Life By Kristen

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

My Reading List

Prior to the internet and my love of Goodreads, I tracked books I wanted to read on a written list that I slowly crossed things off as I read them. I was mostly reading books I owned or were lent to me from friends. I bought them from bargain racks at the big bookstores, from used book shops, and other spots. My favorite for many years was buying hardcovers for practically nothing at Building 19, a now-defunct New England chain that had a lot of books that had small issues like an inkblot on the title page or a binding that was just off by a bit. The prices were too good to pass up ( seriously, you could get a $25 brand new hardcover for like $3) and I often went with my parents, and going to Building 19 together is one of my favorite memories with them as an adult.

About 10-ish or so years ago, I stopped buying books completely and became strictly a reader from the library or my own shelf. This is mostly true today, though I’ll pick up a few a year that are used or written by an author I want to support.

via Risa Rodil

This book-buying history is important to note when it comes to my reading list, which as of this writing, stands at 445. If I did the math correctly, that would take me just about 8 1/2 years to finish reading if I read a book a week. Depending on time of year, length and type of book, I can sometimes do two books a week, but it might be a stretch.

This list though, is not the complete to- read list because awhile ago I decided to eliminate any book I owned. My thinking there is that I own it, so I won’t forget that I want to read it. Of course, the issue I seem to have is that even though I liked the book enough to buy it, I have some sort of block that prevents me from reading it as fast as a loaned book from a friend or the library. Maybe because I know it’s mine and will always have it, so it doesn’t feel urgent? I’m determined to really “read down” my owned shelf in 2018.

Of course, I’ll never reach the end of my to-read list and that’s the amazing/exciting thing about being a bookworm. About two or three times a year, usually on a night when Q has chosen a movie I have no interest in, I sit on the couch next to him with my Goodreads list, and try to cull it a bit. There isn’t a lot of method to my madness– I eliminate books that might be in a series so that the only one that appears on my to-read list is the first in the series. I try to take off books that I think I’d prefer on audio ( memoir and non-fiction mostly) and know I can get via Hoopla or Overdrive.  I do keep a “favorites” list on Hoopla for a lot of those titles too, which is about 65 as of right now.

Despite the size of the list, I love recommendations and as always, love to find new friends to follow on Goodreads!

From here

 

 

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Friday Finds October 2017

If I find a dress with pockets, I feel like I’ve hit the lottery. Here’s a short history of pockets and women’s clothing, and why it’s uncommon to find dresses with them.

There are some museum jobs that get to do the coolest things like cleaning and prepping a spaceship to travel around the country.

As with many gals in my age bracket, I love the movie Dirty Dancing. I had no idea there was an annual festival dedicated to the movie, so I may have to add this to my bucket list.

How setting constraints allowed Dr. Seuss to create his greatest work.

Have you ever wondered where priests get their vestments and other ceremonial clothing? Me either, but this article was interesting and was something I never even thought about previously.

The history of playgrounds in the United States.

Currently: October

Reading: Harry Potter #4. I’m borrowing my friend’s hardcover copy and it’s huge, so making it hard to get comfy with it like other books.

Watching: Finally Walking Dead is back! It might be surprise you that I watch this gory show, but I like how it really looks at the characters and contemplating what you would/would not do in a zombie apocalpyse. I only watch with Q because then I can cover my eyes for the gross parts and he tells me when it’s safe to look. Also, let’s be clear- my chances of surviving a zombie apocalypse are maybe one week since I have such short arms I don’t think I’d be able to attack one and keep it away without getting bit! And yes, I’ve spent too much time thinking about this. I’m also really liking the Will&Grace reboot.

Loving: that it’s finally fall weather. A few weeks ago, just when it seemed like the summer temperatures were over, Q took out the AC from our room. And then we spent almost another week with gross humidity and high temps.

Eating: Tons of apples and butternut squash. Also loving that I can finally use my oven. I have a strict no oven rule in the summer because we have such a small house that retains heat, so I’m excited to be baking again.

Planning: Our first time hosting Thanksgiving. I’m pretty pumped as it’s my favorite  holiday and will be the first major one Q and I host together ( we’ve done Mother’s and Father’s Day at our spot before).

Listening: To so many podcasts! I haven’t listened to an audiobook on my commute in a while because I’ve been adding more podcasts to my playlist. I binged through Dirty John (about a con man) and been going through the backlist of Criminal (really enjoyed the recent episode about the brothers who escaped from Alcatraz).

 

Hope your October is filled with pretty foliage, cool nights, and lots of Halloween candy!

 

Lessons of The Fence

If you follow me over on Instagram, you may have seen a couple of posts over the past few weeks about my fence. It’s been a source of frustration and more than a few tears over the past month.

First, a bit of back story. I first painted this fence with my Dad on Columbus Day weekend 2009. It’s a pretty vivid memory, so much that I recall even what I wore ( gray long sleeve San Francisco t-shirt and brown work pants). It was just my Dad and I who did it together- I’m sure my then-fiance was off traveling somewhere for the weekend or something. I remember it because we talked about a ton of things and because we both complained about how painting a fence seemed like a thankless task.

When the fence started to peel over a year ago, I did NOT want to do it again. I think there should be some homeowner rule that if you do a project once, you shouldn’t have to do it again. I even priced out getting the fence done by someone, but because of humidity and schedules last summer, it never got done. The wet winter and fire next door to our house this past April helped to peel a lot of the paint, so much that it was definitely looking BAD by the start of the summer. I knew it had to be done and again I delayed for various reasons- weather, busy schedules, and so on.

A few weeks ago I found myself with a relatively free Sunday and got to scraping. But it was hot and I was mad to have to do it again. Doing it brought so many thoughts of my Dad and doing house projects with him back and a flood of emotions. I didn’t get very far and ended up a crying mess.

 

This weekend, I finally got my act together and finished scraping one side, I took it upon myself to get the rest of the supplies I needed for painting. Thanks to a few good podcasts and being stranded at home without a car while Q had dental work done, I got the lion’s share of the fence done. It still needs another coat, and I didn’t paint the adjacent side, but the lesson here is an evergreen one- the things you put off usually don’t take as long as you anticipate once you finally get them done.

Working on the fence I was thinking a lot about my Dad and how he often told me that often it was his father, my Grandpa, who was the one who pushed him to get house projects done. I miss the time we spent doing projects around the house together, though just as it was with his father, my Dad was the one who motivated me to get things done around the house. That makes my home  filled with memories of things we did together (or things he just did for me) for which I am eternally grateful.

It also makes me realize that, in the future, condo living is right for me!

Book Review: Start Without Me

Synopsis: The author of the critically acclaimed The Book of Jonah explores questions of love and choice, disappointment and hope in the lives of two strangers who meet by chance in this mesmerizing tale that unfolds over one Thanksgiving day

Adam is a former musician and recovering alcoholic who is home for Thanksgiving for the first time in many years. Surrounded by his parents and siblings, nieces and nephews—all who have seen him at his worst—he can’t shake the feeling that no matter how hard he tries, he’ll always be the one who can’t get it right.

Marissa is a flight attendant whose marriage is strained by simmering tensions over race, class and ambition. Heading to her in-laws for their picture-perfect holiday family dinner, her anxiety is intensified by the knowledge she is pregnant from an impulsive one-night-stand.

In an airport restaurant on Thanksgiving morning, Adam and Marissa meet. Over the course of this day fraught with emotion and expectation, these two strangers will form an unlikely bond as they reckon with their family ties, their pasts, and the choices that will determine their way forward.

My review: 3 stars.

I always enjoy reading novels that are about family dynamics because they are always so fascinating and layered with interesting characters. This book does not disappoint in that way. Both characters that we get to know in-depth, Marissa and Adam, are deeply flawed, but fascinating. They aren’t entirely likable, but they aren’t depicted as horrible human beings either.

Maybe it’s the cynic in me, but I always wonder about these “strangers meeting” novels where two people’s lives come together from a happenstance meeting. I don’t think I could ever meet a person and connect with them so well in a few minutes that I’d invite them to my Thanksgiving with family.

A lot of the Thanksgiving family drama of this book reminded me of one of my favorite ( and one of the few) movies about Thanksgiving, Home for the Holidays. It’s a Holly Hunter movie from the 1990s where Hunter’s character goes to her family’s Thanksgiving in her hometown after many years away. It’s about love, family, and all the mess that comes on Thanksgiving.

Fun thing about reading this book was I took it with us on our Vermont long weekend getaway to Brattleboro, so imagine my surprise when it turns out that Marissa is on her way to in-laws’ Thanksgiving right outside of the same place!

Buy the book!

As part of the TLC Book Tour for this book, I was provided an advanced copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Weekend in Vermont

Q and I desperately needed some time away. After a tough summer, we decided just after Labor Day weekend to go away for the long weekend in October. We chose Southern Vermont because it wouldn’t be too long of a drive and would be a nice change of scenery. Honestly, I wanted so badly to get out of our rut, I would have taken a night away at a Holiday Inn off the highway somewhere.

We stayed in Brattleboro, Vermont– it’s just under a 3 hour drive from our house and we both had been there in our younger years and liked the place. It also was well-situated for short car rides to other spots that had things to do too. Downtown Brattleboro is a small New England city, but has some great food and beer spots, and a very active arts scene. Since it was the long weekend, there were a lot of people around and all the restaurants were packed.

Our weekend was spent, as most vacations are, eating and drinking. We really enjoyed the Whetstone Station Brewery, Saxon River Distillery, and Grafton Village Cheese Company. We stayed at the Latchis Hotel, which is right in downtown Brattleboro, which made it great for walking around and going to various spots without either of us worrying about how much we were drinking ( which, isn’t a lot anyway, but always nice to not have to think about driving and how many beers one of us can have). It rained most of the time, which happened when we went to Maine a few years ago on Columbus Day weekend too, so at least we’re consistent! We ended up driving into New Hampshire on the rainy day to see Keene, which is near where I went to college, so it was a nice little trip down memory lane for me. We ended up at one of my favorite bookstores, Toadstool Books, which I spent many hours in over my 4 years of college.

 

The foliage was just short of peak, so lots of muted colors and the cloudy skies made them seem a bit more gloomy than usual. Overall, we had a lovely weekend and it was a good reminder that we need to make more of an effort to break up our routines and get more fun into life!

Clearly we are not amazing picture-takers, as our selfies were all ridiculous looking from our height difference & those pesky power lines!

 

Book Review: The Fire by Night

Synopsis:  A powerful and evocative debut novel about two American military nurses during World War II that illuminates the unsung heroism of women who risked their lives in the fight—a riveting saga of friendship, valor, sacrifice, and survival combining the grit and selflessness of Band of Brothers with the emotional resonance of The Nightingale.

In war-torn France, Jo McMahon, an Italian-Irish girl from the tenements of Brooklyn, tends to six seriously wounded soldiers in a makeshift medical unit. Enemy bombs have destroyed her hospital convoy, and now Jo singlehandedly struggles to keep her patients and herself alive in a cramped and freezing tent close to German troops. There is a growing tenderness between her and one of her patients, a Scottish officer, but Jo’s heart is seared by the pain of all she has lost and seen. Nearing her breaking point, she fights to hold on to joyful memories of the past, to the times she shared with her best friend, Kay, whom she met in nursing school.

Half a world away in the Pacific, Kay is trapped in a squalid Japanese POW camp in Manila, one of thousands of Allied men, women, and children whose fates rest in the hands of a sadistic enemy. Far from the familiar safety of the small Pennsylvania coal town of her childhood, Kay clings to memories of her happy days posted in Hawaii, and the handsome flyer who swept her off her feet in the weeks before Pearl Harbor. Surrounded by cruelty and death, Kay battles to maintain her sanity and save lives as best she can . . . and live to see her beloved friend Jo once more.

When the conflict at last comes to an end, Jo and Kay discover that to achieve their own peace, they must find their place—and the hope of love—in a world that’s forever changed. With rich, superbly researched detail, Teresa Messineo’s thrilling novel brings to life the pain and uncertainty of war and the sustaining power of love and friendship, and illuminates the lives of the women who risked everything to save others during a horrifying time.

My review: 3.5 stars.

Probably not a shocker that I read yet another piece of historical fiction about World War II. This was especially interesting to me because of the undergraduate research I did on nurses during the war, as well as an exhibit that centered on the experience and World War II uniforms, belongings, and ephemera of one Army nurse who was the great aunt of my then roommate.

There are a lot of novels centered on World War II because of how tumultuous and life changing the time period was- it’s full of interesting people and stories that should be told. Fire by Night is a different spin on the World War II story not only because it’s coming from the perspective of the nurses, but also because it’s very detailed and well-researched, without being boring or too much like a history lesson. Fire by Night  is told by Jo and Kay in alternating chapters, and even though they are separated during the war, their experiences as nurses is very similar. It’s a novel about their experiences, but also about their friendship.

It’s the first book by this author and the reading guide and author’s interview at the back of the novel was quite telling about her writing and research experience. She spent 7 years (!) researching this book, and it’s obvious that she invested a lot of time in getting the details and information correct, which I greatly appreciate. I would love to know more about some of the people she interviewed and how much of their stories are reflected in the final text.

The details of the war, on both fronts, is so well-done that my weak stomach could not take a lot of the descriptions of the various medical scenarios both nurses are involved with. This made me have to skim some of the book more than I’d like, but some of the descriptions were just too vivid for me ( there’s a scene with Jo in Germany during an operation to take out a soldier’s appendix that really made me feel gross). I wouldn’t say that’s a reason to skip the book entirely, as I enjoyed the characters and this new perspective on a unique experience during World War II, but just be warned that if descriptions of blood and injuries bother you, it’s not a book to read while eating a meal!

Buy the book!


As part of the TLC Book Tour for this book, I was provided an advanced copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Family History

If you’ve been reading this little space on the internet for any length of time, you know that family is one of the most important things in my life. I grew up in a close knit family that ate dinner together every night, and every Sunday with my grandparents. Holidays were spent with extended family and friends who became family. I take great pride in this and in my family’s history, as both sides of my family have interesting stories to be told. My mother is Canadian and her family immigrated to Nova Scotia from The Netherlands in the early 1950s. My father’s side is Portuguese and both of his grandparents came to Massachusetts from the Portuguese islands of the Azores in the 1920s.

I know a lot about my family history and have always taken great pride in my ethnic background being 50% Dutch and 50% Portuguese, though I don’t look Dutch in any way. Last winter as a bit of project to combat cabin fever, Q and I embarked upon doing his family’s genealogy, particularly trying to learn more about his paternal grandfather and that line of his family tree. That grandfather passed when Q was a teenager and there had always been a family story that the grandfather was actually Native American, and that Q’s great-grandfather was actually a STEP great grandfather. It turns out the latter part of the story is true, but we had a lot of trouble learning more about his grandfather. Since we were tooling around with all the Ancestry stuff, it seemed like a good idea for Q to take the Ancestry DNA test to see what his genetic ethnicity might be, in an effort to find out if the Native American story was correct.

It was not.

Q’s genetic makeup turned out to be mostly Eastern European, with a big concentration in Poland and the various Slavic countries. The mystery about his paternal grandfather persists, though we’re both enjoying trying to figure out the story more. Q’s DNA opened up another big can of worms though because his maternal grandfather had a Portuguese last name and while born in the United States, had parents who were born in the Azores. It looks like from the quick family tree research we’ve done on that side that perhaps those great-grandparents moved to the Azores from Scotland, so we’re going to spend our winter doing a lot of that digging for Q.

The interesting findings on Q made me so curious about myself and my genetic ethnicity because so much of my family’s history was already known to me. I was fascinated by the results which I’ve copied here:

Not surprising that I have so much Italy/Greece and Iberian Peninsula with my Portuguese heritage, and not totally shocking about North Africa either. But I was completely blown away by the 36% concentration of Great Britain. These types of things just go to show how interconnected the world was even thousands of years ago when explorers and conquerors traversed the globe to create empires and discover new lands.

Have you done any of the DNA services to find out more about your ethnic DNA? I’d love to hear more about it as this type of stuff is fascinating to me as a history buff.

 

 

 

I purchased two Ancestry DNA kits on my own and was not paid by Ancestry to promote their product and services. All opinions are unsolicited and my own. 

Friday Finds September 2017

I like to think I’m an organized person who doesn’t have a lot of unnecessary clutter, so I often get a bit anxious when I look in closets, the attic, or the basement and see stuff that doesn’t get used every day. It’s definitely my personality quirk and something I oddly enjoy, so I find myself randomly decluttering a lot, often without any rhyme or reason, so I like this list of questions to keep in mind when going through the closets and piles of stuff.

Something I never thought about in regards to hurricanes- what do zoos and aquariums do? I love that image of the flamingos in the bathroom.

I love seltzer. This is a new thing within the past year or so for me, and drinking it instead of sugary juices or bottled ice teas is part of my weight loss success. This piece is a bit long and not just about seltzer drinkers, but I found it interesting, especially since I’m a New England Polar Seltzer lover ( Cranberry Lime forever).

Speaking of New England foods, chances are if you grew up there, you had a Fluffernutter Sandwich. I actually hated them, but it was a staple of my brother’s diet for many years. Side note- Fluff is amazing in Rice Krispie treats and can take fudge to next level amazing because of the crazy amount of sugar in it.

Ever since leaving grad school, I have been calling myself a “lifelong learner.” Apparently, it’s healthy and good all around to be curious and love to learn. Related: how to cultivate curiosity.

I love ballet and cannot wait to finally get to see The Nutcracker as an adult this coming December. I heard this on NPR last week and loved hearing more about the shop that makes the New York City Ballet tutus (among other costumes).

As a lover of libraries and archives, this article about the NYC Public Library archives system and archivists was delightful.

Book Review: The Way to London

Synopsis:

From the author of Secrets of Nanreath Hall comes this gripping, beautifully written historical fiction novel set during World War II—the unforgettable story of a young woman who must leave Singapore and forge a new life in England.

On the eve of Pearl Harbor, impetuous and overindulged, Lucy Stanhope, the granddaughter of an earl, is living a life of pampered luxury in Singapore until one reckless act will change her life forever.

Exiled to England to stay with an aunt she barely remembers, Lucy never dreamed that she would be one of the last people to escape Singapore before war engulfs the entire island, and that her parents would disappear in the devastating aftermath. Now grief stricken and all alone, she must cope with the realities of a grim, battle-weary England.

Then she meets Bill, a young evacuee sent to the country to escape the Blitz, and in a moment of weakness, Lucy agrees to help him find his mother in London. The unlikely runaways take off on a seemingly simple journey across the country, but her world becomes even more complicated when she is reunited with an invalided soldier she knew in Singapore.

Now Lucy will be forced to finally confront the choices she has made if she ever hopes to have the future she yearns for.

My review: 4 stars.

I really do read a lot of historical fiction from World War II it seems. It’s such a fascinating time period to me as so much happens, not just in terms of the war and its effects, but with social and cultural change, especially for women. The many creative stories of World War II do not get old for me.

The Way to London is a great traveling story where the journey is not so much about getting to a particular geographic destination as it is about the journey to learn more about the main character of Lucy and how she becomes to know who she truly is as a result. The plot moves along fairly quickly; in fact, in the first few chapters, Lucy’s character has a lot of action and happenings that are quite dramatic.

I found Lucy to be quite annoying and rude in the earlier part of the novel, which is clearly intentional by the author because as various roadblocks (both literal and metaphorical) come into the path of Lucy and her traveling companion, the orphan Bill, the reader can “see” Lucy’s slow realizations, watching her grow up emotionally and psychologically on the trip to London.

The relationship between Lucy and Bill was enjoyable and made me think a lot about the movie Bedknobs and Broomsticks where the 3 siblings are evacuated to the country during the Blitz and end up with Angela Lansbury’s character, who over the course of the movie, becomes more charmed with the children. This is a bit different in that Lucy is aiding Billy to get back to his mother in London after being evacuated himself, but he’s definitely a handful for Lucy. It’s sort of perfect that Billy is such a little devilish prankster at times because I think it helps Lucy think more deeply about her own behavior and actions.

There is a small bit of a love story with Lucy and a character named Michael, who was in the war but sent home after contracting malaria. It was a light enough bit that helped move the story along and keep it interesting, but I disliked how part of Lucy’s awakening and becoming a better person was related to her wanting to measure up to the standards of Michael and wanting to impress him.

Overall, I definitely recommend if you’re looking for a quick read and enjoy the genre of World War II historical fiction with a strong female lead.

Buy the book!


As part of the TLC Book Tour for this 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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