Things I'm Loving Lately
On occasion, it's appropriate to step back from raptor questions, book reviews, and opinions about movies and just talk about a random assortment of things we really love. All the odds and ends that don't quite fit into a properly themed post, but are worthy of mention all the same. So here, in no particular order, are some things that are making me happy lately - maybe they'll make you happy, too!
I've written a bit before about my love of running - it's been a passion of mine for about a decade now. For years I focused my training on increasing my distance, but after running more than one marathon it was time for a new challenge, so I've been working on getting faster. There are many tools out there for tracking your progress, but Smashrun is the one I like the best. It syncs with whatever fitness tracker you use - I have a Garmin watch - so you don't need a new piece of hardware or even to download an app. You just connect whatever you already use to the website, and it will import all of your data. Then you can look at what pace, cadence, mileage, and elevation you did for any particular run - but also over time. That information lets you know what conditions work best for you and what you need to do to get faster. It also rewards you with badges for certain distances or goals that accumulate from the date you sign up. They're silly and fun but oddly satisfying to achieve - I recently accumulated the total miles from Sydney to Melbourne, Australia. Who knew?
Finally, it breaks down the calories burned for each run by telling you the equivalent in both a healthy and unhealthy food, which is a great, tangible way to really understand what you burned, since most folks overestimate. Last night's track workout got me the equivalent of a bagel with cream cheese, not shabby!
I guess a lot of people get happiness from homemade bread, but my joy has been coming from baking it, rather than eating it. For the past two years I've baked a loaf or so every single week. It started as a way to use up a pound of yeast I'd ordered by mistake, but it's become so much more. It does all of the things you'd expect - provides food for my family, and is a healthier alternative to commercial bread, which is full of chemicals and sugar - but it's also been a rewarding personal project. Much like my running, baking has provided a routine that allows me to grow in skill, to get better at each week. The early efforts were still useful, but I can track how far I've come, and see how far I can still go. At the same time, unlike some of my other hobbies, the product has a short life span. We're not accumulating more stuff with this project, and in fact have been able to reduce the amount of bread we buy. If you're interested in trying your hand at bread, I recommend this English muffin recipe from King Arthur (my flour brand of choice.) It's pretty easy, and so much better than Thomas' that you'll wonder why you never tried it before.
The tagline for their website is "A New Boogie for All Mankind" and I am here to tell you, darlings, that the hype is real. I first discovered this band through the tune-yards - Merrill Garbus performed backing vocals on "Little Queen of New Orleans" and shared the video on ye olde Facebook. I gave it a listen and was instantly smitten. I bought Hi Honey, the album it came from - the band's third. This was quickly followed by the entire back catalog and waiting obsessively for the band to come to Boston, then dragging Mr. Menace to one of the most heartfelt live shows I've ever been to. This is old-fashioned rock and roll at its finest, complete with saucy lyrics and co-founder Adam Weiner's forceful piano. The keys haven't been played this hard since Jerry Lee Lewis, and the result is the perfect soundtrack for some summer fun. Grab the tunes and bring 'em to your next barbecue - you won't be sorry.
I've written about the works of Patrick Ness before , and he's gaining some recognition in the larger fantasy/sci-fi circles as the man behind the upcoming Doctor Who spinoff, Class. Since that show will be set at the Coal Hill School, The Rest of Us Just Live Here, which revolves around a group of friends in their senior year of high school, is the perfect introduction if you're curious about his work. Lighter in tone than A Monster Calls (the crying book) or his fantastic Chaos Walking trilogy, The Rest of Us still brings plenty of depth. It's about the kids who aren't the chosen ones, but who are surrounded by those who are. While the indie kids are battling vampires, zombies, and fairy queens, Mikey and his friends are just trying to survive the madness they bring, go to prom, graduate, and maybe get a date. I loved reading a story about what happens to everyone else while someone is saving the world, and I loved the little snippets of the chosen ones' story that were the intro to each chapter. If you've ever had to find the extraordinary in being ordinary, you'll get a kick out of this.
You may be wondering why I'm recommending the Instagram feed of a library located in Rochester, NY, a city 8 hours away from where I currently reside. And to be honest, if a very dear friend didn't work there, I'd probably never have stumbled on this particular gem. But luckily for me and you, she does and I did and now I'm sharing the good fortune with you. This is a list of things that spark happiness and this feed has it in spades. Do you like our Fashion Raptor posts? Check out Henrietta's whole Dinovember series (which we are totally doing this year.) Like a bit of whimsy? (and what are you doing here if you don't?) Look for the photos of the Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly, who swallows various resources around the library (cleverly letting you know that they exist.) The feed makes me happy with its content, which is funny and charming and sweet, but also because it's such a stellar example of a library showcasing its relevance in the modern world. It's also a great example of the power of social media when it's done well - the folks behind it also run workshops for other libraries on how to use Instagram effectively. And they have a turtle named Cooper wearing a Batman balloon, which I think is pretty great.
So that's what's been bringing a smile to my face lately - what makes you all happy?