Books I enjoyed the most in 2015

In chronological order of reading:

Beautiful Ruins (Jess Walter)
I found a copy of this novel in our Little Free Library. I tried reading it several times and kept putting it down… but it had so many positive reviews splashed on the cover (notably, a plug from Fresh Air’s Maureen Corrigan, whom I love) that I felt like I couldn’t give up. Once I got past the first chapter, I was sucked in. It’s witty and entertaining while still being smart. The chapters alternate point of view and even genre — there’s a romance that spans decades, a contemporary tale about a screenwriter attempting to Hollywood-ize the grisly Donnor Party story, a chapter from a war novel. After I read the book, I discovered it was actually the Centre County Reads novel of the year, and Jess Walter came to town for a talk! My colleague interviewed him. He was witty and entertaining and smart. ❤

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I pitched in to help my colleague record this event for her interview show and there were so many technical difficulties. Walters was so down-to-earth and kind. And he was so generous with his stories. He told one about how he caught his wife sneak-reading Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto instead of his own manuscript. Ha!

Station Eleven (Emily St. James Mandel)
I can’t remember how I first heard of this book — maybe from one of the blogs I read. This may be the book I recommend the most widely. It’s a dystopian novel that isn’t caught up in its own drama. I found the unraveling of the world as we know it believable and thought-provoking.

The Martian (Andy Weir)
My brother-in-law, Luke, recommended this to me. Then one of my best friends from college visited us for a couple of days over the summer and she spent an entire night holed up reading this book instead of hanging out with me. When I read the book myself, I got it. It is so FUN. I love how inside-baseball Mark Watney gets about space botany. This would be the book I would recommend most unreservedly if not for 1) the profanity, which some people would not enjoy and 2) the fact that many people have probably already watched the movie.

State of Wonder (Ann Patchett)
For years, I had this book confused with Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks, which I had already read. When I finally figured out my mistake, I downloaded it for a plane ride and ended up reading it from cover to cover. It’s a literary thriller that sucks you into its foreign — and feverishly surreal — world. When I finished, I almost felt like I needed to come up for air. As a former intercultural studies major, I got a kick out of the anthropological angle. While I’d recommend it, it certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.

Fates and Furies (Lauren Groff)
I read this tome on a plane ride back to America and I wasn’t tempted by the seat-back entertainment once (not that that’s a surprise to anyone who knows me. I hate watching movies on airplanes). This is dark, disturbing, and brilliant. Lauren Groff writes beautifully (if a bit self-consciously. So many new vocab words!). The first half of the book tells the story of a husband; the second half of a wife. Although I liked one half of the book much better than the other, I have a feeling that was the point. I would recommend this carefully and with reservations. (Again, it’s dark.)

Wonder (R.J. Palacio)
I read this in one sitting after school when several students recommended it to me. It’s a lovely book that teaches empathy. Recommend to all, young and old.

Gilead (Marilynne Robinson)
Some friends and I started a book club (something I’ve dreamed of doing my entire adult life) because we all wanted to read this book. I’ve actually owned and given away at least five copies of this book over the years (odd when I never read it myself, I know). The four of us in the book club had strikingly different perspectives on it (and liked it in varying degrees), which led to a lively discussion. The themes were quite moving to me and I found the writing, at times, profound. I’d recommend this with the caveat that it is not a page-turner in the traditional sense of the word.

 

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Homes

A friend asked me today which of our previous homes I like best.

I feel really lucky — we’ve lived in so many wonderful homes and I’ve genuinely loved them all.

Here’s a timeline, in photos (of varying quality), of all the places we’ve lived since we got married. Brace yourself. This is long!

Our First Apartment
Leonard Ave. — Summer 2006  

Our first place was a one-bedroom, “railroad” style apartment in the tiny town of Houghton, NY. It’s such a small, safe town, we never got a key from the landlord. The living room flowed right into a kitchen (the previous owner painted it sage green, mustard yellow, and burgundy — very 00s coffee shop), which flowed into the single bedroom and single bath. The best part was a giant front porch accessible through the front window. There was much to hate about the place — drop ceilings, old rotting windowsills, crazy paint jobs… but we loved it because it was our first married home.

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We got the crock by the front door as a wedding present, but it didn’t come with a card. We never figured out who it was from.
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Classic first apartment: storage trunk coffee table, unframed map poster on the wall.
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We painted the walls in the bedroom even though we only lived there for a couple months! Also, I have since learned to hang frames at eye-level. 🙂
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I really wish we had kept that rug.

 

Thatched Cottage
Masumbo, Southern Tanzania (Fall 2006 – Spring 2007)

We moved to Tanzania two months after we got married. Paul worked for Houghton’s study abroad program and I worked as a tutor for a staff family (and moonlit as a resident advisor for the college students). We first lived in a tiny thatched cottage. Moving into this house felt like such an adventure! I can still vividly remember how the place smelled like wood varnish and our vanilla Yankee candles. I have great memories of hosting groups of students in the tiny living room.

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So charming, right?
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Those chairs were not very comfortable.
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Note the mosquito net — I never got used to sleeping under one!

Continue reading “Homes”

2014 in lists

Favorite moments:

  • Exploring Bar Harbor with Paul
  • Camping in the White Mountains
  • Braving the freezing cold to walk to First Night
  • Last-minute camping trip on the Mid State Trail
  • Hiking Mt. Nittany at sunrise in the snow (and enjoying coffee at the top)
  • Meeting Terry Gross, as awkward as that was
  • Having a piece air on NPR
  • Taking the kids to the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum
  • Visiting friends in WNY
  • Sipping coffee and listening to a podcast on the bus to work

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Favorite material acquisitions:

  • New microwave (our old one has been broken, on and off, for a year)
  • Dyson vacuum (birthday present from in-laws)
  • Clever coffee dripper
  • Sheepskin slippers
  • New phone
  • Duffle coat

Favorite house projects:

  • New microwave/hood vent
  • A fence!
  • Little Free Library
  • Kids’ desk
  • Tea station

Notable media consumed:

  • Cheesiest and most enjoyable TV series: Chuck on Netflix
  • Most painful TV experience: the How I Met Your Mother finale
  • Most time-consuming TV: the World Cup
  • Kids’ new favorite: The Princess Bride
  • Best book: We are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
  • Best media, period: Serial podcast
  • Tensest media moment: the pause before Sarah K. meets Jay in Serial
  • Favorite music by default*: Gregory Alan Isakov

Best food eaten:

  • Endless lobster rolls (Maine)
  • A whole lobster (Maine)
  • Ramen (Tadashi)
  • Beef nachos (Happy Valley)
  • Rachel’s Mom’s Swedish Kaka
  • Anything made by Olivia
  • Holiday shrimp
  • Oyster casserole

Things I learned:

  • Evangelicals don’t have a corner on truth (yes, it’s taken me three decades to realize this)
  • Always map out a story before logging interview tape (and don’t always log tape!)
  • Don’t read questions during a two-way interview
  • Don’t pack each radio story with all of the information
  • How to tell (almost) any story in 4 minutes
  • I really enjoy podcasts

Toughest moments:

  • Single-parenting for a month
  • Cutting a key interview from a radio piece
  • Applying for a job I wasn’t sure I wanted
  • Learning how to deal with work management

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