Life By Kristen

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

5 on Friday: Recent Pop Culture

For the slog that was January, I can’t believe February is halfway over! I’ve been busy at work and a little busy at home, but spending lots of time relaxing and taking in as many quiet nights with Q as we can before our lives change in June.

Here’s 5 recent reads and watches that I definitely recommend;

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

The documentary about Mister Rogers came out in theaters over the summer and I was bummed to miss it with with a local film series in the town where I work. I’d been waiting until it was streaming to watch, but thankfully, it was picked up by HBO so I was able to watch last weekend. I didn’t watch it the night it was first on because I was having a weepy, emotional day and thought watching a documentary about an important figure in my childhood would make things worse, so I saved it for Sunday night when I knew I would need a pick me up before the work week. I’m so glad I did! Not only did I learn more about Mister Rogers, but it brought back great memories for Q and I. There was some part, near to the end of the doc, when Q turned to me and said ” If Mister Rogers isn’t in the The Good Place, I don’t know who would be” ( a reference to our favorite TV show at the moment, though it just ended for season- wah!)

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Since I try very hard to stick to my no-new book buying rule, I’ve been on the library wait list for eons for the memoir by our former First Lady. I was on the wait list for every form of the book possible, and finally my number came up for the audio CD version last week. I’m only 5 discs in out of 16, but I absolutely love it. The book is great, but hearing Michelle Obama in my ears during my commute is pretty fantastic.

First Man

We watch a lot of space, sci-fi, and alien- related movies in our house because that’s one of Q’s interests, but this is actually a film I wanted to watch more than he did! I’m fascinated by the space race of the late 1960s and while this film definitely over dramatizes a lot of Neil Armstrong’s experience, I appreciated the look at his family and personal life during the whole ordeal. It could have been maybe half hour or so shorter ( it was just over 2.5 hours) and there could have been a few less scenes where the camera is spinning like crazy. but overall, it was a great watch.

Project Blue Book

Speaking of aliens, this show over on History Channel follows the experience of the real-life professor (played by Aidan Gillen of Game of Thrones and The Wire fame) who was recruited by the Air Force in the 1950s and 1960s to investigate UFO sightings around the country. Q has read a ton about a lot about the actual incidents so is watching more for the entertainment value, but I’m learning a good amount, plus the sub-story lines of conspiracies and Russians makes for some decent TV watching.

Game of Thrones

I think Q may be more excited about the final season of Game of Thrones starting in April than he is about the baby at the moment! Kidding aside, we’ve started watching the series from the beginning again and it’s not only a great reminder of how things got to the point in the story, but also some of the characters and story lines we enjoyed in the beginning that got us hooked on the show to start!



February Aspirations

How is that it’s still January! This month, particularly the last 2 weeks, have felt longer than usual.

The colder weather and weekends without plans really let accomplish a lot for my January goals. Here’s a recap:

  • Clean out closet of shame & donate: While this is done, I’m only counting this goal as 75% completed. The closet is empty and we donated 4 boxes of stuff to our local Savers. Now the room is scattered with stuff that needs to be dispersed to other areas of the house, namely the attic. Since it’s not heated up there and we’ve had some cold temps, Q and I have been procrastinating about getting the boxes up there. The room has also become a bit of a holding area for random things like clothes that aren’t fitting right now and need a home, our tax paperwork stuff, and so on.
  • Get a haircut: Completed yesterday! Almost forgot about this one actually, but last week there was a city-wide gas outage where I work so my office had no heat. That meant I worked from home most days and didn’t blow dry my hair which really made me realize how stringy, dry and gross my hair had become. Now it’s actually a little too short for what I wanted, but it’s only hair!
  • Make new household budget: Sort of. My raise didn’t happen until this past paycheck so I only just figured out what new take-home pay is, what I want to contribute to my retirement, etc. This coming weekend Q and I have plans to sit down and look at numbers, especially since I think a few home repairs may be pushing up the need to-do list.
  • Meal plan & better organize grocery shopping: Argh, this continues to be one of my main struggles of adulthood- what to eat! I’ve been sort of picky in this second stage of pregnancy because I worry about triggering the queasiness again and there are certain foods (spicy, red sauces, things with onions) that are sparking some major heartburn for me. I’m at the point where I plan maybe 1-2 days at a time, organize a Prime Now Whole Foods order delivery for the things I need, but then always end up at a local market getting something I forgot.

February Goals

Prenatal yoga class

I’m only halfway through pregnancy and I’m achy. I think my couch is part of the problem and not having yoga for the past few months has definitely affected posture and flexibility. I found a class on Sundays a few towns over and I know making the effort to get there will pay off.

Purge, organize, and rearrange basement

Even Marie Kondo, I could tell you that my basement did not give me joy. It’s three-quarters finished with carpet and some lovely built-in bookcases so it’s a functional space, but over the years, it’s become a mish mash of stuff. It needs to have 3 areas in the finished section( workout/gym, storage, bedroom/office area) and the unfinished section (laundry, tools, off-season storage). It’s become more of Q’s domain in the past few years as his array of exercise equipment has expanded so may take some creative thinking to give him a zone that still makes the big room feel like his own place.

Baby registry

I already got a head start on this project as I’ve slowly been doing research and finding things we’ll need, but there really are just too many products, opinions, and options.


Likely the last year I’ll do my taxes on my own and aiming to have them done before the looming mid-February possible new government shutdown.

Friday Finds January 2019

I like this idea- the magic of book fairies. Basically, folks that leave special books all around in public for people to discover.

Speaking of books, I have never heard much about the search for missing books stolen by Nazis during World War II, but apparently, the hunt for stolen books is very much alive. In the museum world, there is a lot of work about artwork, especially paintings, silver, and European decorative arts that were taken by Nazis during World War II, but I had never even considered books.

A job I would have loved- tea tasting! The FDA used to have a Board of Tea Experts, though I don’t think my palette is as developed as you’d probably need to have to taste good versus bad quality.

In light of the Marie Kondo craze hitting everyone, courtesy of her Netflix series ( which I still haven’t watched), a tiny history of how Americans have been “taught” to tidy and clean up.

American Girl

Awhile back I read this article about how many women don’t get rid of their American Girl dolls.

As a gal who grew up in the late 80s and early 90s, I was of course introduced to American Girl pretty early after their arrival on the book and doll market. I can’t recall how I was introduced to the lovely world of Felicity, Kirsten, Samantha, and Molly (the original 4- Addy and Josefina were added as I was ), but since I was a huge reader, the books came first for me and I plowed through them.

As the creators of American Girl also smartly created the dolls and a whole line of stuff to play to the hearts of the girls who fell in love with them, I had to have one of my own. I was enamored with the Kirsten doll because her name was so close to my own, as well as the fact her family was Swedish which was close enough to my ancestral background of being half Dutch. I was jealous of other friends who had more than one doll, but I didn’t love the stories of the other characters as much, though I’m sure the stories of Molly, the World War II era doll, likely influenced my later interest and studies in the period.

Since I work in the museum world,  I have found that many of my female colleagues who are in my age bracket had an American Girl doll or at least had read all the books. A few definitely thought their interests were related to their love of the brand, and I’m sure that’s at least a little bit true for me too.

As the company expanded its line of dolls and offerings, I got their magazine and other doll accessories, but aged out of the books and dolls by the time they started introducing more historic characters and books. When the original makers, The Pleasant Company, sold to Mattel, they became part of the doll powerhouse it is today with American Girl stores, increased line of doll offerings, and movies. I even applied for a job with Mattel a few years back to be a researcher for them as they were developing new historic characters, but sadly, didn’t even get an interview! I met a lady who worked for American Girl line within Mattel at a conference a few years ago and she confirmed for me it’s a really awesome job.

I have my Kirsten doll up in a bin in my attic and I don’t know if I’ll ever get rid of her ( though I think she could use a spruce up to get her braids done again properly). When ever I get around to the KonMari method of decluttering, the doll will definitely still “spark joy” and make me recall one of the loves of my childhood.

5 on Friday: Podcasts #2

It’s been awhile since I’ve shared podcasts that I’m loving and there have been some good ones in the past few months!

The Dream

I binged this one in about 2 weeks worth of commute time. It’s about multi-level marketing (MLM) and the huge business it is, the wackiness behind it, and the question about whether it’s a scam or not. I know a lot of people who are into MLMs and have been to my fair share of in-person and online ‘parties’ for friends/acquaintances who sell products from MLMs so this one was equally fascinating/informative/mind-boggling to me.

Kind World

A podcast dedicated to compassion and kindness, in all its small and big forms. In a world where it seems like everyday is filled with more sadness and bad news, I look forward to these tiny episodes that remind me of the good in the world. The episodes aren’t long and the backlist of episodes is definitely worth going through. One of my favorite more recent episodes is from December 2018- A Priceless Collection. Word of warning– some of these have definitely made me tear up a bit listening to so maybe don’t listen to it while sitting at work!

This is Love

Done by the same folks as Criminal (another podcast I subscribe to, but may have already written about?), This is Love is exactly what the title suggests- love stories. But these aren’t always romantic, lovey-dovey relationship stories, but about the vast meaning of that word. For example, an episode from late November “One in a Million” is about a rare snail and the attempts to find him a mate. It’s wacky and fantastic, plus you’ll learn some really interesting facts about snail anatomy and mating habits to share at parties.

The Kitchen Sisters Present

Truth be told, I don’t always love the hosts voices (something about the softness and echo of their audio), but I love the stories they present. Their recent ‘keeper series’ is dear to my heart as they interview curators, archivists, and librarians who are in charge of everything from Emily Dickinson’s letters and recipes to oral histories of freed slaves in the late 19th century.

Pop Culture Happy Hour

It wouldn’t be a podcast list without at least one from NPR! I feel like I’ve mentioned this podcast before, but it’s one of my favorite things of the week. They do two episodes a week on any and all pop culture, though it does rely heavily on movies and TV. It keeps me up to date on what’s coming out in theaters and on TV, but I especially appreciate the music-related topics because that’s a huge area I feel I never have a handle on who’s who. I appreciate the smart combination of criticism and comedy/sarcasm, especially from regular Glen Weldon. On Fridays, the 3 regular hosts and the guest host also tell what’s making them happy that week. I’ve gotten some great book/tv/movie recommendations from that segment in particular.


Debbie Macomber Books

If you don’t read light romance/feel good books, feel free to skip this post entirely while I get on my soap box for a minute!

I started reading and/or listening to Debbie Macomber books a few years ago when I wanted to feel a little holiday cheer at a time of year that’s usually pretty tough for me. The first year I read one of her books I also think I was trying to make my reading challenge number and her books usually clock in the under 200 pages range so are an easy 1-2 day read.

After reading 2 books of hers in a row this past holiday season, I think I’m done with Debbie.

First off, for a woman writing about women, I find some of her character choices to be judgmental against women. I remember in one from last year (Christmas Letters maybe?), there was this whole bit about how the main female character had put on pounds and needed to lose weight. I get that she’s likely trying to make her characters relatable to the main demographic who read her books, but little things like this really get to me because it was a pointless plot point that didn’t have anything to do with the narrative.

Some of the ways she portrays women and men in very stereotypical ways makes me wonder about Debbie and her lifestyle, views, and opinions. I read an interview where she talks about how being Christian informs her writing, which explains the ‘cutesy’ vibe of most of the romances–I think the most a “love scene” is a few kisses and hand holding. This makes most of the romance seem superficial to me- it’s fluff reading, but I find it hard to believe true love blossoms within a 3-day drive in the snow– or am I being cynical? Of course, some of this is because of the shorter format of many of her books, but she could definitely use the space to develop a relationship more instead of talking about superficial things like weight loss!

Obviously, millions of readers love her as she continues to turn out stories and tops the charts for sales. And of course, I don’t need to read her books and have already made an effort to note similar holiday-themed books and authors to check out next year.

Goals for January

Thank you all for your kind words of congrats about our exciting baby news. Letting people know has been a lot of fun, especially after being so sick for most of the fall!

Even though I’m feeling MUCH better, I’m still trying to keep my goals low-key. The biggest to-dos of the next 5 months are prepping for this little guy, but life has its needs too! Here are my modest expectations for this month.

Clean out second bedroom &”closet of shame” AND donate

Part of this we started on over the New Year’s long weekend going through Little Man’s toys and books- things we want to save for the new little guy (Legos!) and things to donate. Little Man has a lot of books, and some we are holding on to, but there are a lot of early reader books that we’re obviously many years away from using, so I’d rather donate to a kid who can use it now, instead of holding on to it for the next 3ish years, especially since we know we want to move after this little guy comes.

As for my “closet of shame”, think of this image from Friends in which neat-freak Monica reveals the closet where everything gets shoved into. 

OK mine is not as bad as that, but the closet in the second bedroom is a catch all- seasonal decorations, art supplies, tools, and everything in between. When we hosted Thanksgiving this year and I wasn’t feeling great and couldn’t clean as much as I wanted, I shoved every random piece of clutter in there and never looked back. Even though the dresser in the second bedroom has a lot of drawers, I expect we’ll need the closet for storage. Also, I don’t think a saws-all should really be in the closet of an infant, but that’s just a guess.

Get a haircut

This has been on the to-do list since September. I have a love/hate relationship with my hair. It’s changed it’s texture and quality a lot over the past few years as hormones have changed. With the prenatal vitamins I’m taking, it’s growing pretty fast and has oddly become finer, yet there is A LOT of it. My default is to put it up everyday, but I’m hoping to get a bit of a new style to enjoy for the next few months before I’m too tired to care again.

Make new household budget

I got a tiny raise at work and other than upping my 401k contribution by 2 percentage points, haven’t sat down with Q to make a new household budget. We keep separate financial accounts (and will continue to do so), but with all the baby expenses coming our way, need to figure out a better way to organize the household stuff between the two of us, plus see how much unpaid family leave we both might be able to take beyond what our paid work leave provides us. We might also need a roof and have an electrical issue that I worry is going to annoying and costly.

Meal plan & better organize grocery shopping

I love Q very much, but one of my pet peeves of our life together is his pickiness about his food and brands. It’s great that he does a lot of research, but it also means that some of this desired choices are only available at certain stores. This finds us often going to 2-3 grocery stores a week to get everything we need. Amazon has simplified a bit of this and the fact that Whole Foods now delivers via Prime Now to our neighborhood has helped A TON (though not for the aforementioned budget!). I want us to get more organized not only with meal plans that work with his picky food requests and my growing hunger for just about any food, but also require far less stops at the market during the week.

Book Review: The Hollow Middle

Synopsis: The Hollow Middle follows Albert Lesiak, an aging English teacher in Connecticut, who receives a windfall in delayed acknowledgment of the government’s complicity in his father’s cancer death and decides that it is time to live a different life on land he owns in Maine.

When his wife Mary suggests that they could foster or adopt autistic twin boys she fell in love with on a website and could use the stipend money in furtherance of Albert’s vision, Albert gradually perceives himself as possibly adapting to the role of patriarch.

A meditation on the curiosity of making sense and the dilemma of becoming true, The Hollow Middle ambles, mostly, and goes still for periods of various duration, acting like it’s not beholden after all to the rhetorical.

My review: 3 stars.

I was interested in this book because it’s a man’s point of view on the musings of life, becoming a father, and living life on your own terms, even if they seem way out there. I also enjoy novels that look at the male perspective in making sense of various bits of life, so this seemed right up my alley.

I almost wish I’d read this book at a different time of year. It’s not a fast read and is chock full of musings and long chapters. During the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, combined with pregnant brain/feeling sick, I found it hard to settle in with the book and immerse myself in it.

The flip side of the novel being full is that you get a really nice understanding of the main character Albert and how he sees the world, makes decisions, and so on. I didn’t find him super likable at first, but as the plot evolved and changes come into his life, you really see how he evolves as a person. This is one of my favorite elements of reading- when a book has great character development and a narrative that pulls that in so that the people you’re reading about seem like someone you know, and often think about after you finish reading.

It was really interesting to read this book as I’m preparing for own big life change, as another great indicator of a book I like is how much it makes me think about my own life. This definitely had moments that gave me pause and a few phrases I even read aloud to Q that I thought pertained to us. Author John Popielaski has a great mastery of language and writing that I definitely enjoyed.

Buy the book! Learn more about the author here.

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. 

2019: Savor

My word for 2019:

This year I want to enjoy, delight, and lap up every moment, emotion, and happening.

I’ll have a new boss starting in a few weeks that I hope will bring new excitement and enthusiasm to the work place.

Q and I are eager to figure out where we live next and how we can get closer to that goal in 2019. I’m making minimal goals for 2019 because it will be a life-changing year for us.

In June 2019, we’ll welcome a baby boy into the world. 

It’s still a bit shocking for me to say it/type it, but it’s the most amazing blessing and something I’m not sure either Q or I thought would ever happen. Part of me still has a lot of disbelief that there is a little human growing inside me, but part of that is I was so sick for most of the first trimester (hence why I’ve been pretty absent around the interwebs, not reading a ton, etc) that I couldn’t concentrate on much else besides trying to feel better, eat something that wasn’t going to make me sick, and so on. Now that I’m feeling good and like a functioning human again, I’m becoming more excited by the day, despite the never ending list of things I need to buy, learn, figure out, etc.

So my main goal is preparing for baby, welcoming baby, and adjusting to life with a new human and becoming a family of 3. We are hopeful the relationship with Q’s son Little Man will improve with the arrival of his little brother. Our whole family is pretty excited about this new addition so it’s going to be pretty fantastic to see the family come alive in a new way too.

I have a few goals for myself, though I’m being realistic in knowing that I have no idea what life is going to be like once a little person enters it. So the minimal goals for 2019:

  • I’m hoping Q and I will be able to still get some date nights in, even if just to dinner and a Target run.
  • I’d like to read around 35 books, but hopeful I may be able to listen to more on audio, especially when home on maternity leave.
  • I definitely want to be a better friend by reaching out to check in more, even if I can’t make plans.
  • Self-care- before baby, I want to make sure to take care of myself and not get lost in the preparations so I definitely will take a day off for my birthday to get a prenatal massage. After baby, I know I will need to learn to ask for help so that I can keep my sanity, especially during maternity leave.

Wishing you and yours a happy, health 2019!


2018 in Review

2018 was quite a year! My word for 2018 was trust: trust myself, my partner, that the things I wanted would happen, and I definitely think I lived well and fully with that word.

When the year began, I thought for sure I’d be in a new job and possibly a new home by the end of the year (I’ve probably said this a few years in a row). Instead, I celebrated my 10-year work anniversary in September and took on new responsibilities at work once my horrible boss left in May. My new boss starts in January and we’ll see what 2019 brings career-wise.

I traveled to Utah and New Hampshire for vacation with Q and to Connecticut for a work conference. Other highlights of life include going to a live recording of The Moth in February with Q, treating myself to a few massages and a facial, plenty of lazy summer days with Q, and helping my Mom move back to the same town as me (now only a mile away!)

I read 80 books, though just barely made it since I hit a real reading slump through end of October and all of November. Highlights of reading: Tony’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani; A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza; It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover; The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang; Calypso by David Sedaris (on audio); Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng; The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin; and the last 2 Harry Potter books. Q bought me a Kindle for my birthday which I was so resistant to at first, but is one of the best things ever. I didn’t have an audiobook other than David Sedaris that stood out for me this year, though I enjoyed Tara Westover’s Educated and Tom Hanks’s Uncommon Type very much, especially since Hanks did the audio for his own book. I had hoped my turn in the library waitlist for Michelle Obama’s Becoming would happen before the end of the year, but so far, no luck!

I did not accomplish all my goals for the year: recycle old computers ( although I started taking my ancient Mac apart), I did not donate blood or pay off the car loan ( though very close!), and I didn’t return to church, though I continue to pray/meditate. I’m still thinking about this last one, especially about whether returning to the church I grew up with is the right fit or maybe there is something new (keep thinking about trying out an Episcopal service). It also continued to be a frustrating year for Q and I with our relationship with his son, but I am cautiously optimistic this will change in 2019.

We accomplished some house projects, watched a lot of movies, and spent a lot of time with family. I did more weight lifting and yoga, though my favorite teacher stopped doing classes for a good portion of last year, so was not as vigilant as I have been in previous years. We did a lot of clearing out of junk, both sentimental and actual, and this process seems ongoing. I swear clutter and random sentimental stuff doubles overnight or something.

It’s always interesting to look back on the calendar for the year gone by- some things seem so long ago and other things you forget happened at all, but as the saying goes, the days are long, but the years are short!

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