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My Reading Year

After reading my New Year's Resolution post, one of my readers asked me more specifically about which 28 books I read in 2017, so this post is for him (and the rest of you too).

(As an aside: I love getting reader requests for blog posts. If you have something you want me to write about, please comment or email me at mindbodyandscroll [at] yahoo.com.)

It's easy to see what I read this year as I keep track on goodreads. I love this site as I can see what my other reader friends are reading and I can also keep track of books I want to read as well. In my list of books at the bottom of this post I've linked to my (very short) reviews on the site. Although in fairness, they are not so much reviews as my thoughts on each book.

Some stats on my year:

  • 28 books equated to 7,668 pages. 
  • I gave 14% of the books five stars, 53% four stars, 29% three stars and 4% one star (this was only one book: The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman. I cannot recommend it.)
  • The list was almost evenly split between fiction and non-fiction, although non-fiction edged ahead at 54% .  
  • The longest book I read was A Little Life and the shortest: Why Yoga Works.
  • Eight books (29%) were for my book group (in the list below I have marked these with an asterisk).
  • I know personally the authors of five books I read this year (18%). And hopefully I will be meeting the author of one more book in April when she visits London! 
  • Six of the books (21%) were independently published. 

It's really hard to pick a favorite book of the year, but I probably should. The winner in this case is Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood.

And two books I read were related to research for my novel. One was written by a psychic profiler and one by a shaman. (Have I mentioned that my novel is a cross between chick lit and Gothic horror?)

And now, for the full list (in the order I read them):

1. Ark Baby* by Liz Jensen

2. A Thousand Cuts: A Spike Sanguinetti Novel by Thomas Mogford

3. Swimming Home* by Deborah Levy

4. The Woman Who Stole My Life by Marian Keyes

5. Hidden Figures* by Margot Lee Shetterly

6. The Reluctant Shaman by Kay Cordell Whitaker

7. March* by Geraldine Brooks

8.  A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

9.  Why Yoga Works by Cinnamon Kennedy

10. Tales from Suburbia by Claire Buss

11. Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik

12. Instant Mom by Nia Vardalos

13. The Line of Beauty* by Alan Hollinghurst

14. The Lives and Loves of a He Devil by Graham Norton

15. The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman* by Denis Theriault

16. The Rose Thief by Claire Buss

17. The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin

18. An Angel on Her Shoulder by Dan Alatorre

19. Flash Boys by Michael Lewis

20. A Walk in the Woods* by Bill Bryson

21. Don't Kiss Them Goodbye by Allison DuBois

22. A Far Cry from Kensington by Muriel Spark

23. The Town Below the Ground by Jan-Andrew Henderson

24. The One Thing by Gary Keller

25. Alias Grace* by Margaret Atwood

26. Escape the Cubicle by Sukhi Jutla

27. Sex, Drugs, Rock 'n Roll and a Tiara by Beverly Diehl

28. The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

*A Northern Line Book Group book

What did you read in 2017? What would you recommend?

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Not Being The Enemy Of Fun

I really do like picking one New Year's resolution. There's something about the simplicity of it that appeals and makes it manageable.

Although last year I made my one resolution and unfortunately it didn't really stick. I wanted to meditate four days per week. Looking back over the year (because I have been tracking it, of course), I still averaged only two-three days per week. I'm not too worried though -- establishing a regular meditation practice is really hard -- and even meditating once a week is better than nothing.

There was one resolution that I made in 2017, however, that was technically not a New Year's resolution, but stuck a lot better and really changed my enjoyment of one particular aspect of my life. I decided early on in the year to finish every single book I started -- no exceptions. I really stuck to it and I enjoyed more books than I thought I would -- even the ones that I struggled to get into. I also just read one at a time, not moving on until it was done. Because of this tenacity I even may still make my goal of reading 30 books this year (I've just finished 28). So let me know if you have any really really short books you can recommend!

So what's the resolution for 2018? I am going to try taking Saturdays "off". What, you say? You work seven days a week? Well, not exactly.

Technically I work the typical five days a week, which is the work I get paid for. But, the problem with having a side hustle (or technically trying to have a side hustle) of writing books, is that when I'm not working for money, or have a date in the diary to be physically somewhere -- like going out to dinner with friends or going to the gym -- I feel like I should be working. I should be writing, or blogging, or doing something else to help advance this dream.

And often, I feel like it makes it harder to say yes to doing fun things. I'm afraid I'm becoming an enemy of fun. Particularly for the Hub who didn't realize he'd be marrying someone with a real job and a fake job!

Thing is, for me, writing is fun. Most of the time. And I wouldn't be doing my fake job if I didn't have some overwhelming compulsion to give it a try. But more and more I've been thinking that maybe I should give myself some breathing space once a week, to do some other things that might enhance my creativity.

It may not work. It may be better to be immersed every day. For a little bit of time at least. But let's see. Life is a big experiment and it's good to just give things a try.

I'll report back in a few months on how it's going. In the meantime, what's your New Year's resolution? Do you even make them?

Photo credit: marfis75 Disco via photopin (license)

Photo credit: NEW YEARS IN SAN FRANCISCO via photopin (license)

Top Ten Things I Learned During Our Major Renovation

We recently completed an extension on the back of our house which has allowed us to have a much expanded kitchen, dining and sitting area. The project took four months -- from June 19th to Oct 21st (not that I have been counting).

I know my renovation project is not of interest to everyone, so to try to make it more universal, here's what I learned throughout the process. Just in case you are going through it too, or might someday.

10. Know that you will lose it a bit. I wrote previously that I don't know how people do jobs where their clients are going through something that is emotional, life-changing or something they may just do once and therefore have very little experience of. You can read the entire post, or I can just tell you that at one point the Hub hit reply all, instead of just replying to me, so our kitchen designer got to see him say: "Can't take this anymore..."

9. If you are doing the renovation with a partner, you will worry about completely different things. The Hub worried that the house would fall down -- literally. So the early stages where the steel was being put in to support the upper stories of the house and the walls were being knocked down made him incredibly anxious. For me, it was having people in my house all the time that drove me crazy. And the mess and the dust. I felt claustrophobic. If the house had fallen down at least I would have felt less hemmed in.

Top stories of house held up by steel
8. Keep the neighbors onside. Make sure your neighbors know what you are doing and when. If in the U.K., you will need to let them know when it comes to third party wall agreements anyway. But do whatever they ask -- even if it is something that costs extra money. Do it, and do it gracefully. These are your neighbors for a lot longer than the project lasts.

7. Be bold. I wanted to paint the kitchen cabinets a really bright blue (Deep Space Blue by Little Greene if you're interested in the detail). The Hub and I had decided blue would look good, but the other choice was a more sensible classic Royal Navy. I wanted Deep Space Blue - it was the color that made my heart lift. But our kitchen designer told me he thought I was "bonkers" and I worried it was too bold. I asked nearly everyone I knew (and probably drove my colleagues a bit mad). Views were split, however. At the end of the day, I had to go with my gut. I don't regret the decision though - I love it. It makes me happy every time I see it, and that's what's important.

6. Just make a decision. Even if you have professionals doing the heavy lifting on a project, they can't do anything unless you've made a decision -- about the tiles for the floor, the splashback, the kitchen handles, the lights, the door knobs (I could go on. And on.) There were so many choices to make and my natural inclination was to want to wait to make decisions -- because next week I'd probably make a much better decision. But I fought this instinct tooth and nail and we became very disciplined about just making decisions quickly. And that really helped keep the process going quickly, which I think is one reason that our project actually kept to schedule. You won't make a better decision tomorrow than today!

5. Pay up. We hired a building and design company to source the sub-contractors for us and to do the project management. It seemed like the more expensive option, but we knew nothing about how to do a renovation and felt it would be safer to do it this way. I think actually in the end this saved us money -- and a lot of worry.

4. Ask everyone you know. All that said, it also helps to get as much input as possible. Throughout the process there were moments where we talked to friends who made absolutely crucial suggestions. One of my friends is a designer and we bought her wine and pizza and she looked at our designs -- literally days before we were scheduled to begin -- and she influenced substantially the final design of the kitchen. Another friend suggested we paint the larder and cabinet housing the refrigerator the same color as the wall to break up the blue, which really worked. And another friend solved my double-oven dilemma (a story for another day). There is great knowledge in people all around you -- sometimes you only have to ask to find out!

3. Don't panic! There were a few times when one of us panicked. And I certainly panicked when I saw the color of the cabinets for the first time. But the crises never lasted too long and we had some very good professionals on the job, so everything always got sorted out in the end. You may be spending a lot of money, but at the end of the day everything doesn't have to be perfect, just good enough (this attitude may also be why our project got done on time).

If all else fails, have a drink!
2. I have got the bug. I am surprised by how much I actually enjoyed the process. Not just the finished product, but watching it all happen, learning about how it got done and yes, actually making the decisions. I really like the idea of space and how people live in it. I liked it so much that we might even be embarking on another renovation project... so watch this space.

1. It is really worth it in the end. The times when I did get stressed and annoyed, everyone would say to me, "Don't worry, it will all be worth it in the end," and to be honest, I wasn't sure that I believed them. But it's true. The project has been done for over a month now and every time I walk into our new kitchen it really still does feel like Christmas morning. I love sitting in that room and remembering making all the decisions and what it used to look like before. I have to say, I feel much more attached to that room than anywhere in the house.

(P.S. If you are so inclined to have a poke around, click here to see all the photos from the project -- before, during and after. And let me know what you think of the bonkers blue!)

There's No Place Like Home?

People often ask me whether or not I think I will ever live in the U.S. again.

It's not an easy question to answer because as I tell people, in all these years I've lived here, it's just never really come up. There has only been one situation when I pondered moving home. It was the week that the Hub and I broke up, before we were married, after only eight months of dating. I was so angry at him that I was planning to leave the country, like, immediately. I blamed the entire country for our temporary troubles.

In all seriousness, I tell people that it would feel strange to me if I never lived in the U.S. again, and I think I would welcome the opportunity to move to the States for a few years -- to give the Hub a chance to experience life there, and for me to see what it would be like to go back again. However, I always feel like I would need the safety net of thinking I was coming back to the U.K., because at the moment, this is really home to me.

Also, there's the fear of repatriation. You see, I have known many expats over the years who have gone through the repatriation process -- in both directions. Everyone knows about how difficult it is to move away, but no one really anticipates how hard it is to move back. When I tell people about this phenomenon, they are always surprised. But why? they ask.

So I'll tell you why. I've recently talked to a lot of expats about this and thought I'd share what they have to say.

The expectation factor. When you go abroad, you expect it to be hard, but going home, you don't. It's home, after all, the place that felt familiar and you knew so well. How could it possibly be harder than moving to a foreign country? As one of my friends who moved from London to California after five years said to me: "I just wish I had known how hard this was going to be." No one likes to be blindsided.

Everything's different. You've changed. Home has changed. Once you take the plunge and become an expat, there's no taking it back. You'll never be a person anymore with one national identity. Personally, I think this is a very good thing. It makes you more empathetic, and more ego-detached as well. What is nationality anyway? Aren't we all just human beings? Sometimes you're confused about when to serve the cheese course, but I think these sacrifices are worth it. Still, it means when you return home you feel a cultural separation from your former identity that you never thought possible.

Your friends have moved on. When you visit home as an expat your friends are always super happy to see you. They make room in their busy schedules, they come into Manhattan from the suburbs, they cross London when they never would otherwise. But it will never be the same when you are actually living in the same city again. I've had glimpses of this when I stayed in New York over Christmas for lengthy periods of time and friends go back to their "normal lives". It was almost an imperceptible shift, but it was a little like, "oh, you're still here?" They weren't used to having me around for so long and were just back into their normal routines. I've done it to expats too when they repatriated -- I forgot they were even back. You have to re-establish your friendship again, including the routine of when you actually see people.

No one gives a sh*t. I have a friend who moved back to New York, and she perfectly described it this way. It's so true. When you're an expat, no matter for how long, you do get treated specially. I forget I have an accent, but I just bought a piano and the guy threw in the stool for free because I was a "New Yorker". Dude, I'm not a New Yorker. I live in Streatham. I just did the side-return. Still, people are curious, interested. My friend said when she went back home after many years of living here, no one cared. You have had a life-changing experience and no one gives a sh*t. They want you to move on.

So there you go. That's the result of my research. Please let me know if you've repatriated and if you agree with me, or if I got it wrong. The thing is, if you're repatriating or you're going to, you have your reasons. As hard as repatriating might be, I still feel the pangs of jealousy when my friends talk about seeing their parents for lunch over the weekend, or when I think about the fact that the toddler members of my family think that I live in a computer screen. Still, I live by Bill Bryson's eloquent summary of life as an expat: some things are better, some things are worse.

Photo credit: Close to Home twinkle toes: 10 of 365 via photopin (license)
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