Our Minimalist Christmas

Hello! It’s been a long time since I wrote and I have missed it. That being said, I had a really good excuse: I’m expecting my first child early next year! This all happened right as I started hosting TWO daily podcasts. And while working full-time… and my husband changed jobs… and we had just moved… it was quite a summer and fall, ok?

Anyway, enough excuses. I know I promised more book reviews but I wanted to quickly check in with how my family decorated for the holidays this year. Between setting up the nursery and all the employment changes this year, we knew we wanted to take things easy.

I read several minimalism blogs and have had a lot of fun trying various experiments (I firmly believe “Kon-Mari-ing” the old apartment is the only reason I survived moving on short notice and “Project 333” was the best preparation for maternity clothes ever) but we don’t live in a white empty space. So here’s what we did to make the apartment feel festive without overwhelming our space or buying anything new.

The front door:

IMG_1865

We aren’t supposed to hang anything on the outside of our apartment, so we very trickily hung our wreath on the inside of the door. I actually really like this as it’s the only seasonal decor in our hallway.

Bedroom:

I hung a homemade banner and artfully arranged some Christmas crackers on our “Cookies for Santa” plate. Ok, that plate is super cheesy; I blame the nesting hormones. Anyway, these were left over from last year and are marked to be popped this year so that by 2018 when we have a little baby(!) we can actually put out cookies Christmas Eve.

Kitchen:

IMG_1864This is another room where it’s clear that I just opened our box of decorations and picked something. Literally the only thing here is the holder for Christmas cards. Let’s pretend our red oven mitts are also feeling the holiday spirit, shall we?

Living Room:

IMG_1872IMG_1869IMG_1868Since this is the main room, it got the most effort. Putting up the tree is my favorite part of getting ready for the holidays and this one is the perfect size for apartments. I swore I wouldn’t spend money on decor this year (gotta save for more important things!) but I may look at the post-holiday sales for a tree skirt because this looks a little sad until it gets some presents underneath. The Rudolph tray will be called into action when we start getting together with friends but until then it seems happy chilling by the desk. And of course I can’t make it through December without my music! I know all these songs are on my iPod but there’s something about pulling out the Christmas CDs that makes it official. Last but not least, I adore our little Nativity scene. We inherited a beautiful white ceramic creche… but there’s something about the little one-piece an aunt gave me when I moved away for grad school and the animal friends that have gathered around it over the years that just makes me smile every time I look at it.

And that’s it!

It’s just enough to truly feel that we decorated for the holidays without going overboard. You know those decorated spaces that may be beautiful but give you a claustrophobic feeling? Like plastic knickknacks and scented candles are looming over your shoulder no matter where you turn? I’ve been guilty of it myself, but I much prefer this year.

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Update from the accidental hiatus

Hello! It’s been so long since I wrote–and I’ve even been plugging this blog on multiple podcasts over the past month, so if you’re a new reader from those, welcome! And I’m sorry? Haha

So you may be wondering what happened. It’s a long story that involves a lot of trips to the doctor(s) and a sudden job change in our family, but also good stuff like co-hosting two podcasts as well as guesting on others. It just added up to A LOT. If you think the state of this blog is bad you should see my bathroom sink. Well, you won’t, because no one is seeing that until I attack our bathroom and clean it.

But I digress! I am hoping to get back to regular updates and I can tell you that I will at least make sure all the books I read last year are covered. There have been some great ones that I just wasn’t up to writing about that I can’t wait to work on–and I have some really fun book recommendations for my “currently reading” sections.

If you just can’t wait, you can hear me babble on at:

The NeverEnding Minute

Return to Oz Minute

And while I’m fond of MY guest episodes, you should check out the whole podcasts of:

Spider-Man Minute

The Cosmic Gepetto Podcast

And keep an eye out for me soon on:

TMNT Minute

Die Hard Minute

If those whet your appetite, you can find all the current or finished “Movies by Minute” podcasts here.

That should keep you busy until the next installment of #66books!

66books: The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up

The book: The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo

Summary: From her own website: “Japanese organizational consultant Marie Kondo takes tidying to a whole new level, promising that if you properly declutter your home once, you’ll never have to do it again. Whereas most methods advocate a room-by-room or little-by-little approach, the KonMari Method’s category-by-category, all-at-once prescription leads to lasting results. In fact, none of Kondo’s clients have been repeat customers (and she still has a three-month waiting list of new customers!). With detailed guidance for every type of item in the household, this quirky little manual from Japan’s newest lifestyle phenomenon will help readers clear their clutter and enjoy the unique magic of a tidy home–and the calm, motivated mindset it can inspire. ”

What I remember: Wow I waited a long time to borrow this from the library, but it was totally worth it. I actually read this book twice (it’s not long). First, I read it straight through, just letting the words and ideas read as a normal book. Then I read it through again taking notes. Yes, I’m a nerd. I took three pages of notes, then “konmaried” my own apartment. For the book itself: it’s a quick read and I think there’s a lot of good ideas in it. No one person is going to use every idea, and some are more “out there” than others, but it really helped me focus to go through my own belongings. I followed the general categories she advocated and mostly did it in a big go-through… but I did not fully use her method or worry about doing anything “wrong”. It was more a way to organize my own decluttering instincts. Also I have to say: I 100% did not think I would fold my clothes so that they stood up in the drawer. That sounded completely silly to me. I tried folding one t-shirt just to see if I could do it–and it was weirdly soothing! I mean, I actually felt relaxed after doing it. So my t-shirt drawer got the full Konmari treatment! I’m extremely glad I did this last summer because the past year has been incredibly stressful and unexpectedly busy. This also included moving with only about a month’s notice. I don’t think I would have survived if I hadn’t already pared down our belongings. The minimalism experiments I did in 2016 are absolutely helping me survive 2017 so far! I don’t understand the huge backlash against Marie Kondo: can’t you just be happy for her success? No one is saying you have to live like her. She herself says (multiple times in the book) that you need to design the life that works for you… and here are some suggestions on how to do that.

What I’m reading now: A Rift Between Cities by Liz Delton (I’m finally finishing the Arcera trilogy!)

66books: The Towers of Trebizond

The books: The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay

Summary: I had to pick one that referenced the opening line, so here’s its Wikipedia entry: “The book is partly autobiographical. It follows the adventures of a group of people – the narrator Laurie, the eccentric… Aunt Dot, her High Anglican clergyman friend Father Hugh Chantry-Pigg (who keeps his collection of sacred relics in his pockets), travelling from Istanbul… to Trebizond. A Turkish feminist doctor attracted to Anglicanism acts as a foil to the main characters. On the way, they meet magicians, Turkish policemen and juvenile British travel-writers, and observe the BBC and Billy Graham on tour. Aunt Dot proposes to emancipate the women of Turkey by converting them to Anglicanism and popularising the bathing hat, while Laurie has more worldly preoccupations. Historical references (British Christianity since the Dissolution of the Monasteries, nineteenth-century travellers to the Ottoman Empire, the First World War, the Fourth Crusade, St. Paul’s third missionary journey, Troy) abound. The geographical canvas is enlarged with the two senior characters eloping to the Soviet Union and the heroine meeting her lover in Turkey, and then her semi-estranged mother in Jerusalem… The famous opening sentence is,

“Take my camel, dear”, said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.

What I remember: By far the most delightful thing to come out of reading this for book club was sitting down with everyone and realizing half of us had read the narrator as a male and half as a female. It’s not our fault: the protagonist is named Laurie. And look at the book cover! I grabbed this image because it is the exact one I was looking at when I started reading the copy I’d gotten out from the library. There are the 3 main characters, you might think. But no: Laurie is a woman. Now obviously all the drug-taking and gallivanting around the Middle East and being in love with a man takes on very different connotations depending on which gender you were thinking of while reading! Looking over its summary, I feel like I need to reread this book. I remember spending quite a few pages having absolutely no idea what was going on. Not that that wasn’t enjoyable in its own way; it kind of fit with the crazy-trip feeling of the narrative. But now that I see all the details laid out I think “I don’t recall that” or “Oh THAT’S what that was supposed to mean?!” and it’s making me feel like a bad historian. The book is from 1956, but mentally I was picturing Aunt Dot much earlier, and again, I kept going back and forth on what gender Laurie was, so the entire thing feels a bit like a fever dream. I’d like to think Rose Macaulay would have approved of having invoked that feeling only to bring it all into sharp, sudden focus at the end.

What I’m reading now: The NeverEnding Story by Michael Ende. Reading this one for research! If you loved the 1984 movie, the podcast I co-host analyzing the film will start releasing episodes in July.

66books: Rise of the Rocket Girls

The book: Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars by Nathalia Holt

Summary: So I’ve got to use this review from space.com (so appropriate) by Sarah Lewin: “Missile and rocket technology from the California-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has propelled American spaceflight for decades, and from the beginning that technology’s success rested on a corps of expert mathematicians — women who crunched the numbers, plotted rocket trajectories and tested rocket designs, all on paper. Drawing from extensive interviews, Nathalia Holt’s “Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars” (Little, Brown and Co., 2016) traces the history of spaceflight through those women’s eyes, highlighting the fledgling lab’s rocket tests in the 1940s; the United States’ first orbiting satellite, Explorer 1; and the many craft flung outward to first explore our solar system. At the same time, it shows the rise and evolution of female mathematicians and, eventually, engineers — and the changing cultures that working women had to navigate at that time.”

What I remember: I am about to geek out REAL bad guys. 🙂 I had this book on my To Be Read list for so long before getting it from the library. I am a complete nerd when it comes to NASA, the Apollo program, early computing, etc. Ask me how many times I’ve seen every episode of HBO’s From the Earth to the Moon; wait, no, don’t, I’ve lost track. If you enjoyed Hidden Figures this book will be right in your wheelhouse as well. Very similar feel though obviously focusing on a different company who had a different (though related) history. One caveat is that it was published in 2016, which seems really recent, but some of the information on Jupiter exploration is already outdated (obviously her interviews happened in the years before publication). This doesn’t take anything away from the wonderful stories of these women but it was so strange, for example, to be reading about their hopes for Voyager at the very same time it was dominating the news!

What I’m reading now: I’m rereading The Fifth City by Liz Delton (reviewed earlier this year)

66books: The Stepford Wives

I know, I said this would be up on Saturday and it’s Monday. I’m a terrible person–but it’s a long weekend! My world is topsy-turvy! And I finally got caught up on sleep, so I regret nothing! Ok, back to normal: thank you so much for your patience this month.

The book: The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin

Summary: Ha! This is the first time I’ve been able to pull a book summary from the Urban Dictionary:

Stepford Wife

1.) Used to describe a servile, compliant, submissive, spineless wife who happily does her husband’s bidding and serves his every whim dutifully.

2.) Can also be used to describe a wife who is cookie-cutter & bland in appearance and behavior. Subscribes to a popular look and dares not deviate from that look.

This term is borrowed from the fictional suburb of Stepford, Connecticut in Ira Levin’s 1972 novel, The Stepford Wives, later made into movies (in 1975 and 2004). In the story, men of this seemingly ideal town have replaced their wives with attractive robotic dolls devoid of emotion or thought.

What I remember: I’m still in shock that it took me this long to read this book. I grew up in the Connecticut suburbs. Literally in Stepford. Ok, Norwalk. Close enough, trust me. Both movie adaptations did filming in the Lockwood Matthews Mansion in my hometown, where my mother and aunts volunteered as tour guides and which I’ve been to more times in my life than I can count. (The infamous closet is technically off limits now, though the grown-ups have plenty of stories of falling out of it into their friends’ arms.) And I practically swooned when I got the book from the library: it was a first edition! I love surprises like that. Support your local library and it will reward you! As for the actual story, I am happy to report that I very much enjoyed reading it. I went on a bit of a scary-feminist-mid-century kick that this book started off, and it was very entertaining to read into the story all the socio-political subtext about women in America in the 20th century. It’s always great when you already know a story but the book is just different enough to keep you on your toes. I was genuinely creeped out for most of the book and especially as the end approached. I tried to read as fast as I could so I wouldn’t need to put the book down. I’m not sure how the story would hold up in this day and age on its own: would someone coming to the idea of the Stepford Wives fresh enjoy this telling or find it dated and unrealistic? I can’t answer that, having known that term my entire life. I am just grateful that the original source material held up for me.

What I’m reading now: I stopped by Comicopia on Comm Ave earlier this weekend and loaded up on many “Free Comic Book Day” issues which I have been slowly reading through. Feels weird to say I enjoyed Archie more than Buffy but I’m a total sucker for the melodrama of Riverdale!

66books: Please Kill Me

You’re reading right: another update! I’m sharing books three days in a row to make up for the weeks that I took off during my move. I was also distracted from this blog by getting my two podcasts up and running. The pilot episode of Return to Oz Minute is already available. And The NeverEnding Minute will be out soon; check in with @nevendmin on Twitter for updates.

The book: Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain

Summary: I chose to share the summary from Salon (found on the book’s Barnes & Noble page), but I also recommend Robert Christgau’s review in the New York Times available here. Anyway, “In Please Kill Me, Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain track the rise and fall of American punk, from its late-’60s roots to its Reagan-era demise. We hear from all the usual suspects — including John Cale, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Richard Hell and the Ramones — as well as a vast constellation of fringe figures, who mostly document the sex lives and substance-abuse patterns of the stars. Not surprisingly, many of the participants are nostalgic for the golden age of 1975. But others, like Dee Dee Ramone, have long since exhausted their patience with “the little-boy look, the bowl haircut and the motorcycle jacket” (which McNeil himself seems to favor to this very day). By the end of the book it’s hard not to share Dee Dee’s feelings, and to wonder whether the authors haven’t expended 100 pages too many on this particular cultural moment. Still, Please Kill Me often makes for hilarious reading. Its loony pile-up of detail does manage to catch the jolting energy of the period. And Danny Fields’ description of the rapport between pre-punk titans Jim Morrison and Nico is worth the price of admission, even as it serves as a corrective to mythomaniacs like Oliver Stone…”

What I remember: I read this book as part of the Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge. I’m using this list. Most of the books I was able to find in the library for the challenge were classics that I just happened to have missed through my school years, but this was also available and I thought it would make a nice change. And it was definitely a change and an interesting read. The NYC ’70s punk scene is one that I know a bit about and have listened to a lot of music from without knowing many details. Basically Lane and Jess on Gilmore Girls made me feel very immature musically. For example, I was aware Nico was a person; I knew nothing about her. Now I know more… but I can’t claim to be super into it. The substance abuse and unhappy sexual experiences all throughout the book really wear you down after a while. I had never questioned many Ramones lyrics and now I know one of my favorites is about buying heroin. Whoops.

What I’m reading now: I’m sure you’re shocked to hear that I’m still reading the book I mentioned yesterday. I’m also reading Harry Potter with my husband (who had seen the movies but not read the books); we’re one chapter into Goblet of Fire.