Currently: saying hello again

So this pandemic doesn’t seem to want to let up, and like everyone else, I’m tired and worried and drained and occasionally mildly despondent. Then I remind myself of all the good things in life, and then I feel peevish because I’m still tired and worried and drained. 

So that’s what’s happening here. 

(I’ve made it sound worse than it is. But a Chekhov quote that popped out at me last week felt oh-so-true: “Any idiot can face a crisis — it’s day-to-day living that wears you out.” Except this pandemic stuff is both.) 

So how are you doing these days? I’m interested to hear your adjectives. 

Here’s what’s been happening around here…

Reading | Currently reading:

  • The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw
  • The Guide by Peter Heller
  • Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh
  • Warlight by Michael Ondaatje
  • Americanaland: Where Country & Western Met Rock ‘n’ Roll by John Milward

More about reading | Trends in my reading life this year: books by authors of color, memoirs, books about anti-racism, essay collections, and cookbooks. And true crime. Which is truly the weirdest, because it’s always scared the daylights out of me. At book club (thank goodness for Zoom, even though I’m sick to tears of it), I announced, “I’m having The Year of True Crime.” And one of my friends said, “But you don’t read true crime.” And I said, “I know!” (As with everything else these days, I blame Covid.)

Watching | After waiting months upon months for HBO to release the documentary I’ll Be Gone in the Dark on DVD, I realized they’re holding out. So we subscribed to HBO Max for a month so I could watch it. Because I’m having The Year of True Crime. 

Learning | After years of failed attempts to bake bread, I’ve figured it out. The trick: create a proofing box by putting a bowl of super hot water on the bottom rack of the oven, then put the dough on the top rack. The oven (even though it’s off) creates a nice warm environment for the dough to rise. Magic, my friends! Also, all that kneading can be seriously soothing. 

 

 

Working on | Things got so rough during Covid that I started meditating. This is a serious feat, my friends.  I’d tried to convince myself to begin a meditation practice years ago (I knew it would be good for me), and I never followed through. The resistance was strong. But when the Ten Percent Happier app (which I’m too cheap to subscribe to) offered a free meditation challenge last summer, I dove at it. Now the new goal is to meditate at least 5 times a week. I’m working on it, and I’m a better human when I stick to it. (And, frugal friends, there are lots of free meditation options available via your smartphone, including the weekly Friday meditation from the Ten Percent Happier podcast.)

 

Loving | Our little family of three — the Dear Man, the cat, and I — have hunkered down together, and I’m so grateful that we’re a family. The Dear Man makes me laugh on the regular, and that’s a serious gift in rough times. And due to all the togetherness during the stay-at-home era, the cat and I have reached a new place in our relationship — and it gives me great joy to be welcomed as a full member of her family. My heart grew three sizes this year.

 

Celebrating | When my extended family and I were all fully vaccinated, we got to see each other again during the summer, and I don’t think I’ll forget the quiet jubilation of being in their presence for the first time in over 18 months. Being safely together again was better than any holiday.

I’d love to hear how you’re doing — and I hope the answer for you and your loved ones is “Quite well.” What wonderful and weird and difficult things have happened lately? And what’s most surprised you about all of it?

Finally… so glad we’re all here. Hello again, friends.

Currently: quarantining

It’s Month Two of Covid-19 quarantining, and I hope you and your families are healthy and doing OK in all the ways. (Does anyone else wake up each morning and wonder if this is all one very extended bad dream?)

Our family is doing all right, for which I’m deeply grateful. But the scariness of the world and the uncertainty of it all, and the inability to be with family and friends as they’re experiencing sadness and loss — these things are real. 

But I know that we can count ourselves blessed, because there’s a lot of suffering happening in this world right now, and our loved ones have been spared the worst of it. It’s hard for each of us in our own way, and I’m just grateful for the strength to handle it. 

Ugh. Just ugh. 

So when all that icky stuff isn’t going on, we’re working away here (thank goodness for our work), and when we’re not working, we take time to find some bright spots in this strange season. And these are some of them…

Reading  |  I read two of the four volumes of Robert A. Caro’s magnificent biography of LBJ during this time, and I only wish there were more of them. But I have designs on re-reading at some point, so there’s always that.

I’m also slow-reading Maxwell King’s The Good Neighbor, a biography of Mister Rogers. It’s my bedtime reading (cuz it’s guaranteed to be calm), which means that my progress is slow. Other than the amazing novella Passing by Nella Larsen, I’ve been reading only nonfiction. That seemed out of balance to my head (though my gut said it was fine, thank you), so I picked up Falling Together by Marisa de los Santos–one of my confirmed comfort authors.

Listening  |  A colleague mentioned The Daily Stoic podcast, and it’s completely perfect for right now. And the episodes are short, so you can listen to them when you have just a few minutes. 

Watching  |  We don’t watch much TV, but we’ve watched some of the documentaries and Great Courses available via Kanopy (courtesy of our public library!) Currently streaming The Skeptic’s Guide to American History. And after hearing about 20 people raving about The Great British Baking Show (on Hoopla—again from the library), we watched an episode… and will be watching more.

Cooking  |  Most of our cooking is the usual stuff (thank goodness we can get all the ingredients we need), but I’ve been dabbling in new dessert recipes. I’ve whipped up poor man’s pudding (a favorite from last year’s trip to Quebec City), a new molasses cookie recipe, and Oreo fudge. And pineapple upside down cake — oh so retro, but new to both of us. (It turned out kind of weird, but maybe it’s supposed to be that way?)

Learning  |  Turns out, using my laptop for 8+ hours per day was causing wrist ache. So I adjusted. Then got a neck ache. Then a friend told me about adding an external keyboard & elevating the laptop screen. A revelation! Two Amazon orders later, I’m on my way to comfort. I hope.  [small update: when the keyboard arrived, I realized I also needed a mouse & had that ugh feeling. Then the Dear Man rescued me with his spare mouse. And that made everything 70 times better]

Working on  |  On a related note, I’ve also been working on setting up a better home office. 

Phase 1: seated at the kitchen island; when I have a Zoom meeting or webinar, I headed upstairs to our home library 

Phase 2: elevated the laptop so I had a standing desk at the island (to alleviate the wrist ache)

Phase 3: swapped the furniture in the den and library—because the comfy chairs in the library were so ergonomically wrong; currently testing a rotation between seated desk / Zoom site in the home library and standing desk in the kitchen

Obsessing  |  Most days, our cat is super cute. Most days, I can’t stop myself from taking a photo of the cuteness. When I scroll through my photo roll from the quarantine months, it’s 90% adorable sleeping cat photos. Because basically that’s what’s new around here…

(Seriously, how does she sleep like that?!)

Snooping  |  Let’s just be honest: we all check out other people’s bookshelves. And these days, we can even snoop the bookshelves of the famous

 

Loving  |  This Hamilton thing that the original cast pulled together on Zoom gave me joy. 

 

Anticipating  |  No surprise here: I’m so looking forward to the day when things are mostly normal. 

 

What’s currently happening in your world? Give us the good, the bad, and the ugly…

Currently: quarantined and coping

So things have gotten a little bit weird in this world of ours. It’s scary and strange, and I hope dearly that you and your loved ones are safe and healthy in mind, body, and spirit. 

These days, COVID-19 concerns have us sheltering in place, and it’s all got an eerie dystopian feeling about it.

But our family is blessed with good health for our loved ones and ourselves, and I’m so grateful for that. And we’re fortunate to be able to work from home. And yet, there are worries and concerns, because this thing ain’t over yet. 

What are you doing that’s helping you through this?

For me, it’s…

  • Sheltering with the Dear Man and our goofy cat
  • Long conversations with my inner circle
  • Being able to work & having plenty of work to do
  • Running
  • Seeing so many people being their best selves — it does the heart good
  • Essential oils (the soothing blend and the allergy blend and sometimes the Christmas season blend)
  • The light therapy lamp
  • Evening walks through our neighborhood (greeting the neighbors as we skirt one another at a wide distance)
  • Reading comfort books before sleep (The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King — because really, how stressed out can a person be when reading about Mister Rogers? And also reading Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb, which is so riveting that I understand why it showed up on so many people’s Best of 2019 lists)
  • Frequent planking (you can just throw yourself down on the floor and plank anytime you want to, when you’re working from home and wearing athleisure — and I gotta say, it helps with stress)

  • Sparkle lights
  • Daily counting of blessings

How are you coping with this new situation? And please let me know: are you and your family safe and well?

Currently in the thick of things

People, things are busy! I know this is no surprise to any of us, because who doesn’t feel that way? But some months just take it to the next level.

That said, I’m not complaining.

Here’s a bit of the good stuff happening here, much of which is distracting me away from reading and blogging…

Meeting | …our new nephew pup! Last weekend was devoted to family and dogs, and we’re besotted with the new little guy and his big brother.

Listening | …to the spectacular podcast The Happiness Lab. I keep talking about it. All the time.

Reading | Citizen Reader’s fantastic new book Bingeworthy British Television. I keep picking it up, intending to read about only one or two TV shows. And then I’ve spent 20 minutes downing bunches of them. Warning: addictive properties.

Waiting | …for our cat to warm up to her fancy new bed. It’s the cutest thing ever, and she’s just not into it. Literally.

I’ve been attempting to entice her, using her favorite toy (Christmas gift from her auntie), and she’s approached only to rescue unicorn from the perils of the cozy bed.

So, good people… anyone else engaged in a gentle battle of wills with a feline? What’s cooking in your life this October?

Currently… falling into fall

It’s fall, and it’s lovely (even when it’s thunderstorming), and this has been a season of great happiness. Prepare for multiple mentions of my becoming verklempt… 

 

Reading  |  I’ve been in the midst of an extremely satisfying fiction spree lately: The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo and The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. Such wonderful stories to sink into…

Listening   |  A friend alerted me to the 13 Minutes to the Moon podcast, and I fell for it hard. It focuses on the 13 minutes before the Apollo 11 moon landing, and the host interviews astronauts and flight controllers who were part of the radio loop when it happened. By the final three episodes, when they play back the 13 minutes of radio chatter and you know the behind-the-scenes stories: so very verklempt.

Watching   |  My Dear SIL and I are Downton Abbey superfans, so we went to see the recently-released movie, Downton Abbey. Just like the TV show, the movie was gorgeous and dramatic and super soap-y, and we loved it. 

Working on  |   This year we upped our game in the fall decor arena.  Here’s the kitchen island…

Loving  |   I’m wild about molasses cookies, and I’ve embarked on a quest to find The Best Molasses Cookie Recipe in the World. Two recipes down, with a clear frontrunner. If you have a stellar recipe, I’m gonna need for you to send it to me. (Please.) 

Anticipating  |   My sister’s family added a baby St. Bernard to their menagerie, and we get to meet him soon! I keep shivering with joy. Also: walking around the house laugh-crying as the first photos arrived, showing him with my niece and nephew. My heart can barely take it.  

 

 

Celebrating  |  One year in our new house!

What’s going on in your world this fall?

Favorite coffee | National Coffee Day

 

Today’s National Coffee Day, and I don’t know about you, but I’m celebrating. 

 

Here are some of my coffee favorites…

Favorite national chain: Dunkin'

That time someone Random Acted me & paid for my coffee in the drive-thru

 

For perfect coffee every single time, I love Dunkin’. Their prices are decent, they have a great app, and you can earn points for free coffee. So much to love.

Favorite coffee beans (grocery store)

I’m all about brewing my own coffee at home because frugal.

Here are my favorite go-to brands:

  • Trader Joe’s — Columbia Supremo
  • Cameron’s — Organic Woods & Water

Favorite coffee beans (local source)

We live in an area of coffee greatness. Some local area favorites:

  • Gun Barrel Coffee — Hooah
  • PapaNicholas — Restaurant Blend

My fellow coffee drinkers… tell me your favorites!

Currently: early summer

Summer’s finally happened, and it’s sometimes even sunny. So I’ve been running outdoors and admiring the Dear Man’s fine caretaking of our lawn and landscaping. It’s good, my friends.

Here’s what else is going on around here…

Reading | Lately the book I’ve been reading past my bedtime is The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker. I don’t want to put it down. Yes: mildly obsessed with the ideas in this book — how to be a better host and how to hold more meaningful gatherings. We’ll see how I do in real life. Stay tuned.

Listening | Around the house, I’ve been listening to Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Thought-provoking stuff. And in the car: Everybody’s Got Something by Robin Roberts. Inspiring and uplifting. And she reads it herself.

Watching | We checked out the Ken Burns Lewis & Clark documentary from the library because we ain’t got no cable. And, in related news, we just canceled our Netflix subscription due to lack of use. We’re a readerly household, y’all. Anyway… Lewis & Clark: fascinating. I admit I didn’t know Sacajawea was a teenager or that she carried her baby with her on the entire journey. Also: there was a Newfoundland with them. That these are my favorite aspects makes me feel a little bit human-interest-y, but there it is.

Learning | After our recent trip to Pennsylvania and Ohio during that cold spell, I vowed never to be cold when traveling again.

via GIPHY

So we’re putting together an all-season travel kit that’ll stay in the car — filled with extra layers, long underwear, stocking caps, mittens, hand warmers, raincoats, sun hats, sunscreen, umbrellas, and other stuff so we’re never caught unprepared again. Sometimes you just need to be ready to hike to see waterfalls, and that’s no fun if your hands are freezing.

Working on | Styling the kitchen shelves. I haven’t been pleased with the look of them yet, and now they’re getting my serious attention. Stay tuned.

Loving | The new ladder. We’ve been on a quest for the perfect barrel and the perfect ladder. And now only our barrel quest remains. Thank you, flea market!

Anticipating | Looking forward to our next canoe trip…

What’re you excited about this spring-into-summer season?

Currently: faked out by spring

It’s an erratic springtime in the Midwest — what a shocker! Last week I ran outdoors in a jacket, thermal leggings, stocking cap, and mittens one day–and a short-sleeved shirt and capris four days later. Now it’s back to mitten weather, and my mood is foul. (Actually, my mood is fine. I’m snuggled indoors, wearing long underwear and having hygge thoughts.)

Reading | I’m working my way through Middlemarch and enjoying it more the further I read. I also found a mystery I’m liking — the first in a while. S.C Perkins’ Murder Once Removed has a genealogy-based premise, and I’m always a sucker for that. And yesterday my hold for Robert Caro’s Working came in, and I was shivering with delight while reading the first few pages. Then I had to read a sentence out loud to the Dear Man cuz it just was that good.

Listening | Our good Bybee of Blue-Hearted Bookworm mentioned Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch as a good companion to reading George Eliot, so I checked out the audiobook and am feeling very cultured and calm as I listen.

Watching | A wonderful colleague, who knows of my space obsession, alerted me to the documentary Apollo 11. So the Dear Man and I got tickets and saw the IMAX version and it was beyond remarkable. Here’s some stuff about it…

NYT opinion piece about Neil Armstrong

The trailer…


Learning  | We’ve been delving into our schoolhouse’s history, and I’m deep into the local scene in 1906, when the school was being built. Picture me at the microfilm reader… Picture me there for many cumulative hours…

Loving | The white mocha and almond latte at our local coffee house


Anticipating | Spice containers and electrical outlets are on the horizon, and I’m so excited I can hardly stand it. I’ll be able to use the treadmill in the basement, where I’ll have a very fine view out the windows. And our TV will become operational. And the spice containers… I’ll be talking about those later, I believe. There’s gonna be some miraculous before and after action.

Celebrating | We’ve been in our new home for just over 6 months, and it keeps getting better. (See: spice containers and electrical outlets, above)

What’s going on in your world during this wild ride of a springtime (or whatever this is)?

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?

Currently: holiday cozy

We’re approaching year-end, and things are busy and pretty darn good. Here’s what’s been happening at the Unruly household…


Reading | The last few months, the reading’s been splendid. I whizzed through The Library Book by Susan Orlean and kept reading passages aloud to the Dear Man because Orlean so perfectly captured aspects of library life and the dedication of librarians to their work.

And I’ve been devouring books about food and cooking. Current obsession: My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl.

Listening | On my 3-minute commute and occasional trip to the grocery store, I inched my way through the audiobook Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willick and Leif Babin (which they read themselves, and dude, they sound scary.) And just started listening to Transcription by Kate Atkinson, which is making me happy to be driving.

Watching | The Dear Man and I are completely hooked on Samuel and Audrey’s travel and food YouTube videos. YSam’s even a Cubs fan, and if we ever encounter them on a sidewalk in Prague, they’re gonna be freaked out because we’ll be acting like we know them.

Learning | We’re doing seasonal decorating here at the new old house, and it seriously takes two to do this kind of thing. I’ve got no decorating game whatsoever, so my tactic is to look up stuff on Instagram and Pinterest, then show pictures of stuff I like to the Dear Man, who has an artist’s/designer’s eye and can make suggestions about our space. Then we wander through the flea market and boutiques and craft stores and we figure out which pieces will work. It’s all a little bit bumbling, but it’s fun to work on it together and learn what we can do.

Island Christmas

Organizing |  After several false starts, we finished organizing the closet, which is such a relief and delight. We had to buy shelves, which had to be custom cut, and then right in the middle of the project, the store discontinued the shelves we were using. But: we got it done!

Yes. It is a thing of beauty, this closet. 

Eating | It’s the holiday season, and we’re surrounded by treats!

Definition of a happy holiday: My friend made this bowl. 
My man filled it with treats for us.

Loving | Our new house. I love our new house.

Anticipating | We’ll be spending time with both sides of the family this holiday season, and that means laughing. Can’t wait!

This one says, “Happy holidays.”

What’re you looking forward to this season?