Monday, January 15, 2018

Happy MLK Day!

I don’t have any pictures for you today but I wanted to post this link to MLK’s letter written to fellow church leaders about the civil rights movement.  The Washington Post has a thoughtful article as well, but don’t skip King’s actual words.  The disappointment in his letter seems just as fresh today. Disappointment that those who didn’t suffer discrimination themselves stood by and watched as the black community fought for civil rights - or worse, criticized their peaceful protests as disruptive and ‘rabble rousing’. I’ve heard almost identical words in the last few months regarding peaceful protests and seen communities that should be standing up for their fellow Americans shrugging their shoulders at the news of injustice. I’m sure we’ve all seen it. While our laws may be different today it’s  a shame to see how far we still have to go in our actions and attitudes.

On the other hand, two of my colleagues drove home the point that individuals can still make a difference - yes, even if they aren’t the targets of discrimination.  One colleague recounted the time when her children (at the time attending school somewhere overseas) had been dressed up in blackface and maid outfits by their teacher to ‘celebrate’ the local equivalent of black history month.  My other colleague asked what she had done in response. (A great question the next time you hear someone describe an act of discrimination they witnessed.) I think plenty of people would have just made some excuse for why they shouldn’t intervene or it why it wasn’t a good time, but my lovely and strong colleague took the time to meet with the school principal and explain why she found this offensive. She then bought the school some books on important figures in black history. Her actions influenced the teachers - and more importantly the students - at that school for who knows how many years.

So in honor of MLK, make a commitment with me to remember going forward (in the words of DC metro) “If you see something, say something.”

Saturday, January 13, 2018

House Update January13

Things are really flying along now with my house and it's SO exciting to be almost done making decisions. Or maybe that's not accurate, maybe I'm just getting started. But humor me, because it's been an intense few weeks and I'm ready to get to the fun stuff.  I do want to do a big post sometime soon for those who might someday be building their own homes with a list of all the decisions they will need to make.  Had I had a list like that early on there wouldn't have been as many delays or headaches as I tried to quickly pick out all the bathroom fixtures in one weekend (for example). 

Since the last update the house has had the HVAC system installed and some minor issues fixed.  We've also got the electricians and plumbers coming in (they may have already started, I'm not sure).  While it doesn't look much different we've made many of the most time consuming decisions and a number of big purchases behind the scenes such as: the flooring, the bathroom stuff (toilets, shower enclosures, faucets, sinks, vanities, etc.), the kitchen cabinets (which had to be designed with the Ikea kitchen planner, a very temperamental but ultimately really useful program) and we've started purchasing appliances.  For example I found a great washer/dryer set I got on sale for almost half off.  So yeah, it doesn't look like much but it's been an exciting time.  Next up, once the electrician and plumber are done: insulation and drywall, flooring, installing the kitchen and bathroom fixtures... and then just finishes. We're sooooo close!

And now for some obligatory pictures, apologies for the blurriness but I'm lucky the builders are sending me any update photos at all so I'll take what I can get!

Tubes or something!  I think this is the HVAC.... 

 A metal box! 

Maybe the fuse box? 
I don't even know where that's supposed to be come to think of it...

 More tubes!

I think this is in the upstairs bathroom so I'm going to guess it's for the sink hook ups.

Ok, is it obvious yet that I'm kind of a passive participant in the construction project?  Anyway, whatever all that is it looks great to me.  

They really are going to put in the stairs at the VERY end I guess.  And the balconies. I can't help but think ... "safety?"

Sunday, January 7, 2018


I absolutely love when other bloggers post lists of what they've been reading and after joining a book club back in Rome I certainly have expanded my reading horizons in the last couple of years. So in case you're searching for a good read here's what I liked (and didn't like) in 2017:

A Man Called Ove
Meh. To me this book felt like it was trying way too hard. But then again, everyone else seems to really like it so maybe I'm just turning old and grumpy myself. The book is about an old Swedish man who is grumpy and rude on the outside, but without fault entirely on the inside. It's like Up but it kind of beats you over the head with the main character's wonderfulness. 

The Girl with All the Gifts
Really liked this one. It was unique, didn't go for the traditional cop-out ending I was expecting, and had zombies. 'Nuff said. The film was really well done too.

Where'd You Go Bernadette
This was another book club book.  I found it pretty readable and it made me want to go to Antarctica (A LOT) which must mean I was inspired by it on some level, but it also started a trend for this year - mentioned again below - in which the main character is kind of unreliable for whatever reason and yet self-righteously resents everyone else for treating them as unreliable.  Are responsible, well adjusted grown-ups just not interesting enough?

Station Eleven
An interesting take on post-apocalyptic fiction. 

Go Set a Watchman
I had high hopes despite the bad reviews I'd read but in the end I was disappointed too. Not so much with the twist in character but because the justification for that abrupt shift just didn't seem to make any sense.

I, Claudius
Another book club book, suggested by a good friend.  Timely, considering these same characters made pretty regular appearances in the art and architecture of my beloved Rome.  Surprisingly easy read as well, or is that just because I got the audiobook? 

Between the World and Me
A couple of us basically had to drag the book group kicking and screaming to this book but we ended up really liking it and having a great discussion about it and racism in America generally. It's a short but heavy read. I would highly recommend it though as a book that doesn't shy away from difficult truths.

Gone Girl 
No comment necessary, right?  I'm sure you read this too and if not you probably saw the movie.

Divergent Series
I think I was over young adult fiction even as a young adult. There's only so many times I can read about a heroine who's really just naturally SO much better than everyone else - and how she's persecuted because of her innate better-than skills - before my eyes start rolling uncontrollably.

While the City Slept
Incredibly traumatizing. And I'm not afraid of violence. Really felt sick and wished I could unread the last part.  However, the build-up did a great job laying out the case for mental health care in the US. If you read this please do yourself a favor and stop before the assault scene is described.  Again, book club.

Ender's Game
I was really glad I finally read this on a friend's suggestion.  Though I guess it makes some of the same YA points as the Divergent series (young hero who is so much better than everyone else) it did so in a more compelling way.

The Girl on the Train
Now a major motion picture!  I actually liked this one though I agree with other reviewers that it was a bit difficult keeping the major female characters straight.

Don't Breathe a Word
Kind of weird but also has a surprising twist. Book club book.

I, along with the rest of the universe, read the Goldfinch, I liked the first section a ton, found the second bit disconcerting and the ending mostly sad.  Overall I'd still recommend it.

The Art Forger
Recommended by someone in my book club. It was an easy read and timely considering that I read itwhile I was living in Rome and spending so much time looking at artwork.

In Other Words
I read this one in Italian and spent a lot of time in awe of Lahiri's really extensive vocabulary. Not really a spoiler alert, but Jhumpa Lahiri learned Italian as an adult - just like me! - and then wrote a book in Italian. That's worth being a bit impressed by, right?

When Breath Becomes Air
Interesting and heavy - the autobiography of a doctor who finds out he has terminal cancer. I would highly recommend it.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?
Not usually my sort of thing but it was a fun, easy read. And it's good to know that sometimes dorky girls do finish first.

French Women Don't Get Fat
The author starts out by lauding the easy French style of eating where you never have to diet - then goes on to describe a non-diet where you only eat leek broth. Um...sounds like a diet to me. I got fed up and didn't finish this one. 

The Muralist
Did not finish this. I was a little bit sick of art stories I guess. And stories where the main character is feminist in a suspiciously modern way.

Storia del Nuovo Cognome (Elena Ferrante)
I read this in Italian and it was so hard! But good. But hard! It's available in English of course and I recommend the whole series.  Ferrante just has a way of describing relationships - particularly friendships - that is so real and powerful.

The Woman in Cabin 10
Light and mostly fun but at this point I just can't help calling out the pattern where no one believes the main character when she makes outrageous claims because she is a heavy drinker/has a criminal record/has been unreliable in the past. 

It took two tries for me to get past the initial, quite boring, opening and into the meat of the book but once I did I found that I really enjoyed it. Thanks book club for inspiring me to finish!

One of Us
Intense, kind of frightening. Also a great exploration of how systems - even good ones - at times fail individuals.

Salt, Sugar, Fat
Interesting, but quite long considering the straightforward premise- with the inevitable result that the author ends up covering the same territory again and again. I'd recommend it if you know nothing about the food industry in the US - otherwise you've probably already got the gist.

Seemed incredibly repetitive and after a while I got sick of feeling like the author was just hanging out waiting for a reaction shot from me. ("Weren't they just SO awful?" "Can you believe it?")

Deadly Embrace
About the relationship between the US and Pakistan through the years.  I was disappointed with all the missed opportunities to provide context and delve deeper - but it's an interesting topic and one I'd like to read more about.  The author clearly has a good grasp of the players involved down through the decades, but he doesn't always provide enough supporting detail to bring the less-expert reader around to his perspective.

The Return of Depression Economics
Very interesting as it compares the responses of society, policy makers, and economists to the Great Depression with those of today.  I might not be quite as optimistic as the author about how far the field of economics has come, but it was definitely an enlightening read. 

Rich Dad, Poor Dad
Atrociously written, but it did inspire me to gain some financial literacy. Also (almost) inspired me to send a letter to the author offering to be his proofreader. Also, just so it has been said, it isn't heroic or smart to not pay taxes; it is selfish.

The Rise of the Rocket Girls
I thought this was going to be Hidden Figures but I was wrong - they're based on some of the same characters but are completely different stories.  Unfortunately I thought this version didn't go very well.  It's such a fascinating - and true - historical era that it deserved a thorough, nonfiction treatment. Instead the author chose to weave in personal stories, but didn't do the greatest job of it - confusing the story with too many bit parts to keep straight or care about  any one character - and wasting lots of space on repetition and useless side comments that don't go anywhere. I'm sure the idea was to add character and context, but instead it just felt directionless. 

I read this solely during my trip to Sweden - in the airport, on the plane, and over coffee and cinnamon buns whenever I was exhausted with sightseeing. I know it's not actually about Sweden (the story is set in a remote Icelandic fishing town) but the general northern setting set the right tone for my trip and it was an easy read. 

The Light Between Oceans
Powerful - especially because most books are SO predictable, even (especially?) when they try so hard to surprise you, while this book, by forcing its characters to make impossible choices, left me unable to imagine any ending.  Yes, it was melodramatic and ultimately implausible, but the set up was just the vehicle to tell a broader story about what people do with unbearable emotions and that felt very real indeed.

The Expats
This really reads like lifestyle porn and it was hard to take the book too seriously. I didn't finish in the end. It did make me wonder though, is this how people saw my life while I was living in Europe? An endless string of designer outfits, elegant surroundings and lazy coffees? (Ok, the lazy coffee part is true.)

Ok, that's it - or at least that's everything I can remember.  If it seems a little on the negative side I can only say that joining a book club was great for getting me outside my reading comfort zone - and that sometimes meant reading things I didn't specifically like.  But no regrets!  My top recommendations are:  The Girl with All the Gifts, Between the World and Me, Elena Ferrante's Neopolitan series. and When Breath Becomes Air.

Happy Reading!

Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy 2018!

Just to get things off to a good start I’m putting these resolutions out there TODAY. No procrastinating this year!

New Year’s Resolutions 2018

  • Take tennis lessons for 6 months and/or join a sailing club in São Paulo
  • Play the piano in public - maybe at one of those free airport pianos, maybe in the mall, if I get desperate, in a piano store, we’ll see
  • Learn to bake bread
  • Celebrate all the holidays - in the past I’ve been pretty lazy about decorating, hosting parties, sending cards and all the rest, but this year I will make an effort to actively enjoy the holidays, whether or not I get to spend them with my family
  • Spend a night in my own house!
  • Write 100 pages to submit somewhere for publication. This doesn’t have to be a novel or anything but a total of 100 pages whether that be short stories, opinion pieces, articles, etc. I figure 100 pages is a reasonable goal at only 2 pages per week. Even if I don’t submit it all, having a portfolio of writing attempts might help me get over the fear of putting my work out there.
  • Learn to make cinnamon rolls!
  • Watch the top 50 films according to the American Film Institute. I’ve seen about 38 or so of the top 50 so I have a head start
  • Blog once per week.
  • Be more graceful/gracious. I’m still figuring out exactly what this would entail, but I heard someone comment this year that another woman was ‘such a lady’ and I thought I wanted that to be the kind of thing people say about me too.

So that’s it! Ambitious but not impossible. What about you? What’s on your agenda for this year?

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Resolutions - Resolved! (mostly)

It’s that time of year again! I’m looking ba k today to see how well I did on all my New Year’s Resolutions from 2017. If you don’t remember I made this list back in January/February.
  • Be a better communicator - Write to family on their birthdays, send actual letters, respond quicker to invites... All that good stuff Yes! This one has been a great opportunity to connect more with friends and family - I definitely want to keep it up again next year.
  • Know the Hatch Act, live the Hatch Act.  I plan this year to be a more reponsible (read: active) participant in our great democracy. I plan to do something to support causes I believe in at least once a week. Yes, for the most part. I was a bit more active at the beginning of the year, but I’ve been writing and calling my senators, signing petitions and supporting causes I believe in on a fairly regular basis even this late in the year.
  • Finish three or four more books in Italian - I already have Jhumpa Lahiri's In Altre Parole mostly finished and I also intend to finish the last three by Elena Ferrante (I read the first already this year) Barely, but yes. This goal ended up being a bit too ambitious, especially since I insisted on reading the quite tough Elena Ferrante series rather than something easier. But it was a rich experience and I did finish three books before I switched to Portuguese and went cold turkey on the Italian.
  • Cook seafood. I've always been intimidated by seafood but no more! Spaghetti con vongole (clams) and calamari are on the menu. Yes! I made frito misto (awesome,  but not as leftovers), salmon steaks, and spaghetti alle vongole as promised. All    delicious!
  • Also on the cooking front - learn to can food Kind of. I canned tomatoes with my mom. Will need to try it on my own someday to really count it but the lesson was definitely a first step.
  • Go sailing (bonus points if I manage to take a course) Yes, but just once. I joined the sailing club near my parents’ house while back on home leave but only made it to the lake for one lesson. Kind of disappointing but it does still count.
  • Travel - two new countries, two new states, two new Italian cities Yes, no, yes. I visited Spain, Sweden and San Marino and within Italy saw Capri, Ancona, Montepulciano and Bologna. But I didn’t make the road trip I had planned during home leave. In fact it was a conscious decision to save money since, ironically, it is cheaper to visit a new European country than a new US state - at least if the States left on your list are kind of far from home. But two out of three isn’t so bad.
  • Finally go to Tuba Christmas in DC Yes! It was fun but probably no need to go again.
  • Have friends over for dinner more often More often is kind of relative, and I haven’t done this at all since I got to DC but I did host several friends for dinner, coffee, and one mega-brunch this year and I call that a win.
  • Find a solid volunteering gig in DC and stick with it Yes, although ironically I think I might switch to a location that really needs my help, I have been going to a homeless shelter for a couple of months now. 
  • Learn how to make a really kick-ass cappucino before leaving Italy Yes! Wish my frother and French press had made it into the UAB but I guess I’ll see them all in São Paulo! 
  • Be able to play level 4 (will have to explain this later) songs on the piano and actually sight read The difficulty level was confusing, but basically I can now play four songs - Fur Elise, Pachebel’s Canon in D, Bourrée and the one whose name I can never remember. It’s something bland like Minuet... and I can very, painfully, slowly sight read. I’ve really been enjoying it - and even bought a second keyboard so I can practice while I’m back in the States too. Win! 

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Latest house update

Just got this photo from the builders. As they put it -it’s starting to look like a “real” house now. While I still think the framing is what made it all seem real, I agree that the siding does make it blend a little better with the neighborhood.

In DC news I got a surprise behind the scenes tour of the National Zoo this weekend. I got to feed a 400+ pound turtle and pet all the things (that weren’t deadly). It was totally an animal lover’s dream come true.  And the Zoolights stuff wasn’t bad either.

Sadly I can't figure out how to make the iPhone 'live' photo play here... maybe that's a project for my next long weekend.  In the meantime, just remember my fingers were inches away from this hungry fellow's mouth. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Merry Tuba Christmas!

Just wanted to share a few photos from the very festive Tuba Christmas performance I attended at the Kennedy Center. Thanks Millennium Stage for the free entertainment!  This is one of the last few to-dos on my list of New Years Resolutions to get crossed off and it was a great way to enjoy a little holiday spirit in the middle of a season that can be pretty stressful if you aren’t careful.