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happy new year!

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Monday, December 31, 2012
rose festival fireworks
Happy New Year!

2013, I have plans for you so look out!

christmas at the grotto

books in 2012

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Monday, December 31, 2012
2012 reading

I made a chart! This was just a quick and dirty way for me to figure out how my reading over the course of 2012 was spread out. I like a lot of different kinds of books and generally try to read whatever catches my fancy, so I was curious to know how evenly distributed things were.  (in retrospect, there were a lot of witches this year.)

I made general categories that I knew I'd read in and went from there. Categories: Mystery, Romance, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Non-Fiction, Graphic Novel, YA/J, Literary Fiction. The categories are pretty loosey goosey, but that's okay since I was just trying to get a rough idea. Next time, I'll just put the YA/J books into whatever genre category they belong in since that makes more sense to me. Some of the books could fit more than one category, but I put them in whichever one felt right to me at the time I was scribbling out the list.  Some of them I knew were in the wrong spot as soon as I wrote it down, but I didn't want to write it all out again.

My biggest surprise was that non-fiction dominated! I go to a non-fiction book group, but that really only accounts for 10-11 of the books listed. I was surprised that I'd read so few mysteries, but other than that, things seem pretty evenly distributed.

If you'd like to see the full list sorted by date with covers and descriptions, you can look at my Goodreads 2012 shelf. The ones listed before are not my only favorites! I might have left something off if I've talked about it before or if it doesn't need any more attention. Here are some of my favorites I read this year, sorted by loosey-goosey category:

MYSTERY: Ooh - these were all good. Some favorites include:

Now You See Me by S.J. Bolton which was the only proper crime-y novel I read. If you like modern British crime and puzzles and fictional Jack the Ripper copycats do check it out! It was twisty and thrillery.

Vanish With the Rose by Barbara Michaels - this was a reread of one of her spooky modern gothics with an emphasis on heirloom roses. If you're looking for rigorous detecting and rational explanations for everything, this is probably not for you. I read this with a friend and we had a grand time debating gardening, brooding groundskeepers and things that go bump in the night.

Fever Devlin novels by Phillip DePoy - I read the first two of these and enjoyed them very much. The main character (Fever Devlin) is a folklorist who has returned to his Appalachian home from academia. There can be a lot of information/exposition given at times, but since I find the subject so interesting it doesn't bother me much. These are a hybrid of spooky/crimey. Thanks to Martina for telling me about them!

ROMANCE: This is such a broad category! More on that at a later date. As a general FYI, the comment section of the Help a Bitch Out posts at Smart Bitches is a great place to get ideas for romance books to read if you don't know where to start.  Also great: The Vaginal Fantasy group on goodreads/ youtube!  Some favorites:

The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook - the cover is RIDIC, as happens with a lot of covers of a lot of books. But I loved this story! The steampunk setting is well thought out, and honestly I could have read a whole series of books about these characters. (Lady detective!!!)  Fortunately for me, she's writing a more books that take place in the Iron Seas universe. The Iron Duke is an adventure/detective/fantasy/romance and I had a great time reading it.

The Desperate Duchess by Eloisa James - historical romance with a lot of information about.... CHESS. Eloisa James is a very good writer. This is more typically romance than the Iron Duke and has a full complement of pert young misses, fiendishly clever chess players, rakes, rogues, sexytimes, fancy parties, tight trousers and heaving bosoms. There are more books set in the same society, but I'm spreading them out and saving them for later.

Natural Born Charmer by Susan Elizabeth Phillips - contemporary romance with one half of said romance being a super rich FOOTBALL PLAYER, which is so far outside of my normal field of interest I'm amazed I liked it, but I did! There's also a fair amount of house-fixing-up going on, too and I love that stuff. SEP is a funny lady and I've enjoyed the few books I've read by her. More SEP is on my radar for 2013!

SCI-FI/FANTASY: Mostly fantasy, I notice. Oh, man - so many of these are SO GOOD.

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness - Witches, Vampires, Daemons and Elizabethan England. Oh, yeah! Book two of the All Souls trilogy - I love this series. Book one was not in Elizabethan England, which means one of my other favorite themes had to happen: time travel! I don't know when book 3 comes out, but I can't wait.  I will wait, but I'm anticipating it greatly!

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson - !!! I liked so much about this, but one of my favorite things was the blending of modern Arab Spring hacker NOW with ancient customs and stories (including the Djinn). She does it so well! I felt like she bridged a cultural gap for me while telling a rip-roaring yarn. I can't wait to read what she writes next.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell - I thought the nested stories were so well done - some I liked better than others, but that's natural and I think intended. The more I think about the novel, the more little pieces click into place - I like a book that stays with me. I have yet to see the movie, although I plan on doing so.

Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire - another cover that I don't like, but the book is SO FUN. Monster hunting, cryptozoology, ballroom dancing, dragons, etc. Recommended for fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Strictly Ballroom - first in a new series. Speaking of series, I enjoy her October Daye (modern fairy noir) books, too! But they're heavier and bound with fairy rules while this is buoyant as she makes up her own rules.

Magician King by Lev Grossman - !!! Another second in a series that I love. It takes turns being delightful, thrilling, and heartbreaking. The characters are three dimensional, the world is at once familiar and strange. I have no idea where the final book will go and I kind of love that.

NON FICTION: seriously - so many non-fiction books this year!

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photos of Edward Curtis by Timothy Egan. - this just came out and it's fascinating if you're interested at all in photography, a man dedicated to a cause to the detriment of his career and family, Native Americans, and/or the American West.

River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey by Candace Millard - take TR's outsize personality and thirst for adventure and set him down in the middle of an ill-equipped expedition down a never-explored branch of the Amazon river filled with all manner of danger such as piranhas, malaria, and hostile native tribes. The result is this crazy adventure that would be too over the top for fiction - but it happened!

Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum -  CSI Prohibition, essentially, except with the guys who INVENTED all the ways to test for poison because before them murderers got away with poisonings all the time.

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff - Brief but completely charming. I have a friend who says I must see the movie, but I don't know - the book is such a jewel by itself!

The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science by Richard Holmes - this book is a monster, but a monster that paid off for me. It was a tough read in parts, but so worth it in the end! I never realized how intertwined so many of these great discoveries were.

GRAPHIC NOVEL: a lot of the graphic novels that I read this year were in continuing series. Some favorites:

Sailor Twain: the Mermaid in the Hudson by Mark Siegel - So good! I followed along with this as it was being published online, but it was a complete pleasure to start at the beginning and turn pages to the end. History, fantasy, action - good stuff.

The Unwritten 3: Dead Man's Knock & The Unwritten 4: Leviathan by Mike Carey, illus. Peter Gross - thoroughly enjoying this series which is about the nature of stories, books, secret societies, conspiracies, and chase scenes.

Baby's in Black: Astrid Kirchherr, Stuart Sutcliffe, and The Beatles in Hamburg by Arne Bellstorf  - the title says it all, pretty much. I enjoyed this alternate point of view.

Y.A. / J Most of these would be fantasy/paranormal if I were writing my chart out today. Some favorites:

Chime by Franny Billingsly - Swampy, witchy, magical. I wish I had it here in front of me so I could quote a passage from it - the language was a joy to read.

The Diviners by Libba Bray - flappers, ghosts, flapper slang, uncles, musicians,  a "museum of creepy crawlies," and some really scary parts. (almost too scary for me! but I'm kind of scare-wimpy.)  This is the first book in a new series - I thought it was a little longer than it had to be, but it was terribly entertaining!

Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor  - These books are so good! This is the second in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy (? series? I think there's going to be 3 but I'm not sure). She's a beautiful writer who has created a world of such richness that it feels like it's whole. Sometimes with fantasy novels there's only enough of the world made up for plot points to happen in - this story is big, but the world feels bigger - like there are a million other stories happening. She's great and I hope she keeps writing for a very long time.

Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett - I love the Tiffany Aching books so much I'm stretching them out so they last longer. This takes place in the Discworld universe, but they stand alone.

LITERARY FICTION: So many good books this year! some favorites:

Diving Belles by Lucy Wood  - These short stories wind themselves in and around Cornish folklore. The sea (the windy, wet to your bones sea) features heavily. I loved it.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter - I loved this book because it's generous even while getting in its digs, smart, ambitious, funny, tragic, etc.  Jess Walter keeps getting better and better - I liked him before, then saw him read at the Wordstock Festival and like him even more now. He seems like a good guy and he is a great writer.

We Only Know So Much by Elizabeth Crane - This novel is thoughtful, funny, tragic, droll, and kind to what would be the most unlikeable characters in another story. There is a first person plural omniscient narrator (I like it). There are real human feelings (I like it).

It Chooses You by Miranda July - I never saw the movie this was associated with, and I kind of like it that way. Alone this reads like Miranda July, Investigative Reporter - but an investigative reporter obsessed with the Penny Saver.

Treasure Island!!! by Sara Levine -  I have heart eyes for this book. Core values: boldness, resolution, independence and horn-blowing. Darkly hilarious, but at the same time makes me feel like maybe I'm a bad person for laughing. (I enjoy this ambiguity!) I saw her at Wordstock and she was delightful.


So ends my list! What were some of your favorite books from the year? Do you keep track?

staring contest

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Saturday, December 29, 2012


Busby plans his knitting project

I know who I think would win.

briefly snow

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Thursday, December 20, 2012
little bit of snow

it didn't snow for more than a half hour or so at my house - it was so pretty while it lasted.

downy woodpecker
this handsome fellow came to visit. Turns out, he's a total jackass. There were some bushtits (tiny, tiny birds that travel in flocks) who were eating from the same suet feeder and he chased them all off. When they tried to come back he took a bite out of someone and had a mouth full of feathers.

one of these birds ended the morning with a bald spot somewhere. (bushtits along with a chestnut-backed chickadee)

downy woodpecker
And here is the lady woodpecker - I didn't notice her being a jerk to anyone, although to be fair nobody really came around while she took her turn. The bird feeders have been a lot of fun so far this fall/winter.


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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I'm crazy about this version of Let it Snow! by Sufjan Stevens - it's both lovely and a little creepy. The arrangement makes me think of the Snow Queen and how this could be the song of one of her enchanted, kidnapped boys. For all the talk in the song of being warm inside it still sounds like it's happening in a beautiful frozen ice cave where you can't talk very loud or a stalactite will fall and pin you where you stand. Which is, of course, just what the Snow Queen wants for some reason.

p.s. it may snow here tomorrow! It snowed a little today, but nothing that really stuck. Certainly nothing to make an ice cave from.

let's look at some trees

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Monday, December 17, 2012
winter trees
Trees make me feel better. I think these clouds look either like they have cellulite or that they've curdled slightly, but somehow it works for them.  Curdle on in style, my friends!

winter trees
Ghost tree. (Love this one - this is shooting directly into the sun.)

winter trees
this one seems friendlier, which I'm sure is due to the color and the fact that it's reaching out a bunch of leaves like it wants to shake your hand. (I would be scared out of my wits within SECONDS if I was ever lost after dark in a spooky fairy tale forest.)

winter trees

winter trees
Shadow puppet. I'm not sure what animal it's meant to be, but that's definitely an eye in the middle.

winter trees
a series of tubes.

winter trees
elephant trunk

winter trees
Ghost tree #2: Mossy Style


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Wednesday, December 12, 2012
the red 12

1. I really like the new flickr app and the tweaking they've done to the main site

2. Sleep! I need to go to bed earlier. Is there a cure for farting around on the internet?

3. twelves! I always like dates with the same number or a number run (9/10/11 or whatever) even though it's just a NUMBER with no particular significance. Even so, it makes me think 'hey, look at that' and it's not like I'm making lottery bets or life decisions based on it, so don't rain on my parade, Neil deGrasse Tyson!

4. My Christmas cards are almost done, although they're not very christmassy. Holiday cards? Winter cards?

5. the cat is on my arm, purr/snoring as I type this.

6. I started Diving Belles and it's good, but my brain is craving something trashy. Hang in there, Brain!

7. I wish it would snow.

8. I've been making a bunch of stuff out of supplies already on hand. this feels FANTASTIC. I sense a theme for 2013. More on this at a later date -  I'm still rolling it over in my head.

9. Nashville, New Girl, and The Mindy Show: I'm enjoying all of them very much this season.

10. This may sound nuts but I've had the sense lately that whatever my problem is (I have problems) the solution is within my grasp. This is a good feeling for the most part, although I find myself reaching that realization point and stopping - like just figuring it out is enough. (It is not enough.)

11.  If it was 11/11/11 I could quit this list right here!

12. twelve drummers drumming, eleven ladies dancing, ten lords a leaping, nine gees a laying, eight maids a milking, seven swans a swimming, six drummers drumming, FIVE GOLDEN RINGS, four calling birds, three french hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree. (From memory -  I should fact check.)  (fact: there are not 18 drummers in this song, and I forgot the pipers! 12 drummers, 11 pipers, 10 lords, 9 ladies, 8 maids, 7 swans, 6 geese, 5 rings, 4 birds, 3 hens, 2 doves, 1 partridge.) (ooh, wikipedia says they are "colly birds" and here all this time I've thought they were "calling birds." Oh, wait -that's a variant. It's wrong, but I'm not the only person who ever thought so. The article is pretty interesting...)

2000 miles

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

I found a long-lost Christmas Mix that I made ("Christmas 2004!") and this was one of the songs on it - I like that it's not about jingle bells or angels singing but about the relatable Christmas melancholy of someone you love being far away.

It's late and I should be asleep, but I'm on a production roll for my Christmas cards. (Update from yesterday - they're still weird, but have grown on me.) There's glitter that has to dry and that's a job for THE NIGHTTIME. On the other hand, sleeping is also something easiest done in the nighttime (at least for me) so I'd better get to it.

books and some beach rocks

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Sunday, December 09, 2012
beach finds

(photo from the beach a couple years ago. Love those circles on the rock!)

I just finished reading all my obligatory reading for now (overdue book w/ huge waiting list, book club book), which were both non-fiction and I am SO EXCITED at the prospect of reading a novel or some short stories I can't even tell you! (SO EXCITED!) I'm not sure what it will be yet, but I'm thinking it might be Diving Belles by Lucy Wood, about which I've only heard good things. The overdue book (Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher by Timothy Egan) was excellent; the book club book was enh but  we had a good time describing the ways in which it let us down as readers, so that's something.

This weekend was great but also a little bananas. Possible topics for the future: how busy is too busy and does it change as general busyness increases? Will the sweet striped cat ever forgive me for shoving a pill down his throat? (wah! I feel bad, but it was necessary for reasons you don't want to know about.) Are my Christmas cards too weird? Why is everything such a mess? (literal mess! But probably also the other kind.) AND MANY MORE!

I was thinking of skipping this post all together and working on my possibly too weird Christmas cards, but it's never going to get any easier to write more often if I keep putting it off, if you know what I mean and I think that you do.

a musical interlude

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Friday, December 07, 2012

Portland Cello Project's cover of Beck's Song Reader song, Old Shanghai.

I love the participatory nature of this project- here's (part of) what Beck had to say about it in the New Yorker:

I thought a lot about the risks of the inherent old-timeyness of a songbook. I know I have friends who will dismiss it as a stylistic indulgence, a gimmick. There’s a way of miniaturizing and neutralizing the past, encasing it in a quaint, retro irrelevancy and designating it as something only fit for curiosity-seekers or revivalists. But although the present moment can exclude the past from relevance, it can’t erase its influence entirely. Each era finds something new to return to; things that seemed out of date have a way of coming back in new forms, and revealing aspects of themselves we might not have noticed before. I think there’s something human in sheet music, something that doesn’t depend on technology to facilitate it—it’s a way of opening music up to what someone else is able to bring to it. That instability is what ultimately drew me to this project.
Read the rest of the article at The New Yorker.

Speaking of what you bring to it - here's a version of the same song played by staffers for The New Yorker - I love that it's a little more living room ramshackle. To me that's the beauty of the project - there's room for interpretation. For multiple interpretations. It's communal and you're invited to sing along.

a nap cat list

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Thursday, December 06, 2012
perky nose

•Haircut today! It's short and exceptionally smooth since she flat ironed it. And when I say flat ironed, I mean constructed an architectural model of the flat iron building into an elaborate hairdo!  (no I don't, but it makes me laugh to think of it - like the elaborate ship hairdos of OLDEN TIMES.) In flat iron reality, it's an angled bob short enough to have me worrying about having a cold neck all the time.  But super cute!

•perhaps time to make a scarf inventory

• the striped cat is napping on my arm between me and the keyboard. He does this every night. When he was a kitten, it was nbd because what kind of weakling can't type with a sleeping kitten on her wrist? (besides one allergic to cats, of course.) But he's well beyond tiny kitten size now and keeps hitting the space bar and the trackpad button with his big butt or paws or tail.

• I'm reading a book that's many days overdue at the library. It's the new Timothy Egan about the photographer Edward Curtis, and it's SO GOOD! He just visited the scary J.P. Morgan to ask for money and I swear a whole novel (or many novels) could be written about how Morgan gave his money away. I'll find a quote tomorrow, but right now it's too hard to reposition the cat, get the book, etc. etc.  Anyway - it's very good. Highly recommended! If you have someone on your gift list who is interested in history, non-fiction, the American west, Native Americans, and photography save yourself some trouble and just buy this book for them right now!

•I'm blogging more this month. I've been missing it, but it's hard to get back into the swing of it without pressing hard on the reset button. So while that happens, there will probably be a lot of photo posts.

• there's more, but it can wait until tomorrow! (because I will be back tomorrow - maybe earlier in the day will foil the butt-typing nap cat.)

over the edge in a barrel (part two)

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Wednesday, December 05, 2012
niagara falls
Part two of Niagara Falls Adventures! These photos are from the cross country road trip I took in August of 2011.

The photo above is from the same position on the Observation Deck as the last instagram photo in part one. The noise from the water was tremendous!

Niagara Falls
Everyone knows Maid of the Mist IV, St. Catharines is the best one. The floatation devices are the most buoyant, the passengers are the cleverest, etc.

Niagara Falls
Maid of the Mist V - our natural enemy! Or doppleganger. Maybe it was us on the other side of a hole in time and space, a la Yellow Submarine. In any case, proof that it is possible to go close to the falls and survive. As we were headed into them, I was less and less sure so the site of this boat was reassuring.

Niagara Falls
Yellow jackets! A rival group of waterfall cultists.

Niagara Falls
It was SOOOO LOUD here - and wet. My camera was getting soaked along with the rest of me.

Niagara Falls
Ta-da! I mean, what can you say? It's amazing and there's no way I would go over the edge ON PURPOSE. Daredevils of the past, I don't get it. Your ways and motivations remain mysterious to me.

Niagara Falls
Long-distance view of the Yellow Jackets. They're everywhere!

Niagara Falls
My favorite thing about this picture is that right near the top is THE WATER and that it's hard to tell the waterfall mist from the clouds.

Niagara Falls
I love the contrast of the dark rocks and the white mist.

Niagara Falls

out of season

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Monday, December 03, 2012
summer dark

I waited too long to get started on today's post, so here's a picture I took in the summer. (well, A summer, not this summer.) It was in the teeeeny tiny town in Illinois where my uncle lives when he's not living in India. It's literally in the middle of a corn (field? grove? acres? expanse? I don't know what the official term is. But thinking about it, it must be field, right?)

ANYWAY. This was from the back yard and I like the gold of the light against the black of the shadows and the dark blue of the sky.


If you celebrate Christmas, are you feeling it yet? I'm having a hard time drumming up any holiday spirit, but then I think "Jen, it's only December 3rd. Chill out." That's the thought I'm going to sleep on tonight.

over the edge in a barrel (part one)

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Sunday, December 02, 2012
nikola tesla
I decided to split my Niagara Falls pictures into two posts - first the blurry and atmospheric instagram snaps. These are from my trip to western New York in the summer of 2011. This tall bronze gentleman is Nikola Tesla of SCIENCE FAME. . He is reading plans and making electricity with the power of his mind! (and a hydroelectric power plant.) 

Maid of the Mist boat tour, of course. I mean, we were THERE, it seemed like a waste of 3500 miles to be there and not get on the boat. 

Which isn't to say I didn't have second thoughts when we were all lined up in our cult-y blue rain jackets (more like blue garbage bags, really). Doesn't it look like we're standing in line to be sacrificed? If I hadn't been watching fellow tourists return on boats in their protective garbage bags, maybe I wouldn't have been so blithe about stepping on the boat. 

From above - I love this picture because it looks like an old postcard. Anyway! Part two of this brief Niagara series will involve photos taken ON THE BOAT. 

sincere transmissions from outer space

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Saturday, December 01, 2012
christmas at the grotto

Beck's cover of The Flamingos classic "I Only Have Eyes For You" came out in the summer as part of a larger art project. I listened to it over and over in the warmer months and then it fell into an ipod black hole as these things (songs! meaningful experiences! good intentions!) do.  I'm so glad that my obsessive search for album art in iTunes 11 has brought the song back to me. I love that Beck's version  manages somehow to be lush and intimate while at the same time sounding like it's being broadcast from the galaxy's loneliest space station: is it the slow dance at prom in a time travel movie or an astronaut's hallucination?  Any story I try to assign gets the same result: achingly romantic. There's no ironic distance - this is sincere, straight-up, plainly stated, emotionally felt, and directly expressed in words, vibraphone, and shabop-shabops. And one assumes coordinated dance moves.