Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Merry Christmas!

Happy Holidays everyone! I can't believe it's all over and done with after all the planning and doing. We had a wonderful weekend full of lots of family and presents. As usual, we spent Christmas Eve at M's mom's house. All of the children and grandchildren were in attendance, an unusual occurance with so many, so it was great for everyone to be together. H. received some cute little outfits from her Mimi and Aunt B, along with some baby doll equipment from Aunt Doody. The Walmart gift certificate from M's brother didn't last long - we spent it today on a the Shrek 2 DVD.

We got home from M's mom's around 10pm and M. and I honored one of the sacred rituals of parenthood - staying up until all hours assembling H's Christmas gifts. Her "big gift" this year was a kitchen set, which we've had for months, but never even opened the box. I thought it would be along the lines of a Little Tykes product - 4 or 5 big pieces to snap together with some stickers to slap on. Wrong! This kitchen set was in a million pieces. Every piece needed to be assembled - doors, handles, knobs, plus stickers. It took just over an hour to put it together, but it was well worth it. It's really cute and H. just loved it. My parents' came to watch H. open her presents and she performed for her audience. She was so excited when she first came downstairs, I don't think she knew where to start, so she just rolled around on the floor for a couple of minutes in sheer happiness, not unlike a puppy dog.

We didn't have to be at my aunt's house until 4pm on Christmas Day, so we just relaxed and played most of the afternoon. Dinner at my aunt's house pretty much met my (low) expectations - too crowded, too hectic and too smoky. We barely stayed two hours and I didn't even open any of my presents there.

Since my aunt had Christmas Day this year instead of my mom, we went to my parents' house on Sunday for an extended celebration. It was much more relaxed and you could watch everyone open their presents. My parents gave M. and me a portable DVD player for the car, which we had been wanting. (Another purchase at Walmart today was a carrying case for it.) H. loved all of her presents, but I think her two favorites were the Wiggles guitar from Aunt J. and Uncle T. and the Dora ViewMaster with reels from M. and me.

I still had off of work yesterday and today, so it's been very relaxing, in addition to trying to get the house back into some sort of order. I work Wednesday and Thursday, then have off again on Friday, so it will be a nice, short week. On Saturday, we'll be going to our annual get-together with W. and N. at W's house this year, which I'm really looking forward to.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

2004 Reading List

I may finish one or two more books before the end of the year (wishful thinking), but for now, I present for your perusal my 2004 Reading List. It was a banner year for me - I tried to make the most of my lunch hours! I think the list reflects quite a bit of variety, although I didn't do that well with my self-imposed reading list for catching up on missed classics or literature this year. However, I did read more non-fiction than I usually do. The upcoming year should bring some more new and different titles to the list, with the English classes I'm taking next semester. I'll link to some, but not all, of the books below and add some additional thoughts if needed. Enjoy!

Some observations, for those of you who might not know or wonder. Most of these books are from the library. I don't think I bought a single new book this year. As I've said previously, I heart and that's where I buy most of my books, anywhere from six months to a year after they are originally released. Of the 69 books below, 50 or so came from the library. If not from bookcloseouts, the others came from used book sales or were borrowed from friends.
  1. Bigfoot Dreams by Francine Prose (from my required reading list)
  2. Prejudicial Error by Bill Blum (legal thriller)
  3. The Gypsy Man by Robert Bausch (For reasons unbeknowst to me, I love reading books set in Appalachia. This book is a few years old, but I just discovered and thought it was very well done.)
  4. Blow Fly by Patricia Cornwell (Catching up on this series in early 2004, however, I don't think I'll read the 2004 installment, Trace. I think I've given up on this series.)
  5. The Sculptress by Minette Walters (This is the third book of hers that I've read. Everyone I know who reads her books never has anything bad or negative to say about them and I agree.)
  6. The Kills by Linda Fairstein (series)
  7. The Quality of Life Report by Meghan Daum
  8. Nowhere Else on Earth by Josephine Humphreys (excellent historical fiction – read my previous entry about this book)
  9. Jemima J by Jane Green (chick lit)
  10. Savage Run by C.J. Box (series)
  11. The Country of Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett (required reading list - I actually read this one online - thanks Project Gutenberg!)
  12. Swimming by Joanna Hershon
  13. Smoke Screen by Kyle Mills (standalone from the author of the Mark Beamon series)
  14. The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger
  15. The Perfect Elizabeth by Libby Schmais
  16. The Big Bad Wolf by James Patterson (Yeah, I know, these are so easy to read they're practically freebies for the year. I know some people can't stand his books, but I haven't grown tired of the yet.)
  17. Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani
  18. Big Cherry Holler by Adriana Trigiani (I fell in love with this trilogy this year, as written about in a previous entry. I was able to purchase all three paperbacks from bookcloseouts and would take them to a deserted island with me.)
  19. Elegance by Kathleen Tessaro (Probably falls into the chick lit category, but very well written and a very original premise.)
  20. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Kidd Monk (Even though this has been on the bestseller list forever, I read it based on a recommendation from Eliza. It was moving and touching and I can see why Eliza's loved it at this time in her life, much like the Big Stone Gap trilogy appealed to me.)
  21. Islands by Anne Rivers Siddons – (She is one of my favorite authors, because I'm a sucker for good Southern fiction. I had to wait four years for this book and I liked it, but the ending too much like “Outer Banks,” the original books that started me on ARS.)
  22. High Country by Nevada Barr (series)
  23. Milk Glass Moon by Adriana Trigiani
  24. Bleachers by John Grisham
  25. 3rd Degree by James Patterson and Andrew Gross
  26. Mystic River by Dennis Lehane (I wanted to read this before I saw the movie and I did. I'm not sure why some people didn't care for it. I thought it was excellent overall. I'm so glad Lehane isn't one of those authors who feels the need to explain every term or abbreviation like some authors do. For example, there was a reference to the local K. of C. and I'm sure some editor out there wanted him to tell the audience it stood for Knights of Columbus, but he stuck to his guns. It was refreshing not to be talked down to as a reader.)
  27. Forty Words for Sorrow by Giles Blunt (First in series. I didn't get to the second one yet, but I will. Lots of plot twists and the writing was so detailed, I could easily visualize this book as a movie.)
  28. Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen (Required reading list. This is the first one of her books I have ever read and I've been missing out. Hopefully I get to some of the others in 2005.)
  29. In the Forest of Harm by Sallie Bissell (This was the first in series and I went on to read the other two, even though they weren't that good. The story lines were predictable, but I liked the main character and wanted to find out what happened to her.)
  30. Flashover by Suzanne Chazin (This was the second book in the series. It had been awhile since I read the first one (2002), but there was a major overuse of similes and metaphors that I found annoying: "The pain was excruciating, tearing into her flesh like a pack of wild dogs. It [the fire] banked lower and lower, like a murderer working his way down a flight of stairs. Then, one by one, the bottles of perfume on her dresser began to shatter as if they were being picked off in a shooting gallery. The heat was on top of her now, sizzling like hot butter across the surface of the mattress. And then she heard it – a popping like gunfire, then cracks like footsteps on a frozen lake." All of these are from just one page in the beginning of the book!)
  31. Shiny Water by Anna Salter
  32. A Darker Justice by Sallie Bissell
  33. Call the Devil by His Oldest Name by Sallie Bissell
  34. No Second Chance by Harlan Coben
  35. Property by Valerie Martin (historical fiction)
  36. Third Person Singular by K.J. Erickson
  37. Live Bait by P.J. Tracy
  38. Between Sisters by Kristin Hannah
  39. Diary of a Mad Bride by Laura Wolf (I breezed through this one in a couple of hours in the car on the drive home from vacation)
  40. The Saving Graces by Patricia Gaffney (I waited a long time to read this one and thought it would be great, but I found it kind of dull. The language was rather dated for a book taking place in the late 1990’s, such as the use of the word “straight” as an adjective to describe a variety of things.)
  41. The Last Juror by John Grisham
  42. Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella (first in series)
  43. Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane (The twist at the end really threw me. I think I need to read this one again.)
  44. The Little Women by Katharine Weber (A very unique book, but I thought the ending was rushed.)
  45. Murder on Ice by Alina Adams (Reinforced that cozies are not for me.)
  46. Isle of Palms by Dorothea Benton Frank (There's that good ole Southern women's fiction again.)
  47. Just One Look by Harlan Coben
  48. Bloodstream by Tess Gerritsen
  49. Carrie Pilby by Caren Lissner (If you're not reading Caren's blog, you should be. She has a wonderful sense of humor.)
  50. Journal of the Dead by Jason Kersten (non-fiction/true crime)
  51. Winter Range by Claire Davis
  52. Liars and Saints by Maile Meloy
  53. The Shape of Snakes by Minette Walters
  54. Unlucky in Law by Perri O’Shaughnessy (series)
  55. The Vanished Man by Jeffrey Deaver (series)
  56. America (The Book) by Jon Stewart, et al.
  57. An Open Book by Michael Dirda (non-fiction)
  58. Little Earthquakes by Jennifer Weiner
  59. Killing the Shadows by Val McDermid (I'm more amazed every time I read one of her books. They are fabulous!)
  60. Monday Mourning by Kathy Reichs (series)
  61. Shopaholic Takes Manhattan by Sophie Kinsella
  62. Open and Shut by David Rosenfelt
  63. Killer Smile by Lisa Scottoline (series)
  64. Bookends by Jane Green
  65. Fireplay by Suzanne Chazin (For the record, she must have gotten a new editor for the third installment in the series. I didn't notice the crazy overuse of descriptive language per #30)
  66. Dead North by Sue Henry (series)
  67. Bad Girl by Michele Jaffe
  68. Thirty Nothing by Lisa Jewell
  69. Darkness Falls by Margaret Murphy

Monday, December 20, 2004

Stressed Out

Holiday craziness has set in and things have been super-busy. I'm not just saying that, I really have been busy. I've been so busy I haven't even finished a book in over a week!

The work trip to NYC was good, other than the lousy, rainy weather. I went to the Ground Zero site, only three or four blocks from the hotel, and the South Street Seaport, which was too much like Harborplace for me to be excited about it. After the seminar was over, I actually took the subway back to Penn Station instead of a taxi, which I figured was a better choice at 4pm on a rainy Friday afternoon.

Saturday (Dec. 11) was the children's Christmas Party that my work hosts every year. I took H. and my two nieces, as I did last year. They had a great time and really like the presents they received. Big K. got Pictionary Jr. and wanted to play it right away. When we got back to my parents' house, we played two rounds and had a blast. We were laughing so hard, our sides hurt. It was most fun when K&K were drawing.

Saturday night I got the lights on the tree while half watching that awful, cheesy Dale Earnhardt movie on ESPN. (M. kept saying, "Are you sure that's not Jeff Foxworthy playing Dale Earnhardt?" It was really his hair that bothered me the most.) We had originally planned to go out to dinner for our anniversary, just to the new Ruby Tuesday's, but H. fell asleep in the car on the way back from my parents' house and slept the whole night through. So I made crab cakes instead, one of Mark's favorite dinners. H. and I spent most of Sunday decorating the tree and it looked wonderful. However, around 12:30am that night, M. and I heard a terrible crash from downstairs. That's right, the tree fell over in the middle of the night, landing right on the coffee table. My worst nightmare! We got it upright, but I didn't really have time to survey the damage. I was completely stressed out on Monday because I was fighting off a cold, we had to go to that concert that night for work and the babysitter was coming as soon as I got home, with a living room full of broken glass. So I went home at lunch to try and clean up as much as possible. Somehow, there were only about four or five broken ornaments, none of which were especially meaningful to me, so I think I dealt with the whole situation pretty well. I finally got the tree back together Tuesday night, even though it doesn't look as good as it did.

The tree, before it fell over

The busy week continued, with deadlines at work since my boss is now out until after the first of the year, along with our department holiday lunch. Friday night we went to a dessert party hosted by N. and her friend, which was very fun and much more than just dessert. Mimi watched H., which she was so excited about. H. likes visiting her Mimi and playing with the Pekingnese dogs, plus they all got to watch Rudolph together.

Saturday consisted of finishing up the wrapping presents and napping, in between football games. And oh yeah, all the lights on the tree stopped working. I think we blew a fuse, since H. kept turning the lights on and off. Luckily, it was the fuse in the first strand of lights, so it was easily solved. I swear, I don't think the tree liked being in the living room this year and is rebelling. We'll have to move it back to the family room next year.

On Sunday we did some early shopping at Walmart and Target. I finally found a new teapot. You wouldn't think that would be such a hard item to find, but the selection at Walmart was terrible, so it was Target to the rescue. Now I only have a few gift cards left to buy and my shopping will be complete, hopefully with a few days left to spare. And, let's hope that the tree will hang on until atleast Saturday morning!

Tuesday, December 14, 2004


Last night, my boss took everyone in our department, with spouses, to a musical performance at the local theater. I wasn't sure what to expect, and no one was really looking forward to an event on a Monday night in the middle of the holiday rush, but I was pleasantly surprised.

The performance we saw was by a group called Barrage, and if you ever get a chance to see them, I would highly recommend it. It's hard to explain what kind of music they play. There are six or seven fiddle players, along with percussion and guitars, but it's not bluegrass or country music. They played songs by Simon & Garfunkel, Guns N Roses and the Beatles, all in their own style. It was a high energy show, incorporating singing, choreography and humor. Not a lot of fancy set or wardrobe changes, so you get a lot of music for your buck. Plus who's not up for a little rhythmic clapping every now and then?

Monday, December 13, 2004

Dream Come True

Those of you who know me well know that this is totally me. Where can I find out about opening a franchise? I could start decorating it with my collection of cereal memorabilia that's currently on display in my kitchen. [Thanks to Old Hag for the link.]

The cafeteria at my college was known for the above-average quality of its menu, but there were also about 20 bins lined up along one wall with every kind of cereal you could imagine. We thought nothing of topping off a full dinner with a bowl of cereal before heading back to the dorm. And even before H. came along, my kitchen cabinets were filled with Frosted Flakes, Lucky Charms and Honey Smacks. My only nod to more healthy cereals is Cracklin' Oat Bran, which is yummy without milk as a snack.

And while we're strolling down memory lane, read this great entry from Caren about taping songs off the radio with a hand-held tape recorder, before moving up to the much-cherished stereo with a dual-cassette player. Sadly, my love of music has changed much the way Caren's has and I can't remember making a mix tape after graduating from college. And like her, I really need to sit down and investigate iTunes and start downloading some music. I have no excuse now that I have the cable internet connection.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Random Thoughts Before I Take Off for a Few Days

Is anyone else envisioning an all-Pennsylvania Super Bowl?

I’m a big catalog shopper and love taking advantage of free shipping offers. But when did they get so outrageous? $50 used to be the standard, which was doable, but now the minimum seems to be $60 or $75! You’d have to buy 4 large housewarmer candles at Yankee Candle just to take advantage of that “deal.”

With 3 holidays, 2 vacation days and a two-day seminar, I’m only in the office for 16 days in December. And my boss will be out of the office for 5 of those. Plus there will be the requisite holiday lunches and parties, too.

I haven’t received any Christmas cards yet! Where are the early birds? I’m picking mine up at lunch today and hope to address them while I’m on the train to NYC, so expect to see yours soon.

This sounds like the same philosophy used many moons ago by Macy’s, a la Miracle on 34th Street.

Christmas anxiety is rearing its ugly head. Being gone for two nights (almost three) in the middle of the week two weeks before Christmas is not helping. I'll be sitting in a seminar for the next two days, thinking about all the things I need to do (finish shopping, finish wrapping decorate the tree, bake cookies). Plus, M. is watching H. the entire time I'm gone, a first. I know he'll do a great job, but it won't keep me from wondering if she's only going to eat cookies and fruities for dinner every night.

This will be the longest I've been away from her. M. and I went away for a two-night weekend in May of 2003, otherwise, we've only been apart from her for one night here and there. I guess it's time to start branching out more!