Archive by Author

Bet You Can’t Have Just One

2 Oct

I’ve wanted to hike Potato Chip Rock for years and a few weeks ago I finally conquered it.  My brother was coming to visit and we wanted to do a simple one night camping trip.  By the time we booked, most of the more popular camping spots were taken, so we chose one of the few spots left Southern California at William Heise Regional Park.  From the reviews I assumed it was going to be more crowded and full of families.  After all, it boasts a playground and year round cabins.   I was pleasantly surprised with the isolated, wooded sites and miles of hiking trails overlooking the Anza Borrego Dessert.  Sure, we could see a couple of fancy houses on the hills surrounding the park, but overall it was a great spot for summer camping.

After a night of camping, we headed over to our destination.  My brother had Googled photos of Potato Chip Rock for ideas on how we should stage our picture.  If you look it up, you’ll see all kinds of creative ideas, from rock climbers hanging off the edge, to yoga poses, to groups that have set up a fancy tea party on the rock.  We weren’t prepared for the long line of photo takers and by the time we got up there (and I overcame my fear of the short jump to the rock), we didn’t have a lot of time for creativity.

By all rights, this should be a Photo Adventure, but it’s not.  Mostly because i was too caught up in the actual hiking to stop and snap pictures.  Partly because I didn’t bring a camera and my phone was dying.  Because of that, you only get one.  Just one picture, achieved after an hour wait in line and a four-mile hike straight up in the heat.  But boy was it worth it.


~ April

Read Harder is Harder Than I Expected

8 Sep

Earlier this year I posted about the Read Harder challenge. The goal of the challenge is to make you read more diversely and boy did I feel like I was doing a great job.  I read books in translation, books by authors from different countries, graphic novels, nonfiction, and still managed to keep up with books that I just wanted to read anyway.  I figured that putting any focus on reading diversely would expand my reading life. Proud of my accomplishments, I decided to take a quick inventory of the demographics of the authors I read.  I was expecting a pretty even distribution.  I didn’t get that.

While the ratio of men to women authors was split pretty evenly, of the 34 books I read so far this year, only six could be considered to be by authors of color.  And four of the authors of color were men.  That’s pretty shabby for someone actively trying to introduce diversity into her reading.  Sure, I’ve succeeded in pulling myself out of my literary comfort zone and I feel like that’s an accomplishment in itself, but I’m going to try harder the rest of the year.  That means that I’m putting aside the rest of the explicit Read Harder challenge (no worrying about reading a book written before 1850 or by an author under 25), but I’m going to take the spirit of the challenge to heart.  I want the majority of my reading the rest of the year to be by authors of color.

And I think it’s going to be harder than I anticipated.  I don’t think I’m going to get close to a 50/50 distribution, but if I can get a third of my year’s reading to be diverse that would be great.  I know it would be easier if I completely banished Anglo writers from the back half of 2015, but that’s not my goal.  I want to read a Stephen King book in October and after finishing We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, I want to start The Haunting of Hill House, too.  There are far too many awesome Anglo authors that have something unpredictable to add to my life to remove them.  I just want to make room for other voices as well.

So here’s to the next stage of my 2015 reading journey.  I’m currently reading Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai, a middle grade novel that takes place in Vietnam.  It’s taking me awhile because I keep stopping to figure out how to pronounce Vietnamese words.  That’s what reading diversely does.  Makes you look like a fool trying to pronounce things to yourself in public places.  I think I’ll keep it going.

~ April


1 Sep

I’ve been thinking a LOT about the drought lately.  It’s hard not to when you live in an area that’s marked by a red so dark it borders on black on all the drought maps.  It’s as if they ran out of shades of red with which to convey the seriousness of the situation.

Then, I went here.


And hallelujah, if I wasn’t already thinking about water issues I was now.  There’s nothing like going somewhere where your scarce resources are abundant to put things in perspective.  It’s like when my mom comes to California and discovers that avocados are two for a dollar.  It’s guacamole time all the time.  I could regale you with tales of what it’s like to have so many avocados that you worry they might go bad, but instead I’m going in a little more sobering direction.

This is what it’s like to live in a drought.


There’s so much blame. Have you seen the #droughtshaming hashtag?  A quick Twitter search will give you pictures of runoff from faulty sprinklers, well-manicured golf courses, and more watered sidewalks than you can count.  It’s like environmental McCarthyism.  I may be guilty of overusing the term, but I tend to do it in conversation and not on the internet.  Whether that’s better or just makes me so fun to hang out with?  You be the judge.

Even the cities are getting in on it.  Most cities have hotlines that you can use to turn in your neighbors.  I haven’t done so, but I may have been tempted by the neighbors watering down their plastic chairs int he middle of a light rain.

Drought shaming is a nice vehicle for righteous anger, but doesn’t really solve anything.  Luckily Californians are looking for more positive ways to address water waste.  In fact, if you look at the #droughtshaming hashtag, at least a third of the tweets offer other solutions.  That’s not something you normally find on social media.

You can find resources. It seems like everyone in our community is offering programs to learn more about how you can conserve.  Our library recently offered a Water Wise Gardening program, but I was surprised when I saw similar programs offered several times a month through different organizations.  There are rain barrel classes at the nature center, landscape seminars at the universities, and drought-tolerant workshops at the garden centers.

Water districts, which really had no need for flashy graphics before, are now among the top destinations on government websites. Residents who would like to get a rain barrell, tear out their lawn or replace their faucets can find rebates and classes from their city or water district almost anywhere in California.  Unfortunately most of these rebates don’t apply to California’s many renters.


The rules are a constant source of frustration. Conversations on water usage come up all the time.  I spoke with a coworker who was concerned that her city’s prohibition against planting new plants that aren’t drought-tolerant meant she had to forgo her garden.  I leaned toward the growing your own food uses less resources than purchasing shipped food side of the equation, but the answers aren’t always clear.  Different cities have different rules.  Even neighbors might have different days that they are allowed to water on.  Certain rules, like that you can’t water within 48 hours of significant rainfall, come into play so rarely that it’s not a surprise people forget they exist.  Then there’s the distinction between restrictions (mandatory) and conservation measures (recommended)… If you haven’t already been immersed in water education, it’s easy to get a little lost.

It’s working (kind of). Many cities are meeting or exceeding the conservation thresholds Governor Brown has mandated and the savings have been improving drastically throughout the year.  You can have tons of fun with the State Water Resources Board’s conservation reports to see the statistics.  My city went from a 5% decrease in February (over 2013 statistics) to a 22% decrease by May.  That’s higher than our mandated benchmark of 20%.  Some places (yay! Merced at 43%!) are doing much better and some (boo! El Monte at -10%) are doing worse, but the good far outweighs the bad.

Remember all those rebates I mentioned?  Our water district has already run out of funds for turf removal and that’s pretty common throughout the state.  Other rebates are taking months to get to processed there are so many of them.  On one hand it’s frustrating, but on the other it means people are making changes and making them rather quickly.  That’s exciting!

Water conservation is a topic that seems to cross political boundaries, too.  I could have a half hour conversation with someone about water usage and still have no idea where they stand politically, despite water conservation being tied into government regulations.  Anytime people come together to make the world a better place,  it’s a positive step for our state.


Now, I hate to be a downer, but even with all these positive steps, it’s unlikely that our drought problem will be solved.  The state even has a website that allows us to watch our water supplies dwindle.  California supports too much agriculture, too many people, and has too little precipitation.  Unless that changes, these are only delaying tactics.  I think that’s what really captures the reality of living in a drought. Even when we know we’re fighting a losing battle, we still band together to resist.  And talk about how, hopefully, El Niño will be strong this year.


From Reading Green to Reading Harder

15 May

This year I decided to tackle Book Riot’s Read Harder 2015 challenge.  I’ve recently become somewhat of a devotee of Book Riot.  I love that they hold both fine literature and guilty pleasures in passably equal regard because they have such a passion for reading.  I’ve recently gotten back into that sort of reading since I began working at a public library again and their guidance has been invigorating.

Of their many favorite topics, the writers consistently return to that of diversity in literature.  Like many of them, I never paid close attention to the diversity of my reading list.  I read what I liked and that was that.  Their attention to reading diverse authors has made me interested in what my literary life was missing.  That’s part of the reason I started the Read Harder Challenge.  There are several categories that will push me to read outside of my traditional repertoire of urban fantasy, psychological horror, and whatever has the longest hold list that isn’t written by James Patterson.

One of the first books on my list was Toni Morrison’s newest, God Help The Child.  I haven’t read any Toni Morrison (a.k.a. The National Treasure) books since Beloved scarred my adolescent mind in high school.  I detested the book and decided that since 15-year-old me didn’t like Morrison, all of my future incarnations would also spurn her books.  The Book Riot team could double as a Toni Morrison cheer squad, so encouraged by their de facto praise for her, I gave her another shot.

I’m so glad I did.  This is the type of book that the Read Harder challenge was created for.  It’s the sort of book I would never pick up on my own.  Character studies are not generally my thing, but the manageable length and my spirit of adventure spurred me onward.

This is the story of Bride, a twenty-something independent career woman whose success hides the pain of her childhood.  Her mother, who could pass for white, was devastated that her daughter’s skin was dark as night.  She distanced herself from the girl, causing a chain of hurt that spreads far beyond Bride herself.  Bride, and her companion Booker, must confront the pain of their past if they want to create a future.  What’s more, they come to understand that no life is perfect, no choice is without risks, and we all live with the failures of ourselves and those that care for us.  I’m amazed that Morrison, who is in her 80s now, has such a firm grasp on the concerns of this generation.

Perhaps it is the passage of a decade and a half, or maybe it’s just the more modern storytelling in this book, but I’m willing to admit I might have been wrong about swearing off Morrison.  Thanks to the Read Harder challenge, I hope to introduce myself to other previously off-limits areas of literature.


Earth Day: A Tale of Two Upcycling Books

29 Apr


If you want to hear Robin speak passionately for awhile, there are a few topics that are guaranteed to get her talking.

  1. Bats
  2. Music with fiddles in it
  3. Birdwatching
  4. People who incorrectly use the word “upcyle”

While it may be true that I only recall having one or two conversations about number four, I do know she is my go-to person to complain about said topic with.  That’s why this post will be formatted as though I’m addressing her.

Ahem.  Robin.  Hi.

Remember how at the beginning of the month I thought it was a good idea to review some green crafting books?  Maybe even do a couple crafts?  Well, big surprise I didn’t get to the doing part, but I don’t have to actually make anything to review a craft book.  Anyway, I pulled all the eco-craft type books out of my library.  One evening I went through them all and was mostly pretty “meh” about the whole lot of them.  Until I came to one.  God, I wish I could show you the pictures.  I think the neighbors heard me yelling at this book.

Here’s the offender:

So, I looked up Danny Seo and apparently he’s a pretty successful guy in the crafting and home dec world.  His Facebook page claims he’s a “green living expert”.  So maybe I’m missing something.  Feel free to argue, but I think you’ll agree with me.  I kind of felt bad about panning this guy until I looked at the book again.  Immediately the regret evaporated.  I remember the rant you had about Michaels selling brand new mason jars to “upcycle” with.  Pretty much every project in this book fills me with that kind of frustration.

Some of the projects are just not that great of ideas.  The main contender for that category is the Painter’s-Tape Privacy Screen.  Said screen actually upcycles old window or door frames, but then lines those with criss-crossed painter’s tape.  First off, who wants a painter’s tape covered square in their home?  It’s ugly.  Second, none of that painter’s tape is being recycled.  Now it’s no good for its intended purpose and knowing me, I’d have gotten wasted a roll and a half trying to keep it from sticking to myself.  You know that.  You’ve seen me in action.  Finally, this project could have been slightly altered to actually upcycle.  Why not use fabric strips?  That’s just one thought.  If I was writing a book that I hoped to publish I’d probably think a little harder, which he did not.

Other ideas are baffling.  For the Electronic-Cord Organizer (all these hyphens are his), you take a couple wine corks, put a pipe clamp around them and literally stick a fork in them.  You are then supposed to use this contraption to wind your electric cords around them, apparently while they are still plugged to the wall, in order to keep them out of the way.  Would you do that?  No, you wouldn’t.

But here’s my favorite one of all time….  You’re not going to believe this and just imagine me shaking the book in your face and yelling this whole next part.  There is an actual project where you take plastic water bottles, fill them with concrete, then REMOVE the plastic bottle and recycle it.  You do not paint these bottles.  You are just stuck with ugly concrete two liters.  You’re supposed to use them for door stops or some bs.  Here’s the thing though, if you just recycled the plastic bottle you would have less waste.  Now you have concrete blocks which I guess you could recycle if you knew where you could do that?  UGH

Now if I were actually talking to you, you know at this point we’re going to be flipping out about these projects and thinking we could do so much better. I would have to put the book away so I wouldn’t keep pointing at new confusing ways to go green.  Since you’re not here and I’m too worked up to come up with some solutions myself, I’d like to bring things back to the bright side of life by introducing you to a second book.

The book is eco craft by Susan Wasinger and I can already feel my blood pressure dropping as I leaf through it.  Her projects are mostly classics, like using old sweaters to knit rugs or fusing plastic bags together to make lunch bags.  Not too out there, but still useful, interesting and actually upcycled.  Even though her creativity as far as techniques leaves something to be desired, her simple instructions and minimal use of new supplies makes this an excellent green crafting book.

Oh, I forgot she had this one… It’s a privacy screen, just like Seo’s except she uses those plastic six-pack can holders instead of painter’s tape.  I’m still suspicious that it would look good in person, but yes, Susan, that is an actual upcycle.

I feel bad going on so much about the book I don’t like and so little about the one I do, but looking through eco craft makes me want to actually go make something.  So I’m going to go do that.  Or at least think about it.

It was nice talking to you.  This Earth Day blogging thing is always more fun than I think it will be.

~ April

Earth Day: Quote Saturday

25 Apr



Earth Day: A 51st Children’s Book for the List

23 Apr


I’ve been doing a lot of posts on overviews of different types of book, but there’s been one book this week I’ve found myself carrying around and recommending to everyone that comes within a few feet of me.  Piggybacking on Robin’s post yesterday on children’s books, this is also a picture book.  I found it on our new books cart this week amongst many other earth and spring related titles.  The first time I read it, I got a little teary eyed.  It reminded me a bit of Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. I immediately started thinking of parents I might be able to foist this upon.

You Nest Here with Me is a sweet bedtime story by the wonderful Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple and illustrated by Melissa Sweet.  Robin recommended Yolen’s Caldecott-winning Owl Moon in her post.  In Yolen’s new tale, a mother tells her child about all the places that birds live, in rock, ledges, tall trees and sandy dunes, but reminds the child that while the birds nest all those places, “You nest here with me.”  She goes on the explain that the mother birds keep their babies safe and teach them all they need to know until it’s time for them to leave, but until then, they stay in the nest with Mama Bird. I don’t even have kids and I almost need tissues just thinking about it.

At the end of the book, there’s a description of all the types of birds Yolen mentioned throughout.  The beautiful illustrations will introduce children to species of birds both familiar and strange and may spur a new generation of birdwatchers.


Earth Day: Environmental Villains of Literature

21 Apr


We’ve been exploring great books about people who love nature and want to protect the earth, but in any good story there’s also a villain.  It’s a cliche for any villain to say they want to destroy the world, but there are certain ones that are doing their best through environmental degradation.

Let’s take a break from the books and talk about three fictional characters that are the big bads of environmental destruction.

Serena Pemberton from Serena by Ron Rash – Serena is a cold-hearted killer.  She and her husband run a timber company in 1920s North Carolina, but let’s be honest, it’s Serena that calls the shots.  Nothing can stop her ambition to turn all the lumber in the Appalachia forests into pure profit.  One of her primary conflicts is with the real-life founders of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  In the midst of allowing her employees to work themselves literally to death harvesting logs for her lumber empire, she’s also nefariously blocking the preservation of the forest.  The book will be made into a movie this year, but all reviews suggest to avoid it.  Stick to the gothic environmental novel instead.

Saruman from The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien – If the hobbits are peace-loving, living-off-Middle Earth, nature-dwelling hippies, then Saruman is their antithesis.  He turns against the people he has sworn to protect and instead starts messing with nature by creating Uruk-hai and destroying the ents.  The scenes of underground smelting pits in the movies pretty much sums it up.  There are lots of images of the Industrial Revolution woven throughout the trilogy and Saruman is the best example of Tolkien’s criticisms of the era.

Kurtz from Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad – Like many of our villains, Kurtz is a representative of another entity.  In this case, he represents an ivory trading company.  In any analysis of Heart of Darkness, you’ll see Kurtz bandied about as the epitomization of European imperialism.  That imperialistic bent reflects his role in the subjugation of nature as well as people.  Kurtz uses his superior technology to secure the area’s resources at the expense of the local inhabitants.

The Once-ler from The Lorax by Dr. Seuss – The poor Once-ler will always be remembered for the destruction of the Truffula trees.  To be fair, he did allow his greed to destroy a pretty Utopian place and turn it into a polluted wasteland.  Unlike the other villains, he finds redemption at the end by turning over the last of the Truffula seeds to our young protagonist.  Let’s all hope this child with no horticultural experience manages to keep this one seed alive long enough to revive a whole species of trees.  I know if the Once-ler gave it to me, the Lorax wouldn’t be returning anytime soon.

There are hundreds more titles with even worse environmental villains.  I haven’t read much Dickens, but since my images of his novels are always populated with smokestacks and street urchins, I imagine he has some worthy contenders.  I also considered Captain Ahab from Moby Dick since he was on a one-man whale killing mission, but decided his anger was too targeted at a specific whale.  Michael Crichton (the author) almost made my list for his climate change-denying ways, but I felt too much guilt at including a real human being.

Who are your favorite (or least favorite) environmental villains?


Earth Day: Books in Nature

19 Apr


This is not a nature book.  In fact, it’s not a book I would recommend to everyone.  You’ve probably seen at least one of the poems in the book.  Magic has been disseminated all over the internet, mostly without credit.  It took me a bit of digging the first time to figure out it was not by Shel Silverstein, but Bo Burham.  Burham is pretty similiar to Silverstein with his clever wordplay and irreverent humor.  Sometimes, though, it feels a bit like Burham is American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman channelling Silverstein.  So if you’re offended by things normal humans are offended by, I feel like I need to add a trigger warning for pretty much everything.


Still, when Burham isn’t making his readers uncomfortable, he’s making them laugh out loud at his verbal dexterity and delighting them with his wit. So, if you don’t mind dodging a few jabs to find something great, pick up Egghead by Bo Burham.

~ April

P.S. I took these pictures in the park behind our library.  I had to fight a gaggle of birdwatchers in my path, but I love this part of the park.

Earth Day: Food Policy Non-Fiction by Fiction Authors

17 Apr


When I started writing my post on food policy books I realized I had two books left to talk about, but I’d already gone on far longer than even I wanted to read.  So I saved them so I could talk about them a little more in depth.  Have you noticed I really like talking about food?  Especially food policy?  I also really like to eat.  And I like to see why other people eat the way they do.  These two books are by authors that normally write fiction, but obviously also spend a lot of time thinking about food.  They spend so much time that they both took a chunk of time out of their writing careers to publish non-fiction books on their food journeys.  I think that it’s because they write fiction, that these books are so enjoyable and interesting.  Even if you decide, as I did, that you couldn’t possibly model your diets off of theirs, their journeys into how various parts of the food system work and how those parts affect the earth, will make you a more mindful and informed eater.

I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close mostly on an airplane.  Considering how emotional I usually get on plane flights (I recall crying to Enya once), the story of a young boy whose father dies on September 11th was probably not a wise choice. Despite that, I loved Foer’s sensitivity and creative storytelling.  While you won’t find the alternative formatting in his nonfiction book, the ethos is certainly there.  In Eating Animals, Foer takes on factory farming.  In his novel Everything is Illuminated, the main character, also named Jonathan Safran Foer and also a vegetarian, goes to Ukraine and is humorously offered all sorts of animal products.  His family has never heard of a vegetarian before.  Foer tells almost the same story in non-fiction form in Eating Animals.  That’s when you know that the author has been working through these thoughts for some time.

Foer is pretty graphic when he talks about his visits to factory farms and commercial fisheries.  If you don’t like to read about animal mistreatment or canals of feces you should probably skip this book.  He’s a little more fervent in his views than the authors I mentioned in my previous post, but he still shines a light on a lot of practices that should be a problem for anyone who cares where their food comes from.  This is a book that covers all the reasons people might have to be vegan, from the animal welfare angle to the environmental aspects.  Even though it’s packed with so much information, Foer’s lyrical style makes it as gripping as any novel.

Barbara Kingsolver has written so many things that I should read, but haven’t.  We chose her book The Poisonwood Bible for our book club, but it was one of the few that I skipped.  I think I was just busy.  Or maybe reading Game of Thrones.  I don’t know.  Flight Behavior is one of the top books on any cli-fi list and most of her novels have a strong sense of place.  This is also very true in her non-fiction food experiment, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

Kingsolver and her family move to a farm in Virginia and commit to eating only things they can grow themselves or source locally.  Each chapter covers a month.  Some months, as you can imagine, have much better menus than others.  Every time I eat asparagus I think of her celebration of the short growing season of the vegetable.  It seems like it must taste so much more delicious, not only because of its freshness, but because of its scarcity when it’s only eaten in season.

Unlike Foer, Kingsolver has no problem eating meat.  She describes in detail how her youngest daughter raises chickens and how the girl learns to be a savvy businesswoman between selling the eggs and the meat.  Even though I read the book a few years ago, her descriptions are so succulent that I can feel my mouth watering as I recall her forays into cheesemaking.  It was a struggle for her family to follow the guidelines and she knows this is not a realistic lifestyle.  She uses her experiment to discuss the differences between factory farming and big agriculture, and the locavore movement.  While her book doesn’t quite have the activist fervor of Foer, her gentle passion is just as motivating.

While approaching the food issue from very different angles and with their distinct styles, it’s evident that both authors use their expertise with fiction to bring life to their non-fiction.  If you’re looking for something that’s lest “just the facts ma’am” and more emotionally fulfilling, either of these books will provide satisfaction.



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