Saturday, May 30, 2020

Summer Time is Coming

As we enter the last weekend of May, I am looking forward to summertime. I'm not sure that it will feel much different than the last several weeks for the most part, but it is nice to finally be getting back to some more normal things.

As a family, we went out to lunch yesterday and ate at the restaurant, inside because of the rain. It sounds like a small thing but it has probably been almost 3 months since the last time we went out to eat as a family. It was nice to to relax and just hang out.

This past week both kids returned school books and empty out their lockers. The school year is officially over. Online learning was okay at best. It was nice that several teachers would post a recording of the learning. It gave them the opportunity to watch the lesson on demand, on their schedule. I don't know that my kids did it but it also gave them the chance to rewatch the lesson if there was a question or something confusing. I think though that I would have liked them to do the lesson live in an interactive classroom space - like they do at school - where the kids can ask questions and the teacher can get real time feedback on how well the group was responding to the lesson. They all had office hours but they were not always at convenient times and some overlapped. As an example, math classes all had their office hours, a live chat space, from 8 - 9 am. The kids would need to watch the current lesson before the office hours or use the office hours for the last lesson, which was not always convenient. In addition, since all the math class office hours were at the same time, if you had multiple math classes (my son had two), you likely could only get to one or the other. Unfortunately, several teachers didn't do online lessons, video or live. They simply relied on the kids reading the book and shared some notes. I also feel like the lack of classroom discussion was a loss. How many times as a kid did you pick up on something based on what a classmate shared. Whether discussing a classic like Great Gatsby or asking a question about a chemical reaction, sometimes hearing it posed by someone else helps you process or clarify it for yourself. And then for activity driven classes, there was again a loss of opportunity. For my son, we boiled eggs for different lengths as a chemistry experiment but that was really the only experiment that the class did the last 12 weeks of school. I would have expected more labs as part of a chemistry class. And for my daughter, who was in Family and Consumer Sciences the last quarter of the school year, she missed out on so much. They normally make a drawstring bag but with stores on limited operation and most students not having access to a sewing machine, the pattern was simply shared if they wanted to try it. For the kitchen half, the lessons were limited. She made a dish with an egg (souffles for her), a bowl of fruit salad and a vegetable. She still learned from the videos her teacher would post but they normally make so much more in class. The other gap was the absence of spring sports, spring dances, lunch room socialization, after school socialization on the bus or the walk, and so much more together time with fellow students. It is a unique experience that has impacted my kids and something that they will remember always but I do hope that we can return to classroom learning in the fall for the benefit of all students.

Baseball season is restarting for my son. He had three practices this last week and we have games next weekend. I have missed the families and the experience of being at games. It will definitely not be the season we had planned - the boys didn't have their high school season and had limited access to facilities so mostly had to keep in shape on their own. We have already learned that one tournament was being rescheduled which caused the team to drop out of that tournament and pick up another one. Many schools are not opening their fields so there is a scramble to locate fields for games. In the youth program locally, several kids have dropped out (not sure if it is concern, the change in timing for the season or some other factor). I am happy to have baseball back and hope that it is as near normal as possible.

I continue with my daily walks and have done at least 30 minutes (usually closer to 50 minutes lately) each day for the past 77 days (today marks 78 but I haven't gotten out yet). It has been a great way to stay active but also a chance to 'get away', let my mind unwind and destress and a chance to relax and soak in nature and sunshine (and rain on occasion). I have easily 80+ pictures to illustrate the soaking in of nature - I have trees and flowers, blue skies and cloud formations, 'artsy' shots with puddles and capturing the droplets collected on the leaves. It has been nice. I do hope to continue the daily walk. We heard yesterday that the pool at our gym will open in just over a week for lap swimming only. I am very glad to hear that news and will try to get there 4 or 5 mornings each week and likely move my walks to later in the day when I do. I was at almost 100 miles swam since January when the pools were closed with the gyms almost 11 weeks ago. My goal is to complete the 100 mile challenge and then try for another 100 miles yet this year.

My schedule as a whole will be changing here in a couple of weeks. I was offered a job and accepted it (actually, was offered two but one required relocation). It is such a relief after 6 months of being unemployed to have a job lined up. Job seeking during closure was interesting. I did all of my interviewing from home - a mix of phone and video interviews. It will be even stranger starting a new job at a company that is (at least right now) still work from home. I will be doing remote onboarding and orientation. I will meet the team that I will be partnering with by phone. I should have ample opportunity to explore the software and learn about the products on my own. I am a people person though, so it will definitely be strange.

Made some bread last night and it was perhaps the best batch yet. This morning, I am trying a new cinnamon roll / muffin type recipe.

What have you been up to? How are things opening up where you are?

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Young Vines by James Russell Lingerfelt

No compensation was received for this review. All opinions expressed are my own or that of my family. A complimentary review copy was provided to me. 

This past week, I spent my evenings reading Young Vines by James Russell Lingerfelt. The book is the third one in the collection of books sharing about the lives of three college friends: Ryan, Oz and Finn. This third book features Ryan and is primarily set at his Grandmother's vineyard. You can read my reviews of The Mason Jar (featuring Finn) and Alabama Irish (featuring Oz) by clicking on each book's title. As with the other two books, each can be enjoyed on its own but if you have the chance, I would recommend reading all three.

Young Vines is a contemporary novel about life, love, loss and good friends. When Ryan learns that he has inherited his Grandma's vineyard, he reaches out to his friends to have them join him for a couple of days at the Vineyard - in part to have time together and in part to not face it alone. At its heart I think it was a love story and as with the other two books there is something so enticing about reading a love story from a guy's point of view, especially when written by a man. The vineyard is the perfect backdrop for Ryan to reflect on the memories of his time there with his Grandma and provides him a place to heal and prepare to move forward. Lingerfelt does a great job developing characters by using a mix of active story telling and reflection and his rich descriptions help bring the surroundings to life.

This book (really, the whole collection) would be a great addition to your library and makes a great summer read.

about the novel
Dr. Ryan Lockwood is known as a professor who deeply cares for his students. Having grown up as an orphan, he now serves as a literature professor at Pepperdine University, his old alma mater. Located in Malibu, California, Pepperdine holds some of his most treasured memories. It's where he dated and married his first love, and it's where he met his two best friends, Clayton "Finn" Fincannon (The Mason Jar) and Brian "Oz" Bailey (Alabama Irish).

Now, Ryan's on track to become the department Chair, a position he's dreamed of since graduate school. At just thirty-two years old, life couldn't be better. But when his wife passes away unexpectedly, and his grandmother follows soon after, Ryan falls into a deep depression.

His grandmother leaves him her vineyard in Tennessee, where Ryan spent his childhood summers. Since the estate hosts sell-out jazz concerts and the best wine in the southeast, Ryan plans to sell the estate to the highest bidder. But when he visits the vineyard, he meets Rachel Young, the twenty-five year old daughter of the vine dresser. Rachel is good-sensed, hard-working, and she's one of the prettiest women Ryan's ever encountered.

Ryan has sworn to never fall in love again, the vineyard is auctioned at three times it's value, and Pepperdine offers him his dream. Now, Ryan must make a decision: Return to his career and friends in California, or begin a new chapter in life with a young love in Tennessee.

A love story set among the beaches of Malibu, and the lakes and pastures of Tennessee, Young Vines teaches us that sometimes we must let go of old dreams to embrace new ones.

about the author

James Russell Lingerfelt is also the author of The Mason Jar and Alabama Irish.

Find James online: website, Facebook, Twitter

No compensation was received for this review. All opinions expressed are my own or that of my family. A complimentary review copy was provided to me.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Eight Weeks

8 Weeks! For (over) 8 weeks, I have made an effort and taken a walk. It didn't matter the weather, I found a window with less rain or snow or put on an extra layer, and I found time to fit in a walk of at least 30 minutes every day. On nice days, it typically stretches to 45 or 50 minutes, but my official 'target' was to make time for at least 30 minutes. As a result, I have also managed to hit my daily step goal every day (but one where there was a tornado that touched down in town and we had to spend the last hour of the night in the basement and I missed my goal by 100 steps) for those same 8 weeks. One auto goal management, it adds around 10 to 20 steps most days but does add more if I have really exceeded my goal. Now that I have made it 8 weeks, I would like to continue to fit in a walk everyday. I would like the streak to be much longer. Some days when I walk, I find myself wishing I was done before I have even 10 minutes in; some days, I walk very leisurely; some days, I walk as if on a mission to beat my pace. My VivoFit tried to prevent from success with the screen display failing (checked by replacing the batteries a couple of times in case one of the sets was old) and then Amazon's lead time for a new Garmin was 2 weeks because they were focused on essential shipments. I learned to 'count' the pressing of the button to start and stop my workout and to get the VivoFit to sync. Fortunately, my replacement shipped sooner than expected. I actually upgraded my device and really enjoy some of the added features, like getting my messages on my watch.
8 Weeks! It has been 8 weeks since the kids last went to school in the classroom. It has been 8 weeks since the last sports practice or event. They seem to be adapting to at home learning but certainly miss the social aspects of school. They have found time most days to fit in a workout. My son has tried to mix up long toss, pitching, and hitting (off the tee, bp or live pitching). Yesterday was the senior's last day of school for the year. To celebrate, they organized a parade and drove their cars through most neighborhoods in town. It was awesome to watch and cheer them on. It made me tear up a bit to think about the things they were missing out on. Our school is hoping that by postponing prom, graduation and baccalaureate, that they will be able to do them in person...but still have a back up plan in place. At the same time, it was impressive to see them driving through with signs and tin cans, mortar boards and decorations on their cars. And, the support in the community - there were families at the end of their drives and roads, with noisemakers, signs or simply a wave to acknowledge the completion of the kids' senior year. I hope that they add this as a new tradition, and based on posts I have read, others feel the same way. The birthday parades too! We have one lining up outside our house right now. They are such fun. Love the gatherings but what another great way to acknowledge and help the birthday boy or girl celebrate.

8 Weeks! For 8 weeks, I have been trying new recipes and dishes. I hit the jackpot earlier this week when we were enjoying chicken and rice bowls for son said that he thought that the bowls that night were even better than Chipotle! Boom! Mission accomplished. My goal is that home made versions of our favorite dishes are just a touch better than we eat out. Don't get me wrong, I love to eat out but for years have been doing my best to recreate family eating out favorites at home. I started using the 'Copycat' cookbooks but for many of the dishes I have been able to find my own way. I have had to reinvent a few when favorite ingredients become unavailable. We have enjoyed very good bread - it's not the same as some of the bread loaves we pick up at the store but it is very good. We have enjoyed several iterations of donuts. I found a good 30 minute donut recipe but an even better glazed yeast donut recipe. We have enjoyed homemade pizza and burgers on the grill. We have also done our part by ordering in from the local places that are just trying to get through this crazy time. We have bought beer from a couple of different local craft brewers that we love. We found out that outdoor dining can open next Friday and indoor the week after. We have already talked about where to go when outdoor dining is open.

8 Weeks! For 8 weeks, we have had some unusual weather and fortunately, some beautiful sunny days. We have had crazy rain. A tornado touched down in town and a couple very close to here. We had snow in March, snow in April and yesterday and today - even snow in May! We have really appreciated the sunny days and the warmer days, where we could get outside and get some fresh air. The flowers and the trees have been in full bloom welcoming spring. We have had some beautiful sunrises and sunsets.
8 Weeks! For 8 weeks, we have used technology in new ways. We have used Skype and Zoom and MSTeams for game nights and girls night; we have used them for classes and for homework help; we have used them to interview for jobs and for coaching sessions. I had a dream last night that I had started a new job. The details were vague - I parked near the building on the street, the dress was business casual with jeans appropriate, and there was snow on my car when I left at the end of the day (coincidental with yesterday's weather I hope and not a sign that it is still months away). I had only gotten the offer the Friday before I started, hadn't told my family and when I came home, I realized I didn't even know what the offer had been and was trying to find the details. I was excited and elated. I was glad to know that I would be on an employer sponsored medical insurance and saving for retirement again. I hope it was a sign that good news would be coming soon. I found out last week that I didn't get one role that I thought I had a pretty good shot at (it was down to 2, so I knew it was at least 50-50). When it comes to reading, I have stuck with the old-fashioned paper book format. I have been reading through a stack of books that I have bedside that I picked up at book sales and just never got around to reading. This weekend though, I started a brand new book by James Russell Lingerfelt, Young Vines. I will share more about the book when I am done reading. I previously read his other two books, you can find those reviews here (Alabama Irish) and here (The Mason Jar).

Over the last 8 weeks, I have become better at ordering my groceries for pick up and last week managed to pick up from three stores in the same day that I placed the order (long story - was trying to catch some deals and so I ordered from more than one store last week - haven't done that in a while). I have tried new brands and learned that there are some brands that I would skip in the future and others that might be worth trying again. Online ordering isn't as bad when you are getting it the same day but I will have to determine if the fees are worth the effort saved (and the extra effort to order). The out of stocks are fewer but have shifted categories.

Last weekend, as the StayAtHome order shifted to StaySafeOhio, we decided to have a socially distant bonfire with friends. It was a nice relaxing evening and a great chance to catch up in person. It was just one other family and we were outside the whole time. They brought their own chairs and own drinks. It was a dose of what we needed. My son finally got his braces off this week too. He was scheduled to get them off a month ago but when the StayAtHome order went into effect, his orthodontist was among the places that had to close.
As I wrap up this post, I think the cats have had enough of us being home - they look chill here but they just want us to get back to it. My one cat comes and sits on my night stand next to my alarm clock in the morning meowing at me to wake up and feed her but I think she may also secretly be hoping that it will go off and it will mean we are all back to normal schedules and she can have peace to sleep all day.