Five Favorite Books Lately

I’m going to review them ultra quick.  Blink and you’ll miss it.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett.  A beautifully written page turner.  So many elements in common with Patchett’s Bel Canto: South America, dramatic beginning, characters stuck waiting in stressful situations and separated from their cell phones, opera.  But still a completely new and original story.  Really enjoyed it.

Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen . Middle schooler turns to 1950s teen popularity manual and writers about the results.  Funny and heartwarming.  Anyone else wonder if a fourteen-year-old actually wrote this?  I don’t really doubt it, but this little part of me wonders.

The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the LongestDan Buettner: Investigation of lifestyles in areas with unusually high number of people living to be 100 (topic addressed here).  Easy to read, although I think it could have been written better.  Also, his conclusion is that our life expectancy and quality of life are within our control.  I think his studies suggest the opposite, as most of the centenarians he profiles were just living the life customary to their particular culture.  They aren’t countercultural, as we would have to be to imitate them.

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, audiobook read by Cherry Jones: We all finally listened to the whole thing on our last car trip.  Really enjoyed it, especially hearing her sing the songs with a fiddle accompaniment.  Only qualm is that Ms. Jones reads Pa’s lines with a Southern accent.  Charles Ingalls was born in New York and spent most of his life in the Midwest.  Seriously?  All the same, looking forward to getting the next in the series.

Ramona’s World by Beverly Cleary: Girl 1 is having us read certain chapters over and over.  I can’t complain.  I just love this series.

Started but not yet finished:

Pioneer Girl, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the newly released annotated version of Wilder’s original, never-before-published autobiography.  All the footnotes are fascinating but it makes for slow reading.

Reed of God by Caryll Houselander: There are parts I like about this book, but for the most part it’s not my style.  Everyone I know who has read it loves it.  I’m going to persevere.

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead  by Brene Brown: I’m disappointed by this book so far, although I plan to at least skim the rest of it.  It has some great ideas but is written in such generalities that I skim over a lot of it.  Not the page-turner I’d hoped.

Princes at War: The Bitter Battle Inside Britain’s Royal Family in the Darkest Days of WWII by Deborah Cadbury: Well-written look at the English monarchy during WWII.  Previously all I really knew was what I saw from the movie, The King’s Speech (just realized the movie is based on a book by the same name).  I never manage to finish history books, though, and this time it won’t be any different.

I’m linking up with Quick Lit at Modern Mrs. Darcy, and tomorrow with Jenna for Five Favorites.IMG_8474

Five Consumer Favorites

We are living in a material world, and I (apparently), am a material girl, because I really like . . .

1. Consumer Reports magazine:  I’ve been reading this since I was a kid.  Before each of our car purchases as a married couple, I made Pat join me on a research trip to the library, to scour all the Consumer Reports used car guides.  (Short version: go with Honda or Toyota.)  I also scoured CR before purchasing our home (a foreclosure, sans appliances).  CR failed me on its dishwasher and washing machine recommendations.  Still, I can’t resist seeking out their advice before any major purchase! . . . Yet I’m too cheap to ever buy a subscription!  That really makes no sense, because I read this
stuff for fun.

2. Simcha’s post about why skirts and dresses are just not so cool and comfortable for those of us on the voluptuous side. (Simcha says meaty; I say voluptuous.)  I think this issue was a subconscious reason I postponed jumping on the maxi dress trend for so long.  And I preferred skorts to regular skirts.  But just today I found these (only $12 at Target), and things are looking up.  Or at least, looking, uh, less friction-filled.

3. Speaking of lingerie found at Target, I like this Maidenform slimmer. I wouldn’t mind a bit more compression in the tummy area, but it smoothes all over like a dream (“suddenly skinny!” is promising a bit much though).  I haven’t tried another brand, so I can’t compare, but it’s cheaper than even the Target line of Spanx.  It’s not exactly comfortable enough for all-day wear, but for an evening, it’s fine.  And the gusset works.

4. Stitch Fix people: Thank you Debbie R., Jaime M., Nicola W. and Laura T. (are you the Laura T. who is my cousin-in-law?), all of whom have ordered Stitch Fixes through my referral link, leading to a nice sum of credit in my SF account.  I really hope your SF works for you!  I see now why SF is so popular on blogs.  My blog is fairly small potatoes, but after just one post on the subject, I got four people who ordered through my link (and several more who have signed up but not yet ordered).  I’m guessing much more popular bloggers like, say, Anne Bogel or Emily Freeman get enough SF credit that they never have to pay for clothes!

5. Floradix: On a totally unrelated note–Floradix makes your hair grow!  It did mine, anyway.  A year or so ago, I was losing a postpartum-like quantity of hair, even though my baby was two.  I did some Googling and saw that iron might help.  I’ve always been slightly anemic, but I haven’t been vigilant about taking iron except during pregnancy.  Well, I started taking Floradix on the reg (the equivalent of 10-20 mg of iron a day), and the scary hair loss stopped almost instantly.  I now have annoying little hairs sticking up around my hairline, but that’s new hair, and I’ll take it. Probably any iron supplement would work but Floradix is the only one that doesn’t . . . um . . . clog up my innards.

How many embarrassing things have I discussed so far?  I don’t want to count.  Click over to Rachel‘s blog for much nicer Five Favorite posts.

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or you could just take a nap.

Style & the SAHM: The Quest Continues

two years later . . . .

It’s been almost two years since I wrote Style & the SAHM: A Quest, the beginning of an on-again, off-again series.  I’ve been less enthusiastic about my quest lately (gaining 20 pounds will do that to you).  Still, the quest continues.  Here are some lessons learned from the past fall and winter . . . which, in April, is helpful to no one in my hemisphere . . . you can bookmark this to read come October.  😉

1. If you try on a sweater at TJ Maxx

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and don’t buy it and then find yourself, thinking about it a lot, you should go back and buy it.  You’ll wear it a lot.  Especially, since you’ve been on the lookout for a flattering,  white, non-scratch, cableknit sweater for a long time.

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2. When in doubt, ditch the bootcut jeans and sneakers and go for skinny jeans (or LOFT curvy straight leg jeans) with boots, especially if you have a drapey top.  Also, those red bowling clown shoes were a mistake.

See example A

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vs. Examples B and C

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3. But bootcut jeans aren’t always a bad choice, if your top is more on the fitted side.  And even those red sneakers, well . . .

IMG_7660 IMG_76614. If you have a round face and broad shoulders to begin with, and then gain weight, you’ll wish you had bought more v-neck, drapey tops like this one from T.J. Maxx . . .

IMG_8211 IMG_8227and this one from Express (didn’t buy it but should have):

IMG_7639and fewer fitted crewnecks like these.  The pictures were taken when I bought them a year ago–they’re more snug now 😦

IMG_7579 IMG_76385. If you find yourself at a coffee shop wearing the same sweater as someone else, then later notice that she has taken off the sweater and is now wearing just the shirt underneath, take a good look at yourself, and ask

“Would I want be dressed like me?”

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Lesson learned: beware the siren song of the elastic waist.  When in doubt, wear jeans.  😉

Also, after two years, it was time for another closet purge.  It’s amazing how much piles up, even when I try to be pretty minimalist.

Most of these things I gave away, or am in the process of giving away.  A few I saved for a different season.  A very very few I couldn’t bear to part with and saved in hopes of losing weight.

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Now the extent of my wardrobe is this:

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and this:

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with one box in the closet of out-of-season or too-small things I’m hanging on to.

The battle against frumpiness and clutter takes constant vigilance.

Keep fighting the good fight

{And click over to Jenna’s blog for more five favorites posts.}

What’s Saving My Life in this season of cold & the plague

And how a 1990s sitcom prepared me for Lent . . . .

Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy has a great link up idea–“what’s saving my life.”  

Even though most of us can easily articulate what’s killing us, few of us pay attention to what’s giving us life.

We’ve had a sickness that just won’t end and has taken a variety of forms: cold for Girl 1, croup –> pneumonia for Girl 2, sinusitis for Pat and me + bronchitis for me.  So we’ve been cooped up and miserable, but these things have made it a bit less miserable:

1. Essential oils diffused in this diffuser.  I don’t know whether they actually do anything, although inhaled lavender oil has been shown to reduce asthma symptoms in mice.  They sure smell nice, though, which makes me feel better.  And they don’t give me a headache like cheap, chemically scented candles.

2. Neti Pot–for when I wake up with a headache and don’t know why.  Whaddya know?  It’s impacted snot.  Nothing like infusing your nostrils with salt water.  Hurts so good.

3. Down comforter–I got the warmest one I could find and “gave it to Pat” for Christmas.  It’s warmer even than the 4 or so mismatched regular comforters we had piled up on the bed.  Pricey, but oh so worth it.  Pat runs cold at night and he sleeps a lot better now.

4. Plush mattress pad–now I sleep better at night with this.  We have an extra firm mattress, which we bought relying on the common wisdom that firm mattresses are good for your back.  Eight years later, I found myself sleeping more comfortably on the couch.  When I slept on the bed, I felt more sore in the morning than in the evening.  Guess what?  Firm mattresses aren’t so good for bad backs.  There’s even a study to prove it.

5. Friends Season One--I get nostalgic watching this show even though I’ve never watched it much before.  And I think it’s more than a lingering fondness for crushed velour, turtlenecks, and the Rachel. Last night it hit me–that first season was filmed in 1994.  That’s over 20 years ago.  Twenty years ago. Last night I watched it and thought about how quickly life passes by and how close we are to death.

And that, my friends, was my segue into Ash Wednesday and Lent.  Never saw that coming.

Remember man, that you are dust and unto dust you shall return.

What’s saving your life this cold cold winter?

I’m linking up with Call Her Happy for Five Favorites, and I’ll link up with Modern Mrs. Darcy when she does the link up again.

Stuff for bad skin

Picture via

Picture via

I have bad skin; always have; probably always will.  It broke out in an angry blaze around Christmas.

1952 acne medication ad

I blame illness and lack of sleep and stress and sugar.  But it’s been better in the last few weeks. (Other than the small percentage I get from Amazon, this isn’t a promotional post, honest!  It’s just that I went to Sephora and it’s given me a new lease on life, or at least on my face.)  I think these items have helped:

1. Nice foundation: For the first time in my life, I bought big-girl foundation from the makeup store instead of cheapo stuff from the drugstore.  Sephora has this Color IQ computer program in their stores, and it finds a match for your skin tone from all the products they carry.  My match is “Dim the Lights” by Buxom (ooh la la).  Wow, it feels and blends so much better than the drugstore stuff.   It’s paraben free but *wamp wamp* has some nasty chemical sunscreen in it.

I also bought some primer, because I was on a roll.  I wonder, though, whether the cosmetic company executives are laughing at us behind closed doors.  Does primer really do anything?  I am dubious, but regardless, the primer + nice foundation combo lasts longer than the drugstore stuff alone ever did.

2. Indian Clay Healing Mask: This is great for pulling junk out of your skin and shrinking your pores.  Plus it’s cheap and all natural.  My one problem with it is that it clogs up my sink.  So for now I kick the can down the road and rinse it off in the bathtub or with a wet washcloth.

3. Avalon Organics COQ10 cleansing milk and wrinkle defense creme.  I like that the cream is SPF 15 and uses zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, not any of the nefarious chemical sunscreens.  The cleansing milk is non-drying.  During the summer I use Neutrogena Naturals cleanser, which is a bit stronger.  I use coconut oil to remove eye makeup.  I’ve also used Yes to Carrots SPF15 moisturizer, which also avoids the chemical sunscreen ingredients.

4. Aveeno Eczema defense hand cream: I’ve tried many of the all-natural cream and lotion products and they seem to just sit there, not soaking in, on really dry hands.   This is the only thing so far that worked for my chapped hands (I don’t have eczema so I don’t know how it works on that).  It has some petrochemicals, which I haven’t had the energy to care about yet, but it doesn’t have parabens or phthalates.

*I never cared much about going all-natural, organic, etc. until I realized that a lot of the politically incorrect ingredients mess with your hormones.  Between hormones wrecking my life and puberty threatening in the not-distant-enough future for my girls, I’m trying to stay away from the estrogen-mimickers*

5. Oil of Olay hair remover duo: Doesn’t burn skin off!  Less painful than waxing.  I would love not to have to use this stuff, but alas.  Eventually I’d like to try laser hair removal but I always find more fun stuff to save up my money for.  Apparently hand-held, home laser treatments are entering the market.  Anyone tried these yet?

Back to you, Jenna, for more Five Favorites!

Favorite movie musicals

Linking up with Jenna for Five Favorites . . .

Haley and Caroline, among others, have written lists of books that have had lasting impact.  Lately I’ve been thinking about the movies that have had the most lasting impact on me.  Surprisingly (or not?) they’re all light-hearted and most of them I watched in childhood.  Somehow they’ve kept a place in my heart.

Oh–I just noticed this–they’re all musicals.  That makes sense.

Roughly in order of when I first watched them:

WeeSing Together–the first VHS tape my parents bought.  Sally and her red dress.  Songs and lots of drama.  I loved it, and now my girls love it.

movies

The Greatest Show on Earth–the circus, lots of singing, sparkly costumes, love triangles, near-death heroics, and a tragic clown.  Charlton Heston and Jimmy Stewart.  My grandma taped this for us from TMC and we watched it over and over and over.

Hello Dolly with Barbra Streisand and Walter Matthau.  For some reason I still sing this line and crack myself up, “Out there, there’s a world outside of Yonkers, close your eyes and see it glisten, Barnaby.  Listen Barnaby!”  I am so weird, but that doesn’t mean this movie isn’t so so good.

White Christmas–My dear partner, when what’s left of you gets around to what’s left to be gotten, what’s left to be gotten won’t be worth getting, whatever it is you’ve got left.

That Thing You Do–music, cute guys, and the mod mod Sixties.  The perfect movie when you’re 14.  Or 24.  Or 34.

Bonus: Napolean Dynamite.  I saw this in theaters and thought, “They’ve made a movie about people like us!”  It’s not a musical, but it has arguably the world’s best dance routine and the world’s best love song.  So it kind of counts.

“Your mom goes to college.”

 

Quick Lit: Castles, Lost Creatures & a Canary in a Coal Mine

Real quick-like, here are summaries of a few books I’ve read lately (I went on another reading bender).  I’m linking up with Jenna for Five Favorites and with Modern Mrs. Darcy for Quick Lit.

 

So, quickly here, in no particular order:

1. Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead: About a ballet dancer, her son, her husband, and her former lover.  I didn’t really like any of the characters (except possibly one, and things don’t turn out so well for him). Somehow, though, the author kept me interested in them, at least until about 2/3 of the way through. Just as I was losing interest, a surprise twist at the end hooked me back in. I like the way the author describes certain experiences and relationships in one generation being echoed in the next. Worth reading.

2. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett:  I kept hearing about this author.  The descriptions of her novels didn’t draw me in, but I started one anyway, and I’m glad I did.  A captivating tale about–I think–the power of beauty through music.  One Goodreads reviewer remarked the book could have been titled, The Lighter Side of Stockholm Syndrome.  This is true.

3. Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl: On its jacket, this book is billed as “a book as frothy and fizzy and light as a champagne cocktail- think I Capture the Castle meets Pride and Prejudice!”  This drives me nuts because Pride and Prejudice is not frothy, frizzy, or light.  Neither is I Capture the Castle. But, this book is pretty similar to Georgette Heyer’s regency romances, which are sort of Jane Austen lite.  This book is sort of Georgette Heyer lite.  I liked it.

4. Julia’s House for Lost Creatures by Ben Hatke:  This is such a charming picture book.  The illustrations are detailed and lively.  I can’t wait to give my girls the (autographed!) copy I bought for them for Christmas.

 

5. Where’d You Go Bernadette by Marie Semple:  I already wrote a little bit about this slightly wacky, chick-lit style whodunit here.  I’ve since had one more thought about why I like this book: one character is a stereotypical hypocritical, backstabbing, judgmental, proselytizing “Christian.”  The book even mentions that her middle name is “Faith.”  So, you expect her to be the bad guy throughout the book.  I read a theater review by Terry Teachout recently, which hits the nail on the head:

Christianity is the great blind spot of American theater [and, I would posit, most modern literature].  Most Americans believe in the resurrection of Jesus and the existence of heaven and hell–but in most American plays, these beliefs are treated either as proofs of invincible ignorance or as signs of blackhearted villainy.

The Christian character has a change of heart and becomes a good person later in the book.  It’s after she goes through a 12-step program, so maybe she left Christianity in favor of “being spiritual” and “calling on a higher power.”  Maybe.  But.  The book doesn’t specify.  Anyway, it was nice to see a book written from a secular perspective have a card-carrying Christian this is neither invincibly ignorant nor a black-hearted villain.

Also read recently (but not favorites):

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham: There’s nothing worthwhile about reading this book except that Dunham is a canary in our cultural coalmine.  As her t.v. character put it, “I think I may be the voice of my generation. . .  Or at least, a voice of a generation.”  She may in fact be the voice of her generation, and if so, we’re in deep sh*t.  Dude.

Mindless Eating:Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink: Some interesting studies, but the tips the author gives aren’t especially original.  I’m looking for a way to lose weight with no exercise of willpower whatsoever.  Can’t someone help a girl out?  Somebody??

 

Okay, back to you Ann and Jenna.

 

Some shopping successes

Mossimo Supply Co. Printed Skinny Pant and Puma Caroline wedge

Classy little girl dresses for $4, man repeller fail, and clown shoes . . . .

 

1. I was thrilled to find these at Wally World the other day.  They rang up at four bucks–four bucks!!–at my local store.  They’re $5 something online.  The cute prints are quickly being sold out online, but there are some sizes left in this print.  And it’s worth a check at your local store.

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Faded Glory Girls’ Elbow Length Sleeve Dress

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It’s what all the cool kids are wearing.

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2. After another stressful Monday, I took a solitary evening prowl through the Target clearance rack.  I found these, which what I thought were a prime example of a man repeller.  (They were $10 at my store; very thin material but they had me at “elastic waist.”)

Mossimo Supply Co. Printed Skinny Pant and Puma Caroline wedge

I wear them today and Pat says, “Wow!  Great pants!”  Curses!  Foiled again.

3. I like them with my Puma Caroline wedge sneakers.  (Order a full size up.)  The more restrained color options were sold out in my size.  I’ll probably look back at this year as the year I wore clown bowling shoes, but for now I don’t care.

4. Hmm, that’s about it.  No, no wait!  I bought a can opener at Williams Sonoma and it’s the bomb.  Just a basic, standard, non-fancy can opener.  It’s $10 but made in the USA and worth every penny.  Beat the pants off the $3 Walmart store brand model I bought that lasted about two uses.

5. Check back with Jenna for more of this week’s Favorites!

Olafactory Samplings

Or: More thoughts on perfume,

In which my mood is kind of like this frog’s:

Hoyt's German Cologne perfumed with fragrant & lasting [front]

I found some time to browse Sephora last weekend, looking for THE ONE.

Long story short, I’m like Bono:

But I stiiiiiiiiill haven’t fooooooooouuuuund what I’m looking for.

Argh.  There’s so much more I wanted to write about tonight but it won’t happen because (a) the 2.5 year old is up again (still?) and (b) it’s 11 p.m. and (c) her blanket came slid off one fleece-jammied foot and (d) no, she can’t fix it herself, and (e) even though it’s 72 degrees this is an emergency and (f) one of her four dollies is not arranged just so and (g) I fix blanket and dollies–

“I cwye and I cwye”

Yeah, it works for you, doesn’t it?

and go back to the couch and hearing my behind brush the couch cushion makes her realize that she’s already drunk all the water in her sippy cup and (h) she will scream and scream and scream until I come to refill it.  AND she will probably start over again with (a).

How did I wind up the mother of the Princess and the Pea?  I really really did not set out to be.

“Okay, here’s your water.  You really need to go to sleep.”

“okay.  sowwy cwye.”

Sorry my ass.

So about perfume.

Who cares about perfume?  Anyone?

Okay, I still do.

I set out looking for something spicy.  I like cardamom and rosemary.  And bergamot (which is a flower, but with a spicy smell).  And I ended up preferring the floral scents at Sephora.  Granted, they had a small selection.

But I liked

1. Dolce & Gabbana L’IMPERATRICE: really like the top and bottom notes here but too fruity in its “middle notes” and short-lasting.

2. For a little bit there, L’Imperatrice reminded by of Coty’s Tribe.  It was the first perfume I bought for myself.  Boy was it fruity.  Anyone else remember that one?  Apparently it’s not made any more, but it has a large, nostalgic following.  Just for memory’s sake, it will be my favorite #2.

The early 90s in a bottle!

3. Burberry Brit: Possibly this would be THE ONE but I will forever associate it with a certain person, and not favorably.

4.  Dior’s J’Adore: Again not THE ONE but I liked it.  I forget why.  🙂

5. Jennifer Aniston’s eponymous perfume.  I tried this at Target.  It was the only one of their fragrances that didn’t make me gag on the first sniff.  I was surprised by how much I liked the lily and jasmine notes.  But it “dries down” to a generic, boring musk.

(And forgive me if I’m critical here of your favorite scent.  With any of them, I know I’d smell them on another person and think, “Mmm, you smell great.”  But when I’m looking for THE ONE I’m hyper-critical.)

And when my 2-year-old won’t go to sleep! at 11 friggin’ o’clock at night! I’m hyper-grumpy too.  I hope you’ll forgive my grumbling.  Please be assured that no children were harmed in the writing of this blog post.  Or ever.

All this after reading this book and swearing I would never complain again.

Good night.  Smell good.  Sleep tight.

(Click over to Jenna of Call Her Happy, who is hosting Five Favorites this week.  Thanks Jenna!)

5 Favorite Things About Gaining 20 Pounds

(When you aren’t underweight to begin with)

 

1. Perspective: Over a year ago, I thought I wanted to lose weight.  Now, I want to take my self of 20 pounds ago and give her a gentle shake on the shoulders.  “Hey hot stuff, what are you talking about?”  Then, I’d lick my finger, touch it to my old self, and go “tssssss.”  Hawt.

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2. Economy: Haven’t been tempted to go clothes shopping in months.  Well, until this week.  When I bought fat clothes.

3. More perspective: Not all my problems are caused by excess weight!  I have more on my gut than ever before, and yet my lower back feels better than it has in a long long time.  Not because of the extra weight, I’m sure, but despite it.  Just due to the passage of time.

4. Um . . . hmm.  The first few hours of a new diet are always exciting.

5. Uh.  Well. . . . Nope, that’s all I’ve got.