A Cuppa Cosy Reads – january & February 2021

Ah, the start of a new year. A fresh reading year full of new, endless possibilities. I’m combining two months into one as our January was manic and I wasn’t able to get the post up before we flew out of Germany, so instead of trying to put up a subpar post, I just decided to consolidate two months into one. I didn’t do as much reading as I intended, so ultimately it probably doesn’t matter much. 

Also, hi! It’s been a month since my last post and I am going to take a second to give a little hello. I took the month of February off, as it seems to be a good annual time to take a step back and just evaluate everything. This happened to also coincide with our move back to the USA. More to come on that experience, but this post is my way of getting back into my weekly blog posts. 

***I apologize for the lack of purchase links, March’s wrap up will be fully back to normal.***

So, let’s get into it. 

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton 4 Stars Well, I just started off on a strange (for me) foot for 2021. I’m not a Sci-Fi girl, but I had heard that this book was great if you wanted a little bit more in depth than the movie and I can confirm that it is. The only part I didn’t enjoy was the portions devoted to Chaos Theory, but that’s mostly my own issue. Overall, if you liked the movie and want more, then give the book a shot. 

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers 4 Stars I LOVED this. This was so far out of my standard genre’s (seriously, the last time I picked up a space sci-fi was a few years ago now) and I’m so glad I read it. In this book we follow a rag tag crew of a spaceship as they are creating a “tunnel” to one of the farthest, most volatile planets. It is incredibly character driven, but not so much so that the story doesn’t move forward. There is an element of science and space exploration, but it’s not overpowering, you aren’t focusing constantly on the logistics of it all. Highly recommend this one as well. 

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker 5 Stars I LOVED this book. Wecker has a way of spinning a story similar to Carlos Ruiz Zafon or Madeline Miller. There is something about her words and her descriptors that just really spins this beautiful web for you to get stuck in. This was incredible, and not just because there was so much Jewish and Arabic/Middle Eastern mythology that I could see a lot of my own views in. 

A Close and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers 4 Stars Ah, I really enjoyed this second, companion novel to The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. In this companion novel we are following to side characters from the first book as they navigate some pretty big changes. It serves as a way of expanding this massive universe, learning about some more of the politics around different creatures. I don’t know if I loved this one AS MUCH as the first, but I really enjoyed expanding the world and learning about some of the other characters and their struggles. 

Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi translated by Geoffrey Trousselot 4 Stars I feel conflicted about this read. On the one hand I enjoyed the concept and some of the stories really pulled at my heart, BUT I also felt like at times it was a bit slow to read. In this collection we are following a small coffee shop that, within rules, can transport its’ patrons back in time. 

Whiteout by Ken Follett 4 Stars A pandemic related thriller set in Scotland during a snow storm? Yes please! I actually really loved this one, but I do think that short, plot driven stories are not Ken Follett’s forte. Having read his Pillars trilogy, reading something short and more plot, rather than character, driven felt like putting on a pair of pants two sizes too small and the wrong cut. As much as I enjoyed it (and would recommend), it felt like he could have really taken these characters and ran with them.

Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica translated by Sarah Moses  3 Stars This takes the spot of “most disturbing book” I’ve ever read. In Tender is the Flesh humans are living in a period after all animal consumption has been banned due to a disease pandemic. Animals are not able to be consumed, so humans have turned to their own for protein. It is not only disturbing in content (serious content warnings here), but also just in the fact of what humans are capable of when pushed. 

A Vow So Bold and Deadly by Brigid Kemmerer 4 Stars I enjoyed this concluding novel to the trilogy and felt like we had FINALLY reached some turning points that we were anxiously awaiting in the second book. On the whole, I really enjoyed the trilogy and would recommend it for a good in between the serious books trilogy to read. 

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson 3 Stars I have absolutely nothing to say about this book. Honestly, I’m trying to think of anything that stood out to me, but there’s nothing. It’s just a standard “high school girl goes missing, but is she really dead” story. I feel like there was some good commentary on civil issues, but overall, it wasn’t memorable. Obviously.

The Lost Shtetl by Max Gross 3 Stars This one was a tough one for me to read as I really wanted to love it. There aren’t a lot of “Jewish” stories out there that are not Holocaust related and this one just sounded so great. We are following a small Jewish town (called a Shtetl) in the heart of the Polish forest as they discover, through a series of small events, that the world has entered a modern era. In parts I loved this story and could picture a lot of what was happening (Eastern European Jew over here), but there was also a feeling of nothing truly happening. At least not in the manner that you would expect from a novel. This is very much a…town coming of age novel and while I enjoyed it, I also felt a bit let down in the same way. 

Tomie by Junj Ito translated by Naomi Kokubo NR In a massive shift from my normal, I decided to pick up a horror manga. I knew nothing about this going in, and overall enjoyed the entirety of this collection. The artwork was incredible and the storyline truly horrifying at times. 

The Deep by Alma Katsu 4 Stars I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed this book from Alma Katsu. I think the Titanic is always a hard one to cover, but she did it in a way that brought a new touch. In The Deep we are following a group of characters that are traveling on the Titanic, but all have some form of connection to each other and to one major event. In a dual timeline, we are also following two Titanic survivors as they are once again reunited on the sister ship the Britannic. This was beautifully written, hauntingly enchanting, and a true feat. What I missed in her other novel, The Hunger, was brought to life in this novel to perfection. There were still some slower moments, but I just really loved the overall novel as a whole. 

I did DNF (Did Not Finish) a book in January, A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik. I don’t know if this was just when I read it or something different, but the 80 pages or so that I read were quite juvenile, jarringly written, and I found myself not caring. This would have been my third by her and while I enjoyed the other two (Uprooted and Spinning Silver) this was just not my cuppa. I also DNF’d The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon in February. I had such high hopes for this book and this series, but something about it just did not connect with me. 

And that’s it! All the books I’ve read in the first couple months of the year. Any stand outs? What about your reading?

Planning in 2021

What is planning? What is this year going to look like and how do we plan for it? Or do we? Late in 2020 I switched from the standard planner that I had been using back into a bullet journal and it ended up working out really well. With everything being so up in the air I found that I didn’t really need to block out hours or see what my day looked like, I needed somewhere that I could have a floating to-do list. Bullet journaling has always been that for me. 

The nice thing about bullet journaling is that it can be whatever whenever. You are in complete control of how in depth, how simple, you need it. And, in such an uncertain time when I just want to feel a little bit in control, that I simply need to cross things off a list. I spent the last few months of 2020 experimenting with a couple of different options and I think I’ve found something that will allow me both to block out hours if I need to, but also have that rotating to do list. 

So, my 2021 Bullet Journal. First off we have the long-term planning, marking out all the holidays, important dates, and such. Then I’ve got a spot to write down books that are on my long list of purchasing and/or reading and another section devoted to blog posts and tracking where they are at in the process (this is something new I’m trying out for 2021). 

Each month has a simply monthly view, a reading section, a daily gratitude section, and then two-page weekly spreads. I have kind of pre penned in some of the months and weeks as we are going to be moving and I don’t know when I will have all the supplies I would like and our new home, but this worked out well as I was able to adjust the layout for February when we won’t be doing much more than visiting family. I’ve done all of this in a Leuchtturm 1917 notebook that’s a beautiful shade of blue.

One final note- I do plan on trying to journal quite a bit more in the New Year and I think that I have figured out my “preferred journal”. It is another dotted notebook, but softcover which allows me to bend and write a bit easier. This particular one is black and fits right into the carrying cover for my planner. 

So, that’s what my planning system looks like at this point for 2021. Do I know what the year holds? Nope. So I don’t know how this will all shake out, but I’m trying to plan for all the changes as best as I can.  

COCHEM IMPERIAL CASTLE

We went to Cochem Imperial Castle as part of our time in Cochem on our Summer Holiday (COCHEM). This was the first place we went when we arrived in Cochem and while it may not be one of the top castles, it was so cool to explore its courtyards and rooms and hear its extensive history. 

The first written mention of Reichsburg Cochem is in 1051, however it is assumed that the castle was built around 1000. Built by Palatinate Count Ezzo, the castle was given to count Henry I in 1051 ( by Richeza, former Queen of Poland). In the 12th century King Konrad III took control of the region and castle, turning it into an imperial fiefdom. The castle then became an imperial castle. It was pawned to Austria to pay for a coronation (King Adolf of Nassau), but the debt was never able to be collected. During the Nine Years War, Louis XIV invaded Cochem and the Imperial Castle before destroying it by fire (and then an explosion which almost took out the entire town of Cochem). The ruined castle wasn’t touched again until it was purchased in 1868 by Louis Frederic Jacques Ravene  who rebuilt the castle into the Neo Gothic style you see today. The castle was transferred to Cochem’s ownership in 1978 and is now able to be toured by the general public. 

The best part of this castle is, hands down, the view. Situated high above the Moselle River, you are able to see Cochem, the river, the wineries, and much more. It is a stunning view from almost anywhere within the castle. The courtyard is incredible too, with a well in the center as it would have been in early times to collect rainwater. You are also able to see the round tower, which somehow survived the destruction by Louis XIV. It was a guard tower during the castle’s time and if you follow it around, you are able to see a large mosaic of St. Christopher. 

I know this wasn’t as long as my normal Castle Post, but this is a pretty straightforward castle. It is definitely one I recommend touring if you are in Cochem as it is really interesting to see how they would have lived in the castle, as well as all of the defensive measures that were set up. 

A Cuppa Cosy Reads – Best/Worst of 2020

Man for everything that 2020 was, reading was somewhere that I really excelled. I read around a total of 110 books (plus or minus one or two as I am writing this before the year is technically over…) and gave an average rating of almost 4 stars! That’s a personal record for me on both accounts and I’m just very pleased with how the year went…in reading terms at least. Today I am going to talk about the best, worst, disappointing, and surprising reads. I’m covering all 4 because I find that a book might be disappointing, but not the worst I read, and I really want to make the distinction between the two (as it affects whether others will pick up the book). I want to say, when you’ve read over 100 books, it gets really hard to cherry pick what goes where and when you’ve read so many highly rated books, it gets even harder. This was not easy to do, so please note that. You can find a full list of the books I read on Goodreads (username is ACuppaCosy). 

One more note before we get into this…this is highly based on enjoyment and memory. What I do when I compile these lists is I mark out all of the books that I’ve read in the year and then highlight those that stood out for one reason or another. There may be 2-star books that didn’t make it to this listing at all, similarly for 5-star books. There isn’t really any massive rhyme or reason, but I will try and give a brief explanation of why each book ended up where it did. 

I’ll start with Worst and make my way up to the Best books of my reading year…

Worst Books of the Year

Verity by Colleen Hoover (2 Stars) I mean…this book was a dumpster fire of garbage from start to finish. I spent the entire time reading it in absolute anger and disgust. Would not recommend, and it is no longer a part of my collection. I feel like it should also be noted, this is the only Colleen Hoover I’ve read, and I picked it up for the “thriller” aspect, and that was overshadowed by the disgust and anger at the rest of the book. 

The Wives by Tarryn Fisher (3 Stars) This book had me until the last section, where it went in a completely unnecessary and wholly detrimental direction. I won’t spoil it, but I don’t really recommend this book and it is no longer part of my collection either. 

Disappointing Books of the Year

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern (3 Stars) I had very high expectations for this book and I feel like it just…had too much going on for the book to be a true success. The author was trying to do too much, so there was a lot that felt disjointed and incomplete. 

Misery by Stephen King (2 Stars) This was just…not it for me. I don’t even know what it was, it just wasn’t what I wanted out of a Stephen King novel? It felt like a movie script…and to be honest, I loved the movie. 

Sex & Vanity by Kevin Kwan (3 Stars) This book is the epitome of disappointment for me in 2020. I had such HIGH hopes and expectations and in the end…it seemed very rushed, not fleshed out, and only a skeleton of what it could have been. I know that you can’t compare one work to another, but after the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy (which was top of my list the year I read it), this was massively…not good. 

Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson (3 Stars) This one almost didn’t make the list, but I felt like I needed to include it as it was…disappointing. A literary mystery involving some of the great literary mysteries and out came one of the most predictable flat stories I think I’ve read in recent years. 

Surprising Books of the Year

American Royals by Katherine McGee (4 Stars) Ok, this book surprised me as it was the first time that I had read what is basically royal fan fiction. I’m a massive royal fan (borderline obsessed), but I had never really dipped my toe into this sphere of books. This set me off on a course of royal books that I hadn’t expected, and I loved every minute of it. 

The One by John Marr (5 Stars) I don’t know what I really expected from this book. I picked it up on a whim recommendation and thought it was going to be ok. It had choppy short chapters from a wide cast, but that ended up working out so well in this books favor. It kept propelling the story forward, kicking the stakes up, and made for an un-put-down-able story. 

The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald (3 Stars) I thought this was going to be a sure-fire success of a book, a woman wants to open a bookstore in a town that has…other ideas. And while I enjoyed the commentary and spitfire nature our protagonist displayed; I found this book to be depressing as hell at points. So, there’s that. 

Anxious People by Frederik Backman (4 Stars) This was one of my most anticipated reads of the year and it was…not what I was expecting? Or rather it was, but it wasn’t. Frederik Backman really lays it all bare, the full nature of humans when pushed to their limits, and how closely we are all tied together. Surprising, Depressing, Beautiful. It’s in most surprising as I was surprised just how depressed it made me, which is also why it isn’t in the best book category. 

Best Books of the Year

The Only Plane in the Sky by Garrett M Graff (NR) This book is an absolute masterpiece. I listened to the audio book and not only does that illicit a certain type of reaction, but I actually learned quite a bit of things from 9/11 that I hadn’t known, or hadn’t truly understood. 

Circe by Madeline Miller (5 Stars) This was easily one of the most beautiful stories I’ve read since maybe The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. It was just beautifully written, epically told, and emotional. 

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon (4 Stars) The book that got me back on my way into fantasy reading, this story was one I was eyeing since its release. Finally, when it was purchased for me as a gift and I was given a chance to buddy read it with someone else, I fell head over heels and I’m still thinking about it. 

The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson (4 Stars) This might as well just include all of the Brandon Sanderson books I’ve read this year. He is a master at his craft, and I am in awe at what he has done. I put off reading his books for so long and while I’m bummed that I did that, it also means that I am reading the books as they are being released (as of now) or binge reading them rather than waiting on end for the next book. 

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (4 Stars) This was an odd book to pick up during a pandemic…considering it’s about what happens when the world is attacked by a virus, but I did it and I’m glad that I did. I really enjoyed how Mandel wove the hitting of the pandemic, Shakespeare and theatre troupes, and the dystopian era of the world. It was incredibly realistic, so maybe don’t read it at the height of a global pandemic. 

Between the World & Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (NR) I don’t like including nonfiction memoir books (for the same reason I don’t rate them- it feels like placing value on a life), but I’ve included two this time because of the writing and storytelling. Coates is an incredible writer, and he writes in an accessible manner. 

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (NR) I mean, I’m a massive Trevor Noah fan as it is, and I feel like he really hits it out of the park in this memoir. We get an understanding of what life was like for him, how he learned reality, and how he tried to better that reality. It also really made me value and appreciate what he says even more, as I feel like he has actually seen the things that we only have a secondhand knowledge of. 

My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing (4 Stars) I debated on this one as I don’t know that it is truly one of the best books (especially when compared to some of the others on my list), but man I really LOVED this book. Talk about intriguing premise, but the writing, the unfolding of the story, and the final twists that just don’t seem to stop made it a perfect quick thriller. 

When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole (4 Stars) This was a book that was described as a thriller, but offers up so much more than a mystery to solve. It tackles some of the very real issues in our society today and for that reason, I found this book to be so well done. It has a little bit of everything, a little bit social justice, a little bit romance, and the slightest hint of mystery. 

Radio Silence by Alice Oseman (5 Stars) This book had me in a sobbing blubbery mess. A Coming-of-age novel for the modern era of technology, this book is incredible. Anyone of any age can take something away from the story and gain insight into the “modern teenager”. I don’t have much more to say than, read it. 

The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty (5 Stars) Again, like Sanderson you might as well just include this entire Daevabad trilogy, which I binge read in 3 weeks. I’m obsessed and after finishing the third had a gaping hole in my heart that stopped me from reading entirely for a couple of weeks. Incredible. 

Some Random Honorable Mentions (because I can’t help myself apparently)

A Heart So Fierce & Broken by Brigid Kemmerer (5 Stars) This second novel was excellent, and I am very much anticipating the third in the first part of 2021.

The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie (4 Stars) Another excellent short story collection. I have enjoyed every book by Chimamanda that I’ve read so far, and I’ve definitely got a couple on my 2021 reading plans.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (4 Stars) This was easily the weirdest, yet fun book I think I read in 2020. It was similar to Catherine House, but better (I read them both in the same time frame) and if you want something questionable, strange, and just a thinking story, this is for you.

Mobituaries by Mo Rocca (NR) Finally, a fun one to finish off, Mo Rocca talks through all of the “deaths” of various lesser-known trends, people, vehicles, and so forth. It is hilarious but interesting to learn all of these facts. 

And there we have it! A full breakdown of the various books that I have wanted to talk about in depth all year. If you’ve made it this far, kudos to you, I hope you enjoyed and maybe got a recommendation or two out of it!

Friday Morning Cups – On the Capital

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I haven’t done a Friday Morning Cups post in a LONG time. They used to be posts I would put up every once in a while about posts that I shared on Social Media, but either want to go into more detail, or really just feel like need to share a space on my blog. Late 2019/early 2020 I started using my voice in a different way both in my own life, on my social media, and on my blog. It’s now come full circle and I’m very proud of that.

I feel like this post needed to a)be shared in it’s entirety, with my full, unfiltered, un whittled down thoughts as they came out of my brain, and b)needed it’s space on my blog. This is not something I prepped or analyzed over for a long time, rather a incredible need to continue to voice my thoughts and opinions (as I did over the summer, as I did about the pandemic, and as I continue to do in the future). I am continuing to learn, to talk, to listen in the hopes to continue to do better and create a better future for our families and our children.

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I have this picture of Colton and I at The Capital ~4 1/2 years ago. We were able to go on a special tour (thanks to my in-laws for arranging it) while we lived in the DC/NoVa area. I remember staring out the balcony thinking…wow. Feeling a certain moment is feeling at standing at this historical place. A place that has withstood so much. Not knowing what the coming years would bring. And yet…that’s not entirely true is it? 

Any one of us that says “I never thought this would happen” (myself included to an extent because I did not see to this extent…to see the capital willfully broached and the security to be so lapsed- especially as someone who went through stringent security checks and barriers for a tour) has spent the last 4 years willfully ignoring or, perhaps even worse, downplaying what parts of our country have been saying. 

We will never be able to change, to move forward, until we can start to ACTIVELY LISTEN. And no, I’m not saying that hate speech should just be allowed to be spewed or given a platform (hell now), but we can’t ignore or downplay what is happening and what people are saying. What happened yesterday (and I’m specifically referencing the violence on the Capital steps, the breach of the Capital building, and the violence that then continued to ensue) is a build up of the last 4 years. 

Any one of us that says “This is not America” (again- myself included as up until late 2019/all of 2020 I had the privilege of not being exposed to this level of anger and hatred) has not been listening, has willfully been ignoring, or downplaying those that have quite clearly voiced their intents/thoughts. While this may not be America as a whole, this is most definitely a PART of America and we need to recognize that. 

And don’t get me started on the hypocrisy, that conversation is happening, it’s loud, and it’s very clear. If you can continue to ignore the very real privilege and double standard, I…don’t have the words right now. BUT, let’s not minimize the very real quote that a SITTING CONGRESSWOMAN, who was ELECTED BY THE PEOPLE, to do the “work” that needs to be done said 

“ Hitler was right on one thing” (the full quote and her “explanation” is on the next slide). 

Let that sink in. Just sit with that for a minute too. 

And then…AND THEN to see someone wearing a sweatshirt that says “Camp Auschwitz”. Let that sink in too. 

And if I may go off on a tangent for a second here…I have heard SO MANY offhand anti-Semitic/Hitler/Holocaust comments lately. And it’s not because I’m paying more attention. It’s because it has shared more and more and more. Note that. Just make a not of that. 

I would like (and wish of how I wish) that this would be a wake up call for our country, but sadly it, like so much of our recent history, will more than likely not serve as that wake up call. 

2021 – Word of the Year, Intentions, And Other Notes

Man, what a year 2020 was. If 2020 taught me only one thing, it would be that sometimes our goals/resolutions/intentions/whatever fly out the window in the face of drastic changes. I set out for a year of growth, of travel, of living life and was greeted with a year of learning how to be still, how to be at home, how to teach and adapt to the never-ending changes. I was greeted with the travel that meant doing everything last minute just in case things changed, of booking only nonrefundable and saying no to some things instead of yet. 

So, what does that mean as we go into 2021? It means I don’t really have any goals/intentions/resolutions/whatever else. This year I want to really focus on two things…establishing “home” and everything that entails and allowing things to come and go as they may. One thing I’m good at, one thing I’m not so good at. 

2021 starts off with a massive shift for us as we move back to the USA. I’ve talked about this, I feel like, ad nauseum, but in reality, probably not. This is not a move that I was super excited about, but it’s one that I am approaching with wary positivity. I am choosing to look at it as simply another adventure in our life, another page of our book, and that helps with the sadness of leaving (don’t worry- a whole post just about leaving Germany is coming where I sort through all the feelings). I feel like with that comes a period of uncertainty. What will life in New York look like? What will our home look like? What will our day to day look like? My husband is going into a new phase of his career and so his schedule will change (somewhat drastically), our older son will be starting Kindergarten in the fall (whatever that will look like), and my youngest will be doing a preschool program in our home (with me- so that will be fun). And of course, all of this is among the global pandemic that is still on going, which simply throws another wrench into everything. 

I want to try and get settled and really get that “home” feeling as soon as we get our home. I want to get back into a bit of a daily routine (as that has really fallen off as 2020 has come closer and closer to an end). I want to get back into daily yoga and walks. I want to feel a bit more…not in the funk that was the second half of this past year. I think that is the best first step to setting up the rest of the year for success. So, that is one of my primary things I am focusing on for 2021. That’s the thing that I am good at. Home. Community. Settled. 

I want to be better at allowing things/trips/places/whatever to come and go as they do. This year showed me that I CAN go with the flow and just up and travel with very little time to plan. I want to be open to doing more of that. One of my biggest pet peeves about myself is how…plan/routine I can be. But in 2020 I kind of just had to throw it all out the window (every single trip we took was planned at a max of 4 days prior to departure). I want to continue that “momentum” into 2021 as it looks like that is going to continue to be a situation. 

With all of that being said, I don’t have a word for the year 2021 yet. I usually always do the whole “one word 365” thing every year (the past two years have been adventure) because I love the idea of not having resolutions for each year (because oof let’s talk about setting yourself up for failure in so many different ways), but instead this one word that you want to shape how your year shakes out. Normally this is fairly easy for me to pick, I haven’t settled on a word for 2021 yet. There are a fair number of things that I want out of this year, things that are different enough and to put all of that in to one word is a bit difficult. I combed and combed through words, writing down anything that resonated, even a little bit for me. And then it hit me. One of the things that I really want to hold on to, something I learned while being here in Europe, was how to LIVE. Again, I’ll talk about this in my leaving Germany post, but I really learned about what it feels like/looks like to live your life, rather than plod through it and that is something that I want to hold on to and remember as we turn the page on this chapter. So, my word for 2021 is LIVE or the hebrew of Chai (life).

So, there we go, a whole bunch of my rambly thoughts for 2021. Let me know what your plans are for 2021 (if you have any!) 

2020 – A Year in Review

2020. What a year. Where do I even begin?

We all know the big moments of 2020. The Pandemic. The Murders, Uprise, and Unrest (I really hate calling it that though- this is simple human rights). The Election. The unprecedented highs and lows that this year has brought have been like we haven’t seen. And, I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of tired of talking about them. I feel like so much of our lives this year have been focused so heavily on these few moments, which while are drastic and life altering, are not the entire story of our year. They have shaped the year, shaped our experiences, shaped how we cope and handle things, but there are also a million other smaller moments that are overlooked as well. So, I’m going to focus on those little moments. Sure, I’ll cover the things that I have learned about myself, the things that have been shaped by those bigger things, but there not the sole focus of this post. 

Gosh, so a year in review…

Well, our year started by getting blessed by the Pope at St. Peter’s square and then visiting the Great Roman Synagogue. A good start, no? We started our year off in Rome, which was a place that I hadn’t expected to fall in love with as much as I did (you can read my blog posts HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE). If there is one place in our travels that I would say, “I thought I would love it, but I didn’t know how much I would love it”, Rome and Italy would be one of those places. The other? Switzerland. BUT, when it comes to Switzerland, I think that could be said for anyone. More on that in a minute. However, Rome wasn’t our only destination in the year 2020. We managed to squeeze in several trips this year due to a lessening of restrictions and safe traveling. We managed to hit a total of 5  additional countries, France (PARIS 1, PARIS 2, MONT SAINT MICHEL, NORMANDY), Luxembourg (HERE), Belgium (BRUSSELS), Switzerland (INTERLAKEN/LAUTERBRUNNEN), and Poland (KRAKOW, AUSCHWITZ). With Switzerland topping all of the lists. There really are no words on the beauty of that area of the world. It is beyond worth the trip and I think everyone should experience it. 

Our year abruptly changed/came to a halt when we got the surprising news that we would be moving back to the United States quite a bit sooner than expected…a whole year sooner! We initially got the news about mid-summer, then finalized the information late Autumn, and determined that our next spot would be in New York. I talked about it briefly in my announcement post (HERE) and I’m sure I will be talking about it once again here soon as our move date approaches. I’m still fairly heartbroken about moving back, but I am trying to stay positive and see the positives (because there are some positives to this).

Once again, our boys have grown…A LOT. I think this year, more than ever, I have keenly felt the passage of time and what things look like with these two proper, independent kids. Colton started preschool (and then promptly stopped…only to start up again virtually and then finally start the new school year in school…only to go back to virtual right before Christmas break hahaha). When I say he is a completely different child from last year, I mean he is a completely different child. His progress reports have shown drastic improvement as he surpasses the goals initially set out. He’s quite the little boy. Andrew has changed quite a bit too…gone is my little angelic little boy who would occasionally get a super serious contemplative expression. He’s been replaced with a temperamental 3-year-old that loves to exploit the rules and then give you a winning sly grin to get out of trouble. He keeps me on my toes between the troublemaker antics and the never-ending stomach room ha-ha. Together they either love or hate and they definitely make life interesting. 

But, watching how much they’ve changed, how much they’ve grown, has been bittersweet. As any parent will tell you, there is a certain sadness when your children start to grow. This year has definitely brought a level of independence for our boys (they can do SO MUCH MORE without us needing to help), which in so many ways has been nice, it has me savoring the moments where they want to snuggle up on the couch or need mommy to kiss something better. 

This year hasn’t been all sunshine and daisies and rainbows. There have been low points as well. We’ve faced a global pandemic that had us here in Germany stuck in our homes. At the height of Spring, we were not allowed to leave our homes save for grocery shopping (and this was JUST groceries, any stores that sold both groceries and home goods, you could only purchase groceries), doctors’ appointments, exercise (to be done by yourself), and for essential work. No seeing friends, seeing family, popping to wander through the aisles of a store, we were all stuck at home. While this had positives, there were also negatives. This was also a time when I learned a…not so pleasant tidbit about myself (which then led to one of my lows of the year).

I love my family. I’ve loved having extra time with my husband, for us all to be together and really soak up the extra minutes we get together. BUT I don’t like noise. I don’t like constant, loud, noise. I.E. The noise that comes when your entire rambunctious family is home with loads of energy and nothing really to do to kill off that energy (sometimes even our long walks did nothing to curb it). The kind of noise that you can’t really escape from, that only ends when everyone goes to bed and you are left alone, exhausted and trying to savor the quiet while also wanting to sleep. The kind of noise that just wears on you, day after day after day. The kind of noise that, as an introvert, I HAVE to break away from just to recharge. So, that was fun to learn…NOT. I spent quite a bit of quarantine trying to figure out how to adjust my own expectations and needs with what the situation presented, so that I could be the positive, more even keeled person. It was a time and while I don’t have the entire thing figured out (I’m mostly still dragging little moments out until I can get to the next one), I do feel a bit better than I did at the beginning. 

Another low point was the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so, so many others that all deserved to have their names spoken over and over and over again. Not to mention justice. This summer was eye opening in so many ways on a civil level and one that I am making sure I continue to learn and educate myself as we move away from the initial “push” of the unrest. There was also an alarming amount of anti-Semitism that popped up in 2020 as well, which is…scary. To be honest, the sheer level of hatred in our country, in our world, is scary. 

In all honesty, I am glad to wave 2020 farewell. It’s been a year of highs and lows and draining. While I don’t think we are going to wake up in 2021 and everything will magically be good, I am kind of looking forward to a new year. To another fresh start. 

A Cuppa Cosy Reads – December 2020

December was a weird month. I wouldn’t say that I read more or less in the final month of the year, but this year I read less than I had read any other month. I just…struggled to find books that would capture my entire attention. I so desperately wanted to escape reality, except reality wasn’t really letting me. I think after finishing The Empire of Gold I couldn’t figure out what was next (as I desperately wanted another fantasy series that would give me the same experience), so I spent a lot of time bouncing from book to book to book without finishing anything. Add in the holidays and the world and it was just…a month. 

The Empire of Gold by S.A. Chakraborty (PURCHASE) 5 Stars I mean, I will forever read anything Chakraborty writes ever again. She just…this was incredible. I had one incredibly minor complaint that in the end didn’t affect my overall rating or enjoyment of this book. This is the concluding novel to the Daevabad Trilogy and it was everything that the reader could ask for. I also appreciated that when it was done…it was done. It wasn’t open ended in any way and that was something I think I really needed by the time I reached the end. 

It’s a Whole Spiel Edited by Katherine Locke (PURCHASE) 4 Stars. I think a lot of my higher rating for this compilation is that I relate to the characters from a faith/ethnicity standpoint. I hadn’t read such a heavily Jewish focused book (or rather short stories) ever that was also modern and I really appreciated that. It’s a Whole Spiel is a compilation of short stories all about Jewish kids and the differences in practices, in what they believe, how they practice, and how they do or do not interact with the real world. In all honesty, I wish I had had something like this when I was a teenager, it would have made some things very different for me. 

The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton (PURCHASE) 3.5 Stars This was such an interesting premise, but I found that there was a little TOO much going on once the story started. In this book we are following our main characters as they are in a race against time and others to solve a mysterious death. There is one catch, every morning they wake up as a different character in the mystery and they are racing against 2 others who may or may not be on “their side”. I found the book, overall, to be very well done, however I didn’t fully connect to it. It felt a bit busy, or disjointed while reading, and even though I loved the last 75 pages or so, I don’t know if that love really offset the rest of the book. 

All Systems Red by Martha Wells (PURCHASE) 3 Stars I’m not really a massive Sci-Fi reader (if you haven’t already noticed), but I was intrigued by these short, almost novella, style stories about a “Murderbot”. In this first book we are getting an understanding of our main character, what the concept of a “Murderbot” is and how they fit in the world. With it being so short, there isn’t too much to say, other than I feel like this was a good foundational book. I will probably continue through the series, mostly because the books are shorter and easier to consume. 

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie (PURCHASE) 4 Stars I will forever stand by any Agatha Christie novel, she is just the queen. Here we’ve got a classic locked room who done it and, she did not disappoint, even I was surprised at the twists. Agatha is excellent at handling the classic mystery, making something that could be truly atrocious a little bit softer. Her books are nice reprieves from our modern mystery/thriller/suspense novels that are usually so hard (in terms of content- brutality). 

I’m also currently, as of writing and probably posting, reading what will be my last book of the year. I will finish this book before the clock strikes midnight on December 31, 2020, BUT not before I have to write, edit, and post this wrap up. The book I’m currently reading is Kingdom of Flesh and Fire by Jennifer L Armentrout, which is the second book in the Blood and Ash Duology (trilogy? Series? Who knows). I’ve got to say, at this point I know what to expect with the story, which is an almost jokingly amount of angst, riddled with lines that’ll make me laugh, and an easy world of escapism for a few days. 

And that was it! That wraps my entire year of reading for 2020. Is this something that you would continue to be interested in reading in the future? My Best/Worst list will be coming your way in January (just a couple weeks away) and I’m excited to share an overall look at my reading this year!

Christmas Eve Boxes 2020

I don’t know when this became a tradition to share our Christmas Eve Boxes, but here we are for I think the third year of talking about this favorite tradition. I am actually kind of glad to be doing this because it’s fun to see what the boys have loved over the past years (as this is a pretty good reflection in terms of books and little trinkets). Since I don’t share our actual Christmas/Hannukah gifts or our plans online, it’s a good little way to look back. You can see the 2018 and 2019 boxes by clicking on those years if you’d like, but this years was a bit of a struggle. 

So, every Christmas Eve when the sun sets the boys get a little box of goodies. Every year it contains the following items: New Christmas Pajamas, a Book, some chocolate/candy, and a little trinket of some sort. When I had originally started this, I figured I would switch up the little trinket in the boxes every year as the boys grew and interests changed. The first year I put a little stuffed animal in, the second year they got their first set of little mugs, but this year…this year I wasn’t sure. 

The boys have changed the toys that they play with this year, choosing the smaller things like Legos (the proper ones, not Duplo sets), matchbox cars, and trains. It’s helped with gift ideas, but it also makes that Christmas eve box a bit harder as the “little trinkets” are now more of a part of their actual gifts. I went back and forth for quite a long time on what to actually include in the boxes as the possibilities are endless, but also not so endless. 

Another change that changed things a bit was the fact that this year we are doing Advent Calendars (the boys got Lego one’s this year), Hannukah (with presents provided the first and last night), Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. That’s A LOT of gift giving and A LOT of new things. I wanted to keep it as simple as possible, so I decided to put an item that I was going to gift for Christmas in their Eve Boxes, rather than find one more thing. 

Long story short (and if you’ve made it this far, cheers to you), the Christmas Eve boxes have…

  1. Christmas Pajamas. This adorable set comes from The Children’s Place and we have a pair for both boys and mom (dad is NOT interested ha-ha).
  2. Christmas Eve Books. Colton received a copy of The Polar Express, Andrew a copy of Dragon’s Merry Christmas, and I am going to be reading Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie.
  3. Large Stuffed Animals. This was something that Colton had actually started by asking for an R2-D2 for Christmas. He really wanted one and when asked if he wanted a hard toy one or a stuffed one, he picked stuffed. Andrew is getting a stuffed Triceratops (his favorite dinosaur at the moment).
  4. There will be a little chocolate bar in each for them to eat after dinner. 

Finally, as we do every year, we are going to snuggle up on Christmas Eve and watch How The Grinch Stole Christmas. Once the movie ends, we read our books and spend the night curled up with them.  

Burg Eltz

Ah, Burg Eltz. It’s one of the most photographed castles and takes its place as a top castle to visit with Neuschwanstein Castle, Lichtenstein Castle, and others. During our Summer Holiday, we made a stop at Burg Eltz to see what it was like. Burg Eltz is one of only three castles in the Rhine region that have never been destroyed and so, it was incredible to see how the different eras of the castle and families had left their own imprints. The house is joint owned by three families, Rubenach, Rodendorf, and Kempenich. You are able to tour two of the portions (Rubenach and Rodendorf), while the third is currently occupied by the family.

The oldest part of the castle is a Roman style keep that was initially built in the 9th century. It was intended to be a simple manor, but by the 12th century it became an incredibly important Roman Empire fortress. Built on top of a rock, the castle doesn’t quite stand perfectly upright, rather following the shape of the rock as it juts upward (similar to Mont Saint Michel in a way). In the mid 13th century (not long after the initial castle was completed) the three brothers of the Eltz family had a bit of a dispute which ended up leading to the castle and estate being split into three. The tower keep in the north was the beginning of the Rodendorf portion (which dates back to 1300) and the Rubenach house had its start in 1311. 

The only military conflicts to occur in the Eltz castle occurred in the 1330’s when the lords of Eltzer opposed the territorial policy of the Archbishop of Trier. This led to a siege of the castle, which led to another smaller siege castle on the northern side (the remains of which you can still see today). The siege ended two years later (when the “free” imperial knights gave up their “freedom”) and with it, along with clever politics and support from its neighbors, the castle did not see any other battle action.

In 1472 the Rubenach house was completed (as part of the Greater Rodendorf House) after being commissioned by Philipp zu Eltz. Then the Kempenich house replaced the original hall in 1615. Eltz castle was one of the few castles lucky enough to come through the Palatine Wars of Succession (leading to the French rule) unscathed as many others were destroyed. This was due to a high-ranking officer in the French Army, Hans Anton zu Eltz-Uttingen, who saved the castle. However, Eltz Castle still came into the French possession after Count Hugo Phillipp zu Eltz fled during the French rule of the Rhine region. He was then treated as an emigrant and all of the properties owned by the Eltz family, even those beyond the castle, were confiscated. These only came back into his possession in 1815 when he was able to purchase it (if you’re curious- during the French rule Count Hugo hid out in Mainz, Germany). Finally, in the 19th century the Count Karl zu Eltz decided to restore the castle and commissioned extensive work to preserve the existing castle. 

I’ve got to say- this castle really lives up to the expectation. You’ve got the perfect fairytale location, literally nestled right into the trees and valley between hills. You’ve got the picture-perfect bridge leading up to the castle itself, where you can marvel at this towering not quite straight towers looming above you. And you’ve got the visual history right in front of you. You are able to literally walk-through different eras of time and see how they lived in these different houses in the same castle. 

As I said, this castle was occupied by several families and each lived differently, both in station, in time, and in family structure. This meant that each has its own little differences and while each room has all of the crests and you can see some of the commonalities, they are also unique to their family. The interior was as I had expected in a way, overstated but also warm and welcoming. Rich tones and lots of wood, but also little hide away rooms and staircases. 

If you’re visiting, I would recommend getting there right when they open to avoid the lines for tours. The tour, which starts in the courtyard at the center of the complex, takes you through two portions of the house, as well as the treasury and armory (which are self-guided portions). There is a little bit of a walk from the parking lot to the castle itself (or alternatively you can hike the trails to get to the castle if you’d like), but there is also a small shuttle that you can choose to take.