1.21.2020

Sherlock Meets Pooh Corner

Last week I wrote a blog post about the books that I was reading, and a kind reader left a comment telling me about a book that she (or perhaps he, I'm not sure) was reading—a mystery by none other than Mr. A.A. Milne, well-known author of the Winnie the Pooh stories.

Being a lover of locked-room mysteries, and a childhood fan of the Pooh books, I immediately headed over to Amazon to check this thing out. Once there, I made the happy discovery that the book was not only available for FREE as a public domain book on Amazon Kindle, but that I had actually downloaded it almost exactly seven years ago, but had never gotten around to reading it! I rectified that oversight this weekend, and the following are my thoughts on Milne's one and only mystery novel, The Red House Mystery.

Photo by Phil Hearing

The basic premise of the book is that the owner of the Red House, Mark Ablett, is hosting a group of acquaintances at his manor and receives a letter from a brother who is supposed to be stashed away in Australia but is, instead, coming to see him in England that very afternoon. While the group of friends takes themselves off for a round of golf, Mark and his live-in cousin/estate agent/personal assistant, Cayley, busy themselves about the house, awaiting the arrival of the rogue brother, Robert. Robert arrives and is shown into the office, Mark can't be located, eventually there is the sound of a gunshot, and when the main character - our amateur Sherlock Holmes - Antony Gillingham, arrives on the scene, Cayley is madly pounding on the door of the office, demanding to be let in. 

Gillingham is an independent Jack-of-all-trades, and currently in the area for pleasure, but recalls that a friend of his, Bill Beverly, is staying at Red House, which puts him Johnny-on-the-spot moments after the murder takes place. For, oh yes, there is a murder. Brother Robert lies dead on the floor of the office, brother Mark is nowhere to be found, and cousin Cayley is acting mighty suspicious. What follows is the rather parody-like attempts of Bill playing Watson to Gillingham's Sherlock, with a somewhat dim Inspector Birch playing the backseat role of Lestrade

It's not hard to quickly see through the plot and know who did what, but nevertheless, it was almost comical enough to overlook the clear leaning upon classic British mystery writers. Locked rooms, secret tunnels, midnight escapades, attempted misdirection, unrequited love...it's not Dame Christie nor Sir Arthur, but I read it in a weekend and enjoyed it for what it was: a grown-up version of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. 😊 Plus, Milne wrote it because his dad liked mysteries, and I think that's a pretty sweet reason to write something. 😍
WOMNS Rating: 3.5 stars (which I'll bump up to 4, because it's FREE)
Worth Reading? Yes, especially if you're down with a cold or have nothing better to do.


No Kindle? You can find multiple formats and ways to read it by visiting this page on Project Gutenberg.

1.17.2020

Let's Talk Books (a #WOMNS Post)

I read 59 books in 2019. I really didn't know if I'd make my original goal of 52, so I was surprised and delighted when I surpassed it. Granted, several of them were children's chapter books or re-reads for my own pleasure, but it still counts for me. Reading is reading, and I'm amazed that even in all the chaos of being a full-time chauffeur, cook, nurse, tutor, and life counselor for five little people, a part-time, work-from-home editor and consultant, and squeezing in the occasional lunch date with the Hubs, I still managed to find time to read that much. It just goes to show that if you make something a priority, you learn how to say no to lesser things and yes to better things. 📚

Since 2019 proved it was possible, I've chosen the same goal (52 books) for 2020. But here we are, half-way through January, and I've gotten off to a rather bumpy start when it comes to sticking with completing a book a week. Life has been very busy, the Hubs has been working long hours and late nights, and by the time I crawl into bed and try to read anything, the book (or my phone, where I use my Kindle app) just ends up hitting my face within minutes of starting. I know this is just a season, so I continue to grab the moments I do have in car line or sitting at a sporting event, and try to make some headway, albeit slowly.


  • Hank & Jim (by Scott Eyman) was a Facebook recommendation that someone else shared on a friend's post about Jimmy's service in the Air Force during WWII. I love Jimmy Stewart, and when I read the premise of the book, I decided it was something I wanted to add to my shelf this year. So far, it's not sucking me in, but it's interesting, and the book is currently 70% off the list price on Amazon, with free shipping.
  • A is for Arsenic (by Kathryn Markup), I believe, was a Goodreads find. It covers the poisons that Agatha Christie uses in all of her books, and gives details about the poisons themselves, as well as examples from real life cases (some successful, some not), antidotes, and how Christie used them in what books. If you are a fan of Christie, this is a good companion to her work. I might look a little scary while reading it at taekwondo, but this is the kind of random stuff I like learning about (though now I'm a little paranoid about the kids eating too many apple seeds...). 
  • Murder on the Orient Express (by Agatha Christie) is a reread. Every once in a while I get the urge to reread my collection of Christie (mostly Poirot - not a huge fan of Miss Marple, or her stand-alone mysteries, unless it's And Then There Were None). I started working through them again last year, and this is where I am at the moment. I just re-watched two film remakes of this book—the all-star cast in the 1974 version, and the one from season 12 of Poirot with David Suchet—and I couldn't help but be disappointed with both. The story stands alone...stop changing the films to add drama. At least, that's my opinion. And we won't even speak of the atrocity that was the 2017 big screen version (really, Poirot with a gun??).
  • Mary Poppins Collection: Mary Poppins, Mary Poppins Comes Back, Mary Poppins Opens the Door, Mary Poppins in the Park (by P.L. Travers - Kindle Edition) is a book I borrowed for free through the Prime Lending Library. Let me just say that if Saving Mr. Banks had any ounce of accuracy in it, I would fully understand why Mrs. Travers was appalled by the Disney transformation of her beloved character. But let me also say that having grown up on the Julie Andrews version, reading these stories for the first time has left me a little dumbfounded. I'm on the final book of the collection now, and honestly just ready to be done with it.
So while those are currently what's on my nightstand (WOMNS), I haven't finished any of them. My saving grace at the moment, and the only reason I'm still "on track" as far as Goodreads is concerned, is that everyday on our ride to and from school the kids and I are listening to Radio Theater's production of The Chronicles of Narnia, produced by Focus on the Family and recorded in London. We've completed The Magician's Nephew and The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe so far, and are currently working our way through The Horse and His Boy.

In general, I am not a fan of audio books, but the kids have loved listening to Adventures in Odyssey over the last two years (as have I, reliving my childhood!), and when I saw that this was done by the same folks, I figured it might be worthwhile...and it has been! I cannot speak highly enough of this production. We received the CD set for Christmas from a family member, but you can also get the MP3 version from Amazon (for over twice the price, just FYI - it's cheaper to buy each MP3 audio book individually in this case). As soon as we get in the car each morning and afternoon, at least one of the kids immediately says, "Can we listen to Narnia?" That's music to my bookworm ears!

Side note: If you're on Goodreads, feel free to send me a friend request so that we can keep up with what we're both reading. I love seeing what others add to their shelves, and often find a future read because of it.

What's on YOUR nightstand?

1.13.2020

A Tale of Two Snowflakes

Last Friday, I had the rare opportunity to be out, by myself, at night. While our son stayed with a friend and the Hubs kept the three youngest girls at home, I drove into a nearby town and dropped our oldest off for a school event and then headed to the mall, like some kind of irresponsible teenager who has nothing better to do on a Friday night. 😊 But unlike my teenage self, I was on a mission. With a $10 off coupon in my purse, I hit up Bath & Body Works to see what might be left on the 75% off displays, thinking ahead to Christmas and birthdays and loading up the shopping bag that was hanging from my arm.

As I tossed $3.25 body washes into the basket and tried to keep from going totally nose deaf after sniffing so many different scents, a large "CLEARANCE" tag caught my eye on the top shelf. It was attached to an over-sized wooden snowflake that had been $60 and was now on sale for $15. I felt myself reaching for it when I heard the associate next to me say, "We have two, if you're interested..." and the next thing I knew I was asking him to put them behind the front counter for me. I knew immediately where I wanted to put them in our home, and I also knew that they would be just what was needed to help blow away the after-Christmas doldrums that always follow the removal of all the holly and jolly decor.


I've written a lot over the years about my desire to simplify. I've shared my rules of "one-in/one-out" and my participation in the William Morris Project. I've talked about my desire to eliminate junk and keep only what is useful and beautiful. I've even been a part of the 12-week uncluttered course that Joshua Becker puts on several times a year. But over time, I've learned that needs change. What worked 10 years ago, doesn't work now. I'm still a fan of clean, clear surfaces -- though if you were to see my work desk where I am typing this at the moment, you wouldn't know that. I still prefer minimal decor to chaotic clutter. I'm still adamant that the kid's toys and art supplies remain in their rooms and designated play areas, while the main portion of the house remains devoted to simplicity. But I also know that I want our house to feel like a cozy home, not some cold, sterile landscape.

The post-Christmas blahs are hard enough. When the tree comes down and the festive lights are packed away, it can easily feel like we've lost all the warmth from the house. In a month with no holidays to celebrate, both school and work starting back up, and long, dark evenings, it's no wonder people immediate look forward to the arrival of spring. But January has always been a month for me that is full of promise and opportunity. The promise of a new year, with new possibilities on the horizon. The opportunity to make changes and try new things and take action on long-held goals. I don't want to rush through the winter months, always looking ahead to what's next on the calendar. January is our month to reset and start well, and just as small steps towards a larger goal shouldn't be overlooked, I think January is worthy of some festive love in the decor department as well.

When I spotted these giant snowflakes on Friday, in an instant I knew they were what our winter home had been missing, and I also knew I had the perfect spots for them. In fact, if I hadn't immediately known where I would place them, I wouldn't have purchased them. And I think that's really the key to the whole idea of #minimalismsimplified, isn't it? It's not that you need to purge the house of all signs of human life, but that you need to have a plan for the stuff BEFORE it comes into your house, just like I usually know what is going OUT before I buy a new pair of shoes or a new sweater.

I haven't read the book, but I watched the show. And yes, I rolled my eyes while people said thank you to the used shoes and old underwear before they put them in the trash bags. But Marie Kondo's way of folding t-shirts has definitely made a difference in our dresser drawers (even the Hubs is a fan), and the idea of looking at things and asking if they spark joy isn't necessarily a bad thing. For example, I knew as soon as I saw the snowflakes that they made me smile. I knew where I would put them. I knew I would be willing to get rid of other things if necessary in order to store them. All of that put together meant that I felt it was worth $30 to bring them into our house. And the end result? The kids loved them, the hubs admitted to them being a nice addition, and whenever I walk through our dining room, I grin. Whether you call that "sparking joy" or simply see it as fun decor, I think winter just got a little bit friendlier, don't you? 


1.10.2020

Habitual Goals

I've written plenty of posts about setting goals in the past. I've chosen words for the year...only to forget about them come March or April. I've picked specific things to work on....and then not followed through. I've blogged about my successes...and my failures. For several years in January, I've suggested that this will be the year that I finally start blogging again on a regular basis...and then that's the last you've heard of me.

So what am I doing this year? Why am I back, writing yet another January post with the word "goal" in the title? Well, grab a mug of something warm and pull up a chair. Let's chat!

2020 sign

First, let's talk about what worked in 2019. As I've shared on my Busy Nothings Facebook page, 2019 was the year that I consistently tracked my calories and walked for 20 minutes a day in my little "walking lot" around the corner from the kid's school. This was a success...right up until the week before Christmas, when the Hubs came down with the crud that kept him home all week, and derailed my walking schedule as I single-parented our five. This was followed by the Christmas break, then the crud taking me out for a week, and the usual post-holiday sludge as we all try to get back into the groove of work and school after time off. Needless to say, walking hasn't made it back onto my daily schedule yet in 2020, but it will.

Tracking my calories was also something I was super consistent about...right up until the holidays. I don't want to say that I gave up, as I was still very mindful about what I was eating and the days that I was eating more than I normally did, but I no longer tracked my meals as faithfully as I had been doing prior to the Christmas season. Like walking, it's something I intend to restart this month, but it didn't happen this week. 

With the change in schools for two of our girls, I ended up spending about 3 hours of my day in the car starting in August, which limited the amount of time I had free for paid work. However, what I discovered was that the outside limitations caused me to focus more during the time that I did have. I was even able to say "yes" to more flexible freelance work, create new opportunities for the future, and extend the range of my skill set.

Another thing that I focused on in 2019 was reading more. As I've done in years past, I used Goodreads to set my goal of 52 books, and track my progress. I consciously made choices to use the dead time in my day (sitting in car line, sitting at taekwondo, sitting at the doctor's office, waiting for dinner to cook, etc.) to work toward that goal, and by December 31, 2019, I'd read 59 books. Some of them were totally new-to-me books, others were comfort re-reads, and quite a number were children's books that I either read to the kids, or read to myself before I recommended them to the kids. Needless to say, my Goodreads shelf this year looked a little different than it did in 2012

One of the things I took away from 2019 was that it's good to have goals, but it's better to create habits. I've set goals before for weight loss or sticking to a diet, reading a certain number of books or focusing more on my work, but history shows that my lofty goals tend to end up lost somewhere around February. This last year I dropped the word "goal" from my planning and instead decided to make changes. Instead of setting a goal to walk 5 days a week, I drove the car to the parking lot - even on the days I didn't feel like it - and got out and walked 20 minutes, rain or shine. Eventually, turning left out of the kid's school, rather than right, became a habit. Setting my timer for 20 minutes and walking laps around the lot became a habit...and the weight that I wanted to lose, began to come off. 

I put a goal weight in my Lose It! app, but it was just something to aim for...my main priority was becoming healthy, and over the course of the year, my mindset changed to match my habits. Before, I would have stopped at Dunkin' Donuts or Starbucks without even thinking about it. Mindless calories, which went to my thighs and never crossed my mind when I wondered where the weight came from, because I "wasn't really eating that much." These days, before I eat anything, I consider whether it's worth it, whether I have room for the calories, and what I will say "no" to if I say "yes" to the food or drink before me. It's not a goal, it's a choice. It's an action.

So what will 2020 look like for me? Do I have goals for this year? Well, sure. I think it's perfectly natural to set goals, even if it's unconsciously. For example, I would still like to shed around ten more pounds, but if that doesn't happen I'm not going to wallow in guilt about it, because my main priority is to continue my habits of making wise choices about what goes in my mouth. With my shorter working days, there are weeks when work has to take precedence over walking, so if that means that there's a week when I only get out to the parking lot one day instead of four or five, I'm not going to beat myself up over that, because that's still 20 minutes of movement. It doesn't mean I've given up, it just means that I had to prioritize different things that week. Goals can be forgotten, but habits keep you coming back to them, even when you have an off week. 

It's a goal this year to read at least 52 books again. But it's become a habit to keep a book in my purse, and that habit is what allows me to actively work towards that goal...with very little effort at all. It's a goal to be a good steward of the time available to me for work. It's a habit to start my day by checking what's on my to do list and figuring out what needs more brain power (so earlier in the day tasks) and what takes less (later in the day tasks). It's a goal to pad our savings account so when those rainy day events happen, we're not scrambling to figure out how to pay for them. It's a habit to automatically transfer a set amount of money each month into that account, and then live within our means with what's left. 

Do you see where I'm going with this? Habits can be good or bad, but the way I'm looking at it this year is that the positive habits that I started developing in 2019 are just my goals in action. Goals are just words on paper, but habits only occur because you're actively doing something. 

Over the next 12 months I would like to see my work habits continue to develop, becoming more creative with the time that I have so that I will be able to do more (which, in turn, helps fund things like taekwondo, which means I will have that down time for reading to reach my goal...one positive habit affecting another). I've toyed with the idea of trying to run this year. I have a 9 year old who would love it if I would run with her, but I've never been a runner. It scares me. Maybe this is the year...or maybe I'll pull out my bike again and ride alongside her...or maybe she'll run while I walk. Whatever happens, I want 2020 to be the year I challenge myself more. What about you?

12.24.2019

Hello There. It's Me.

When I logged on to my blogger account today, I was surprised to see that my last post was in February 2019. How is that even possible? Time flies.

selective focus photo of brown and blue hourglass on stones

For those of you who are friends with me on Facebook, you have basically been privy to my micro blogging all year long through my #iamthankful posts that I try to do every Monday - Friday. Whether I'm sharing about what God has been teaching me, showing my quirky side, or letting you in on what the kids are doing, it's become my easier way of blogging my thoughts, with the added bonus of becoming Facebook memories for me to look back on in later years. If we're not friends, I'm sorry that you've missed those posts. 

The fact of the matter is, my life continues to get busier by the day. Or so it seems. Since August, I've been driving an average of three hours a day, taking five kids to two different schools in another town. By the time I drop the last three off and occasionally get my 20 minutes of walking in, I have a maximum of 5 hours to tackle my freelance work, which is really more like 3 hours, after dealing with household chores, getting dinner in the Crock-Pot, and anything else that may need to happen. Throw a grocery shop in there, and we're looking at about 2 hours at home for work before it's time to jump back in the ol' SUV and hit the road to sit in car lines. 

Once I'm home with the five, it's time to oversee chores, homework (which intensifies every year), home schooling that we're doing to fill in the gaps (like reading and math), dinner, taekwondo (at least two nights a week), and anything else that might be on the calendar. And as I collapse in our room each night and stare at my husband and try (unsuccessfully) to come up with some kind of quality conversation that doesn't revolve around the children, I think, "I did this to myself." I make choices that keep me busy. 

I choose to post on Facebook each morning, which eats into the time that I have at home to work and do laundry. I choose to send my kids to two different private schools, located in another town. I choose to pay for taekwondo and cart them there and sit for an hour each time, because I think it's beneficial to their growth and development. I'm making it a priority to say yes to as much as possible - within reason - even when I'm feeling thin, stretched, like butter over too much bread.

And so, in this season of life, blogging has taken a back seat. If you follow my Busy Nothings page on Facebook, you'll probably have noticed that I'm not even posting there on a regular basis. I just don't have the time. And when you wake up one day and realize that nothing that you've written has changed the world, and no one is reading your blog posts, and you'll never be in that 1% of bloggers who become rich and famous and get a book deal, it rather takes the wind out of your blogging sails. Or at least it did mine. But...I'm not going away just yet. 

Before we adopted the kids, I always loved setting goals for the new year, and dreaming big about what I was going to do with this blog. Now, I'm just happy to have clean clothes and food on the table and money in the bank account to pay for things like taekwondo and the occasional ice cream outing. As for any deeper thoughts, I'll continue to share them on Facebook. I know that people read them there, and I know that, in my own little, non-book-deal sort of way, I am making a difference in my corner of the online world. And I'll continue to do that, until something else changes. 


Highlights of 2019...


⇨ I met and exceeded my Goodreads goal for the year - reading 58 books (so far), 6 more than my original goal of 52. 
⇨ I did a pretty good job sticking to my walking and calorie-counting habits, and was able to shed around 15 lbs. over the last year (though I'm pretty sure I've put a few of those back on since Thanksgiving, with very little walking occurring and a whole lot of yummy goodness going in...back at BOTH in January!). If you do follow my Busy Nothings page, you might have seen my posts about my one year anniversary of walking and the way it improves my mental outlook when I prioritize that time. 

⇨ Although I was pretty quiet around here, I have blogged a number of times over on the Weaving Influence website (one of my freelance gigs) about book launches and personal values, among other things. One of my favorite posts was probably the one I did earlier this month, about the Icelandic tradition of Jolabokaflod.

⇨ Professionally, I was able to land two freelance writing gigs that helped pay for part of the kid's school fees. After 8 years of freelancing as a writer, editor, and book launch consultant, it's been nice to see some of that experience begin to pay off, and it's always a boost to know that the work I do helps in tangible ways.

I may not have been around here much in the last 10 months, but I've still been very much involved in the world - both online and off. Whether you see me around here or over on Facebook, I wish each of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! May 2020 be a year of growth and learning for each and every one of us, as we learn more about who God created us to be. 

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