December 28, 2017

Monthly Book Review: December 2017

I read 35 books this year. My top 5 of 2017 are:
A Gentleman in Moscow
A Man Called Ove
Breakfast with Buddha
Where’d You Go Bernadette
The Secret Life of Violet Grant

This month’s reads:
The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena - this is another variation on the theme that you can’t judge a book by its cover ... things aren’t always as they seem and our secrets and biases keep us from seeing what’s right in front of us. I give it a B-.

The Dry by Jane Harper - a murder mystery set in a drought-stricken Australia town. A man goes to his boyhood hometown for the funeral of his childhood best friend, his wife and son - an apparent murder suicide no one could have ever imagined. But He and the local policeman have a feeling that there’s something else. I give it a B.

Up next:
Chasing the Scream by Johann Hari
The Map of Heaven by Eben Alexander
Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

December 13, 2017

Winter wonderland 

I heart Christmas. My happy place is in the kitchen baking with the fireplace going and traditional Christmas music on full force. My new space is significantly smaller than my previous plus I purged like nobody’s business during the move so I was honestly curious about what I’d be doing to make the joint festive. I'm pleased to say that I made it work!

We always had real trees in the past and while I loved the smell of fresh pine or balsam, I didn’t love the fear of a house fire and constant monitoring of furry kids so it didn’t topple or dry out (my admonishments that the base was not an additional water dish were surprisingly ignored). I bought a 6’ pre-lit artificial tree from Target so I could reuse year after year and am pleasantly surprised that the size is just right and that I'd kept just enough ornaments to make it look full.

Of course my kitten thinks many of the ornaments are there for her #goodthingsheissostinkingcute

December 6, 2017

Monthly Book Review: November 2017

Though I only read two books last month, finishing the second just moments ago, they were long (19  and 13 hrs) so I still feel accomplished.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles - I think this is the best book I’ve read all year and it’s a tight race. It follows the life of Count Alexander Rostov from his first day of house arrest in 1922 to his last. A true gentleman, Alexander lives a rich, purposeful life he could never have imagined within the confines of the Metropol hotel.

The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey - I don’t want to give too much away because it had me guessing for the first several chapters and it was an interesting surprise when plot was fully revealed. I will say that it’s a creative good vs evil story with well developed characters that have you vacillating between empathy and disdain.

I intended to join a book club; however, I got through a third of the book and didn’t like it, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance, so returned it and bowed out. I may join next cycle, but not sure their tastes are aligned with mine.

November 15, 2017

October 31, 2017

Monthly Book Review: October 2017

Blackout by Connie Willis - An 8 hour roundtrip road trip helped me get through a big chunk of this 19 hour book. In 2060 Oxford "historians" are traveling back in time to witness world changing events first hand. One is sent north to study evacuated children; one is working as a shop girl during the Blitz; yet another ends up where he wasn't intending to go, Dunkirk. Though sent at different times, all are within miles of one another in 1940 when it's obvious that something has gone awry - they are unable to return to Oxford and could be altering history. I'm a sucker for British accents, historical fiction (book is classified as science fiction) and WWII so thought this would be right up my alley. It was until I found out the book ends with a cliffhanger! The story continues in book two, All Clear, which is 24 hours! I originally thought I'd boycott part two on principle, but darn it all if I can't stop thinking 'what happens next?'.

Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple - quirky! Our quest for acceptance and ability to make assumptions that often have little basis in reality gets us in trouble every time. I really liked this and think Bernadette and I would be great friends in real life.

The Child by Fiona Barton - Four women, a baby and how their lives are intertwined. Jude is one of the least nurturing helicopter mums you'll come across, Emma is a recluse living a self-imposed sentence for something no one else knows, Angela "lost" a baby forty years ago and Kate is the journalist bound and determined to get to the bottom of the truth even if it's not what she expected.

Another 8 hour road trip helped me jump start my first book of November - A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.

I joined a book club and we meet on 11/28 To discuss Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance. I'll start on that as soon as I finish A Gentleman in Moscow.
On deck after those:
The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
Chasing the Scream by Johann Hari
The Map of Heaven by Eben Alexander

October 19, 2017

50 ways to grill your prospective lover

I may or may not enter the dating world again within the next decade. It's a possibility. Or not.
Because I feel the need to overthink so many things I decided to give my brain a fun exercise of what I would need to know about someone before they could be considered a good match. So far I have -

Travel lover
Book reader
Walking Dead watcher or at least interested in watching from the beginning
Position on gay marriage
Political leanings
Star Wars vs Star Trek
Religious leanings
Myers Briggs type
Enneagram type

What else am I missing?

October 3, 2017

Monthly Book Review: September 2017

In addition to the following books, I listened to 10 Esther Perel therapy session podcasts - free on Audible. Good insight. I'm in an introspective, search for enlightenment kind of mood lately so my choices reflect that.

He Said/She Said by Robert Morgan - a slow build that alternates the stories of events that occur during solar eclipses over many years. The title reflects the story alternating chapters between husband and wife protagonists. It was a coincidence that I started this within a couple of weeks of The Great American Eclipse. 4/5 stars.

Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo - loquacious, but good messages about the value of less judgement, more contemplation and the idea that each life we live builds on our last. I have a lot of work to do in this life to better my chances in the next ;)

I started a third, Chasing the North Star by Robert Morgan, but could not get into it. I have A LOT built up in my queue so am anxious to dive in. An upcoming 10 hour road trip should help.

 Next up:
Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
Chasing the Scream by Johann Hari
Blackout by Connie Willis
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
The Child by Fiona Barton
The Map of Heaven by Eben Alexander

 Image by Jones Design

September 2, 2017

Monthly Book Review: August 2017

Feeling good that I fit in three books during a busy month. I'm even half way through a fourth. So many books, so little time.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See - a love story of two women bound to one another since the age of seven. A secret shifts the power balance and changes the course of both lives.

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris - Great mystery told from the point of view of a woman whose life looks picture perfect to the outside world. Looks can be deceiving - no one knows what goes on behind closed doors.

Tiny Little Thing by Beatriz Williams - I've tried to get into this twice and given up so either third times the charm or I needed to give up the ghost. I finally got into it, but to be honest it wasn't my fave Beatriz read. Tiny does everything that 1960's society expects of her until she realizes freedom from convention is more fulfilling. Ll

Next up:
Chasing the North Star by Robert Morgan
He Said/She Said by Erin Kelly

August 26, 2017

Traveling Germany

Thought I'd summarize random thoughts/observations while still fresh in my mind.

I loved driving - memorable scenery through the Black Forest and Bavarian Alps, but also endless rolling hills and villages appearing out of nowhere of white buildings with red roofs and churches. Lots of solar farms and windmills. A lot of roundabouts!!! Learned "einbahnstrasse" means one way street quickly, not because I went wrong way but because when following directions wondered why I kept seeing the same street name (duh!).

  • Bring your own toiletries - a couple hotels had combo body/hair washer dispensers in showers and by sink, but not all
  • Towels were small and only one per person - bring your own if you have luggage space; no washcloths so pack those too 
  • Most toilets have two wall buttons for flushing, small for liquid only and large for solid
  • Totally obsessed with their use of simple toilet paper roll dispensers, none of that complicated spring stuff we have in America 
  • Some public places charge to use toilets (WC) -  € 0.50-1
  • I overpacked - wore some things twice, didn't wear makeup other than sunscreen, CC cream and mascara
  • One feather bed per person, no sheets
  • Water at restaurants is carbonated, labeled "classic" in markets; if you prefer non-carbonated then look/ask for "still" water
  • Europeans are more leisurely with meals - you have to ask for bill if you're ready to move on; tip included in most meals, else receipt will say "tip not included"
  • Beer much stronger than U.S. 
  • Not as many English speaking people as I assumed - should have learned more German though Sassy quite good at interpreting (ei sounds like long "i", ie sounds like long "e" and ß sounds like "ss")
  • Trains are THE best way to travel within large cities - my strategy of finding hotels near public transportation paid off as we could park car, check in and begin sightseeing without worrying about traffic or where to park
  • Dog lovers - on the subway, in restaurants, random
  • A LOT of walking (I averaged 20,000 steps each day) - cobblestone streets; mind bikes, traffic lights, and directions (many streets break right vs left from a central marker/monument)
  • Gelato is everywhere and amazing! Especially hazelnut with toasted nuts 😉
  • Have plenty of coins - € 1 and € 2
  • Be flexible - impromptu zoo visit and mountain gondola ride were more fun than Neuschwanstein castle 
  • Note to self - check for holidays (national, regional, religious)

August 20, 2017

Deutschland - sieben Tag

We visited two historic and very different places on our last day - Dachau and Rothenburg on der Tauber. 

Dachau has the distinction of being the first Nazi concentration camp. I wasn't sure what to expect when we arrived. You might not know it was there if you weren't looking and didn't notice barbed wire on concrete walls lining a regular city street. The site consisted of an information center with cafeteria, recreated barracks, crematorium, memorials and museum. We did the self-guided tour with audio sets. It was informative, reverent and sobering. The tragedy here serves as a reminder that we must fight hatred and discrimination of all kinds wherever it exists.

It was a two hour drive to Rothenburg, a walled city founded over 840 yrs ago. It was the inspiration for the village in the 1940 Walt Disney movie Pinocchio. It was also the location for the Vulgarian village scenes in the 1968 movie, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I was expecting a live version of a renaissance festival. It was actually more touristy than I expected and while beautiful to see, I didn't think there was much to do beyond shopping. We had our last meal here and then drove another 90 miles to Frankfurt for our departure the next morning. While Chunky was looking forward to going home, Sassy and I were melancholy as we felt like we could easily make Deutschland our new home. 

August 16, 2017

Deutschland - sechs Tag

I woke up on day six anxious to get to the viktulienmarkt. The kids wanted to visit Sea Life and Munich's only cat cafe. We decided to separate and meet up later in the day. I arrived downtown and immediately perceived a noticeable lack of people for 11am. I walked past the Marienplatz and arrived at the open market to find not one thing open. I walked across the street to a Starbucks, ordered an iced peach green tea (yum!) and inquired about the lack of activity. I was informed that it was a holiday, Assumption, only observed in Bavaria. Just my luck. I decided to enact plan b - tour churches and other landmarks
After about a two mile walk around the immediate downtown area and three scoops of the gelato (hazelnut, tiramisu and peach), I bought a subway to ticket for the English Garden, Germany's Central Park. There were a lot of sunbathers and picnickers, presumably locals. I read that there was a Japanese tea garden and headed that way when Sassy texted to say they were at the cafe. It was only a 15 minute walk away so I decided to meet them there. We only saw two of the six resident cats - one lounging on a table, another on one of the many towers. The cafe was vegan - I ordered bruschetta, Sassy a salad and Chunky had tofu eggs with bread and a smoothie.
We decided to go to the Deutsches Museum (science and technology). It was only open for another hour so it was free. Chunky enjoyed the exhibits while Sassy and I cruised through and waited outside. Next we grabbed a quick bite to eat and rolls for the next morning. Chunky and I decided to head back to the house as we were tired while Sassy explored the Englischer Garden, including a locals surfing spot.
Day 8 is our last day in Germany - we plan to get up early to visit Dachau Concentration Camp and then to Rothenburg before returning to Frankfurt.

August 15, 2017

Deutschland - fünf Tag

Day five can best be summarized in three parts. Part one was spent in the natural beauty of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. After a local bistro breakfast we headed up Eckbauer by 2 person gondolas built for the 1936 Winter Olympics, Große Olympiaschanze. 
There are several hiking trails to take back down and we chose one that included Partnach Gorge (about 4 hours start to finish). This was one of the most scenic experiences I've ever had, with many waterfalls and rapids, and a favorite of this trip. We all decided that we would definitely like to come back to G-P and then head south to Austria and Italy for more passport stamps and mountain views.

Chunky had hopes of swimming, but the Eibsee was packed and it would have delayed our arrival to Munich significantly. Part two was driving, a little over two hours, and arriving at our AirBnB. It wasn't a spectacularly pretty drive, but it was interesting as the nav system had us take an odd combination of back roads and the autobahn to a metropolitan area. Our AirBnB home was just inside Munich's city limits in the southeast. We were greeted warmly by the mother of the two daughters who rent their rooms out of their family home. Cecelia could not have been any nicer and the room was actually an apartment with seating area, kitchenette, 5 beds and a huge bathroom. Perfekt!

Part three was Munich's inner city. There was a U-Bahn (subway) station just a short walk from the AirBnB with city center stations only 15 minutes away. We took the U downtown and headed for the famed viktulienmarkt. I was really looking forward to grabbing street food and buying some trinkets, but it was almost 7pm and the kids wanted to sit down to eat. We decided to go to Hofbrauhaus so Sassy could be with her people. I had bought Sassy an authentic Bavarian dirndl as an early Christmas gift in Freiburg. Cecelia lent me one of her own drindls (for photos only, I didn't dare go out in it for fear of spilling food or splitting it open) and lent Sassy a blouse for underneath as we decided to buy at a later date and make due with a tee shirt. Cecelia was excited for us to experience the culture. Hofbrauhaus did not disappoint! It was bursting at the seams with people and we thought we were out of luck when I spotted a table of five older gentlemen, most dressed in lederhosen. Sassy asked in German if the three of us could sit at one end and they welcomed us in. Little did we know what an honor this was. Only one spoke a little English. Sassy did a great job of interpreting. All had beautiful steins - some engraved, others with enamel tops.They made fun of me when I ordered Radler, half beer half lemonade (shandy in the states but this is SO much better), and when I acted hurt they all toasted me anyway. They even bought us shots before they left. I received kisses from almost every one ❤️ We were surprised when they returned, cleaning their mugs and holding small locks. Then we noticed behind them were stein "safes". Evidently these are coveted spots for regulars and these gentlemen have a standing date at their reserved table on Monday and Friday evenings. I was so touched by their generosity that I prepaid the first round for their next meeting. Hope they are pleasantly surprised :)

Tomorrow is another day in Munich. Wir lieben Deutschland ❤️🇩🇪

August 13, 2017

Deutschland - vier Tag

We began day four with another breakfast in our hotel (most included in stay). The kids wanted to take a detour to nearby Friedrichshafen on the shore of the Bodensee and home to the Zeppelin Museum. After a short walkabout we headed for the famed Neuschwanstein Castle, 2 hours further west. Another beautiful drive - the kids love the views from the car as much as the stops.

On the way we saw the opportunity to take a gondola ride up a peak near the ski village of Pfronten. I'm afraid of heights so this was big for me and I loved it. Breathtaking views, fresh air and sunshine. 

I had read enough about the castle tours to know it was a hurry up and wait game. We arrived, dropped Sassy off at the ticket booth, parked about 1/4 mile away on the side of the road (free parking!) and met Sassy back at the booth to find her still in line. We ate brats at a sidewalk cart and headed for the castle. I wanted to take a cramped, stinky bus for €2 but no ... they wanted to walk. I almost died! It was a straight incline and I did not have proper footwear nor hat and I have bad knees. Did I mention the brochure estimated it was a 40 minute walk? I should have a body like Heidi Klum tomorrow - TBD. After a cramped, stinky bus ride down (yasss!) we headed to the Museum of Kings - we skipped Hohenschwangau castle but took pics from below - Sassy and I toured while Chunky dipped his feet into the Alpsee.

We drove another hour to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, home of the 1936 Winter Olympic Games and Germany's highest peak, Zugspitze. It is stunning! The view from our balcony -

We had dinner at the resort owners' favorite restaurant, Mukkefuck Bistro. Chunky and I both had the house made cheese spaetzl with leeks (plus enormous side salad) and Sassy had schnitzel with a type of potato salad. Chunky and I thought it the best meal of the trip so far (my prosecco with rhubarb was also delicious). Sassy's favorite meal was in Weingarten the night before. G-P was intended as a temporary picturesque stop, but the kids want to hike the local gorge tomorrow before heading to Munich. The fun continues!

August 12, 2017

Deutschland - drei Tag

Day three was definitely the most laid back so far. We ate breakfast at the hotel in Karlsruhe then headed fo Freiburg. The origins of Freiburg date back to the 12th century. It has both French and Swiss influences due to this being the intersection of all three countries (they even share a local airport). I'm awestruck every time I think about the history of these places. We visited the cathedral and Munsterplatz with the largest outdoor market I've ever seen. Cobblestone streets and quaint buildings everywhere. I knew there would be cobblestone, but didn't realize it would be basically the only thing we walked on. We ate at a nice cafe in the platz - Sassy loved what she ordered until she found out it was liver ;) and got the sense that Freiburg is more of a German tourist destination vs. foreign - lots of folks walking their dogs and children who were "sailing" boats in the bächle.


Next we drove two and a half hours east through the mountains of the Black Forest. Pictures don't do this justice. We weren't even on the autobahn, only two lane roads through the countryside. We saw fields of sunflowers, corn, hay, etc. and little towns that seemed to pop up in clearings out of nowhere. It was an amazing experience.

We arrived in Weingarten about 6:30pm. This is a small suburb of Ravensburg. We walked through the most beautiful cemetery, to the Basilika, the largest Baroque church north of the Alps and approximately half as long as St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, and then to a little cafe where we had yet another delicious meal.

Tomorrow is Neuschwanstein Castle and Garmisch-Partenkirchen.