Small Pleasures: July Edition

In my small corner of the world, July is the sweltering zenith of summer.  Small pleasures abound this time of year: the smell of growing corn, the buzz of cicadas, the cool sweetness of watermelon, the willy-nilly flight of small bats at dusk, the delicious reprieve of air-conditioning.  The list is endless but there are a few pleasures I’ve been especially thankful for this month.

Kan Jam.  My competitive family is hooked on this fun Frisbee game and we’ve spent many sultry summer evenings playing together.  Anything that entices my teenagers to hang with their dad and me is going to be at the top of my happy list.  Prime family time and some exercise to boot – a perfect summer pleasure.

Fruit smoothies.  About two years ago, I had a momentary lapse in good judgement and attempted The Fast Metabolism Diet.  The diet was an abysmal failure overall but it introduced me to a simple, no-fuss, guilt-free recipe for fruit smoothies that is perfect for the summer.  They are so refreshing AND are a healthy substitute for those Coke slushies I also adore.

4 day work week.  Most faculty members at the local community college where I work have 9-month contracts.  I have a 12-month contract because of my specific teaching and clinical responsibilities so I’m on campus all year.  When summer rolls around, the college operates on a four day work week.  This means I’ve been enjoying 3 day weekends with Fridays off all month.  Do I need to explain how much I am enjoying this?  I didn’t think so.

The Man in the High Castle mini-series.  This Amazon original series is based on Philip K. Dick’s book by the same name, an alternative history/sci-fi tale set in a 1960’s United States after Japan and Nazi Germany have won WWII.  The alternative history aspect has been fascinating but it is often dark and brutal – the Nazis and Japanese are still behaving as they did during the war.  Even though we aren’t exactly sure what’s going on, the content is thought-provoking and addictive.  My husband, youngest son and I have watched the entire first season this month.  The second season is scheduled for sometime later this year and we can’t wait!

Ice cream from Pine View Dairy.  One dip of peanut butter curl ice cream on a waffle cone, to be precise.  I’ve been indulging far more often than is reasonable but, really, who could blame me?

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I hope you’ve had the opportunity to indulge in small happinesses this month.  Please tell me about them in the comments!

The Cherry on Top: Old Hill Cidery

This week’s prompt for The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge is “Cherry on Top”.  As an explanation, Michelle offers:

“The cherry on top. The icing on the cake. Or, as the straightforward folks at Oxford Dictionaries explain it, “a desirable feature perceived as the finishing touch to something that is already very good.”

My most recent “cherry on top” experience happened on the return leg of a road trip through Virginia Jay and I took for our anniversary a few weeks ago.  From the beginning the vacation was exactly what we hoped it would be: relaxing at a gorgeous resort (Primland) between hikes in the Blue Ridge mountains with a very few touristy destinations (like Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest and Chateau Morrisette Winery) thrown in the mix.

The last stop on our journey home required a short detour off Interstate 81 to the town of Timberville, VA.  Our destination? Old Hill Cidery, which we found nestled among rolling hills in the Shenandoah Valley.  The grounds were adorable, the cider tasting was educational and fun, and because we were the only customers in the shop at the time, we enjoyed a friendly conversation with the young woman who ran the shop.  She then directed us behind the shop, where we found a unique “Virginia is for Lovers” sign with a quintessential rural Virginia view.  It was the perfect ending to our anniversary trip, an unexpected and delightful “cherry on top”!

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{ View from the parking area of Old Hill Cidery }

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{ Cider Tasting }

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{ View of the Shenandoah Valley }

Check out other “cherry on top” offerings at The Daily Post.

 

Book Consumption: June 2016 (and a Popsugar Reading Challenge Update)

June was a mixed bag of reading filled with books I loved and books I didn’t.  (I even abandoned a book, which I haven’t done in a long time).  If nothing else, it was a productive month.  I read or listened to nine books but I’m struggling to write reviews for all of them.  Instead of wrestling with the task, I thought I’d provide short summaries along with my Goodreads ratings and then list an up-to-date account of my progress with the Popsugar Reading Challenge.  I hope you are enjoying your summer reading experiences as much as I am…

June Books

As You Wish by Carey Elwes with Joe Layden. (Audiobook).  A wonderful book narrated by Carey Elwes who shares many funny and touching anecdotes related to the making of the modern movie classic The Princess Bride.  (A book written by a celebrity – Popsugar Reading Challenge)   4 stars

Jane, the fox & me by Fanny Britt, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault.  A story, told in graphic novel form, about Hèléne, her stuggles with a group of mean girls who used to be her friends, and her love of Jane Eyre.  A lovely experience with thoughtful illustrations packing as much punch as the words.  It’s not really a graphic novel but I’m counting it as one. (A graphic novel – Popsugar Reading Challenge)   4 stars

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge.  A dark retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairytale that draws heavily on Greek mythology.  I was not a fan of the characters (except for Ignifex, the “Beast”) and the writing annoyed me more than once.   3 stars 

Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart.   This gem offers a fictional account of the troubling events that started Constance Kopp on the road to becoming America’s first female deputy  sheriff.  Eccentric characters and an interesting plot made for a very enjoyable read.   4 stars

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell.  What a fun book!  I was surprised by how much I enjoyed reading this story of a man who falls in love with a woman by secretly reading her security-flagged e-mail interactions with a co-worker.  It’s a well-executed and satisfying piece of fluff.   4 stars

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon.  In West Hall, Vermont, a legendary mystery/ghost story impacts the lives of several present day people.  This is a twisty story that wasn’t quite as scary, thrilling, or suspenseful as I expected it to be.   3 stars

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. (Audiobook).  A sweeping novel of France during WWII that focuses on the decisions, sacrifices and bravery of two sisters and their estranged father.  Listening to this on audio brought the characters to life and allowed me to really savor the story.   4.5 stars

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo.  The first book in the Grisha trilogy which begins the tale of Alina Starkov, an orphan who discovers she has an unusual and powerful gift that changes her destiny but also places her in grave danger.  I read this book in a day, staying up well past my bedtime and then dreaming about it all night.   4 stars

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson.  World War I, societal constraints on women of the early 1900’s and falling in love are some of themes woven throughout this book.  I loved the setting (a small English village ), the time period (beginning of WWI), the characters and the writing.  Very, very good!   (A book published in 2016 – Popsugar Reading Challenge)   4.5 stars

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Did Not Finish:

  • Dune by Frank Herbert.  Lifeless and boring.  Even though it’s a classic and on most must-read book lists, I just. couldn’t. do. it.

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What I’m currently reading:

  • Made to Crave by Lysa Terkeurst.  Some nuggets of inspiration but I’m struggling…
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (audiobook).  Huck can tell some whoppers but he’s got a good heart.
  • The Good Girl by Mary Kubica.  It’s hard to put this book down and go to bed!

2016 Popsugar Reading Challenge Update

  • A book based on a fairy tale:  The Book of Lost Things by John Connelly (4 stars)
  •  A National Book Award winner:  Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo (4.5 stars)
  • A YA bestseller:  Scarlet by Marissa Meyer (3 stars)
  • A book you haven’t read since high school:  A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (4 stars)
  • A book set in your home state:  Killer Angels by Michael Shaara (4.5 stars)
  • A book translated to English:  Spark Joy by Marie Kondo (3 stars)
  • A romance set in the future:  Naked in Death by J.D. Robb (3 stars)
  • A book set in Europe:  I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (4 stars)
  • A book that’s under 150 pages:  The Pearl by John Steinbeck (3.5 stars)
  • A New York Times bestseller:  The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey – audiobook (4.5 stars)
  • A book that’s becoming a movie this year:  Lady Susan by Jane Austin – audiobook (3.5 stars)
  • A book recommended by someone you just met:
  • A self-improvement book:  Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resh (5 stars)
  • A book you can finish in a day:  Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh (5 stars)
  • A book written by a celebrity:  As You Wish by Carey Elwes  – audiobook (4 stars)
  • A political memoir:
  • A book at least 100 years older than you:  Persuasion by Jane Austen (5 stars)
  • A book that’s more than 600 pages:  The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (4 stars)
  • A book from Oprah’s Book Club:
  • A science fiction novel:
  • A book recommended by a family member:
  • A graphic novel:  Jane, the fox & me by Fanny Britt (4 stars)
  • A book that is published in 2016:  The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson (4.5 stars)
  • A book with a protagonist who has your occupation:  The Professor by Charlotte Brontë – audiobook (3.5 stars)
  • A book that takes place during the summer:  Ordinary Grace by William Kent Kreuger (5 stars)
  • A book and its prequel:  Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë – audiobook (5 stars);
  • A murder mystery:  The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – audiobook (4 stars)
  • A book written by a comedian:  Modern Romance: An Investigation by Aziz Ansari – audiobook (3.5 stars)
  • A dystopian novel:  Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (4 stars)
  • A book with a blue cover:  The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah – audiobook (4.5 stars)
  • A book of poetry:
  • The first book you see in a bookstore:  Joyland by Stephen King (4 stars)
  • A classic from the 20th century:
  • A book from the library:  Arabella by Georgette Heyer (4 stars)
  • An autobiography:
  • A book about a road trip:  The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (3.5 stars)
  • A book about a culture you are unfamiliar with:  Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead (3 stars)
  • A satirical book:  The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis – audiobook (4.5 stars)
  • A book that takes place on an island:
  • A book that’s guaranteed to bring you joy:  The Lake House by Kate Morton (4 stars)

It’s been a satisfying year of reading so far for me.  What good stuff have you been reading lately?