To-do in 2015 – final recap.

Here I sit on the final eve of 2015.  My belly is full of beef stroganoff and there’s football on TV.  What a year it has been!  Ava wasn’t on the to-do list, but she ruled the year.  We love having her here with us and can’t wait to see what is in store for 2016.  I’m so thankful for my beautiful family of humans and cats.  And I’m thankful for you, friends.  Thank you for the kind words on my post about life now.  I have missed regular blogging (writing and reading) because I feel like my connection with all my wonderful blog friends has suffered.  Know that I think of so many of you so often.  Kevin can attest that I often start stories with, “My blog friend {insert name here} said…”  :)  This Desert Girl thanks you for a lovely year.

1. K & A:  Go to Europe.
Done!!  You can read about here.  And here and here.  And here.  Oh yeah.  And here and here

2. K: Read a classic.
Kevin read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – a classic tale of one man, two personalities.  He enjoyed it.

3. A: Do all Christmas shopping in local/independent stores or give homemade stuff.  Like crocheted scarves, vanilla extract (inspired by Tiffany, who gave me homemade vanilla extract for Christmas 2014!), or hot pepper oil (inspired by Allie, who blogged about it here).
I failed at this!  I wasn’t proactive and then had no motivation to shop around town close to the holiday.  I love the idea though and hope to accomplish it someday. 

4. A: Read 52 books.  (Bonus points if I manage to complete this 2015 reading challenge, which I think is only – ha! – 50 books….thanks, Tiffany, for sharing the idea!)
I read 54 or 55 books this year and finished the 2015 reading challenge.  You can read a bit about each book I read for the challenge here.

5. A:  Blog 104 posts.
I only blogged 71 times this year (well, 72 including this one!), so fell short of this goal.   

6. K & A:  Fund IRA’s for the year.
Done.  We take different approaches to funding the IRA’s:  Kevin takes the automatically-send-money-to-the-IRA-with-each-paycheck approach and I write a lump sum check.  But both methods get the job done!

7. K & A:  Complete at least one home improvement project. (New tile downstairs, master bathroom, shelves in the garage…)
We started the year with a new furnace (out of necessity), then we did our tile replacement in June.  Eight new windows were installed in July (and eight more are on the way!), we ripped out the wet bar and replaced it with built-in bookshelves and storage in July as well.  You can read about our renovation projects here.

8. K & A:  Run a 5k.
I was a lazy bum and didn’t run a 5K (or even work on training for one) at the beginning of the pregnancy or pre-pregnancy, so that didn’t happen.  But Kevin ran one for me on a random day in July.  And he ran a race for himself on October 10. 

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9. K: Smoke a rack of ribs or a brisket.
My mom gave Kevin a brisket (we get all our beef from my parents, who have cattle), and he had planned to smoke it in the fall.  But fall got away from us!  Maybe in the spring. 

10. K & A:  Take a road trip to a historic destination in New Mexico.
We’re counting our trip to my step-dad’s old school in Encino.  It was really so special to explore that beautiful building with my stepdad and his brothers and their families.  You can read about that here.

11. K & A:  Try 10 new restaurants.
We have tried 11 new restaurants.  We’d like to continue to broaden our horizons, but we fully admit that we tend to get into restaurant ruts.  Delicious though they may be…

12. K & A:  Try 15 new recipes.
We’ve tried 27 new recipes.  Several were hits and have made it into the regular rotation.

13. K:  Start and complete an entire workout program.
Kevin took up Crossfit in September and completed the boot camp program at the gym he attends.  He’s hooked!

14. K:  Take a golf continuing ed class or attend three golf lessons.
This one didn’t happen.  But maybe 2016 will be the year of golf! 

15. A:  Host a theme party.
I hosted a Favorite Things party and it was a lot of fun.  Here’s more about that!

Did you set some goals for 2015?  If so, how did you do? 

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2015 Reading Challenge – final list.

I finished the 2015 Reading Challenge!  It was so much fun to do.  I’m looking forward to the 2016 challenge, if there is one.

Here are the 52 books I read this year, the categories I fit them into, and a few brief words about what I thought of each one.

2015 Reading Challenge

1. A book with more than 500 pages
The Glass Lake by Maeve Binchy – 5 stars
This is one of my all time favorite books.  I think Maeve Binchy develops characters so well and the story is just beautiful.

2. A classic romance
The Princess Bride by William Goldman – 4 stars
Would you believe that I’ve never even seen this movie?  Or maybe I’ve seen part of it but not the whole thing…?  I dunno.  Doesn’t matter.  The book was good.  Classic, romantic.  And I love the supporting characters.

3. A book that became a movie
Paper Towns by John Green – 3 stars
I really love John Green’s writing.  He has a talent for spinning a sentence.  I debated between three stars and four stars for this book and ultimately settled on three stars because while I love the writing, I thought the ending was kind of weak.

4. A book published this year
A God In Ruins by Kate Atkinson – 3 stars
This is the “companion book” to Life After Life which I read last year and LOVED.  It follows the brother of the main character in the Life After Life and it was good, but I think LAL is better – the books do stand alone though.  You don’t need to read them in any particular order.  And if you read A God In Ruins first, it wouldn’t surprise me if you like it better than Life After Life – the format of the stories are just so different.

5. A book with a number in the title
One Plus One by Jojo Moyes – 3 stars
This one was fine.  I found the two kid characters very likeable and the two main adult characters a little grating.  Pretty predictable but good story overall.

6. A book written by someone under 30
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank – 4 stars
I’d never read this one and I wonder how my opinion of it would be different if I’d read it as a teenager rather than as a 30 year old.  I think I was mostly struck by how…ordinary a good portion of the diary is.  It’s typical 13 year old girl stuff…some of it is downright boring.  But that is life – and that was life for her.

7. A book with nonhuman characters
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame – 3 stars
I borrowed this one from my mother in law who has a beautiful edition with the most gorgeous illustrations.  I thought the story was sweet and whimsical.

8. A funny book
The Rosie Effect by Graeme C. Simsion – 4 stars
This one is the sequel to The Rosie Project, which overall I liked better.  But Mr. Simsion’s writing is still so engaging and I can’t help but think of Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory when I read it.  The main character is so likeable.

9. A book by a female author
Anne of Ingleside by LM Montgomery – 4 stars
Anne is always a good idea.  This one follows the adventures of Anne and Gilbert and their five children.

10. A mystery or thriller
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn – 4 stars
Creepy.  Super creepy.  From the author of Gone Girl but I thought it was even more disturbing.  I liked it, in a weird way though.

11. A book set in a different country
Rumor Has It by Jill Mansell – 3 stars
I read this one at the beginning of 2015 and it just happened to fit this category.  Pretty cute and funny.  Very light, very predictable.  Set in England, and I think it technically may be “Rumour” rather than “Rumor”.

12. A book with a one-word title
Son by Lois Lowry – 5 stars
The final book in The Giver quartet.  Ties the other three books together.  I really liked it.

13. A book of short stories
Single, Carefree, Mellow:  Stories by Katherine Heiny – 3 stars
The first few stories were funny, but then I realized they’re all pretty much the same storyline.  And there was a lot of cheating and other behavior that I don’t necessarily approve of in the stories.

14. A nonfiction book
Bringing Up Bebe:  One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman – 4 stars
I thought this book was great!  The author was very “I’m not saying French parents are better than American, I don’t even like Paris all that much, these are just a few things I’ve observed about the differences.”  There were ideas that I’m excited to try with my own child(ren) including the French “way” to get babies to “do their nights” and be open minded about food and regulate themselves and entertain themselves.

15. A popular author’s first book
Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty – 4 stars
Pretty cute.  Not my favorite Liane Moriarty book, but light and easy to read.

16. A book from an author you love that you haven’t read yet
Anne’s House of Dreams by LM Montgomery – 3 stars
I ranked this one 3 stars but as I look back on it I remember it more fondly than that, so maybe I was a little harsh with the three stars?  I liked it for sure.  Loved the new characters like the neighbor girl and the Captain.  I think this is the book where I thought Anne was kind of…self-obsessed.  She just seemed much more interested in herself than anything else.  I don’t know…I should have jotted down my thoughts right after reading it.

17. A book a friend recommended
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer – 3 stars
Okay.  I think I was too harsh with the three stars on this one too.  The story was wonderful – excellent.  I was so annoyed with the format though.  Long run on sentences in the diary part, etc.  It was hard for me to read – I guess I’m too simple minded for that depth!

18. A Pulitzer Prize winning book
John Adams. by David McCullough – 5 stars
This is one of Kevin’s favorite books, and it is really, really great.  I tend to prefer fiction to non-fiction, but David McCullough is a great author and this was so easy to read.  I highly recommend it to anyone who likes history.  Also, I’m convinced that there should be a John Adams memorial or monument somewhere.  He was instrumental in the formation of our early government and so much more!  Underrated!  He’s underrated.

19. A book based on a true story
Wild:  From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed – 3 stars
This was a pretty good one.  I haven’t seen the movie, but I like Reese Witherspoon, so I’m sure it’s great.

20. A book at the bottom of your to-read list
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach – 4 stars
This was at the bottom of my to-read list because I’m just not into baseball, so I didn’t think it would be that interesting.  It was more about the people though and was really quite good.

21. A book your mom loves
Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind by Suzanne Fisher Staples – 3 stars
My mom loves this book (as the category would suggest).  And it was interesting – about a different culture, set in a different part of the world.  But it made me sad – especially the ending so I couldn’t give it more than three stars.

22. A book that scares you
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins – 4 stars
I think this one received so much hype that I had my expectations too high when I read it.  It was really good, but it wasn’t as thrilling as Gone Girl, which it is often compared to, I think.  It is a really interesting concept for a book!  I think that made me like it more than the characters (none of whom I found very likeable) did.

23. A book more than 100 years old
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – 5 stars
I actually had never read this one, which is crazy.  I also haven’t seen the movie.  I know, I know, who am I?  But the book was awesome.  I can see why it is still popular, over 100 years after the original print date.

24. A book based entirely on the cover
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles – 5 stars
I bought this book a few years ago based entirely on the cover.  Read it, loved it.  Decided to read it again this year and since I bought it because of the cover, decided it counts for this category.

25. A book you were supposed to read in school but didn’t
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell – 4 stars
Technically I was never assigned to read a book in high school that I didn’t read.  But this is one that most people read in high school, and I never had, so I decide that was close enough for the category.  A classic – I’m not too into the dystopian society, futuristic genre, but Orwell did a great job with this one.  So scary, that Big Brother.

26. A memoir
Popular:  Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen – 3 stars
I found this one on a fluke and thought it was really cute.  It’s written in 2013 (I think) by a 13 year old girl after she finds a book from the 50’s about how to be popular.  She decides to document her attempts to follow the rules of the book in her southern Texas middle school.  An easy read and a fun idea.

27. A book you can finish in a day
Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation – George Washington (Francis Hawkins’ translation) – 4 stars
This is found at the end of the Rules of Civility that I mentioned for the book based on cover category.  Some of the tips are less applicable today (Spit not in the Fire, nor Stoop low before it neither Put your Hands into the Flames to warm them, nor Set your Feet upon the Fire especially if there be meat before it.) but there are so many more that are just as true today as they were then (Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.).  If it was good enough for George Washington, it’s good enough for me. Here’s a complete list – they’re worth a glance:  Rules of Civility.

28. A book with antonyms in the title
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty – 3 stars
Liane Moriarty is always fun to read.  Her books are all of a similar vein, but good.  This one was no exception.  It follows the lives of three women and their intertwining stories.  It had a nice twist at the end!

29. A book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit
The Rosie Project by Graeme C. Simsion – 5 stars
I loved this book!  I basically read it in Sheldon’s voice (from the Big Bang Theory).  The chapter where Don and Rosie are tending bar at the reunion event is one of my all time favorite scenes I’ve read.  Hilarious!

30. A book that came out the year you were born
Beaches by Iris Rainer Dart – 4 stars
I have heard of this movie (never watched it though), and didn’t know there was a book until I Googled “Books that came out in 1985”.  The book was good, and from what I’ve heard of the movie, I think it must follow the book well.  Two girls from very different worlds with very different personalities become friends as children, and through better or worse, their friendship survives time and distance and even death.

31. A book with bad reviews
Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell – 4 stars
Did you know that this one was received with bad reviews when it first came out?  It has stood the test of time though.  I hadn’t read it since college so I decided it was time for a re-read.  It really is a great book.  Scarlett is so not-likeable…but I root for her all the same.  I had forgotten what a relatively small portion of the book actually is spent on Scarlett and Rhett’s relationship.  Hollywood really played that up, but there is so, so much more in the novel.

32. A trilogy
The Selection by Kiera Cass – 4 stars
The Elite by Kiera Cass – 4 stars
The One by Kiera Cass – 4 stars

This was definitely Young Adult Fiction – dystopian society meets The Bachelor.  But they were fun and easy reads.  I’m excited to read the fourth book – The Heir.

33. A book from your childhood
Christy by Catherine Marshall – 4 stars
I read this book when I was around 12 or 13, so I decided to read it again as an adult.  It has a very strong female lead, which I always love.

34. A book with a love triangle
Can You Keep A Secret? by Sophie Kinsella – 4 stars
Sophie Kinsella books always bring a smile to my face.  This one was really good!  Predictable but good.

35. A book set in the future
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness – 3 stars
This is the first book in a dystopian society based trilogy.  The main character is a 12 year old boy who lives in a world where thoughts are “noise” that can be heard by everyone else.  I liked it and will probably finish out the trilogy at some point.

36. A book set in high school
Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira – 4 stars
Fun fact:  This book was written by one of Kevin’s high school classmates.  I liked it better than I thought I would and it’s a book that kind of stuck with me – I still think of it on occasion.  I cried harder reading this book than probably any other book I read this year. It takes place in the town I currently live in, which was interesting.

37. A book with a color in the title
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant – 4 stars
A really interesting look at a story that isn’t explored in the Bible – that of Dinah, the daughter of Jacob.  The turmoil’s of ancient womanhood really tugged at my heart.  If you’re interested in midwifery, this would be a great one to read.  Dinah is a strong female – which, as you’ve read about fifteen times in this post alone, I love.

38. A book that made you cry
Before I Go by Colleen Oakley – 4 stars
This book was so well written.  It’s a heavy subject – a woman is diagnosed with cancer and there is no hope of treatment, so she sets out to find her husband a new wife.  Somehow though, while reading it I laughed more than I cried.

39. A book with magic
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis – 4 stars
I read this book when I was a child and remember really liking it.  It was just as fun to read as an adult.  A nice escape from reality – via a wardrobe!

40. A graphic novel
Emily the Strange by Cosmic Debris Etc. Inc. – 2 stars
Graphic novels aren’t my thing.  I found this to be weird.  Definitely not my style.  But Emily does like cats, so I liked those drawings…

41. A book by an author you’ve never read before
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare – 3 stars
A classic story.  An orphan is forced into a Puritan society where she finds it difficult to be accepted.  Her only friend is an alleged witch, and before too long, the young girl is accused of witchcraft as well.

42. A book you own but have never read
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – 5 stars
Kevin bought this one for me when he was away on a work trip, and I wanted an excuse to read it this year since it was all the rage, so I slipped it into this category.  I really, really liked it.  It mostly takes place during World War II, and the two main characters are so likeable.  I know pretty much everyone has read it since it was THE book this year, but if you haven’t read it – I highly recommend.

43. A book that takes place in your hometown
No Life for a Lady by Agnes Morley Cleaveland – 4 stars
I grew up in a very small town in western New Mexico.  What are the chances of finding a book that takes place there?  Actually pretty high!  My mom suggested a couple of options, and I settled on this one.  It is basically a memoir written by this lady who grew up in rural New Mexico.  It was really good – lots of funny stories about shenanigans she and her brother and sister got into.  And it was fun to imagine the area that she writes about since I am from there.

44. A book that was originally written in a different language
Sophie’s World by  Jostein Gaarder (translated by Paulette Moller) – 2 stars
My least favorite book of the year.  It is a philosophical analysis and got just plain WEIRD at the end.  I guess I’m just not deep enough or philosophical enough to appreciate it.

45. A book set during Christmas
This Year It Will Be Different and Other Stories by Maeve Binchy – 5 stars
This was the final book I read in the challenge – just finished it today!  It was a gift from Kevin’s aunt Andy when she came to visit last week.  She knows I love Maeve Binchy!  I loved these stories.  Often books of short stories by the same author become repetitive, but this one didn’t.  All of the stories were set during Christmas, so it was a great way to start the holiday season.

46. A book written by an author with the same initials as you
Simple Pleasures by Alfred Portale – 3 stars
This is actually a cookbook.  Most of the recipes were too fancy for my kitchen, but I scanned a few and plan to try them.  I thought it was a nice change of pace to read a cookbook cover to cover!

47. A play
4000 Miles by Amy Herzog – 3 stars
This play follows the story of a young man who has recently tragically lost a friend and he moves in with his grandmother.  I think it would be interesting to see acted out in the theatre, but just reading the script didn’t captivate me.

48. A banned book
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – 3 stars
Less sinister than Nineteen Eighty Four on one hand, but still disturbing.  I read this one during Banned Book Week, which was the last week of September.

49. A book based on or turned into a TV show
The Carrie Diaries by Candace Bushnell – 3 stars
Carrie before she was the lead in Sex and the City.  It was fine.  I’ve never watched the show The Carrie Diaries, and I doubt I will.  But this book was easy and one of the first I read in the year (I think prior to when I decided to do this challenge) so I had to fit it in somewhere.

50. A book you started but never finished
The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman – 4 stars
I tried to read this one about a year ago and just couldn’t get into it.  Then Allie read it and liked it and recommended that I try it again.  I’m glad I did, because I couldn’t put it down by the end!  A man and woman who live on a remote island, taking care of the lighthouse, save a baby who washed up on the shore in a boat that also contains a deceased adult male.  They decide to raise the baby as their own, and it leads to tragic upheaval when the truth comes out.  Since I had just had my own baby when I read this, I think I took a different perspective than I would have a year ago.

Check in numero cuatro –
# of books read: 52
# of books remaining: 0

What are you reading?  Have you ever tried a reading challenge?

Coffee date with you II.

It’s been nearly a year since our last coffee date, so what do you say we catch up over a cup?  Truth be told, I’ll probably order a tea.  I only like the coffee drinks that are heavy on syrup and flavors – the gateway coffees, if you will – and I’ve managed to avoid those for the past eight months, so why break the trend now?  I’ll explain this as I dump sugar into my steaming cup of black tea and you’ll wonder at my rational (or lack thereof) train of thought.  But being the good friend that you are, you won’t judge.

Kevin’s football coaching season has begun which is really fun for him and I like the home games.  The field is in such a beautiful location on the school campus.  I look forward to the fall when the leaves change and the air is crisp.  I usually take a book, pull a blanket from the trunk of my car, and sit under a tree near the field.  This year I’ve been spoiled and had company at each game thus far – Leann met me for the first and Kevin’s best friend from high school was in town for the second.

Lisa came to town to accompany me to the State Fair and watch Doug Stone perform.  We had a great time walking around, reminiscing about our livestock showing days and waxing poetically about how much things have changed.  The concert was great.  It was not well attended, so it kind of felt like a private show.  Doug (after a practically private show, obviously we’re on a first name basis) sounded really good and he was hil-ar-ious.  Kind of self-deprecating and very engaging with the fans.  One of the best concerts I’ve ever gone to, and it was fun to share it with Lisa.  We love our 90’s country!

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Last weekend I hosted a little Favorite Things party for a few work and Junior League friends.  It was so much fun!  Each gal brought one of their favorite things – times three and wrapped individually.  Each name was written three times and put into a bucket.  We took turns drawing three names apiece and handing out our favorite thing to each of the three recipients.  It was a great way to learn more about some of my favorite people and their loves.  I brought my current favorite lip balm by Pixi and I received such awesome stuff – Pineapple Kona tea and Perfectea Rock Sugar from Teavana and a Baby Lips gloss from Ashley, Thin Mints and a Starbucks gift card from Becca, and a pen and a Lush bath bomb from Heather.  Everyone in attendance seemed to have a great time and we all kept commenting that it was like a birthday!  Getting to open three presents – who doesn’t like that?  Toss in some tasty snacks (including Leann’s famous carrot and pineapple mini-muffins and the Trader Joes ginger snaps provided by Heather) and beverages (Ashley brought the supplies and expertise to whip up some Italian cream sodas) and it was a lovely morning.

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While I was favorite things partying, Kevin took his truck with the car seat and base to a safety clinic for car seats.  He learned how to properly install the base, things to keep in mind as we grow and graduate to bigger car seats, and now we both feel really comfortable that we can safely haul around our little gal.

And that night we braved the looooong line of cars around the state fair grounds to go watch the PRCA rodeo and Clay Walker perform.  The rodeo was entertaining, as is the people watching at the fair forever and always.  Clay Walker put on a pretty good show too, and we had a nice night out.  (It started with Mexican food at my favorite Mexican food spot, which was perfect – even if it did mean ending the night with a little heartburn.)

It has been the year of the baby – not just for us but for many friends as well.  We’re toward the end of the batch of due dates and it has been so fun to see our friends become parents.  There have been lots of brunch and dinner double dates with the sweetest little fifth wheels and seeing our friends so in love with their bebes makes us even more excited to meet our own.  Of course we’re really treasuring the time we have to spoil ourselves and each other – sleeping in, changing our plans on a whim, leaving the house with minimal preparation or supplies…etc.  It’s an interesting time – so much is the same but so much has changed.

As usual, I’m rambling on and on, and the coffee mugs are empty.  Thanks – as always – for the time, friend.  And now please – talk my ear off.  What’s new with you? 

2015 Reading Challenge – check in numero tres.

I have made a little progress on the 2015 Reading Challenge since my last check in.  I’m currently reading The Art of Fielding (which is for the category “A book at the bottom of your to-read list”) and Gone With The Wind (haven’t read it in years so it has been fun to revisit – it is for the category “A book with bad reviews,” because it did have bad reviews back in the day but has obviously stood the test of time).  I have Brave New World waiting in the wings (or at the library) and will be reading it the last week of September for the category “A banned book” because – guess what – the last week of September is considered “Banned Book Week”.

Overall, this challenge has been great and I think I’m on track to finish it by December 31!

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2015 Reading Challenge

1. A book with more than 500 pages
The Glass Lake by Maeve Binchy – 5 stars

2. A classic romance
The Princess Bride by William Goldman – 4 stars

3. A book that became a movie

4. A book published this year
A God In Ruins by Kate Atkinson – 3 stars

5. A book with a number in the title
One Plus One by Jojo Moyes – 3 stars

6. A book written by someone under 30
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank – 4 stars

7. A book with nonhuman characters
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame – 3 stars

8. A funny book
The Rosie Effect by Graeme C. Simsion – 4 stars

9. A book by a female author
Anne of Ingleside by LM Montgomery – 4 stars

10. A mystery or thriller
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn – 4 stars

11. A book set in a different country
Rumor Has It by Jill Mansell – 3 stars

12. A book with a one-word title
Son by Lois Lowry – 5 stars

13. A book of short stories
Single, Carefree, Mellow:  Stories by Katherine Heiny – 3 stars

14. A nonfiction book
Bringing Up Bebe:  One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman – 4 stars

15. A popular author’s first book
Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty – 4 stars

16. A book from an author you love that you haven’t read yet
Anne’s House of Dreams by LM Montgomery – 3 stars

17. A book a friend recommended
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer – 3 stars

18. A Pulitzer Prize winning book
John Adams. by David McCullough – 5 stars

19. A book based on a true story
Wild:  From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed – 3 stars

20. A book at the bottom of your to-read list

21. A book your mom loves
Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind by Suzanne Fisher Staples – 3 stars

22. A book that scares you
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins – 4 stars

23. A book more than 100 years old
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – 5 stars

24. A book based entirely on the cover
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles – 5 stars

25. A book you were supposed to read in school but didn’t
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell – 4 stars

26. A memoir
Popular:  Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen – 3 stars

27. A book you can finish in a day
Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation – George Washington (Francis Hawkins’ translation) – 4 stars

28. A book with antonyms in the title
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty – 3 stars

29. A book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit
The Rosie Project by Graeme C. Simsion – 5 stars

30. A book that came out the year you were born
Beaches by Iris Rainer Dart – 4 stars

31. A book with bad reviews

32. A trilogy
The Selection by Kiera Cass – 4 stars
The Elite by Kiera Cass – 4 stars
The One by Kiera Cass – 4 stars

33. A book from your childhood
Christy by Catherine Marshall – 4 stars

34. A book with a love triangle
Can You Keep A Secret? by Sophie Kinsella – 4 stars

35. A book set in the future

36. A book set in high school
Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira – 4 stars

37. A book with a color in the title
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant – 4 stars

38. A book that made you cry
Before I Go by Colleen Oakley – 4 stars

39. A book with magic

40. A graphic novel
Emily the Strange by Cosmic Debris Etc. Inc. – 2 stars

41. A book by an author you’ve never read before
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare – 3 stars

42. A book you own but have never read
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – 5 stars

43. A book that takes place in your hometown
No Life for a Lady by Agnes Morley Cleaveland – 4 stars

44. A book that was originally written in a different language
Sophie’s World by  Jostein Gaarder (translated by Paulette Moller) – 2 stars

45. A book set during Christmas

46. A book written by an author with the same initials as you
Simple Pleasures by Alfred Portale – 3 stars

47. A play
4000 Miles by Amy Herzog – 3 stars

48. A banned book

49. A book based on or turned into a TV show
The Carrie Diaries by Candace Bushnell – 3 stars

50. A book you started but never finished

Check in numero tres –
# of books read: 44
# of books remaining: 8

What are you reading?

Talkin ’bout my reno-va-tion.

When we bought our house in 2013, it had been sitting vacant for around two years.  It came with wild paint colors on the walls, poorly stretched carpet throughout, outdated light oak cabinets in the kitchen (and laundry room and bathrooms), a moldy vanity in the downstairs bathroom, an outdated master bathroom and guest bathroom upstairs, vinyl windows, and Saltillo tile that was past the point of ever looking pretty.  Our renovation budget at the time allowed us to take care of a lot of those projects before we moved into the house.  The utmost in luxury and convenience when it comes to reno work – no furniture to shift and move!  Here are some before and after photos from way back then.

The upstairs bathrooms (master and guest) are still on the list, but we earmarked some money this year for Saltillo tile replacement and to replace half of the windows.  And to destroy a random, tiny “wet bar” – which is really just a sink – in the living room.

We started with the tile which was sure to be the project to cause the most inconvenience because we needed to move out of the house while it was being completed.  Fortunately, my in-laws (who live a few blocks away) were kind enough to let us – and the cats – stay at their house.  We stayed there from Monday to Friday when the work was being completed, and it really did work out in the best possible way.  Craig and Sue were out of town so we didn’t need to worry about being in their way and the house is close to ours, so we were able to go every day to water the crops (the garden) and check on the progress of the work and even get clothes and other items as we needed them.  Sue and Craig have a cat, so Kiki and Rue needed to be sequestered upstairs.  They may disagree, but I don’t think they suffered too much.  First world cat problems – trapped in a little room when you’re used to having the run of the house.

Here are some before photos of the horrible tile:

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^ Top:  The entryway.  The realtor who had the house listed when we bought it had used extra heavy duty duct tape to secure a rug to the floor (or maybe the previous owners had used the duct tape and the realtor was trying to hide it from potential buyers).  It was such a…fun surprise to find when we bought the house and tore up the rug.  Needless to say, we found a rug to cover the duct tape ourselves.  ^
^ Bottom Left:  This little stretch leads guests to our home from the entryway to the living room – with a trip hazard to boot.  Because the tile is the same in the entry way and the living room, it was really hard to see that there was a small step down into the living room.  So many people have not noticed the step and stumbled down it.  ^
^ Bottom Right:  The downstairs bathroom.  Not much to see here.  Just more bad tile and tile base work. ^

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^ Top Left and Top Right:  These photos of the living room/breakfast nook area show the tile – in all its glory – really well.  Cracked, discolored, strange grout, unevenly installed, gaps between the wall and the “baseboard” tile….  It was not attractive. ^
^ Bottom Left and Bottom Right:  More of the same in the kitchen. When Kevin was cleaning out the garage a few weeks ago, he discovered some acid tile wash and grout cleaner, which really explained a lot.  I don’t think the tile was well installed to begin with, there was nothing to keep it from cracking when the foundation shifted (as it does in new houses), and someone took some heavy duty “cleaner” that was not meant for Saltillo tile to it at some point.  Also, the grout was painted white, once upon a time.  Why?  Who knows. ^

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^Left:  Living room.  In slightly better light so you can see all the strange variation in color, and even the cracks and permanent discolorment. (Discolorment?  Maybe not a word.  But it works here.)  The floors always looked dirty, even immediately after they had been mopped. ^
^ Right: The laundry room.  Kevin especially didn’t like this white tile. ^

We worked with a local company for the tile replacement.  The foreman did an excellent job and they finished on schedule.  We were very impressed with him and the quality of work that the crew did.

They came in and moved all of our furniture, then immediately started jackhammering up the tile.  Saltillo is incredibly messy – it crumbles and gets dust everywhere.  Here are a few of the during pictures:

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^ See?  Messy stuff. ^

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And finally, the after photos.  We are so, so happy with the final result.  I’m even happier than I thought I would be with how it looks.  It’s easier to walk on barefoot, the tiles are consistent and clean, the baseboard looks sharp, and the decorative tiles in the entry way are a lovely touch.  We really think that it fits the style of the house (Southwest), which will be good for resale purposes if we go that route someday.

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^ Rue likes the new tile.  Amy likes the decorative tile near the step – catches the eye well. ^

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We also replaced eight windows in the house this month.  Unfortunately it did not rain on the 4th of July, so we have to pay Renewal by Anderson for these new windows, but I guess that’s the risk you take when you decide to gamble with weather and home improvement.  Our old windows were vinyl and poorly insulated.  I know we’ll notice a big difference with the new windows!

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^ Window limbo as the job was in progress. ^

Last but not least, we hired the guy who re-did our kitchen cabinets before we moved into the house to replace a wet bar (which was really just a random sink and ugly cabinet) with some shelves and cabinet space.  It ties in really well with the kitchen, looks great with the new tile, and will be so much more functional than what filled the space previously.

Here is before:

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And after:

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We need to fill the shelves and finish the baseboard, but overall we are done done done with home improvement projects for the year.  It feels awesome.

Do you have any home improvement projects in the works?  Do you DIY this kind of stuff, or leave it to the experts? 

To-do in 2015: the halfway point.

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2015 is over half over, which is unbelievable to me.  It seems high time that I check in on the year’s to-do list that Kevin and I created for ourselves.  We still have plenty to do this year, but we’re making great progress on all fronts and have crossed off two of the biggest (and most expensive) items!

1. K & A:  Go to Europe.
Done!!  You can read about here.  And here and here.  And here.  Oh yeah.  And here and here

2. K: Read a classic.
He has a few in mind as options.  He’s in the middle of David McCullough’s Truman right now which is 900+ pages and quite the commitment.  But the classics are on his radar. 

3. A: Do all Christmas shopping in local/independent stores or give homemade stuff.  Like crocheted scarves, vanilla extract (inspired by Tiffany, who gave me homemade vanilla extract for Christmas 2014!), or hot pepper oil (inspired by Allie, who blogged about it here).
I haven’t made too much progress on this, but there are still plenty of shopping days to Christmas.  The problem is that there seem to be fewer crafting days to Christmas….  My goal for July is to start some mint extract a-brewin’ with the mint we’ve been growing in our garden! 

4. A: Read 52 books.  (Bonus points if I manage to complete this 2015 reading challenge, which I think is only – ha! – 50 books….thanks, Tiffany, for sharing the idea!)
I’m on track to finish this one!  I think I’m on book 40 right now (Pride and Prejudice – for the category “a classic love story”).  My most recent check in post is here, if you’re interested. 

5. A:  Blog 104 posts.
I’ve only poster 41 times this year and the summer fever blog hiatus is not helping.  I guess I need to step it up!   

6. K & A:  Fund IRA’s for the year.
In progress & done.  Kevin takes the automatically-send-money-to-the-IRA-with-each-paycheck approach and I write a lump sum check.  So he’s over half funded for the year and I made the contribution in April.

7. K & A:  Complete at least one home improvement project. (New tile downstairs, master bathroom, shelves in the garage…)
Boy howdy, have we ever!  We started the year with a new furnace (out of necessity), then we did our tile replacement in June.  Eight new windows are being installed this week, and we’re ripping out the wet bar and replacing it with built-in bookshelves and storage this week or next.  We also have some shelves for the garage and they WILL be installed this year so that we can get that mess organized. 

8. K & A:  Run a 5k.
I was a lazy bum and didn’t run a 5K (or even work on training for one) at the beginning of the pregnancy or pre-pregnancy and I won’t even pretend that it’ll happen this year after the baby is born.  So Kevin has selflessly volunteered to run two 5K’s this year and we’ll call it good.  He’s planning on one in September and maybe one in August. 

9. K: Smoke a rack of ribs or a brisket.
My mom gave Kevin a brisket (we get all our beef from my parents, who have cattle), and he’s excited to use the smoker attachment on the grill.  This seems like a good fall activity. 

10. K & A:  Take a road trip to a historic destination in New Mexico.
We have a few ideas on where to travel.  Some are day trip and some are overnight.  We’ll probably do the former, but that still leaves us with plenty of options.  There are so many cool historic destinations in this state!

11. K & A:  Try 10 new restaurants.
We have tried 4 new restaurants together.  Each of us have tried new restaurants separately this year as well, but we’re only counting the ones we go to together. 

12. K & A:  Try 15 new recipes.
We’ve tried 9 new recipes.  It’s hard to be motivated to cook in the summer!  I think we’ll finish this goal off in the fall/winter. 

13. K:  Start and complete an entire workout program.
He’s researching 5K training programs now, so that could count, but he has also been working his way through a strength training program. 

14. K:  Take a golf continuing ed class or attend three golf lessons.
Kevin has checked the schedule for CE golf classes, and that could be an option in the fall.  Otherwise, he’ll easily be able to attend three golf lessons at a club in town. 

15. A:  Host a theme party.
Leann and I are in the very early stages of planning a cocktail/mocktail (can you guess which part of that duo I’m in charge of?) party withthe “Favorite Things” theme. 

Did you set some goals for 2015?  If so, are you making good progress? 

2015 Reading Challenge – check in numero dos.

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2015 Reading Challenge

1. A book with more than 500 pages
The Glass Lake by Maeve Binchy – 5 stars

2. A classic romance

3. A book that became a movie

4. A book published this year

5. A book with a number in the title
One Plus One by Jojo Moyes – 3 stars

6. A book written by someone under 30
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank – 4 stars

7. A book with nonhuman characters
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame – 3 stars

8. A funny book
The Rosie Effect by Graeme C. Simsion – 4 stars

9. A book by a female author
Anne of Ingleside by LM Montgomery – 4 stars

10. A mystery or thriller
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn – 4 stars

11. A book set in a different country
Rumor Has It by Jill Mansell – 3 stars

12. A book with a one-word title
Son by Lois Lowry – 5 stars

13. A book of short stories
Single, Carefree, Mellow:  Stories by Katherine Heiny – 3 stars

14. A nonfiction book

15. A popular author’s first book
Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty – 4 stars

16. A book from an author you love that you haven’t read yet
Anne’s House of Dreams by LM Montgomery – 3 stars

17. A book a friend recommended
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer – 3 stars

18. A Pulitzer Prize winning book
John Adams. by David McCullough – 5 stars

19. A book based on a true story

20. A book at the bottom of your to-read list

21. A book your mom loves
Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind by Suzanne Fisher Staples – 3 stars

22. A book that scares you
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins – 4 stars

23. A book more than 100 years old

24. A book based entirely on the cover
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles – 5 stars

25. A book you were supposed to read in school but didn’t

26. A memoir

27. A book you can finish in a day
Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation – George Washington (Francis Hawkins’ translation) – 4 stars

28. A book with antonyms in the title
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty – 3 stars

29. A book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit
The Rosie Project by Graeme C. Simsion – 5 stars

30. A book that came out the year you were born
Beaches by Iris Rainer Dart – 4 stars

31. A book with bad reviews

32. A trilogy
The Selection by Kiera Cass – 4 stars
The Elite by Kiera Cass – 4 stars

33. A book from your childhood
Christy by Catherine Marshall – 4 stars

34. A book with a love triangle
Can You Keep A Secret? by Sophie Kinsella – 4 stars

35. A book set in the future

36. A book set in high school
Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira – 4 stars

37. A book with a color in the title
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant – 4 stars

38. A book that made you cry
Before I Go by Colleen Oakley – 4 stars

39. A book with magic

40. A graphic novel
Emily the Strange by Cosmic Debris Etc. Inc. – 2 stars

41. A book by an author you’ve never read before
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare – 3 stars

42. A book you own but have never read
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – 5 stars

43. A book that takes place in your hometown
No Life for a Lady by Agnes Morley Cleaveland – 4 stars

44. A book that was originally written in a different language
Sophie’s World by  Jostein Gaarder (translated by Paulette Moller) – 2 stars

45. A book set during Christmas

46. A book written by an author with the same initials as you

47. A play
4000 Miles by Amy Herzog – 3 stars

48. A banned book

49. A book based on or turned into a TV show
The Carrie Diaries by Candace Bushnell – 3 stars

50. A book you started but never finished

Check in numero dos – June 9, 2015
# of books read: 36
# of books remaining: 16

{Check in numero uno can be found here.}

What are you reading?