Life By Kristen

Go, and embrace your liberty. And see what wonderful things come of it. – Little Women

Book Review: French Letters: Children of a Good War

Synopsis: Four decades after World War II, 1986 is a year of terrorist hijackings, of personal computers and CD players, of AIDS and Miami Vice. It also is a year in which a beloved doctor falls to his death, a Pan Am pilot is shot while trying to foil the takeover of Pan Am flight 73, and when four bitter French widows use their medicines as bets to play poker in their retirement home while a lonely nun observes her vows of silence in an Irish convent. And it is the year when a cache of faded letters is discovered in a cellar, causing Frank Hastings to realize that he is not who he believed he is, and to go in search of his mother.

***

My review: 3.5 stars.

This likely would have been a higher review for me but with life and work happenings ( including being at an exhausting work conference for 3 days), it took me longer than usual to read. I had a few days in between readings so found myself having to go back and remind myself what was going on- this isn’t a critique of the author, his writing, or the book, but more about where my brain was at for the past couple weeks.

The French Letter series is a new one to me, as is this author, but I agreed to review the book because of my interest in World War II.  Children of a Good War is the third book in the series, but I didn’t feel like I missed anything or was confused by characters, plot lines, etc. by not having read the previous two books ( though I did add them to my to-read list).

Without giving up too much of the plot, the story centers around Frank Hastings, a writer who is estranged from his brother Peter, a pilot. The two brothers come together after the death of their father (the doctor), and it is revealed that Frank’s mother is not the same as Peter’s. Letters from World War II are found and the mystery surrounding Frank’s mother, and his father’s time in France during the war are made known. There are other revelations about Peter too, and again without giving a lot away, both of the brothers are changed by what they learn of their parents and how they view themselves and their relationship with each other.

Part of the 3.5 stars for me aside from the time it took me to read was that there were a lot of different characters to keep track of, which didn’t help with my slow reading. The author is definitely creating a distinct and clear ‘universe’ in both the modern and historic timelines– it’s clear a lot of research and time went into crafting the novel with its details, subplots, and development. Some of the background helps inform the main narrative, but there were a few that left me feeling a bit clueless like I’d missed something. That being said, I appreciate novels where you can see the personal development, realizations, and self-discovery of a fictional character, so this book gets good marks for that.

Buy the book!

 

I was provided an advanced copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

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November: A Month for Gratitude

Sorry I disappeared for most of October! It was a busy month for work and overall various things going on. But super productive with house projects getting done and fall activities.

We decorated for fall and even a few things for Halloween. We had about 30 trick or treaters last night- mostly superhero and zombie costumes. I don’t always love Halloween but I do like seeing kids all dressed up, especially the little ones.

I’m 10 books away from reaching my goal of reading 80 this year. I feel pretty confident I’ll make it and possibly go over. I read 7 in the month of October, though I wasn’t over the moon for any of them. I was disappointed by a few- most of the books I only rated a 2 or 3, which may have more to do with my level of tiredness this month while reading. Take Crazy Rich Asians  which I wanted to read before I watched the movie. I’ve heard people love it or hate it, but I was definitely in the indifferent category. The only 4 star book was Anna Kendrick’s Scrappy Little Nobody which I listened to on audio for my commute. It wasn’t the best celebrity memoir I’ve listened to, but I gave it the extra star because I liked her delivery and jokes.

One fun thing from October was a visit just last week to the Florence Griswold Museum in Connecticut to see their Fairy Houses outdoor exhibit. It’s an annual event for the museum where local artists create these fun, whimsical interpretations of fairy houses all with a central theme. This year’s featured letters and numbers. It was a great afternoon with a friend, even though it got chilly pretty quickly! The picture below is an example– this is the house created for letter H and an example of the little rooms inside.

 

November is a month for giving thanks and for my favorite holiday. Even though my museum closes for the season this month, we have some December holiday programming to prepare for and this year we’re doing some new things, so this month will be filled with prepping for that. I’m looking forward to a few long weekends and lazy days, as well as decorating our house in our simplified Christmas decor. But really, the best part of this month is Thanksgiving!

Friday Finds October 2018

On my travel list whenever I find myself in Atlanta- a new museum dedicated to the puppetry of Jim Henson.

Speaking of the amazing creations and imaginations of Jim Henson, the original Big Bird leaves Sesame Street after 50 years. Sidenote: I played Big Bird in my 1st grade play!

The trash that came out of Yellowstone geyser that has normally been quiet- stuff from the 1930s! Weird and fascinating.

How the Smithsonian helped the FBI track down the missing ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz.

There were never 57 varieties of Heinz Ketchup! Marketing schemes!

Duck sauce is an essential part of New England Chinese cuisine. I had no idea it was another thing that is only known in this end of the world!

October- One of the Best Months of the Year

October and November are by far the best months out of the year for me. The air is crisp and clear for outside activities without the heat and sweat, but it’s getting cozy for nights with hot tea and a blanket. This month does not have a lot packed into it with schedule, but there are a decent amount of things going on in life and work.

But first- a quick September recap!

Books read in September: 6 in total. Steal Like an Artist; Exit West; It Ends with Us; Down City; Little Beach Street Bakery; A Woman of Independent Means– should have been 7, but it took me longer than I anticipated to read Beartown ( I finished it yesterday). Best read was definitely It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover.

Goals accomplished in September: New couch pillows! Power washed the side of the house and garage! I did not get around to painting the outside moldings, but trimmed bushes and a few other tasks that have annoyed me like scrubbing my stove and cabinets. I’ve been casually meal planning, but now that the weather has finally changed and I can use my oven again, I’m excited to cook again. Last night I made a pretty awesome fritatta. No change in basement setup, though that will have to change this week as I need to make space for a new -to-us dining room table, but have yet to get rid of the old one!

Writing is going well and I’m even challenging myself to get up earlier each day to walk on treadmill a bit and write after. It’s made my work days more productive too!

This month work gets busy with night-time programs and a lot of planning for 2019.

At home, I will tackle the few things I didn’t get to in September and need to do outside before it gets chilly.

Mostly, I’m hoping to enjoy the season with outdoor activities like going to one of the last open air markets in my town, a jack-o-lantern event at the local zoo, and getting some mums and a pumpkin for the house. Little Man celebrates his 10th birthday at the end of the month, and I’m hopeful Q and I will get to see him and celebrate it in some way, no matter how small.

 

Friday Finds September 2018

As a museum professional, a fire in a museum is truly my worst nightmare ( and I’ve had it a few times). Seeing the images from the fire at Brazil’s National Museum have broken my heart and reading this story about the staff going in to try to save items both inspires & saddens me.

Rhode Island’s Ida Lewis remembered at Arlington Cemetery with street name– the first woman to have a street named after her in the national memorial. She saved dozens of mariners from her post at a lighthouse in the waters off of Newport, RI.

Have you ever wondered who decides the names for each year’s hurricane season?

The homebody economy. I definitely fall into this category, but don’t subscribe or purchase to most of these things.

The exciting and exhausting world of cruise ship entertainers I can’t imagine this type of schedule!

This is just ridiculous and incredibly wasteful- Burberry is only just now ending its practice of burning unsold stock and fabric.  I have never worn nor bought this brand and even if I had the money to, I certainly wouldn’t now!

 

10 Years

Tomorrow marks my 10-year anniversary at my workplace which seems almost impossible to me that I’ve been in one place for that long and that I’m old enough to have a 10-year work anniversary.

When I started this job, I was the assistant curator and thought it was maybe a 3-5 year job. I was 25 and filled with excitement of the life ahead of me. Within 7 months of starting my job, I was engaged and owned a house. When I hit the 3 year mark, my life was starting to unravel with a separation and beginnings of a divorce.

At my 5- year work anniversary, I was 6 months into a new relationship with  Q and starting to think about moving on. I had a big job interview in the Midwest and even though our relationship was new, we were ready to dive head first into life together and start fresh in a new place. Little did we know that a few months later in 2013, our entire life would be thrown out of confetti gun when my Dad died.

At around 5.5 years, my former boss announced his retirement and I was promoted on my 6th anniversary– so really, my 3-5 year prediction for the assistant curator position was right on target. As full curator, my job wasn’t a whole lot different, but there were a lot more admin duties and responsibilities that I enjoyed for a long time.

Years 7 through 9.5 were rough ones with a difficult boss, lots of changes and transitions in other staff and with the organization overall. But in those years, work was a constant as my life outside was changing. Adjusting to new things with family after the death of Dad, helping Mom move, adjusting to being a “stepmom” and more. The years had tough moments and exciting ones professionally including more than a dozen jobs that we were ready to move away and start new lives.

Of course, for many reasons, both good and bad, none of those things happened and I’m hitting my 10-year anniversary at this place and year 4 as curator. This past year has been another difficult one personally as we struggle with Q’s son and not being able to start a family of our own together. Until my not-great boss left in May, I was thinking it was likely that I’d leave before I hit the 10-year mark because I was pretty miserable. When the work circumstances changed, I kept on trucking to see how things might develop around here.

I’m proud of my 10 years in one place, if for no other reason than it seems to be more of a rarity these days to stay in one place. There were times when my life was being thrown upside down when work sustained me and was sometimes the only thing besides my family and friends I could rely on. Some of my coworkers are my closest friends who are like family which is a blessing. The job has allowed me to travel, to meet some awesome people, and to do the work I set out to do when I was in college. That’s something many people don’t get in life and something I am grateful for on a regular basis.

And yet, I’m at a crossroads. It’s clear it’s time for me to take my talents and interests to another place, if for no other reason that change is good and I need it. Frankly, my workplace needs it too. New ideas and fresh blood can bring this organization into new great things and I want that for them. It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to work with these folks for a decade of my life. I’m not going anywhere yet, but I have my eyes on something new, even if I don’t know where or what that is quite yet.

 

5 on Friday: TGIF!

Image from here

  • I’ve never needed a weekend as badly as I need it today! This week was jampacked with meetings, random tours, and odd happenings. My work tasks feel like they’re piling up and all I see are calendar days filled with lots of things and not a lot of desk time to get things done. I’m looking forward to relatively low-key weekend with just a few things I want to get done.
  • The worst thing of this week: I lost my glasses on Wednesday. After a frantic day of searching high and low at work and in my car, Q had the super smart idea for me to check the security camera footage at the museum to see if I could pinpoint when my glasses decided to part ways with me. I had them when I walked into the building, but by the time I got to my office, they were gone! 48 hours later and they still haven’t turned up. Ordered a brand new pair, so I’m sure I’ll find the old ones as soon as I pay the ridiculous price for the new ones. In the meantime, I’m wearing my prescription sunglasses almost every where which was interesting to drive in a torrential downpour in them yesterday morning. Note to self: find a new, less expensive eyeglasses provider!
  • With work being crazy and a rough day yesterday with glasses drama and weird tech happenings with my phone, I was beyond elated to come home to find Q had already decided on dinner and procured all the fixings. It really is the little things that make me love that man more every day.
  • My new found love of the Kindle and the Overdrive lending system with my library is wonderful. Despite all my efforts and trying to time out books with long wait lists and suspending some holds, I still ended up with 3 books at the same time– will try to get at least 2 read this weekend (Exit West by Mohsin Hamed [relatively short] and It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover.) Beartown by Frederic Bachman just arrived on the Kindle this morning and I have 21 days with it, so I’m sure I’ll get it done in the next week or so, despite a busy schedule during the work week.

Travel Tuesday: Portsmouth, NH

Over the long Labor Day weekend, Q and I escaped a few hours north to Portsmouth, NH for the weekend to relax a bit and enjoy some time away from the routine of life. We took the Friday of the long weekend off and headed up to Portsmouth on Thursday night after work. We decided to stay in the city proper so that we could walk to restaurants and not have to worry about parking.

After sleeping in Friday, we headed up the road a bit to Kittery, Maine to do some outlet shopping, mostly for Q. There were some good deals to be had since it was the long weekend and both of us scored a few good ones, though most of the buying was done by Q who was in desperate need of clothes ( why do men wait until shirts are threadbare to go shopping?). It was so nice to be out and about since the weather was perfect- it was the first time in weeks that it wasn’t hot and humid, so we were quite happy to walk around. We found a fantastic BBQ spot- Ore Nell’s BBQ– on our way back to Portsmouth on local roads instead of the highway, which was already congested with long weekend travelers.

The view from our picnic table at Ore Nell’s BBQ

After a little afternoon nap, we strolled the streets and shops of downtown Portsmouth, had some coffee, and then an early dinner at a delicious seafood place, Surf. I had the Fisherman’s Stew which was so much food. Q had a huge seared tuna steak (the only seafood he eats) and we enjoyed a gorgeous view on the water.

Saturday we started with a seriously out of this world breakfast at Friendly Toast, and then ventured off to explore The Great Bay Wildlife Refuge, which was about half hour from Portsmouth. I’m glad we went early as there weren’t a ton of bugs yet and other than some photography folks, there was no one there. A lot of people do a harbor boat cruise or visit the Isle of Shoals, but I get seasick pretty easily, so didn’t want to ruin the weekend being queasy for a day.

Even though we were “on vacation,” our Saturday still included a stop at Target! Q has had a shoulder injury for a few weeks now (thankfully, he’s on the other side of it) and his shoulder had been bothering him the night before, so we stopped at Target for some one-time use ice packs to get him through the weekend.

One of the highlights of the trip was our tour and tasting at Smutty Nose Brewing. There are a lot of options for breweries in the coastal New Hampshire/Maine region. We chose Smutty Nose not just for its close location, but neither of us were that familiar with the beer and weren’t sure if we’d ever had it before, so we were excited to try some flavors. The tour was good and the beer was even better! Highly recommend their pumpkin ale that’s coming out right now which may be the first time I’ve ever liked a pumpkin-flavored beer.

After beer, we napped, walked some more, and then had coffees while people watching in Market Square. We had dinner at Poco’s Cantina where I are their out of this world smothered vegetarian nachos. While this was delicious, it was also A LOT of cheese and nachos and I spent the rest of the evening definitely questioning my life decision.

Sunday morning after a quick bite at the hotel, we headed home fairly early. Early on in our relationship, we both realized that one of the keys to successful travel together was making sure we had a cushion between coming home and going back to work. We like having the time to do laundry, grocery shop, and get back to the swing of things before work starts, so we try to do long weekends where we get the actual holiday day off to be home. It’s my favorite adulting/vacation life hack to pass long!

Also, these three photos are the only ones I took the entire weekend- we were having such a good time, I barely touched my phone!

John McCain & Grief

I met John McCain for a brief moment in 2007 when he was in New Hampshire campaigning for the 2008 presidential race. My then boyfriend (now ex-husband) was really involved in politics and after the NH Republican debate that year, we went to a few of the candidate after parties. Since it was literally a two second hello as he walked passed us, I don’t have anything meaningful to say about the interaction other than it happened.

I don’t agree with a lot of McCain’s politics, but I, like many people in the past few weeks, was struck with his death, possibly because it seems like it might signal not only loss of a good person, but also the loss of a type of civil politician that seems to be a rarity in these maddening times.

During all the pomp and circumstance that comes with the death of an American statesman, I was actually feeling more for his family. As happens when someone loses a parent, whether I know them or not, it always brings up grief and feelings related to my Dad. I commented to a few people how emotionally (and likely physically) exhausted the McCain family must be after the marathon week of memorials and ceremony– it was just 5 days from the day my Dad died to his funeral and it was by far one of the most tiring weeks I’ve ever experienced.

Seeing Megan McCain’s grieving brought back a lot of raw emotions for me and took me right back to that week almost five years ago. Again, don’t agree with most of her politics ( though I applaud her efforts on body-positive stuff for women), but felt connected with her in a weird way watching every public display of grief that the media seems to love so much. Side note: the voyeuristic nature of celebrity/public figure grief is something I will never understand the interest in, yet seeing it stirred something in me. The mind/heart is weird.

Grief is a weird life partner because even when you think you’re in a good head space, it creeps in at weird times. Songs, smells, a random memory all bring a person to mind– I like to think that’s when Dad’s spirit is with me so it can be comforting or it can be just plain unsettling. I also think grief and losing Dad has made me a much more empathetic, kind, and patient person. It’s also made me feel this urge to reach out to people who lose someone, especially a parent, because I feel like we’re in this club together. A club no one wants to be in, but there together and connecting in some way makes the situation easier to handle.

September!

It’s always funny to me how the turn of the calendar page to September brings about all these fall feelings and aspirations except that in my neck of the woods, it usually doesn’t feel like fall for a few weeks. Even after the official start at the end of September it still sometimes is hot and gross in New England!

But here we are, new month and I’m feeling refreshed after our weekend getaway over the long weekend.

The gross heat and humidity of August meant a lot of time indoors for me, so I’m hoping that the month of September will be glorious weather-wise so I can make up for all the time indoor time of the past month. So many little things I want to do in my yard and garage, but just in general want to soak up some Vitamin D and be outside more.

I read A LOT in August: Little Beach Street Bakery, A Woman of Independent Means, Summer Wives, Birthday Girl, The Maze at Windermere, How to Walk Away, Dead Presidents, Forever is the Worst Long Time, and The Moth Presents: All These Small Wonders. Only one of those was audio and nonfiction (Dead Presidents) as my podcasts are becoming more of a staple of commuting. A Woman of Independent Means was a read from my actual owned-bookshelf. As soon as I finished it, I quickly donated right away to the new Free Little Library in my town.

While I think I’ll read a lot in September ( I can’t believe it took me so long to get a Kindle since now I’m pretty much attached to it), what I really want to focus on is writing. It’s been so far out of my head for so long for a huge number of reasons and excuses, but I’m trying every day to write something, even if it’s just ideas in my journal.

Other tiny goals for September: a few tiny outdoor house chores (painting wooden surrounds on windows and door frames, clean mildew on siding), recycle my 2 ancient computers, get back into meal planning and control our grocery budget, buy new couch pillows, and clean/rearrange/organize basement so there’s space for Q’s gym setup, my desk/writing setup, and storage.

 

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