Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Keeps Me On My Toes!

Yesterday was one of those days.

I've got a lot going on in the next couple of weeks and I think my brain overload is starting to catch up with me. Here's my funny story from yesterday (at least it seems funnier in hindsight).

I get to school nice and early feeling very prepared for the day, sip my coffee and take my time doing some writing in my car. I get ready to walk to class when I discover I've left the bag with all of my teaching materials at home in the living room. And I've only got 12 minutes before class starts. I start to panic but realize I don't have time, only 11 minutes left now. This is very out of character for me as I am usually super meticulous about checking that I've got everything I need. So I ran to my office, scrounged up another copy of my text book and quickly printed and copied some materials and luckily was able to wing it with my students none the wiser. If it had been any other class on any other day, things wouldn't have turned out nearly so well.

This must have jostled my brain out of its normal routine because I actually had a very productive and creative day after that.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Author Q & A with Dalia Sofer

Back in July I participated in the online book club discussion for The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer over at Everday I Write the Book Blog. I loved the book and was very excited when Gayle posted that she was doing a Q & A with Dalia and asked for reader questions.

Well, she selected a couple of my questions and here is and excerpt of what Dalia had to say. There is a spoiler in the last line of the first question if you haven't read the book.

Q. Shirin's narration was especially compelling and I couldn't help wondering how much of what we saw through her eyes was very closely based on your experiences. I'm dying to know if you actually stole and hid files.

A: Alas, Shirin’s sections are largely imagined—I did not steal any files! But that state of bewilderment and confusion is one that I remember very well. And the passage about absence being very close to death came from a sensation I developed at that time.

Q. Sofer means writer in Hebrew - is this a pen name or a family name you grew into?

A: Sofer is my actual surname. My father is originally from Iraq (and the story goes that my ancestors were biblical scribes!)

I also asked a few more (the one about her writing rituals and adjustment to life in Israel and the US after she and her family fled Iran), but you'll have to read Gayle's post here for the full interview.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Inside the Readers' Studio Meme

I wasn't tagged for this meme, but I liked the questions so I'm jumping in anyway.

What is your favorite word? My favorite word that I've stumbled upon recently is quiddity. It means the essence or "whatness" of something. I also like preternatural and verisimilitude.

What is your least favorite word? Satisfied. The origin of my dislike for this word is rooted in someone I know regularly eating 2 bites of popcorn and a sip of diet coke in place of a meal and saying, "I'm so satisfied!" Blech. Years later I still cringe.

What turns you on (creatively, spiritually or emotionally)? Gratitude, reflection, a thoughtful gesture from my husband, traveling, being outside in 85 - 90 degree weather with a nice breeze, experiencing a new place for the first time, being near mountains and nature, especially rivers, and coffee and a comfy chair at Borders

What turns you off (creatively, spiritually or emotionally)? a dirty or cluttered house or workspace, bad breath or other noxious smells, people chattering away loudly on their cell phones about personal problems in otherwise quiet public spaces

What sound or noise do you love? The sound of a river, wind in the trees

What sound or noise do you hate? honking horns, shrill whistling, chewing noises and the gait of every narrator's voice on PBS programs

What is your favorite curse word? I'm good for a well placed s$#t or f&$k from time to time.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? writer, paid traveler/explorer, lady of leisure, flying trapeze artist?

What profession would you not like to do? I think one of the circles of hell may require making telemarketing or sales cold calls for all of eternity.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? Welcome home.

Monday, August 11, 2008

You'll Get More Than 1,000 Words From These Pictures

I think I'll try my hand at Weekly Geeks (a weekly challenge hosted by Dewey at The Hidden Side of Leaf) #13, although I am a week late. This week's theme was author photos so here are the men and women responsible for creating my favorite casts of characters:

Any guesses?

1. Photos of your favorite author(s).

2. Photo(s) of the author(s) of the book(s) you’re currently reading.

3. I'm combining a few here : Photo(s) of any author(s) you’ve met in person (even very briefly). Any photo(s) you may have of yourself with an author.

6. A photo of the author of the book you’ve most recently finished.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Book Review: The Septembers of Shiraz

Personally, I have always preferred getting my history lessons in story form.

I don’t know about you, but when I would sit in history class and the teachers would pontificate about timelines and wars and facts and figures, the Middle Ages, 1776, Napoleon, serfs, Galileo, 1893, Presidential assassins,1602, it would all blur together for me and sound like it was coming from the teacher in the Peanuts’ cartoons. Even though I was interested in learning about history, I could only get the vaguest ideas of the events to stick with me, dangling precariously from my cognitive map like a used post it note.

But put The Diary of Anne Frank or My Brother Sam is Dead (about the Revolutionary War) in my hands and bam - mental Super glue. All of the sudden, instead of seeing a blurry blip on the time line and a passage that made my eyes glaze over, I could see history through the eyes of a young girl, who like me, kept a diary, missed her friends and both loved and got annoyed with her family members. I could see through her eyes that the Holocaust meant that innocent Jewish families like hers had to go into hiding and hold their breath, hearts racing every time they heard a knock at the door wondering if this was the time they'd be caught and taken to the gas chambers of the concentration camps.

In The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer, Isaac Amin and his memorable cast of family members, though fictional, were able to have the same sticking effect on me. The book transported me to 1980s Iran after the fall of the Shah when wealth was punished and none of rules of the old regime applied. In this tumultuous time, rare-gem dealer Isaac Amin is arrested and jailed by the Revolutionary Guard, falsely accused of being a Zionist spy. After his disappearance, his wife Farnaz searches anxiously for him while he endures months filled with isolation and torture and the rest of the family must deal with the lives they have always known being pulled apart piece by piece.

The book was artfully written. Dalia Sofer's narration has a quiet power that kept the pages turning and she does a great job of capturing the subtle contradictions and gray areas inside of us all. The narration comes from all four members of the Amin family: Issac, Farnaz, their nine year old daughter Shirin and their son Pariviz who has been sent to New York for college to avoid his being drafted into the Revolutionary Guard. I liked the changes in narration - Isaac who escapes the tedium and terror of prison by letting his mind drift to his younger days in Shiraz when he was a poet and idealist; Farnaz, who has numbed herself to the world and tries to carry on and hold the family together in Isaac's absence; Parviz, lost, alone and indifferent in New York with a futile hope of a relationship with his extremely religious landlord's daughter, and Shirin, trying to make sense of her father's disappearance, losing friends on the playground and boldly taking a risk that might save someone's life, but could also land her father in even more trouble. I felt particularly drawn to the parts from Shirin’s point of view and found myself wondering how much of the story that we saw through Shirin’s eyes came directly from the life experience of the author who fled Iran with her family when she was only ten.

One interesting thing that stood out to me is that the book is written in the seldom-used present tense. I love the immediacy this adds to the story, connecting someone like me, who has grown up in the US and been fortunate enough not to experience the horrors of watching my beloved homeland and family fractured and cleaved apart by the tyrants of an unstable government, to the events that took place in Iran after the fall of the Shah.

I also think the Sofer’s use of the present tense reflects the fact that the Amin family’s lives have been severed from the tranquil days of their lives before the revolution. With their pasts like a distant dream and their futures uncertain, they have no choice but to live day to day in the present moment.

I really enjoyed this book and while its not action packed, the force of the story propelled me forward and really kept the pages turning. It also definitely brought this period of Iranian history to life for me. I'm looking forward to reading more from Dalia Sofer in the future. Thanks to Gayle at Everyday I Write the Book Blog and Harper Collins for putting this book in my hands and hosting the great online book club discussion earlier this week. If you are interested in more from the author, check back on Gayle's site for an upcoming author interview.

Fun fact: Sofer means writer in Hebrew. I wonder if that is a family name that she grew into or if she took it on as her pen name because of its meaning.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


btt button

Suggested by: Nithin

Here’s another idea about memorable first lines from books.

What are your favourite first sentences from books? Is there a book that you liked specially because of its first sentence? Or a book, perhaps that you didn’t like but still remember simply because of the first line?

I am going to answer today, but concede to my laziness and be brief. I'm going to go with the excuse that brevity is the soul of wit (well, it is isn't it?).

I have to admit that, "Call me Ishmael." doesn't really do anything for me, but my favorite first line that I can recall from memory comes from a book I haven't even read yet, is not a classic and has nothing to do with a whale.

Here goes:

"Dear Carrie Bradshaw,
You are a f***ing liar."

to which I respond:

Dear Jen Lancaster,

You crack me up. I love your blog and I can't wait to read Bright Lights, Big Ass. Let's drink some mojitos and be best friends. And promise to never ever read Moby Dick.

Irreverently Yours,


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Book Review: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

It has been an extremely long time since I have felt myself so drawn into the world created by a fiction writer and felt so emotionally involved with the unlikeliest of characters, nine-year-old Oskar Schell, a boy whose Dad was killed on 9/11 and his Grandparents, German immigrants whose lives were forever changed after the bombing in Dresden.

I have read so many novels in the earlier part of this year that I wanted so badly to be touching and thought provoking but they all fell short, except for this one.

This is a short summary from the book jacket: "Oskar Schell is an inventor, Francophile, tambourine player, Shakespearean actor, jeweler, pacifist. He is nine years old. And he is on an urgent, secret search through the five boroughs of New York to find the lock that fits a mysterious key belonging to his father, who died in the attacks on the World Trade Center."

Besides Oskar and his grandparents, I also loved the characters Oskar met along the way, like one hundred and three year-old Mr. Black who has a giant card catalog with a card for every person he ever met, each one labeled with one word that describes their essence.

I think Jonathan Safran Foer is one of the most talented young writers I have ever read. His detail and lifelike mixture of humor and sadness made the characters leap off of the page and right into my heart. I rarely listened to audio books before this one, but I picked it up on a whim and really enjoyed the performances.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Vacation Spots

I've been reading other bloggers' weekly Booking Through Thursday posts for a while, but this will be my inaugural BTT post. This week's question is:

Do you buy books while on vacation/holiday?

Do you have favorite bookstores that you only get to visit while away on a trip?

What/Where are they?

I knew I was going to love Washington D.C. when I looked out my hotel room window. Against the backdrop of old brick buildings, historical landmarks and the hustle and bustle of crowds of intellectuals and politicos I could see not one, but two bookstores. We don’t have many local, independently owned bookstores in Las Vegas so I have trouble resisting a peek at the stacks of places like Kramer Books & Afterwords Café on Dupont Circle in D.C., which also happens to have a killer lunch menu and a bar inside the bookstore. It just doesn’t get much better than that.

But while I do love to browse through bookstores while traveling, I don’t often make book purchases away from home for several reasons: A) Its one more thing I’ll have to lug around with me. B) Its very likely I can get it cheaper on Amazon, and the main reason C) l hate to have a stack of more than two or three books at home waiting to be read. If I accumulate too many, by the time I get to them I have usually lost interest because I am excited to read something else.

There are two exceptions I can think of:

¿Dónde esta Harry Potter?
When our overnight train pulled into the station in Madrid at the end of our Camino last summer, I was on a mission. I had to limp all the way, but I was determined not to leave Spain without a copy of the newly released Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, in English. I’d tracked down an English language bookstore that was holding a copy for me and after about an hour of being lost, we found the address listed on their website. Only when we got there, the building was empty. Frustrated but undaunted, we called our friend Jeremy back in the US, the only one of our friends who could possibly be up at 3am and he graciously looked up the bookstore’s phone number for us. We called and found the new location a few blocks away and I had my Harry Potter for the plane ride home.

When in Stratford
It seemed almost sacrilegious to leave the idyllic English countryside town that gave birth to Shakespeare without some work of literature. Though ironically, what I picked was not a book of sonnets or a comedic play involving a woman disguising herself as a man but The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Cover Love: Judging a Book By Its Cover

I’ll admit it. I am a sucker for a good picture. Whenever I go to a restaurant and open up the menu I am instantly wooed by the dishes that are accompanied by pictures. At BJ’s, the picture of grilled chicken pasta with its vibrant green broccoli and delicate shavings of parmesano reggiano gets me every time.

Book covers sometimes have the same ooh-look-something-shiny! effect on me. Out of the massive volumes of books stacked floor to ceiling in my local bookstore shelves, some always seem to draw me over for a closer look.

Here are a few that have caught my eye in the bookstore lately:

Maybe it’s my marketing background, but although great cover art does not always portend a riveting and well written story, I think its OK to celebrate the publishing companies giving an author a great package to help promote their work.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Giveaways Galore

Just wanted to share a few great book related giveaway opportunities I've come across in the last few days:

  • *In the Shadow of Mt. TBR's writer is hosting her first giveaway ever. Visit her site to enter for a chance to win a $20 Borders gift card.
  • *Marie at the Boston Bibilophile is giving away an ARC copy of Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen. I just discovered Marie's blog a few weeks ago and I love it. She seems to post several times a week and her reviews are detailed and insightful.
  • From the Garden Spells cover:
    In a garden surrounded by a tall fence, tucked away behind a small, quiet house in the smallest of towns, is an apple tree that is rumored to bear a very special sort of fruit. In this luminous debut novel, Sarah Addison Allen tells the story of that enchanted tree, and the extraordinary people who tend it.

  • *The audiobook version of Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist is available for free download on iTunes this week. Just check the main page for the free download icon.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A Little Something Humorous

I love when I learn something new from a textbook I'm teaching.

For example, did you know the that word humor actually comes from the Latin word for liquid?* Kudos to you if you're a crackerjack at dead languages, but I had no idea. Apparently the story goes like this: Hundreds of years ago, when people still agreed that the world was flat, it was commonly thought by the noted philosophers of the day that one's personality traits were determined by the balance of the liquids in one's body. Unbalanced liquids = unbalanced personality = strange or odd. So instead of being used to describe things like Sarah Vowell's nephew referring to cemeteries as Halloween parks or Stephen Colbert's version of the news, humorous once referred to someone who was a few sandwiches short of a picnic basket. For example the contestants on Flavor of Love Season 3.

OK, enough with the Latin lessons, but speaking of textbooks, my summer session class starts up next Monday. That means today I am hard at work lesson planning as well as casting aside my hate-affair with talking on the phone to find the best mortgage loan for our new house (Yay! We're getting a new house! Boo! We have to pack. A lot. Quickly.).

I have been in seriously in denial that summer vacation is in fact almost over for me. This is going to put a serious cramp in my new habit of reading until 2am. And lounging around in my pajamas until its time to change into my gym clothes in the afternoon. But in all honesty, I can't complain. I love working with my students and seeing someone who arrived knowing only very basic English progress enough get into the best Hotel Management School in the country. Teaching allows me to work autonomously, be creative and get better every day. And it lets me have a summer vacation in the first place. So, yeah I guess I'm pretty lucky.

*From World Pass: Expanding English Fluency Advanced by S. Stemplski, N. Douglas, J. Morgan and K.L. Johannsen

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Lost Girls Book

In book and travel related news (my two favorite subjects), I am thrilled to see that The Lost Girls have landed a book deal (with Harper Collins, no less!) to write about the year they took off to travel the world. If you haven’t already heard the buzz about the Lost Girls, here is a little background, but I highly recommend checking out their blog for yourself to read about their incredible journey and check out their tips if you are dreaming of doing something like this yourself someday: In 2006 best friends Holly, Jen and Amanda traded in the comforts of home and steady jobs in the competitive New York media world for giant backpacks, sometimes seedy hostels, guidebooks and the chance at the adventure of a lifetime.

These are truly girls after my own heart. From the moment I discovered their blog, which happened to be when I was in the throes of planning my own Camino adventure last spring, I was intrigued and inspired. When I wasn’t researching backpacks, lightweight sleeping sacks and a place I could purchase a contraption that enables women to pee standing up in the middle of nowhere, I spent a lot of my spare time reading through their archives.

From the time they touched down in Peru, bought funny looking hats and hiked the Inca Trail right up to the end of their journey in Australia, the girls shared stories and pictures of their adventures on their blog, kindly allowing us to live vicariously through them. I find their writing style savvy, polished and extremely accessible, like hearing the insider point of view from a best girlfriend who also happens to be a kick-ass writer.

I love their spirit and their courage to dare to do what most people only dream about. And of course, the fact that they wrote about it. Jen, Amanda and Holly are truly a testament to the idea that if you want something badly enough, with enough drive, determination and sacrifice, anything is possible. So I wish them the best of luck with the book, which I will anxiously await. I hope they sell millions of copies and inspire many others to take a chance on their own dreams.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Crossing the Finish Line

I did it! I have already spewed out almost all of the words that reside in my head onto my keyboard today in order to cross the 50,000 word finish line, so I'll be brief. Just wanted to share my excitement. I'm really grateful to the New Zealanders over at Kiwi Writers for letting this eager American participate in their challenge. This year a total of 2,635,755 words were written collectively by 143 participants. Sharing my daily progress and knowing there was a whole group of other writing hopefuls clattering away at their keyboards in the winter weather of the southern hemisphere helped me immensely in getting to my daily word goals. As did lemon-lime Gatorade, piles of Oreo cookies and the unfailing support and encouragement from my wonderful husband.

Here's the button with my final word count below:

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Book Review: Stern Men by Elizabeth Gilbert

Stern Men Stern Men by Elizabeth Gilbert

My review

Here is fair warning: If you are looking for a book to fill the hole left by Eat, Pray, Love, reading Stern Men is like trying to shove a square lobster trap into that round hole. It doesn't quite fit the bill.

I really wanted to like this book. After reading Eat, Pray, Love last summer I was eager to read some of Elizabeth Gilbert's earlier works so my first pick was Gilbert's first novel, Stern Men set on two fictional islands off the coast of Maine. I thought it would be a pretty sure bet that I would love almost anything the Elizabeth Gilbert set down on paper, a bet I was disappointed to lose with myself with my mixed feelings on her debut novel.

What this book does well:

You can almost smell the salt air and you can definitely feel the boredom and the generations of animosity between the people of Fort Niles and Courne Haven Islands. Gilbert knows how to paint a gritty and lively picture of the backdrop for her heroine Ruth and the cast of characters around her.

Where it falters:

Descriptions of the history of the islands and the families living there seem to go on for days. They overwhelm the brief pockets of action in the story. It plot ekes forward at a painfully slow pace.

When I listened to Elizabeth Gilbert speak last year at the Book Group Expo in San Jose she cited Charles Dickens as one of her favorite authors and a big influence on her work. His influence was apparent in her stylistic choices for Stern Men. If you like sweeping prose descriptions that go on for fistfulls of pages filling you in on on every detail of backstory, this book may win you over. However, if you are looking forward to something actually happening, you might want to settle in and get comfortable because you might have to wait for a while.

The book does seem to pick up and redeem itself in the last 40 - 50 pages or so, Elizabeth Gilbert's confident and original voice that I'd been waiting for seemed to resurface and shine through to bring the story home.

View all my reviews.

Monday, June 23, 2008

50,000 Words

All right, I’m outing myself today. This month I have been committed to some serious writing, just not in this blog. I was feeling a little tentative (and like I might throw up) about mentioning it before I began. I had some serious doubts and some days when they completely paralyzed me – what if I discovered it was just too hard? What if it was too cumbersome? Too soul sucking? I wasn’t sure what to expect. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to rise to the occasion, but I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t at least try to find out.

So… for the past 21 days I have been pounding away at the keyboard participating in a little something called SoCNoC (Southern Cross Novel Challenge), New Zealand’s answer to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), but taking place in June, which happened to be in a more convenient month for me.

The challenge: write a 50,000 word rough draft of a novel in 30 days and live to tell about it.

The idea is not to edit as you go – quantity trumps quality in this round, the editing starts when July rolls around. Well, here I am in week 4 of my challenge and as of today I have written 36,002 words (that’s 63 pages single spaced!) of my required 50,00.

I’ve always harbored the secret desire to write a book. If I don’t at least try, I’ll never know if I can do. And wouldn’t that be a worse failure? (That’s what I try to tell myself every time I’m so sick of writing and just want to quit.)

I let my writing drift off into the background while I let the business of growing up and finding my way in the world take precedence during my college years and beyond. When I did that, I forfeited all of that prime sucking time in my youth that usually needs to come before the brief flashes of brilliance start showing up in the vast haystack of words that I produce. So now is as good a time as any to jump in the mud to

So, like the Camino de Santiago that I am writing about, this month has been a formidable challenge. I am walking out into the wilderness not knowing what to expect. I have a lot more clothes to choose from this time around, but the goal I want to achieve is the same, get to the finish line no matter what obstacles jump in my way.

Wish me luck. I’ll keep you posted – 50, 000 words, June 30, I can see you in the distance.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Boston: Along the Freedom Trail

Did you know that Paul Revere had 16 children? 16?! I can see my Paul’s eyes light up and the corners of his mouth curl upward involuntarily as I tell him this bit of trivia I picked up walking the Freedom Trail and paying a visit to Paul Revere’s former home in the North End of Boston last week. I tell him not to get any ideas. Besides, only eleven survived to adulthood.

With Paul tied up in conference sessions for the large part of our first few days, I set out to explore the old cobbled streets of Boston’s history on my own. I was surprised to find that Boston was a relatively small, compact city that was very easy to get around with a combination of the T (Boston’s subway system) and a good pair of walking shoes.

I started off my journey on the Freedom Trail, which begins in the lovely Boston Common park and snakes around the city for 2.5 miles connecting the dots between many of Boston’s significant historical sights.
Walking along the red brick trail was also a good way to get my bearings in the city. There are may tour groups that lead guided expeditions along the trail, but I opted to download the audio tour ($15 to download) on the Freedom Trail website so I could take it all in at my leisure and pause at the interesting spots or fast forward through the long boring bits if I happened upon any of them.

Here are some highlights of places I stopped and fun facts I learned along the way on my first day in Boston:

Faneuil Hall- Boston’s first central marketplace. This is a lively area for shopping and eating and watching live street performers. There is a whole building full of nothing but gift shops. I was in heaven.

The Inspiration for the Scarlet Letter – Tucked away In the King’s Chapel Burying Ground is the headstone of Elizabeth Payne, who is rumored to be the inspiration for Nathaniel Hawthorne’s heroine in the Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne. Hawthorne probably passed through the graveyard on his way to work at the Custom House. Her headstone bears a coat of arms featuring 2 lions and a half of what looks like a stylized letter A.

The site of the first public school and the Old Corner Bookstore

The Old State House – I got to stand under the balcony where the Declaration of Independence was read to the people of Boston for the first time.

The Old South Meeting House – where some 5,000 people gathered to protest the tea tax and after a secret coded proclamation from Sam Adams (who, incidentally, I learned was pretty hopeless as a brewmaster despite his other talents) sent the group of protestors to the harbor to dump multiple shiploads of tea into the water in the event that came to be known as the Boston Tea Party.

Paul Revere’s House – When Paul Revere purchased the house it was already 90 years old. Walking into the old building with a fireplace in every room to keep the family warm in the winter, you feel distinctly like you’re inside one of those funhouses where everything is tilted and crazy things happen like balls rolling uphill and water running sideways. I asked the docent who offered her services if I was imagining things. She said no, its even more uneven upstairs.

The Old North Church – The famous site where Paul Revere was to hang lanterns – one if by land, two if by sea, to warn the people that the British were coming on the night of his famous midnight ride. This is one of the landmarks I was most excited to see. Although I am a little embarrassed to admit this, its role in the movie National Treasure had a little something to do with that.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Now That She's Back in the Blogosphere

I know I have been MIA from the blogosphere the last couple of weeks.

You know when you get a message from a friend who you haven't talked to in a long time. You're so excited to talk to the person, but you keep putting it off because its been so long that you need a good long time to sit down and give the them all the juicy details of what you've been up to.

Well, I kind of feel like that. Except I haven't had a good long time for dishing in a good long time. And its almost midnight and I have to be at school at 8 tomorrow and probably stay until 8pm. So it's not looking good for the full scoop, but for any of you who are still checking back after I've gone missing for the last few weeks, I just wanted to say hi.

Here are few things I have done since we last chatted:
  • Spoke at a professional conference for the first time in Sacramento
  • Visited Michael, Jenny, Noah, Josh and David (my brother-in-law, sister-in-law and nephews) in Vacaville
  • Spent time with Lai, one of my best friends, when she came to town from Macau for the week
  • Went to my friend Heather's bachelorette party
  • Logged some major hours house shopping over the last few weeks
  • Put an offer in on a house we really like yesterday - I'm very excited since this will be the first home Paul and I have picked out together
  • Started to prepare for study week and finals -only a week and a half to go before summer vacation!
  • On a sad note, visited Maw Maw, my grandmother-in-law, in the hospital on two occasions after she took a couple of spills at my in-laws house.
I probably forgot some, but that's the quick and dirty. I hope to resume the weekly blogging again soon. Just think of it like all the TV shows returning after the writers' strike.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Save the Drama for ….the Popular Kids?

I was in every play in high school from my sophomore year on. I remember how excited I was to get cast as the lead in my first play over Starr Easterday, a really outspoken senior who, frankly, I was a little bit scared of, and had been acting a lot longer than me. As it turns out, despite my oh so convincing audition, I had a long, long, long way to go before I got even kind of watchable. That first audition was my ticket into the high school drama world though. No matter how big or small my part, I loved every crazy four hour rehearsal and even the constant angst-filled asides from the really intense kid. I made friends plus I got to flirt shamelessly with all of the cute clever boys, most of whom inevitably turned out to be gay.

I went on to play a sickly sweet flapper girl with a serious crush on a guy named George and the maid in You Can’t Take It With You. In the script the character was supposed to be black, but I gave her an Irish accent. Sometimes. I was the stage manager in Gammer Gurton’s Needle with a monologue that ended with “God Save the Queen! Huzzah!” You can never say that too many times. I was the understudy for one of the princesses in Love’s Labour’s Lost, my favorite Shakespeare comedy ever, and would have gotten to go on when one of the princesses ran away from home with her boyfriend had her costume not been a size 2. In my very last performance as the celebrated fashion designer Bibi Cavendish in a British murder mystery I actually felt confident in my improvement. Even my Mom, who came to every performance and kindly encouraged me through my mediocrity couldn't hide the hint of surprise in her voice when she said “Jessi, that was actually really good!”

What can I say? It takes a while.

So it hit me the other day, with the High School Musical movies capturing the rapt attention of all of the teens and ‘tweens of the nation. Are all of these kids now trying out for their high school musicals?

Instead of drama being the place for marginal kids who are drawn to acting because its not so mainstream, I wonder if stages are now being overrun by the would be cheerleaders and football players. And think of the competition… I might have edged out Starr Easterday, but I don’t know if I ever would have gotten the chance to get on stage with 20 mini Vanessa Hudgins running around. It would be pretty sad for all of those kids who are hopeful and whole-heartedly ready to make complete fools of themselves in the quest to get better like I was to miss out on their chance.

Any high school drama teachers out there who have seen a massive influx of auditioners of late?

Friday, April 4, 2008

Wandering Mind? Try Accessorizing.

It seems that the times I want to focus the most (especially on writing) are the exact times that my mind goes all Lord of the Flies on me and decides to run wild …

Its like some mischievous six-year-old kid in pigtails has taken over my thoughts. One who has forgotten her daily dose of ADD meds and traded her healthy tuna sandwich and carrot stick lunch for 10 Oreos, some pixie sticks and a pack of Ding-Dongs. Did I ever tell you I had a cat named Ding-dong? Yep, when I was a kid. And she has a sister cat named Esprit, but they both got sick and died a few weeks after we got them. Wait. Wait, where was I? Oh, yes focus and concentration. That’s right.

So imagine my delight when, in the midst of my brain toggling at will between the best way to explain gerunds and infinitives, wanting to go to Hong Kong, contemplating the benefits of the pigeon pose in yoga, researching about Harajuku girls in Japan, preparing for my first major conference presentation and thinking about throwing out the chicken that has been sitting in my fridge for 2 weeks, I come across the concept of the hachimaki, a Japanese symbol of absolute concentration and dedication to the task at hand.

My first thought was, I’ve got to get me one of these!

The hachimaki, a thin cloth headband sometimes bearing an encouraging slogan, is tied around one’s head when the wearer wants to signify a shift into a state of focused thought and energy. Picture Mr. Miagi and the Karate Kid. A student might wear one when studying for a grueling exam. Pilots wore them when heading into battle.
Martial artists and Sumo wrestlers sport them in competitions. I can just picture myself walking into Borders, preparing to dedicate myself to whatever writing task I’m working on and pulling out my hachimaki and chopping through a brick with my hands on the coffee bar before sitting down to concentrate.

I first came across the concept in a book I’m reading called Japanland: A Year In Seach of Wa by Karin Muller. Karin describes the hachimaki as "a symbol of intent - like pinning your New Year's diet to your sleeve and wearing it to brunch the next day."

While certainly not a magic cure for the wandering mind, the idea of a tangible, visible reminder of my intentions is appealing to me. I think most of us have rituals that serve as the psychological doorway into a state of concentration and dedication, whether we’re aware of them or not. Closing the office door. Going for a run. Going to a special room or place outdoors. Listening to guided meditations or praying or practicing yoga. Driving around with the windows down singing “I Will Survive” off key until your voice goes hoarse. Tying on a hachimaki. Do you have any type of custom that moves you into hard work or creative mode?

I usually get out of the house and head to a place where I’m surrounded by books and/or coffee when I want to focus. Even though I already have some kind of ritual in place, I think I might find my own pink silk version of the hachimaki to add to my repertoire. When the little girl in my brain is tugging me away from my endeavour, with her "Didn't you want to watch all of the old episodes of Lost today?" and "Maybe you want to check your email for the 14th time? Oooh! Ooh! What about Spider Solitaire?!" maybe it'll help remind me to put her on mute and keep focused on my intentions.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Love in the Time of Cholera: Book Review

After 3 months, 4 days and one 8 hours of feverish reading in one day I finally finished Love in the Time of Cholera this Sunday. I tried to write about my reflections on the book over the last few days but I think I was still entrenched in the world of Fermina and Florentino and needed some time to exorcise the story from my body and consciousness.

Like our heroine Fermina Daza had with woeful hopeless romantic Florentino Ariza I had a love/hate relationship with this book. Several years ago I picked it up full of innocent longing for a good story, but after reading several dozen pages I decided that the that it didn’t have the chops to keep my attention for the long haul. It was exiled to the book shelf, out of sight and out of mind for several years passed (though nowhere near the 51 years and some change that Florentino patiently idled away his time in love affairs to break the monotony of endless pining for Fermina while he waited for her husband to die so he could once again put the moves on her). Out of the blue, the book became an Oprah book club selection and started generating a lot of buzz. This piqued my curiousity and I slowly warmed again to the idea of reading the story. Perhaps I had made a mistake the first time around.

Here is a brief plot summary: Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza were childhood sweethearts. Although they never shared a proper conversation, they steal surreptious glances and fan the flames of young love with a secret correspondence of love letters. When Fermina decides that what exists between she and Florentino is not love, but some kind of adolescent illusion, she rejects him and leaves him tormented and brokenhearted. Fermina goes on to marry and have children, but Florentino spends his entire life carrying a torch for Fermina. While he stays devout in his singular love and devotion for Fermina Daza, he finds comfort in a multitude of secret love affairs of the flesh. 51 years, 9 months and 4 days go by since the days of their earlier letters when, upon the death of Fermina's husband, Florentino steps out of the shadows to once again profess his everlasting fidelity .

While it wasn’t my very favorite book of all time and I would be cautious recommending this book to just anyone, I enjoyed the story and the rich portraits of the characters spanning two centuries in Colombia. Florentino Ariza was at the same time a devoted and caring and borderline maniacal and stalkerish suitor. Fermina was haughty and obstinate, a woman whose identity was spirited identity is traded for the stable life of a wife and mother. Gabriel Garcia Marquez can write vivid heart breaking descriptions of the joy and agony of love in all of its many forms like no other. I also think he perfectly captured the inherent contradictions in human character.

On the downside, I found that the meticulously detailed descriptions that drew me into the story and kept me wanting more also served to repel me at other points in the narrative. Sometimes in the middle section of the book I thought I could take a slow boat to Paris and back before the plot would move forward.

After reading the story of Florentino and Fermina's early days of exchanging letters and her ultimate rejection, I felt like this was one of the best books ever written. It make me feel as though I wanted to stimulate my brain with some more challenging classics (although this is a more contemporary classic as I later found out this book was written in 1985) but at other times I felt like I was just gritting my teeth and pushing through. That said, I felt satisfied but weary and did feel like I should get a medal for conquering the marathon of books when I finally reached the final page.

Next up:
My next Girls Book and Wine Club selection:
Him Her Him Again The End of Him by Saturday Night Live writer alum Patricia Marx.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Catching Up

Here's a lazy one where I smash all of the events of the last few weekends into one post. Here's are some of my highlights from the last few weeks:

Dinner with my parents at Bahama Breeze while they were in town. We had a lively discussion about life and the elections this year. My Mom wiggled over my Dad's lap to switch places with him in our booth. The rest of us laughed hysterically except my sister's highbrow boyfriend who looked on in horror. His eyes and neatly manicured eyebrows nearly jumped out of his head and on to his appetizer plate.

I tried on bridesmaids dresses for my youngest sister Laure's wedding. She encouraged us to get the coolest dresses possible as the wedding will be held in Lake Havasu in August. Mine is a little black dress that could actually make a second appearance at a Christmas cocktail party or a friend's wedding. I didn't order it right away because one of my fellow bridesmaids, Sandra, brought her little baby girl to David's Bridal and she seriously put the baby voodoo on me with her giant brown eyes and sweet temperament. This temporarily clouded my judgment and made me put off buying my dress for a month. Definitely no plans, but just in case of the unlikely event. My sister would kill me if I couldn't have drinks with her at her wedding.

Just as Spring Break was beginning, I was knocked out cold by some kind of sickness. I lost my will to do anything but sleep and eat Cadbury Mini Eggs for several days, but I did recover pretty quickly and go hiking again last weekend. I luckily begged out of the early morning hike that Paul, Tim and Tim went on 5:30 am in search of a phantom trail Paul loves that leads to the top of a really high peak. When they got back they couldn't wait to tell Heather, who crashed on our couch from 5:30 until we woke up, and I about their adventures. Apparently on the way back down they rode a rock avalanche about a hundred feet down the mountain (it has grown to 200 feet in this weeks storytelling).
"We almost died." Tim said.
"Yeah," Paul said, "It was awesome."
Boys, boys. Heather and I joined them for some afternoon hiking that involved neither rock avalanche surfing nor almost dying.

The Girls Book and Wine Club reconvened after a three month hiatus at Ashley's last Sunday to discuss What Should I Do With My Life? by Po Bronson. Three months was way too long between get-togethers. Many factors conspired to continually get us off topic which led to a fun afternoon but with one that was light on the great book discussion we usually have. That's too bad because I think this book could really have generated some good questions and discussion since the topic is so universal. The book is a compilation of stories from people who have answered this ultimate question, what should I do with my life? I'll have to do another post to talk about it in more detail.

That bring us up to last week, my Spring Break. Still slightly recovering from my sickness, I basically split my time between my couch and Borders with a few trips to the gym sprinkled in towards the end. I caught up on some movies. I rented Dan In Real Life and Enchanted, both of which I enjoyed, but Dan had the edge if you ask me, and spent a lot of time writing, just not on my blog.

And to perfectly round out the week, dinner and a competitive round of Balderdash , my favorite bluffing board game ever, with friends were in order last night. I can sometimes dominate on game night, but last night not so much. I can't believe nobody voted for International Belly Dancers with Cancer Corps for IBDCC! That totally sounds real. Anyway, the last few weeks have been pretty great though I am a little sad to see Spring Break end.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Menu del Dia - ¡Te Echo De Menos!

Ever since the Las Vegas weather gods have started teasing us with some gorgeous warm and sunny days here and there I have been suffering from some serious spring fever. Its really tough to keep myself planted in my office chair indoors when I'm planning for my classes. My eyes and my mind keep wandering out the window and making a very convincing case for my body to follow out onto a blanket in the soft grass in the company of the fresh air and golden sun. I've been carrying a fuzzy pink blanket in my trunk just for such opportunities.

To take full advantage of the nicer weather, I spent this lovely sunny Saturday morning hiking out at Red Rock Canyon with Paul and our friend Tim. I haven't really been hiking too much since the Camino last summer so I am a little out of practice, but we did a pretty easy although somewhat steep hike to ease ourselves back into it. Paul took the doors off of his Jeep this morning and was very excited to monster truck over the bumpy trails to get to our starting point.

After we finished up hiking, we headed back to town to grab some lunch. Our lunch conversation turned to the indisputable fact that everything tastes better after a full day of exertion. I remember thinking during nearly every meal on the Camino, save for the curious (read: disgusting) veggie meatloaf in Logroño, "This is the best _________ I've ever eaten!" This is the best beef (ternera -mmm!) and oily french fries I've ever eaten. This is the best squashed-up-from-being-in-my-backpack-for-2-days banana or plum I have ever eaten! This is the best salad with tuna and oil I have ever eaten! This is the best roasted galic soup I have ever eaten. I love most Spanish food to begin with, but it all seemed take on a unnaturally delicious taste after working up an appetite. Even Coca-Cola, which I almost never never touch at home, was incredibly delicious.

All this talk and a recent post by Joe at Italyville where he shares a list of the foods he misses most from Italy got me feeling nostalgic for my favorite sabrositos Spanish treats. So here's my little contribution to the list of foods missed from abroad.

Menú del dia or Menú de Peregrinos After 12 - 15 miles on the road each day, we were exhaused and absolutely ravenous. The menú de peregrinos was just what the doctor ordered, a 3 course meal served at a restaurant or bar, complete with copious amounts of pan and your choice of vino or agua. Most provided a choice of starters (usually salad, soup or pasta), main course (beef, chicken or fish) and dessert and were definitely worth the price.

Zazamoros Little pieces of raspberry and blackberry flavored sugary heaven. You can get these here in the US, but somehow they are just not the same. I first discovered these at the candy/record store down the street from my apartment when I lived in San Sebastián and of course I sought them out again this summer.

A Napolitana with Cola Cao or Café con leche - Ah, the breakfast of champions. A flaky chocolately croissant paired with the Spanish answer to hot chocolate or coffee with steamed milk. Not the healthiest, but this isn't the top healthiest foods in Spain, its just my favorites.

Nestle Maxibon Fittingly last since it is the dessert, the mother of all helado, the Maxibon. Most of the Spanish bars that I passed by carried a tempting array of ice cream bars from either Nestle or Frigo, but this half ice cream bar, half ice cream sandwich, held the number one spot for me. I consumed at least one a day, a wonderful perk of burning off so many calories.

What foods do you really miss that typify the places abroad that you've lived or visited? Or if you're out on the road are you missing some strange things from home?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


That means sucker in Japanese. Actually, it doesn't. I just made that up, but I'm pretty sure I fell prey to the latest infomercial scam. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I bought the Kinoki foot pads. Yeah, the ones from the infomercial.

They sounded so great - detoxing, helping rid your body of headaches and metabolic waste, reducing cellulite (OK, I was skeptical about that one), promoting vibrant health and wellness. Who doesn't want vibrant health and wellness? The commercial claimed that the products use the ancient Japanese art of reflexology and acupressure along with negative ions to work their magic. I was intrigued. Even my level-headed husband who is skeptical of everything to do with advertising was interested so I bought them. What the hell, I figured. Even if they just had a placebo effect, I was game for that.

After 4 weeks of waiting for them to arrive, Paul and I have been testing out the "magical" Kinoki foot pads over the last week. Here are some pictures:

Here's the before picture. They come in nice little shamrock packaging.

This is after night 1. I'm sorry to tell you that all of that brown stuff is already inside the pad to begin with. I think that the moisture from your foot activates one of the ingredients to let it show through.

The official prognosis after almost a week: I almost want to call the Mythbusters guys to check these out. Here are my observations:

  1. Something is definitely coming out of my foot at night, but I'm not convinced its toxins, metals or metabolic waste. It might just be sweat.
  2. In the morning when I peel them off of my foot there is a strong odor that smells like liquid smoke.
  3. Since I have started using the Kinoki's I have felt really tired. Paul and I both took 2+ hour naps in the middle of the day on Sunday. This, of course, may be a confounding with other variables or maybe that's just what happens when your body gets rid of toxins.
  4. I'm not sure how reflexology or acupressure could play any part in the efficacy of these pads since you can place them anywhere on your foot or even on your shoulder or back.
  5. Sadly, no movement on the cellulite front.

I guess I should have known when I saw that their website contains tag lines like "Experience Kinoki's Natural Power of Nature!" Really, nature is natural? Hmmm.

I guess that's what I get for armchair traveling via infomercial products.
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