Saturday, January 18, 2020

All the books I read in 2019

I read 50 books last year, which is pretty much average for me.  I think I say this every year, but I have no interest in participating in book challenges or the like.  I'm very satisfied with what I'm reading and currently have several hundred books on my wish list.  No need to fix what isn't broken.

When I record what I've read, I also keep track of which category the book falls into.  I think it's interesting to look back and see what types of books I read during the year.  Last year, I was very much into the trendy thrillers.

Here's what I read this year:

Fiction/Literature

1.  Southernmost

2.  The Dinner List

3.  The Forgetting Time

4.  The Golden State

5.  10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World

6.  Florida

7.  The Dinner

8.  Where the Crawdads Sing

9.  The Outsiders

10.  The Topeka School

11.  The Most Fun We Ever Had

12.  Daisy Jones and the Six

13.  Disappearing Earth

14.  Normal People

15.  Fourth of July Creek

16.  The Nickel Boys

17.  Marilou is Everywhere

18.  Fleishman Is in Trouble


Apocalyptic/Dystopian/Sci-fi/Fantasy

19.  Severance

20.  Of Blood and Bone

21.  The Book of M

22.  The Passage

23.  The Twelve

24.  City of Mirrors

25.  After the Flood

26.  The Testaments

27.  Here and Now and Then

28.  Year One

29.  The Emissary

30.  The Institute

31.  Elevation 


Nonfiction

32.  Behind the Beautiful Forevers

33.  Billion Dollar Whale

34.  Death in Yellowstone

35.  The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace

36.  Detroit:  An American Autopsy

37.  Killers of the Flower Moon

38.  American Prison

39.  Bad Blood

40.  Away Off Shore, Nantucket Island and It's People 1602-1890


Suspense/Thriller

41.  Something in the Water

42.  The Other Woman

43.  An Anonymous Girl

44.  The Au Pair

45.  The Last Summer of the Camperdowns

46.  The Flight Attendant


Memoir/Autobiography

47.  Heartland

48.  Small Fry

49.  No One Tells You This

50.  American Desperado


I want to point out some of my favorites for the year:

The Nickel Boys is definitely one of my top picks.  An amazing book.

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace is an incredible book.  It's very well written and so thought-provoking.  And it stayed with me, obviously, as I'm able to select it from a list of 50 books.

I really enjoyed The Passage trilogy by Justin Cronin.  The books are long and I probably would have been able to read six books in the time it took me to finish those three, but reading isn't a contest.  I actually like longer, detailed books I can really get into.

My consumption of trendy thrillers significantly decreased in 2019 as compared to 2018, but if I had to pick one out of the six I read (although that number is probably closer to five as The Last Summer of the Camperdowns was borderline) I'd say the best one was An Anonymous Girl.

Happy reading!

Saturday, January 11, 2020

A Visit to the Cape Codder

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For those of you who are local (or, if not local, interested in Cape Cod), I want to quickly talk about our recent visit to the Cape Codder.  (And share some photos.)  Around here, folks still head to Cape Cod during winter months - the big draw of the Cape Codder is their indoor water park.  We headed down there a couple of days after Christmas with family friends for a winter swim break.

I wrote a long, detailed post last year about our 2018 stay at the Cape Codder and I don't plan to rehash all of that here again today, so if you want more information, head over to that post.  Today, I'll just give you the updates.

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I do want to reiterate that the Cape Codder is a wonderful alternative to Great Wolf Lodge, especially if you have kids in elementary school (6 to 10 years old.)  It's less expensive and usually less crowded than GWL.  And when I say less expensive, for popular dates (weekends, vacation weeks) I'm talking by hundreds of dollars.

I was discussing the Cape Codder with friends at dance, and we all agreed that it would be a fun place for visitors to Cape Cod during summer months, especially if you are not able to rent a house, condo, etc.  The great majority of rentals are on a weekly basis and turn over on Saturdays.  Sometimes that doesn't work for certain vacation schedules.  Even though it's not located on the water, Hyannis Harbor is a short car ride away and there are plenty of beaches nearby.  And, if there happens to be rainy, chilly days, you have the benefit of a heated indoor water park for the kids.

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Room Renovations

As noted last year, if you read reviews of this hotel online, outdated rooms are a major source of complaint.  If that is a concern for you,  the Cape Codder has been updating their rooms.  Here's what a renovated rooms looks like now.

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I do not have a photo of the bathroom, which was also updated, but we adults did notice that while the tile and other items had been replaced, the old wallpaper still remained.


Water Park on Departure Day

I had researched staying here years ago and, when comparing to Great Wolf Lodge, was turned off by the fact that the Cape Codder's website stated how guests were only permitted to use the water park until 11:00 a.m. on the day they check out.  Last year, the website was changed to say that guests could use the water park until 2:00 in the afternoon on their departure day.  The website has been changed back to state 11:00 a.m. but when we were there, guests were told they could use the water park until 2:00 on their departure day, not 11:00 am.  I believe management is making that decision daily based on occupancy and the sale of day passes.  During our visit, rooms and day passes were still available.

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Snack Bar

You are not allowed to bring outside food or drinks into the water park but (of course) there is a snack bar.  Last year, we were not impressed with the menu, but they've made changes since then and we ate lunch poolside.  The current menu is quite extensive and consists of salads, sandwiches (the chicken caesar wrap was a hit), pizza, nachos and the typical "kid" items such as chicken fingers, mac and cheese, etc.  We all enjoyed our food - no complaints.

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Palio Pizza

We ate dinner at Palio Pizza, located along the main strip in Hyannis with all the shops.  This wasn't our first time eating here and it does have good online ratings.  For me personally, the cheese:sauce ratio on the pizza is slightly off with too much cheese and not enough sauce, but it's still good pizza.  Next time, we'll ask them to add more sauce.  (Forgot this time around.)  The garlic breadsticks are perfection though.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

{Sewing} Gifted Tote Bags

I know not all of you sew, but for those who are interested, I wanted to share photos and some pattern/sewing information for the tote bags I made for teacher holiday gifts this year.  At first, I had planned to make the bags related to the teacher's subject, such as some kind of science fabric for the science teacher, but the girls and I discussed this and we decided to go with the teachers' likes and individual personalities instead.

(Before I continue, I want to say that we received such heartfelt thank yous for the gifts.  It was so much more than I expected and I even teared up reading an email from one of their teachers.  And then one morning as I was dropping the girls off at school, their one guy teacher came over to the van to thank me for his gift (not a bag) and ask me questions about the bags.  There was just a lot of holiday love flowing that week and it was such a nice offset to the buy-buy-buy and overconsumption that sometimes goes along with the season.)

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Their French teacher loves France and everything French so we did go with a Parisian themed bag for her, but that was the only teaching subject related bag.  This was a quilt-as-you-go style with the fabric strips sewn directly onto the fleece interfacing.

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When I was laying out the fabric, deciding the order of the strips, I realized how white/light colored it all was and I feared it would get dirty quite easily so I added the blocking at the bottom, which was easy to do because I already had that black fabric on hand.  It's somewhat stiff, almost like canvas.  The idea to add the fabric detail to the straps came after seeing someone add ribbon/fabric to the middle of straps made from webbing.  These straps are the same black fabric from the blocking.

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For the llama lover . . .

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Llamas are popular right now and there's a fair amount of llama fabric to choose from, but most of it has a desert theme and I didn't want a desert theme.  I found this and thought it was perfect.  Overall, I was really happy with how the coordinating fabrics looked when the project was finished.

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This one was quilted using the masking tape method - see my notes below.

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For the cat lover . . .

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Those are tiny cat faces (you can see them better in the photo below) and this one was also quilted by me.

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For the beach lover . . .

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Tropical beach or New England beach?  I was thinking of anchors and whales with reds and blues for a New England beach theme but tropical beach it was.  And, yes, this does look very similar to my dance bag.  This was also a quilt-as-you-go where the fabric is sewn directly onto the fleece interfacing.

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This last one was the most difficult with respect to fabric selection.  This is for someone who likes glitter/sparkles, cheetah/leopard print and pinks.  A sassy bag!  I didn't use any coordinating fabric or quilting, etc. because I felt like that fabric was enough on its own.

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Pattern information and other stuff I've learned along the way:

* The bags themselves are fairly basic/standard but I did add more detail with quilting, etc.  I used my own pattern (you can see a tutorial I wrote here.)

* For sizing, I cut the main interfacing pieces at 16 inches tall by 17.5 inches wide.  I used the smoosh down method (described in the tutorial) for the boxing at the bottom corners.  That measurement is 5 inches across.  I cut the straps at 28 inches in the length.  Finished straps are 1.5 inches wide.

* For the quilting on the llama and cat bags, I used masking tape as a guide to keep the lines straight and evenly spaced apart.  This a trick I discovered online when I first started quilting.  (After attaching the fabric to the interfacing, I place it on my cutting mat, which has different angle lines drawn on it.  Line up a piece of masking tape along the angle line (for these, I used 45 degrees), and place it on the fabric.  When you stitch the quilting, your machine foot should run next to the edge of the masking tape.  When you finish stitching a row, remove the tape and place it along the line you just stitched.)  Also, you can use the same piece of masking tape over and over until it doesn't stick at all.  It really just needs to stick a little.  I do have to add that when I need a fresh piece of tape, I de-stick it a little before using so it doesn't leave any residue on the fabric.

* On the first bag, I decided to use SF101 interfacing on the lining to give it more structure, which I haven't done in the past.  After the birthing process (turning it all right side out) and topstitching (my machine doesn't have a lot of underside space), the lining looked so wrinkled.  Gah!  I ended up sticking an iron in the bag to smooth it out, but that had never happened to me before.  Later, I was reading a sewing related blog post while I was researching flex foam and the author mentioned the very same issue with SF101.  Apparently, I'm not the only one who has had fabric with that iron-on interfacing wrinkle up, especially while turning right side out.

* It sometimes feels like I spend just as much time cutting fabric as I do actually sewing the project together, which can be frustrating, but when I go to drop that lining in and it's a perfect fit, I remember that time spent cutting is definitely worth it.

Happy sewing!

Monday, December 2, 2019

Fall photos and such

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When there were still leaves on the trees.

Term 1 has almost finished up at school, which means we are about one third of the way through the school year.  I'm happy we had a short week with school and dance last week.  I needed a bit of a break from that daily routine, which starts to get under my skin after awhile.  (Weird personality trait.)

Back in September, we attended a small family reunion.  The girls were willing to pose for some photos for me.

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I laughed at how the little one with Emily gave me such a hard time with photos when she was younger, and now she jumps right in.

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You know I love a good sunset photo.

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I couldn't decide which one I liked the most, so you get all three.

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The girls participated in their school's running club this fall.  There are no organized sports at the middle school level, only clubs and almost all of them are non-athletic, which is fine.  They are each taking three dance classes in addition to their competition team.  That keeps us all pretty busy.

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The girls with their BFF, before long overdue haircuts.

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And post haircut for this one.

I don't really have a reason, perhaps life changes, but I haven't been taking as many photos.  When I was younger (much younger), I so badly wanted to be able to paint and draw just like my mom and uncle.  It comes so easy to them, but sadly that trait wasn't passed along to any of their children (or grandchildren, thus far.)  My love of photography came later - more towards the end of high school - and when I realized I was actually good at it, it became my creative outlet.  While I'll never be able to paint a beautiful sunset, at least I can photograph one.

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This is the winter scene that has taken over New England.

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Sunday, December 1, 2019

November Book Review

My fingers are trying to type that I read five very different books this month, but I really didn't.  Well, I did read five books but they were all fiction and three have a future world spin to them, so really not all that different.  There was only one in the suspense category and it was meh.  Not very suspenseful, in my opinion.




I came across After the Flood on my library's main page as the "big read" for October.  I thought it sounded interesting so I checked it out (and ended up having to set my kindle to airplane mode in order to finish it.)  Ocean waters rise at an alarming rate, flooding the world as we know it.  The only land left belongs to the tops of mountains.  Seven years earlier, Myra's husband abandoned her and fled with their daughter.  Myra, who was pregnant at the time, has since given birth and lives on her own with her young daughter on a small boat, surviving by trading fish she has caught.  After learning that her oldest daughter is still alive and being held captive, she will risk everything to find her.

Sometimes the library big read selections are a bit odd but I really enjoyed this one.  As you know, I like books with an apocalyptic theme and I'd say this one fell into that category.  After the Flood was fast paced and with so much going on, it never dragged for me.  There was a lot of depth when it came to details regarding emotions.  I would have loved more detail for physical descriptions of places but I can see why the author wrote it the way she did.  To add more detail would have made this book much longer.  I didn't dislike the ending but I was hoping for more.  With the way it is now, there could actually be a sequel.  

If you're looking for something different to read, give this one a look.

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I have nothing but high praise for Margaret Atwood's sequel to The Handmaid's Tale.  If you've read The Handmaid's Tale and want to know more, this will satisfy your curiosity.  The Testaments is told from the perspective of three females - the highest ranking Aunt and two girls, one who grew up in Gilead and one from Canada.

If you want to read this, do yourself a favor and don't read anything about the book.  Nothing.  There are spoilers all over the place.  I happened across a monthly book review by another blogger shortly after I had started reading The Testaments and I was a bit disappointed when she gave away some plot lines I had suspected, but aren't revealed into later in the book.  So I'm not going to say much more so as to not give anything away, but I thought this was an excellent book.  I'm really a big Atwood fan.

I do find it interesting how there are a ton of negative reviews out there and while I am typically a tough judge of books, I really don't see why people are furiously throwing out one and two star reviews.  We're all entitled to our opinion but people seem to be so angry over this book.

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You guys know how much I enjoy reading suspense, even when the plot is a bit of a stretch, but The Au Pair was not that good.  After giving birth to twins Seraphine and Danny, Ruth Mayes jumps from a cliff behind her family's estate.  The au pair leaves that very night and returns to London while dark rumors circulate through the nearby village.  Twenty-five years later, after their father dies in a tragic accident, Seraphine begins to question who she really is.  As she digs up the past, lives are threatened.  Are her parents really her parents and who doesn't want her to know the truth?

After reading the first chapter, I couldn't figure out how this could be a full length book.  I thought there was a lot of filler and while it didn't necessarily drag on, I wasn't a fan of how this was written.  Some of the character interactions just seemed awkward.  Also, there's the fact that I figured out almost all of the plot twists very early on in the book.  There were just too many coincidences for me.  If you're a fan of suspense, I unfortunately would not recommend this one.  

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Gah!  I have such mixed feelings for Fleishman Is in Trouble.  I think the author is a brilliant writer but I didn't love everything about this book.  Toby Fleishman, an early-40s doctor, awakens to discover that his newly separated wife has dropped off their children early to his apartment.  She communicates that she is traveling to a yoga retreat for the weekend and needed to leave the children with him earlier than the agreed upon Friday night transfer of parental duties.  She refuses to answer her phone or respond to any text messages over the weekend and then fails to pick up the children Sunday night.  Why did his soon-to-be ex-wife abandon her children and what really happened to their marriage?

At first, I thought there was going to be some type of mystery aspect here.  There really is not.  Well, there is in the sense of what happened with these characters, but this is not a page-turner.  And that's fine, it doesn't need to be a page-turner.  The author hits on so many relevant topics: social status, motherhood, money, marriage, independence, working moms.  I really think she did an outstanding job with that.  I could relate to a lot of what was written here and I appreciated the depth of emotion, but there was a very slight drag.  Mostly with the fact that days went on forever because they were filled with back stories.

I did not like the rated R writing.  In a way, I wonder if it was included as a shock factor.  For me, it took away from the writing.  I also did not "laugh out loud."  Trust me, I appreciated the comedic aspect, such as all the moms wearing tanks and tees with statements like "but first, coffee" but I wasn't laughing.  I do admit to having an odd sense of humor though.

In my opinion, this had the potential for a five star review, but it just missed the mark.  And I hate to say that because I really did love what she was writing about.    

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Kin is an IT specialist who lives in San Francisco with his wife and daughter.  In his previous life, he was a time traveler from the year 2142 who became stuck in current time 1996 after he was seriously injured during a mission.  What happens when a rescue team arrives after 18 years have passed to return him to 2142?  What about his wife and daughter?  What about the forgotten family and life he left behind in the future?  And what happens when he learns his daughter's life is in danger?  What will he risk in order to save her?

I really, really enjoyed reading Here and Now and Then.  It was fast-paced and moved along without ever dragging.  Even though I did crave some more details, that would have made for a very different, much longer book so I can't fault the author for his decision to write this as such.  I thought the plot was excellent and gave the reader much to ponder.  You don't need to be a sci-fi fan (I'm mostly not) to like this book.  Really, I'd recommend it to anyone.    


To read my other book reviews, click here for all the links!


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