Saturday, May 30, 2009

Note to Self: a Future Garden

Planted last weekend to replace the Unruly Hedge:

Planted on Magnolia Hill:

Lives changed by books

As promised, here are the "life changing" book titles (from my May 13th post). Follow the links for the sources (found via random Google search).

"It should be required reading for anyone who is ever going to tell a story, whether that story is to be written or spoken. No book had a more profound influence on my personal style."
On Writing by Stephen King

"I'm amazed how many young people haven't read this book. Truly life-changing. This is the classic of my generation; it is the book that defines our age and ultimately, how to find meaning in it."
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

"Reading this all the way through, beginning to end, shattered all expectations I had of such a foundational text. It was weirder, stranger, more disturbing and more powerful than I was lead to believe. I've read through several times more and it never fails to disturb me."
The Bible

"Fahrenheit 451 was the first book I ever read that left me thinking about my own value structure after I closed the cover."

"Reading the book, I felt as if my mind was rocked by explosions. At times the ideas were too much that I literally had to lie down."
Understanding Power by Noam Chomsky

"Reading “The 4 Hour Workweek” is like having Tim Ferriss grab you by the hair, shake you, and say WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU!?! YOU NEED TO USE THESE TIPS TO BE MORE EFFICIENT!!"

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


[Insert profanity here]

Colorful metaphors were all I could think of this evening. After 4 weeks of not running, Hubbins and I made a comeback tonight. We didn't run the week we celebrated our anniversary, or during our getaway. The day we came home, we both caught colds and were down for the count for a full week, plus recovery time (during which I developed a nasty cough that had my co-workers asking if I'd started smoking cigars). Hard to believe that much time passed since we last ran.

Running again felt like starting from scratch. Any progress I'd made or muscle I built had vanished. The only thing I retained was my pattern for breathing: inhale for three steps, exhale for three steps. Counting to three repeatedly was the only thing that got me through tonight's run. That, plus encouragement from Husband. After the first mile, my legs got the hang of it and didn't hurt too bad, but I struggled the whole time to maintain a reasonable pace.

I'm still so new to running that I can't distinguish between running "too fast" and a pace I can maintain. All I can concentrate on is forward motion. It all feels too fast. I have to match J's speed and ask him to help me slow down. This seems so counter-intuitive because all I can think about is the last mile marker and getting the whole thing over with. I subconsciously speed up in order to finish, but then wear myself out that much quicker.

Can you recommend a good work-out soundtrack? I think music will help me. I have an MP3 player, but haven't put anything on it yet. I need songs that will get me moving, keep me motivated, and distract me from all my over-analyzing and self-consciousness. What songs get you up on your feet, or make you angry, or increase your heart rate just by listening?

I know my play list will have to include Alanis Morissette, Lose Yourself by Eminem, and Revolution by Kirk Franklin (hey, where else will you see those names together?).

Sunday, May 24, 2009

My secret garden

Yesterday I went to my parents' house to spruce up the gardens in the front yard. I really wanted to take advantage of the beautiful weekend, but the little yard here at my and J's apartment hardly seems worth it. We' re renting. It's a swamp. Everything has to be planted in containers to ward off slugs and deer and permanence. So I spent the day in Mom's flower beds instead.

10 to 12 years ago, Mom landscaped the front yard and planted a magnolia tree on a little hill by the driveway. We lined it with limestone and granite that we found on a geology field trip to Mt Baker, and planted ground cover and herbs. It was beautiful. Over the last 10 years, it's gotten totally unruly.


I spent about four hours sawing and pruning and ripping and dragging, knowing there was soil under that overgrown mess just waiting for some TLC. Mom kept the yard clear of debris while I perfected my scorched-earth method of gardening. Once the hill was cleared, I transplated a bunch of perrenials that were growing in other flower beds (unkempt and at risk of being choked out by dandelions and ivy). Dad wrote us a blank check and we went to the feed and seed store to get new plants and beauty bark. What a difference.


This is a portion of the burn pile we created with all the branches we tore out:


Memorial Day Weekend, 2009

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Life changing books

I've been thinking about my newly kindled love affair with books (still in the infatuation stage, though I hope it becomes a long term commitment). While it's satisfying to list the books I've read cover to cover, what I'm really after is something more significant. I'm looking for a life changing book. I'm waiting to stumble upon a story that rocks my world, an author who can express stuff I feel but can't articulate; an epiphany on a page.

The most recent book I just couldn't put down was In the Woods by Tana French. Over a year ago, I heard it reviewed on NPR, was immediately interested, and bought it as soon as I could. Side note: I'm very susceptible to suggestion. The book reviewer on the radio presented such a strong case for this mystery novel, I couldn't get it out of my mind. I read during every spare moment. I took it to bed with me (which is very rare, as I'm the only one in my family of seven who doesn't read at bedtime. I fall asleep minutes after my head hits the pillow. I might be narcoleptic). I finished the book within a matter of days, totally engrossed in the characters, the plot, the twists, the intrigue. This story had it all.

But the ending was a total letdown. I shouted when I came to the last sentence. Where was the rest of the story? Surely there was a chapter missing! I loudly complained for days, angry that I was led on for so many pages, lured into a world I could see and hear and feel, only to have the proverbial rug ripped out from under me. It was pure anguish. I begged Husband to read it (unfortunately, I wailed and complained, and then recommended it, but he wasn't fooled). I talked my brother into reading it, explaining all the teasers I had heard on the radio, raving about the things that sucked me in. But really, I just wanted someone to commiserate with over the miserable ending. Let's just say that ploy did not foster family togetherness. He'll never read another book I recommend. It was a traumatic literary experience.

Since then, I've hoped to find a story that engrosses me AND gives me something lasting to take from it. So I've read a lot of non-fiction lately. Not even bad writing can dilute the effects of real life, right? I thought I could protect myself. Scribbling the Cat by Alexandra Fuller held my attention and entertained me. Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer horrified me. Murder by Family by Kent Wittaker was like watching a train wreck. A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman delighted me.

But I'm still looking for something life changing. I want to be able to say this:

"It should be required reading for anyone who is ever going to tell a story, whether that story is to be written or spoken."

"This is the classic of my generation; it is the book that defines our age and ultimately, how to find meaning in it."

"It was weirder, stranger, more disturbing and more powerful than I was lead to believe. I've read through several times more and it never fails to disturb me."

"The first book I ever read that left me thinking about my own value structure after I closed the cover."

"Reading the book, I felt as if my mind was rocked by explosions. At times the ideas were too much that I literally had to lie down."

"Reading [this book] is like having [the author] grab you by the hair, shake you, and say WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU!?! YOU NEED TO USE THESE TIPS TO BE MORE EFFICIENT!!"

Have you had any similar reactions to a book? Do tell.

Want to hear what books these quotes are referring to? Let me know.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day

  • My dear Mom,
  • All the women in my life who have influenced me (Debbie, Nancy, Suzanne, Marsha, Jan, Grandma A, Grandma J)
  • and the new and expecting Moms I know (Megan, Lisa, Rachel, Laura, Juli, Georgia)
Happy Mother's Day. You are dearly loved.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Third Annual Island Retreat

J and I are in Friday Harbor, celebrating our second anniversary. We arrived yesterday, and made a beeline to our favorite places: the toy store and the book store. We live a well-balanced life, don't you think? One shark mask, Pirate Mad Libs, and several memoirs later, we checked in to our home away from home: Friday Harbor House. We've been lounging ever since. Everything we want to see is within walking distance. We love it here. It's great to be newly married and know we're creating a tradition, since our honeymoon was spent on Orcas Island, and we're repeating our first anniversary getaway.

All this uninterrupted reading time has been wonderful. Since I last blogged about books, I've come across some great book lists and an inspiring blog reviewing a new book every day. There are three bookstores here in the harbor, and we've been to each multiple times already. There's something so inviting about walls covered in bookshelves. Is it the lighting? Those little stands that display the books like a picture frame or a decorative plate? Multiple copies lined up in perfect symmetry? Book spines that sigh when they are opened for the first time? In a bookstore, beams of light seem to shine from the heavens across glossy covers and fibrous pages. My confidence in completing them all knows no bounds.

In the last two months, the pile of books I've finished has grown. This has taken commitment. I tend to be a fast-food-consumer kind of reader, content with snippets and magazine blurbs and my daily blogroll (have you seen the list lately? It's getting out of hand). So I feel very proud to tell you these are the books I've read in the last 8 weeks.

Devil in the Details by Jennifer Traig

This is the book I listened to on CD while cleaning. You gotta start somewhere, right? The author writes about her Jewish upbringing and a childhood of angst and ardor. It was interesting to learn how the tenants of Judaism created an outlet (or an excuse) for her obsessive compulsive behavior. For example, while preparing for her bat mitzvah she met with a rabbi to learn some Hebrew and Jewish customs. When she learned the rules for kosher eating (which her family didn't follow) she became super-vigilant in her own diet, making sure meat and dairy never touched. She'd go so far as to re-wash all her dishes. She studied the Torah and began to follow the laws for personal cleanliness, and would wash her hands all the time (only drying them on clean paper towels that hadn't touched the plastic packaging, since the glue might contain something unclean). She took religious observance to an extreme and struggled to find a balance between observing her faith and managing her OCD.

I enjoyed this author. She was funny and personal and laid it all out in the open. I did not appreciate, however, the voice of the narrator who read the book on my CDs. Annoying. She tried too hard to sound cynical and ironic and clever, and missed a lot of poignancy just in her tone of voice. Good motivation to pick up the actual book next time.

Eat Cake by Jeanne Ray

This book was total fluff. It was on one of the reading lists of a blogger I like, so I gave it a try. It's the story of a middle-aged woman who has a lot on her plate: husband loses job, divorced parents move in with her, bratty teenage daughter gives her grief. Her way of dealing with stress is to bake cakes. She decides to turn her coping mechanism into a money-maker and starts her own business. I didn't take anything significant away from this novel (except an appetite), but it was fun to read and I finished it quickly. Not all reading has to be deep, and this was a good example.

Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson

This novel definitely had some depth. The protagonist tells the story of her life in the context of the two generations preceding her, jumping back and forth between her own nuclear family, her mother's family (highlighting her aunts' and uncles' relationship with their stepmother), and her grandmothers' family. This made for quite a large cast of characters. The story line seemed disjointed at times, but all the loose ends come together and the result is really moving. I couldn't put the book down for long, lest I forget who's who. Amazon says this about the book:

"I exist!" exclaims Ruby Lennox upon her conception in 1951, setting the tone for this humorous and poignant first novel in which Ruby at once celebrates and mercilessly skewers her middle-class English family. Peppered with tales of flawed family traits passed on from previous generations, Ruby's narrative examines the lives in her disjointed clan, which revolve around the family pet shop. But beneath the antics of her philandering father, her intensely irritable mother, her overly emotional sisters, and a gaggle of eccentric relatives are darker secrets--including an odd "feeling of something long forgotten"--that will haunt Ruby for the rest of her life.

The Maytrees by Annie Dillard

Another intimate story of family life. This was the first book by Annie Dillard I've read and boy, she does not waste one syllable. Every sentence packed a punch, and could stand alone as a meaningful quote even out of context. I got a little lost in the poetry of her writing since I'm not used to such a flowery, "more-than-meets-the-eye" style, but I was invested in the characters from chapter one and continued reading for their sake. Here's a great summary I found:

Dillard brings her renowned skills as a naturalist to their full height in this lush character study of a young couple in post-war Provincetown in a story that moves through their meeting, marriage, separation, reunion, and deaths. Who loves more, men or women, characters muse early on. And do they love differently? [Readers] will be as enchanted by these unconventional lovers as they will be by the waves and stars that seem to give their lives a reason to continue. Secondary characters merge with the ever-changing landscape, offering shades of light or dark.

Not a Happy Camper by Mindy Schneider

This was a fun, light hearted read about a Jewish summer camp. The back of the book says, "Mindy Schneider went to a summer camp in Maine in the 1970s that was run by a con artist who lied about the facilities and duped nice kids into spending eight weeks at a dump where it rained every day. It was the best summer she ever had."

Equal parts memoir and adolescent drama, this book made me laugh out loud several times. Although I never went away to camp as a kid, the story still rings true as the author describes how hard she tried to fit in, find her place in the social scene, and make a good impression. Reliving the awkwardness of teenage-dom was excruciating, but with an adults perspective on the highs and lows, it was also refreshing. I think I need to read something else about Judaism, since this is the second book I've read that describes that faith from the guilt-ridden vantage point of teen girls.

Next in my pile of books to read:

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
Little Heathens by Mildred Armstrong Kalish
Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

What are you reading?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Springtime update

I planted Sweet Pea seeds a couple months ago and the little sprouts are doing well. They loved the rainstorm last night. I'm hoping they'll spill over the edges of this hanging basket once they're ready to bloom. Won't that smell great?

This is a cheap-o rose bush I bought at Fred Meyer. Having it in a planter on our little porch is an experiment, and so far the deer haven't found it. I'm impressed it's doing this well. LOTS of new growth.

Primroses, impatiens, and ivy I'm training on a topiary. The birds' nest was exposed in the trees last fall, once all the leaves came down.
And this was my yesterday-project. One of my favorite bloggers posted this pattern for a market bag and invited her readers to post their creations on flickr. Now that I've made one, I want to burn through my fabric stash and make some more!