The Clover House, by Henriette Lazaridis Power
Calliope Notaris Brown--or Callie Brown, as she is known in her everyday life--is a woman struggling to find her place in the world. Born in the U.S. to a Greek mother and American father, Callie has always felt split between two worlds. Making matters more difficult is her relationship with her mother, Clio, which has always been somewhat cold and distant.
When her uncle passes away, Callie learns she has inherited the contents of his home and she must travel to Patras, Greece to take possession of and sort through the memories of her uncle's life. While there, Callie uncovers long-buried family secrets and struggles to understand her mother's difficult ways. Callie must make decisions about all the relationships in her life--with her mother, her Greek family, and her fiance waiting back in Boston.
Set against the backdrop of the traditional Carnival, The Clover House is an interesting look at Greek culture. Greece is not a country I know a lot about and is not a setting I have come across very often. I enjoyed the descriptions of Greece--the people, the customs, and the history.
Also especially interesting were the retrospective sections, narrated in the third-person, from Clio's perspective during the Italian and German occupation in World War II. These stories revealed a fascinating history, and were the most interesting parts of the plot, I thought. The chapters from Clio's point of view drew me in and were definitely my favorite parts of the book.
While full of interesting history and providing a look at a setting I didn't know much about, the book overall fell a little flat for me. I did not like Callie and couldn't really get past the ridiculously immature ways she behaved. There was a little redemption in the end, thank goodness, and a bit of hope for her future.
Again, while I may not have loved this book, I did enjoy the rare setting and the insight into the Greek culture and traditions. If you're interested in Greece/Carnival/WWII fiction, check this one out.
The State of Affairs
We have been dreaming of September for months and months, for one simple reason: VACATION. (Well, Jeremy has been dreaming of it for something like eight months, for another reason: college football. But I digress.)
This year's annual visit to Gulf Shores was every bit as fantastic as we hoped. We had a solid week full of the beach, pool, naps, food (and more food), shopping, and just being together. There was not one rain cloud in the sky during our entire vacation, and it was just about a picture-perfect trip. I have lots of pictures to share, but none on this computer, so that will have to wait.
Other than our trip, September was relatively low-key. Football season began, which means it's officially fall in the South, regardless of what the calendar or the thermometer says. That makes me think of this passage from Rick Bragg's All Over but the Shoutin', that has resounded through my head for weeks now:
Before the hot, wet air even begins to give way to the odd cool breeze, before the oaks and maples have begun to turn even the slightest bit red and gold, football banishes summer and announces, with crashing cymbals and an earth-quaking "Roll Tide", that it is now, officially, fall.
So yeah, fall has been here for awhile, even it is only just beginning to feel like it.
Perfect Match, by Kristan Higgins--A rather cute romance that was (sorry, bad pun intended) the perfect match for my first few days at the beach. It's a series centered around a family of three sisters, apparently, but each can stand alone. I won't be rushing out for the others, but I wouldn't necessarily turn them down, either.
The Moon and More, by Sarah Dessen--Ms. Dessen is almost always a win for me, and I was looking forward to reading this, her latest book. Unfortunately, it did NOT have the Dessen magic for me. The small-town coastal setting was near perfect, as always, but something was missing. I also pretty actively disliked the main character and thought she made some pretty boneheaded decisions. Not liking this book made me a little sad, but I will hope for better with Dessen's next venture.
And When She Was Good, by Laura Lippman--This book, on the other hand, I LOVED. The main character is a professional escort who has built a fairly successful business, not usually the kind of character I would find absolutely charming, but I confess that I did. I appreciated that she was never characterized as someone we should be pitying...though she'd been through a lot, she was shown as a woman who did whatever it took to survive. I loved it; you should totally read this one.
When Will There be Good News?, by Kate Atkinson--I had this book sitting in a TBR pile for quite some time, and I nearly quit on it during a particularly slow part. Kate Atkinson is an outstanding writer, though, so I stuck it out and was rewarded with a much-improved second half. Fantastic characters.
I celebrated 15 lbs lost! I ran more miles than ever before in any previous September, I can guarantee that.
Addison & Mackenzie are really enjoying the 4-year-old class at MDO. I can see much more of a preschool-type focus this year. Their class is working on writing skills, and both the girls have come so far since late August. A & M are constantly talking about something new they have learned or heard at school (mostly good things, but a few less-than-desirable behaviors...newsflash: 4-year-olds can be gross). They have never been happier to go to school, and I'm so thankful for that, especially this last year before "real" school begins.
And now, all of a sudden, it's October. Pumpkins, fall mums, Halloween...like every other person on the internet, I love it all.
Happy Fall, y'all!
The Slimdown: An Update
Since I started Weight Watchers and the Biggest Blogging Loser back in June, I have lost fifteen pounds. My ultimate goal weight, which seemed so far away just three months ago, is well within reach. I am five pounds above that goal weight, and I'll be honest, it feels pretty darn good.
I try not to get too caught up in the actual number on the scale--although it definitely needed to be smaller than what it was and I am liking where it's headed--or the size in my clothes, which is better too, of course. Instead, I try to focus on the way my clothes fit and how I am feeling. I am at the same weight I was when I settled out from having the girls (130 lbs.), about ten pounds less than I weighed when I got pregnant. But this time, because I have done it through eating right and exercising, and because I'm not two months out from birthing twins, my stomach is much flatter, I am smaller all over, and I just feel a lot (A LOT) happier with the way I look.
My backside is still incredibly flat (a lifelong problem for which there seems to be no exercise or solution), my chest is still quite large (I'm more okay with this one, most of the time), my hips are still narrow, I still have little to no definable waist, and though it is several noticeable inches smaller, I will never bare my stomach to anyone outside my immediate family (thanks for the stretch marks, kids!)...but overall, I am very satisfied these days. My legs are stronger and more muscular than ever before, I can run a mile without stopping and without feeling like I am going to die, and my pants fit perfectly. That is, the NEW pants I bought when I couldn't wear the old ones fit perfectly--the old pairs are gone, gone, gone.
As most of us have realized over the years, there is no secret formula or quick and easy way to manage our weight. That holds true here--there is no magic exercise that helped me shed the pounds, and I certainly didn't do it with a super-special smoothie mix. (Smoothies generally make me want to throw up. I will never, EVER be able to drink a smoothie or a shake and call it a meal...I'm just not wired that way.)
Before getting serious about my weight back in June, I had already implemented a lot of changes in the way our family eats. I felt pretty good about most of the things we were eating. Upon starting Weight Watchers, I realized that the important change for me would be the amount I was eating. On the Weight Watchers plan, I started paying a lot more attention to the little things that can add up during the day--creamer in my coffee (which counted for at least 1 of my daily points--I became very stingy very quickly and cut out the creamer as a non-necessity. Who knew I could learn to like black coffee?), afternoon squares of chocolate, cheese added to a salad, the handful of crackers or single cookie I would grab when fixing a snack for the girls, etc. All those things were negating a lot of the good I was doing with a balanced meal and an evening run.
For most of the summer, I followed Weight Watchers very strictly. I measured everything to get used to portion sizes, I added up the total points in recipes, and I ate the heck out of all the delicious summer fruits and vegetables (most of which are "free"--zero points). I also stuck to a legitimate exercise plan for the first time in my life. I have been pretty consistent for the last several months, on a schedule of running at least 2-3 times a week and doing a mix of different yoga programs at least twice a week. Seriously, this is the longest I have stuck with planned exercise, EVER.
Once I got the hang of eating less (and not starving, which was somewhat of a surprise to me!), the combination of fewer calories and exercise began to have an effect. The scale moved, and more importantly, I could feel my body changing. It was a great feeling, and an inspiring one...the changes just made me want to push harder.
Months later, I'm still here, and still pushing. I have eased up on a few things--I haven't actually tracked my daily points in a couple of weeks, but I know the value of most foods I eat on a daily basis. If I go outside the norm, I count again to be sure I'm not getting too far off track. My portions have changed drastically, and my snacking is under control. I might have an evening snack, if I really feel like I need it, and popcorn night with my girls is still non-negotiable (though I limit myself to only a small handful of their M&Ms). We typically eat out at least twice on the weekends, and for at least one of those meals, I pretty much order whatever I want. And it usually includes ranch dressing, which is still my absolute favorite. But the other 90% of the time, I'm on track, and that balance has worked well for me.
Above all, I think the best thing Weight Watchers has taught me is to listen to my body. Adjusting my portion sizes showed me that it takes a lot less to fill me up than I previously thought. And if I eat the right things for my body, I will stay fuller much longer than I often expect. I try to recognize when I am full, and I am working on training myself not to eat when I'm not hungry. Novel concept, I know. But those snacks and extras that were hindering me before weren't happening because I was hungry; they were just something I did out of habit.
The challenge now is to stick with these new habits, both the eating habits and the exercise habits. For me, it's the combination that works best. I am happier than I was three months ago...not just because I'm down a couple of pants sizes, but because I feel better all around. I have more confidence and way more energy. I am super pleased with where I am right now, and my goal is to still be this positive three months, six months, a year from now.
Mission: Almost Accomplished.