25 Books in 2015: The Comeback

Another year, another attempt at reading 25 books! I’m determined to bounce back after a less than stellar reading year in 2014. I’m off to a better start this year than I was this time last year, so here’s hoping I can get ‘er done this time around. I’ve got a to-read list, but can always use more suggestions, so feel free to send them my way. Here’s what I’ve read, with a 1 to 5 star rating, and a little something about each book.

1. Number the Stars – Lois Lowry (4 stars)

My daughter recommended this one, she was assigned it to read in her 6th grade class. It’s a really sweet story about two friends living in Copenhagen during WWII. I loved it, made me feel even better about my Danish heritage.

2. The Wild Truth: The Untold Story of Sibling Survival – Carine McCandless (2 stars)

Meh. I really loved Into the Wild, and looked forward to finding out more about the story in this book, written by Chris McCandless’s younger sister Carine. Carine’s main objective with this book seems to be to convince the world what horrible people her parents are (and they do seem to be pretty awful), and also to talk about herself, a lot. It did not provide inside look at the Chris McCandless story that I’d hoped for.

3. The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins (5 stars)

SO GOOD. This is a suspenseful page turner with absolutely no likable characters. You know its a winner when you still can’t stop reading even though you can’t root for anybody.

4. The Black Dahlia – James Ellroy (3 stars)

Set in one of my favorite time periods, 1940s Los Angeles. You’d never know it was published in 1987, it feels like classic Ross MacDonald type noir, but more gritty and graphic. A little too graphic for my taste, to be honest, but a good read.

5. Stone Mattress – Margaret Atwood (5 stars)

She never disappoints. Stone Mattress is a collection of short stories, each one a page turner. The first three stories are connected, the rest are standalone. They’re all at least a little creepy.

6. Leaving Before the Rains Come – Alexandra Fuller (4 stars)

I am weirdly fascinated by Alexandra Fuller, ever since a friend recommended her book Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, which I read in 2013 and loved. Her latest book is the story of her divorce, the reasons for which I simply can’t comprehend. Why one would leave an adventurous husband who clearly loves his wife and works hard to provide a nice life for his family, I have no idea. What I would give for three kids and a financially secure household. But then I didn’t grow up in the chaos of Southern Africa, and it sounds as though she needs some kind of chaos to be happy. Give me calm and security, with a dash of adventure once in a while, any day of the week.

7. Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro (3 stars)

This story line of this book was right up my alley. Weird and creepy, but just realistic enough to make you think… this could totally happen. Something about the writing style annoyed me though, a lot of starting a thought or story element and then “but I’ll get back to that later”. It just made me want to skip things. Still a good read.

8. Delancey: A Man, A Woman, A Restaurant, A Marriage – Molly Wizenberg (4 stars)

Back in 2010 I was browsing in the bookstore near my office and picked up A Homemade Life, a book Wizenberg wrote following the death of her father. It was an impulse buy, based off the pretty cover photo of glassware and a quick read of the jacket. Turned out to be a great decision, and I now gift that book frequently. So when I saw that Wizenberg had followed up on A Homemade Life with a book about opening a restaurant with her husband, of course I had to give it a read, and I wasn’t disappointed.  Delancey is witty and engaging, and her inclusion of an occasional recipe will encourage you to get yourself in the kitchen. For an ongoing Wizenberg fix, you can check out her blog, Orangette.

9. Esperanza Rising – Pam Munoz Ryan (4 stars)

I’ve had this one on my list for a while, actually to read with the kid. But she’s been preoccupied with the Percy Jackson and Heroes of Olympus series for a long while now so I read it without her. I definitely recommend, its lovely read, with a lot of relevance to California agriculture and immigration. And you can probably read it in two days.

Curious about what I’ve already read? Click away…

2013 Reading List

2012 Reading List

2011 Reading List

Me and Books: A Reunion (Part 1)

Me and Books: A Reunion (Part 2)

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Protected: A letter to my daughter’s school, and anyone else who is shaming girls for what they wear

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Posted in Life

Dear 2014,

I’ll be honest, I’m not sorry to see you go. You kind of put me through the ringer. You grew me up, and right quick.  All those high hopes I had 10 years ago when my kid was just a baby and I was a grad student with a whole life ahead of me? You dashed them, boy did you. You made it crystal clear that I’ll make no more money than what I make right now if I stay at my current job; that no matter how much I enjoy being there, I’ll be barely keeping the bills paid, and I’ll forever live in a tiny house thats slowly falling apart. You showed me that even if I work out 4 or 5 days a week, I’ll probably never lose that 15 pounds. You took my last grandparent. You turned my kid from a cute snuggly child into a tween that likes boys, probably more than she likes me; and there’s no going back from that. And you did that just in time to also let me know that I don’t get to have any more kids, or the family that I hoped for. Oh, and the icing on the cake, you also let me know that, thanks to genetics, I’m way more likely than the average person to get cancer. So yeah, 2014, you’ve kind of been an asshole. So get lost. Seriously, I’m done with you. I’m ready to start over with a new year. Hopefully one that will be a little kinder.

Here’s the thing. I’m going to make 2015 a great year. I’m going to do my best to enjoy every minute of time with my kid, and try not to think about how fast she’s growing up. I’m going to see more mountains, spend more time on the trails, and more time sleeping under the stars. I’m going to do my best to see more of the family I have left. I’m going to be thankful for the roof over my head, even if it leaks, and work hard to make it a good home to raise my kid in. I’m going to read more books. I’m going to write more. I’m going to be as healthy as I possibly can. I’m going to manage my money better so I feel a little less stress on my bank account. I’m going to be thankful for the rain that we get, even if it means my garage floods. I’m going to grow the best garden yet. And I’m going to grow my friendships too. Because really, they are what has saved me during this unbelievably crappy year, they are my honorary family, and they have kept me sane.

Here’s to friends, a new year, a clean slate, and all things good in 2015.

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Books and Books! Best of 2013

I read some books last year! Some of them were really good, and some were just ok. And for those of you who need the details on my favorites, I’m happy to tell you all about them.

Don’t Lets Go to the Dogs Tonight – Alexandra Fuller

dogsA friend recommended this memoir last year and it might be the
best book recommendation I’ve ever received. The author tells the story of her childhood growing up in Rhodesia, and that alone would have been an interesting enough tale what with the political unrest and exotic locale. Add to that her family dynamics, and it made for a book I couldn’t put down. Loved it so much I read two other books by Fuller, Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness and Falling: The Story of a Marriage, in quick succession.



Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune – Bill Dedman

mansionsLiving in Santa Barbara I always wondered about the huge estate by the bird sanctuary near East Beach. This book tells the fascinating story of the owner of that estate, Huguette Clark, and how she came to be a fantastically wealthy recluse. Read it, but be advised that you may get sick to your stomach if you are nauseated by people who have more money than they know what to do with.




The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

handmaidThis book has been on my to-read list for years and I finally got to it. So great, and so creepy, it almost seems plausible. And isn’t that what makes great dystpian fiction? Reading this spurred me to read the MaddAddam trilogy as well. It was great, but couldn’t match the Handmaid’s Tale. The Year of the Flood was the best of the three.

MaddAddam Trilogy: #1 Oryx and Crake, #2 The Year of the Flood, #3 MaddAddam



The Age of Miracles – Karen Thompson Walker

ageAnother dystopian fiction novel, this one is set in San Diego during the “slowing”, when the earth begins to slow its rotation due to climate change. The story explores how people cope, and how society and culture changes, to adapt to longer days and longer nights. Super unsettling, and even more than The Handmaid’s Tale, seems like it could actually happen.




Flight Behavior – Barbara Kingsolver

flightAnother great one from Barbara Kingsolver, who so rarely lets me down (I’m looking at you Lacuna). She so perfectly captures small towns and the people that populate them, and I just can’t help but root for Dellarobia, despite her shortcomings. And I definitely keep rooting for the butterflies.





I should note that I read a ton of Young Adult fiction this year, and there are a few standouts:

Wonder – R. J. Palacio

wonderThe Kid read this with her fifth grade class and told me I HAD to read it. If my 10 year old, who isn’t much of a reader, tells me she loves a book I know it must be something great. And it is. Pick it up and read it, you can probably finish it in two days, and its two days well spent.





Divergent Series – Veronica Roth

divergentThese books were quite enjoyable. Almost as good as The Hunger Games series, but not quite. The concept is a world where society is divided into factions based on personality or virtue, and the factions together form a functioning society. Of course it doesn’t work smoothly, or it wouldn’t be dystopian fiction… I can’t say I loved the ending, but the series as a whole is worth reading.

Divergent Series: #1 Divergent, #2 Insurgent, #3 Allegiant



The rest of the books I read in 2013 are listed here, and if you want to check out my reads from previous years, click away.

25 Books in 2013

Favorites of 2012

20 Books in 2012

Favorites of 2011

More Favorites of 2011

40 Books in 2011

Me and Books: A Reunion Part 1

Me and Books: A Reunion Part 2 (kids books)


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Good Music, Good Friends, and a Good Cause

Looking for something to do tomorrow night?

Saturday September 21st, 2013, is the Imagesecond annual Amy Cole Memorial Scholarship Fundraiser House Concert! Featuring music from El Monte Slim, Dustin Illingworth (Tide Pools), and Marie Haddad with Kelly Duley, it’s going to be a night of great music. There will also be a silent auction with all kinds of goods available from local artists, businesses, and restaurants; and a dessert auction so you go home with a yummy treat after a night of fun. You can get more information about the event, including ticketing information by clicking here, to go to the event Facebook page.

The fundraiser will benefit the Amy Cole Memorial Scholarship fund for Young Audiences of San Diego. Young Audiences is a fantastic organization that provides visual art and performance classes and workshops to elementary schools in San Diego. If you can’t make it to the fundraiser, please consider donating directly to Young Audiences here, at their website.

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You Say Soda, I Say Coke

Hey, remember a while back when everybody was doing those regional accent video blogs? Well, a friend of mine just sent me link to a bunch of maps put together by a North Carolina University PhD student that are based on a linguistic study that looked at this very thing. Pretty cool if you’re into that kind of thing, and I know many of us are. You can look at all of the maps from the study, and look at the results by city, by clicking here. I’ll be nerding out on this for the forseeable future.

Despite what the maps say is the norm for a regional term or pronunciation, its not that simple. I grew up in Southern California, but use many terms and pronunciations that are distinctivly south-midwestern thanks to my mom’s family who came from Missouri. For example, soda/pop was always “coke” (note the small c) no matter what kind you were drinking:

Waitress: Can I get you something to drink?

Me: Sure I’ll have a coke, what kind do you have?

Waitress: Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Sprite, Dr. Pepper…

Me: I’ll have a Dr. Pepper

See what I did there? Dr. Pepper is a coke, with a small “c”. Not “big C” Coke, like the brand. When I looked at my hometown on the map, it does reflect a higher percentage of people who use the word “coke” than in other Southern California cities, so it makes sense.

Also, we grew up saying “grinder” instead of sub, but I don’t even see that reflected on the map. I know we aren’t crazy, because there’s even a shop that my mom loved called D’Elia’s Grinders that she thought was worth going out of the way for if you wanted a sandwich. It was pretty good, as I remember.

And I know that California is a little blended on the caramel/carml question according to the map, but I can’t think of anyone who says “carml” instead of “caramel”, unless they are talking specifically about Carmel the city, in which case they say car-MEL; or one of the many roads and neighborhoods here in San Diego with Carmel in the name, in which case they say CAR-mel. If you’ve ever driven the highway 56 corridor through San Diego you know there are a lot of Carmel streets. I think they were short on name inspiration in that corridor, but thats another blog.

A couple of other comments:

Mayonnaise is always pronounced “man-aze”. And its gross.

It doesn’t matter how you pronounce “pajamas” because they are called “peejays” or “jammies”.

Dinner is an early supper.

“Roof” and “root” are not pronounced the same as “room” and “broom”, despite the presence of double ohs.

“Expecially” isn’t a word. It should always be pronounced “especially”. I can’t believe they even asked this question in the study…

Ok, so now go take a look at all the fun maps!

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25 Books in 2013

New year, new GoodReads Reading Challenge! Its already May, so I’ve been reading  and for months now and have made some headway toward my 25 book goal. I’ve got no real theme this year, I just want to make sure I fit a decent amount of reading time in between gardening, parenting, and training for a hike up Mt. Whitney.

This year I seem to be inundated with recommendations from friends (thank you!) so I fully intend to blow past my 25 book goal, and to hopefully read a variety of books outside my normal non-fiction, historical fiction and dystopian fiction comfort zone. As I do every year, I will update this blog post with the books I finish and give them a one to five star rating here and on my Pinterest.  I also hope to incorporate a more lengthy review or two, but that remains to be seen.

1. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood (5 stars)

2. The Age of Miracles – Karen Thompson Walker (4 stars)

3. Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood (3 stars)

4. The Year of the Flood – Margaret Atwood (4 stars)

5. The Silver Linings Playbook – Matthew Quick (4 stars)

6. Gathering Blue – Lois Lowry (3 stars)

7. Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight – Alexandra Fuller (5 stars)

8. Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness – Alexandra Fuller (4 stars)

9. To Be Frank Diego – Dominic Carillo (4 stars)

10. Hallucinations – Oliver Sacks (4 stars)

11. Flight Behavior – Barbara Kingsolver (5 stars)

12. The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of “Hallelujah” – Alan Light (3 stars)

13. Messenger – Lois Lowry (3 stars)

14. Pigs in Heaven – Barbra Kingsolver (3 stars)

15. Divergent – Veronica Roth (4 stars)

16. Insurgent – Veronica Roth (4 stars)

17. MaddAddam – Margaret Atwood (2 stars)

18. City of Bones – Cassandra Clare (3 stars)

19. City of Ashes – Cassandra Clare (3 stars)

20. City of Glass – Cassandra Clare (3 stars)

21. Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Womans Prison – Piper Kerman (3 stars)

22. Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune – Bill Dedman (5 stars)

23. Falling: The Story of a Marriage – Alexandra Fuller (3 stars)

24. Allegient – Veronica Roth (4 stars)

25. Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card (3 stars)

26. Dead Ever After – Charlene Harris (3 stars)

27. Where’d You Go, Bernadette – Maria Semple (4 stars)

28. Wonder – R. J. Palacio (4 stars)

29. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak (4 stars)

Curious about what I’ve already read? Click away…

2012 Reading List

2011 Reading List

Me and Books: A Reunion (Part 1)

Me and Books: A Reunion (Part 2)

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Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This

This morning I woke up early as the dawn poured springtime sun through the east facing window of my bedroom. I gazed with my blurry morning vision out the french door to the back yard and smiled to myself, so happy that I got the addition done so The Boyfriend and I could move into the back bedroom, which used to be the music room before we expanded it and added a small second bathroom. And I love the green paint that I chose for the walls. And since The Kid got to move into my previous room, she’s got a little more space to spread out her tween life and have sleepovers with her friends. I thought about how glad I am that we added that family room behind our tiny dining area.  It’s just enough extra space. We haven’t used the fireplace yet, but it will get its fair share of use next winter. And the custom shelves for all of our records, cds, and books were a solid investment too. Its our own little library! It’s amazing how going from 975 square feet to 1,200 square feet can make such a difference.

I dozed in bed thinking about how all of our hard work on fixing up the house has finally paid off, and heard Clover’s little morning doggy whining coming from the living room. Time to take her out and get the day started.  I heard kids and parents going by on their bikes, ringing their bike bells and calling good bye to one another as they headed to work and school, and I realized it must be getting late. So I rubbed my eyes, rolled out of bed and started down the hall.

And then my dreams were crushed. Reality dawned on me with the like the sun through that window. No remodel, no second bathroom. No family room with a little library. No money to start on any of those things. Not even any kids and parents riding their bikes to school.

The dog was whining to be let out though, you can always count on that.

Thankfully, the day is sunny and beautiful, so some dreams do come true.

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Operator Please Connect Me… to 1986

A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine posted this as his status update:

imunna luv you ferever an ever ferever an ever ayymennn

You recognize that? If you were a kid in the 80’s and your mama liked country music you do. So just like that, I read a status update and suddenly I’m nine years old again sitting on the avocado green carpet in the living room, maybe playing Lite Brite or reading, and my mom is cleaning and dusting and cooking and wandering around the house singing along with Randy Travis’ Always and Forever on the record player.

So of course, I had to go straight to iTunes and download Always and Forever and Storms of Life; albums which, along with The Judds Why Not Me, some album by Ricky Scaggs, and the soundtrack to Sound of Music, were on heavy rotation on the record player in our house circa 1988. And of course, I had to play Randy for The Kid in the car and see what she thought of him.

She’s obsessed now. Some quotes worth sharing:

“How does he sing ‘I Told You So’ so amazing? That’s a man.”

“When country singers say the H-E-double-hockey sticks word it’s ok because thats just country. They say those things”

And the song that inspired this blog title:

How about you? What songs time warp you back to childhood in an instant?

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Where News Matters?

Tonight on the way to swim practice we were, as ever, listening to our local NPR station. After the reporter did the station ID “you’re listening to KPBS, where news matters”; The Kid says, “it’s so funny that they say ‘where news matters’ when sometimes it just doesn’t matter.”

So wise, that nine year old.

It’s even funnier when said nine year old makes a comment like that and her point is immediately proven by back to back ridiculous stories like this and this; and she says “see? This is not real news”.

I’ve created a monster.

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