January's Books: A Classic Novella & A Bunch of Tricks

One of the items on my list for this year is to read two books a month: a classic and a whatever I damn well please. Since I didn't finalize my list until a week or so into January, I decided I'd better go with something that wouldn't make me feel like a failure right off the bat. *I chose John Steinbeck's The Pearl for my classic and 101 Dog Tricks: Step by Step Activities to Engage, Challenge, and Bond with Your Dog by Kyra Sundance. Here are my thoughts (don't worry...they're brief).

The Pearl
I first read The Pearl my freshman year of high school. The only thing I remembered about this book is that the word poultice appears in it. Why? Because it appeared on a vocabulary quiz. Of all the words I learned in high school, this is the only one that sticks out. Weird. When I reached that part in my re-read, I smiled.

Other than that, reading this made me wonder why I don't read Steinbeck more often. It's such a simple tale that carries so much heft. And the language is beautiful. The writing is so terse, which always amazes me. As you know, I don't do brevity. : ) I also loved the character of Juana. Everyone talks about Kino, of course, but for me, it was all about the quiet ways in which she was so strong. So lovely. All in all, I'm glad I started off with this; I've been meaning to re-read it for a while.

101 Dog Tricks: Step by Step Activities to Engage, Challenge,
and Bond with Your Dog
This was an easy choice for my second. After all, teaching Ollie one rad trick is on my list, too. I looked through a number of books trying to figure out which one might be easiest for me to follow. A coworker had talked about The Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan, a lot, but I felt like those books were a little more touchy feely and a little less here's how you can train your damn dog. I have to tell you that I love this book. I've been working on "sit" and "down" with Sir Oliver and it's going well. He's only five months old, so there's sometimes a little bit of cluelessness on his end, but the explicit directions they give and great photos are a huge help. They also give tips for what to do if your dog isn't quite getting it. Super helpful! Plus, in addition to all the standard commands, they have a ton of rad tricks like teaching your dog to get your slippers!! If you are getting a puppy or just want to teach your dog awesome tricks, I highly recommend this book.

And those are January's books. I'm thinking I'm going to have the same dilemma in terms of book length with February since it's a bit shorter (though it is a leap year). I will be completely honest that it was tough to fit in those two books and one was more of a flip-through than anything. So, again, I'm aiming small. I can expand to bigger, better books as my time frees up.

What did you read this month? Anything good? I'm always taking recommendations!

(The Pearl Book Cover via The Occasional; 101 Dog Tricks Book Cover via Barnes and Noble)

*I choose my books each month. Nobody pays me to read them, including John Steinbeck's estate. I am merely sharing what I read with the few peeps who read here. Just wanted to be clear.


Marriage Mondays: Single Girl Pressure vs. Married Girl Pressure

Here's something I've been thinking about for a while: the difference between being single and married. Specifically the difference in how you feel pressured to meet others' expectations. For instance, when you are single, people are dying to know when you are going to get married. They are always asking you if you're seeing someone or thinking about someone they could set you up with. It seems like all they care about is whether you will ever get married.

Until you do...then the pressure shifts. Now, it's when are you having a baby? When are you going to buy a house? When are you going to move out of the city and really settle down?

You go from not being taken seriously to being told that it's time to get serious. It doesn't make any sense either way. How anyone thinks their business is your business is beyond me, but the pressure is there nevertheless.

We don't get a lot of baby questions except from my father. Still, the expectations are there, even if they are not constant. About six months after getting married, we had someone tell us that they had a ton of baby stuff for us to use in the next couple of years. The irony was that that couple had waited almost a decade into their marriage to have kids.

Being single means people think they control your love life. Being married means people think they control your uterus...and your real estate choices. We are desperate to get out of our place and we'd love to buy a house, but we are open to a condo, too. And as I've said before, we're staying in the city. There are a lot of questions about where we'll move and how big a place we will get. Why, you ask? The secret hidden agenda is that they want to know if there will be room for a baby. Or will we move to the suburbs.

The truth is that we like our lives just the way they are. Sure, we'd settle for less work, but we like sleeping in and eating whenever and staying up late. We like it and for now, it's all we want. We're not opposed to kids, we're just not in any rush. When the time is right, we'll do what is right for us. I just get sick of the pressure to want to want kids, like, now. Right away. I'm pretty good at dealing with the questions when they hit (and they do, on average 1-2 times monthly, depending on who I talk to in that month), but it does get old. I guess the way to look at it is to just be happy someone cares enough to ask. Even if you've answered many, many times before. : )

Did you feel single girl pressure? Do you feel married girl pressure now? How do you deal with it?

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Shifted Worlds and Blurred Vision

I've been having some fun with my camera(s) and Photoshop lately. When the weather gets ice cold again, I have a photo project in mind. Then when it warms up again, I have a photography class to take! So that's exciting! But in the mean time, I am playing around with some fun, little things.

Bokeh filter (of sorts):

The cheat? I held those 3D looking glasses that you wear and when you look at any point of light, you see a certain image, which was a snowman, in this case. The neat thing is that you also get a nice vignette. Pretty. : )


Tilt-shift photos are those awesome photos that make the real world look like a model or diorama. Using this tutorial, I've been playing with some new and old photos. Here are the best ones so far.

Orlando Spring

Chicago Winter

(Photos by me!)


A Birthday (Trip to Milwaukee)

Today is A.P.'s 32nd birthday. As I told him last week, there's no turning back. He's officially in his thirties. To celebrate his birthday, I surprised him with an overnight trip to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I made a fake travel brochure for him outlining all the things we would do while we were there. I made arrangements for my nephew to stay at our place and watch the animals. And then I lied. I lied my ass off all week and made him think that we were doing something Saturday and then something else on Sunday. This way he didn't make any plans, but he didn't know we were going out of town. I was worried though that we might have had to cancel since it snowed about five inches the night before. I decided, though, that weather, in this area anyway, is always going to be an issue. So I bit the bullet and decided we'd just go. Saturday, I packed a bag with clothes and told him we needed "supplies" for our "activity." It was pretty funny. Then when we got in the car, I gave him the brochure. He told me he better run upstairs and pack some clothes and I told him everything had been taken care of. I revealed the house sitter, the game plan, and then we were off!

Milwaukee is only about an hour and a half away from Chicago, so the drive goes by pretty quickly. Before know it, you're in another state and then another city with another view of the lake. I've been to Milwaukee a few times before, but not for a while and not enough to know what's cool or where to go, so it was a lot of fun to plan the trip.

We started out at the art museum, which is located right on the lakefront and is housed in the beautiful Quadracci Pavillion. Surprisingly, the museum houses some amazing works of art, including one of my favorites (the Josef Albers Homage to the Square - Early Rising seen below)

From there, we checked into our ultra-modern hotel room at Aloft Milwaukee Downtown. We checked out the room and rested up a bit.

Then, we took a short walk from our hotel on the River Walkway and headed to the one rad place I remember from my last visit: The Safe House. The Safe House is a spy bar and to get in, you have to know the secret password. And guess what? I didn't know it! I thought I did, but I didn't. No worries, though, if you don't know the password, they just make you do silly stuff, which the whole bar watches on a closed-circuit TV. We had to do one of those Russian-style high kick dance moves and go, "Hey!" at the end. Once inside, you find a bar and restaurant covered in spy paraphernalia and collectibles. It's so awesome. A.P. and I were lucky enough to sit in a little private room. There, we had a drink and took in the atmosphere. We even took some nice shots together using my Gorilla Pod (one of my kickass photography Christmas gifts). I also snuck into the women's bathroom, which has what looks like a stall but is actually a viewing area with a two-way glass. You can see people walking around outside, but they can't see you at all. So rad!

(View from inside the two way mirror room)

After The Safe House, we headed to The Rumpus Room, a gastropub in downtown Milwaukee. The food was delicious and according to A.P., so was the beer. Since we had plans to see a movie after and I was driving, I had the root beer, which was also delicious.

After dinner, we headed to Wauwatosa to the Rosebud Cinema to see The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Formerly the Tosa Theater, the Rosebud now offers super comfy seating in the form of various reclining chairs and love seats and sofas. It's awesome. It was like watching a movie on a huge screen from your living room. We curled up and enjoyed the late show. So fun!

The next day, we slept in and then headed down to the famous Brady Street for brunch at Balzac, a little French wine bar. Brunch was delicious! And after, walked around a bit. It was so fun, albeit a bit cold and rainy. We had plans to go to a lighthouse, but the weather wasn't cooperating, so after, we just headed home.

(Like my tilt-shift? I've been working on this a little lately in Photoshop. More on that later!)
It was such a fun little getaway and so very needed. We decided we're going to try to do some more mini-trips this year. They're a fun way to get away, but they don't cost a lot. And since we can't take a real, long vacation until the spring, it's nice to be able to still get out of town. Thanks for letting me share my photos with you! And please join me in wishing my wonderful husband a very, happy birthday!

(Photos by me!)


Marriage Mondays: Sometimes You Just Need a Break

Hi all! Thanks for letting me take a break from blogging. It was much needed! I also wanted to thank you all for your nice comments. I'm glad there are people who like reading this blog. I sometimes get discouraged by little things and forget that there are still lots of people who do come here all the time and read what I have to write. And that's no small feat. Thanks for caring enough to swing by. It's really flattering and I sometimes forget how lucky I am that I have you. : )

That being said, today's post is all about how sometimes you just need a break...from anything and everything. Last week, I needed a break from everything and I felt like I can never seem to take one. I can never take vacations unless it's a slow time of year at my job. And so I just pound away at life and every once in a while, I just need a break.

I sometimes dream of running away, just me and nobody else, not even A.P., and going to a cabin in the woods or a house on a beach or lake. I dream of bringing a stack of books and some fun craft projects. I dream of taking walks and photographing everything and reading and cooking good meals and being alone with only myself. My whole life I've always felt this small, strange part of myself that feels the need to run. Does everyone have this or is this just me? When I read books like The Patron Saint of Liars or The Hours (a fantastic movie, too!), I relate to those women who have to escape. Sometimes everything just seems like too much and it makes me wonder if women of every generation have felt this way. I feel like we are so overwhelmed with life these days...work, relationships, kids, etc...that I feel like we never have time for just ourselves. We never have moments to breathe and be alone.

I lived alone for so many years and I feel like I'm never alone now. It's so understated how important it is to be alone in a marriage. I love A.P., but he is here all the time. When he moved here, he was friends with his ex's friends. Then he started dating me. Now he's friends with my friends. What this means is he doesn't have a ton of friends of his own. I mean, he's not friendless, but he rarely hangs out with his friends. I never get a break. He used to travel for work and I would get some time alone once in a while, but now his trips are just day trips. I also feel like because my work schedule is so much heavier now and I work such late hours all the time that I don't get a break. I used to come home a couple of hours before A.P. and get some down time to myself. Now, I'm lucky if I'm here an hour before him. Usually, it's just about a half hour or so and most of that time I'm cleaning up Ollie's room, picking shit up, working some more or whatever other non-relaxing crap I'm doing.

Then there's work. Try as I might, I am constantly working. During the week, after hours, later, on the weekends. In so many ways, my life is ruled by work. It's simultaneously infuriating and exhausting. I am lucky if I have a whole weekend to relax. Often, I work on Sundays and though I've tried to cut back on these hours, I just can't seem to do it. I imagine a future, possibly with kids, and I wonder how that will look and how much more tired I will be, because as is, I barely function now.

And the weather and family and all that seems to pile up without end makes me...well, tired. I feel like I need to escape. As much as I'd like to run away and have a week to myself, these days I'll settle for any kind of trip. So, lately, I've been dreaming of taking vacations with A.P. Because sometimes you need a break from life, even if it's not the complete solitude you long for. Sometimes you need a vacation, even if it's only for a day. Some time away from your grueling life. If you remember, I was complaining to A.P. how we needed a vacation badly. And it's on my list for 2012 to take at least two this year.

Well, this past weekend, as a surprise for his birthday tomorrow, I took A.P. for a quick overnight getaway to Milwaukee, Wisconsin (more later!). It was nice to get away and take a break from our apartment and our pets and our routine. Not just nice, but necessary. And it made me realize how much I needed a break. Sure, I still long for a week by myself with my stack of books, but I'll settle for an overnight getaway to Milwaukee because for at least one day, it wasn't my exhausting, stressful life. I didn't deal with dog poop or cat poop or laundry piling up or cooking dinner or piles of work that I feel guilty about not doing even though I've worked 80% of my waking day. I brought work with me so I wouldn't feel guilty, but I ended up not doing any and, you know what, not feeling bad about it! And most of all, I got to hang with my best friend, which, all things considering, isn't the worst thing in the world. In fact, I'd say it's pretty damn great.

Do you dream of taking a break alone? Or just a break in general?

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Marriage Mondays: Confession

I have a confession to make...I'm at a loss for what to write here anymore. Usually it will come to me and I'll write it down. For a while, I had a surplus of post ideas, but lately, I'm at a complete loss. I have no idea what to write anymore. And it's not just on Mondays, it's every day. Each day, I am at a complete loss as to what I should write. I have to struggle to get the words on the page. I am going through a rough patch with my writing and so I'm going to be kind to myself. Instead of putting pressure on myself to get all these weekly posts done, I'm going to take a break. It's not the end of Marriage Mondays or Wedding Wednesdays or any of the other things I write here, it's just a breather to reboot and get inspired again so that I don't just write bullshit.

Lately, I've just been feeling like this is all a huge waste of time. I feel like what I do here doesn't really matter and that all the time I spend on this blog is, well, time better spent doing other things. I put a lot of time and effort into this blog and I feel like I used to do it just for me and then it became a beast of a thing and now I just don't know. I feel like I thought I could do something and maybe it's okay to admit I can't. So, I think I just want to go back to this being a whatever. A thing with mild focus and a lot of whatever I damn well feel like. I like structure, but sometimes I feel suffocated by it and I'm hoping that maybe if I let the structure go a bit, I will get back to what I first wanted to do here: write.

I hope you'll forgive me, but I also hope that you understand.


Snow Dance

This week has been soooo exhausting. Last night, I fell asleep for two hours after work! And also yesterday, it finally snowed. After 50 degree weather and so little snow, we finally got hit...hard. It started around 10am and continued until today. It was scary driving home from work, with a definite frightening moment where I couldn't break and kept rolling into traffic. Luckily, people were driving carefully and were nice and didn't, you know, kill me. After that, it was fine, but I kept a safe distance from other cars in case the same thing happened again. I also decided not to attend my guitar class. I figured I'd rather live and play next week than die and never play again.

In honor of the snow, I'm giving you another wintry wedding this week. Photographed by Jessica Watson, Veronica and Grant's cozy lodge wedding is so cute, it made me head explode. I love all the details: the thermos vases, the vintage woodland figurines adorning all the centerpieces, and the bride's winter boots. Plus, you have to feature any wedding where the bride braves the cold and exposes herself to the elements for the sake of beautiful photos. Go, Veronica!

Seriously. Is that not the bravest thing you've ever seen? I got a chill just looking at those photos of her bare shoulders and legs in the snow! But totally worth it. And what a gorgeous wedding (and only 14K!!!)!

So, this weekend, we are (sadly) taking down the tree, though we'll probably hold off on carrying the heavy boxes down the back stairs which are always scary when it snows/rains. I'm always sad to take down Christmas decorations. I love having the tree all lit up in the apartment. Lately, we've been turning on the tree and then just a few lamps throughout the apartment. We call it our "soft lighting" and it's super cozy and makes an evening hanging out on the couch feel instantly intimate.

Other than that, I'm grateful for the 3 day weekend. I know I was just on vacation, but I didn't really have a lot of opportunities to sleep in and relax. So, this weekend, I say bring it! Depending on the weather, too, we may brave the cold and go see a movie. I really want to see Young Adult or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, so it's all about whichever I can convince A.P. to see. What are you up to this weekend? Anything fun?

In the mean time, here are your dance moves for the week:

Craft Room supplies getting out of hand? Try these inventive organizational tips!

Thousands of kids + Thousands of Stickers = Amazing

This would be such a simple gift to make for people...

...And you could package it in oh, so pretty mason jars!

Have you heard of Whichbook? I'm going to use it to help me pick some of my books for 2012!

Add this to Your Man's Blogroll: The Art of Manliness

(Friday Dance Photo via here; Veronica and Grant's Oregon Wedding photographed by Jessica Watson via Intimate Weddings)
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