2019 reading review & 2020 goals

Now is the time of year when everybody is posting their 2019 reading stats, and goals for 2020. So I am going to hop on that bandwagon and do the same! I’m keeping things simple, and combining my 2019 review and 2020 goals into a single post.

Booking and blogging in 2019:

I read 34 books in 2019. Compared to many of the book-bloggers that I follow, this number is laughably low. But 2019 was my first year of reading as a hobby; prior to 2019 I never read consistently throughout any calendar year. So while the number is low compared to others’, this is definitely a personal success for me.

I baked things for 30 of the 34 books I read this year. If you follow my blog, you probably know that it started off as a dual baking/reading project, where I baked something inspired by every book that I read. Toward the end of the year, I was unable to keep up with my goal to bake something for every book. Still, 30 bakes is a lot! I became a much better baker this year; and also strengthened connections with coworkers, neighbors, and friends by regularly sharing baked goods with them.

My favorite three books that I read this year were:

2020 goals:

Read at least 45 books. Last year I read 34 books (average: ~3 per month). I would love to read even more this year! With one of my New Year’s resolutions being to limit to weeknight TV time, I think I can accomplish 45.

Read every book longlisted for the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction. By following amazing book-bloggers on wordpress, I learned about the Women’s Prize for Fiction, and read 6 of the 16 longlisted books. Some of these books I probably wouldn’t have read had it not been for the Women’s Prize, but I really enjoyed them: four of those books were 5-star reads for me, and one of them (Lost Children Archive) ended up being my favorite book of the year. So this year I’d like to broaden my horizons even more, and read more excellent woman-authored fiction!

Read at least two classics. In 2019, all the books I read were contemporary, with the “oldest” one being published in 2008. This makes sense, because there is always so much great new material being published. But this year I would like to at least slightly diversify by reading a couple of excellent older books.

Changes to the blog in 2020:

I will no longer be doing a bake for every book that I read. As I mentioned above, it has become too hard to keep up with this project. My bakes (and therefore my blog posts) are now over a month behind my reading, and this gap will likely continue to widen. Instead, I will post standalone book reviews, participate in blogging events, and pursue a different cooking/baking project…

I am starting a project for 2020 called “Year of Yeh.” This project is essentially Julie & Julia, but using Molly Yeh’s cookbook Molly on the Range. I recently received several cookbooks as gifts, and I want to start using them! So this year, I plan to cook and bake my way through Molly on the Range. I specifically chose this cookbook for two reasons. First, I have baked a few things from Yeh’s online blog and I really enjoy her recipes (including tahini milkshakes, coffee-cardamom cake, and fresh mint cake). And second, her cookbook contains a nice mix of main dishes, side dishes, and desserts – so I will get to try and learn many new things.

Revisiting my Autumn 2019 bucket list

At the beginning of October, I posted a list of 8 fun things that I wanted to do this Autumn. With today being the first official day of Winter, I wanted to reflect and see how I did on my “autumn bucket list.” These were items on the list:

Go apple-picking.

This is a classic autumnal New England activity, best done in September or early October (that’s when most apples are in season here). Unfortunately, I was too stressed and busy in September and early October to make the journey to an apple orchard (most of them are a 1+ hour drive from where I live), so it didn’t happen this year. Hopefully it works out better in 2020!

See “Love is Calling” at the Institute of Contemporary Art.

This exhibit by Yayoi Kusama opened in Autumn, and it sounded really neat! Unfortunately, this item on the bucket list never materialized either. Fortunately, the exhibit is going to be at ICA until February, so there’s still some time to do this!

See “The Nutcracker.”

Yes! My husband and I went out on a Nutcracker date two weekends ago! The dancing, costumes, and music are all captivating and impressive individually…but the way that they all come together is what makes The Nutcracker a truly magical experience. And as a testament to how much this show stuck with me, I have been listening to the soundtrack A LOT since seeing the show.

Try a maple latte.

I sort of did this one. None of the cafes that I frequent served maple lattes on their menu this autumn…but just three days ago I found this draft maple latte at Whole Foods! It was really tasty (surprisingly not too sweet), and packed a nice caffeine punch for such a small drink. That being said, I am still on the search for a maple latte at an actual coffee shop.

Go on a hike through Fall foliage.

Yup, did this one too! Early in the Fall, I went on a walk with some friends through the local arboretum. Then, a couple weeks after that, my husband and I went on a run through a cemetery in our neighborhood (it sounds creepy, but it’s actually a really beautiful space that feels more like a park than a graveyard). And even just walking around my neighborhood, I saw lots of beautiful autumn colors (so much more vibrant in person than what my phone’s camera can capture).

Do something for Halloween.

This is another “sort-of-accomplished” bucket list item. My husband and I had a couple board-games nights with friends the week before Halloween, and we played a spooky cooperative board game (Betrayal at House on the Hill – SUCH a fun game) at those game nights. But neither of those nights were really Halloween celebrations – they were more like board games nights that happened to take place near Halloween. They were fun, though!

Do a “progressive” Autumn-themed dinner with my neighbors.

We did this! The night started with appetizers (risotto, Caprese salad, and floral cocktails) in one apartment, progressed into dinner (pasta, chili, and wine) in the next apartment, and finished with dessert (cranberry curd pie) in my apartment! This night was an absolute blast – the company, the food, and the drinks were all so nice – and I hope that this becomes a tradition among us.

Have tea-based cocktails at the library bar.

I did this one, too! My husband and I went on a date in October, where we got a tapas-style lunch downtown followed by cocktails and dessert at the library’s tea lounge. This was a cool place to experience – and the cocktails and treats were good – but I probably wouldn’t come back here (it is fancy and pricey and feels a bit touristy), except maybe to show it to somebody else who was interested.

What did you do this Autumn?! What are you looking forward to in the Winter?

Nonfiction November 2019: week 2

This week’s Nonfiction November prompt is fiction/non-fiction book pairings. To quote the creator of this challenge: “It can be a ‘If you loved this book, read this!’ or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.”

I was nervous about this prompt – mostly because I am not confident in giving recommendations to others – but I ended up having a lot of fun with it! Here are the pairings/groupings that I came up with:

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, Queenie, and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.

I grouped these together because they all emphasize the potential of therapy. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone is a non-fiction book that looks at an actual therapist’s experience helping patients (and going to therapy herself), and shows how therapy helped both her and her patients. Queenie and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine are fiction books, and both include the title characters going to therapy to process trauma. If you read and liked either Queenie or Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, my guess is that you would also like Maybe You Should Talk to Someone.

nîtisânak and On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

These books go well together because they are both beautifully and poetically written; and they both show difficult relationships through a very compassionate lens. nîtisânak is a memoir by poet Lindsay Nixon, who writes about the struggles of being queer and native Canadian. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a fictional novel (but based in part upon author Ocean Vuong’s lived experiences) that explores a first-generation American son’s complex relationship with his mother. Both are meant to be slow, thoughtful reads, and both discuss difficult relationships and “taboo topics” from a place of immense compassion. Also, they are both so beautifully written – they would make a lovely pairing.

That’s all I have for this prompt! If you have any fiction/non-fiction book pairings, I would love to hear them!

Nonfiction November 2019: week 1

This year, I’m participating in a blogging event called Nonfiction November! I’m excited to participate by posting, but even more excited to read others’ posts: I’m gaining a lot of great nonfiction recommendations this way!

Image result for nonfiction november 2019

Week 1: (Oct. 28 to Nov. 1) – Your Year in Nonfiction (Julie @ Julz Reads): Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

I read 11 nonfiction books this year. They spanned a range of topics, but the most common was probably memoir. Even books that were not strictly memoirs, had memoir-like components to them. For example: Spineless was part science nonfiction, part memoir; Hard to Love was a book of essays, but in making her essays so personal, author Briallen Hopper effectively also wrote a memoir.

My favorite nonfiction reads this year were Spineless by Juli Berwald, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb, and Lab Girl by Hope Jahren. All three books contained memoir components, and all three taught me about science (psychology is a science) using compelling and accessible language. And I can’t ignore that all three were written by highly educated women whom I admired a lot after reading their books.

Spineless tells the story of Juli Berwald’s quest to figure out how climate change will impact jellyfish populations (and also the story of her career as an ocean scientist).

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone talks about the insights author Lori Gottlieb has gleaned about humanity through her career as a therapist, and also as a patient.

Lab Girl is Hope Jahren’s memoir, in which she talks about what it’s really like to try to “make it” as a female scientist in academia.

The book I recommend the most is Maybe You Should Talk To Someone, because I think it satisfies a wider audience than Spineless or Lab Girl, and has the potential to help people in a way that the other two books don’t. But all three of these books strike a beautiful balance between informative and personal, and are well-written without being pretentious. As a bonus, I think that all three of the authors are excellent role models, especially to young women interested in science.

BLOG-tober #4: perspectives worth sharing.

For as long as I can remember, I have been incredibly reserved. As a kid, even when I wanted to “put myself out there” and tried to be outgoing, I was still quite reserved in what information I did share. This habit has never really faded; if anything, it has intensified to the point where it feels impossible in some situations for me to share my perspective. Even when I do have an opinion, I am so unused to speaking up that I’m not very good at articulating or expanding upon my thoughts.

This post is a baby step toward confidently sharing my thoughts with others: I am sharing five random opinions of mine. They are only opinions – I understand that others will not necessarily agree with them. If I were better at articulating my thoughts, each opinion could be its own essay/blog post. But I’m not yet at that point, so we’re going with a short paragraph for each opinion.

Millennials need to stop hating on Gen-Z

Source: medium.com

Millennials have received a lot of flak over the years from older generations, especially Baby Boomers. So much to the point that we are accused of “killing” certain industries, including golf, cereal, and diamonds (to name a few). This type of criticism is ridiculous, but we are good at defending ourselves. It is surprising to me, then, that some millennials then go and criticize the younger generation (Gen Z). Just like us millennials, Gen Z-ers experiences their own unique set of generational challenges that no previous generation had to face. Just because we do not understand their challenges, that doesn’t mean we should trash them as a generation. This is the exact same type of behavior that we detest in Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers.

There is a such thing as being too helpful

Clippy is an example of being “too helpful.” Source: office-watch.com

I have always considered myself to be a helpful person, and I still do. However, I am slowly letting go of my belief that being helpful is the most important thing a person can be. When you are overly helpful you risk burning yourself out to help other, neglecting your own basic needs, and being taken advantage of. Being helpful is important, but so is setting boundaries and making sure that your own needs are met.

The problem is rarely “everybody else”

Source: hrdailyadvisor.blr.com

Some people like to blame every other person in the world for their problems. It is human to feel annoyed at others, and it is also easier to blame other people than to look internally and try to change. But when I hear people blame everybody else for their problems, it takes all the self-restraint I can possibly muster to stop my eyes from rolling into the back of my head. The most common example of this is people who complain that everybody else they work with is incompetent. This is narcissistic and also statistically unlikely. Instead of getting mad at others for not reading their mind, these “blame-everybody-else-ers” should figure out 1) why the problem is “everybody else” and 2) what they can do to make things better. In general, when a problem you are experiencing appears to be everybody else, that is when it’s most important to look internally and examine how your own biases might be affecting your perception.

Anti-depressants help people way more than they hurt people

Source: futurity.org

Any drug that is commercially available under a brand name has undergone extensive testing and is generally safe. Corporations want to make money (whether you take this to be a good thing or not is an entirely differently subject), and this means that it’s probably not in their interest to put out a drug that is going to hurt people. There are examples of peoples’ mental health symptoms worsening under anti-depressants…but if these were the majority of cases, there is no way that these drugs would be as widely prescribed as they are. I also think that when people cherry-pick the most extreme examples of anti-depressants having adverse effects, in order to claim that anti-depressants are unsafe, this is unscientific and irresponsible. Anti-inflammatory pain medicine (like ibuprofen) can be dangerous in some cases and people can even die from drinking water. But these examples are not the majority of cases, and that is why we (as a society) generally accept pain medicine (and of course water). We have so much more work to do on stopping the stigma against taking anti-depressants.

Most people are overconfident in their “knowledge” and “expertise”

Source: wittyfeed.com

I went to graduate school to study the biology of a plant pathogenic fungus. It sounds fancy, but the truth is that I gained a lot of knowledge on a very narrow topic. I know a lot about one particular fungus, but I am absolutely NOT an expert on fungi, broadly speaking. It bothers me, then, when people with even less experience and knowledge in fungal biology try to pose as experts, or make broader claims than they should based on their experience. More generally, it bothers me when people claim to “know that GMOs are unsafe” or that “anti-depressants make people homicidal” because of ONE article that they skimmed online. There is a famous quote by Socrates: “I know that I am intelligent, because I know that I know nothing.” If more people would set aside their ego and admit what they don’t know, I think that we could learn and potentially achieve a lot more as a society.

BLOG-tober #3: weird things about me.

A couple weeks ago, Ashley at Mental Health at Home posted her answers to an “eleven weird things about me” challenge. I loved this post, because I feel that it’s important to embrace and be open about our weirdness. I also thought that this topic fit in perfectly with “BLOG-tober,” since October is the month of Halloween (AKA all things weird). Here is the link to the original post, if you are interested! My weird things are:

1. Talking in my sleep

Sometimes, if I have a dream where I am saying or yelling something, I will say or yell that thing out loud in real life. It has woken my partner up many times before, and I often wake myself up that way too. In college, I had a dream where I couldn’t move and needed to call for help. Apparently, I screamed “HELP!” out loud, because I woke up to my housemate pounding on my door to check if I was okay.

2. Crazy cat lady

I love cats! I only have two cats, but I love them and talk to them as though they are actual babies. I also own some cat-themed clothes and accessories including but not limited to: flats in the shape of a cat’s face, rhinestone cat ears, and two pairs of cat-print pajama pants.

3. Lover of fungi

I also love fungi. This is weird to some people, but I just think they’re so cool! I get really excited when I encounter interesting mushrooms and slime molds in nature, and I’ve gone on several hikes for the sole purpose of finding interesting fungi.

4. Falling asleep on the couch

Nearly every night, I end up dozing off on the living room couch in my apartment. Since it happens without fail, I should know by now to avoid this situation and go straight to bed. And yet…zzzzzzzzzz.

5. Cautious (teetering on paranoid) about food-borne illness

I took a food microbiology course in college where we learned about the most common agents of food-borne illness and what foods they are found in. Ever since then, I have become more cautious (excessively so, according to my partner) about food poisoning.

6. “Once I’m out, I’m out”

Once I leave my apartment in the morning, I do not return (unless I have forgotten something ESSENTIAL, such as my work badge or public transit pass). This mentality has backfired on me many times, such as last week when I made the decision to go to work without an umbrella.

7. Perfectionist AND procrastinator

I am somehow both a perfectionist and a procrastinator. Being a grad student only accentuated this tendency of mine, because I worked with MANY other perfectionist-procrastinators at my old institution. I’m probably like this because I thrive under intense pressure…but sometimes these contradictory tendencies set me up for failure.

8. Cold brew queen

I enjoy a “malted cold brew” while my partner drinks a regular coffee.

I have started to become *that* person that drinks cold brew year round. I started drinking cold brew pretty regularly this summer, because both my office and my neighborhood café serve really good cold brew. Now, I am physically dependent on cold brew, because it has a higher caffeine content than regular coffee. I will probably continue to drink cold brew even when it is snowing and icy in the winter.

9. Keeping my opinions to myself

From an early age I have been very reserved, and hesitant to share my opinions with others. I’m afraid of being judged for having “bad taste” or stupid ideas. Luckily, this blog is helping me a lot to overcome my fear of expressing myself.

10. Using men’s deodorant

Ever since college, I have used men’s deodorant. (I think that) it works better than any women’s deodorant I’ve ever used before, and there is one particular brand/scent of men’s deodorant that I absolutely love.

11. Spooky story time!

I can’t think of any other weird facts, so here is a “weird” story in the spirit of Halloween. Around this time last year, I noticed a couple wasps buzzing around my door as I was trying to leave for work. I was so scared that I didn’t lock my door – I just slammed it shut and ran off to work. When I got back home at the end of the day, though, the door was locked. I (again) freaked out, and asked my male neighbor to help me check out the apartment. We opened the door and checked every room – nobody was there and nothing was missing. When we got to the kitchen, I saw a slip of paper saying that pest control (a normal thing in the South) had visited my apartment that day – they must have locked their door on the way out.

What are your “weird” things? If you have eleven that you’re comfortable sharing, please feel free to post your own answers to this prompt!

BLOG-tober #2: wedding planning pro’s and con’s.

Planning a wedding is thought of by many as a stressful and expensive ordeal. The stereotypical wedding planning experience involves navigating family-members strong (and perhaps unsolicited) opinions, spending way too much money on every single wedding detail, figuring out a menu that is agreeable to everyone’s dietary restrictions, graciously dealing with last minute RSVP changes, and perfecting that damn seating chart.

Are these wedding-planning stereotypes true, though? As someone who is almost at the finish-line of planning a wedding, this topic is near and dear to my heart. Taking into account my (purely anecdotal) experiences, these are my opinions on wedding planning:

THE PROS:

  1. This day is purely YOURS (and your partners). As such, you get to create a ceremony and reception that is reflective of your unique personality, and your love for your partner. This is a rare – maybe even once in a lifetime – opportunity!
  2. Some aspects of the planning process are fun! Personally, I loved designing invitations, doing menu and cake tastings, and going wedding dress shopping. Different people like different things, but if you and your partner are on the same page about wedding planning, parts of the process should be quite enjoyable. And the stressful parts of wedding planning can be a bonding experience for you and your partner!
  3. You might reconnect with old friends or extended family during the planning process. This depends on how many people you will invite to your wedding, and how close your family is…but my experience was that family-members I hadn’t talked to in years contacted me to congratulate me on my engagement, and offered to help in any way during the wedding planning.

THE CONS:

  1. Yes, some people really will find a way to make YOUR wedding about themselves. Chances are, though, the people who bring more stress than support to your wedding planning process are probably not doing so intentionally. This doesn’t detract from the annoyingness – but keeping this in mind helped me not to take this difficult behavior personally.
  2. It is expensive. There is no getting around this. The average cost of a wedding in the United States is about $35,000, and depending on where you live, the average cost may be even higher than that. You can work around budget constraints by doing things yourself (DIY-ing it), but what you save in money you will pay for in time. My partner and I recently spent a full day designing, printing, and assembling handmade table-number signs; we saved a bit of money by doing this ourselves, but it was a lot of extra work. The more you DIY, the more money you potentially save, but the harder you will need to work and plan.
  3. There is a lot to keep track of. No matter how many budgets, spreadsheets, and to-do lists you make – the wedding planning process is still bound to be overwhelming at times. Having a master checklist can help with this, as can delegating tasks to people that you trust. Even still, there will be moments where it feels like you are drowning in wedding planning tasks. This is just part of the wedding planning process.

So is it worth it?

That really depends on how you weight each item in the pro/con list (side note: I firmly believe that pro/con lists must be weighted according to the values of the person making the list – more on that another time, perhaps). For my partner and me, the pro’s outweighed the con’s. But we were engaged for about seven months before we even started planning, because we weren’t immediately ready. I have noticed (anecdotally) that long engagements are becoming increasingly common. I wonder if this is to prepare logistically, financially, and emotionally for the stress of planning a modern wedding.

Have you planned a wedding? Do you know anyone who has? If so, what were your experiences like?