roadtrip status: legendary

Friday, July 31, 2009 | | 7 comments

I’m known for starting off jokes or stories with “There was this one time…at band camp…,” stolen from the gross-out comedy American Pie. I’m going to tell you right now, I’ve never seen American Pie. Oh, I think I watched about half of it once (the second half, if you were wondering) while on a water polo road trip, because our options were that or a VH1 dating show repeat. Television programming in hotels at 2am in the heartland of America isn’t the most, how shall we say this?, edifying of experiences. I’ve also never been to band camp. But I stick by the “there was this one time…” beginning, precisely because it sets you up for the kinds of zany adventures that are my life. Otherwise known as the reason that this blog is subtitled “a series of un-lucky events.”

So there was this one time…

When I was going to study abroad for a semester in Sevilla, Spain. I had two days to get a Schengen Visa on my passport. This is the sticker that lets you get around most of Europe as a student, and to stay for over 3 months. What, you say? There are MONTHS to apply for those things! How did you let time slip past you?! All shall be explained, grasshopper.

Here’s what happened: I decided to study abroad TWICE. In the same year. Yep. My college didn’t have a study abroad coordinator or anything official like that, so I was doing all the research about programs by myself. And I couldn’t decide between a summer program in Viña del Mar, Chile, and a semester in Sevilla, Spain (where my high school Spanish teacher had studied). I related this to my mother, and she asked, “Why don’t you do both?” What a novel idea! So that’s how I found myself with plans to travel to Chile for May, June and July, and then to take off to Spain in August.

Dilemma time. You can’t (or couldn’t, at that juncture) send off your passport for the European Visa certification more than three months ahead of travel. But I was going to be GONE, and needing my passport (in my possession at all times, thankyouverymuch!), for that entire time period! So I called and emailed and cajoled the people at the Spanish consulate in San Francisco, and finally someone said: “Come next Tuesday. I will do it for you that day.” Hurrah! But wait… Turns out that next Tuesday is just 48 hours before my flight to Chile. And turning up in person meant traveling 800 miles each way. We pondered. We conferenced. We compared options. Plan A) I book a flight to San Francisco and navigate the city by myself, getting to consulate at 7am, then hop on plane back home. Plan B) My mother and I team-drive our way to California and back.

We chose Plan B. Mapquest says the drive is 13 hours. Realistically, it’s more like 16. Driving through mountains in southern Oregon and northern California is treacherous, and no matter what they say, sometimes you can’t avoid getting stuck behind a semi-truck doing a steady 40 mph. We set off in the late afternoon, leaving enough time to take short breaks and make it to the consulate (to wait in line) by 6am. We were NOT going to miss our appointment.

Night driving and mother-daughter road-tripping commenced. It actually wasn’t too terrible on the drive down. We both of us guzzled coffee like it was going out of style, and were at the ‘barely keeping our eyes open’ stage by the time we hit San Fran. At 5am. My mother suggested we find the consulate and then get more coffee. It sounded like a decent plan to my sleep-deprived senses. We walked by the office, found a little coffee place on the corner (open!), sat down…and I fell asleep over my book. My mother shook me awake an hour later, and we went to stand in line (second! Not bad.). Three hours later, I had handed over my precious passport and an exorbitant amount of money, and been assured that I would have my it back in time for my flight.

Now for the trip home! Ha ha. We were on a bit of a high at the success of the mission, and my mom suggested a short jaunt down to Fisherman’s Wharf and (maybe) food before the drive home. So we got on a trolley car and set off. I saw my first publicly-smoked joint on the ride over, and then we had a lovely lunch on a patio overlooking the Bay. Well, what you could see of the Bay. It was foggy and a bit damp, but I was used to that as a Seattlelite.

THEN we set off. Bad decision. We should have used that extra bit of energy and adrenaline to start off the endurance test that was the drive home. Oh, it was torture. Each of us would drive for about an hour at a time, just barely keeping our eyes open and our wits about us, tumbling into a doze as soon as we got out of the driver’s seat. At one point, in far northern California, we were both so tired that we pulled off to the side of the highway and slept for three hours in the shade of olive trees. The sun eventually woke us when the car became too warm. And on it went…driving until bleary-eyed, then an all-to-brief reprieve. Repeat until home.

We got home with twelve hours to spare, and wonder of wonders! the passport was ready. I can’t remember what we talked about on that trip, although I do vaguely recall some admonitions about staying safe in South America. I’m just amazed we didn’t scream at each other or drive off the road from pure exhaustion. I later got on the plane safely, and study abroad was amazing and untroubled as far as travel went (Sort of. That story’s for another time.).

Why, perchance, do I mention this several-years-past feat of mother-daughter driving? Because we’re doing it again. Extreme version. I move from Atlanta to Seattle in mid-August, and my mom and I are driving it together. Should be…interesting. 2700 miles of interesting. I welcome any suggestions of silly and fun places to stop along the way. After all, we’ll need something to talk about!


Thursday, July 30, 2009 | | 10 comments
Alyce at At Home with Books has started a weekly tradition of revisiting past reading favorites and bringing them into the spotlight.

My pick this week is Garth Nix’s Sabriel, which I just re-read the other day for probably the sixth time. Throughout my teenage years I’d go and scour the Young Adult section at my local library, looking for anything new, or at least anything that seemed interesting. I’m pretty sure I pulled Sabriel off the bookshelf primarily for its size – it’s pretty thick, and at that point, fat books = the best books.

I was immediately sucked into the world Nix had created - a world divided by a Wall. On one side was Ancelstierre, a modern society, a reality identical to my own; the other side, the Old Kingdom, was rife with magic. Sabriel, the young protagonist, faces perils and dark adventures, but she learns, grows and changes as she meets these challenges, and eventually finds that she has the strength to accept her fate and defeat evil. The story is told along a journey, reminiscent in some ways of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, though Nix has a considerably more modern (and less protracted) narrative voice. It’s a wonderful, un-put-downable, dynamic fantasy, and I’d recommend it to anyone craving a well-crafted and persuasive high fantasy in the tradition of heroic romance.

Sent to a boarding school in Ancelstierre as a young child, Sabriel has had little experience with the random power of Free Magic or the Dead who refuse to stay dead in the Old Kingdom. But during her final semester, her father, the Abhorsen, goes missing, and Sabriel knows she must enter the Old Kingdom to find him. She soon finds extraordinary companions and embarks on an epic journey as threats mount on all sides. Every step brings them closer to a battle that will pit them against the true forces of life and death—and bring Sabriel face-to-face with her own destiny.

Sabriel is a novel that takes readers to a world where the line between the living and the dead isn't always clear—and sometimes disappears altogether.

Sabriel is the first of the Abhorsen trilogy, but also functions as a stand-alone novel. Other stories in the Old Kingdom world include: Lirael, Abhorsen, novella “Nicholas Sayre and The Creature in the Case” in Across the Wall, and upcoming Clariel: The Lost Abhorsen.

ultimate answers to great questions (maybe)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009 | | 2 comments

These questions were appropriated (ahem, stolen) from Hey! Teenager of the Year's blog. I’m fairly sure she pilfered them from someone else in turn, so it’s all good. Check out her answers here. Oh, and the answers below are MINE (imagine the seagulls from Finding Nemo chanting Mine! Mine! there).

Which book do you irrationally cringe away from reading, despite seeing only positive reviews? Honestly?

Fragile Eternity by Melissa Marr. I liked the first of the series, Wicked Lovely, but hated Ink Exchange, so now I’m afraid to continue. I’ll probably never read it (well, unless there happens to be a copy lying around the next time I’m at the dentist’s office).

If you could bring three characters to life for a social event (afternoon tea, a night of clubbing, perhaps a world cruise), who would they be and what would the event be?

Social event: game night (cards, Scrabble, Monopoly, Who Killed Dr. Lucky?), and I’d invite Aziraphale & Crowley from Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens, and Suzy Turquoise Blue from Garth Nix’s The Keys to the Kingdom (Mister Monday, etc.) series. Why? Because they’d all be side-splittingly hilarious and there’d be cheating and counter-cheating, and most especially – there’d never a dull moment. Also, everyone’s energetic and resourceful and canny at this party. And probably we’d get in all sorts of after-party trouble, too…sporking, gnome-stealing and tp-ing neighbors’ yards. Ha!

You are told you can’t die until you read the most boring novel on the planet. While this immortality is great for a while, eventually you realize it’s past time to die. Which book would you expect to get you a nice grave?

Anna Karenina by Tolstoy or Middlemarch by Eliot. I’ve tried both and quit after about 20 pages.

Come on, we’ve all been there. Which book have you pretended, or at least hinted, that you’ve read, when in fact you’ve been nowhere near it?

For a long time I faked having read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I was coaching the 12&Unders on the swim team, and that book was the mainstay of many a summer conversation. I couldn’t look at those expectant (and earnest) little faces and say I hadn’t read it. I’ve since read the series at least two times through.

As an addition to the last question, has there been a book that you really thought you had read, only to realize when you read a review about it/go to ‘reread’ it that you haven’t? Which book?

Yes. I actually owned two copies of C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity and was sure I’d read it. Then I picked it up one day and it blew my mind. I definitely hadn’t read it before.

You’re interviewing for the post of Official Book Advisor to some VIP (who’s not a big reader themselves). What’s the first book you’d recommend and why?

Non-reader, huh? I’d give them Neil Gaiman’s Graveyard Book, probably. Lots of subtle humor, some horror, and enduring themes like family dynamics, dealing with love and loss, and coming-of-age. Or maybe Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword, if the VIP is female. I know people are skeptical about the universal appeal of fantasy, but neither of these is all about magic, and both deserve the title of ‘literature’ rather than plain ‘fiction’ (if you don’t believe me, check the kinds of awards they’ve won).

A good fairy comes and grants you one wish: you will have perfect reading comprehension in the foreign language of your choice. Which language do you go with?

French. As long as it doesn’t muddle my Spanish and Portuguese reading comprehension, that is. And a non-Romance language? Mandarin Chinese.

A mischievous fairy comes and says that you must choose one book that you will reread once a year for the rest of your life (you can read other books as well). Which book would you pick?

Howl’s Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones.

That good fairy is back for one final visit. Now, she’s granting you your dream library! Describe it. Is everything leather-bound? Is it full of first edition hardcovers? Pristine trade paperbacks? Perhaps a few favorite authors have inscribed their works? Go ahead—let your imagination run free.

First, I’d magically replace all the books I purged/gave away three years ago when I graduated college.

And I love the idea of a leather-bound library. But when it comes down to it, those books are heavy and unwieldy. So I’d probably want a library with three copies of every book. The hardcovers all signed by authors (though I don’t care about editions), and the trade paperbacks all dog-eared and well-loved, and copies of everything in digital form on a laptop, as well. Hey, this is a dream library! Can I request a coffee bar in the corner and comfortable leather armchairs, too? And I’d probably end up with so many books that every wall would be covered, floor-to-ceiling in bookshelves – just like the library described in Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart. I think it’s Inkheart, anyway.

Great questions, yeah?

teaser tuesday (4)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009 | | 26 comments
It's Teaser Tuesday, a bookish blog meme hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Here's how it works:

Grab your current read and let it fall open to a random page. Post two (or more) sentences from that page, along with the title and author. Don’t give anything vital away!

‘“I’m all dressed in my new clothes,” Luis’s proud but muffled voice comes through the pillow. “The nenas won’t be able to resist this Latino stud.”

“Good for you,” I mumble.

Mamá said I should pour this pitcher of water on you if you don’t get up.”’

-p. 5 of Simone Elkeles’s Perfect Chemistry

pride and prejudice and zombies giveaway winner(s)

Monday, July 27, 2009 | | 7 comments
And the randomly-generated winner of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a book full of zombies, 19th century manners and mores, and ultraviolent mayhem, is:


of Care Online Book Club

Who answered the question, “Zombies are attacking. Why are you afraid?” with:

“I AM afraid of zombies - do I really need a reason!? um, scary decaying blank-staring creatures that want to eat me? of course, I'm afraid!!”

A second winner, who will receive one of these lovely Ginny-made bookmarks, is:


of The Queen Bees Book Club

Who answered the question with:

“At my age (52) I need to keep all my brain power intact. But then, most likely there are smarter, more clever people than I am to pursue.”

Thanks for playing along, and look for a new contest soon!

the bell at sealey head + giveaway

Sunday, July 26, 2009 | | 26 comments
The small seaside town of Sealey Head is home to a few families, an inn, and Aislinn House, an old mansion with a special power—its doors sometimes open onto the world of faerie, where princesses like young Ysabo occupy their time with a complex ritual and knights exist to marry the princesses. Each day at sunset, a bell sounds, heard by everyone, yet its whereabouts and the identity of its ringer remain unknown—until a few strangers arrive to unlock an ancient past. McKillip (Alphabet of Thorn; The Forgotten Beasts of Eld) weaves elegant modern fairy tales from simple themes, drawing the mythical and everyday worlds into an enchanted union. Elegant, deceptively spare prose and well-developed characters make this a good choice for adult and YA fantasy collections. – School Library Journal

I anticipated the arrival of The Bell at Sealey Head for months last year. It didn’t disappoint. McKillip always delivers truly lyrical prose. When I say that, I don’t mean romantic and flowery, and I don’t simply mean ‘well-written.’ I mean paragraphs like this:

“The princess stood on top of the highest tower in Aislinn House. Trees, sea, sky sloped dizzyingly around her. Emma could feel the wind blowing the morning scents of salt and earth, wrasse and wrack, newly opened flowers. Ysabo was surrounded by crows, a gathering so thick they covered the tower floor, a living, rustling, muttering pool of dark, consuming what looked like last night’s leftovers, the remains of a great feast, crusts and bloody bones, withering greens, the drying seeds and bright torn peels of exotic fruits.” p. 34

And that’s just a disconnected example, pulled out of a beautiful story that needs the whole, needs the context, to be fully felt and appreciated. Can you tell that I’m enchanted? McKillip’s work isn’t easily classified, either. It’s high fantasy certainly, and her worlds seem to emerge completely out of the ether, strikingly different, and made of another, magical time. Her characters live, laugh and learn to love in the midst of mystical and mysterious activities that only come out clear at the end. Or don’t make themselves clear at all. It’s uncertain, it’s wonderful, and it’s worth reading to the very last. But as to whether it’s YA or adult literature? You must make that discovery for yourself. Enjoy!


If you’d like to win your own copy of The Bell at Sealey Head, I’m holding a giveaway for one (1) copy.

To Enter:

Leave a comment on this post answering the question, “What is the most unusual ‘faerie’ creature you have heard of?”

Please include your email address. Giveaway is open internationally. Comments will close on August 9 at 11:59pm EST, and I will notify the randomly selected winner via email.

Good luck!

silver phoenix

Saturday, July 25, 2009 | | 4 comments
I can be a bit difficult when it comes to expectations from a book. I'll admit that. But welcome to Silver Phoenix, which sounds good, and is much better than that. In this case? Looks are not deceiving.

No one wanted Ai Ling. And deep down she is relieved—despite the dishonor she has brought upon her family—to be unbetrothed and free, not some stranger's subservient bride banished to the inner quarters.

But now, something is after her. Something terrifying—a force she cannot comprehend. And as pieces of the puzzle start to fit together, Ai Ling begins to understand that her journey to the Palace of Fragrant Dreams isn't only a quest to find her beloved father but a venture with stakes larger than she could have imagined.

Bravery, intelligence, the will to fight and fight hard . . . she will need all of these things. Just as she will need the new and mysterious power growing within her. She will also need help.

It is Chen Yong who finds her partly submerged and barely breathing at the edge of a deep lake. There is something of unspeakable evil trying to drag her under. On a quest of his own, Chen Yong offers that help...and perhaps more.

This fantasy adventure is set in a splendid and dangerous myth-filled world. The trouble is that the myths become reality and the monsters and creatures of traditional folktales take on lives of their own. Action, suspense, strong characters, swiftly-changing emotions and a world that seems set in either dreams or nightmares (perhaps a bit of both?) make this an exciting and engrossing read.

Okay, I’ll admit to first picking the book up solely for the cover. I kept reading it for the imaginative content. And I was ultimately satisfied by a story well told. The legends and creatures described within reminded me of pan-Asian folktales that my mother read aloud when I was a child (I called and asked if she remembered a specific book –she didn’t, but her best guess was Kipling’s Just So Stories) – filled with unexpected demons and tricks and dream worlds and flying dragons. Each time I thought I had the story ‘figured out’ the plot would twist and surprise me.

Recommended for: anyone who can appreciate wonders and marvels. It’s a lovely, artistic and unique read for anyone who wants an adventure and an escape. Enjoy!

on zombies

Friday, July 24, 2009 | | 10 comments
I’ve mentioned here a couple of times that my sister Ginny is a genius at card-making and crafting. Well folks, she’s outdone herself.

I asked for a zombie bookmark to include with the copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies that I’m giving away right now, and she created TWO silly, creepy (and somewhat cute?) monsters.

So I’ve decided to tuck one in with book as promised, and give one away to another random contest entrant. Enter the giveaway now if you haven’t already - it ends Sunday!

in which the author invents a spicy salmon pasta casserole

Thursday, July 23, 2009 | | 3 comments

I’ve been eating almost solely out of my pantry over the last week, but even my inventive chef alter-ego (he speaks with a Swedish accent, like the Muppet chef, in case you were wondering) was a little stretched by what was on offer as of yesterday. Fortunately that imaginative side came to the rescue, and I created a delicious recipe that I am recording here in case I should ever find myself in such dire straights again. Like next week. But I won’t have any mayo left at that juncture, so maybe I should just give up while I’m ahead? Ahem, back to the recipe.

Spicy Salmon Pasta Casserole


8 oz. pasta (I used whole wheat fusilli, but rotini or others would do)

1 14.5-16 oz. can green beans (two cups of thawed frozen green beans would work just as well)

1 10 3/4 oz. can cream of mushroom soup

1 14.5 oz. can salmon meat

1/3 to 1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 tsp. pepper

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. lemon juice concentrate

1 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)

4 oz. shredded Mexican cheese (optional)


Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly spray or grease an 8x8 or 8x11 pan.

Bring 6-8 cups water to a boil in a saucepan. Add pasta to water with a pinch of salt and approximately 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Continue boiling, stirring occasionally, for 8-10 minutes or until pasta is cooked. Drain and set aside.

Open and drain (or thaw) green beans. Set aside. In large bowl, mix cream of mushroom soup, salmon meat, mayonnaise and other ingredients (except shredded cheese). Next add green beans and pasta. Mix until pasta is completely covered.

Pour pasta blend into the prepared pan, cover with shredded cheese and place in pre-heated oven for 20-25 minutes. Then enjoy! Serves 4-6, depending on how much you like to eat. Warning: this tastes good and is super-filling. You may not have room for dessert!

family notions

Wednesday, July 22, 2009 | | 7 comments

Elizabeth and I have been trading writing prompts, and this is her latest for me: “Kids are too expensive. You can only afford two.” Respond.

First, I want to clarify that I’m not a parent, and I’m not in a position to even think about being a parent. So these thoughts and opinions are necessarily born of inexperience. I’m not commenting on any specific situation or family dynamic except my own upbringing. And I’m definitely NOT judging folks who choose not to have children or who choose to raise their children in a specific environment. These are only my thoughts (and thank you?, Elizabeth, for giving me a topic that makes these stipulations necessary).

I’m the oldest of five. I’m the oldest of five raised in a typical suburban household in the Metro Seattle area. I’m the oldest of five kids raised in a one-income household. I’m the oldest child of a tribe, a clan, or perhaps just a very well-loved and close-knit family. I’m well aware that families of five are rare these days. You don’t have to tell me…I’m probably the only one who remembers the looks my mom got (and they weren’t friendly), the snide remarks, the ‘amazement’ that wasn’t complimentary. Now that we’re older and seem to have turned out well, I tell people how my mom had five children age 7 and under at one point, and they can only comment that she was very brave.

But the fact was we lived in a very normal house in a very normal neighborhood, surrounded by families with 2.5 kids and unaccustomed to anything out of the ordinary. Later on we met families with eight, or even ten children. How did my parents (and those other families) do it, when so many people these days have trouble imagining supporting more than two kids? I think the answer comes in two parts: they made important sacrifices, and that once those were implemented, three or four children weren’t necessarily less expensive than five.

Things that DO make children expensive: diapers, brand-name clothing (brand-name anything, really), shoes (kids grow out of them so fast!), sports and hobbies, eating out, traveling and vacations. Probably there are plenty more that I missed. But maybe you can see where I’m going? My parents made sacrifices that reduced the costs associated with feeding, clothing, entertaining and providing a roof over our heads. Thankfully they didn’t skimp on diapers.

Examples! My parents didn’t buy me new clothing, and found me discount shoes. Thrift stores, hand-me-downs, and gifts were our friends. If I wanted new clothes, I had to buy them for myself. It was a tough policy, maybe, but it taught me responsibility and self-reliance. And not to be too proud to find a bargain or reuse and recycle. The whole family played the same sports until high school. This cut down on equipment, training and traveling costs for competitions, and made it possible for us all to get together in the evenings. We RARELY ate out. No delivery pizza or drive-through fast food when you could shop for bulk food and make it at home!

For family vacations we camped and visited historic locations (preferably without an entrance fee). If we flew, we were extremely careful about expenses. We played board games and cards and used the library liberally rather than go to the movies or the arcade or to play mini-golf. My dad built us tree forts with spare plywood in lieu of buying a swing set. We played kick-the-can and flashlight tag instead of video games and laser tag. We visited local parks, volunteered at church, went hiking, belonged to the local pool. If we wanted a car, we paid for it, for the insurance, and for the gas.

And my parents didn’t pay for college. You heard that right. We knew growing up that my mom and dad had made a lot of sacrifices. That they’d given us a pretty normal life on one income. We also knew that they expected us to be resourceful, and find our own way to pay for school. It’s not that they didn’t value education, because they definitely did. I was homeschooled for six years because my mom didn’t feel like the local public school was doing a decent job, and then I went to a private high school. And my other siblings were homeschooled and privately schooled as well, for varying amounts of time. It’s just that there were different expectations. If you want to go out of state, you find some place to give you a scholarship or you take out loans. Four of us went to a great college in Pennsylvania. The youngest is getting his AA at a local tech school in a trade, and will make bank when he’s done.

If you go over the things I’ve mentioned, it sounds frugal, sure. But it’s also not un-imaginable. I think sometimes the money argument against more children is a lack of creativity, or an unwillingness to realize that you CAN raise children on less than you imagine. Is it always fun? No. Is it easy to cut those costs? No. Is it hard to say ‘no’ to a child? Yes. Is it doable? Yes. I know so because I’m the child of just such an upbringing. I’m a big advocate of larger families, if the parents are capable. I’m not talking Jon and Kate Plus 8 here. I’m talking about parents who stay together (yes, forever!) and are committed to raising their children with a certain philosophy. Siblings who are best friends, who can’t imagine growing up any other way, who as adults still can make a party happen just by getting out a Monopoly game board. And if you’re willing to raise two or three children that way, then another couple are going to add to the joy, not the burden. Because it is joy.

The siblings, Christmas 2008

My sister suggested that I end by examining the ‘what if’ scenario. What if my parents had stopped after having two healthy kids? They certainly wouldn’t have been quite so stretched for funds. Maybe they could have helped us pay for college. Maybe we’d still be best friends. But we’d probably be a bit spoiled and a lot brattier, because instead of two girls and three boys, my parents would only have two girls. No Peter (training to be a fireman), no Lincoln (thinking about heading to seminary), and no rambunctious Joey. There’d be a whole different dynamic to our family. There wouldn’t be anyone who looks exactly like my Grandpa Hal, no slow-talking, sweet-natured giant, and no teddy bear of a boy-man who is so enthusiastic about life that you can't help but be caught up with him. There wouldn’t be three tall, deep-voiced, athletic and hilarious boys complaining about their bossy (and wild) older sisters. We’d be missing part of ourselves, even if we didn’t know it. I can't tell you how glad and grateful I am that my parents decided to have a big family, even though it was late in life and necessitated sacrifice. I truly believe that adding five well-adjusted, loving and decent people to the planet's population qualifies my parents for instant hero status.

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