Life By Kristen

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

Friday Finds December 2018

Q is OBSESSED with paper towels. If I didn’t buy napkins and Kleenex, he would use paper towels for every single thing. Apparently, he and a bunch of other Americans are also obsessed with them.

Our family started no-gift Christmas a few years ago and it really has made the holiday season so much more enjoyable and stress-free. It’s not for everyone, but it works for us ( and apparently many other people too!)

Speaking of Christmas, did you know that the majority of letters written and send to Santa via USPS are actually answered by them?

I don’t know about where you are in the world, but here in the US, a lot of the suburban malls are dying quickly. The local mall where I spent many a day of my youth has only a few national chain stores left and has quickly become home to non-retail spots like a gym and indoor mini golf to make up for the empty storefronts. I do think it’s interesting how some malls are being creative in adapting the spaces for other uses- there is a mall in my area that now is home to a satellite branch of a local community college in the former JcPenny store space. Got to get creative!

How recycling works in the United States & how the whole system needs a rethink in order to stay in business.

A pickle a day may help anxiety!

 

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Secret Santa Mug Swap 2018

The lovely San once again organized a Secret Santa Mug Swap this year. It’s my 3rd year participating!

I was matched with Tanja who I sent a festive poinsettia mug and some hot chocolate over to enjoy. I completely forgot to take a picture of it before sending it off!

Here’s my mug from the fabulous Cait!

It’s a lovely mug that reads: “Ain’t Nothing but a Tea Thing Baby” with a super cute metallic lip smack on the inside lip. She also sent along some fabulous tea and delicious Walker shortbread!

 

December!?!?

I’m still trying to figure out what happened to November. It seemed to pass in a flash this year.

November was a whirlwind at work- museum closed for the season, but lots of end of year work and preparations for our holiday open days. I went to Stamford, CT for a work conference which wasn’t amazing, but included a visit to the very cool Barnum Museum. They’ve had a series of unfortunate weather events, including a tornado, that have impacted their site, but I was impressed with the work they are doing and plans for the future. If you’re ever in the Bridgeport, CT area, I definitely recommend it for an afternoon visit.

I didn’t read a lot in November and I’m getting worried I won’t make my reading goal of 80 books for the year! I only completed three books: Tony’s Wife (my review) and A Place For Us  were both 4 star reads. French Letters: Children of a Good War was a 3.6 (my review). I’m at 73/80 for the year and hope to finish a book of holiday short stories in the next few days, plus a few other quicky holiday reads, and at least one audio book. We’ll see if I reach my goal- hoping the few long holiday weekends will help me get there.

Thanksgiving was a great quiet day with family that we hosted at my house. It was lowkey and much needed with parade, dog show, and football watching, plus Wizard of Oz on TV at night! For the first time maybe ever, Q and I went out shopping on Black Friday in search of a new phone for me which was definitely not the best decision, but we did accomplish that goal, plus bought a new Christmas tree for the house. We decorated it on Saturday. I’m a white lights kind of gal, but Q likes multi-colored, so we ended up with a tree that does both! As someone who is allergic to Christmas trees (well all pine things), I’ve spent many a year putting up fake trees (we had a 14 foot one growing up that was a beast) and this pre-lit one was so easy to setup.

 

The house is decorated and so now I can spend the month of December enjoying it!

This month I’m sure is going to fly by as quickly as November with holiday gatherings with friends, my work Christmas party, and then family time around Christmas. It’ll be another quiet holiday for us, but looking forward to the rest and relaxation that comes at the end of the year and reflecting on the past 12 months.

Friday Finds November 2018

I love old newsreels, home movies, and so– very happy to learn that so many are available for free via The Library of Congress.

I’m on the waitlist at the library for Michelle Obama’s memoir on audio CD, but this article on the history of first ladies’ memoirs makes me want to listen to a few others while I’m waiting.

The Japanese take splintered wooden baseball bats and make them into chopsticks! Talk about a great way to recycle!

I didn’t know green bean casserole was a thing until I was in college, so this was an interesting read about the woman who invented the dish.

Speaking of Thanksgiving food traditions, jellied canned cranberry sauce is Q’s requirement for Thanksgiving- I didn’t know a man invented it!

Art therapy works wonders, so it’s great to see that doctors are now prescribing visits to museums, concerts, and other art/cultural opportunities.

Do you have a Little Free Library in your neighborhood? There is one near our public library and I’ve left a few books there over the past few months, but never taken anything.

 

Book Review: Tony’s Wife

Set in the lush Big Band era of the 1940s and World War II, this spellbinding saga from beloved New  author Adriana Trigiani tells the story of two talented working class kids who marry and become a successful singing act, until time, temptation, and the responsibilities of home and family derail their dreams.

Shortly before World War II, Chi Chi Donatelli and Saverio Armandonada meet one summer on the Jersey shore and fall in love. Both are talented and ambitious, and both share the dream of becoming singers for the legendary orchestras of the time: Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman. They’re soon married, and it isn’t long before Chiara and Tony find that their careers are on the way up as they navigate the glamorous worlds of night clubs, radio and television. All goes well until it becomes clear that they must make a choice: Which of them will put their ambitions aside to raise a family and which will pursue a career? And how will they cope with the impact that decision has on their lives and their marriage?

From the Jersey shore to Las Vegas to Hollywood, and all the dance halls in between, this multi-layered story is vivid with historical color and steeped in the popular music that serves as its score. Tony’s Wife is a magnificent epic of life in a traditional Italian family undergoing seismic change in a fast paced, modern world. Filled with vivid, funny and unforgettable characters, this richly human story showcases Adriana Trigiani’s gifts as a storyteller and her deep understanding of family, love and the pursuit of the American dream.

 

My review: 4 stars.

Adriana Trigiani has done it again! Another masterful book that, through great detail and research, immerses you in a time and place that draws you in and leaves you wanting more. Trigiani is one of my must-read authors for new releases and I’m slowly making my way through her back list.

As a historian, I appreciate the way the author creates a narrative and characters that are appropriate for the time period they write- it’s clear Trigiani takes time to research the appropriate clothing, events, and music- which was especially important with this novel since the two main characters are aspiring (and then successful) musicians.

The reason I enjoy books like this is not just because of the historic settings, but because they books cover an expanse of time so you can truly get to know the characters, see how they develop, and understand the decisions that are made. This book starts in the late 1930s and ends in the early 2000s. This does make for a long book (this one clocks in at 320 pages), but since the dialogue always helps push the narrative forward, it rarely feels slow or that it drags on.

Tony’s Wife is a delight- I loved the music references, the love story, and of course, the big Italian families. It portrays the experience of so many women in the mid- 20th century very well ( and really now, despite changing society)– the struggle between career and ambitions against family and obligations. Chi Chi is a strong woman from the beginning and I appreciated how Trigiani helps the reader to understand her as a character, especially as she gets older and is forced into decisions she may have never thought she’d make 10 or 15 years earlier.

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.

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.

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!

 

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