Snow coincidence

Back in February, we took a somewhat spontaneous family trip to Tahoe for a quick weekend with some framily (the friends that turn into family). It was H’s first time in the snow, and the first time B has been there since he was 2 1/2, so basically his first time too. The entire point was just to go stay in a hotel, play in the snow, and spend some family time together.

I won’t go into the myriad ways it felt like our kids were ignoring and backtalking to us, and how frustrating that was. =) Nor will I go into all the details about how H woke us up multiple times in the middle of the night to make us switch hotel beds because she decided she didn’t like whoever she was currently sleeping next to. Honestly, by 6am, Drew and I were both sitting there going…Do we just put them in the car now and go home? =/

BUT. We decided to stick it out through the second day and see if we could recover. We walked around Tahoe City a bit, went to the playground we’ve visited before, but it was FREEZING. There were icicles on the dock and on the plants at the edge of the water.

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Look how sad and cold she is!

So we went and got hot chocolate, then packed up the cars and went to Donner Memorial State Park, back up on I-80, on our way home. It had warmed up a bit, and there was less wind off the water, which was helpful. We actually had a pretty good time! The snow was piled in drifts over bushes, which means that while all the kids were running around like lightfooted rabbits, the adults would occasionally break through the snow and wind up calf (or knee…or one memorable time, thigh) deep in a drift.

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Finally it felt like it was time to move on and go grab some lunch on our way home. We gathered up all our sleds and saucers and dragged everything back through the snow and over bridges and back to the main parking lot at the Donner visitor center. We passed underneath the memorial that’s visible from the highway.

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And I found myself thinking, The Donner party is pretty interesting. I mean it’s a little macabre…you only really learn the grisly details in school. 

Fast forward a few days, and I’m googling “books about the Donner party” to see if there are any good nonfiction or historical fiction books about the winter of 1846-47. I found one that looked promising and also familiar: The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride, by Daniel James Brown. When I searched it on Amazon, I realized…it looked familiar because I had already purchased the ebook a year ago and it was currently in my kindle.

I had purchased it because (I remembered now) I had been thinking about the Donner party and I was wondering if there were any good books about it.

So on the one hand, I’m glad I’m consistent! On the other hand, I now wonder what other books in my kindle I’ve been ignoring that I would probably enjoy. (Spoiler alert: there are a lot of ebooks I don’t remember purchasing.)

I’m not sure these are the best days for reading books about families being forced to resort to desperate measures to survive. So I’ll put this one off for a summer read once things (hopefully) settle down. (That said, it would be weird not to at least mention COVID-19 here and the very strange times we’re living in, but I’m journaling all that separately and I highly recommend you do too, as frequently as possible.)

Stay safe and sane out there, friends. And read something fun and fluffy.

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To Market

Walking down Market Street at 6:30pm, just after dark, was like walking through a fever dream. I saw a man selling light up Mickey Mouse balloons, four different very fragrant hot dog carts, a man balancing on a unicycle while playing an electric violin, and a huge group of bikers on illuminated, old fashioned bicycles. What a world.

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Moonlight

At some point in the last year the blinds in our bedroom have broken so that one corner is perpetually stuck up at a wonky angle from the windowsill. But we’ve lived there for eight years and have resigned ourselves to stuff like that. A broken blind pull; nail polish smeared on the wall (courtesy of a 2-year-old H); the light on the stove that tells you when a burner is hot that doesn’t go off once everything has cooled down, until you bang on it. It’s fine. Whatever. #RenterLife, am I right?

But sometimes things surprise you, and as we move toward spring, and the earth shifts its rotation, and the moon moves through its faces, there have been nights lately where I’ve woken up, and the moon is coming right through that hitch in the blind, and shining on the bed.

The first time it happened, I assumed it was a streetlight (?) and I didn’t realize what it was until I laid down and put my face in it and saw the full moon through the trees. I stayed there until it had sunk behind the branches.

Some things feel preciously beautiful.

The last time it happened, I woke up Drew to show him, even though I know he has a hard time falling back to sleep. And now the moon is waning and it won’t happen again for another three weeks. But I hope I catch it again when it comes back.

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My Oscars rankings 2020

Man, this was a quick Oscars season. From the nominations being announced on January 13 to the awards ceremony on February 9, that gave us less than four weeks to get through all the best picture noms this year.

I felt like we went and saw movies over the last year that I thought would help us out in this season: we saw Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, The Lighthouse, Parasite, and Knives Out in 2019. And yeah, I enjoyed seeing those other movies, but I sure wish they had been boxes to check this last month. =)

Ten days ago I had four movies to go, and I honestly thought it might not happen this year. But we made it – and so here’s my ranking of the best picture nominees this year, bottom to top:

9. Joker – Eh.

8. The Irishman – I didn’t hate this, but it was SO LONG. Like, I started watching it and then four days later I was somehow still watching it??

7. Ford vs Ferrari – I think this and The Irishman would have swapped places if The Irishman had been 1 hour shorter. Like, it was fine. Do I ever have to watch it again? No.

6. Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood – Drew and I went to the movies back in July and saw this. I didn’t know the Sharon Tate story and so I think some of that context was lost on me. The performances were good but there were multiple times that I was asking, “Why are we still here?” That said, it’s grown on me after thinking about it, and I do think about it fairly frequently.

5. Marriage Story – There was something about the story of a marriage falling apart where no one was the obvious bad guy that I thought was really poignant.

4. Little Women – I assumed this would be higher on my list.

3. 1917 – I assumed this would be lower on my list.

2. Jojo Rabbit – I went into this knowing nothing about it. It was a delight!

1. Parasite – I loved every second. What an thrill ride. I’ve thought about this movie probably three times a week since I saw it four months ago.

(I still wish Knives Out had made it onto this list.)

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Through a glass darkly: reading with a new eye

I have DNFed Stephen King.

DNF meaning, of course, “did not finish” – a book review in itself.

Goodreads has become one of my go-to apps, for keeping obsessive track of what I read each year and how long it took me and what order I read it in. Some people shelve the books they didn’t finish onto their DNF shelf – but I prefer to just remove it altogether.

I would call myself a Stephen King fan. I have called myself that. On this blog. At one point, eight years ago, I wrote a whole post about how I had collected almost all of his books, and what did I still have left to get?

I’ve been keeping up with his recent work, although it hasn’t had the same kind of pull for me that some of his earlier novels have. I’ve read The Stand probably a half dozen times. Ditto It. Ditto Pet Sematary and Misery and Rose Madder and Carrie and The Shining. But ask me to tell you the plot of Mr. Mercedes (2014) and I’m coming up blank.

Before I abruptly dropped out (long story) of my skype book club, one of the books we read was Stephen King’s The Outsider, published in 2018. During that read, I realized how often he has written sexual violence, particularly against children, particularly against young boys, and I let myself think about how uncomfortable it makes me.

There have been other things I’ve had to stop reading lately – particularly dystopian, post-apocalyptic stuff. I just can’t handle it. It stresses me out too much. And I think, having young kids, I just don’t want to read that kind of violence against kids. Much like my experience reading “Guts” last October, I would just prefer not to put that kind of negative energy in the air around myself.

This year, Stephen King’s new book, The Institute, came out. It also came out on audiobook, narrated by Santino Fontano, who is the voice of Frozen‘s Prince Hans, and  played Greg Serrano on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. He also narrates the audiobook of Caroline Kepnes’ You, which recently became a Netflix series. He’s also a dreamboat, and a good audiobook narrator. Good at voices. So I thought this would be a shoe-in for me: the Santino Fontana-narrated audiobook of Stephen King’s latest novel. I spent one of my credits on it and downloaded it.

Between downloading it and starting to listen to it, Stephen King tweeted something about diversity in art, which landed him a lot of backlash.

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It was in a larger conversation about reading or viewing things with an affirmative action kind of perspective – to actively seek out art from less-heard voices and to put a value on raising those things up. He disagreed with that idea. And maybe what he’s saying makes sense here, like sure, there’s a world in which the entire playing field is level and you judge everything only on its own merits. But that’s not the world we currently live in. So I think it was short-sighted of him, a wildly successful older white man, to say he would never consider diversity when deciding on what book or movie should be nominated for an award.

Anyway. I started thinking about all his work, and the way certain characters are treated (or mistreated). I know times are a-changing, but it still hit me that there are some outdated characters and behaviors, even in his recent works. So when, in The Institute, I met a character who was a young woman of color, I paid attention to how it just all rang really false for me.

There have been other authors for me in the last year or so, where I’ve been a rabid fan as a teenager and 20-something, and rereading them now feels empty. There’s almost always some kind of casual phobia to their writing – whether it’s homophobia, transphobia, fatphobia, or even just misogyny – I just can’t do it anymore.

The Institute audiobook is 19 hours long. I could spend 38 commutes listening to The Institute and cringing at characterizations that are rubbing me the wrong way – or I could listen to one of the many other books or podcasts that can help expand my mind and teach me something. So, I DNFed it. The year 2020 is going to be about cutting out things that aren’t good for me, and embracing things that are. And not being apologetic about it.

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The one with the pretty creepy noise

Last night, I was in the kitchen and Drew was finishing up bedtime. He called me in, and I thought for sure it was going to be to, like, see both kids reading in bed or something. But when I got there, he said, “Do you hear that?”

Coming from somewhere was this incredibly spooky, sobbing noise, that sometimes sounded like laughter. It sounded like it was coming from inside their closet. Like there was a toy or something making this noise. Or a ghost. Drew pulled some stuff out of the closet and we both leaned inside. The closet backs up to the hallway closet, and I went and pulled stuff out of there. It literally sounded like it was coming from inside the wall.

It went on for a little while. Drew banged on the wall, and I shouted, “Are you okay?” and then it kind of moved around a bit.

This whole time, the kids are both sitting there like, “What’s going on?” And so we’re trying to be all calm with them, like, “Oh no, it’s nothing, just someone upstairs, we just want to make sure they’re okay,” but then turning around and making big freaked out eyes at each other.

And I just finished reading all these haunted house books, so that was fresh in my mind. Although we’ve been living here for 7 1/2 years, so it seems like we would have known if it was haunted.

I even texted our landlord to ask if he had any idea what was going on, and he gave us a bunch of personal information about our upstairs neighbors (yikes) and then said “Maybe one of them is having guy troubles” (double yikes).

After Drew shouted “Are you okay??” louder than I did, the sound seemed to stop. It was definitely just the upstairs neighbors, right? Definitely. Totally. We haven’t heard it again since. It was definitely just a one-time thing.

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Halloween books 2019!

On Sep 30 I realized it’s time for HALLOWEEN BOOKS and I wasn’t prepared! So I did a bunch of googling, and came up with a several options, which I promptly put on hold at the library. But one of them is a classic Agatha Christie, and I already own it, so I could dive right in.

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A fun fact about me and Agatha Christie is that I got obsessed with them (and Hercule Poirot), bought a bunch of them, read them ferociously, and retained very little. So I know I’ve read this before, and pieces of it feel familiar, but I have no clue who the murderer is. Fun!

It’s not spooky or scary, per se, but it’s called Hallowe’en Party, so this is my first October book.

(Actually, I’ve been reading Margaret Atwood’s new book, The Testaments, the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s also not strictly speaking a Halloween book, but is pretty scary, so maybe I should count that one as well.)

Coming soon to my local library with my name on them:

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The Silent Companions

From Amazon: “When Elsie married handsome young heir Rupert Bainbridge, she believed she was destined for a life of luxury. But pregnant and widowed just weeks after their wedding, with her new servants resentful and the local villagers actively hostile, Elsie has only her late husband’s awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks. Inside her new home lies a locked door, beyond which is a painted wooden figure—a silent companion—that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself. The residents of the estate are terrified of the figure, but Elsie tries to shrug this off as simple superstition—that is, until she notices the figure’s eyes following her.

A Victorian ghost story that evokes a most unsettling kind of fear, The Silent Companions is a tale that creeps its way through the consciousness in ways you least expect—much like the companions themselves.”

Update: Haunted house! Enjoyed! 

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From Amazon: “Haunted is a novel made up of twenty-three horrifying, hilarious, and stomach-churning stories. They’re told by people who have answered an ad for a writer’s retreat and unwittingly joined a ‘Survivor’-like scenario where the host withholds heat, power, and food. As the storytellers grow more desperate, their tales become more extreme, and they ruthlessly plot to make themselves the hero of the reality show that will surely be made from their plight. This is one of the most disturbing and outrageous books you’ll ever read, one that could only come from the mind of Chuck Palahniuk.”

It’s been years since I read Chuck Palahniuk, but he’s definitely stuck in my mind, and this feels like a good opportunity to dive back in.

Update: I read the first story, and I was such a violent combination of horrified and disturbed that I didn’t get any further. It was the short story “Guts,” and originally published in Playboy, and so maybe it was the also the grossest. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it (and cringeing) and I felt like I needed to stop reading so I wasn’t bringing that energy around me.

So to lighten the mood, I read Rosemary’s Baby.

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The Dwelling

I do not know much about this book, and I want to keep it that way until I read it. I know it’s about a haunted house and I really love stories about haunted houses, so I’m excited for this. (Unfortunately my library doesn’t have this on hand! Kindle store, here I come.)

I have a couple other options but I’m trying to be more reasonable about how much I can actually get through in the next month. This might not be a six or seven book month. Which is okay. I’m excited to read these, and to look for plenty of Halloween stories to read to my kids to establish this tradition with them. I love this time of year.

I do think I’ll try to finish off with a reread of another one of my very favorite haunted house stories…

Update: It was a light read but not as scary as I wanted…and a bit repetitive. Liked not loved.

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Update: I didn’t get to The Shining but I did listen to Carmilla (by J. Sheridan Le Fanu) and The Conception of Terror: Tales Inspired by M.R. James.

I also read something that’s been on my kindle for ages: Perfect Days by Raphael Montes. It’s your classic “weird guy falls in love with strange girl, stalks her, kidnaps her, and things go sideways” story. I recommend it.

Happy Halloween! What are you reading this month?

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