His books, my books, our books

Last night, I got a text message from my sister: Book recommendations?

We exchanged a few messages to determine what she was in the mood for, before landing on a couple of titles I really hope she picks up. (I’m admittedly protective of my books. If I love something that someone else decides is just okay, I get defensive. What do you mean you don’t “get it?What do you mean the character wasn’t believable? What do you mean you hated the story? But, anyway…)

You see, Pat and I are each from families of readers. Rarely does a Sunday dinner or a family birthday celebration go by without some of us talking about what we’re currently reading, how we’re liking that book, and what’s next on our list of “must reads.”

But it took me and Pat awhile to figure out books we both enjoy. Pat’s more into science fiction, mystery, and suspense. He just finished up 11/22/63 by Stephen King and NOS4A2 by Joe Hill. I’m working through Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, on my never-ending quest to finish all of the Booker Prize-winning books. (My all-time favorite, The Remains of the Day, is a Booker Prize winner, and another good one, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, was the 2014 recipient.)

These days, though, we’re on a roll – below are three books that we’ve read (based on the other’s recommendation) in the past year that we’ve both enjoyed.

The Sistethesistersbrothersrs Brothers by Patrick DeWitt. Genuine, laugh-out-loud humor in books is hard to come by – I’ve seen lots of authors do it well, and some not-so-well. DeWitt’s The Sisters Brothers is one that succeeds. I read this book a couple of years ago, and the main thing I remembered, when recommending it to Pat, was how funny it was. When Pat finished it recently, he remembered the humor – but he also reminded me that the book is an action-packed chase story with some dark moments that dampen the humor and round out the book. We both really loved this one – and, it looks like they’re making it into a movie starring John C. Reilly. Read it before it gets to theaters (hopefully soon).

OneFlewOverTheCuckoosNest

 

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey. When I finished this book up earlier this year – based on my husband’s recommendation – I immediately thought: why haven’t I read this earlier? As an English major, this book is brimming with underlying themes; it’s a study of the relationship between silence and power, and a unique, almost-coming-of-age story that I thought would have been on my reading list at some point in high school or college. Pat appreciated the characterization and the story – I did, too – while I was drawn to Cuckoo’s Nest as an avid reader who appreciated that the novel called out the “control dynamic” that permeated life in the 60s.

readyplayerone.jpgReady Player One by Ernest Cline. Surprisingly, I read this one first. I’d been going through a dystopian fiction kick (isn’t it awesome how there’s so many books that fit any descriptor? I could have been on a coming-to-America kick, or a growing-up-rich kick, or a women-in-the-50s kick, and I’d have still found so many books that’d meet my needs), and I stumbled across this one. I was glad I did. There were tons of references from video games, books, and movies of my childhood – most I understood, and some I didn’t. Those didn’t stop me from enjoying the book – it’s a rapidfire race toward a prize that kept me reading late into the night. Pat especially appreciated that he got the chance to recall games and movies that he’d kinda forgotten about – plus, who doesn’t like a good page turner?

‘Til next week,

Meredith

 

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Sundays, schedules, and sniffles

Ah, Sunday – a much-needed breath of fresh air after a long week.

Today, I’m starting with my usual black coffee and a clear headspace – unfortunately, accompanying my weekly dark roast is a huge box of tissues and a never-ending glass of water. The cold that’s been going around the Philly area hit me like a freight train, and I’m still slowly recovering. It’s been a rough couple of days, complete with time off of work and a cleared social calendar, but I think I’m finally on the winning side. Phew.

Cold – 0, Me – 1.

If I’m not totally under the weather, out of town, or otherwise running around like a crazy person, I use my Sunday mornings as an opportunity to reflect on the week before, and plan for the week ahead. Admittedly, I do less reflecting than I do planning – although I’m working on evening that dynamic in the future. It’s just so hard to find the time to think about what’s happened, when the future is happening now. (Or something like that.)

I’m trying harder to be – not just feel – thankful for the blessings that have come my way in the previous week. (To me, this is an important distinction – the difference between thought and action. More often than not, these days I’ll think to myself, “That was nice.” I want to get better at saying aloud, “That was nice,” and making sure that others know that they’ve positively affected my life. Like I said, this is a constant work in progress.)

But right now, planning is at the top of my mind, especially since I lost a couple of days’ worth of organization to a swollen face and clogged-up sinuses.

Planning means updating our shared calendar of activities for the week (which we keep in the kitchen, where each of us can be found, every morning), and downloading about who’ll be where for dinner. This is particularly important to me, since Sundays are usually the day that I plan our dinners for the week.

Because Pat’s an omnivore (-borderline-carnivore) and I’m a vegetarian, it’s absolutely crucial that we take the time to create dinners that we’ll both enjoy. On weeks we don’t, we end up eating out a lot – nothing I can think of/want to eat appeals to him, and vice versa. In those moments, we throw up our hands and go somewhere that’ll accommodate both of our taste buds. It’s not the most budget-friendly way to operate, so I’ve been doing my best to create a week-long menu and run it by my husband for his yays or nays.

Three of our easy favorites that accommodate both meat- and veggie-eaters’ palates:

  1. Semi-homemade pizza: For a beyond easy meal, I take a pre-baked crust, and add our favorite toppings and veggies. You can make this as healthy or as decadent as you like. Our favorite hearty combination for the winter months includes a low-fat Alfredo sauce in lieu of tomato, topped with roasted butternut squash, kale, and goat cheese. (Trust me, it’s delicious.)
  2. Pasta: I don’t have an age-old marinara sauce recipe to turn to, so I usually – gulp – use store bought. But pasta’s versatility makes it easy for me to add green peppers and onions, while Pat can add baked chicken or meatballs. Serve with a side salad and – voila! – a meal that leaves us both satisfied.
  3. Stir fry: A personal favorite in our quasi-vegetarian home – stir fry veggies, take half out, then add pre-cooked meat to the remainder of the veggies. No need to prepare separate meals, or even cook in two pots (or woks) – super easy, and super delicious. Just find the right teriyaki or stir fry sauce, and you’re good to go.

At least one of these three will make it on our house’s menu this week — I’m leaning toward having a “Stir Fry-day.”

Well, I’m off to finish my coffee and get ready for the week! Stay healthy.

‘Til next week,

Meredith

 

How to Prepare Yourself for Home Repairs

Once I moved in – and the bookshelf situation resolved itself – it became obvious that we’d want to do some home renovations. Our house is older, and while it had great features that “sold” it to us, it could definitely have stood for an upgrade.

At first, I was overwhelmed. It was our first home together (our first home, period), so I didn’t know where to start. My internal dialogue went something like this: “Look at all these rooms! Look at all the blue shag carpet! The yellow walls! The pear wallpaper in the kitchen! We’ll never check everything off of our wish list.”

I learned a lot about the home repair and renovation process in the first year – which is why, today, I’m sharing the top four tips to prepare yourself for home repairs and renovations. Later, I’ll post a blog on surviving major home renovations. (When that’s up, I’ll link it here.)

  • Start with tasks you and your husband can do together.

Pat and I aren’t super-handy. We can’t fix a leaky faucet, repair a broken light fixture, replace a fan, investigate that weird rattling noise… the list goes on. (Though we have unclogged many-a-drain – shout-out to Drain-o!) The one thing we do know how to do? Paint.

If I’m going to be honest, painting isn’t my cup of tea. I’m naturally clumsy, and two-left-feetedness + buckets of staining goo = no match made in heaven. But I can do it – and doing it yourself will save you money, which remains important to us as newlyweds.

What’s better, having a helper will make the project go much, much, (much, much…) faster. Bonus: you’ll spend some time extra time together. Just take turns playing DJ, and it can actually be sort of fun – well, as fun as painting can be.

  • For bigger projects, solicit recommendations from family and friends – but don’t be afraid to go your own way.

The biggest item on our to-do list was our kitchen: it was poorly and inefficiently designed, and closed off to the rest of the house. We wanted to totally demo the space, remove walls, move cabinets around, and upgrade everything.

We knew our limitations: as a couple who couldn’t install a doorbell, we probably couldn’t take this one on ourselves.

So we asked our family and friends for contractor recommendations – people they’d used and had good experience with. We met with nearly all of their recommendations – we had four meets in total. (We’ve heard you’re supposed to get no fewer than three proposals. One of the first people who showed up never sent back a proposal, so we brought in a fourth contender.)

In the end, we selected the company that felt like the best fit for us – the one who put the most thought and effort into the design, who seemed the most “on top of their game.” This was a company we actually found on Angie’s List – not through our personal recommendations — and we couldn’t be happier.

Family and friends couldn’t care less that we hadn’t chosen their recommended contractors – I think they were too excited that our renovated kitchen would soon make us the new holiday-and-party house.

  • Take tons of pictures.

Seriously. You’ll want to show family and friends what the house looked like when it was a clean slate, and how you made it your own. I did this in every room – from the bedroom (which we have hardly touched), to the living room (which got a fresh coat of paint), to the kitchen and family room (which have both undergone major renovations – new floors, new walls, the works).

It’s the ultimate party trick: pulling up pictures on your computer of your old space and – ta-da! – looking at how it’s been transformed. Prepare for the “oohs” and “aahs.”

Even if you’re not planning to do major renovations for a while, I highly suggest this step. Your space will probably transform organically, anyway, whether you move pieces of furniture around to ease the flow of a room, get new pieces of furniture, hang art – you’ll want to see how your far you (and your house) has come. Trust me.

  • Relax and enjoy the process.

‘Nuff said. This is not something that came easily to me or Pat, but we learned a ton throughout the past year about home repair, and became at least cursorily familiar with where things are situated at our local Lowe’s and Home Depot.

It’s important to remember: you’re making a home for yourselves. It’s going to take time – but it’s a really awesome task when you think about it – isn’t it?

‘Til next week,

Meredith

Whose bookshelf is it, anyway?

When I moved in with my husband in March, all of my stuff came with me – clothes, furniture, pictures, and (of course) my books.

It wasn’t until I moved everything out of my DC apartment and into my new, New Jersey home that I realized how many of them I’d accumulated over the years: paperbacks and hardcovers I’d loved as a teenager and couldn’t bear to part with; English textbooks I “swore I’d need again one day”; anthologies I promised myself I’d read, but never quite got around to.

It was a long process trying to find a place for everything – after all, Pat had lived at the house solo for almost a year before I joined him. He’d already had his stuff pretty well sorted out; now, I had to make my life fit into his. While – of course – clothes were the first thing that demanded a place in the new home, my books were a close second.

Thankfully, we’d gotten a bookshelf from a neighbor the previous year. Pat had started to fill it with members of his own collection – a really interesting mix of classics and comics – but there was definitely room for me. Was being the key word: I soon realized there wouldn’t be enough room for all of my “beloved” literature, and I’d need to be particular about which items I’d keep, and which I’d donate. I also realized that I’d probably have to put a moratorium on buying books, at least until we could figure the space situation out.

But then I remembered something: my Kindle! I’d bought the reading device a couple years ago, but could never really get into it. I loved the feel of a book in my hands, and the commitment that came with physically carrying a novel with me. If I was going to lug a huge book with me to and from work, I reasoned, I probably was going to read it. If I throw a Kindle in my bag, though, I’m as likely to pick it up as a game of Candy Crush on my cell phone. There was about the presence of a book that commanded attention – a presence that the Kindle just didn’t have.

But, as I was shelving Gone Girl and A Thousand Splendid Suns, I knew: I needed my Kindle. I wasn’t going to have enough room for all that I’d read – and still wanted to read – otherwise. So, I dug it out from where I knew it was hiding – underneath the passenger’s seat of my car – and charged it up, readying myself for my next book.

It was hard, at first. I opened my download, The Book Thief, and found myself constantly adjusting the font size, distracted by the features of the reading device. I also glanced, every few clicks of the page, at the “progress bar” — knowing exactly how long I had with a book before it ended. I was distracted. With paperback books, I felt a personal connection, a solidarity that I couldn’t replicate with the Kindle. The words on the screen felt counterfeit, almost as though they were “lesser” than those printed on physical paper.

But gradually, I got used to it. I committed to reading on the Kindle, and began to recognize the utility of it: a device that allows you to read thousands of books, without taking up thousands of books’ worth of room in your home.

A year later, I still love to read – I’m a proud library card holder, so that I can add books to my collection temporarily, without committing to finding them a permanent spot on our space-limited bookshelf.

But something else changed: I’m also the owner of a brand-new Nook, too. I read through the flaws I’d originally seen as “unforgivable” on the reading device. I found the right font size: one that didn’t make me squint, but didn’t require me to e-turn the page every four seconds. I noticed the progress bar less and less.

Right now, I think there’s a place for both a reading device and an overcrowded bookshelf in our home. But ask me in a year — my answer might be different.