What’s Your Reading Style?

I am a podcast junkie. Whenever I’m in the car, cleaning my house, or doing anything else that allows for multi-tasking, I’m listening to one. One of my very favorite podcasts is Sorta Awesome. The hosts cover a variety of topics, both light and deep, with some recurring themes. One of those themes is reading, a favorite hobby of mine. I recently listened to the Best in Books and Reading in 2016 episode, and one of the things the hosts discussed was their reading style – what started their love of reading, what kinds of books are they drawn to, and how they like to read. This got me thinking about my answers to the same questions…

My Reading History

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved reading. I clearly remember devouring all of the books by Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, and other authors I loved during my childhood. I love reading during car rides, and did so on weekend trips to visit my grandparents, as well as family vacations. About a decade ago, I had a job that required a horrible, two-hour commute each way, and I got a lot of reading done on my train rides home from work. (I passed out most mornings before the train even left the station.)

As a child, I used to re-read my favorite books multiple times. (I can’t tell you how many times I read Beverly Cleary’s The Luckiest Girl, or Judy Blume’s, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret!!) But these days I never re-read. There are too many other books I want to read, to spend time reading the ones I’ve already read.

My Taste in Books

Until about 15 years ago, I only read fiction for pleasure. Reading nonfiction was reserved for school, and later, it just didn’t seem like fun. These days, I really enjoy learning from the books I read, so between half and two-thirds of the books I read are nonfiction.

Like Laura, one of the Sorta Awesome podcast hosts, I prefer to read darker books. This has been a thread throughout my life. For example, one of the books I remember being most impacted by as a child was Where the Red Fern Grows. That was the first book that made me cry, and just thinking about it now, still brings tears to my eyes!

More recently, as soon as I heard about the book, A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy, by Sue Klebold, I had to read it, and once I started it, I could not put it down. I don’t know what it says about me, but I love a book that makes me cry and makes me think.

Within nonfiction, my favorite genres include history and biography/memoir. And in fiction, I especially love historical fiction.

How I Read Books

As a creature of comfort, I’m not a fan of the new. I’m always late to the party, no matter what the “new” thing is – smart phones, skinny jeans, even podcasts. I’m definitely a late adopter. So it should come as no surprise that I like reading books in physical, paper form. I have never read anything on a Kindle or other e-reader, and I don’t intend to start. (Part of this also stems from my dislike for reading on screens, in general.)

As for audio books, I haven’t tried them because I’m concerned I’ll get distracted and miss parts of the text. However, since my current commute is close to an hour each way and I’ll be working more days this winter, I decided to give Audible a try. I just signed up for their 30-day free trial, and my first book will be Lilac Girls. One of the Sorta Awesome hosts mentioned that the people who listened to this particular book seemed to enjoy it more than the people who read it, so I decided to give it a try.

All-Time Favorites

While it’s impossible for me to remember all of the books I’ve read – let alone chose a few favorites – here are some that stick out in my mind as having been especially enjoyable reads:

What’s your reading style? What are some of your all-time favorite reads?

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I Heart Subscription Services

Where I grew up, there was no home delivery of the mail. Instead, we had to drive to the post office – just a couple of miles down the road, in my family’s case – and pick up our mail there. As a result, the mail has always been exciting to me, something special. Even today – when we don’t receive much more than catalogs, junk mail, and the very rare greeting card via snail mail – I’m still filled with anticipation as I walk up the driveway and open the mailbox. You just never know what could be in there!!

I think this is the driving force behind my love of subscription services. I’m not talking about magazines here – although I love those, too. I’m talking about the something-of-the-month clubs. These days, there’s every kind of “of-the-month” club: fruit, books, razors, lingerie, snacks, flowers, tea… pretty much anything you can think of. I’ve subscribed to a variety of them in the past and currently, and because I love receiving them so much, I also love giving them as gifts. As a bonus, you can order them online, and can send the recipient an email announcing your gift, almost immediately. (Are you hearing me, last-minute shoppers?? If it’s Christmas Eve, and you still need a present for Aunt Martha, consider sending her the gift of a subscription service.)

My Favorite Subscription Services

Birchbox. I’ve tried a bunch of makeup and skin care subscription services, and all have pluses and minuses. What I like about Birchbox is the low price – only $10 per month – and the fact that they send samples, rather than full-size products. This way, I can try a variety of different things, and I’m not stuck with a large amount of something I don’t like.

Stitch Fix. You may have read about my love-hate relationship with Stitch Fix, but overall, I’m a fan. Even though they don’t always “get” me, the styling fee is pretty low – $20 – and is applied to the purchase of any item you keep. Also, you can schedule Fixes monthly, bimonthly, or just order one whenever you feel like it.

Highlights Which Way USA. Just like her mom, my daughter loves word searches, mazes, and other games. She recently received a subscription to Highlights Magazine, and while on their website, I discovered their Which Way USA Book Club.  Every three weeks, she receives a set of books about two different states. The books are full of games and activities that teach geography and facts about the states. There’s also a map of each state included. We just received her first set, and she absolutely loves it.

Mighty Fix. I love to learn about new-to-me, green products, and the Mighty Fix from Mighty Nest is a fantastic way to do so. For $10 per month (shipping included), they send a green product for the home, whose value is at least $10. In addition, I can purchase any other products from them, and they will ship with my Mighty Fix for free! Also, you can designate the school of your choice to receive 15% of your Mighty Nest purchase as a donation. Talk about a win-win-win!

A Few Others I’d Like To Try (Hint, Hint, Dear…)

  • Beekman 1802 Beauty Box. Ever since I watched The Fabulous Beekman Boys and read The Bucolic Plague, I’ve been a huge fan of Josh and Brent, and their company, Beekman 1802. And since I’m a lover of soap and skin care products, I’d really like to try their quarterly Beauty Box.
  • Book of the Month Club. I buy very few books for myself these days, since we have a shortage of shelving in our house, and our local library is fantastic. Still, I would love to have a new book – chosen from five different options – sent to me every month.
  • Mask Maven. Regular facials are a bit too pricey for me to justify, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that I need to take better care of my skin. Masks are a fun, relaxing, and inexpensive way to treat my skin. Mask Maven sends subscribers nine masks sourced from Korea and Taiwan, every month.

Which subscription services do you like best?

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Monday Meal Plan #16

Happy Monday! We woke up to about six inches of snow on the ground, and a school cancellation. #itsstillfall Fortunately, it hasn’t gotten too cold, yet, so my daughter and I were able to get some good sledding time in.

Weekend Recap

We had a pretty low-key weekend at home, although we did host my parents for our annual Christmas celebration with them. But first, my husband and I took our daughter to the library for their gingerbread house making program. They provide the space and the materials – and the clean-up!! They don’t skimp on decorations, either. There are various kinds of sprinkles, candies, cookies, and pretzels for adorning the houses.

Hard at work!

My parents arrived Saturday afternoon. We had lunch with them, chatted, opened presents, and had our (very) early Christmas dinner with them. I had planned to make my grandmother’s shrimp scampi recipe, but remembered that my mother doesn’t like shellfish. Instead I made the Spinach in Puff Pastry recipe from Barefoot in Paris. I love it – but then again, I love anything in puff pastry! I also made the Endive, Pear, and Roquefort Salad recipe from the same book, although I left the egg yolk out of the vinaigrette. My parent spent the night at our house, then left after a quick lunch on Sunday. The rest of my day included reading the Sunday NY Times, eating, and napping. A pretty good Sunday in my book!

The Week Ahead

This is going to be my least busy week in a while. We have no holiday events or activities, nor any extracurricular activities. (Tonight’s Brownies’ meeting was cancelled because school was closed.) I’m meeting a friend for coffee tomorrow, and have a doctor’s appointment on Thursday, but they’re both during the day. (One other thing I’m looking forward to this week is the installation of our tankless hot water heater.) Our NYC trip next weekend is definitely the most exciting part of our week. (And not just because it means I’ll get two nights off from cooking!)

This Week’s Meal Plan

  • Monday: Pasta with Sunday Slow Cooker Beef Ragu (from the freezer)
  • Tuesday: Weeknight Black Bean Chili w/ rice
  • Wednesday: Leftovers
  • Thursday: Eggs, bacon, and toast – brinner!!
  • Friday: Dinner at my parents’ house
  • Saturday: Dinner out in NYC
  • Sunday: Ravioli with frozen veggies

What’s for dinner at your house this week??

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Advice from a Career Counselor: Majors Don’t Matter

I work as a career counselor at a liberal arts college. I meet individually with students, and help them navigate various aspects of the career search and planning process. This includes everything from identifying jobs that appeal to them, to writing resumes and cover letters, to preparing for interviews. (More details on my job are here.)

If I had a nickel for every time a student told me they were meeting with me because their parent(s) insisted they come to the career center, I’d be a retired career counselor. And while I strongly applaud parents for encouraging their children to engage with our office, there are several things I wish I could tell the parents of my students. This post, focuses on one of them.

Majors Don’t Matter

A common refrain that I hear from students goes something like this: “I’m a history/English/philosophy/sociology/American studies major, but I don’t want to be a teacher. Is there anything else I can do??” Often, this is voiced by students who are seeking advice selecting their major, and they complain that their parent(s) have told them that they won’t be able to get a job with their major of choice.

As a career counselor, this is one of my favorite student dilemmas to assist with, because the answer is simple and freeing: majors don’t matter (for the most part). Sure, if you want to be an engineer, you need to major in engineering. Ditto for computer science and a handful of other fields. But if you want to go to medical or law school, be a teacher, work in business or at a nonprofit, it really doesn’t matter what you major in. For most careers, employers simply don’t care about what you majored in. Yes, your major goes on your resume and employers will probably ask you how you chose it, but it’s not likely to be a factor in their hiring decisions – at all.

Skills and Experience Matter

If employers don’t care about students’ majors, what do they care about? Their skills and experience. Have they effectively collaborated with others before? Can they work under time constraints and pressure? Are they able to write a clear, concise, and compelling email/press release/project plan? Do they have the analytical skills necessary to solve a complex problem? These are the types of things employers really care about. How do we know this? Because in countless surveys, this is what they tell us. In fact, in one recent survey, verbal communication skills were the most desired trait by employers, while technical knowledge about the job was only the seventh most desired.

How do students acquire these skills? Just like anything else, these skills are acquired through experience and practice. In college, this can mean internships, extracurricular activities, part-time work, and class projects (among other things). What this means is that parents who question their children’s choice of major, should instead focus on helping them maximize their opportunities to develop the skills required for the types of job(s) they’re interested in.

Go ahead, get on your kid’s case to come into the career center!! But encourage them to work on sharpening their skills and experience while they’re there, not choosing the “right” major.

What was your college major?

Monday Meal Plan #15

Monday Meal Plan

Weekend Recap

We had one of those blissful, quiet weekends at home. On Saturday, I took my daughter to a Brownies (Girl Scouts) masquerade party at the library. While she was there, I got coffee with the mother of one her friends. We hadn’t caught up in a while, so it was great to have a couple of hours together.

I didn’t leave the house on Sunday. I got a good amount of cleaning done, read some of my current book, and caught up on some important lounging.

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Oh, and we ate way too much delicious crumb cake all weekend. I’m a huge lover of crumb cake and coffee cake – Is there a difference? – but I had never made them before. I tried the (easy) recipe in Martha Stewart Baking, and the cake is wonderful. (It should be. Between the cake and the crumb topping, there are almost five sticks of butter in the recipe.)

The Week Ahead

This week is going to be busier than usual. My daughter has a Brownies meeting until 5:30 tonight – thus, the quick and easy dinner I’m making. Tomorrow is the second grade holiday concert at 6pm. I understand why the school schedules the concert at this time, but, man, does it make for a hectic evening. My mother is coming up to attend the concert with us, and she’ll stay over tomorrow night. We’ll pick up a pizza on the way home from the concert. On Wednesday, my daughter’s Brownies troop is singing at our town’s Christmas tree lighting, making it a perfect leftovers night.

On Saturday, my parents are coming up for our Christmas celebration. Our tradition is to spend Christmas Eve at home, just the three of us, then drive to my husband’s family’s house in New Jersey on Christmas day. Since we don’t see my parents at any point during the Christmas holiday, we get together with them for an early Christmas celebration every year. We have a nice dinner and dessert together, then open our presents for each other. (We’re doing it a bit early this year, because my husband, my daughter, and I will be in NYC the weekend before Christmas.) This year I’m planning to make my Italian grandmother’s shrimp scampi recipe. She was a fantastic cook, and made big, delicious Sunday dinners for many, many years. I was thrilled when I found her hand-written scampi recipe, a couple of years after she died. I’ve meant to try it before, but haven’t, so a family gathering seems like a great time to make it.

Meal Plan

Here’s what’s on my dinner meal plan this week:

  • Monday: Pasta with garlic, tomatoes, and spinach (my vegetarian take on Ree Drummond’s Chicken Pasta Florentine)
  • Tuesday: (School concert at 6pm) Pizza and salad
  • Wednesday: (Town tree lighting at 7:30pm) Leftovers
  • Thursday: Beef burrito casserole (I didn’t get to this last week.)
  • Friday: Leftovers
  • Saturday: (Christmas dinner with my parents) Grandma’s shrimp scampi w/pasta and green beans
  • Sunday: Baked ziti (Another one I didn’t get to last week)

What’s for dinner at your house this week?

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What’s Up Wednesday: November, 2016

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It’s time for November’s “What’s Up Wednesday” post… on a Friday… in December!

What We’re Eating This Week

At my daughter’s request, I made her favorite macaroni and cheese recipe for dinner one night, and the tray has lasted for days! I enjoy it, but after eating it for dinner twice, I’m ready to move on. We’re also having one of my favorite easy and tasty meals this week, taco salads. And I’m planning to try a new-to-me soup recipe, too. You can read my full, weekly meal plan here.

What I’m Reminiscing About

The memories that Facebook shares have been killing me lately! They make me think about all of the fun, holiday events and activities we’ve done with our daughter over the years: breakfasts and sundaes with Santa(s), caroling, and making gingerbread houses.

What I’m Loving

I’m not going to lie: I’m loving having time off from work during the holiday season. It makes it a lot easier to get things done, including progress toward completing my winter break goals.

Also, I’m really loving seeing holiday decorations everywhere I go. For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved looking at them. My tastes have certainly evolved over the years, but beautiful lights, trees and garland make me very happy at this time of year.

What We’ve Been Up To

The past couple of weeks have been full of holiday preparations. I made several desserts for Thanksgiving, and then we traveled to Massachusetts to spend the holiday with my sister and her family. When we returned home, we got our Christmas tree and all of the decorations went up in our house. I also tackled much of my holiday shopping online during the Black Friday and Cyber Monday events.

 What I’m Dreading

We’re taking on a very expensive home project this month: replacing our water heater. When our heating system was serviced in October, the repairman showed me a very  small area of corrosion on our water heater. This led my husband to research the exact age of our tank, and what its normal lifespan should be. It turns out that our tank is 12.5 years old, and its average lifespan is 12-15 years. Rather than wait until it fails and our basement is full of water, we decided to replace it now. And while it’s a bit more costly than getting another conventional water heater, we’re switching to a more energy-efficient tankless hot water heater. I’m very happy that we’ve made this decision, but I’m not looking forward to writing that check.

What I’m Working On

I’m in the early stages of planning my Christmas cookie baking. I like to make a couple of kinds for our family, and then large batches of four or five kinds to leave in the main office at my daughter’s school, as a thank you for the staff.

One nightly project my husband and I have been working on is our elf on a shelf. We alternate nights, so neither one of us is called on to come up with creative ideas two nights in a row. While it can feel like a chore at times, our daughter’s delight in finding the elf every morning more than makes up for it.

What I’m Excited About

Later in the month, we’re taking our daughter to New York City for a weekend. It’ll be her first trip there during the holiday season, and she’s going to love all of the lights and decorations. We’re going to see Cirque du Soleil’s NYC show, Paramour, eat dinner at a restaurant overlooking Rockefeller Plaza and the tree, and spend a night in a hotel. I’m really looking forward to it!

What I’m Watching/Reading

Post-election, I’ve cut my television news consumption dramatically. I’ve dabbled a bit in some History Channel shows lately, including American Pickers, and a  show about the history behind the channel’s drama about the Vikings. The latter made me realize I want to read more books about history.

Speaking of reading, I’ve been neglecting my fall reading list, and instead have been reading a lot of magazines and blogs. Also, my husband got me a Sunday New York Times subscription, and I’ve been reading as much of that paper as possible, every week. There’s so much good stuff in it!!

I’ve also read close to half of The Power of Habit. I really enjoyed the first section, but the second section has been less interesting to me.

What I’m Listening To

I finally caught up on all past episodes of Jean Chatzky’s, HerMoney podcast, and while I still regularly listen to my other favorites, I’m also looking for some new podcasts to add to my list. (Any recommendations??)

What I’m Wearing

All warm and cozy clothes, all of the time. I think I’ve pulled out my entire inventory of winter layers now, and they’re all that I wear these days.

What I’m Doing This Weekend

We don’t have very many plans for this weekend. Saturday afternoon, my daughter has a masquerade party with her Brownies troop. Another mom and I are grabbing lunch and catching up, while our daughters are at the party. Also, my mother is coming up for a few days next week, so I’ll be prepping the guest room and doing some general house cleaning on Sunday, in anticipation of her arrival. And I’ll be doing more reading, of course.

What I’m Looking Forward to Next Month

Christmas, of course!!