Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Reading, lately

I figured I better get a small round up done before the holidays hit and things get busy. I'll try to get one in before the end of the year as well, since I usually manage to get a decent amount of reading done in December. 

heart of light - reading, lately

All the Missing Girls - This thriller has a bit of a gimmicky structure, with the narration starting two weeks after the disappearance of a girl in a small town and then working backwards. I was a little annoyed at first because I kept getting confused by who knew what and when, but it started to make sense as the book progressed. I ended up enjoying it.

Now You See Me - The first in a series about a female detective in London. The premise is a bit gory, but the twists were good and towards the end I didn't want to put it down. If you like the Maeve Kerrigan series, or the Inspector Lynley series (before it went a bit off the rails), then I think you'll like this. I have to see if I can get on the waitlist for the rest.

Extreme Prey - I've never read John Sanford, so I dove right into the middle of the Lucas Davenport series, on the advice of a reader. I didn't feel lost, so I think each book probably stands alone just fine. This really reminded me of the Jack Reacher series (large, testosterone filled protagonist, strange conspiracies, detailed descriptions of weapons). Of course, I love that series, so this totally worked for me. If you're a Lee Child fan, check it out.

The Girls - My well read friend recommended this book ages ago, and I finally got it from the library. It's fiction, based on the Manson family murders. Loosely, I assume, but I know basically nothing about the Manson family other than the bits and pieces I've somehow picked up just from existing. The book was good, really evocative of the time and place. Story is creepy and draws you right in. I felt like it had some gaps in it because the entire story takes place in a really short period of time and the relationship the protagonist develops with the cult, and then the eventual breakdown, felt a little too rapid to be believable (but maybe that's accurate?).  But I can think of at least three friends that I could confidently recommend this book to, so that's a good sign.

I'm Thinking of Ending Things - For the first third of this book I just wasn't getting the hype because it felt very, very slow. But then it gradually starts getting creepier and creepier and ends up feeling incredibly tense and stressful. Full disclosure - I guessed the twist a little early so I didn't love the book as much as others have.

Loner - I was disturbed by this book, as I assume you're meant to be. A nerdy kid gets into Harvard and becomes fixated on a girl who lives in his dorm. I wasn't sure who I was supposed to empathize with in this book, but it is certainly not the narrator, who gets weirder as the story progresses. I didn't really love this overall, although it's pretty absorbing.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Thanksgiving 2016

I haven't hosted Thanksgiving in a few years and I decided that this year I would be relaxed about it. I still made all my lists, of course, and I took a couple hours off on Wednesday to get some cooking started, but when I hadn't finished everything I was supposed to finish by Wednesday evening, I refused to worry about it. I showered and went out for drinks with our friends as planned and it was lovely. And then on Thursday morning we met up with friends and waited in a crazy line for holiday coffee at Go Get Em Tiger, and even though I knew that I was behind on my oven schedule, I refused to worry.

Which is a long way of leading into telling you that it all worked out, and being relaxed was nice, but I definitely had a moment in the early afternoon when I was running around the house and feeling like maybe I had been too relaxed and next time I'm going to try to find a better balance. Or at least set aside some time to polish the crystal and cut out the place cards early in the week. I think I just need to get back in a hosting groove.

veg stock in progress
roasting
glass turkey, podocarpus
Thanksgiving table 2016
the day after

The camera was definitely not my priority during this last minute craziness, but I managed to get a couple quick shots of our table (before we'd gotten around to cutting out the place cards or adding the silverware). I kept meaning to think about what to do for a centerpiece, but then it was Thursday and I hadn't picked up anything at all. I ended up cutting off some sprigs of podocarpus from the tree in our yard and I'm happy with how it turned out. Simple, free, done.

The holiday was wonderful and it cooled down just enough in the evening that we were able to have a fire and sit around talking for a bit before people rolled themselves home. It felt good. And the next day I washed dishes for a couple hours and got two batches of turkey stock made and drank some holiday tea. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Giving thanks

the table

I took a break from Thanksgiving for a couple years, but we're hosting again this year and it feels like a particularly crazy time to step back into it. For me, Thanksgiving has always been about family and friends, and acknowledging the joy in your life. I have so much to be thankful for, and yet there's so much fear and uncertainty right now. I have so much privilege, but I'm well aware that not everyone does. D is the son of an immigrant, and it's terrifying to realize that if this current political situation was taking place back in the 80s that everything could have looked very different for their family (and our future lives).

I'm excited to get into the kitchen and start cooking and baking. I'm looking forward to gathering with our families and celebrating. But last night I spent some time poring over our budget and freeing up enough space for some recurring monthly donations (I settled on the ACLU, the NRDC and the SPLC). The monthly amounts aren't huge, but it's something.

I made a few one time donations as well, to the Sacred Stone legal defense fund, democrat Foster Campbell's runoff campaign in Louisiana (could give the democrats one more senate seat), and the Health Care Rights Initiative (heard about this organization on the Moth last week and it broke my heart in two - they provide legal assistance to people navigating the often incomprehensible health care insurance system, a cause that feels very personal to me since Dave's accident).

I also signed up for weekly emails from wall-of-us.org. Each week they send you four specific action items, along with all the information you need (phone numbers, scripts, etc). I know that making phone calls is important, but to be honest, I hate doing it. This has made it so much easier.

And I did a quick search and found all the contact info for our senators and our representative, made a quick cheat sheet, printed it out, and hung copies both in my office and on our fridge at home.

I don't know exactly what I should be doing right now, and I'm not sure what will make an impact, but I know that doing nothing is the worst thing. We fumble forward, we come together, we give thanks for our blessings and we work to make sure that those blessings are extended to everyone.


Friday, November 18, 2016

Right this minute

I'm getting excited for Thanksgiving. We're hosting this year and I haven't had time to sit down and do my usual planning process, but I'm looking forward to getting all my lists done tomorrow morning.

Also looking forward to decorating the weekend after Thanksgiving. It's the first time we've been in a real house for the holidays and I've got a few bits of decor squirreled away.

I've been reeling since the election and just feeling overwhelmed a lot. I think I'm a pessimist at heart (I try not to be!) and I tend to just feel like giving up when things get heavy politically. We took last weekend and drove up to see my niece and nephew and it made a huge difference and reminded me that I have to keep contributing. I'm plotting my next steps (hoping to find a good fit volunteering, since we aren't really in a position financially to give much money) but for now I'm trying to focus on doing small nice things daily, even if they are in no way political, just to get some good karma out into the world. Donate blood, participate in a toy drive, give to the local food bank, call our local politicians. I just feel really helpless and I'm not sure what I should be doing, to be honest.

On a lighter note, I'm embarrassed to admit that I just can't get into Wolf Hall, even though so many of you have recommended it! What is wrong with me? I was pretty confused in the beginning and it helped once I figured out that "he" basically always refers to Cromwell. My Tudor history is only so-so at this point, which I guess might be making it more difficult. I pushed through a full 50% of the book and then had to take a break. I feel like a failed reader because I never quit books, so I'm telling myself I'll come back to it when my mind is clearer. But really, what am I not getting?

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Sycamore Canyon Campground - beach camping!

Last weekend we had a one night stay in Sycamore Canyon campground, in Point Magu state park. It's a small campground with amazing beach access and I think we'll put this place on regular rotation. I can be a little grinch-y about the beach in summer (crowded, hot, hard to park, high risk of sunburn) but I love, love, love going in the off season. The goal was to hang out on the beach on Saturday afternoon, then get up early on Sunday so D could surf, but Sunday ended up being rainy so we slept in and read and made breakfast between rain showers instead. This sounds wimpy, but it isn't the rain itself that's the problem, but rather the contaminated runoff that results from the rain. I know, lovely. Here are some nice, non-contaminated photos.

sycamore cove beach
wave chaser
sandy dog
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Sycamore Canyon campground

Sycamore Canyon details - This is a great little beach campground. My standards are a little lower for beach adjacent campgrounds because you know what you're getting into when you reserve one - you're paying for amazing beach access, and the campground itself is often beside the point (San Onofre is a great example of this). This campground is pretty nice, though. There is running (potable!) water, with hot showers (bring cash for the shower tokens) and flushing toilets. Sites are arranged in a little loop and several of them are nestled into nooks that feel semi-private. You can't reserve your site ahead of time, but check-in is at 2 pm and you can show up and see what's still available. We ended up with site 23, which would be an amazing group site because it has plenty of space, although it doesn't have any tree cover (totally fine for this time of year, would suck in summer). Sites 33 and 42 looked nice and shady, but smaller. You can have three cars per site, and this would be a fun place for group camping. Sites are relatively pricey at $55/night ($45 + $10 for reserving online), but totally worth it. You can buy firewood from the camp host on site ($7/bundle while we were there).

We didn't have time for hiking this weekend, but there is a trail that leads right out of the campground. Since this is a state park, dogs aren't allowed on the trails (sad). In the opposite direction, you can access the beach through a pedestrian tunnel that goes under PCH. The beach allows dogs, which is a huge plus because dog friendly beaches are few and far between around here. Circe was in heaven and kept breaking into a sprint out of sheer joy. Seeing her bounding across the beach almost makes up for the 10 lbs of sand that she managed to bring home with her.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Fall camping - Marion Mountain Campground - Idyllwild

We didn't make it out camping in August or September, due to tight schedules, but we managed two trips in October and it felt good. I'm terrible at sticking with resolutions, but last year we set a goal of always having a camping trip on the calendar, and we managed to make it out quite a bit in 2016 (just counted - I think we got in six trips, which isn't the one-per-month we were aiming for but is still decent).

At the beginning of October we went back to Marion Mountain campground for a one night stay. We've stayed here before and it's quickly becoming one of my favorites. Our goal is to schedule a two night stay at some point so that we can actually summit the peak, but this trip was a particularly lazy one. Just getting out of the house took about all the energy I had left after a long week, so we mostly napped and read and played a million rounds of Boggle while sipping rattlers (pretty much the best camping cocktail, in my humble opinion, although bourbon and hot cocoa is pretty nice once it starts to get chilly).

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camp happy hour
marion mountain view
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Campground details in previous post. Worth noting - both times we've been here there's been a complete ban on campfires (you can still use your portable stove, but no other flame is permitted). I think this will probably continue until the drought ends. I was realllly bummed about this the first time, because it was cold and rainy and we had assumed that campfires would be allowed in the rings so I'd brought hot dogs and s'mores. The second time I was prepared and we made sure to bring games and plenty of layers and I only missed the fire a little.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Reading, lately

Whew. We got home from vacation and then everything got crazy. There's been a lot of good stuff (parties with friends, a short camping trip, a bit of actual cooking) and some not so great stuff (two colds in three weeks = thumbs down emoji). There has also been some reading ...

reading, lately

Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating - I found this really interesting and chock full of trivial pursuit type facts that go over well at dinner parties (did you know that TGIF's used to be a hip singles bar?).

Breathing Lessons - This novel won a Pulitzer, but I had a hard time loving it. It's easy to read, the writing is good, but the characters are so darn frustrating. I don't really love reading about contentious marriages (listening to people bicker is my number one peeve), even when it turns out they really do love each other.

The Girl Before - This book has a really unusual premise (it's tough to say much without giving everything away), and it's done fairly well. I wouldn't really call it a thriller but it's tense and interesting. The ending is the weak point for me, but it wasn't a total deal breaker, it just felt a little simplistic. But who knows?

Gilead - So, so lovely. Marilynne Robinson is one of my favorites. I had avoided this book for a while because years ago I heard that it was all stream of consciousness and difficult to get through. I found that to be not the case at all, and I loved it. It's the partner book to Home (Gilead was written first, but I read them in the opposite order).

Headhunters - Don't hate me, but I usually shy away from Nordic thrillers because they tend to be so dark (often literally, there is very little sun and lots of descriptions of winter). But I've read a couple of Nesbo's Harry Hole books and enjoyed them, so I picked up this stand alone mystery to take on vacation. It is ... weird, but good. Very gripping, lots of tense action. There is a dog death that I could tell was coming (spoiler, sorry, but it isn't super integral to the plot and I think fair warning is required on animal stuff) and I almost quit before it arrived, but I pushed through and just tried not to think about it.

Left For Dead - This is just a novella, but it's a prequel to the wonderful Maeve Kerrigan detective series. If you love the series, you'll want to read this.

You Will Know Me - I have tried a couple of Megan Abbott books and they just don't do it for me. The writing feels like it's working too hard, and as much as I love movies about cheerleaders or gymnasts (nothing will ever match my love for Drop Dead Gorgeous), apparently I don't love reading about them. That said, this is a well plotted thriller that lots of people loved, so I might be an anomaly.

Pretty Girls - Karin Slaughter's mysteries are always gruesome (p.s. - do we think she was born with that name and if so, did she have no choice but to start writing thrillers? Emily and I were talking about this the other day and we think it must be a pen name) but I generally like her series. This is a one off and it was a bit too much for me and the payoff wasn't good enough.

Re-read - The entire Hitchhiker's series. Every time I read this I marvel at how much I love it all over again. It just doesn't get old to me. I have tried to tell Dustin the train station biscuit story at least a dozen times, because I laugh every time I think about it. (The story is here, Adams claimed it actually happened to him and he then wrote it into the book, and interestingly, when I googled it to find a link for you, there is a whole Snopes page about it. Whether or not this is true, I will always remember reading it at 13 years old and nearly crying with laughter. The version in the book is better because you know Arthur Dent so well you can picture it happening.)

I'm currently on the wait list for a bunch of stuff, including a few thrillers (particularly appealing in Fall, I think) and I'll report back once I get them. Anything I should be adding to my list?