Three books you need to read

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1. The Art of Racing in the Rain:

What the book’s about: On the eve of his death, Enzo, a dog with a human-like soul, reflects on his life with his family: Denny, an up-and-coming racecar driver, his wife Eve, and their daughter Zoe. Enzo believes that dogs who are “prepared” will be reincarnated as humans in their next lives, and so he seeks to get ready by taking stock of his life.

What I thought: Of all the books I’ve read over the past few years, this was the one I had told Mike that he HAD to read. After you read this story, you’ll want to share it with people — especially other animal lovers. I started reading it thinking that with the dog narrating, the story would be cute, but predictable. And while, yes, you know something sad is going to happen from the first page, the story is original and the way Enzo tells it made me fall in love with him and his family. I sped through it in about a week or so, and was sad when I had finished it.

What other people said: “The Art of Racing in the Rain is the perfect book for anyone who knows that some of our best friends walk beside us on four legs; that compassion isn’t only for humans; and that the relationship between two souls who are really meant for each other never really comes to an end.” -Jodi Picoult

2. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay:

What the book’s about: In 1939, Joe Kavalier escapes from Hitler’s Prague, and arriving in New York City, partners with his cousin, Sammy Clay, to create a comic, The Escapist, inspired by World War II. With his family left behind in Europe, Kavalier tries to comfort himself by fighting the Germans symbolically through their artwork. The cousins quickly find themselves at the center of the the golden age of comics.

What I thought: My favorite books are about underdogs and oppression, and in the past, I was constantly drawn to fiction stories about slavery and the Holocaust. But now, after almost 15 years of reading that genre, many of those stories seem too similar. I still enjoy them, but I’m not floored by the ideas and I don’t remember anything specific about the book months or years down the road. But Chabon’s book gave me an original look at the era, what it means to be a hero and what it would be like to leave your family behind. The plot isn’t the only high point — Chabon’s writing is the best I’ve read this year.

What other people said: “Novels conventionally draw a good deal of their power from surprising plot turns. ‘The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay’ fulfills its quota of surprises, but most of its unexpectedness resides, comic-book-style, in its challenging situations, lushly written, in which you know beforehand that the heroes will prevail … the depth of Chabon’s thought, his sharp language, his inventiveness and his ambition make this a novel of towering achievement.” -The New York Times Book Review

3. This is Where I Leave You:

What the book’s about: Judd Foxman — who recently found his wife cheating on him with his boss — is forced to sit shiva with the rest of his dysfunctional family after his father’s death. With the siblings together for seven straight days, the week quickly spins out of control and old arguments resurface. The story gets more interesting when Judd’s wife, Jen, unexpectedly shows up at the house to tell Judd that she’s pregnant.

What I thought: This book had me laughing from the beginning and I didn’t want to put it own. The siblings’ rivalries, comebacks, and mockery reminded me of a more intense version of my family and I easily became attached to Judd and his plight. Although I became a little less interested in the story about 3/4 of the way through, the need to find out how the story ended kept me reading and I’m glad I did. The book’s being made into a movie with Jason Bateman and Tiny Fey, and the trailer — which does ruin some of the jokes in the book if you want to read it first — is hilarious.

What other people said: “Tropper is wickedly funny, a master of the cutting one-liner that makes you both cringe and crack up. But what elevates his novels and makes him a truly splendid writer is his ability to create fantastically flawed, real characters who stay with you long after the book is over. Simultaneously hilarious and hopeful, ‘This is Where I leave You’ is as much about a family’s reckoning as it is about one man’s attempt to get it together. -Daphne Durham, Amazon reviewer.

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Celebrating Latte on World Cat Day

Every day is a cat day for me. I don’t consider myself completely crazy, but I know I spoil Latte and treat her like my baby, and in turn, she knows she has me wrapped around her little paw. But that’s exactly the way I like it — we’re cuddle buddies, we have races down the hall in the apartment, and I know she’s always going to run to the door when I get home from a long day at work.

So in honor of the official World Cat Day, I thought I’d share some of my favorite cat finds — funny Pinterest pictures, quotes I love, and some of Latte’s favorite products. I promise I’ll share some life updates soon that don’t involve fur or four legs, but today, I just couldn’t ignore this “holiday.”

1. I got Mike this watercolor painting from My DaVinci for our anniversary a few months ago. The painting is based on our favorite photo of Latte that I took the day after she came home with us, and I knew I wanted to get this as a present for months. I’m so happy with how it turned out.

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2. I read about 10 cat quotes to Mike the other night while he was falling asleep (and mad that I was still trying to talk to him). I loved them all, but think this one reminds me the most of Latte:

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3. At Latte’s first appointment at the vet, we were told to try to brush her teeth (and clip her nails — but that hasn’t happened without Mike getting seriously injured in about six months). Brushing didn’t go much better than the nail clipping, until I bought this seafood-flavored toothpaste. Everyone made fun of me when I bought it, but hey — it works. She would just eat the whole bottle of it if I let her, and even though she still resists the brushing, she’ll deal with it if it means getting that seafoody taste in her mouth.

4.  The second one just like me…

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5. I wanted to include an update on Latte’s favorite toy in this post, but it’s so hard, since she plays with just about anything (including, recently, a Tylenol bottle, a Wegmans receipt, and a paper Chiptole bag). But she does especially love the glow-in-the-dark balls her aunt Julie got her for Christmas. They’re recommended for blind cats, and they make more noise as they shoot across the floor than normal balls, so she chases them around the apartment all by herself like a demon cat. They are starting to rip apart at the seams from too much action. She still loves her bird, too.

6. As a writer, this Buzzfeed post “16 Famous Writers and Their Cats” was one of my favorites.

7. Some of my favorite days with Latte so far have been the ones where we take her outside for some reading and sunbathing. Latte doesn’t completely get it and often chooses to stay safe in her carrier, but I think she likes it. We’re not really sure if she’s terrified or having fun, but it does wipe her out for the rest of the day.

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A deer was making a threatening noise at Latte from afar in the picture on the right and Latte, blind as a bat, had no idea what was going on.

8. This one made me tear up. Can you believe it?

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Have a great World Cat Day — and Caturday, too! ;)

Latte transitions from “tall” to “grande”

Grande Caramel Latte turns 1 year old today. And even though she has no idea it’s her birthday, we celebrated anyway.

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Latte had a harder start than most other kittens. Since she never answers my questions about it, we’ll never know exactly happened to her. But we’re told she got hit by something quite hard when she was a month old. She sustained some cuts and suffered some brain damage, and never regained her vision.

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But despite her rocky beginning, she is like any other cat turning 1 today. And that makes me so happy. I’m so happy she recovered, that she’s ours, and that her blindness hasn’t slowed her down.

Latte can be energetic and crazy, but she’s also sweet lap kitty who greets us at the door when we come home. She sleeps under the covers with me in bed, and every morning, I wake up to her on my chest rubbing my face and purring. I know she probably just wants her breakfast, but I welcome the sight of her and it’s often my favorite part of the day.

Like what every crazy cat lady says, Latte has been the best kitten in the world. So naturally, I wanted to do something for her birthday. I made my first layer cake (loosely based off this) and had some family over. We gave Latte a few small toys and treats, and she ate her first “adult” food — a chunky loaf of salmon and duck.

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She can’t exactly say thank you, but after eating the same boring chicken for the past year, she licked that bowl clean, did a few jumping tricks for her audience, and settled in for a night of cuddling.

Here’s to many more.

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10 1/2 months with McCorrie Lou

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(Also known as McCorrs, McSter, Sesame Seed, and Micky Lou. We really need to settle on a nickname).

I’ve been meaning to write about one of McCorrie’s month birthdays for a long time. I got behind with the posts, and she just grew and grew and grew, and I became overwhelmed with all the new things she was doing. But I miss writing about her and she’s rapidly approaching her first birthday, so I’ll try to capture all of her cute self as best as I can.

My sesame seed has just seemed like such a little person lately. It hit me during a short stop at her house last week. She was on my mom’s lap when I walked in, and she immediately turned to point at me to acknowledge there was someone new in the house. She beamed up at me with a huge smile, and when I put my arms out to “ask” if I could hold her, she launched herself forward as if to say, “I remember you!”

She has learned to clap to “If you’re happy and you know it” so I started singing and she clapped along for the first couple verses and swayed her body back and forth (she dances to anything that resembles music — even my singing). By the time we got to the end of the song, she had some Puffs in her hands that she couldn’t part with,  so instead of clapping she just made two little noises, right to the clapping beat: “uh uh.”

It probably seems like the stupidest thing in the world, but she just seemed like such a big girl in that moment, dancing, clapping, and making silly noises right on cue. Where did that little baby go that I held not so long ago who barely even made a noise? That baby who didn’t even know where her hands were?

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I miss that tiny girl, and cliche as it is, she is growing way too fast. But I also love the laughing, and the clapping, and the way she kind of repeats my name but doesn’t really know what she’s saying. When the time comes, I’ll enjoy the walking and the talking.

And eventually,  I’ll happily take the “AUNT HEH, COMEERE” — when she really knows what she’s saying and she wants to play Pretty Pretty Princess, or swim, or kick a soccer ball around.

Part of me can’t wait for that day, and part of me wants to freeze time so I can play with my little clapping girl forever.

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Made by me: painted Mason jars

I am not an artsy person. In first grade, my least favorite thing to do was cut and paste. In fifth grade, I had the worst self portrait of my class, and in high school, I received some of my worst grades ever for my clay sculptures in art class.

Despite my deep-seated resentment of art, I have come to enjoy an extremely simple do-it-yourself project here and there thanks to Pinterest. I don’t have that much talent and I like instant gratification, so I stick to projects that don’t involve sewing or drilling and that can be done in a night or two. Some easy, fast projects I’ve completed without completely pulling my hair out include corkboards using wine corks in the shape of our initials. (Please don’t be concerned that we are wineaholics — I bought 200 corks on eBay five years ago and 3/4 of them are still unused. That’s how crafty I am).

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And a dry erase board (made by just framing a seasonal piece of scrapbook paper):

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Some other projects I’ve attempted have failed miserably. I tried to use some of those 200 wine corks to make cork reindeer for Christmas ornaments (like these ones). I had great intentions and was in the holiday mood until I realized that it’s impossible to cut wine corks without a saw. Not even kidding. I also forgot that hot glue doesn’t always work, and oh yeah, I never know how to keep the gluey strings from going everywhere. A few of them worked out, but many of them have since lost a leg or two since I made them a few years ago. Poor guys.

So when my barely creative itch struck recently, I decided to stay away from hot glue guns and that box full of wine corks in my trunk. After scouring the trusty time-waster known as Pinterest, I decided on painted Mason jar vases — a project that includes less than five tools and only a few hours of time. I picked up some of my own jars at a craft store, along with a wide, soft brush, acrylic paint, and some fake flowers.

Following advice found on the Internet (as always), I cleaned the jars well before starting. I then painted one coat, let it dry for about five hours, and painted a second coat. As evidenced by my art projects in school, my painting skills are below par and the paint wasn’t 100 percent even. I especially struggled with the area around the raised words on the jar, but I think they turned out OK. I think having a variety of brushes may have helped, but I don’t exactly have a craft closet built up and I like to think the unevenness gives them a natural look. ;)

After all the paint was dry, I sprayed the jars with a matte finish and cut the fake flowers to fit in the jar (I’m too cheap/lazy for real flowers but those would be even better).

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And voila. Done in a day and already up for display. My kind of project.

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Life lately (in verbs)

READING :: The Goldfinch for book club number one, and Lenin’s Tomb for book club number two. (I’m actually a 50-year-old cat lady/book club member who took a 24-year-old’s body hostage).

WAITING :: For Mike to take his boards Tuesday so that we can have a staycation and go for bike rides and take Latte for walks binge-watch Netflix and go see How to Train Your Dragon 2.

BROWSING :: Facebook and seeing my niece in a Fisher Price ad. Easily my favorite model — pictured in her oh-my-god-I-found-my-tongue stage.

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A whole lot of people “like” McCorrie :)

CRYING :: Over math problems. I’ve been toying with the idea of going back to school at some point in the distant future, and a practice GMAT test told me that my math ability is stuck back in third grade. I forgot all about triangles and factoring and exponents … and it’s bad. Mike is trying to tutor me but I think I need my 13-year-old nephew’s help first.

LOVING :: Veep. I finished the three seasons on Sunday after starting the show an embarrassingly short time ago. And now, of course, I’m sad I have no new episodes to watch because I felt the need to fly through them.

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SITTING :: In our new patio furniture for the balcony. I’m pretty excited about it and Latte thinks we got her a huge new toy in a shape of a cardboard box, so everybody’s happy.

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MAKING :: New recipes, like Thai chicken quinoa bowls (Jessica can do no wrong) and this snickers brownie ice cream cake. Chocolate sauce got all over the table and counter during the assembly of the cake, and it certainly didn’t look as pretty as it did on Pinterest — but it tasted pretty darn good.

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Sunday happiness

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I came home from Starbucks today and found Latte blissfully sleeping in one of her favorite spots — warm in the sun and near her dad, who is permanently glued to the office chair until he takes his boards in June. We took her outside after she woke up, and except for her intense desire to go play in a swamp, she behaved perfectly. When it started drizzling, she calmly got back into her carrier and once we were upstairs, she let me wipe all the mud off her tiny paws. I emerged from the adventure without a scratch and my iced coffee still intact. As a reward, Latte got an extra treat, and then, of course, returned to her spot in the sun.