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Beth’s Books 2018

The following is my sister’s second annual book review – revel in it’s beauty my friends!

I didn’t read many books this year. I had a number of things going on, including my father passing away and running for office. I was short on time and distracted most of the year. This also resulted in a very long list of half-read books that I keep meaning to go back to (A Gentleman In Moscow, Educated, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, We were the Kennedys, River Talk, Outposts . . . the list goes on) as well as books I may have read but forgot to make a note of. What I finished, and can remember, is below.

The Top Five

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

This was a love letter to libraries woven around the story of the 1986 fire at the Central Branch of the Los Angeles public library. Non-fiction that read like fiction. If you love books and libraries, this book is for you.

Madonna in a Fur Coat by Sabahattin Ali

A Turkish classic from the late 1940s that was only translated into English last year. I am a sucker for tragic love stories and this one hit all the right notes. Favorite passage: “It should not have mattered so much where we were born, whose child we were. All that mattered was that two people had found each other and achieved a rare happiness. The rest was incidental.”

Butterflies in November by Ardur Ava Olafsdottir

One of my reading resolutions for last year was to read less provincially and to read more books in translation. This is a contemporary novel translated from Icelandic. This book had many elements that I enjoyed: an intelligent, resourceful, female protagonist with relationship issues, a journey, and lots of quirky characters and events.

The Biggest Elvis by P.F. Kluge

This was primarily set in a nightclub in the Philippines before the closing of Subic Bay Naval Base. It is part love story, part mystery, and part social commentary on bar-girls and entrapment caused by poverty. This one stuck with me long after I was finished. Kluge also wrote Eddie and The Cruisers – made into a movie that I watched multiple times in the 1980s.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Yes, I know that he is on the “me too” blacklist, but this is a great coming of age book told from the point of view of a Native American living in poverty. It is funny and the self-deprecation is masterful. I am thankful to the guys in the used bookstore who recommended this and I would recommend it to others, despite the sins of the author.

Non-Fiction

The Year of Reading Dangerously, How Fifty Great Books Saved My Life by Andy Miller

I spent an entire afternoon laughing out loud while reading this book. However, I appreciate that not everyone is going to find it so fantastically funny. Your mindset has to be part book snob, part adolescent, with an appreciation of dry British humor. Miller’s comparison of Moby Dick and the Da Vinci Code (“Whale vs Grail”) will forever be one of the funniest things I have ever read.

The Last Grain Race by Eric Newby

I love good travel/adventure books. The very best ones make me want to pack a bag and run away from home to traipse around the world. This was one of those. Newby chucks his job in advertising and signs aboard the Moshulu as an apprentice seaman (in 1938) in an around the world voyage transporting grain from Australia to the UK. Also exciting is that the Moshulu is now a floating restaurant in Philadelphia that I have been to.

The Taliban Shuffle by Kim Barker

I first saw the Tina Fey movie Whiskey, Tango Foxtrot and was determined to read the book behind the movie. This one also made me want to run off – this time to be a foreign correspondent. It goes without saying, but there is so much more to the book than there was to the movie.

North Country by Howard Frank Mosher

Mosher was a Vermont author that I had heard of but never read. This book chronicles his 1990s drive along the US/Canada border. Part travelogue, part memoir I enjoyed it but it wasn’t super exciting. I did like Moser’s writing enough to read more though (see below).

The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery

If you have a child that is really into nature then you may have read some of Sy Montgomery’s other titles (“Quest for the Tree Kangaroo: An Expedition into the Cloud Forest of New Guinea” or “Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot”). Soul of an Octopus is another nature work that chronicles the life of the resident giant pacific octopuses at the New England Aquarium. This is an enjoyable piece of immersion journalism that will make you care about octopuses in a way you never thought possible.

Book Lust by Nancy Pearl

Last year I had picked up “Book Lust to Go.” I decided to check out Pearl’s other titles in this series and I enjoy having them as references for when I am stuck on what to read next. Nice to have on hand if you want to discover some titles you might not have otherwise read and add to your TBR pile.

General Fiction

Transcription by Kate Atkinson

I am reasonably sure that I bemoaned the crowded field of WWII women in espionage novels last year. This is yet another entry. It is well done but I am so tired of reading books in this setting. Let’s find another era to write about.

Points North: Stories by Howard Frank Mosher

Moser passed away and this short story collection, set in Vermont’s Northern Kingdom, was published posthumously. It had some editing issues (maybe the first story could have been left out), but overall I enjoyed it. Will continue to read Mosher.

Last Days of Night by Graham Moore

Historical fiction, set in the late 1800s, which tells the story of the battle between Edison and Westinghouse over who will dominate the field of electric light. As an attorney, I appreciated that Paul Cravath was the central character. Other historical notables, such as Nikola Tesla and J.P. Morgan also play significant roles. There is a bit of a love story. While I liked the general history/narrative of this book, the writing was atrociously bad. It was one overdone metaphor/simile after another: “He spun his fingers again, the gin in his glass swaying like the waves in a summer storm.” Ugh.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

This book has gotten a lot of hype which is too bad because it is a good but not a great book so it will end up being overrated. I enjoyed it – part mystery, part love story, part coming of age with a strong appreciation of nature. Some helpful pointers to manage your expectations: should you read this book, yes; will you enjoy it, probably, yes; will it change your life, no; is it one of the best books ever, no.

Bachelor Brothers Bed and Breakfast by Bill Richardson

This is a sweet little book about two eccentric brothers who run a literary bed and breakfast. The characters are quirky and it is a fun read. Good but not great.

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

Completely overrated – this was drippy and predictable and, of course, set during WWII because this is, apparently, the only backdrop available to fiction writers these days. I am not sure what I was thinking, but I decided to double down and watch the movie. The movie was also drippy and changed the book in completely unnecessary ways. Double ugh.

Mystery/Crime Fiction

Wrecked by Joe Ide

My favorite novel I read in this genre. I raved about Joe Ide as a new voice in crime fiction last year. This third installment was the best so far. It’s like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle meets Carl Hiaasen – Sherlockian logic coupled with secondary characters that chew the scenery. Fantastic.

The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

Horowitz’s Magpie Murders was my favorite book of last year. I was very happy to have a new book of his to read this year. Completely different conceit but I liked this almost as much as Magpie Murders. Horowitz is one of the cleverest writers in this genre.

Bluebird Bluebird by Attica Locke

Vividly evoked setting with a strong, yet flawed, protagonist (African-American Texas Ranger, Darren Matthews). I hope this becomes a series. I want to read more.

Two Kinds of Truth by Michael Connelly

I only “discovered” Michael Connelly last year. He is one of the very best. This latest installment in the Harry Bosch series was excellent.

Stay Hidden by Paul Doiron

One of my big thrills this year was meeting Paul Doiron in person. I have been a fan of this series about Maine Game Warden Mike Bowditch since the beginning. Doiron captures Maine so well and, this latest installment – set on an island off the coast, was no exception.

Holy Ghost by John Sanford

Okay, so you all know what a tremendous crush I have on Virgil Flowers. I love Virgil and look forward to Sanford’s yearly installment in this series like I am going on a date. Sadly, Sanford has been developing the relationship between Virgil and his girlfriend, Frankie, to the point where I may have to find another literary crush.

To Die But Once Jacqueline Winspear

Historical fiction. This is book 14 in the Maisie Dobbs series and Winspear has stayed strong and consistent throughout. Maisie is a favorite heroine.

The Bat by Jo Nesbo

I had to read a Nordic Noir for book bingo. I don’t usually read this genre because I don’t like the graphic violence/sexual violence (loathed Girl With a Dragon Tattoo for this reason). Did not like that aspect of this book either but Jo Nesbo can write. If you can stomach the violence and haven’t read him, don’t wait. He is a master.

The Final Bet by Abdelilah Hamdouchi

This is a translated work from Morocco and part of my “reading less provincially” program. This is not the most intricate of plots and you will have the murderer figured out well before the end. However, learning that Moroccan crime fiction did not exist until recently, because police corruption made is obsolete, adds a level of appreciation to this novel.

Ash and Bone by John Harvey

I consider Marilyn Stasio (the NY Times crime fiction reviewer) to be an Oracle. If Marilyn says she likes something, I will check it out. She gave a thumbs up to Frank Harvey so I decided to read him. This was the second book (not sure how I missed the first – I like to start a series at the beginning) in his Frank Elder series. I liked it. It was gritty without being over the top. Elder reminds me of John Rebus – one of my favorite characters. There was enough of a twist in the plot that I was interested to the end. I will probably read more.

Salt Lane by William Shaw

This one was on a list of best overlooked mystery novels of 2018 – or something along those lines. I would generally agree with that. I give him high marks for the setting and the main character of Sergeant Alexandra Cupidi (who struggles with being a working single mom). Unfortunately I figured out who did it long before the end. Will give him another go, though, if this becomes a series.

Think of a Number and Shut Your Eyes Tight by John Verdon

Read John Verdon’s first two novels because Marilyn Stasio likes him. These are complex plots with a lot of psychological elements. High marks for the beautiful farm in upstate New York where main character Dave Gurney has retired, the realness of Gurney and overall cleverness. Don’t love all the drawn out psychobabble – there are pacing issues.

Q is for Quarry by Sue Grafton

I had never read Sue Grafton but felt that I should after her death. I plucked this one randomly off the shelf. I see why people like this series, but it is too slow paced for me. Didn’t hate it, didn’t love it.

Blind Justice by Bruce Alexander

This is the first book in the Sir John Fielding series of historical crime fiction. Falsely charged of theft in 1768 London, thirteen-year-old orphaned printer’s apprentice Jeremy Proctor finds his only hope in the legendary Sir John Fielding. Fielding, (blinded at an early age) is the founder of the Bow Street Runners police force, then recruits young Jeremy in his mission to fight London’s most wicked crimes. My favorite line from the book was: “A man can be known by his library better than by his house or dress.” I liked this book but the rest of the series hasn’t made it to the top of the TBR pile yet.

Audiobooks I listened to with my son

I don’t have a lot to say except that I enjoyed revisiting these classics, sharing them with my son, and getting his take on them. Here is what we listed to while on trips this year:

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Call of the Wild by Jack London

The Time Machine by HG Wells

Harry Potter books 3-7 by JK Rowling

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2018: A Year in Books

Welcome to my 7th annual book review extravaganza! Mixing things up this year I decided to include the (good) books I read to Lucy (i.e. not the 300 Junie B Jones or Magic Kitten books) also audiobooks (they’re books too!).

Books I read:

The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant

This was a tough book to start the year with. From the description it seemed like an interesting historical account of a deadly moonshine gang running booze through Franklin county Virginia (true story!). And it was interesting but the way it was written, the way that the story moved between the 3 brothers and a random reporter trying to get a story on them, it was hard to follow and lost something in the telling. I’m glad I read it but I felt like I scratched and clawed my way through this one.

The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold

This was a book about a woman named Helen who, fed up at the end of her rope, strangles her Mother who has Alzheimers. In many ways this book really resonated with me. I ran through it (I think I read it in 2 – 3 days) but the ending was such a disappointment, there was no conclusion, no closure, just no more words.

Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang by Chelsea Handler

Serious literature from Chelsea Handler, I needed some levity after the first two books of the year. As usual, Chelsea fit the bill. Maybe not her best book, but good nonetheless.

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

I was itching for some good post apocalyptic literature and there’s nothing better for this than young adult fiction. This was a quick, fun novel set in England during WWIII. I liked it a lot.

The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows

I’m not sure why there was so much hype about this book, it is a cute little novel not especially well written where everything works out just fine in the end. It was an epistolary novel which really appeals to me but it seemed like all the characters had the same voice. I would have been okay skipping this one.

Frozen In Time, by Mitchell Zuckoff

I needed some non fiction after the last few books so I picked this up and it was a great choice. It tells two amazing stories – one of 3 WWII planes crashing in Greenland and the modern day team trying to find the abandoned planes buried in the ice for the past 70 years. I was hooked from the beginning and couldn’t read it fast enough.

I Feel Bad About my Neck, by Norah Ephron

I liked this book, but I expected it to be funnier, there were a few times I chuckled out loud but that was her very dry sarcasm coming through. I liked it, I didn’t love it.

Mrs Fletcher by Tom Perrotta

This was a great story, recommend by my sister for reasons that became super evident when I first started it. Any 40-something year old divorcee should go pick up this read.

World War Z by Max Brooks

It always comes back to the zombies… I really enjoyed this book,I liked the style it was written in, I like how he included all sorts of different points of view and inserted little tidbits of information that weren’t obvious or in your face. It took me a long time to get through but I think that speaks more to my attention span and not the story itself.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchette

I love love love Ann Pachette and this was a beautifully written story that had me sucked in from page 1. As much as I enjoyed it and really liked the main character – I did find the science presented in it to be utterly ridiculous, I was able to look past that and still enjoy it.

The Taliban Shuffle by Kim Barker

This was a super interesting read although it took me forever to get through. I found the perspective of this book fascinating although I developed a deep seeded dislike for the author, I cant describe why but in the end it didn’t take away from the enjoyment or the lessons learned in her story.

Some Things That Stay by Sarah Willis

An excellent coming of age novel that I enjoyed very much. This was a poetical read that whispered in your ear and that I felt long after it was over.

Luke Skywalker Cant Read by Ryan Britt

Ugh – this was a chore to get through. I thought this book would be funny, it was not. It read like a freshman thesis from a kid trying to justify his obsession with Star Wars, Dr. Who and Back to the Future. As a self realized Sci Fi geek this book should have resonated with me. It did not.

Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

A very good, solid novel. I liked the main character in this book a lot, the relationship she has with her older sister was very familiar to me and I think the author did an excellent job fully developing everyone’s characters. The story was not at all what I expected but I enjoyed it very much and felt sad when it was over and I couldn’t read it anymore.

Gone With The Mind by Mark Leyner

I thought this book was very funny. I thought Mark created a modern day Hitchhikers Guide To the Galaxy-esq book. There were parts that I read and then went back and reread to fully appreciate them more. I am very glad because I got it out of the same clearance humor bin that I got the Luke Skywalker book and this one was lightyears better than that one (see what I just did there?)

The Wind Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

OMG, I loved this book. Paoloa creates a world that is so vivid I felt like I could see, taste and smell it while reading this book – I never wanted it to end.

Rise and Shine by Anna Quindlen

Meh. I read this because I needed a pallet cleaner after the Wind Up girl, something reality based and light, this book was both of those things but also superficial and one dimensional.  If you are thinking of picking it up I’d reach for something else.

Giant of the Senate by Al Franken

I know many of you will give me grief about this, after Al’s fall from grace but in reality I don’t think he deserved what happened and it certainly doesn’t diminish the fascinating look into the day to day life of a US senator told by someone able to relate to everyday people. I enjoyed and learned from this book, I am even more sad now that he has lost his seat and is no longer an advocate for the people of Minnesota.

Pump Six by Paolo Bacigalupi

I ordered this about 3 minutes after finishing the Wind Up Girl, it is a mind trip of essays set in the same dystopian future. Reading it so soon after finishing the Wind Up Girl was probably a mistake it was almost TOO MUCH, I felt worn out by it at the end, but even now weeks after finishing it I’m still thinking of the stories he created.

Waiting for the Barbarians by J. M. Coetzee

This was a really interesting book, it was a quick read that I didn’t anticipated I would like. It sat in my to be read pile forever.  Needless to say I was pleasantly surprised. I read Disgrace by him many years ago and disliked it so much I wasn’t sure I’d give him a second chance. I am glad that I did.

My Horizontal Life by Chelsea Handler

Ugh, not my favorite of her books. It might  be best to take Chelsea in small doses and I think that I might have overdone it. This was an entire book about all of the one night stands that she had, it was not as funny as I think she meant it to be.

The Call by Yannick Murphy

This was an unexpected gem of a book! I picked it up at a library sale and it sat in TBR pile for a long time. The story was written a series of journal entries describing his life as a New England veterinarian which gets turned upside down when his son is hurt in a hunting accident and left in a coma, it is his search for both the man responsible and the meaning behind events told in clinics notes, I inhaled this book I couldn’t read it fast enough.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by by Rebecca Skloot

Excellent, everyone should read this book. The story behind this book was incredible, it was well written and informative without being boring. My only complaint would be marketing, I had this book forever and never picked it up because the cover was so unappealing (yes, I am that shallow), the blurbs didn’t do it justice and I feel like overall it should have been presented in a different way.  Go buy it anyway, for yourself and for your children and your parents.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Phillip Dick

I’ve been meaning to read this book for years, being a standard classic sci fi story. I liked it, it’s been years since I watched Blade Runner so I cant remember how closely the plots align together but all that aside I give this book a solid B.

Where’d you Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple

Super popular and therefore I didn’t really expect to like this book as much as I did. The story was pretty far fetched but it was well written and well developed. Its a great beach read.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24 hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan

What a fun book. Honestly what could be better for a book lover than a mystery book ABOUT books. It probably wasn’t one of the best written books I read all year, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

A must read for EVERYONE. This is a short and simple graphic novel that explains what it was like living through the Islamic revolution. I read it in a day and it taught me more than any class I’ve ever sat through. Go get your copy now!

A Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller

I read this book on the recommendation of my sister who raved about it. I liked it, I didn’t love it. The books chronicles a year in the life of the author wherein he reads all of the great literature he’s always told people he has read, there are moments in here that are very very funny although I feel like a lot of it was over my head. I hadn’t read the majority of the books he chronicles and missed many of the references and subtle innuendos, by the end I was skipping large sections – sorry Beth!

The Good Earth by Pearl Buck

A classic novel I’ve been meaning to pick up for a long time and finally did. It blew my mind how much a simple narrative could have such a huge impact. I understand completely how this book won the Pulitzer and has been studied by scholars for decades, I wish I would have read it sooner, I’m looking forward to reading it again sometime.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Completely ridiculous in all the right ways, this novel was a really fun joy ride of imagination. I never saw the movie, which I heard was terrible but the book was a lot of fun, I read it in a just a few days and even though the entire time I was shaking my head with the absolute absurdity of it all I still really enjoyed it. A great feel good book for all of the underdogs out there.

Mixed by Angela Nissel

Ugh, I did a little happy dance when I saw this book at a library book sale, her first novel The Broke Diaries being one of the all time funniest books that I have ever read, I was super excited to read something else by her. But this book, which was a memoir of sorts about her experiences growing up as a bi-racial woman struck me mostly as sad and depressing, she put a sarcastic spin on it but reading between the lines it didn’t seem funny. I did not finish it.

Forever, Pete Hamill

A serious contender to get on the list of best books that I have ever read. This is an epic story that spans hundreds of years but never gets tired or boring. I almost didn’t read this book because the title and the cover art suggested this was a romance which is not my cup of tea. It did have some romance but it was so much more than that, this book was 500 pages that went by in the blink of an eye… Definitely the best book of the year.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Abartalli

Another popular book that I didn’t expect to like, but I did I – I feel in love a little  with Simon and became totally caught up in his gay high school romance. I did not love that the story wrapped up so perfectly at the end and I did think that his best friends where completely unrealistic (no one is that selfless and empathetic in high school).

Madonna in a fur coat by Sabahattin Ali

I love foreign books translated in to English and this one was excellent, it was a novel that whispered in your ear and forced you to be still and quiet to hear it. I loved it, despite being angry with the protagonist for most of the story.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchette

What a good book, I’ve read several of her works and I think this ranks almost as high as Bel Canto which might just be one of the best books of all time. This story was a little slow and I put in down a few times in the beginning but once I was able to slip into it I never wanted it to end. Complex and rich, it will stay with you long after it is over. Much better than  State of Wonder.

The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima

In an effort to read more books from foreign countries translated in to English I picked this up. It is a short Japanese novel set on a small island off the coast of Japan. It was a pleasure to read, quick and light and able to transport me to a different place and time. I liked it a lot.

Icy Sparks by Gwyn Hyman Rubio

I picked this up at a library sale and didn’t realize until after I started it that it was an Oprah book club book. Maybe for that reason I expected something more than I got. It s a story of a young girl growing up poor in the Appalachians who suffers from turrets syndrome. I did not connect with this book. I felt badly for Icy the entire time I was reading it but overall I would not recommend this book.

Choose your own Autobiography, Neil Patrick Harris

I love NPH and was excited to get this book. I both loved it (content) and hated it (format). You can read the letter I wrote to him here

Childhoods End by Arthur C. Clarke

Classic old school sci-fi. I needed a departure from well, everything I had read lately and as usual I turned to science fiction. This was a good book that made you think, I didn’t fly through it like I do with sci fi books that I really like. I struggled a bit to get in to it, but even so I did end up liking it and have thought it over many times after I was done.

This Boys Life by Tobias Wolff

Reminiscent of Jeannete Walls this is the story of Toby’s boyhood and growing up with dysfunctional parents. It was good if a little heartbreaking, I liked it but I didn’t love it.

The bullfighter checks her makeup by Susan Orlean

Ugh, I felt like it took years to get through this book. I am not always a fan of essay writing and this book did not change my mind. Some of them were very good but some of them dragged on seemingly forever. I would say I really enjoyed about 30% of what was in here.

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

Both fascinating and heartbreaking, this is the true and terrible story of the murder of dozens of Osage Indians for no other reason than to steal their money and oil. I think more people should read this story. My only complaint is that the book is almost two books in one, the first half is heavily researched step by step account of the FBI investigation of several murders and the second half was a rushed accounting of hundreds if not thousands of other murders, it seemed like maybe he ran out of time and just threw the ending together, it should have been presented better.

Tangled Lands by Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias S. Buckell

Another book I ordered right after I read The Wind Up Girl. I really enjoyed this book – it was several short stories set in a land where magic was illegal and the effects of it where taking over and destroying the world. Paolo and Tobias took turns writing the stories, some of which I liked more than others but overall I found this a very enjoyable book.

Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver

I didn’t love this book, honestly I’m not even sure that I really liked it very much. I guess I expected more from someone who wrote the Poisonwood Bible

84 Charing Cross Road by Helen Hanff

Charming and quaint, this short little book can be read in an afternoon. I liked it very much, I felt like by the time I was finished I was good friends with all of the characters.

Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving

This book nearly beat out Forever  for the best book of the year. It was exceptionally well crafted and I looked forward to reading it everyday. The one big problem was the ending, I liked what happened but the way it happened made no sense and also seemed super rushed, for a 600 page book it seemed like he could have spent a few more days and actually given the story and ending instead of throwing nonsense at you and then just stopped writing, I felt very much let down.

Foundation by Isaac Asimov

Admittedly I have not finished this book yet, but I’m pretty close to the end. I am enjoying it although I think I like the idea and concepts of this book better than the actual execution. I’m still undecided on whether I will read the rest of the series.

~

Books I read to Lucy:

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

What an amazing book! I don’t know why I never read this as a kid, but I really really enjoyed it as a adult, the word play was absolutely brilliant. Lucy liked it too although I did have to stop and explain many things to her.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh by Robert O’Brien

I remember loving this book as a kid and reading it again as an adult was just as magical.

Cricket of Time Square by George Seldon

A fun and endearing tale. I loved this book.

The Penderwicks, books 1 -5 by Jeanne Birdsall

We either listened to or read all five of the Penderwick books this year. I thought they were great children’s literature, full of fun, adventure and a few important life lessons. Lucy loved these books and besides Harry Potter are her favorite to date.

Lost on a Mountain in Maine by Donn Fendler

I remember having this read to me when I was in Elementary school and it stuck with me. I don’t think I’ve ever hiked anywhere and not thought of this story. I don’t know if Lucy had the same reaction, honestly she seemed more bored than anything while I was reading it to her.

A Light in the Forest by Conrad Richter

Trying to get Lucy out of her comfort zone, I wanted her to hear a story that made her empathize with someone unlike her. I’m not sure she liked this book or really understood a lot of it but I did. I thought it was a good read.

Hatchet by Gary Paulson

Another book I liked better than Lucy did. I thought this was an amazing tale, told clearly and descriptively at a kids level. It should have been 30 pages longer, the story wrapped up too fast for my liking.

Mrs Piggle Wiggle by Betty MacDonald

This year we read all of the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books. I ordered them for Lucy because I remember reading them as a kid and thinking they were amazing, and she had the same reaction. As an adult however I cant fathom why I loved them so much, they all seemed repetitive and formulaic. But whatever, this wasn’t about me.

Otherwise Known as Sheila The Great by Judy Blume

Classic children’s story. We both enjoyed this one.

~

Books We Listened to:

The Tale of Desperoux by Kate DiCamillo

We listened to this in the car and I thought it was brilliantly done, the reader did a spectacular job talking to you not reading at you – it felt like there was a real storyteller in the car.

Harry Potter 1-5 by J.K. Rowling

There is nothing more effective to get Lucy in the car than to offer to play Harry Potter for her. I had tried to read the first one to her at bedtime early in the year but she was uninterested in it so I let her watch the movie and then checked he audio books out of the library. She is hooked, she dressed up as Hermione for Halloween and is anxious to finish the series, we are currently in the middle of the Order of the Phoenix.

 

 

Christmas Letter 2018

Hello and welcome to my open Christmas letter! I’m posting it here in order to save the earth from all of the paper that I would have otherwise used printing it out for everyone on my Christmas card list and definitely not because I’m too lazy to go to the store, buy pretty paper, and stuff it in to envelopes. That’s definitely not why I’m using this high tech electronic format.

I actually hesitated even writing a Christmas letter this year, I mean it seems so passe and I’m not even sure anyone reads it. But I guilted myself in to it for the sake of nostalgia. Nostalgia can get me to just about anything.

This year was somewhat of a mixed bag, it started with several losses that were difficult to deal with. In February we said goodbye to my sister Ellen and in April we said goodbye to my father.

And that, my friends is where I’ve lost the momentum of every Christmas letter I have tried to write since I started this the weekend before thanksgiving. It seems hard to transition from there to our fun trip to Disney, or Lucy successfully completing the second grade or Jason & I celebrating our 10 year wedding anniversary. All of which are things that we did and enjoyed and splashed across social media so shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of you.

The following are the statistics that can pretty much some up the rest of the year for you:

All told I took about 807 selfies this year. I sent over 60,000 texts messages (I know this for a fact because the T Mobile guy was boisterous about pointing it out when I upgraded my phone in August). I have spent 608 hours sitting in the waiting room at dance/tumbling/gymnastic classes. I have brushed 534,697 tangles out of someone’s hair. I have applied sunscreen 3,007 times, I have rated 700 jumps into the swimming pool. I have played 4,893,120 words on words with friends. I have read 56 books, I have purchased 250 train tickets. I’ve changed my hair color 3 times.  I have traveled to Florida, Maine, New Jersey, North Carolina, Washington DC and Texas. I have taken 279 conference calls. I have been on 12 date nights with my husband. I have set off the smoke detector once, I have shaved maybe 5 times…

 

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Let’s hang out in 2019!

An Open Letter to Neil Patrick Harris

Dear Mr. Patrick Harris,

It is no secret that I have been a fan of yours for years, I watched Doggie Howser as a kid and was overjoyed to find you back on television as Barney Stinson in HIMYM. I even blogged about you way back in the day when this website was still in its infancy, you can read about it here and if I must* say it was hilarious. It also should be noted that my husband also loves you which is notable because the list of people he likes is very very short. In the very beginning of our relationship (like the first weekend we moved in together) he left me for a long weekend in NYC where he went to watch you perform in Assassins, not only did he see you perform but he stood out back afterwards and waited for you to get your autograph (which I’m pretty sure he lost later that night in a drunken stupor in the hotel bar of the W).  He came home from that trip raving about how crazy talented you are and how very down to earth you seemed to be, he and was super impressed that when the rest of the cast hurried off after the show  you stayed to talk to everyone gathered at the back door, and when it was finally time to go you apologized for not being able to stay longer, unlocked your bike from a nearby lamppost and rode off.

Needless to say you are a family favorite, the 3 of us currently watch you terrorize the Baudelaire’s in the Netflix adaptation of a Series of Unfortunate events (you make an excellent Count Olaf).

Anyway, Neil I’m not here to talk about your acting career (awesome as it might be) but your recent foray into writing.  My husband and daughter have both read (and enjoyed) the Magical Misfits and I just finished your Choose Your Own Autobiography. Based on these two items I think that you are a fairly talented writer (if you knew me you would understand that that is high praise). I was really looking forward to reading this book knowing that it would most likely be as honest and down to earth as my husband believes you to be (also he bought it and asked me to read it first to see if it was something he would want to read – he does this a lot so that particular request was not entirely about you (I said’yes’ btw)). What I really want to say to you, Neil, is that I enjoyed your autobiography however the whole gimmicky ‘choose your own adventure’ aspect was entirely unnecessary. I know you probably chose to do this to make your book stand out and to insert some ridiculousness in it, but you didn’t need to. It would have stood well on its own, for me the whole choosing aspect really took away from your story. At first I tried to follow along, choosing the path that I thought actually portrayed your journey, but I gave up after I realized that the chronology was all off and I was missing what was happening. I ended  up reading the book straight cover to cover which worked out okay but made some things confusing. For instance I was able to pick out the sections that were thrown in for simple hilarity but I was also wrong a few times, like the chapter on hanging out at Elton John’s house I thought for sure was pure fiction until I realized it wasn’t – also OMG NPH you get to hang out at Elton John’s house! How cool and jealousy-provoking is that tidbit of information?

So, Neil (can I call you Neil?) knowing how much celebrities and writers in general love unsolicited criticism advice I just wanted to say that next time you write an autobiography (and there will be a next time) please don’t feel the need to embellish it in any way, you don’t need to. Oh and also, since you were asking – I’d probably not use the word meta as an adjective.

Hugs,

Becca

This is my favorite picture from your book

*I must

A Public Service Annoucement

At some point in your child’s increasingly short childhood they are going to become afraid of going to bed. Maybe it’s because you let them stay up to late watching the prisoner of Azkaban, maybe it was because they went to a sleepover where their friends told them scary stories maybe it was just shitty parenting in general. Whatever the reason I almost guarantee that your kid who has been going to sleep with nary an issue for a long time now will at some point start to make bedtime a nightmare for both you and them.

At this point you will sit them down and calmly and rationally explain that there is nothing to be afraid of, that you have kept them safe for 8 years and that nothing can penetrate your all-seeing Mom protection. You will tell them that there is no such things as werewolves or basilisks, you will be utterly convincing and reasonable and they will not believe you. You will call your Mom, who may or may not be a trained psychoanalyst and she will tell you to be firm but not to give in to your child’s fears, don’t offer to post a stuffed animal sentry in front of the door, don’t make them think that there is anything to be afraid of –  just keep leading them back to bed and reassure them they are all right. You might try this one or two times, but it will not work. You will be tired, you will be cranky.

You will stop being reasonable and search the internet for anti-werewolf potions, you will do you research (because that’s what good parents do and also because you don’t have a stash of essential oils in your house which most of them call for) and if you are lucky you will make the following:

Anti-Werewolf potion*

What you will need

Spray bottle
Something Silver
Warm Water
1 drop of milk
2 drops of green food coloring
1 mint

Directions:

Take a half a cup of warm water and using a glass measuring cup stir it with something silver. Add a drop of milk and two drops of green food coloring and the mint. Stir and wait for the mint to dissolve. Once dissolved stir again. Transfer to a spray bottle, act really scared about the strength of this potion and only allow your child to spray once around her bed each night. Let it stay on the bedside while they are sleeping. Leave their room and go pour yourself a large and well deserved glass of wine.

Feel free to call and thank me later.

*I stole this recipe from The Fantastic Book of Potions

A Danger To Myself And Others

I am sorry to report that I have come to rely on Sticky Jam Hands less as an outlet for my angst and sarcasm and more as a place to list the current books I am reading (so far 42 this year!). And seriously what good is that? I might as well break down and start a goodreads account.

I was just perusing the items I posted this year and I was horrified at the selection – one recount of a trip to NYC, a maudlin eulogy to my late father and a few birthday interview videos. I thought to myself “you hardly deserve to have a website at all.” In my feeble defense I did write something funny on my other website (yes, there are 2) you can read it here. And if everything works out as it should there will be a new update to Artistry in Alcohol based on our latest (and much less successful) craft night that happened over the weekend.

Today, however I want to recount to you something that happened to me back in August. About a month and a half ago, when it was hot – HOT, the train that I take into the city underwent some track renovations. Yes the Southeastern Transportation Authority (SEPTA) decided to terminate the train that I take to work everyday 4 stops before I get to the stop that gets me to work everyday. They had set up a system of shuttle buses and subway rides or some such nonsense but I had no wish to research or understand what I was supposed to do, so I decided to drive in to the city instead. Since I work in an area completely devoid of parking options I dove to my old stomping ground, parked in west Philadelphia at the University and made my way in from there. I only had to go in to the office two days during this disturbance (thanks well planned business trip and vacation!).

The first day I went in to the office, I parked 26 blocks from work, about 20 minutes earlier than I usually go in and since it seemed hot but not unbearable I decided to walk across town. I realized what a terrible mistake this was about 5 blocks in to my walk, but being stubborn and slightly insane I decided I couldn’t deviate from the plan I had already committed to, it got hotter as I walked. I had nothing with me except a thermos of hot coffee and on my feet some fairly uncomfortable work shoes. I got to work an  hour late, dehydrated, covered in sweat and limping.

Six hours later, my feet felt better, I purchased a large water bottle and waved away co-workers attempts to provide me with subway tokens. I decided to walk back to my car. Why? Because I’m stubborn and a little bit insane (pay attention). I spent the hour long walk chronicling  my journey via text message with my friend Jeff, this is how it went:

Me: I just left work, feels like I walked in to a sauna

Jeff: Please tell me you figured out the subway or used the taxicab service in your purse (uber)

Me: I’m walking

Me: But I have water this time

Jeff: WHY?? Do you have a death wish?

Me: I like walking

Jeff: your current temp is 93/ feels like 103

Me: Yeah, its hot

Jeff: That’s Africa hot

Me: I’m in Chinatown and it smells like bad fish

Jeff: I think that’s because there isn’t any ‘good’ fish when its 103

Jeff: I guess it smells like 103

Me: I’m almost to city hall – I’m developing a blister

Jeff: No one saw that coming

Me: I just stopped in love park to change my shoes

Jeff: Today I’m calling it ‘love my feet park’

Me:  I just got to Comcast, if my husband wasn’t so smart to have worked from home today I could go visit him

Me: Just passed their newest, taller second tower…

Jeff: Oh yes! I heard something about them needing a newer shinier towerer thing

Me: If one colossal tower is good than 2 has to be gooder right?

Me: Okay, I just literally walked in to 2 people while texting you, I’m officially ‘part of the problem’

Jeff: Haha, watch out for fountains!

Me: Way off in the distance I see salvation!

Jeff: Is it a pizza hut delivery car?

Me: No, 30th street station!

Me: F*ck, the sun jut came out!

Jeff: Now you are really melting 😦

Me: crossing the river

Jeff: Jump in!  Jump in!

Me: Have you seen the Schuylkil?

Jeff: Are you at the station?

Me: Yes, sweet sweet air conditioning, I think I might just live here now, who needs to go home?

Me: God dammit – my favorite smoothie place was turned in to a pretzel stand, I cant live here – on to my car

Me: two blocks to go

Me: You know what would suck?

Jeff: ???

Me: If I left my keys at work

Jeff: Hahahaha! That’s EXACTLY what I thought you’d say

Me: Hey, guess what?

Jeff: Are you at your car?

Me: (insert car emoji)

Jeff: and the angels sing

I made it home in record time – I mean record time not including the hour long cross city hike I took. The next time I went in to the city, I parked at the same place, bought some subway tokens and rode underground. Who says I cant be reasonable?

 

Newsletter: Year 8

Today Lucy’s turned 8. It blows my mind that this is possible. She asked me approximately 2,700 when she could do her interview but then wouldn’t sit still for it at all. This year she still loves the pool and eating mac and cheese. Apparently we need to start planning a trip to Hawaii. Also, I would like to apologize to Stacy in advance:

Here are the past few years for a little comparison:

Happy Birthday to my amazing girl:

Dad

I’ve taken a long break from Sticky Jam Hands because there is something I’ve needed to write and I haven’t figured out how. I still don’t know but I’ve decided its time to do it anyway.

The Eulogy

On 4/2/18 my father Edward Neumann Watson died. At the moment of his death the first thing I felt was relief. Relief that his struggle with dementia and congestive heart failure was over. Relief that those of us that had to care for him and watch him struggle no longer had to. Was I sad? Absolutely, but my sadness didn’t have a landing mark. Was I sad because I no longer had a father – maybe? Was I sad that he died alone in a place that he hated not having fulfilled all of his dreams and desires – definitely but not entirely. But, I pushed that sadness to the side, I boxed up his possessions and put them and his cremains into my laundry room and whenever that sadness came creeping around the edges I countered it with anger. Anger at the Dad who terrified me as a young child. Anger at a Dad who was all but absent during my adolescence. Anger at a man who hurt my Mom both physically and emotionally. I went about my daily life feeling a gap but not acknowledging it. I took back my Wednesday’s and used the time I would normally spend with him doing mundane things like running errands and cleaning.

Cavalier. I became cavalier about something that maybe I should have thought deeper about.

Months later I attended his memorial service, I dressed appropriately and made plans to go to the pool when it was over. But, as I sat and listened to his life and watched pictures of the 87 years that he was alive a thought occurred to me that hadn’t before – that my version of him was not the only version of him. For 79 of his 87 years on this earth he lived a life separate from mine. As I sat at the memorial and watched pictures of him as a young man, as a young father taking his young children to the beach it occurred to me that he was older than I am now by the time I became a somewhat unwanted figure in his life.

Does this excuse his behavior or invalidate my feelings of relief of his death or anger over the relationship he had with me? No. But it certainly did complicate things. Did it soften me a little to think about the circumstances and tragedies that shaped how he was? Yes. Does it take the edge of my anger and round the corners a bit of the animosity I’ve always felt? Yes. Will I be sad in a different way going forward? Most certainly.

If anything his death makes me more worried about my own future, I pray everyday that I wont ruin the relationships I have with my own family – there are times I feel a rage that I am sure I inherited from him simmering to the surface and I need to walk away and remember that what started his undoing was allowing that rage to escape.

If I could go back knowing how I feel now I would ask him to explain/ defend himself for the way that he was; I’d like to know what it was that made him do the things that he did. It makes me wish that I had the courage to ask the hard questions.

Goodbye Dad.

A Brief Moment in Time

Those of you who follow me on social media know that last weekend I took Lucy to NYC so that I could throw gobs and gobs of my hard earned money at the sassy, underpaid teenagers that work at the American Girl Doll store.

Taking Lucy to New York to visit the American Girl Doll Store was something that I vowed never ever to do before I became a parent. But you know what I’ve discovered in the past 7.5 years? I didn’t know shit about anything before I became a parent. I had no idea that childhood would last for the briefest flicker of time, I had no idea that as a parent you have T minus 12 seconds to make lasting memories that will imprint on your child forever before you wake up one morning and they refuse to have anything to do with you.

Sure, Lucy still likes me NOW, last night she said she didn’t want to go to sleep because she never wanted to stop hugging me, and if I knew that she would still be saying that ten years from now I may not have spent the equivalent of two months salary on the NYC trip last weekend but she won’t (or at least she shouldn’t). She’ll decide one day that I don’t know anything and that she would rather be with her friends than me, someday she will tell me she doesn’t want to help me make her bed because crawling under the sheet while I fluff it up over her head isn’t fun anymore. She will go off to college and I’ll rifle through boxes of her old artwork and the pictures she drew of us holding hands under rainbows and I will wonder if she’ll think her childhood was a good one or if she’ll focus on how I never wanted to sit on the floor and play barbies with her or how we would nag her for HOURS to finish her dinner. She’ll get married and move far away and I will  struggle not to call to often or interfere too much. And hopefully someday 30 years from now when we are sitting down having a drink together we’ll reminisce about the weekend we went to New York City and walked 20 blocks for frozen hot chocolate and got her hair done at the American Girl Doll Store.

Beth’s Books

Piggy backing on my wildly popular annual book review my sister forced  politely asked me to please publish her 2017 book list and since I’m a selfless giver with little going on after 9:00pm I said “of course!”. Also, I felt like I owed her something for all nagging about The Goldfinch.

Below are all of her books from the past year, she broke them into categories instead of going chronologically (it’ a crazy world my friends!). Here you go:

The Top Three

Magpie Murders  by Anthony Horowitz

The popular description for this book is a “mystery within a mystery” which doesn’t quite do this book justice.  This was a delicious bundle of cleverness that thoroughly entertained me with inventive puzzles.  Horowitz also writes for the British TV Midsomer murders and you will find some of that flavor here.  Overall, this was my favorite book of 2017.

Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta

An engaging coming-of-middle-age novel that cleverly incorporated numerous contemporary issues.  I would highly recommend this charming book (assuming you don’t mind the exploration of sexuality).  This was a close second on my favorite books of 2017.

A Single Spy by William Christie

I read a lot of genre fiction – I am picky about my genre books because I have been reading long enough that I get bored if they are too formulaic, will reject them if they are too far-fetched, etc.  This is one of the best spy novels I have read in a long time.  Set primarily In Russia and Germany just before and during WWII, the protagonist has one of the most well-developed senses of self-preservation I have ever encountered.  This was number three for 2017.

Uncategorized Books

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Salvage the Bones was a literary gem that I would highly recommend.  It is set in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina and told from the viewpoint of an African American teenage girl whose family lives in poverty.  One of the first books I read in 2017 – put this in your TBR pile.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

A graphic novel that recounts the events of the Iranian Revolution and the Iran/Iraq war from the perspective of a teenage Iranian girl.  It is a quick but utterly captivating read.  I read this because I had to read a graphic novel for Book Bingo but I am really glad I was introduced to this book.  I am looking forward to reading the sequel.  

Among the Russians by Colin Thubron

I suffer from wanderlust.  When I am not traveling, I like to read travel books.  Sometimes, as with this book, I read travel books while traveling.  If you are old enough to remember the Cold War, pick up this book about the author’s solo car trip through Soviet-era Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

Book Lust to Go by Nancy Pearl

I like reading about books – reviews, blogs, lists, challenges, you name it — almost as much as I like reading the books themselves.  This is a book that attempts to survey books about, and set in, various locales – I found it in the travel section but it isn’t really a travel book.  Overall, I liked this book and have identified a number of books to add to my TBR pile.  However, any list is usually incomplete, and this is no exception.  I could go on at length about the books she missed.  My main issues with this book though were 1) inconsistency (why include Michael Connelly in the LA section but not James Lee Burke in the NOLA section or why include Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series in Rome but leave The Thornbirds out of Australia ?!?); 2) personal bias, Pearl is clearly a mystery lover and never missed a chance to flog her favorite mystery series, in doing this though, she left out a lot of actual travel books;  3) questionable organization – for example, she has three separate sections on boat travel – and separate sections on walking and hiking.  Things like this made me shake my head.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

This book was a recommendation from both my sister and a friend about four years ago.  I subsequently borrowed the book from my sister and it languished in my TBR pile because it is really long.  It might have languished indefinitely but my sister placed an embargo on all future book lending until I read this book.  I am glad I finally read it – it was very good – but still a bit fatiguing.  My main quibble was with the end. The author takes you on this all-consuming journey with the characters and then it feels like she, herself, got tired of writing and dashed of an ending that was on par with the crappy way I would wrap up college and law school essays.  I stuck with this for 775 pages – I deserved a better ending.  

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

I usually read at least a couple of YA novels every year.  This one was fun – two girls, disguised as boys, traveling west.  Don’t give up on YA once you become an adult.  There are a lot of good entries in this category.  

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Reilly

WWII historical fictions novels have become a prolific genre in the past couple of years.  I think there are better entries in this category (All the Light You Cannot See, Code Name Verity (an exceptionally good YA novel) but I liked this one because it was based on a true story.  If you like this genre or want to try it out, read it, if not give it a pass.  

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Another female spies of WWII novel.  This one alternates between after and during the war.  It was ok, not great – it felt derivative of other works and not particularly authentic.  The end annoyed me.  Read it only if you love the genre.

Mystery Novels


Camino Island by John Grisham

I am not a huge Grisham fan.  I can tolerate his legal novels but I don’t love them.  I generally try not to read novels with lawyers, they annoy me (see Lincoln Lawyer exception below).  This being a non-legal novel, and one that involved a mystery about books, I decided to give it a chance.  Overall, not a bad beach or commuting on the train read but not one I would rave about.  As usual, I didn’t like Grisham’s characters much but he does write an entertaining mystery.  

In This Grave Hour (A Maisie Dobbs novel) Jacquelyn Winspear

I have enjoyed this series since the first book and never wavered.  Masie is an excellent protagonist.  If you haven’t read this series, it is set in and around London beginning pre-WWI and this latest installment brings us up to the outbreak of WWII. Winspear has done a nice job of developing and growing Maisie over the years.  You can read these books independently, but I would recommend starting at the beginning.  

Knife Creek by Paul Doiron

This is a series that follows Maine Game Warden Mike Bowditch.  Doiron is the former Editor of Down East magazine.  He is an excellent writer but the first book in this series was clearly a first-effort for him as a novelist.  Doiron’s novel writing has become more polished and this latest installment was very good.  Read these novels if you like books about Maine and/or game wardens.  Start at the beginning but don’t give up after the first book – they get better.  

Deep Freeze by John Sanford.  

Sanford is prolific – he writes the Prey series with Davenport, which I don’t read, and has also spun off another series with Virgil Flowers.  Virgil is one of my literary boyfriends.  Sanford could write anything about Virgil and I would read it.  (Yes, I know that Virgil shows up in a minor way in the Prey books but that is just too much commitment :).  This latest was as entertaining as always.

IQ and Righteous by Joe Ide

Joe Ide was a delightful discovery this year.  He is a fresh voice in mystery writing and has created a great new character in Isiah Quintabe aka IQ.  If you are looking for a breath of fresh air in your mystery reading, rush out and get these two books.  I am eagerly awaiting the next installment.

Murderous Mistral by Cay Rademacher

Written originally in German and set in the south of France, this book had a distinctly Eurpoean flavor.  The plotting was weak, but I enjoyed the characters and the foreign feel of this book.  I will definitely read his next book when it comes out.  

The Late Show Michael Connelly

This was my first Michael Connelly – I know I am late to this party – he has been recommended to me numerous times, but I just didn’t want to take the time to get into the Harry Bosch or Lincoln Lawyer series.  When I saw that he was coming out with a new series I decided to start here.  Renee Ballard is a strong female character and I will enjoy following her career.

The Brass Verdict and The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly (Lincoln Lawyer series)

By happenstance, these two books were handed to me near the end of the year.  I had received some sad news and was in need of a diversion so I cracked open The Brass Verdict.  It was just what I needed to get my mind off things.  I read it in a day.  Then I read The Fifth Witness the next day.  Despite my aversion to lawyer books, I like these novels, the characters are well drawn and the procedure is well-done.  If anything, Connelly sometimes gets a bit too specific and bogged down in legal procedure.  My only quibble is with time.  I know how much work it takes to prep a case.  The timelines in these books aren’t believable but it is a small quibble with an otherwise diverting series.

Romance

Irresistable by Mary Balogh

Once upon a time, I had an insatiable appetite for romance novels.  I could read them like I eat doughnuts.  In the past couple of years, my interest has waned.  It may just be a phase, I am not sure.  I read this for Book Bingo – one of the squares was “A Book you Read in a Day.”  I spent a weekend day reading this.  It was diverting but ultimately forgettable.

A Cold Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas

Lisa Kleypas is one of the best.  Her Wallflowers series is classic.  I even like her contemporary stuff and I normally only read historic romances.  This was a nice start to a new historic series but like I said, I am not hot for romance right now.  If you like romance, I would recommend it.  

The Mistletoe Inn by Richard Paul Evans

UGH.  I read this for Book Bingo because I needed a book with a holiday setting.  It was treacly and gave me a mental toothache.  It reminded me why I don’t like contemporary romances or holiday books.

Audio Books

According to my librarian, audio books count!  My son and I make a lot of long-distance car trips.  Audiobooks are a great way to pass the time and we enjoy listening to books together.  

Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

A wonderful middle-grade novel with a strong female protagonist and an art mystery.  This got two thumbs up form both me and Sean.

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

I probably should have put this at the top with my favorite books of 2017.  A tremendous novel about child-evacuees during WWII.  This novel is less about the war and more about personal salvation.  It is multilayered and appealing to both young and old.  

Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss

This book actually came up in The War That Saved my Life and I remembered being absolutely charmed by it when I read it as a kid.  Listening to this as an adult, I was struck by 1) the 19th century propensity to shoot every animal they saw (or tame it – man must conquer nature!).  2) The impossibility of elephants coexisting with duck billed platypus, penguins, lions and numerous other animals from all five continents in a place that appeared to be near the equator in the Indian Ocean.  3) The wife was referred to by her first name one or two times and for the rest of the book was either “The Wife” or “The Mother.”  I should have left his one in childhood.  

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot

I LOVE the James Herriott books.  They are my book version of comfort food.  I have read and listened to them multiple times.  They are delightfully narrated.  I enjoyed sharing this first installment with Sean.  If you have never read them, don’t be put off by the titles.  They are delightful stories about a vet in Yorkshire England and full of dry British humor.

Books I only read Part of

You may quibble with my sharing thoughts on books that I didn’t finish.  However, life is too short to read bad books.  I will give any book 100 pages.  If I don’t like it, I will give up on it.  A couple of these were long and I just wasn’t engaged enough to finish them.  If anyone has read them and can convince me to finish, I am open to doing so.

Glass Houses by Louise Penny

Oh, Louise, I hate to say this, but it is time for us to break up.  I was a loyal reader for many years.  I stuck with you even when I got angry about what you did to Jean Guy in The Beautiful Mystery.  I was upset but I persevered – the next installment was excellent.  Then you write a drippy book in which nothing happened but one of the main characters was killed at the end.  The next was also a pale reflection of your earlier strong novels in this series.  I started this book but you spent so much time beating us over the head with the dark and evil imagery that I just couldn’t take it.  Maybe it is time for you to leave Three Pines and start something new.  

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

I listened to this as an audiobook.  If the trip had been longer, I probably would have finished it.  I really liked the first half of the book.  It was a riveting story about a man in North Korea.  However, the trip ended at the beginning of the second part of the book.  I was very upset by the plot turn and the second part was a time flip where the narrator changed, and the story worked backwards.  I don’t really like time flips.  There wasn’t enough here to make me finish this book without being trapped in a car with it.  If anyone has a persuasive argument in this book’s favor, I am open to revisiting it.

Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

Another audiobook that lasted only as long as the car trip.  I enjoy Follett.  I really liked Pillars of the Earth.  This books just fatigued me.  There were too many points of view and it was just too damn long.  I listened to this for nine hours, checked the hard copy when I got home and realized that I was only about 250 pages into the book.  I just didn’t have the energy to continue.  If someone can champion this book, let me know.

Ruthless River by Holly FitzGerald

This was a travel book and rather interesting.  In the 1970s, a newly-married couple decides to travel around the world.  They get stuck in a backwater village in South America and it will be months until the next plane will be coming.  They want to make it to Rio for Carnivale so they decide to raft down the river.  It goes badly.  I flipped to the end because I had to know how this book ended.  It is a good story but it had to go back to the library and I didn’t have it in me to speed read through the suffering and starvation in the middle of it.  Even so, I would still recommend it.  

2017: A Year in Books

Welcome to my sixth annual book review. This year was a little bit different because the first quarter was mostly books geared specifically for a trip to Eastern Europe and I read some things that I normally would not have chosen. This was also the year that I allowed myself not to feel forced to finish books that I did not enjoy, this list includes a few that I read enough of to form an opinion but I did not read to the end.

Without further ado:

Wonder, by R.J. Placio

I read this book because I needed to discuss it during a diversity book discussion. I did not love it, I know it was super popular but I found it trite and formulaic.

Euphoria, by Lily King

I loved this book, it made me want to be an anthropologist and run away to lead a completely different life than the one I have.

A Cup of Coffee with my Interrogator, by Ludvik Vaculik, Vaclav Havel and George Theiner

This was a book I ordered special to learn about the Velvet Revolution in Prague. This wasn’t a topic I was familiar with at all but  learned quite a deal about through this slim manifesto.

The Book of Clouds, by Chloe Aridjis

I chose this book because I wanted to know what Berlin was like after the fall of communism. This book provided a good feel and context of what it was like to make a life in the newly built city where you have to acknowledge the past but not get stuck in it. I liked it very much.

Dreseden: February 13, 1945, by Frederick Taylor

In preparation for visiting Dresden I wanted to learn more about its history and more specifically about the bombing that happened at the end of WWII.  This book did not disappoint, it was an excellently researched and comprehensive breakdown of not only what happened in February of 1945 but of the events leading up to it and the aftermath proceeding it. A great option for anyone wanting to learn more about WWII.

A Cultural History of Prague, by Richard D. E. Burton

More of a textbook and reference resource, I did not read this book cover to cover but I did take it to the Czech Republic with me and used it several times to learn about specific things.

In the Garden of Beats, by Erik Larson

This was an EXCELLENT read about the American ambassador to Germany at the beginning of WWII, its a remarkable story that everyone should read.

Necessary Errors, by Caleb Crain

An obscure and quiet novel about young Americans teaching English in Prague directly after the fall of the Iron Curtain. I really enjoyed this book, it provided a glimpse into an unusual time in history.

Time’s Magpie, by Myla Golderg

A must read for anyone visiting Prague. Myla lived in Prague for several years and lists many out of the way  treasures the city has to offer. I had this book in my hand during my entire stay in the city.

Iron Curtain, by Anne Applebaum

I ordered this book on my way home from Germany because I realized I needed to understand more about what happened when WWII was over. This books offers a thorough and comprehensive education on the subject. Every high school student should have to read this book.

The Metamorphosis and Other Stories, by Franz Kafka

Another book I ordered on my way home from Eurpoe, I felt like it was a something I was obligated to read having been in Kafka’s old stomping ground. And I must admit I really like the metamorphosis, it surprised me but it was the only story in this book that I read, none of the others could hold my interest.

Prague Winter, by Madeline Albright

Who knew Madelie Albringht spent the early part of her childhood in Prague? When I discovered that this book existed I got really excited but is was less a memoir of her impression of the city than it was a history of the region. I liked it but I didn’t finish it after already researching a lot of this topic in other books.

The Zookeepers Wife, by Diane Ackerman

The last of my WWII books, this was a well written story of an unsung hero. I really liked this book.

The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins

Switching topics I read this because my Mother left it at my house. I do not usually enjoy murder mysteries but this was so fast paced and quick that I finished it before I could dislike it.

Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance

I read this on the recommendation of a friend and while I did not dislike (I thought it was a compelling story) I did not like the way that Vance tried to use his own very unique story to try and tippify an entire culture of people.

Make ‘Em Laugh, by Debbie Reynolds

I picked this up at a library sale and felt like it was just the thing to add some levity to my book list, it was a fun read even if many of her references went over my head. In the end it was bittersweet though because right after I finished this book both she and Carrie died.

Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson

This was a great book and it’s no wonder that it won the Pulitzer, introspective and enjoyable.

Talking as Fast as I Can, by Lauren Graham

A great read for any Gilmore Girl fans, this book is Lauren’s memoirs of shooting the show and the experiences she had while doing so. I bought this at the airport, it was a fun travel read.

Assassin’s Fate, by Robin Hobb

I am a HUGE and long-time fan of Robin Hobb and anxiously waited over a year for this third book and conclusion to the latestest Farseer trilogy. I loved it (as I have with all of her Fitz books) and even though she killed off one of my all time favorite charterers she did leave a door open to revisit him again. I am now anxiously awaiting whatever she decides to do next.

Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson

This was another library sale find which I enjoyed, of course I read it before I discovered that it might not all have been true. That aside it helped me to understand the current political/cultural climate in Pakistan better and for that reason I am glad that I picked it up.

Will Not Attend, by Adam Resnick

Trying to lighten things up after Three Cups of tea I picked this up on a friend’s recommendation and I thought it was good, not great but a nice departure from the Middle East.

Someday, Someday Maybe, by Lauren Graham

I didn’t even know that Lauren Graham had written a novel until I read her memoir earlier in the year. Once I found out, I ordered it immediately and I really liked it. I thought it was well written and a fun coming of age novel of a New York actress, it had just enough of her story mixed with fiction to make it fun.

Under The Tuscan Sun, by Francis Mayes

I thought this book was just okay, it made me want to visit Italy but I don’t understand all of the hype it generated.

Housekeeping, by  Marilynne Robinson

I ordered this book because I liked Gilead so much that I wanted to try something else from her. But I did not love this book, I didn’t really even like it that much.

Are you there Vodka? It’s me Chelsea, by Cheslea Handler

Being almost completly unfamiliar with Chelsea Handler I picked up this book on a fluke from a library sale and became and instant fan, I even wrote her a letter, you can read it here

Night Road, by Kristin Hannah

I ordered this book because I loved The Nightingale so much. This was another excellent book by her but oh so very sad. I didn’t even know what it was about before I started it on a cross country plane ride, I literally cried for 5 hours straight.

Annihilation, by Jeff Vandermeer

This was the first in a trilogy that I read back to back. This book was by far the best of the three but the entire series really filled a dystopian void that I had in my reading list.

Authority, by Jeff Vandermeer

Book two, I hear they are going to make a movie of these books – they are so weird that I have no idea how that could possibly happen.

Acceptance, by Jeff Vandermeer

The end of the trilogy, this was by far my least favorite of the three books. Maybe the movie ending will be different?

Lies Chelsea Handler Told Me, by Chelsea Handler

I picked this up with her other book at the sale library sale, I enjoyed it but it was not the book I was expecting it to be.

Made In America, by Bill Bryson

In typical Bryson fashion this book was dense and informative, I didn’t get through the entire thing but what I did read was fascinating.

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, by David Sedaris

I really like this book, it was different than anything else he has written and I’m super glad that no turtles were harmed.

The Irresistible Henry House, by Lisa Grunwald

This book sat in my TBR piles for YEARS, I tried picking it up two or three times and couldn’t get in to it. I finally forced myself to give it one last chance and I am gad that I did. The book surprised me and went in a direction I wast expecting, in the end I really liked it and it makes me wonder what other good books I got rid of because I wasn’t in the right mood when I tried to read them.

Choices, By Mary Lee Settle

The only reason I read this book is because I finished Henry House on the train coming in to work and I was desperate to find something quickly. This book was hidden in a book exchange that we were hosting and I almost passed it by. I was SO glad that I grabbed it though, it was officially the best book of 2017, I loved it.

Packing for Mars, by Mary Roach

I love Mary Roach and this book was great, a well researched look into the physical and psychological demands of what it takes to be an astronaut. In full disclosure I didn’t finish this book but I still feel very well informed.

The Known World, by Edward Jones

Another top book of the year, this was an excellent book and a history I hadn’t read about before. It’s a novel of black slave owners which I only sort of knew happened.

Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng

Another super popular book I didn’t like very much. This book started out really good but there was a huge plot hole in the middle that I simply could not overlook, in the end I didn’t believe the characters or their actions.

The View From the Cheap Seats, by Neil Gaimen

I am a big Neil Gaimen fan and was excited when I discovered this book although I would say I only really enjoyed about half of it, there were too many obscure references to people and books that I was unfamiliar with to really get in to it.

A Man Called Ove, by Frederick Backman

Picked this up in the airport as I was finishing the Gaimen book, I both liked and disliked it, I thought the writing style was fun and different but I also thought that 75% of the book was spent developing a very specific character who dissolved in the end, I did not care for the ending.

Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets, by Evan Roskos

I loved  this book, I thought it was a rare gem, as entertaining as teenage depression could be, I think it would be a great book for kids struggling with self identity.

A Million Open Doors, by John Barnes

Uuugh… I really just wanted one good sci-fi book this year, this was not it. I really tried to like this book – I felt there was a great foundation for a good story but it was so male oriented and misogynistic that I felt offended as a woman and had to give up about half way in.

Mendicino (and other stories),by Ann Packer

I don’t always enjoy essays but I this was an exception, I thought it was very good. I thought all of the stories included where well developed and intriguing.

Modern Romance, by Aziz Ansari

I picked this up at the airport and it was not what I was expecting, I thought it would be funny essays of his but instead it was a pretty well researched look at how people find, date, marry, divorce and find love in today’s culture. It was interesting but not that relevant to me right now.

Back When We Were Grownups, by Ann Tyler

A sweet little novel, I enjoyed this book and was happy that this was what I ended the year reading.

 

 

 

 

An Open Letter to Devin Wenig

Dear David,

I must first apologize for posting this letter on the internet but if there was an option to actually communicate things to your customer service department I would have gone directly to them.  Not only can you not submit written questions/comments  but I’ve never seen your hold time as anything less than 18 minutes and seriously David, who has time to sit on hold for that long?

I don’t like eBay,  honestly I don’t know anyone who does but you did do one thing right and now you have ruined it. I do not think I’m using hyperbole when I say that to book and non-digital music lovers Half.com was the best thing on the internet. Last year alone I ordered 100s of books, it was quick,  easy and I was always able to find what I was looking for. I also sold a lot of books on Half.com,  mostly textbooks from when I was in college,  it was a great way to recoup some of the enormous amount of money I shelled out.

A few weeks ago I logged in to order a book recommended to me by my sister and to post some children’s books we don’t read anymore (to help finance a trip to Disney world) only to discover that the entire site had been shut down.  WTF David, no notice? No email to your loyal customers?

I tried going to eBay proper but I couldn’t find what I was looking for and I certainly didn’t want to bid on anything.

I know your company is struggling, I know that it is frustrating because you have the customer base but no one shops with you anymore, and who can blame them when you can go to Amazon and just one click purchase things without having to hope you won the item you want.

I’m so disappointed in you and your decision to ruin every book lovers day, I won’t be back to eBay,  I’ve created an account at Powell.com. I just thought you should know.

Unhappily,
Becca

The Most Expensive Place On Earth

Just recently, despite my better judgement, I purchased a Disney vacation for my family* and if this doesn’t buy their unconditional love, I don’t know what will. Disney is EXPENSIVE. And I get it, you can’t put a price tag on these kind of family memories blah blah blah – but you can actually, you can put a big price tag on it.

I don’t mean to sound jaded but Holy Moly I have spent the last week or so ruminating about all of the other things I could have used this money for instead. Here is a list I compiled on my way in to work this morning:

  • Lasik eye surgery for me and a frind
  • A quarter of my remaining student loan debt
  • A top of the line John Deere riding lawn mower
  • 6 nights in Paris (France, not Epcot)
  • slightly used pair of jet skis
  • A Hot Tub
  • A 3D Printer
  • A baby grand piano
  • 80″ Plasma TV
  • New vinyl replacement windows that will keep my house warm
  • A lifetime subscription to the wine of the month club (for me and a friend)
  • Three years of monthly maid service
  • Full spelunking equipment
  • A Camel
  • A Vespa
  • 1/2  years tuition at the cheapest public university in  PA

Like I said, I’m not jaded – I love my family and now they have no excuse but to love me back.

*This is a surprise, no one tell Lucy

This makes Perfect Sense

Lucy and I were just walking home from school, talking about being a crossing guard and we had this conversation:

Lucy, ” I wouldn’t want that job because it’s too hard. I would want to do something easier, you know?”

Me, “Like what do you want to do instead, that’s easier than a crossing guard?”

Lucy, “You know, like a teacher or a fashion model – because I’m already really good at it you know? And because I love high heels and I walk really good in them (she does not)”

Me, “Ok”

Lucy, “Oh! And because of the fur coats. I love fur coats, but I especially love VESTS. Fur vests are awesome.”

Me, “Ok, so you want to be a fashion model so you can wear fur vests.”

Lucy, “Yes especially if they are cheetah print and covered in glitter!”

Thus ensued a five minute diatribe on the merits of how glitter makes EVERYTHING better.

Lucy, “You know who else has a hard job?”

Me, “Who”

Lucy, “Politicians”

Me, “What now?”

Lucy, “Yeah, they have to think SO HARD, like with their WHOLE brain, when someone asks them something they have to really THINK about it, you know?”

“I think there’s probably one president fly that rules all of the flies, also I heard that Hillary Clinton is still mad that she didn’t become our president. But you know what I say? I say ‘Get over it Hillary, just get over it already!'”

Me, “Um… ok honey”

lufur
feel free to come to me for all of your photoshopping needs

Newsletter: Year 7

 Lucy turned 7 Yesterday. Right now she loves playing with legos and making concoctions, her favorite movie is Hotel Transylvania 2 and shes pretty obsessed with Ever After High. She has an American girl doll that goes everywhere with us. She likes to go camping but isn’t a huge nature lover, she doesn’t like sports but loves like science and doing experiments. She is funny and incorrigible and I cannot fathom life without her.

Happy Birthday to my peanut:

An Open Letter to Chelsea Handler*

Dear Chelsea,

I just finished your book Are you there Vodka, its me Chelsea and I wanted to write and tell you that you are fucking hilarious. I have a very good friend that has been telling me this for some time – obviously I should be listening to him more, but sometimes trying new things is so hard.

I picked up your book at a library sale so I only paid $1.00 for it but I want you to know now that I’ve actually read it I would have paid FULL price.  I also managed to score Lies Chelsea Handler Told Me and I can’t wait to read it but I cannot read two books of essays back to back, I have to break it up with a novel or something non-fiction, I would like to delve right in to this but there are rules Chelsea.

Anyway, I really wanted you to know that I loved your book and as someone who is really only good at drinking and being sarcastic I can absolutely relate to you, I was also hoping you could mentor me. Do you have some kind of mentoring program? I would gladly fill out some sort of application and even submit to a background check, you can interview my friends and they will totally agree with the drinking and the sarcasm as being my two best qualities.

So, yes I might be years and years late to your party but I want you to know that I am here now – I’m even going use the google to find you on the TV.

Hugs,
Becca

*For my ‘regular’ readers this whole open letter thing seems to becoming a thing – just go with it and please read Chelsea Handler (apparently she’s written a whole slew of books).

Six-Year-Old Logic

Yesterday I was driving Lucy home from theater camp and we had this conversation in the car:

Driving by a construction site close to our house

Lucy: “Wow, I just want to go climb that giant mountain of dirt:

Me: “I know you do sweetie”

Lucy: “Don’t you?”

Me: “Not in these pants”

Lucy: “You should change when you get home”

Me: “I’m going to, I’m going to take off my good work pants and probably just throw a dress on”

Lucy: “Don’t put on a dress, wear shorts and T-shirt like me. Do you even own shorts?”

Me: “Sure, somewhere but I think when it’s this hot a dress is the coolest thing that you can wear”

Lucy: “But you shouldn’t wear a dress, or a skirt because then someone could see your underwear”

Me: “Aw sweetie, it’s ok. I don’t plan on showing my underwear off, besides we’re going to go home and hang out with our friends”

Lucy: “Yah, but you can’t show your underwear to our friends, the rule is only family, or people that are living with us”

Me: “That’s a rule?”

Lucy: “Yeah, if your friends see your underwear than they’ll know how big they are and then they could buy some for you”

Me: “Okay, let me get this straight. You don’t want me to wear a dress today because Stacy might see my underwear and buy me some?”

Lucy: “Yes, and there is nothing more boring than someone buying you underwear!”

Me: “okay, so I should go home and wear shorts to save Stacy from being bored by buying me underwear?”

Lucy: “Yes!”

For the record I did end up putting on jeans when I got home – I most definitely don’t want to be blamed for anything that might happen if I wore said dress.

That One Time in Vineland NJ

I was TERRIBLY remiss in my last post about my employment history in that I forgot to highlight the absolute worst job I ever had. Maybe I did this subconsciously because I knew it deserved its own post or maybe I have finally repressed this memory far enough into the back of my addled mind that it no longer springs forward without some prompting (thanks Mom!).

The summer between my first and second freshman years of college I was in a tough spot not having anywhere to go for summer break. I had tried desperately to stay at school over the summer and continue to work at the pizza shop, but it was made clear to me that only foreign students could stay on campus. So, I did the next logical thing, I rented a damp basement bedroom in a house in Vineland NJ. Back in the early 90’s Vineland was a pretty rough town (I haven’t been there in 23 years so I hope it’s improved) but at the time it was not a nice place to be. The room was cheap and right down the road from a very bad decision I was dating named Shawn.

I moved in with exactly enough rent money for one week – I was desperate to find a job as was my landlady’s drug dealing son (Chris) who needed a cover for all of the cash he regularly had laying around. Chris and his hoodlum friends and I decided to carpool to a local temp agency the day after I moved in.

Whether it was because of the company I was with or because I looked like I had little potential but the only job the temp agency offered us was shift work at a local plastics plant. Desperate for anything I immediately agreed and I was told to report there at 11:00pm that very night. That very night? I had only gotten a few hours of sleep the night before. I was already tired and it was only 3:00pm. I went home, got changed, tried unsuccessfully to take a nap and drove with Chris and his friends to the plant for our 8 hour shift.

The first thing that hit me was the smell, walking in to the front door I was overwhelmed by the smell of burning plastic. I was told by the guy who did my new hire paperwork that I’d get used to it – that was not the only lie he told me.

I was given a very brief “safety” lesson and then taken out on the “floor” where they were making a number of different items from flower pots to dust bins to mops. I was started on the least popular machine the mop-head-put-er-on-er (probably not the official name). My job was the stand there all night and as the preshrunk sponges came down the line, I had to pick it up, melt a piece of plastic on the back (very hot!) and manually attach it to the base part of the mop head that would eventually get attached to a handle.

As simple as that sounds it was not easy, for one thing everything was hot hot hot, the sponges came at me with surprising speed and the process to attach them took amazing hand strength to get right. I was immediately overwhelmed but as I looked around the hot, smelly warehouse I realized that not only was it too loud to ask for help or guidance but I was also the only one not speaking Spanish.

How I got through that first night I do not know, never had 8 hours felt so long. My feet hurt, my back hurt, my hands were so sore I could barely stand it and I was TIRED. I was so tired that when I was give my 30 minute ‘dinner’ break (around 3:00 am) I sat down in a hard plastic chair in the breakroom and fell asleep sitting upright.

By the time I got out of there at 7:00 the next morning and limped to the car, I found a note from Chris telling me he and his friends had decided to go to Wildwood sometime in the middle of the night (clearly physical labor was not their cup of tea). I sat down behind the wheel but my hands were burned and blistered and I could not grab a hold of the steering wheel.

I managed to get myself home although at one point I did pull off the road because I was literally falling asleep at the wheel. I took a brief nap and managed to make it home without hurting anyone.

The next night was somewhat easier because at least I knew what to expect and I had slept the entire 12 hours between shifts and I brought food. I was once again on the mop machine but I made a game of it and with practice got fast enough that I had to wait for the next sponge to get to me.

The third night I worked another machine which I forget the particulars of but it was easier than the dreaded mop head. It was still a painfully long night and I remember I was positioned so that I watched the guys working the flower pots all night. Flower pots was by far the easiest job there; the pots were molded by a machine that dumped them into a giant cardboard box and the guys working it simply had to grab them before the box overflowed and stack them on a pallet next to their station, sure their hands still got burned but after a few days it got easier. A few lucky people had gloves, but they were personal property and not company issued –  I was much to poor too buy gloves and I looked at them as enviously as I looked at people who ate real meals during break time.

My 5th day there was payday, I cashed my check and had just enough money to pay my landlady for the week and buy a bus ticket to Maine. A friend had invited me to come visit for the weekend but once I got there I realized I couldn’t go back. I broke up with Shawn on a postcard and spent the rest of the summer rotating the 3 outfits I had packed while sharing a room with my friends younger sister, Meanwhile Chris and his druggie friends pilfered all of my worldly belongings – presumably to buy more crack.

And this is why you need to make sure your kids stay in school.

Would You Like Some Fries With That?

I recently finished reading a book written by a highly successful person (no spoilers, but I’m sure you’ll figure out who it was in my year end book review) who devoted a whole chapter to the jobs she suffered through before she became a highly successful person and I thought ‘hey, I’m a highly successful person (practically a household name) whose suffered a lot I should do the same.’ So, without further ado here you go (I’m going to link to this page for any potential future employers):

My first job was as a very glamorous chamber maid at a very run down motel by my house in Raymond Maine. At the time I was 14 and limited to working at places I could walk to – it was either the motel or a candle pin bowling alley – man I wanted to work at that bowling alley! The job was terrible, the motel was un-airconditioned, mildewy and run by a creepy old pervert. And because I was only 14 I was scrubbing toilets for student wages which at the time was just about $2.00 an hour. I was paid under the table but my creepy old boss still deducted taxes from what I earned. I worked there one season, left when the motel closed in September and never went back. The last time I drove by it, it had been completely renovated, expanded and gotten a pool. There definitely was no pool when I worked there, it was the kind of place you only stayed in if your car broke down on the way to somewhere better and you had no other options (it was not unlike the Bates motel). My boss used to open up the guest rooms before I got there in the morning and pocket all of the tip money people would leave for me. I really hated that guy.

 

That year I turned 15 and got my first car, I promptly drove it to the local McDonald’s (I needed $ for car insurance) and was hired immediately. I worked primarily the early morning breakfast shift up front behind the registers. It wasn’t a terrible job – I never once had to clean a toilet, scrub a 30-year-old shower curtain clean or get groped from behind. But it was HOT, it was excruciatingly HOT in there, I doubt it was air conditioned and if it was it probably wouldn’t have mattered since I was always given the register right next to the fryer. I was also greasy ALL the time. My biggest take away from this job was that my boss, who was a young and relatively attractive woman had a colostomy bag. I remember learning that and trying hard to stop myself from complaining about stupid things. My feet always hurt.

 

I spent the next summer at McDonald’s but once school started again I decided I needed a change. I left McDonald’s and upgraded to the high class world of Dunkin Donuts. Dunkin smelled a lot better than McDonald’s, didn’t leave me nearly as greasy and allowed me to eat all the free munchkins I wanted. The one big downside to DD was that my boss was a dick, a total old school asshole who didn’t like the way I filled 2 jelly donuts with one hand and complained that I wasn’t pouring coffee the right way (is there a wrong way to pour coffee? Apparently there is…). One day, without ceremony he fired me for eating a munchkin behind the counter (this was a big no-no we had to go into the back room to eat on the clock). This is the one and only job I have ever been fired from – it was totally worth it even though I don’t have any recollection of eating anything on camera, I as happy to get out of there.

 

In order not to lose my car and insurance the day after I left Dunkin Donuts I went right back to McDonald’s, they welcomed me back with open arms (who else was willing to be there at 5:00am on a Saturday?) as far as I recall I worked there the rest of the way through high school.

 

I had a few other gigs, that weren’t real long-term jobs. I spent a few days every year taking inventory at a local hardware store, I have vivid memories of sitting on an overturned bucket counting loose screws until I thought my head would explode. I spent a few months shelving children’s book at my local public library (by far the best job I have EVER had). I spent a month one summer living outside Los Angeles CA and working in the HR department of a fortune 500 company – I was so out of my element there I remember not being able to figure out which was the copy machine and which was the fax machine, but I liked that job I worked at a desk and got a paid lunch hour – HOUR. And occasionally I babysit, but I was terrible at it, I couldn’t relate to children, I didn’t know the first thing about caring for babies and I was super irresponsible – actually I’d like to publicly apologize to anyone I might have babysat for, I hope I did not emotionally scar your children too bad and I’m sorry for making long distance calls and eating all of your frosting.

 

When I got to college I wasn’t planning on working  but beer isn’t free and I found that pocket-money comes in very handy when you are a freshman making poor lifestyle choices. I presented myself to the on-campus pizza place and was hired right away. I was given a name tag and a register front and center. I liked that job, I actually liked it better than most of my classes and my attendance there was better than in most of the lecture halls. I met a lot of friends there probably because I was always grossly under-charging my fellow students. I have no idea how much money I lost that place through my shenanigans but for a brief period of time I was a big hit in a small circle of people. I remember when one day when I was tasked with scooping cream cheese in to small containers to wrap up with the bagels – the cream cheese came in a 5 gallon tub and after an hour of handling it I was so disgusted that it was years before I would eat it again. That place had the best curly fries.

 

After I left school and moved to California I spent my first Christmas season there working for a high-end luggage/gift shop upstairs next to Neiman Marcus in the fashion valley mall. I was hired strictly as their cashier which was perfect because the store sold $5,000 briefcases and Mont Blanc pens that would retail for twice that. I was WAY out of my comfort zone and I remember having some culture shock at the ridiculous things  rich people spent their money on.

 

My next full-time gig was at a low-end gift shop (Coach House gifts?) if the Christmas job had been the Sakes of the gift world my new job was somewhere between a DollarTree and a poorly stocked hallmark store. We sold cheap plastic and resin bobbles and knick-knacks that nobody wanted and nobody needed. The job was easy because hardly anyone ever went in there. the majority of my work day I spent giving my socially awkward boss dating and fashion advice. Fortunately for me he thought I was valuable enough that when I threatened to quit because it took me two buses and almost 2 hours to get to the mall (I only lived 3 miles away) he started driving me to and from work – looking back now I realize he may have been doing that for other reasons…

 

I eventually left the gift store and spent some time doing odd jobs – I worked for a few weeks telemarketing (selling pens and promotional items over the phone) I was terrible at that job. I spent exactly one day working for Boston market (sill waiting to get paid) and I spent a few weeks working for a small business out of someones garage. I was making cold calls selling… something? I don’t remember, I do remember that my ‘desk’ was an ironing board and I was paid in cash – there is a good possibility that that was not a legitimate business.

 

Eventually I was hired to work the sales counter at a local hair salon, once again I was inside and had a steady schedule. My boss, who was a real asshole never called me by my name, he referred to me as ‘girl’. As in “Girl – go restock the bathroom. Girl – order some more Paul Mitchell!” it was humiliating but at the time he was paying me more than his competitors would, the salon was a 2 minute walk from my apartment and for the first time in a long time my hair looked rally good, I was willing to put up with a lot of crap.

 

when I couldn’t take the salon anymore, I turned my boss in to the CA labor bureau for back overtime he never paid me and with the money that I got from that settlement I was able to spend an entire summer doing nothing but sitting by the pool and reading cheap sci fi novels. I guess I should be grateful that I won in the end.

 

after my settlement money was all gone I decided it was time to buckle down and try to find a real job. I bought a nice dress, and heavy resume paper (it was the 90’s I was still sending resumes through the mail). I managed to land a job at a small lien sale office, I started in the mailroom, posting and dragging (literally) 1000’s of letters to the post office everyday. I learned patience standing in long post office line (before there were smart phones to keep you entertained). Thanks to an incident of embezzlement and a dramatic mid-day arrest I was quickly promoted ‘up front’ to work data entry. I felt like I had finally made it – I got to SIT down at mt OWN desk, I had a telephone and health insurance and a 401K, it was amazing. It was a real job but it was also a double-edged sword, I worked with awesome people and had a regular schedule but I routinely got yelled at by angry and upset customers and at one point we had to install a buzzer on the door because of numerous death threats. It was at this time that I decided I needed to go back to college.

 

I worked at that little office for four years while I got my associates degree and then part of my bachelors degree in the evenings. The day I left was both a huge relief (no more angry customers!) but also incredibly sad –  I worked with my two best friends and I wasn’t leaving them for another job but to move 2,600 miles away.

 

I relocated to Philadelphia and quickly got hired at a full service brokerage firm which was surprising to me because I thought I was interviewing at a temp office. I walked into that job knowing nothing of investing or money management or anything financial (I hadn’t had a savings account since before I started driving). I quickly discovered hat no one cared, I was just a pretty face to answer the phone and fetch coffee – I did that for six years.

 

While answering the phone at the firm I also got a part-time job at Barnes and Nobel, mostly to support my book addiction but also to get cheap coffee  and because it was 3 blocks from my apartment and I spent most of my time there anyway. All the money I made at the bookstore went directly back to the bookstore (I was a great investment for that place). I rally loved working there and working two jobs wasn’t a big deal when I was single and had plenty of time on my hands but eventually I met my future husband and a started missing shifts. We moved in together and I realized that being a secretary and a part-time bookseller was unsustainable. I had been studying for my series 7 (brokers exam) and I had serious plans to take over my bosses portfolio when he retired but a very brutal and honest conversation with senior management one day reminded me  that I would only ever be a pretty face to them and nothing more. I quit my job the next day.

 

I decided to go back to school and get my masters degree so that I would never have to work two jobs again; I managed to score a job at the University I planned on attending to eliminate that pesky tuition burden.

 

And that is where I’m leaving you my friends – the rest is BORING and very adult and due to litigation concerns I can’t talk about much of it. Let’s just say I ended  up where I wanted to start out – surrounded by books.

Sticky Jam Hands Goes Abroad*

Disclaimer: this is where this blog temporarily turns into a personal travel log. The following entry details my recent trip to Czech republic and Germany. If you want to skip the (lengthy) narrative and just look at the pictures that’s okay. If you are already bored and want to go back to watching cute cat videos that’s okay, but if you want to know where I went and what I saw than read on. If you want to hire me to travel to foreign lands and write about what I see and do than email me at Becca@stckyjamhands.com

 

Swarthmore to Germany
April 1, 2017

The hardest part about getting to the Czech republic was leaving Lucy at the airport – she’s 6 now and upset about her Mom going away, I hope someday she understands, someday when I’m old(er) and we book a trip like this together. Actually the hardest part was convincing my husband that having me gone for two weeks was going to be no big deal.

Getting to Prague was long but fairly uneventful. There was a concern that our original flight was going to be delayed and we would miss our German connection – this necessitated a 90 minute phone call to Luftansa to get us rerouted through Munich on a different airline, but it ended up being no big deal.

We flew from Philadelphia to Munich Germany leaving at 6:30pm Saturday night; I had two glasses of wine at the airport and swallowed a muscle relaxer on the plane, two more glasses of wine on the plane and I even managed to sleep a little bit.

Mom, was already impatient and ‘ready-to-be-there’ the second we got on the plane, but after wine at the airport and a dose of melatonin she reclined her seat, covered herself with a blanket and tried to get some rest however about 10 minutes into the flight when the beverage cart rode by us she immediately perked up (and I mean the literal second –  it was barely passed my head when her eyes shot open and her snack tray was down. She didn’t hesitate to let our steward know that it was her 75th birthday and that we were embarking on a Big Trip – you know in order to get free wine, but she needn’t have worried, not only was all the wine we got free it was poured with a HEAVY hand, I’m talking the big water cups full to the top, we only had two a piece but it must have come to about 20 ounces of wine for both of us.

Night night to us.

Munich to Prague
April 2, 2017

We landed in Munich sometime EARLY on the morning of April 2nd, we were barely awake or cognizant when we got off the plane and realized that to get to our next gate we needed to catch a bus to another part of the airport. In order to get to the bus we needed to go through security and both of us got patted down by a very handsy security agent.

After getting felt up and a navigating a very confusing bus ride we managed to find a cup of coffee and our gate to Prague. Getting to the plane however, involved another bus ride out to a distant air field to climb aboard a small commuter plane that was only half full. Mom and I had scored the emergency exit row, we stretched our legs out in front of us and fell asleep for most of the entire 40 minute flight into the Czech Republic.

We were concerned that after the mix up with the flight changes we would miss our airport pick up but thankfully there was a Viking agent waiting at the airport for us, we did miss the shuttle bus but she got us in a taxi whose cost was immediately refunded to us as soon as we got to the hotel.

We were already checked in to the hotel Corinthia when we completed the 30 minute drive from the airport, our program director Rik was there to greet us with our hotel keys, maps, itineraries, time tables etc.

Before we could make our way up to our 5th floor room we ran in to Tom and Kate in the lobby, we gave them a warm hello and sent them to the bar while we headed upstairs for a quick shower a change of clothes and cup of coffee.

The hotel was a tall 25 story newer hotel that was both more modern and farther from town than I expected, our room was nice with a large King bed and great water pressure in the shower. The distance to old town was taken care of by a complimentary Viking shuttle that ran from morning to night. Once, clean and caffeinated we headed downstairs and collected our friends from the bar and we all boarded the 3:00 shuttle to old town.

We arrived at the town center in the middle of their Easter Market, it was crowded but not unmanageable, we wandered around for a little while before we decided to grab a seat at an outdoor café across from the astronomical clock, we ordered a cheese plate and I got a beer while we talked and caught up, we stayed there long enough to watch the clock go off at 4;00, as Tom said “the most excited 20 seconds of our day”

We paid the check and once again walked around the Easter market, Mom and I picked up a few souvenirs before we headed down a side alleyway to get out of the main fray, we were headed toward a bar that Kate had heard about but that wasn’t open so we walked past in until we came upon another outside café where we took over one umbrella covered table. We had a few rounds of drinks and I had my first experience with the difficulty of the Czech language when I headed inside to the bathroom and was presented with two words I had never seen before, no pictures no other clues. I chose one at random (the one to the left) and got in and out of there as fast as possible in case I had chosen wrong. Fortunately, a quick google search back at the table told me my hunch had been correct.

We finished our drinks and headed back to the square to catch the 6:30 shuttle which (due to a communication error) never came, we ended up taking a taxi and after some hard nose negotiating on Kate’s part we got for a reasonable price.

Once back at the hotel we grabbed our jackets and headed out to a local traditional Czech restaurant that Tom and Kate had discovered the night before – you knew it was going to be good when you walked in because no one eating spoke English and there was a steady stream of locals coming in to pick up take out orders.

Mom ordered a ‘pork knee’ – literally the knee of some giant prehistoric pig skewered via some kind of scabbard to a cutting board and served with a large hunting knife. It was enough meat to feed a small village, Mom ate most of it. I ordered a delicious pork belly and we all drank beer, and then some more beer…

After dinner, we literally stumbled back to the hotel where I had enough time only to take my contacts out before falling unconscious in to bed.

Prague
April 3, 2017

Our first full day in Prague began with breakfast in the hotel where we met Tom and Kate and I discovered I could get baked beans and brown bread. We drank a lot of coffee and all jumped on the 10:00 shuttle.

The four of us parted ways at the town square – as I was on a mission to find the Narodni Knihovna – the national library of Prague which according to a very cryptically vague book I read was located down a small twisty alley not far from the Charles Bridge. This describes nearly everything close to the Charles Bridge, we literally wondered in circles for over an hour before I decided we needed coffee and found a small out of the way cafe where we stopped and got two lattes and rested out feet while sitting in the window seat, after taking advantage of a free bathroom I asked our waitress if she knew where the library was and she said, “of course, it right around the corner – out the door and to the left…” on a square we had walked through at least twice.

Despite this new information it still took us over 20 minutes to discover where we where supposed to go. We managed to gain entry to the card catalog room which was pretty awesome, millions of cards mostly written out by hand but unfortunately after a discussion with the circulation desk we discovered that the main reading room that I had hoped to see was under construction and closed to tourists.

Honestly, I was just thrilled at that point to actually have found it.

After being turned away we headed back outside and several wrong turns later end up in Wenceles Square where we randomly ran in to Kate and Tom who we were on their way to meet us back at the Easter market, we all walked together and headed to lunch at another small out of the way pub they had discovered the day before. We all had sausage and chips and beer and it was delicious.

After lunch we decided to use the free tickets to the chocolate museum that the hotel had comped Kate and Tom. We headed over to it and the best thing that I can say about the chocolate museum (except for the truffles that they gave you when you entered) was that it was free. The entire thing took 10 minutes to go through and reminded me of a junior high school science project. There is a museum for everything in Prague, by the way, from torture to sex machines to chocolate and everything in between. We exited quickly through the gift shop and made our way to the river, Tom and Kate had to head back to the hotel to catch their plane home and wanted a few more pictures. We said good bye and they went their way and Mom and I headed to the Charles Bridge – the Charles bridge is nothing short of spectacular (as bridges go) with two big gates on either end and statue after statue lining the sides of the low bridge.

We walked over the bridge past vendors selling everything from original watercolors to cheap jewelry and made our way to the other side of the river, as soon as we were across it started to rain, just a light, chilly drizzle which for me dressed in a tank top and light cardigan quickly became cold, we started up the hill meandering our way to the ‘castle’ on top. The castle is more of what I would call a palace, not a place of fortification but a place to entertain. We did not go inside but stopped to have our bags searched and padded down simply to walk through the grounds. The outside of the palace was pretty uniform and nothing particular caught my eye until we made out way to the opposite side to the citadel which was Hogwarts impressive and impossible to capture on film even with the good camera.

We went inside and walked around the outside and took a number of pictures and decided to head on, the rain getting harder and the temperature falling as well, before we were out of the palace grounds we found a small coffee shop were we stopped for lattes and the chance to warm up. My feet were cold and getting soar and even though Mom had a rain resistant wind breaker on it had no hood and neither of us were carrying an umbrella.

After finishing our drinks we headed back in to the rain and made our way as quickly as possible down the hill. Across the bridge and back to the bar that Kate had tried taking us to the night before. Called ‘the anonymous bar’ it is themed after the movie “V for Vendetta” and is very cool inside with large red velvet furniture, heavy drapery and smoky mirrors. The bar is known for its cocktails and the menu was extensive. Unable to make up our minds we asked the waiter for suggestions, he asked if it would be okay to surprise us, so we told him what we liked and he brought out two very unique cocktails, mine a vodka base with some serious citrus kick that had been blended slushy style and Mom’s which had a base of scotch and some kind of marmalade in it. Both drinks were delicious but together cost more than lunch for 4 had earlier; we only had one and left.

Back outside it was raining steadily, we had decided to go to an Indian restaurant for dinner and made our way there running from awning to awning to try and stay as dry as possible. The place we went was called the “Indian Jewel” and it was pretty good, we split a bottle of wine and some above average Indian food.

We caught the 7:30 shuttle back to the hotel, changed in to warm, dry clothes and headed to the lobby bar for a glass of wine (or two).

Prague
April 4th

Tuesday began much like Monday, with breakfast in the hotel and a ride on the 10:00 shuttle, this time just the two of us.

We headed into old town and once again crossed the Charles bridge with our destination goal being the Stahov monastery. We knew it was on top of the hill across the river somewhere and decided instead of walking through town we’d take the scenic route and go through a park located just south of the city. Walking on cobblestones all day the night before had started wearing on our feet.

The walk (through cherry trees) took us about a mile and half straight up, we passed a cute restaurant that wasn’t open and eventually arrived at a large fortification wall. We hung a right and followed it to an observation tower that looked out over all of Prague.

Over coffees we consulted a map and decided that in order to the get the monastery we had to continue around the top of the hill to the south until we would eventually just run in to it (I have to pause here and tell you how terrible and completely useless the map we had was). We once again headed out and walked and walked and walked, we walked so far that eventually we ran in to a defunct sports stadium across the street from some student housing. We had walked off the side of our shitty map; we knew we must have gone the wrong way.

The major factor of turning back was that I needed to go to the bathroom desperately bad and I walked in to the student housing complex until I found their dining hall and was able to jjimmy the lock on the ladies room to get in. I’ve never been so happy to get to a public bathroom.

We decided to head back straight over the top of the hill instead of taking the long way around (the way we had come). It took us all of 10 minutes to get back to the observation tower where we had started from. We asked a lovely German couple who spoke no English where the monastery was and they pointed in the opposite direction we had come from.

Low and behold 50 meters down the path to the left of the observation tower was the monastery. All in all we walked about four miles that we didn’t have to.

Happy to find our destination we made a beeline to the monastic brewery – this amazing restaurant/pub was deep underground in the hills above the monastery itself in the old catacombs of the church. Lit by candlelight and warmed by a kerosene heater the place was amazing. We ordered a cheese and sausage plate and both had 2 beers before we felt sufficiently refreshed and once again headed backup in to the sunlight.

We tried to get into the monastery museum with a credit card and ended up at an ATM around the corner, where due to a mathematical error I withdrew 5 times the amount of cash than I intended to. Oops.
Inside we found our fist, grumpy unfriendly Czechs – for the most part everyone we had run in to had been pleasant and accommodating and were just in general nice people. The women who ran the museum were older, heavyset women who weren’t taking any bullshit and clearly were not at work to have a good time.

We quickly toured the museum (two roped off libraries, a hallway containing a random assortment of odd collectibles and a small gift shop) before purchasing a few postcards and two posters, we got out of there quickly.

Eager to have (another) afternoon beer I suggested that we head back down the hill to a small local pub called the ‘bar bar’ located on the canal a stones throw from the Charles Bridge. We found it with little problem and I ordered a large beer while Mom got a coffee and we rested our feet and relaxed for a few minutes.

We decided to have dinner at a restaurant recommended by Viking not far from the square, but after getting back across the bridge we somehow got completely turned around (super easy to do) we wondered round looking for a familiar landmark for a good 30 minutes before accidentally stumbling upon a Harley Davidson shop. Mom had been looking for one and it was very fortuitous that it should show up now, not only did she buy some souvenirs but we also got direction to the the place we were headed.

Once more on the right track we headed outside and quickly found our way to the restaurant, there was a brief wait before we got seated. Mom ordered the goulash and I got a sausage which was okay – we split a bottle of wine.

We headed back to the hotel on the 8:30 shuttle where we changed in to our ‘lobby attire’ and headed downstairs for a last glass of wine. We did not linger long in the bar after our drinks.

Prague
April 5th

Our third day began with hotel breakfast and a ride in to town on the 10:00 shuttle.

We had considered going on the Viking sponsored walking tour but decided that by that time we had already seen everything they were going to show us so we skipped it.

Instead we headed to a place called “Bar and Books” that I really wanted to check out but we discovered that they didn’t open until 5pm, so we headed to a different outdoor café on Wencles square, had two lattes and people watched for a little bit. We then headed to souvenir heaven, a different outdoor Easter market where we purchased a number of trinkets for people back home.

We meandered our way back to the old town square and decided to get tickets to climb to the top of the astronomical clock tower. After a brief wait in line we climbed up a bunch of steps and had a great view over all of old town.

We left the tower and headed across the bridge to go to an outdoor restaurant I had seen the day before nestled under the bridge that I wanted to check out.  The place ended up being a French cafe, we sat next to the canal with views of the river and had some more wine and sausage. Afterwards after I took some picture from under the bridge then we headed back across the river to check out the old town brewery, we went there for two beers before heading back to the old town market for one last souvenir before we realized that we still had an hour to kill before we needed t o get back to the hotel.

We decided to have coffee somewhere on the square and chose a fancy outside café (the White Horse) but when we asked for a table they asked if we wanted to sit in their cellar (dating circa 1200 or something). Of course we said ‘sure!’

Once in the cellar we decided that we should have wine, so we ordered a glass (or two) and enjoyed the midevil atmosphere until it was time to grab the 4:30 shuttle.

Once at the hotel we changed in to clean clothes and headed back to the lobby. We ordered a glass of wine while we waited for the bus to the ‘folklore dinner’ to arrive.

The ‘folklore dinner’ ended up being cheesy dinner theater in a small barn with terrible wine. We sat with a lovely English couple named John and Lorraine whom we would get to know much better as the trip went on.

Once dinner was over, we were back on the bus, me humming “have nagela” over and over as it had been played during the show and gotten stuck in my head. (this drove Mom crazy)

Once back at the hotel we cracked open the mini fridge and had some wine and listened to some music before calling it a night.

Prage – Decin
April 6th

Our last day in Prague we got up early, packed our bags and got them down to the Viking Desk by 8am. We then stopped by the breakfast buffet for coffee and toast before checking out and paying our 1630 krona bar bill.

We took the 9:00 shuttle in to town with two more people from our boat – Sue and Tom,  we chatted with them on the way in and once on the square invited them to come with us, our goal for the day was to once again walk up to the monastery and have lunch underground in the brewery before we had to leave the city.

Tom and Sue also wanted to go up and see the museum so we offered to lead them, it took 5 minutes for Mom to get lost and lead us in the wrong direction. Tom ended up getting us back on track and we all successfully climbed up to the top of the neighboring hill. We left Tom and Sue at the museum and since it was too early for the brewery to be open Mom and I double backed down the hill slightly until we found a small, cute coffee shop where we sat and drank a latte (and used the bathroom).

The brewery opened at 11:00 and we ended up having to wait outside for a few minutes after our coffee, while standing there we made friends with the neighborhood cat and were the first ones to enter as soon as the door opened.

We sat in the same table we had sat two days before, we each got wine – Mom had onion soup served to her in a bread bowl and I got a ‘salad’ which ended up being a bowl of greens topped with a large round of fried goat cheese, it was delicious.

After a second glass of wine we walked back down the hill, back across the bridge and after a quick bathroom break headed back to the town square. I bought one last souvenir (wooden tulips for Lucy) and tried a cup of hot wine (terrible) while we waited for the 1:00 shuttle to the hotel.

We sat in the hotel bar and had coffee and then more wine while we waited for the 2:30 Viking bus that would take us to the ship to arrive.

As we left Prague these are the reflections that I noted in my journal:

  • The toilet paper there is terrible, like thin dollar store paper towels
  • The diet of the Czech people consists mainly of meat, potatoes, cheese, dumplings and gravy but despite all of this they seem pretty healthy and of average size. My theory for this is that because their bathrooms are so small they cannot afford to get fat.
  • Literally everyone in Prague speaks in English which makes it a very easy city to ease in to and to navigate, it also takes a little bit if the fun out of foreign travel, it also makes me feel like a stupid American for just speaking one language, and not even doing that one well.
  • There are no stop signs in the city and yet remarkably no one runs in to each other despite some (what I thought were) very close calls.
  • All of the trash trucks were Mercedes Benzs and the police cars were Peugeots.
  • Walking in the city is treacherous, no one stops for you. Trams especially will not stop, we actually learned that if a tram diver hits a person they get a 4 day paid leave, its like a little bonus for hitting tourists.
  • The sidewalks are all paved with Marble mosaics – they are beautiful and incredibly labor intensive to maintain, they’ve been there for 100’s of years and really add to the city’s beauty, they do, however, get slippery when its raining and if you are walking down from the castle on a day when it is drizzling (for instance) you need to be careful.
  • There are hundreds of spires in the city and most all of them are topped with gold, this is spectacularly impressive around sunset (and probably sunrise) when the sun is reflected off them.

Memorable Prague Moments:

  • The first time coming back across the Charles bridge the elastic in Mom’s underwear gives way and the only reason she was able to keep them on was because she was wearing pants, she spent the rest of the afternoon walking like she had to pee.
  • On the way to the dinner theater the couple behind us was having a political discussion and couldn’t remember the CA representatives name, they eventually gave up and started talking about other things, 20 minutes later out of no where Mom shouts out –“Barbara Boxer!” no one knew what the hell she as talking about.
  • The third day in to our trip I got my period (a full 10 days early) I had some stuff with me but not enough. While we were having lunch at the monastery I noticed a bowl of tampons by the sink, the second time we went there I took the whole bowl full – I stole all the feminine products that the monks had.

Decin

It took us two hours driving through the Czech countryside to reach the small riverside town of Decin. Decin was small but had a large monastery that was beautiful and a castle high above town (really a restaurant) that was quite photogenic.

We hopped off the bus and on to the boat, we met the captain and the manager and where given our room keys. The stateroom itself was tiny – 2 single beds with just enough space for one person to walk around them, they delivered our bags to the room and we had to unpack them and store them under the beds because there was no room to put them anywhere else.

As we were unpacking the best part of the entire trip happened, our house keeper, Anna, came in to introduce herself and remind us to put a note on the door when we went to breakfast , she was a little terse and seemed stressed out, my Mom said something like, “I’m old – tell her (pointing to me), she’s young she’ll remember”, Anna looked at her and said “huh, I am not thinking that you are more than 80 years old” Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha! I tried hard not to pee myself laughing.

As soon as we were done unpacking we made our way to the front of the boat, where the lounge/bar was. We quickly met the one other Mom/daughter duo on the boat – Mina and Jeannie, we sat with them and ordered a glass of wine.

After everyone was aboard and settled the captain and senior staff came to the lounge, introduced themselves and we had a champagne toast to ‘send us off’ the captain’s name was Joseph, the ships manager was Stefan, we already knew Rik and we met the chef (someoneorother) and the head housekeeper neither of which I remember.

After the welcome and toast we decided to go ‘dress for dinner’ so we did. We met John and Lorraine in the dining room and ate dinner with them, I had shrimp and bacon for dinner and we discovered the excellent bread that was available on the boat (it was really really good!!)

After dinner Mom and I had talked about leaving the boat to explore the small town of Decin but we decided to stay because the ‘entertainment’ for the evening was a local Czech woman who came to talk about the Velvet Revolution. I honestly cannot remember what she said (I’m sure it wasn’t because I was sucking down wine after wine all evening). I remember thinking that she did a good job. Soon after she was done both Mom and I went to bed.

April 7th
Decin – Bad Schandau – Dresden

Friday, Mom’s birthday day. We woke up to cold and rain and it never warmed up or got dry all day. We were set to embark at 7:00 and Mom and I had set our alarm so we could watch.

I was up and watching from inside (because of the cold and the rain) but Mom went outside to watch Captain Joseph turn the boat around, remarkable because the river was barely wider that the boat itself.

We traveled up the river while we ate breakfast, we ate with Stefan – the boat manager, who was very interesting and we learned that he was gay and lived in the Philippines with his partner who would meet him in Germany and work on the boat on their way back to Prague, he was really looking forward to this.

After breakfast we arrived at our morning destination – a small village named Bad Schandau in a region just over the German boarder in and area known as “Saxony Switzerland” because of its geographical resemblance to Switzerland.

We left the boat when we docked, where given big red Viking umbrellas and boarded a bus which drove us up up up until we got to a park made of giant rock formations and  was once the site of an old defensive fort. The views were spectacular and the day was foggy and cold so there were not many other visitors (I’ve been told it can get shoulder to shoulder crowded up there). It was hard to capture the area through photos and is something everyone should see themselves (which I guess is why it gets so crowded) it reminded me a little bit of Arizona, but lusher and more green.

We walked – slogged –  through the park and then made our way to the restaurant that is located up there, we had some coffee while sitting with two other guests (I can’t remember who) as well as two members from the crew – Zoltan the bartender and Telma the guest services coordinator, both of which were very nice people. Zoltan spent a good 20 minutes telling us all the drinks he could make for us on the boat, it really solidified our friendship.

Eventually we made our way back to the bus and then back to the ship where I literally wrung the water out of my socks and changed my entire outfit to get dry. I put on my only sweater I had brought (I did not pack correctly for this trip) and headed back to the lounge to drink the afternoon away.

Over several glasses of wine we sat with and got to know a couple (Beth and Mike) from Knoxville TN, they were great and became our go-to partners on the trip.  A little before dinnertime we sailed in to Dresden. Captain Joseph sailed in to Dresden, past the city and then backed up and docked on the south end so that we could get pictures. Unfortunately, it was still raining, dreary and hard to see. I went up on the sun deck  and took some pictures, I was up there MUCH longer than I planned and got soaking wet.

Dinner Friday was ‘German night, Mom got dressed up for her birthday but after getting soaking wet twice in the same day, I put on jeans and a nice shirt, I simply could not put on a dress. We sat with Mike, Beth, Charlie and his grandson Justin –  ate sausages and potatoes and drank many glasses of beer, the captain and crew toasted Mom for her birthday and we all had a very good time.

Back in the lounge after dinner it was ‘trivia’ night – we listened to small snippets of songs and had to come up with song name, artist and artists and nationality. Surprisingly, our group won, I don’t know how, we were all pretty drunk by the end. Rik MC’d the night and we all laughed a lot.

At the end of the game I got a text from my husband that he could call me – I hadn’t spoken to him or Lucy in a few days so I quickly got up to go back to the cabin (with the intention that I would return later) but after sitting down and trying to have a coherent conversation I thought maybe drinking  more wasn’t the best idea and when Mom came in and started getting ready for bed I decided I should do the same thing.

April 8th
Dresden

Saturday morning dawned gray and chilly but fortunately dry. We got dressed and had breakfast before going on a walking tour with an excellent guide who was a Dresden native. She gave us a wonderful tour through the city center and then into the museum where we saw many gold drinking vessels and the crown jewels – a giant green diamond. We also went through the main church in the city center – a protestant structure that looked as though Liberace decorated it personally. We went to the opera house and saw the many palaces August the Strong had built for all of his mistresses.

The tour wound back to the boat around lunch time and we decided to eat there, have a glass of wine (or 3) and some coffee before heading back in to town on our own. We needed to get some local currency and our search for an ATM machine inadvertently lead us to a big, modern shopping mall which we quickly walked in and out of and then decided to walk across the bridge to see the golden statue of Augustus the Strong atop his horse.  We stayed on the other side of the river just long enough to take some pictures and then walked back to the city center, we wondered around for a little bit and ended up at a little cafe in Augustus’s pleasure baths where we where going to order a beer and relax, but before we got service we both decided that it made more sense to go drink on the boat where we had already paid for our booze, also our feet hurt and were ready to rest for a little bit.

The afternoon had warmed up and the sun had come out so when we got back to the boat we found seats outside on the front deck and I had the chance to update my journal and sketch a quick skyline of the city.

Mom went inside to attend a lace making demonstration while I enjoyed some peace and quiet and drank for two outside (I just kept letting them fill my her wine glass the whole time )like she had simply run to the bathroom.

It was an enjoyable and relaxing afternoon. We had dinner with Beth and Mike and Jane and Dennis, Mom and I both had the rack of lamb which was delicious and we had another great meal with friends.

After diner we headed back to the lounge to hear some local musicians play – two violins and an oboe. I stayed awake by sketching the flowers on the bar but almost everyone else present started nodding off. As soon as they were done the entire ship went to bed except for Jeannie and I – I met her at the bar and they two of us and Zoltan (our favorite bartender) stayed up late, swapping stories of child rearing and dysfunctional childhoods, it was a lot of fun. I don’t know what time I headed to bed.

April 9th
Meissen

It was a little rough getting up Sunday morning, my plan had been to be up early to see us pull away from Dresden but I did not make it. Mom was up though and said it was pretty cool.

I finally got up around 7:45 and met her downstairs for breakfast. We arrived in Meissen not long after departing Dresden and at 8:45 we boarded a bus for a tour. Our first stop was to the porcelain manufacturer that Meissen is famous for. We got a tour of how the porcelain is made and an opportunity to spend money in their shop. The tour was interesting but porcelain is not my thing and after seeing how cute Meissen is I would have preferred to skip the hour or two that we spent there and done some more exploring.

Eventually we left the porcelain manufacturer and headed in to town, we had an excellent guide who walked us from the bus up to the castle. Meissen is a beautifully quaint midevil town that was undamaged in the war, it winds up a hill and there are many vistas where you can overlook all the crooked streets and all the red roofs.

We made our way down the hill into the main town square where they had an Easter market going on, we had a few minutes (not enough time) to walk around on our own, I bought some wooden Easter eggs and Mom and I had a glass of the local wine (not good) before it was time to get back on  the bus.

Back aboard it was sunny and warm and I sat out on the front deck in a rocking chair, drinking wine  and watching the river go by. We sailed through lots of un-populated areas where there was just trees full of mistletoe balls something I had never seen before and that I assumed where birds nests before I was corrected.

Mom left me alone to go attend a cooking demonstration and I came close to my perfect moment when at one point I was the only one outside, warm and with a full glass of wine in my hand, we sailed by a German family out for a bike ride, I waved and they waved back – simple but perfect.

Around 4:00pm we docked in another small midevil town called Torgau, Rik our director offered to do an informal walking tour of the town center and we went with him. The big claim to fame of the town is that it was where the Russians and the American’s met at the end of the war.

Sidenote- after the end of the war, during soviet occupation the Russians released propaganda that never mentioned the American’s had been there, the citizens didn’t find out until 1989 the American’s had liberated them.

We went to the war memorial and then into the palace where they still have bears in the moat to guard the town (we didn’t see the bears – it was cold). Mom and I walked up the outside spiral staircase which was beautiful and amazing because it was constructed 100’s of years ago without a center support.

We walked from the castle to the main square we were came upon an Easter celebration. Local kids where playing in hay and local adults were drinking at a beer garden set up under tents. It was beautiful and I felt like we had gone back in time and intruded on something special.

Some guests stayed in town but Mom and I walked back to the ship for more cocktails and the daily briefing, we ate dinner with Beth, Mike Judy & Dennis. I had a shrimp roll, Chinese noodles and and excellent chocolate souffle (more like a lava cake) we all liked it so much that we asked our servers if we could have it again the following night.

After dinner we retired to the lounge for a photo competition, once again MC’d by Rik, I had entered two photos that were well received but not the best ones, there were also some funny ones and with Rik’s commentary we all laughed a lot.

After the competition most everyone went back to their cabins and I – once again – met Jeannie at the bar and she and Zoltan and I closed the ship down for the night. I managed to crawl in to bed without waking Mom.

April 10th
Elbe River – Wittenberg

We pulled away from Torgau at 8am, Mom got up and dressed and left me to sleep in, but I was already awake. Instead of getting up I decided to lay in bed and open the blinds in our room, I laid in bed and watched the German countryside go by – it was lovely and relaxing. I had slept wrong the night before and my neck was very very sore, it was nice to just lay there.

Eventually I managed to get up and put some clothes on and met Mom downstairs in the dining room. I ate a bagel and some granola and started to feel better. At 10:00am after some Tylenol we joined the other passengers in the lounge for a short history of Germany (1945- present day) and then we had a quick discussion about the debarkation process (aka – pay your bill!).

After Rik’s talk we were served an early lunch. Mom and I decided to eat upstairs in the lounge instead of down in the dining room. I made myself a salad and ate it with a couple of glasses of wine and watched the captain sail us in to Wittenberg.

Wittenberg lays at the mouth of the Elbe and a small tributary, to dock the captain went past the tributary, back up in to it, turned the boat completely around and went back out to the Elbe so we would exit on the correct side of the ship. It was cool to see because the tributary was literally no wider than the boat itself. I watched all of this from the sundeck.

After lunch and a few more glasses of wine we left the boat and boarded a bus to go downtown Wittenberg where we met our tour guide, Christian for a tour that was 99.5% about Martin Luther. Christian was very enthusiastic but very hard to understand and after about 10 minutes I had learned everything I wanted to know about the protestant reformation but the tour went on nonetheless.

We started the tour at the castle church where Luther had been a teacher, walked all the way through the town center and ended at the Martinhaus where he and his wife had raised 6 children, it went on and on and on. We did get one small break in the town center where Mom and I had a truly awful cup of coffee and navigated a treacherous spiral staircase to use the bathroom. While we were in town the temperature dropped and the wind picked up and by the end everyone was freezing.

By the time we returned to the ship, Mom and I rushed to the bar for wine and then took it to our cabin where we started packing up our things. I took a hot shower to help relax my neck that was still very sore and after we were mostly packed and changed in to warmer clothes we headed back to the lounge to meet up with our friends and a toast from the captain for having us aboard. While we were drinking in the lounge we met Donna and Dennis from Toronto whom I liked immediately and when we finally went down to dinner we got one of the larger tables and Beth, Mike, Judy, Dennis,Donna and Dennis all sat with us. It was a great dinner – both food and company wise. I had scallops and a number of other things and we were all served the chocolate souffle from the night before.

After dinner we went back to the lounge for the evenings entertainment – two local actresses that put on a small skit about Catherine (martin Luther’s wife) and her best friend getting ready for their first ball. There was some audience participation and it was pretty enjoyable.

After the skit was over I realized I was exhausted and I wasn’t going to be able to stay up with Jeannie and Zoltan again. I said goodnight to them and goodbye to Zoltan since I wouldn’t see him again (there were hugs) and barely made it in to bed before I was asleep.

April 11th
Elbe – Berlin

We got up early on Tuesday to finish packing , we needed to have our luggage outside our staterooms by 7:45, we were done by 7:00 – left everything and went downstairs to have breakfast.

Reflections on the River Cruise:

  • Hands down I loved it – whether it was because of the amazing crew we had or all the truly awesome friends we met on the boat, the entire experience was top notch.
  • The food was excellent, especially the bread. The bread was nothing short of spectacular.
  • Service on the boat could not have been better, there was nothing we needed that wouldn’t have been provided to us and the bar staff were professional and friendly and if I could have brought home anything I wanted it would have been Zoltan and Ploman (Ploman was our waiter but at some point during the trip became my very best friend and personal wine server) this would have been difficult to explain to my husband.
  • We did not travel very far or very often. The distance from Prague to Berlin is not very far and I realized only after getting there that we were stretching out an eight hour boat ride into six days. We never traveled at night and the times when we were cruising the river were not long. I had expected to be spending long hours on the deck of this ship curled up with a cocktail and a book. I never once cracked open any of the 3 books I lugged with me while on the boat.
  • Because we didn’t ‘sail’ a lot the captain of the ship had a garden on the sundeck that he maintained obsessively, when I first boarded I thought how does he have time to do that? But the after a few days I realized his job was pretty easy, it’s really a sweet little gig that Captain Joseph had going on. Besides sailing a few hours a day (maybe) and seeing us off and back on the boat every time we left on an excursion his only real task is a champagne toast at the beginning and the end of the journey.
  • Every time we arrived back from an excursion we were greeted back on the ship with a small treat, hot apple cider when it was cold and rainy, small pieces of chocolate when it was warm – little things that really put a cherry on whatever we were doing.

 

We were off the boat and boarded our bus at 8:45. Our first stop on the way to Berlin was a small town called Wurltz known for the Summer palace and gardens of Duke Leopold III. Despite the fact that it was cloudy damp and no more than 40 degrees we decided to take a ‘gondola’ (really just  big row boat) around the lake we were told this was the best way to see the sites.

Ten of us piled in to this boat, rowed by a young German man who spoke no English, who was just able to point at things as they went by. At one point we passed what looked like an old barn and he pointed and said “Cow Haus” it was the funniest thing.

45 minutes later we finally got off the ‘gondola’ and made a beeline for the cafe, after a cup of hot chocolate to warm up we walked around the gift shop before once again getting on the bus. Our next stop was Potsdam but it would be awhile before we got there, as soon as the bus was out of the small villages and on the autobahn I fell asleep.

We arrived in Potsdam a little before lunch and we had two hours free time in the town center. We thought that would be more than enough time for lunch so we set off with Mike, Beth, Donna and Dennis to the end of the pedestrian walkway where there is a smaller and older version of Berlin’s famous Brandenburg gate, we found a small cafe next to it and got a table for the 6. We all had giant white asparagus for lunch (a German delicacy) and some good local beer, by the time we were done and we walked back to the bus our 2 hours was up.

We left the town center and headed to San Soucci (a summer palace for Frederick the great of Prussia). I wasn’t really interested in touring another palace but we had a great tour guide and the entire thing is pretty small it ended up being interesting and fun, we did the beginning and end in the rain and at the end hurried back to the bus to get warm.

The drive from Potsdam to Berlin was about 30-35 minutes, we eventually made it to the Intercontinental hotel situated on the edge of the Tiergarden at the very top of what was formally west Berlin. The hotel was really nice and by the time we arrived we were already checked in and so we just picked up our keys and went to our room (#649).

After the tiny size of our ship cabin the shear enormity of the hotel room was a welcoming sight. We had to wait some time for our bags to be brought up and in the meantime got a dinner recommendation from the concierge. I wanted a good old fashioned beer garden and he told us about one not far from the hotel.

We made some coffee and finally got our bags and then met up with Beth and Mike in the lobby, we had also run into John and Lorraine  (who happened to be staying in the room right next to us) and we invited them along with us to dinner.

After a few wrong turns we managed to find the beer garden – very quaint and right on the canal, the six of us got a table and some very good local beer, there was no sausage on the menu so I ordered a salad instead which was only okay (lots of cucumbers, blech). We had a nice dinner and then all walked back to the hotel. Mom and I said goodnight to our dinner companions in the lobby and headed to the hotel bar for a nightcap.

We ended up sitting with some other viking passengers in the bar and drank 2 glasses of wine – 15 euros a piece (yikes!) we deiced to call it a night after the wine and we headed upstairs to bed.

April 12th
Berlin

we woke up Wednesday morning neither of us having slept well – my neck was still hurting me very much and Mom had narrowly avoided a migraine by getting up to take some pills in the middle of the night. We both just wanted a hot shower and some coffee but the shower was complicated and I couldn’t figure out how to turn it on and we had drank the coffee the day before while we waited for our bags…

After struggling for a good 5 minutes with the shower I gave up and called the front desk. They sent up an elderly, distinguished gentleman in a tuxedo (I opened the door for him still in my pajamas). I explained that the water would not turn on and he looked at me, all disheveled, and said “Madam, you only need to turn it to the left…” Uh, huh – humiliated I quickly took a shower which once again had great water pressure and multiple jets, it was glorious.

We eventually got dressed and made it downstairs for breakfast, we sat with Jeannie and Mina and I had my usual granola and yogurt as well as several croissants that were flaky and buttery and lovely (and not very big).

At 8:45 we met in the lobby and boarded a bus for our Berlin tour . We spent the next 4 hours on a bus with Irene, our guide. We traveled all around Berlin, we got out at checkpoint Charlie(emotional) and again at the wall(there is a remnant still standing that artists use as a canvas) and then again at Brandenburg gate.

The tour was good but my biggest take away was Irene’s stories – she grew up in East Berlin, she lived in an apartment block which had one bathroom shared by 4-5 families, there were also public restrooms out on the street, green 8 sided structures which they called ‘the octagon bar’ as in ‘hey, I’m running out to the octagon bar!’

She also told us that as a child children they were required to learn Russian in elementary school but once they got to middle school they could chose another language to speak, she and her friends all chose English, not because she ever though she would leave east Berlin or ever interact with ‘westerners’ but because she wanted to know what the Rolling Stones were signing.

These stories remind me of what we learned from our guide in Meissen who also grew up behind the iron curtain, she went to University to study software engineering but when she got out she interviewed at a factory who asked her what religion was and she told them she was a catholic. They told her that Catholics weren’t allowed to work on computers, they hired her anyway and she literally sat at a desk for 4 years, just an empty desk unable to touch the computers – so that the soviets could say their unemployment rate was 0%.

Our tour ended at 1:00, we were dropped at the hotel and we made a plan with Beth and Mike to meet up in the hotel lobby in 30 minutes to go out to lunch.

We refreshed ourselves and met up with them to walk the 2 blocks to a huge department store called Ka-da-we which is world famous and very close to our hotel. The 6th floor of the store is a giant food ‘court’. At this point I was desperate for a sausage so after walking around a few minutes we parted ways; Beth ,being a vegetarian, wanted to go get fish and Mom and I headed to the butchers.

We grabbed seats at a bar – ordered two sausages and some beer which were both excellent. After we ate we walked around a little bit and just gaped at everything. We decided to grab some wine and sandwiches and just stay ‘in’ that night and be low key. We met up with Mike and Beth briefly again and they went off to go shopping and we headed to the wine section. After we had our food we explored the store for a little bit but it was HOT in there and both of us were pretty tired, we didn’t stay long.

We headed back to the hotel and had a glass of wine in our room during which I decided that I should take advantage of the hotels spa, I called down at 6:30 and made an appointment for a 7:00 deep tissue massage.

Mom went down with me and took advantage of the pool and hot tub while I got the best massage of my life by someone named… Wilham? Who knows or cares, it was great and I came out feeling much better. I drank a big glass of water, collected Mom and we headed upstairs where we got comfortable, finished the bottle of wine we had opened earlier, ate our sandwiches and listened to music.

April 13th
Berlin

Thursday, we both felt better and the day dawned warm and sunny, we decided to spend the day walking the city and seeing the things on foot that we only glanced at from the bus the day before.

After breakfast in the hotel we briefly met up with Mike and Beth in the lobby to say goodbye (most of the passengers on our ship left on Thursday morning). John and Lorraine and another couple from Seattle (that we didn’t know) were the only other Viking people staying for the extra two day extension. We made plans with John and Lorraine to have dinner together before heading out. We walked west through Teirgarden towards Brandenburg gate. The park was exceptionally beautiful, with well maintained paths and gorgeous trees and gardens, it is hard to imagine that in 1945 the entire thing was completely destroyed, it looks old from the inside.

One of the best things I love about Berlin is that it is a very green city – they really take care to have as many green spaces as possible and go so far as to give each and every tree in the city a number, every tree regardless if its on a sidewalk or in a park has a tag and a unique number and this way  they know at any given time exactly how many trees they have. (currently 483,000)

we got through the park and came out right at Brandenburg gate, we stopped for a few pictures and then walked over to the holocaust memorial (just a block away) I thought the memorial was well done, its interpretive and gives no names or  dates but when you are there you feel as though you are in a sacred place, Mom and I both left with tears in our eyes.

We left there and walked past the Gendermenmarkt – a square which boasts two midevil churches and a large museum, one of the churches is open and for 3 euros you can walk to the top of it – of course we did that – took a bunch of photos and headed out.

Another goal for our walk on Thursday was to finish the last of our souvenir shopping, we had consulted with the concierge about the best place to do this and he directed us to a shop very close to museum island, so we headed in that direction, crossed over the canal and decided that it was time to stop for a beverage, we entered the quaintest most adorable little bar where I had a beer and Mom got coffee and we shared some delicious lemon mouse thing with raspberry topping.

Feeling refreshed we continued down the same street and found some excellent little shops where we finished almost all of our shopping and decided to start back, we chose a different way to walk and soon found ourselves walking  past the site of the future “House of One”. (sidenote: the house of one is a new religious center where the heads of the Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths and can meet and talk). On the back side of the construction zone is a small alleyway with a little cafe, we decided to go to this cafe for lunch.

I had sausage and beer and Mom got asparagus and potatoes and beer, the food was excellent and the place was super cute and not touristy in any way, the service was terrible (we had to interrupt our waiter’s lunch to get the bill) but it was a neat little experience.

After lunch we headed back towards the less historical and more commercial parts of the former east Berlin. We got to the ‘Mall of Berlin’ just as it started raining and popped in, I was on a desperate hunt for good German beer steins. We were unsuccessful in locating any and Mom was READY TO GO – so we headed out the other end of the mall just as the rained stopped.

Around this time I started getting tired and cranky, my ankles were beginning to hurt from walking (all told we did about 11.5 miles that day) and I was starting to slide into a funk. We decided to stop at the Sony center (an impressively huge cinema center) we sat at an outside cafe and got two lattes before heading on.

The Sony center is also on the edge of the Teirgarden and it was easy for us to cross the street and walk along the side of the park back to the area our hotel was in. I could feel myself getting grumpy and unpleasant and I had a brief thought about going back to the hotel and laying down for awhile but then I gave myself a pep talk and realized I only had a day and a half left of vacation and I needed to suck it up – I suggested to Mom that instead of going back to the hotel that we head to the little beer garden on the canal that we went to the first night for dinner. Mom readily agreed (most likely because she had to pee so bad she was about to have an accident). We headed there quickly, I ordered us beers while she went to the bathroom. We both perked up after that and spent a pleasant time drinking and watching the locals.

We got back to the hotel with enough time to refresh and unload our souvenirs before meeting John and Lorraine for dinner. The previous day I had run into another viking passenger who had gone to a place called “Bavarian” for lunch and really liked it – it was close and I suggested we try it.

I got us there, despite going the long way around, the place was cute, in the basement of a mall, a little too German (like an over the top TGIFridays for tourists –  but German). Despite that we had a nice dinner – Mom and I split a sausage, potato, meatloaf platter and an apple strudel – I had a couple beers and we had a lot of fun talking with John and Lorraine.

After dinner we headed back to the hotel and said goodnight to our friends, we drank some wine while I updated the journal and soon fell asleep.

April 14th
Berlin

Mom had managed to get us tickets to take a tour of Templehof, the famous Berlin airport built by Hitler, taken over by the American’s and served as the main drop for the 1948 Berlin airlifts, it was somewhere she really wanted to see. The tour was scheduled for 1:30.

After breakfast we had the morning free, Mom decided to head back up to our room to start packing up (fortunately we had both come with room to spare in our luggage because we ended up buying a significant amount of gifts).

I decided to take advantage of some free time and go out on a last ditch effort for good German beer steins. I headed out to make my way back to Ka-da-we but realized as soon as I set out that it was Good Friday and nothing was going to be open. I checked the stores anyway and then decided to just wander around, I went to the memorial church (a church close to our hotel that had been half destroyed in the war and instead of rebuilding it or knocking it down they chose to leave it there as a reminder).

I walked about 3 miles before I got a text from Mom that she was done doing what she was going to do. I met her in front of the zoo (also close to our hotel) and we walked a block or so away to a coffee shop where we waited forever for service, eventually I got a hot chocolate and mom got coffee and we sat in the window and watched people walk by.

I had done some research about places to have our last dinner in Berlin and I suggested that before we head back to the hotel to get a cab to Templehof we walk by one the of the choices and check it out.

The place was cute and very authentically German, far from the touristy areas and also further than I thought it would be from the hotel. We had to walk back to the hotel QUICKLY to get our things and hail a cab to the Templehof tour.

Despite the time crunch we arrived with plenty of time to spare, got checked in and waiting for about 15-20 minutes before it began. Our tour guide was a young architecture student at the University who gave us an excellent tour and even took us underground to the bomb shelters as well as the old archive that was accidentally blown up when the Russians arrived. It was creepy and old and awesome.

The tour took over 3 hours but we didn’t realize that until the end when we discovered it was after 4:00 as we got a taxi back to the hotel. By the time we made it back we were starving. We had tentatively made plans to dine again with John and Lorraine, so we stopped in their room and told then that we wanted to go out early and further away than they probably wanted to go (neither of them were big walkers). They chose to do their own thing and we said goodbye to them.

On our way out of the hotel I made a suggestion of another possible restaurant that was behind the zoo and perched on the edge of the Terigarden and the canal, we decided to head that way and check it out. Our route took us past the back of the zoo where we were able to see emus and flamingos and all sorts of animals. We did find the beer garden/restaurant on the other side of the zoo and it was cute and looked like a great place but very informal, no table service and had more tables outside than inside (it was pretty chilly outside).

We decided we wanted to sit inside and be waited on so we continued on and went back to the place that we had walked by earlier. I am glad that we did, the food and beer and the place we went to was exceptional – the restaurant was very busy and we got a small table in a walk way and an admonition that we couldn’t be there more than an hour (our table was previously reserved). We ate, drank and got out of there and decided to head back to the beer garden we passed up for dinner for one last drink before heading back to the hotel.

We made our way there, got a seat inside at their very small bar, ordered beers and talked about our favorite parts of the trip, when I asked Mom what she liked best she said “All of it except the Martin Luther stuff” I wholeheartedly agreed.

We finished our beers and once again walked behind the zoo to our hotel where we got ready for bed and an early morning.

April 15th
Germany – Philadelphia

We were up EARLY Saturday morning because we had a taxi scheduled to take us to the airport at 7:15 and we both wanted to get coffee and breakfast before heading out. We were downstairs, luggage in hand a little after 6am, we checked out and were going to head to breakfast when we learned that on the weekends they don’t start breakfast until 7:00. Disappointed we looked for other options, but Germans are not early risers and there was nothing else open. The concierge took pity on us and arranged for a pot of coffee and a plate of croissants be brought out to the lobby for us.

We sat the the lobby eating our breakfast and drinking coffee until 7am. We chatted briefly and said goodbye to Rik who had come down to see us off and honestly couldn’t have been a better director or a nicer person, he made the trip even better than it already was, he was on the way home to England for his own holiday, we wished him well, Mom invited him to Maine and he saw us off.

The trip home was uneventful, we were at the Berlin airport 90 minutes earlier than we needed to be, we flew from there to Frankfort where I finally managed to buy some fairly authentic steins and then from there we flew to Philadelphia and after waiting for thousands of spring-breakers ahead of us in customs we finally got back to the house around 4:30.

Reflections of Berlin:

  • The beer was awesome. AWESOME and I’m not really that much of a beer person.
  • Berlin as was different from Prague as you can get, it was more modern than I expected, but since the majority of it is only between 27 – 72 years old I guess it’s not surprising.
  • I was afraid that he city would make me sad because of all of the Nazi history  but I really felt that they do a nice job of remembering what happened, reminding everyone it would never happen again and trying to move on.
  • Outside the main entrance to the U-bahn (the subway) there is a small memorial that sais something like “Here is a list of atrocities that we shall never forget so that they shall never happen” – and it lists 13 concentration camps.
  • The outline of the wall can still be seen on the ground in the form of double cobblestones where it once stood.
  • Overall I found the German people awesome, warm and welcoming. They seemed full of life and ready to have a good time, anytime.

*Alternatively titled “200 glasses of wine in 14 days”

Everything* You Want To Know

I’ve had something of writers block/struggles with appropriate content with this site for the past few months and that’s why I’ve taken a bit of a hiatus. I’ve been trying to come up with something not politically driven but still doesn’t dismiss what’s going on in the world today. It’s a difficult conundrum and not one that I am equipped to rectify, but because I have a couple of things to say I thought I would interview myself again, I feel like the last time this happened it was moderately successful and perhaps it can be so again, who knows, I’m making all of this up as I go along:

Interviewer: “good morning, how are you today”

Me: “Good, thanks for asking”

Interviewer: “Perhaps you could fill us in on what’s been happening with you for the past couple months?”

Me: “Sure, I’ve been doing the regular things, you know going to work, trying to successfully get Lucy through Winter and first grade, taking care of my Father, protesting the current administration,  joining weight watchers to lose my “Holiday-I-Want-To-Eat-All-The-Things” weight. Yesterday I celebrated the 13th anniversary of when I met my husband…”

Interviewer: “That sounds like a lot of things, could you elaborate on how Lucy is doing?”

Me: “She’s great, she tells me things like “Mom, I don’t find dinner to be entertaining enough, I think the reason that I take so long to eat is because I’m super bored.” And one day when I spent the entire day in my pajamas (tucked modestly underneath my clothes), she told me “Mom, you really need to start taking better care of yourself, you aren’t setting a very good example” But despite all of this and the fact that she can sound like a middle-aged school principle when she talks she’s still very much a little girl, she likes to watch cartoons, play with her dolls and build snowmen, she decided that she wanted to take a break from chapter books and go back to reading picture books at night. Her very favorite things are piggy back rides and tickle time.”

Interviewer: “She is growing up so fast! How are you dealing with that?”

Me: “Oh phantom interviewer it scares me shitless. Honestly I try not to think more than a day or two ahead or I just start to lose my mind. There are playdates that she goes to on her own and I know that soon those will turn into evenings out with friends, teenage sleepovers, dates, etc. How can I keep her safe and let her go at the same time? How do I adequately capture this time in her life so that both of us remember it? What happens when I don’t have the answers she’s looking for anymore, who will she turn to then? How can I get something legally binding drafted so that she is obligated to let me live with her in my old age like we’ve talked about so many times? In short I’m a hot mess about all of this”

Interviewer:  “Speaking of hot messes, do you want to briefly describe your recent political activism and how you are feeling about what’s going on?”

Me: “Sure, I went to Washington for the Women’s March in January because I am very afraid of what is going on and the potential that it has to not only disrupt our current way of life but if not handled properly to war and destruction. The march made me feel hopeful but also completely helpless because while it showed a lot of people believe what I believe I don’t think it changed the minds or attitudes of anyone making the decisions.”

Interviewer: “What are your biggest concerns?”

Me: “I have many big concerns, the safety of my family is always at the forefront and the current diplomatic ‘agenda’ is certainly worrisome, I am afraid that we have someone dealing with people and situations they are ill-equipped to deal with and with a temperament that does not lend itself to diplomacy. I am worried that the earth is reaching an environmental tipping point and that as human beings we need to change our way of living with and thinking about nature and we have an administration that seems to think that is a dumb idea and has not only put a media blackout on the EPA but also deleted the Whitehouse website on climate change. Not to mention the travel ban that seems not only arbitrary and malicious, but doesn’t even serve the problem that it seemingly addresses. I could go on and on…”

Interviewer: “Let’ stop there. At the end of the day are you hoping that the current administration fails?”

Me: “No – absolutely not. I hope that I am wrong about everything, I hope that in four years I am generally surprised and can say ‘wow that went ok’. Failure for them means failure for us and ultimately we are all in it together whether we like it or not.”

Interviewer: “Switching topics, how’s your new year’s weight watchers goals working out”

Me: “Really good – I’ve managed to lose my extra Christmas weight and then some. I don’t really like to talk about my struggles to lose weight – I mean it’s pretty personal and also really boring to those reading about it, but it’s something a lot of us have to deal with. I do find weight watchers to be the best tool out there, if you do what you are supposed to do it will work. Sure there are nights that I come home and  polish off a bottle of sauvignon blanc before heading to bed, and I did eat most of a plate of bar nachos last night for dinner but if you manage to have more good days than bad days than it will work out. I have a trip coming up and my biggest motivation is not to look fat in all of my pictures.”

Interviewer: “Thanks for that, of course now I want some wine… So what else would you like to talk about, your Dad? Your anniversary”

Me: “There isn’t a lot I want to say about my Dad – it isn’t an ideal situation and I struggle daily to find a good balance of how much time and mental anguish I devote to him. My biggest wish is that an adult would swoop in and handle everything but you know what? I’m not sure I know any adults just people my age pretending that we know what we are doing. My husband, on the other hand is great – it’s been 13 years now and there is only 3 or 4 things I would really like to change about him (I can say that – he never read this blog ((that’s probably one of the things I would change)). But honestly I couldn’t have picked a better partner or father for my child, he’s great and even when I’m feeling frustrated I can remember that. I wouldn’t trade him for anything.

Interviewer: “You haven’t mentioned anything about work”

Me: “You are right, the truth is I’m not really supposed to talk about my work. That makes it sound scary and mysterious, but it’s not. I have a great job that I like very much – I work with people who are awesome and not at all crazy. I have a certain freedom to learn and do things that I want but at the same time a good support system to catch me if I fall. I can’t complain and I probably can’t really elaborate. Let’s just say ‘work is good’.”

Interviewer: “That all sounds very positive, with everything going on with you right now is there anything you feel you are dropping the ball on?

Me: “ That is an excellent question. Beyond the regular stuff like flossing my teeth and moisturizing I have been terribly remiss about a few things. One of them is my Christmas thank you cards. I send out thank you cards every year but this year I haven’t and if we are being honest I probably won’t get to it so really quick I’d like to thank the following people – My Mom, Lucy loves the jeans you got her, the flower embroidery has finally turned her attitude towards jeans positive which is super helpful because its cold and otherwise she just wants to wear shorts and skirts all the time. Also, the timeshare in August is going to be great and we are all very much looking forward to that trip. To my Mother-In-Law – you out did yourself AGAIN this year, Lucy is over the moon in love with her American Girl Doll, her hatchimal and everything else you got her, your sheer generosity always leaves me at a loss for words. To my sister in law Jessica – do not ever EVER buy us poo-pouri again, Jason uses this ALL the time and 6 – 7 spritzes more than recommended. Our bathroom constantly sells like lemons and poop (I love you but please… no more). To my sister Beth and my friend Stacy thank you for adding to our lego collection, I have almost become immune to the pain of stepping on them. And to everyone else (friends and family)– thank you for everything! I promise to have my act together better next year.

Interviewer: “Wow, ok. Can you tell us what your plans are for this website?”

Me: “yes, I really really want to get the funny back. I think now, more than ever people need that. I’ve been writing a lot of boring/technical things for my job which has taken over my tone and I need to work on leaving that in my office. I recently wrote a post about women who wear sensible shoes (a good friend asked for this) so look for that soon. I’m also working on a post of craft projects to do with dog hair. I have SO MUCH  dog hair in my house right now… I hope that I will soon resume regular posts.

Interviewer: “thanks so much for answering all if my questions. Any parting words? ”

Me: “Buck up everyone,  there’s only 25 days to daylight savings, I truly believe we will all feel better when we see the sun more.”

Peace out.

 *Probably not everything

2016 – A Year in Books

There is nothing like being in a library all day that makes you want to read. I started this year not really in to books – the first 5 titles on this list took me until May to read, but once I started my new job I couldn’t seem to read fast enough. Here are 28 reviews for your perusal:

dead-mtn

Dead Mountain

I liked this book a lot, it was an excellent example of investigative journalism. The book tells the story of the unsolved deaths of nine Russian hikers. I could have done without the authors personal conjecture at the end – but his ideas certainly did not ruin the story.

potty-mouth

The Potty Mouth at the Table

After the seriousness of Dead Mountain I decided to lighten things up with a little Laurie Notaro. I liked this book but not as much as her earlier works.

maddadam

Maddaddam

What the? This was the third book in a series by Margeret Atwood, the first was one of the best things I ever read, the second was just okay but this one I could barely get through… ugh.

fool-assassin Fool’s Assassin

I might be a nerd, but the day that Robin Hobb revived the story of Fitz Chivalry was a great day. For Hobb fans, this book did not disappoint.

fools-quest

Fool’s Quest

I tried so hard to space out these books to make them last longer, but I lack self control and devoured them in a weeks time. This is the second in the trilogy and now I have to wait until March to read the last one – look for it in next years review.

coffee

Coffee, Tea or Me

Totally fun and irreverent tale of two stewardesses in the 60’s. I picked this up for a quarter at a library book sale – it was totally worth it.

freedom

Freedom

A very solid novel – I got this out of the book swap bin at work and enjoyed it enough to pass it along.

boy

About a Boy

Excellent. I never read this because I wasn’t sure I could relate but found this (again) in the book swap bin at work and I’m very glad I picked it up. It was quick and sweet.

backpack

A Bear, a Backpack and Eight Crates of Vodka

Another excellent book, this is the true story of Lev Golinkin’s family fleeing Russia and immigrating to the US. This book was well written, it came across as both horrifying and humorous, I enjoyed it a lot.

marley

Marley & Me

I know I’m a little late to the party on this one, but it took me getting my own Marley to want to read it (I have a hard time with books about dogs, they always end the same way). I thought this was a great book and in the end when I cried myself to sleep I was able to wake up to a Marley puppy poking me in the butt to get out of bed.

wally

Couldn’t Keep it all to myself

Another library sale find – I picked it up because of Wally Lamb, but it wasn’t written by him. This book contains essays written by the inmates of York correctional facility. It was okay, some where better than others, it was all very Orange is the New Black.

string

String too Short to Be Saved

Excellent, this book made me nostalgic for something I didn’t even know about. Well written, it’s like a delicious meal you want to keep eating.

dive

The Dive from Clausen’s Pier

Sad. A quiet bittersweet novel- I liked it, I didn’t love it.

london

Imagined London

Not the book for me – this was a slim book about the London of classic literature and the London of today. Not ever having been to London  I was completely lost.

nightengale

The Nightingale

Another excellent book, a page turner about world war II – it reminded me of All the Light We Cannot See which was one of my favorites from last year.

lacuna

La Lacuna

The first novel from Kinsgsolver in 12 years. It took me a long time to get in to this novel – in the end I really enjoyed it. Maybe not as much as the The Poisonwood Bible.

mindy

Why Not Me?

I really enjoyed this book – you can read all about it here: https://stickyjamhands.com/2016/08/12/an-open-letter-to-mindy-kaling/

tractor

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian

This was a weird little book – it started out funny but didn’t stay that way. I kinda liked it – I didn’t really like it.

owls

Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls

I really like David Sedaris and I really liked this book even despite the turtle chapter. You can read about it here: https://stickyjamhands.com/2016/12/02/an-open-letter-to-david-sedaris/

fikry

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

This book was okay, I read it in two days- I thought the premise was good but it lacked character development.

houebroken

Housebroken

My second Notaro book this year, it was okay – have I mentioned I like her earlier stuff better?

what

What the What?

Excellent – everyone should read this book. A true story billed as a novel, eyeopening and enjoyable.

england

I Served the King of England

Preparing for my upcoming trip, I read this because it was recommended reading for visiting Prague. It was okay, a little bit weird and I’m not sure how it’s going to come in handy when I’m there.

angels

The Killer Angels

I read this book as research for a trip I took to Gettysburg. It was very readable and by the time I got to the battlefield I was able to ask questions like I actually knew what I was talking about.

postards

Postcards from the Edge

I read this well before Carrie Fisher died because I was looking for some comic relief after the civil war and it occurred to me I had read almost all of her books except this one. I will miss her greatly she was an excellent storyteller.

time-being

A Tale for the Time Being

Really excellent. If I had to pick my favorite book of the year this would probably be it. It took me a long time to get through it but was totally worth it.

german

The Good German

I read this to get a feel of what Berlin was like right at the end of World War II, I liked it more than I thought I would especially considering at it’s heart it was a murder mystery.

sellout

The Sellout

Still reading this book – it is dry and satirical and outrageous, I really really like it

Why My Current Job is Better Than my Last One

There are a number of reasons why my current job is better than my last one, many of them involve the absence of spreadsheets and budget preperation. My new job surrounds me with books and let’s me write and publish articles about things I’m only vaguely familiar with. I’m pretty sure I’m never going to be managing an audit and I am only required to attend one meeting a month – a meeting which is more often than not cancelled.

Yes, there are many reasons to like my new job more but I think the best thing so far has to be the Christmas party (obviously the most important factor regarding any employment opportunities). Last year, despite working at a non profit, we spent a relatively large amount of money renting out a karaoke bar. This might seem fun to some of you but to me it was akin to he 7th level of hell. First of all the space was too small for our group, making forced social interactions unavoidable, alcohol was limited to one drink a person and we ran out of food before I could make it through the buffet line. Last year I huddled on a corner stool at the end of the bar and spent the afternoon worrying how to factor the expense in to my year-end budget.

This year my employer is hosting a ‘holiday luncheon’ that you can attend (or not) and that you can bring your family to (or not) it’s located in a large area with lots of food and when you are done eating and being antisocial you can leave for the day. And the best part about it? I already scheduled that day off. Nothing says ‘Merry Christmas’ to your coworkers like taking vacation time away from them!

7 Things She’ll Talk About To Her Therapist

I have a lot of Mom friends who are constantly worried that they aren’t ‘doing it right’ that they are screwing up their kids in vast and various ways.  I, too, often wonder how many years of psychotherapy Lucy will need to be able to get past her childhood. I am sure every parent out there has the same fear, but today I am here to make you all feel better about yourselves and superior to me in every way.

Today I’m giving you a list of the ways that  KNOW I’m fucking up my kid, things I do that simply aren’t right – I know they aren’t right and yet I continue to do them. Please feel free to comment with your own unique parenting downfalls.

In the meantime, here they are in no particular order:

  1. I laugh when she falls down. I know, I know… I simply cant help myself. (Sidenote: this really upsets her, no parent should do this, ever).
  2. On the weekend I’m pretty laxed about brushing her teeth or giving her vitamin pills. Seriously, it’s like a slumber party up in here on the weekends – normal rules do not apply.
  3. I bribe her with candy to be good – sometimes its the only way that ever happens.
  4. I watch her sleep – I’m super creepy Mom at night time, someday I’m afraid she’s going to wake up and find me sitting next to her, drinking a glass of wine just watching her sleep for minutes at a time.
  5. I put parmesean cheese on all her vegetables – I know this is going to ruin her as an adult when she’s out on a date and complaining bout plain broccoli.
  6. I steal quarters out of her piggy bank ( mostly for parking) sometimes I take dollars when I really need them. I don’t think I’ve ever replaced anything.
  7. I hide in the bathroom to text my friends so that I don’t have to play barbies with her.

You are welcome internet – you are welcome.

An Open Letter to David Sedaris

Dear Mr. Sedaris,

Long time reader, first time correspondent. I have read many of your books – five in fact, which is a lot when you think about how many authors and books there are out there. I know for sure I’ve read at least five of Ernest Hemmingway’s books, but you know he’s Hemmingway.

I really wanted to reach out to you and tell you that the last book I read Let’s Explore Owl’s with Diabetes was really great, I enjoyed hearing about your 50th birthday and your colonoscopy, your Parisian dentist and your randomly close relationship with a telecommuting sales rep. But I must be honest with you and your essay about the turtles –  WTF David (May I call you David?) that is some fucked up shit. And I get it, I do, we all do some crazy stuff when we are kids. Once I…well, I certainly didn’t starve five loggerhead turtles in an aquarium in my bedroom. Or maybe I did, but you know what? I wouldn’t write about it. I mean, maybe I starved dozens of endangered sea creatures in a large open air pit in my back yard, but good god no one will ever know. This is the kind of stuff you only talk about after one too many glasses of wine to the wife of one of your husband’s coworkers that you barely know and then wake up the next morning with a tightness in your chest and realize that you can never go to one of his work parties again.

This is just some friendly advise for your future books – I love you and I honestly hope someone somewhere sometimes utters the phrase, “Have you Read Becca’s book – she’s like a female David Sedaris.”

But I didn’t open up this new email window to compare you to Hemmingway, I wanted to say – David, WTF with the turtles?

Love,

Becca

Obligatory Election Post

On the eve of the election I have been surprised by many things but one of the most surprising is how everyone on the internet seems to be writing a political post on their personal blogs. Seriously, I read two* this morning alone. Posts from people that don’t work for news organizations and write mostly about the novels they are in the middle of or their cats.

This got me thinking – OMG am I supposed to be writing my own political statement here at Sticky Jam Hands? It hardly seems the right platform but ALL. THIS. PEER. PREASSURE!

A girl can only take so much – but because I know I’m not going to change anyone’s mind about anything and we are so super emotionally charged about all of this and because it has basically ruined TV and Radio for the past nine months I’m going to use this opportunity to list a few things that would be worse to endure for three quarters of a year than political elections. This way I can check the box next to –Political blogging and you can all breathe a sigh of relief that we aren’t dealing with these things instead.

In no particular order, my list of 9 things worse than the election:

  • Stabbing myself in the eye  (for nine months)
  • Battling a yeast infection (for nine months)
  • Watching Gilbert Godfry talking (for nine months)
  • Having that dream where all of your teeth fall out (repeatedly for nine months)
  • Attempting to call an IT support line to explain a problem you only just barely understand (for nine months)
  • Trying to fill out a home mortgage request application (for nine months)
  • Contracting a horrible flesh eating disease (every day for nine months)
  • Being hungover on an airplane (for nine months)
  • Child Birth (for nine months)

Feel free to add your own list item in the comments below. Happy voting everyone!

*Clearly an accurate representation of the internet as a whole

He’s the King

Fine Art
Fine Art

Not long after completing my “Lost Years “series I hosted an out of town guest who was present during several of my lost years. While in my house he remarked that it was sad “Velvet Elvis” wasn’t featured in any of my entries. Velvet Elvis, for those of you not in the know is a classic art – Elvis painted on velvet (big surprise there); Elvis has hung in every house/apartment/condo that I have lived in since I was a teenager.

I agreed it seemed a terrible omission and promised that I would write Velvet Elvis’s story in his own featured blogpost.

TaDa

Velvet Elvis came to me because my Mother is crazy*, and being crazy she has unusual relationships with other crazy people that for a period of time in the late 1980’s involved purchasing cheap gag gifts to give out periodically. My Mother bought Velvet Elvis on the corner of Rt 302 and 115 out of the back of some guys van for less than $5.00, for a few years it was passed from hand to hand during staff parties and birthdays. For some reason my 13 year old self fell in love with Velvet Elvis and was unnaturally overjoyed when my Mother received him back as a re-gifted gift a few years after her initial purchase.

When he returned to us, I put my foot down and begged my Mom not to get rid of him; I hung him instead in my bedroom next to my celebrity posters that I had carefully cut from the pages of 16 and Bop magazines. It remained there, a veritable ‘Where’s Waldo’ of incongruous items until I was 18 and my parents decided to hold a garage sale while I was out of town. I returned to find all of my childhood toys gone, many treasures lost and Velvet Elvis missing.

OMG

I frantically ran around asking everyone at the sale or that had attended the sale what befell my beloved fine art. I discovered that it had been purchase by our paperboy, Aaron who lived down the road from us for some ridiculous amount like a quarter.

The thought of my beloved Elvis in the hands of this non appreciating pre-teen was too much for me, I marched directly to his house and asked under no certain terms how much it would cost to buy Elvis back – since he was a reasonable and sensible kid he asked me for $10 – which I gladly gave him fully accepting the fact that I had been ripped off.

When I moved out of my parents’ house, the day after high school graduation, Velvet Elvis was securely packed in the trunk of my car, when I moved into my Freshman Dorm room he was the first thing that I hung up and even when I lived in a dilapidated crack house** in Vineland NJ after my first year of college and had most of my possessions stolen Velvet Elvis survived and made his way back to me.

The day I boarded the Sunset Limited to move to CA I showed up at Amtrak’s 30th street station with two steamer trunks and a suitcase only to be informed that I could have a maximum of one bag with me – I quickly repacked, taking only my favorite summertime clothes and of course… Velvet Elvis.

When I finally did arrive in San Diego I immediately hung him up next to futon mattress on the floor that served as my bed and knew that everything was going to be okay.  Over the next seven years as I moved around the San Diego area I lost and gained many possessions but Velvet Elvis always had a spot of prominence wherever I found myself to be.

When I moved back east he lived for a while in and around Rittenhouse Square and then when my future husband and I moved in together I hung him directly opposite our front door, I did this because Elvis deserved a good view, but also to see if I had made the right decision to move in with my then very new boyfriend. To his credit Jason never batted an eye at Elvis being front and center and he even made a point to hang him prominently in our first house we bought together.

Today, Velvet Elvis resides in our vastly underutilized family room. But I have big plans to take this room back from the dog who has had free range of it for OVER A YEAR now and redecorate using Elvis as the main focal point.  If only I could contact someone at HGTV to help me figure out how to do this.

*It’s okay, my Mom knows I love her, and she also knows that she’s crazy.

**Completely unbeknownst to me when I moved in.

Bonus Track

Aw snap… you thought I was done, but this horse isn’t dead yet. Call this story “the lost years part 6 and a half”:

Do you ever find yourself doing unspeakably crazy things? Like you are watching yourself from afar and you are powerless to stop it? I can think of three distinct times in my adult life that I have gone bat shit crazy and as much as I wanted to stop myself I was unable to – this is one of those times.

It was the end of the 90’s – probably sometime mid 1999ish, who knows? I was living alone in my one bedroom on University Ave and decided one day that even though I loved my apartment and my solitude I was 24ish and maybe I should think about being around people my own age, in a setting that was somewhat less responsible than the one I had created for myself. I decided to find a roommate and move closer to the beach.

I put an ad in the Pennysaver, something along the lines of “want to find the perfect apartment, with the perfect roommate? Call me!’ I was bound to find someone good, right? I got hundreds of calls – I got calls from a lot of scary sounding people. I got a call from an entire platoon of marines looking for somewhere to ‘live’ when not on deployment, I got a call from a man I’m pretty sure wanted to pimp me out and offered to get me any place I wanted – I got so many calls that I eventually pulled the ad and stopped answering my phone.

But I got one call from a reasonable sounding girl who was also in her mid 20’s who lived in Ocean Beach but had recently found an available two-bedroom townhouse seven blocks from the ocean that she could not afford on her own – it sounded perfect, it sounded too perfect. I immediately went to meet this person whom we will call Samantha. She was living in a tiny one bedroom ‘cottage’ that was tastefully decorated, she seemed like someone I could get along with, she had a small dog that after a trial meet and greet was tolerated by Ruka.

We toured the two-bedroom townhouse that was big and bright and just a little bit 70’s mod to be fun – we picked bedrooms, I filled out an application – in my head I was already blending our living room furniture and determining how the new commute would fit into my work and school schedule.

I was on my way out the door with my landlord’s notice in hand when I decided to call her to confirm move-in dates and that’s when she tells me that she thought I should know she was still interviewing other potential roommates. WHAT? THE? HELL? I had already filled out the application and paid the application fee, I had already taken boxes from work – I had already created a new life in my head. I was beyond pissed off.

Without stopping to think about what I was doing I immediately grabbed my keys and drove to Ocean Beach ready to confront her in person, I thought maybe I could still be reasonable and talk this thing through. I called her from a pay phone around the corner from her place and told her I’d like to meet with her  – she got so outraged that I had come ‘into her neighborhood’ that she basically hung up on me.

At that point what I should have done was turned my car around and head home, cut my loses and be glad I dodged a bullet, but fuck Samanatha, you know? She called me, she asked me to see this apartment she found, she asked me to fill out an application. I nearly gave notice and lost the last affordable, rent controlled apartment within easy biking distance of my office. OMG – I WAS MAD!

Instead of going home I stopped at a dollar store bought a pad of paper and a pen, made my way to a corner bar, ordered the cheapest thing they served and proceeded to write Samanatha a letter.

I was in that bar for hours, the first couple pages went smoothly but by the time I was on page 4 or 5 I knew I was out of control – I remember seeing myself scribbling injustices to this girl that I barely knew and realized I had crossed a line. Whatever inhibitors that should have fired in my brain telling me to stop where asleep or deeply zoned out because I wrote Samantha a 16-page letter basically telling her how awful she was – like I said up front I was powerless to stop myself.

I stormed out of the corner bar and put my manifesto under her windshield wiper of her car and headed home.

She called me after work the next day to tell me that I was insane and that she never wanted to see or hear from me again, and I said something clever like, “yeah, well tell your new landlord to rip up my application – I already stopped payment on the check I gave you, bitch.”

And that my friends is how I almost lived Ocean Beach.

NOT the same place
NOT the same place

 

The Lost Years, Part VI

Here we are at the end of my apartment tales, by far this place one was my favorite although all of them had their own charm and challenges…

UNIVERSITY AVE

Since updates with metal railings
Since updated with metal railings

Around the time I was passively aggressively ending a three-year relationship I was also, once again apartment hunting. I managed to find a fabulously affordable one bedroom on a busy street right outside of San Diego proper. Sure none of my neighbors spoke English, but my apartment faced a different direction than theirs and truth be told I hardly ever saw them.

Ruka and I moved into our new Bachelorette pad which was a good size one bedroom. I managed to furnish it with the help of my new coworkers and some well times garage sales.

I was sad to leave my 2-minute commute but this new place was no more than three miles from the office, once I got a bike (also thanks to my new awesome coworkers) I even started biking to work – so you know, it couldn’t have been that far.

There was an initial period of exhilaration when I realized I didn’t need to compromise on style or decor and I did go a little nuts with stencils and tapestries, I went to Tijuana (the only place I could afford to shop) and for a little while my new apartment was a cross between a Mexican brothel and a homeless surfer shack, but soon after the thrill of decorating subsided I was faced with the truth that I was alone. I was alone a lot and although I grew to really love that in the beginning it was hard, on the weekends after leaving work I would spend the next 48 hours sitting in the window of my living room waiting for someone to walk by, however being California no one ever walked by. Twice in four years someone came to my door who wasn’t delivering food or previously invited, once was my boss out walking her dog (clearly an excuse to check up on me, I was WAY out of her ‘walk zone’) and once was a girl that was being followed by a sinister looking stranger – I let her in to use the phone and she left although I invited her to stay – probably a little too aggressively, I think she was more scared when she was leaving than when she got there.

For a long period of time I saw a lot of movies, I felt better being among people even if I wasn’t with them and I also found myself driving to the beach many nights after work to watch the sun set on a long day rather than face the prospect of an empty apartment. Sometimes I would walk to 7-11 (2 blocks away) just to interact with the store clerk (and buy cheap Paul Mason wine).

But at one point and I can’t say exactly when it happened I started preferring to be alone – I would rush home from work, dead bolt myself inside and finally be able to take a deep breath as I stripped down to my underwear and flopped on the couch, I even started making excuses for why I couldn’t go out or meet people. Because it was Southern CA the most convincing lie I could tell people was that I was at the gym, “Met you for brunch? oh no, I can’t I’m going to the gym.” “What did I do all weekend? – I was at the gym” people would nod knowingly having themselves ACTUALLY spent entire weekends at the gym.

Once I even broke down and got a gym membership – but I was poor and I was only allowed into the gym something ridiculous like Tuesday and Thursday from 2:00 – 4:30, but it didn’t matter I could flash that gym card or accidently (on purpose) let it slip out of my wallet while on a date in preparation of future excuses. In San Diego, the gym membership is akin to a toddler with a fever, they can get you out of just about anything.

Living alone made me a slob – not that I wasn’t already… untidy. When I lived with  Shane and Malcolm I felt that I need to try and set a better example – raise the bar if you will, being alone all bets were off. Five seconds after coming home there would be a trail of bags, pants, shoes leading from the front door to the sofa and because I had to do my laundry at the laundromat I would wait until every single piece of clothing I owned was dirty before lugging it in there and filling 5 washing machines full of everything I had. I remember one mid-week night when I finally bit the bullet, and loaded the back of my car with all the clothes I owned  (including the one pair of sheets I had for my bed) and set off to do laundry – I got them in the dryer and then left in order to avoid sitting in those uncomfortable plastic chairs. I returned 20 minutes before closing time to pick everything up only to face a locked door and a dark interior. I guess they thought it was cool to close up early since I wasn’t there to supervise my clothes – this resulted in some rather unpleasant phone calls from the pay phone out front. Needless to say I never left my clothes unattended after that. Laundry became a giant time suck I would avoid at all costs.

I started house sitting to a.) make a little extra money and b.) be able to do my laundry while watching something other than mexican soap operas, sometimes I even got to go swimming which was an added bonus.

It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows living by myself though, there were a few downsides, bugs for example. San Diego is home to the giant flying palmetto bug and once I came home to find one so big at first I thought it was a mouse – I abruptly turned around and left the apartment, I didn’t go home for two days. Sometimes Ruka would bring me half dead animals – once a lizard nearly as long as she was, once a mole and twice mice that were more alive than dead, this is when a roommate would have really come in handy.

Also, there was that time that I nearly burned the place down because I decided to try my hand at bar-b-quing. I bought a little portable grill, placed it on my porch and set it afire with A LOT of lighter fluid, the flames were so high and hot that it set my railing on fire (my porch was old wood, OLD dry wood), fortunately I kept my head and poured an entire bag of kitty litter on top of it to smother it before the entire building became a late night news article. I have not touched a grill since that day.

I lived on University Avenue for four years and the good definitely outweighed the bad, the day I left to head back east was terribly bittersweet and I still long sometimes for the solitude and the freedom of that apartment gave me. I love my family and the life that I have created for myself but if ever I could time travel the first place I would go would be back to San Diego circa 1997.

The Lost Years, Part V

And… we’re back. It’s 1997 I’m about to (kinda, almost) start getting my shit together.

CHOCKTAW DRIVE

Ours was the last apartment all the way back, on the bottom floor.
Lizard capital of the world.

In order to leave Adelaide and still be able to afford a decent place we needed a roommate and a after much disagreement discussion Shane and I moved back in with Malcolm into a really sweet 1920’s apartment located at the back of a quiet, sleepy complex just barely off El Cajon Blvd. The place was great, with beautiful hard woods, built-ins everywhere, a vintage stove you could fuel with firewood (if you wanted), it was small but adorable. I knew moving back in with the two of them was a bad idea but at the time I had no job, no money and few other options.

Shane and Malcolm spent most of their time playing video games and hypodermically injecting watermelons with hard alcohol to serve at parties we would throw every few weeks when a new ‘punch’ concoction was ready.  Malcolm had also started a very sucsessful hydroponics “garden” in his closet. Because the apartment was small I spent my time watching them play video games or wondering how long it would be before SDG&E starting questioning why a 700 Sq foot apartment was running a $300 monthly electric bill. In order to get away from my living situation and the ever pervasive smell of Hindu kush I started frequenting  the pub at the corner – Kelly’s. Kelly’s was my first regular hang out bar, it was a quiet Irish Pub that only served beer, just beer. I didn’t particularly like beer then but I enjoyed the dim, smokey air conditioned atmosphere of the pub (a love that has withstood the test of time).

Very shortly after moving I interviewed for a job in the office building that separated my apartment from the Boulevard, it was a job less than a 2-minute walk from my front door, and I got it. It was my first real 40 hour, 9:00-5:00 job that didn’t involve a cash register or require me to wear a name tag. Ironically this job that was in sneezing distance to my back door did required me to have a car, so I did what anyone desperate for a job would do – I lied and said mine was currently in the ‘shop’.

I lied, but I scraped, and borrowed and cajoled some money together. I paid my friend Heather $200 of the $500 she was asking for her 1988 Pontiac Grand Am and then promptly never spoke to her again. Sure, I felt bad that I had ripped her off but in my defense the car was a piece of shit and really not worth $500. It was white with a red junk yard hood, it had front end damage from hitting a deer full speed on the freeway. It came to me with outdated Michigan registration, it would never pass California Emissions tests and therefore never be legal in the state. I decided to forgo insurance as an unnecessary expense and this began years of owning crappy, illegal, uninsured cars (that’s probably another six-part blog series “Shitty cars I bought off lien sale volumes 1 through 14”). I drove with one eye on the road and one on the lookout for the CA highway patrol – I only ever got caught once but it was Christmas night and I managed to embarrassingly half  cry/flirt my way out of it.

I started working and everyday got to drive loads of mail to the back entrance of the post office where I would wait to be let in while looking at my old townhouse on Seminole Dr. It was like I had come full circle – sort of.

The apartment on Chocktaw Dr. was surrounded by thousands of little lizards, Ruka took it upon herself to terrorize them –  everyday I would come home to anywhere between 10 to 20 tails on the doorstep, she’d bite the tails off them, present them to me as trophies and the lizards would scurry home to grow another one.

Also around this time Ruka stopped eating dinner, I was worried about her for several weeks before I discovered that one of my neighbors, a blind older woman was using her Social Security checks to buy my little cat fresh chicken livers and feed them to her while I was at work. This was fine until we moved again and Ruka became indignant at the idea of canned cat food.

So, I was working full time and taking evening courses at school, Shane was still, well, Shane. Feeling empowered by my new job and awesome coworkers I decided it was time to stop thinking that I could change people and start thinking about my own future with out him. I put on my big girl pants and broke up with him – in a letter – that I left for him when knew I wouldn’t be around.

to be continued…