Spooky October Reads

Every October I get a little sad. Because what I really want to do is snuggle up with a massive number of Shirley Jackson novels and get creeped out. But there are only a small number of Shirley Jackson novels and I’ve used them all up and sometimes it feels like there’s no other atmospheric suspense novels out there that can give you a good shiver while delivering great writing and characters. But every year I find just a few more to add to my list and this year was no exception. I’m starting off with my newest finds and then adding old favorites.

 Spooky October Reads
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 Spooky October ReadsBird Box is a title that’s been thrown around the BookRiot Staff forum for a while now and when I had some Audible credits, I decided to give it a whirl. This may be the most frightening book I have ever read. I know that last sentence probably made a bunch of you go, “Okay, then I’ll skip that one,” but it’s not a book that gives you nightmares or makes you worry about something grabbing you from under the bed. That’s the kind of horror I’ve never really gone for. This is a book that uses the unknown and the unseen to make you really, really tense. And that is a reading experience that I really savor because I can’t stop. Bird Box tells the story of Malorie through two timelines: in her present, the story of one harrowing day where she takes her two children and leaves the house they have stayed hidden in for years; in her past, the story of how society fell apart and what led her to her unusual situation. 

This is a book that doesn’t want to explain things to you, which is smart since the characters in the book understand very little about what’s going on around them. You are as much in the dark as they are, and that’s an apt metaphor since whatever is the cause of all this trouble, it only has power over you if you see it. Imagine life blindfolded, where just looking outside a window risked madness and death. It’s not a perfect book but it’s disturbing, haunting, and absolutely unlike anything else I’ve ever read. I can’t stop talking about it, and neither can anyone else I know who’s read it. It makes you a little bit obsessed in the best way. If you’re up for it, I can’t recommend it enough. Kindle edition is currently $1.99!!

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 Spooky October ReadsAnother book that’s heavy on the buzz is Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix. This is much more of a traditional horror novel, complete with unexplained phenomena, a scrappy band of characters who get picked off, and a big bad. It’s also, like much of our modern horror, all a bit tongue and cheek. Your first clue? It’s basically set in an Ikea. In the book it’s a big furniture chain called Orsk, but there’s not much of an effort to distinguish it from the real Ikea. There’s a single path you must follow through the store, there’s cheap furniture with Scandinavian names, there’s little rooms set up all over the place. Amy is at a low point in life and her job at Orsk is a lifesaver, but also a kind of living hell. But when strange things keep happening, she volunteers to work an overnight shift to have the store in perfect shape when the corporate bigwigs are coming the next morning. Cue the havoc and mayhem.

If the thought of being in an Ikea at night gives you the creeps, this is a good choice for you. Horror lovers have been talking up this book big time. If traditional horror is not quite your favorite, you can still get a good chuckle from it. Personally I wish Hendrix had pushed a bit harder towards funny or scary since being in the middle left me a bit unsatisfied. I can say with complete confidence that this will make an AMAZING movie and I will be shocked if no one buys the rights. And it gets bonus points for having one of my favorite covers in recent memory.

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 Spooky October ReadsIt’s somewhat unheard of for a trilogy to release all three books in a single year, but that’s what’s happening with Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy. I was reading the first book, Annihilation, in those pictures I took on the beach last week, and I’m currently in the midst of the second book, Authority. The final one, Acceptance, is out recently and I hope to be finished with all 3 soon. At first glance, Annihilation seemed like a throwback to a Crichton novel, similar to one of my teenage favorites, Sphere. A team of specialists is exploring Area X. Area X is surrounded by some kind of strange border that just suddenly appeared one day, and a secret government agency is trying to figure out what’s going on inside while pretending that there was some kind of environmental emergency that keeps the land uninhabitable. Totally Crichton, right? Except it’s not at all.

This is not a straightforward story, even if the narrator, the team’s Biologist, tells it mostly in order. It is often vague, leaving out details, or describing something in a way that doesn’t make much sense. Like how the team finds something some members describe as a tunnel when another insists on calling it a tower. There’s the complicating factor of hypnotism (a requirement to get them across the border that’s never quite explained) that immediately makes you wonder if what’s happening is really happening. And as you find out more truth, you get farther from feeling comfortable and in control. This book is a straight up mind game, and if you’re into that kind of thing, you should not waste much time. So far Authority is a very different novel, without the odd tonal detachment of the first narrator, it comes from the point of view of the new Director of the Southern Reach, that agency that’s in charge of Area X. You’d expect him to give us a bunch of answers, but so far each answer only leads to more questions, especially when we find out who the last Director was.

These books are about disorientation in many ways, about things that are impossible to describe, about fear and strange phenomena. The closest I can compare Annihilation to is House of Leaves, both have that scientific feel, that feeling of being somewhat off-kilter, and a sense of dread lying everywhere. These are the kind of books that shake you up and pull you thoroughly from your comfort zone.

If you’re still looking for more, you can check out 2012′s Spooky Reads list, or check some of these reviews:

The Other by Thomas Tyron

Night Film by Marisha Pessl

The Barter by Siobhan Adcock

The Burn Palace by Stephen Dobyns

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

Help for the Haunted by John Searles

Organize Better with Wunderlist

A while ago I decided I needed to take more responsibility to run my blog as a professional. The problem I found pretty quickly was that my blogging work was often getting lost in the shuffle of all the other things I had to do. Same with my freelance work, stuff for Graham’s school, my own errands, etc. 

I thought back longingly to high school when I had a daily planner. It was the only way I could survive back then. Otherwise I just forgot about assignments. Every day would get completely filled up and every day I’d come home and look at what was on my to-do list and prioritize accordingly. 

Of course, the paper planner is a tough one these days. And honestly, I don’t know that it would work. I find out about some things months in advance, but still need the regular reminders. I have recurring jobs and some that have very specific guidelines I’d like to attach.

So I went on a search for a task management system that worked for me. 

I read a lot of articles, I tried a few programs out, but I finally settled on one. I’m still not perfect, sometimes I forget to add a task or don’t include a reminder, but otherwise? It’s pretty darn awesome. So today I’m here to share the beauty of Wunderlist with you.

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What I Wanted

There are lots of task systems out there and I didn’t hate most of what I tried. But what I really wanted was something with a calendar integration. Something where I could see timelines visually. A lot of people like Google Calendar, but my calendar is already too full. It’s got kid stuff and custody info, and I tend to use it just for actually scheduled events so I don’t forget where I need to be and when. Adding deadlines in there would make it too crazy, plus it wouldn’t have the ability to divide things into task by group. That was one bonus of Asana, the one I used for the longest before finally switching to Wunderlist. I loved the way I could divide my work into folders, because so much of what I do falls into a huge variety of categories.

But ultimately I couldn’t figure out how to get calendars I wanted in Asana and I didn’t have the time to try to work it through. I needed something intuitive and simple. I also wanted something that had the kind of checklist approach with tasks and subtasks that I’d used and liked in Asana. 

I also wanted something with a web-based app and a phone app. I love having a web format so that I can really see everything in a lot of detail. But phone is crucial since I often need to access info on the go, or I find out about something while I’m not at home. 

Oh, and did I mention free? Free was a requirement.

Organizing with Wunderlist

Calendar

Let’s start from the broad and work to the specific. On my Wunderlist page, I have a menu divided into a few categories. 

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Everyone has Inbox, Today, and Week. The rest of the folders are up to you to create. As you can see, my first few are all blog post related. There are more. Many, many more.

I use Inbox for the random stuff in life. Right now I have a note to cancel a service, renew my P.O box, call my car insurance company, etc. These things don’t necessarily have a firm deadline but I like to keep track of them. 

Today and Week are set automatically based on deadlines you’ve entered. So I have one past-due item that’s showing up in my “Today” list because of the deadline I set. And I have 5 things due this week. 

Wunderlist doesn’t quite have the huge calendar I was hoping for, BUT I’ve found that the Today and Week views are more than enough to cover myself and plan my tasks accordingly. 

 Tasks and Subtasks

If you create a task and click on it, you get this little menu on your right side:

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With this one screenshot you can probably see why I like Wunderlist so much. I can associate everything I could possibly need with a task: subtasks, comments, notes, attached files, deadlines, reminders, you name it.

This way I have the flexibility to take a project and make it either a folder or a task depending on how complex it is. The reminders come to my phone and my desktop so they get me no matter what. I can edit any of it, including the deadline if that changes. 

Oh, and have I mentioned that for you to-do list lovers, whenever you check something off your list, you’re rewarded with a “Ding.”

For Blogging

As a blogger and person with too much stuff to do, I divide my life into folders. For the blog itself I divide posts into categories. This is helping a lot already, since I would often forget about a review while I was waiting for product or after the product arrived. I divide them into Waiting for Product, Waiting for Photos, and Ready to Post. I have a separate folder for sponsored posts, since these usually involve deadlines and specific tasks.

I have another section for my freelance writing gigs, where I put reminders for my regular work as well as adding the one-offs I may pick up along the way.

There’s a section for Listen To Your Mother (OMG we’re getting started soon!!) and one for the Parent Council at Graham’s school. 

Oh, and I even have one for groceries, so I can check and see what I’m forgetting when I’m at the store or making a list.

The only deadlines I’ve missed since I started using Wunderlist are the ones I forgot to add to Wunderlist. You can’t necessarily stop human error 100%, but you can sure put a dent in it.

I have no connection to Wunderlist. I just really like this program.

Under the Yellow Umbrella

A week ago Saturday I was at my other other job, driving out to a delivery, and as I generally do in that situation I had the radio on. There was an interview with a musician, and she talked about one of her songs about the quintessential American woman. Somewhere along the way she said, “You can’t keep her down, you can’t hold her back,” and my already-low heart sunk a bit.

I wondered, When did I become the opposite of that?

I have been feeling pretty kept down and held back of late. I am often too busy to feel much of anything, and when I get a moment, the feelings I have are usually sadness, frustration, anger, and other negativity. 

Sure, there are explanations. Being financially unstable, working constantly to try and make up for it, being pulled in all directions, having too much to manage, and there’s also the fact that I’ve been off my antidepressants for over a month.

It sucks to have less serotonin when things are so legitimately tough. But I also know that I’m not feeling the way I’ve felt when I needed to get on meds. There are plenty of times when I’m comfortable, relaxed, happy… when I have a good day with the kids or when I’m at work (the regular job). Still, I was starting to worry. Every day I’d leave work and feel my stomach start to clench. 

If you asked people if I’m the kind of person about whom you could say, “You can’t keep her down,” I’m guessing most would say yes. And yet, it wasn’t happening. 

I decided I needed to do a little brain intervention on myself. I’ve done one before that worked out quite well. It’s basically a decision to refuse to let my brain go down certain paths, or at least to refuse to let it get stuck there. 

And luckily last week I also had a quick 2-day press trip. I knew it could be fun, different, a break in the routine, but I mostly thought about the fallout in my schedule, the craziness that would surround it, and the stress of travel.

But then I stopped myself. Take it, I thought. Take this time and use it. How often lately have you wished you could just have a few hours with nothing on your to-do list? So take them.

And I did.

I had 4 hours between the wrap-up on Thursday and my drive to the airport. With the downtime, my gracious hosts encouraged me to rent a beach chair and an umbrella and enjoy the beach. They didn’t have to tell me twice.

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It’s been years since I sat on a beach. I kind of forgot how to do it. At first I wasn’t sure I could pass 3 hours just sitting there with a book and the ocean. 

But I remembered.

The key is that you don’t really concentrate on anything. You let your brain float wherever it floats. One moment you read your book, and if you look up and watch the waves for a while, it’s okay. You just watch. There’s the book, the sun, the people, the waves, the occasional doze. 

It’s almost trance-like, there’s something about letting your brain go like that. It’s not exactly what you’d call happiness, but it’s not far off from it. It’s a kind of calm that knows nothing but the moment you’re currently in. I’m guessing it’s kind of like meditation. My mind wasn’t empty, it was taking in everything around me, but it wasn’t picking things apart, it wasn’t getting distracted by anything. This was the really amazing thing, not my gorgeous surroundings, but the fact that nothing was nagging at me from the back of my mind for once. 

I felt better afterwards. Calm, clean, collected. 

On Saturday I did a delivery shift and didn’t spend the whole thing feeling bad. 

Sunday didn’t quite go so well. The work was frustrating and my shift went too long and by the time I picked up the kids I could tell that whatever peace I’d picked up was mostly gone. 

I’m still hoping that I can tap into it. That was my main goal while I was there, getting so enveloped in that feeling that I could summon it when I needed it. Or at least build up a long-empty reserve. 

I don’t really expect it to last, but it doesn’t mean I won’t work on it. 

Next time I get an opportunity for a vacation, it could be years, but whenever it is, I know a beach will be on top of my list. Sure, I love sightseeing and museums and exploring. But I get something from a beach that I can’t get anywhere else and it’s more than worth it.

Autumn Cuteness Overload

I hope that in a few years when I look back on my life right now I’ll think, Well that sucked but at least I have lots of really beautiful pictures

I get serious satisfaction when we come home from an outing, put the SD card in my computer, and see that everything turned out so nicely. I’m not a pro by any means, but I’m getting pretty fantastic at getting pictures of my own kids, if I do say so myself. No more professional photographers for us, although I’m going to have to figure out some work with the self-timer if I ever want a decent picture with me in it.

We headed out to Pakeen Farm for pumpkins. I chose it for a few reasons. 1) Way closer than most other options. 2) No apple picking, so hopefully smaller crowds. 3) Mini-maze for pumpkin picking. 4) Cider donuts. It turned out okay. Short drive for us, a very small place, and even though we got their early it was starting to fill up by the time we left. The mini-maze was cute, very small, perfect for kids 6 and under to wander through and pick out pumpkins. 

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Nice foliage, if I do say so myself. I haven’t been able to get out and see much of it this year.

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I found a little corner of the patch to have the kids sit down and smile for the camera. Thus began the ongoing struggle to get Tessa to look in my direction for pictures. It’s a battle I rarely win. 

 

 

 

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Inside, and many pictures later, I finally got eye contact from the little one, only to lose it from the big one. Of course. Side note: when your kids yell “pumpkin” instead of cheese you get really hilarious open-mouthed pictures. Also this was totally their idea, not my suggestion.

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Then we ordered our donuts and cider, and the kids went leaf hunting while we waited for our snack. Graham was a big fan of the multi-colored leaves.

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Graham was being silly, it made for some great pictures, with more than the usual smiles.

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And this head tilt from Tessa shown in sequence below, is SO HER that I just about did a double take when going through the pictures.
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All in all, it was a simple trip, not too long, and totally worth the small price tag for the pictures and the pumpkins which we decorated at home. (They picked little ones, so no carving which is fine by me.) And I now have a bag of leaves we may press if I get really ambitious. Don’t cross your fingers.

6 Reasons

Things are heavy around here. It’s sucking me in. I feel frustrated or overwhelmed much of the time. 

I need a distraction. 

And I’d like to request a distraction that’s also cute, funny, and a good kisser.

Look, I know it’s not appropriate female behavior to go around saying you want a boyfriend. It’s uncool. It’s needy. But people, I am NOT cool and I AM needy. Might as well just lay it out straight. 

When you’re not even living paycheck to paycheck, but getting by on a lot of extra work on top of the paycheck and the hope that it’ll all be enough at the end of the month, you can get lost in a perpetual feeling of anxiety. It’s hard to break out of it.

Breaking out of it requires a trump card kind of emotion, one that overrules any other stuff in your life. There aren’t a lot of these. Grief is one, it turns the world gray no matter how much color is in your life. But I’m hoping for that flush of new love, that feeling after you’ve met someone where your brain takes every free moment (and plenty of non-free moments) to remember that this new person exists, that they’re wonderful, and that they’re yours. 

Lately my brain takes these free moments to feel frustrated or sad or hopeless or angry or bitter or something else staunchly negative. My brain is stuck there. 

So I need a boyfriend. 

That’s the first reason:

1. A distraction.

There are more reasons, of course. So many.

2. Adult conversation. 

It’s not as bad as it was when I was home with the kids after Tessa was born, when my only conversation consisted of small talk with Graham’s therapists or a quick word or two with the cashier at the grocery store. But my only talk is at work, and home at the end of the day is quiet. So quiet. There is no one to talk to about the victories of the day, big or small. No one to tell funny stories. No one to commiserate with when things go badly. Social media helps, but it’s no substitute for a real talk.

3. Fun.

Yes, fun would be good. Fun that isn’t a way to keep the kids busy. Fun that isn’t for the benefit of someone or something else, but to be enjoyed by me. By us. That would be good. I miss fun. My occasional bouts of fun are still fun, but when you go out with a friend who’s going home to their husband/wife/partner when it’s over I can’t shake a tiny bit of bitterness. Like I said, the negativity is really stuck in my head and some fun would be a good way to help shake it off.

4. New stuff.

New people bring new stuff. They have different interests, they’ve read different books, they’ve lived a different life. I could use a life that isn’t mine to pull me out of this stupid hole I’m in. I love that early stage when you’ve still got so much to learn about a person, when every new detail you learn is fascinating, when every date is like a lesson in New Boyfriend 101. 

5. Chemistry.

Or in other words, the kissing stuff. Even a boring marriage where you exchange physical affection without thought is still one where you’re getting touched, held, kissed, etc. I get hugs from my kids, snuggles as they sit on my lap, and it’s wonderful. But it would be nice to get that from someone who’s grown-up sized, and someone who isn’t asking me for a snack while they’re cuddling. It’s just different. And the kissing and… everything else… is so exciting at the beginning. It feels like you’re eating one of your favorite foods you haven’t had in years, where it’s so familiar but it’s like you’ve never had it before and you never want to stop.

That sounds good.

6. I Deserve It, Dammit.

I do. I may have kids, but I’m a catch.  I am totally date-able. I’m funny and smart and not bad to look at and I’m even feeling kinda hot what with me losing 12 pounds and all. 

There are probably 100 more reasons, 1000 more reasons, but I think this is enough. I’m primed. I’m ready. I’m worried I’m too ready, that I’m jinxed because I want it. I send messages and get… nothing. I haven’t been picked up by someone in real life since grad school. It’s been quiet and I’m antsy and I’m starting to get down.