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.
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