Monday, February 28, 2011

Project 52 - Weeks 7, 8, 9

Some of you may have noticed that I haven't posted a Project 52 update in a few weeks. Rest assured that even though I haven't been posting about it, I have been busy keeping up with all my goals and chipping away at my Project 52 list. I simply decided that since posting every week was beginning to bore me, it must really be boring the rest of you. Since many of my goals are weekly goals, I really felt as though I was saying the same thing week, after week, after week. Boring! So I decided to do one update at the end of each month, reflecting back on my progress. Hopefully, that will be less boring for all of us!

Weeks 7-9 were all pretty good weeks for me. I did a decent job of keeping up with my weekly and monthly/multi-event goals and I even crossed off one of my one-time goals! I like those the best. Crossing things off of lists gives me a real sense of accomplishment! Here's my accounting of how I did for the past 3 weeks:

Weekly Goals

3. Cook 3 times per week - I did manage to cook 3 times in Week 7 and 8. But Week 9 was my Home Alone 2 week and I did not cook at all. And I'm proud of that fact! Project 52 goal #3 be damned! Score: 6/52 weeks

10. Walk/Exercise 3 times per week - Success! Weeks 7 and 8 I actually exercised 4 times. Week 9 I just barely got my three times in. Score: 6/52 weeks

30. Pay attention to local politics - Check! I've found that I'm mostly following what's going on in education in our state. But I have forced myself to read other political articles - both local, national and international. I am definitely making a conscious effort to do it (Project 52 is calling...), but if that's what it takes to make me accomplish some of my goals - so be it! Today Geoff even forwarded a political website to me that will send me an email any time RI is mentioned in the news nationwide. All I had to do is subscribe. Now it will be even easier to keep up. This one is harder to score, but as long as I read one article a day I'm counting it as meeting my weekly quota. Score: 8/52

33. Post at least once a week - Yes, by the skin of my teeth. Score: 8/52

34. Write a weekly letter to Katie - Not only did I write to her each week, two of those letters were in care packages! One package was full of Valentine's Day surprises and the other, less exciting package, consisted of shorts and a To Do List she left behind. Gotta love those To Do Lists! Score: 5/32

36. Keep fresh flowers in the family room - Ummm, define "fresh". Week 7 and 8 were no problem. As a matter of fact, Valentine's Day fell during Week 8 and Geoff gave me the most gorgeous bouquet of 3 dozen red roses I have ever seen. They were flown in from Colombia - not sure why- but they are truly lovely and have lasted a long time. However, in Week 9 many of them are looking a little sad. Some are still in good shape, though. I really need to weed out the wilters and make a smaller bouquet of the survivors. So, I'm going to be generous here and give myself Week 9. Score: 8/52.

Monthly and Multi-Event Goals

1. Try one new non-soup recipe a month - I'm hoping to get this one in under the wire. I'm planning on making a Chicken Piccata recipe tonight. However, I've got a crazy late afternoon today and I'm not sure I'm going to be able to pull this off. We'll see. Score: 2?/12 *fingers crossed*

2. Try 6 new soup recipes - I made Italian minestrone and barley soup. Geoff and I loved it. Apparently, barley makes Madeleine gag. She tried one bite and couldn't even manage to let the soup leave the spoon! I've never seen anyone put a spoonful of food in their mouth and then take it right back out. Hysterical! She could not tolerate the texture of the barley. Who knew? I, on the other hand, love barely. I guess I won't be having more any time soon. Score: 3/6

5. Invite my mother to dinner once a month - Does lunch count? Somehow the month got away from me and I never did invite her over. I feel badly about that. But, I did take her out to lunch one day, which is not something I do regularly. Again, I'm going to be generous with myself. After all, it's the spirit of the goals that is really more important than following them to the letter. At least, for me it is. Score: 2/2

14. Write book reviews for all 4 and 5 star books read in 2011 - Well, I'm halfway there. During Weeks 7-9, I read 2 books that I rated 4 stars - The Crucible by Arthur Miller and Inconceivable by Carolyn and Sean Savage. I have written a book review for The Crucible. I will be writing and posting a book review about Inconceivable soon, but it's not ready
yet. Score: 1/2

28. Try 3 swanky restaurants in Providence - 1 down, 2 to go. On Sunday Geoff, Madeleine and I went to Ruth's Chris Steakhouse to celebrate my birthday. It's a beautiful restaurant with a magnificent view of the city. Our meal was delicious and it was a great way to celebrate my birthday.

32. Go to the movies once a month - Nope. Maybe next month.

37. Donate to a charity or cause once a month - Check. Geoff and I like to support our town and this month we donated to the town Boosters. Even though our girls have not been too involved in sports in high school (Katie was on the JV tennis team for two years), we feel that a strong sports program is important to the health and well-being of our town's teens. For us, it is a worthy cause. Score: 2/2

40. Schedule one Mental Health Day a month - I think having 5 days and 4 nights to myself at home definitely qualifies! Score: 2/2

One Time Goals

20. Make a day trip to Boston to explore and get my bearings - Done! I visited the area of Boston around Northeastern University with my friend Barbara. She is somewhat familiar with the area, since her son is a Freshman at Northeastern. We had a great time and I definitely feel like I have a better sense of the city as a whole and that area in particular. I hope to make more trips to Boston to explore further, but this was a good start. Score: Completed!

How about you? How are you doing on your Project 52 goals or New Year's Resolutions? I'd love to hear about your progress.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Home Alone 2

Back in April of last year I wrote a post about having the whole house to myself during my girls' spring break. Well, the heavens smiled upon me again this past week during Madeleine's February vacation. Once again, Geoff and Madeleine flew off to warm and sunny Arizona and I stayed behind to enjoy some peace and quiet. Five days and four nights to myself.

And I did enjoy it, but I also came to a huge revelation. I really don't need to have the house to myself to have time to myself. My everyday life is already pretty amazing! In the past when I've had time alone, I haven't done much else except read, relax and possibly go on a few "fieldtrips" that I wouldn't have time to do otherwise. This time, I realized that I didn't feel a driving need to do those things. I couldn't figure out why at first and then it hit me. I already get to do those things on a regular basis. I usually have plenty of time to read and relax and I go on lots of excursions with my friends - or sometimes on my own. This was a huge epiphany for me. My life as a wife and mom has definitely changed a lot from the hectic days of raising babies, toddlers and young children. There are definitely stages and cycles to motherhood and I realized that I have entered a new one.

So, how did I spend my time? Well, I did go on one fieldtrip - to Boston with my friend, Barbara. Her son goes to Northeastern University and she has become familiar with the area surrounding the university. We had a great day exploring and shopping. This is something I've been wanting to do for awhile, so this was the perfect opportunity for me.

I also got together with my high school friend, Kim, who I saw for the first time in 28 years back in April when I was last Home Alone. Kim's parents still live in town and she was back for a visit during her kids' school vacation. We met for breakfast and it was so great to have a chance to visit and chat with her! I really enjoy her company and conversation and hope we can continue to see each other when she comes to town. We may even meet up in NYC sometime to explore. That would be amazing!

Other than that, I ran errands (can you believe it!?) during the day. This was when I had my revelation. Why am I running errands during my free week? Why aren't I protecting this precious time and cuddling up at home with a book and some great movies? I just didn't feel the need. So during the day I ran a few errands and in the late afternoon and evenings I enjoyed having the family room, sofa and remote control to myself. I realized that that is what I really enjoyed the most. Because those are the things I don't normally have on a regular basis. Madeleine definitely monopolizes the family room every day once she gets home from school until she goes to bed at night. That was really all I needed to feel as though having the house to myself was any different from any other day. As I said in the beginning - my everyday life is pretty amazing! I guess I just needed to be reminded of that. And in 2 1/2 short years, Madeleine will be away at college and I will have the family room to myself every. single. day. I'm pretty sure that will not be something I will enjoy. So, for now, I'm going to appreciate my epiphany and give thanks for my amazing life. I think this stage of motherhood just might be one of my favorites.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Speaking of Good Literature....

In the last two weeks I have had the opportunity to see wonderful productions of two classic plays - The Crucible by Arthur Miller and A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen. I was excited to see these plays since I had studied both of them during my years as a student. How ironic, considering the fact that many schools are considering teaching less literature in favor of more "informational texts". Bah! I wonder if I would have been interested in attending these productions, if I hadn't been introduced to them in school? I think not. As a matter of fact, Madeleine, who is 16, asked if she could come with Geoff and me to see The Crucible since she had studied it earlier this year! Imagine that! The arts and cultural entertainment could be just one more causality of removing challenging literature from our schools' curriculum. What a pity.

Before seeing The Crucible I decided to try an experiment. I decided to reread it to see if familiarizing myself with the details of the story would add or detract from my enjoyment of it. I have considered doing this in the past, but always decided not to, in order to let the story wash over me - without any expectations. I was somewhat surprised to find that a fresh exposure to the play added to my enjoyment of the production immensely! The Crucible is a complex and multi-layered story and having read it ahead of time really added to my understanding of the deeper messages of the plot. Having the time to really ponder the moral questions presented by Miller added another level of appreciation to the live production.

Book review: If you've never read The Crucible or last read it in High School, I highly recommend picking it up again and revisiting it as an adult. It's a surprisingly quick read (I read it in two short sittings) and it's so much more than "that book about the Salem witch trials." It's a moral story about having strength in your convictions, about standing up for what you know is right, about personal honor and dignity and about the love between a husband and wife struggling within a flawed marriage. It's powerful and I highly recommend it. 4 stars - I really liked it.

After my positive experience with The Crucible, I decided to reread A Doll's House before seeing the play as well. I'm really glad I did, too, because the play was written in 1879 and the production I saw was set in 1959. As I was reading the play, I wondered how the director was going to pull that off since the language and story seemed so dated. The adaptation that the director and his partner created was brilliant - updated, but still very true to the original. And I would never had known that had I not reread the play. This gave me an entirely new level of appreciation for the play.

Book review: I didn't enjoy A Doll's House as much as I did The Crucible, but it is still a very accessible and easy to read classic. It's the story of a marriage that seems happy on the surface, but is actually quite the opposite. Torvald has a controlling and condescending relationship with his seemingly weak and dependent wife, Nora. Nora, however, is not the delicate flower Torvald thinks she is and is in reality working feverishly to hide a secret from Torvald. By the end of the play, Nora comes to a realization that will have repercussions for herself, her marriage and her family. The play was highly controversial when it was first produced in 1879 and it translated very well into the 1950s. It's a little less relevant today, but it still presents some truths that resonate with a modern audience. 3 stars - I liked it.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

In Defense of Literature

A week ago, Julia Steiny, the education writer for the Providence Journal, wrote a terrific, yet upsetting, article for the Providence Journal, about the books being assigned to HS students by their English teachers. She began the article by discussing the great literature she was assigned in HS and the fact that this challenging literature was assigned not only to broaden the students' literary skills, but also to build wisdom and "understanding of how and why different people, in different circumstances, make decisions, mistakes, sacrifices". Steiny goes on to say that "one of the great virtues of fiction is that it gives us the benefit of someone else's experience, at the remove of fiction". This is brilliant. I've never really been able to articulate what it is that draws me to fiction, but this is it. It lets me experience "at the remove of fiction" how someone might behave in various circumstances. I think this also plays into how I choose the stories I do. I choose novels based on how interesting the story is to me. At some unconscious level I choose stories about situations that somehow "speak" to me. For me, reading fiction is, on some level, educational.

What made Steiny's article upsetting was that she goes on to explain that most states (RI included) are currently adopting the new Common Core standards, which will require students to read more "informational texts" and "considerably less fiction". Additionally, she goes on to state that even now, the fiction that is being assigned to our students is of a much less challenging nature than that which I was exposed to. How sad. (And don't even get me started on what has been done to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn).

I will be the first to admit that I didn't appreciate many of the books I read in HS. For the most part, their greatness was lost on my teenage self. But I am thankful for having been afforded the opportunity of guided reading under the tutelage of some wonderful English teachers. And while I most likely did not come away with a full understanding of those great works of fiction, I most certainly did come away with a foundation of learning on which to build a deeper understanding. And I've found that now when I go back and revisit those great classics of English literature I readily recognize their greatness. And for that I credit my HS English teachers and the challenging curriculum to which I was exposed.

I have had a first hand look at the HS English curriculum in my town for the past 6 years and I have been impressed by the wide variety of both classic English and World Literature that my daughters have been assigned in their various classes. They have probably read even more than I did as a HS student. I certainly hope that this continues after RI adopts the Common Core standards. Anything less would be a real loss.

How about you? Were you required to read challenging literature in HS? If so, are you glad? If not, do you wish you had been? Have you revisited any of the required texts as an adult? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Project 52 - Week 6

Week 6 had some ups and downs. I managed to accomplish all my weekly goals (cook, post, pay attention politically, write to Katie, buy flowers), with the exception of #10 - Walk/Exercise 3 times per week. In addition to some icy weather, my back condition took a serious turn for the worse and I was hardly able to walk around my house, let alone go for a real walk outside on the icy roads. The good news is that after seeing the chiropractor three times, I was able to get out and take a walk on Sunday. And I'm happy to say I'm feeling much better. So hopefully this week will be a lot better. *fingers crossed*

And I really rocked one of my weekly goals - #30, Pay attention to local politics. Education is a hot issue in RI now. About a year and a half ago the state hired a new, no nonsense Commissioner of Education - Deborah Gist. You may even have heard of her last spring when RI made the national news when the entire teaching staff of one low performing school was fired. Anyway, most regular people in RI are big fans of Gist and she has folk hero status for her unwavering efforts to improve education in RI. Of course, the teacher's unions are not big fans. And, in case you didn't know, RI politics are pretty much run by the unions. Anyway, last night Gist visited our town and gave a talk and a Q&A session at our local HS, which I attended. I am even more impressed now. And I'm sure to pay extra close attention to the issue of education now that we have a new governor and a newly appointed Board of Regents. Hopefully, Commissioner Gist will get the support she needs to continue her Herculean efforts. I have my doubts.

I also completed one of my monthly goals last week - #31 Watch one Netflix movie per month. Geoff and I watched Nowhere Boy, a British biopic of the early life of John Lennon. It was a very good movie, both enlightening and moving. If you have any interest in Lennon or the formation of The Beatles I recommend it.

And most exciting to me (since I love to cross things off of lists) is that I completed one of my one time goals - #19 Visit one new to me library in RI. This one happened by serendipity. I had placed a hold a book I needed for my book club meeting quite a while ago. And as sometimes happens, it just never came. Finally, in desperation I decided to just find out which libraries own the book and go get it. It just so happened that the closest library that had the book available was the Mount Pleasant branch of the Providence Public Library. I Googled it and since it was only 25 minutes away, I decided to make the trip. It may as well have been in a different world. As I got closer and closer to the library, the neighborhood got dicier and dicier. I began to wonder if I had made a mistake in venturing into this neighborhood. When I pulled up to the library, I was disheartened to see the worn out and dreary looking building. It made me feel sad. I wondered what I would encounter when I entered the building. The first thing I noticed as I entered the small, separate foyer was that the posters and bulletins were all in Spanish and English. That got me wondering. How many non-English speaking people actually use the library? I figured the place would be deserted and barely hanging on to life. Boy, was I ever wrong! The library consisted of one large room, separated into different areas by the placement of tables, sofas and book cases. The staff was bright and cheerful. And the place was packed!!! It was humming with activity and life. People of all ages were looking for books, using the computers, sitting at tables and quietly interacting with each other. And then it hit me. The Mount Pleasant library is a vibrant and integral part of the Mount Pleasant neighborhood. I was thrilled to witness this. The library my have been furnished with shabby and scarred furniture, the DVD collection might have been a little thin and the books were a little worse for wear, but this particular library was full of life. It was living, breathing, organic part of this community. I wish I could say the same for the small library where I work. It makes me wonder - what exactly is it that makes one library so much more alive than another? I don't have an answer, but the Mount Pleasant Library is doing something right.

*As soon as I stepped out of my car, I wished I had my camera with me. Instead, I've added some photos that I found on the I {Heart} Rhody blog.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

What a Spectacle!

On Thursday night, Madeleine, Sandy and I went to Providence Performing Arts Center (PPAC) to see The Lion King. I had really been looking forward to this show. It came to Providence several years ago and to my great dismay, I didn't have an opportunity to see it. So when I saw it on this year's lineup, I was thrilled. And the show did not disappoint.

My girls were toddlers when The Lion King movie was popular. We bought a copy of the video and like most preschoolers, Katie and Madeleine watched that movie over and over and over again. So, unlike some adults I am quite familiar with the story. And I do think that was a factor in my enjoyment of the show. Because after talking to Sandy about the story itself, I realized that having the association of my girls love for the show when they were so young, really did make the show more appealing to me.

But the storyline is really not the reason to see this show. The costumes, sets and special effects are spectacular! I can not even begin to adequately describe the splendor and creativity. The various animals are all depicted with the most amazing ingenuity. And the sheer variety of ways in which the species are represented is incredible. You really do need to see it to fully appreciate the splendor.

Check out the variety of animal costumes!

One tip. Do NOT be late. I don't want to spoil anything, but the very opening of the show gave me goosebumps. You absolutely don't want to miss it. The opening alone was worth the price of the ticket. If you have an opportunity to see The Lion King, I highly recommend it. I don't think you will be disappointed.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Sweet 16!

On Friday, Madeleine (my baby) turned Sweet 16! The day that she has been talking about for months had finally arrived. To say she was excited would be a terrible understatement. The highlight of the day occurred right after school when I took her to the dreaded DMV to get her driver's permit. She passed the test with flying colors (highest score of the day, according to the test proctor)! After that we celebrated with shoe shopping (!) and dinner at Olive Garden (her choice) and then more shopping at Ulta for make up. It was an afternoon and evening made in teen girl heaven! (Geoff begged off on the shopping, but he did enjoy the dinner!)

Then on Saturday, Madeleine celebrated her birthday with her friends. For months she thought about how to have the perfect Sweet 16 birthday party. Her first choice was to have a dinner/dance at a restaurant complete with a DJ and fancy decorations. I know that big Sweet 16 parties are common in some parts of the country, but here in RI they are not. I think she got her grandiose ideas from the TV show My Super Sweet 16. Geoff and I had to quickly disavow her of any idea that we would spring for a big blowout. She was disappointed and for a few weeks we tried to plan a scaled down event that wouldn't feel too lame. But we couldn't make it work. Then Geoff hit upon a great idea. How about if we looked into renting one of the two small independent movie theaters in Providence. Madeleine liked this idea and when we called both theaters we were happy to hear that they both are available to rent for private parties. And it's affordable! We chose the funkier of the two theaters, The Cable Car Cinema, that has a small cafe in front and sofas in addition to regular theater seating.

It worked out beautifully! Madeleine was able to invite as many people as she wanted (up to 100) for the same rental price plus a small per person popcorn/soda charge.

And after the movie, we were able to use the cafe to serve cake. The party was sufficiently "cool" that Madeleine felt that it was special and all her guests were impressed to have the whole theater to themselves.

We were even able to bring our own movie. She chose Sixteen Candles, of course! It was the perfect choice! Madeleine ended up having her own toned version of My Super Sweet 16, after all.


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