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I write about a lot of things — whatever’s going on in my life at the time, whether that’s traveling, getting in shape, reading, etc, and sometimes thoughts about where I’m headed, or where I’ve been. As a former librarian I’m a little obsessed with books, and as a tech geek I love all things Apple, Kindle and in-between. I love food more than it good for me, and my viewing habits range from “Downton Abbey” to “Modern Family” and back around again. I have two cats, a wonderful husband, and the rest is subject to change without notice.

geek vs. nerd edition

from http://xkcd.com/747/

Geeks like cool tech stuff. We like gadgets, electronic thingamabobs, we can fix your laptop and we often have a spare USB drive just when you need one. Nerds, on the other hand, know a lot about Star Trek, always win at Trivia Night, and recognize the African Anteater Ritual when they see it. I’m both, and proudly so.

For the record, though, in my opinion, the level of enjoyment I’ve gotten out of setting up shop at my brand new spiffy site, whatamiholdingonto.com, marks what is probably both my geekiest and nerdiest moment to date. I mean, registering a domain and setting up a self-hosted blog, that’s just mildly geeky. Gleefully looking forward to playing with plugins all weekend? Pricelessly nerdy.

how did I get here?

yearbook1

With my name spelled wrong and everything.

This is me, in high school. I was voted Most Likely to Succeed. I’m not mentioning that to brag — the opposite, really. It’s more that I sometimes ask myself, how did I get here, from there? Wasn’t I supposed to end up doing something, I don’t know, important?

Honestly, I started out on the wrong foot: the only thing I ever wanted to be when I grew up was an astronaut. This, despite a fear of heights, speed, fire and airless places, also no aptitude for science and an utter lack of the physical skills needed for astronaut-ing, made that particular goal a pipe dream. So when I graduated from high school, despite a resounding endorsement from my peers, I had no particular idea what I was going to succeed at. I’d been on Debate Team, and I was pretty good at it too, so my yearbook is filled with a lot of “good luck in law school” comments. I have not, however, ever in my life entertained the idea of attending law school. Too dry. Too dull. (Though, I will say that when I was in about third grade I told my mother I didn’t want to be President someday, I wanted to be a Supreme Court judge. Presidents only get to keep their job for 8 years at most. Supreme Court judges get hired for life. This future union member already knew the value of job security.)

During orientation in my first week at Cornell, I wandered into the open house for the Department of Theatre, Film and Dance. Four years later I graduated with a background in costumes and directing. Three months later I quit graduate school before I’d even started, and for the next five years or so I worked at mostly meaningless jobs that didn’t quite pay the bills.

Sooner or later I decided I needed, you know, a career, or something. And in 1998, believe it or not, Library Science was a good field to study if you wanted a job. When I graduated with my Master’s from UB, there were recruiters at the school every semester. I had three job offers to pick from. I chose Amherst Museum. And that’s where I spent the next decade as a solo librarian. I had a great time organizing my library, processing the archives, getting involved in regional professional organizations like WNYLRC, where I spent some time on the Board. It was a terrific experience. I’d be lying, though, if I told you I was following my heart’s desire. Being a librarian mostly appealed to the OCD part of me that liked organizing things. That still likes organizing things. But I saw people who had passion for librarianship. I wasn’t one of them. So when I stopped being a librarian, I missed my colleagues, but not the rest.

So I never did get around to deciding what I wanted to be when I grew up. Now, to be frank, Dave and I both try our best to work as little as possible. :-) I have a job but it’s not anything worth mentioning; it’s just a job, not a career. I’m not really anything, professionally, and probably never will be. I’m just a little surprised that doesn’t bother me more.

You know, it’s twenty-five years since that picture was in my yearbook, and I look at it now and think, if I’d done a few things differently, maybe I would have fulfilled that promise and done something “important”. There were few times I believe, objectively, that I made the wrong choice. I should have picked a different major in college, or a different graduate school for theatre, or a different library to work in. Those were turning points for me. And it clarifies things for me to see that now, definitely. But in the age-old tradition of everyone who’s lucky enough to be happy, it doesn’t mean I’d go back and change anything now, if I could. Because whatever I did, right or wrong, I ended up somewhere I want to be. I didn’t succeed the way I thought I was going to, or the way my high school classmates apparently expected I would, but I wouldn’t trade my life for the world, wrong turns, failures, and all.

how I learned to love the elliptical and eat chocolate every day

elliptical1I work out every day. Every. Damn. Day. Some people love to exercise. I’m not one of those people. But despite my dread, I push myself to it anyhow, because I know it makes me stronger, gets my metabolism moving, and it allows me to eat a Reese’s in peace.

In the summer, I swim — great for you all around, and better for my back  — but in this long, bleak, frozen winter of our discontent, I’m forced into the gym. I use the bike a lot, and I’ve recently started getting used to the elliptical. Mind you, the first time I climbed onto that medieval torture device, after 30 seconds I wanted to confess to being a heretic so I could burn at the stake instead. But after a few more tries I got the hang of it and I’m building up to spending half my work out that way.

This isn’t my first time to the rodeo. I’ve done this before. But I think I didn’t keep it off because I hadn’t learned moderation. I got in the low-cal zone and I denied myself *everything*, and when I was done (there’s a mistake right there) and fell off the wagon, I fell big time. I don’t want that to happen again, so I’m being more reasonable with myself this time. If we constantly deny ourselves, we’re guaranteeing that we’ll eventually fail. Because you’re never “done”. It’s never over. Since this is it for the rest of my life, I need eat responsibly but not miserably if I’m going to succeed.

There are a lot of people who’ll tell you you’re doing it wrong, this way. I use MyFitnessPal and it’s a great app, but I don’t spend a lot of time in the discussion forums. It can be kind of crazypants judgy in there. “Hey look at me” syndrome is alive and well in weight loss communities. Look at how fast I’m losing, look at how under calorie goal I am, look at me, look at me, look at me. You can get an inferiority complex really easily. Just remember, it’s not a race. Or if it is, it’s one the tortoise is going to win in the end, not the hare.

For what it’s worth, here’s what I do, and what works for me. It’s not a quick fix, but it’s not all that hard, either, once you set your mind to it:

Count all your calories. All of them. It’s boring, by the way, just so you know. Tedious. But do it. Exercise often. Also potentially tedious. Try podcasts, or audiobooks, or Netflix. Eat lots of veggies and fiber but eat the things you like, too, just in moderation. A Hershey’s kiss has 22 calories — if you need a sweet treat, just have a couple of those. Be kind to yourself. Don’t get on the scale too often (too bad I don’t listen to my own advice on that one). The number will go down, over a period of time, but not all at once. And give yourself a day off, now and then, and enjoy yourself. Enjoy food, enjoy a break from vigilance. Then rinse, reuse, and repeat.

Long lost Dr Seuss book, “What Pet Should I Get?” to be released in July

whatpetcoverRandom House Children’s Books said on Wednesday it will publish a recently discovered manuscript with illustrations called What Pet Should I Get? this summer, on July 28, 2015. The book was most likely written between 1958 and 1962 (Theodore Geisel died in 1991) and features the same brother and sister seen in Dr. Seuss’s 1960 classic, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. This newly-discovered story is available for pre-order from Amazon.com and other bookstores.

via Long lost Dr Seuss book What Pet Should I Get? to be released in July | Books | The Guardian.

Book review: At the Water’s Edge, by Sara Gruen

atthewatersAlthough I was not a huge fan of Sara Gruen’s previous bestseller, Water for Elephants, I decided to give this novel a try — the setting of Scotland was far more interesting to me, and I’m a fan of most historical fiction, though not usually WWII. And who can resist a trio of friends searching for the Loch Ness monster?

I should have been unsurprised, though, the have the same milquetoast response to At the Water’s Edge as I did to Gruen’s earlier work. It wasn’t bad, not in any sense. The story was compelling and I wanted to know how it ended… especially mid-book or so, when it seemed like nothing had happened for some time, I really wanted to know how it ended… but the characters just missed the mark. Gruen’s talent seems to be for fantastical settings and detailed world-building, but when it comes to the people inhabiting her written sphere, there’s something to be desired.

Everyone is interesting and creatively imagined, but not at all fully fleshed out. Maddie is the one we get the best feel for, as the narrator. Ellis and Hank were two-dimensional and barely differentiated from each other. The people Maddie and her companions encounter at the inn, in Scotland, had no real character development, — even including Angus, whose role becomes rather important. He was delivered here as little more than a dark-haired Jamie Fraser, and with a dark past that frankly paled in comparison to that of Diana Gabaldon’s hero. There a bit of a derivative feel in other places, too. Certain plot points felt a bit too much like an early season of “Downton Abbey”, albeit with a different war as the backdrop.

The end — where we leave our heroine, and where everyone ends up — was satisfying, so that improved my experience of reading it. Certainly some readers will enjoy the book as a whole more than I did. It would make a good read for a plane trip, or at the beach on vacation, but I can’t recommend it any higher than that.

At the Water’s Edge will be available in hardcover, large print and Kindle format on March 31, 2015. I received an Advance Reader Copy courtesy of Random House for the purposes of review.

how to lose a Super Bowl

Jim-KellyIf there’s one thing Buffalo knows, it’s how to lose a Super Bowl. I mean, we had a lot of practice. (For the record, it’s not like this.)

The four years the Buffalo Bills went to the Super Bowl happened to be the same four years I was away at college. I missed out on some of the hometown fervor but I camped out every Sunday in the dorm’s TV room, often with my friend and fellow Bills fan Mark, holding out hope for a miracle. (We even got to watch the Comeback Game, something Buffalonians missed out on as it’d been blacked out at home.)

That first year, it was so exciting, with Jim Kelly leading our hurry-up offense and an amazing defense. We should have taken it that year, but Parcells and Belicheck beat us — the Giants played a better game. And the Bills got in their own way, with stupid screw-ups and missed opportunities. It was close, though. Three feet wide to the right close.

The second time, it was another great season with everything clicking. The Bills bulldogged their way through the playoffs and thought they’d avenge the previous year’s loss — we were experienced now, we wouldn’t spook easily, we’d get the job done. Except not, because apparently Thurman Thomas couldn’t even keep track of his helmet, and at halftime the Redskins had a 17-0 lead. The final score was 37 to 24, but it wasn’t even that close of a game. By the fourth quarter, I think the Redskins were letting their season ticket holders play.

You’d think that was embarrassing enough, but the Bills were just about to learn all about shame in Super Bowl XXVII, the following year. We’d fought and fought hard all season — Jim Kelly going out injured in the final game of the season, Frank Reich bringing the Bills to victory in the wildcard playoff game against the Oilers, in the greatest football comeback of all time. Straight on through to the Super Bowl, we were on fire… and then Dallas beat us in a crushing 52-17 loss. It was humiliating. Watching that game and its NINE Bills turnovers, you had to develop a sense of humor about it all, or you’d just have cried your eyes out.

Heartbreakingly, we had one more shot. In 1993 we went all the way back to the Super Bowl and against the Cowboys again. Everyone cringed in fear at the possibility of another humiliation, but the stars seemed to align in our favor. At half-time, we had the lead. I allowed myself to hope. We all did. I’ll never forget taking a break from the TV room and going up to my room, confiding in a friend that the curse might finally be over. It wasn’t, of course. The tides turned, Thurman fumbled, and the Cowboys went on to trounce us, 30 to 13.

It was over. I think we all knew. The Bills had a decent season the next year, and some people held faith that we’d “strive for five”, but it didn’t happen. Sadly, it’s been a steady decline for the Bills since then. With free agency and the passage of time, all the great players of the early 90s were soon gone. Coaches came and went. Quarterbacks came and went. Last year, a new owner, even, after the passing of Ralph Wilson at the age of 95.

Someday, the Bills will turn it around again. It’ll be their turn. And maybe those Bills will eclipse the memory of those four years of losses. To be honest, though, I kind of hope not. I mean, we lost, I know. Four times. Four-time Super Bowl losers. Four times we were the 1st Runner Up, and not Miss America. It’s kind of sad, except it was kind of cool, in its own way, too.

Four times we were the second-best team in the league, in a row. That’s more than every other team but one could say, each of those years. Four years in a row we had the pleasure of watching a great team pull together, and as a city we pulled with them. We all had our favorite players — mine were Andre Reed and Bruce Smith — but they all contributed to that dynasty. Thurman Thomas, Steve Tasker, Darryl Talley, Don Beebe, Cornelius Bennett, Kent Hull… the list goes on, but the more I watch football, the more I appreciate what a great quarterback Jim Kelly was. The no-huddle offense, the K-gun, the way he’d scramble in the pocket. What I admire him most for now, though, was his ability to lose and maintain grace under pressure. More than grace — energy. He never gave up. Failure just seemed to spur him on. Jim Kelly could throw an interception, and walk off the field with a grin, sometimes clapping his hands. The first year or two it drove me crazy — he’d just screwed up! He should look embarrassed! Our old quarterback, Joe Ferguson, would hang his head in shame after he’d messed up. But there was Kelly, looking like he’d just scored instead of handed the ball over to the other team. It was maddening, but then I realized what he was doing. He wasn’t proud of an error, he was confident that it was just a blip in the radar. Two seconds after something went wrong on the field, he was thinking ahead about how to get it right the next time. And he was focused on that, on how to achieve a win, instead of mired down in how it felt to lose.

So, in other words, Seattle, my advice is — you may have done something the Bills didn’t by winning the big game last year, but you could still learn a little something from Jim Kelly and his team. Don’t hang your head. Don’t be sore losers. Don’t start fights on the last play of the game. Just get right back on the horse and play like you’re in it to win it.

day 200 and counting

hershey-bar-nutrition-factsI’ve been dieting — counting calories, eating healthier, embracing a healthier lifestyle, sacrificing calories to Zuul, whatever you want to call it — for 200 days now. Two hundred portion-limited, fun filled days. Just 15,000 or so to go.

It’s actually been going well. I’ve lost 39-ish pounds as of today, and mostly it’s been not too awful. We’ve got a lot of good recipes for our dinner rotation, and we’ve found a few takeout places with lower-calories options, when we need a break from cooking. I exercise every day and I’m looking forward to going back to the pool in the summer. But… the holidays aren’t entirely easy. Or the weekends. Or the days in between. And maybe it’s just the realization, this time around, that it’s never going to be over, really. You can’t just cut calories for a month or a year or two, lose the weight, and then go back to eating whatever you want. There is no eating whatever you want, not really ever again. (Unless I get to my 80s, in which case, you know, screw it, I’m throwing caution to the winds.)

I take breaks for special occasions — Thanksgiving, Christmas, our anniversary. I know it helps to take a break from the regimen every now and then; if you deprive yourself all the time, sooner or later you’re going to hit a wall and lose your mojo. But special occasions have to be special — you have to pick and choose, and not turn every weekend into a chance to cheat. The holidays really are hard. No one has a weight problem because they indulge on Christmas Day. It’s when you graze happily through the entire holiday season that you get into trouble. I’ve always found it hard to stick to a diet when you work in an office, too. It’s like every time you turn around someone is bringing in donuts, ordering out for lunch, bringing in cake. Ah, cake… sorry, I just drooled on the keyboard a little there.

I know it’s worth it. I’m getting healthier all the time. When we go on our cruise next year I’m going to be in good shape and feel a lot better about myself, physically and mentally. These are good things and good goals. Still, though. Too often it feels like the world is one big gooey-cheesy-chocolately-crispy-fried wonderland that I have to say “No, thank you” to, when what I really want to do is yell, “Yes, please!” as I grab seconds.

the best and worst Christmases

Xmas-Garfield-TreeOur days-until-Christmas chain is almost gone. I’ve been looking forward to this Christmas very much — the celebrating, the presents, seeing friends and being generally festive. And I was thinking this morning about the best Christmases I can remember, and contrarily, because I’m a glass-half-empty kind of gal, about some of the worst.

We were really poor when I was growing up. Thanks to a father who’d decided he wasn’t responsible for the kids he’d had, nor was particularly worried about his nine-year-old daughter having a roof over her head, my mother struggled a lot. There were some years where it was hard for her to keep up with the bills and the groceries, let alone presents. I never felt like I went without, though, so lord only knows how she managed. I remember one year about a week before Christmas, when I was 11 or so, she gave me twenty dollars to shop for presents to give, of my own. She said, “For the person who loves Christmas and loves to give gifts more than anyone, you should have a chance to do that this year.” I don’t remember any of the gifts I received that year, but I remember that twenty bucks, and buying little trinkets for my family, feeling so thrilled. It was barely anything but it must have been hard for her to scrape that together for me, and it makes me sad thinking about that now. Was that one of the worst Christmases? I worry it was — for her. But for me, it was one of the best.

Norman Rockwell and a legion of retailers’ advertisements aside, some families fight during the holidays. It’s the heightened emotions, the gathering of people who often aren’t together, the complicated traveling plans that make you anxious. My family was no exception, and I can remember a few humdingers over the years. I mean, only once did someone throw a punch. :) Some people have never experienced this, and I applaud your relatives’ self restraint and mastery of passive aggression. For most, it’s just the occasional rolled eyes and those awkward, mildly ugly moments. That kind of thing is worth overlooking. But in my opinion, when the words (or fists) get too harsh, though, it’s time to make different plans for the holidays.

There’ve been some really nice Christmases in there, too. The Festival of Lights in Niagara Falls was always so beautiful. I would go with family, later with friends; they stopped doing much on the US side, but the Canadian side still has amazing displays that Dave and I went to every year we could. My cousin and I used to go to Fort Erie, enjoy Chinese food at Happy Jack’s, then drive up the Canadian side to look at all the gorgeous houses and their decorations. Christmas concerts at school (once our chorus sang backup to Andy Williams on “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”; let’s just say Andy’s personality wasn’t very wonderful) and nice festive times shopping, meeting friends, having fun.

The nicest Christmas I remember was in 2002. Mom and I went to Wegmans to do our grocery shopping for the holidays, probably on the 20th or so, a few days before Christmas. While we were still working hard to make ends meet, things were a little better. We’d moved into a nice duplex a year or so before, we both had steady jobs and benefits. We had debt and we couldn’t afford a lot of luxuries, but we were okay. And we were looking forward to having a great Christmas feast at home (ham? roast? I don’t remember) with a yummy dessert for just the two of us. We were at the Wegmans on Alberta Drive and it was packed with holiday shoppers, but it was wonderful. Everything was decorated and festive, there was a band playing Christmas carols at the cafe, and everywhere you looked there were treats and tidbits and holiday concoctions, families getting ready for gatherings, everyone in a cheery mood. We shopped and lingered and later agreed it was the nicest thing ever, just being out in the holiday crowd, together, getting ready for our Christmas at home.

Right around now, everyone from your co-worker to the guy driving next to you with his bumper sticker to Linus wants to tell you what the true meaning of Christmas is, but I’m not going to jump on that bandwagon. Christmas is what you make of it, good or bad. It can be about your faith, about your family, about presents or egg nog or about the Grinch. My only advice is to spend it just the way you want to, and not the way you feel you should, unless those two coincide.

Merriest of merries, to one and all.

hayward house

8404866A little over four years ago, Dave and I were planning a trip to the Finger Lakes — to Ithaca, to see my friends. Or rather, to give my friends a chance to inspect my new boyfriend. (I think we decided he was a keeper.) The hotel I’d expected us to say at unexpectedly raised its rates, and I found myself saying to Dave, “How do you feel about bed & breakfasts?” After a short search and reading a few reviews, we booked a weekend at The Hayward House, and that’s how we found one of our favorite places in the world.

IMG_1357The Hayward House is in Interlaken, NY, and sort of in the middle of nowhere. I mean, not really, but it feels that way, in a good way. Driving up to it at night for the first time, gravel crunching underneath the tires and no lights, like, anywhere, you get a little worried you’ve unknowingly landed a part in Blair Witch 3. But when you get there, it’s a warm beacon if wonderfulness, a beautiful house and an amazing place to stay.

IMAG0270We’ve been back many times — a few more times when we were dating, the weekend before our wedding for a nice retreat, and just last year, in the summer. We’ve gone on the cheese trail, on sailboat rides, visited the nearby Amish market for cookies, honey and yogurt, and visited friends in the area. We’ve always loved it there — the same beautiful West View room with the lovely bedspread, the cozy chairs, and the stuffed cow that lives on the bed (I call him “Moo Moo Cow”), the alpacas next door (we got to see a newborn last visit) and the various animal residents all around.

IMG_1341The breakfasts are completely amazing — Kevin is a phenomenal cook and Michelle’s not bad herself — and we’ve always looked forward to them with glee. There is usually one other couple there when we are (though once it was just us). You meet some interesting people, some nice, some a little odd. One couple kept complaining that there was too much food… as if they force-feed you asparagus tarts and bacon and egg fritattas and delicious juice… They left the table early, which, frankly, meant more quiche for us that day. (And the house is spacious and people go their own way, so breakfast is the only time you have to socialize with anyone, just in case you get a dud like that.)

7733912_origThe Hayward House is one of our favorite places to be, hands down, anywhere in the world. And it’s a special place for Dave and I, as we went there together when we’d just gotten together, and have gone back for so many other milestones and special times. We’ll always cherish every memory we’ve made there. Recently, it went up for sale, and I hope whoever takes guardianship of this special place next continues its lovely traditions, either as a B&B or a home, of simple grace, peace and harmony.