Archive for the ‘projects’ Category

2017 was not a banner year for me book-wise.  I finished 12 books – a couple of duds, a few decent ones, and a couple of stand-outs.  I do believe I should get extra credit for finishing all 1,168 pages of Atlas Shrugged.  The round-up:


I’m Just A Person by Tig Notaro

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Strangers in their own Land by Arlie Russel

City of Thieves by David Benioff

Dark Money by Jane Mayer

Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

The Magic of Motherhood by Ashlee Gadd


Best books of 2017:

City of Thieves was brilliant and beautiful and tragic and funny.  Damn, Benioff can write.  (From the comfort of my couch) I was in World War II Russia – I felt the cold of the frozen forests, the hunger pangs of a completely empty stomach, the desolation of streets lined with bombed, looted buildings.  And I felt all the warmth of friendship and camaraderie and hard-fought victory.

I also loved Homegoing, which was fiction very much grounded in truth.  It’s a story of horrific injustice and unfathomable fortitude, beautifully and cleverly woven.  Read it.

Honorable mentions to Born A Crime (I liked Trevor Noah before I read his memoir but loved him afterward) and Love Warrior (Glennon Doyle Melton’s love revolution is real, folks!).


On the docket for 2018

So many good things!  I’ve been soliciting recommendations from some of my most trusted confidantes and am feeling pretty pumped about my queue:

For fun:  A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

For introspection:  Practicing Resurrection by Nora Gallagher

For understanding:  Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

For a dose of “classic”:  The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

For rainy, quiet Friday nights:  Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

According to Goodreads, I finished 22 books in 2016 and ran the usual gamut from non-fiction to fiction, though I was lighter on “fem-moirs” than in years past.  The round-up:


Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion by Sara Miles

The Dream of a Common Language by Adrienne Rich

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer by Tracy Kidder

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God by Lauren F. Winner

Parenting Without Power Struggles by Susan Stiffelman

Stoner by John Williams

Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating by Mark Bittman

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn Edin

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

My Bright Abyss: Meditation of  Modern Believer by Christian Wiman

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Peace Like A River by Leif Enger

You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West


Best books of 2016:  PEACE LIKE A RIVER!  Sweet Jesus, this was good.  It’s been a long time since I’ve fallen for a character like I did for Reuben.  And his sister, Swede.  And his dad, Jeremiah.  And his wayward brother, Davy.  Ok, I loved all the family.  All the imagery.  All the things about this book!

Also dug Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed, because, wowsers, that woman has a way with words that’s amazingly simple but profound.  Honorable mention to Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See for weaving such an intricate, beautiful story, and to Lindy West’s Shrill for her sheer bad-assery.  Oh, and to Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air, for touching me to the point that I did the full-on ugly sob while reading the final chapter in bed one night.  It was a good reading year.

On the docket for 2017:  I’m about 150 pages into Atlas Shrugged, and if my Kindle is accurate, it will only take me about 47 hours to finish that one out (oooofffff…).  I’ll be reading a little outside my comfort zone with Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire and Dark Money.  Will be jumping very much back into my comfort zone with Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling and I’m Just a Person by Tig Notaro.  IF I ever finish Atlas Shrugged, that is…

I checked out The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up from the library a couple of weeks ago, curious to find out for myself what all the buzz was about.  I’d heard stories about people completely overhauling their homes after heeding the author’s call to declutter, and though I like to think I run a relatively tight ship around here, I’m always open to ideas about how to live more simply.  The main premise of the book is this:  if you don’t love it, if it doesn’t bring you joy, LET IT GO.  Pretty revolutionary in this day and age of excess, isn’t it?  But I’m nothing if not revolutionary (says the woman who breaks out in hives at the mere thought of change!), so I’ve decided to see what kinds of un-loved things are lurking in the recesses of our closets and cabinets.  One of the primary guidelines for purging is to evaluate your belongings by category rather than location – rather than going through your home room by room, gather all your books or clothes or mementos in one place and go through the pile at one time, so that you get a truer sense of how much you own.  I’ve broken down our stuff into the following categories and hope to tackle one or two bunches a week, with the ultimate goal of handling every single item in our house by the time summer rolls around.

  • books
  • eating/drinking/cooking wares
  • linens and towels
  • toiletries
  • toys
  • art supplies
  • papers
  • decor items
  • mementos/keepsakes
  • clothes
  • random crap

According to the book, you’re actually supposed to start with clothes, but given the number of things in my closet that I know I’m doomed to part with, I’m not ready to go there.  Books it is, then!  Shane and I aren’t major book collectors, so this should be easy, right?  Right?!

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I grabbed every last book in our house and piled them all on the kitchen island today.  I was a little taken aback to see these all stacked up together – I thought I did a solid bookshelf purge a couple of years ago?  I was even more taken aback when I started sifting through the stacks and realized how many novels I’ve been hanging on to that I have no intention of reading again.  In about 45 minutes, I’d weeded out a good third of our collection – what remains are my favorite art and architecture books, about 30 memoirs and novels I love, and a small pile for Jules.  I actually did a second culling as I was putting these away and came up with another 20 titles I was ready to ditch.

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Coming soon to Goodwill on Dearborn!

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Seven paper bags of books now sit in our downstairs hall, ready to leave our house and never return again.  Our bookshelves are looking wonderfully sparse.  “Life-changing magic” might be a stretch, but this felt good.

The list-maker in me loves these looks back at 2015, so indulge me one more time!  This is what I read:

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This is Ridiculous This is Amazing by Jason Good

Wonder Weeks by Frans X. Plooij

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Not that Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

Why We Can’t Wait by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls

Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Everything You Ever Wanted by Jillian Lauren

God Help the Child by Toni Morrison

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe


It wasn’t a stellar reading year for me – it seemed rare that I was fully engaged in a book.  I lulled a lot on the longer reads (dang you, Goldfinch!) and was disappointed by what I thought would be fun, easy page-turners (Lena Dunham let me down!).  That said, there were still a couple of stand-out gems.

Best books of 2015:  I ended up reading quite a few books focused on justice and race – books that are relevant and important at any time and place, but all the more so given the fact that recent headlines speak of instance after instance of prejudice, oppression, and maltreatment.  I read Why We Can’t Wait over the summer and was rocked by the way Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. boldly defied discrimination with such powerful grace, such selfless love.  Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy was also a reminder that, holy crap, one guy can make a substantive difference.  Honorable mentions to Half Broke Horses for being, just, fun, and to Uncle Tom’s Cabin for putting me through the emotional gamut, from tear-jerking sorrow to hot-blooded indignation.

Worst book of 2015:  Wonder Weeks.  I thought it would be packed with interesting nuggets of insight into what’s happening in Juliette’s quickly-developing brain, but instead it was filled with obvious observations and repetitive anecdotes.  Shoulda skipped it.

On the docket for 2016:  Looking forward to losing myself in the story of All the Light We Cannot See (I’ve heard good things).  Hoping to prompt some intense introspection with My Bright Abyss.  And boldly adding Atlas Shrugged to the list, as it’s been taunting me from my bookshelf for about five years now, intimidating me with its heft.  Bring it.

Things have been relatively uneventful at Chez Schnell since we returned from our week in Oregon – we fell back into our regular routine pretty smoothly and picked up right where we left off at work and daycare.  I wouldn’t necessarily say we came home rested, as Juliette missed the vacation memo about sleeping in and whiling away the afternoons with a good book, but I did come back with a burst of productive energy.  I’ve been hitting my task list hard this past couple of weeks, declaring August “get ‘er done month!”

Most significantly, after nine years of procrastination, we have a wedding album!  I spent a weekend combing through all 1700 of our wedding photos, pulling out and editing my favorites.  The album came in the mail a couple of days ago, and I’m thrilled with it.  We don’t have top-notch pictures of our special day, but this book definitely captures the most important moments and people.  CHECK.

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After three years of lamenting the state of our water-marked dining room table, we borrowed a disc sander from a friend and I went to town on my first furniture refinishing project.  I put the final coat of polyurethane on it tonight and, with the exception of one gut-wrenching spot where I sanded through the veneer, it looks pretty good.   Much improved, at least. The dining room makeover that I started back in April is nearly complete!

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I also cleaned out our closets and took four bags of clothes to Goodwill, got Juliette’s baby book up-to-date, purged my iPhone photo library, and picked enough blackberries to make a damn good pie (super-important stuff).  Phew!  I haven’t been this productive since that final burst of nesting momentum I felt when I was eight months pregnant (no, I’m not pregnant!  had you wondering, though, huh?).

Admittedly, I think I’m addicted to that rush of check-marking adrenaline – I’ve recently been falling asleep and waking up with nothing but to-do’s on the brain.  Thankfully, Juliette is quick to remind me that all work and no play just ain’t gonna fly, so we’ve had a couple of good romps at the playground and took a very satisfying dip in Lake Washington this evening.  Thanks, Jules, for keeping my neuroses in check.  Now go clean your room.

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I think I started this loop scarf in…2012?  Is that possible?  Anyhow, bottom line is, it took me dang near forever to get this one finished, but I bound off the last stitches last week and love how it turned out.  Soft, good drape, just the right amount of color.  And done in time for these last couple (or few?…ugh…) months of winter.

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Pattern found here.

La Verne sent me a link to this pattern a couple of months ago with the message “wouldn’t this be the cutest on Jules?”.  Yes, La Verne, actually it would!

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I had some chunky blue yarn I was going to use for a hat, but I opted for this instead – it knitted up super-fast and only required one quick YouTube refresher course to finish off the ears.  Shane thinks she looks like a Teletubby, but I don’t care – she’s wearing this thing for as long as I can get it over her head!

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Pattern available for purchase on Ravelry.

I got off to a slow start in 2014 but breezed through a lot of fun reads the last couple of months, bringing my reading tally to 20 books.  Last year’s bookshelf contains my usual eclectic mix – a lot of memoirs, a couple of self-help books, a little poetry, some teen fiction…  The year in review:

2014-12 books

The Sleepeasy Solution by Jennifer Waldburger

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

Help Thanks Wow by Anne Lamott

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

Le Divorce by Diane Johnson

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Love Poems by Nikki Giovanni

Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Best books of 2014:  I just finished Operating Instructions and have once again been wowed by Anne Lamott’s ability to speak to my soul – this journal of her first year of motherhood in all its ups and downs was so poignant and so familiar.  One moment her son is the light of her life, the sweetest, most beautiful creature ever to exist, the next moment he is the devil incarnate (love you, Jules!).  Honorable mention to Bossypants for being hilarious and engaging and exactly the kind of thing I was wanting to read on rainy December afternoons.  I should also give a shout-out to The Sleepeasy Solution for saving us from those late-night marathon baby-bouncing sessions as we “trained” the baby to get to sleep on her own (seriously, I love you, Jules!).

Worst book of 2014:  There are a few duds up there, but particularly wish I hadn’t wasted my time on Le Divorce.  I picked this one up because it’s set in Paris and the review I read promised the perfect mix of tragedy and comedy, but even the Parisian scenery wasn’t enough to get me on board.  Unbelievable, slooooow, and without a single likable character.

On the docket for 2015:  Last year was a little light on classics – going to make up for it this year by tackling The Brothers Karamazov and Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  I’d like to delve deeper into poetry as well, maybe pick up Wendell Berry or Maya Angelou.  And for balance, I’ll probably throw in a little Lena Dunham and Mindy Kaling, to stay well-rounded, of course…

Yesterday was my birthday, but we did the bulk of our celebrating today, with brunch and two park visits and a little me-time and then dinner with friends.  It was a great day.  Such a great day, in fact, that I couldn’t limit my snapshots to just 10 favorites…thus, here’s 16 on 10!

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Volunteer Park Cafe might be a new go-to breakfast spot – such a cozy vibe in there.  Juliette was clearly a fan!


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Who’s that guy out there?


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Fall is in full-swing.  And I love it.


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Park fix.


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Her hair matches these autumn leaves so perfectly.


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I slipped away this afternoon for a little treat.


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Such a luxury these days…


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Liking this color combo.


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Kubota love.


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SERIOUS Kubota love.


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Higher, dad, higher!


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First-ever ride on papa’s shoulders.


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No hands!


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Dinner with the gang.


With that, I’ve got a salted caramel macaron and a cup of mint tea calling my name…  Over and out.

Another ten on ten (which is actually nine on ten this month, as I came up one photo short!):

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Breakfast at our favorite neighborhood joint.


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Followed by swinging and teeter-tottering at the playground.


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Shane’s training for a 100-mile bike ride and spent the morning giving his Trek some extra love.


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Beach baby.


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The water was warm today! (photo by Shane)


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Back porch lounging during afternoon nap.


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Evening trek to Jefferson Park.


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Sun going down on a perfect day.