Friday, August 18, 2017

Time for a Revival

Alright. So it appears that you are all in agreement. Keep the name, embrace the change, and soldier on. I'm cool with that and very much appreciate the input. Good to know I have some people in my corner.

And so...we're moving forward. I'm going to start by cleaning the blog house. It's time to dust off a few menus, clean up some challenges, and make things up to date again. Cleaning out the cobwebs and remembering the things that inspire me should help get a jump start going on this thing.

Also, what better to get back in the swing of things than a read-a-thon?

Bout of Books

Yaaaaaassss. Bout of Books 20...that's right TWENTY...starts on Monday. (Also...sidenote in case you've been living in a hole, Monday is eclipse day. Where I live, we will see about 78% and the best viewing time is at around 1pm.)

Bout of Books is one of my favorite read-a-thons. It's all week long, almost all of my favorite book bloggers participate, there are fantastic Twitter chats, and it's totally low pressure.
The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda Shofner and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 21st and runs through Sunday, August 27th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 20 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team
I'm looking forward to getting in a little reading. I had been in quite the slump, but finally got back to getting some book time over the last couple of weeks. It feels really good to be able to finish a book now and then. Hopefully I can do a little bit of catch up on my reading goal for the year since I'm TWENTY-SIX books behind. So embarrassing. Apparently my goal was a little lofty this year. Oh well...we'll see if I can make that number a little less dramatic.

Thank you very much to all of you who gave input on what to do with my blogging crossroads. It's always nice to get the opinions of those who can see things from the outside. EPJ will continue to exist and evolve.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Winds of Change?


I've been blogging for over ten years. In fact, looking back...it seems that it's been nearly twelve. EPJ itself began to take shape in the fall of 2009. That seems like so incredibly long ago. Since then I've written over 650 posts on everything from scrapbooking to recipes to book reviews with a few crazy pumpkin posts thrown in for good measure (and good blog growth).

But in the last two years, things have changed so incredibly much for me. Life is nothing like it was. And, in most ways, that has turned out to be a very good thing. However, in blogging terms it apparently is not. Because I have stagnated. I've been stuck. I haven't written much, haven't crafted much, and I feel a bit lost.

Why? Well...because I'm not sure that the blog is still meant to be the same. With as much as life has changed, it seems only right that what I write about should change (or at least shift) as well. And I think perhaps I've feared that making that shift under the same old Erratic Project Junkie heading would just seem awkward to those reading.

My days are filled with different things. My projects are of a different nature. And I feel like maybe the EPJ name is keeping me feeling a bit more constricted than I should be.

I still enjoy writing about books. I still enjoy sharing projects -- though there is now likely to be an even greater hodgepodge with the addition of farming and homesteading activities. And I still think I would enjoy sharing pieces of my every day life...though not in a way that would turn this into something more accurately identifiable as a mommy blog.

And so now I have a question to pose...

What would you like to see from me? Should I take the blog in a new direction and leave things labelled with EPJ? Should I relocate everything over to the farm blog even though not everything relates to farming? Should I start a separate blog for books and those other non-farming things and abandon EPJ altogether?

It's a crossroads. And I need a bit of guidance. Feel free to be blunt and be honest. Help me make this transition and get back into writing without feeling like things are so ridiculously awkward. It's time to get back in the saddle somehow.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

2016 Book of the Year: We Have a Winner!


Ah...we've finally made it to the final round. It will be nice to get this finished. However, it does mean that now I'm going to have to start thinking about what posts will be coming up next. Time to dust off the blog planner and figure this stuff out. It also could mean breaking out the sewing machine for the first time in over a year. It's exciting, but also mildly daunting.

As we get ready to settle into the heavy competition, here's a reminder of where we left off last time.

It's the Pulitzer winning The Shipping News by Annie Proulx versus the young adult fiction novel Since You've Been Gone by prior BOTY winner Morgan Matson.

 vs.

I will admit, this was a rather difficult decision. It, like the competition between Since You've Been Gone and Arcadia, was very head to head. I know it seems odd to say that when the books are from two very different genres and intended for relatively different audiences, but I liked both books in different ways. (Good grief, how many times can I say "different"?)

The Shipping News took a short while to get me interested and I wasn't entirely sure if I was going to enjoy the characters at first. However, it quickly wrapped me up and I truly loved it. It was a good read from both a storyline perspective and a literary analysis standpoint. Annie Proulx is very talented. Her writing is smart and laden with impressive style and technique. Her characters are unique and well-rounded. Put very simply, the book works.

I went into Since You've Been Gone with high hopes as I had truly adored Matson's prior book, Amy & Roger's Epic Detour. Any dedicated reader will recognize that this tendency is a dangerous situation. Sometimes this leads me to great disaster. In the end, it's not quite up to the status of Amy & Roger, but the book is still pretty great. I love her tendency to create playlists in her novels and I particularly enjoy her eclectic music selections. The plot is cute and smart, but the one semi-serious downfall was a fairly predictable ending.  Though I appreciate the happy, somewhat overly perfect ending approach in it's attempt to make readers happy, it sometimes just becomes...a bit boring. I tried not to let it bother me, but it did prevent the book from getting five stars.

I realize after writing the prior paragraphs that I tend to be highly critical of the books I enjoy the most. Interesting. I continue to learn things about my own reading habits the more I do this. 

I waffled back and forth on my decision quite a bit and this was one of those times, yet again, where it could have truly gone either way. Looking back at the bracket, sometimes I doubt my ultimate decision and think things should have swayed the other direction. So...clearly both books are actually winners in some grand sense of things. 

However, for the purposes of this exercise, I have to sacrifice a good read. So...I'm truly sorry to say that The Shipping News fell a bit short. I just love Matson's characters and her bubbly style too much, I guess. In the end, we end up with our first ever repeat winner. Morgan Matson takes the 2016 Book of the Year with her novel, Since You've Been Gone.


It faced some pretty good competition along the way, but Matson comes out on top again. I'm pretty stoked that we have a repeat winner. Though I will admit, I kind of like it when something of a dark horse tends to make it really far in the challenge. Let's face it though, that was something of the situation here. A children's book and a play both made it to the Final Four. Unheard of. It was a bit of a fun and surprising elimination bracket. And I suppose that's why I find this tradition so much fun. You really never can tell what will happen when you randomly pit these books against one another. A different roll of the dice for initial bracket setup and we could have had a different winner...you never know.
It was an interesting year of reads; definitely one that was unique when compared to past challenges. I look forward to seeing where my 2017 reads will take me. What was your favorite read from last year? What is your favorite thus far this year? What should I be adding to the top of my TBR that could take next year's bracket? I'm ready for some unique and interesting reads.

Interested in past winners? Check them out (and their competition) below...

2011 Book of the Year  : The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
2012 Book of the Year  : Let's Pretend this Never Happened by Jenny Lawson
2013 Book of the Year  : Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
2014 Book of the Year  : Amy & Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson
2015 Book of the Year : The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

Friday, June 16, 2017

2016 Book of the Year: The Finals


Let's get this show back on the road, shall we?

Normally, we all know my favorite book from the year before by the end of February. Obviously, we are slightly behind schedule. But...all is not lost. We will persevere and...by darn...we will know my favorite book by the end of June.

Since it's been a terribly long and pathetic amount of time, your memory is likely (like mine) to be a bit rusty in remembering where we were in this process. For those of you who haven't been around for Book of the Year (BOTY) before, it works like this:

Book of the Year is a bracket style elimination wherein I enter all of the books I read the year before in a randomized fashion and then pit them against each other to determine my favorite book of the year. The size of the bracket is dependent upon how many books I read in the year prior. If there are more books than a standardized bracket, then the lowest rated books are eliminated before we even begin. Once the competition begins, those books that were rated higher in my original ratings automatically beat their opponents. Opponents with the same rating get to duke it out based on my personal feelings towards each book. Sometimes I know the winner going in to the process, sometimes even I am surprised at who comes out on top. 

Got it? Okay, let's move on...

This is where we left things after we eliminated down to the Final Four.

It's an eclectic bunch. We have a children's book, a fiction novel by an award winning novelist, a young adult fiction novel, and a play. This is the first time in BOTY history when either a children's book or a play have made it this far in the process. 

Now...depending on what you're looking to read, all four of these books are worth your attention. But...as always, only one can be the winner. So, let's get eliminating.

We only have to rounds this time: the left bracket and the right bracket.


The Left Bracket:

 vs.

Porko von Popbutton is a Canadian children's book that was written in the 1960s and is admittedly not what would be considered politically correct by today's standards. But it's colorful and it's fun and it is part of a series based on the seven deadly sins. This one is gluttony. Plus, there's hockey. What's not to love? It's out of print and difficult to find, though Amazon has made life so much easier for these sorts of things.

The Shipping News, interestingly enough, has a plot largely based in Canada (though it is written by American author Annie Proulx). It was a New York Times bestseller and won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1994. Obviously it has seen high praise. I read this one for a literature class and wound up writing a terribly long term paper on it, so I obviously read and scrutinized it in depth. It's creative and quirky, with lots of hidden meanings and literary effects. It's incredibly well-written.

I would like to say that the underdog took the day in this one, simply because...how cool would it be for a children's book to make it to the finals? But, that's not to be. It just couldn't. The Shipping News is an incredibly good book and one that is on my reread list for the future. That doesn't happen often. And I got an A on that term paper, so obviously I know my stuff when it comes to this book. 😉

Winner for the left side of the bracket and first entry into the finals for 2016 Book of the Year...


The Right Bracket:

vs.

Since You've Been Gone is a young adult fiction novel written by Morgan Matson, winner of the 2014 Book of the Year with her novel, Amy & Roger's Epic Detour. Admittedly, this one did not give me all the feels that Amy & Roger did, hence its four-star rating compared to Amy & Roger's five. But, it's still adorable and lovely. Morgan Matson is a fantastic author and for lovers of young adult fiction, this one is a must read.

Arcadia is a play by Tom Stoppard and also received four stars on initial rating. I also read this one for the aforementioned literature class. Now, I am not typically a fan of plays. I do not seek them out and I very rarely read them unless they are part of an assignment. But...wow. Seriously. Arcadia is masterfully written and has a fantastic premise wherein the entire play takes place in the same room, but in two separate time periods 100 years apart. And yet...they aren't entirely separate. It's really quite good. Like The Shipping News, this one goes on the reread list. Serious props to my professor for her choices here.  

This match-up was my most difficult decision to this point in the bracket. I waffled back and forth several times on my selection for the winner. In fact, when I sat down to write this post today, I couldn't recall who the winner was. I guessed...and I was wrong. So, really it was anyone's game here. You can't go wrong with either. But if I've said it before, I've said it a thousand times. There can only be one winner. And the show must go on. Decisions must be made. Losses must be cut.

So...the winner of the right side bracket, by less than a hair's breadth...


It always gets painful at some point in these eliminations. And this, my friends, is where it happened this year. Though I admit that the early competition of Binge and Pirate at the Party was also a tough one. The lower right bracket was full of good reads.

So...here is where we now stand:

Only one more round to go, my friends. And then it's winner, winner, chicken dinner. We will finally have my 2016 Book of the Year.


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Return to the Land of the Blogging...

Hey! Did you miss me? I've been slogging through the world of no sleep, late nights, and a new super cute snuggle buddy.


Those of you who follow me on Instagram or Facebook have already been somewhat inundated with pictures of this adorable little guy. But...for those of you who don't, here's an introduction.


Brecken Stephen was born a day before his due date on March 15th. He came into the world via an unplanned C-section after 15 hours of labor. Due to some issues with regulating his temperature and sugar levels, he was life-flighted to Children's Hospital in Fargo where he spent 5 days in the NICU. It was a fairly traumatic experience, but we were very lucky. Our little guy is a good and strong fighter and he was able to come home relatively quickly.

Since he's been home, he's put on weight like a champ. At 11 weeks old, he now weighs about 13 lbs. and is in the middle of the pack at a length of 23 1/4". As was the issue with his birth, he still sports a relatively monster noggin. He ranks in the 98th percentile for head circumference at a nice 16.5". But...studies have shown that kiddos with big heads end up being relatively smarter, so we'll take it. 


He's a fantastic baby and a very happy kid. We love him to bits. He keeps a pretty regular schedule, is a great traveler, and is growing a little personality all his own. He's a wonderful adventure.

Now that we've gotten ourselves fairly settled in and we've developed a good daily routine, I'm ready to get back in the swing of things. Before I disappeared, we were working on discovering my 2016 Book of the Year. We'll be finishing that off before moving on to other things. I'll continue to blog here about family life, crafts, and books.

However, I'm also starting a new adventure. We're growing our farm. The second blog that I mentioned a few months ago is under construction along with a website. The website is live and growing every day. I hope to get it and the farm blog fully functional within the next two weeks. I'm planning to try and blog here about twice a week and once over on the farm page. Stories about our farm and homesteading adventures, our animals, and other home projects will be featured over there. I'd love if some of you would like to join me. You can find us at Crooked Tree Ranch. Pay us a visit and stay tuned for some pretty great things.

Thanks for being such patient readers and supporters. I'm looking forward to this new chapter and exploring all of the possibilities that this new life is affording me. It's a pretty fantastic ride so far. I hope you'll be able to enjoy some of it with me. It's good to be back.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

2016 Book of the Year: Final Four


Well...hello again! Are you enjoying my repeating disappearing act? It seems that time has a way of getting away from me these days. We've had a few crazy weeks here on the farm, so my time has been a bit disjointed. But...the show must go on. And we have a 2016 BOTY to find!

I know it's been a while, so here's a refresher of where the bracket currently stands. Eight competitors working to take the title.

How about we get rid of half of these? Sound like a plan?

Top Left Bracket:

vs.

A 4-star rating against a 3-star rating. You know what that means. Easy elimination. An unfortunate one, but (thanks to the rules) an easy one nonetheless. We say goodbye to Mindy Kaling here and Porko von Popbutton by William Pene du Bois continues on to the Final Four. Crazy...I think this is the first time ever I've had a children's book competing in the Final Four.


Bottom Left Bracket:

vs.

Two 4-star rated books. Both fantastic reads. This one was a difficult choice. I seem to always have at least one bracket where I waffle every year. This pairing definitely meets that definition. I struggled a lot over what I wanted to do here. Ultimately, as always, I just had to pull of the band-aid and go with my gut. And so...as good as it was and as much as I would highly recommend it as a read, If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo loses out to Annie Proulx's The Shipping News. There's just too much literary mastery present in Proulx's work to let it lose out here.


Top Right Bracket:

vs.

3.5 stars vs. 4 stars. Dang it, Harry Potter. I'll admit though, I don't feel too bad about this one. I just didn't love Cursed Child as much as I had hoped. Besides...I adore Morgan Matson and Since You've Been Gone gave me the feels. Since You've Been Gone moves on to the Final Four.


 Bottom Right Bracket:

vs.

Once again, two 4-star rated books face off. And yes...it was another difficult bracket to decide. But...I think literature wins out here once again. Lindsey Stirling's book was entertaining and it was endearing, but Tom Stoppard's Arcadia has staying power. It's filled with literary merit and I just couldn't let it go. The final contender in the 2016 Final Four is Tom Stoppard's Arcadia. Again...another first. No play has ever made it this far in the challenge.


And there we have it...a very eclectic Final Four. Four 4-star books all facing off to try and take the ultimate title. Which one are you rooting for?

Sunday, January 29, 2017

2016 Book of the Year: Elite Eight


Don't worry. I hadn't forgotten that I was in the middle of whittling books down to my favorite read of 2016. It's been a very long and trying week and I've not been feeling that energetic. I'm in the middle of my 8th month of pregnancy and I'm starting to feel pretty exhausted and uncomfortable. 

In addition, we had a pig with a very difficult farrowing early in the week that resulted in the loss of several piglets. We had the surviving four piglets in the house, but unfortunately lost one yesterday to seizures. We had revived her twice and were monitoring and nursing her for nearly fourteen hours straight, but she just couldn't pull through. We were both fairly devastated. Our farm is a business, but our animals have never just been a dollar sign. We care very much about them all and to have one hurting or suffering is incredibly hard. To lose one is heartbreaking. Her three siblings are still going strong and getting bigger and healthier by the day, but we aren't out of the woods yet. We're hoping that in the next week they will continue to do well and we can feel a little more confident that we have succeeded in preparing them for a nice, long life.

Enough of the depressing stuff though...I've had enough of that in the last couple of days. How about instead, we talk books?

This is where we begin for my 2016 BOTY Bracket...

In my last two posts, I gave a brief review of each of the challengers in both the left and right halves of the bracket. Today, we're going to cut the participants in half. Some of these eliminations are simple. Some...not so much.


Bracket 1:


The first rule of my eliminations has always been to default to the ratings. Higher ratings always win. No excuses, no exceptions. So...some of these eliminations will be pretty cut and dry. In this case, we have a 4-star review vs. a 3-star. That means The Goal is out and Porko von Popbutton lives to fight another day.


Bracket 2:
v.


These were both received 3-star ratings, so there was a bit more deliberation involved in choosing a winner. I will admit though, this one was fairly easy to decide. Kaling edges out Hessler simply because I find a humorous autobiography more interesting and enjoyable than a travel memoir in this particular case. Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling advances to the Elite Eight.


Bracket 3:
v.


Four stars v. two. No contest. Annie Proulx easily wins this round and The Shipping News is moving on.


Bracket 4:
v.


I enjoyed the Faulkner and may read it again in the future, but once again ratings win out. 3.5 stars v. 4 stars. If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo edges out the competition to take the bracket.


Bracket 5:
v.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling (adaptation by John Tiffany and Jack Thorne)


This one is a case where my failure to adhere to Goodreads's whole star rating system works in someone's favor. 3 stars vs. 3 1/2. Harry Potter, though not as impressive as I had originally hoped, beats out Alexie to move into the next round.


Bracket 6:
v.


Ah, the ratings match-ups are making a lot of these nice and simple. I'll take it! Matson's 4-star rating takes down Harris's 3 stars handily. Since You've Been Gone takes bracket 6 and pushes on.


Bracket 7:
v.


Two stars versus four stars and a pretty cover? Fukuzawa didn't stand a chance. Winner, winner? Arcadia by Tom Stoppard.


Bracket 8:
v.


Ah...and we save the most challenging bracket for last. Two good books, both 4-star ratings. Authors? Both adorable and funny. I really didn't like that they were pitted against each other right away. Darn you random sequence generator! But...we all know how it goes. It starts getting painful at some stage in the game. It took me some deliberation, but I finally made a decision on this one. Sometimes it's hard to say goodbye. The ultimate winner of this bracket of awesomeness? Lindsey Stirling's The Only Pirate at the Party. Sorry, Tyler. Better luck next time.


And there you have it...we're officially down to eight. I realized while writing up this round that I didn't have a single 5-star read last year. I find that incredibly sad. I'm going to have to work a little harder at it this year. But...there are still some darned good contenders. Given the ratings rule, some of you undoubtedly recognize that there are some obvious eliminations that will be coming. But never fear, there will be some painful eliminations along the way. And ultimately, there will be a very good book that takes the crown. Can you guess the winner yet? 

Next up: Eliminations to the Final Four...


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