My Reading Marathon

logoIn 2012, I set a goal through the Goodreads Reading Challenge to read 52 books in one year (one book per week). I was on track to complete it until I left for Georgia, after which I, naturally, wanted to spend time exploring the country and getting to know my new home. By the start of this year, I’d gotten into my routine (as much routine as is possible in a Georgian village, anyway) and decided to try again for 52 books in 2013. Well, I just (barely) finished my last book for the year and can finally cross off #70 on my 101 in 1001 list! You can see all 52 books on my challenge page, but here are ten of my favorites (alphabetically listed because I’m too indecisive to actually rank them…):

10082793Double Indemnity by James M. Cain

My favorite crime novel, much better than the classic film version, contains the usual passion, betrayal, and suspense. But the most fascinating aspect explored is guilt.

6624929The Privileges by Jonathan Dee

The title and cover remind me of Gossip Girl, but this novel, about a family who has everything and will do anything to keep it, was actually a Pulitzer Prize finalist.

420The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Written by my literary idol, this book explores life, death, and mourning in the most genuine, touching way. I learned something new on every page.

10252302Blue Nights by Joan Didion

After experiencing the two worst things that could ever happen to anyone, Didion reflects on her life and family. The writing is absolutely brilliant.

277397Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons

An observant, young foster child narrates her story about living with various families in the 1970’s. This novel would be majorly depressing, were it not for the protagonist’s visible hope and determination.

8683812The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

This fascinating novel imagines what it would be like to marry Ernest Hemingway and live in Europe as an expat with the Lost Generation.

11127The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

I revisited all seven books for the first time since elementary school, and they’re still just as great. Since this series should apparently be read three times–in childhood, in early adulthood, and late in life–I’m two-thirds of the way done!

3636The Giver by Lois Lowry

This novel seemed highly overrated when I was a kid, but I wanted to read it before the movie came out and was pleasantly surprised.

5107The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

I despised this novel in high school, but perhaps time truly has changed me because I liked it much more this time around. It’s also possible that since I wasn’t reading it for school, I could focus more on the little details that make the story so captivating.

1358673Shane by Jack Schaefer

Western literature always contains some of my favorite things–gorgeous settings, tons of horses, and manly men. This particular novel does not disappoint!

Some people can read an entire book in a matter of hours, and I saw that some Goodreads users each finished hundreds of books this year. While I love reading, I’m pretty much the world’s slowest reader, so this challenge was actually challenging for me. The secrets to my success? First of all, if you don’t have a Kindle, do yourself a favor and get one! You can buy them inexpensively now, and even if you like the feel of physical books, the convenience of carrying around an endless amount of ebooks on a single tablet can provide motivation to read much more than you usually would. I can’t describe how relieved I was to have had my Kindle during my travels, rather than an extra suitcase to carry around 40 books! I also started listening to audiobooks this year. After loading them onto my iPod, I would listen to them on my walks to and from school, as well as during mini-bus rides on Georgia’s bumpy, dirt roads, when reading without getting carsick was impossible. (I tried listening to audiobooks while training for my marathon, but they didn’t push me enough for the long distances.) Finally, I made an effort to spend less time watching TV and Facebooking and such, in order to spend more time reading. Honestly, the right books can make you forget those silly, insubstantial things that we sometimes allow too much of our lives. With that said, though, for 2014, I’ll be cutting down my challenge goal to a much less taxing 26 books. (Get a Goodreads account and be my friend, if you haven’t already!)

Making a List, Checking It Twice

The last few days have mostly consisted of reading Christmas stories and watching Christmas movies, so nothing too eventful. However, I did get to cross off two items on my 101 in 1001 list!

I can still recall the first time I ever tried peppermint bark, which was at a house I stopped at while caroling with a high school club. The classmates I was with probably wouldn’t even remember that we received some that night, but I was particularly excited because it was the first time I’d ever heard of it. Christmas cookies are great and all, but sometimes the dough is too much. Peppermint bark just skips to the good stuff–plain white chocolate and peppermint. Sensational! Since then, I’ve bought the popular Williams-Sonoma version, which is fantastic, but since I mostly prefer white chocolate, I decided to make it myself.

The recipe, with two ingredients, is obviously simple. All I did was hammer one bag of peppermint candies (the store had run out of candy canes) in a Ziploc bag to yield about one cup of crumbs. Then I melted two bags of Nestle Premier White morsels in a double boiler, poured the melted chocolate onto a wax paper-lined baking sheet, sprinkled the candy crumbs on top, and refrigerated everything for 45 minutes.

IMG_0716It looked pretty and tasted perfect, but I didn’t get to eat much because my mom took almost all of it to church. I’m glad others got to enjoy it, though, and maybe it was the first time for some, and they’ll get to remember the first time they ever had peppermint bark! So with that, I crossed off #37 on my 101 in 1001 list.

Yesterday was my 25th birthday, which Beth keeps saying is a milestone, but it felt like any other birthday to me. However, I started going to a new church with my mom a month ago, and while the church is big, the early morning traditional service is in a small chapel, which contains an organ. I wouldn’t have expected anyone to play it for such a small service, but someone does each Sunday. At yesterday’s service, when it was time to sing a hymn, I didn’t know which one it was beforehand, but the organ started to play the intro, and I almost gasped when I realized it was “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly.” I love all Christmas hymns, but “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly” is one of my absolute favorites, and it’s especially gorgeous on the organ. This might sound corny, but I knew this song being chosen yesterday was a birthday present from God, and it was, at 9:15 in the morning, the best part of my day.

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Later, my family celebrated at the 1895 Grille, where I had my usual birthday dinner of filet mignon and two desserts, so that was great too!

IMG_4886Mom and Dad! (Beth did not want to be pictured in this post because she wore the same outfit she’d worn on Thanksgiving.)

Do I have a Christmas birthday? Yes. Would I want to change it? No! It’s not a coincidence that I was born on a day during my favorite month, during my favorite season, near my favorite holiday, a day that describes my interests (22 = two-two = tutu), that sometimes falls on winter solstice, in a time during which my favorite music is constantly playing, and people make an extra effort to be kind to one another… And if my birthday must be overshadowed by someone else’s, I’m happy it’s Jesus Christ’s. (And I’m comfortable saying this, even though I’ve received combo birthday-Christmas presents before…)

Today, I decided that my fingernails have finally reached my goal length. I started taking violin lessons when I was three, so I’ve always had short nails. (Violin teachers tend to clip students’ fingernails if they’re too long.) But it was around the fifth grade when it became a habit of mine to pick at them until they were just before (sometimes accidentally past) the point of bleeding. Whenever I wasn’t doing something with my hands (during a lecture, watching a movie, etc.), I would just pick at them. Eventually, the feeling of the edge of my nails touching anything really creeped me out, so then I’d actually need to pick or bite them until they were back to the limit. Anyway, since my fingernails have always looked weird since then, I thought I’d try and grow them out because I’m an “adult” now and should probably have nails that look “normal.” I kept trying, but had to clip them back down again because that feeling of the edge of my nails touching things was seriously freaking me out. Then, I discovered Essie After School Boy Blazer, which I’ve featured in my Friday Fancies, and tried to use that as motivation to quit picking at my nails. It really was the first nail polish I’d bought since the third grade. One time, in the tenth grade, I painted my fingernails purple, but they were so short, they looked like either grape candies or alien heads. So I never painted my fingernails after that. I only used gifted nail polish for my toes, though that could be a separate story altogether (dancer’s feet…). Anyway, my nails grow pretty fast, so (after multiple attempts) it only took a couple of weeks for me to cross off #53 on my 101 in 1001 list.

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Don’t mind the botched paint job. I’m clearly out of practice when it comes to painting nails. (Seriously, can anyone do this in a reasonable amount of time? Or does everyone just go to a salon now?) I do love the Essie color, which is closer to navy in person. But we’ll see how long these longish nails last… The nails touching things still drives me crazy. (Probably a psychological issue?) The nail polish does buffer the “shock” a little, though.

I hope everyone has a safe and wonderful Christmas! I’ll leave you with my favorite Christmas Youtube, featuring the King’s College Choir singing “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly.” The little boys are adorable, the sound is amazing, and the actual music is literally breathtaking.

Friday Fancies

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Around this time last year, the Georgian winter wasn’t doing my skin any favors. Fortunately, I was able to pick up this Almond Hand & Nail Cream at The Body Shop in Barcelona over winter break, and I’ve been using it ever since. Once applied, you can’t even tell it’s there, and it keeps cuticles looking their best. I also love the light scent of almonds. (It’s currently on sale!)
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J. Crew Factory has been holding great deals lately. Last week, I ordered these lovely earrings, which are a subtler alternative to the bright gems I typically wear. They’ve already sold out online, but these pretty crystal studs are still available.

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This is the first nail polish I’ve bought since the third grade (when my favorite cosmetics store was Limited Too). I’ve always had unreasonably short fingernails, and #53 on my 101 in 1001 list is to grow them out to a normal length. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to last long enough without picking at my nails… Until I saw Essie After School Boy Blazer. I’ve never been more intrigued by such a gorgeous color, and my nails are already the longest they’ve ever been in my entire life, as I patiently wait to finally wear this.

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Certain readers are going to smile when they see this… I bought this bottle of Annick Goutal Petite Chérie, while studying abroad in France. It’s become my “special perfume,” which is why I still have a little left. Fruity, floral, sophisticated, and bold without overpowering, Petite Chérie is my favorite scent. Since many people give and receive perfume over the holidays, I wanted to mention Annick Goutal because it doesn’t get nearly enough attention in the U.S. Even after three years, the color hasn’t changed, and the scent is as fresh as the day I got it, which truly speaks to its quality.

IMG_5013Since you already look at tons of cat pictures each day, why not get an education out of it? Cat Spanish is an app that uses cute and funny pictures of cats to teach conversational Spanish. You probably know that associating words with pictures helps with memorization. I’ve used it for a few days now and have already learned tons of useful phrases. This fun app is only 99 cents, so use it to learn Spanish for the first time or to brush up on the vocabulary you forgot after high school.

Turkey Day

I wasn’t planning on doing a Thanksgiving post, but since I got to cross off another item on my 101 in 1001 list, here it is!

Now that my sisters and I have grown up, our family no longer maintains our old Thanksgiving traditions. We haven’t made Thanksgiving dinner at home in a couple of years, my dad starts putting up Christmas decorations earlier in the month, and at least one family members is out of the state (or country). It’s somewhat sad, in a nostalgic way, but it’s not the most terrible thing to happen. Our new focus on Thanksgiving is relaxing, and that’s obviously fine by me.

Beth and I woke up super late on Thanksgiving morning and watched the Macy’s parade. I suppose that’s one tradition we still uphold, though I’m not sure how much longer that will last… Is it just me, or does the parade get worse each year? The only opening act that stuck out to me as impressive was the Matilda the Musical number, and it seemed like most of the singers on the floats were irrelevant. Only the balloons could save the parade.

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The Pillsbury Doughboy is my favorite!

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We had reservations at my favorite restaurant here, Hilltop House. The restaurant is inside a beautiful, historic house, and I would describe its menu as Southern comfort food with a cosmopolitan twist. Needless to say, the chefs did a fantastic job with Thanksgiving dinner. The green bean casserole (always my favorite) was perfect.

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Looking at this picture just made me realize that practically all Thanksgiving food is mushy. I wonder who decided on the traditional menu. Babies?

Along with the customary Thanksgiving stuff, the restaurant also had a seafood bar with oysters. When it comes to food, I’m usually up for trying anything at least once, but I don’t think I’d ever tried an oyster before. When it comes to the way they look, smell, and feel, they have all of the worst qualities combined. And they’re supposed to be eaten raw, even when they could potentially be contaminated by a deadly disease? What about these is so appetizing? I have no idea.

IMG_0493But since we were at a reputable restaurant, somewhat near the coast, and it was oyster season, I decided that the chances of dying from a food-borne illness were pretty low and that I should just get this over with.

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I decided to forgo lemon juice or hot sauce and go all out, since I was probably only going to do this once. I popped one in my mouth, chewed it twice before realizing how vile it tasted, then swallowed it as quickly as possible. Now I really can’t understand why people like them. I thought it tasted like salt water and the stench of a fish market, which, to me, is just repulsive. Oysters are officially at the top of the list of my least favorite foods, right next to foie gras and ayran (a Turkish salty yogurt drink). Looks like I’ll never be able to become a foodie.

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Anyway, now I can cross off #74 on my 101 in 1001 list, and more importantly, I can legitimately hate on oysters.

When we got home from dinner, we wanted to take a family picture, since the times we’re all together are getting increasingly rare. We got out the tripod and set the camera’s timer for 10 seconds. But for some reason, my dad could not look normal in any of the shots. After ten takes, we had to quit, as my dad complained that all of the picture-taking had made him tired… This was probably the best we got:

IMG_4876Hope everyone had a nice, relaxing Thanksgiving! Even though it’s over, I’m still immensely thankful for my family, friends, opportunities, and everything, really… Well, except maybe oysters!

How Firm Thy Friendship

This past weekend, I finally got to visit Ohio for Homecoming and the Columbus Marathon! The sad thing about graduating and growing older is that most friends eventually move away, and it gets increasingly difficult for everyone to visit at the same time. But I still had a full schedule of catching up with dear friends, which was just what I needed. I only wish I’d taken more pictures!

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It was so great seeing old friends, some of whom I’d been friends with since the fourth grade and others I hadn’t seen in two years!

IMG_1317I decided not to attend the Homecoming game against Iowa (the Buckeyes’ 19th game undefeated!) to save myself from having to stand for long periods of time before the marathon. Instead, I watched with friends at campus bars.IMG_1438I also ate at as many of my favorite Columbus-area restaurants as humanly possible. To decide on where to go, I might’ve referred to a comprehensive list I made while still in Georgia of all the foods I missed…
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The winners included Max & Erma’s, Tim Horton’s, Knead, Northstar, Jeni’s, Jimmy John’s, La Chatelaine, Tai’s, Cap City, and Cane’s. I know all of my Columbus friends are drooling right now.IMG_6869

While staying at my friends’ house, I met this precious kitty, Scarlett. We formed an unexpected bond, confirmed on the night when she slept in the crook of my elbow.

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I did get a chance to stop at Whole Foods, where I tried a Tofutti Cutie and crossed off #73 on my 101 in 1001! The store didn’t have vanilla, so I had to resort to chocolate, which is probably my least favorite ice cream flavor. Still, I thought it generally tasted like a regular ice cream sandwich, and my friends agreed.
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My sorority house had been completely renovated and redecorated since last year, so it was especially exciting to visit. I also got to see our house mom and chef, two of the nicest people ever!IMG_9125

The Columbus Marathon had a fantastic expo set up at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. And even though my running friends and I couldn’t drink during Homecoming weekend, we did the next best thing–carboload!IMG_0555

And then, ready or not, race day was upon us! Here are some of us Delta Zetas (including Sally and Mel) freezing at 6:30 in the morning, waiting in our start corral! Honestly, even though I’d registered for this marathon (my first) months ago, I’d been stressed out and barely trained at all. Most marathoners probably log 300 training miles before a race, and I’d logged about 40. So I wasn’t sure I’d even make it past the half-marathon mark…IMG_2596

But I did it! I don’t know if it was good genes, the support of my fellow runners, or God just giving me a break, but I finished all 26.2 miles! It was so ridiculous, I could hardly believe it myself. Around mile 20, my hip joints were dying, but other than that, the distance wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Seriously, though, one of my biggest motivations to keep going was knowing that if I didn’t finish, I’d have to do it ALL OVER AGAIN in order to cross off #90 on my 101 in 1001. That thought really pushed me to continue, even when I felt like my hips were on the verge of breaking. Anyway, now that I know I can do it, I might try another in the future, though I’d probably go ahead and train for that one…