Thursday, June 30, 2011

Mid-Year Review

On January 1 of this year, I blogged about my goals for 2011. As I was thinking about this the other day, I knew I was falling short in most areas, if not all of them. I need to refresh my memory not only with what my goals for the year are but also why they were important to me at one time...

1. Bible Study - D
Sad to say, I've really dropped off here. I was doing well with my own personal study, but I had to change my focus in order to write some articles for a monthly (now bi-monthly, if at all...) e-magazine that a friend of mine was putting out. I'd be so intensely studying for the article that once I finished writing it, I'd "take a break". A lengthy break. A 3-week-long break before starting work on the next one. And now, since I haven't had to turn in an article since late May and I don't know when my next deadline will be, the break has turned into over a month now. I need to return to what I was studying before the magazine articles took my time...

2. Weight Loss - C
Well, the Christmas holidays set me off and I'm just now getting back to losing weight again. Of course, the weight I'm losing now is the 7 pounds I put back on... But it's going well right now. I've lost 5 pounds of that over the last month. I've been exercising more regularly. First it was through 20-minute segments of strength training and cardio, based in part on Jillian Michaels' 30-Day Shred. More recently it's been through swimming laps at the pool a few times each week. I'm noticing a difference! That's encouraging! Now if I can keep it up, I'm on a good track to lose some more. I'm dreading the plateau I always seem to hit, but I have a few tricks up my sleeve this time...

3. Cooking - A
While I haven't tried many recipes yet from Cooking Light or Now Eat This!, I have been more adventurous in my cooking. I chalk that up to a wonderful book called How to Cook Without a Book. Yes, I know. Funny title. But it's such a great book! Basically, you learn cooking techniques. Then you should be able to cook a wealth of recipes without having to rely on a recipe. I now make my own pasta sauce for a lot less than I was paying for jarred sauce - which I always tweaked anyway! I can make a frittata and I know how to vary ingredients based on what I want or what I have. (Of course, since those are baked, they'll be on our fall/winter rotation. I don't like to turn the oven on if I can help it during the spring/summer...) I've also learned about various pasta dishes that are quick, easy, and flavorful - and I can make it any way I like. Bring on the experimentation! Soon I hope to try a pasta/spinach/ricotta dish, maybe with some Italian sausage mixed in for protein and spice. I also want to try my hand at spanakopita (Greek phyllo pies with spinach and feta). I love what I learned and I'm excited to be able to use it! Yes, I'll still use some cookbooks and actual recipes for things, but I'm no longer afraid to jump out on my own and try something new.

4. Photography - F
I have done soooo little with this. I think it's mainly because I'm overwhelmed with photos on my computer that need to be edited, renamed, and filed into iPhoto. I won't say how many months worth, but I will admit that this is the worst I've let it pile up. I thought summer would be a great time to get it under control again, but it seems we're busier now than we were during the school year. Actually, it's just that when I think about it, I'm busy with something else. When I'm not busy and have some time to work on it, I don't think about it. I need to make a list.

5. Reading - C
Earlier this year, my reading started slow. I think a lot of that had to do with reading classics. While they aren't bad, and it's something I wanted to do, they are definitely a slower read for me. And the fact that I spent a lot of time watching six seasons of Grey's Anatomy on Netflix instead of reading makes for slower-growing book lists. I gave up on reading one classic a month in April, I believe. I had started rereading Lord of the Flies, a favorite from high school, but it just wasn't a great as I remembered. Then I got Decision Points from the library and needed to hurry with it because it was a popular book. I had been 11th in line for it when I placed a hold on it. It was a good book, but it took me a while to get through it. When I had the chance to get back to LOTF, I just wasn't interested anymore. Plus I have too many other library books on my shelf that aren't classics that I need to get read - that I want to read more than classics right now. I'll go back to my old habit of picking up a classic every once in a while... This month, I did read four books, though. I think my total for the year is currently 14...? I've got a long way to go to reach my goal of 36, which I still want to achieve. I can do it!

6. Blogging - D
January was good. February and following months, not so much. I still put some blame on Facebook. I've often come up with statuses for FB that would be better suited for a blog post, but I just shorten them and go on with life. I watched - and enjoyed - Biggest Loser and American Idol this year, but I never felt the need to blog about it. I did write about some articles from my current magazine subscriptions, but not many. And I've let my magazine perusing slide, too. I'm a few months back. I've decided to let Real Simple lapse when renewal comes up. I like it, but it's not one I use much. Cooking Light, on the other hand, has some really useful tips throughout, as well as some great-sounding recipes. Of course, I need to try those recipes instead of just looking at them... My 6-month gift subscription from Lindsay runs out with the August issue, but I decided it's one I want to keep around for at least another year. Last week I renewed it. Maybe I'll pick up blogging about some of that again. As for blogging about life, there's a lot I could do right now. But I feel the need to hold back sometimes. Maybe I'll blog and save the entries as drafts for posting a little later when there's some distance between me and the situations... (I tend to not share a lot of things with a lot of people... That's a big admittance right there.)

So, what does this mid-year review show me? Of the things I thought important at the beginning of the year, only some have held true. I need to decide which of these goals are most important and focus on them. The others can hold off a little longer. Priorities change for various reasons, and right now Bible study and health need to take a higher place in my life. And reading has just always been a pleasure I can't let go of. Writing is an important outlet for me that I've let slide. I need it, and I need to get back to it. I'll work in photography when I can, but I won't worry if I don't do all the things with it that I'd like to.

Monday, June 13, 2011

June 2011 Book List

11. Brainiac by Ken Jennings

If you're a fan of Jeopardy! - and maybe even if you aren't - you know who Ken Jennings is. He won 74 straight games in 2004, becoming the biggest winner in the history of the show.

Brainiac isn't just a memoir of Jennings' historical rise to fame. He includes much of the history of trivia (at times getting a little too trivial and long-winded about it), looks at the social world of trivia, and peppers the chapters with questions. (You'll find the answers neatly stated at the end of each chapter.)

While I liked learning some of the history of trivia and finding out about the various degrees of trivia competitions across the U.S., I was more interested in Jennings' preparation for the show and his experience on it. I never imagined the security details in place to prevent another quiz show scandal like the ones in the '50's. It was also interesting to read his take on the way he was treated backstage by his competitors.

Jennings' quirky sense of humor is present throughout the book, and I often found myself chuckling or downright laughing at his jokes and snide comments. He's a guy I'd like to have a conversation with!

This is a must-read for trivia-minded people.

12. With Love and Laughter, John Ritter by Amy Yasbeck

I don't remember which night Eight Simple Rules... came on, but we always watched it. I do remember feeling shocked when I heard that John Ritter had died. And I remember feeling sad when Eight Simple Rules... wrote in his death, then ended. He had always seemed like a fun, happy guy.

Reading about Ritter's life, through the eyes of his widow Amy Yasbeck, confirmed my ideas about him. He grew up loving making people laugh - and he had quite the knack for physical comedy, as was evidenced (though a bit much...) on Three's Company. Two things made a big impression on me. First, because of his love for his family and his desire for them to know that love, he put them first. Sure, there were instances when he did take a little time out from family outings to sign an autograph or pose for a quick photo, but his kids always knew he put them first. Second, regardless of his huge success, he stayed humble. He loved his fans and was always wanting to make people laugh. His ego never took over.

Though I didn't recognize Yasbeck's name, once I read her story, interwoven with Ritter's, I realized I had seen her act in many things. Mel Brooks' Robin Hood: Men in Tights is probably where I knew her best, though she did star opposite Ritter in Problem Child and Problem Child 2, and had a part in Pretty Woman, as well as other movies and TV shows. (She is also well-known for her role on Wings, but I never watched that show. Now that's it's on Netflix, maybe I should give it a try...) Yasbeck's strong Catholic upbringing is evident throughout the book, but I never saw a mention of any religious leanings of Ritter's.

Yasbeck goes into some detail about aortic dissection, which was the cause of Ritter's untimely death in 2003. The media inaccurately portrayed his condition as undetectable. Unfortunately I don't remember hearing much about it after that. Just as others have taken up causes to educate the public about diseases and health conditions that have claimed the lives of loved ones, Yasbeck has made Familial Aortic Aneurysm and Dissection her cause. It has helped save lives, including that of Ritter's younger brother.

This was a quick read - funny and sad, informative on so many levels. And even after 8 years, I find myself still missing him.

13. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

I'm somewhat of a Julia Roberts fan, so when I saw she had made this movie, I wanted to read the book first.

While Gilbert and I are not like-minded politically or religiously, I did enjoy her writing style. I liked reading about her time in Italy (somewhere I've always wanted to go, especially since I'm Italian...), India, and Indonesia. My favorite parts were about the people she met.

As for her search for balance and "finding God", I found much of it tedious. I think my least favorite section was on India, where she spent her entire four months in an ashram studying under an absentee guru. At times I was tempted to put the book down and forget it, but I wanted to get on to Indonesia and see what she experienced there, which was more interesting.

Overall it was an okay book. Not one I'd want on my own shelf, and not one that I'd really recommend to anyone - especially someone who isn't a Christian. (I'd hate for them to think I, in any way, condone her search for spirituality.) Then again, I'd find it hard to recommend to a Christian, too, just because so much of what she believes is contradictory.

And now that I've finished the book the movie is no longer streaming on Netflix. (I rarely see movies when they're showing at the theater.) I remember thinking as I was reading that it would be difficult to make this into a great movie. Apparently critics agreed. My youngest sister and my mother-in-law both said they weren't impressed with it. Lindsay only enjoyed seeing all the Italian food; Ginny didn't watch much of the movie at all because she got bored with it. I'm not going to waste my time ordering it from Netflix to watch at home. If they put it on streaming again, I might give it a try, but most likely I won't.

14. Gather Together in my Name by Maya Angelou

Earlier this year, I finally read the highly acclaimed I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, part one of Maya Angelou's autobiography. It left me wanting to know more.

Gather Together in my Name is the second part, covering 3 years - the late teens - of Angelou's life. So much happened during her childhood, and so much more during her late teen years, that it's hard to imagine the full, revered life she would come to have.

This book picks up where Caged Bird left off, with Angelou (then known as "Rita" Johnson) trying to make ends meet for herself and her infant son. She sees herself as big and ugly, and she has such a desire to be loved and taken care of that she falls into bad situations with tough characters. Somehow she always lands on her feet, bruised and scarred, but with a greater determination to make things work out rather than laying down and dying to her dreams.

As Gather Together ends, Angelou is once again at the bottom of the ladder, having made a (hopefully) wise decision to return with her young son to her mother's house, even though it's full of denial and sadness. Now I have an urge to read the third part. I know the end of the story - the fame and success and honor she's attained. The amazing part is her journey there.

I would definitely recommend I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Gather Together in my Name, but be warned that a lot of the content is seedy and, at times, graphic.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

May 2011 Book List

9. Decision Points by George W. Bush

I'd been wanting to read this book ever since I heard it was coming out, so as soon as I knew my library had it, I put it on hold. It took a while before it was finally my turn, but it was definitely worth waiting for.

Decision Points is not a full-scale autobiography, but rather a presidential memoir of the key decision points that shaped George W. Bush's presidency - and the key decisions in his life that led up to it. He shares experiences with his father, former President George H. W. Bush, and with his mother, Barbara - which made me want to read her autobiography as well. (I've started it twice, but it's so long, I ended up putting it down both times. Maybe the third time, whenever that will be..., will be the charm.) He also goes into detail about the importance of family through his relationships with wife Laura, daughters Jenna and Barbara, and others in his extended family. He's quick-witted and humorous, and that comes through in his writing.

It was very timely that I happened to be reading about his war policy toward Afghanistan when news came that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. Reading the background information helped put things into perspective - many years after the fact. Events and reasoning get cloudy and forgotten, but this book cleared things up. I felt immensely proud that George W. Bush had been my president.

At times, I felt a little bogged down by so much information in areas that didn't seem so important to me. Then again, I'm not politically-minded at all, so it's to be expected. It's not a fast read; it took me about 5 weeks to finish it. Overall the book was well-written and informative.

10. Miss Julia Rocks the Cradle by Ann B. Ross

It was time again for another guilty pleasure. I needed a quick, light read, and Miss Julia books always fit that bill.

This time, Miss Julie is taking care of Hazel Marie, waiting for her to give birth to her twins. In the meantime, she's promised Sam that she won't get involved in anyone else's business - which always gets her into some crazy predicament. Unfortunately a dead body is found in a neighbor's toolshed - with a blank check of Miss Julia's in his pocket. Now it's her business too, and with Sam and Mr. Pickens out of town, she decides it's time to take matters into her own hands. And to complicate matters, Hazel Marie goes into labor during a blizzard and it's up to Miss Julia, Lillian, and Etta Mae to deliver the babies. The usual Miss Julia hilarity follows, complete with hair-brained schemes, misunderstandings, and happy endings.

When I read these books, I like to picture the characters as if they're being played in a movie. Here's my cast: Miss Julia - Shirley McClaine; Sam Murdoch - Hal Holbrook; Lillian - Cicely Tyson; Hazel Marie - Rene Zellwegger. I'm not fixed on the others yet, but if you have any ideas, I'd love to hear them!