Thursday, December 31, 2009

Farewell 2009!

"Summer Rain" by the Riders

In 2009, I: moved twice, got four states closer to visiting all fifty, celebrated my first wedding anniversary, started teaching high school, and started a blog. I am excited for 2010 and all of the adventures I am sure to have as I head toward my thirtieth birthday.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Thirty Great Books

A sample of some of the books on my original, highly ambitious, guilt-induced list.

I was not an English major in college, so no one ever required me to read "the classics," and I preferred most leisure reading in the more easily digested format of chick lit like Bridget Jones' Diary. Now, I am not in any way denigrating this genre or its cousins, beach trash and airport novels; I love me some mass-market fiction. However, I can no longer bullshit my way through English teacher debates about the best Jane Austen book or Hemingway's most influential work. The required reading from my psych classes just doesn't seem to come up very often in the teacher's lounge. Maybe I should just try working Maslow's hierarchy of needs or Jung's collective unconscious into more conversations...  Either way, I am developing a guilty conscience and an inferiority complex about the holes in my literary history, hence, the goal of reading thirty great books.

With the help of online lists like The 100 to Read Before Your Die, The 50 Greatest Novels Ever Written, Books that Everyone but the Most Moronic Haven't Read, and the like, I started compiling my list over the summer. Lolita was at the top of most of the lists I came across, so I marched out, bought it, and read it in a matter of a few days. I loved it even though I had to read it with a dictionary at the read. That Nabokov could craft such sparkling prose in his second language was inspiring and humbling.

Bolstered by my success, I headed back to the book store (I didn't want to have to return the evidence of my literary accomplishments to the library) and picked up One Hundred Years of Solitude, another frequent flier on the must-read lists. It has been on my bedside table for going on five months now, the post-it note bookmark stubbornly refusing to move beyond page 43. I decided to put it aside and pick up another of the books that I am embarrassed to admit I haven't read, Huckleberry Finn. That bookmark (a receipt from Rite Aid) is firmly wedged between pages 22 and 23. I brought it with me to Big Bear, planning to dedicate some serious hours to Twain's masterpiece while avoiding the frosty outdoors.

My good intentions were foiled when my lovely mother-in-law tempted me with The Piano Teacher, a book that she had just finished. The beautiful cover and the back cover promises of "layers of intrigue," "unexpected twists," and "a tempestuous affair" were too much for me to resist. I put poor Huck back in my suitcase and spent the next two days immersed in pre- and post-war Hong Kong. The book was very good, I devoured it, luxuriating in the hours of uninterrupted reading. The point of all of this rambling is that I have decided to cut myself some slack. I am still going to try to read some of the Books I Should Have Read by Now, but I am not going to punish myself with books that don't move me. I am going to strive to find the balance between challenging myself to stay with a book that may not immediately grab me and suffering through a book I don't like just because it is on someone else's list. If I can read thirty non-school books by my birthday, I will consider myself a success.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

This is about how I feel at the moment...sort of brownish and grayish and droopy and used up and stripped of cheer.  My brother and his girlfriend left this morning for their return trip to Vermont, and in eight days my brother will begin the process of deploying to Afghanistan with the Vermont National Guard. One weekend a month and two weeks a year it is not.

I cannot eloquently untangle the knot of emotions that sits in the pit of my stomach.  All I know is that I don't want him to go. He is brave and smart and strong, and so I will believe that he will be fine, but I don't want him to go. I don't want my kindhearted, gentle little brother to experience war. I don't want him to have to live that fear and ugliness. I don't want anyone to.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

It's a Wonderful Life

My brother and his girlfriend have arrived, presents have been purchased and (mostly) wrapped, cookies have been baked, stockings have been hung, and George Bailey has been redeemed once again.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Parade of Lights

Clearly I need to work on my night time shots.

My parents and I watched the festive brigade of decorated boats from the balcony of my father's aunt's condo in Coronado. The view was lovely, the company delightful, and the general spirit was yuletide-tastic.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Family Dinner

As a teenager, I occasionally resented our family dinners; I would have preferred a pizza in front of the TV or a quick bite at the kitchen counter to the hour-long, six person affair at the kitchen table. As soon as I arrived at college, however, those dinners were what I missed the most. When I moved across the country, I avoided calling at dinner time, not because I was afraid of interrupting, but because hearing the laughter and bustling of dinner preparation made the homesickness almost unbearable.

Since my parents and sisters have moved back to San Diego, family dinners have been joyously reconvened. They are incomplete, of course, since my brother is still in Vermont, but they are expanded as well, a husband and boyfriends added to the rotation. Sometimes, as tonight, it is only a partial group. Regardless of who can make it, there is always laughter and impassioned discussion of matters both serious and silly. Next week we will be six again. Even better, we will be nine, with everyone happily partnered. Nothing could be better.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The List

Before I turn thirty, in no particular order, I will:
  1. See thirty great movies
  2. Read thirty great books
  3. Go skydiving
  4. Bake bread from scratch
  5. Ride in a hot air balloon
  6. Hike in the Grand Canyon Boooooo, Arizona! Attend a play at the Old Globe during the Summer Shakespeare Festival
  7. Watch the sun rise with Tom
  8. Boycott television for one week
  9. Volunteer for a charity I care about
  10. Start learning Spanish with the Rosetta Stone
  11. Start a blog
  12. Write every day for a month
  13. Mail a card or letter every month
  14. Plan an international trip
  15. Go camping in Joshua Tree somewhere
  16. Take a class (cooking? dancing? photography?)
  17. Plant a garden
  18. Buy something from Etsy
  19. Take a picture every day for a year  FAIL!
  20. Try paddleboarding
  21. Explore different spiritual traditions
  22. Fly a kite at the Ocean Beach Kite Festival Make and fly a kite
  23. Enter a race
  24. Go to the top of the Empire State Building
  25. Have a wine-soaked picnic in Sonoma Napa
  26. Do a full forward bend
  27. Check out a show at Humphrey's from a kayak
  28. Go to the races at Del Mar
  29. Design and print a book of pictures from India
  30. Make things from scratch

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Book Swappin'

 by Wonderlane
As soon as my grades were submitted this afternoon, I joined my fellow English teachers for some celebratory drinks and a book swap at Small Bar in University Heights. I tend to avoid these types of gatherings, preferring the coziness of my own living room to forced banter with relative strangers, but as always, I ended up having a good time. I had never been to a book swap before, but it's a great way to share a book that you enjoyed and pick up something new. We just put all of our offerings into the middle of the table for people to peruse while be raised a Christmas glass, and everyone grabbed a book to take home on the way out. It was interesting to see which books people brought to trade. I was surprised and impressed to see that the most senior member of the department, the always dignified Mr. Brown, brought Tom Robbins' last novel, Villa Incognito. Something tells me Mr. Brown might have a tale or two to tell... I donated Life of Pi by Yann Martel to the swap and walked away with Vonnegut's Hocus Pocus, the book that inspired one of the tenth grade teachers to abandon engineering and change his major to English. It has now been added to the list of books that I want to read in the next year.  Now that I am officially finished with grading for the next month or so, I just have to get through two more days of crowd control, and then I will have three blissful weeks to make a dent in my ever growing reading list.

Since I was in the old hood, I couldn't resist walking by the apartment where I used to live to see if the neighbors are still in the habit of bedazzling their yard for the holidays.

They are.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Birthday Month Continues

On Sunday, Tom and I headed to my parents' place so that we could be showered with more birthday love. My sisters and I decorated our parent's tree before a delicious birthday of grilled shrimp and steak. I dodged the reflection question over dinner but did spill the beans about the blog and some of the other things on the yet-to-be completed list.

After dinner, my always-generous family pulled out all the stops. My sisters saw to it that I will have luscious lashes and dewy skin as I sip my favorite tea from a lovely, perfectly-sized mug, and my parents gifted me with a copy of the Christmas classic that I had mentioned just the other day (maybe they were already reading!). I was already feeling like I had scored big time in the birthday gift department, not to mention the family lottery, when I opened a second gift from my parents...

Ta da!

I am so excited to enter the realm of digital SLR photography! Sadly, the camera holds no magical powers, and I did not transform me into Annie Lebowitz overnight despite the fact that I slept with the manual under my pillow. It will definitely take some work to learn how to take full advantage of everything my new friend can do, but I am really looking forward to getting to know....her. I'll have to work on a name.

In any event, my lovely husband knew how anxious I was to start playing with the camera, so while I was at school yesterday, he ran out and picked up a 4 gig memory card. As I am buried in grading this finals week, all I could manage yesterday was a picture of said work.

Today I managed to get a little farther from the kitchen table when Tom and I walked to the library so that I could pick up some books on digital photography that I plan to devour over Christmas break. It was, however, a quick walk that turned dark quickly.

Hopefully, with the practice and fancy pants new camera, the photos will start improving soon!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Baking and Other Signs of the Season

I decided to make these delicious (that's premature-I assume that they will be delicious) peppermint brownies for the Cookie/Ornament Exchange that I am hosting tomorrow. They look delicious,, are they labor intensive! Not that I didn't enjoy drawing the one and three-quarter squares in which the mints would be placed for melting, I did. Seriously. It was, however,  a two  to three hour ordeal.

Currently the brownies are chilling in the fridge under a layer of ganache. The peppermint squares are relaxing on the kitchen counter, ready to be arranged atop the brownies.

The recipe wants me to put the squares bottom side up (squares on the right), but I'm leaning toward putting them face up. I realize it may be difficult to sleep with this issue still undecided, but I promise to update tomorrow. Hopefully, they will look like this:

Most likely they will not...

In other Christmas news, I read A Christmas Carol to my students yesterday, and today I brought in the film version with George C. Scott as old Ebenezer. I warned them that it was one of my favorite Christmas movies and I expected them to react with the appropriate amount of respect for this holiday classic. They demonstrated an reasonable level of affection for Tiny Tim and kept criticism of the 1980s graphics to a minimum. All in all, it was a good day at school.

No offense to Jim Carrey, he's a genius, but George C. Scott is the only Ebenezer for me. 

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Slow Down

One of my less quantifiable goals...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

He's Taunting Me

I passed by this mechanical toro on a quick trip downtown this evening. He was staring at me through the window of the Double Deuce, a pseudo country bar in the Gaslamp... I have yet to decide whether or not I will accept the challenge of his menacing glare-might be a good addition to the list though.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Happy Golden Days of Yore


There isn't much that I don't enjoy about Christmas...the shopping, the baking, the decorating, the singing, the nostalgia. I embrace it all.  This year, my second Christmas as a married lady, I have particularly enjoyed gazing at the tree. I like seeing our histories mixed together there on our Noble Fir. The ornaments represent thirty (gasp!) Christmases past, from the Baby's First Christmas 1980 wooden tree to the mini heart frame that holds a picture from our wedding last year. There is a 3rd grade Christmas craft project and a huge glass orb encasing a snow-covered Hotel Del that Tom gave me when he booked us a night there for my 26th birthday. A red wooden rocking horse with yellow paint that reads, "Thomas 1984" hangs beneath the palm tree ornament that we bought in Belize on our honeymoon. The Hallmark ornaments that Tom's grandparents gave him every year dangle from branches beside the white Horizon Porcelain ornaments that my mom gave my siblings and me every year.

This year I gave Tom a wooden sailboat ornament for his birthday in an attempt to satisfy one of the more extravagant things on his birthday wish list. I can't wait to see how our ornament collection grows over the next thirty Christmases.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Every Time a Bell Rings

My wonderful husband, also a freshly minted 29-year old, showered me with birthday love today. One of my lovely gifts was the collector's edition of my favorite Christmas movie, complete with the silver bell ornament that announces Clarence's wings.

29 Candles

I've answered "Twenty-nine" to the How old are you? question several times over the past few months. Maybe that is because I have been thinking about this birthday since at least July. At least, that is when the idea for the list first started its impossible-to-ignore tap dance in my mind. 

Something about 29 seemed significant: an official goodbye to my twenties, a last chance to do the things only a twenty-something can get away with... It is also possible that I didn't want to be stuck with a shrug and a "Oh, I don't know..." as a response to my father's yearly question, "Any reflections?" Hell yes, I have reflections! This time next year? I'm going to have reflections that will knock your socks off.

In any event, this is my first step toward crossing thirty things off of my life to-do list before I turn exactly 365 days. One of my goals is to take  one picture every day for a year. These aren't mine, but they qualify as inspiration. So it begins.