Books I’m Loving Right Now

The Underground Railroad

This year, I decided to lower the number of books on my Good Reads goal, since last year I didn’t meet my goal of 40+ books. Then the pandemic hit, I lost my job and lo and behold, I have plenty of time to catch up on my reading. Here are the books I’ve read so far in 2020 that I would recommend.

Her Royal Spyness Mystery Series

I’ve read the first two-and-a-half books in this series so far and am having so much fun with them. They are quick reads that follow the life of a royal lady, Lady Georgiana, who recently lost her father and is out of funds. Her brother cuts off her allowance, since he is paying off her father’s debts, so she decides to move to London and stay in their family house and figure out a way to make it on her own. The thing is, royals don’t really have jobs, so she must keep any of her occupations incognito. If any from her class found out she was slumming it with a job, or her royal highness found out, she’d be up creek without a paddle. And as soon as she’s in London, someone turns up dead in her house. Throughout the series, Lady Georgiana keeps finding herself at the center of crimes and she must figure out the true killers before she—or someone close to her—becomes a suspect! 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Monk of Mokha

Even if you’re a true coffee fan, you may not know a lot of where coffee comes from or where it originated from. Follow along Mokhtar in this true story of how he learns about the beginnings of coffee, how that relates to his home country of Yemen and his attempts at starting a coffee import business from Yemen. You’ll not only learn a little about how one becomes a coffee expert, but he also takes you to Yemen to visit coffee farms and through the country as it is first experiencing the war that is still taking place today. If you enjoy books about someone with true passion, following their dreams despite how far-fetched the dream seems, then this book should pique your interest. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Paris Hours

Am I the only one who loves books that start with several different unrelated characters from different backgrounds that somehow come together? Well, this one happens all in one long day in Paris in 1927, following WWI. You’ll meet four characters as they struggle through the day and happen upon some very real characters from history. Each of them comes with a very different past that could catch up with them—for better or worse. I love it not only for the mystery but also for the view of everyday life in Paris and the struggle of an immigrant who left a war-torn country for survival. 

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Things You Save in a Fire

Well, I just love books set in my home city, although Austin only plays a minor role here. A successful woman firefighter in Austin is asked to come home by her mother and stay with her for a year. At first, she balks, since she hasn’t been close with her mother since she left her father when she was young. At her father’s suggestion and an incident with a councilman that occurs, moving to a small town outside Boston does seem like her only choice. Cassie can do the job no problem, but can she change the minds of her new colleagues that a woman can not only do the job, but also fit in? And will her attraction to another new firefighter ruin her entire career? It’s not just fighting fires that’s heating up these pages!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Red, White & Royal Blue

Speaking of steamy, this novel is centered around First Son Alex, who has a bit of a chip on his shoulder when it comes to a certain British prince, so when they keep colliding he is obviously put out. Why does prince charming keep upstaging him? But when Alex creates a scene at a wedding, his mother the president insists he visit the prince for a PR photoshoot to show the U.S. is on good terms with England. Will the visit turn them into sworn enemies, best friends … or something else?

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Bringing Down the Duke

Another royal story set in England! Apparently, there’s a theme here. Annabelle, a smart but destitute daughter of a country vicar earns her way into the posh Oxford University. When she becomes involved in the women’s movement, she expects she’ll be a wallflower helping out, but her mouth gets in the way—always speaking up just as she should, even when it’s the good looking duke, who everyone is quite scared of. They continue to have run ins—she just can’t stay out of the way once the head of the women’s suffrage movement realizes that she has met the duke and sees her as the key to changing his mind on the women’s vote. Although Annabelle does her best to avoid him, as her attraction continues despite their differences, she just can’t seem to avoid him. Which is rather unfortunate since a duke could certainly never marry a vicar’s daughter, nor would she stoop to being merely a lover. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Underground Railroad

This is not the steamy romances we’ve covered so far. This book is based on the Underground Railroad in the U.S. but takes the idea and turns it into a literal railroad rather than the metaphor that it was. We follow alongside a young girl Cora as she attempts an escape from a plantation in Georgia on the underground railroad. Will she ever make it up north? Her mother is the only slave on the plantation ever to have escaped. Will Cora be able to find her mother? Did she really escape or did they just not find her body? You’ll follow along as Cora explores the Underground Railroad and all the heartache and struggles that go along with slavery and trying to escape the system designed to keep her in slavery. 

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Dominicana

If you’re looking for a book about the struggles of immigration, this is a good start. Fifteen-year-old Ana must leave her home in the Dominacan Republic to help her family. They see her as their ticket to more money and a way into the United States, because of the attentions from Juan, who has moved to New York City and wants a Dominican wife to take care of him. But when she arrives in New York, the scene is very different from what she envisioned. He lives in a tiny apartment, where men come and go, and she quickly learns that he has a lover as well. But she doesn’t want to tell her mother all of this over the phone and what could she do anyway? So she stays in an abusive relationship, putting away money when she can to help her family come to the U.S.Luckily, Juan’s brother Cesar is nice to her and makes her feel not quite so alone, but when Juan does back to the DR to protect his family’s assets, their relationship is taken to a new level, which could shake things up—for better or worse—in both of their families. This novel explores the tough decisions women must make to support their families and how far they will go to protect the ones they love. 

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Girl Who Reads on the Metro

This book can be read in one sitting and is just a good, fun quick read. If you love books, and I’m guessing you do, you’ll enjoy the mentions of various authors and books as the main character leaves her job to help play matchmaker with books on the metro. Set in Paris, Juliette, who is unhappy with her ordinary job and ordinary life is able to find something that suits her more while finding new friends and a sense of purpose. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Golden Hour

Set during World War II, Lulu is sent to Nassau to cover the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. While a war is raging on, the paper wants her column to avoid the conflict and cover frivolity and society for its New York readers. But first, Lulu must be welcomed into their social circle. But when Lulu gets involved with Bendict Thorpe, who disappears following the murder of Nassau’s wealthiest man, Lulu must go to London to get answers from his sister. Who was he and why was he really in Nassau?

Rating: 3 out of 5.

How I rate these Trader Joe’s products

Let’s talk about this list. Eating Well put out this list of Trader Joe’s customers favorite products. And I must say I’m surprised.

Let’s go through these one by one. I haven’t tried them all, but I’ve tried a number of them and only a few on my list overlaps with this list.

1. Everything but the bagel seasoning
I would LOVE to know how people use this. A coworker tried the 30 day challenge and swore that this is what got her through, but I have tried it on a number of things and just don’t get it. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love everything bagels. But I think what I love MOST about them are the bagels.

2. Mandarin Orange Chicken
Now, I can’t speak to this personally. I have NOT tried this item and I will say when I bought it from my boyfriend the clerk was telling us how many times they restock this item in a day and it’s absurd. So it seemed promising. But the boyfriend, who LOVES wings, was just not impressed. He was very disappointed, which surprised me. I think it didn’t have any spice to it whatsoever was part of his complaint. Again—I did not try this item, so I have no opinion.

3. Cauliflower Gnocchi
Admittedly, I do not like gnocchi. It’s one of those things that I keep trying because everyone loves so much and it is just mushy and gross. But I love cauliflower, so I thought it might work. Well, it didn’t. Still just mush and not a good flavor.

4. Dark chocolate peanut butter cups
Now, this is the money maker. Yes. Yes. Yes. I love these so much and agree that this should be very high on everyone’s list. I can eat them all. Please hide them from me or offer five at a time, but please don’t leave the whole thing on my desk.

5. Plantain Chips
Have not tried, but certainly interested now. I love plantains in general, so this may be a good snack idea.

6. Nondairy Oat Beverage
I don’t believe I’ve tried this either, but am adding to my list.

7. Avocados
I’m avoiding avocados because of the whole cartel thing. They taste amazing, but this is a problem for me, so I have been avoiding them for the most part, although these come from California, so maybe they’re OK?
8. Unexpected CheddarHaven’t tried it.

9. Scented candles.
Yes, please. I love the honeycrisp apple and plan on buying more of these. Smells like fall and I love it!

I would add these to MY Trader Joe’s grocery list (Note that some are seasonal).

  • Trader Joe’s Winter Wake Up Tea
  • Trader Joe’s Bourbon Barrel Aged Coffee Beans
  • Trader Joe’s Rosewater Toner
  • Trader Joe’s Enrich Moisturizing Face Lotion SPF 15 For All Skin Types
  • Flowers & Christmas wreaths

WW Success!

In just a month, I’ve lost 7.2 pounds on WW. So far, I’ve liked how I can adjust as needed depending on what I have going on that day, week or month. If I know I’m going to be splurging on New Years, I just save up some points for the week by eating a bunch of zero points foods, like fruits, veggies and fish. I haven’t given up my coffee or the occasional sweet, but I have been taking fruit to work every day so that I can snack on an orange or berries instead of desperately searching for something to nibble on.

Last night, I made a cauliflower-crust pizza. The crust was from Trader Joes and I topped it with pasta sauce, mozzarella, parmesan, roasted red peppers and grilled onions. Trader Joes has quite a few frozen foods that are low in points, so I’ll let you know which ones work out well for me. There was a srirachi shrimp bowl that I made on Monday that was really tasty, although it said it was conventional oven safe and then the plastic started deteriorating.

Here’s the first keychain I’ve earned from WW.

One Goal Leads to Another

Reading one of the 12 nonfiction books of the year encouraged me to get the ball rolling on taking a photography class. “Stretch” explains why you should try new things as well as to take all of your different experiences to create new things. At the end of the book, it gives a few ideas on how to become better at stretching, which led me to sign up for a photography class on how to take better photos of objects. I figure since I often need to take photos for Poshmark, it would be good to improve these skills. While I already take photos for the Farmers Market, I find that taking photos outside of colorful objects like produce and food is much easier than say a sweater. The class isn’t until April, but I’m glad it’s finally on the books. I should finish Stretch this evening and it just mentioned the 4-Hour Work Week, which will be my next nonfiction book to read, since I’ve already read about a quarter of it. It’s always fun when one book leads well into another. Hopefully, it will give me some ideas for how to work more efficiently and creatively as well as how to dream bigger.

Weighed in at WW

I’m down three points as of my third WW weigh-in this morning! I’m super excited about the results, since it hasn’t felt all that hard. Sure, I’ve had to say no to some great sweets at the office and sitting around the house, but I’ve also gotten to enjoy lots of bananas and fat-free Greek yogurt with cinnamon, salmon and vegetables and omelets—all things I already love. I also kept a lot of smoked salmon on hand for when I was hungry, as it’s 0 points on the purple plan and always hits my craving spot. My hardest day was NYE, which I totally blew past all of my points for the day, but since I had saved plenty of my extra points for the week, I still made some progress when it came to weigh-in day. I’m hoping this week will be as successful. One of the things I plan on doing to make the week easier is to take in fruits as snacks. This worked yesterday when the cravings kicked in and I ate a whole container of blackberries, which is no big deal because they’re good for you! We also had plantains as an after dinner treat last night instead of the gingerbread cookies I was eyeing. This weekend, I plan on making some lentil soup to take into work with me for lunches—should be 0-1 points! The recipe is from the Chocolate Covered Katie blog if you’d like to try it out as well: https://chocolatecoveredkatie.com/2019/01/10/lentil-soup-recipe-best/ I haven’t tried it, but it looks delicious!

Happy 2020!

Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday relaxing. Here in Texas, it was overcast and cold, so it was a good day to stay in and cuddle and play cards. It’s always nice to have some calm time before the crazy of the year sets in.

I wanted to get a head start on my goals, so I started filling out my passport paperwork just to find out I was supposed to fill it out with blank ink, not blue! But I did find my passport photos while starting to organize my big closet, so it’s one step forward, one step back. I’ve also started reading Stretch, which goes toward both my goal of reading all the books I already have as well as going toward one of my 12 nonfiction books. I really like the overall message of using your resources in creative ways and not just accumulating for the sake of having more. I hope you’re off to a great start of a new year!

Two more days of 2020

2019 is coming to end this week. It’s been a pretty good decade, which follows right along with my own personal decade from 30 to 40 years old. One of the things I think I’ve embraced this last decade is really trying to do the things I want to do instead of just talking about it, which has included visiting Italy, Iceland, Hawaii, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, Santa Fe, New York, Cape Cod and several other places. I’ve also been tracking my reading on Goodreads (excluding 2010), which has equated to reading 222 books this decade, which sounds kind of crazy when I look at it altogether. Some of the things I want to do in the upcoming decade are starting my own business, really focusing on how much I save for retirement, being less wasteful (especially when it comes to food and clothing), being more open, vulnerable and honest with myself and others, traveling more, learning to take better care of plants, having better relationships with those I care about, keeping my environment clean and cleared out and maintaining a healthy weight.

I’m hoping my 2020 goals get me started on the right path to all of these things. I’m already making progress with WW, having lost a few pounds in a week and a half. I cleaned and filed my nails last night, adding a nail strengthener to the surface to try and keep them nice and strong. I printed out the paperwork for the passport renewal, so I just need to fill it out, find my photos and passport and take it into the post office or mail it off. I’ve got a few nonfiction books already underway and I contributed $6,000 yesterday to my Roth IRA. When I look at my list, it seems both very doable and intimidating. I think the two that will be hardest for me will be making the T-shirt quilt and making the cake for the cake show, since the show is in February. Something I can do to make sure it happens is to come up with a plan and idea for what cake to make and draw it out, so that will be my first order of business.

Let me know your plans for the next year or decade. I’d love some motivation!

Vitamin ABCs

My vitamins goal needs to be explained. I not only have bottles of pills sitting around my house, but at least two full boxes of vitamins from Careof. While I love the concept of Careof, I didn’t factor in that I am terrible at taking anything daily. I’m not a great routine person to begin with and then the taste of most vitamins make me gag. So, my plan is to use up all the vitamins I have on hand and then create a plan I can actually adhere to, whether that means taking just one multivitamin or determining the vitamins I need the most. I think I have enough vitamins on hand to last about three months, so around March I’ll be doing an evaluation of how I feel and what I think I’m lacking in my diet. I’ve also added a little grassfed, local beef and chicken to my diet lately, so I may not have as many needs as usual (when I’m limiting my animal intake to fish, milk and eggs). I’m also adding a lot of fruits and veggies already, since on WW they are zero points, so I may not need to add anything like Vitamin C or A. And I think I get plenty of D from the sun. This morning for Breakfast #1 I had half a banana and raspberries and now I’m moving on to breakfast #2 of garlic mashed potatoes and broccoli—all chock full of vitamins and micronutrients! What’s been helping me use my vitamins are to put them in one of those weekly pill boxes distributing them out and then leaving that on the counter next to my toothbrush. I know whether I’ve taken them that day (my memory is not the best) and I brush my teeth twice a day, so I’ll have to ignore it twice daily to forget!

Didn’t cut it

Here are the 20 for 20 goals that didn’t make the cut this year:

  1. Read 32 books. I’m at 31 this year and probably could do this, but I like the 12 nonfiction better. I’ll still set a Goodreads goal.
  2. Sell $1,000 on Poshmark. I’ve sold about $300 so far, so this is quite the goal and would mean I’d have to start buying things to sell, whereas right now I just sell things I no longer wear.
  3. Do a weekly home blessing (Fly Lady). Still hoping to do this. I love keeping my condo in a pretty clean state so that when people say they’re going to stop by I don’t freak out.
  4. Buy washer/dryer. Once my big closet is cleared out, I may reevaluate the buying a washer/dryer, but for now I have a few people letting me use theirs and I don’t have the space carved out in my condo for it. Besides, I think it was on my 18 for 18 list and didn’t happen.
  5. Get down to a size 6. I’m hoping my WW venture will hope with this goal.
  6. Buy a bus pass and start riding the bus a few times per month to work.
  7. Perfect my pizza making skills. This might ruin the WW.
  8. Buy diamond earrings. I’m trying to save money right now, so this doesn’t work very well with that goal.
  9. Increase 401K contribution to 15% (did earlier this month).
  10. Attend a yoga retreat.

I still may do any and all of these, so if I find I can do all of it, so be it. One thing I’ve enjoyed doing the last few years was watching an entire TV series of something, but I couldn’t think of anything to watch. Last year was Game of Thrones and the year before was West Wing, so if you have any suggestions, make sure to let me know—It may not be too late for me to add something!

Early Start

I started early on one of my goals for 2020, which is to join WW (Weight Watchers for the uninitiated). It feels like a very middle aged thing to do, but since I needed something to track my food, progress that isn’t going to take up too much time, I think this may be a good plan for me. You get points per day and week and get to spend them however you want. The plan I’m on have some 300 “free” point foods, such as salmon and veggies, so I don’t have to be too in the weeds. Yesterday was my first day of using the app and I only used 6 of my 16 points by having a zero count dinner of lettuce, celery and a can of salmon. It wasn’t too bad (I love salmon and sprinkled salt and pepper on top). Where it’s going to get me is sweets. I bake, so I always have goodies on hand, which is true at the office as well. What I like about it so far, though, is that I can save up my points for when I really want something so I decide when and how to splurge. So, is it important to have sugar in my coffee everyday or can I just save those points and then eat a cupcake? Day 1 was a success, and even though it’s just water weight, I’m down two pounds already. The whole goal is for me not to have to go up a size, which relates to my goal of trying to buy fewer clothes, especially new ones. I’ll keep you posted on my results.