Archive | May 2016

One Giant Book Post!

I’ve been reading a lot lately.  Mostly audiobooks when I’m out walking, plus I’ve been spending more time alone, so I seem to be going through books twice as quickly lately!  Rather than remain hopelessly behind on reviewing, I’ll just do a couple big reviews of my last few months of books!  If this doesn’t give some idea of the varied tastes I have in books, I don’t know what would… Without further ado, in alphabetical order…

The Book of Aron – Jim Shepard

This is the story of a young Jewish boy growing up and losing his family in the Jewish ghetto of a city in Poland during World War II.  Aron eventually ends up in the orphanage of Janusz Korczak, who was a real man in Polish history.  Korczak was a pediatrician who advocated for the rights of children, and took care of thousands of children over the years.  He even had a radio program that popularized the rights of children.  Through Aron’s eyes, Janusz Korczak’s orphanage comes alive, showing the reader the brutality of trying to survive in the ghetto, starving and with few supplies.

The book comes to the expected, heartbreaking end, but unfortunately it fell short for me in creating the attachment to the characters in the novel.  The development was lacking, so much that each tragedy did not stir the emotion that should be present under the circumstances.  3 stars.

Chastened: The Unexpected Story of My Year Without Sex  – Hephzibah Anderson

After a break up leaves her reeling, the author decides she is going to embark on a one year journey of celibacy. Only intercourse is off limits, but its absence seems like the gigantic elephant in the room as she navigates dates, weddings, re-unions with old friends, and conference socials. She is witty and funny, and her tale serves to remind the reader that perhaps something important has been lost in our “hook up and hang out” culture. Is there more to love and relationships than sex? She learns that there is.  4 stars.

Epitaph: A Novel of the O.K. Corral – Mary Doria Russell

This book is much different than the other I have read by Mary Doria Russell, which have been sci-fi. This one is about Doc Holliday, of The Shootout at the OK Corral fame. Doria Russell uses historical information and a bit of lore to create a historical novel about the last few years of Holliday’s young life, before he died alone of tuberculosis in Colorado. The writing keeps the reader intrigued as she weaves the tale of Holliday, the Earps and the McLaurys, and how their paths came together that fateful day in a vacant lot on the main street of Tombstone. 5 stars.

In the Garden of Beasts – Erik Larson

I wanted to like this book – I have enjoyed several other of Larson’s books. Perhaps the subject matter just wasn’t as intriguing, and I struggled through it. This book tells the story of the life of William Dodd, most particularly during the four years (1933 to 1937) that he was the American Ambassador to Germany in Berlin. During that time, the Nazi Party was coming to power, anti-Semitism was taking off, and Germany more and more seemed on the brink of starting a war, both within its borders and outside. Dodd was out of his element, a history professor with no diplomatic experience, chosen only after several others turned down the job.

The book is well researched and well written, but there’s too much emphasis on the mundane details of the life of a diplomat, as well as the probable sexual dalliances of Dodd’s daughter Martha. It just didn’t measure up for me… 2 stars

Last Chance Saloon – Marian Keyes

A light-hearted chick lit novel about three friends from Ireland who are living in London.  Trying to find love and happily ever after, amid the typical heartaches that befall us all.  A quick read, without any deep revelations, but it does have a few twists and turns to keep things interesting.  3 stars.

Mink River – Brian Doyle

A rambling novel of life among characters in an imaginary small town in Oregon, bounded on four sides by water. An old doctor who helps people who can’t afford it, a Public Works employee who is able to feel people’s pain, a Native American woman who marries an Irish immigrant, and a policeman who doesn’t think he can do the job anymore; they are just some of the stories that the narrator weaves effortlessly together. Flying above all of them is a talking crow named Moses. Their lives come together in unexpected ways and make you realize that none of us have it easy, and you don’t necessarily understand what is happening in anybody else’s world. 4 stars.

The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey – Rinker Buck

What makes a man decide that he should purchase a covered wagon and 3 mules, and set off on an adventure to retrace the path of the Oregon Trail, from Missouri to Oregon? Who knows, but Rinker Buck did, and the result is a fascinating book about his experience. From figuring out how much weight to carry, to getting swindled by the Amish craftsmen who outfit his journey, to runaway mules, to the kindness of hundreds of ordinary people that he meets along the way, his tale weaves its way into your heart as he makes his way across the country. Along the way, he comes to terms with his relationship with his late father, along with his caring but eccentric brother who joins him on his journey. 5 stars.

Stella Bain- Anita Shreve

Anita Shreve is known for her descriptive novels of the lives of women – usually women who are experiencing times of turmoil. This book is no different. Stella Bain is the story of its namesake, a female nurse and ambulance driver working on the French front lines during World War I. She is found with only injuries to her feet, but suffering from amnesia. Her quest to discover her true identity leads her to London, where a doctor and his wife take her in and help her. The result is a love story with an unexpected twist, as Stella’s mind reveals who she is over the course of the novel. 4 stars.

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

This was a re-read for me; it has been several years since the last time I picked it up.  Simply put, To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the greatest novels ever written.  Harper Lee poignantly weaves the stories of two children growing up during the Great Depression in the Deep South where racism is still very much a part of life.  The children, Scout and Gem, learn their morals and principles from a host of characters, including their neighbors, their domestic servant Calpurnia, and most of all, from their widower father, a lawyer who defends a black man who is facing the charge of murder of a white woman.  Atticus Finch is a man we can all emulate.  5 stars.

The Wild Truth – Carine McCandless

24 years ago, in 1992, Chris McCandless died of starvation in the remote Alaskan wilderness. When his body was discovered in an old bus turned back-country shelter, people around the world speculated about why such a bright, young man with good prospects for his future would walk away from his life and all material comforts to die alone in Alaska. His parents portrayed themselves as a close-knit, loving family, but his sister Carine McCandless decided she needed to set the record straight. Her book shows a family life rife with chaos and abuse, and explains what she believes were Chris’ reasons for wanting a complete break from his family and society. Her portrait of her childhood is stark, and probably not too far off from what many children experience. 3 stars.


So that’s most of my reading of late.  I have a few more books to catch up on, but that will keep until another post!



San Diego 2016: Cabrillo NM

Day 1: April 23, 2016

My trip to San Diego began early, with a 5:00 am flight, but fortunately, I didn’t get the in-depth groping from the TSA agent that my girlfriend received. Something about the waistband of her pants made her seem like a terrorist, so she got more action than a prostitute in a lumber camp… I jest, but they really did give her the once over (more like twice or thrice over!), and she was not happy. It all seemed like a bit much for 3:45 in the morning…  What we do for the love of travel…

Our two flights were non-eventful, and we got to San Diego at about 9:30 in the morning, where we waited for ages for our rental car! It was easily the most banged up rental car I’ve ever seen!  I wasn’t going to have to worry about a scratch that we put on it! I put X’s and O’s all over the little diagram where it asks you to document any existing damage and took pictures of the car with my phone, and then we were on our way.

We checked into our hotel, but our room wasn’t ready yet so we changed into shorts, stashed our luggage with the bellman and made our way to Cabrillo National Monument!

Me! I loved this sign with its ship!

Me! I loved this sign with its ship!

Cabrillo National Monument commemorates the first exploration of San Diego Bay and the West Coast by Europeans: Spaniard Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo.  Cabrillo had been a part of the group of Spanish conquistadors that landed in Mexico and wiped out the Aztecs.  After that Cabrillo settled in Guatemala, where he was given vast land holdings, but his spirit of adventure caught up with him and he was selected for a mission to explore the West Coast.

Oh that view! Cabrillo National Monument

Oh that view! Cabrillo National Monument

The three ships in Cabrillo’s expedition landed at San Diego Bay on September 28, 1542, likely at the spot known as Ballast Point (the Ballast Point brewery is named after this spot, and their Grapefruit Sculpin is excellent by the way…).  They declared it an excellent port, and Cabrillo named is San Miguel.  The name was changed to San Diego about 60 years later.  Cabrillo continued north to Monterey Bay, and it is speculated that he got as far north as Point Reyes before bad weather forced a turn back south.  The expedition wintered in the Channel Islands, where Cabrillo died on January 3, 1543, after a scuffle with the local Native Americans caused him to fall and shatter a limb.

A view of the water at Cabrillo National Monument

A view of the water at Cabrillo National Monument.


A Pelican flying at Cabrillo National Monument

A Pelican flying at Cabrillo National Monument.

The monument was designated by a proclamation signed by Woodrow Wilson in 1913; the original purpose was both to commemorate Cabrillo’s landing and to protect the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, which was constructed in 1855.  Approximately 877,951 visitors come here each year.

Old Point Loma Lighthouse - Built 1855 - Third Order Fresnel Lens

Old Point Loma Lighthouse – Built 1855 – Third Order Fresnel Lens

The Old Point Loma Lighthouse was first lit on November 15, 1855, and guided sailors into San Diego Bay for 36 years from its perch 422 feet above sea level.  But on March 23, 1891, the third order Fresnel lens was extinguished for the last time, and a new light took over, built closer to sea level.  The problem with the Old Point Loma Light was that they hadn’t realized when building it that the heavy fog in San Diego often obscured that light that far from sea level.  Oops…  But the lighthouse remains, and it is now open to the public.  I went into the Lighthouse and saw the restored keeper’s quarters and various rooms, and was able to peek into the tower from below.  I have heard that they open up the tower one day a year to the public for visits, but otherwise it is protected by a metal grate.

The Third Order Fresnel lens in the Old Point Loma Lighthouse

The Third Order Fresnel lens in the Old Point Loma Lighthouse.

Cabrillo National Monument also has one of the best vantage points in the country for watching the annual Pacific Gray Whale migration; not far from the Lighthouse is a whale watching area where visitors flock in the winter.  We were there too late to see the whales, but we were able to see the Coronado Islands in Mexico off in the distance.  The view was spectacular!

The statue of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo

The statue of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo.

Not far from the Lighthouse is a large statue of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo; it was placed there in 1988 after the original 1949 statue began to deteriorate from so many years of being exposed to the elements.  The statue was a popular place, with lots of tourists posing with it, or having their picture taken with the bay in the background.  My friends made a friend, a ground squirrel was clearly accustomed to being fed by the tourists.  We didn’t give in to his begging.

The very friendly ground squirrel who was looking for his next handout...

The very friendly ground squirrel who was looking for his next handout…


A cute lizard sunning himself near the Cabrillo NM Visitor's Center

A cute lizard sunning himself near the Cabrillo NM Visitor’s Center.

We took the path down closer to the water and watched the waves crash against the rocks.  Geologically, the rocks are formed from sandstone, shale and siltstone; they contain fossils of ocean dwelling mollusks, and dinosaur fossils have been found here as well.  It was neat to see how the ocean has carved these cliffs into very interesting patterns.  Visitors can also go further down and explore the tide pools and check out the creatures that inhabit them.

The waves have carved these rocks into some interesting shapes

The waves have carved these rocks into some interesting shapes.


Girlfriend selfie! Allysa is wearing the tiara for her birthday, more on that in an upcoming post.

Girlfriend selfie! Allysa is wearing the tiara for her birthday, more on that in an upcoming post.

On the way out, we got a view of the Rosecrans National Cemetery, with its perfectly straight rows of graves.  There is something so peaceful about cemeteries, I loved seeing this one in its perch high above the water.

Rosecrans National Cemetery, overlooking San Diego Bay

Rosecrans National Cemetery, overlooking San Diego Bay.

Cabrillo National Monument was a worthwhile afternoon outing – I loved it!

San Diego Sunshine

Just after Christmas, a friend of mine from my previous employer was talking about heading down to a conference in San Diego in April. We started discussing the idea of us flying down a bit early, and doing some touristing for a few days before her conference started. We also ended up inviting two other friends from that same former job. These three friends all happen to be turning 50 this year, and one turned 50 on the first day of the trip, so it seemed like a great opportunity to celebrate!

San Diego in April isn’t super-warm – mostly calling for temps in the mid to high 60s. Not really ideal pool or beach weather, so I planned some activities to keep us busy. I was trying to keep in mind that these ladies aren’t all as interested in history and nerdly pursuits as I am. It’s so hard to plan for so many personalities!

We had a great time all the same, and posts will begin shortly!

Oh that view! Cabrillo National Monument

Oh that view! Cabrillo National Monument

Beautiful Sunsets

I walked up to the University yesterday evening to watch the sunset.  It was beautiful!

Sunset at the University

Sunset at the University

The post-sunset sky

The post-sunset sky


It also made me reminisce on some of the other beautiful sunsets I’ve seen over the years.

The sunset turned a gorgeous pink later on...

Chincoteague Island, Virginia…



The Marina at Home


A stunning sunset at the Nehalem Bay Campground.

Nehalem Bay State Park, Oregon Coast


Sunset at Gold Beach

Sunset at Gold Beach, Oregon Coast


A beautiful California sunset

Santa Monica, California


A spectacular Lake Michigan Sunset!

Sunset over Lake Michigan at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore


The Sunset at the Refuge was Fantastic

Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, Willows, California

Sunset at Fort Casey

Sunset at Fort Casey, Washington


Desert Sunset

Saguaro National Park, Arizona


I know my future travels will add more beautiful sunsets.  Which one is your favorite? 

Joshua Tree 2015: A Rock Like a Skull!

My last day at Joshua Tree National Park was a half day, as I needed to get back to the airport and fly home.

I visited one of the most iconic rock formations – Skull Rock.  It really does look like a skull, with eye sockets and a nose and everything.  The area around Skull Rock has lots of fun rocks to climb on, and I took an opportunity to climb around with all the other tourists.

Skull Rock

Skull Rock


Me with Skull Rock

Me with Skull Rock

Then I went over to Hidden Valley, which has a short one-mile nature walk through the rock formations.  Hidden Valley is so named because it was rumored to have been a place where cattle rustlers hid the cattle that they had stolen from nearby ranchers.  The location of the valley and its rock formations also made for a slightly cooler environment than other areas of the desert, meaning that it has a different ecosystem.  Oak, juniper and grasses grow here among the rocks.

A dead tree frames the rock formations in Hidden Valley

A dead tree frames the rock formations in Hidden Valley

The Hidden Valley Trail gave me one last opportunity to walk among and climb on the rocks.  It is a great trail for kids; an easy loop.

Me perched on a rock in Hidden Valley

Me perched on a rock in Hidden Valley


A raven stands watch at Joshua Tree

A raven stands watch at Joshua Tree


The raven takes off from his perch.

The raven takes off from his perch.

Hidden Valley is also an area where people try their hand (or feet!) at tightrope walking.  I was able to watch a few people walk across a line stretched between two rocks about 50 feet above the ground.  It looked terrifying!  It was really neat to watch, although I hope they were tethered with safety lines…  It looks like there’s one in the photos; I hope so!

A tightrope walker at Hidden Valley

A tightrope walker at Hidden Valley

All in all, I really enjoyed my time at Joshua Tree.  Even though it wasn’t really warm, the sun was shining and there was no rain!  What a fabulous long weekend!

Pelican Peek…

I’m still struggling with some tough times, and still finding it difficult to find the time or energy to blog.  Here’s a sneak peak of my recent visit to San Diego.  The last of Joshua Tree and more will be coming soon.  I hope all my blogosphere peeps are well!

A Pelican flying at Cabrillo National Monument

A Pelican flying at Cabrillo National Monument