Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Year-End Wrap-Up: Books

At the beginning of the year, I posted a number of goals that focused on reading. Namely, I had a goal to read at least 50 books this year, some of those being selections from the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list.

I am happy to report that I did not read 50 books this year: I read 61 (18,240 pages)! 16 of these were from the 1001 list, and added to the 3 short stories that were on the list, I have reached a total of 69 out of 1001.

For those interested, the books I read this year were:

1. The Modigliani Scandal - Ken Follett
2. A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian - Marina Lewycka
3. Blueberry Muffin Murder - Joanne Fluke
4. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - Jonathan Safran Foer
5. Holidays on Ice - David Sedaris
6. How I Live Now - Meg Rosoff
7. Lady Chatterly's Lover - D.H. Lawrence 8. Wide Sargasso Sea - Jean Rhys 9. The Hound of the Baskervilles - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 10. The Plot Against America - Philip Roth
11. The Post-Birthday World - Lionel Shriver
12. In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto - Michael Pollan
13. The Devil and Miss Prym - Paulo Coelho
14. Cavern - Jake Page
15. How Starbucks Saved My Life - Michael Gates Gill
16. Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life - Amy Krouse Rosenthal
17. The Age of Innocence - Edith Wharton
18. Crime Brulee - Nancy Fairbanks
19. The Secret History - Donna Tartt
20. The Monsters of Templeton - Lauren Groff
21. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers - Mary Roach
22. The God of Small Things - Arundhati Roy
23. The Spellman Files - Lisa Lutz
24. The Turn of the Screw - Henry James
25. The Devil's Highway - Luis Urrea
26. Howards End - E.M. Forster 27. Lolita - Vladimir Nobokov
28. Unaccustomed Earth - Jhumpa Lahiri
29. Shades of Earl Grey - Laura Childs
30. Color - Victoria Finlay
31. Eleven on Top - Janet Evanovich
32. The Edge of the Crazies - Jamie Harrison
33. Case Histories - Kate Atkinson
34. Three Cups of Tea - Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Reim
35. The Septembers of Shiraz - Dalia Sofer
36. The Tea Rose - Jennifer Donnelly
37. My Hutterite Life - Lisa Marie Stahl
38. Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier
39. The Monk - Matthew Lewis 40. Casino Royale - Ian Flemming
41. The Blood of Flowers - Anita Amirrezvani
42. Running With Scissors - Augusten Burroughs
43. The Brief History of the Dead - Kevin Brockmeier
44. The Death of Vishnu - Manil Suri
45. The Monster of Florence - Douglas Preston
46. Eats, Shoots and Leaves - Lynne Truss
47. When You are Engulfed in Flames - David Sedaris
48. In the Company of the Courtesan -Sarah Dunant
49. The Gargoyle - Andrew Davidson
50. Panic in Level 4 - Richard Preston
51. A Fatal Inversion - Barbara Vine
52. The Geography of Bliss - Eric Weiner
53. Year of Wonders - Geraldine Brooks
54. The Curse of the Spellmans - Lisa Lutz
55. Summer - Edith Wharton
56. Bonk - Mary Roach
57. Friends, Lovers, Chocolate - Alexander McCall Smith
58. Thyme of Death - Susan Wittig Albert
59. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
60. The Return of the Soldier - Rebecca West
61. Coraline - Neil Gaiman

I usually pick one book each year that was my ultimate favorite. This year, I found it hard to choose just one - so I'll tell you some of the worst books I read this year. Topping the list would have to be Cavern - haven't heard of it? Yeah, for good reason! I also agonized through The Turn of the Screw, The Death of Vishnu, and Crime Brulee.

All right, fine! I'll pick a top five:
1. The Age of Innocence
2. The Tea Rose
3. Unaccustomed Earth
4. The Secret History
5. The Devil's Highway

Monday, December 29, 2008

Changes in the New Year

There will be some changes coming in 2009 - the biggest one will be mine and Jason's move to Maryland in March! (What an oddly-shaped state, by the way.) House hunting has yet to begin, but we will be somewhat close to DC. While being able to drive to the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone has been beneficial, living in the middle of nowhere is not sustainable. I recently had to drive nearly 500 miles to get my car repaired, the nearest airport is two and a half hours away, and the nearest Target is longer than a 70-mile drive. While I won't be happy about the increase in traffic, I am excited to be near museums, restaurants, and shopping.

Crazy stuff about Carlsbad, New Mexico that I will NOT miss:

1) Having things thrown and/or shot at my house. Besides having a truck window shot out, we have had the garage hit by paintballs, eggs, and a beer bottle. The mailbox was also hit by a baseball bat. There really is a general lack of pride in the whole community. The very day an art exhibition was installed at the local library, it was destroyed by vandals.

2) Stepping in dog poop in my own yard. I don't have a dog.

3) Having to call the police on people shooting at the speed trailer across the street.

4) Being forced to buy nearly everything at Wal-mart.

5) Not being able to eat out on the weekends. I don't know why most of the restaurants in town have decided to close on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday - it seems like an odd business model.

6) The majority of the gym's equipment being broken at any given time.

7) The community being completely unconcerned with the environment. Most people drive huge, unnecessarily large trucks. Also, because there is no recycling pick-up, most people don't make the effort to take their recycling to the drop-off center. Even then, the center doesn't accept glass or tin cans. (AND, people leave weird stuff there, like the satellite dish I saw today in the aluminum bin.)

8) There simply isn't anything of good quality here. This isn't a wealthy community, and so $4.99 all-you-can-eat pizza buffets will always thrive, and any gourmet pizza restaurant will fail. Oh Indian food, how I miss you so.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. I will miss my house, since it is cozy and painted colors I like. If anyone has any insider Maryland-suburb tips (like "stay away from that road, people will totally steal your hubcaps") feel free to spill! And is this really the Rockville Library?? If it is, I'm already in heaven. (Link to Flickr set)

Friday, December 26, 2008


I have been realizing lately that my life is quite extensively documented. Besides this blog and the thousands of pictures I have stored on my computer and in photo albums, I have a growing stack of journals. My first serious journal entry dates back to March 19, 1995, and contains the appropriate amount of teenage angst. While I do continue to keep a straight-up journal full of handwriting, about five years ago I started becoming both more visual and more compartmentalized.

I currently have 4 journals going: a regular writing book, a list of all of the books I read, an "inspiration book" consisting mostly of magazine and catalog pages, and another book that could probably be summarized as a travel journal. Here's a shot of my inspiration journal, which is pages from a magazine showing some particularly colorful courtyards.

My most visual journal is my travel journal, which consists of cut-up brochures, ticket stubs, and anything flat I can grab. It seems like I'm always sneaking things off of tables in restaurants. I also use this book for anything I feel the need to write down, like lists (including one of every ingredient in my toothpaste - there's some scary stuff in there), business cards, schedules, and quotes.

And of course, I need some pens to do all this writing. I particularly like fountain pens, and have been acquiring them over several birthdays and Christmases.

From top to bottom: the Preppy, Tornado by Retro 1951, Waterman (not sure what model), a Manuscript calligraphy pen, and a Pilot Varsity (a disposable fountain pen). It's hard to say which one is my favorite, because they all have separate qualities. I like writing with the Preppy the most, but it seems to not have very good quality ink (what can you expect for $6?) The Tornado has the smoothest line, but the line is quite bold. The Waterman also writes well, but it has a tendency to dry out quickly. Oh pens, how I love you so. I AM SUCH A NERD.

Do you keep a journal? And what is your favorite pen to use?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Double Take

Have you all seen the cover of the new book Knitting Socks with Handpainted Yarn?

Is it just me, or do these socks look really similar to the Crosswalkers I knitted earlier this year? I would have thought someone had stolen my socks if the heels weren't different! (And if the cover socks were hot pink... but that's photoshopped I'm sure.)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Little Rock, Arkansas

Part two of our "Christmas" travels took us to Little Rock, Arkansas. Yeah, I know what you are thinking, so let's just get the stereotype out of the way first:

It may be hard to see, but this man is wearing a santa hat made of orange fur and camouflage fabric. It was placed on his head by the owner of the hat, who showed up drunk to the holiday dinner cruise, and was the subject of much interest (at least on my part.) After much heckling from the piano player, the man gave up his hat, presumably to share the love.

The cruise, which was on a paddle boat (although I think the paddle was just for show), was actually quite nice. It was dark, so I only got pictures of the city lights.

Besides spending time with family, we visited the Clinton Presidential Center. I don't really care about Clinton, nor politics in general, but since I am "in the museum field" (one day) I still want to see as many as I can. The first floor of exhibits was mainly text, and you all know how I feel about that. I was surprised at how biased the museum was - I guess I should have expected it. All of the exhibits focused on all of the great things Bill Clinton accomplished in office (which I don't really remember, but probably I wasn't paying attention.)

The second floor was more interesting, as it contained a collection of gifts given to the president by dignitaries of other countries. There were a lot of art objects, like jeweled swords and statues. There was also this pretty cool Chihuly glass sculpture:

We also celebrated "Thanksmas", which is the holiday you celebrate if you can't afford anything besides Southwest's $99 fares, which are obviously not available during major holidays. We had another great feast, which included cornbread dressing. I didn't even know what dressing was (it's like stuffing, but not stuffed into any bird orfices) until I met my southern husband... but it was tasty. Mmmm.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Washington, DC

Part 1 of our holiday travels brought us to Williamsburg, VA. Because we were so close to DC, we decided to take an overnight trip up there with the fam'. Stop #1 was the September 11th memorial at the Pentagon. Each person who died in the attack is memorialized by a bench, inscribed with their name, with a thin canal of water running underneath. They are organized by the person's year of birth, each row containing all those who were born in the same year. It was appropriately sad, when you remembered that each bench represented someone who is no longer with their loved ones.

The next day we spent a few hours at the Newseum, which is all kinds of awesome. There is a gallery of Pulitzer prize winning photographs, along with their stories, which was shocking, to say the least. There was also a large room containing newspapers commemorating every notable event for the last 400 years. I really enjoyed reading some of the colonial-era newspapers - they had such small type!

The museum also has a lot of "stuff" which is a quality I value in museums. You can only read so much wall text... I want to see the stuff. The museum contains the actual cabin that the Unabomber lived in in Montana. It has a totally creepy outline of his body, created by smoke diverted by his body where he slept for 17 years. (At least I think that's what it is... let's just all agree and be collectively impressed.)

There were also artifacts from other "crimes of the century," including the DC sniper, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the Waco cult. We saw an exhibition of photographs of presidential dogs, but I don't care about dogs. I do, however, care about knitting. I think this is Herbert Hoover's wife, knitting up a storm:

The entrance fee is steep at $20 (or $18 if you happen to keep an old student ID in your wallet, even though you graduated 2 years ago.) But, it was worth it, and I would definitely recommend this museum to anyone visiting DC.

I also headed over to the National Gallery of Art to see the Pompeii and the Roman Villa exhibit, because not only did I take a "Visual Culture of Pompeii" class in grad school, I also took "The Roman Villa." It was the perfect storm of art history.

This isn't the building the exhibit was in, but I don't like the modern architecture of the east wing... so look at the west wing instead.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Fun with Photography

This Christmas tree was the bargain of the century. We bought it last year after Christmas for $8 (marked down from $79.99). We also bought most of the ornaments for 90% off, and then bought a few more this week from the dollar store. That's how I like to roll.

I set out to photograph the tree, but most of the pictures were boring. Blah fake tree, blah ornaments, blah lights. This sparkly ornament came out alright.

THEN... I kicked up the exposure time. This is what Christmas tree pictures should look like!

And this is what it might look like if the tree was on fire:

I'll be gone for the next 2 weeks on my holiday visiting travels. I will be expecting freshly-baked cookies upon my return.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


This was the first year that I didn't go anywhere for thanksgiving. Jason and I spent the day cooking, and then sat down and ate. The whole thing was pretty simple. These pictures are no good, but I wasn't about to spend time on photography when I had been smelling delicious food for the past few hours. I hope everyone had a good thanksgiving, and that no one got trampled in bargain-induced stampedes, like this man. (Seriously, what is wrong with people? And why do people who live on Long Island go to Wal-mart when there are so many other stores? When I move out of this town, I'm never going to Wal-mart again.)

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Art History Reading Challenge

There are so many reading challenges floating around out there, and I have been tempted to join a few of them. Sometimes I even make a list of books to read for a particular challenge, but in the end I always decide that I don't want to feel obligated to a list. I tend to pick my next book based on my mood and how intellectual I am feeling at the time - and there is a certain freedom involved in plucking anything I want from my library pile or my overflowing bookshelves.

But, there is one subject I am always interested in, and want to read more of. Since leaving art history grad school last year, I feel myself slipping farther and farther away from the subject. Every month more art history books are published, and while I dutifully add them to my "to-read" list on goodreads, they tend to slip away because my library does not own most of them and I usually don't spend money on books.

So, in 2009 I've decided to host The Art History Reading Challenge. (Click on the link to sign up!) I am going to challenge myself to read at least 6 art history books next year, and whoever wants to is free to join me. This does not mean you have to slog through academic texts - there are plenty of fiction and popular nonfiction titles on the subject. So click on over and join me!

I hope to update the challenge site throughout the year with reviews, new publications on the subject, and works of art featuring readers. Here is my list I will read from next year:

1. Stealing Athena - Karen Essex
2. Luncheon of the Boating Party - Susan Vreeland
3. Making the Mummies Dance - Thomas Hoving
4. Art Held Hostage - John Anderson
5. Seven Days in the Art World - Sarah Thornton
6. The Bernini Bust - Iain Pears

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Fall? Winter?

I spent the morning dealing with this:

Actually I shouldn't say "the morning," because it was 1) after noon and 2) more like 15 minutes. We don't own a rake, as it is New Mexico and you generally don't have to rake up after cacti. But, our neighbors have a giant tree in their yard, which they allow to shed right into our yard. They really need to punish that tree for being so rude. Anyway, because we don't have a rake, I used my hands, ghetto style. I did see this cool stick bug though:

I don't have too many projects to report on, mostly because this time of year is super-secret Christmas present making time. There is a big yarn pile living on the coffee table, providing endless temptation for the cat. As you can see, the yarn pile is next to the reading pile, which I am also attempting to complete before the end of year.

Oh, I did finish another hat for my cousin, who specifically requested it. He's going to climb some ridiculously tall mountain in Mexico next week, allowing my knitting to travel the world.

Other than that, I have been making cooking plans for Thanksgiving. I bought my first turkey this weekend, so does that make me officially an adult? And what is up with a turkey breast being $15?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

My new toy

I got my Christmas present early this year. As Oprah said, "It's the Amazon Kinnndlllleeeeeeee!" It was because of Oprah that I got it early - she offered $50 off for a week following the show in which she gushed about it.

Now that I've had a few weeks to play with it, I thought I'd offer my thoughts, as the whole concept of e-book readers is either bothersome or fascinating, depending on who you ask.

What I love about the Kindle:

1. The screen is not the typical back-lit screen found on computers and cell phones. It is an entirely different technology called "e-ink", and is extremely easy on the eyes. While I can't say that it is exactly like reading a "real" book, it comes pretty darn close. I can read for an hour or more and not feel any ill effects on my eyes.

2. It has the internet. I don't travel all that much, but I imagine that the Kindle would come in handy if you were stuck in an airport and needed to check your email. If you were bored by the 200 books you have stored on it, you could easily download one of over 100,000 from amazon, for under $10.

3. You can walk around carrying hundreds of books. Of course I can only read one at a time, but this sort of hoarding isn't any different than stuffing my bookshelves at home with books I haven't read yet, or checking out ten books from the library when I know I'll only have time to read five.

4. I really like not having to carry around huge books. I am working my way through a physical copy of Pillars of the Earth, which clocks in at just under 1,000 pages. It's taken me over 5 months to get halfway through, partly because its annoying to have to hold the huge book open. I have Les Miserables, Anna Karenina, Don Quixote, and Gone with the Wind all on my Kindle, and it still weighs 9 ounces.

Things I will learn to deal with:

1. The internet is really slow. I have found it is much easier to download books to my computer and then transfer the files via USB to the Kindle. The New York Times had an article recently on the Kindle, in which the author writes that it is basically not a cool device. It's not in color, it doesn't blink or show movies or allow you to chat with your friends. But, it does do what it is designed to do, and it does it well. It is a reader, so any qualms I have about the slow connection speeds are really just peripheral.

2. Because the screen is smaller than normal paperback books, I feel like I am constantly turning the page. Particuarly when reading dialogue, I have to hit the "next" button nearly every 15 seconds.

All in all, I really like the Kindle. It certainly won't replace books, particularly those I can read for free from the library; its just another way to read, and I'm all for that. If you are the type of person who spends a lot of money on books, then the $9.99 bestsellers from amazon will really save you money. And if you are the type, like me, who is really into reading books published before 1930, there are plenty of sites that allow you to download these books for free. ( has over 20,000 free books in Kindle format.)

If you want something that whizzes and dings, then you should probably get an iPhone. If you are a reader and want something that will enable your habit, then you should get a Kindle (or another e-book reader -- Sony has a popular one.) I think this would be particularly useful for people who travel a lot or commute on public transportation.

So, do you want one?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

T-Shirt Quilt

My t-shirt quilt is finished! This is my 4th completed quilt, and probably my favorite so far. It doesn't have the intricacy of some of my others, but it is definitely the coziest. It is extremely warm, perfect for curling up under on the couch. Warmth has increasingly become necessary because I see turning on the heat as a sign of weakness. (Thanks, Mom, for forcing that into me over the freezing years. When it gets below 60 degrees inside I'll start considering it.)

As far as quilts go, this one was super easy. I used a quilting square (a 12-inch piece of plexiglass) to cut out each square, then I ironed some interfacing onto the back of each so that they wouldn't stretch, as t-shirts have a tendency to do. Then I cut out some 2-inch strips and sewed it all together. (Hardly any math involved!) I didn't buy enough fabric for the backing, so I ended up grabbing whatever green fabric I had on my shelf and sewing that in. I machine quilted the whole thing, which probably took the longest, and finally hand-sewed the binding on.

Jason has already given me a hint that he wants one too, judging by the large pile of t-shirts that recently appeared on my quilting table. I usually need a quilting cooling-off period though, after the trauma of trying to shove an 8-lb, 20-square foot quilt through my sewing machine. (I even had to set up a fan because I was sweating so much with the effort.) Quilting: just as good as running a marathon. (Ok, not really.)

Friday, November 07, 2008

Trail Journal: Devil's Hall

Trail: Devil's Hall (Guadalupe Mountains National Park)
Date: November 5, 2008
Distance: 4.2 miles
Elevation change: 400'

Just because we left Yellowstone doesn't mean we've stopped hiking! Yesterday we drove the 50 miles or so to Guadalupe Mountains National Park (in Texas) in the hope of getting a glimpse of a tree or two that was not green or yellow. (The trees in town have changed color... they're all yellow. Not very exciting.) I've hiked this trail before, but it was 4 years ago so I was interested in seeing it again.

Most of the trail follows an extremely rocky wash. While there wasn't a significant elevation gain, there are a lot of boulders to scramble up and around.

We started out in the early afternoon, but we were on the wrong side of the mountain, which cast a big enough shadow that we were in the shade the entire time. It also was windy and colder than I expected. It is November, but so far it has yet to dip below 65.

There were some brilliant trees (made more brilliant by my saturation manipulation.)

At the end of the trail is its namesake, the Devil's Hall. You climb up some natural rock stairs and walk through a neat rock hallway.

It was nice to get outside and see something other than desert and cacti, and get a little taste of fall.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

What I'm Knitting

From sitting-around-the-longest to most recently started:

1. Inga Hat, in 100% wool from Finland. I'm so close to finishing this one, but I don't have much motivation because I'm sure it won't fit. I started this hat mainly to learn fair isle (knitting with more than one color), and because its still summer here, I don't have an imperative desire to finish another hat.

2. Socks started out of desperation when my yarn took forever to arrive from Knitpicks. I'm going to rip out back to the ribbing and make a more interesting design with these. It's a generic cotton yarn I got really cheap at MSW '06. Also, low down on the motivation list until I finish off some bigger projects.

3. Leaf-tie cardigan in Knitpicks Swish. Except it won't have leaf ties. This is going pretty fast.

4. Socks for Jason, who has giant feet. Well, maybe just relatively giant: whatever the difference between a women's 5 and a men's 10.5 is. The first sock will be finished today.

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