May 29, 2013

What I'm Reading: Life After Life

As I mentioned last week, I'm done with writing long-winded reviews about the books I'm reading.  All my life, I've been a total bookworm and usually have a couple in-progress titles on my nightstand, and feel unmoored and restless when I have nothing to read.

However. After 6 years on the blog, I've learned that I sorta hate doing thoughtful reviews of books. Despite my best efforts, I'm unable to keep it short & sweet. You know who has a good knack for writing reviews? My daughter. Recently she started a blog, called Lilyland.  She reviews books for the middle school set, and keeps it really brief and on-topic. And for a 5th grader, she's pretty funny. You can check her out at Lilyland -- "the land of Books, Harry Potter, and other awesome stuff."

Back to me. This is what I'm reading:
Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson. Love her, and loving her latest book. I'd describe it as a mash-up of Downton Abbey and Groundhog Day, with a little Dr. Who thrown in. It's not sci-fi, closer to magical realism, but with a good bracing jolt of British pragmatism.  Great, smart writing. 

And that's it! Dude, I'm out. 

May 27, 2013

Hello, Monday {Sandwiches}

Hola! It's Monday, but not really, because of the holiday here in the states. My kids are home running about, giving me a preview of what's to come in a few weeks, when they'll be out of school for the summer.

This past week, I was thinking about sandwiches. Not the kind you eat, although come to think of it, sandwiches are one of my favorite foods. Grilled cheese + a glass of chocolate milk is my ultimate comfort food (though I've yet to perfect making a great one at home). And a greasy pastrami + a cold beer? Heaven.

No, this week, I was thinking about being part of the sandwich generation: that group of people caring for their own children, and for their aging parents, too. My sister and I have become card-carrying members of that generation, as lately we've been talking about and helping my mom with some recent health issues.

Thankfully, its not even a health crisis that she's having, but since my mom has a severe phobia of anything remotely medical, the mere fact that she's had to visit a few different doctors over the last month has suddenly brought the issue of her age and her need for support to the forefront. 

I spent two nights at her house last week, so that I could drive and help her through an out-patient procedure. A very, very common procedure for people of a certain age. In fact, her ophthalmologist says that everyone will require this procedure at a certain point. That should clue you in. To come out and say the words would make my mom deeply offended. 

Yeah. So that's the kind of fun I've been up to: navigating the touchy areas of aging, denial, anger, vanity, pride. It's a big, heavy stew.  I'm not that fond of stew.

I like sandwiches.

Perhaps the best sandwich I ever ate was a muffeletta, a famous New Orleans concoction. I ate it at the counter at City Grocery, the famous home of muffalettas in the French Quarter, on my one and only trip to wonderful New Orleans.  You need to like salty, briny olives to like this sandwich, as olive salad is  the major ingredient, along with lovely layers of salami, meats and cheeses. Mmmmm.

So there you have it. Sandwiches. (It took me forever to compose this, since I ran smack into the issue of Pinterest's new image embedding format. What a pain, and a rather ugly result, to boot.)

All I know is that I'm hungry now, and cranky too! Better go get some lunch.

Linking up with Lisa Leonard for Hello, Mondays.

May 20, 2013

Hello, Monday {California Love}


Today I'm sharing a recent book find, a score at one of my favorite, secret home decor shops, The Alley.  Its a small chain mostly located in the desert communities around Palm Springs, but we also have one here in my town.  (I also wrote about it here, in a post featuring another cool book find at The Alley.)

I love the "Little Big Book of..." series. We have both the "Moms" and "Dads" editions,  gifts from my mother-in-law. (We used to joke with the kids that they were parenting instruction books, and they believed us.) The books are small and chock-full of ephemera art and quotes and songs and recipes and book excerpts. So imagine my delight when at a recent stop at The Alley, I found a big stack of sale books of The Little Big Book of California
It was clearance priced for only $2.99.  Crazy!

The book is really lovely, and lovingly put-together. There are recipes for guacamole, churros, and huevos rancheros, and the lyrics to Joni Mitchell's "California" and other songs. There are essays about the gold rush, Hollywood as mindset-over-place, Cesar Chavez, and the water wars over the Colorado River.

It's a great mix of fun and more thoughtful pieces, and interspersed on nearly every page are vintage art and woodcut illustrations: 

Half Dome at Yosemite. Been there!
A California Mission. Been there (more than one)!
The great state seal, as seen in Sacramento, our capitol. Been there!
Bougainvillea beside a swimming pool: looks like Palm Springs. Been there! So. Many. Times!  (Hint: each of those words has a link to a different Palm Spring post.)

Hello, my little blog.  I'm still here as "The Reading Nest." Late last week, I started thinking about my blog's subtitle, "La Vida California," and became convinced that I should change my blog name to that. I've realized lately that most of my posts are about my road trips and day trips, and my life here (and the weather).  Not so much at all about either "reading" or "nesting,"  although I still do quite a lot of both.  For some reason, I just don't feel as inspired to write about those topics.

"Oh, but California..." to quote Joni Mitchell. For whatever reason, I get really excited talking about places and ideas and writers and musicians that are California-centric.  I've always been fascinated by the concepts of place, geography and regionalism. It's the same reason I was so enamored of "The South" that I went to spend a year in Mississippi.

 In the end...I just changed my banner up there to something a little cleaner and brighter, with a California poppy illustration from the book. I realized that changing the blog's name would probably confuse and alienate my 14 readers, and why do that to you? If you frequent the blog, you already know that I love my state and talking about travel and our Sunday drives.

So maybe expect a little more California love here on the blog. Summer is coming, and already I have trips to Rancho Mirage and Lake Tahoe planned, that I can't wait to take and then share with you. And rather than beating myself up about hating to write book reviews -- even though I'm a writer & bookworm -- I've decided to simply share a photo each week (or so) of whatever book is in my lap. So there ya go.

Hello, Monday. I'm still here. Still loving books (especially pretty ones that only cost $2.99). Still dreaming of road trips. Still listening to Joni Mitchell and Linda Ronstandt and old school, mellow 70s yacht-rock.   

Still embarrassed that I've never been to the East Coast, though I'm pretty sure which one I'll always consider the best coast.
Happy Monday, wherever this may find you. 

Linking up with Lisa Leonard for Hello, Mondays.

May 17, 2013

Day Trip: San Juan Capistrano

I was eager to get out of town for Mother's Day, to take a drive and see some new sights. The Husband had a few suggestions: Idyllwild? Shoreline Village in Long Beach? Old Town Orange? All lovely, and all places I've been  plenty of times. (In fact, we used to live in walking distance of Old Town Orange, which is not to imply that we lived in the beautiful historic neighborhood near the Circle. )

But I was craving something new, and so suggested the historic district of San Juan Capistrano. Located in southern Orange County, the town is most famous for the mission and its swallows, but we didn't tour the mission.  I'd visited Capistrano before as a child several times and toured the mission, but it's been years since my last visit. 

It was a hot hot toasty day on that Sunday, and though SJC is near the coast, it was far enough inland that it was still plenty hot.We stayed primarily in the Los Rios section, which is the oldest residential neighborhood in the entire state. Below are lots of photos to give you the flavor of this historic place.

Our trip took us over the steep and winding Ortega Highway, which runs from eastern San Juan Capistrano, over the mountains of the Cleveland National Forest, to Lake Elsinore. (From Elsinore you can continue on Highway 74 all the way to Palm Desert.)

A garden with mexican primrose, cactus and drought-tolerant plants.

The Montanez Adobe below was built around 1850.
Another old adobe, owned by the Los Rios family:
Another funky cool old house:
Detail of Pancho Villa on the front door. According to my grandmother, her father (my great-grandfather) rode with Villla in Mexico. 

Cute retail shops, tea rooms and restaurants line the street. We didn't eat at any of the cafes; the one I liked was only offering a Mother's Day Brunch menu at $50 per person, no matter the age. Um, no to the $200 brunch. 

Me and my monkeys on the train tracks. (Popular photo-op spot. We had to wait for a great big family taking pics here.) 

 Here are some old, crumbling walls at the Mission, taken from the sidewalk outside the high walls.
I would like to go back on a day that's not quite so hot, and not quite so crowded, to spend more time, check out more of the shops, and tour the mission. There's also a cute and very kid-friendly petting zoo on the outskirts of the Los Rios district. No doubt the kids would've loved that, but it was Mother's Day after all. I wasn't up to standing in the heat, in my dress, for over an hour while the kids did their thing. I'm selfish like that.

Another take-away: everyone in our family was inspired by the Metrolink and Amtrack trains pulling into the old depot. We ate lunch at the (very stuffy) restaurant inside the depot and got to watch all the trains. It would be awesome to take a ride up the coast somewhere! None of our family has ever used the train as transportation to somewhere else.  How fun. Another item for our to-do list.
For the trip home, we went down the 5 freeway and caught the 76 east in Oceanside.  We quickly moved from heat and blazing sun, to dense and chilly fog:
Another great day trip, and another great Mother's Day with my sweet little family.

May 13, 2013

Hello, Monday {pinks & blues}

Hola! It's hot hot hot in SoCal today, especially out here in the Inland valley where I live. I've already kicked off the summer season by earning my first sun-rash -- anytime I spend too long baking outdoors without sunblock, I get these slightly raised bumps on my inner forearms and thighs the next day. Weird.  It started about 5 years ago -- another benefit of aging, I guess.

Anyway. I titled this post "Pinks & Blues," in honor of how I spent the weekend. It was a really, really nice one, beginning with the Husband letting me & Lily sleep in on Saturday and not have to hustle out the door for Tucker's early soccer game. I didn't actually sleep in, but not having to be dressed and out the door at 7:30 was huge. I'm so not a morning person...

Instead, I enjoyed my leisurely coffee and then went out to the backyard to tend and prune my roses. I so don't have a green thumb either, but somehow these roses keep thriving year after year. (We didn't plant them, they came with the house.)
Hello, gorgeous pink and apricot roses. The bees sure love you, too.   
 Just look at that color --- these pics are all shot from my phone, but I didn't use any filters. Bonus: these roses actually smell like roses, too. Not like the scentless varieties usually sold in grocery stores.
 After an hour of work, I had this big pile of dead and fading blooms. Clearly I need to prune much more often, but they don't seem too worse for my neglect. 
 After the gardening, it was time to clean up and get to Lily's soccer game...where she scored her first goal in three seasons. Whoop whoop! It was a big moment. Fist bumps and high fives all around.  This photo celebrates blue (her team is the Blue Thunder) and pink. Just look at her sweaty, blotchy face. It was hot out there. (This is when I sat out in the sun for an hour and earned my sun-rash.)

Hello my proud and happy, hard-playing girl.
 Afterward, it was time to cool down by visiting our HOA pool for the first time this year. See this below? Me and my toes in the shade, watching the clouds float by while the kids played. Big life change in Mom-World: when I don't have to hover and be in the pool to keep anyone from drowning. For years I've eyed those moms in the shade, with their cold drinks and magazines, with jealousy. And now it's my turn!
Hello to blue skies and aqua blue water.  Do those palm trees below look familiar? They're the same ones I use up there on my blog banner.
 Hello, sweet children. I came upon them drying off and holding hands. Not a staged pose, I swear. A scene to warm any mother's heart.
 Finally, hello to pink and pinker bougainvillea, growing on an arbor above a white-picket fence. For Mother's Day, we drove across the Ortega Highway to the old town of San Juan Capistrano in south Orange County.
After my hints about Mother's Day, you knew we were going go somewhere. More on our trip to SJC soon.

Hello to a hot Monday.  Hello to only 4 more weeks left in our school year! I better get that cleaning-out and organizing I want to tackle done soon.

Hello to iced coffee this morning and flip-flops and walking to get some fro-yo tonight after dinner.

Hello to getting back to writing again. Just a short break last week, and it's hard to pick it back up. 

Hello to another week that's going to fly by too fast.  So Gather ye rose buds while ye may/Old Time is still a-flying: And this same flower that smiles to-day/Tomorrow will be dying.  

Don't my rose bushes know it!

Linking up with Lisa Leonard for Hello, Mondays

May 10, 2013

Mother's Day for the Soccer Mom

Mother's Day.  What are your plans?  I don't have any, that I know of. And since my husband isn't a planner, I'm confident there aren't "secret plans" in the works.

I can tell you that I really hope to get the hell out town and go somewhere. The tyranny of our soccer Saturdays has got me down. Frankly, I don't know how other parents handle having multiple kids in competitive league sports. My own kids just play recreational soccer, which means that in 2 weeks, we'll be finished with games and practices for 3 months, until "Fall" season starts up in late August.

But kids in league/club/competitive teams play all year. No stopping. Like the Energizer Bunny, the sport keeps going and going and going, with constant practices, camps, games, tournaments, charity games, etc. I have no worries that Lily will play competitive sports  any time soon, but Tucker....he's pretty darn good at soccer, and he likes it a lot, and he's young.  He's already been recruited once to play competitive, and we said no at the time.  But that threat looms out there, in the future. Should we choose to go there. It's a big, big commitment. (Financially, too.)  I don't want to think about it yet.

My point is that, with kids in competitive league sports, your weekends pretty much get dictated for you. And your job as a parent is to be a good sport and support them and consider the other team parents like a 2nd family and shut up and drive them around. No offense, but that sounds...horrible.  Call me selfish, but I prefer to have our weekends free as a family, to go here, or there, to wander someplace new, or visit favorite getaways.

In light of Mother's Day, here are a couple of old, old slide photos of getaways with me and my mom. She doesn't know I have a blog, so I don't think it's quite fair to put her face out there on the 'net.  But she's pretty much in shadow in both of these shots, yet not so much in shadow that you can't appreciate her rockin' early-'70s style.

Here we are, down in Baja, probably in the fishing village of San Felipe.  My grandpa used to take our family down there every spring. Those trips are some of very earliest memories, and definitely my earliest memories of being at the ocean. 
And here we are, somewhere in the Eastern Sierras. The slide reel says "Mammoth," but there are some Yosemite shots in there, too.
Two ladies in hats. And, are you pausing to marvel at my awesome tic-tac-toe pants?  Yeah.

Finally, here's a shot of me welcoming my grandma to our house. That's my grandpa's awesome camper, and I think they're coming over to help prep and pack for our trip down to Baja. The sight of that camper invokes such nostalgia AND such wanderlust, that I can't even handle it.
Truly, I don't care about going to a fancy, overpriced brunch for Mother's Day.  But I really hope my husband has topped off the tank and is ready to get outta town. Hint, hint, honey. (Hey, at least I'm not linking to expensive jewelry on my Pinterest boards.) 

Have a good weekend. Soccer on Saturday, but who knows where Sunday may take us...

May 3, 2013

Poem for a Hot Friday

Hola. You know where I've been, write?  Wink wink.  I'm not supposed to bore y'all to death by talking about it, but on the other hand...

I'm raising a glass to myself this week, for finishing a piece for the first time in...oh, a decade? It's a personal memoir essay, and could've been longer, but I edited it down to about 4,400 words.  There was a deadline involved, as I'd seen a call for submissions online, which is why I worked hard to actually finish and submit it in time. 

It's Specifically, the lost era of great department stores, the ones unique to Southern California. But it's also about the women in my family, and me, and how our relationships changed (and not for the better) over the course of my childhood & teenage years. I wrote of bygone places where I spent hours and hours of my life, like here:
Image via.

In other news, the past two days have been wonderfully hot and toasty. On Tuesday night, the stiff  breezes from the ocean pushed in the clouds inland, and I sat in my car during Tucker's soccer practice because it was so chilly. And also,  I wanted to finish typing the essay into my laptop, and would feel like a pretentious twat doing that in my folding chair on the sidelines, with the other moms who actually talk to each other

But last night, I wore shorts and basked in the setting sun, and read a magazine. The golden light was beautiful. Mmmmm....heat wave.
Finally, here's a Google Search poem for you. Have you heard of them? You create them all the time, when you enter a search term into Google, and see the drop-down list of some of its more frequent searches/suggestions for you. They are often unintentionally eloquent.  On Wednesday, wrapping up my essay, I did a search to find out when two favorite department stores closed for good. 

And here's mine:
When did The B
Berlin Wall Fall?

When did the
Beatles break up?

When did the 
Big Bang occur?

When did the
Black Death start?

A little dark, but it's got a good rhythm. (And if you're from around these parts, you can probably figure out what store I was typing in.)  If you'd like to read more of these poems, written by all us Googling chimps at a billion keyboards, check out this Tumblr page, Google Poetics.

Happy Friday! See you next week.
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