Read: California by Edan Lepucki + 2 more bummer reads

I wanted to be a writer when I was a kid. That’s what I really, really wanted to do when I grew up.

I spent a lot of time alone, writing and reading. A few of the stories I wrote have survived, but most of them disappeared years ago. Probably good that I can’t find them because they are really good in my memories, if I still had them I’d be reminded of how horrible they were.

What I did more than anything else was world-building. I’d construct entire families and villages in my head, and think about every little detail of their lives. It would consume hours of my day. It was delightful.

I remember the exact moment I decided that I could not be a writer. About 12 years old. I had just wrote a story about a mom and her daughters, the mom gets re-married, the man she marries has three boys, and they have lots of adventures as a modern stepfamily. Obviously, if you know my family, you know that I was writing about my real life (although it was a year or two before my mom and stepdad got married). I thought I was writing a pretty original story. I am not kidding, I really did. I was really well-read at the age, I had watched the Brady Bunch, but for some reason I thought my story was new. Naive!

I picked up the next installment of The Babysitters Club, Kristy’s Big Day, and my heart sunk when I started reading it. Ann M. Martin had stole my idea! thI decided then and there that all the good ideas had been written about. What was the point of writing a story if others had already told the same one? I decided I could never be a writer. This whole episode is documented in my dramatic pre-teen journals.

I stopped writing all the stories I had spent so much time on, but of course, I did not stop reading. As I read more and more, I became TOTALLY convinced that I would never be able to be a writer. I would never be able to do what they could do.

Writing takes courage and perseverance and patience and TALENT.

Damn, I still want to be a writer.

I read about California by Edan Lepucki last year (I posted about it here) and I was green with envy because she had taken  an idea I had been playing with in my head and she had turned it into an actual book. California, dystopic, wilderness, love – all the necessary ingredients for a good book. However, this book just worked okay for me, I did not love it.

There has been so much hype around  the book, on Colbert Report, etc. A LOT to live up to.

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The good things about the book: Beautiful, gorgeous cover. Believable moments as humanity has reached a breaking point, but is not completely broken yet (like in other dystopian books). Good, well-developed, flawed characters. Some great lines and I like the ideas that the book is trying to explore. The feeling of escaping to the wilderness. “This was one of the things he loved about life out here. The space to consider questions. Even if he sometimes longed for mindless diversions, mostly he was grateful for the silence, the time”

The bad things about it: Stupid coincidences. Sloppy plot development. Dumb decisions.

I stayed up late to finish the book. But overall, it was not my cup of tea. I may have to write my own version of it.

For a good California dystopic read, I recommend The Age of Miracles by Karen Walker Thomas.

Another bummer read was Tom Robbins “autobiography” Tibetan Peach Pie. Boring. Not that interesting. He comes across as a little creepy. No matter what, Jitterbug Perfume will always, always remain one of my favorite stories.

The final bummer read is Delicious by Ruth Reichl. I hope you have read Comfort Me with Apples and Tender at the Bone. Reichl writes food memoirs like no one else (except maybe Anthony Bourdain, but his are totally different than hers). Delicious is her first piece of fiction. I finished it, but it was not 1/2 as good as her memoirs. Which is probably a good thing, because it means her actual life is more interesting than fiction. I wanted more descriptions of recipes and food. The character were boring. It was fine…meh.

My 6 month long good reading streak had to end sooner or later. Two days ago I picked up a huge haul at the library, and I think I am about to start another good streak. I just finished listening to Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling) on my commute – highly recommended. Right now, I am listening to The Storied Life of AJ Fikrey by Gabrielle Zevin – fantastic! Plus, I just bought a cookbook, Salad Samurai by Terry Hope Romero, and all the recipes that I have made from it have been perfect for the hot weather.

I’ve had another idea in my head for the last few months about what I want to write about. I have characters, but I need a plot. Maybe I’ll be able to get it out of my head and create something, or maybe I’ll just let it stay in my head where it can’t be judged and no one can ever say that it was a “bummer” read.

LIFE: Cultivating Courage

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Nelson Mandela

This morning at yoga my amazing teacher reminded us that we are almost at the end of the year and we should use the days that remain in 2013 to cultivate a trait that we want to work on. For me, that trait is courage.

I consider myself brave, but I continually need to work on my fears to face them down. I never want to miss out on an experience because I am afraid of the outcome. The bravest thing that I have ever done may have been moving to California over six years ago. Up to that point in our lives, my husband, Sean, and I were very risk-averse. We had a good life in Michigan with a terrific support system, solid jobs, and a low mortgage payment. A lot of people thought we were crazy when we announced we wanted to start over in California. We were very scared, but we knew if we did not try it we would always wonder what it would be like. It felt like it was something that we HAD to do. When the opportunity to come out here came, we jumped on it. It worked out better than we ever envisioned, now it is hard to imagine what our lives would be like if we had not taken the risk and moved across the country.

The move encouraged both of us to always try to be brave in all aspects of our lives. A lot of my courage comes from being loved. I am so lucky to have a supportive husband, family, and friends who give me confidence every day. With that in mind, I will try to always give those I love and care about support and encouragement so they take chances and risks. I strongly believe that one of the best gifts that we can give children is confidence to follow dreams and take chances. 

I start a new job this week, and I am nervous. I need to remember to be brave. I have confidence in my abilities and know I made the right decision leaving a job where I had been for almost six years. Starting new is not easy, but it keeps life interesting and it leads to exciting adventures. I keep reminding myself that no matter what happens, it will be okay. Trusting my gut will lead me in the right direction.

I am a little obsessed with this video right now:

For me, cultivating courage means being authentic and true to myself. I will work on it for the rest of the year, and for the rest of my life. Life goes by quick, I don’t want to live a timid life.

“Freedom lies in being bold” Robert Frost

LIFE: Idyllwild, California

If I didn’t live in San Diego, I would live in the mountains. Idyllwild, California is the perfect weekend, mountain escape from San Diego. It is a short, 2-hour drive, yet it feels like it is much further. Part of the route to Idyllwild is known as the Palm to Pines Highway, the name is a perfect description of the changes that happen as the elevation climbs.

My husband, Sean, and I have visited Idyllwild at least twelve times in the last five years because we feel most calm and centered when we are surrounded by immense trees, big skies, bright stars, and gorgeous peaks. We have celebrated holidays in Idyllwild several times, including this past Thanksgiving weekend. On our recent trip it was sunny and 71 degrees when we left San Diego, by the time we reached the mountains it was 52 degrees and the perfect weather to build a huge, cozy fire.

Idyllwild Hike - Humber Park to Saddle Junction
Idyllwild Hike – Humber Park to Saddle Junction

Since we’ve been there so much, I have lots of recommendations. Part of me doesn’t want anyone else to know about this quirky, artistic village near Palm Springs, but it is too great of  a place not to share. If you decide to go, here are some suggestions…

STAY:

Quiet Creek Inn and Vacation Rentals is the only place that we stay. When we first started visiting Idyllwild, we would stay at Quiet Creek Inn which are cozy cabins near Strawberry Creek. They are comfortable, relatively inexpensive (about $130/night), and full of amenities like free fire logs, coffee, and movies.

After staying at the Inn a few times we decided to rent a vacation home from them and we have continued to do that each time. We have stayed in five different vacation rentals, a few of them multiple times. The rentals range in price from $100-over $400/night, prices increase during peak seasons and there are fees for pups (of course we always bring ours) and for housekeeping.

All of the houses are well-equipped, secluded, and generally better than they are advertised on the Quiet Creek website. The houses are ideal for group travel. Last weekend our group consisted of 6 adults, 2 kids, and 2 pups. All of us had plenty of space and were able to make and share a Thanksgiving feast together.

EAT:

I crave the penne arrabbiata at Cafe Aroma. Super spicy and deceptively simple, it is the only thing I order; however, I do try dishes that others order and they are always also yummy. This restaurant is warm, charming, and smells like roasting garlic at all times. Sean and I have ate many dinners outside under heat lamps and a star-filled sky. On our recent trip, we enjoyed a delicious lunch that included a bottle of wine, bread and garlic oil, curried carrot soup, and of course, penne arrabbiata. When we got home I re-created the curried carrot soup and was pretty successful (1 lb carrots, 2 cloves of garlic and 1 onion, diced and roasted for 40 minutes at 400 degrees, after they are done add to a soup pot with 5 cups of vegetable broth and 1 -2 TB of Penzey’s curry, puree with an immersion blender until smooth and creamy). I have tried and can not re-create the arrabbiata, so I’ll continue ordering it every time I go.

Cafe Aroma
Cafe Aroma

We shop for food at the Mountain Harvest Market. It is a small grocery store that sells healthy, organic food with a Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings.

For a quick meal we generally order pizza from Idyllwild Pizza Co. It is a satisfying, easy meal to pick up in town.

The best coffee in Idyllwild is at Higher Grounds Coffee House, which is located right in the center of the town.

THINGS TO DO:

Idyllwild has a lot of shops and art galleries that are fun to stroll through. It is listed as one of the best 100 art towns in America, so there are a lot of artists that reside in the area. The only stores that I have purchased items at are Ink Book Gathering and Mountain Paws. Ink Book Gathering is a used bookstore with a great selection and good deals. Mountain Paws is a dog-lover’s heaven. It is full of handmade dog treats, unique gifts, and fun gear for pups and cats.

We hike and walk a lot when we are in Idyllwild. It is best to start early before the crowds come, and it is important to remember that there is often snow at the higher elevations so the trail can get slippery. We like to hike the following trails (in order of preference): South Ridge Trail to Tahquitz PeakDevil’s Slide Trail to Saddle JunctionThe Ernie Maxwell Trail, and Deer Springs to Suicide Rock. We take Ruby on all of the hikes, and (mostly) keep her on her leash.

What we do in Idyllwild
Idyllwild images: Nature, hiking, snuggling pups

It was fantastic spending Thanksgiving weekend in one of my favorite places with some of my favorite people. Sean and I are looking forward to heading to Idyllwild sometime this winter so we can play in the snow with Ruby.

READ: Literary City Guide San Diego, California

Just a quick post to share something I am excited about. Eat this Poem is one of my favorite blogs because it involves two of my favorite things: poetry and food. Nicole blogs about these two items that have brought me lots of comfort and joy over the years, so of course, I am a fan. I also think the literary city guides that she posts are spectacular!

I contacted her a few weeks ago with my ideas for San Diego, and it came together yesterday. I am excited to join all the fantastic literary city guides that are on her blog. San Diego is a great city and I love sharing things that I’ve discovered. Please check out my Literary Guide to San Diego here.  I hope it makes you want to come visit.

Coronado Beach

LIFE: San Francisco and Napa

I always say that when I am not at work I usually feel like I am on vacation. That is the BEST part about living in San Diego. We spend the majority of our actual vacation days traveling to Michigan to visit family, but we often make quick weekend trips to Idyllwild, Santa Barbara, or somewhere else in California.

A few weekends ago, I had to go to Northern California for work so we decided to go to San Francisco for the second time and to visit Napa for the first time. It was a quick three-day trip, but we managed to do a lot in the time that we had.

Golden Gate Bridge

San Francisco

San Francisco is a huge, somewhat overwhelming city. There is a lot to see and do, so it is best to plan a little before heading there. About four years ago when we went my goals were to visit City Lights Bookstore (Howl!), Muir Woods, and the tourist trap restaurant The Stinking Rose. This time we wanted to experience new things.

What we did:

  • Alcatraz. My friend made fun of me because we booked our tickets to Alcatraz about a month before our trip. We wanted to make sure we got tickets because the last time we went they were sold out. Good thing we pre-ordered them – they were sold out for the next two days! Alcatraz is a creepy, chilly ghost island surrounded by incredible beauty. It’s awesome. The best parts are the ferry ride to the island and the audio tour narrated by ex-wardens and prisoners. It was a little crowded, so I recommend going in the middle of the week rather than on the weekend if you are able to. Wear warm clothes!
  • Biked the Golden Gate Bridge. We rented bikes at the Embarcadero and rode along the bay, over the Golden Gate Bridge, and to the city of Sausalito. At the bike rental they said it was easy, but there were some hills (because they are inescapable in San Francisco), and parts of it were a little challenging for me (Sean will laugh when he reads this because it was not hard for him whatsoever). My favorite bridge will always be the Mackinaw Bridge, but the views on the Golden Gate are beautiful and they constantly change as the fog rolls in and out. Super fun experience that I highly recommend – even though my legs and bum were sore the next day. You can walk across the bridge if riding bikes is not your thing. Also, you can take a ferry back from Sausalitio rather than riding the bike back.
  • Farmers Market. On Saturday at the Ferry Building there is a huge, gigantic Farmer’s Market with fresh produce, bread, and so much more. Go there hungry and try a bit of everything. I already talked about the Hodo Soy in a previous post, but I was also excited about Sukhi’s Indian mixes. I bought three at the market and have already made two delicious, easy curry dinners at home. I am stocking up on her products from now on. The air was crisp and the fog lifted slow. A great way to spend the early morning in San Francisco.
    San Francisco Vegan Restaurants

What we ate:

  • Tropisueno. We stumbled on this place in the Financial District. It was packed, so we knew we should stop in. It was happy hour and we had to scrunch into a spot at the bar, but it was worth it. The margaritas and chips, salsa, and guacamole were so good and super cheap. Best deal we encountered on our trip and a total happy accident.
  • Millenium. So…this is the meal we were really looking forward to and it was the meal we were most disappointed in. Maybe our expectations were too high (a gourmet, vegan restaurant!!) or maybe we were still thinking about the yummy guac from our happy hour? We split the Crusted King Mushroom Trumpets, another appetizer that I can’t remember, and the Potato Tiki Cake. It was all good, but not great. Sean kept repeating over and over that the food I cook is much better. We also had poor service, so that probably contributed to our impression of it.
  • Gracias Madre. I debated going here because I have heard so many good things about it, but I was hesitant after our experience at Millenium. When we were in Sausalito we had a glass of wine and talked to another couple at the bar (who were also native Michiganders) and they recommended that we try Gracias Madre. So we went. And loved it. It is a vegan, organic Mexican restaurant and it is so good. I got the special of the day: butternut squash flautas, pickled vegetables and beans. It is not a typical Mexican restaurant, but it is delicious and healthy and inspiring. They don’t take reservations.
  • Boudin Bakery. We stopped for the traditional San Fran sourdough bread bowl before our bike ride. Sean got tomato soup and I had butternut squash soup. You can’t go wrong with a meal that is mostly bread!

Random tips for traveling in San Francisco: Take public transportation – parking is ridiculously expensive and hard to find. There are a lot of homeless people in San Francisco – bring dollar bills if you are a bleeding heart. Wear walking shoes – we walked over 10 miles in one day. We stayed at the Westin St. Francis in Union Square – it was fine, but Union Square is my least favorite part of San Francisco.

Napa

After 1 1/2 days in San Francisco we rented a car and drove 45 minutes to Napa. The grapes had just been harvested and the warm, red colors of autumn were everywhere.

Napa in Autumn

Where we slept and RELAXED:

  • Hotel Yountville. We splurged on this hotel. Totally worth it. The hotel upgraded us for free and we had a fireplace, high ceilings, porch, and soaking tub. Everything about the hotel was relaxing. They supplied free bicycles and we rode around Yountville and stopped into a lot of tasting rooms. The pool and jacuzzi area were luxurious and we had them all to ourselves- even though the hotel was sold out.
Hotel Yountville
Hotel Yountville vs. Alcatraz

Wineries we visited:

  • Domaine Chandon.
  • Domaine Canteros.
  • Hope and Grace.
  • Robert Mondavi.
  • Cornerstone Cellars.

I think there was one or two more. To tell you the truth I can’t tell you much about them. We had fun, we drank, and we enjoyed doing nothing except sipping on wine for the day.

Where we ate:

  • Redd WoodThe best meal of our trip. We ate a lovely meal outside with a simple pizza and a brussel sprout salad. It was romantic and a perfect Napa experience. We missed Ruby, but the couple sitting next to us let us play with their dog, Cooper, so we felt a little better.

We biked past the French Laundry…maybe next time we go we’ll pay $270 for the vegetable tasting menu. I doubt it though.

I love quick escapes, but coming back to our home is ALWAYS the best part of a vacation.