March is almost over, time to revisit my goals for the year

goals

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Ah yes. The first quarter of 2013 is almost over (already??) and I thought it would be fun to look back on those lists of goals I made back in January. In previous years, I didn’t look at my lists again until December and I’m hoping that thinking about them more regularly will help keep me on track.

Today, I’ll talk about my non-bookish goals. How am I doing so far?

I’m still not leaving enough time to make things with my hands. I am, of course, attending my Creative Therapy course where I do lots of interesting artsy things, but the idea was to also do them at home. I made one mandala and that’s it so far.

I’ve also not read anything about mandalas, nor explored anything non-fiction and creativity-related. Maybe I should make a list of books to choose from.

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I am learning the tarot, Ms Bookish and I have a project going. It’s slow, I only have time to look at the cards once a week at most, but at least I started. Yay, me!

Hmmm… have I learned to love and respect myself? Maybe not fully, but I do feel that I’m on the right track. I do loads more exercise than I did at the beginning of the year – I got a pedometer so I’m walking a lot, I do yoga and I went back to my tap class. I also kind of started running, but my enthusiasm got derailed by the return of winter. It’s way too cold to go outside unless you absolutely have to. I have been much better with healthy food too.

I’m definitely writing more and I feel like writing is becoming part of who I am. I took a skillshare course on writing blog posts taught by another jennifer and that kickstarted my blogging again, gave me focus. I’m happy with how that’s going.

We haven’t travelled a whole lot this year yet, but we have lots of plans. We were in Wales in January, we’re going to Poland next week, we have a couple of weekend trips planned (including to Dublin!) and will travel a lot in the summer. Summer will probably be Slovenia and Croatia, though we’re not completely sure yet.

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Shane in Dublin when he was much smaller. His first time crawling on grass too!

I’m getting better at watching my money but still spend money recreationally, so to speak. Sometimes it’s just nice to go shopping! 🙂

De-cluttering is a work-in-progress. I got rid of a couple of big items of furniture and am always selling toys and clothes that Shane has grown out of, but our house needs so much more. It would be great if I could take a week off work and just de-clutter the house, but that’s not going to happen. I need a plan.

I’ve been working on my relationships and I’m much happier for it. I make sure to spend quality time with my husband and with Shane, and I make sure to go out with girlfriends regularly too. It’s amazing what catching up with people you love can do for your soul!

And, last but not least, I have been reading a lot. But a bookish goals post will come separately, probably on Sunday, so I won’t go into that here.

All in all, I’m happy with how things are going. I would need loads more time to do all the things I want to do, but I’m doing well with what I have.

Do you make goals for the year? How are you doing?

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Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

howlI finally understand why people love this author so much. Howl’s Moving Castle is so fun to read, a fairy tale that’s not only for kids, a story that warmed my heart. And how timely  to have read it now so that I can review it for Diana Wynne Jones March organised by We Be Reading!

The story takes place in a magical world where pretty much anything is possible. Sophie, the eldest of three daughters and therefore destined for absolutely nothing (the eldest is always destined to fail), doesn’t have any expectations for her life. Until the Witch of the Waste visits her hat shop and turns her into an old woman. Now, free from rules and expectations, Sophie can go on an adventure of her very own. This leads her to Howl and his moving castle, where she makes a deal with Howl’s fire demon and ends up staying. While trying to break the witch’s spell she discovers more than she could have imagined.

What I loved most about Sophie is the change that happened in her when the witch made her old. She had always followed the rules and didn’t expect anything more than what she was entitled to, which in her world meant nothing. But then, when her whole world was taken away with that spell, she didn’t break down or despair, she got on with it and just did whatever she wanted, not caring who it pleased or displeased. It’s a great idea to put in a story, the ridiculousness of following expectations when you’re clearly capable of so much more. And the idea that when you grow up you’ll look at things very differently.

“It was odd. As a girl, Sophie would have shrivelled with embarrassment at the way she was behaving. As an old woman, she did not mind what she did or said.”

I admit that I loved Howl… I think I could have been one of those enamoured girls they talk about at the beginning of the book.

I also really liked the story. Some of it was predictable, sure, but it was still enchanting enough to hold my interest. And I loved the fairy-tale feel of the book, but without any of the sugary, almost forced sweetness you sometimes see in such stories. It felt like a fairy tale, like a crazy world that could never exist, and yet it felt real somehow, too.

It was comforting to spend time in the world Diana Wynne Jones built, and I would like to go back again. I understand that there are two sequels to this book, and I know that there is a famous movie.

Have you read/watched them? Should I bother?

Can we really have it all?

work-life-balance

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The other day, I got to attend a talk by Anne-Marie Slaughter, former Director of Policy Planning in the U.S. State Department (she worked for Hilary Clinton) and current Professor of Politics and International Studies at Princeton University. She chose to leave the State Department and go back to working at Princeton because her kids needed her and that was most important. At Princeton, she could largely set her own schedule and that was more compatible with family.

So, after her experience, she published this article, basically explaining why women can’t have it all. They can’t have a glorious career and have a family and do everything well and be happy and not have a nervous breakdown. They can’t do all this at once because our society doesn’t give them the support they need to be able to cope with it all.

Lots of women were pretty angry. They said that Slaughter is setting back the women’s cause by saying that women can’t do everything men can do. Women have fought for so long to be treated equally and now a woman is speaking out and saying it’s not true? Not to mention that it’s such a discouraging message to young women just starting out…

But I think Slaughter is right. It’s better to tell women the truth, tell them that it’s hard to have a career and a family and that they will probably have to choose at some point. It’s better to tell them that when it comes to childcare, women and men are not treated the same. Somehow, whether a future father will be able to handle a baby and a job is never a question. I vote for the truth, because, as hundreds of women have already expressed, I would have preferred to know how things really were. My choices would have been informed and I would have understood the choices that were available to me better. As it happened, I wasn’t expecting to have to make a choice at all and, in effect, like so many other women around me, felt like a failure because I didn’t manage to do both the career thing and the family thing, be everything to everyone.

Make no mistake, this is powerful societal guilt! A whole generation of women fought hard so that I can live like I live, so that I can do whatever I want. I can vote, I can work in any career I choose, I am not my husband’s property, etc. I am so much more than a mother and a wife. So what’s wrong with me? Why can’t I handle having it all?

I finally realize that the fault isn’t mine. It lies with the expectations society has of me, which influence what I expect from myself. It lies with how we have structured our world and how we are conditioned to look at it. And it can be conquered, changed.

Does this mean that we can’t have it all, ever? I agree with Slaughter, absolutely not. Her solutions are better family leave possibilities, better daycare, deep flexibility at work and changing the mindsets we widely hold.

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The family leave possibilities that we need are obvious. In Europe we have loads more choices than people in the States do, but the situation is far from perfect. It should be possible to have longer maternity leave , paternity leave should be normal, we need leave possibilities to cover school holidays and when kids get sick. And there can’t be any judgement attached to taking family leave. Slaughter says that “If family comes first, work does not come second” and this is so important. Men especially seem to get a lot of judgement of their ‘manliness’ when they ask for family leave.

The need for accessible, affordable, high quality daycare is obvious. Mommies and Daddies can’t go to work if there is no daycare.

Deep flexibility is a tough one – though, according to Slaughter, Americans are doing well in their attitudes towards it, it’s just their laws that need to catch up. Here in Europe, it’s just the opposite. We have pretty good laws, but we haven’t had a shift in our beliefs yet and as a society are relatively conservative. Allowing one in ten employees to work from home every Wednesday is not deep flexibility. Moving to a results-based working environment and  not keeping track of hours worked or time in the office, as long as high-quality work is produced, that’s what we need.

And our mindsets, all those years of conditioning, need to change. Equality isn’t just a women’s issue and it won’t happen as long as it remains a women’s issue. Women and men alike need to comfortable being both breadwinners and caregivers. As Slaughter points out, why do we only talk about ‘working mothers’, not ‘working fathers’? Why do so many women say that they don’t want a husband who stays at home? Why is the macho man image still so prevalent if so many of use are shouting out about equality? Why is it that women judge other women’s  choices more harshly than men do? Why are our corporations and institutions modeled on the parent/child relationship, where we have to ‘ask’ our ‘superiors’ for ‘permission’ to do things and where we are not trusted to just get the work done?

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I know that this isn’t true for everyone and I understand that there are jobs that don’t mesh with a flexible lifestyle. I also know people who don’t want flexibility because it blurs the line between work and private life and they don’t want that. But this ‘having it all’ thing is true for many of us and if we think about it and talk about it then maybe we can make the world better for us and for our kids. I fully expect to work flexibly for the rest of my life and to have the time I need to raise my son like I want to raise him. I’m hoping that believing in it will make it true. And I would love to think that my son will be free to spend as much time as he wants to or needs to with his family because he’ll be working in a system flexible enough to allow for that and living in a society that doesn’t judge him for his choices.

There is so much to say about this subject and I have pages and pages of notes from this talk, but have to make a selection of ideas. This post is long enough. But if you want to discuss any of these things – or any related issues – some more then let me know, maybe we can do that somehow. For me, the conversation Slaughter started is so very important, as it shows me and other women like me that we’re not alone and gives us hope that if we band together we can change things.

So, let’s change things, one conversation at a time.

My search for the perfect breakfast muffin

breakfast

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Breakfast is my downfall.

I don’t like the texture of porridge, I don’t drink milk and I don’t like the smoothness of yogurt.

I don’t particularly like savoury breakfasts, maybe once in a while. My idea of a good breakfast involves sugar and some kind of baked good, if possible. Cake and coffee make me happy. So do pancakes. And sugary cereal. And let’s not forget croissants and pains au chocolat, after all, I do live in Belgium and have to walk by several places with lovely fresh-baked yumminess in the air.

They all make me happy, but are not that healthy. And I’m always looking for ways to be more healthy. Aren’t we all?

0-8So I’ve been experimenting with breakfast muffins. Now, the first thing I learned is that including a banana does not make it good for you. Too bad. I could be eating Nigella’s Chocolate Banana Muffins for breakfast all the time.

Here are a few recipes that I’ve tried recently. The first two are sweet and the third is savory. The sweet ones were devoured by the whole family, including my 3-year-old, who wasn’t capable of having just one. The savory ones were just for me, I think the cottage cheese scares people off!

  • These Oatmeal Banana Breakfast Muffins were AMAZING. Seriously good. They have no flour, no butter and no oil so you can feel very virtuous indeed!
  • These 5-minute Paleo Muffins were good. Not amazing, but good. They are based on nut butter so are high-protein and kept me going for quite a while. And the best part is that I really did whip them up in 5 minutes.
  • These Cottage Cheese Muffins from 101 Cookbooks, which has got to be one of the best food blogs out there.  Very tasty.

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And here are the next ones on my to-try list:

  • These Toddler Muffins with banana, carrot and squash in them. I suppose I could share them with my son.
  • These Quinoa Muffins from Martha Stewart. I really, really hope they’re good, I’d love to use quinoa in this way!
  • These Coconut Flour Banana Muffins – because I have so. much. coconut flour and I really need to start using it up.
  • This Clean Banana Bread – not a muffin, but banana bread is always good in my book.

Do you have a sweet-but-healthy recipe to share? Or is this kind of breakfast really not your thing?

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This post will be linked to Weekend Cooking over at Beth Fish Reads. Make sure you visit and check out the other recipes and foodie thoughts!

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Sunday Salon: My favorite Irish books

ShamrockHappy Saint Patrick’s Day! I admit that I love this fun green holiday, despite the fact that I think St. Patrick could have left the snakes (i.e. pagans) of Ireland alone. I don’t agree with him, but I do like all things Irish, so to celebrate here are a couple of lists of Irish books.

10 recently read books by Irish authors that you should read too

1. Star of the Sea by Joseph O’Connor – This is probably my favorite book by an Irish author. It tells the story of people leaving Ireland and sailing for America in the mid-1800s. A heartbreaking, well-written and historically interesting story.
2. In the Woods and The Likeness by Tana French – Popular mystery series about detectives working in Dublin. Tana French has interesting storylines and characters.
3. P.S. I Love You by Cecilia Ahern – Sometimes one needs some good chicklit and this book has a great story and the Irish setting is a nice change.
4. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin – Another immigrant story, about how a girl who gets the opportunity to go to America and copes with the changes and loneliness.
5. Dracula by Bram Stoker – I didn’t know Bram Stoker was Irish until I read this! Definitely read this if you haven’t already, even if you think you already know the story of Dracula.
6. The Truth About the Leprechaun by Bob Curran – I loved the title so bought this on a whim in a giftshop somewhere in Ireland. Some interesting stuff about the legend of the leprechaun.
7. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne – A unique take on a difficult and painful subject.
8. Dubliners by James Joyce – I read this in high school and remember loving all the stories. Must re-read soon, would anyone be interested in a read-a-long?
9. Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer – Lovely book about  a boy who captures a fairy and starts some trouble. I read this and one or two of the next books in the series but I want to re-read them and continue on to read them all.
10. Room by Emma Donoghue – I suppose everyone has at least heard of this one, but if you haven’t then don’t be scared when you read the synopsis. It’s not as gruesome as it seems it should be. The fact that it’s told from the point of view of a 5-year-old makes the tone different to anything you would expect.

6 Books by Irish authors that are sitting on my shelf, unread

1. The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
2. Redemption Falls by Joseph O’Connor
3. Plugged by Eoin Colfer
4. How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill
5. Sushi for Beginners by Marian Keyes
6. In the Forest by Edna O’Brien

Anything else Irish that I should buy?

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5 reasons for why I gave money to the Veronica Mars movie

_veronica_mars_kristen_bell__2_Well, ok, it was only 10 bucks, but it’s still money, so my title holds true. 

(If you don’t know what I’m talking about, google Veronica Mars movie and Kickstarter. If you don’t know who Veronica Mars is this post will probably not interest you. Though you should go get the DVDs and watch it. Possibly tonight.)

I’d never even been on the Kickstarter website until yesterday, so why did I immediately fork over cash?

1.Veronica Mars (played by Kristen Bell) is awesome! She is spunky, intelligent and cute. She cares about her Dad (whom she lives with), she supports the underdogs and she solves crimes. Yep, her Dad has a PI firm and she helps out. Sometimes, she helps out way more than her Dad wants her to and ends up in trouble. But she is perfectly capable of getting herself out of it and she usually makes life better for some other people along the way too. She’s not perfect and she has suffered quite a bit more than many girls her age (oh yeah, she’s still in high school!). Most importantly, she saved me when I didn’t know where to go in TV-land after I finished watching Buffy. She saved me, and now I will help save her.

2. Giving just $10 made me feel like I could do anything. My $10 helped finance a future Veronica Mars movie. Wow, what more could I accomplish? A Buffy movie?  Or even a Spike movie? The possibilities are endless!

3. Why should the big cheeses in Hollywood decide on everything? I think that too many recently released movies are total crap – they all cater to the action-loving viewers. I don’t like gratuitous violence (or sex) in my films, superheroes do nothing for me and I’m too chicken to watch horror movies. I like strong female characters and intelligent, witty writing. If I have to pay to get those kinds of movies made, I’ll do it.

(Please feel free to suggest movies I need to watch based on these criteria! I’m all out of ideas!)

4. Fans, the regular people, are always underestimated. But when they join together they are a huge force! These days, being a fan of something doesn’t mean you join a club and send away for signed postcards. Fans dissect whatever they are passionate about, they re-create the worlds they love, they write fan fiction to extend storylines or take characters on other paths. Fans take the televisions, movies, music they love and build on them, are inspired by them, take creativity to a new level. Why shouldn’t they have a say in what’s being produced?

5. Ummm, because I had just come back from the theatre (we saw Calendar Girls, if you live in Brussels go see it this week!) where I had had 2 glasses of wine and it was past midnight and it seemed like a good idea? I don’t know, I guess I only have 4 reasons, but 5 is a better number for a list!

Reading about the project and about Kickstarter today, I came across various opinions, both positive and negative. My Friend Amy pointed out that some people find it unfair that Warner Brothers won’t have any production costs, but will get all the profits. But honestly, for this particular project, I simply don’t care. I just want to see the movie. This won’t apply to many projects, I can’t think of any others, except for whatever  Joss Whedon comes up with. But it’ll apply to some.

Veronica Mars, I’m glad that I’ll have the chance to spend another couple of hours in your company!

* Photo via Collider

A Red Herring without Mustard by Alan Bradley

flaviaAah, the third Flavia de Luce mystery.

(My thoughts on the first book in the series are here. I read but didn’t blog about the second.)

I’m loving this series, especially wonderful Flavia, the 11-year-old chemistry genius. I love that she’s fascinated by something so un-girly (poisons!) and that she’s so smart in some situations and so obviously 11 in others.

She is the kind of girl I wish I had been.

Several things bothered me about this book though. Especially Flavia’s family. Her father is never around and surely someone should be watching a little girl more closely than that, even in those days when things were safer. And her sisters – how cruel! I get that there is sibling rivalry  etc, but the sisters are unnaturally mean. They tie her up in the cellar! And they try to make her believe that their mother, who passed away years ago, didn’t love her. They tell her that she’s a changeling or adopted. This really bothered me. Even Flavia’s ingenious plans for revenge, perfectly executed at the exact moment in which they would do the most harm, didn’t cheer me up. Because underneath the chemistry genius exterior was a little girl who was told her Mother didn’t love her and that was wrong.

The other thing that bugged me was the timing. All the crimes happen within months of each other and it seems odd. It’s not only that it’s not believable for a small village in England to get that much action. It’s also that we don’t see Flavia changing, growing much. Maybe this is because Flavia is only charming as an 11-year-old and once she ages the series will die. But still.

I will definitely read the next book despite all this, because I would hate to leave Flavia as long as stories about her are still out there.

Isn’t it great when characters have such an effect on the reader?