winter nights

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The New Year is off and running and so am I. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to get waaay more miles on my running shoes and I am laying down my base. I usually get to run 3-4 times a week so I’m trying to do a tempo run, an interval run, and an easy run and do more strength training. So far, the only event that I have on my radar is the Betsie Bay Frozen 5k which is in my parent’s neck of the woods (and my favorite place on earth) but I also have plans for a duathlon and a half marathon later this year.

The weather has been dicey, vacillating between precipitation of all kinds (we had thunder and lightning at Jax’s house Wednesday) and cold and then unseasonably warm for a stretch, so the best course of action is to plan indoor activities. Knitting and reading and watching Netflix & Amazon are my fallbacks. I blew through “The Night Manager” and now have a huge and uneasy crush on Tom Hiddleston – uneasy because he has a quality that reminds me strongly of the fellow I dated before Jax – and then started immediately on “The Kettering Incident” which takes place in Tasmania. My ex husband & I spent a strange week driving around Tasmania in a camper van and parts of it are exceptionally otherworldly and odd. I would highly recommend both shows.

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I completed my first hat for the Pussyhat Project and am working on a second one – the first one it seems shall be worn by yours truly at the Lansing march and the other will be worn by my bestie. 


I also finished a pair of mittens with some alpaca mill ends that I bought over 10 years ago during my first and only visit to Rhinebeck. I’m thinking I may need to revisit Rhinebeck this year…my stash can always use an infusion.

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I also got some yarn and needles in the mail and I know I purchased them for a specific project but after sifting through my bookmarks and Pinterest board I cannot for the life of me find what I had in mind. Sigh. I’m getting old.

Lil has been getting her “make” on too and took delivery of the bowl she made at a birthday party before the holidays. I am really thrilled with how it turned out and think she might have a future in ceramics. 🙂

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I hope all of this making is enough to distract me from the inauguration festivities this week. I am still truly sickened by our President-elect and his cabinet nominees and feel a lot of pain that a large segment of the American people felt that he was the appropriate choice to lead our country. I am engaging in principled dissent against this regime and won’t be watching any of it. I’m not alone in this…our Brownie troop leader pulled the moms out in the hallway during the most recent meeting and told us about an “Inauguration Patch” that the girls could earn if they watched the ceremony and answered questions about it. Our troop looks like the United Nations and the moms are a pretty diverse and outspoken bunch. We looked at each other and one mom, who belongs to an ethnic group that our President-elect has mocked and maligned on many occasions, immediately looked stricken and said, “I don’t think T. needs that patch, we can skip that one. You guys go ahead.” There was no hesitation from the rest of us when we told her in no uncertain terms that our girls didn’t need that patch, either.

The troop leader loves patches and I could sense her distress at the conflict between having to skip a patch and having to watch the inauguration. Then she brightened and said, “There’s another patch we could do instead. How about a White House patch? The girls can learn about the history of the White House instead.”

We all agreed that this was a great alternative and our girls came out from the meeting where they had (ironically) learned about bullying, how to avoid and address it. We went out to the parking lot, cold and dark under a sky full of stars, and I wondered uneasily when our girls would have to learn about the concept of speaking truth to power.

2016: My Year in Books

I set a reading challenge of 50 books in 2016 (I include graphic novels but NOT audiobooks) and squeaked in by the skin of my teeth during the last week of the year!

Books I enjoyed the most:

The Robert Galbraith series – The Cuckoo’s Calling, The Silkworm, and Career of Evil. I love a good mystery and extra points if it is British and has a totally engaging, complex, interesting pair of leads.

Darkly Dreaming Dexter – I liked the series but the book is SO.MUCH.BETTER. Mainly because they are so damn funny. I followed this book up by listening to a couple of the others on audio and they were addictive, especially with the author’s quirky, quietly menacing voice narrating. Gory, though, so not for the faint of heart.

Americas’ First Daughter – about Martha Jefferson Randolph, extra points for history lessons.

The Miniaturist – I didn’t expect to enjoy this as much as I did, it’s a bit of an odd tale about 17th century Amsterdam and hinges on a mysterious family, a fortune in sugar, a reluctant marriage, and a lot of commentary on gender and race mixed in.

City of Mirrors – Love Justin Cronin’s “Passage” trilogy of vampire pandemic and I can never resist a good post-apocalyptic yarn.

Books I enjoyed the least:

I like to focus on the positive so I won’t dwell on this – I’ll merely say that Julian Barnes’
“The Sense of an Ending” didn’t do much for me and neither did Kate Morton’s “The Forgotten Garden”.

I’ve set a goal of 52 books for 2017 – same rules apply, graphic novels count but audiobooks don’t. I’d love to hear any recommendations, comments, or links to your own reading lists.

Happy Reading!

2016: My Year in Books

loss

On Wednesday, I learned of the death of a dear friend from college. I hadn’t been in touch with him for many years but hearing about his passing has left me absolutely devastated. He was the type of person who exuded an aura of thoughtfulness, strength, and intelligence and made the world a better place just by being in it.

I met him when I was a baby college freshman at the University of Michigan. I came from a small, conservative, primarily white town, and had lived, by all accounts, a very sheltered life. Coming to Ann Arbor, living in East Quad, which was without doubt the most liberal, flamboyant, artistic place on campus, was absolutely mind-blowing and numbing. I went to college thinking that it would be crewneck sweaters, football games, beer drinking, frat parties, and late-night study sessions in cute pajamas with my hair in curlers. It instead turned out to be complete chaos, depression, and confusion, struggling to make friends with people of all ethnicities and social backgrounds, people who were frank about their sexuality and gender-bending and didn’t view it to be a shameful secret; people who didn’t think jokes about minorities or gays were funny (not that I did, either; I’d just come from a place in which they were part of the social language). The highly liberal and artistic environment of EQ attracted many talented and amazing people and also a fair amount of drug abuse, instability, and mental health issues. In addition, my roommate suffered from terrible depression and by the end of the year, had come to grips with sexual abuse in her past that left her, many days, sobbing on the floor of our dorm room.

I had never given any thought to issues like race, gender, our government, what was happening in the Persian Gulf at the time. I had never lived outside the bubble of the world that I knew. In short, I was shocked and numbed and completely unprepared for the social experience, which was a thousand times more important than the educational experience.

At first glance, C. was a somewhat intimidating young Black man with a lot of muscles and a cool, insolent stare under his ball caps. At first, it seemed odd that he was living in EQ, instead of in South or West, where a lot of the athletic sports-loving types lived. He listened to NWA and Public Enemy in his dorm room and came and went as he pleased; people said he was a townie, and we assumed that he went back home a lot. In truth, he was probably just wandering. Over the year, he gravitated to our dorm room a lot and began dating my roommate, and thus began a friendship that lasted for a long time. Then I understood why he lived with us instead of somewhere else – he had no tolerance for anything without deeper meaning, just for the sake of being around people who looked or acted more like him. He was one of the most educated and intellectual people I’d ever met – his mother was a university professor at a nearby school, he spoke fluent French and was a star student in the Residential College’s immersion language program, he spent summers in Manhattan with his older brother. He had survived Hodgkins lymphoma in junior high and high school, and that experience gave him a wisdom that not many people our age possessed. He seemed to live as an observer much of the time, in his own head behind his eyes, conducting an internal dialogue with himself about what he saw; sometimes he shared that dialogue but more often he didn’t, keeping it private. He was a private person.

He laughed at me a lot, at my style of dress and my turn of phrase, and I know there were a lot of times that he thought I was a bit of a cracker, but he was exceptionally kind and protective – his presence was very reassuring and always made me feel safe and contented. Through him I learned what it was like to have a dear friendship that looked past the external and focused only on the people that we were inside. I learned a lot from him and felt proud that he was my friend.

C. went on to obtain a PHD in philosophy and he became a university professor himself, teaching Black studies and doing ethnographic research in high school classes. He spent time in Haiti studying transnational racism, education, and justice. He married a woman from the Dominican Republic, and they had a son.

In July, he was diagnosed with cancer, and by November, it had spread to his lungs. He was admitted to the hospital on Christmas Eve and he died in the early hours of December 27. His son is five years old and there are no words for how tragic and unfair it is that he will never remember more than bits and pieces of his father, who was such an extraordinary person.

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christmas + obligatory cat pictures

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Happy Boxing Day! I hope everyone out in Readerland had a relaxing and peaceful holiday, whichever one you personally celebrate. For us, it’s Christmas. Lily and I drove home from the beautiful North on Christmas Eve. As I’ve alluded to in the past, I am blessed to have an amazing relationship with Lil’s dad and his partner Miss K. They are celebrating their Christmas later this week with his family, so they had no problems letting me take Lily on both Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. I won’t see her for over a week now, but I know she will be having an amazing time with her grandparents and with her dad and Miss K. I could not be luckier or more appreciative when it comes to all the loving and generous people in Lily’s life on both sides of her family. I don’t know how it all happened, how we forgave each other and moved into a new phase, but I know that Miss K has a huge heart and has been instrumental in it, too.

Jax and his family are traveling this week, so I am essentially on my own. I’ll work a few days – the office is extremely quiet during this time, so it’s a “wear jeans and come and go as you please” kind of atmosphere, with all of the Executive Shirts out. I plan on doing a lot of knitting this week and finishing up the Karl Pilkington oeuvre on Netflix, as well as the American Horror Story: Coven that I started. I plan on making a couple of warming dishes – white bean and ham soup, and a One-Pan Mexican Quinoa which I’ve made before, and I just love. I will hit up the gym and stock the fridge and freezer and get a jump start on my January detox with some smoothies and supplements. I have a special night out planned later this week, and then Jax and the kiddos and Izzy the Dog will be back for a cozy New Year’s Eve with pajamas, lasagna, and snacks. (Maybe some wine for me before aforementioned January detox…)

Enjoy your week! xoxo

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a few of my favorites

I am finally up north in my natural habitat and so glad that the holidays have officially begun for me.

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The last push to the holidays were difficult but I feel pleased with the way everything unfolded. There were work matters that, even if they didn’t totally resolve, were suspended satisfactorily. The class holiday party for Miss L that I stressed about ended up being fun and relaxed and we had several parents show up to help and donate treats. The kids limboed the morning away and they seemed to enjoy the craft I picked out for them so all went well.

There were lighthearted, nice moments with Miss L’s father & stepmom at an old-fashioned holiday singalong at her school. Miss L wore a very fancy red holiday dress with a sash and her stepmom did a beautiful job curling her hair and we got lots of compliments about how grown-up she looked.

There were good times with Jax and his family before they go their own way for their family holidays – we will reunite on New Year’s Eve. We ate at a Chinese restaurant that reminded me of the one that Ralphie’s family from “Christmas Story” visited after the Bumpas Hounds ate their turkey. We read our Chinese horoscopes off the menus and after some spirited family debate, finally had to compromise that we are ALL perhaps a bit selfish and eccentric.

Izzy loved her Christmas gift from me & Miss L.

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I painted my nails on Saturday night and here it is Thursday and they still look decent. Thank you Essie Gel – my new go-to fave. The bottle says it will last 14 days but that is patently ridiculous – nail polish never lasts for 14 days on my nails. Lasting for 5+ days is a huge feat and makes me a believer.

So these things are, right  now, some of my favorites.

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book review: The Likeness, Tana French

I’ve been a big Tana French fan for a few years now, and when I had some credits available on Audible, I spent one on an audiobook of “The Likeness”, which is #2 in her Dublin Murder Squad series. I’d enjoyed the first Dublin Murder Squad novel, “In the Woods”, and had jumped around to read #3 and #4, “Faithful Place” and “Broken Harbor” – both of which I also really liked. French is an engaging author, and writes complex, flawed characters in an easy to read, conversational tone. Her works are set in Ireland, as the series name would imply, and are as much glimpses into a country and a culture as they are tense, suspenseful thrillers. I can’t remember how many of her novels are written in first-person, but “The Likeness” is, for sure. Cassie Maddox, the main character, is a female detective whom we first met in “In the Woods”.  Currently somewhat dissatisfied with her work in domestic violence, she is recruited to return to her roots as an undercover officer – investigating the murder of a young woman who also happens to be her doppelganger. Physically identical, the victim has also adopted the name that Cassie herself used as an undercover officer – Lexie Madison – an identity that is long gone.

How is it possible someone could be her dead ringer and also adopt Cassie’s previous identity? At the coaxing of Frank Massey, a cop who is also a recurring character in the Dublin Murder Squad series, Cassie is quickly immersed in Lexie Madison, and leaves behind her lover, also a cop, to drop undercover into Lexie’s life and former home, a history-laden mansion occupied by a quartet of eccentric university students. However, the case soon proves very difficult for Cassie, who finds it almost impossible to detach herself emotionally from Lexie and her new roommates. Intrigued and enchanted by their quirks, their isolation and their bonds to one another, as well as by the history of the gothic mansion, Cassie’s grasp on her identity begins to waver, as does her commitment to her job.

French is skilled at creating characters that resonate and speak with a genuine voice – but she is equally capable of creating characters that are irritating and unlikeable because of their flaws. With the housemates, I felt as though she was trying for a group reminiscent of the Greek scholars of Donna Tartt’s “The Secret History” – intellectuals, old souls, perhaps supernaturally so, hearkening back to a deep, rich, meaningful history. Excluded and bonded tightly to each other for mysterious and fascinating reasons. But unfortunately they just didn’t interest me. Their eccentricity was forced. Embroidery and arch intellectual wit and adoration of antiques – but I couldn’t tell the difference between any of the male housemates, except that Daniel was written almost as a pale echo of Henry in “The Secret History”. They seemed pretentious and pedantic and one-dimensional.

French sketches out an explanation that Cassie’s attraction to the house and the housemates is balm to a soul that has been wary and detached, without family, finding pain in most interpersonal relationships. She wants us to recognize why and how Cassie falls for them. Readers see her hypnotism with them unfold slowly, almost agonizingly, and here is where the book fell far short for me. The story bogs down with this and the pace lags; I COULDN’T understand why she was so absorbed in them, because I simply didn’t find them interesting or unique. When Cassie begins to turn off her undercover microphone at crucial times, and to empathize, to feel that she is one of these odd and essentially unlikeable housemates, I just rolled my eyes. It became incredibly frustrating to witness her flaws and failures. It felt false, as though she is all too willing to turn her back on her boyfriend, her career, the life she has built for herself, for a flimsy fantasy.

I love that French makes me think – always wondering and never quite discounting the most unbelievable or unexpected explanation. I always get to a point in her books where I begin to think that the only possible solution is the unexplainable, the supernatural, the internal world. Or the most unexpected – you can’t ever rule out that the main character themselves are somehow to blame. They are tricky and unexpected and untrustworthy, which I generally like about French. I will read “The Trespasser”, her most recent. But my final recommendation on “The Likeness” – pick up another of her books if you want the full Tana French experience – and if you want the gothic assimilation experience, go for Donna Tartt’s “Secret History” instead.

mexico interlude

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sunset over mexico city

All my life, I’ve heard negative things about Mexico City, but both of my trips here have been really enjoyable. I’m sure it helps a lot that I visit a law firm in a very nice area of the city. I sit in the back of the taxi or the Uber and enjoy the sights, the narrow streets full of greenery and the architecture, the old and the shabby and the bright mixed with wrought-iron and warm brick. We saw dogwalkers leading huge packs of happy pooches of all sizes and shapes, and the traffic crawled in ill-tempered snarls.
Signs of Christmas were everywhere and we arrived on the day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, so the churches were ready with their fireworks. There are poinsettia everywhere, called “Nochebuena” flower, or roughly translated, Christmas Eve flower. Our hotel lobby played Christmas music and sported an enormous Christmas tree made of green glass wine bottles filled with twinkling lights.

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We work with two attorneys, a partner who is just beginning to make the transition into comfortable, secure middle-aged sprawl and his young apprentice, who reminds me of a sweet-tempered and more angelic Max Fischer from “Rushmore”. “Max Fischer” looks like a young boy dressing up to play the role of responsible attorney – he wears impeccably tailored suits, expensive shoes and watch, and lovely Hermes ties. However, his eyes behind his horn-rimmed glasses are bright and full of wry humor, his hair is a little too long in the back, smooth as a birds’ wing, and he is the first to twinkle with amusement when I make a joke or a frank observation.
Max and the partner took us to lunch at a place I’d noticed from the taxi on the way over. A brick archway off the street gave a glimpse of a roundabout and a historic-looking mansion decorated with Christmas lights and baubles; a rounded tower with a cross atop it rose above and musicians in turquoise suits trailed up the sidewalk carrying their brass instruments and smoking their last cigarettes. It was, the partner told us when he guided us into the entry, a sixteenth-century hacienda. Haciendas, he explained,were an important part of the economy in Mexico, used for raising cattle or horses, or, as in the case of this particular Hacienda, growing mulberry trees to breed silkworms. He compared them to plantations in our deep South, and we advised him that this was not a particularly flattering comparison, but he knew, and advised that hacienda owners were not always kind to the indigenous labor that they utilized.

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The hacienda was now used for parties and weddings and events; there was a small chapel  filled to the brim with fresh flowers. We had lunch under smooth, worn red brick ceilings; everything was done table-side and the food was spectacular. I had homemade mole sauce, which is a go-to when I am in Mexico, and tres leches cake for afters. There was the requisite solemn talk about Donald Trump and what we can expect relative to NAFTA, and how it will impact our friends and our businesses. Then, Max turned to me and inquired solicitously if I’d enjoyed my lunch. I had, I told him, and laughed that I would have taken a picture of it if I hadn’t felt embarrassed. I told him that I am an avid Instagrammer and follow a lot of food blogs, and commented that it was very difficult to take appetizing pictures of food, even the best food.

Max brightened immediately and pulled out his phone. He shyly showed me a special app that he had loaded which was full of filters specifically for food photography! He shared that he is a food blogger and let me page through his Instagram account, full of beautiful photos of meals, drinks, ice creams, and treats. I marvel, always, at the people I find when I travel, and how so many of them are secret artists, dreamers, and followers of beauty.

The altitude was difficult for me (~7,000 feet above sea level as opposed to Detroit’s 600) and I had a terrible headache by the time we made our leisurely way back to the office. Mexico City business starts late and ends late, and I was ready for bed by the time our meeting finished. The partner said a dignified farewell to us, kissing me on both cheeks, and sent Max scurrying to acquire us a taxi (30 minute wait) or an Uber (15 minute wait). Max solicitously hovered until our driver appeared, and there were hugs all around; my last view of him was flashing the peace sign with an impish grin. We disappeared into the slow moving river of red taillights and traffic, horns and curses and music sounding around us.

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