How I Spent My Summer Vacation

As I mentioned in my last post (far too long ago), Ben graduated from Northeastern School of Law in May. His mom, dad, and sister came to visit us for Commencement, and we had a wonderful time day-tripping around New England. We visited Plimoth Plantation, the U.S.S Constitution, Harvard Natural History Museum, and the Nubble Lighthouse in Maine, and dined at the Union Oyster House. Mom and Dad also helped us finish packing up the apartment and loading everything into the truck to head up to The farm in New Hampshire. After getting everything loaded up into the storage unit, we spent about three weeks crashing with friends while we got the Little House ready for habitation. It’s spent the last few years as storage and a hang-out spot for actors and paintballers, so it was in need of a good scrubbing. I cleaned, mopped, painted, and got us all moved in while Ben began studying for the MA and NH Bar Exams.

Once we were all settled, I started working on costumes and props for Hampstead Stage Company, and have since become House Manager as well. Ben took the Bar exams at the end of July, and won’t find out the results till mid October. In the meantime, he’s pursuing job leads and helping our boss Kati write her memoir. We’ve been working on turning our yard into an outdoor lounging spot by training the grapevines to grow over the trellis to provide some shade, and unearthing some paving stones to create a fire pit.

In addition to the costumes for the theater, I’ve been working on building a gown for a local fashion designer, working out some new knitting patterns, and preparing the house for the arrival of the Fall Tour actors. When those projects come along, I’ll have some pictures for you. In the meantime, he are some summertime photos for warm memories as the chill starts to come into the air!

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Looking Ahead

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. I’ve been having a hard time managing my health and keeping up with my generally over scheduled life. And my wanderlust and desire for change and adventure has been making me impatient to begin the next steps of our lives.

But time moves ever onward and some very exciting things have been happening. This weekend Ben and I drove home for my youngest sister’s wedding. It was in a charming rustic setting (that was nearly impossible to find) and weather was wonderful. We had a fantastic time.

At the end of the month, Ben graduates from law school at Northeastern University. His parents and sister are coming for commencement and a week-long visit. I’m so proud of Ben and so excited to see his family.

Then for the summer, we’re planning on moving up to The Farm in New Hampshire and living with friends while Ben studies for the Bar exam. I’ll be working for Hampstead Stage Company and OSG Paintball, helping around the house and the farm, and getting a break from nannying.

In the meantime, there’s lots to be done: finishing up the sewing projects, cleaning out my supplies and selling things I don’t need, donating clothes that no longer fit. Along the way, I’ll be taking photos and keeping the blog updated with photos of our new adventures. Thank you for coming along with me!

February Resolutions

The month of January has been a complete blur. I’ve worked 23 solid days in a row – from Jan 7-29 – and now I finally get a week off! Now, of course, I would never deliberately set up such a schedule, but one of my mombosses herniated a disc in her back and has been quite laid up. I certainly don’t mind helping out the family I’ve really become a part of, but I’m also looking forward to our schedules returning to a more manageable level.

Now that February is nearly upon us, I feel like I’m ready to start on my New Year’s goals. We all have a love-hate relationship with resolutions: they have such a connotation of failure or disappointment in yourself. Well, to tell you the truth, I’m pretty happy with where my life is now and how far I’ve come. But that’s no reason not to keep having goals and ambitions, so that’s how I prefer to think of “resolutions.” So here are the things I’m trying out this year:

The 52-Week Money Challenge
The idea is to make a game out of adding to your savings account. Each week, you add the amount associated with week’s calendar number. My challenge is slightly altered for practicality, though. One friend is doing it backwards to get the larger amounts out of the way first, and avoid having the big numbers stack up right around the holidays. Another friend suggested doing the weeks out of order entirely based on that week’s income – and for a person who’s week-to-week income could vary wildly, that seems much more practical. So I’ve been counting my pennies, marking off weeks, and watching that savings account balance grow. So far I’m ahead of the game, having marked off weeks 52, 50, 49, 40, 32, 20, and 10, for a total of $203. Check out the chart below if you’d like to play along.

Kanawha County Public Library’s WV Reads 150+ Challenge
This year, 150 is the minimum instead of the goal, and our team, Murdock Has 14 Friends Who Can Read, is going strong. Personally, I want to beat my numbers from last year of 32 adult books and 25 children’s books. So Far in 2014, I’ve got 4 adult books and 19 children’s books, so I’m off to a strong start. I’m not planning on doing reviews of each book unless it’s a book with a specific Humanist/atheist or perhaps a crafting theme, but please ask if you’d like to know my thoughts on any particular title.

Fitness & Health
In the past few years, I’ve put on 30 pounds and gone up a few pants sizes, bringing my BMI up to 28.3. “Normal” BMI is under 25 and I’m 10 pounds away from official obesity. Now those are the numbers, but here are the realities: I look in the mirror and I feel fine. But when I look at photos of myself, I can’t believe how chubby I’ve gotten. I’ve grown out of half my clothes and don’t like the way anything looks on me anymore. On top of that, my sister and my best friend are both getting married in the next year, and the last thing I want is to look bad in pictures that will be displayed forever.

Alright, so we’ve established the problem, and whining about it won’t do any good. So what’s the plan? Well, I think I’ve finally found the exercise that fits with the needs of my body and I’ll actually enjoy doing. It’s hula hooping! I took my first class the other day with a few friends from Kids Fun Stop, and we had a great time. I learned not only how to keep the hoop going, but I learned four tricks, both left and right handed, and we burned 600 calories in an hour! We definitely felt some muscles and broke a sweat, but it didn’t feel like work at all. I’ll be going to classes once a week and practicing at home. The instructor says she’s lost 50lb over the last few years just by hooping, so hopefully I’ll see some results, too!

I also generally want to take better care of my health: get better sleep, cut back my caffeine, get back on my maintenance meds, and have my thyroid tested, see the dermatologist for a fair-skin-checkup. All that stuff that gets ignored when you’re busy, broke and lacking health insurance.

Crafting & Creating
I have a few skills I want to learn this year, including cutting dovetails (my folks gave me some saws & chisels for Christmas!), and carding wool for spinning. I also want to find a bit more time for leatherwork, beading, and garment construction. But the biggest thing I need to do is finish up my ongoing projects and avoid overcommitting my time. Between my stashed projects and some very generous Christmas gifts, I honestly don’t think I’m going to have to buy any more yarn for myself until June. That’s a pretty happy problem to have!

House & Home
I spend a lot of time keeping up the homes of my nannying clients, and that’s just part of the gig. Nobody wants to come home to a pile of dishes in the sink and toys strewn everywhere. And neither do I – which means I have to do a better job of not letting my dishes and “toys” pile up. And get the vacuum cleaner fixed. And donate the stuff I’m never actually going to use. And find a loving home for some of my crafting supplies and all these books. And bear in mind that we might be moving within the next year, and not purchase anything I’m not willing to pack, store, and move.

Mind & Spirit
Last year I decided I need to make a few more friends who are over the age of 10 and don’t require my constant care and supervision. Podcasts, books, and television are fantastic and educational, but they don’t feed your spirit the way conversation and community do. So I’ve started attending meetings of the Ethical Society of Boston and lectures at the Humanist Hub in Cambridge. On Jan 12 I attended a lecture about what the Humanist community has to offer in 2014 by James Croft, a charming Englishman who’s a Leader-in-Training of Ethical Culture and is co-authoring a book with Greg Epstein called The Godless Congregation. Upcoming lectures that I plan on attending are entitled “Welfare Rights Are A Big Deal,” “Coming Up Short: The Eroding of Traditional Markers of Adulthood,” and “Our Bodies, Ourselves: Then and Now.” Hopefully they will provide lots of food thoughts and blog-posts.

And of course, the blog!
In addition to being more consistent, generally speaking, I want to bring back the Sunday Society, Wednesday Headlines, and Humanist Heroes posts. I want to make sure you guys have plenty of interesting material to read and I want to hear your thoughts and comments!

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2013 Book List

In my last post, I mentioned that I read a truckload of books last year, and I thought folks be interested in what they were. I’m not going to write a review of each one, but if you’d like to know what I thought of any of them, please ask!

Adult Books:
1. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkanan – J.K. Rowling
2. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – J.K. Rowling
3. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – J.K. Rowling
4. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince – J.K. Rowling
5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – J.K. Rowling
6. Unorthodox – Deborah Feldman
7. Titanic – Matthew Vollbrecht
8. The Story of My Life – Helen Keller
9. A Modest Proposal – Jonathan Swift
10. Back to Basics – Barbara Frank
11. Bitsy & Boots – Jonathan Joy
12. Things I Learned from Knitting Wether I Wanted to or Not – Stephanie Pearl McPhee
13. The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman
14. The God Delusion – Richard Dawkins
15. God is Not Great – Christopher Hitchens
16. Missionary Position – Christopher Hitchens
17. Zlata’s Diary – Zlata Filipovic
18. Forest Friends – Elizabeth Ford
19. Howl’s Moving Castle – Diana Wynne Jones
20. We All Wore Stars – Theo Coster
21. Honey and Hand Grenades – Logan Sheffield
22. The Mystery of the Talking Skull (Three Investigators) – Robert Arthur
23. The Mystery of the Moaning Cave (Three Investigators) – William Arden
24. Cam Jansen and the Mystery of the Stolen Diamonds – David A. Adler & Susanna Natti
25. Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
26. Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins
27. Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins
28. Joey Pigza Swallowed The Key – Jack Gantos
29. Summer Falls & Other Stories – Ameila Williams
30. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan
31. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty – James Thurber
32. Orphan Train – Christina Baker Kline

Children’s Books:
1. The Wind Blew – Pat. Hutchins
2. We’re All In The Same Boat – Zachary Shapiro & Jack E. Davis
3. The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Stawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear – Don & Audry Wood
4. Knufflebunny – Mo Williams
5. Extra Yarn – Mark Barnett
6. Tortuga in Trouble – Ann Wilfred Paul
7. King Solomon and His Magic Ring – Eli Wiesel
8. Where’s Milo’s Ball? – Mike Austin
9. Milo Armadillo – Jan Fearnley
10. Wild About Books – Judy Sierra & Marc Brown
11. Llama Llama Mad at Momma – Anna Dewdy
12. Llama Llama Holiday Drama – Anna Dewdy
13. Llama Llama Red Pajamas – Anna Dewdy
14. Bunny Days – Tao Nyeu
15. Brave Fire Truck – Melinda Melton Crow
16. If You Give A Dog a Donut – Laura Numeroff
17. Tell Me Something Happy Before I Go To Sleep – Joyce Dunbar & Debi Glioro
18. Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site – Sherri Dusty Rinker & Tom Lichtenstein
19. Steam Train, Dream Train – Sherri Dusty Rinker & Tom Lichtenstein
20. The Ferryboat Ride – Anne Rockwell
21. The Biggest Thing in the Ocean – Kevin Sherry
22. The Prince’s Bedtime – Joann Oppenheimer, Miriam Oppenheimer, & Jim. Broadbent
23. Carrot Soup – John Segal
24. Wolves in the Walls – Neil Gaiman
25. Where’s My Mommy – Carol Roth & Sean Julian

2013 Year in Review

It’s January, and time for a year end review! 2013 has been a good year for me. I became a full-time nanny an part-time crafter, started blogging, and got back in touch with a few long-lost friends. I began budgeting, keeping track of my money, and making a plan for paying down that mountain of student loans. I joined the WV Reads 150 challenge, and read 32 adult books and 25 children’s books for a total of 57. I finished up 22 knitting projects, 15 embroideries, and 6 machine sewing projects. I got to visit friends, family, and homesteads in Missouri, West Virginia, Ohio, and New Hampshire. I had a completely beautiful holiday season filled with more love and acceptance than I could possibly have wished for.

In personal development, this is the year that I feel like I’ve really come into my own. I made an effort to spend time around people who are positive, encouraging, and believe in what I do, and tried to give negative, draining, critical people a wide berth. I’ve made an effort to let go of past insecurities, failings and incorrect beliefs about myself, Four Agreements style. I’ve tried to spend my time doing things I truly enjoy – life is too short for books you aren’t interested in, art projects that feel like obligations, and work that isn’t bringing you joy. I’ve learned that it’s ok if your goals change, and that of course what you needed or wanted at 21 isn’t going to be what you need or want at 32. I’ve learned, and will continue to learn, how to be enough.

Of course, there are still things I’d like to work on in the coming year. Budgeting and taking care of my health are ongoing goals, like they are for most people, along with finding your best work/life blend. And we have a lot of changes coming up in 2014 to look forward to. I’m looking forward to a few more adventures.

“Times change and so must I… We all change when you think about it, we’re all different people, all through our lives, and that’s okay, that’s good. You gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be. I will not forget one line of this, not one day, I swear.” -Matt Smith as The Doctor.

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About That Barbershop Video…

So any time I want to make a reply on Facebook that ends up being more than a sentence or two long, I try and redirect it over here to the blog. This is one of those times.

A video has been going around about a white girl who stops by a black barbershop with her boyfriend, and one of the hairdressers becomes highly critical of their interracial relationship. All three of those people are actors hired by a show called What Would You Do. Their schtick is that they put people in uncomfortable situations and see if anyone will speak up. I have a couple of criticisms about this video, some of which are from personal experience and some of which are from plain old critical thinking.

The first is this: While it is not stated, the video heavily implies that the terrible behavior on the part of the “hairdresser” is a common occurrence, when in reality, it’s completely set up. It’s important not to conflate this piece of performance art as the current state of race relations in barbershops.

Second, everyone except the “hairdresser” behaved either neutrally or in support of the “white girlfriend.” While in a situation such as the one presented, neutrality might not be the best response, but imagine the same scenario without the setup – neutral or supportive behavior would have made for a perfectly pleasant trip to the barbershop.

And third, while no one has the right to deride any human being in such a manner, I still have a hard time processing the idea that the onus for maintaining race relations has shifted to the black community. There ARE still plenty of examples of racism and discrimination in housing, education, employment, stop & frisk policies, unequal sentencing laws and incarceration rates. Like I said, no one should behave like this “hairdresser” did, but I also don’t think the black community needs to apologize for being pissed off about actual injustices.

Now for the personal experience part. I had occasion a few years ago to find myself as the “white girlfriend” in a black barbershop in Atlanta. I got some curious looks, my then-boyfriend vouched for me by saying, “She’s with me,” and then everyone smiled and I was introduced around. By then, I had come to expect the whole “curious look – vouching – welcoming” process, and in four years I never experienced anything more unpleasant than that in the black community (the white community made me far more nervous on a few occasions, though). I had exactly the same experience that everyone in that video would have had if there were no planted actors and camera crews.

Don’t get me wrong, this video gave me a lot of warm fuzzies to see people standing up for one another. We all should do that in real life when we see injustices. But let’s be sure that we’re addressing actual, real-life injustices rather than getting snowed by inaccurate videos designed to prey on our compassions.