At home with books: refreshing the blog

in the den, with the laptop

When I sat down two weekends ago in our sunny little den, I didn’t expect that when I left the room a couple of hours later, I would have changed the focus of the blog.

That was not at all the plan.

It looked all innocent: coffee in one of my favorite mugs… the laptop and iPhone and a legal pad on the library table. Me, all comfy in leggings and a big sweater and my favorite plaid scarf.

this scarf

The scene was set for cozy, not for transformation.  

I’d been seduced by Amy Porterfield’s Online Marketing Made Easy podcast episode about creating a content calendar cuz I adore structure.

And I was settling in to listen and take notes. (It was extra delighting me that I was being a student here in our schoolhouse.)

And then it happened.  

I listened to the episode, took 7 pages of notes, and created that content calendar.  

And in the process, I realized I’d like to expand the scope of the blog.

So I’m gonna.

Here’s what to expect in the months ahead…

A continuation of…

  • Bookish commentary
  • Posts about self-improvement

More…

  • Notes on home life: the domestic pleasures and blunders
  • Notes on travel: the delights and mishaps
  • Lists of my favorite stuff
  • A focus on living a good life
  • Main menu expansion: Books & Reading, The Good Life, Favorite Stuff

So join me here for talk of books. And living the best possible life. And coffee. And pizza. And the floundering ongoing search for the perfect vintage home decor items*…

So, my fellow bloggers… How have you changed your blog over the years? What changes made you and your readers the happiest?

*current quest: a wooden ladder to lean against the wall, and the perfect barrel — we’ll know it when we see it

Favorite podcasts

Anyone else love podcasts? I’m right there with you. I’ve been a podcast fanatic ever since the mid-2000s — back when I had to download them to the computer and transfer them to my cute little iPod Nano in its pink leather case. (That Nano was rather adorable, but I can’t say I miss it.)

Anyway, these days: podcasts on every topic you can imagine have exploded onto the scene, and they’re ridiculously easy to imbibe.

Here are my favorites…

Happier with Gretchen Rubin

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project and Happier at Home and Better Than Before, co-hosts this podcast with her sister. I love everything about it: their rapport, the subject matter, their regular segments (demerit & gold star). They’ve been podcasting for several years now, and they’re keeping it fresh and relevant and entertaining. They’re my most favorite.

What Should I Read Next?

Oh, my goodness. Anne Bogel is so pleasant and kind and knowledgeable, I wish I were her. She invites a guest for each episode, asks them to tell her 3 books they love, 1 book they hated, and what they’re reading now. Then she prescribes 3 books for them. I always play along at home, and think of which books I’d suggest. This is pure comfort listening, my friends.

Just the Right Book Podcast

I dearly adore Roxane Coady. She’s wicked smart about books, she has a wonderful earthy voice, and she gives the best author/guest introductions I’ve ever heard. Her interviews are top notch and fascinating — every single one.

Happier in Hollywood

I already feel like I know Liz Craft, who co-hosts Happier with her sister, Gretchen Rubin. And now I also know her writing partner, Sarah Fain, because Liz and Sarah co-cohost Happier in Hollywood. They’re relatable and wise, and they offer great life hacks. And also a look into the life of TV writers. I never knew I was interested, but I’m interested. (I love work life stories.)

ProBlogger

Darren Rowse, you’re making me a better blogger! (I have miles yet to go, but this guy is seriously informative and helpful and inspiring.)

Online Marketing Made Easy

Amy Porterfield is an online entrepreneur, and her podcast is designed for others in that field. And even though that’s totally not me, I find her enjoyable to listen to. Also, she’s friendly and encouraging, and I like that, too. And sometimes she covers topics that are relevant for bloggers, such as content calendars and copy writing. So then I get to take notes.

Presidential

A podcast custom-made for me? This is it. Presented by a Washington Post reporter, and featuring lots of heavy hitters in the presidential biography world, each episode describes one U.S. President and his times.

Q&A

Those Brian Lamb C-SPAN author interviews? They’re available as a podcast. Often he interviews authors of nonfiction books about politics and history, and those are usually my favorite episodes.

Lead to Win

I can’t resist a good leadership / self-improvement podcast. And this is my favorite of them all. Michael Hyatt and Megan Hyatt Miller co-host, and I find their material inspiring.

HerMoney with Jean Chatzky

Personal finance — be still my heart! I adore this topic, and I really like Jean Chatzky’s approach, which puts women on equal footing with men.

And that wraps up the list of the podcasts I absolutely can’t wait to listen to.

What are the podcasts you can’t get enough of?

What I’ve Been Reading: February 2019

February was a wonderful reading month — with plenty of snowstorms and polar vortex action and gusting winds to make it extra cozy.

My reading this month was a mix of book club assignments, recommendations from other readers, an Audie Award nominee, and the long overdue reading of a classic. We have a fine blend of nonfiction and various fiction genres to tempt any appetite…

Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man’s First Journey to the Moon by Robert Kurson

3 words: lively, heroic, crisp

Give this book a whirl if you like… space; tales of heroic daring; the behind-the-scenes story; the full team (including wives and families) that made Apollo 8 possible, getting to know the people behind the myth

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

3 words: profound, measured, philosophical

Give this book a whirl if you like… memoirs of survivors, the power of the mind, Holocaust narratives, encouragement through difficult times

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

3 words: cheeky, inventive, suspenseful

Give this book a whirl if you like…  a mix of suspense, family drama, and grim humor; a highly responsible character trapped in terrible circumstances by the acts of a loved one; tension between integrity and family loyalty

Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

3 words: creative, poignant, whimsical

Give this book a whirl if you like… inventive style, quirky bite-sized anecdotes, delight in daily life, clever writing

The Greatest Love Story Ever Told: An Oral History by Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman

3 words: irreverent, conversational, humorous

Give this book a whirl if you like…TV stars being real people, humorous memoirs, stories of couples, celebrity memoirs

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou

3 words: gripping, disturbing, journalistic

Give this book a whirl if you like… true stories of audacious deception, How’d she get away with it?, true stories that seem too strange to be real, reading about white collar crime, Silicon Valley start-ups, being infuriated

Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken

3 words: lyrical, multi-generational, quirky

Give this book a whirl if you like… quirky historical fiction, a big cast of eccentric but believable characters, bowling, independent women, family sagas, a wee touch of magic, a big story to fall into

Good Riddance by Elinor Lipman

3 words: warm, charming, offbeat

Give this book a whirl if you like… the revelation of family secrets; smart romantic comedies; unusual but believable characters; unintended consequences

And that was my February.

What were your favorite reads of the past month?

Reading goals for 2019

Reading goals for 2019

Goals… they either send a shiver or a chill up a person’s spine. Me? I thrill to them.

So in addition to my 19 for 2019 goals, I’ve set reading goals for the year.

Some of the goals were set by January 1, and others have developed organically.

Here’s the line-up…

Read diversely

At least 20% of my reading are books written by #ownvoices authors

Challenge myself

Complete our very own Book Bingo Blackout challenge   

Complete the Modern Mrs Darcy challenge

Read some super long books

I’ve got my eye on two long books for this year. One has already been in progress for months, and the other is new to my nightstand.

Grant by Ron Chernow is proving delightful and also slow-going because I own a copy. So it gets set aside as library due dates clamor for my attention.

Middlemarch by George Eliot feels like a surprise gift. When listening to the podcast Just the Right Book, James Mustich (author of 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die) chose Middlemarch as one of the top two books you must read before you die. That grabbed my attention. Then I found out Bybee is re-re-reading it(!!!) and that clinched it. I contacted her, and we’re reading it as a long-distance book club, and I’m so excited.

Read local

The Dear Man and I are diving in to our new town, and I’m all excited to read all about it. I’m going to re-read Melody Warnick’s fantastic This Is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live. And there are actual books of local history, plus books that take place in the area where we live.

I know I’m not alone here. Tell me: what’re your reading goals for 2019?

What I’ve Been Reading: Early 2019

3 words: varied, satisfying, random

Today the focus is on the books I’ve read so far this year. It’s been a nice mix of genres and tone and style, and I’m a happy reader these days. Here’s what we’ve got…

From the Corner of the Oval by Beck Dorey-Stein

3 words: immediate, fresh, candid

Give this book a whirl if you like… reading about life inside the White House bubble, behind-the-scenes accounts, twenty-something memoirs, workplace narratives

Transcription by Kate Atkinson

3 words: evocative, unsettling, gradually revealing

Give this book a whirl if you like… WWII espionage, young women spies, two time periods in one person’s life, England during WWII, some twists and turns in the plot

Sunburn by Laura Lippman

3 words: unsettling, psychological, twisted

Give this book a whirl if you like… twisty stories, unreliable characters, hidden agendas, multiple viewpoints

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

3 words: clever, humorous, sad

Give this book a whirl if you like… a blend of humor and pathos, a clever tone, a story of a gay man examining his life at age 50, a mild-mannered protagonist, finding oneself when running away from problems

Passion and Affect by Laurie Colwin

3 words: quirky, creative, evocative

Give this book a whirl if you like… delightfully eccentric characters, a short story collection offering a variety of life circumstances, the complications of love, interpersonal relationships explored through vignettes

Kitchen Yarns: Notes on Life, Love, and Food by Ann Hood

3 words: warm, personal, evocative

Give this book a whirl if you like… essays about food and life and cooking, memoirs in essay form, reading about the life of an author

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

3 words: comforting, warm, book-loving

Give this book a whirl if you like… books about the power of books, stories of overcoming adversity through community and literature, the story of an author finding her next story, WWII, epistolary novels, stories of unexpected romance

What wonderful things have you been reading lately?

Currently: polar vortex & all that snow

Reading | I just finished reading Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, and I can’t get over it. I’m sad I finished it, I’m sad I’ll never get to read it again for the first time, and I’m sad that she’s no longer living. Her love for life springs off the pages and infects the reader, and I was overjoyed by her words and then so sad there won’t be more of them.

Reading online | When I saw this post by Carson Tate, I immediately rearranged my weekend. By which I mean, I cancelled half the things on my to-do list and gave myself some margin and some time to just be. While she says “Balance does not exist,” she also offers alternative ways to view the situation, and I really like that.


Listening | In my car, The World’s Greatest Love Story by Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman has been keeping me entertained during my brief spurts of driving. The audiobook version is fabulous — two actors reading their own material is gold. And it’s more like listening to a really great podcast, cuz often it’s like they’re having a conversation.

Watching | We’ve been watching Tidying Up with Marie Kondo and finding it delightful. Although the Dear Man isn’t a KonMari devotee like I am (though he is a declutterer by nature), we find plenty to discuss during and after each episode. Who knew decluttering could be so entertaining?  

Learning | We’re delving deep into the history of our schoolhouse and are so grateful to our local historical museum for the great research assistance they provided. Is it true that I burst into applause when we saw a photo of first graders in the 1910s standing alongside our schoolhouse with their teacher? Yes, that is true.

Loving | The kitchen rug: it’s new, it’s pretty, and the cat even likes it. (She popped up and out of frame after lounging there near the heat vent.)

Cooking | During the polar vortex, we made soup in the Instant Pot and I baked these cookies. When it hits -25, soup and cookies: pretty much mandatory.

Pizza eating | Here are our recent discoveries… Aliano’s Express Chicago style pizza and Aurelio’s thin crust. So good.

Celebrating | During the recent snowstorms, we conquered the snowblower and liked it.

So, are you too experiencing deep winter? How’re you making it bearable?

Books I Can’t Wait to Read: Early 2019

Anyone else haunt their library holds list?

I revisit mine like a kid looking through the Christmas toy catalog (they don’t print those anymore, do they?) to eye all the lovely things she craves.

Though, admittedly, by the time I was in 3rd grade, all I craved were books.

Here are the highlights on my library holds list at the moment…

What books are you aching to read this spring?

Our historic (school)house: when truth is stranger than fiction

When talking about mystery novels with The Dear Man a few years ago, I commented that one of the tropes is that detectives in books often live in really cool, unconventional houses.

Think Kinsey Millhone in that rockin’ garage apartment that feels like the inside of a boat.

Or Travis McGee, who actually lives on a houseboat.

Or Magnum, P.I. (OK, that’s 80s TV, but stay with me), who lives in the guest house of that grand estate in Hawaii.

Or my favorite literary abode: Scot Harvath’s home in an 18th century stone (former) church and rectory owned by the U.S. Navy. Who wouldn’t want to live there?

Detectives even get amazing office spaces: Walt Longmire has an office in an old Carnegie library, and Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro run their business from an old church belfry.*

It was one of those things that I thought only happened in books.

Until it happened to us.

We bought an old schoolhouse.

Actually, we bought half of it. There’s an 18-inch-thick brick wall that runs right down the center of the place, and we’ve bought the side we loved best.

The school was built in 1906—and while it’s been remodeled, it still has serious old-building character—and we get to live in it!

I love love love old houses. All my life (except during college, library school, and the first year after) I’ve lived in old houses, and I love their charm and their quirks and their history. Ever since childhood, I’ve adored sitting in my old house and thinking about the former residents reading the newspaper and finding out about the sinking of the Titanic. Or women winning the right to vote. Or the end of a war.

It makes me feel connected.

With this place, it’s an even twistier path to the past, because we’re envisioning students and teachers and the principal, living out their school days here. The other night, we were talking about “duck and cover” during the Cold War and I said, “Oh my gosh. They did that right here.”

So when it comes to listing my favorite things about this house, I get stuck. There’s the history, there’s the delight of living in a school, and there’re those brick walls, and the floating staircase, and the 8-foot tall windows, and the original doors and transoms…

We’re flat-out in love with this place. Sometimes we just sit and gaze at it. Often we don’t want to leave.

What’ll actually launch us out of the house: We’ve made an appointment at the local historical museum, where we’re gonna dig into our schoolhouse’s history. We’re hoping to find photos.

In the meantime, we’ve got a little chalkboard that says Comfort and here we are… reading and cooking and watching the cat and decoding the secrets of our schoolhouse and talking about all the things…

It’s no mystery where you’ll find us.

So tell me…. Has there ever been a point in your life when you’ve said, “I thought this only happened in books…”

*authors:

Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone series)

John D. MacDonald (Travis McGee series)

Brad Thor (Scot Harvath series)

Craig Johnson (Walt Longmire series)

Dennis Lehane (Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro series)

Theme for 2019: Comfort

Serendipity is the one word that describes the path to my choosing a one-word theme for 2019.

I was listening to the Happier podcast while doing strength training, and the episode was about choosing a one-word theme for the new year.

And without really giving it much thought, my endorphins delivered unto me a word:

Comfort

And I knew instantly that it was right.

What do I want more of? Comfort

What do I want to give more of? Comfort

It’s a word that inspired me, that same evening after my workout, to sit down and read a book. Even though there was filing and tidying to do.

Happy cat, cozy slippers, snuggly throw, hot tea, good book, happy home

So now I’m thinking of ways to make our home more comfortable and our lives more relaxed. There’s gonna be comfort food and comfy clothes and cozy evenings. I’m looking forward to it.

Anyone else have a one-word theme for 2019?

Advent calendar for book lovers

Advent calendar, full of quotations!

Remember how my wonderful and talented friend made me an Advent calendar?

And remember how every year she and I gather quotations to populate each other’s Advent calendars?

We did it again this year.

I love this tradition so much.

And also the related tradition that is practically a holiday in itself: each year, the first time we meet for dinner after Epiphany, we bring the favorite quotes we received from the other.

Here are our favorites from Advent 2018…

My favorites of the quotes I received:

His most remarkable gift, as Laura saw it, was a deep and profound contentment with what he had.  


Caroline Fraser, Prairie Fires





He looked up at her. Kindness was something he didn’t even know he wanted, and here it was.


Marilynne Robinson, Lila







My friend’s favorites of the quotes she received:

Be tough and patient; one day this pain will be useful to you.

Ovid



One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats.


Iris Murdoch, The Sea, the Sea







It’s a beautiful thing, this tradition, and I feel really lucky to have such a friend.

Anyone else gather favorite lines from books? If so, I’d love to hear one or two…