Traveling to the nation’s capital…

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Abraham Lincoln monument in DC.

So, if you’re in any way connected with the U.S. education system, you will be probably be familiar with the cheers and hoorahs that occur from both the students and the teachers when it’s time for Spring Break… Thus, it was mine the other week, and so I jetted off to meet my lovely mum in the nation’s capitol, Washington D.C.

Many moons ago and in an earlier life, I lived and worked in D.C., but I haven’t been back there for anything longer than a weekend since then, and so it was rather a Rip-van-Winkle experience as we walked around the Mall and environs. I remembered bits and pieces of long-ago events, but for the most part, my time there is lost in the fog of youthful times. (Probably a good thing, as well.)

Mum has not really visited the East Coast of the U.S. that much, although she’s very well-travelled in other regions, and so we chose D.C. as being quite a central place for us to meet, she flying in from London and me from Texas. My mum is a trooper for traveling long distances, but I also wanted to choose a destination that wouldn’t take a long and uncomfortable journey for her to reach since she’s getting a bit up there, age-wise. (She can still walk me into the ground re: stamina, but you know what I mean.) We had tried to hook up with me, my twin sister, and mum, but the differing Spring Break dates between the college where my twin sis teaches and the one at which I teach meant that was a no-go this year.

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This pic was taken at the Museum of American History and was included in an exhibition of the history of immigration to the U.S. This was the recommended way to talk with foreigners getting ready for the spoken English exam. How are you, my alien friend? 🙂

So – to the travel. Flying there was uneventful, thank goodness, although I did end up traveling whilst I was wearing a big medical leg brace since I’m still healing from the ankle surgery last December. Not to worry. I packed quite lightly (But. Must. Do. Better. Next. Time.), and having the leg brace, cumbersome though it was, meant that I finally got to ride the airport carts and get early boarding for prime seating since I’m walking at a top speed of a tortoise right now. No worries.

Everyone was extremely kind and understanding about it, and I have nothing but good things to say about traveling with United. (Note: It was impossible for us to get a cart or wheelchair at Houston Airport for unknown reasons and so we ended up walking 40-something gates or we were going to miss our connection, but moving on from that… The other stuff was great.)

My mum had landed in DC the day before I arrived and already had the hotel sussed out so that my late arrival went smoothly and we woke up the next morning ready to up and at them, tourist-style. (You just never know how these things are going to go when you book a hotel blind, amirite?)

I’d researched a rather vague itinerary prior to the trip, and I highly recommend that you do the same (although perhaps a little more detailed) if you travel to D.C. It’s a huge city, and there are approximately fifty billion museums and other cool places to visit, so it’s good to have a plan of some sort. We were interested in a mix of museums, art galleries, and other places, and with mum getting older and me in my leg brace, we chose the walking-intense National Mall to start off when we were fresh and pretty rested.

It’s a lot of walking if you want to see the Lincoln monument, the Reflecting Pool, the Vietnam War Memorial, and other iconic sights, and although there were the occasional (and slightly puzzling) DC Circulator buses that you could hop on to, the four-day passes that we bought for the Metro didn’t work on these buses, so there was quite a bit of faffing about with that until we worked it out.

The National Mall is also a food and drink desert (i.e. there are very few options for lunch, coffee or just a sit down out of the cold), so be prepared. You could buy a very over-priced ice cream, I think, but apart from that, there’s nada that we could find. Caveat emptor and all that.

So Mum and I walked past quite a few of these, hoping to catch the cherry blossoms that line that reflecting pool, but there’d been a hit of cold weather which had delayed their opening up. (You can follow the progress of the cherry blooms at this website.) Not to worry, it was still pretty with all the green buds out, and it was great to walk around in a pedestrian-friendly and safe environment with cool temperatures. (We’d just missed snow, thank goodness.) So we strolled up the Mall, and then came across the new National Museum of African-American History and Culture.

I’d skim-researched on-line about tickets to enter etc., and the guide book had mentioned that you could buy tickets ahead of time or there were some walk-ins available on the day. This is not quite accurate (as there were no available walk-ins), and so if you’re heading for DC and wanting to pop into this museum, get your tickets 1-2 months ahead of time. Tickets are for a timed-entry to prevent crowds overwhelming the building, so it was well organized, but you just couldn’t walk-in as the guide book suggested. (Note to self for next time.)

Just up the street were some more treasures so all was not lost. We visited the National Archives, and the very intriguing National Museum of American History (which is really interesting and seems to contain everything else that they couldn’t put into one of the other Smithsonian museums). Honestly, it’s a fascinating hodge-podge of topics, times and people, and we could have stayed there for hours.

Still, time was a-ticking so we hopped across the street to run through the National Gallery of Art to see what gorgeous pieces that they had there. One really unexpected display was a small indoor courtyard that was stuffed with the most gorgeous and prolific flowers… Just beautiful and very unexpected in an art museum…

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By that time, we were running out of time and out of energy, so we whipped by the White House (didn’t stop as not a big fan of the current inhabitant), and then came back to the hotel. We were staying in a DoubleTree just outside the city in a place called Crystal City (close to the Pentagon etc.) and only a ten-minute subway ride from downtown. Cheaper, less traffic, more conference-focused hotel which was lovely and quiet.

Plus, they had the friendliest and most helpful staff I’ve ever encountered which was a big plus. (Say hello to Tyrone when you next see him. Great guy, and deserves a raise as he went waaay over and above in his customer service when we’d just missed the shuttle.)

The next day featured more of the museums at the other end of the Mall: the Library of Congress (with the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights et al.), a quick visit to the U.S. Capitol (where our politicians sometimes do their work), and then back for a rest.

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Points to consider when traveling to DC:

  • Check which museums you are interested in attending and see if you can get your (free) tickets ahead of time. (Sometimes having tix is the only way to get in and with no tix = no admittance.)
  • If you’d like to tour the U.S. Capital itself, you can send an email to your local Representative person, and they can arrange to have an intern give you a tour of the inner workings of the place. We chose not to do this due to the current tenant.
  • There’s a pretty decent clean and cheap cafeteria in the basement of the Capital building if you’re dying for a coffee or lunch etc. Open to everyone, including large groups of school children who were, I have to say, very well behaved. (Thank you, teachers and chaperones.)
  • At the start of your trip, take a photo (with your phone) of the subway system so you’ll always have this with you. (Take it quite hi-res so then, if you have to enlarge it to see a particular station, you’ll be able to read it ok. We had to enlarge quite often to read the map.) The subway stations can be a little hidden away on the streets at times, but you’ll learn to recognize the grey columns with the big M on them after a while. They’re not massively obvious though, so there’s quite a bit of searching around for them sometimes.
  • Along those lines, take photos of the guidebook pages talking about the places that you’re interested in visiting that day. (Guidebooks can be heavy and dense to carry around, and honestly, how many pages are you really going to need that day?)
  • At the Metro, it’s cheaper to buy the reusable/reloadable plastic passes for multiple days if you’re going to be there for more than 48 hours. These tickets are discounted and you only have to carry that one plastic pass for never-ending journeys for that one holiday. Plus they are reloadable, and transfer from person to person in most cases. Just know that the Metro pass doesn’t work on the buses.
  • People in DC are really helpful and courteous. There are the occasional mentally ill homeless folks as there are in any metropolitan areas, naturally, but keep your eyes peeled and be aware of your surroundings, you’ll be fine.
  • Know that visits to museums are going to take much longer than you think so you might want to be flexible for your daily itinerary with regard to the number of places you visit, and where they are located. (Some have pretty long lines to get in.)
  • Take snacks and water bottles with you when you leave the hotel to go tourist-ing. Sometimes you’ll be in a food desert (i.e. the Mall) wandering around with no hope in sight, and then, my friends, is when you’ll be glad of that energy bar and the drink. Plus – if you start off with an empty water bottle, there are loads of water fountains for free refills. (This is even more important if you go in the summer months when the humidity is about 1000% and the temps are high.)
  • Unless you’re a young ‘un, plan to sit down and have a cup of coffee (or other drink) fairly regularly, otherwise all the walking can turn your trip into the Bataan Death March pretty quickly (especially when you’re not sure where the closest metro is).
  • It’s fine to ask people questions about where you are, where the Metro is etc. DC is a working city, and the majority of the locals are fairly happy to point you in the right direction (unless they’re in a stinking hurry in which case you wouldn’t ask them, right?)
  • Try to avoid getting on the Metro at rush hour (just as you would in any other large city). More expensive, more crowded. Much more relaxed if you can travel either before or after those hours.
  • Stay flexible with your plans. The odds are that you will probably get lost at some point, or can’t find the Metro or your destination, or just get fed up and want to go back to the hotel for a nap. It happens. It doesn’t mean that you’re a failed tourist.

Use your City-Smarts, and DC is a blast.

P.S. I did do some reading of some earlier work of Mary Roach (My Planet) whilst I was traveling, but it was a collection of her lifestyle columns from a newspaper, and trust me, it wasn’t her best work. Let me save you some time and money by saying that your life will continue if you don’t read this one. 🙂

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The amazing Library of Congress in DC… Slightly posher than my own local branch… 🙂

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General Catch-Up…

catch_upSo it’s been a while since I’ve done a general catch-up with life, so I thought it might be nice to bring you up to speed on my absolutely riveting lifestyle. 🙂

The semester is going very smoothly. I’m teaching two sections of Media Writing, and I seem to have some really good students in both of those classes. (Wheee!) Focused students are really great to work with, so I’m lucky. I’m really enjoying teaching as well, much more than last semester, and I think that’s because I have a much better idea of what to expect and the general game plan. It’s a different world, TBH.

Movie-wise, I’ve been seeing quite a few lately. Saw the awesome Three Billboards… (Frances McDormand et al.) which was really good, and followed that up with a watch of The Post (about the Pentagon Papers and Nixon et al.). Learned a lot about that, so that was enjoyable. I do rather miss the typewriter days and using paper, but probably the e-office set up works a little more swiftly and smoothly now we have the technology!
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Also happened to go to the movies to see a selection of Oscar-nominated short documentaries which were just great. (Glad that I don’t have to choose which one to win, as I enjoyed them all.) This category is filled with short (in length), but big on content documentaries which have been split into two sections (just because of the time commitment). The three that we saw were:

  • Edith and Eddie – A look at inter-racial and elderly romance, this film covers the relationship of Edith and Eddie who got married when they were 95 and 96. The romance is pretty straightforward, until Edith gets diagnosed with early dementia and one of her two daughters wants to sell the house where the couple live and force Edith to go and live in Florida with her family, leaving Eddie behind. It’s never explained exactly why this daughter thinks that that is the humane thing to do, but the film documents what happens rather than explain things. Good, all the same though.
  • Heaven in a Traffic Jam on the 405 – this doc portrays the fascinating life of American artist Mindy Apler who works primarily in papier mache. Suffering from depression, anxiety, and other mental challenges, the film shows how art is a survival technique for Alper, particularly during the ten years when she was without speech. Great artist with an intriguing story to go along with it.
  • Traffic Stop – In 2015, an African-American math teacher was stopped in Austin, Texas, for a minor traffic violation, but it turns into a violent arrest. The documentary follows Breaion King as her life is turned upside down by callous police behavior and racism. It really makes you think about things…

oscarCheck out this article from IndieWire for more details. I’m not usually the biggest cinema person, but I love documentaries so this was a good way to spend an afternoon! An added bonus is that some of these selected docs are available to watch for free on YouTube… 🙂

Moving on to other things:  My ankle is slowly healing from its surgery back before Christmas. I had no idea that it would take almost three months before I could drive again, but it did, and now, thank heavens, I am back in the driver’s seat and walking (carefully) around. The Superhero was fantastic shuttling me around everywhere, but I’m glad to have my independence back. (I think he is as well!)

And then one of my favorite months, Black History Month, wraps up as March arrives with its windy weather. I ended up reading a load of African-American books and stories, either written by African-Americans and/or about a person of color, and it was fascinating. I’m planning on diversifying my reading for the rest of the year since it’s been so fun, so hoping to keep that going on. Race can be such a divisive issue, and even though I consider myself to be very aware of this, there are still times when I unconsciously have white privilege running for me, so I’m trying to be even more aware of that, in order to reach my students, both white and POC. It’s a fascinating journey.

So, we’re almost coming up on Spring Break (mid-March), and with that week off, I’m going to fly to Washington D.C. to meet my lovely mum flying in from London, and then we’ll see the sights (dependent on how comfortable my ankle is). I’m thinking that with lots of coffee breaks and some cake, we’ll be ok. 🙂

Life is good. I hope that you can say the same!

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Strength in What Remains – Tracy Kidder (2000)

Kidder_tracySubtitle: A Journey of Remembrance and Forgiveness.

So, this title was quite an astonishing read for me, in that the guy who is the focus of this story went through such an amazing and never-ending amount of crud and STILL didn’t get a bad attitude towards the other humans.

Here’s a summary of the story if you are not familiar with it already: Deo (full name: Deogratias) was a young man in Burundi who survived a civil war and the related genocide only to end up at JFK in New York carrying two suitcases and $200 in his pocket. He knew no one, had no contacts, no place to stay, no nothing, and yet somehow, through a combination of factors, he ends up in one piece and a medical school graduate.

I know, right? Rather puts your own life into perspective…

Kidder, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, found out about Deo’s story after he (Kidder) had penned his earlier NF, Mountains Beyond Mountains, about Dr. Paul Farmer who formed a non-profit to tackle public health nightmare situations in Haiti (and beyond). Kidder tracked down Deo’s awe-inspiring story whilst he was tracing Farmer’s since both Farmer and Deo ended up working together on some health projects.

deoDeo, born to a small farmer and his wife, grew up in the forests and mountains of Burundi, living a fairly typical agricultural childhood for his country until the civil war and unrest arrived. Having to run for his life when the murderous rebels surround his region, Dec finds himself alone and with no money or help as he crosses the Burundian landscape trying his hardest to avoid being killed in the genocide that was taking his country by storm. (The descriptions of what he sees and what he goes through have to be read to be believed. Warning: they are harrowing.)

After surviving months on the run, hiding in forests and just a few steps ahead of the rebel groups, Deo’s good fortune puts him on one of the few remaining aeroplane rides out of the unstable country, and Deo arrives in New York with not much, really, apart from his attitude and his ability to make friends along the way.

The young immigrant scrapes a living delivering groceries 12 hours a day, and living in Central Park or co-squatting in unlivable vacant buildings, but as you can read, by an amazing series of coincidences and people who know people, Deo ends up at Columbia University, followed by medical school. The “how” of all this is proof that good people live out in the world, even if they’re not obvious to you.

So, this was a true rags-to-riches story for this young African person, and as you can probably surmise, it’s a great story with an almost fairy-tale ending, so you’d think that Kidder, an award-winning author, would be the perfect match to tell this narrative.

And you know, he was until about two-thirds of the way through, when suddenly, for no reason really, Kidder starts injecting himself into the story taking it on a very philosophical track of meaning and forgiveness. All very valid, but TBH, Kidder really got in the way of Deo’s story, and I’m wondering if perhaps Kidder was trying to meet a publisher’s page number goal of some kind, because if he had stopped at an earlier finishing point, this book would have been outstanding.

It was almost as though this was two different books all smashed into one: one a fairly straightforward chronological narrative and the other more of an esoteric take on the morality side of things. I’m not sure why Kidder did this — I can only speculate — but it did not do the book justice, as by the time I’d reached the end and turned the last page, I was very ready to finish up the read.

And that’s a shame as the book should have ended up with much more powerful punch than it did. Instead of thinking “Wow. This is an amazing young man with an incredible story filled with hope and compassion,” I ended up going “finish up already, Kidder.”

So, I’d recommend that you read this story for the Deo true narrative, and when Kidder inserts himself in this unwarranted Yoda fashion, just stop your story there.

Deo’s story is breathtaking, but unfortunately, I ended up being annoyed with Kidder more than continue to be amazed at Deo. As any narrative NF writer should know, you don’t want to be part of the story unless you can’t help it. I think Kidder could have, but didn’t.

 

The Best of… 2017 Edition

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As December comes to a close, it’s a nice end-of-year tradition for me to review my reading for the past year, and just see how it panned out. There’s no number goals or similar, but I do likes to see how I’ve spent my reading time over the last twelve months, just out of curiosity.

(Note: like a lot of other bloggers have noted, these titles weren’t necessarily published in 2017; they were just read by me in the last twelve months.)

First, a huge thank you to everyone who drops and reads my blog, whether you are a one-off reader or a regular. I appreciate your time and comments!

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To the numbers:

  • Total # books read: 58 (about right for the average year the past few years)
  • Total DNF’s: 2
  • Total fiction: 31 (51.2%)
  • Total non-fiction: 21 (44.2%).
  • Total Pages: 15,542
  • Format of books (e-books vs. tree books): 3 e-books, 55 tree books.

Years Published:

  • Oldest title: 1897
  • Nineteenth century: 1
  • Twentieth century: 28
  • Twenty-first century: 27

TBR Progress:

  • Off the TBR: 28 (48.2%)

New books in:

  • Bought new/new-to-me:  16 books bought (compared with 27 TBR read (i.e. out of house)

Demographics:

  • Male vs. female/other identified authors: 26 male authors, 32 female/other
  • POC author or POC-related topic: 13 (23%)

Fiction: 29

  • Novels: 26
  • Plays/Drama: 1
  • Graphic Novel: 1
  • Short stories: 2

Top Five Fiction:

  • Lantana Lane – Eleanor Dark (1986)
    • Australian novel set in small community in outback.
  • Beloved – Toni Morrison (1987)
    • Second in trilogy, but also works as stand-alone. New York city life of troubled African-American couple set in mid-century.
  • Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel (2014)
    • Rollocking good dystopian read about (American) life after an explained/ unexpected epidemic
  • Ceremony – Leslie Silko Marmon (1977)
    • Series of interlinked stories set in First Nations community during modern times.
  • The Lizard Cage – Karen Connelly (2005)
    • Fictional retelling of political prisoner living hard existence in world of corrections in Burma/Myanmar.

Non-Fiction: 26

  • Most read about topic: history (especially social history), social justice, travel

Top Five Non-Fiction:

  • Dreams from my Father – Barack Obama (1995)
    • Autobiography from our former U.S. President. Reads like fiction when compared with our reality with the Orange Goblin. 😦
  • Medical Apartheid – Harriet A. Washington (2007)
    • Hard-hitting investigative/historical journalism closely reviewing the troubled past of how the U.S. medical establishment has treated African-Americans over the past century or so. Fascinating and disturbing.
  • Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life – Sally Bedell Smith (2017)
    • No blog post, but trust me, this is a good read, however you may feel about the possible future King of England.
  • A Kim Jong Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, his Star Actress, and a Young Dictator’s Rise to Power – Paul Fischer (2015)
    • A very weird and very true tale about how a young North Korean dictator kidnapping a foreign filmmaker and his movie star wife to force him to improve the quality of the North Korean film industry. Fascinating and keeps you reading.
  • At the Broken Places: A Mother and Trans-Son – Mary Collins and Donald Collins (2017)
    • A dual POV from a mother and her trans-son’s gender transition. Fascinating because the mother is so unsupportive and doesn’t seem to understand why the adult child should choose to do this “to her”. Really, people?

Movie of the Year:

  • Chicken People (2016)
    • Absolutely charming documentary about the world of competitive chicken showing in the U.S. It’s a real thing, and this was just lovely (even if you’re not into chickens that much). Over the course of one year, follows a small group of amateur (?) chicken breeders and how they progress in the competitive season.

Goals for next year? I am keeping it very open and laid back as I enter my first semester teaching college for the Spring, and with my new job responsibilities. Whatever numbers I read, they are less important than the quality of reading.

Here’s to a happy new year for all!

 

Thanksgiving Review…

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Well, phew. That’s been a busy few weeks.

Sorry about the complete blog silence, but work keeps me more than busy sometimes. Plus, I have been stuck in the literary wasteland of not being able to choose a good next title to read. I know that there are literally thousands and thousands of books available to read, but I was just very stuck in not being able to find a book that I wanted to read (and then keep reading). (Ahh. The vagaries of life.)

So, not wanting to bore the pants off you, here’s a quick recap of what’s been going on for me lately:

  • One of the coolest cats ever died on Thanksgiving Day which was rather sad. His name was Futz (above photo), and he was the kindest and most friendly cat that we’ve ever had. He usually greeted everyone who passed our home, taking on the mantle of unofficial Mayor of the Block, and so he had a lot of fans. We’re going to miss this little guy.
  • Grading, grading, grading…
  • Nothing very exciting, except that we volunteered to help with the holiday lunch at the local homeless shelter. A good experience, and if you’re ever wondering whether to do that sort of thing or not in your own community, highly recommended that you go.
  • Reading. (Well, I’ve already mentioned how that went in general.)
  • Movies: had some luck with this category: watched the 1959 suspense/thriller called North by Northwest (with Carey Grant, James Mason, and Eve Marie Saint)*, and we loved it. Recommend this even if you’re not that big into older movies. Entertaining, and the fashion!! Never a hair out of place even when being chased by the bad guys. 🙂
  • Got a final date for my ankle surgery (middle of December) so before then, I have to get loads of working out and errands completed, as I’ll be hobbled for about 4-5 weeks. Lots of reading and movie time, right? 🙂 Plus, Super Hero has agreed to ferry me about until the cast comes off.
  • Finished up my piece of a local community project with a non-profit agency that provides stockings stuffed with toys et al. for local kids who may not otherwise have a very good Christmas. (Total fun for me to do, and I hope that the kids like what my choices are…)
  • Volunteered at the local food bank (again, total fun for me). I’m not some perfect angel, by any means, but do believe that, if one is not happy with the state of the world or one’s country, one should do something to try to improve it for you and the others who live in your community. [Rant is now over.]
  • Caught up with some friends.
  • Had quite a few really good naps. 🙂
  • Did actually read two books. More to come on those.
  • Read some of the more intriguing Christmas catalogues which have been pouring into our mail box lately…

So, Thanksgiving was rather a random selection of things, but we enjoyed it tremendously. Just a few more weeks until the end of the semester, and then three weeks off for Christmas. Not a bad life, I must say. I’m very lucky.

  • Just found out that this old 1959 movie has been remade with George Clooney, Charlize Theron, and Alan Rickman. Wonder how good that one is….

 

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Catch Up Time, Autumn Edition…

catch_upSince I seem to have a small break in the busy schedule of teaching and tech writing, I thought it might be nice to have a little catch-up and see how things are, now that we’re at the beginning of Autumn – my favorite season!

Speaking of autumn, here in West Texas, we’ve been having a great break from the close-to-100 degrees days. It’s been cool (60’s) and pretty rainy (lovely), and generally given us a rest from the never-ending summer heat and sunshine. I like the warm weather generally, but at this point in the year and after having about six months of solid mostly non-stop heat, I’m ready to pull out my cool-weather gear and enjoy some cooler temperatures. In fact, it was so awesomely cool that we even thought about having the heating on at night. (Didn’t actually end up doing so,  but still – nice treat and signals, perhaps, the beginning of the cooler days).

And – I found some leaves on the ground (as in they fell there since it’s almost Autumn, not that they got blown off in the near hurricane-winds we’ve been having with this stormy weather). Yahoo. I don’t mean to seem ungrateful for temperate weather, but summer gets a little weary at times. But – sunshine!

I’ve been making progress on the new office set-up in the front spare bedroom. Sold the bed the other day, so that’s freed up a lot of room. Next step, call the contractor to see about pulling up the carpet and redoing the wood floors. (Big job for someone apart from me!) After that, will be the new blinds for the front of the house, and then, baby steps for the remainder of the office furniture and space ideas.

One rather looming goal is that we received two big packages of pieces with which to construct the new desk. We’re a bit challenged (in terms of patience) when it comes to building furniture, so we’re psyching ourselves up for this. Hopefully, it will be pretty easy. (Fingers crossed.) Have to get the floor finished first, though.

Teaching and working are going really well and keeping me busy. Both of the courses have some good students in them, and I’m looking forward to working more closely with them as the semester progresses. My back’s been bothering me, so I’ve got two upcoming back procedures to help to sort that out. Face is still annoying, but I’m learning acceptance as it’s not going to go away, it seems. It certainly could be a lot worse, so grateful for something so manageable for the most part.

Did some culture last night, when we went to a new event called 10×9 (or similar) which is a storytelling event. Nine people have ten mins each to tell a true story from their lives, all on one particular theme. Last night’s theme was courage, and so that was fun to go to. Well attended as well, which I was happy to see. I wonder when the next one is…

And then I’ve been gloating over my new-to-me titles from the FOL book sale the other week. Now to find the time…. (Hollow laugh.)

Life is good. Hope you can say the same!

Well, hello, my lovelies…

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Hello (or Hullo to English people :-))! It’s me, back from the break.

First, let me apologize for the complete lack of posts. You’re right. I had the two weeks off to play and write and just be, and it was lovely, I must admit. However, such sloth does not encourage turning on the computer that much, so I tried to not be behind a screen quite so much in my free time. In my old position at work, I was in front of a computer screen all day every day, so I really enjoyed taking a break from things electronic (except, you know, TV, iPhone… but we won’t mention those.)

Now, it’s all action stations. I have started my new job with the College of Media and Communications, I’ve had a couple of classes teaching, and I’m getting my groove back in the classroom, and the new folks that I’m working with seem to be very smart, kind, and fun, so it’s all good. It’s definitely going to be a different world from the one that I’ve been in, and I’m very psyched about the change.

So what did I actually do during my two weeks off? Well, I must be honest and admit that there were plenty of naps, quite a bit of reading, and a lot of hanging around with the pets. They’re not used to me being home all day, so I probably ruined their schedules, but we did have fun with each other. Cowboy was particularly happy to be with me, her Spirit Animal. /jk/

I am interested in setting up a new study in our third bedroom, and so I’ve been researching that a bit. Lots of ideas so now I just need to narrow down what I’m looking for. It’s going to be a whole new room, involving getting rid of all the furniture in it currently (as it’s been a spare bedroom), so I trying to make sure that I’m fairly sure in what I want, design-wise.

The room has great light (four floor-to-ceiling windows), and I’m looking for a fairly modern/MCM vibe with the new pieces. Oh, and a drafting board desk thing. I’m wondering where one purchases these, but I do work at a university, so I’m thinking that there must be students who have forked out for a drafting desk, and then changed their majors, so hoping I can get one at a good price.

I’m looking for a surface that will be large enough for any projects that I do, and perhaps a jigsaw puzzle or two. (The current jigsaw set up right now is on the dining room table which (a) is frustrating because you have to live around a puzzle, and (b) I usually feel a bit rushed to complete the puzzle as the table is high-stakes real estate in our home. (Goofy, huh, but I really enjoy doing jigsaw puzzles and have decided that this room is my room, and if I want to do jigsaw puzzles in it, then it’s time to have a place that works with that. Woo. Go me.)

I also think that I will have work (e.g. grading etc.) to do when I am at home sometimes, so I’d like an area where I can leave a project in the place where it is, without having to dismantle everything. I’m pretty excited about it, but not going to rush it.

I decided that when I turned fifty (a few years back) that I was no longer going to make do with “almost right” with regard to what I like to buy. I would always buy whatever I needed (e.g. clothes, furniture etc.) from the sometimes-ratty selection in the Reduced Price area of the store or from thrift, and I do have some good bargains from that shopping technique, but I’d really like this room to be closer to “exactly what I want” this time around. So, I’m taking my time, researching everything, and when I have a stronger idea of what I’m looking for (which I’ll know when I see it), then I’ll bite the bullet and buy it.

So, what about reading, I hear you ask? Yes, I have been doing that, and feel rather behind the curve with blogging my titles etc. I’m contemplating doing a big round-up post, and then moving on from there, as there have been some great titles, so we’ll see..

So, expect a reading post in the next day or two, and then I think I’ll be back to business blog-wise.

So, how’s your world? It’s the end of summer (for some of us), and I, for one, am ridiculously excited about the upcoming cooler months. (Speaking of weather, my thoughts are with those who are in Southern Texas and dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Poor things.)

Chat soon.

 

General Catch-Up…

catch_upSo it’s been a busy few weeks, both at work and at home. Reading has taken a bit of a backseat role, and this is reflected in my book totals, but all is well. Stats are only something that I keep a vague eye on, and so it’s not something to stress about.

I did have a DNF the other day (Color by Victoria Finlay) – a non-fiction that looked as though it would be right up my alley: micro-fiction type covering the history of different colors; instead, for some reason, I could only get through 150 pages of this. I’m not sure exactly what it was that impacted my read of this title, but it did so there you go. 🙂 Off the TBR pile so that’s good news. It’s been there a while.

It seems that I have been reading more difficult books lately, so, thinking it would be good to have a break from all the problems of the world, I decided to pick up a fairly straightforward title by Anna Quindlen, Still Life with Bread Crumbs, and am finding this an enjoyable read. It actually reads as smoothly as a hot knife through butter, and this is just what I’ve been craving. Sort of a palate cleanser, if you will.

Movies – seen some corkers lately. Highly recommend that you go see “The Big Sick” with Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, a rom-com but this time it’s an intelligent and witty view of a relationship with some really big medicalThe-Big-Sick challenges. I laughed out loud so many times during this movie, and I can neither confirm nor deny that there may have been a tear at some point. Seriously, one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time.

(ETA: This is an unfortunate name for the film in England though. If you’re “sick” in UK English [at least when I was growing up there and in our family], the word “sick” is the name for actual physical vomit itself. If you’re not feeling very well in UK English, you might say “I’m feeling poorly” or similar, not “I’m sick”. What this title is actually saying is “The Big Puddle of Vomit” in UK-ese. Haha.)

The other night, Superhero and I watched Arrival with Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner (you’ll know his face), and Forest Whitaker. It’s a light sci-fi film about how humans react when twelve pods of aliens arrive on earth. I really liked it because it was all about linguistics and language – how to communicate with a different species when there is no common vocabulary? – and Adams was great. Even if you’re not sure about watching sci-fi, this is much more than that, so I bet you’ll like it.

happy_valleyIn between reading and movies, we finished up the TV police series, Shetland (another really good series set in Scotland – subtitles might be needed), and now have started Happy Valley, a police series set up in Yorkshire. Quite dark in places, but still very good. It’s good to see some England as I’ve been wanting a fix of scenery.

Life is chugging along nicely. We’re gearing up to go to LA for a weekend trip to visit some family, and then a trip to Colorado in September with some friends. (Half of the group are doing a grueling trail run, while the other half (including me) will be strolling through the shops and having a cup of coffee at the finish line to meet the runners…

Speaking of LA, do you have any recommendations of things to see? We’re planning on seeing a taping of Bill Maher’s show, and, fingers crossed, a tour of the Stahl House, but that’s a bit iffy right now. Any other ideas?

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Stahl House in Los Angeles.

Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013)

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Wanting to read something that I couldn’t put down this Memorial Day weekend, I pulled “Americanah” off the library shelf, Scary Big Book though it is, and settled down on our new comfortable couch. Four and a half hours later, I emerged at the end of the book having been immersed in the world of two young Nigerians, Ifemelu and Obinze, as they traverse the uneven terrain of love and adulthood.

I was aware that Ngozi Adichie was an excellent writer (see review of We Should All Be Feminists here), but it’s been a while since I’ve managed to select a book that I couldn’t put down, and it’s been even longer since I’ve have had a few hours to devote solidly to an awesome read. Both of those opportunities came when I took the day off from work for the three-day weekend, and I have to say that although I’m only half-way through the year right now, there is no doubt that this title will make the Top Ten List at the end of the year.

Obviously, I’m not the only one to have noticed this book. It’s been awarded honors from across the world for writing excellence, including the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Fiction award, selected for the 10 Best Books of 2013 by the editors of the NYT Book Review, shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction (UK), and given the 2013 Heartland Award for Fiction by the Chicago Tribune. Even if the book hadn’t won all these awards, I would be writing the same gushing review so please don’t think that I’ve been swayed by all these accolades. They are completely and wholeheartedly deserved by Ngozi Adichie.

To the book itself: the plot follows the lives of two young Nigerian people, Ifemelu and Obinze, as their paths interweave and separate over the years and across geopolitical lines. Both grew up together in the same time and at the same secondary school, but Nigeria (at that time) was under military rule which meant that a lot of its citizens wanted to leave for elsewhere and other opportunities. Ifemelu departs for the U.S. to attend university, leaving Nigeria with the plan that Obinze will join her once his visa is approved.

However, the visa process takes much longer, and as Ifemelu moves through her college, she becomes a successful blogger on the intersection of race and life (from her perspective as a “Non-American Black”) whilst Obinze struggles to make a life in England as an undocumented immigrant. So there is the dichotomy of gender, there is the dichotomy of race, there is the comparison of life choices and the role of luck, and then there is the question of what constitutes success in each person’s life. The novel has a lot going on, but it’s all occurring underneath the surface because the writing of the story is so strong that the characters’ lives remain the focus for the reader. It’s a slow-burn novel which sucks you in as the pages turn, and once finished, the book stays in your mind for days after. (It’s that good.)

If you’d like to spend the next few days in the company of two smart and very normal young people who are trying to work out which paths to follow in life, this read will give that to you. It’s been so long since I’ve jumped in with both feet to a great fictional read and been transformed into the lives of these characters that I have to admit that this was one of the best reading experiences I’ve had in a long time. Without resorting to hyperbole, I think that this was one of the best novels I’ve read in years, and I kick myself that I haven’t picked it up before now. Do yourself a favor, and choose this title soon. I bet you’ll thank me later.

Catch Up Time…

catch_upWork has been a bit nutty in terms of workload, so my reading has had to slow down a bit. With my bad eye and being in front of a computer screen all day, I’m kinda tired when I get home. That plus I’m wearing contacts which means I can see great far away, but middle distance and close up are terrible. (Thus the not-much reading situation.) Hoping that will get sorted out as the days go by, but there’s quite a bit of fiddling around at the moment.

I spent a lot of today working on website issues which is, surprisingly, great fun and I really enjoy it immersing myself in HTML and other puzzles. There’s always something to do with a large website (such as work has), and I can get completely sucked in at times. I just put some tunes on in the background, and have at it. Rather fun.

Reading seems to have taken a back seat for the last few days. We’ve been catching up with some TV: Better Call Saul (irresistible sidekick series to Breaking Bad), a Netflix series called Case, we’ve started Planet Earth (BBC/David Attenborough), and then saw the Dave Chappelle special the other night. (Mostly funny, but way too many “rape jokes” for my liking. [It’s never ok.]  Dave – you can do better than that.)  ETA: I am completely off Dave Chappelle now, especially since I’ve seen his transphobic rant. Grr.) Oh, and the regulars: Bill Maher, Samantha Bee et al. I’m constantly amazed at what comes out of the White House every day, but only three and a half years to go.

Oh, and I lucked out and got Garth Brooks tickets for this Sunday afternoon’s concert when he comes to town with Trisha Yearwood. (Heehaw. Very excited as he puts on quite a show, I’ve heard. Squeee.) Slightly strange to be going to a big concert on Sunday afternoon, but there you have it. Them’s the breaks sometimes. I’m dragging SuperHero DH with me, which means that I’ll owe him a concert in return. Slightly concerned that this might entail a Disturbd or Korn concert, but I’m crossing my fingers that it’s something a bit more palatable than that.

We also bought Daniel Tosh (comedian) tickets for later this month. He’s got some hilarious set pieces with some questionable pieces in between. He’s more good than not, so we’re going. Rather looking forward to him as he has no mercy for anything or anyone. Ever. You just sit there and cringe while you’re laughing and hope that he doesn’t pick on you. :-]

The outdoor pool on campus just opened this week. Naturally, the temperatures have plummeted to the 40’s since then, but there are plenty of sunny days ahead. Looking forward to messing around at the pool soon. It’s got a curvy lazy river which is awesome to float in after a long day at the office. Speaking of office, I actually now have air conditioning. I’ve spent the last two years sweating in my office year round, and now? It’s truly great to have a nice temperature at work. Thank you, lovely hard-working campus Physical Plant people!!

So – quite a busy weekend ahead and it’s busy-fun! Great combination to have!

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