2014, A Year in Review

2014 A Year in Review pic 2

Every year of college around this time, a “Hobbit” film would be released, and I could always count on seeing Martin Freeman and company stride across New Zealand Middle Earth on the big screen. These last three years, that simple act of seeing these particular movies with my parents and sister was something I could expect. This being my third and final year of uni, and it also being the year of the final installment of the “Hobbit” trilogy, I feel as though the end of an era has come. In some ways, the end of the “Hobbit” series echoes the end of my being definite about the next stage of my life (in that in the past, I could be certain of returning to APU for another year of school).

A year from now, it’s impossible to say where I’ll be. In a perfect world, I’d be working with some sort of cool publication, traveling about and writing people’s stories. I definitely want to hit up a new continent by 2016, though.

Looking ahead requires me to look back and think about what made 2014 great and not-so-great at times. I will say however, that it was overall probably the best year of my life, and will be very difficult to top. Perhaps by revisiting some of 2014’s pivotal learning moments, 2015 may be another year of unexpected, amazing experiences.

Some things I learned in 2014…

– Sometimes, it’s the unwise decisions that make good stories. Maybe not even bad decisions, but unlikely or initially unideal situations that prompt you to go to great lengths to reverse such situations.

– My life is a constant battle between wanting abs but also really liking peanut butter.

– They say you regret more the things you didn’t do than the things you did do, and I’m finding that’s becoming more true over time. In hindsight, I don’t regret anything I’ve done – neither the good nor the bad – because it all has shaped me.

– You don’t know how much you are capable of until you’re forced to find out.

– I hate the word “bae.”

– I really like watching “Jeopardy.” Does that make me an old person?

– “Santa Claus” is not spelled with an “e” at the end.

– You can’t schedule the Kodak moments. People pleasantly surprise you, and the people who do are themselves pleasant surprises.

– Getting what you want is 100% hard work. Or sometimes you really do just get lucky. So maybe it’s really 99.9% hard work, give or take.

– It’s more important (usually) to maintain good blood than to be right. There have been times that I learned to suck it up and apologize despite the fact that I’m never wrong. Just kidding. But I’d rather keep the other party happy than parade around chanting “Am I right, or am I right?”

– How to not use the Oxford comma in AP style/journalistic writing. And then transitioning back into Oxford comma usage for English stuff.

– How to make coffee using a machine that is NOT a Keurig (no I’m not joking).

Come at me, 2015. And readers, don’t forget to wear your pants inside out – according to Doc (as in “Back to the Future”), that’s what all the cool kids will be doing.

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50 in 52 – the 2014, Self-Imposed Book Challenge

Books and Potato Chips pic 1I’ve always loved reading, and don’t understand why some people don’t. But with the demands of life, reading’s not a top priority and it isn’t until I curl up in my favorite reading spot with a good title that I re-remember how invested I become in the pages and how lovely that feeling is.

I read a quote recently – “Reading one book is like eating one potato chip.” Meaning that once you have one (assuming the chip or book is any good), it’s near impossible to stop. As the world moves towards all things digital, I fear the idea of books one day becoming obsolete.

If you go back into my first blog of January 2014 “Live Extraordinarily,” I mentioned that one of my goals for the year was to read 50 books by the end of 2014. As a way of staying accountable, I made a list of the books I finished and the month I completed them, and added a brief commentary to some of the ones I really liked/disliked, which are all published below.

***Disclaimers – I gave myself a little leeway in terms of start and finish, since I don’t remember the exact date I began. I started my first book for the challenge December 25, 2013 (I THINK), but did not technically finish the final one until December 27, 2014. And yes, this list includes audiobooks, as well as the books I read for school. Lastly, I realize some of the texts are rather small (such as the two books of collected poems), but are evened out by the heftier reads I tackled.

Da list, starting from December 25, 2013

  1. A Study in Scarlet – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  2. The Sign of Four – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Series 3 of BBC’s “Sherlock” had just released at the time, and was/am hoping to finish all the stories before Series 4!

Books and Potato Chips pic 7January

  1. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  2. Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen
  3. Mansfield Park – Jane Austen
  4. Death of a Naturalist – Seamus Heaney
  5. Emma – Jane Austen. Read in high school; read it again for my Oxford tutorial.

February

  1. The Professor – Charlotte Bronte
  2. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte. By far one of my all-time favorites.
  3. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte. Another repeat read.
  4. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
  5. The Whitsun Weddings – Philip Larkin
  6. Persuasion – Jane Austen

Books and Potato Chips pic 2March

  1. Love and Friendship and Other Short Stories – Jane Austen
  2. Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen. Favorite Jane Austen novel, very possibly due to the fact that the 1995 film adaptation is basically my favorite movie ever. If you have seen Hugh Grant or Alan Rickman in a period drama, you’ll understand. I mean, look…he’s READING to her.

Books and Potato Chips pic 3April

  1. The Edge of Reason – Helen Fielding
  2. Snobs – Julian Fellowes.

May

  1. The Book Thief –Markus Zusak. Excellent, excellent read. Particularly resonating after having just visited Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp in Germany at the time.
  2. The Help – Kathryn Stockett. Can’t believe I hadn’t read it before. Amazing.
  3. The Screwtape Letters – C.S. Lewis
  4. And Only to Deceive – Tasha Alexander
  5. The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  6. A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini. I do not exaggerate – no book has ever evoked such a strong emotional response from me until I read this. Never has a book made me feel as angered nor made me question the value and injustice towards human life so deeply until I read Hosseini’s second novel set in Kabul, Afghanistan.
  7. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – James Joyce. This book reconfirmed why I dislike the stream-of-consciousness literary style.

Books and Potato Chips pic 4June

  1. This Side of Paradise – Scott Fitzgerald
  2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson. Not for the faint of heart – So, so violent. But so, so addictive.
  3. The Search for Truth About Islam – Ben Daniel. An interesting read told in the perspective of a Christian pastor seeking the truths of Islam behind all the negative (not to mention ignorant) stereotypes propagated by society.
  4. Skin – Ted Dekker

July

  1. Hinds’ Feet in High Places – Hannah Hurnard
  2. And the Mountains Echoed – Khaled Hosseini. The librarian told me this book was boring. LIES.
  3. The Traveler’s Gift – Andy Andrews
  4. Sarah’s Key – Tatiana de Rosnay. Another novel about the Holocaust, but about the lesser known Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup of Jewish families in France.
  5. The Girl Who Played with Fire – Stieg Larsson
  6. Call of the Wild – Jack London (audiobook)

August

  1. An Ideal Husband – Oscar Wilde (audiobook)
  2. The Importance of Being Earnest – Oscar Wilde (audiobook)
  3. Pygmalion – George Bernard Shaw (audiobook)
  4. High Fidelity – Nick Hornby
  5. Bossypants – Tina Fey. Yes yes yes.

Books and Potato Chips pic 5September

Life sort of just happened, so no reading for September 😦

October

  1. The Media Effect: How the News Influences Politics and Government – Jim Willis
  2. Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life – William Deresiewicz. A great read for anyone interested in learning about some of the shadier aspects of the Ivy League world, and why the value learning for learning’s own sake has diminished in light of grades and paychecks.
  3. Six Characters in Search of an Author – Luigi Pirandello

Books and Potato Chips pic 6November

  1. Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe. Another re-read for school.
  2. Notes from the Underground – Fyodor Dostoevsky. A bit of a rough start, but good. Hoping to add more Russian lit onto next year’s list; perhaps I’ll take on Anna Karenina next?
  3. The Color Purple – Alice Walker

December

  1. Candide – Voltaire
  2. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead – Tom Stoppard. Ughhhhh
  3. Chinese Cinderella – Adeline Yen Mah. A sad and unfortunately true narrative about the author’s experience as an unwanted child.
  4. A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens (audiobook). I know it’s sad, but I had not actually read/listened to it before.
  5. How to Be a Woman – Caitlin Moran. The title may be misleading – this is not a “how-to” book, but a humorous book about feminism. I didn’t bother explaining this to people confused by the title when I took it out in public…meh.Books and Potato Chips pic 8

Great Expectations and Realities (Christmas Edition)

Great Expectations and Realities The Christmas Edition pic 3

There are a few typical Christmas-y mental images most of us have when it comes to the holidays (and to be inclusive, I acknowledge the Hanukah, Kwanza, and Winter Solstice celebrators who probably have similar “great expectations” pertaining to their respective holiday traditions). Of course growing up on the mostly sunny west coast, I’ve learned above all else to never expect snow.

My vision of the ideal Christmas is probably more Hallmark card-y, Michael Bublé-ish, Pinterest-y than I’ll verbally admit. My daydreams may involve tending the fireplace, hosting a myriad of friends and loved ones at a Gatsby-type holiday party complete with eggnog and truffles, and walking downtown to admire all the Christmas light displays with Bing Crosby’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” softly playing in the background like the ending credits of my very own low-budget, ABC Family Christmas movie.

I suppose the reality of my Christmases aren’t super far off, although they tend to involve more popcorn than truffles, more sweatpants, and less glamourous than said low budget, ABC Family Christmas movie. But this season is relative for each person, and there’s no “right” way to do it, no matter how many times snow is listed as a crucial component in every other Christmas song. I like listening to visiting Trudes good-naturedly arguing over the predicted success of upcoming sci-fi movies. I like being able to expand my collection of Nutcrackers every year. And while I don’t at all undermine the talent of ballerinas, I also like NOT watching local productions of “The Nutcracker.” These and more comprise my annual Christmas traditions.

But this post isn’t about how my Christmas is inherently better than the commercialized, Black Friday-inspired projections of how the holidays “should” look. I think we – myself most definitely included – can be hard on ourselves as we strive to do Christmas “right” and meet the great expectations others may have for us as we reunite with friends to catch up on the past year’s events. Ah yes, the expectation that somehow, we’re so much more mature and collected than the previous year and have it all together.

Great Expectations and Realities The Christmas Edition pic 1

Reuniting with family friends is great, but can sometimes feel like one of those speed-dating, career-networking sessions. I have to be prepped with all the things I’ve done over the last few months, what I’m working on now, and what exciting things are coming up in the near future. As most of my friends and I are coming upon the last leg of college, the inevitable “So what do you plan on doing with a _________ degree?” is always fun to contend with. To which I perhaps cheekily answer with an “I’ll let you know when I do.”

Another equally “fun” inquiry is of course the “…And are you seeing anyone?” bit. And then awkwardly stepping around the whole “No? But surely someone will snatch you up one of these days” dance, and then awkwardly explaining that this has no bearing on my value as a person without sounding lame, all while attempting to convince myself that next year will be different and that watching “Love, Actually” on end will be a good substitute in the meantime.

Great Expectations and Realities The Christmas Edition pic 2

But if there’s one thing I can expect with all certainty, it’s the “great” expectation that I can expect the unexpected. I’ve gotten an incredible 2014 out of doing so, so it can’t be a bad way to go.

I’d also like to think I can expect people’s general sentimentality to be more apparent thanks to a little thing called Christmas spirit, and hope that at least during this time, folks will be more inclined to help the homeless or even the neighbor they don’t particularly like. Even the obligatory “Merry Christmas!” adieu sales clerks say to you on your way out feels somewhat sentimental (I don’t really care if people say “Happy Holidays!” over “Merry Christmas!”; the goodwill is still there, why get political?).

I know when I come home from school after each term I can expect my family to welcome me with open arms. But to expect that my family’s health and overall well-being will be where it is now every single year after this one is a bit presumptuous. Maybe I’ve listened to the song “The Christmas Shoes” one time too many, but it’s nevertheless true that you never know when the tides will turn. Time really is everything, and I would hate to think I wasted it be worrying over whether or not I surpassed previous years’ outcomes for myself.

Hearkening to yet another Christmas jam, my personal “Grown-Up Christmas List” is comprised of the expectation most people have for themselves at any point of the year – to actually have it all together. While not a material item, even this seems a little selfish. Because more than that – SO much more than that – if I look back on this past year and come to find I have not changed even the smallest aspect of someone’s life for the better, that will have been the worst expectation to not have met.