsible and while it doesn’t always feel great, I’m proud of myself for exerting control in this area of our lives.

* When March began, I decided it would be the month of task completion. I am pretty sure that’s a football term, and Sam uses it all the time to celebrate or bemoan the general state of our lives with two little ones in the house. Between horrible weather conditions and illness, a lot of my goals, both short-term and long-term, were interrupted but March! March, I vowed, would be the month of Moving Things Forward. I would finish my minimalism-reorganization of the kitchen! I would have mostly have the third floor front room cleaned out and ready to become a playroom. I would have my yoga and aerobics schedule firmly in hand and for the love of all things holy I would finish Serial and Dragonfly in Amber so I could move the fuck on in my reading/listening life. I made good headway for a couple of weeks but a long business trip for Sam, a visit from my parents, and Duncan’s croup interrupted my progress (I might as well write lifeinterrupted my progress!). I have a few days left in March and while I know I won’t accomplish all of my goals, moving onto new reading material will be wonderful.

*Oh! The Counting Crows just came on the radio! I listened to the song “Anna Begins” countless times when I wrote my novel back in my early thirties – it seemed to so perfectly encapsulate my narrator. Despite their incredible progression as a band, I’m always transported back to the end of high school and beginning of college by their sound. The Counting Crows is one of the few bands I’d love to see live that I haven’t (ah – another luxury we thoughtlessly spent money on for years – concert tickets! it drives both sets of our parents nuts that we don’t yet own a proper dining room table. Oh well – we own enough memories of rock concerts, I suppose.)

* Returning to a couple of bullet points ago, regarding how slowly I’m moving through podcasts, reading material, and the like – it’s been years since I’ve been able to watch television shows in real time, which makes me fairly useless when it comes to the proverbial water cooler conversation at work. Last week one of my co-workers bounded up to (he’s sort of puppyish – bounded really is the right verb, here) and asked me if I’d seen the previous night’s episode of “The Walking Dead”. “No, but I recently finished the Sopranos,” I said helpfully. He turned away wordlessly, disgusted.

* Since the beginning of 2015, a handful of my friends have been forced to face some really scary situations. Now that Duncan is past his first year, I’ve been able to do small things for these friends – make a covered dish, run errands, check in regularly. After the love and support I received from so many people during the first years of my children’s lives, it feels amazing to be in this place, this place of helping others.

* Michigan State somehow landed in the Final Four. Usually an avid fan of my college basketball team, this year I turned my attention to Pitt since we had season tickets. A mistake, obviously. Saturday Michigan State faces Duke, Sam’s team – so it should be a pretty tense afternoon in our house. I am really looking forward to BOTH final four games – Wisconsin versus Kentucky should be spectacular. It’s not often I say this but no matter what happens on Saturday, I am guaranteed to watch the championship game next Monday – something I don’t commit to most years!

Ah, well. There you have it. I hope to have a more topic-focused post for you next time. Have a great week!

Throw back thursday: A bullet post!

*Well, I started writing this on a Thursday, at any rate…
Sometimes, on my old blog, which I really need to do something about sometime soon, when I couldn’t choose a blog topic to write about in a timely fashion, I went the way of the bullet post, a form I always enjoyed when other bloggers used it. This morning, as I sipped my coffee and pondered what to write I realized my indecision made for a perfect Thursday bullet post! It’s been a while but I am just going to write bullets until I run out of things to say today!

* On Reading – I’m still reading Peter Straub’s Mr. Xwhich I like just enough to keep reading but not enough to read quickly, and yet I urgently want to finish it so I can start Gone Girl before the movie comes out because I have actual plans – in the evening, on a weekend, no less – to go see this movie with my girlfriends, and they have all read the book. I want to be on the same page so we can discuss all the things with them. The difference between one child and two? The year Evangeline was born I still managed to read nearly 30 books. This year I’ve read six and will maybe hit ten. Maybe. If Gone Girl is fast and I get my hands on the new Tana French novel. I’m hopeful the pace will pick up a bit in 2015.

* Watching – I am in love with Outlander. I was really unsure how I would like the televised version of one of my favorite books but from the opening song until the end of each episode I am completely hooked, so much so I don’t get up from the couch to complete chores off and on, as I usually like to do with the 1/2 hour to an hour of television I watch at night. I’m quite late to the party but I am also watching Silicone Valley and even if it’s sort of a dude-centric show, it makes me laugh more than once every single episode so I keep watching. I unabashedly love television and often think the perfect career for me would have been as a script writer who turns books into television series…maybe it’s not too late? In the meantime I’ll just concentrate on continuing to write…I’m really looking forward to the return of The Mindy Project.

* My in-laws keep insisting Evangeline needs music lessons and the earlier the better, but I am unsure. They push this because they are HUGE classical music buffs and raised two daughters who now actually make livings with their music. Sam, as he will openly tell you, was not blessed with similar talent and I am decidedly unmusical as well. Evangeline has expressed an intense interest in ballet and I feel much more inclined to honor that desire at the moment because (a.) it’s something she wants to do and (b.) her pre-school curriculum is a little-heavy on the sitting down and not so much on the playing, and I am eager to provide her outlets for her toddler physicality – there is a reason I’m currently pricing junior trampolines. I wish my reasoning was not accompanied by some inner bristling whenever they pointedly suggest music lessons, though – I don’t like this quality in myself.

* Writing – I am setting aside a dedicated writing spot for myself in our house, and it feels practically revolutionary. I haven’t had a dedicated writing space since I was in graduate school. Our condo in Novi was much too small so I wrote at a desk in our living room, and while I now have a house that borders on too-big, I could never figure out intuitively where my writing space should be. Before we had our children it didn’t matter all that much – I generally lugged my laptop to the kitchen island early in the morning to write – all the better to access the coffee pot. Since the kitchen has turned into the hub of our family activity it’s no longer a peaceful place to write, so I am in the process of setting up our ages-old desk in the guest room on the third floor. Our guest room’s electric leaves something to be desired so I have to put the desk against a wall near an outlet instead of by the window, like I had hoped, but hey! A real writing spot – it’s thrilling.

* Sam asked me this week if we should stop watching the Steelers because of the NFL’s handling of Ray Rice’s assault against his fiance and I surprised myself by saying no. I already worked through a lot of complicated emotions with the league after the concussion cover-up came to light, and while I am absolutely disgusted by the video of Ray Rice beating his fiance, I feel this was a failure of law enforcement as well as the NFL. In addition, domestic violence isn’t solely the domain of the NFL. It occurs in homes of all income levels across the country and around the world, and I have no doubt in my mind that organizations as well-established as the NFL cover up for their more violent members. I am outraged by this video but I am generally outraged by what women have to suffer the world over – I mean, entire governments and religions sometimes sanction violence against women. The Steelers do a ton of good in our community – I have seen first hand year after year the positive work they do in our hospitals, so I am not quitting on them because of this horrifying incident on another team.

*Hillary for President!

* Diet update – I only have three more days on phase I of the South Beach and I’ve stuck to it faithfully. The first week I lost 2.5 lbs – the book claims you can lose between 8 and 13 but I imagine that is for people with a slightly higher BMI? I am feeling very strong and confident about my choice of diets, and with the exception of one day where I really felt wonky, I feel great. I always feel better eating a lower carb diet and now that I won’t be getting pregnant again hopefully I can adopt this into a long-term lifestyle. When I was pregnant with Evangeline grilled cheese and eggs on toast were the food of the Gods – with Duncan I felt sick almost constantly but once I started nursing him I fell into waffles and cake with a vengeance (in my defense, he was born during a polar vortex and we weren’t allowed to leave the house!). We’ll see how I do as I enter the next phase!

Happy Throw Back Friday – I promise a more substantial post next week!

My father read to me – part one – on horror – second attempt

sometimes you write something, and it seems fine, but upon a later rereading you realize by not telling the whole story the piece doesn’t work, so you delete it, and try again.

If Evangeline could name her top three favorite places to visit on the weekend, she would say the library, the pool and the park, in that order. My girl, she loves getting new books. In Pittsburgh, we are incredibly lucky to have the Carnegie Library system, so on any given Saturday I can ask E if she wants to go to the library with the dinosaur or the library with the trains she likes or the library with the tent…you get the idea. On our most recent trip, she gravitated toward several beautifully illustrated fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen and the brothers Grimm. These were not the Disney-ified versions of fairy tales – these were the real deal, and E was entranced. Carefully, she selected Sleeping Beauty, The Snow Queen, and Snow White to take home.

I was nervous, at first, to read them to her – concerned about my ability to handle her questions about things like evil and murder. Taking a cue from my friend Hattie, who believes children take from stories what they are able to handle that is age-appropriate, I took a breath and read to her. And it worked out just fine! Perhaps understanding her own capacity better than I do, she quickly realized the authentic tale of Snow White wasn’t appealing, but as for the other two? She held her breath for two weeks straight as we read, and read, and read again the tale of the wicked snow queen and she squealed with joy every time we read about princess Aurora and the kingdom that slept for one hundred years.

In so many ways, her favorite reading material already leans toward the dark and macabre – we spent nearly a month on a book about a haunted train. A haunted train people. That’s some scary sugar.* When she is older, hiding beneath her bedspread, flashlight in hand, totally creeped out by The Shining, I’ll know her the root of her fascination began like mine did – with real fairy tales, read on my dad’s lap.

Sam tends to worry a bit more than I do about stories being too scary for Evangeline, and I understand where he is coming from, but whether we like it or not she is already being exposed to the darkness and deceit that exists in the world. One of her best friends at school, Brandon, has recounted the plot of “The Lion King” to her endlessly – and another of her close friends is fatherless because her father died before she was born. Fiction and real life both are doing their part to prevent our instincts to over-shelter, over-protect our toddler.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had my own fascination with darker stories, beginning with my father’s recreation of some of the more famous myths, told around the campfire late at night. One of the first stories I remember hearing is the tale of Medusa, with her hair made of venomous snakes and her ability to turn men to stone – if that didn’t keep me awake at night then the grotesque clown created by Stephen King in It wasn’t likely too.

Both of my parents are big readers, but I definitely get my love of certain genres from my dad. Whether the story is about a boy who can travel across time and through worlds, or an accidental outbreak of a flu that destroys most of the world, or forbidden love causing the fall of great kingdoms, my dad exposed me to genres a lot of girls in their young adulthoods, I think, missed. As an English teacher, he also exposed me to the more traditional Great Works, and while I never took to Hemingway I certainly did to Austen, and I’m certainly grateful for that as well. But I’m honestly more grateful for the novels by Stephen King, Peter Straub, Shirley Jackson and Dan Simmons that he slipped me than I am for The Heart of Darkness – the education I was lucky enough to receive would have ensured I read those novels, but only a father whose life is made up of books would make sure I had access to Dennis Lehane.

Reading helps us understand the world, and by tackling difficult subjects in literature before I had to confront them in my real life, and I think it helped enormously. V.C. Andrews once said by the time she actually could afford a trip to Paris, upon her arrival she realized she had already been there – in books. I think reading about the fantastic, the scary, the horrific works in much the same way – senseless mass shootings and wars raged by corrupt governments make never make logical sense, but at least the first time I confronted evil it was in my bedroom, under the covers, flashlight in one hand and book in the other, my parents down the hall, close enough to call if I grew scared but far enough away to let me establish my own reading world.

Starting the New Year Off Right – First Bullet Post of 2014

I had really hoped to write at least one or two more blog posts before the conclusion of 2013, but a confluence of events, beginning with a sinus infection for me, morphing into a really rough illness for G, and then a stomach virus (me), combined with family visiting from afar, meant that many things had to take a back seat at the end of the year. For the first time in my life as a grown-up, my Christmas decorations are still up (I usually take them down on New Year’s Eve), many Christmas cards are scattered about the the house, unsent, and we aren’t as prepared for this baby boy as I would ideally prefer although, certainly, if he were to be born today he’d have everything he needs. My brain feels rather cluttered, but there is nothing like a bullet blog post to organize my thoughts!

* Despite concerns I presented in this blog weeks ago, our Christmas was absolutely lovely. I could say it didn’t “go” as smoothly as I had hoped, but by that I mean such *small* things – like, we didn’t make it to Christmas Eve service because family members faced such travel struggles simply getting to us that by the time everyone was under one roof, we didn’t want to leave each other. I got to step back and watch G begin to really form relationships with her grandparents and her aunts and uncles, and I loved every minute of it. Our holiday was full of cooking and relaxing togethers and a little lighter on traditional Christmas activities than usual, but I know it is one I will remember positively for the rest of my life, which, after our last few family holidays, is really such a joyous statement to be able to make.

* Last year, my main New Year’s resolution was significantly improved fiscal responsibility. I did fairly well in this area for several months but things sort of fell apart in October during my mother in law’s stay with us when my purse was stolen and I had to put a fraud alert on my account and our bills got messed up, only to be quickly followed by my account being screwed up thanks to the Target breach as well. On the plus side, we paid off a couple of bills, one of my student loans will be paid off this month, we made significant improvement on our house, and paid for most minor crises (car troubles, house troubles) with cash. We also saved money for Christmas and even had a small bit leftover! On the negative side we still carry credit card balances and I don’t feel like I have good sense of budget – I also feel like the bill-related paper work in our house is ludicrous, so this is an area I plan to concentrate on again in 2014 with renewed vigor.

*For a long time, I beat myself over the state of our finances. I felt this was one area we should constantly be doing better than we were and I wrapped up parts of my identity in in the way other people wrap up their identity with their weight. Ian has helped me settle down about this somewhat, pointing out that we paid for most of our educations ourselves and we chose to have kids – two separate choices many of our friends and family haven’t made. We prioritized education and are still paying for that priority, but I have absolutely no regrets about it – and I wouldn’t change motherhood for anything in the world. To that end, instead of constantly choosing to look at our financial situation and think we don’t have enough, I’m instead working on changing my attitude and offering thanks when I handle our finances – thanks that we can afford a home and children and our bills. Coach bags, diamond earrings and extravagant vacations might not be a part of our lives, but our lives are infinitely rich and blessed and gorgeous. Changing the way I look at money has actually made me quite a bit better with it – a skill I hope to build on in 2014!

*Other than that, my only resolution for this year is more of a mantra than anything else: day by day. I intend, quite simply, to take this year day by day. Knowing what kind of chaos a newborn can bring, I really want to focus this year on establishing, in the words of our pediatrician, our family’s “new normal.” I’ve given myself permission to cease worrying about postpartum weight loss or my writing or my career for one full year and instead concentrate on the growth of our family from three members to four. If we rebound particularly well and I have the focus and energy to move outside of this mantra then I absolutely will, but if I don’t that’s okay too.

*Which brings me to this blog. When I started this space this time last year, I did so needing a more anonymous space from which to write. I shared my old blog with too many friends and family members over the years and gradually began writing from a place of fear (what will my mother think if I reference my past smoking? What will my cousin think of my interpretation of our uncle’s death? Etc) I posted 34 times over the course of the year and while it was difficult in a way to leave my previous, somewhat established blog and watch much of my readership collapse, it’s been a wonderful decision overall. My readership here is steadily, quietly growing, I am able to experiment with subjects I want to write about (some succeed, some fail) and I’m able to use the blog to write around the edges of my life. It is tempting to create some lofty ambitions for this space in 2014 – I have so many ideas – but whenever I start ruminating on those ideas I remind myself day by day. There will be time enough for a loftier blog in the future.

* I started the year off reading Game of Thrones.Initially I thought it might end up being too complex in terms of number of characters and plots happening at once for this pregnant lady’s brain to handle but I decided to go forward anyway and I’m glad I did – parts of it are the tiniest bit campy but otherwise it’s the perfect January read – I enjoy starting the year off reading a “chunkster” and this book completely transports the reader to a different world -I’m glad I finally decided to tackle it.

*My television watching has slowed to a crawl in recent months which is never a bad thing, but I thought I’d give a quick shout out to two programs I enjoyed in the fall – The Black List on NBC and the Crazy Ones on CBS – both excellent shows that continue to uphold my theory you can never have too much James Spader or Robin Williams in your life.

I hope your 2014 is off to a wonderful start, whether you are taking it day by day, like I am, or whether you have larger ambitions for the year. I am looking forward to another year of blogging in this space – thanks so much for reading, commenting, liking and all the other sundry internetish actions we take to show we like one another – we really LIKE one another!