Since we are both bibliophiles, we have signed up for quite a few book related newsletters or emails. One of the ones Laura gets is from Book Riot and last month they talked about a Reading Challenge for the year.
We took their list and modified it a bit to come up with 24 challenges and found a letter of the alphabet to highlight in each challenge so that we can do two a month.
Since this month is Q/R, the month’s challenges will be:
Jot down favorite quotes from the books you read this month. (Remember – one of each of our Resolutions was to read a book per month). That should be sort of easy as both of us are drawn to interesting quotes.
Read through a cookbook and choose at least one recipe to try from it. Decide to keep or donate the book.
At the end of each month we will report back on the success or failure of this challenge.
Let us know if any of you join us in the challenges!
One of Barbara’s resolutions for 2022 is to revisit some of the restaurants we found and enjoyed during our ABC Life dining out so this month – since they have a very large outdoor dining area – we may revisit Rock & Brews to again experience their Purple Rain Drops (mini beignets filled with melted chocolate and topped with whipped cream and raspberry sauce).
The bad thing about taking “a break” from something is that it is often tough to get back into the groove. But now we are determined to return to our ABC Life because we’ve gained so much from it already.
We started to look back at some of the things we did, ate, learned, read, etc. and most of them we would not have experienced had we not been following the ABC Life. As a matter of fact, we intend to REVISIT the restaurants that we have gone to and said we loved….and then never went back. What?!
The first thing we are going to do since it is a New Year after all, is: 22 for 22: Our New Year’s RESOLUTIONS
We’ve decided to categorize them into Personal, Health and Home. Here goes:
Personal (9) Plan dude ranch trip with family Revisit restaurants we discovered and loved on the ABC Life Go on more day trips and overnighters with Laura Plan trips within U.S. to take with A.D. Go to Yoga Retreat in the Pines Plan weekly recipes on Sunday mornings Scan medical directives and send to kids, A.D. and Laura (never like to think about this but it’s a must do) Polish all my silver jewelry that has gone black during the pandemic One book a month; one documentary a month
Health (5) Go to exercise class or use treadmill, starting at least twice a week Cut down on sweets, especially at mah jongg Drink 8 glasses of water to minimize cramping Cook more fish recipes Participate in more Wonder Woman walking trails
Home (8) Go through bookcase of cookbooks, pulling out recipes to try, and attempt to get rid of some of the books Organize paperwork in office; make folders for upcoming trips Clean out filing cabinet in garage and go through some of the shelves Clean out the bottom of the downstairs bathroom vanity Review Texas Highways magazine and update spreadsheet with cities/places of interest for ABC Life Review items in Safety Deposit box Go through Eric’s closet and get rid of most of the stuff on the shelves Finally figure out how to remove the vines stuck on the Hardy Board planks of the house.
Personal (9) Go to Yoga Retreat in the Pines Take more day trips and overnighters Plan more family vacations Keep up with daily planner: include “this made me smile today” and daily spending sections Write weekly menu plans in notebook: then use it as 2023’s yearly meal plans Find something new I’m passionate about (hobby, cause, etc.) Schedule more purposeful “me” time Clean up email inbox One book a month/one documentary a month
Health (7) Build an exercise plan: at home, at a studio/gym and walking routine Reduce sugar intake Return to juicing habit and/or smoothies Prep fruit and veggies for quick grab as snacks Visit a Farmer’s Market bimonthly Drink more water: devise a system Find new healthy “take-out” resources
Home (6) Organize/update key records and documents Keep up with Ultimate Home Checklist Tackle a full house declutter: aim for room-by-room plan and monthly concentration Do a monthly “eat from pantry” week to keep items moving and prevent out-of-dates Replace refrigerator Reduce amount of food waste: set up system to not forget about food to use up
The 22 for ’22 is based on the author Gretchen Rubin’s yearly challenge. Like Gretchen, we will try to accomplish our 22 but we are using them as goals or as a “wish list” – not as a “must do” list. Feel free to join us by creating your own 22 for ’22. We’d love to see what you have planned for this year.
The ABC sisters are taking a break this month due to family festivities and other commitments.
During this month, however, we will be toasting to the culmination of one full year as co-bloggers. We joined forces at Q and now we’ve just finished with P. That’s 26 months of enriching our lives one letter at a time. When we restart, we will be enriching our lives TWO letters at a time! So next up will be Q and R, with a bunch of Quirky Relatives leading up to it!
Barbara – Most people I know can tell you where they were when President Kennedy was assassinated and have heard and seen a lot about Lee Harvey Oswald and all the theories regarding this horrible event. However, I had not heard of Ruth Paine nor did I know much about Oswald’s wife, Marina. So a visit to the Ruth Paine home was very educational. Ruth was separated when she met Lee and Marina and the two women took to each other immediately. When Lee thought Marina should return to Russia, Ruth offered to have her and her child stay at her home while Lee looked for work and the ladies became fast friends. I was so surprised to hear that Ruth, who is still alive but lives in California, still receives hate mail. That kind of boggled my mind, even that she would get any hate mail in the first place. The docent told me that Marina remarried, and she doesn’t give out her address, which makes sense.
The house is very modest. You can see it only by appointment as it wouldn’t be fair to the people in the neighborhood to have a lot of people coming in and out. They have recreated it to look just as it did in the 60s and there is still one original piece of furniture still in the living room. Stepping into the house is like going back in time. All in all a worthwhile morning.
Movie Theme – PERFECTIONIST, PSYCOPATH
Laura: This month I chose the move “Dismissed.” This 2017 film is billed as a horror thriller so I thought it would be fitting to watch given it’s Halloween month, plus it deals with the theme of being a perfectionist and a psychopath. The lead actor, Dylan Sprouse, was terrific and very believable as the seemingly charming, brilliant student who demanded perfection (straight As or else!) and who gradually becomes more and more creepy and evil. However, although the roughly 90 minutes weren’t a complete waste of time, I felt it shortchanged the viewer. While it delivered tension and some scary moments, it could have had less clichés and explored more deeply some of the issues it raises: strong student/weak teacher, the problems of being a perfectionist, manipulation among friends to name a few. If any of you are familiar with the website Decider and its “Stream It or Skip It,” the latter gets my vote.
New Author – Camille PAGAN
Laura: Just as important as being in the right frame of mind for a book is being at the right stage of life. Camille Pagan’s novel, I’m Fine and Neither Are You, examines truths and boundaries in a young mother’s marriage and friendships. It’s full of insights and thought provoking ideas and I imagine it would be a very satisfying and fulfilling read to someone who was in similar circumstances as the main character. I have long passed this stage of life and so although I recognized this book’s value, it didn’t move me as much as I would have expected…kind of “been there, done that” situation.
Media Travel – PERU, PRAGUE AND PHUKET
Laura: One country and two cities might seem ambitious but this armchair traveler loves to leave the confines of my town and travel abroad. First I watched the film “Peru: Tesoro escondido”. It showcased the natural riches of Peru and painted a beautiful picture of the diverse landscapes of this amazing country. Unfortunately, it made me sad since I realized I would most likely never get to travel there. Then I switched to a visit to Prague via Rick Steves’ Europe, Season 8. Prague is a beautiful city but it was very reminiscent of other European cities and without actually being there to experience the sights and smells first-hand, it was a disappointing viewing. And then came Phuket, a city in Thailand. I discovered a delightful series streaming on Netflix: Jack Whitehall: Travels with my Father. Jack is an English actor, comedian and writer and his father Michael is a television producer and agent. Their travel documentary/road trip comedy series is a fun and engaging way to see different places and laugh/squirm/snicker at some of the silly and awkward situations they encounter. I thoroughly enjoyed my half hour in Phuket and learned about local food, beaches, customs and sports. I plan to watch all five seasons of this series but, since the order doesn’t matter, I most likely will choose my episodes as they fit in the “ABC” life.
Barbara – I’ve lived in the DFW area for over 25 years but hardly ever venture into Fort Worth so I hadn’t yet been to its Arts & Culture neighborhood. But learning that the Amon Carter Museum was having an exhibition called “In the Night Garden” featuring Paper art, how could I not go in “P” month? The two artists featured were Houston based Natasha Bowdoin and Pakistani-American Anila Quayyam Agha. I LOVED Bowdoin’s art, the main piece being the title of the exhibit and which was paint on board with cut paper and vinyl mounted on moveable supports to resemble a theatrical backdrop. “For Bowdoin, nature is not merely a subject; it represents the idea of transformation.” She uses literature as her muse.
Agha’s art was paper cut out, pastels, embroidery and beading on paper and was also quite beautiful. This one “suggests the sewing circles her mother established in Pakistan as a forum for women to gather and communicate in a restrictive, patriarchal society.”
If not for the ABC Life I would never have discovered these wonderful artists!
New author – Katherine PANCOL
Barbara: I started and aborted many “P” authors this month until I finally came upon “The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles” by Katherine Pancol. I enjoy reading books about sisters (naturally). In this book Iris, the more vivacious and wealthy sister, commits to writing a book which she asks Josephine, her self-effacing, struggling sister, to write for her in exchange for the money. The author has a good style and so I enjoyed the story and all the supporting characters. While I would never take advantage of my sister (and vice versa), it was believable in this instance. The only negative for me was that I was extremely frustrated with how Josephine lets everyone use her; I wanted to shake her. But I guess that means the author did her job.
Texas has a lot of pecan farms and so we were both pretty pumped up and primed for some pecan sampling. Laura called one farm that mentioned in D Magazine that it allows people to shake the trees to get their pecans to fall off. That sounded like fun but when she called, she was told that their crop would not be ready until some time in November. So, we called a place in Wylie that sold pecans that were grown on their farm in Telephone Texas (population 700) and got a recording. The web showed that they were open, though, so we got in the car to drive out. We were doubly excited because we figured that after buying the pecans we would come home and bake a Pecan Pie Cake from a recipe created by one of the Texas pecan farmers. So, imagine how disappointed and pissed off we were when we got there and saw this sign:
So, no pecans, no pecan pie cake. However, we did go to Ballard Street Café and buy a piece of pecan pie fresh out of the oven and piping hot. Even though November is no longer P month, when the time comes, we will head out to the farm, shake that tree, and bake that cake!
New activity – Lions and Tigers and Ocelots, Oh My
To close out the month we were lucky to be introduced to a hidden gem in Wylie called “InSync Exotics.” Similar in purpose to the Center for Great Apes that we visited in Tampa several years ago, InSync takes in lions, tigers, leopards, panthers, ocelots (which are also known as dwarf leopards), et.al. that have been abandoned, sold as pets, abused, etc. and brings them back to health and a safe and comfortable life. Currently they have close to 70 residents and require $20,000 a month to feed them all. Some of the stories were heart breaking – they got a tiger that was 200 pounds underweight! – and we learned a lot about the horribly abusive exotic pet industry. These animals are majestic and we’re lucky to have people willing to dedicate their lives to saving them but sad that it’s necessary.
When we analyzed our experiences at the two sanctuaries, we acknowledged that our visit to the Center for Great Apes was more engaging and left a larger imprint on our souls. The animals there have such large personalities and are so interesting to watch as they go about their business of playing with each other and with various toys, objects, etc. Plus, when they look you in the eye, you feel an immediate connection. On the other hand, the animals at InSync were more aloof and, for the most part, mostly lying down. Their power comes from their awesome size and majestic beauty. Overall, visits to sanctuaries, regardless of the residents, are totally worthwhile and deserve our support.
LEARNING CENTER: THE ONION
Barbara: Making breakfast this morning, I got to thinking about the onion I was cutting up for – what else? – my omelet. I found a lot of information about the place it was thought to have been used first (Asia) and the health benefits, etc. But nowhere did I get an answer to my question: “When the first person started cutting up an onion to eat and, after 5 minutes, couldn’t see because their eyes were burning and tearing, what made him/her decide it would be a good idea to continue?”
I did find a fun fact: Before New York City became known as the Big Apple it was called the Big Onion because it was a place from which you could peel off layer after layer without ever reaching the core. (from “1000 Places to See Before You Die” by Patricia Schultz).
And I found some great quotes about the onion:
“Life is like an onion. You peel it off one layer at a time; And sometimes you weep.” -Carl Sandburg, American poet
I will not move my army without onions!” -Ulysses S. Grant
“It’s hard to imagine civilization without onions.” -Julia Child
And my personal favorite:
“If you hear an onion ring, answer it.” -Anonymous
We both love breakfast, but the omelet has not been up there as a favorite option. So, we thought for O month we would sample a few made at restaurants in case we just weren’t being creative enough ourselves and were missing something. The first two omelets we tried were First Watch’s “The Bacado” (bacon, artichoke, and Monterey Jack) and their seasonal “Short Rib Omelet.” This one was described as: “Savory red wine–braised beef short ribs, house-roasted shallots and Crimini mushrooms, fresh spinach and Mozzarella cheese. Topped with Parmesan cream sauce and fresh herbs.” The Bacado was not a hit with us as it was very bland but the Short Rib Omelet was super delicious.
The next omelet we had at Little Gus Café. It was their “Gyro Omelet” which consisted of Gyro meat, tomato, onion and feta cheese. This one was a hit as well, mostly because of the innards and less due to the egg. We realize that what makes an omelet tasty to us are the juices of what it was filled with; otherwise it would be blah. And although we enjoyed two out of the three, we don’t think it has changed our minds about the joys of an omelet. We imagine the over easy and scrambled eggs are doing a little happy dance at beating the competition.
New Experience – Eastern Screech Owl
Laura: Imagine how surprised you would be to hear what sounded exactly like a whinny of a horse outside your patio door around 5:45 a.m.? It was a soft sound but didn’t let up. We were concerned some critter might be in distress (although we highly doubted My Little Pony was wandering the grounds). Kurt is an avid bird lover so, once we realized the sound was coming from one of the trees, he suggested it was probably an owl – either a barn owl or a screech owl. I grabbed our “Sibley Guide to Birds” and sure enough, it was the Eastern Screech Owl. Sibley’s confirmed that it sounds like the whinny of a horse and the map showed that they do populate the Eastern half of Texas, Dallas being part of that equation. It may not be a big deal to others but somehow this sighting and discovery made my day!
New activity – Opera
Barbara: I never thought that opera was for me. Yes, I loved “The Phantom of the Opera”, “Les Miserables” and “Tommy”, but I haven’t really considered them opera with a capital O. But since it was O month, I said “what the heck, I may as well find a traditional opera to see in the DFW area.” However, the stars were against me and absolutely nothing came up in my search. Luckily, though, I discovered a chamber music group in Arlington that was performing much of the music from the opera “Carmen” by the French composer George Bizet. I didn’t realize how many of the songs were familiar to me and that I highly enjoyed them.
Optimistic that I now would appreciate opera, I came home and started to watch a video of the opera. And the verdict? Chamber music yes, opera no. Just not a story format I can get behind. Does that make me less cultured? Hope not. Maybe the fact that I don’t like soap operas either balances it out.
Laura: Knowing Barbara was headed out to hear opera music performed, I decided to watch the original Lon Chaney version of “The Phantom of the Opera.” This silent movie was playing on Kanopy but shortly after it began, there was a technical failure and it stopped streaming. That was fine with me since I wasn’t really into the silent movie genre – and what was the point if I was seeking the enjoyment of operatic voices? So, I chose instead to listen to a 30-minute YouTube selection on Top 10 “Must Know” Opera Songs. I loved it! I’ve always enjoyed opera music and these 10 selections reminded me why. To name a few, they included songs from Carmen, Rigoletto, Madame Butterfly and La Traviata. Plus, the power and magnificence of the voices of Luciano Pavarotti and Maria Callas are mesmerizing. I am hoping to carry this enthusiasm forward and make listening to opera music a weekly pursuit.
We’re sometimes hesitant to go to an art gallery because we can drive 45 minutes, only to find that the exhibit we expect to see is comprised of a small number of paintings that don’t impress us. Not so in the case of the Cerulean Gallery in Dallas. The exhibit we went to see was called “Off the Grid.” When asked why we were told that the artists wanted to show works of art that were not the usual style or medium they were used to working in. Of the 3 artists we both agreed that our favorite was a Dallas artist, Leslie W. Friedman. She’s won several awards and has worked in many media but her current passion is working with hot-fused glass and stained glass. The resulting art pieces are quite lovely and very different from anything we’ve looked at.
Carmen Menza was another artist that caught our eye. She attempts to see how various materials react to surrounding light and indeed, the colors in the pieces shift with the transmission of light as demonstrated to us by the woman we talked to at the gallery. We thoroughly enjoyed this visit. Now if we can only make some room on our walls……
Movie Theme – Opportunists, Obsession
Laura: I’ve always wanted to see Billy Wilder’s film “Sunset Boulevard.” So I was pleased to see it pop up during my search for movies that dealt with “Opportunists.” After watching the movie, I’m more inclined to list it as a movie about “Obsession,” but whichever label I choose, the film itself is Outstanding! The acting, dialogue and storyline put it among the very best films about the motion picture business and its long-reaching effects on those who comprise that industry. It features a delusional has-been silent movie queen (Norma Desmond), a down-on-his-luck screenwriter (Joe Gillis), a mysterious butler (Max) – even a dead monkey in a casket! Although I agree that this film earned its 1950 Academy Award Best Picture nomination, it was a heart-breaking story – one that leaves you worn out. Its themes are definitely still relevant and make me wonder which films being made in this century will one day be regarded as masterpieces. I do think that memorable, witty and clever dialogue go a long way toward making a film stand the test of time and “Sunset Boulevard” has tons of it. One of my favorite exchanges is when Joe meets Norma and says, “You’re Norma Desmond. You used to be big.” Norma answers, “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.”
So far, we haven’t gotten to many O activities but this week, and next, should be a little more productive – we hope!
Starting the month slowly with our more “mental” pursuits.
New authors – O’Brien, O’Toole and O’Donnell
Barbara: I’ve never had trouble finding a book that I liked by a new author for the month, but this month was an epic failure! First up was Tim O’Brien who wrote a book of short stories called “The Things They Carried,” about his experiences in Vietnam during the war. I just couldn’t get into his writing style and was not compelled to finish. OK, I thought, I’ll just switch to “The Death of Bees” by Lisa O’Donnell. The description was appealing since it involved two sisters, but the start of the book was so unenticing as she described the sisters’ attempt to bury their parents whose bodies were so rotting as to be oozing liquid. Once I got to the sentence where the author described one sister having to “scoop” the body into a bag, I said to myself “I’m out of here.” So onward to author number 3. The book “Hemingway Didn’t Say That” by Garson O’Toole should have been right up my alley. During the course of our blog, I’ve done a lot of Learning Centers that focused on the origins of a word or phrase, so I was looking forward to this book. Unfortunately, the writing style was so esoteric as to make my eyes cross. I never did find out what Hemingway didn’t say! So, alas, this month I’m going back to an Old Faithful, Joyce Carol Oates. She’s not easy and necessitates a lot of concentration, but she is very good and I’m going to attempt to read “The Mudwoman.”
Movie Theme – Olympics
Barbara: “Visions of Eight” is a documentary devoted to the Olympic Games in Munich 1972 during which the Palestinian Black September Organization brutally attacked and killed eleven Israeli athletes and coaches plus a West German police officer. The film was divided into eight segments, each directed by a different director. Interestingly, only John Schlesinger’s segment made any mention of the tragedy that overshadowed these Olympic events. The rest of the segments each highlighted a sport that was of special interest to the director. I had two particular favorites. The first was “The Strongest” directed by Mia Zetterling. It focused on weight lifting. She wanted to study that sport because she said the athletes were obsessed and “I’m not interested in sports but I am interested in obsession.” I am amazed that these men can live without their hearts and brains exploding and would like to know the statistics on their health as a group. When it showed them lifting the barbells I thought their veins were going to pop. What a sport! The other segment I liked was Arthur Penn’s “The Highest” about pole vaulters. What made it so special was the way he filmed it, sometimes in silence, sometimes blurred, or in slow motion. It really focused on the beauty of the sport and the finesse of the vaulters. I was happy that I found this film and it reinforced my love of documentaries.
New experiences keep your life fresh and interesting – a constant stream of discoveries. So the sisters are having fun with the ABC Life – an orderly way to expand our lives with fun places to visit and fascinating things to do, read, eat and experience. The ABC Life is where you do as many things within a month that you can – starting with a specific letter.