My 29th Birthday… Sort Of

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It was my sort-of birthday this weekend: Technically I was born on February 29, the extra day in a leap year, but since there isn’t one this year, I guess I can celebrate whenever I want! Everyone was so good to me. Todd’s parents bought me the rainbow cookie cake I’m posing with in the slideshow above, and my parents got me some cute cupcake balloons and took the family out to dinner at The Cheesecake Factory. And everyone gave me wonderful cards and gifts! I’m so thankful to have such awesome people in my life.

I know I haven’t updated this blog in a few weeks; it’s been tough to juggle work, household chores, errands, and hangouts. And when I do have some time, I’m not too sure what to write about. But now that I’m (almost, sort of) 29, I’ll try to be more responsible and do better haha. I also hope to really make progress on my New Year’s resolutions between now and my next birthday, as well as train for the 2018 New York City marathon. But I also hope to find more time for the people who make my life as meaningful as it is: all of my family and friends, and my fellow bloggers and online amigos who push me to do better, be better, and live better.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on what your favorite blog posts have been, and what you’d like to see more of going forward so that I can brainstorm some ideas. And, as always, thank you so much for your continued readership and support!!! xo

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2017: Books I’ve Read So Far

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With Thanksgiving and Christmas, the end of 2016 felt barren in the way of books; I didn’t have enough time to read and didn’t get my usual giant stack of paperbacks as a gift this year. Since 2017 rolled in, I’ve been trying to read instead of sleep on my morning commute, and so far I’ve made my way through five books, all of which I liked for one reason or another. Here they are, ranked in order of personal enjoyment:

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The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
It all begins when journalist Lo is sent on assignment on a cruise ship and meets a woman in cabin 10, only hours before Lo witnesses what she believes is that woman’s murder. But when all traces of the woman disappear, she is left unsure what to believe at all. This page-turner has a well-developed plot, a characters who leave readers questioning the truth at every moment, and a solution that you won’t ever see coming.

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Faithful by Alice Hoffman
I immediately liked the protagonist of this novel: Shelby is a damaged girl who sends her best friend into a coma and needs to figure out how to live with the guilt. The reader follows her from the accident to her future, when she’s managed to build some kind of a life for herself, and somehow never gets bored hearing about the everyday details, like the dogs she owns or the men she loves.

9781250087935_p0_v2_s192x300The First Book of Calamity Leek by Paula Lichtarowicz
What a bizarre novel! Though I didn’t think it was as well done as Emma Donoghue’s Room or Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, it had the vibe of both, and I still found it interesting and original. The story revolves around a young girl, raised to believe she and her sisters are living in heaven’s garden—but the reality is just the opposite. Each chapter reveals another piece of this terrifying puzzle.


9780062279026_p0_v1_s192x300A Million Worlds with You
by Claudia Gray
The third book in a trilogy about traveling to alternate realities to save the word, this YA fantasy novel didn’t impress me as much as its predecessors: key characters lacked presence, conflicts and struggles didn’t seem to go deep enough, and it all wrapped up a little too easily. That said, I did find the story intriguing and the pace quick, and am glad I read it if only to learn how it all ends.

 

9780316176507_p0_v2_s192x300A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
This book was nothing like Atkinson’s masterful Life After Life, despite being marketed as a companion piece to that one. It was a plodding tale that slogged through different years in the life of a World War II soldier, first as a boy, then as an older man, then as a fighter, then as a boy again, without chronology or order. The writing was too wordy and the characters banal, each generation more miserable than the last.

One-Sentence Book Reviews

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When I last shared some mini book reviews with you, I was in the throes of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians trilogy. Though I really enjoyed the first book, my love of the series dwindled with each subsequent installment. But I have read some really fascinating works since then, and if you’re only going to read one of the books I’m recommending below, let it be Marrow Island by Alexis M. Smith.

The novel blew me away with its lyricism and tight descriptions, its sense of restraint, giving you just enough clues to vaguely piece together the action but still retain the pleasurable tingle of a mystery waiting to be solved. In fact, I still find myself thinking back to this book, its intricately woven themes, its heart-wrenching prose. Here’s an excerpt that I really loved:

“Up the road were other abandoned parcels, barely visible driveways leading to vacant foundations, as if someone had plucked the houses right out of the ground, leaving cavities in the shape of living spaces. I could feel the house that wasn’t there, rising out of the gaping concrete mouth. The alders shivered in the breeze, a sound so familiar that I shivered, too.”

Now, without further ado, the reviews:

Worth It…

Marrow Island by Alexis M. Smith: In this novel, written with remarkable precision and passion, a young woman visits an old friend on an island commune—but she soon realizes that nothing is as it appears, not even her own mind, her shadow-struck heart.

The Way of Wanderlust by Don George: This writer’s very intimate anecdotes offer great insight into travel, writing, and our own capacity for goodness and human connection.

Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey: At turns whimsical and wry, poet Novey reveals bit by bit the strange and compelling tale of a Brazilian author who climbs into a tree and disappears, and the translator who leaves behind a solid life in Pittsburgh to search for her.

The Table Comes First by Adam Gopnik: If you can look past his copious allusions and penchant for philosophical rambling, you’ll discover interesting stories and good questions about the past, present, and future of the food scene.

Don’t Bother…

Christmas Caramel Murder by Joanne Fluke: I liked the “cozy mystery” concept of this novel, but everything else fell flat: a weak and illogical plot, characters that were no more than caricatures, an insubstantial setting, and a serious dependence on telling the reader things that were quite obvious already.

Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein: I read the first volume of this series when teaching fourth grade last year and enjoyed it; however, the second book felt forced, and much of the intrigue of the earlier novel had been extinguished.

Run the World by Becky Wade: Professional runner Wade recounts her travels in order to learn about running cultures in other countries, but unfortunately the entire book just sounded like an extended high school essay.

 

Impressions of Disneyland Paris: Part 1

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The first stop on our honeymoon was Disneyland Paris, Europe’s answer to Disneyland and Disney World. There are two parks: Parc Disneyland, which is like the Magic Kingdom of Disneyland Paris (it’s laid out almost identically, with a main street and a castle hub that branches out in spokes), and Walt Disney Studios, which is more like Hollywood Studios but even smaller and less themed. Here are some photos and thoughts to convey our initial impressions of Disneyland Paris (hotels, Disney village, and Walt Disney Studios), with more to come in additional posts.

Hotel
We stayed at the Sequoia Lodge, which is located about a ten-minute walk from the parks and a five-minute walk from Disney Village. We lucked out with a quiet corner room and a private balcony. The rooms were comfortable and relatively clean, though the balcony could have used a dusting for spider webs. The beds and pillows were standard, but we were so exhausted by the end of each day that they felt like heaven.

Breakfast was included at the hotel, though it wasn’t anything to write home about, mostly croissants and some meats and cheeses. There was yogurt and cereal for us light eaters, and the guava juice was really tasty. A big bonus of Sequoia Lodge? The hotel pool, which I forgot to snap a photo of. There’s a slide going into the pool, which is both indoor and outdoor, connected by a little opening that guests can swim under (or they can walk around, like I did, if they don’t trust their swimming abilities or don’t want to get their hair wet). The pool area also featured a hot tub, a sauna, and a gym.

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Disney Village
Think Downtown Disney (now Disney Springs), but much smaller. There were a few shops selling toys, clothes, and art pieces, as well as a few food options. One note about the food both in Disney Village and in the parks: It was all very average. I think Todd and I have been spoiled by the exceptional quality of the food in Disney World. But everything looked super cute and we enjoyed browsing the shops. We even got to ride on the “hot air balloon,” and got great views of the parks and resort.


Walt Disney Studios
On our first day we visited the smaller of the two parks, Walt Disney Studios. We felt that it could be done in a day if you want to do everything, or a half-day if you are going to be selective about the rides you choose. We skipped Tower of Terror because neither of us were feeling 100%, but we did try out Rock-n-Roller Coaster and the Crush Coaster, both of which were more intense than we had expected. The Crush Coaster starts out with cute theming and a little story, and morphs into crazy loops and turns! Of course we also went on the trackless Rémy ride, which was so awesome. You go into a little “rat mobile” and wear 3D glasses, and really feel like you’re a rat being chased through the restaurant and kitchen! We then ate in Bistrot Chez Rémy  (so good!), but I’ll post a separate food review another day, probably when I’m back home. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see any of the shows, but we heard that they’re really enjoyable.

Finally, Part 2 is up! Check it out!

Recipe: Cinnamon-Raisin Brown Sugar Cake

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I’ve baked cookies, muffins, and loaf breads. I’ve decorated cupcakes for Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Christmas, and everything in between. I’ve tried my hand at several pies: triple berry, maple peach, raspberry rhubarb, and classic apple more times than I can count. In September, I made my first bundt cake. All these baking experiments gave me the courage to attempt a real cinnamon-raisin brown sugar layer cake, almost wholly made from scratch (I bought the blue frosting).

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Restaurant Review: Real Madrid

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As a belated Hanukkah gift to his parents, Todd took us all out to dinner this weekend during our visit to Staten Island. Regardless of the complaints one might have about the borough—the ferry is inconvenient, the tolls are expensive, the waters seem unsafe to swim in—I have to say that the food is delicious. Usually we choose to get our favorite meatball, onion, and ricotta pizza from Denino’s, but since we’d had Italian cuisine the day before, we opted instead for Spain-inspired seafood at Real Madrid.

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