Saturday, January 30, 2010

First Five Star Read of 2010

jerramy_fine_paperback2 I am pleased to say that I have found my first 5 star rated book of 2010:  Jerramy Fine’s enchanting Someday My Prince Will Come.  This is a book I absolutely devoured over the past week, sneaking in reading time wherever and whenever I could get it (seriously, I brought this book to my WW meeting this morning just to get in 10 pages without the baby crawling around on me).

Fine is one of the original Anglophiles.  As a little girl, she comes to the conclusion that she will some day marry Peter Phillips, Queen Elizabeth’s grandson and son of her only daughter Princess Anne.  She scrupulously studies how other women have gone on to marry their princes, what schools they went to, how they met their match, clothing, manners, you name it, she studied it, and began to pattern her life after such role models as Princess Grace, Princess Diana, and Jackie Kennedy.

Eventually she finds herself at the University of Rochester in New York State (as someone who grew up not far from Rochester, I was impressed she decided to go there—impressed at her nuttiness!!!  I wanted to get as far the hell away as I could!), and during her junior year she does a semester abroad, heading to London to work at Parliament.  Sound the trumpets, because during that experience she meets Princess Anne for the first time!

Eventually her semester abroad ends, she returns to NY to finish her degree and then enrolls at the London School of Economics, thus charting her course to be in England full time.  She rubs elbows with Earl Spencer, Princess Anne, and the Duchess of York, in addition to plenty of English guys, and grooms herself to be the perfect addition to the royal family.  She travels the country sightseeing, and just lives the Anglophile dream.  Her dream.  My dream.

I came away from the book just loving Jerramy.  We have a similar sense of humor, so parts of the book were laugh out loud to me.  For instance, her parents are kind of new-age types who move the family to a small town (as in the size of the town I grew up in, 300+ people or so) to get in touch with nature.  As she talks about her royal dreams in contrast with what her life is actually like, she writes, “Meanwhile, life with the hippies was not improving.”  Just this one line made me giggle--the sense that they are not Mom and Dad, but are seen as “the hippies”, it just cracked me up.  I love subtle humor like that.

I won’t give away whether or not she and Peter Phillips ever meet up, but if you love England, you must read this book.  This book served two purposes in my life:

1.  To further enhance my love of England.  I loved reading about her travels around London, her meets and greets with the hoi polloi of English society, her knowledge of the rules of how proper people behave, it made me wistful.  I wanted to hop a plane immediately and immerse myself in the culture as quickly and thoroughly as possible.

2.  To give me some closure to a long festering wound.  You see, Jerramy was bowled over by a number of men in England, men who dazzled her and were never heard from again.  They gave her an amazing, romantic evening, took her number, swore they’d call, and didn’t.  She came to realize that there was a certain class of Englishmen who did exactly that and then went on to feel that all men were “guilty until proven innocent”.  Well, you see, in the late 90’s, a dewy-eyed Susan went to England to meet just such a chap.  We had an amazing week together, seriously mind-blowing, traveling England and seeing the sights from York to London (he took me to Kensington Palace to pay my respects to Diana—I mean, this guy was GOOD!) to Canterbury to Birmingham and even to Wales, culminating in some serious action at home.  I was sure we were soulmates—I have never, ever in my life connected with someone like that immediately and completely.  But when I returned to America, he promptly fell off the face of the earth, resurfacing months later only to tell me that he wasn’t the type of guy to get on with a girl and then dump her cold, and then he disappeared again, this time for good.

Well, Martin, if by chance you’re out there reading this, let me tell you something:  Yes, you are.

So thank you, Jerramy, for giving me a whole lot of healing on that issue.  That has been a painful thorn in my side for 12 years and your book has cured me of any notion that it was anything to do with me.  If I ever get the chance to meet you, I’ll thank you personally.

Seriously, read this book.  If you have known heartache, if you love England, if you have dreams of finding your handsome prince, this is the book for you.


This book counts towards the Twenty Ten Book Challenge (Shiny & New Category).

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Organizing & Weight Watching

So, things are really going well in the organizational department. I have completely cleared out my dresser so that only clothes I actually wear are in there now, not clothes I had fond memories of, not clothes that are ripped or stained but "have some wear left in them". Those are gone. I have a big stack for Goodwill, but am waiting for Michael to add to it when he goes through his clothes tonight.

I also cleaned out the two jewelry drawers on top of the dresser. I don't actually own any decent jewelry apart from my engagement and wedding rings, so the drawers became junk drawers. I was very happy to find my grandma's double decker bus charm that I brought her back from my trip to London in 1991. I am going to take it to a jeweler and have it put on my charm bracelet so I don't keep fretting about it. It is one of my most prized possessions. Cleaning out these drawers was Leah's favorite job, since she got to play with a lot of "stuff" while I was sorting. I think she will be a child who is very fond of jewelry. The few pieces of junk jewelry I had really caught her eye.

The big thing is that I've finished going through my bookshelves. I got rid of nearly 200 books, approximately 40 of which have found new homes all around the country. This was a huge step for me, as I said before. You can see from the picture that when I cleaned out the downstairs shelves, it made quite a mess. But it's done and my books are going to happy new homes. I got a lead on a used book store here in town that I did not know about (Thanks, Wendy!) and I will probably take some books over there after giving it a little bit of time on PBS and see if I can get some money for them.

I am really looking forward to getting our tax return this year, I've decided that in addition to the other projects I want to work on, I am going to put a big shed out back, probably double the size of the one we have falling down out there now. Then I'm going to move a bunch of stuff from the downstairs closets out to the shed. That will free up closet space for our exchange student, provided we get confirmation that she is coming, and I'll beable to clean house in there for sure and get rid of tons of things.

More immediately, however, I'll be focusing on the "junk drawers" in the kitchen and living room cabinets. I would also like to move some furniture around and make room for some family items in my hope chest. Getting rid of the Diana stuff is a good step to doing that. The hope chest has to come upstairs into our room before Caroline arrives.

I feel pretty confident that we're going to have a great yard sale this spring, and I'm looking at doing it in May. So if anyone wants to get in on the action, let's pick a date and start planning it! Well, I guess there's not much planning involved, actually. :-) But we'll get it done for sure. I didn't have much to sell when I had the adoption fundraiser and managed to make $300, and now I have a ton to sell, so I'm optimistic.

The house remains very clean indeed, the FLYLady is working out just great. I feel like a better person, which seems silly to me, but I just feel like I'm getting my job done with the house looking so good. I've tweaked the sysem to fit me and am further tweaking it a bit, but boy, what a difference!!! The biggest difference is that I don't procrastinate any more, things get done right away and then I don't have to worry about it or stew about it. I love that. My stress levels are way down.


Saturday marked my triumphant return to Weight Watchers. It felt great to go in and my old leader welcomed me with, "Welcome back, Susan, it's so good to see you!" I was impressed she remembered my name and everything :-) I was not too happy about the weigh-in, in about 6 months I managed to gain back 26 pounds, but frankly, with how stressful everything has been since last June, I'm kind of impressed it was only that much. Still, you have to work hard to gain that much weight in a relatively short amount of time and I know I'll have to work hard to lose it. So far, despite the odds this week, I've done OK. I fired up my new Wii Fit plus and have done 20-30 minutes of exercise nightly. We went out to dinner Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday nights, but according to Wii Fit, I am still down 2 pounds, so I was pleased wtih that. I'm hoping for a good weigh in.

One of the great things that WW has added is an app for the iPod/iPhone. I am now able to track points easily from the kitchen. I used to hate running downstairs and firing up the browser to put my points in, and forget using a paper tracker, I have ZERO patience. But now I can just tap, tap, and my points are in! It's awesome.

I'm looking forward to my Saturday weigh in.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Atlanta 2010

So we are home from our grand odyssey to Atlanta.  It was quite a time indeed!!!  I’m going to try and remember as many details as possible as I write up my little travelogue here, but Mike, Mike and Lesley will probably have things I’ve already forgotten—so feel free to chime in, guys! :-)

First off, flying to Atlanta was fine, but the tickets were a challenge.  Can someone explain to me why I could buy a round trip ticket to Atlanta for $300 each ($600 total) or I could buy a round trip ticket to Orlando with a layover in Atlanta each way for $117 each ($234 total)?  Needless to say, I decided to buy the Orlando tickets and just not get on the plane to Florida.  This meant we had to pack everything carry ons.  Plus, our airline raised its baggage rates the very day we started flying, and I wasn’t about to pay for it anyway.  Still, we couldn’t check anything through because everything would have been in Florida.

Fine, I spent plenty of time cramming everything into the two smallest bags we owned, and then we headed to Richmond!  Got through security pretty well, everyone was exceedingly nice although Leah’s formula did have to be tested and scanned twice.  But it really was no big deal, the TSA employees were extremely nice and helpful with Michael (one of the guards was a former Marine and was tres impressed Michael worked at Quantico!), so we did fine.  Got everything packed back up, shoes on, etc. and head down to our gate.  We got a gate claim ticket for the stroller and car seat, both of which said Orlando, but since I was the one to pick them both up at the gate and transport them to the supposed next plane, I knew that wouldn’t be a problem.  Again, no problems until we got on the plane and the flight attendant says, “Sorry, that bag is too big for the bins, we’re going to have to check it.”

HEART ATTACK!!!!  I start incomprehensibly spewing, “But we need this bag in Atlanta!  WE NEED THIS BAG IN ATLANTA!”  The flight attendant is saying, “Where is your final destination?” and I’m picturing our underwear circling the airport in Orlando and us with no way to get it, totally freaking out.  Michael steps in and says, “Atlanta.”  The flight attendant says, “Ok, we’re going to check this through to Atlanta for you.”  So I relinquish the bag and we go sit in our seat.  I proceeded to panic for the next 90 minutes, praying to God our bag turned up in Atlanta.  Our flight was early, so we then got to navigate the airport, which is HUGE and very crowded.  Ultimately, rather than try to drag a suitcase, push a stroller, and leave an arm for Michael, what we found worked was he would hold onto the stroller the normal way, and I would stand up front and pull it from the car seat handle while dragging the suitcase behind me.  This was very satisfactory and we managed very well.

We got onto the little train system and made it over to the main terminal and then I had to sort out which baggage claim to go to, praying all the way that our bag would be there.  I found the correct belt and there was our suitcase waiting for us!  VICTORY!!!!  Just as I snatched it up, my cell phone buzzed and it was Lesley, asking where we were.  I told her we were at baggage claim and heading outside, gathered up my little caravan, and off we went.  And just like that, lickety split, she pulled up to the curb and off we went!  It was like all the pieces just fell into place.  Awesome.

We headed to Chick-Fil-A for lunch and then Walmart to pick up diapers and formula (we had to make allowances for packing, so I knew we could pick things up while we were away) and then made it to the Williams household.  Mike arrived home a short time later and that was pretty much the last I saw of Leah for 5 days :)  Then we headed out for trivia night at the Mellow Mushroom!!!!

P1030827 Mike and Lesley have a sweet deal there, they are friends with a big cheese at Mellow Mushroom so all the food is free.  The trivia is run totally differently than the trivia at the Fredericksburg Pub, but it was a lot of fun.  They also have a regular round and a music thing going at the same time, the questions are weighted differently points-wise and you turn in your answers individually and the question-asker keeps your score.  It was a lot of fun, although our luck held and we weren’t able to help the Fuzzy Navels any better than we did The Destroyers.  The pizza was great, though.  YUM! 

P1030842 Thursday morning, Mike and Lesley took off to do their workouts and then when they got back, Lesley and I headed to check out the library where she works and then to tea at the Holly Cottage Tearoom.  A sweet little old British lady greeted us at the door, and the servers are dressed in traditional maid’s attire (long black dress, white frilly apron) and everyone is quite polite and the whole thing is a real sanctuary from 2010.  Lesley and I each wore a hat, she in a festive brown felt festooned with leaves or petals of some sort and me in my traditional maroon felt with roses.  We were there 3 1/2 hours and went through 3 pots of tea (Monk’s Blend (YUMMMMM), Bella Coola, and Yorkshire Harrogate), a Holly Cottage record.  We discussed life, literature, and love seated under a portrait of the Brontes. 


Can I just say, “God, I love having tea.  I want to have tea much more regularly.  Anyone want to join me for tea sometime?”  I am noodling with the idea of starting my own tea business, which would be a tea-on-the-go type thing.  We would cater bridal and baby showers, birthday parties, luncheons, etc.  I have been toying with this idea all fall and winter.  I throw a beautiful tea and I think it could be a great way to make some money doing something I absolutely love.

Anyway, we went back to the house and the boys had had a grand ole time with Leah.  She did not appear to have missed me one bit.  Sincerely.  She is madly in love with her Uncle Mike, and Mike and Lesley have two things in their house that we don’t have and apparently she finds sorely lacking:  cats.  My God, Leah loved those cats.  Unfortunately for her, the feeling was less than mutual and they gave her wide berth as they avoided her a whole lot.

That night we dined on Lesley’s famous turkey burgers, and then Lesley and I headed out to her church book club while the guys and Leah relaxed.  The club discussed Same Kind of Different as Me and I was really interested to see how the club runs and the differences from my own book club.  It was a lot of fun.  Everyone was very friendly and the discussion was quite animated and lively. 

P1030844 Friday was going to be a busy day!  Mike and Lesley did their work out and then we headed into Atlanta for the day.  We went to an Indian buffet for lunch (YUM!) and then headed over to the Martin Luther King Jr. national historic site.  We all thought about poo-pooing it when we first got there, because we couldn’t figure out where to park, but eventually we decided to go for it, and were we ever glad!  None of us had ever been there before and so it was a neat experience.  Plus it turns out that we were there on MLK’s actual birthday (January 15), so that was even better!  Someone even hung up a Happy Birthday banner and balloons by his picture.


We started out by watching a film at the visitors center and then went across the street to see the burial site.  We walked up to the Freedom Center and saw Dr. King’s Nobel Prize (first time I’d ever seen one), his clothes and personal items, some of his wife’s personal items, and then went in the rooms dedicated to Ghandi and Rosa Parks.  As Michael and I visited the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis while I lived in Little Rock, and as he was born right there in Atlanta and we drove past the house where he was born, and I’ve now seen his grave, I’ve been to where it all started and where it all ended.  Pretty cool.  We weren’t able to go into Ebenezer Church because they were doing some construction on it, and we elected not to sign up for the house tour, as they only take 15 people at a time.  Nonetheless, it was a great time.

P1030872 Afterwards, we went over to Barnes and Noble to scope out the situation for the book signing and then went to a nearby pizza joint to meet up with Mike’s niece and nephew and kill some time.  Michael had a pizza since he is not a huge fan of Indian food, and the rest of us just had drinks and relaxed.  Around about 6:00, we went back to the book store and Lesley staked out a claim in the second row of the signing area and then we all browsed books for a while.  Leah started getting real crabby in about 45 minutes, so Mike and I spent the rest of the night in shifts.  He would walk her around for a while, then I would walk her around for a while.  Then he’d take her, then I’d take her.  I finally took her over to Publix to see if I could buy some pacifiers since I hadn’t brought one, but the kind they had were not the right kind, as evidenced by the fact that they did NADA to silence her after I paid $4 for them. 

Eventually I just took her back over to the book store and Mike and I kept swapping.  At one point, Leah let out a bellow and Jasper Fforde paused and said, “Ah, my biggest fan!” Everyone laughed, but of course I was mortified.  Eventually he quit with the talking (seemed like forever to me, but Lesley assures me it flew by; Michael fell asleep during the talk so who knows how long it seemed to him?) and the line was forming.  Now, I will give BIG CREDIT to Barnes and Noble’s staff.  A bunch of crowd jumpers staked out a place in front of the signing table, but the staff would have none of it and allowed the people who had gotten there early and were seated in the first couple of rows to go up first and get their books signed.  Consequently, Lesley was one of the first 10 people to get her books signed and I stood at the ready, armed with a camera, and took pictures.  Then we headed home.  Leah screamed most of the way back.  Unfortunately, she elected not to sleep most of that night, as my Facebooks statuses attest.


Saturday, Lesley had to work, so Mike, Michael, Leah and I went over to IHOP for breakfast and then to Walmart so I could get decent diapers (the cheapies were not up to the task, go figure).  He went to the bike store, but couldn’t get the bike he wants, and so we went home, and Leah and I passed out cold for 3 hours.  By that time, it was 5:00 and time to head out to meet up with Donna at Fox Bros. BBQ.  Donna and I were in Scouts together and hadn’t seen each other in 20 years, but alas it was not meant to be.  Just as we got on the road, she called to cancel.  She had gotten an adoption match that day, and was freaking out and couldn’t meet us.  I was disappointed, but understood, and we proceeded to Fox Bros. anyway, where we ate some of the greatest BBQ I have ever had the privilege of eating.  It was amazing.  I don’t think I’ve had it that good since I lived in Arkansas, seriously.

P1030887 Sunday was a hang around day, as we wanted to give Leah time to recover from all the activity.  Mike and Lesley went to work out at separate times (they have seriously drunk the WW kool aid!) and then we just played Scene It on the XBox or Playstation or whatever it is, watched TV, read, and hung out.  Because of Leah’s fascination with the cats, we decided to go to Zoo Atlanta the next Day.  Lesley spent the afternoon preparing us a traditional Jigg’s dinner, which is a traditional Sunday dinner in Newfoundland where she is from.  It was amazing.  They didn’t think I’d like the pease pudding, but in fact, I very much did.  We had lots of good food and then spent the evening continuing to relax, watching the Golden Globes and cheering and jeering the winners.  Mike and Lesley also learned that “little people” (aka dwarves or midgets) give me the creeps.  I’m sure that is offensive, sorry, but I about flip out when I encounter them, which isn’t often.  Mike and Lesley found this hilarious.


Monday morning, we were out the door bright and early at 11:30 and went to Six Feet Under, a restaurant across the street from Oakland Cemetery, where we visited Margaret Mitchell’s grave on our last visit to Atlanta a couple years ago.  The restaurant is famous for its catfish, but instead I opted to try the shrimp po boy, which was very good.  Hilariously, though, we got an appetizer called Spicy Rat Toes, which were jalapenos stuffed with shrimp, wrapped in bacon, and grilled.  I can’t tolerate a whole lot of spicy food, but I was willing to take a crack at it.  There were 3 in the order, Michael didn’t want one, the rest of us had a go.  Lesley and I were fine, but Mike was crying like a little girl when he ate his.  It was kind of hilarious.  He was going on and on about how spicy they were, and I am not going to lie, it was hot, but to me it was no worse than a buffalo wing.  So we came to the conclusion he got a bad pepper.  Honestly, the appetizer wasn’t that great, so I am now on a mission to come up with a different recipe for the same basic idea and we will try it out when we all get together again.

P1030902 After Six Feet Under, we went to the zoo.  At first, Leah wasn’t too excited by the animals, but she did come around when she saw the meerkats.  Anything that was speedy and moved around she enjoyed.  Anything that didn’t move or was kind of slow, she could not have cared less about.  We went into the parakeet enclosure, thinking with the birds flying around her, she’d be all over it.  Wasn’t the damned place manned by a little person!?  I know Mike was laughing his ass off behind me.  And Leah didn’t give one crap about the birds.  How’s that for poetic justice?

P1030923 One moment of great excitement was when we walked into the viewing area for the gorilla enclosure and found this guy.  He’s looking mighty pleased with himself, isn’t he?  As well he should, he has just finished getting it on with one of the ladies in full view of about 3 dozen 5-10 year olds.  All over the enclosure you could hear, “Daddy, what’s he doing?” and I am sure more than one parent had some interesting chats with their children that day.

P1030954 But the true highlight for me was the giant pandas.  Zoo Atlanta has 3 pandas, one of which is about to be returned to China.  Pandas are my favorite wild animal and I was so excited to see them.  I actually got all misty eyed.  They are beautiful creatures, and it has been probably 24 years since I’ve seen them, as I haven’t been to the National Zoo yet since moving to DC.  Imagine!?



After the zoo we went to meet Mike’s niece and nephew for dinner at a local Mexican place, which was again a great place to eat!!!  We ate so well in Atlanta, it was awesome.  And then it was time to go home, pack, and ready ourselves for or trip home.  I started getting a little nervous that when we “missed” our flight in Orlando, they wouldn’t let us on the plane back to Richmond, but everything went off without a hitch.  In fact, we had roughly the same wait to get through security in Atlanta as we did in Richmond, which is to say, approximately 5 minutes.  It was incredible.  We were way early, so we had some muffins and just relaxed.  Our flight was delayed getting back, and when we finally got back to the car around 12:30, we discovered a flat tire, but fortunately I had a can of fix-a-flat, so I put that in and figured it would get us home, which it did.

Thank you, Mike and Lesley, for the wonderful time, we so enjoyed it and hope to do it again soon, either here or there!!!!  Words can’t express our love and gratitude for the two of you.  We are so lucky to have you in our lives.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Scenes from Atlanta

After two blog posts tonight, I haven’t got it in me to tackle the subject of our trip to Atlanta.  Suffice it to say, it was amazing.  I will blog about it at length in the next day or two, but until then, I leave with a pictorial essay of sorts to whet your appetite.


P1030835  P1030858P1030867


Ruined By Reading

I finished Lynne Sharon Schwartz's Ruined By Reading while I was in Atlanta, which I found tremendously exciting because A) I was with Lesley while I finished it and it counts towards her challenge and B) it meant another book on the year and I was free to move on to other things!

This is a small little book, just 128 pages long, and the first couple of pages filled me with dread that I had made a terrible mistake and this was going to be a boring book. How pleased I was to be proven wrong in short order!

RBR is a thought-provoking walk down one woman's reading memory lane, and gave me much to think about. For instance, Schwartz talks about what time of day she likes to read. I am a night-time reader. Devotedly. I always have been and always will be. I suppose this stems from the fact that we were allowed to stay up 30 minutes past our bedtime if we spent that 30 minutes reading and so every night I would snuggle down with a book and read. As a young girl, I was often caught up in mysteries, and I vividly remember getting busted one night for reading by the night of the nightlight. I was reading John Bellairs's The House With a Clock In Its Walls and I got so scared I actually screamed, causing my dad to run in and see what was wrong. Busted! But as you can see, even the cover of the book is deliciously creepy!

Schwartz talks about beloved books she had growing up, books which were lost and the replacements just weren't up to par, the minefield that is gifting a book (please don't! The pressure on the recipient to read it immediately and then love the book as much as you do is overwhelming!), what she's learned from books (and consequently what I learned from her reading, including why the Alabama license plates have the stars falling on them), finishing or not finishing a book, being interrupted while reading, and more.

This is a fabulous little book, I gave it a 4 star rating on GoodReads, just because it's not one of my favorites I've ever read, but I greatly enjoyed it. This book counts for the Bibliophilic Books Challenge!

Incidentally, if you are on and try to friend me, please let me know that you have found me through the blog. I do not add people I don't know, my GoodReads feed was getting cluttered with the reading selections of complete strangers and it was frustrating!

So, What Gives?

If you've been following my updates on Facebook, you'll have seen that I started on a real cleaning tear just before Christmas and it has only continued. To date, I've culled something like 165 books from my shelves, scrubbed and vacuumed and dusted and polished, Freecycled like a maniac. Why?

2010. New decade. New start. As I've said in the past month's blogs, I learned a lot about myself in the past year, and if I go back to 2008, look out, I learned a TON. I have a huge capacity for joy, forgiveness, and hurt. I have somehow come to find myself surrounded by the highest caliber people I could imagine and am fortunate to call them 'friends'. I watch a lot of TV focused on cleaning up, homes and lives both: Hoarders, Clean House, How Clean is Your House, etc. One sentiment came up on a recent episode of Clean House and on several episodes of Hoarders: How you feel on the inside is reflected in how you live on the outside.

On the inside, I often feel confused and at loose ends. In a good way, I have the freedom right now to do a lot of decision making and forward planning for my life. Recently, I've become extremely introspective. And there are some things I've concluded.

I am never going to be a famous book blogger, or even a good book blogger. That is Lesley's role. I am never going to be a great teacher or a fantastic lawyer, that is left to Sara, Melissa, and Elizabeth. I'm not going to be a famous cake maker, I leave that to Amy. I'm never going to be wildly successful with Weight Watchers, I leave that to Annette. I'm never going to run a marathon, heck, I'm not even going to attmept it, I leave that to Sarah. I'm never going to have a hobby about which I know every minute detail, I leave that to Russell. I'm never going to be crazy into music or a great seamstress. I may never finish my book, and I may never be a published writer, and I certainly won't be a prolific writer regardless of what happens. I leave last areas to other friends. I was not a straight-A student, although I came close more than once, because being active in my school was as important to me as academics were. I don't have a cool job traveling all over the world, my Facebook status is overrun with comments about teething, diapers, drool, spit up, housekeeping, while I have friends whose statuses (stati?) talk about the Parthenon, London, Rome, Africa, Broadway, California.

I'm not the world's best daughter or sister or wife or mother (although admittedly, I think I'm doing a damned good job at mothering and wifing and I am choosing to leave sistering and daughtering in God's hands at this point). I try to be a good friend, I aspire to be a great friend, to those who need or want my company. I hope to be a warm and inviting hostess. I hope I have created a home atmosphere that makes you want to sink into the couch with a warm cup of cocoa and feel completely at ease. It's how it makes me feel.

I am the epitome of the phrase "Jack of all trades, master of none." I like doing many things, and I'm good at doing many things, but I'm not amazing at any of them. Crafting, reading, cooking, homemaking, organizing, event planning, heck even tour guiding, I can do it all, and have, and have done it well, but I'm not a specialist in anything. I don't even think I was all that great at my 9-5 job when I was working. I did a good job, no more or less than was expected, I hope I helped people, and I went home at night just the same as anyone else.

In short, I am distressingly average. And just writing that makes me giggle.

So the cleaning has been to help me cull out a lot of the "stuff" being a jack of all trades entails. I have things I've accumulated thinking, "Oh, this would make a great project!" and then I never did anything with the ideas or the items. For instance, when I was growing up, my parents used a set of china that had blue roses on them. A few years ago, I saw a craft project in which you take a large photo, crop it in a circle and decoupage it onto a plate to use as a display piece. Easy enough and wouldn't they make great Christmas presents for my family?! So I went on Ebay and ordered the exact same blue rose plates we grew up using. And they are still sitting in the box in my scary closet. Looking at them made me sad. And I talked myself out of the project thinking everyone else would either be sad or would think it was stupid or not care about those blue rose plates.

The books. I have tons of books from the last 4 or 5 years of collecting, I guess since we moved to this house. I suppose my thought process was something to do with my friends who were readers would be impressed with the number of books I had hanging around. And that I would someday get around to reading them all. Well, I am quite sure that none of them is going to like me 165-books-worth-less now that I've gotten rid of that many books. But there used to be a part of me that believed that the more books I had, the more people would like me if they were readers. I need to give people slightly more credit than that.

The biggie is that I've been culling out my Princess Diana, Jackie O, and Princess Grace items. Why? Well, for one thing, again on Clean House, they pointed out that a collection only has value if someone is willing to pay for it. Many things I was holding onto only because I hoped that someday they would have monetary value. But honestly, is anyone going to pay for the TV section of the Watertown Daily Times just because it happens to have Diana's picture on it? No. They are not. There was a time all the Diana stuff brought me a lot of joy. I am increasingly finding that it is just taking up space and making me cranky. So I found someone in Fredericksburg who is a big fan, and I shuffled off everything I no longer wanted or that I felt would be of no or little value. One hard thing to decide was the Royal Diana "barbie doll" things I had. They were so unappealing, honestly, but they are selling on Ebay right now for $20. And I had 4 of them. But just the idea of hanging onto them in the hope that someday I might get around to putting them up for sale was depressing me. So Michael decided for me that I'd give them to the lady to whom I was giving everything else. And you know what? I have not regretted it for a minute. There was a time and a place and a reason I bought and collected all those items, but those reasons, times, and places have passed. I kept the things I still want and to an extent feel I "need", and all the rest is gone or in the process of going.

As for Jackie and Grace, well, I feel as if I only have room for one princess in my life right now, and they have both lost. Princess Grace is entirely gone, I've kept 3 books on Jackie, and a book I had signed by her daughter when I met her at the now-defunct Olson's Books a few years ago. I will probably sell off my Jackie O bride doll and wipe the slate clean. No more tragic heroines need apply.

This spring I will have a big yard sale and unload things that are bogging down the house and my life. I want to simplify and feel free. For a long while, my house became a dumping ground for unwanted furniture, family keepsakes, and my own sentimental holding onto of bric-a-brac. Thank you kindly, but I think I'm fine. Please don't buy me any more books, any more angels, any more "stuff". I want to unclutter and unfetter.

And I will quit buying. If this experience with the books has taught me anything it's that if I am not going to read something immediately or in the very short term future, I shouldn't purchase the book to begin with. 6 months or a year from now, I may not have any interest in that book and there would be no point in wasting a PBS credit or money on it. Ditto stuff for projects. I have had those blue plates for 3 years minimum and have never done a thing with them. I have unopened packages of Christmas ornaments that I bought and never made. I have empty scrapbooks sitting on my shelves and tons of papers and stickers and so forth in my craft cabinet. When I get ideas, I'd like to sit on them for a while and see if they really take hold or if it's a passing fancy. My dad dated a woman who shared a love of rubber stamping with me. I now have an entire drawer full of rubber stamps that I haven't used since I lived in Centreville. They were expensive, the inks and cards were expensive and the results looked like a project a 7 year old could have done. I don't want to invest in things that I can't be proud of.

So that's a bit of where I'm coming from. I've shed a few tears over things I've gotten rid of, but I feel so great, I can't help but know it's the right move. It makes me happy to see organized shelves, and things put away and know that there aren't other things stashed in and around and amongst it. I am keeping on top of my chores, so that even though I know my in-laws are due on Saturday, for once I'm not in a total panic about cleaning the house in preparation for their arrival. I've put into practice something the wonderful Dr. Kevin suggested, which is do what I have to do first so I can do what I want to do without worrying about the have-to's later. The amount of stress this has erased from my life is astounding. Bedtimes I am no longer racing around trying to get lunch packed for Michael and get Leah's bottles ready before I can go upstairs and climb into bed with a book for a few minutes and then fall asleep. I just calmly go upstairs and everything's done. I no longer look at piles of clothes to be put away, and clothes to be picked up, and see the dust on the furniture, and think "Crap I am so behind!" The FLY Lady system is seeing to it that it's all done. Even with having been gone a week, I caught up on one of the two zones I missed out on by doing it today and I'll do the other tomorrow. The 15 minute timer is my new friend. I really can get things done in 15 minutes. And having put in the work on the first week makes the subsequent weeks that much easier.

I don't have all the answers, and I don't have it altogether yet, but I'm getting there. Slowly but surely, I'm getting it done.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Culling Books

This week has been my first full week of doing the FLY Lady system in a couple of years.  The house looks amazing.  I’m not killing myself, as she says, if you overdo it in the first week, you will quickly burn out and give up.  Still, I have filled 4 or 5 trash bags with stuff for the dump, and gotten rid of tons of dust, trash, and debris.

My goal is to attack one shelf, drawer, or closet per week to get it totally organized.  This gives me time to really sort through things, give some thought to what I’m doing, and not stress myself out over how much I’ve got.

Today I attacked the to-be-read shelf in my bedroom.  I had a ton of books saved up from the past 4 years of book shopping, and the time had come to get realistic about what could stay, what could go, what I would actually read.

I think my reading tastes may have changed dramatically.  I had no problem getting rid of mysteries and thrillers.  I kept one Dean Koontz book that sounds great “just in case” but the rest are goners.  I also got rid of 99% of the books in which the main character “is struck by a sudden and senseless tragedy.”  Life’s hard enough, I have enough drama going on right now, I guess I don’t want to read about other people’s dramas.

The things I kept were either quirky, new acquisitions, favorite authors, sounded like good stories, or were follow ups to books I have previously read and loved.

I agonized over some choices.  I kept a book called A Taxonomy of Barnacles.  I can’t decide if I’ll love it or hate it, but ultimately I decided I just have to give it a try.  I got rid of a Jodi Piccoult book.  She is one of my favorite authors and I think I must have gone through a phase of just collecting her books, but one of them just didn’t appeal to me, and I made the decision to let it go.  Two authors whose books I had several of went on the goodbye pile—they are not authors I’d ever read, and the fact that I had several different books by them indicated to me I would probably enjoy their stuff.  However, apparently they hadn’t appealed to me sufficiently in the past several years to actually get started, so they went on the pile.  Books that I didn’t have any real attachment to other than the fact I bought them in Maryland while we were waiting for Leah to be born last year went in the pile.

It feels like I have gotten rid of potential friends—I’m sure there are at least a couple of books in that pile that I really would have enjoyed.  I’m sure there are some that I really would have enjoyed a year or two ago.  But their time is past and better they should go to new homes that appreciate them.  In all, I posted 58 books, mostly fiction, to Paperback Swap, and already 13 of them are on hold.  It does my heart good that they will be read and loved and cared for and not just languish on my shelf.  Even better news is that I’ll be able to do the same to my non-fiction shelves in the future and make room for my ever growing collection of fiction books I just have to keep.  But not today.  I’m too worn out.  That was tough, real tough.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

An Open Letter to Borders

Dear Borders:

Before I even get into the true purpose of this letter, let me state unequivocally that prior to last night (January 5, 2009), my family was a Borders family. My sister (nee Judy Cherepon) was a Borders keyholder at Reagan Airport for over a year and during that time met one Lucas Szabo, also an employee of the store. Romance blossomed amongst the stacks and they are now married with 2 babies. We love Borders books.

Or I did, until last night. I have never been so aggravated by customer service, or lack thereof, in my life. I went into the Borders in Central Park, Fredericksburg, Virginia to return some DVD’s I’d received as a Christmas present. A certain family member is a bit forgetful and had gotten me these DVD’s no fewer than 3 times, and I wanted to return them. As they were a Christmas gift, I did not have a receipt.

Judy and Lucas had been to Borders in Springfield VA several days before to return some merchandise that they had received duplicates of. They also did not have a receipt. They were told that without a receipt, they could only receive store credit and were issued it via a gift card which they could use later. They both told me it would be no problem to return my DVD’s in a similar fashion, stating that as long as Borders carries a particular item, their policy is to provide store credit.

Ok, so I get to Borders and I take my DVD’s and get in line at the cashier. When I reach the front, there is one person working and she tells me that the store will only do an exchange without a receipt and I will have to go into the store and pick out the equivalent amount in merchandise. I said, “Seriously?” and it was confirmed. So, again, please remember, these DVD’s were a Christmas present, I said, “How much are they worth?” And she wasn’t too happy about having to look it up, but there was no price tag on the set! I was told $59.99. I was like, “So you’re telling me I have to walk around and gather up $59.99 worth of materials?” “Yup. Next in line!” and she hands me back my DVD set.

Ok, I was not really happy about having to use the money immediately, particularly since I was told by two former employees that I should be able to get a gift card, but also it is typically not a problem for me to spend $60 in the book store. I am an avid reader. I run a book club, I have been featured in my local newspaper for nothing more than the fact that I read a LOT of books every year, I volunteer at the library and I blog about what I read on my own blog and at I am not a casual reader, and I buy a lot of books. I had my book club list roughly in my head, and so I set about finding one of the books, I came up with a DVD I wanted, I snooped around in the bargain bins, I even thought of a book a friend read and picked that up. Doing the math in my head (which admittedly, I’m not a math genius or anything, but I do hold a master’s degree, so I’m no slouch either), I figured I had roughly $59.99 worth of merchandise. I go back and get on line and when I finally reach the front, a new cashier tells me that he is not authorized to do an exchange, I have to wait for a manager and please go to the end of the counter. (I have since found out from my sister that this is also complete nonsense.)

So I go to the end of the counter and wait and Ron, the manager comes up, and says, “What do you want to do?” I had hand him my DVD’s and say, “I received these for Christmas, I already have them and I wanted to return them. However, I was told I could only do an exchange, so these are my exchange books.” At which point, Ron starts examining the package and says, “These didn’t come from Borders, we don’t use this kind of sticker. I don’t think I can accept these, are you sure they’re from here?”

Ok, honestly, no, I don’t seeing as I didn’t buy them, but I do know that Borders policy is to take back DVD’s if Borders sells them, and there was an entire rack of the exact same DVD behind the cashier’s station. At this point, if I hadn’t just wasted an hour of my time finding books and stuff I was willing to take in exchange, I would have walked out, but then I’d have been out the DVD’s and the books and DVD I did want, so I was determined to hang in there. So Ron decides to look the DVD up in the computer, and fortunately the cashier next to him, the first girl I spoke to, says, “We carry these, there’s a whole shelf of them right here.”

So Ron scans it and sure enough! It’s a miracle! It’s in the system! So he scans the merchandise I did choose and damn my eyes, I only picked out $54.78 worth of goods, so Ron says, “Well, I can’t issue you cash without a receipt, you will have to go buy another $4.22 worth of books.” I said, “Do you even sell anything for $4.22 in here?” and he said, “Well, how about this book? It’s the book we’re recommending this month, it’s very good!” I turn the book over and it is FIFTEEN DOLLARS! I said, “That’s fifteen dollars,” and Ron replies, “Well you can just pay the difference.” LIKE HELL I AM GIVING THIS STORE ANY MORE THAN I ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO! So I was like, “No thanks” so he tells me that I can go look around and when I’m done come back and he’ll finish the transaction.

So I go to the bargain books section again and pick out a hardcover for $5.99, which was about $2.00 more than I wanted to spend and I take it back to the front, only to discover that there is exactly ONE person working now, Josh, the second clerk I spoke to. He says, “Ok, I think I can ring you up” and we go back down to the end of the counter and guess what!? No he can’t! He needs a manager’s ID! Meanwhile, a lady behind me says, “there is no one at the information desk” (a fact I can confirm because while I was attempting to find one of the books I wanted, there was NO ONE to help me find it—and by the way, the self-help section was a mess. What’s even more confusing is why Jerramy Fine’s Someday My Prince Will Come is shelved as self-help) and Josh says, and I quote, “I’m the only one working at the moment. The manager is out back taking a delivery, but I’ll have him come out as soon as I can.”

Manager? As in the manager I need to see? Right you are! Fortunately, Ron came back and swished his manager’s ID so my transaction could be completed, and I wound up paying $2.07, which didn’t thrill me, but I put it on my credit card, so I can only assume any potential profit you might have seen from that transaction was eaten up in fees to the credit card company. Then I had to sign a damned form and then, finally, mercifully, I was free to go. From the time I walked into the store to the time I left, 1 hour and 45 minutes had elapsed.

I have never been so happy to get out of a store in my life. And between an excellent local bookstore and I will not go back in there again. In fact, to prove my point, please find enclosed my Borders Rewards card. If the rumors are true and Fredericksburg is soon to get a Barnes and Noble, I will conduct most of my book-buying business there and at the other locales mentioned. It’s little wonder to me that Borders is in so much trouble.

Sincerely yours,

Susan C. Kosior, Former Borders Customer

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The Toys are Getting to Me...

...I am starting to crack.

Last night, I dreamed that I was attempting to take a nap and I was in a room that had been boobytrapped with Fisher Price toys. There were 3 other people in the room, and every time they moved, another toy started singing. I was cursing a blue streak at all of them. It was the worst dream I've had in a long time.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Year End Meme

1. What did you do in 2009 that you'd never done before? Adopted a baby

2. Did anyone close to you die? My mom's neighbor John, who we were just getting close to as our surrogate grandpa

3. What was the best thing you bought? Mental health counseling

4. Where did most of your money go? The adoption

5. What did you get really, really, really excited about? The adoption

6. What song will always remind you of 2009? My Life Would Suck Without You (Kelly Clarkson)

7. Compared to this time last year, are you:

i. happier or sadder? - happier

ii. thinner or fatter? - I would guess the same?

iii. richer or poorer? - Poorer

8. What was your favorite TV program? Lost, Project Runway

9. What was the best book you read this year? Home From the Vinyl Cafe (Stuart McLean)--best book I read this year that I hadn't read before!

10. What was your favorite film of this year? I only saw one movie this year, Revolutionary Road

11. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? 34 and I don't remember

12. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? I can't say it on this blog, but suffice it to say, if you know me, you can probably figure it out pretty quickly

13. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2009? Stay-at-home-mom comfortable

14. What kept you sane? My husband, my daughter

15. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? Tom Brady

16. Who was the best new person you met in 2009? Landry and Meredith

17. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2009? I am not a bad daughter

18. What was your job this year? Rehabilitation teacher and mom

19. Did you have any encounters with the police in 2009? Nope

20. Have you run into anybody you graduated high school with? Nope

21. Describe your birthday. Apparently, forgettable.

22.) Any new additions to your family? Yes, my daughter Leah!

23.) What from pop culture will you remember 2009 by? Susan Boyle, the death of Michael Jackson

24.) How do you plan to ring in 2010? I rang it in with friends

25.) What's something you learned about yourself? I have a lot more willpower than I gave myself credit for

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Resolutions and Revolutions

So here we are, 2010, a new decade and a new year. A lot of people were happy to see 2009 go, but as I thought about it, I really couldn't count myself among their number. Apart from my dad's heart attack and all the subsequent craziness stemming from that, 2009 was a great year for me. Of course, first and foremost, my daughter was born. She is my favorite person in the world, the true love and light of my life. I am blessed beyond measure to be able to spend every day with her, even the days I don't feel like being a mom she brightens with her brilliant smile.

I've also taken some serious steps in getting my mental house in order, getting my head screwed on tight. With the help of a truly great counselor, I spent the last 3 months of 2009 talking, hashing through a lot of issues, and ultimately triumphing over a lot of things that previously held me back. Notably, interpersonal communication and anxiety. I will always be on the quiet side, but I'm not going to be a doormat any more. I am still struggling a bit with how I will take better care of myself versus everyone else, but at least I'm more in touch with my personal needs even if I ignore them half the time. I've been more or less discharged from the sessions, will be going about once a month now instead of weekly, and I'm excited about that. It's been a really interesting process, I did a lot better than I would have expected, but it turns out I was a lot more motivated than I thought I was.

To that end, I'll be working on 2 day planner/journal type things. I bought a day planner called Listopia that gives you a list per week to make, some serious (this week's was *duh* what I want to accomplish this year; there is one week you list every movie you could watch over and over again), and I intend to keep a gratitude list on each day in addition to jotting down events as they arise. (How exciting is it to look less than 2 weeks ahead and see "Leave for Atlanta" written down?) I've also picked up The Happy Book, as one of the themes from my counselor is a need for me to figure out exactly what makes me happy and increase the happiness in my life. Not that I'm not happy, but couldn't we all be happier? This sweet little book has prompts, activities, journaling space, etc. I'll be working on that.

I also have a lot of "What's next?" questions floating around in my mind, so part of my goals for this year will be to think about a personal 5 year plan and a family 5 year plan. I know that Leah will not need me in this capacity forever, and the first year of her life is already almost behind us, so I need to think forward. What do I want to do? Do I want to go back to school? Re-enter the workforce? Switch careers? It's exciting, confusing, and a bit frightening all at once. I'm mostly excited to think about it, however.

Michael and I have also discussed adding to the family down the line, and we've both agreed we'd like to give foster care a shot in the future. To that end, we decided we needed to get some experience with teenagers and we have applied to host an exchange student this fall. We have our eye on a 15 year old from Germany named Caroline, and we have applied to host her for a year. What appeals to me most about her is that she is an avid reader and says she will read anything. Providing we are matched, I'll be bringing her to book club :-)

Of course the big elephant in the room, will I get back to my fitness and weight loss goals? The short answer is YES I WILL! My goal is to return to Weight Watchers on January 23rd, which will allow me to have a final fling in Atlanta without worrying about counting points, etc. while on vacation (although Mike and Lesley have turned into such fitness gurus, maybe I won't have to count so much as just eat what they eat!) and then get back to it. I would like to try and lose 50 pounds this year. I know have gained some back since becoming a SAHM, it's very easy to just sort of graze through the days, but I really would like to get back on track and get going again. I will be returning to the Saturday morning meetings, as that worked very well for me, but I won't go back at 6:30am, I'll probably go to the 8:30 meetings. Michael is back on board too, so we'll both be working out together after Leah's bedtime, which is good, because it's much easier to have a partner to support you locally in addition to all the wonderful support I've received from friends far and wide!

Of course I've already outlined my reading goals for the year. In terms of a number, well, I read 69 books last year, I would like to hit 75 this year. It could be tricky because Leah is already TONS more active than she used to be, and I know it will only get crazier as she is really close to being mobile and I'll be plucking her off the stairs and chasing her down the driveway in no time flat, I'm sure. But I've taken up watching a lot more TV, which I really don't like--I've never considered myself a TV watcher--so I'm going to limit my viewing to 4 shows (LOST, Project Runway, Clean House, and Hoarders) and the TV will be off the rest of the time. Adding in exercise time and more reading time will take up most of my free time in the evenings anyway.

Travel for the year? Atlanta in January, North Carolina in February, New York in March (reuniting with my best friends from high school! That should be interesting!), hopefully Myrtle Beach in May, probably back to NY for a quick trip in June for my dad's retirement, Rhode Island in August, Florida in October (my mom's turning 60!). With Caroline in tow, hopefully we will make it so she can see most of the east coast during her year here, and maybe we'll get somewhere a little more exciting as well (maybe for her spring break in 2011). We hope to see Russell and Amy and Annette someday somewhere in 2010, and lots of visits with Mike and Lesley again.

And finally, I will be re-instating the FLY Lady system into our lives. I want to be able to walk into a clean house all the time, and the system really worked when we lived in Centreville. The idea of not going into a total panic when company is due really appeals to me. Just keeping on top of everything is what I need to do. And I will do it!

So that's how 2010 is shaping up! Today we will drop off Joe at home and then I will start getting the house cleaned up from the holidays--I am really looking forward to getting my house back! I can't believe the amount of cleaning I did pre-Christmas and it looks like I did NOTHING. UGH. But in 15 minute increments, we'll get it done for sure. :-) Michael's hard at work with the laundry, Leah is napping, and I'm going to go get dressed!

Happy New Year Everyone!