Friday, December 31, 2010

The Year In Books: 2010

My reading goal for 2010 had been to get through all (or at least a large portion) of NPR's 100 Best Beach Books Ever. Early in the year I started out pretty strong, trudging to the various branches of the Gainesville library every week with my list in hand. But it wasn't long before the whole thing became one giant pain in the ass. I wasn't finding the books that I really wanted to read, and I wasn't thrilled with the books I was finding. When it came time to actively begin packing and moving, I abandoned the list all together and instead just read whatever I could get my hands on, picking up books at Goodwill or Target. Now that I'm here in Portland and have access to a great library system and inexpensive used books at Powell's, the list has all but been forgotten. I'm reading what I want to read and loving it.

Books Read in 2010:

1. The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

2. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

3. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

4. Grave Sight by Charlaine Harris

5. The Pilot's Wife by Anita Shreve

6. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

7. Atonement by Ian McEwan

8. Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver

9. Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction by Sue Townsend

10. Wicked by Gregory Maguire

11. Among Other Things, I've Taken Up Smoking by Aoibheeann Sweeney

12. The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

13. The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler

14. Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

15. On Beauty by Zadie Smith

16. Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner

17. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

18. Foxtrot: Assembled with Care by Bill Amend

19. The World of Karl Pilkington by Karl Pilkington

20. My Abandonment by Peter Rock

21. Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block

22. Le Divorce by Diane Johnson

23. Choke by Chuck Palahniuk

24. Good Grief by Lolly Winston

25. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

26. Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris

27. Goodnight Nobody by Jennifer Weiner

28. Waiting by Debra Ginsberg

29. My Custom Van by Michael Ian Black

30. The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance by Elna Baker

31. Why is my Mother Getting a Tattoo? by Jancee Dunn

32. Stuck in the Middle edited by Ariel Schrag

33. Promise Not to Tell by Jennifer McMahon

34. The Complete Strangers in Paradise (Vol. 1) by Terry Moore

35. Don't You Forget About Me by Jancee Dunn

36. The Three Incestuous Sisters by Audrey Niffenegger

37. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

38. I Know I Am, But What Are You? by Samantha Bee

39. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

40. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris

41. Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Book #5) by Jeff Kinney

42. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

43. The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger

44. The Camera My Mother Gave Me by Susanna Kaysen

45. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

46. Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk by Tony DuShane

47. The Impostor's Daughter by Laurie Sandell

48. The New Kings of Nonfiction edited by Ira Glass (I finished this today-just in time to make the list.)

I've been chronicling what I've been reading since 2008 and this is the first year that I've read under fifty books, which is somewhat disappointing because I had actually hoped to go well past fifty and read closer to 75. But it was a busy year. A year for experiencing life, not just reading about it.

A Few Thoughts on my Year in Books:

*As I look over what I've read this past year, a lot of it was neither good nor bad, just forgettable. Until completing this list, I had forgotten about half of these books.

*The book I remember reading the most while packing to move is Among Other Things, I've Taken Up Smoking. I never reviewed it here and in fact I don't think I even mentioned it. It was that shitty.

*For me, this was definitely the year of Barbara Kingsolver. I think I've read everything by her now except for The Lacuna. Have any of you read it? Should I make it a priority?

*The first book I read in Oregon was Good in Bed, which Jay picked up for me at a Target when we stopped in Boise. He remembered seeing it on the NPR list.

*Although so much of my list is kinda iffy, I did read quite a few books that I just loved and that I think about often: The Time Traveler's Wife, The Pilot's Wife, Atonement, Wicked, Good Grief, The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance, to name a few.

*The biggest disappointment for me was Squirrel Meets Chipmunk by David Sedaris. What was this about? I don't know. I didn't understand it and I didn't like it. My Custom Van was equally a let down.

As for the coming year, I'm not going to set any hard and fast goals about what I should be reading, but I would like to inch a bit closer to the elusive 75 books. Other than that, I'm just going to keep reading what I want to read.

What are some of your memorable reads of 2010 and do you have any goals for the new year?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Multnomah Falls

This past Monday we went to Multnomah Falls. This short trip had been on my to-do list since moving here, I'm not sure what took us so long. It's not a far drive, only about 30 minutes, and any aggravation caused by children bickering in the back seat is well worth it.
I'm still so in awe of the intense, lush beauty that surrounds me. I'm amazed and overjoyed that I live in a place where I'm close to the city but yet still have direct access to such lovely, more natural scenes.
Such a huge part of my life feels as if it's been completed this past year. I still can't believe I'm finally where I want to be. I know it may seem as if I'm making an unnecessarily big deal about all this, but I was so unhappy in Florida.Lately I've actually been having a reoccurring nightmare in which, for whatever reason, I have to move back to Florida. I wake up feeling so stressed out and anxious, but then I realize it was all a nightmare.
Whatever negative things happen in my life now, I'm so reassured by my surroundings. And believe me, there are still many negative things in my life. Problems didn't just magically disappear simply because we moved across the country. There are still things that aren't ideal.

But my surroundings are no longer one of those things.
I know I've mentioned this before and you're probably sick of me going on about it, but I really can't stress enough the importance of living in a place you love, even if it means making sacrifices.When the 'free' things in your life, like a local park or the view from your window, bring you so much happiness, it's much easier to not stress about the other things.

For this coming year, I wish all of you the strength and faith in your own abilities to get to a place where you can bloom. And if you're there already, consider yourself lucky.(This last photo was taken after looking at the falls when we decided to hike up the mountain a bit. We didn't make it real far. It's now a family goal to make it to the top of the mountain.)

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Rant Of Sorts

I've noticed a disturbing trend lately. Maybe it's not a new trend, maybe it's always existed and I'm just now noticing it because I've been putting myself out there more and socializing more with other women, but is it just me or are a lot of women completely and utterly obsessed with their children? I have met so many really cool women lately. Women who are smart, funky, and kind. Women who are sophisticated yet still manage to be down to earth. Women who tell great stories and make me laugh. Women I want to consider my friends and want to talk to on a weekly or even daily basis. Or at least I would if they'd shut up about their kids for two minutes.

And I'm not talking about people here in blog world, because that's what we use our blogs for-recording all those silly little details of our lives. I get that, and frankly that's what drew me to most of you in the first place-I enjoy the spin you all put on the day to day minutiae of your life. I'm referring more to women you meet in real life who have no life outside of the children. I'm so sick of getting on Facebook and reading syrupy sweet updates about how they baked cookies with their kids, went to the park, did artwork, played games, read stories, and so on. I don't need them to update me every time they feel they need validation as a parent. And that's what this boils down to, because no one can possibly believe that they are entertaining anyone by Tweeting about how they decorated Christmas cookies with their three year old.

I just want to tell these women that not only is it ok to not want to do that stuff, but sometimes it's ok to just not do it at all. Life will go on. If you want to sit down one afternoon and drink wine while reading a book instead of playing a game with your kid, go for it. If you want to do it everyday for a month, go for it. It doesn't mean you're a bad mom. It means you're human and that you don't feel like being around your children. And that doesn't make you an awful person. Because sometimes being around kids sucks.

I have a confession to make. After we moved to Oregon, I think I went three months without reading a book to my daughter. There were various legitimate reasons for this (we'd gotten out of the habit during the move, I hadn't gotten around to getting a library card and was bored with the books on her book shelf, etc) but basically, I just didn't want to. I was reading some great stuff then, it was a good TV time, we had just gotten a PS3, Netflix kept sending us interesting movies and I just didn't feel like reading to her. But the beauty of it all, and the point of this confession, is that the girl doesn't remember me not reading to her. That three month dry period didn't scar her for life. I want to share that knowledge with other mothers. I just want to grab them by the shoulders and shake them and reassure them that in 20 years their kids aren't going to be sitting around saying, "Remember that year when Mom wouldn't make a gingerbread house with us? Man, she was the worst mother ever!"

While on the subject of reading, a few weeks ago I overheard two mothers discussing how they don't read for pleasure anymore. One even said that she hadn't read a book since her oldest child was born. Seriously, how can you go SIX YEARS without reading a book? Not one book?!? I think I could read an entire book by accident over the course of six years. Even if you were to only read while on the toilet I would have to think you could read one or two books a year. And again, I want to stress that these aren't dumb women, they are simply women who have lost their minds to mommyhood.

I'm not trying to be unsympathetic to these women. I know the first few years of motherhood are hard and all consuming and at times you can feel like you're just drowning in it all. But at some point you have to pull yourself up and rejoin the rest of society. You can take baby steps. Say you're in the waiting room at the pediatrician's office. Pick up an Entertainment Weekly and skim the book reviews. Then the next time you're at Target picking up Diaper Genie refills, veer the cart over to the book section. Target carries bestsellers. Buy one. Read it. Then come over to my place and we'll discuss the book while ignoring our children. And that won't be a bad thing.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Pre Christmas Randomness

Lately things have been quiet all over blog land, which completely suits my mood. I'm totally cool with retreating inward for a while. Frankly, there hasn't been that much to talk about, just the usual family stuff, books, mega cups of hot cocoa, and hugging my Christmas Tree, which by the way still looks amazing despite the fact that it's been in my house for over a month now.

*As earlier mentioned, last week Jay and I went and saw The Santaland Diaries, a one man show based on the David Sedaris book. (By the way, if you haven't read that book, it's a must, especially this time of year.) The show was funny, the theatre was intimate, and we had great (second row!) seats. Plus, I just have to say that having a date night on a Wednesday just may be my new favorite thing. It really broke up the week nicely. I highly suggest it. Why save all the fun for the weekend?

*Last Friday night I sat for close to an hour and a half researching books and then requesting them through my library. I would love to be a cool person that goes out and actually does stuff on a Friday night, but the fact that I enjoyed my evening speaks volumes about my level of dorkitude.

*About a month ago, in an effort to save money, we cancelled our HBO, but Comcast counter offered with a free three month subscription, which we agreed to take and I'm so glad we did because there has been some excellent programming lately. One being the new Ricky Gervais stand up special. ( You all know how much I love him.) The other was a documentary called Outrage, a film about closeted homosexual politicians. It was both fascinating and sad. Have any of you seen it?

*The girl's birthday is coming up on January second. A few small gifts have been purchased as well as the ingredients to make a super epic rainbow cake. The pompom garlands will probably remain up as well.But other than all that, the affair will be small-just family. This is the second year that my family has officially celebrated birthdays and as hard as I try I just can't shake the idea that children's birthdays have gotten a bit too extravagant for my liking. I've been to quite a few lately, some were crazier than others, but one that stands out had the birthday kid sitting on a throne. Admittedly, it was an inflatable throne, but it still just kinda left a bad taste in my mouth. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Am I just being Miss Poopy No Fun?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

My New Favorite Shirt

My new favorite shirt really wanted to be featured in the blog. I tried to take pictures of her but my apartment is just so dark. So when the rain let up, we went outside and my shirt was able to play amongst the pine trees.I bought my new favorite shirt at Goodwill for $6.99. I almost didn't buy her. For one thing, she has a few ever so small coffee stains on her and I never buy anything with spots on it.Also, she's mainly silk, which means she'll need to visit the dry cleaner once in a while. I never buy anything that needs to be dry cleaned. So yes, I broke a few of my rules just so my new favorite shirt and I could be together.

While at Goodwill I took the shirt off the rack and put it back about half a dozen times, but ultimately couldn't walk away from a shirt with such lovely little details: I'm willing to look over her few minor flaws. Love conquers all.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Book Review:: Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk

If you've been reading my book reviews for any length of time, you're probably aware that I love a book about a main character dealing with a kooky religion, even more so if that kooky religion is my ex-religion. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that I keep my finger firmly pressed on the pulse of this genre so that I always know when something new and interesting is coming out. Because of that, I had been trying to get Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk for months now, but for whatever reason could never get it through my (normally awesome) library system. Finally I broke down and ordered it through Half.com, setting myself back a mere $4. Why didn't I buy this sooner?

Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk is a novel loosely based on the life of the author, Tony DuShane, who spent his entire childhood as one of Jehovah's Witnesses. We first meet the main character, Gabe, as a middle schooler and the book covers his life through the high school years. As if the adolescent years aren't torturous enough, Gabe has to get through them while being one of Jehovah's Witnesses. Which means no birthday parties, no after school extracurricular activities, no dating, and a lot of preaching from door to door. So he's basically a social freak. He and his pals, Peter and Jin, make it through the school day by laying low, even though the other Witness kids at his high school want to do things like set up a booth outside the cafeteria where they can preach about the Bible to non-Witness kids.

As Gabe and his friends grow up, they begin to do their own research and question the belief system they've had their whole life. In the end, all three come to very different conclusions.

Okay, of course I LOVED THIS BOOK. But, admittedly, I'm biased. This genre holds such appeal to me because I immediately feel the connection with the author. As much as I talk and share about my past here in this space, it isn't the same as discussing it with someone else who has been through it. For instance, early in the story, Gabe says this about preaching from door to door, "I'd perfected the mediocre knock over my years in service. I knocked softly enough for no one to hear me inside the house, but loudly enough not to raise suspicion that I really wanted to avoid talking to people about the Bible on some mornings, especially when I preached in an area where I knew a few of my school friends lived." Of course I know exactly what the author is talking about.

Because the story is told from the perspective of an adolescent boy, there's a lot of talk about masturbation and sex, both very taboo, unsavory subjects among Witnesses. As I was reading this I was reminded of a lot of the guys I grew up with. I have to believe that because they weren't allowed to talk about sex in any kind of a normal manner, that their relationship with the idea of it probably bordered on near obsession.

This story is mostly lighthearted, although the last two or three chapters take a surprisingly sad, darker turn. Not in an unrealistic way, just in an unexpected way.

Three Reasons You Should Read This Book

*Although the book itself is fiction, it's a very realistic, matter of fact telling of what it's like growing up as one of Jehovah's Witnesses. Almost every time I write about my past here, I get at least one hateful comment or email from some anonymous Jehovah's Witness who feels it's their Christian duty to come to the defense of the religion and call me a liar. I try really hard to be honest about my history but those little comments still get under my skin and make me doubt myself a bit. So when I read something like Jesus Jerk, I definitely feel validated. So if you're looking for another source to back up my tale, this is a good place to start.

*Because Tony DuShane's book is written in such a pragmatic way, he never really comes right out and bashes the religion he grew up in. I think this has such a better effect for the reader -especially those only mildly familiar with Witnesses-than if he were to come from a place of hate or anger. (DuShane talks more about this in an interview in The Portland Mercury. You can read it here.)

*Like a lot of the books I've been reading lately, this was a really good story about finding your true self, which is so hard when you grow up in a religion (cult) that forces a personality on you.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Listing

Melting:: Chocolate for peppermint bark.There's a bake sale at the girl's school, plus the teachers are getting jars of this, so I've been busy making a few batches. There are so many good peppermint bark recipes floating around out there and I always plan to try them, but when it comes down to it I stick with this recipe by that Queen of Evil Paula Deen. It's just so easy. (As a side note, if you ever find yourself saddled with a few dozen extra Krispy Kreme donuts, then you can make Paula's Bread Pudding. Lordy.)

Anxiously Awaiting:: The Santaland Diaries. Jay and I are having a date night next week and we're seeing the show based on the David Sedaris book. I bought a new dress and am excited to go out.

Drinking:: Homemade chai. I also made a separate batch, replacing all the spices with a few heaping shakes of pumpkin pie spice. Yum.

Creating:: Snowflakes!
After watching this video about how to make perfect snowflakes, I'm obsessed with the process. I only wish I had a kid to do it with me. The boy is too old ("cool") and the girl is too young to wield scissors big enough to cut through the many folds of paper. I gave her a shot at it but I kept having visions of trips to the ER with a baggie full of ice and a finger. So yeah, it's just me sitting around like a dork making snowflakes.

Reading:: Nothing at the moment! Can you believe it? Although I do have some library books needing to be picked up. I just finished Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk, which was good. (Review to come soon.)

Wanting:: Dani's pompom garland. Must.Go.Buy.Pompoms.

What are you up to?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Book Review:: Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic


Fun Home begins with Alison Bechdel telling us about her father, Bruce, a persnickety man who's into high fashion, tanning, and decorating. His life is about illusions. Together, he and his wife and children must appear to be the ideal family even though they were anything but that.

After Bruce dies in a freak accident (that may or may not be suicide) his secrets begin to surface. Alison learns from her mother that while hiding behind the perfect family facade, Bruce had spent his entire married life having homosexual affairs, at times even with the young boys he met through his work as a high school english teacher.

As Alison reflects back on her childhood, she's not only forced to see her family's past in a whole new way, but to decide how or if at all, it effects her life as a homosexual woman.

Three Reasons You Should Read This Book:

*I know that reading about any sexuality different from the one you identify with can be (for some people) scary/weird/uncomfortable and although sexuality is a major theme in this book, it's also just a really good, albeit slightly twisted, coming of age story.

*Even though this is technically a graphic novel, it didn't always feel that way to me. It felt more like a regular novel just with pictures. Alison Bechdel doesn't skimp when it comes to using words and she doesn't rely on her drawings to tell the story. The words tell the story and the drawings are just a beautiful added bonus.

*Not only do I think you should read this book, but TIME magazine does as well. Back in 2006, Fun Home was #1 on TIME's list of 10 Best Books of the year, ranking higher than books by Cormac Mccarthy and Dave Eggers.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Lights

Last Friday we checked the boy out of school early so we could have some much needed family time. Lately, there's been a difficult dynamic happening between Jay and I and the children. We want to be out doing things with them but the sibling bickering has reached such a level that we can't stand to be around them too much. But, we keep trying with the hopes that one day we'll get in the car and there will be no fighting, grumbling, or complaining.

After a quick dinner we went to Pioneer Place Mall and did a bit of shopping, mostly of the window variety. There is just something about "city shopping" that is so much fun. I know the tights that I get at the J.Crew in the city are the same as the ones at the J.Crew in the suburbs, but the buying process is much more exciting.

Looking out over the city from the sky bridge that connects the two sides of the mall:(I love how you can see the ever-so-faint reflections of me and the girl.)

Mall entertainment in the form of Christmas Carolers:How cute are they? I felt weird taking their picture so Jay snapped a few for me, reasoning that these theatrical types probably don't mind their picture being taken.

After the mall we drove out to the Portland International Raceway to see the Winter Wonderland Light Show. Every year a huge light display is erected along the racetrack and for a small fee you can drive your car around the track at a leisurely pace and view it all.

There were various themes along the track, such as:

Toys:

Holidays under the sea:Sports:
This one, along with a few of the other displays, was fully animated. The player on the right kicked the ball to the goalie but it would repeatedly slip right through his hands.

My favorite part of the show was the lights that represented the Twelve Days of Christmas:

Seven swans a-swimming:Nine ladies dancing:Eleven lords a-leaping:
Although the night wasn't perfect and the kids pissed me off a few times, we mostly had a good time. I know siblings are always going to argue but my hope is that it continues to die down to a much more tolerable level soon or else the children will never leave the house other than to go to school.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Book Review:: The Camera My Mother Gave Me


I have been trying to review this book for a week but it's been difficult, plus my to-do list lately has been kind of long and I haven't had the time to figure out the best way to write this review. At this point, all I can come up with is this completely random list of bulleted thoughts, which will have to suffice:

*Basically, the book chronicles the author's two year struggle to find out what is causing the pain in her vagina. She has numerous visits with traditional doctors, gynecologists, alternative health practitioners, an internal specialist, a vulvologist, etc but gets no conclusive answers.

*While this is going on, she's living with her boyfriend who likes to have a lot of sex. With her sore vagina. When she doesn't want to have sex he pouts and whines. So not only do we get to hear her complain about her sore vagina (it burns, it feels like it's being pricked with needles, it's hot, and so on), but we also get to hear her complain about her dickhead boyfriend.

*This woman will discuss her sore vagina with anyone, which I guess shouldn't come as a surprise since she did write a book about it, but when is enough enough? Not only does she share her situation with female friends, but male friends as well, and even couples. She describes having dinner at a couple's house and the entire conversation revolves around her vagina. I am beyond amazed that her friends put up with this. You know, I am not above discussing weird and/or inappropriate things with people. I've called my best friend numerous times and started the conversation out with the phrase, "Hey, ya wanna hear something gross about me?" But I have to think that if I just kept going on and on about it that eventually she'd stop returning my calls.

*At numerous times her boyfriend says things to her like, "It seems like you just don't want to have sex." Or, "You don't want to get better." I really don't want to side with the boyfriend, because he does seem like a major jerk, but I agree with him. Her sore vagina completely takes over her life and it does seem like she almost enjoys being nothing more but a giant sore vagina.

*I wanted to like this book because it was written by Susanna Kaysen, who wrote Girl, Interrupted, which I loved. But I really hated this. I felt as if it was the most self indulgent thing I've ever read.

*According to the dust jacket: The title comes from Luis Bunuel's film Viridiana. Some peasants are at a banquet in a country mansion. They ask a maid to take a group snapshot, and she obliges, lifting up her skirt and using the "camera" that's underneath. Ok, I'm going to come right out and say it but I have no idea what that even means. Am I retarded? She took a picture with her vagina? What? I just don't get it.

*I got this book from the library and I've had it laying around. Jay, who's lately been reading a lot of the same books as I have, gave it a look over, dropped it, and declared that he "won't be reading that one." Good call.

*This book may appeal to some people but it did nothing for me. Maybe I'm just insensitive to other's pain because I have a problem free vagina and I can't imagine it any other way. So be it.