On Turning Thirty

I am standing at an arbitrary, imaginary threshold that i will cross in a matter of hours. Beginning tomorrow, i will be over thirty years old, and i will no longer think of myself as young. That is strange and scary, because all of my life thus far i have thought of myself as young. And i never will again.

It’s not that i think i’m old. To think of myself as old would be an insult to everyone on earth who is older than i am, and i also think of that as including my future self. She is not old. I don’t really think of any human on this planet as old, because our lives are so very short. Maybe the ones who live for longer than a century are old, but the rest of us don’t even have memories of the first World War. Human history is short, and we who are walking the earth today can remember only a tiny fraction of it. As a species we are extremely young.

But, age is relative. And i’m starting to feel a little awkward in young women’s clothing. The models in makeup ads are starting to look like mere girls to me. Yes, i admit that a large portion of the pain of becoming no-longer-young is due to the increasingly upward comparison that is beauty. But i care about that less than you might think. I placed a lot of value on attractiveness and aesthetics in general when i was a young woman. I was a designer and a photographer, and i allowed myself to love the hell out of being able to see. And yet, i have always preferred the sense of hearing over the sense of sight, as though i had some understanding that there were more important things than aesthetics; more beautiful things than beauty. And lately the more i think about it, the more i realize that sight is just our interpretation of particles of light bouncing off of things. It’s amazing and undeniable how the sight of something beautiful or provocative can affect us, and yet when you think about it, the way things look is not even what they really are. My eyes, for example, aren’t just brown. They’re also myopic and the left one has a slightly enlarged optic nerve, putting me at somewhat of a risk for glaucoma later in life. But you can’t see that and you don’t care about that when you look me in the eye. We know and value what we can see, and oftentimes we value that above what we feel and hear and know. I don’t know quite how to express it, but i’m realizing lately that while what i look like is important because it’s how i interface with the world, it’s not as important as what i know and how i feel, despite society’s natural bias to the contrary. And i’m learning more all the time, and i feel pretty darn good. And, to be honest, i think i still look pretty darn good, too, and will for years to come—even if i don’t look eighteen anymore.


One comforting fact about aging is that nobody is alone in the process. Everyone ages, and everyone does so at the same rate in terms of actual time elapsed. Those pretty young things in today’s ads will be my age in time. If they’re lucky! And i was their age once. I kind of think of aging not so much as passing from one age to another as collecting ages. Because i know what it is to be ten years old, what it is to be eighteen years old, what it is to be twenty-nine. I will (hopefully) always have that knowledge, so in a way i will always be all of the ages i have ever been. Except my baby years, of course. I can’t remember those.

I saw a quote somewhere that said something along the lines of: “never be sorry to grow older; it is a privilege denied to many.” And that’s the main thing. A birthday is a celebration of life, and a milestone birthday is extra special. Look how far i’ve come! I haven’t accomplished as much as i always thought i would by this age, and i think that’s the thing that i see pain people the most about turning thirty. We all set these “thirty by thirty” goals for ourselves, or maybe just a few big things we feel we must accomplish: get married, have kids, get a terminal degree, get our dream job. We set ourselves up for disappointment on this particular birthday for no real reason. Just because humans happen to have ten fingers and probably for that reason settled on a decimal numbering system, which naturally places emphasis on multiples of ten. So thirty is where we stop and look around and ask ourselves if we’ve landed where we wanted to be as adults. I think when i was twentyish, i wanted to have published a beautifully designed book of poetry and recorded a couple of life-altering albums by now. But i never set a hard-and-fast deadline—and that is probably part of the reason that i haven’t created anything of note yet—but it has also kept me from feeling like a failure. I still have some time. I am probably not going to record music, but i still have plenty of time to publish something (probably). And i have made a lot of really good decisions and achieved a pretty great life for myself, so i have nothing to feel sorry about.

I am by no means content, mind you. I once told a friend that i didn’t think i’d ever achieve contentment. I think artists just have restless souls, so to speak, and i think i have an artist’s soul after all. I must create something, because i want to honor and help and contribute to this world in a way that goes deeper than just giving money to my chosen cause. I have a voice and a unique perspective, and i might just have something to say that the world needs to hear. I just need to do a lot of exploring to figure out what exactly that might be and how to say it.

I feel deeply grateful for all of the people who have shown me love on this very special birthday. I am so supported and loved, and it’s touching in a way that makes the tears just spring from me. So you might catch me sobbing if you see me in the next couple of days, but i promise i’m not feeling purely sorry for myself. I am so happy to be turning thirty, because it means that i survived the dark days and the scary car rides and the unknowable risks that come with being alive. I’m still here, and i will never stop being grateful for that. Life is easy and it’s hard and it’s ugly and it’s gorgeous, and i am so thankful for all thirty of my years and for this moment, and for however many future moments i’ll be lucky enough to grasp. I want it all. I love everything.

On Turning Thirty – V.1

Milestones are constructed to provide reference points along the road. This can be used to reassure travellers that the proper path is being followed, and to indicate either distance travelled or the remaining distance to a destination.

I’ve come to a milestone, which means now i can take a gander backward at how far i’ve come, and also forward at how far i have yet to travel. Except that’s the tricky thing about life; you never know how much farther you have to go.

I think what i’ve done so far is pretty darn alright. I’ve made a lot of sensible choices, and i’m in a good comfortable place. In fact, i may be a little too sensible for my own good. I’ve never taken any big risks, and because of that i’ve never done anything terribly notable. There are just two things i regret so far, though: everything i’ve ever done and everything i’ve ever said. Just kidding. The two things are: not talking to people more, and not creating more. It’s true, you regret the things you didn’t do, not the things you did.

I’m trying to find balance in my life right now. I have plenty of free time, and yet i feel like i never have enough. I can never get enough time to travel and read and create. I devote pathetically little time to creating, which is why i never write on this blog anymore. I’ve got to change that somehow. I keep deleting things from my life in an attempt to create more time: less facebook, less twitter, less sleeping (ha), less shopping, less going out. I’m even making a meager effort to cut back on my possessions, since more space and things just means more time organizing and cleaning. Yet my house is always dirty. And i never have time to create.

The number one reason for this problem is that i tend to fill whatever time i do manage to carve out with reading instead of creating. I set reading goals for myself on Goodreads and i earn my annual badge faithfully, and i absolutely can’t stand to read fewer books each year rather than more. So i’m up to 30 per year now, and i can’t bring myself to back off from that. If only i could read faster! I am trying, kind of, to learn.

I say “create” because it isn’t just writing that i’d like to do more of. There are all kinds of things that i wish i had time to create: stories and drawings and sewing and food and books. Making things with my hands is like a meditation for me, and i know that that’s an important thing that i should make time to do.

But aside from that dilemma, i’m in a good place. I’m healthy, happily married, financially comfortable, and i have good relationships with my family and friends. I’m happy right now. I was unhappy mere months ago – weeks, if we’re being honest – but i think i have a sort of backwards Seasonal Affective Disorder, where i feel the least happy when things are warming and sunnying up, and then i start to feel so much happier this time of year when things are starting to head in the direction of fall. It’s strange. But, it’s just my truth. I’m glad that i’ve gotten to a place where i can see that what i’m feeling on a given day has very little to do with the external world, and almost everything to do with the particular chemical cocktail going on in my brain. There are small things i can do to affect it, but not big ones. And it’s not quite so severe that i need the help of drugs to get by.

Thirty. What is it about thirty that makes people so uncomfortable? This is the age where people kiss youth goodbye, i think. We’re undoubtedly adults now. We’re on our own two feet. We’ve reached a point for which we set certain goals for ourselves, for whatever reason, and we’re forced to take note now of whether those goals have been met. I’ve watched slightly older friends of mine hang their heads upon turning 30 because they aren’t where they expected to be: they’re unmarried, they don’t have their dream job, they still haven’t gotten that terminal degree. Their names will never appear on a “Thirty Under Thirty” list now. And i told them that thirty is just a number, and that if you think about it, it’s only significant because humans have ten fingers and therefore chose a decimal system of numbering. If we had twelve, i mused, we might not assess these things until the age of thirty-six.

There are things i’m disappointed about, too. I haven’t created any of the things i wanted to create when i was younger: a book of poetry, an album, a piece of art worthy of a hipster’s dormitory wall. And i wish i were an easier person to have a relationship with, but that stuff runs so deep in my personality that regretting it is simply an act of self-loathing. I’m never going to throw my hands up and stop trying to be a better person, but being hard on myself about my shortcomings is only going to be counterproductive. God knows there are a hundred phone calls i should’ve made in my lifetime and didn’t, but all i can do now is let them go and try to make the next call.

As far as wanting to create something, i am going to. I can feel it. It might not ever reach the hands of more than a dozen people, but no matter. I will create for the sake of creating, just as soon as i figure out the right way to balance my time. Maybe i could cut back to 25 books per year, much as it pains me to do so. Or eight hours of sleep per night, even on the weekends. :) I am a firm believer in unique biology, though, so i’m not making any promises on that one. I need more sleep than the average person, i swear. The internet says that is a thing, and i believe it.

My twenties were a lot of fun, and also really sad at times. I fell in love and got married, and that’s pretty hard to beat. I was laid off three times in as many years. I lost three of my four grandparents, and for a moment i felt the absolute terror of potentially losing my brother. I went to Europe twice, I honeymooned in Cancun, i made some friends that i know i’ll have for the rest of my life. But i think my thirties will actually be better. I may soon get to be an auntie to a little person who will live very nearby. And i think i’m going to get this balance thing figured out and start creating again. I’m probably going to travel to more amazing places, and deepen the relationships that already exist in my life. There will be rough times. I think a couple of the people i love will stumble, and i hope to be a source of strength for them. It’s statistically likely that i will live beyond the next decade. It’ll be interesting to see how the world changes. Things are warming up, and i fear for the planet but i think the political climate is actually improving very gradually, despite what all the clamoring on facebook might lead one to believe. I don’t care about it as much as my eighteen-year-old self would’ve wanted me to. But that’s true of a lot of things.

Book Review: American Gods

American GodsAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Central Iowa used to get hit by a lot of bad storms — thunderstorms, snowstorms, even the occasional thundersnow or funnel cloud. We’ve had our share of flash floods and white-out blizzards. But for the past year or so it seems like every storm that approaches somehow swirls perfectly around the city, never hitting us. This is good news for our basements, but bad news for people like me who love severe weather. A friend of mine explained to me that the weather bubble is caused by the Ledges state park, which splits storms off toward the north and south. I’m convinced there’s a budding young witch in the city who doesn’t know her own power just yet. Either way, storms show up on our radar and they look big and powerful and they approach… but they just seem to always be approaching, threatening, never actually hitting us, and then suddenly we realize they’ve passed and we hardly even saw a drop of precipitation.

That’s kind of what American Gods felt like to me.

It’s an interesting premise. Each culture has its own folklore and small gods and magical creatures who thrive on belief, and when people of those cultures immigrated to America, they sort of created American copies of those creatures. Many of them live among us and appear human and have ordinary traits like bad cooking and crappy cars and overactive sex drives. They’re hard to kill and their powers are mostly useless, and they’re not thriving here anymore because new generations of Americans don’t believe in them. We believe in the internet and television and celebrity instead, and we’ve created our own new gods. So the old gods and are rising up against the new.

Caught in the middle of all this is Shadow, who is such a blank canvas of a character i don’t even know how to feel about him. He’s not bad. He’s not really good, either. He just goes with the flow. He’s not stupid, but he doesn’t have thoughts or opinions or even questions about things for the vast majority of the book. He starts to give a shit at the end, but up until then i kind of don’t get him.

The story is mainly a midwestern road trip. Kind of boring and unglamorous. The characters are actually driving around the midwest in shitty vehicles, stopping at tourist traps and small towns, mainly to have brief chats with god people. Nothing much happens. It’s a story of a gathering storm, but the storm doesn’t even break. It gives one little clap of thunder and a few fat raindrops, so to speak, and then it’s over. A few mildly cool things and one giant and rather perplexing allegory happen at the end, but all in all i was left feeling underwhelmed.

There were a few short stories sprinkled throughout the first half about people who came to America and brought gods with them, or about the gods doing their weird things here in America. Those were kind of interesting, and i was sorry when they stopped happening. There wasn’t enough explanation of the American gods’ backstories for my taste. I could have and should have done a lot of Wikipedia searching while i read this book, but i was just trying to get through it.

I don’t really understand why there was a murder mystery sub-plot. I don’t think it added much to the story; it felt unnecessary and not very well developed.

I read this book because a lot of my friends really like it, and because i was in the mood for a darker fantasy. I thought it was enjoyable enough, but i don’t feel like i got it. It may be one of those stories that’s more fun the second time around when you know what’s really going on, so maybe i’ll listen to the author’s extended edition some day.

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Book Review: The Martian

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Note: I’d just like to announce that this marks my 101st book review on Goodreads! I don’t post all of them here, because many of them are dashed off pretty quickly. You’re still missing out, though.

This book is a fun survival story that masterfully scratches the collective itch that is our curiosity about humanity’s next step into the universe. It’s a refreshingly realistic look at what going to Mars actually means, and what it would mean if the endeavor went slightly wrong. It’s an adventure story that will translate well to the big screen. But i have some major qualms with the book as a whole.

I do appreciate the sense of humor that Weir imbued pretty much all of his characters with. It makes them likable and it’s one of Mark Watney’s most important tools for survival. But likable characters don’t make the most compelling stories. A lot of the jokes were used repeatedly and got old by the end of the book. And i would’ve liked to see some other aspect of Mark Watney. He was just too upbeat about everything all the time. There was no heart-wrenching “Wilson!” scene, nothing. I get that astronauts are chosen for their mental resilience, but still. He went through some serious shit.

The rest of the characters in the book are just tools, honestly. They’re not fleshed-out, they’re just there to do their jobs. And i have to say that i thought the female characters were treated pretty unfairly. Of the dozen or so scientists in the story, just three are women. This is the future, throw us a bone! Johansson is the victim of repeated sexual harassment and we’re supposed to think this is funny. And the one and only time we go into a person’s head in this entire book (about isolation and survival!) is to learn that minor character Mindy wishes she were pretty like minor character Anna. Why? In what way was that necessary? The really ironic thing about it is that Mindy is a scientist who has earned her master’s degree and resents the fact that she’s being made to spend her days deciphering photographs. So, NASA is shitting on her professionally, and the author is shitting on her psychologically, exposing her inner feelings for absolutely no reason.

But, the characters were not the point of the book. Man’s innovative mind and will to survive and unfailing willingness to help his brother is the point of the book. The story is very, very detailed. We know precisely what goes wrong to strand Watney on Mars and exactly the measures he takes to survive, down to the many calculations he makes to repeatedly ration and stretch his oxygen, food, water, etc. All of these calculations and shufflings of things to and fro and repairs and modifications of complicated equipment were really cool at first, but wore on me by about the middle of the book. I’m sure they wore tremendously on Watney, too. We were both glad when the action picked up again toward the end of the book.

It’s a fun read, not a great work of literature. I do recommend it, despite the dearth of compelling characters.

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2014 In Review: Life

Normally the Year In Review is the one Life blog post that i make sure to write before the end of each year. I like reflecting on the year and wrapping everything up in a neat little month-by-month post with pictures as visual aids. But this year i haven’t really felt the urge to write it yet. I did a horrible job of taking pictures outside of our Europe trip, for one thing, and for another i just haven’t felt terribly reflective this time around the block. For once, i spent December working to bring light to the darkest days of the year, and i spent New Year’s Eve sparkling and laughing with a heaping handful of some of my favorite people in the world rather than swallowing back tears, and i spent New Year’s Day starting work on a new story and a new read. I didn’t really pause to think a lot about 2014.

It was a really good year. It absolutely FLEW by, especially the first half. Nothing terribly bad happened—knock on wood. There was a moment when i had to step back and take a hard look at myself and decide to make an effort to be more empathetic, and that was actually really hard for me. But i think i’m improving, and it’s worth it. The year was mostly just a series of good things, which is all that a person can really ask for. There was a lot of Cards Against Humanity playing. That game… I don’t know.


NYE 2013 started off good but then it sucked and i cried and it’s not worth talking about. I’m over it. One of the goals that i set for 2014 was to try a local dance class, so in January, i did. I went to an adult hip-hop dance class, and i was one of two students in it. And thank goodness there weren’t more of us, because the studio was about the size of a shoebox. I didn’t go back, and i’m still keeping a wistful eye out for a dance class in Des Moines that i can join. I might have to break down and try Zumba instead.


In February we went to Baconfest, which involved 1. a very expensive ticket (which i shouldn’t complain about because they were gifted to us), 2. standing in line outside at the fairgrounds in frigid February for what felt like an hour, 3. standing in more, shorter lines inside to get very small but complimentary strips of bacon from different companies, and 4. paying more money for crazy bacon-infused foods of all sorts from the myriad restaurants in town. There was live music and a bacon queen and stuff. I was cranky, but it was pretty cool i guess. I wouldn’t pay to go back.

Our buddy Mike turned thirty so we went to Up-Down (the arcade bar) and El Bait Shop (the beer bar) with him and a bunch of friends. I think they continued on to other adventures, but we pooped out early because it’s getting hard to close the bars down these days. Mike seemed pretty happy, unlike some people who are also turning thirty right about now.


I think it was in March that i had my gastroscopy and learned that my heartburn is sort of imaginary. In any case, there’s nothing wrong with my upper GI, so that was wonderful news. It was also in March that i made a road trip to the twin cities with Calee to see the Arcade Fire. We stayed with her fiancé’s family and they fed me stuff and let me use a bedroom in their lovely house for free, both of which are always hugely appreciated. Cards (Against Humanity) were played. Calee and i made a good team at IKEA, and i scored a couple of bookcases for $20 off. There may have been a little bit of a meltdown at one point, but eventually we managed to eat dinner and get our butts to the show and we weren’t even late. Dan Deacon sort of sucked, but the Arcade Fire was amazing. I ended up really glad i went.


In April i joined Calee again for the Har Mar Superstar show at the new Social Club here in DSM. I really didn’t know what i was in for when i agreed to that show. Har Mar has been described as looking like Ron Jeremy, but i think he looks even a little skeezier. And he likes to take his top off and act all sexy while he sings. Excellent voice, but not so pleasing on the eyes. (Yes, i get that that’s supposed to be amusing and/or empowering, but for me it was just weird.) And Gloom Balloon was not my kind of show, either. Thank goodness for MAIDS. I enjoyed them quite a lot, and in fact that reminds me that i need to buy their album…


In May i took my mama to Ewing Park as a Mother’s Day date. The lilacs were in bloom and the place just smelled like heaven. It’s one of the best things about Des Moines. Later in the month, Nathan and i drove down to St. Louis for my brother’s birthday celebration. We did an epic vertical of The Abyss, a big imperial stout. It was interesting how a couple of the bottles somehow stood out; I think about three years old was the sweet spot, if i remember correctly. We played Cards Against Humanity. For the first time, but not the last, i didn’t win.


In June Nathan and i went to see Electric Six at the Vaudeville Mews for the second time. It was worth staying up for. Later in the month we flew to Oregon for my sister’s wedding. Hanging out with my family at Eugene’s excellent beer spots was good fun. The coast was beautiful, as always. We even managed to catch a perfect sunset! I got to see my Dad’s new house, and got a huge surprise when he gave me an old popcorn tin full of my long-lost My Little Ponies. The wedding was really beautiful, and i wish i’d camped out at the Tipi village there like my sister had wanted me to.


Me and my sister
Me and Nathan
Wedding photos courtesy of Amanda Basteen


In July i went to 80/35 with my friend Emily again. The lineup this year was pretty disappointing, but we did get to see Best Coast and Surfer Blood, both of which were a lot of fun. The men joined us at the festival later in the evening, since i assumed there would be a fireworks show on the 4th like there was a few years back. Not the case. So, we got kind of screwed out of fireworks this year. I may end up sitting 80/35 out in 2015 unless they book someone i really want to see.

Later in the month our buddy Justin got married, and Nathan was a groomsman in the wedding. It was the kind of reception you could dance at—as long as you didn’t mind pretty bad music and a somewhat sweltering barn—and so of course i did just that. I wore a very shimmery dress and it was a lot of fun. We managed to take a six-person selfie with Nathan’s family (that doesn’t show my dress at all, sorry).



In August i suddenly decided that it was time for us to add a third car to our fleet, and so we found and brought home the 2009 Honda Fit (in Blackberry Pearl). It’s pretty cute and fuel-efficient, and it’s supposed to be very safe and reliable. I’m happy with it.

I had a low-key birthday party at which we played not Cards Against Humanity but Munchkin, and discovered that we liked the game a lot. On my actual birthday Nathan and i went to the Iowa State Fair again. We had somehow never had a peppermint ice cream sandwich from the Bauder’s Pharmacy cart, and when that was rectified it was a real epiphany. I also got a henna tattoo on my arm, and we watched a goat showing that was nearly as silly as we had hoped it would be.

Toward the end of the month we took a trip to Decorah on some rather confusing information about a beloved beer that turned out not to actually be there just yet. We made the most of it by going to see the eagles and venturing a very short way into a very interesting cave. I also bought a beautiful journal in the bookstore there that was used to document our Europe trip, so all was not in vain.

I went to see Future Islands by myself here in DSM, and i’m kind of glad i didn’t bring anyone because it was a strange show. There was a lot of pantomiming of eating things, and i don’t think i’ve ever seen anyone sweat so profusely. Good music, weird show.


In September we went to Zombie Burger with some friends and family to celebrate Nathan’s 30th birthday! And then we hopped on a plane for Europe. I’ve told the first part of that story, and i might even tell the second half some day. For the record, Vienna was my favorite part. It’s an amazing city. Oktoberfest in Munich was good inebriated fun. I was proud of the amount i drank, and i didn’t even get sick! It’s like an enormous carnival, though, and there was no way i was getting on a carnival ride after all that. Still, it was fun to walk around and look at everything. And there was plenty of fun stuff to eat and shop for and take pictures of. It was a good time even for a lightweight like me.


In October my alcohol tolerance was put to the test once again at Nathan’s exclusive birthday beer tasting party. What i had learned at Oktoberfest was to stuff myself with plenty of bready foods before drinking, and that method coupled with lots and lots of tap and bottled water was effective in getting me through all of the twentyish strong beers (which were each split many ways and spread out over many hours, but it was still a fair amount of alcohol for a single day). I tried them all! And once again did not get sick. Good job, me.

Jimmy Eat World just happened to play Des Moines on Calee’s 30th birthday, so obviously that’s how we celebrated it. They played the entire Futures album because it was ten years old, which is just weird. I remember when that album was brand new, when i was in college. Was that really a decade ago?

Unfortunately my employer had to lay off twenty percent of the payroll in October, but my job was spared. I’m really not confident that the company will last more than a couple more years, but the Powers That Be are, for whatever reason. So we’ll just have to see what happens. I’m not leaving yet, and if you’re curious as to why i’d be happy to tell you (it’s not interesting), but it’s not a very relevant thing to talk about here.

I ran outside not once but TWICE this fall! I usually like to take one run in the cemetery on the most perfectest day of the year, but there were a couple of days that were irresistibly pretty this October, so i doubled my usual achievement. (I run indoors a couple times a week, i just don’t much like running outside the way normal human beings do.)

I carved pumpkins at Emily’s house and i think went to a book club meeting at a member’s gorgeous backyard patio in Norwalk in October, and just generally walked around loving everything. I love October so much. Love love love.

Oh, and we went to a Halloween party dressed as Wayne & Garth from Wayne’s World. I was Wayne, wearing a hat that i puff-painted the WW logo onto very nicely, freehand, and Nathan was Garth. I fluffed up his long hair as best i could, but it’s so thick and heavy! It’s not fair.


In November i participated in NaNoWriMo again. And won! But i’m still hugely unsatisfied with the quality of my fiction writing. So in 2015 i’m going to try to write every single day, even if only a paragraph, and focus on quality instead. I just want to write a few good short stories, i don’t care about writing a novel right now. I don’t think i’ll be doing WriMo again unless i develop some mad new skills before then.

Thanksgiving was really nice, and then we went Bourbon County pillaging shopping on Black Friday. I’m not a big fan of getting up at like 5 a.m., but my husband does a lot for me, so i do this for him once or twice a year. Plus, it’s really excellent beer.

A friend of ours had a surprise 30th birthday party at Skate North, so we went rollerblading at an actual roller rink for the first time since about 8th grade. It was so much fun! If only it hadn’t been 100° in the place, and if only my feet hadn’t started blistering after an hour or so. I kind of want to go back really bad. I might have to copy the idea for my 30th, but who knows how hot it will be in there in August if it was that hot in November?

Skating party


In December(ish?) my brother passed his licensure exam for psychology!! So he came up here to visit and let us help him celebrate. A couple of my cousins were also visiting, so we got together with a bunch of the in-towners and played—you guessed it!—Cards Against Humanity. Which is an extremely awkward game for family to play together, but it was fun anyway. We’re all pretty weird. My aunt Vicki cleaned the floor with all of us though, which sucked.

I finally got to host a book club discussion about The Night Circus! I went overboard, serving caramel corn and chocolate mice and mulled cider and cinnamon twists and red wine, and gifting each guest with a red rêveur scarf. I hung extra white Christmas lights up around the windows and played Erin Morgenstern’s Night Circus playlist. I only ended up with four guests, but it was totally worth it. I love that book so much, and to be able to inspire a little bit of that love in each of them was awesome.

I got to see a couple of other dear, dear out-of-town friends this December. You know, i might be starting to love December, even if i still hate Christmas music…

Christmas (Eve/Christmas Day) was lovely. Christmas is always lovely, isn’t it? I really enjoy picking out gifts for people—even more than i like getting gifts, i think, although i got a lot of very thoughtfully-chosen gifts this year and i’m very thankful. My family and friends know me really well, and that makes me feel all kinds of loved. Christmas to me is all about family and light and showing a little bit of love, so that’s what i tried to do this year. It’s a joy to make the effort when it comes to Christmas.

Nathan finished up his beautiful bar in our basement just in time for our New Year’s Eve party. I love it, and i’m super proud of him. He put a lot of work into our bar, and i hope we get to use it for many years to come. The party was wonderful and there were so many people and so many conversations and tasty things to eat and drink, and all six or seven hours of it flew by in the blink of an eye just like our wedding did, even though there was a lot less dancing involved. Those of us who made it until midnight toasted with sparkling wine and popped those confetti cracker things and blew on noisemakers, and it was wonderful and a great mess to clean up the next morning, but totally worth it. A couple friends who crashed at our house even got us breakfast and helped clean up. We’re very lucky. There are a few of our friends who will sadly be leaving Iowa in the next couple of years, but for now i just feel connected and happy and very fortunate to have them so near.


If 2015 is anything like 2014, it’ll be a wonderful year. I’ll turn thirty this year. Bring it on! It’s going to be great fun, and i anticipate that my thirties are going to probably be better than my twenties were. So, thank you to everyone who made 2014 great. I’m going to try to pay it back this year. Let’s make it another great one!

My 2014 Song of the Year award goes to Red Eyes by The War on Drugs. We were listening to it when midnight struck. I can’t get enough of it.

2014 Europe Trip, Part I

We recently took a trip to Europe, and we did so much in two mere weeks that the task of writing about it has been daunting. We visited three countries and seven cities, heard four or five different languages, tried dozens of different beers and foods and saw a million beautiful things. It was exhausting, but it was also really cool.

It was Nathan’s 30th birthday and his mom’s 50th this September, so what better way to celebrate a couple of milestone September birthdays than to travel to Oktoberfest? That was my idea, and i’m still surprised we went for it.

So first the four of us flew to Brussels together, where we stayed in an apartment for two nights. It had a great view of the Montgomery fountain and the Cinquantenaire. In Brussels we visited the Cantillon brewery and had several of their fabulous lambic beers, ate wonderful foods including pastries, waffles, mussels (of course), beef stew, Croatian food, coconut ice cream and other delectables, and saw the Grand Place and the Manneken Pis. Brussels is a bigger city than i’d realized, and there appeared to be much more to do there than we were even able to scratch the surface of in two days.




Next Lillian and Tom headed to Germany while Nathan and I continued to explore Belgium. We drove to Ghent where we had what was probably the most frustrating day of our lives trying unsuccessfully to drive around to elusive eateries, but we made the best of it in the evening by exploring the astounding Gothic cathedrals there and having some good beer and food.

Bruges was our next stop. We found it to be relatively quiet and relaxed, and we had fun there touring the shops and the brewery and walking along the canals. We paid a few Euros to take a gander at a Michelangelo sculpture in a church there, and we had a good dinner of tapas at a place that we had to get to by sidling down an alleyway that was barely wider than ourselves.

We also visited some distant cousins of mine who live in Bruges. My Grandmother’s cousin and his kids & grandkids are a close-knit and very welcoming bunch, and it was fascinating to chat with them for a few hours about some of the differences in our cultures. Everyone we encountered in Europe spoke at least a little English, by the way, and many seemed to be quite fluent.

Poperinge was our next stop. We had originally planned to go there in order to visit the Westvleteren monastery (brewery), but it happened to be closed while we were there. Fortunately, however, there was a hops festival going on that only happens every three years. So that was odd luck on both counts. The whole town was decorated with hop vines, and the festival offered a lot of cheap beers and foods to try, including the famous Westvleteren 12 (which we found to be rather overrated). We also went to the De Struisse brewery, but it wasn’t much to see.

That was the first half of our trip, and i think i’ll stop there for now. Parte Deux will be about Austria and Germany, and i’m promising myself right now that i will write about it as soon as i can.

Tot de volgende keer…

Book Review: Station Eleven

Station ElevenStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Just today on NPR i heard this book named on a list of finalists for the 2014 National Book Award. I’m not usually on the cutting edge of literature, but this book was so highly praised and sounded so interesting that i decided to jump on it. All i really knew was that it was set in a post-apocalyptic Earth. Say no more.

There are a lot of flashback-type scenes, so big chunks of the book do not actually take place in that post-apocalyptic world. In fact they describe pretty mundane lives, and that served as a contrast to the very unusual lives that the characters who survive the crisis live afterward. The book made me appreciate a lot of everyday things even more than i already did, and believe me i’ve always been a huge fan of my hot showers and readily-available food. It also shows that even in the absence of all the technologies and conveniences that we’ve built our lives around, the same interpersonal issues remain, and actually become even more important.

Not a whole lot actually happens in this book. It’s more about thoughts and feelings than action and dialog. I described it early on as The Walking Dead minus zombies, but it’s also that minus all the talking (my god, the talking) and the gore (mostly). It’s surprisingly creepy even without all those things, though. But mainly it’s a tale of a few people who went through a pandemic and how their lives were tightly connected even though they didn’t realize it. Contemporary literary fiction is very often about intertwined lives, i’m noticing. We affect each other’s lives both directly and indirectly.

I liked the writing style. The pretty little sentence fragments that illuminated meaningful things. I liked the rather unflattering portrayal of religion’s role in humanity as it hung by a thread (sorry). I enjoyed the details about how civilization just crumbled without its workforce to support it and how the characters dealt with that. I liked the characters even though they weren’t super-admirable all the time. And i liked that there was a lot of misery and suffering but also just a little bit of enjoyment and hope.

And, by the way, i’m proud of myself for reading this book while Ebola was rearing its head in America and not even freaking out about it. If anything, this book made me less scared of Ebola because it’s nothing compared to the fictional Georgia Flu, which seems to transmit through the air and kill almost everyone within days. Ebola is slow-moving; we’ve totally got this.

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