Wednesday, November 25, 2015

'Tis the season

{thanksgiving buffet 2012, dad's cornbread stuffing front and center}

Rationally, I knew that the holidays would be hard this year. And yet I was still sort of surprised to find myself hit with all this emotion as they approach. I know. It makes no sense. I guess I thought since I was prepared for it I'd be okay.

And I am okay, for the most part. I'm feeling it out as I go along and trying not to approach the holidays with any expectation of how I'm going to feel. I want to somehow hold onto some of the things that I love about this time of year but at the same time not expect myself to do much. I've had practice at this because the holidays have been bittersweet for several years now. We've spent them in the hospital, or at home but between hospital stints. We've learned to stay flexible and just appreciate whatever time we get together. I'm grateful for these lessons, thankful that I can look back and know that I was fully aware of how sweet those moments were, even when they were hard won. I've been humbled, taught that plans will fall apart and it doesn't matter if you're eating store-bought cookies instead of handmade pies, as long as you're together. But this year we won't all be together. And that somehow has to be okay too.

After a lot of thought we decided to skip Thanksgiving this year and just go camping again. I tear up at the drop of a hat these days and I don't think I'd be a great addition to anyone's table. But more than that, I think I just need some quiet to think and enjoy my memories, settle within myself as we move into this time of year.

I want this season to be quiet but not sad. I want it to go slowly, to not feel frantic. This is the first time I won't hear my dad's voice on Thanksgiving, the first time we'll celebrate his birthday without him, the first time I won't see him on Christmas Eve. I spend a lot of time flipping through old photos, remembering.

And so I'm not buying gifts (but we don't do much of that anyways, so that's not a big change). I got myself some yarn to crochet an afghan, even though I haven't done that in years. A project sounds cozy. I'm going to make some cookies, although definitely not as many as last year. I'm even going to decorate a little, I think. I'm going to spend time with family and friends but also make space to be alone.

I'm going to try to get back into taking pictures, and into writing here. No promises! But I do miss it and I want to be back, even if it's sporadic.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Eat some pie for me. And I have more Thanksgiving posts than seems humanly possible, so if you're looking for actual food/drink, you can click on the "holidays" tag or search "Thanksgiving" to see previous years.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Mini camping trip - Idyllwild

Our one night camping trip to San Onofre was so much fun that we came home all pumped up and decided to make it a priority to make it out on more quick trips. We're keeping it within a strict two hour radius of LA, so that we can head out Saturday morning and come back Sunday afternoon without feeling completely exhausted.

Last weekend we went to Idyllwild. We stayed at Marion Mountain campground, which is a few miles above town (details about the campground at the bottom of the post). We stopped in at Idyllwild Bake Shop and Brew for some amazing sandwiches on homemade sourdough bread on our way up. They have a great beer selection as well, but we had Circe so we took our sandwiches to go (and honestly wouldn't have wanted to have even a single beer right before heading up the twisty mountain road). We made it to camp right at 2 pm and managed to get everything set up right before a rain storm broke out so we took advantage of the forced downtime and napped for a couple hours until it cleared up. The next morning after breakfast we hiked the Marion Mountain trail to San Jacinto peak. We didn't have time to hike the whole thing (I think it's 12 miles round trip, with a crazy elevation gain of 4,600 feet for a final elevation of just under 11,000 feet) so we allowed ourselves two hours up before we turned around. I think we made it just under 4 miles up and it was steep. Circe happily scrambled around the beginning of the trail but we tucked her in the backpack and traded off carrying duties for the rest of the hike. Once you enter the state park portion of the hike dogs aren't allowed, but we figured as long as she was in the backpack the whole time we'd be okay.

It was a perfect trip and I'd love to go back and get an earlier start so we could hike to the summit and make it back in time for 2 pm checkout. These little trips leave me feeling tired but also refreshed, so I'm glad we're making this a goal this year.











Campground details: Marion Mountain is a great little campground. The sites are close together but we checked the map and read some reviews and chose campsite 8, which turned out to be perfect. It's situated so that you have a little corner of the campground to yourself with a great view and it isn't too close to the bathrooms. There are chemical toilets and running water taps but no sinks or showers. For that reason I probably wouldn't plan a long trip (more than 2 nights) here. If you're thinking of going, check the campsite map when you choose your site but keep in mind that everything is closer together than it looks on the map. Site 9 might be better for a group with multiple tents because it has more space, although the parking situation would be tight if you didn't come in one car (true of all the sites, actually).

This is an honor system, so there is no ranger present and you don't need to check in officially. If you made your reservation online, there will be a sign posted on your campsite with the dates and you just park and set yourself up. You can also do first come first serve and use their self pay station. It's $10 per night (plus a $9 service fee if you book online). We booked online and I'm glad we did. The campground was entirely full on Saturday night and it would be a bummer to come all the way up there and have to turn around.

You do need a permit to hike the Marion Mountain trail, so if you're thinking about it make sure to stop at the ranger station in Idyllwild and pick one up.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Reading (mystery edition)

I went on a mystery binge the last few weeks and decided to go ahead and post them all now. This way anyone who isn't interested in mysteries can just skip this one. I love mysteries of all kinds and I'm always on the lookout for a new series or author. Some of these are recommendations from you guys - thank you!

The Silkworm - The second in the Cormoran Strike series (written by J.K. Rowling) and just as enjoyable as the first.

The Seduction of Water and The Drowning Tree - I'm always on the hunt for a "literary thriller" and wanted so badly for these to fit the bill. They didn't quite work for me, although they came close. I don't want to be a snob but I think the author was trying too hard to make them literary and the effort showed. Lots of academic references, which I'm down for, but almost always accompanied by explanation, which made the reading a little clunky. I know that if you don't explain references there's a chance that your readers will miss them, but I'm a believer in trusting your audience. I know that I miss out on many, many cultural references when I read because I'm a bit deficient that way, but I honestly prefer being a little confused to having things spelled out for me. Maybe that's just me?

Shades of Earl Grey and Sweet Tea Revenge - I'm not sure if I've already admitted that I read these, but it's embarrassing. They're cozy mysteries set in the South. Probably written at a fourth grade reading level, not at all gory, sometimes predictable, but for some reason I find them comforting. I'll check them out when my Kindle is empty and I'm reading them all out of order and it doesn't matter.

Death of Yesterday - The Hamish Macbeth series is really similar. Cozy mysteries set in the Scottish Highlands. Very simplistic, somehow enjoyable. I read this series and the Agatha Raisin series by the same author. Incredibly formulaic, but I keep getting drawn back to them so I guess the joke is on me? I mean, I did read the entire Baby Sitters Club and Sweet Valley High series growing up, so I clearly have a high tolerance for this type of writing.

Swerve - This is a straight up thriller, gory, fast paced and intense. That said, the gore passed a line for me (shocking, because I didn't know I had one) and at some point I was more grossed out than entertained. I waver on whether I would recommend this. Lots of people enjoyed it, but it didn't quite work for me, even though the twist was pretty great.

A Beautiful Place to Die - Loved this one. Set in South Africa in the 1950s, this is the first in a series with police detective Emmanuel Cooper. He's sent to a small town to investigate the death of a white police captain. I know very little about apartheid South Africa, so this doubled as a small history/culture lesson. I didn't know some of the terms that were used so I was googling as I read and I'm sure I was missing some of the nuances, but it was a really interesting setting along with a solid plot.

Renie Airth's John Madden series - I had read River of Darkness when it first came out and loved it. For a couple years I kept checking for a sequel but finally decided it must have been a one off. Apparently I gave up just a bit too soon, because The Blood Dimmed Tide came out in 2003, The Dead of Winter was released in 2009 and The Reckoning just came out this year (the author's charmingly old school web site still refers to the series as a trilogy, but something must have changed). They were all available at my library so I went on a binge and read them back to back. The first book is set just after WWI and the last one takes place just after WWII. It's a great series - nicely plotted with a good psychological bent.  

The Girl on the Train - I knew that this couldn't possibly live up to the hype, but I enjoyed it despite that. I figured out the ending a little early (I think my brain was on overdrive from all the mysteries) which is always a bummer because then I'm rushing through the rest of the book because I'm a bit bored.

And since this post is just for mystery lovers, here are a few of my faves in the mystery world. I'm probably forgetting a ton, but I'll at least skim the surface.

Literary thrillers (are you as sick of this phrase as I am? Is there a better way to put it? Mystery novels, maybe?) - Rosamund Lupton, Tana French.

Serial killer craziness with maximum gore - Will Trent and Grant County series by Karin Slaughter (so curious about whether this is a pen name or if her genre was basically determined by birth). And, fine, the first few in the Kay Scarpetta series by Patricia Cornwell, even if the high tech computer references are totally dated and now hilarious. The series gets increasingly terrible, to the point where the newest ones are nearly unreadable, but some of those early books are solid.

Fast paced thrillers with lots of weaponry and a military edge - Jack Reacher series by Lee Child  - note there are some duds in there but most are solid.

Independent female PIs - Sue Grafton (OMGEE just saw that "X" is out and put it on hold!!!) and Marcia Muller (Grafton is funnier, Muller tends to be more emotionally complex, both are great).

Funny, well written mysteries with great plotting, very light on gore - anything by Elizabeth Peters (notably, the Amelia Peabody series) and anything by Dorothy Gilman (notably, the Mrs. Pollifax series).

One offs - The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly (didn't like her others).

It goes without saying - Agatha Christie.

It's time to restock my shelf and I should probably break out of the mystery habit for a bit. Unless there's something amazing I'm missing out on? I know there is this whole thing about reading light stuff in summer, but I think mysteries in fall/winter are really where it's at.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Beach camping

We had grand plans for a five day camping trip in Big Sur to celebrate our four year anniversary, but we forgot to check and make sure we both had enough vacation days. Whoops. Enter the 24 hour beach vacation. I was a little hesitant because the annoying thing about camping is that you need basically all the same gear for one night that you'd need for five nights and I was feeling lazy. So glad I gave in because this was the perfect way to spend the weekend and I think we need to do it more often.

San Onofre Sept 2015

San Onofre Sept 2015

San Onofre Sept 2015

San Onofre Sept 2015

San Onofre Sept 2015

San Onofre Sept 2015

San Onofre Sept 2015

San Onofre is less than 2 hours from our house, the surfing is great, and we both have fond memories of beach days there growing up. I always read reviews before I go somewhere, whether it's a restaurant or a campsite, so I knew that the bluffs campground there is basically a parking lot next to the freeway. In other words, the campsites are not mind blowing and you are very, very close to your neighbors. You shouldn't go if you're looking for a pristine wilderness experience. If, however, you are looking for prime beach access at $33/night, you are in luck. The campsites are on a bluff above the beach, so you hike down to the water and we spent every daylight hour there. You're far enough between cities that at night the stars are gorgeous and you can just pretend the freeway noise is waves (not really, but once I'm sitting in front of a campfire I'm pretty happy regardless). I don't think we'd ever do more than two days here, because the activities are pretty much limited to hanging out at the beach and they only have cold outdoor showers. But for a quick, easy getaway it was perfect.

Tip if you're traveling with a dog - only trails 1 and 6 are dog friendly and the campground is a few miles long, so make sure to choose a site that is close to one of those trails. We prefer trail 6, since it tends to have fewer people. Pay attention to the signs when you get to the beach! Dogs are allowed in one direction but not the other. They will absolutely ticket you if you have your dog in the wrong area.

Detailed PDF on the campground layout here, in case you're interested. We used this to choose our site, along with checking out the photos here. Each site has a fire ring and you can buy firewood there.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The cocktail of summer 2015

I may be calling this one too early because here in Southern California we still have a few months of summer to go, but this drink was a surprise hit this year. Campari can be an acquired taste but I like a bitter cocktail, especially when it's hot outside.

Campari and grapefruit are natural companions, and this is really just a fancy variation on a Paloma. Works well as a pitcher cocktail, although I'd argue it's better shaken. I just do the modified pitcher version. Mix up a big batch ahead of time, pour and shake a few drinks at a time.

the siesta

The Siesta {recipe from here, makes one cocktail}

2 oz silver tequila
1/2 oz Campari
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1/2 oz fresh grapefruit juice
1/2 oz simple syrup*

Combine all ingredients and shake with ice.

* Bonus points - make grapefruit simple syrup. 1 cup sugar + 1 cup water + the peel of a grapefruit (I just use a peeler and make sure I'm only getting the colored part of the grapefruit, since the white pith can be very bitter). Bring to a gentle boil and then let the syrup cool. Strain out the grapefruit before using. Store leftovers in the fridge or halve (or quarter) the recipe.

My favorite (very affordable) silver tequila for mixed drinks is still the Zapopan from Trader Joe's. It's 100% agave and I highly recommend it.

I often keep some of the unsweetened fresh grapefruit juice from Trader Joe's in our fridge for cocktails (it's the one you find in their refrigerated section). If you're using any other brand of grapefruit juice, you might want to test it out with less simple syrup first, in case it's sweeter.

No, this post wasn't sponsored by Trader Joe's, even though it sort of came out sounding that way.

And just because I'm constantly scribbling cocktail equations on old grocery receipts ...

To make two cocktails:

4 oz silver tequila
1 oz Campari
1 oz fresh lime juice
1 oz fresh grapefruit juice
1 oz simple syrup

For a dinner party (i.e. 8 - 10 guests and some might have seconds)

4 cups silver tequila
1 cup Campari
1 cup fresh lime juice
1 cup fresh grapefruit juice
1 cup simple syrup

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Reading, lately

Still coasting through a combination of your recommendations (thank you!) and some random picks from the library.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry - Sort of like a fairy tale. A cranky bookstore owner living on a small island ends up changing his life dramatically when he lets a couple new people in. I was afraid this would be too sweet for my tastes but I ended up really enjoying it.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things - This is a side novella in the Kingkiller Chronicle series that focuses on one of the minor characters, Ari. I just didn't love it, partly because I wanted more Kvothe and partly because Ari drives me a little batty, to be honest. Hearing the descriptions of her rituals for her different days made me feel anxious and on edge. But if you're loving the series you could read it to get a fix! But if you don't feel like it, I think you could skip it and not miss out on anything.

The Miniaturist - I somehow thought this was a young adult book and was super confused when things started getting graphic. It is not a YA book (it also isn't a shockingly graphic book once you realize it's meant for an adult audience, so don't get worried / get your hopes up, depending on your view of that type of literature). It's historical fiction set in Amsterdam in the 17th century and I loved the descriptions of life in the city and enjoyed the strange side plot of the glorified doll house but I felt like the "lessons" were a little too pat. I can't really describe it further without giving away the entire plot, but I thought the main character might have more difficulty coming to grips with the revelations, given the time period.

The Burning and The Reckoning - A new (to me) mystery series! Yay! The main detective, Maeve Kerrigan, is a great character and I'll be looking forward to more in the series. These are set in contemporary London, deal with mildly gruesome serial killer plots and have plenty of tension. Thank you, Hayley!

Night Film - This book was so, so strange! I read Special Topics in Calamity Physics years ago, and enjoyed it. Night Film will suck you in, but there were times when I couldn't decide if I was enjoying it but couldn't imagine putting it down half finished. Maybe that's a good thing? I found it deeply creepy. I can read about serial killers all day, but just a whiff of the supernatural and I have to make sure I'm not reading it alone at night. There is a lot of supernatural in here, along with thoughts about perception vs. reality that I found really interesting.

A Dark-Adapted Eye - I've never had much luck with the very popular Inspector Wexford series by Ruth Rendell but one of you kind souls recommended this book written under Rendell's pseudonym. Fair warning - this is not really a murder mystery but more of a psychological examination. You know the murderer and the murderee from the very start of the story, so the tension comes from waiting for the exact events to reveal themselves. I think I anticipated the twist a little too early, which made me get impatient at some points.

The Cuckoo's Calling - Another new to me mystery series that is off to a good start. I checked this out because it is actually written by J.K. Rowling under a pseudonym, but I had forgotten that by the time I got to it and didn't realize it until I looked it up just now. The main character is a down and out London PI, struggling to keep his business afloat. Knowing who the author is, it shouldn't surprise you to hear that it's extremely readable. This is a fairly light story, so if you like mystery but are not into gore or serial killers, try this one out.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Under the bed storage for Malm

This is a long overdue post because we've been using these under the bed storage boxes for a few months now. But they're great! Our current place feels just right for us, but at 400ish sf we definitely had to do a lot of downsizing and we still came up a little short on storage. We got more ruthless with our clothes, which means we can fit everything we own into one dresser and one closet. But because the bedroom is small we had to put the dresser in the closet, which meant there was absolutely nowhere for our shoes to go. Neither of us was quite ready to commit to living with two pairs each, so we went searching for other options.

We've had a low Malm bedframe for the last decade and it's served us well. It's survived three moves without any sign of distress. The only downside to the low bed is that you can't get storage containers to go under it. I prefer not to store stuff under the bed, honestly, so that's never been an issue. But when you're living in a small space, that real estate suddenly becomes very valuable.

If you get a higher framed Malm, you can actually get drawers that are made specifically for the bed and work perfectly with it. For a hot second (okay, fine, two days) we actually considered getting rid of our bed and buying a whole new one just so we could have the drawers. But all we really needed was space for our shoes and I knew we didn't need large drawers for that.

We looked for storage boxes that would work, but the clearance on the low Malm is just about 4 inches and we had a hard time finding anything decent.

Instead, Dustin built out some simple wooden boxes for us in just the right dimensions. Because they are sliding in and out on wood floors, we added strips of felt on the bottom edges so they'd glide easily.

underbed shoe storage
{apologies for my incredibly non-inspirational shoe collection - shoes are 100% not my thing so I just wear them into the ground and then dread shopping for new ones}
shoe storage

They aren't tall enough for heels, but you can easily lay them sideways instead.

The next step is going to be adding a dust cover. I plan to just get some large pieces of felt, tack them down in the back and then weight down the front edge so it drapes nicely over the front of the box. This way we can easily pull the cover back to access the shoes but it will keep dust out. (Um, yeah. I still haven't done this but I'm happy to report that dust hasn't been a big issue)

I'm so happy with how these turned out and they're actually easier than our previous closet storage solution. Instead of leaving my shoes in a pile by the door I'm pretty good about putting them away as soon as I get home.