Sunday, December 31, 2017

Curled up with a Good Book....

If you read this blog at all, one of the first things you soon realize is that I love to read.  I mean, I LOVE to read.  I have documented multiple reading challenges, books I have loved and books I have loathed in separate posts.  Books have had a significant profile here on my blog.  Since I didn't write much in 2017, I've missed talking about the books I have read, so I thought I would close the year out with some of my favorite books of 2017.

Just FYI, I had a record year of reading...180 books read.  Yes, 180.   I think it was my highest total ever.  Yes, I read almost everyday.  I also read fast.  I don't watch a lot of tv, so ta-da, reading time.  I will also give up sleep to read...

Without further ado, here are my favorites of 2017, 17 of them to be exact....

1.  The Emerald Mile:  The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon by Kevin Fedarko

This book is sooooooo much more than the speed run in a wooden dory boat, it is a love story to the Grand Canyon.  It is a non fiction book that reads like fiction.  I LOVED this book.

2.  The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
     and  The Love Song of Miss Quennie Hennessy both by Rachel Joyce

These two were some of the last books I read in 2017 and I inhaled both of them.  They are books about regrets, things not said, things said, life, love, death, moving on and letting go.  They are set in England and filled with some memorable characters.

3.  Trigger Warning:  Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman

I love Neil Gaiman anyway, but this collection is just pure perfection.  Some were created for events, others in tribute to writers that influenced Neil, and others were just stories that needed to be told.  If you are already a Gaiman fan, you will love this, and if you have never read him before, this is a perfect introduction.

4.  Rising Strong by Brene Brown

Have you ever had a book come along at the exact moment you needed it?  This one whacked me upside the head, in a good way, and woke me up.  It resonated with me in how to deal with conflict, emotions and just life.  I have since chatted it up to others and some have liked it and others not so much, but this is my favorite thing about books, you never, ever know when a book will reach your soul..

5.  One Writer's Beginnings by Eudora Welty

I love this book for a couple of reasons, the first is how it came to my attention.  I was at the Mary Chapin Carpenter concert at Red Butte Garden this summer and she mentioned it multiple times as an inspiration for writing....  The second is this line found within the book..'Ever since I was first read to, then started reading to myself, there has never been a line I didn't hear'.  It summed up something I have experienced since I started reading, I hear the characters in my head.  They have distinct voices and it's why I don't always like movie adaptations.....

6.  Antigone by Sophocles

I actually read the trilogy of The Theban Plays by Sophocles this year and liked all of them, but chose Antigone for this line...
'I cannot side with hate.  My nature sides with love.'
This is an ancient play, but it travels through time so well and applies to life now.

7.  Flowers of Evil:  A Selection by Charles Baudelaire

Do not let the title deceive you, this is a beautiful selection of poetry.  I continued with my quest of reading #51-100 books and this was on it.  My favorite poem is "Get Drunk" and trust me, it's not about drinking, it's about diving fully into life.

8.  Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

You may know the author as an actor/comedian from the tv shows 'Parks & Recreation' or 'Master of None' but this is a science  and real life based look at dating and romance today told with humor.  Texting, dating sites and all of the other new ways to find love are examined and how we are kinda missing the point of it all.  Whether you are single or in a relationship, you'll find things to apply to your life.

9.  Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis

Thank you Melissa Rasmussen for telling me about this brilliant novel!  A updated take of Cupid and Psyche that is just magical.

10.  The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak

I adore this book.  Two tales are told simultaneously, one set today and the other, the tale of Rumi, the Sufi mystic.  I don't buy many books anymore, because I would have no room, but this one will have a permanent home wherever I go.

11.  Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

I'm actually recommending the entire African Trilogy, but this is the first one so I will start here.  One of my favorite things about reading is how it makes you realize how we are more alike than different. This novel is set in late 19th century in Nigeria, but it resonates today.

12. The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

This book took me completely by surprise!  I am not a graphic novel fan, so when I opened it I almost didn't continue.  I would of MISSED out!!!!

13.  Furiously Happy: A Funny Book about Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson

I find Jenny Lawson hilarious.  Others might find her a bit of a potty mouth, so this book comes with a disclaimer, if you don't like swearing--Stay away, stay far away.  I, however, now want a taxidermied raccoon named Rory thanks to this book.

14.  The Gift of Nothing by Patrick McDonnell

This is actually a children's book by the comic who draws 'Mutts' that is simply beautiful and now my favorite gift book.

15.  Some Writer!:  The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet

A biography of one of my favorite author.  It's actually a young adult/child's book but adults will love it too!

16.  How to Eat
       How to Sit
       How to Love
       and the entire How to series by Thich Nhat Hanh

I have purse books now and this series is why.  They are little, both in size and length.  They are exerts of the Monk's talks, teachings and other books.  Made in snippet size and sheer perfection.

17.  West with the Night by Beryl Markham

I read a slightly biographical novel about Beryl earlier in the year and then I read her autobiography 'West with the Night' and was reminded that information may be not as polished or organized when written by the source, but the truth will shine so much brighter......

I could go on and on and on about the books I read this year, but will stop now.  My Goodreads to read list still has 175 books on it and I wouldn't have it any other way......

Curled up with a good book,

Saturday, December 30, 2017

December Agreements....

It's the most Wonderful Time of the Year?

Happy Holidays?

Enjoying Holiday Lights at Luminaria


Every couple of years, I find myself struggling to get into the Holiday Spirit.  It has nothing to do with what is going on in my life; it is completely random...

Living in Utah, I am conditioned to expect a White Christmas or at least snow during December..  Some years, it even snows on Christmas!  :).  The weather this year absolutely got to me, dreary, grey and blah, but then at last moment, and while I was driving home, it snowed on Christmas Eve.

I still struggled with Christmas Spirit throughout the entire season, however.  I even began joking that I liked my Grinchy status, so I did something kind of different.

I made  Christmas Agreements.  If you have ever read the book "The Four Agreements" by Miguel Ruiz, you'll know exactly where I am heading with this.  I do 4 Agreements every month, so this wasn't too far out of the realm of normal for me.  I agreed to 4 Christmas activities this month.

#1.  Do something for someone else...

I wish I had taken a photo of the 70 plus stuffed animals that my mom and I knitted throughout 2017 and donated to the Utah Highway Patrol for their Teddy Bear program, but I didn't.  :(. Trust me when I say that they were cute and it felt really good dropping them off!  We also donated to the Road Home Shelter about 40 scarves, hats and gloves.  We enjoy knitting and this was a fun and easy way to give back...and plan to repeat this in 2018.

#2.  Do some sort of Christmas Activity...

There was massive debate and decision making to be done.  How much money to spend, if any at all?  Inside or Outside Activity?  Play, concert, or other art type event?  Decisions, decisions....

The winner.... Luminaria at Thanksgiving Point.  I will admit as I purchased the tickets, I was questioning my choice, but it won because I had never done it and the reviews from people who had gone were positive.

It was cold and a bit windy the night I went, but this was a beautiful thing to do.  You walk the gardens of Thanksgiving Point that have been transformed into a enchanting light display.  There are different sections and even fires throughout to warm your hands.  The craziest part, as you were walking in different sections, they had added scents!  In the Peppermint Alley area, it smelled like peppermint; in the Woodland Forest, pine; Candy Cane Lane, sweet candy (not my favorite...but still cute). You can even meet Reindeer.
A real live REINDEER!

I'm not sure I'll go every year, it is about $20 per person, but I'm going to keep it in my Christmas rotation.  

#3.  Have a Holiday Movie and Christmas Tradition Night

Charlie Brown's Christmas, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, Frosty, White Christmas, and yes even the Nightmare Before Christmas and Die Hard.....all shows that just say Holiday Spirit.  Over the past couple of years, I have found them all on DVD on sale, because I forget to record them or I'm not home when they are on.  Full proof watching, right?  Well.......last year, I think I only watched White Christmas....  Hence, the Agreement....

Now for the Tradition, every year as a kid, we would make Pomander balls...Oranges with whole cloves pushed into the peel.  Smells amazing, yet I vaguely remember very sore fingers from the cloves.  I had clementines on hand and will never go back.  Same smell, thinner peel!!!  

See the pomander balls? and guess what, I made that wreath!

#4.  Go Downtown.....

Christmas Lights in the Relective Pool

Salt Lake City is known for its Christmas decorations with Temple Square being the crown jewel.  I have a tendency to avoid large mobs of strolling people, so I haven't been downtown to see the lights, window displays, and decorations in YEARS.  The really sad part, I can be downtown, even with traffic in under 10 minutes from my house.......oops.  It is incredibly beautiful and yes, it can be crowded, but it is so worth it.  I parked in City Creek Center's lot and because it was under two hours-free parking.  I need to do this every year....

Busy but not Crazy....and absolutely Beautiful.

I completed my Agreements for Christmas and you know what, it ended up being a Merry Little Christmas after all......

Monday, December 11, 2017

Unintended Consequences

So, how have you been?  I hope well and wonderful!!

It's been a while since I've written and checked in with you......
and the reason why is a bit complicated and at the same time unintended.

As you may remember from my post about my 2017 Resolutions, which was just about my last post!!,  I resolved to spend less time on social media and screen time and I have but in doing so I stayed away from here as well.

I have taken a long look at why I am on social media and my blog.  It took just a second to figure out how I wanted to proceed on Facebook and Instagram, but this took me a while to figure out.

For the first 6 months or so, I didn't even think about writing, I was journaling and doing some writing that needed to be private.  However, around August, I started to think, "I should do a blog entry" but it never went past that.  In October, I thought "Write Melissa" but then that little obnoxious voice said "It's been 10 months since you wrote, it's been too long"......and I listened to the second voice.

As you can tell, the voice that said "Write Melissa!" got more insistent and louder, so here I am, but it took me figuring out why before I could get this going again.  Writing for a audience is different for me than my private journaling and I enjoy doing it, regardless of whether anyone reads this or not.  It's the process, the creativity, and the joy of it, not the responses (although I do appreciate them tremendously!!!).  So with this cleared up in my mind, I was able to write again.

I have no idea how often I will write here, but I know that I will write.

So until next time,

Monday, January 9, 2017

Thanks Dr. Google...

My cat, Meeko, is getting on up there in years.  As best as I can figure, due to her being a feral rescue and the number of years I have been her slave, she is 16 to 17 years old.  She is slowing down, can't jump as high as she used to, and has some areas that are tender and achy.

The hard fact is that she is getting old..and health concerns are starting to appear..

This afternoon, I was hanging in the front room with Bacall when Meeko came in and wanted some affection, but when she jumped up on my lap, her back haunches were decidedly wet and slightly sticky.  As this is an area where she is tender, I was immediately afraid a cyst or something had ruptured, but it was not the case.  Next, I was concerned that she had 'wet her pants' and then had just laid in her own urine, not realizing it.

Needless to say, I was CONCERNED!!!  I immediately started googling loss of bladder control in cats, because my normal vet was closed and I wanted to get an idea of what I was dealing with before I called the emergency vet.  Worst case scenarios started popping up on my screen....

However, Meeko was not acting sick or in pain, in fact, she cruised into the kitchen to try and get some food out of the situation.

Meanwhile, I'm sniffing her wet blanket making sure it wasn't urine.  (Isn't the life of a cat owner glamorous?)  No urine smell....

I take the damp blanket to the washer to throw it in and realize something....
and then burst into laughter, which made Meeko infuriated and annoyed.

A bit of a side story, that is vital for your understanding...
I, for the past number of years, have made my own laundry detergent (non toxic, environmentally friendly and WAY cheaper) and keep it in a 5 gallon bucket near the washer on the floor in the laundry room.  

The lid on my 5 gallon bucket isn't always attached as it could be.  Meeko likes to hang out in the laundry room as an exploring base.

Do you see where this is going?
She jumped on the lid, which flipped off, and in she went.  Fortunately, it was only about a third full, but her bum definitely dunked.  I would of paid big money to witness this event.  The lid flipping, her going in and immediately coming out, then the sauntering off like nothing happened.

Soapy...aka Meeko
I made sure I wiped her off as best as I could, and now that she is dry, her fur on her bum is soft, fluffy and she is static free (hahahahahahahahahaha!)

So Thanks Dr. Google, but it turns out it was just an embarrassing situation for my cat.....

Sleeping with one eye open, cause I laughed....

Wednesday, January 4, 2017


A couple of days ago on Facebook, a friend of mine defended New Year's Resolutions in a succinct and powerful way.  She posted,

 "It has become fashionable to put down the tradition of making New Year's Resolutions.  To be cynical ('you won't stick to them').  To be judgmental ('why do you need a date on the calendar to decide to change?').  No.  Make your best New Year's Resolutions ever.  Infuse them with resolute sacred intention.  Claim them:  "You know what?  THIS is the year that I will....."  And then lean in.  Right now.  This is a ritual that we actually need.  Love your resolutions and encourage those of your loved ones.  xo"

That post summed up better than I have ever been able to express why I still make Resolutions.  It's a chance to challenge, grow, explore and build upon my experiences in my life.  People ask 'Why?', and I say 'WHY NOT?'  Because even in the missed attempts and errors, you will still learn and move forward.

So with that, I hereby present my 2017 New Year's Resolutions.....

1.  Limit social media and screen time.

Facebook, Instagram, apps and all of that have a place, but throughout 2016 I felt them going a bit sideways sometimes and it made me realize that at times, I was not in control of it and it was starting to control me.  Not good.  With a lot of my groups that I get together in real life communicating and organizing things on Facebook, I can't leave, but I can make sure that I set limits and involvement.

Update:  I set limits and found my balance with social media.  I found my reason for being on them and just as importantly I found I can be without them.

2.  Write letters, cards, in my journals, etc.

Picking up a pen and writing....what a concept!  This came out of a realization from a 2016 resolution that I found really value something hand written, so why shouldn't I spread this to others?

Update:  As you know my absence from this blog, I found my voice off line this year.  I also found that I LOVE drawing little doodles on envelopes I send, so now I look for a reason to send a card to someone.

3.  A New (to me) Restaurant a Month

I live in an insanely wonderful neighborhood for food!  The local and healthy options outnumber fast food options.  While I eat at the local options, I still have a tendency to eat at the same one over and over again.....  Eating good food and supporting local businesses, sounds like a good deal to me...

Update:  I missed a couple of months, but had multiple restaurants in others, so this was a success.  I am working off of a list I found and will continue this in 2018.

4.  Be a tourist in my town and state

This one started simmering in my mind in July when some family came to visit and I had done NONE of the things we were suggesting for the group to do.  Really?  Not only will I have a better idea on what is worth it and what is not, I will break up the mundane of day to day life.

Update:  I went to more museums, attractions and events this year than I have in multiple years.  What I found, SLC has a lot to offer.  What I learned, if you want to attend an attraction (zoo, aquarium, etc) more than once in a calendar year, a membership will pay for itself and then you can go more than once!

5.  Take time for self care

I admit I am not always the best at this.....  I don't mean taking a spa day, I mean taking 5 minutes to breathe or turning off my phone during the day or any of the other little things we can do for ourselves to calm, protect, energize or whatever else we need.   My resolution of last year of a daily walk started this realization, so I decided to expand a bit.  The reasoning behind this is the classic airplane safety instruction, 'Put your own oxygen mask on before helping others.'  No matter our situation in life, married or single, with children or without, young or old, we all need to take care of ourselves.

Update:  Just having this as a reminder this year helped.  I journaled.  I rested.  I knitted.  I let go.  I hung on.  Self care took many different forms and really didn't take time away from other things, in fact, I think it opened up time, because it helps you figure out what is important.

6.  Do at least 3 30 Day Challenges

I consider 30 Day Challenges mini resolutions.  I have a couple picked out-- a cardio/exercise one, a photography one, and a self care one and will probably add another.  It's a way to focus and make a jump forward in things in my life.

Update:  I LOVED this! I did a couple of exercise ones, a gratitude one, a happiness one and considered all of them successes!  They ended up being jumpstarts for new habits.

7.  Travel solo

There is something freeing in travel to begin with, but to do it on my own (not meeting a friend or family member somewhere, but knowing absolutely no one) seems both freeing and comfort zone pushing at the same time.  I have an idea where I am going to go, but am still working on the details.

Update:  didn't happen, but I'm ok with it.  In 2018, more solid plans are in place.

8.  Reduce my and done, straws, bags, etc.

I'm pretty good about using reusable grocery bags, but I wanted to do something tangible for the earth and environment and reducing my plastic use seems like a good place to start.

Update:  I changed my toilet paper, it's no longer made from trees and everything about it is better for the environment.  I have pretty much eliminated ziplock bags thanks to Bee's Wrap and food grade silicone bags.  I do not use disposable utensils, I keep a set of recycled bamboo utensils in my purse along with a glass straw.  This was a mind set change and it was a daily thought pattern of "What can I do to eliminate my throwaways?'  and it is now a habit that I will continue.

9.  Do something once a month out of my comfort zone.

I have a pretty eclectic life, but still have a tendency to stay within my comfort zone.  I'll probably vary the way I do this, but if you never try something, you'll never know....

Update:  Every month, something cropped up that challenged me a bit.  Some were easier than others, but others took a bit of courage.

10.  Bucket List items (shocker I know, as this has been on the list for the past 4 years)

It always surprises me which items get done each year and which ones that I had planned to do don't, but every year, I have crossed items off my list.

Update:  A trip to Rocky Mountain National Park was the only one that I really expected to do, but it wasn't the only one that was completed.  I love having a list of things I want to accomplish in life...

It's funny, I say that I need 10 Resolutions, but the last couple of years, I have ended up at 10.

Here's to another trip around the sun...

If you are really curious about how last year's turned out, I updated my post laying them out with the results.  You can read it HERE

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Rumbly in my Tummy...

As the year comes to a close, I am realizing that I didn't quite finish my food challenge.  :(  But I have a plan for the 6 items I didn't complete, they will be done in January.  I never tried a food that scared me...I didn't make a layer cake from scratch...I haven't taken my tour, but I did buy the groupon to do so...I didn't make mac and, January is going to be a good food month.

But I did do a lot of things, very yummy things....
Instead of going thru all of them, I thought I would just hit some of my adventures.  As you will see, some were wonderful, but others are a work in progress....

49.  More dutch oven cooking, especially during the summer

May 14th, I got the charcoal out and had the first of what I plan to be many dutch oven meals.   The smell alone of it cooking just made my saliva pool.  I ended up using my dutch oven almost once a week during the summer.....

18. Make a condiment from scratch.

May 16th, I blended up the blend that had been marinating for lack of a better word for two days and viola, I had made mustard.  I also made ketchup, in my crockpot and then canned it!

21. Make a soufflé.

It turned out pretty well, but I think it could of been fluffier....

23. Cook a steak to perfect doneness.

I think I eat steak once a year, but I managed to grill it to the exact doneness I prefer and to the preference of those I was cooking for...  YA!!!

42.  Cheesecakes without the cracking

Well, I'm going to have to do this one again.....  I did not have the right size pan for my water bath and it went dry, so my cheesecake got dry and dry cheesecakes crack....  It tasted fine, but grrrrrrrr...
oh, well, I make another one down the road...

27. Feast on an ethnic food you've never had before.

Groupon helped me with this one, I now can say I have eaten Ethiopian food at Mahinder Restaurant here in SLC.

33. Make homemade pasta.

I actually took a class at The Salt Lake Culinary Center and learned how to do it, and let me tell you the difference between fresh made homemade pasta and dried pasta is MASSIVE!!!  The best part, it is soooo easy to make!

5.  Make tomato sauce from scratch.

Tomato Basil Simmer me it's good, and the bonus, I canned it so I will be able to enjoy it year round.

34. Flip pancakes without them folding.

Here's what I learn with pancakes and eggs and flipping, control and speed help, but as folding prone flipper, size matters....  make your pancakes a little smaller so that they fit with little overlap on your spatula, you'll gain confidence and no more folding...

20. Visit your neighborhood farmers market.

I went to my mid week Sugarhouse Farmer's Market!!!  Not as much as I wanted but I did go this year!

I have no regrets attempting this challenge and not accomplishing all of them.  It pushed me to try new recipes and got me more aware of my food and my approach to it...


Fly By February....

If I thought January went fast,  February upped the game and went warp speed..... my view of February as it flew on by... I kind of ha...