Better Late than Never

A look back at 2013, using RA’s new-and-improved questions.

What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 30 and celebrated being in the best shape I’ve been in since Alexander was born by running a 5k. To make it even more fun, I did a mud run with my good friend and college roommate, Lauren, and we celebrated our success at the end with breakfast burritos. I don’t remember what exactly I did on the actual day of my birthday (I’m sure burritos were involved), but the mud run was my main personal birthday celebration.

Mud Run

What are your strongest memories from this year, and why?

(1) The conversation in which we decided to have another baby. (2) The Black Forest Fire in early June. Watching the beautiful forest where Tim grew up burn, wondering whether we’d have to evacuate since we live only a couple miles from the forest’s edge, wondering if Tim’s childhood home, our church, and other memory-filled places would still be standing when all was said and done. A lot of things burned — over 500 homes were lost — but Tim’s childhood home and our church both survived. (3) Our month-late Anniversary celebration in which we visited a local brewery’s new location in a 100-year-old building that used to be an elementary school, tried a delicious new-to-us Mexican restaurant, and celebrated both eight wonderful years of marriage and the new baby that we’d just found out was on its way. (4) Alexander’s 2nd birthday. (5) Experiencing Christmas through Alexander’s eyes.

The view of the Black Forest Fire from our neighborhood.

The view of the Black Forest Fire from our neighborhood.

What did you do this year that you’d never done before?

Started running regularly (at least for the first half of the year), with the help of the Couch-to-5k Program and a handful of good audiobooks to keep me distracted from how boring running can be.

What did you want and get?

To get back in shape and reclaim my body after holding on to post-pregnancy weight for way too long. To get pregnant again. Lots of quality time with my favorite boys.

What did you want and not get?

2013 was a pretty great year and didn’t leave me wanting much. I did ask Santa to bring me a professional cleaning service, just for one day, to clean my house top-to-bottom and do all the things I’m too lazy to do (clean the baseboards, top of the fridge, etc.), and, alas, there was no cleaning service under the Christmas tree this year. Oh, I also wanted my dance studio not to move to a ghetto location that I’m not comfortable going to after dark for classes, but they went ahead and moved anyway. Luckily my tap teacher is awesome and has a tap floor in her basement, and she’s been holding class there for those of us unwilling to go to the ghetto. However, the studio’s move did mean that I had to give up my jazz class, and I really miss it sometimes. I know I could just find a different studio, and that’d be great if all the women I used to dance with would also go to a different studio with me, but that seems unlikely to happen. It’s not that I miss taking as many classes as I used to (though I do miss that); I miss dancing in those specific classes with that specific group of women. We had so much fun, and I’m still holding out hope that the studio’s ghetto location is temporary, and eventually it’ll move to a better place and we’ll all get to dance together again.

What would you like to have next year that you didn’t have this year?

A daughter. Good news — I’ve got one scheduled to arrive in a few months.

Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I resolved to finally get off my ass and lose the baby weight I’d been holding onto for over a year, and I was very successful, thanks in large part to Biggest Blogging Loser. And then I promptly got pregnant and gained it all back, but I’m okay with that. In retrospect, I think losing that extra weight really helped pushed me over the edge to finally being ready to go down the pregnancy/childbirth/recovery road again. I’ve lost the baby weight once; I know I can do it again.

I spent New Year’s Eve and Day this year in a haze thanks to the Sinus Infection from Hell and couldn’t be bothered to come up with any new resolutions. My main priorities for this year are to stay healthy through the final trimester of this pregnancy and try to adjust gracefully to all the changes that will come with adding a second kid to our family.

What was your biggest achievement of this year?

On a large scale, I feel like I did a pretty kickass job at finding a work/home balance and being a good wife and mother to my boys. On a smaller scale, I finally organized several years’ worth of digital photos, successfully implemented a system to continue to keep our photos organized as we take them, and worked with Tim to print, frame, and hang several family photos in our previously bare front hallway. It’s something that I’ve been wanting to do for awhile, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the results.

Hallway

What was your biggest failure?

I let myself get way to stressed out about prepping for the holidays, which happens every year, and this year the anxiety was magnified by pregnancy hormones. I have this mental block that I can’t start relaxing and enjoying the holidays until all my shopping and prep work is done, which turns me into a messy ball of anxiety during the first couple weeks of December. I really need to work at being better at going with the flow and allowing myself to enjoy the holiday season even before I’ve checked everything off my to-do list.

What did you rely on when you were overwhelmed?

Tim, as always, saved me from my crazy emotions on several occasions, and he did so more often than usual thanks to the aforementioned pregnancy hormones. I can always count on him to listen to me cry about everything that’s making me crazy and then help me put a plan in place to deal with it all; having a solid plan of attack usually calms me down quite a bit.

What are your strongest recommendations for entertainment from this year? 

Oh, man, I read some really great books this year, including The Scorpio Races, The Raven Boys, The Book Thief, The Fault in Our Stars, and Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. (Wait, technically I read Penumbra in 2014, but I read it before writing this, so I’m still going to count it.) We watched and loved the final season of Breaking Bad, and I’ve finally gotten into The Walking Dead this season. I’d like to go back to the first season and get caught up, but I’m still enjoying the current season. Luckily Tim is nice enough to fill me in on any important back story that I’ve missed up to this point. I think the only movie we saw in the theater this year was Gravity, and it was excellent. We do most of our movie watching at home via Netflix, and nothing really sticks out as being super memorable, except maybe Cabin in the Woods. I’m pretty sure we first watched that one in 2012, but we re-watched it this year, and it was just as fantastic. It was nothing like I expected, and I really, really enjoyed it.

What song will remind you of this year?

I don’t pay much attention to music. I heard a lot about a song called “Blurred Lines,” but I honestly couldn’t tell you whether I’ve ever heard it. If I have heard it, I didn’t realize what I was hearing was “Blurred Lines,” so I may as well have not heard it. I know I heard “Wrecking Ball,” but that’s only because Tim showed me a funny parody video about it. Keeping up with music’s not really a priority for me, is what I’m saying. So I’m going to interpret this one pretty loosely and say that 2013 was the Year of the Audiobook for me. I discovered the joy of a well-produced audio book this year, and the best ones I listened to were The Raven Boys, The Scorpio Races, and The Book Thief.

Quote a song lyric that sums up your year (not necessarily from the song that reminds you of the year).

Music not really being something I pay attention to, I was tempted to slap a “not relevant to my interests” answer here and move on. But the more I thought about it, the more I kept being reminded of Tim’s and my unofficial song, “The Luckiest” by Ben Folds. (I say unofficial, since it wasn’t our first dance song at our wedding, but it’s probably more meaningful to us than our first dance song, and it’s one that Tim requests whenever we go to friends’ weddings. The DJs usually don’t have it, unfortunately.) The whole song is great, but the title lyrics, “I am the luckiest” really hit home for me this year. I know it’s cheesy, but I look around at my life and can hardly believe how lucky I am to have the amazing family, extended family, and friends that I have. I really am the luckiest.

What was your most enjoyable purchase?

We put together a playroom for Alexander in our loft this year, which has really been fantastic. We lined one wall with cubby shelves for his toys, Tim worked his handyman magic to mount our old flatscreen TV with wires running through the ceiling so the DVD player and other connected devices could be in the closet across the room, and we had a talented friend paint big, fun alphabet letters on one wall. We spend a lot of Alexander’s waking hours up there these days, which is great, and then we put him to bed and come downstairs to a living room that’s not cluttered with trucks and Legos and plastic tools, and that’s even greater. For myself, I scored a pretty amazing deal with an online sale corresponding with stackable coupons that allowed me to get a $90 pair of boots for $30, and that was pretty awesome.

Playroom 1Playroom 2

Did you travel? If so, where?

We flew to Virginia to meet our new nephew at the end of June. In October, we took a road trip to San Antonio to visit Tim’s parents in their new home. Fourteen hours in the car over 2 days (each way) with a 2-year-old wasn’t as challenging as I expected it to be — Alexander did remarkably well, all things considered — but I’m not in a hurry to take another long road trip anytime soon. Once we arrived, we had a great time with Tim’s parents. Hopefully next time we visit the in-laws, we’ll be able to find cheap flights.

What do you wish you’d done more of?

I know it makes me sound like a lush, but I’ve really missed wine since I got pregnant. Just one cold glass of Chardonnay in the evening, that’s all I want. It sounds so good. Come April, you can bet my now-empty wine rack will be fully stocked again. (I know that’s probably not the proper spirit of the question, but I’m running out of steam here. Cut me some slack.)

What do you wish you’d done less of?

Stressing about the holidays, definitely.

Compared to this time last year, how are you different?

Well, I’m 6 months pregnant, which is the most obvious difference. I also feel, overall, more confident as a parent and (usually) more prepared to take on the challenge of adding a new baby to our lives than I did at this time last year.

Compared to this time last year, how are you the same?

I’m still the same-old me, overall. Still quiet in social situations, still a sucker for a cheesy romance book or movie. Still loving being married to a man who makes me laugh every day.

What’s a life lesson you learned this year?

Naps are amazing. No, seriously, they’re amazing. I’ve always known it on some level, but I really came to appreciate it when faced with first-trimester exhaustion coupled with chasing a toddler around and not having the luxury to nap at will. Now, Saturday afternoon naps with a toddler snuggled up next to you because that’s the only way either of you is going to get a solid 2 hours of sleep? Probably one of the best things ever.

Family

Audiobooks and their Unexpected Side Effects

I take back everything I said a few months ago about audiobooks not really being for me. I was wrong. So very, very wrong. Turns out, I love audiobooks — as long as they’re good. (Crazy, right?)

I gave the genre another try when I started running regularly at the beginning of the year. I needed something to distract me from the horribleness that is running (music doesn’t really work for me), and I’d been wanting to re-read the Hunger Games books, so I decided to try listening to the audio versions of the books while I trudged through my thrice-weekly 30-minutes on the treadmill. And, what do you know, I was hooked. I tore through the trilogy, listening not only when I ran but also in my car during my commute, and immediately started seeking out more. I’ve had some hits and misses, but overall, audiobooks have won me over. They’re pretty much the only thing I listen to in my car anymore (I can’t stand the radio), and I look forward to taking up running again after this kid’s born, if only for the opportunity to listen to more books.

What it comes down to, I’ve learned, is this: The reader can (and will) totally make or break an audiobook. It can be the best writing in the world, but if the reader sucks? Sorry, not going to listen. A good reader, on the other hand, will completely transform a book for me. I’ve listened to a couple of books recently — The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak — whose readers were so good, I could have listened to them forever. Sure, the stories were well written, captivating, enjoyable, etc. But those readers, man. I would listen to them read to me all day, every day, no matter the material. (I can’t tell you how excited I am for my audio copy of The Dream Thieves, sequel to The Raven Boys, to come available at the library. I didn’t even consider reading that one in print, knowing how good the audio will be.)

On the flip side, I’ve also encountered to a couple of books with, well…sub-par readers (that’s putting it nicely). One book, which I don’t even remember the title of because it was so bad I abandoned it after about 20 minutes, sounded like it was being read by a computer. Like someone fed the text into some voice software, and the computer spit an audio version back out. Terrible. Just terrible.

The toughest ones, though, are the ones whose readers are just okay. I got most of the way through a YA trilogy with mediocre, angsty readers before my library copy expired and I decided it wasn’t worth renewing. It wasn’t so bad that I gave up before my copy expired, but it also wasn’t worth going to the trouble of re-checking it out just to finish the story. I recently started Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, and I just couldn’t get into it, which surprised me since so many people whose literary opinions I tend to agree with have been raving about it. I’ll probably give that one another try in print to see if it was the story or the audio that wasn’t working for me. I’m considering doing the same with Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver trilogy. I listened to the first one on audio, and it was fine, but I didn’t love it the way I’d loved the other books of hers I’d listened to. (The Scorpio Races was another EXCELLENT audiobook. So good.) Maybe I’ll continue the series in print and see if that helps.

Anyway, what I’m trying to get to, in a totally roundabout way, is this: I love audiobooks, but I’ve found that they bring with them a couple of unexpected side effects.

Side Effect Number 1: You know how sometimes you’re reading, and you see a word, and in your head that word sounds a certain way, but then you hear someone say it and realize you’ve been pronouncing it wrong in your head? Turns out a similar — but opposite — phenomenon can happen with audiobooks. On more than one occasion I’ve gone online to look up something about a book I’ve listened to, see a word (usually a character’s name), and think “Hey, they spelled that wrong.” Then I catch myself and realize, nope, that’s actually how it’s spelled. The author did not, in fact, spell her own character’s name wrong. It’s a strange thing, realizing you have to adjust your mental picture of how a person’s name should look in print. It caught me completely by surprise the first time it happened.

Side Effect Number 2: I’m surprisingly hesitant to recommend books I’ve loved on audio to people who aren’t likely to listen to audiobooks. It comes back to the discussion above about how strong an effect the reader has on my enjoyment of the book. I’ll start to recommend a book, but then I second-guess myself: What if the excellent reader was main reason I loved it? What if it’s not as good in print? After all, if a bad reader can kill an otherwise good book, isn’t it possible — probable, even — that the opposite could happen, too? Obviously some books are so bad that not even the best reader could save them, but what about all the other books out there? If I had read The Raven Boys in print, would I be as quick to rave about how much I loved it? Or did I mostly just love listening to Will Patton read it to me?

I recently took a deep breath and swallowed my self-doubt when I gave my sister-in-law paperback copies of both The Raven Boys and The Scorpio Races for her birthday. She and I tend to enjoy the same books (she’s the one who first introduced me to The Hunger Games), so I’m cautiously optimistic that she’ll enjoy these. Fingers crossed that she enjoys the print versions as much as I enjoyed listening to them on audio.

How about you: Do you love audiobooks? Have you encountered any unexpected side effects from listening to books on audio vs. reading them in print? And, because I’m always on the hunt for another great audiobook: What’s the best book you’ve listened to lately?

I Know This Is Not a Popular Opinion

So, I tried to download the audio book of Ready Player One recently, becuase I’d heard great things from people whose opinions are often in line with my own and assumed I would enjoy it. Unfortunately, the library’s audio version didn’t work on my phone, so I read it the old-fashioned way (on my eReader, obvs.), and I loved it. LOVED. IT. You guys should all read this book. Seriously. It’s great.

I raved about it to Tim, who then listened to the audio book (his phone, it turns out, is better than mine). I overherad some of it, and, you guys, I’m sorry, but it was awful. I know, I know. You are all gaping at your screens right now saying “But it’s read by Wil Wheaton!” (I know!) “Who is awesome!” (I agree!) “And what could be better than a geeky book read by him?” Let me tell you what’s better  than a geeky book ready by him — a geeky book NOT read by him. It was sooooo slow. Agonizingly so. When I read the book, I found it to be an exciting, fast-paced adventure story. But then Tim put it on for the drive home from my parents’ house one weekend, I fell asleep, and when I woke up two hours later, I couldn’t believe how little progress we’d made into the book. Nothing had really happened yet. After TWO HOURS.

(Also, W.W.’s voiceing of the main character/narrator was a little too smug and, well, icky for my liking. So much so that it made me kind of dislike the narrator, a character I’d liked quite a bit when I read the book myeslf. But that could be 100% a result of my having already read the book and given the narrator a voice in my mind. and therefore no matter who gave him a voice in real life, if it didn’t sound exactly like it sounded in my mind, it was going to be All Wrong.)

The worst part, though, hands down, was the list reading. See, in the book, there’s a scoreboard, with players’ rankings changing somewhat frequently throughout the plot. When reading the book in print, it was easy to skim the list of players/scores, get the relevant information, and move on. On the audiobook, you have no choice but to listen to W.W. slowly (SO SLOWLY) read every player’s name and score every. single. time. the scoreboard makes an appearance. It’s a LIST, you guys. A list of names and numbers that he had to read outloud, which, okay, I get it, becaues it’s not like you can skim when you’re reading an audio book, but still, he was reading a list. And it was painful.

Tim finally finished reading/listening and agreed that it was a good book. However, he alternated between listening to it while watching the baby over his Christmas break and reading the print version when he wasn’t otherwise occupied, and he told me that without a doubt, the book was MUCH better in print than in audio format. And based on what I heard, I wholeheartedly agree.

(Although ever since he finished, Tim has been on the lookout for The Big Book of Lists read by Wil Wheaton. He’s gotta have more lists!)

The Haps

  • Tim got contacts yesterday. While the loving, caring, good wife side of me is happy that he doesn’t have to wear glasses anymore, the shallow side of me — the side that has always found a man in glasses sexy — is a little sad to see the glasses go.
  • Ben is still kinda stinky.
  • I started reading Twilight on Saturday, and I’ve only begrudgingly put it down long enough to sleep and go to work since. I know everyone and their brother is in love with this series of books, but I guess I was skeptical the story would live up to all the hype. But, y’all, I am addicted to this book. I stay up way too late reading it, then when I finally go to sleep I dream about it, and I spent my entire workday today thinking about how soon I could come home and read some more. Yesterday I picked up the other 3 books in the series because I know I’m going to need to read them immediately upon finishing this one. Also: Edward is hott. The end.
  • We went to Denver to celebrate my brother’s birthday Saturday night. His birthday was last Monday, and we were going to celebrate it last Sunday, but then a certain adorable niece of mine decided she didn’t want to miss the party. I don’t think my brother minded, though, getting a daughter for his birthday. In case you’re wondering, Little Miss Audrey remains absolutely adorable:

What’s new with you?

Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice

My family is not one to pass up an opportunity to throw a party. And since my brother and his wife will be bringing my first niece into the world on or around October 9, last weekend seemed like as good a time as any to have a party and celebrate.

We consulted with the parents-to-be and determined the basics: It was to be a couples’ shower, it would place the first weekend of August, and no silly shower games would be allowed (though Tim and I were a little disappointed that we didn’t get to see who could empty a baby bottle full of beer wine “punch” the fastest . . . someone had better remember that game whenever I have a baby shower of my own, is all I’m saying).

And with that, my mom and I got to work. We researched ideas online, emailed back and forth over every last detail — the food and drink, the setting, the decorations, the invitations. My dad got busy replacing his deck so it’d be ready to support 25 or so people and a table full of presents. And I went on a bit of a spree at the scrapbook store and got busy putting together a present that I hoped my sister-in-law would love.

Three weeks before the party, Tim and I spend the weekend at my parents’ house. Tim helped my dad build benches in place of a deck railing, and my mom and I shopped for party supplies and constructed a cake out of diapers and champagne. It was quite the productive weekend.

The shower was this past Saturday, and I believe it was a great success. Chris and Meg (my brother and his wife, respectively) seemed to have a wonderful time, as did the rest of the guests. And, from what I saw of the presents, my little niece already has quite the collection of adorable stuff.

Would you like to see pictures? Of course you would!

The gift table, complete with diaper cake and advice cards for the guests to fill out.

The food table, complete with fruit, cheese, and three delicious flavors of homemade cheesecake. In the background are two bowls of punch — one spiked, one not.

Oh, man, my mom makes a good cheesecake! The front one is blueberry, the one in back is chocolate swirl. The third one was Oreo. Yummmmm.

Chris and Meg were kind enough to get hostess gifts for my mom and me. I got Spanish wine — yum!

My lovely co-hostess, opening her gift — a bottle of wine from New Zealand, I believe.

Since my dad and Tim were hosting the party as well, and all they did was re-build a deck while my mom and I did most of the planning (boys are so lazy sometimes!) , we put them to work as Official Party Photographers.

Because I know you’re all dying to know, the dogs behaved themselves very well at the shower. Ben even (hesitantly) let a few strangers pet him!

The guests of honor, surrounded by family, friends, and presents!

As I said above, the parents-to-be received a lot of really great gifts for their daughter. There was great stuff off the registries and beautiful hand-made and personalized gifts. And then there were the gifts from Tim and me. (It’s my blog, so it’s only fitting that we focus on my gifts now, right?) As I thought about what to get my brother, I fondly remembered countless nights hanging out in his bedroom while our dad read to us. While I knew that getting the books I remember my dad reading most (The Chronicles of Narnia, and A Wrinkle in Time) would be a little advanced for a newborn (not to mention I’m pretty sure my brother already has his own copies of those classics), I also know that it’s never too early to start reading to your kids. And the thought of my brother reading to his daughter the way our dad used to read to us completely melted my heart. So I got him a mix of our early childhood favorites and other dad-related books: Hop on Pop, Just Me and My Dad, Daddy Loves Me, Spot Goes to the Farm (in which Spot and his dad explore the farm), and That’s Not My Dinosaur (because Chris, like most little boys, was an avid dinosaur lover as a child). He seemed very pleased with the additions to his library.

My idea for Meg’s gift came to me much more quickly, but it was more time consuming to put together. I mentioned above that I went on a little scrapbook shopping spree once the date for the shower was set. I came home from that shopping trip with bags full of baby-themed supplies, seasonal embellishments for every month of the year, and the cutest little baby scrapbook you ever did see.

And then I spent many an evening constructing the best page layouts I could come up with while Tim worked on his thesis or watched some awful movie. The result? A “Baby’s First Year” scrapbook with a page for every month of the year, complete with photo mats and calendars. Meg shares my love of scrapbooking, and I knew she’d probably want a book just for her daughter. But I also knew that she’d likely be pretty busy during her first year of motherhood (I’ve heard that this parenting thing can be pretty time consuming). I put this book together so that she will be able to easily add her favorite baby pictures from each moth and make note of important dates and milestones on the calendars. And if her reaction when opening it was any indication, I think it’s safe to say that she liked the gift.

Pictures of the inside of the book after the jump for those of you who are interested.

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