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Words and phrases I would like to ban until further notice:

  • Unprecedented
  • These uncertain times
  • An (over)abundance of caution (not seeing this one as much lately since things that initially were cancelled out of “an abundance of caution” are now cancelled as part of “the bare minimum of things we should be doing these days.”
  • When this is all over (caught myself saying this way too much).

Okay, now that I have that off my chest, how are you? Life is weird for pretty much everyone now, but I know it’s been a heck of a lot harder for some folks. We’ve been very blessed in that our income hasn’t changed, unlike so many people we know who have been laid off work. Ross is teaching from home, which is fascinating to me. All over the country, spouses are realizing, “Wait, THAT’S how you sound when you’re at work?” Since I worked from home anyway for my day job as an executive assistant, not much has changed for me, other than being busier. I work for a nonprofit that provides healthcare in West Africa, so it feels like we’ve been sprinting since late February.

Life during the pandemic has been a strange ping-pong of anxiety over current conditions and enjoyment of the slower pace of life overall (work busyness notwithstanding). I have friends and coworkers seriously affected by the virus and it’s impossible to read the news and not be (rightly) concerned; the world is mourning and will be for some time. But I do think finding the bright side to all this is healthy on a personal level.

Here are my favorite things to do during these unprecedented, uncertain times until this is all over and we can go back to an underabundance of caution:

  • Get outside. I know not everyone can do this right now so I don’t take it for granted, but it’s the number one thing improving my mood these days. We go on long walks and runs with Calvin all the time, and he loves it but is baffled by current circumstances, not to mention exhausted by them. He’s currently slumped at my feet after an hour+ run during which he finally just planted his feet and refused to go farther.

That's the 7th walk today. What the heck is a coronavirus?

  • Looseleaf tea. One of my coronavirus splurges has been ordering tea online from Chad’s Chai and Tin Roof Teas, and it’s my best pandemic decision to date. Both shops are running coronavirus sales. Bonus: you get to support local business.

Chad's Chai tea and mug

  • Get takeout. Speaking of supporting local business, we’ve been trying to keep some of our favorite restaurants afloat by ordering curbside pickup. Neomonde, Sitti, Tangerine Cafe, El Rodeo are some we’ve tried. We even dressed up for date night at home one night.

Date night at the kitchen table

  • Read. My concentration is shot these days, and I’ll bet a lot of you are in the same boat. Light and funny books are the name of the game for me. I recommend Terry Pratchett and James Herriott, for starters. I listened to It Can’t Happen Here on audiobook, and that was a terrible mistake. I’ll save the fascist dystopias for happier times, thank you. Another coronavirus splurge of mine was buying a few new books. Do I have a zillion books to read already? Oh yes. Was I thrilled to get new books anyway? Oh yes.
  • Immerse myself in Icelandic culture. Since our trip to Iceland has been postponed indefinitely (I’m still hoping we can make it in late June, but I’ve reluctantly come to the realization that we may not be able to go until summer of 2021), I’m taking this opportunity to improve my Icelandic, take an online course on Medieval Icelandic Sagas, and read more Icelandic books (see above note about new books I didn’t need).

Sagas of the Icelanders book

  • Video chat with friends and family. This is becoming a double-edged sword because now we chat with folks every night, and it almost feels like we’re too busy again, but it’s still so lovely to see friends’ faces. We’ve caught up with folks we haven’t talked to in years, and I hope this tradition continues long after the pandemic is a thing of the past. We’ve even been playing board games like Settlers of Catan over Skype.

Playing boardgames over Skype

  • Watch TV. Pre-pandemic, I was so busy that I was hard-pressed to squeeze in one hour of TV per week, which made keeping up with shows almost impossible. Now, especially with so many sites offering free month-long trials, I’ve been able to see most of Picard and a few other Trek episodes on CBS All Access, finally finished Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries on Acorn TV, and have watched the occasional movie. Shocking!

What are some of your favorite coping mechanisms during all this insanity? Are you doing okay? Let me know!

I love lists. I love lists of lists. I would probably love lists of lists of lists, but I cut myself off there because it seems like straying into the territory of dangerous obsession. Since books are one of the few things I love more than lists, I of course have endless lists of books. To read, have read, loaned out, borrowed, you name it.

So obviously creating an online catalog of all of the books I own is something I did a loooong time ago, with great delight. To some, this in itself probably already seems obsessive, but there are some practical reasons for cataloging your personal library:

  1. Makes book shopping easier. Was it book 3 or book 4 I was missing from that series? Do I already own this particular Agatha Christie novel? Is this author I ran across at the shop the same one who wrote that one book I liked so much? Do I already own too many Louis L’Amour novels? (Of course not.) Bring up my library on my phone, and I have my answers.
  2. Makes it easier for family to buy books for each other. My husband has access to and updates our online library as well, which makes buying books for each other MUCH simpler.
  3. Helps rein in your book-buying. We can comfortable fit around 1500 books in our house, and having an online library keeps us accountable, both financially and in terms of space. We have a rule (at least for now) that for every book we buy, we have to give away or sell one, and we can track how often we buy books, and how many.
  4. Keeps your books organized. On the shelves, our books are organized by genre, then alphabetically by author’s surname (with the exception of history books, which are organized chronologically by time period that they cover). Because my online catalog has columns for these genres and is sortable by author surname, I can look on the catalog and instantly know where any book is in the house.
  5. Helps to rebuild your collection. Heaven forbid, if I lost books due to fire or flood or some other disaster, I’d know which books to replace.

So how do you set up an online library catalog? There are a slew of options:

  • Goodreads. Goodreads already has an option to check the “owned” box for books, and I tried using this for a bit. I love using Goodreads for managing my read and to-read lists, but for me, it turned out to be impractical for a catalog. Searching for the particular edition I owned on Goodreads took too much time, and a lot of my very old books weren’t on Goodreads anyway.

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Yeah, pretty much none of these bad boys showed up.

  • LibraryThing. This one was super tempting, and I almost went with it. At the time, though, my phone was sketchy and wasn’t reliably scanning barcodes on books. Entering them manually had the same issue as Goodreads; finding my specific edition could be tricky, and really old books weren’t always on the site.
  • Libib. Very similar to LibraryThing, but wasn’t around when I was building my library.
  • Shelves, Home Library, Delicious Library, and BookBuddy are similar apps, so if you don’t mind scanning books, one of these may be your ticket.

Ultimately, I went a pretty clunky and labor-intensive route, but I have to admit, it works flawlessly for me because it’s so customizable. My books were already organized on their shelves, which made things pretty easy. I created a Google Spreadsheet and manually typed in every single book I owned. Ha. Yes. That did take awhile, though not as long as you’d think. Here are the column headings I use most often (click here to see larger image):

library

This works best for me since I can sort by author, title, category, whether I’ve read it or not, etc., and if I want to add additional columns (whether I’ve loaned a book out, for example, or to track book-buying), it’s easy to do so and to remove them when I’m done. I can search for particular words, and I can make specific notes on editions when I care to do so. For example, I have two copies of Wind, Sand, and Stars by Antoine de Saint Exupery, and I have a note in the library that one specific copy includes hand-written notes in the margins from a particular philosophy discussion group. But if the particular edition doesn’t matter to me, I can just leave it blank instead of having to select an edition in an app. Also, when I’m out and about, I can browse this quickly on my phone without using a lot of data, and since this is a Google Sheet, I can share it with whomever I wish.

Before I got married, I had read all but 20 or so of the books I owned. Then Ross’s massive book collection got added to the mix, so there are a lot that we own now that I haven’t read (and to be honest, probably won’t read since he and I don’t have all interests in common). I did convert him to my library idea, though; he ended up cataloging all of his comic books in a similar way, and we created a tab for our movies as well.

Warms my organized little heart. 😉

I’m normally a pretty chill, emotionally even-keeled kind of person, but I’ve been squealing like a little girl A LOT lately. Why?

Ross and I are going to Iceland in June of 2020 for our fifth anniversary!!!

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I’ve been dreaming of going to Iceland for years and years, for a plethora of reasons:

  1. Have you seen the place?? It’s flipping gorgeous. The scenery has to be seen to be believed. Iceland has a bleak type of beauty that makes my heart hurt in a really good way. Browse the When in Iceland Instagram for more photographs too lovely to seem possible.
  2. I grew up reading and loving the Poetic Edda and the Icelandic sagas translated into English and turning the Old Norse words over in my head even if I didn’t know what they meant because they sounded magical. Seeing the place where they were written will be a dream come true.
  3. Icelandic book culture is a reader and writer’s dream. Iceland publishes more books per capita than any other nation in the world (although some say the UK may be taking that title in recent years), and Icelanders have a massive love for the written word. Storytelling is a national pastime. During the annual Jolabokaflod, or Christmas Book Flood, Icelanders buy thousands of books to give as gifts and to read themselves.
  4. Icelandic culture in general is utterly fascinating. Crime is astonishingly low, averaging 1.8 murders per year (some sources say 1.6) in a country of over 300,000 people. There isn’t a single McDonalds or Starbucks in the entire country, and most of the global chains that have taken over elsewhere aren’t present in Iceland. 85% of its energy is from renewable resources (much of it geothermal). It’s one of the oldest democracies in the world, formed in 930 AD. Mosquitoes do not exist in Iceland.
  5. Icelandic horses, whale watching, glacier hiking, geysers, puffins, turf houses…I could go on.

You’re may be thinking, well, that sounds fantastic, but the trip is more than a year away. Why all the hysterics now?

Let me preface this by saying that I hate surprises. I loathe them. Especially good surprises. If Ross had somehow managed to surprise me with a trip to Iceland in a month, I would be thinking, “Oh… Um. Yay?” Easily half of the fun of an exciting event is anticipating it, planning for it, and hugging the idea of it to my chest and making happy sounds while I daydream about how it might be (or might not be, I’m not picky and don’t usually mind if things turn out differently from how I imagined).

So here’s what I get to enjoy for the next year:

  • Learning as much Icelandic as I can. Icelandic isn’t on Duolingo, more’s the pity, so I’m currently using a combo of this Icelandic course on Memrise, and various Icelandic videos on Youtube, especially this channel. I’m looking forward to getting an Icelandic dictionary.
  • Planning every detail of the trip. Yes, a good chunk of that planning will go out the window on the first day with bad weather, but the planning is so much FUN. Because I’ve been dreaming of going to Iceland for so long, I have a list of natural wonders, historical sites, and attractions a mile long I’d like to visit, and I’m researching each one. I’m also researching different travel options, like renting a car and staying in Airbnbs versus renting a campervan and camping our way around the Ring Road. Iceland is VERY expensive, so making reservations early will save money.
  • Rereading the Icelandic sagas and the Poetic and Prose Eddas. This literature was formative for me when I was growing up, but it’s been awhile since I’ve read a lot of it now. Rereading it with an eye for places I might be able to visit will be a new experience.
  • Reading up on Icelandic history, some modern Icelandic literature, and Icelandic travel guides. You better believe I already have a Goodreads shelf going.
  • Relistening to some of my favorite Icelandic music and building a roadtrip playlist. Tons of my favorite musical artists are from Iceland: Sigur RósOf Monsters and Men, Björk, Emiliana Torrini, just to name a few. I also want to explore new-to-me Icelandic artists.
  • Buying an Icelandic sweater. This one may seem trivial, but I always wanted to get a traditional Icelandic sweater while in Iceland. Unfortunately, I learned that they’re pretty far outside of my price range, especially for an item of clothing I’ll almost never be able to wear at home in North Carolina without boiling alive. My compromise is to buy a used Icelandic wool sweater from Ebay or Etsy ahead of time (they cost about 1/5 as much used) and bring it with me to Iceland.

That’s a lot to look forward to in a year! Stay tuned for more Icelandic fangirling, if you’re into that. I’m sure I’ll be posting about the trip a lot in the next year.

In unrelated news, I finally got an Instagram, which is full mainly of dog pictures. If that’s your thing, check it out. And yes, there will eventually be a lot of Iceland pictures there too. 😉

As some of you have figured out by now, Ross and I will leap at any excuse, no matter how flimsy, to dress up in costume. Ross is teaching about WWII and the rise of superheroes in class? Time to dress up like Captain America! I’m going to a vaguely 1920s-themed gathering? Bust out the flapper dress!

In the last month, we’ve had two such occasions, the first being a gathering of friends for high tea at the Sugar Magnolia Cafe tea room for my birthday in January.

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If you own a top hat, why *wouldn’t* you wear it?

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The cameo pin I’m wearing belonged to my grandmother.

2019-01-20 13.52.55One of our friends had the foresight to bring along fake mustaches as well.

I received one of the funniest and direly needed birthday gifts: writer’s block soap, which “smells like regurgitated ideas and probably a vampire.” Goodness knows I could do with soap to wash away writer’s block, although I’ll take a pass on the vampire.

Our second costumed adventure was a 1930s-themed date night. We checked out Rockin’ Rolls Sushi first (not 1930s, but delicious, and any place that’s all-you-can-eat is a cost-effective option when dining with Ross), then drove up to Durham to see a special screening of 1933’s King Kong.

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Doing my best Fay Wray impression.

Fun fact, Ross wore this outfit to a Casablanca party he and I attended together before we were officially dating, and he looked just as smashing then.

The movie, which I had never seen before, was surprisingly good, and of course groundbreaking for its special effects at the time. No real research would be done on the great apes until the 1960s, so Kong wasn’t accurately based on any particular species; the filmmakers gave him human-looking eyes because no one had any idea what a gorilla’s eyes looked like. The movie was also surprisingly gory and a little risque since it was pre-movie code, they made extravagant use of the chocolate syrup for blood. (Poetic lines aside, the airplane machine guns had a lot to do with Kong’s demise.)

I was also surprised to discover that Peter Jackson’s King Kong in 2005 (which I *had* seen!) was almost a shot-for-shot remake in a lot of ways. Clearly Jackson was a big fan of the original movie.

If any of you have been up to any costumed hijinks lately, let me know in the comments! I love comparing costume notes and sharing ideas.

 

 

 

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I just finished How to Publish Your Book by Jane Friedman, part of The Great Courses, and I felt it deserved its own blog post.

It also deserves a spot on the must-read list for anyone who would like to get their writing published, even (perhaps especially) if they intend to self-publish. The course is written by Jane Friedman, possibly one of the most qualified people in the country to do such a thing, and it outlines in great detail how to find a literary agent, how to write a great query letter, and a lengthy list of what NOT to do at each step of the way towards, during, and beyond publication. Friedman is kind but doesn’t sugar-coat, and she doesn’t waste the reader’s time. Her realistic, professional approach to the market was refreshing, and I will be recommending this book to many of my editing clients.

While the book mainly focuses on the traditional publishing market, this is invaluable information for someone self-publishing too. To compete effectively, or at all, with traditional publishing, self-publishers need to understand the market–and it is a complex, rapidly changing one. The publishing landscape has changed so radically in the last twenty or even ten years that many of the strategies that worked before simply aren’t viable. Don’t expect to make it big doing what someone else did to make it big in 2009; times have changed, and writers have to change along with them.

You can get the book on The Great Courses website, naturally, but I was able to listen to the audiobook for free using the Overdrive library app, which I highly recommend. Don’t miss out on these insights!

 

Music! Let me share some with you. Skews pretty heavily towards Icelandic music and indie music, but even that is all over the place, so you’ll probably find something you enjoy! (I realized way too far into this post that I could’ve just made a Youtube playlist…but then I’m not sure how I would’ve included the songs that aren’t on Youtube.) Note: this sat in drafts for MONTHS because there was so much I wanted to post, and I didn’t have time to just sit down and pick more than a few songs at a time.

Enjoy!

I ordered the eighth House of Niccolo book, Gemini, by Dorothy Dunnett from BetterWorldBooks because I’m working on the seventh book currently, and I’m no idiot: one does not finish a Dunnett without having the next book in the series on hand. Those cliffhangers are murder.

This was the shipping notification I received:

Hello Stephanie,

(Your book(s) asked to write you a personal note – it seemed unusual, but who are we to say no?)

Holy canasta! It’s me… it’s me! I can’t believe it is actually me! You could have picked any of over 2 million books but you picked me! I’ve got to get packed! How is the weather where you live? Will I need a dust jacket? I can’t believe I’m leaving Mishawaka, Indiana already – the friendly people, the Hummer plant, the Linebacker Lounge – so many memories. I don’t have much time to say goodbye to everyone, but it’s time to see the world!

I can’t wait to meet you! You sound like such a well read person. Although, I have to say, it sure has taken you a while! I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but how would you like to spend five months sandwiched between Jane Eyre (drama queen) and Fundamentals of Thermodynamics (pyromaniac)? At least Jane was an upgrade from that stupid book on brewing beer. How many times did the ol’ brewmaster have one too many and topple off our shelf at 2am?

I know the trip to meet you will be long and fraught with peril, but after the close calls I’ve had, I’m ready for anything (besides, some of my best friends are suspense novels). Just five months ago, I thought I was a goner. My owner was moving and couldn’t take me with her. I was sure I was landfill bait until I ended up in a Better World Books book drive bin. Thanks to your socially conscious book shopping, I’ve found a new home. Even better, your book buying dollars are helping kids read from Brazil to Botswana.

But hey, enough about me, I’ve been asked to brief you on a few things:

We sent your order to the following address:

From there it gave the usual shipping notification info and signed off, “Eagerly awaiting our meeting!”

I already liked the impact BetterWorldBooks is making in the world (seriously, check out how much they do), but this just cemented my love. I have to wonder, though, what kind of book filing system puts Dunnett in between Jane Eyre and the Fundamentals of Thermodynamics? 😉

Getting gifts for book lovers should be easy, right? Just buy them books! This has backfired for me mightily before, though. Someone may be a great friend but have very different reading tastes, and just because *I* love Steinbeck doesn’t mean that everybody else wants every book he ever wrote on his or her shelves. Apparently. I’ve also had the opposite problem, where I excitedly purchased a favorite book of mine to give to a friend, only to see that said friend already has a copy on their bookshelves. Maybe even two copies. And yeah, you can always get gift cards to bookstores, but sometimes that just feels too impersonal.

Bookish gifts are a great compromise. I recently was approached by Melissa at Literary Book Gifts to see if I’d be willing to feature her shop here on the blog. I admit, I was fairly skeptical since I’ve never done anything even remotely approaching sponsorship before and was leery of the idea. After checking out her shop, though, I was extremely intrigued. She features t-shirts and tote bags with old book cover designs that are just lovely. Here are some of my favorites:

War of the Worlds t-shirt
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Velveteen Rabbit t-shirt
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Wizard of Oz tote bag

Oz

The Hound of the Baskervilles tote bag
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Now, the really cool bit is that Melissa offered a 20% off discount code for readers of this blog! Just use the code QUOTHTHEGIRL20 at checkout to get 20% off anything in the store. No minimum order, and the code doesn’t expire.

I didn’t receive any compensation or products in return for this feature–just the code, which all of us can use. If you order anything, let me know in the comments what you think!

bd0676c5eeacc7a6b3dc6c8fa400bae6I love sharing bookish articles, discoveries, or musings that I’ve run across in hopes that other folks will enjoy them too. Here are a boatload!

If you want to know what I’m reading these days (and my usually very strong opinions thereon), check out my Goodreads!

Wow, that was a long postless spell, even for someone who was a sporadic blogger to begin with! People (especially writers) who are able to keep up with blogging/social media astound me, and I’m envious of their abilities. The blog and social media presence are the first thing to go when things get (stay?) busy for me, and they’re the last things to be picked back up again because by that time I’m so far out of the habit that it’s easy to keep procrastinating. But it’s good to be back for the moment!

One big thing that’s changed of late is that my husband Ross was diagnosed with blood cancer in January of 2017. It’s a myeloproliferative neoplasm caused by an acquired mutation that makes his bone marrow produce too many platelets, and for the first year, it really didn’t affect our lives much at all. He didn’t even have to take medication other than a daily aspirin and some supplements, and while it wasn’t something that was likely to ever go away, he didn’t have any symptoms or discomfort. Fortunately, this type of cancer is something the patient can live with fairly easily, and unless it causes other complications, the patient can have a pretty normal lifespan.

We had a bit more of a scare over this past spring and summer, when his platelet numbers were through the roof and his hematologist recommended going on stronger medication. Ross had blood work every week, then every two weeks, and the first medication wasn’t ultimately effective. The hematologist recommended that Ross go on a chemo drug immediately. We had been hesitant about going that route for a variety of reasons, but it seemed like we no longer had a choice. We were planning on picking up the prescription when the doctor called back a day later and said that since Ross is so much younger and healthier than most people with this mutation, he thinks there is less urgency to reduce the platelet count. He said we could just wait to see if any other complications arose and wait to treat until then.

For the last three months, Ross hasn’t had to be on any medication other than aspirin, and he feels great. We’re happy to stay in the wait-and-see phase for as long as possible–years, ideally. I’m grateful for a flexible job that allows me to go with Ross to specialist visits. (And to spend hours on the phone with insurance companies. Good grief, the healthcare system is almost impossible to navigate!)

We haven’t had anything wildly blog-worthy happen this year (no trips to Europe), but we have had many meaningful experiences: we had lots of people over for dinner, visited friends, helped several people move, befriended our 94-year-old neighbor, and heard lots of amazing stories about his time in WWII. We got a new car at last (new to us, anyway), the Literary League met twice and was the scene of scintillating book conversation per usual, and there were many, many costumed events:

  1. Ross directed a Les Miserables-themed Purim musical telling the story of Esther. Naturally, we dressed up according to the time period.

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2. We attended an Anne of Green Gables party thrown by some friends.

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3. We dressed as Troi and Riker for a Star Trek party.

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4. As always, we participated in Cow Appreciation Day at Chick-fil-A (SuperCow and the ExeCowtive).

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5. We attended the Raleigh Supercon dressed as Captain America and American Dream. I was really proud of how the costumes turned out! These took the most work.

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6. And then of course we found ways to reuse the costumes for a Superhero Rejects party that we threw. Ross was Captain Panama and I was the Isth-Miss of Panama.

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And while we didn’t do any international globe-trotting this year, we did take a wonderful trip to the mountains of Asheville with my family. My brother put together a breath-takingly beautiful video of the experience–sometimes it really pays to have a professional videographer in the family!

We also took a road trip to Illinois for a family reunion for Ross, and on the way we stopped in Indiana where I used to live. I hadn’t been back in 15 years, so that was a crazy experience! We stayed at the Potawatomi Inn, which is where I had my first job, bussing tables as a 14-year-old. We stopped at the house in which I grew up and chatted with neighbors I hadn’t seen in a decade and a half. Surreal!

Last bit of big news: we got a new dog in January! Calvin is a German Shepherd/hound mix, we think, and he’s the sweetest thing on four legs. He loves to wrestle with Ross, but he’s content to sleep quietly next to me while I work all day, and he’s very well behaved. He’s terrified of umbrellas, but nobody’s perfect.

There, now you’re all caught up! I daren’t make any promises about posting regularly, but I’ll bet I can do better than once every 10 months. 😉

 

You seem to have stumbled upon a storytelling of ravens. Watch for falling collective nouns; you may find a wing of dragons or a charm of hummingbirds caught in your hair. Hardhats are recommended.

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