Monday, July 11, 2022

What I Read in Q2 2022

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Looking for a book to read?  Wondering if that frequently talked about book really lives up to the hype?   Well, you've come to the right place.  Today, I'm sharing all the books I read in April, May and June - that's 9 books in total.  There's a good variety as well - a classic, a memoir, nonfiction and, of course, plenty of fiction (including a thriller which, unfortunately, was not very good.)

I've always read what I wanted to read and tend to steer clear of book challenges and the like.  That's me.  But over the past couple of years, I've been trying to read more "classics."  Whenever I come across those book polls asking "How many of these 100 (or 200 or 300) books have you read?", I always go through it and think, "Oh, I should read that one," or "That's on my to-be-read list."  So, anyway, I've been trying to incorporate more classics into my book reading.  And that leads us into April.

I read only ONE book in April.  It was a super long book and April was a super busy month for me.  We went to Florida for vacation during the girls' spring break and because we drove, I detailed the van and packed everything up myself, which took a fair amount of time.  Also, I don't know why I always think I'm going to be able to get a lot of reading done when I'm on vacation with my family because I'm on vacation with my family.  You know, we like to hang out, talk and do stuff together.  This was a Disney vacation no less, so there really was not much downtime, or time for reading.  After our vacation week, I had a big photography gig, which I was behind with in planning, and I volunteered to help coordinate a fundraiser.  So, yeah, there was a lot going on.     

What was the one book I read in April?

Everyone's heard of Gone With the Wind. You may have also seen some negative talk surrounding it as well.  So let's talk about the positives of Gone with the Wind.  Even though it's very long, it held my attention.  The author was a talented storyteller, for sure.  I enjoyed the Civil War historical fiction side to it and how women, through the main character, were portrayed as being able to do more than just swoon and have babies.  

Unfortunately, I found the book to be racist.  Some parts were shockingly racist.  Now I know why the book is often listed as controversial. 


If you're looking for a good book to dig into, I highly recommend We Were the Mulvaneys.  It's on the long side so not a book you'll fly through in a couple of days, but definitely worth your time.  It's the story of a family in Upstate New York in the '70s who kind of had it all until one incident unravels everything and leaves the family broken apart.  The character development was outstanding, and it's really just so well written.  Check it out!


I knew in general of Patty Hearst but not the intimate details so American Heiress was an interesting book to read.  It's nonfiction and the author obviously spent a lot of time in gathering information and researching the specifics.  He does go into a lot of detail and I found the background information he provided with respect to the state of affairs at the time to be helpful. He also takes the position that Patty really did want stay with her kidnappers and wasn't actually brainwashed.  She had plenty of opportunities to escape and the author points all of this out, along with her transformation back to good citizen only after she was arrested. 


When I looked at the description of The Night Shift, I was skeptical but I still opted to read it because I had seen more than one person recommend it.  I, however, do not recommend.  It's a trendy thriller, which you know I love, and it's fast paced and jumps around between characters in order to hold the reader's attention.  This all sounds great, but, unfortunately, I figured out the big surprise ending quite near the beginning of the book.  There were a couple of other twists, which I didn't really see coming, but I felt like the ending was too obvious and that kind of ruined the whole book.  Also, the plot was kind of meh.  In 1999, four teens working the late night shift at a movie rental store are brutally attacked.  Only one survives.  Fifteen years later, an extremely similar crime takes place and characters from the first attack are forced to relive their experiences while attempting to assist in solving both crimes.  



Okay, so let's move on to a book I thoroughly enjoyed reading.  Black Cake is a generational story of a family from a Caribbean island.  Adult siblings, Byron and Benny, uncover surprising family secrets after their parents pass away.  The story flips back and forth between the present and the past, which adds historical fiction into the mix.  For a first novel, the author really knocked it out of the park.  


Verity was my first Colleen Hoover read because she typically writes romance, aka chick lit, and that is a genre I tend to stay away from.  I decided to read this one, however, because everyone is talking about it, and really, curiosity got the best of me.  A struggling author, Lowen. is invited to ghost write the remaining novels in a series by an extremely successful author, Verity, who has been injured in an accident.  While sorting through notes in Verity's home office, Lowen uncovers an unpublished memoir, with shocking confessions, written by Verity.  What should Lowen do with this discovery and what really happened to Verity and her family?

I have to say that this was definitely a page turner, one I struggled to put down.  I think I finished it in 2-3 days.  It's rated R and I'm not sure if all of her books are like that but some of it seemed overkill.  I get why it's there for the plot but, at some point, for me, it became annoying.  Enough already! Can we move on?  I also have questions.  Many, many questions.  Because if you really think about it, you'll find the holes.  Like, wouldn't you know?  Wouldn't someone know!  It ended with me sitting in the mixed feelings camp.



Prior to reading this, I didn't really know much about Jamie Lynn Spears besides the fact that she's Britney's younger sister.  I read this memoir on a whim - it popped up and I thought it could be different/interesting.  It was okay.  At times, I thought she was quick to blame others for things that went wrong and she most definitely threw her parents under bus.  I probably wouldn't recommend it unless you're a fan of hers or a Britney fan, as she does talk about her a sister a bit.  


If you enjoyed reading Station Eleven, check out Sea of Tranquility, the latest by Emily St. John Mandel.  If you haven't read either, what are you waiting for!? Sea of Tranquility is more of a novella and hard to put down, so expect to have it read in no time.  Warning: it does involve time travel.  I know some people just can't wrap their brain around that concept.  At the end of the book, my mind was kind of spinning because there was a lot to think about.



I don't even know where to begin with this one.  For starters, it's extremely well written and most deserving of the Pulitzer Prize it was awarded.  It's a longer book, and one I found myself having trouble putting down.  It spans three generations and flips back and forth between past and present to uncover  family secrets and the genetic history that transform Callie into Cal as a teenager.  As the reader, you have to buy into consenting incestuous relationships, which I had trouble believing/understanding.  I recommend it if you're okay with longer books that aren't full of suspense. 


Hope you found a book (or two or three) to read!

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Disney: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Spring 2022 Edition)

How this trip came about . . .

In late January/early February 2020, I booked and planned a Disney vacation for our family for the end of June, when school was to let out for the year.  Here in New England, schools usually run into the third week of June and I spent quite a bit of time following long term forecasts as snow days can easily add up and push that last day of school out even further.  And then . . . well, we all know what happened in March of 2020.  In May, there were rumors that Disney was planning to reopen and could potentially be open during our vacation dates, but we were not ready to travel.  I had heard people were receiving credits (instead of cash) for canceling flights and some had experienced lengthy phone wait times and delays with refunds when canceling with Disney.  So we gambled a bit and hoped that both Jet Blue and Disney would cancel on us.  They did and our funds came back to us without issue.

I told the girls we would simply rebook for the summer of 2021 and make it BIGGER and BETTER.  And then . . . we found out Anna had to have surgery to untether her spinal cord.  It was a bit of a process involving different doctors at different hospitals to reach that conclusion.  It started with routine testing in December of 2020 to learning of the surgery in May of 2021.  This surgery was not an emergency and so we planned with her neurosurgeon for an early July surgery.  The recovery process was extremely long and painful, and Anna spent the majority of the summer recovering and healing.  A Disney (or any other) vacation just didn't work for us for the summer of 2021.

In the past, we weren't able to travel during February or April school vacation weeks because Rich had to attend a mandatory board (or bored, as I liked to call it) meeting on the third Tuesday of every month, which always fell on those vacation weeks.  There's also the fact that airfare is ridiculously expensive at those times because of the scheduled vacation weeks.  Back in the fall, the girls' dance studio sent out save the dates for spring competitions and, after checking the calendar, I realized that we had April vacation week open.  Rich started a new job in early 2020 so those meetings no longer affect us, and weather-wise, it's much more ideal to travel to Florida in April than over the summer.  So our long postponed Disney vacation finally came to fruition.

Disney Resorts

One of the first planning tasks I took on, after deciding that airfare at $5,000 was absurd and we would mostly likely be driving, was checking out resort availability and pricing.  For all of our previous Disney vacations, we've stayed at a Disney resort.  Disney wants you to stay on property because once you're in the Disney bubble, you'll likely spend less time venturing off of Disney property, which will equate to more money spent at Disney restaurants and shops.  Disney offers advantages to staying on property versus offsite and while I don't want to go into the detail of that here in this post, I will say that the list of advantages has shrunk over the past couple of years.

We had built up free nights and points with Hyatt that we needed to use, so my initial thought was to stay at a nearby Hyatt for a few nights and then move over to one of the Magic Kingdom resorts.  In the past, we've stayed at the Grand Floridian, the Polynesian, and the Contemporary.  When we stayed at the Poly, it was undergoing refurbishments and it was refurbished again in 2021.  That was my pick of the three but when I punched in our dates on Disney's website, I was told that the least expensive room option available to us was $1,000.  Per night.

I.  Don't. Think.  So.

So began my frustrations with booking a Disney vacation with the "new" Disney.  

I opened up my search to any and all Disney resorts and my options were extremely limited and extremely expensive.  As a family of five, we are in a different situation than smaller families.  Disney does have room options for five people, but now that the girls are older, we do try to book two rooms so we're not spending an entire morning waiting for people to get ready.  I looked at rooms for five people, because we can suck it up and deal with it if we need to, and two separate rooms.  The least expensive option I could come up with was around $800 per night, and, I'm sorry, but we just aren't going to spend that kind of money to stay at a Disney World resort.   

This was back in November of 2021 (five months before our vacation) and at that time, Disney was not experiencing the boom it is now.  It made no sense to me why room availability was so scarce.  I did some research amongst Disney bloggers and discovered that, apparently and understandably, Disney isn't immune to the staffing shortages plaguing businesses across the U.S.  Resort options were limited because Disney hadn't fully reopened all of their resorts or even all of the rooms at their open resorts.  What left me scratching my head was the fact that it seemed like only the more expensive rooms had been made available - club level, theme park views, etc.  What about Art of Animation or standard rooms?  It felt like they had opened up only their more expensive options and raised the prices in an attempt to take as much as they could from guests who really wanted to stay on property.  So we said, "Sorry, not sorry," and booked two rooms at the nearby Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress.    

I'll have to write another post (look at me planning out blog posts!) about our stay at this hotel, but I will tell you that we had no regrets staying offsite and would absolutely do it again.

Disney Dining

Everyone, regardless of where you are staying, can make advanced dining reservations (aka ADRs) at the 60 day mark.  If you are staying on Disney property, you are able to book ADRs for the entirety of your trip.  Those staying offsite need to book each day separately at the 60 day mark for each day.  None of this really mattered because when I logged on right when dining became available, there was nothing.  Unless you consider Mama Melrose's at 9:30 pm to be a viable option.  I'd never experienced anything like this before.  Typically, I can find something and then I usually tweak my plans as other dining becomes available.

I searched for dining every day, multiple times a day, and always came up empty-handed.  And this wasn't me being picky with, "Oh, here's a 1:00 for Brown Derby, but I'd rather have a 12:30 for Prime Time."  This was nothing.  Or 9:30 pm availability for dinner.  Or restaurants with perpetual open spots (Paradiso 37 anyone?) which makes me not want to eat there because why isn't anyone else eating there?

In order to avoid no-shows, Disney requires a credit card when making an ADR and they will charge you $10 per person if you do not cancel your reservation.  Because of this policy, guests do cancel and I knew from prior trips that if you're looking for a specific ADR, you have a good chance of finding it days before or even during your trip.  

My big dining tip is to keep searching in the days leading up to your trip.  Don't give up hope!  I found a 5:05 dinner reservation for Chef Mickey's on Easter five days beforehand.  I also found The Hollywood Brown Derby and Crystal Palace ADRs while we were there.  Staffing issues are definitely at play, as well as more crowds in the parks.  I also feel the need to point out that Disney travel agents have access to the same reservation system everyone else uses.  Disney travel agents are working hard for their money right now, and it's definitely not the same gig it was in the past, but they should not be telling you that they can get you any dining you want.   

I don't really want to throw a dining review in here, but I kind of feel the need because the experience was off-putting and added to the lack of magic feeling.  Disney restaurants are expensive so, naturally, we expect great service to go along with the cost.  The first ADR for our trip was at Chef Mickey's.  The waitstaff was excellent, my diet coke was refilled before it sat empty, the food was tasty and we were asked if we wanted more of items (food was served family style) in a timely manner.  This was exactly how Disney dining should be.  

So now let's compare that to The Hollywood Brown Derby.  Disney isn't known for having extensive menu options in general, but the options at The Brown Derby, when we were there, were very limited.  Because of this, Rich kept going back and forth on what to order.  We were also dining at a very odd time, because that's all that was available, so our appetites were in an odd place too.  It took forever for our drink orders to be taken and then it took forever for our drinks to arrive.  Our waiter seemed agitated that we weren't ready to order when he came back.  We were looking at the menu on our phones and he kept bringing over different paper menus and throwing them down on the table.  We ended up ordering four meals to split between the five of us.  When the food finally arrived at the table, two of those meals were completely wrong.  For example, instead of the tomato risotto, we were handed a tomato and burrata salad.  When I pointed out that two of the items were not what we had ordered, he seemed pissed at us.  We hadn't even eaten yet and I was done with that place.  When our correct meals were brought out, our waiter finally apologized for the mix-up.  Look, I know people aren't perfect and I know there are staffing issues everywhere, but this guy clearly was not just having a bad day.  To top things off, our waiter disappeared for the rest of the meal and we were never asked if we wanted a refill on our drinks.  This is a huge pet peeve of mine.  

We've eaten at The Hollywood Brown Derby in the past and all of us thoroughly enjoyed our meal.  Now, I have no desire to eat there ever again.

Theme Park Reservations

With the "new" Disney, you now need a valid theme park admission and a theme park reservation in order to enter one of the Disney World theme parks.  The theme park reservation system was put in place last year, but was really just a formality for guests until February of 2022.  Leading up to Presidents' Day weekend, these reservations suddenly filled up and the boom has continued into the spring.  Although, it does appear to have slowed down a little bit. 

When I first heard that Disney had set up this reservation system, I naively thought they were limiting the number of guests in such a way that the parks would never be at high crowd levels.  Disney did have a system in place to monitor crowd levels and it was well known that if you planned to visit the parks between Christmas and the new year, you could very well expect for parks to fill and admission to be cut off.  I purchased our theme park tickets in February after I saw what was happening with President's Day week and made our reservations as soon as I had my confirmation number.  At that time, reservations for all parks were fully open and I had no problem.  As we rolled into March, all of the parks for our dates became completely full.

I don't want this to turn into a "how to book your Disney vacation" but I will say, for those who are new to Disney or haven't traveled there in years, that you need to check the theme park reservation system for availability prior to booking your vacation, and then book your reservations as soon as you have your confirmation number.  The theme park reservation system is on the Walt Disney World website - anyone can check it out.  Personally, I'm not a fan of this new system as it makes your vacation less flexible.

If you're visiting a park on a day when reservations are full, expect it to be freaking crowded.  Like wall to wall people, lines for the bathroom, 90-120 minute stand-by line for rides, get out of my way crowded.  We've been to Disney during moderate summer crowds and this was so much worse than anything we've ever experienced.  And that leads me to my next point - no one can predict crowd levels right now.  No one knows what it will be like in August or November.  The estimated crowd calendars of the past relied on wait times and other information from previous years.  Everything is so unpredictable now.  We traveled during the third week of April, which is when spring break crowds are supposed to be dying down.  And that's exactly what Disney bloggers were predicting back in the fall.  And they were all wrong.          

So let's talk about park hoppers for a minute.  Hoppers used to be a fairly inexpensive (in the grand scheme of Disney pricing) add-on, especially when spread across four or five days of park tickets.  Now, however, those prices have increased fairly significantly.  For example, if you want to add a park hopper onto a four day ticket, that's a $90 increase.  Remember above when I stated how I originally (and stupidly) thought that Disney was limiting guests to comfortable levels with this new theme park reservation system.  Ha!  At 2:00 in the afternoon, anyone with a park hopper can hop around to any park they would like.  No reservation needed.  

When Disney makes changes, it's usually for their benefit so I'm convinced that this new theme park reservation system is a way for them to anticipate expected crowd levels.  


Or perhaps it should be referred to as "Genie minus."  I don't have enough personal experience with Genie+ so I can't tell you whether it's a complete rip-off or something you should definitely do.  I can tell you people I know in the real world, who have used it, were not happy with their experiences and have told me they felt like it was a waste of money.  

Disney is already so expensive, so to take away the free FastPass system and add a paid service, which is complicated to use and doesn't guarantee anything, is infuriating.  It would cost a family of five an additional $75 per day to use Genie+.   

We weren't planning to pay for Genie+ but I joined a social media group where people give their experiences, tips, etc. because I wanted to see if maybe there was a way to master the system, so to speak.  I consider myself a fairly intelligent person, and I admit that I haven't spent a significant amount of time on it, but a paid service should not be so difficult to use.  Whenever I start to read game plans and what people did and what people think you should do, my eyes glaze over.  Why is this so complicated?    

What Disney IS doing right

Because Anna has spina bifida (and all that goes along with it), she was able to use the Disability Access Service (DAS) provided by Disney.  Disney has revamped their disability services over the years to try to keep people from scamming the system.  (This is why it's usually not easy to find detailed information about DAS online.)  In the past, we've been able to use our stroller as a wheelchair so that Anna would have somewhere to sit while we waited in line.  During our last trip in 2018, I made good use of FastPasses to avoid long wait times.  Neither of these scenarios are options for us at this time.  We were very happy and pleasantly surprised with the Disability Access Service (DAS.) The cast members were all extremely friendly and helpful, and the service was easy to use.  

DAS is not a skip the line service.  Instead of waiting in line, you wait somewhere else.  You can also only have one DAS "reservation" open at a time.  Once we figured out how to use it, we planned our time wisely and eliminated crossing back and forth across the parks.  Stand-by wait times were ridiculous and there was no way Anna would have been able to spend the day waiting for rides for 90+ minutes.  As it was, the walking alone was very tough for her.  Being able to use the DAS was a game changer for us. 

Parting Thoughts (many of them)

With the recent passing of my father and the girls' 15th birthday days prior to our departure for Florida, I was tremendously thankfully that we had followed through on this vacation.  The girls will be wrapping up their freshman year of high school next month and will be graduating in three short years.  Each year, they pick up more responsibilities and our availability for family vacations becomes more and more limited.  We had a lot of fun while we were in Florida and memories were most definitely made.  

Planning this vacation was frustrating in ways I hadn't experienced in planning prior Disney trips.  There was also this underlying sense that Disney was trying to get as much money as possible from us.  There's no better way to describe it other than it just felt yucky.  I didn't let this impact my feelings while we were at the parks, but every time I saw a dad wearing a Most Expensive Day Ever shirt, I jokingly pointed it out to Rich.  I also have to add that the cast members and characters in the parks were fun and friendly, and even though almost all of the lines were long, it was all very well organized.  

We did have an issue with our tickets and Rich and two of the girls visited Guest Relations at Disney Springs.  Rich is pretty easy-going and the most non-confrontational person I know.  For him to come back and say that the two cast members at Disney Guest Relations were rude and unpleasant was a shock to me and it really added to that yucky, Disney just wants my money feeling.

I know some may read this and think I'm being a Negative Nelly.  I'm not - I promise.  I really just wanted to give you my real thoughts and feelings, and not just some fluffy, look at how great my vacation was post.  Disney is a different place now.  I'm so very grateful we had the means to go on this vacation, but it had it's moments.  Having the best day ever when the parks are packed requires a certain state of mind.  You need to end the day remembering the happy, fun moments and forget about the frustrating parts.  And by "frustrating parts" I'm talking about the crowded walkways, long wait times and lines for the bathroom.  (Please also remember, I walk fast, talk fast and have very little patience.) I will say that Disney with three teens is a completely different ballgame.  In a good way.    

Should you go to Disney in the near future?  Is the magic still there?  Is it worth it?  Cost is subjective, so a $3,500+ trip for one family may be no big deal, but for others, it may be a once in a lifetime vacation.  If you've never been to Disney and you have young children and you believe you will have the chance to go later, personally, I would wait.  Like I said earlier, Disney is constantly changing right now and there's no way to predict crowd levels.  Imagine paying all that money, spending 8 hours in a hot park with little kids and only being able to do a small fraction of what the park has to offer.  The magic is still there, but it may be a little different if you've experienced Disney beforehand or if you're experiencing it for the first time during a heavy crowds.   

As I wrote this, I checked resort availability for the summer and there are definitely many more options now than there were when we booked our vacation.  Also, dining seems to be more available as well.  So maybe the tides are beginning to turn.  No one really knows what the crowd levels at the parks will be though and to me, that's an extremely important factor. 

Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly) enough, I do have more thoughts on this topic but this post (a straight up OG long form post at that) is about to turn into short book so I'll have other posts hopefully soon.  Life's a tad bit busy right now.  I want to give you my full thoughts on staying offsite and talk a bit about strategy in the parks, especially if you do not want to purchase Genie+.  Thanks for reading and see ya soon!

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

TGUH Monthly Recap - August 2020



At the beginning of 2020, I thought this summer would be one of travel.  I began booking and planning a Florida vacation for June, right after the end of the school year.  We were waiting for confirmation on a date for a family wedding in Virginia and we had hoped to combine that with a quick trip to DC.  Rich and I had also been invited to a wedding in St. Lucia and, before the world fell apart, we were trying to figure out a way to attend because it looked absolutely amazing.  (I'm pretty sure we wouldn't have been able to go because - children.)  I also wanted to get over to Kentucky with the girls to visit family.

None of the above happened but we realize how lucky we are to live so close to the ocean.  That has given us a much needed escape this summer.  The girls have asked if we can go to Disney next year, and I just don't know.  I don't know when I'm going to feel comfortable getting on a plane or visiting a theme park, and, honestly, Disney the way that it is now just doesn't seem like fun.



School Update

Last week, we finally received more detailed information regarding the start of school.  Teachers will return this week as planned, but students won't be back until the middle of September.  The first three and a half weeks will be all virtual learning and then we will switch to a hybrid model.  Students will be at school two days a week (either Monday and Thursday, or Tuesday and Friday.)  Everyone will be learning online on Wednesdays.

Unlike what we experienced in the spring, the online portion of school will be actual school.  (By the way, I am in no way trashing our school system.  No one ever expected schools to shut down and they had to follow orders from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.  The main concern was that there are kids out there who would not have the resources available at home in order to move forward with school, so teachers were supposed to keep the kids connected and engaged.  For most of the spring, school wasn't really school.) Now, attendance is mandatory and students will be receiving letter grades.


While there are normally three different teams for each grade at the middle school, that all had to be reconfigured.  There is a new team now for students who signed up to exclusively learn remote (they will not be returning to the building when we switch to hybrid), and an additional team due to reduction of class sizes.  Letters with team assignments are going to be mailed a week before school starts, so there are still some details open right now.  Supposedly, students will be in a smaller group and stay with those kids for all classes.  I think two of the girls may be together because they both take French and are placed in the same math level.  It would be nice if they could all be together but I know that definitely can't happen.

We're going into this with an open mind.  There's nothing we can do to change the way things are so we are accepting of the changes.  



New Minivan

When the girls were born, I was driving a Volvo sedan and Rich had a Volvo station wagon.  I was adamant that I was never going to drive a minivan and we looked into different options but at the end of the day, a minivan is what worked best for us.  I balked at the price of pre-owned minivans with 30,000+ miles, and a dealership near us had a new bare bones/zero upgrades model for not much more than the loaded used ones.  So that's what we got and I drove that sucker for 13 years.

We'd been talking about and planning to replace it for a couple of years now.  It had reached the point where it was going to need some work put into it.  A part had to be replaced over the winter and we knew more repairs were forthcoming.  It was also starting to guzzle gas.  Rich began looking in February and then everything shut down.  We decided to stay with a minivan because it works for us right now, and I really don't care what I'm driving.  I didn't even test drive the new one before we bought it.  Rich basically looked online at inventory of Siennas and Odysseys and we found a good deal on a 2020 Odyssey so we went with that one.  I would have driven the Sienna for longer, but I (or basically Rich) didn't want to deal with any issues, especially on a road trip.

Ankle Update

When I registered the girls for dance classes for the upcoming year, I did not sign myself up for adult tap.  Dance did not go so well for me last year.  All I had to do was land a certain way, and pain would shoot through my ankle.  I'd think I was having a good week and then it would act up.  I had to take it easy during certain warm-ups and there was a part in the dance we were learning that I was never going to be able to do properly because that second Maxie Ford was painful every single time.

So I'm going to take a year off from dance and see what happens.  My ankle is doing much better now.  Back in January, I realized that not exercising for many months had actually not really helped and the muscles needed to support my ankle were now weak.  I began wearing a supportive brace and very slowly walking and then running very short distances at a turtle's pace.  My ankle still clicks but I'm not experiencing pain like before.  The knee I dislocated many, many years ago has been bothering me now instead.  Sometimes getting older is not just fun.


Books I Read

Jaws by Peter Benchley - I'd given thought to reading this for many years.  I've seen the movie more times than I can count and had heard that the book was slightly different with subplots.  Gah.  In a way, I wish I hadn't read it.  This was written in the early '70s so I can see why the sexist commentary is included.  People are still freaking sexist today in 2020.  But I just couldn't deal with the racist remarks.  It really did ruin it for me.

Benchley went above and beyond in researching sharks and that shows in the book.  It's a shame that the cons outweigh the pros, in my opinion.  Also, in a way, it felt like he had this great idea for a book, but it sort of fell flat.  I usually think books are better than their movie adaptations, but in this case, I prefer the movie.

Devolution by Max Brooks   - I actually do not know how this ended up in my library holds, as it doesn't seem like a book I would want to read.  I figured there must have been a reason why I placed a hold on it so I read it and I do not recommend, unless you are really into Bigfoot.  I give the author an A for effort but this was a slightly unrealistic account (via diary entries) of a small community who is attacked by Sasquatch after being cut off from communication after an eruption of Mount Rainier.  If I was working around the clock to keep myself and others alive, I don't think I'd have time to sit down and write a 30 page journal entry.  Maybe that's just me though.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki - A journal written by a teenager in Japan who is bullied by her classmates washes up on a remote island on the other side of the Pacific.  The book goes back and forth between journal entries and the life of the woman who finds the diary.  I really liked this one, even though I wish it had a different ending.  Check it out.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver - Wow! This was such an amazing book.  A Baptist minister takes his wife and four daughters to Africa (the Belgian Congo to be exact) in 1959 for mission work.  The story is told through his wife and daughters and I have to say that the author really gave each character her own voice.  One of the things I disliked about Daisy Jones & The Six was how each character "sounded" exactly the same to the reader.  In The Poisonwood Bible, it's easy to distinguish the characters' voices.  This is fiction but there are historical references and I learned an incredible amount.  While I highly recommend, note that this is a longer book and the author does go into quite a bit a detail.  Also, it took a few pages for me to get into this book.

Posts in July

Antiquing, storms and nature hikes

July's Monthly Recap

Coming up in September  

Looks like we'll be back into a routine between school and dance.  The school day runs from 7:30 to 2:00 so some people in our home will be up at the crack of dawn.  I will not be one of them.

Here are some of my favorite sunset photos from August:





Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Antiquing, storms and nature hikes

I love antiques and could spend an entire day browsing through antique shops.  Put me, my mom and my grandmother together and it's all over with.  Last week, we ended up with a rainy day on the Cape with high surf warnings so we decided to drive over to Eastham to explore.

Our first stop was Buddha Bob's in Eastham.  It's a small store (with an outdoor section) that sells buddhas, crystals and antiques.

There's so much that could be done with that sideboard

I was there for the antiques, which I have no room for, so it was basically window shopping.

A beautiful headboard I don't need.

There was a break in the rain so it was off to Coast Guard Beach (part of the Cape Cod National Seashore) to check out the surf.  When we were last here earlier in the summer, we noticed that the bottom portion of the pathway leading to the beach had become extremely steep due to erosion.  That path is now closed.  We checked it out from the beach and there has been so much erosion, it was basically impossible to have a path there now.

Just a little chilly.


We saw several seals close to shore so I pretty much thought this guy was crazy.

Case in point . . .


It's funny how they pop up and check you out.







We've been making more of an effort to get outside and exercise as a family this summer.  One overcast afternoon we went "hiking" on two different paths in Brewster.  The changing landscapes and salt marshes made it interesting.  Google Brewster walking trail guide for more information.  There are nature walking/hiking trails all over Cape Cod.





I can't believe there's less than a week left in August!  This summer seems both long and short at the same time, if that makes any sense at all.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

TGUH Monthly Recap - July 2020

To quote Adele:  Hello, it's me.

I thought I'd give monthly recap blogging a try.

I know I've been MIA.  Life can become complicated and when I stopped blogging (a hobby, not an income-producing endeavor) I realized how much time I was devoting to something that sometimes just wasn't fun.  Thank you to everyone who has reached out to say hello and check in.  I truly do appreciate it and it reminds me of the old days when blogging felt more like a community instead of a competition.

If you're on Instagram, I am fairly active over there.  I'm easy to find - thegreatumbrellaheist.


So here's what July looked like for us:

The New Normal

Some restrictions in Massachusetts were lifted and the girls were able to return to dance at the studio for their summer competition class, which ran once a week for four weeks. There are many, many changes at the studio though.  Kids are pretty adaptable and they quickly adjusted to what has become the new normal.

Class size is limited, they have to wear masks (yes, you can take a breathing break if necessary), no dance bags allowed, everything needs to be labeled, hand sanitizer, hand washing, no parents congregating in the lobby, really no parents in the lobby.  No complaints - we all understand the necessity of the new rules.

Cape Cod

We've been spending quite a bit of time at our cottage on Cape Cod.  Rich and I took those last cooler/rainy weekends in May and June to tackle painting projects.  There's still a lot to do but we've been focusing on enjoying beach time for now.  July was an extremely hot and humid month for us.  I believe Boston recorded nine days with temps over 90 degrees for the month.


This bedroom is covered in wood paneling.  We painted the whole room, which takes three coats of primer and two coats of paint.  I also painted a bunch of furniture.


I'll have to do a before and after post some day, but these beds look soooo much better painted a modern color.

Back in April and May, everyone thought the summer season was going to be a bust.  Short-term rentals were not allowed (hotels, houses, condos) and it really was concerning for those who make the majority of their income during the summer.  Thankfully, that situation has completely turned around.  Rentals are booked solid, hotel rooms are going for $$$ and the real estate market is booming.

Coast Guard Beach



Of course this means beaches have been more crowded than I would prefer.  The heat waves have played a role in that as well.  We've figured out where/when to go in order to avoid people.  Towns have reduced beach parking lot capacity in order to combat the number of people on the beach but there are always ways around that.  You can walk, get dropped off, take an uber.



Yummy lobster roll from Sesuit Harbor Cafe.

Because we canceled our June vacation to Florida, we spent most of the end of June at the cottage.  July was mostly long weekends as life began picking up again.  Rich is working about 50% at home.  I've been trying to help out my parents as much as possible.  My dad was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia last fall and he requires 24 hour care.  My mom had aides coming in helping prior to the lockdown in March, but it just wasn't safe for them to assist so she had to stop that.  I had grand plans of going over and helping her but that first week of shutdowns was a bit of a mess with sickness in our home and I didn't want to spread anything to anyone. But we're in a different place now and I can go over and assist (while wearing a mask, just in case.)

I love beach roses.

And so many pretty hydrangeas.









Books I Read

I just finished reading book number 49 of 2020 this afternoon.  Lots of reading going on in 2020.  Here's a rundown of what I read in July:

The One by John Marrs - What if you could be matched with a perfect partner through a simple DNA test?  This fiction novel follows five different people who've been matched and what happens to their lives when they decide to contact their matched mates.  I thought the idea here was unique and while the book was a quick read, it was also very predictable.  I'd definitely throw this one in the beach read category.  

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid - I HIGHLY recommend this one.  After I finished reading it, I was describing it to Rich and the girls, and they were all like, "Wow, there's a lot going on there."  Which is why I cannot understand the reviewers who say they wish this could have had more to it. Perhaps those readers missed the underlying themes.  I'm not going to go into the details because I could seriously write an entire post on this book but the author hits upon racism and social class from many different angles.  Read it!

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong - This is fiction but it reads like a memoir.  It's written by a poet, very beautiful but haunting.  The book reads as a letter written from a son to his mother.  The underlying themes of race, social class, masculinity and sexuality are all present and leave the reader thinking.  While I really liked this one, there were some graphic sex scenes.  I can understand why and how they tie into the book but reader beware.    
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides - I'm a little late to the party here but I thought this was a decent beach read.  If you like trendy suspense novels and you haven't read this one, check it out.

Coming up in August

Well, hopefully we find out exactly what's going to happen with school.  Those decisions need to be finalized, approved and communicated to students and parents, so we're in a holding pattern right now.  We plan to spend much more time down on the Cape.  There's still a lot of summer left here.



Thanks for reading!