Welcome to our Home: The Home Library (and Kids Space)

It is finally time to start talking about our new home! It’s been a long time coming (not really, hard to believe but we’ve only been in this house for 2 ½ months), but I think it’s finally time to start sharing. I think I’m going to do this in a couple different posts, sectioning out our downstairs into 5 or 6 posts. This is the only part of my house (and just home in general) that I do share as I am going to keep the bedrooms and office private. 

I figured I would start things off with what may be one of the most important spaces in our home (in only my opinion…my husband and kids beg to differ), our home library. While I couldn’t recreate my “wall of books” (HERE) from our last home, I was able to create a cozy little space and a full chunk of our downstairs just to the shelves. 

So, we’ve got a little corner nook set up in this home, just off the main living room. In the center is the boys school table where they do their schoolwork as needed. I liked that I could have a similar “library” set up as you would find at their school with a table in the center. The way the house is laid out and the other rooms are set up, I ended up preferring this to have my reading chair in the corner. 

Aside from the main shelves, which we will get to in the moment, I do have one end table that holds a variety of “coffee table” books that I reach for frequently, as well as my current month “TBR” stack of books. On the top of the shelves there is a wide variety of décor, the various castles we’ve visited on our travel, some important books (both childhood and adulthood), as well as a framed quote from Pride and Prejudice, my wedding dress, and a framed piece of quilled paper artwork. 

Now on to the shelves themselves. There is a total of 5 (though I would like to get one more at some point and I’m sure I’ll need more in the future), and they are the Threshold Carson bookshelves from Target (HERE) in Espresso Brown. They’ve held up through two to three moves now and we’ve been really pleased with them.

A note of my organization system, I organize by “category” and then author last name within that. So, we’ve got (from right to left): Classics, Non-Fiction, General Fiction, Collections, Poetry, Memoir/Self Help, Religious/Belief/Spiritual, Manga & Graphic Novels. The final bookcase on the far left is my unread books. The goal is to keep my unread books to only one bookcase, preferably even less than that at some point, but as I’m a mostly mood reader that can only go so far. 

I also split this chunk of our downstairs (which is an open floor plan) into both the Home Library as well as a kid’s space to play downstairs. As much as our boys love to play in their room (though not as much as we would maybe prefer) they inevitably bring toys downstairs and want to play near us. I wanted to have a spot for them to do that that was still “connected” to where we would be, but not right in our faces for noise purposes. This is also a Lego spot for them to have all their Legos to build and play as they want. 

They have a main table (which is our old coffee table), then a little cabinet in the corner which holds books and school supplies (in the drawer), and a little shelf system which holds some more books. In between the two is where the Lego’s get stored in little plastic containers. The name signs are 3D printed from an Etsy shop called (linked HERE). I thought it would be a nice, personalized touch, as well as help with name recognition and spelling. They can also hang art projects if they like on the walls. 

So, that’s the home library and kids’ section of the downstairs of our house, AS WELL AS the first look into our New York home. I hope you enjoyed this first peak, and I look forward to sharing more with you! If you have any specific questions, please let me know in the comments below. 

A Day in Alexandria Bay

We recently spent a day exploring a little bit of Alexandria Bay and the Thousand Islands Region. The entire Thousand Island Region is absolutely gorgeous, and we really wanted the chance to explore it a bit more (we recently took a weekend to see Sackett’s Harbor and Wellesley Island which you can read about HERE), so we decided that a boat tour was the best way to go. Not only did this give us a chance to see the waterways, the summer vacation homes that most of us dream of, we also were able to stop at Boldt Castle, a well-known spot in the region. *A note that you can visit Boldt Castle and Singer Castle by personal boat if you have your own- they have docking options. *

Let’s back up a bit and touch a little on Alexandria Bay. Alexandria Bay was originally home to the Iroquois & Algonquin tribes, who would use the area as a Summer Hunting and Fishing spot. During the American Revolution (and shortly after) the land was purchased, then it passed hands after the War of 1812, the continued to be passed around for some time. Eventually the goal was to bring the Islands and Alexandria Bay to become a premier Sumer destination and, after the Civil War and a visit by Ulysses S. Grant, it did. Another period of time that did the region a lot of good was Prohibition when the narrow river ways would allow alcohol to be covertly brought into New York from Canada. To this day you can still find bottles at the bottom of the water from when they were tossed over as law enforcement approached. 

While we were in the area our main focus was the boat tour and Boldt Castle, but we did wander up through James St (and pick up a wine slushie- delicious) and a little bit along the river walk. There is plenty for us to go back and wander through and I can totally see the allure of this area as a summer hotspot. It brings all the charm of a “Bay Town” with just enough history and a variety of things to do. It’s also close to the Canadian Border (when it opens) if you want to pop over. 

Now, on to our main events, Uncle Sams Boat Tour and Boldt Castle.

Uncle Sam’s Boat Tour is one of the companies that operates tours throughout the water ways of the St. Lawrence River. They have several different tour options for you to choose from, each a variety of sites to see and costs. You can also choose to simply take their ferry over to the castle if that’s all you want to see. I personally would recommend taking one of the full tours so you can see the area a bit more in depth. We chose to do the American Narrows Tour (link) which gave us a good variety of the Islands, a stop at Boldt Castle, and was a good amount of time for our children too. Each tour comes with a tour guide on hand that takes you through this history and current information for the area AND a snack/drink bar. At some point I would like to do the tour that takes you out to Singer Castle as well. 

A couple of tour highlights for us were the Skull & Bones Society clubhouse. Story goes that the original owner of the Island was a part of the Skull & Bones Society at Yale and upon graduation (club rule) willed the entire Island to the club. There was also an island that had a partially sunken boat where the captain decided that steering the boat as it was out of the narrows was not worth it, so he simply left it on the side. Another interesting spot that gained some fame? An island that was owned by The Claudia Family that has both a home and an old monastery. Not only the monastery claimed to be haunted, but the island also served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. The TAPS team from Ghost Hunters and Meatloaf came out to film an episode of the show and feature the “haunted island”. One final fun story (or rather not fun for the people involved) was our tour was about a man-made island. Story goes a man wanted to buy an island and summer home for his wife, so he sent her up to the region to search for the one she wanted. She searched and searched and didn’t find one she liked, so he purchased some of the underwater ground and BUILT an island for her. He then built the house on it and presented it to her. But, as you may see where this is going, she didn’t like it, and ultimately decided she didn’t like him. The island and home still stand today, presumably with a happier family in residence. 

The last, well only, stop on the tour is at the famed Boldt Castle. 

George Boldt immigrated from Prussia to America in 1864 at age 13. He started at the bottom as a kitchen worker before climbing up the chain of the hotel industry. At 30 he purchased his own hotel (The Bellevue) and thus continued his rise. Ultimately, he would become the proprietor of the merged Waldorf Astoria (after mediating a feud between William and Jacob Astor). He is also the very man who made the Thousand Island Dressing so famous, having his maître-d include it on the menu of his hotel restaurant. 

In the beginning of 1900, he purchased Heart Island with the sole purpose of building a Rhineland Castle as a symbol of the love he had for his wife, Louise. The plan for the castle was a 6-story building with 120 rooms, along with tunnels a powerhouse, Italian Gardens, a Children’s playhouse, drawbridge and more. It was to be a massive castle. Work had been underway on the home for a few years before Louise suddenly died from pneumonia, at which point George, in his grief, ordered all work to be stopped and never stepped foot on the island for the rest of his life. 

An ultimate symbol of love (if you ask me). 

As the home and island fell into disrepair, it was eventually purchased by the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority to restore and open the home/grounds. You are able to tour both the home (both the completed and incomplete areas) and the grounds and all proceeds from shop and ticket sales go directly back into the restoration. 

Now, let me say this straight away, the home and grounds are IMPRESSIVE. We loved our day there and I’ll share all the things about it, BUT I don’t know if I would classify it as a castle, more so as an estate. Semantics, I know, but that’s just my thoughts. 

So, some of the highlights for us…

The Entry Arch. Modeled off of the Roman Arches and maybe a little inspiration from the Arc De Triumphe, this was supposed to serve as the formal entry point to the island. It is topped with 3 Stag Deer (a theme throughout).

The Power House and Clock Tower. This is the most photographed spot on the property (and probably one of my favorite little nooks) and served as the home to the 2 generators that would have been used to power the home and island. It was designed to appear like a medieval tower rising directly from the water and features a beautiful bridge across the water for access. The clock tower was modeled and formed off of the chime tower at Westminster in London. 

The interior of the home was where I really saw the more modern (or rather of the time) American inspiration. Yes, we feature the massive fireplaces and the brick/stonework that you could find in other European Castles, but the marble flooring, the grand staircase, and the overall look of the interior was much more of its time and place. You can see both the hotel and concern for guests in the home, as well as the fact that he wanted to make it homelike for his family. The library and kitchen were personal favorites of mine, but I also wouldn’t have minded one of the open windowed natural light bedrooms on the second floor (I believe it was intended to be Louise’s). 

Of course, one cannot forget the Mother in Law suite that we learned about while on the boat. Allegedly the little house directly to the side of the main Island, accessible only by boat, was intended for George Boldt’s Mother-in-Law. There was a long funny story that was told to go along with this information, but I don’t know how factual any of it was, so I won’t share it here. It was funny though. 

Finally, we stopped over to the Yacht House across the river from the main house. The Yacht house served as the lodge for the Boldt’s houseboat and various yachts and speed or race boats they owned. There is a free shuttle from Heart Island that takes you over and you can either purchase tickets at Boldt Castle (a combined ticket) OR at the boathouse. The Yacht house currently holds a collection of antique boats on display, as well as a steam engine, and a steam Yacht that is on loan, but would have been similar to what the Boldt’s would have owned. The building itself is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Overall, we had such a beautiful day exploring the Islands, the Castle, and a little bit of Alexandria Bay. I can see this being a spot we come back to again. 

A Cuppa Cosy Reads – May 2021

Man, what was May?! For all it’s hard points (and there were several tough spots), there was also a major boon to my reading. I seemed to devour books like I hadn’t had a chance to this year, and I just spent a lot of my free time reading. I missed those days from 2020 and I’m glad that I am finally finding my reading groove once again. I read a total of 11 books with an average rating of 3.65 (dang those two super disappointing books). 

Let’s get into them…

The Luxe by Anna Godberson (PURCHASE) 2 Stars This was disappointing, although that might have been because I am not the intended audience? In Luxe we follow the young socialite society of early 19th century New York as they begin to come “of age”. They falter in their roles, fall in love, and fall away before being shocked by a tragic event. I’ll be honest, I do tend to enjoy this very specific genre of “social elite melodrama”, but this very much missed the mark. 

The Galaxy and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers (PURCHASE) 5 Stars As opposed to the above book, I LOVED this conclusion to the Wayfarers companion books. It had everything that I loved about the first book in the series, but with a different viewpoint and characters that we’ve only loosely known during the series. 

Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire (PURCHASE) 3 Stars This was alright. I kind of wondered, while reading, if I was kind of “out” of this series. I really enjoy the Wayward Children books as a whole, but I have felt like the past couple I’ve read have been “ok” rather than good. 

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner (PURCHASE) 2.5 Stars This book was easily probably the most disappointing book of the year for me so far. We follow 3 young women as they each navigate their own battle against society’s expectations (maybe?). I found the premise involving a “lost apothecary” who was rumored to sell poisons to women to use against the men in their lives to be interesting, however I found that this book lacked a really well-done execution. I feel like maybe it was a “debut author” thing, but I just wasn’t enjoying this one as I thought I would. 

Traitor’s Blade by Sebastien de Castell (PURCHASE) 4 Stars I well and truly enjoyed this book. I had heard it compared to a “3 Musketeers” retelling of sorts and man…it was just a lot of fun. In this first book we are following 3 Greatcoats, the original kings’ men and justice of the peace of the lands, as they try to carry out (and live) the mission of a now dead man. We’ve got excellent banter, quite a bit of action (but not in an overwhelming way) and just enough knowledge dropped throughout to keep you captivated, not bored/overwhelmed. I think my favorite thing about this story is that we have a political story told from an anti-political perspective.

What Kind of Woman by Kate Baer (PURCHASE) NR This is a poetry collection that I have been hearing rave reviews about for a little while now. I’m not a massive poetry reader, but I do enjoy it from time to time and I found quite a few of the poems in this collection to be…just perfect. It definitely lives up to the words and recommendations of others. 

Knight’s Shadow by Sebastien de Castell (PURCHASE) 4 Stars This is the second book in the Greatcoats series (the first book being Traitor’s Blade), and while I still loved this one and was captivated from page one, it definitely lost me a time or two in the story. Still, the banter was top notch and we got to see a bit more of the politics. 

Heartstopper Volume 4 by Alice Oseman (PURCHASE) 4 Stars This is the fourth installment in a graphic novel series following late adolescents as they learn about who they are and what they want. I appreciated the focus of this fourth volume on mental health and eating disorders. I highly recommend this entire graphic novel series. 

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab (PURCHASE) 4.5 Stars This book. This book is a tour de force from start to finish. We are following Addie LaRue who, in a desperate dramatic moment, made a deal to have a lifetime of freedom. The catch? No one will remember who she is. What follows is a woman trying to live a life, to live her life, and to learn what love and life truly mean. And let me tell you, it will sweep you up, it will punch you in the gut, and then, leave you like a deflated balloon. There was only one small bit that I didn’t get on with (that was early on in the book), but on the whole this was one of the top books of my month. 

That Way Madness Lies Edited by Dahlia Adler (PURCHASE) 4 Stars This was a collection of Shakespeare retellings written by a variety of authors. Mostly geared towards the Young Adult genre, these were very well done. I enjoyed the vastly different takes on the classic plays and would recommend to any Shakespeare lover. 

Skyward by Brandon Sanderson (PURCHASE) 4 Stars My final read of the month and I really went out with a bang. In Skyward we are following a group of humans living on a different planet under almost constant attack from a different species. This book is a science fiction/fantasy, but in a more approachable way than standard books in the genre. It’s Sanderson, so every little detail is given a lot of care, but it’s also not overwhelmingly detailed. It’s enough for you to understand and appreciate, but not turn you away from the series. 

And that wraps it up! It was a really good reading month to be honest and I’m looking forward to some big books and reading plans in June. What was your favorite book of the month?

The World is a Tough Place…Let’s Grab a Coffee and Chat

Hi. Hello. Happy Wednesday. Wednesday has come and I’m once again, kind of scrambling with this post. 

This post was not the intended post. By any means. I actually had a post scheduled 2 weeks in advance (a two parter spread across two weeks) and I’ve moved both posts to drafts for now (yep- the email subscribers got the first one, but it’s now back to drafts and off the blog/site for now). Call it protecting myself and others’ space, peace, and mental health. 

The world has felt like a dark and scary place of recent. Probably since the start of the v-word-that-shall-not-be-utter-or-written (seriously…have you seen the lengths that some go to to avoid getting that links ding?!). Realistically we’ve been spiraling on a trajectory for quite some time that Social Media and the 24-hour news cycle has flamed and then that global pandemic brought everything right front and center for so many. 

This has been a good thing. We’ve seen quite a bit of progress in quite a few different areas. We’ve brought to light issues in ways that haven’t succeeded in the past. We’ve laid bare areas we are sorely lacking (or rather totally losing). 

However, it’s also brought a lot of tension.

I might as well just come right out and say it. 

I didn’t want to talk about the Israel/Palestine conflict. I DON’T want to talk about the Israel/Palestine conflict. And you might be saying, “Ok, well then don’t” and after this non statement post that probably doesn’t need to exist, I won’t be. There are a wide variety of reasons for this, not the least of which being that I am privileged enough to live in a country that is not in a constant state of terror or war. I think that those of us in the West cannot ignore the fact that we do not live in this environment and we are not exposed to the specifics of this situation every second of every minute of every day. When we share these info graphics (that cannot even begin to conceptualize the reality of everything- but we won’t even begin that), we are thinking that we are “bringing light to an unseen/unheard situation”. While some facets of this may be correct (like Sheikh Jarrah, which we will get to in a moment), this conflict has gone on for far much longer than that and will probably continue to go on far past this trending incident. 

And, to be honest, both sides can go tit for tat over who started, who escalated, who has it worst, who loses, who wins, etc. till the end of time. We are seeing it now all-over social media. In fact, I was seeing a lot everywhere on Social Media, so much so that I went on a complete blackout. I logged off of everything, moved things away from my view, and silenced everything simply because it was TOO MUCH. There is so much being spread on both sides, so much tension, so much hatred, and it’s all PERSONAL. The condemnation happening is over a large group of people on both sides and all of the sharing, all of the commentary, all of the “let’s bring this to light” activism, while good in some cases, is also causing a lot of harm. 

Save Sheikh Jarrah is an important cause. I do not think that any family or person should be forcefully evicted from their home. Let me repeat that, I DO NOT think that anyone should be forcefully removed from their home. To bring to light that this is happening is important and the world should recognize that it is WRONG. However, minimizing or highlighting the entirety of the Israel/Palestine conflict to this one cause is wrong. This conflict predates and supersedes what is happening in this neighborhood. Saving the neighborhood is necessary and allowing the families that are currently living there, that have built their lives and their families there to stay is absolutely necessary. But thinking that the entire conflict will come to an end by doing this, or thinking this will be a win, is wrong. 

Another thing that is going around quite a bit is that the Israel/Palestine conflict is “not complicated” or “not nuanced”. That it is in fact quite “simple”. I hate when people say that something is “far too complicated and nuanced to sum up” as much as the next person, BUT we are talking about a dispute over a territory that is thousands of years old. It’s true that the Israel/Palestine conflict is not as old or as longstanding because Israel has only been in existence for ~70 years. However, this territory dispute? That dates back much further. We also cannot ignore the fact that religion IS at play here when the territory in question holds many of the holiest of sites across three different religions (Muslims, Christians, and Jews all have holy sites in Jerusalem). The original dispute over the territory is steeped in religion. And also, it’s being made to be about religion as people are equating Israel with Judaism (which is a multi-faceted argument in and of itself) and choosing to take this time to spew absolutely atrocious Jewish hatred (because antisemitism as a word is becoming to…easily pushed aside) as well as islamophobia. So, no it’s not simple. The Israel/Palestine conflict is just one more facet of a much larger dispute and we cannot ignore that fact. 

AND, with all of that stated, most of the people in the region just want to live their lives. They want to worship where they worship, they want to live how they live, and they want to exist with their neighbors and friends. And they DESERVE to have that. We all deserve to have that. When we listen to the everyday people of the region, to those on the ground they just want peace. They want their homes and their families to live freely. They don’t want to live in this kind of fear, fear that we in the West are privileged enough to have not known. We cannot ignore that fact when we are trying to advocate. 

Where am I going with this? I don’t know. I don’t really have an answer for any of it. I don’t have the knowledge or full understanding to truly talk about this. What I am struggling with is the sharing of info graphics that are at their best one sided, and at their worst completely wrong. The problem with us in the West sharing all of the “things” is that we aren’t actually helping the situation, no matter what our intentions are. We are simply adding gasoline to a 3-alarm fire and going about our lives. I would encourage everyone to get information, watch video, read testimonials from people across the region and share with care. I understand sharing feels like doing something in what may feel like a hopeless situation, but please just read through or double check what you are sharing before doing so. You may be unknowingly causing more harm than help. 

A Cuppa Cosy Reads – April and May 2021

Another reading post covering two months. I very much underestimated just how long it would take for me to back into my reading swing between moving, setting up a new home, and then getting back to having time for reading. I am very much back into the full swing of things and am very excited to share that over the past two months I’ve read 16 books and given an average 3.45 star rating. 

I’m not going to break these up in any particular way (but maybe I will in the future?), but I am looking to expand some of my reading and book content over here on A Cuppa Cosy. Let me know what specifically book related content you would like to see; more single book reviews, recommendations, reading certain new things? You let me know!

Now, onto the books…

Fortuna Sworn by K.J. Sutton (PURCHASE) 3 Stars I’ll be honest, I read this back in the middle of March and…I don’t really remember any of it? This is marketed as a fantasy romance involving fae and while I was intrigued, I left the story not really caring about any of it. 

Trumpty Dumpty Wanted a Crown & Dumpty: The Age of Trump in Verse by John Lithgow (PURCHASE, PURCHASE) NR These were just a fun lighthearted take on the Trump presidency, policies, and outbursts. 

House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz (PURCHASE) 3 Stars This was the first of two re reads over this period of time. I was in a bit of a… what do I even want to read kind of mood, so I reached for a standby favorite: Sherlock Holmes. 

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn (PURCHASE) 4 Stars This was an incredibly well-done novel, handling everything from fantastical elements to racism, to grief, and to love. In Legendborn we follow teenaged Bree as she comes to terms with not only the death of her mother, but with a newfound knowledge that some legends are not just legends from days past, they are still very much with us. I found that Tracy Deonn managed to touch on a wide variety of topics, but weave them together so well that it never felt overwhelming or disjointed. Highly recommend- it’s worthy of the hype it received. 

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay(PURCHASE) 4 Stars This was an interesting read as it’s a horror novel, but not horrifying. I don’t even know if I would say that it’s “scary”, it’s just thrilling more than anything. It’s a standard possession story with a family in a home, and then a tv crew, and a worldwide sensation, BUT we have a dual timeline that makes us question everything that is presented. I found this to be a story that I could have delved much deeper in, chatting with a friend about the different aspects of the story and characters. 

The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman(PURCHASE) NR I don’t know one person who hasn’t purchased, read, or listened to this poem, so do I really need to talk about it? I’d rather let you know that she has a full poetry collection coming out later this year, as well as a children’s book. 

Anna K: A Love Story by Jenny Lee (PURCHASE) 3 Stars An Anna Karenina retelling set in the upper echelon of New York Society? Sign me up, sounds like my cup of tea ( very niche cup admittedly), but alas, it was just not meant to be. In Anna K, we follow Anna K who seems to have it all. Dream school, her horses, her picture-perfect family and an even more picture-perfect boyfriend. But when she meets the mysterious Count V, she realizes that maybe none of that stuff really matters after all. I think all of my issues can be boiled down to the fact that Anna K did not feel like a 16-year-old girl. She felt like a slightly older woman, who has lived a little and is reflecting on what she had wanted to know as a 16-year-old girl. What made it even more obvious, was that all of the side characters were much more age appropriate. 

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers (PURCHASE) 3 Stars So far, this is my least favorite of the series, but it was still a stellar and interesting read. 

The Ravine: A Family, a Photograph, a Holocaust Massacre Revealed by Wendy Lower (PURCHASE) NR This is the story about how one photo, tucked away in archives, came to expose a little-known massacre during the latter half of WW2. We are given insight into how photographic evidence is dissected and used to identify dates, locations, perpetrators and victims. It also touches on how to handle perpetrators when the murder has long passed. The book also pays homage to those who we won’t know the names or faces of who died at this same massacre. This was a hard read, but also very enlightening to a side of “evidence” that isn’t talked about a lot.

The Troop by Nick Cutter (PURCHASE) 4 Stars This may end up making it to my Best of list at the end of the year, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I believe the words I used are “disgusting, horrifying, a great page turner from start to finish”. I don’t even know if I could begin to describe this book, but I will say, it deals with body horror. If you cannot stomach that then this is probably not for you. However, if you don’t have a problem with that and want some realistic horror, then this is a great read.

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge (PURCHASE) NR I found this to be a good read not only on understanding the history of racism in another western country, but in creating a good starting point for modern day conversations about racism and race. To be honest, this is a great “introductory” or primer on the topic, or a more generalized coverage. 

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo (PURCHASE) 3.5 Stars This was another re read with the hopes of continuing the series and watching the Netflix adaptation. This is an expansive fantasy universe loosely based on Russia/Poland. This “universe” includes this original trilogy, a second duology, and a third series that is currently two books published. I really enjoyed this first book, it had me wondering why I didn’t actually continue back when I first read it. 

Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo(PURCHASE) 3.5 Stars This is the second book in the original “Grishaverse” trilogy. We are introduced to new characters, higher stakes, and an epic battle scene that sees us wondering, what, if anything, can be done to set the world right again. I do think this was a little middle book-y, but it was still a strong story. 

The Crown of Gilded Bones by Jennifer L Armentrout (PURCHASE) 3 Stars I finally got to read the third book in the Blood and Ash series and boy was it somewhat worth the wait. I said it about the last two books, this is not a series that you can objectively explain. Objectively it is not good, but for a trashy, smutty, engrossing read? It delivers. 

Just Another Damned Thing by Jodi Taylor (PURCHASE) 3 Stars I’ll be honest; I found this book to be…ok. I feel like honestly the author wanted to write a book (or series really) of visiting different times and making observations, slight changes, and experiencing different lives, but didn’t know how to tie it all together. This book was definitely character and time heavy and VERY plot light. I didn’t hate it, but didn’t love it either. I won’t be continuing on with the series, BUT if it was a tv show I would watch. 

And that’s it! I’m very happy that, once again, my reading is back on track. I definitely had a couple of favorites out of the above books and one or two that may just make it to my best of list at the end of the year. What was your favorite book you’ve read over the past couple months?

A Stone’s Throw – 2 Day Trips

Sackets Harbor

Sackets Harbor was our first day trip and our first little exploration after moving to upstate NY. It’s a small bay town that sits on an inlet of Lake Ontario. Founded in the early 1800’s, it’s been on the list of Historic Places since the 1980’s for its well-preserved buildings and historic district. Aside from views, it’s most known for its support during the War of 1812. The Navy used Sackets Harbor as a major shipyard and turned the quiet little town into a major city, the third largest populated in the state at the time. Shortly after the war a selection of local businessman helped support the building of the first US Steamboat, Ontario. 

In Sackets Harbor you are able to walk the battlefields from the War of 1812 that take you alongside the lake as well as through the town (depending on which route you take). You can, when open for the season, walk through the various buildings that talk about life at the time. You can also walk-through Main Street and feel that old small-town vibe, popping into various little shops or cafés as your day goes on. 

We walked through a portion of the battlefield (we have plans to go back and bike ride the entire path), walked through a bit of the harbor, and then along Main St. We stopped in to the Junk in you Trunk antique store, which was one of the coolest little spots we’ve stumbled upon. They had everything from modern to antique, local businesses, and nationally sourced small business. We also stopped in Tea Thyme; a small tea shop that made all my tea loving dreams come true. I picked up a couple samples to try out. Overall, I think it would be one of those spots where you can easily spend a Spring day.

Wellesley Island (Thousand Islands)

Original called Wells Island (renamed Wellesley to honor the 1st Duke of Wellington in 1815), Wellesley Island is located partially in Canada and partially in America. It is one of the largest of the Thousand Islands, it is home to not only a thriving community, but also two State Parks, a nature center, and several golf courses. 

We spent a day visiting a section of the Wellesley Island State Park. This State park in particular offers a life guarded beach, nature center (with the cutest little chipmunk), hiking, hunting, fishing, snow shoeing/cross country skiing, boating and a marina, as well as a variety of camping spots and options (everything from primitive to cabins to rv’s). We hiked from the Nature Center over to Eel Bay, through the Narrows, and an inter trail or two through the woods. It was seriously one of the prettiest spots, reminding me so much of Eibsee and Konigsee in Germany. We stopped for a snack on one of the rocky inlets, resting, watching wildlife, and enjoying the sun and water. 

We did also walk briefly through the nature center, where they have educational materials about the different wildlife located on and around the island, as well as a little chipmunk that was attacked by a dog. 

I can foresee this being one of those spots that we return again and again, hiking different trails and doing a little boating and camping. We drove around a little after our visit to look at the different amenities and were very impressed by the sheer variety of options. It’s an incredibly family friendly area, however someone without kids would enjoy it just as much. Both of these day trips are within a “stone’s throw” and make us very excited to be able to explore more or our area. We seem to have a good combination of historical small towns and nature trails, which, in all honesty, is our happy spot of living locations. We are very excited by all of the hike and outdoor activities that are around and, with the weather starting to shift, we are looking forward to getting some more h

Round the Kettle Ep. 30: Back into the Fold

Happy Wednesday! I’m coming at you technically on Tuesday, in my comfiest jeans and a sweatshirt outfit, on a blustery, rainy day. To be honest, as much as I love the sunshine (and its necessity to our lives), my favorite weather is happening right now. I really love when it’s overcast, a soft pitter patter of raindrops hitting the windows and roof, and we are quietly cozied up in our home with books or a movie or a puzzle. That last part is incredibly rare in my home (with 2 boys and a husband it’s rarely ever quiet), but today must have some special powers because it’s happening. I’m upstairs in my office, typing this post up and the boys are downstairs playing an alphabet puzzle/game. This is rare. So, let’s take advantage of it and chat.

How are you doing? Like, really actually doing, not the standard “Things are good” or “I’m fine”. What are some specifics?

Today’s post was originally supposed to be the first in my “welcome to our new home” posts, but I STILL don’t have everything in place for that (dang counter stools). Then it was going to be a blog post about Heidelberg Castle, but…in a moment of full transparency, as much as I loved Heidelberg, Heidelberg Castle, and all of the history, there is SO MUCH history to that castle and my brain is oddly struggling to keep it all straight. So, that’s been tabled for now (maybe even indefinitely) too. Feeling at a bit of a loss for what to write about, I realized I hadn’t really done a casual chatty post in so long, definitely since before we came back to America. 

I work really hard on every blog post that goes up, usually putting a week or two of work in each post. Most of the content is worked, and reworked, and then maybe reworked again. And I love that, but I also like when I just sit down at a computer, type away, then hit publish without thinking twice (except maybe to run it through spell check or grammar checks). In some ways, that feels more vulnerable than a lot of the vulnerable stuff I share. I used to do these types of posts twice a month (if you remember Round the Kettle, there ya go), but they kind of faded away when things got busier, and I was pre planning a lot of posts. Right now though, it seems like the perfect time to bring them back.  

So, gosh, where do I even begin? My blissful peace that I referenced just…3 paragraphs ago has left. Replaced with a high amount of noise that I didn’t know two little boys were capable of making, right in my office (right behind my office chair and desk to be specific). Which is the nature of my days anymore. The boys have handled the transition of coming back to America with a poise that us adults didn’t even have, but they’ve struggled with the transition of Daddy going back to work, school starting back up (though Colton is super pumped about that), and just a general sense of normalcy returning. The minute one parent leaves, they cannot seem to let the other parent out of their sight, which means that they just follow from room to room. If there was any “sign” of what 2020 did to our children (beyond the whole school/social life downfall) it was that when we go to stores now, Andrew just randomly stops and watches in wonderment at EVERYTHING. It’s been that long since he’s been shopping in stores and such. 

Which, let’s talk about that for a minute, because a lot of us are starting to “see a light at the end of the tunnel” these days. While I personally am feeling so good (because it’s VERY different here in America than Germany- so I’m already feeling much more free) about things, I do still have a bit of a cautious feeling too. For all the bad that 2020 was (and it was bad), there was also some good that came out of it. My concern is that we are all going to rush to “getting back to normal” that the lessons and good that came from 2020 are going to be brushed aside. Let’s try not to do that, ok? 

So, normalcy is returning to our house. Colton has gone back to in person schooling two days a week at his new school, and he’s never been a happier little boy.  Andrew is still a bit attached to mommy (and daddy realistically), but he’s also really starting to become a little social butterfly. I swear, that kid will handle all the introductions I would ever need for me- he just runs up to people and starts talking to them. It’s something we are working on. Spring is…springing, which we are learning basically looks like “whatever goes” up here in the northern part of the country. We are supposed to get 5 inches of snow Wednesday, but then it’ll be back in the 50’s/60’s for the weekend before hitting 70’s next week. “Whatever Goes”. 

We are starting to explore our area, to branch out from our neighborhood and see some of the closer small towns. It isn’t anything like full blown traveling, rather little day trips here and there, but they’ve been special in their own ways. It’s nice to explore the area, to learn the history, and to see those little “American Small Towns”. We went to Sackets Harbor this past weekend, walking through the battleground from the War of 1812, learning the history of the battle as it happened, and then wandering through Main Street, stopping in a little bakery, an antique store, and a tea shop for some shopping. It was a lovely day and it felt good to just see something new for the day. 

And that is basically it! I feel like we’ve gotten a pretty good routine going, cleaning, writing, reading, schooling for the kids, socializing, etc. I always talk about feeling settled and the desire for “home”, and I feel like we are at that point. With that, I’ve got some big plans for the rest of this year. I’ve got two projects I’m working on outside of the blog as well as some big reading goals. 

Ok, post writing all this, but I felt like I needed to add a bit more. I wrote this before the verdict came back in the Derek Chauvin trial. I feel like first we need to address the fact that we were all waiting to see what the verdict would be, knowing full well what we all saw and witnessed in the video. The fact that we had to have a trial (instead of him pleading Guilty), and then had to wait for a jury to reach a verdict (what that verdict may have been), says A LOT about our system. But it’s also important to note that this is not justice. This is not something we should be grateful for (though many of us are). This is simply a man being held accountable for his actions. It is not the “sign that our system is changing”. It is not a time to say, ok we did this, we’re good. No, this is a time to keep pushing forward. To keep listening, learning, and fighting for the changes that we want to see, that we need to see. 

What is Home and Other Moving Musings

What is home? Is it a place? Is it where you are physically? Is it a house? Is it a person? A community? The people whom you surround yourself with? Is it having your schedule in place? A routine that you can follow day to day? 

What is home? This is a question I’ve found myself learning and exploring the answer to over the years. I think it is a question that we all try to answer through the beginning of our adulthood. Learning what it is to each of us to feel “at home”. I’ve found that, obviously, this varies from person to person and it’s one of my favorite things to learn about people.

So, before we go much further, leave me a comment (yes, right now mid read of this post) and tell me, what is home to you?

So, home. Now, I don’t talk about my husband’s job or career for many different reasons, but if you’ve followed for any period of time, you’ve probably figured out that at this time he is in the military. This means that in the almost 10 years we’ve been together we’ve now moved 4 times. There have been several benefits for this. We get to experience different places (even just within the US there is a wide variety to the way of life) and travel different chunks of the States. We got to experience living in Europe and seeing how life operates outside of our “US Bubble”. Those are big things, but even just the simple thing of figuring out what we like/want/hate/don’t want in a home, so that when we do settle we are positive what we want. The fact that every 3 years (at most, we’ve now had two two-year stations), we are forced to declutter, to re organize, to figure out what we actually want to keep and use and what we can pass along has been great in teaching us value and quality of quantity. 

There are also negatives to moving so frequently. The fact that we are in a place just long enough to create a home, a community, friendships, and then we have to “leave” it all behind is hard. As nice as it can be to unclutter and get rid of stuff regularly, it’s also tough to constantly feel like we are packing or unpacking, never truly able to settle. 

All of this has made me realize, what home actually means to me. For me, home is a combination of things. It’s hearing the pitter patter of feet running across the floor (after they’ve been repeatedly told “No running in the house”). It’s the pacing and chatting of my husband as I am trying to do something in the kitchen. It’s the feeling of waking up in the morning, going to the kitchen to steep up a pot of tea or brew a cup of coffee and while the house is still quietly waking. It’s seeing books aimlessly stacked in various rooms, because even a home library stretches its arms to other places. It’s opening a window on a pretty spring or fall day, heading to our local park to run off some energy (because remember…”No running in the house”). It’s finding a local walking route that gives us just the right number of endorphins (and can also be used as a running route…just maybe?). It’s all of these things that make up “Home”. 

***You’ll notice I haven’t made mention of a community yet. Here’s the thing, as an introvert I don’t “thrive” on community. I like having a social aspect to our lives and you’ll find me out and about, doing all the community things quite a bit, but I find that rather than needing a whole community, I tend to find maybe one or two friends that I spend time with on a much deeper level, than having a whole community at my hands. 

This is what home is for me. 

Let’s Talk About – Judaism and Being Jewish

Something that shifted for me, almost ironically so, in 2020 was my faith. I found myself coming back to who I was, in terms of faith, and unearthing a part of me that had been silent for a long while. I’ve talked a little bit about this HERE, but this really started a bit before our move to Germany and then really solidified while we were here, with a trip to the Old Synagogue of Rome (HERE) reminding me of the very things I liked and missed.

Something important to note about Judaism (that I’ve noted before, but it’s important) is that a Jew is a Jew is a Jew. It doesn’t matter if they are practicing the religion, they are a Jew. It doesn’t matter if they have converted, they are a Jew. Being Jewish is so much more than just practicing the religion. It’s unique in that it’s an ethno-religion, which simply means it’s an ethnicity, as well as a religion (not a race- an ethnicity). Basically, a Jew is a Jew is a Jew. It’s something that is both used against and for Jews. 

Let’s kick things off at the very beginning. I was raised “in the faith” we will say, but in a reform manner (don’t worry- I’ll break it down in a minute). My mom is Jewish, as was her mom, and so in and so forth. In Houston, where I grew up, we had a sizeable Jewish community. My neighbors were Jewish, close family friends, and we celebrated all the holidays together. We had a beautiful synagogue where I was an active participant both in the services and schooling, but also in the choir. My faith was an important part of my early childhood. 

And then we moved. There was a lot that went into the decision to move, there was a lot that went into the actual move, and a lot of things that came out of that move (both good and bad), but something that we lost that I had never truly realized was our Jewish Community. I didn’t truly recognize how much this move wrecked my faith until much later on (when I was like 20 something) and we went back to Houston for a birthday party and visited our old Synagogue and community. It really struck me then how far I strayed away from practicing the faith. 

I want to clarify something as we are going to get into some nitty gritty here…

I have always considered myself Jewish. ALWAYS. That has never changed. Being Jewish is just as much of part of who I am as my long brown hair, brown eyes, and so forth. I have a kinship with “my people” that extends beyond whether I practice or not because, again like I’ve mentioned, Judaism is an ethno religion. There is a connection with all of the Jews, one that I feel keenly quite often (more than I even talk about). Whether I actively practiced or not, I still had faith in the lord, and the core principles of Judaism guiding me. I had to navigate some pretty tricky waters and I reached out to other religions to learn and understand. I traveled quite the…”journey” and I’m at where I’m at now because of it. 

ANYWAYS, I’ve majorly digressed here. 

So, we moved and while we found a synagogue and a small community, it wasn’t the same as I had had. For the first time I was the “oddball” of my area and I struggled. I struggled with being different (I had this large southern accent and was not the…”status quo” in my school) and while I wouldn’t say I hid my religion; I definitely didn’t talk about it as much. This was the time where everyone is entering adolescence and so things are already awkward and different, and here I was this strange new girl. I was different all around when all I wanted was to fit in. I think we all know those feelings as they go beyond faith. 

Once I became Bat Mitzvahed we definitely dialed back on the religious front. We would still go to synagogue for High Holidays, and we kept relatively kosher, but it there was a definite difference pre and post. Again, I think a lot of this was in relation to not having that community. To not really loving our synagogue. To not connecting in a new area. It was kind of the perfect combination of all the wrong things. 

Things slowly started to continue to fade away until finally they just went dormant. I don’t know that I would say that I didn’t keep kosher (as I actually still did- dietary things always stuck with me), but I definitely didn’t practice in any noticeable way. I met my now husband, who comes from a large (compared to mine) Catholic family. Neither of us really practiced religion in any secular way (in that we didn’t go to church or synagogue, nor did we practice any important holidays from our respective religions). The only holiday we ever participated in was Christmas, when we would go to his family’s home and I got that magical big family Christmas that I always dreamed of.  We got married in a small ceremony in a small church in Kentucky and that was perfect for us (I would NEVER change our wedding for anything- it was easily one of the most incredible days of my life). 

Fast Forward to now. When we went to the Old Synagogue of Rome and we walked through the museum where they talked about all the Jewish rituals, the importance of those rituals, the various stories and histories, I felt a panging in my heart. A longing for that feeling that my faith had always given me. I felt at home in this area, talking about all the things that I had participated in, all the things that I had missed from those rituals, it felt good and heartbreaking to walk through. I had felt this before, these little inklings over the years, but standing here, in this moment it clicked in my heart, soul, and mind. I wanted that back. 

It’s been strange, living here in Germany and being Jewish (even without being a practicing Jew). A place that is a source of so much pain, and seeing sites that cause that pain, hearing about the anti Semitism that started almost “innocently” that then led to a mass murder. To, once again, feeling like I had to hide a part of me- that may be a bad way of phrasing, but I don’t advertise that I’m “Jewish” here in Bavaria. It’s not because I feel like Jews are being openly attacked or anything, just more so a personal security, don’t paint a target kind of feeling, which is a sign of something that I’ve hinted at this entire post. There is a part of me that doesn’t want to “other” myself and there is enough anti-Semitism that still OPENLY exists in our world that it makes me hesitate to be so open about this part of my identity. 

But, if I’ve learned something over the past two years, and throughout this entire journey, it’s that trying to hide that doesn’t do anything. I had someone this year question my faith. Question this part of my life. Belittle my Jewishness and make it something that was nonexistent. And when I tell you it fired me up, it fired me up. I’m not a person that gets riled by other opinions of myself, but this one, to be blunt, pissed me off. It also made me realize just how real ignorance (and stupidity) still very much exist in this world. Hatred still exists in our world. People still try to find others to blame for problems. And me celebrating my faith and religion isn’t going to change that fact. 

So, what does being Jewish look like to me now? Well, not much has changed. We aren’t a big “go to church/synagogue” family and that isn’t something that I foresee changing in the near future. We are interfaith, this past year celebrating both Hanukkah and Christmas, and I have started integrating little things into my everyday celebrations of faith. I celebrated Rosh Hashanah this year, fasted on Yom Kippur, semi abstained during Passover, I make Challah, when we move I plan on lighting the candles on Friday Nights. I’ve been wearing more of my Jewish jewelry, recently having received my “אִמָא” (Imma-Mom in Hebrew) necklace. I’ve also picked up a couple other pieces here and there on our travels. I’m looking forward to what this next phase in my faith will look like.  

Germany and America: Differences, Similarities, Comparisons

We’ve been back in the states now for almost 6 weeks and I think that, while not completely back in the swing of things (we’ve only just recently gotten to our final destination and our new home), I think we’ve managed to settle back into the US. At least enough so that I feel like I can share what that adjustment was like and how keenly I noted the difference between the two countries. 

First and foremost, I feel like I should note that I don’t necessarily think that either country is better than the other, though I do want to say that if we had the choice to go back to Europe I would in less than a single heartbeat. I think that there are benefits and losses to each, and it’s ok to acknowledge that of both countries. With that being said, I can say with fairly good certainty, that at its heart, there is really just one fundamental difference of life that every other difference can be attributed to: Way of Life. 

In the United States, we place a lot of emphasis on THINGS and APPEARENCES. There isn’t anything wrong with this- well maybe there is, but that’s a topic for a whole other conversation- it’s simply how it is in our country. Think about it, a lot of our standard activities, a lot of our social media, revolves around some form of store or shopping. We often will just “stop over at the store” or do a “quick Target run”. 

Everything is “bigger and better”, and we are constantly in a battle to have the newest, shiniest thing. Again, this is just how our society operates. Along with that, we have a rapidly rising sense of instant gratification. An “I need this, and I need it now” attitude that is then catered to by a late-night closing or even 24-hour shopping society (and this isn’t even stepping into Amazon or overnight delivery). You want to get the newest game? You can buy it at 12:01AM at your local super store on release day (pre Covid of course). We never have any concern of running out of something because well…we can just go out and get it, no matter day/time. 

Finally, in the US, we are a country of “go, go, go”, getting in and out as fast as we can, on to the next thing before we have fully finished the first. It’s a never-ending cycle that permeates every second of our life. Our day runs through before we’ve even realized that the end of the day has come, and there are times when we can’t even recall what we’ve actually done. Think about your day…we go, go, go get everyone up in the morning to get to school/work. At work we go, go, go to get an endless list of tasks done. Often times we would take lunch at our desk, quickly nudging a bite or two of food in our mouth before we have to get back to it. Or maybe your lunch consists of a quick trip to the shops to pick up some things or to peruse the shelves. Then, the workday and school day ends and it’s go, go, go to various activities for the kids OR home to quickly whip up some food. Maybe your too busy for even that, grabbing a drive through or quick meal in between activities. If you go out to dinner, it’s go, go, go through dinner with barely enough time to enjoy your family/friends’ company before the bill arrives and it’s time to go. Go back to the house, maybe now you take a little bit of time for yourself or family, with a show or a book or something of that nature. By that point, we are all so exhausted that…well the day is over, and we are left wondering…what happened. 

All of these little things tie into our basic way of life in the US. I’m not saying this is wrong, in fact there are some benefits to it, the ability to just run to the grocery store whenever, not have to worry about stores closing or anything like that, it’s just a different way of life to Europe. 

This is not the case in Germany. 

In Germany the number one emphasis is quality of life. The quality of your social experience. What you are doing, rather than what you have. The value is placed on who you are, how you spend your time, where you go, rather than anything else. It’s a society that thrives on the connection with people, everything from dining out to traveling to pumping gas is all about person-to-person connection. It’s not infrequent to go out to eat dinner and be at your table for 2-3 hours, for the wait staff to not bother you or you having to flag them down when you need something. There is no such thing as pay at the pump, you take a ticket into the gas station where you are greeted with fresh baked goodies (like a full bakery) and a wide variety of snacks and magazines to choose from before paying for gas. Every interaction comes with a smile and a conversation, rather than a brush off and rush out. 

In the smaller towns/communities, you’ll find smaller neighborhood style grocery stores that stock fresh, in season, regionally produced fruit and veggies. When you are looking at meat departments, it’s all fresh (seriously fresh), locally sourced, and the common ground meat is a cow/pig combination. It’s so fresh, that often times in malls you can walk right to a butcher shop in the mall and select your cow meat that’s hanging in the back, clear glass view, cold area. It’s an experience for sure, but a great one to have. Basically, you can always expect to have locally sourced, fresh food options. Even the frozen sections tend to be somewhat local and fresh, rather than the processed options we are all used to in The States. 

Another thing that is different is often times, German’s will buy less, but better quality. Sure, you have big box stores in every city, but you’ll often find many more boutiques with better offerings and more unique/cooler designs. This is because the Germans tend to value quality of quantity. They don’t need the next greatest thing because what they bought previous has lasted quite a long time already. Consumerism isn’t as much of a “thing” over there as it is here in The States. 

Another difference is that life is largely lived outdoors. In Germany there is no such thing as bad weather, just poor clothes (seriously- this is very much a thing). On any given day, in any given weather, you will see people outside. They’ll be hiking, riding bikes, rowing, enjoying what the earth and nature has to offer. I don’t think that there has been a time where I haven’t seen people outside and being active. There are parks for kids everywhere, and these are sturdy, use in any weather jungle gyms. And when the weather turns even the slightest bit sunny, EVERYONE heads outside, from the youngest babies to the oldest citizens, you’ll find them soaking up that sunshine. 

Finally, in Germany their work/life balance is vastly different. Maternity leave is much more a thing in Europe already than it is in The United States, but in Germany you have much more vacation time, longer lunches, and an overall healthier boundary between work and life. I feel like there are some things in this area in particular that The States can learn from. There aren’t nearly as many “workaholic” types of situations and there is annual paid vacation time and such. Much more than what is offered in The States. 

More than anything else, I miss that the value is placed on your quality of life, rather than the quantity of your life. 

A couple fun little differences for you to end this post on a happier note; there is no central air in the majority of the houses. That means no AC. Heat is by radiator system and throughout the year you have to open the windows several times a day for certain lengths of time to air out the house. I’ve already said it, but pay at the pump is not a thing there, you take a ticket (or remember your pump number) and head into the station to pay. Most places are cash heavy and do not take card (including those fun markets), so don’t leave the house without it! Most stores close by dinnertime (unless you’re in a bigger city) and, everything, short of churches and some restaurants, closes on Sunday. You have to plan to have everything you need before Saturday or you’ll be waiting till Monday. Since restaurants may in fact open on Sundays, they are typically closed on Monday or Monday and Tuesday. In terms of eating out at restaurants, Water costs money (there is no such thing as “tap” or “table” water, you will buy bottles if you ask for Wasser at a restaurant) and most of the water is actually sparkling- you have to be specific if you want flat water. In addition to water, more often than not, ordering alcohol will be the cheapest drink option.

Obviously the history of Germany (and of Europe) is much older and more vast than America, so you are able to see castles and towns that pre date the beginnings of our own country. Travel is also…different than it is stateside. Obviously you can country hop all throughout Europe (in a non Covid world), but there also different modes of getting to places (you can choose car, train, or plane).

I think that basically covers most of the differences I noted between Germany and America. Truth be told, it just boils down to way of life and if you’re open to how they live, then you can adjust really fast. If you have any questions, or anything to add, just let me know!