“I Am In Love with the World”

It’s been an odd, bloated sort of week. Not bad, per se. Tepid. I’ve had a major case of space-cadet, my head firmly stuck in the fog. But I want to end the week on a good note.

In 2011, Terry Gross interviewed Maurice Sendak on the radio program “Fresh Air.” Christoph Niemann, an illustrator for The New York Times, heard it while driving and later turned it into this short little video.

This interview makes my heart swell. It is happy and melancholy and heartfelt and joyful. I listen to it and feel the need to go out and be. To appreciate all that is around. It is a tribute to the beauty in the world, the goodness — and the sad bits, too. Every time I listen to it, it makes me remember the loved ones we’ve lost — and it makes me sad, having lost them, but leaves me grateful at the end for having known them.

It’s a fitting way to end an off-kilter week. Remembering all we have to be grateful for, and heading into the weekend with Sendak’s words:

“Live your life, live your life, live your life.”

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Top 10 Books (as of Right Now): Part 2

Because I’m a nerd, I had a lot of fun putting together my Part 1 list last week. This week? More difficult. Somehow Part 2 felt more serious, more final — when I’d decided on one book, another leapt off the shelf and cried, “BUT HOW COULD YOU FORGET ME??”

To which I say — chill out, book. This isn’t the be all, end all. There are other books I enjoy, other books I love. These ones just make the cut today. (And shout out to the entire Harry Potter series, it’s getting the honorable mention of the day.)

5. The Razor’s Edge

My college pal and fellow creative writer Val guessed that this would be on the list. Maybe I’m transparent, or maybe it’s just a really good book.

The Razor's Edge

If you’ve read one of those “Best quotes of all timez!!” lists, you’ve read a sentence by oh-so-witty Maugham. His books are more somber than his one-line quips, though. The Razor’s Edge is difficult, too, because it’s not a super direct storyline. In fact, the heart-and-soul of the novel is set-up by this:

I feel it right to warn the reader that he can very well skip this chapter without losing the thread of the story

I mean, who does that?? That tells you what you’re in for with this book. Rather meandering, not much action, a large cast of characters, spanning decades and continents… and so worth it. Beyond the fact that the book is beautifully written, it dives into moral grey area and ponders the meaning of happiness. No, it’s not a light read, but if you’re looking to sink your teeth into something, I can’t recommend this one enough.

6. All Creatures Great and Small

As you can probably tell from the tattered copy, this is another book that I a) stole, and b) return to time and again.

All Creatures Great and Small

I loved this book SO much that for a long time, I wanted to be a vet. (That changed after a day volunteering in a vet clinic.) But guys, James Herriot makes it sound like so much FUN! Cute animals! Heartwarming tales! You want to know Herriot’s friends, you want to meet the farmers, you want to drive through pastoral England. And you know what else? Reading this, Herriot just seems like a good guy. You can’t say that about a lot of authors, so it’s rather refreshing. And speaking of, well, not the greatest of guys….

7. Selected Poems of Ezra Pound

Oh look — ANOTHER prick on the list! Not only a contemporary of Hemingway’s, but a fascist to boot! I really know how to pick ’em.

Ezra Pound

So, yeah, Pound may have been a TOTAL nutcase, but in spite of that (or maybe because of it) his poetry sticks. I was in Rome the first time I read this collection, roaming Italian graveyards and studying expatriates, so that undoubtedly colored my reading of it. But over the years it’s still the poetry I pick up most often. Plus, it contains what is probably my favorite poem ever, “Erat Hora”:

‘Thank you, whatever comes.’ And then she turned
And, as the ray of sun on hanging flowers
Fades when the wind hath lifted them aside,
Went swiftly from me. Nay, whatever comes
One hour was sunlit and the most high gods
May not make boast of any better thing
Than to have watched that hour as it passed.

8. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

Let me just give you a brief overview of the physical places covered by this book. Nazi-invaded Prague. Brooklyn. The Empire State Building. Antarctica.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & ClayI mean, guys, the hero travels to Antarctica during World War II. If that’s not enough to sell this book… oh, it’s not? But wait, there’s more! This book is fantastical. Surreal. Like a portrait of New York City dipped in technicolor and redrawn a bit. Its protagonists are comic-book artists, larger-than-life men (and women!) who become superheros of their own reality. There’s adventure and heartbreak and did I mention a battle in Antarctica? Many would argue this is Chabon’s best, and I can’t disagree.

10. 1984

This book… you know, it’s fine. I see the merit of it. I see why people always bring it up. But a favorite? Nope. I honestly had a hard time getting through it. But there’s a very specific reason why it’s on this list.

1984

The night I met my husband, he asked what my favorite book was. I said I wasn’t sure, too many to name, yadda yadda. What was his? Without hesitation: “1984.” He was flabbergasted that I hadn’t read it. Told me I HAD to read it. He was even more flabbergasted (and yeah, a bit annoyed) when, on our first date, I admitted I hadn’t purchased a copy yet. So this is the copy he brought to my door on our third date. Yes, my husband’s first gift to me was an Orwell book. I slogged through it, and it’s been on our bookshelf ever since.

If you didn’t chime in last week — DON’T MISS YOUR CHANCE AT GLORY! What are some of your favorite books? Why? Let’s swap tales.

The Rambler: Cabinet Edition

The thing no one ever tells you about buying a house is that once you do, there’s a relentless pile of projects that must be done.

HAHAHA just kidding. EVERYONE tells you that. We decided not to listen and bought a house anyway. A 1950’s rambler, to be exact.

It’s weird, no matter how much homework you do, there are still surprises once the house is actually yours. We were walking around for weeks saying, “Huh. There’s a hole in that door.” Or, “Huh. There are staples around ALL the windows.” Or (my husband’s favorite), “Huh. There are sheets and sheets of moldy visqueen stuffed in this cupboard.” SURPRISE!

But two months in, we’re getting more settled as we continue to unpack, hang up artwork, and update. For the most part, we’re enjoying the projects — it feels good to invest time and energy into something that’s yours.

But this last week… it was kitchen painting time.

Do you SEE that horrendous-ness? FAUX BRICK TILES, people. Surrounded by dirty (LITERALLY dirty) black paint. Awful. AWFUL. I actually painted those bricks several weeks ago because I Could. Not. Deal. That still left us with the raw-wood kitchen cabinets to paint (advertised as “You get to pick your own finish!”). We knew that painting the cabinets would have to be one of our top priorities, as we didn’t want them to get all grimy and gunked up. So finally, finally, we got to it.

I won’t get into all the nitty gritty details, but needless to say, painting cabinets sucks. Lessons learned:

  • Ummm, WOW these cabinets are crappily made! We knew they weren’t the highest caliber before, but gettin’ all up in their grill really confirms it.
  • Oil primer takes FOREVER to dry. FOR-EV-ER. Since the cabinets were unfinished wood, the paint guy at the local hardware store recommended we use it. NEVER AGAIN.
  • Wet paint = magnet for cat tails.
  • No matter how much masking you do, there will always — always — be goof-ups.
The Disaster Zone
Primer done, waiting to dry. Welcome to the disaster zone!

After five days, all the cabinets are finally re-hung and…

Before
Before – blah.
After
After – woo hoo!

IT’S DONE. I’ve strategically hidden all the “this need a touch-up” spots. But you know, it works. For now, I’ll consider it one more project checked off the list. Completed ones so far:

  • Replace roof.
  • Replace the “will definitely kill you in your sleep” electrical panel.
  • Repair tub plumbing.
  • Paint kitchen cabinets.
  • Add weather stripping to the “can see sunlight through it” front door.
  • Add cat door to “The Once and Future Garage”.
  • Replace broken back door.
  • Insulate pipes in crawl space.
  • Add big-ass shed to the backyard.

Looks fairly impressive, until compared to our “to be done” list:

  • Install bathroom fan.
  • Repair drainage on the side of the house (will involve trench digging — fun!).
  • Paint ALL THE THINGS.
  • Replace the ghetto single-pane windows.
  • Convert “The Once and Future Garage” BACK into a garage.
  • Replace the “can no longer see sunlight but still ghetto” front door.
  • Repair sad and slanted front step.
  • Convert laundry room into a laundry room/2nd bathroom.
  • Tame and landscape the Jungle that is our backyard.

We’ll get it done, Rambler, one project at a time….

Top 10 Books (as of Right Now): Part 1

Before we get too far, be warned — I want to know what YOUR favorite books are, too. And why. Get ready.

I used to be a voracious reader as a kid. At college, I ODed on reading and fell off the wagon a bit. I never STOPPED reading… I just slowed to a snail’s pace. But I’m getting back into it. I’m rediscovering the joy of it, reading what I WANT to read, and telling myself it’s ok to give up on a book I don’t like.

All of which has gotten me thinking about my favorites. I want to clarify that this list is only current as of Right Now. Favorite books are a fickle thing for everyone, dependent on where you are in your life and, of course, if/when a new book bumps one off the list.

So here you have it, the first 5, in no particular order. Well, except for #1, which gets the place of honor…

1. Watership Down

Watership Down

Most people don’t really get this one. “It’s about rabbits?” Well, yes. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and I get that — but it’s one of my all-time faves. My copy belonged to my mom, and after reading it for the first time, I stole it and will never give it back. The spine is now literally held together with tape. And I refuse to replace this copy.

Why do I love it so? Its main characters may be rabbits, but at its heart Watership Down is an adventure story. Escapes, raids, scheming, battles (YES RABBIT BATTLES). The story is well-paced, the characters well-developed…it’s probably one of the best-written book I’ve read, actually. And even just writing this, I want to re-read it again for the zillionth time. It was my first true book love. Our romance is one for the ages.

Malcolm X was quite the controversial figure (HAHAHA understatement), but his autobiography should be required reading at every school in America. Bold statement? Maybe. But this book really shows the power of accepting new information and experiences, and changing your worldview as a result of them. That’s a good lesson for any kid.
The entire autobiography was dictated to Alex Haley, and Malcolm X dictated the latter events of the book as they were happening. Which means that the reader gets to see the evolution of his thoughts in real-time. We get to see Malcolm X wrestle with new information, do some serious introspection, and evolve from a man largely driven by hate to this man:
“The next day I was in my car driving along the freeway when at a red light another car pulled alongside. A white woman was driving and on the passenger’s side, next to me, was a white man. “Malcolm X!” he called out — and when I looked, he stuck his hand out of his car, across at me, grinning. “Do you mind shaking hands with a white man?” Imagine that! Just as the traffic light turned green, I told him, “I don’t mind shaking hands with human beings. Are you one?”

 

3. The Time Traveler’s Wife

Time_Travelers_Wife
This book also happens to be one of my favorite titles. The first time I read it, I immediately fell into this weird depression that lasted for about a week. The only thing that cured it was re-reading the book.

Sounds fun, huh? Who doesn’t want a romping tale that leads down the spiral of depression! But that’s precisely why it’s on this list — it evoked a BIG reaction. Niffenegger creates this world that you dive into, a world that is at once familiar and surreal. The book doesn’t have a happy ending, but it has an honest one. And that’s how I like my stories — maybe happy, sometimes gritty, but always honest.

4. McTeague

McTeague

Ok — this one’s MAYBE a bit of a cheat. The book itself — it’s good, but I wouldn’t call it a favorite. Dim dentist in turn-of-the-century San Francisco goes from bad to worse. Alrighty then.

But the ending is the best ending I have ever read. Hands down. It leaves you with a dropped jaw that turns into a grin. I’ve read that Norris actually tailored the entire book around the ending, which he dreamt up before the actual story. It’s a brilliant example of an ending that doesn’t completely wrap things up but is 100% satisfying.

5. A Moveable Feast

 

Moveable_Feast

Alright, let’s get this out of the way — Hemingway was by all accounts a prick. BUT. Homebody could write, and A Moveable Feast is undoubtedly his most charming book.

If you’ve ever dreamed of Paris, read this book. It paints a picture of a city that doesn’t exist anymore — and to be honest, probably never truly existed. Hemingway was clearly in love in Paris, and he casts a rosy hue over the city and its Bohemian inhabitants. His descriptions of Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Scott Fitzgerald and other contemporaries are entertaining, but I think the true gems of this book are Hemingway’s brief, sporadic reminisces about his then wife, Hadley. Like the city, he views their marriage through rose-tinted glasses, and his nostalgia and regret is both poignant and real.

That’s a wrap for Part 1. Part 2 will come next week (edited to add: OMG Part 2 is RIGHT HERE — now with more books!) … but in the meantime, it’s your turn. What are YOUR favorite books? Tell me, tell me (and tell me why). The 2013 reading list needs to grow.

Trying New Things: Donating Blood

Every few months Puget Sound Blood Center comes and sets up shop in our office building. I’ve never donated blood before, it kind of squicks me out. Which is dumb, because I’m FINE with needles at the doctor’s office. You want 3 vials? Have at ’em. I tried to donate blood once, in high school, but my sister had the flu at the time, and since I’d been around her gross germs they wouldn’t let me donate. I breathed a sigh of relief and patted myself on the back for trying.

So when the sign-up sheet showed up at work, I thought, “Why! This is my year of Saying Yes and Trying New Things! OF COURSE I shall become a hero and donate blood!”

This was about a month ago. And the thought of giving blood has been great! Moral smugness wrapped me in its warm embrace, and I hugged right back. I was gonna go in there, eat a cookie, joke with the friendly nurses. It’d be awesome, I was awesome. No biggie.

And then the morning of the blood-letting came. I woke up yesterday super nervous. I rolled over in bed to face my husband.

“Mmmmmmmmnervous.”

“You’re nervous? About what?”

“Mmmmotating oooood.”

“What??” (Articulation isn’t my thing in the morning.)

“Donaaating bloooooood.”

“Oh. You’ll be fine, I promise.”

YEAH. RIGHT. I went to the internetz. Iron and water, they said. Consume a lot of both and you’ll be fine.

NOT CONVINCED.

“I’m still nervous.”

“You’ll be fine.”

“Will I be able to walk?” (SHUT UP I WAS NERVOUS)

“Walk where?”

“To the bus, after work.”

“Yes. You’ll be able to walk to the bus.”

Fortunately, my appointment was in the morning, so the hamster wheel in my head didn’t have too much time to spin. They’d turned a conference room into a makeshift center, complete with four cots with physician’s assistants roaming around them. I got signed in and the show got rolling. I was told I had nice veins (compliments will get you everywhere), lay down on the cot, attempted to steady my breathing and…that was that. It had begun.

The view from the cot.
The view from the cot.

And you’ll never guess — IT WAS FINE. MORE than fine. It took no time at all to fill out that little bag. And yeah, I could definitely tell something was goin’ on over there, but mostly I just distracted myself with my phone-ternet. So, you know, totally normal.

When they were done and I was all bandaged up, I stood up from the cot. This was one of the parts I’d been nervous about. I envisioned myself passing out from the sudden elevation change and crumpling like my cat confronted by a toddler. But no! I WAS FINE. Solid as a rock!

I was so happy that I pumped BOTH my fists in the air and shouted, “I didn’t pass out!”

…yeah, I know. But the volunteers and assistants laughed, so hey, no harm done.

As I was sitting with the juice-and-cookie lady (THE BEST LADY EVER), I told her it was my first time and how nervous I’d been.

“When we go to the high schools,” she said, “I always ask the kids: ‘how did it compare to your imagination?'”

Wise words, juice-and-cookie lady. Wise words. Almost everything is scarier in your head than it ends up being in real life. And even if something DOES go wrong — say I HAD passed out when I stood up — it still would have been fine. A-ok. I would have got up and carried on.

Now, remind me of this in 3 months, when I need convincing about my NEXT new thing.

Why yes, I donated blood -- AND I GOT A COOKIE.
Why yes, I donated blood — AND I GOT A COOKIE.

Temptation, Distraction & Nick Offerman

One of my tips is get a hobby [….] putting your phone down and doing something with your hands, so that at the end of two hours you have a tangible result to your time. You’ve still been distracting yourself, by knitting or cooking or playing music, but you’ve created something instead of played Words with Friends for two hours. – Nick Offerman

Oldie but a goodie. There is so much I love about this GQ&A with Nick Offerman (aka Ron Swanson). Also, side note, I am mildly obsessed with his tables.

This is something I’ve been working on lately — resisting temptation. Unfortunately, I don’t even mean temptation in an interesting/exotic/scandalous way. My temptations exist in the form of Facebook, Hulu, Instagram, KITTENS ON THE INTERNETZ. And of course the mundane tasks required to keep a household going… cooking, cleaning, laundry (and yet somehow I still never manage to FOLD said laundry…hmmm…).

That time I spend doing THOSE things? Could be spent MAKING something. My goal this year — write for at least 30 minutes every day. But really? Can we be honest? That’s pathetic. I’m a writer, writing is kind of what I’m supposed to do. And yes, technically, I write for hours and hours every day as part of my job. But I need to get better about setting time aside for MY writing. That book I’ve been working on for, oh, A YEAR AND A HALF? I COULD finish it writing 30 minutes a day, but that’d take about as long as a sloth attack.

On the positive side — since I gave myself this goal, I HAVE been fairly good about getting my 30 minutes in. One thing that’s helped: the Lift app. I feel ridiculous needing what amounts to a game in order to get my shit together…but if it works, it works. Once I start consistently doing my 30 minutes a day, I’m going to up that number. WATCH OUT, 60 MINUTES, HERE I COME!

How are YOUR goals going? Misery loves company. Tell me your struggles, denizens of the interwebs. We can do this together (perhaps with the help of a few apps).

That Time I Almost Met Fabio (But Ended Up Acting Like A Middle School Girl)

This is my friend Rachael. This is a photo of my friend Rachael with Fabio, a photo which lives on my fridge and stares at me whenever I get yoghurt or beer.

376652_616070014243_877762989_n

Last night I went to the fancy-pants grocery store to buy champagne (as one does on a Thursday night). I walked past the cheese and produce thinking, “Oh, I hope there some cheese samples tonight OH HOLY SHIT THAT IS FABIO.”

Yes, there was Fabio, surrounded by a small group of people (mostly women). You should know: THIS IS NOT THAT WEIRD. Fabio is shilling some new health food product these days so has been making the fancy-pants grocery store rounds. This is how Rachael met him several months back, before she snuck that photo on my fridge.

But, you know, I still wasn’t expecting to see HELLO FABIO at 8 o’clock on a Thursday night at my grocery store. Fabio has never been my cup of tea, but I will say, in person, he cuts a STRIKING figure. Taller than I expected and good bone structure (what, it’s totally a thing). He actually looked like a pretty nice guy — chatting with all the ladies and whatnot. I couldn’t believe I’d run into the dude on my fridge. And I realized I HAD to get a picture for Rachael.

Only — I didn’t want to be the creeper sneaking photos. I mean, there was even a sign up basically asking the creepers of the world NOT to do that. But I HAD to get this photo. I am decidedly NOT GOOD when it comes to this sort of thing. I get all psyched out and then just deflate like a sad balloon. I was giving myself little pep talks about it, trying to get pumped up. Do I go stand in the crowd? Do I introduce myself? Do I walk up and say, “Hi, you met my friend and your picture is on my fridge”?

And just as I was trying to nut up, Fabio saw me walking past, made eye contact, and smiled.

And I…smirked.

I think that’s the only thing that can describe the facial expression I made. It definitely wasn’t in the smile territory. It was a smirk born out of “OMFG FABIO IS MAKING EYE CONTACT ABORT ABORT!”

So did I pull it together and go say hello? Get the picture for my friend? No. Of course not. I scurried over to the champagne area and HID BEHIND THE BOTTLES, sneaking glances at the crowd. Sorry, 2013, this “being brave” thing is off to a mediocre start.

Fabio, if you ever read this, the smirking girl says “hello.” Oh, and your picture is on my fridge.