Sudoku Rock Stars

Mike and I have been on a sudoku kick lately. We have this system where we pair up and both attack the same puzzle at once and try to solve it as fast as possible. As you can see, the average score for an easy puzzle is 5 minutes, 6 seconds. Today we smashed all records with a smoking 1 minute, 41 seconds!!! We are officially in the top 1% of all easy level sudoku players.

Proof of our awesomeness/nerdiness:

WE BEAT SUDOKU. How many people do you know can say that? (Hopefully not many...)


Sneak Peek

Remember my determination to make our apartment cute? Well, I'm only halfway done with the apartment makeover, but my mom wanted to see pictures of our new pelmet boxes that I MADE ALL BY MYSELF (this is your cue to congratulate me on my efforts) so here they are. They didn't turn out anywhere near as awesome as they were supposed to, but alas. It was my first go. Cut me some slack.


Living room:
I really like my fabric (which I found on clearance and snagged the last yard-and-a-half. Go me.)

Inspiration from Pearl Street Interiors.

And now, to the spray paint!


Book Reviews

It's been a while since I've done book reviews. Here are a few of the recent books I've read and my thoughts on them. Feel free to critique along with me (or against me as the case may be- I love a good debate!)

"Age of Innocence" by Edith Wharton: I admit, I have a crush on Edith Wharton. She has such a tremendous ability to paint a society with alarming accuracy, shining light on the everyday nuances, aspects, and elements of a culture that make a society what it is, and yet are so intricately a part of that society that they often go unnoticed. One wonders what she would write about if she could see our society today.

This particular novel takes place in New York City during late 19th century, a time when the old New York City upper class is beginning to fade away, along with their fanatical attention to form, propriety, and family history (read: scandal.) This is a world where life is governed by intricate rituals; a world "balanced so precariously that its harmony [can] be shattered by a whisper"; a world where everything is labeled; where in order not to disturb society's smooth surface nothing is ever expressed or even thought of directly; where a dinner table's immaculate symmetry is considered reflective of one's outwardly perfect facade; and where communication occurs almost exclusively by way of symbols, which are unknown to the outsider and, like any secret code, by their very encryption guarantee his or her permanent exclusion.

This is the society in which Newland Archer lives. Newland is engaged to the appropriately conventional, lovely, docile, submissive, and transparent May Welland- the perfect reflection of what a young woman of her rank and age should be. However, Newland soon falls in love with May's cousin, the liberal Countess Ellen Olenska freshly returned from Europe where she left a disastrous marriage. The manner of her return, scandalous enough as it is, is nothing compared to the "unpleasantness" of her European mannerisms, and all of New York society, forever unforgiving and critical, deems her unwelcome. Torn between duty and desire, the life he has and the life he wants, Newland is forced to make a decision that will either define his life, or tear it apart... only which is which?

This novel would be worth reading just for it's historical value. Old New York's Golden Age is superbly captured. The struggles of the characters (Ellen's weariness and loneliness, Archer's frustration and silent self battle, May's quiet determination and ultimate strength) are all revealed to the fullest. The various sides of human nature in all their manipulation, beauty, and horror are all unfolded until we finally realize that in the end all we really have is our own ability to choose. What each of these characters choose is alternately heart wrenching and fulfilling, and ultimately reminds the reader that no matter what we choose, life goes on. This novel is every bit deserving of the Pulitzer it won. A

"The Thirteenth Tale" by Diane Setterfield: This novel tells two stories: The dark and tragic story of wildly famous and notoriously reclusive author Vida Winter, and the story of a quiet girl named Margaret, who becomes Winter's sole confidant as Winter finally faces the secrets of her troubled and mysterious past. Winter's story is darkly intriguing, even if uninspiring. Margaret's story, however, is implausible and unsatisfying.

Here's why. The two characters come together due to Margaret's remarkable understanding of sibling relationships. Siblings are, in fact, one of the key themes explored in this novel. The problem is that Margaret doesn't have any siblings. How is she supposed to have any sort of understanding of sibling relationships? Okay, she had a twin who died at birth, so she technically does have one sister- BUT her parents successfully hid this knowledge from her for several years. So Margaret's supposedly big, black, empty hole inside of her comes from a girl she has no experience with, nor a single memory of. Heck, she didn't even know her twin existed for several years. It just doesn't connect. Therefore, the self pity and angst of "incompleteness" that Margaret suffers from becomes completely unbelievable. The whole time I just wanted to shake the girl and tell her to get a life. And a therapist. Thus, one of this novel's key points to both the theme, plot, and the character development is entirely without credibility, thus rendering the entire novel virtually without substance.

There are commendable bits to the book: The obvious parallels to Jane Eyre, Rebecca, and Wuthering Heights are praiseworthy. I appreciated the ongoing dialogue on the use and value of stories- which I thought redeeming enough to finish the novel. Even though her Gothic twists and turns failed to sweep me up in passion and scandal, Setterfield still manages to write with a clear, Victorian style which makes her enjoyable enough to read. If she is able to fill her gaping plot holes and work on her characterization, I think she has the potential to produce some truly riveting ghost stories. The Thirteenth Tale, however, fell flat. D+

"Loving Frank" by Nancy Horan: This was a recent book club pick here in South Bend. Here's the main plot: Mamah Cheney leaves her husband and two small children for the furious passions of famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. And it's based on a true story. Awesome. In one way, this story was exactly what I thought it would be: Infuriating. Infuriating because Mamah spends almost the entire novel justifying her unjustifiable affair; Infuriating because of her selfish views on love and marriage; Infuriating because her ideas of identity and reaching your potential are both understandable and yet horribly twisted; Infuriating because her take on the honor/commitment vs. progression/self-fulfillment argument portrays the two sides as if they were mutually exclusive; etc. My blood is boiling just thinking about it.

I could go on and on. But when I narrowed this entire novel down to one paragraph's review, I couldn't help but admit that it was also extremely well written. It put a new and interesting face on the fight for gender equality, and painted the cause of feminists in entirely new colors for me. Even though I think the new colors clash terribly against my personal feminist goals, they make me think about my pre-held ideas and convictions and really solidify what I believe is worth fighting and sacrificing for. And any novel that accomplishes that feat is worthy of recommendation. Just be prepared to scream out of sheer aggravation every fifteen pages. (Though I want to give it an F, I'll go with a... ) B-

I was going to review a few others, but I'm too tired. =D Here are just the final grades sans review:

"The Secret Life of Bees" by Sue Monk Kidd: A
"The Color of Water" by James McBride: C-
"The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini: A-
"Life of Pi" by Yann Mantel: A

Next on my list:
-"The Lost Symbol" by Dan Brown
-"Stalin's Children" by Owen Matthews
-"The Book Thief" by Markus Zusak


Jumping on the DIY Bandwagon

I've had it. I'm done. I can no longer live in a bland, color-less, personality-less, boring bachelor pad. The time has come for a serious apartment revamp. You may ask, "How in the world are you going to redecorate with a job that soaks up all your time and energy, and a salary that goes almost exclusively to savings?" Excellent question. But FEAR NOT virtual world! I am determined to bring some color to our apartment! It might take all my yard sale bartering skills, it might take patience to find the perfect material (magically 90% off), it might take all the creativity I can muster, it might take hours of convincing a certain spouse that a certain clock would really look better with a little paint, it might even require that I delve into the s-word realm (shopping- gross), but I WILL find ways to bring our apartment to life!!!