Every Sno-Isle Library

Two months into 2019, I finally finished one of my 2018 New Year’s Resolutions.

The goal was to visit all the libraries in the Sno-Isle system. I am trying to deal with the fact that I have both wanderlust and children by embarking on a series of micro-adventures. Since I can’t visit all fifty states or every continent (right now, anyway), I am settling for visiting all 23 libraries in the Sno-Isle system.

Luckily, library branches are on islands, peninsulas, mountains, and near hiking trails. Lots of opportunities for adventures.

So, with my two kids in tow, the challenge was to make an expedition out of each library visit.

I was so anxious to get started I forgot that a resolution should take plan in one calendar year and started on December 27th of 2017. At the time, I figured that I’d be done by the time the 2018 baseball season started and I could give all my extra attention to the Mariners. I was a few months off.

I just crossed the last library off my list today, February 23rd 2019. So I was only a year off. Close enough.

Trailhead Libraries

The Darrington library is up in the northeast corner of my region, surrounded by the North Cascades. It was a library that I kept putting off. Part of the problem is that it’s closed Sundays. Initially, I figured that we’d stop here on one of our trips out of town. We passed Darrington twice last summer, once while heading to Ross Lake to go camping one rainy weekend in June and a second time on the way Winthrop. However, we never ended up stopping there on the way to our vacations, and both return trips were on Sundays when the library was closed. Therefore, summer came and went and I realized that I’d better get up to Darrington before it started snowing, since I am deathly afraid of the driving-mountains-snow trifecta of death. My delays turned out to be a good thing because the girls and I headed up to Darrington in the middle of fall when all the leaves were busy looking gorgeous.

Hiking was a total bust. I tried to take the girls up Boulder River Trail, and after four miles of driving on a gravelly pot-holed forest service road, my five-year-old pitched a total anti-hiking fit about 200 meters into the hike. So that was fun.

Sultan was better. It was one of the first libraries that we went to during the early spring of 2018, and after the rainy drive and library, we headed to Wallace Falls, which is a great kid hike. There is a less-than-a-mile loop with a waterfall early in the trail that served as motivation for my lackluster little hiker.

A train pulled through town just as we headed into the City Hall-Library combo, which is VERY exciting if you are three. We enjoyed the slow comfort of book, stuffed bears, cozy chairs and magnet building blocks before heading to Wallace Falls State Park in Gold Bar.

Wallace Falls one of my favorite kid hikes. It starts with a gravel straightaway that just begs to test out your sprinting skills. That was everyone gets the impulse to run out of the way before the real hike starts are we all need to stick closer together. Once in the woods, the trail splits off into paths of varying length and difficulty. We chose the .5 mile down to Small Falls and then did an extra little loop before heading back. 

The Granite Falls Library is also tucked in between mountains and trailheads, although we opted to visit the museum instead. It was a delightful tiny open-only-on-Sundays place that featured mostly logging lore and very enthusiastic staff of elderly volunteers who gave us candy. The library was super cozy.

The Mukilteo Library is a trailhead library, which is weird because Mukilteo is not in the mountains, but right on Puget Sound. However, the library is surrounded by the Big Gulch Trail which leads down to the beach.

The Oak Harbor Library also turned out to be a hiking destination. Even though Oak Harbor is (like Mukilteo), is right on the water, in order to get to the place, you have to drive over a very dramatic bridge. The Deception Pass Bridge connects Whidbey Island to the mainland, and the little park on the Whidbey side is a perfect place to park your car and take a walk across the bridge (unless you are scared of heights) and/or walk down to the beach.

Island Libraries

When the girls and I visited Camano Island Library, I wasn’t expecting the place to feel so island-y, since Camano Island. It’s more of a peninsula that has a couple of slough-like rivers separating it from the mainland. Yet, the minute we drove over the (not at all dramatic) bridge I got that island feeling. Everything was immediately brighter, more relaxed, slower, more fun. We stopped at a park, got ice cream by the library, took the scenic route to the beach. Total island stuff. Sorry for misjudging you, Camano Island.

The Clinton and Langley Libraries on the south end of Whidbey Island. The Clinton library is tiny and charming. We took a ferry across the sound to visit. It must have been sometime in October, because I remember the Clinton librarian taking my girls on a pumpkin-counting hunt through the library. The Langley library was fun because it was right in the middle of the tourist center of town, near a firehouse-turned-glass-blowing factory and lots of good places to eat. The library itself was bright and airy with tons of great toys. This was one of the girls’ favorites.

We visited the Coupeville and Freeland libraries in late February 2018. The thing I remember most of about these libraries was that my husband was there too. Most of our library adventures were just me and the girls, but in February we went to Coupeville as a family because I was running a trail race that I was not at all prepared for. Oblivious to the fact that I was about the run the worst race of my life, we spend the weekend on Whidbey visiting libraries and staying at a perfect little AirBnB.

Destination Libraries

Edmonds: With a rooftop overlooking the town and the water, this is one of those libraries that people get married in.

Monroe: This library was an unexpected wonder. A glass wall backing up to a forest, the best play area of the bunch, a fun park next door and delicious taco trucks nearby.

Snohomish: Definitely the pearl of the sno-isle system, the Snohomish library is going for that old-world charm feel, with dark wood and tall ceilings, and cozy chairs tucked around the fireplace. A perfect place to spend a dark and rainy night. Naturally, I don’t have a picture but you can see some good ones here.

Stanwood and Marysville: Okay, these libraries weren’t really the destination, but they were perfect stops on the way to the Warm Beach Lights of Christmas Festivals. We stopped at Stanwood in 2017, and Marysville in 2018.

Around Town

Lakewood/Smokey Point, Arlington, Lake Stevens, Mill Creek, Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood: Okay, when it came to these libraries I’ll have to confess that I didn’t really make an expedition out of them. There were no ferries, ice-cream stops, AirBnBs or trails. Usually the most exciting thing we did after visiting these libraries was to stop at Safeway for groceries on the way home. Not that they aren’t great libraries though.

The library in the town that is 5 minutes from my house and I have never been there

Brier is the town right next to me. In the five years I’ve lived here I had never even driven through Brier. It’s a little pocket neighborhood tucked in a triangular space between two freeways. I know that sounds horrible, but it isn’t. Because Brier is on the way to absolutely nowhere, nobody ever goes there. Unless they are on a quest to visit every library in the Sno-Isle system. We stopped in at a pizza joint in Brier where everybody knew each other, and we were clearly the out-of-towners (again. I live about five miles away from the place. Total out of towner).

Ah, the strip mall library

The Mariner library is in a strip mall between Everett and Lynnwood. It’s next to a Park n Ride and a good chunk of its patrons have questionable living situations. It is my favorite library because it is mine. It is where I rush nearly every week to pick up my holds. It is where I see my neighbors at the story time, which is tucked in a too-small room in the back. It is the library where my students go to check out laptops and use Wi-Fi and find a tiny space of quiet in their lives. It’s where the best and most patient librarians work – juggling the demands of toddlers, high school students, and an ever-increasing homeless population with grace. It may not have a fireplace or wood paneling or a view of the ocean, but this library is exactly what all libraries should be – a place where anyone, from anywhere, can find a warm welcoming space…and maybe even find themselves the perfect book.

Resolutions

So the first task of the New Year was to determine the rules around these goals. There have to be rules for everything. You know when you throw a penny in a wishing fountain? I have rules for my wishes – parameters for what constitutes an acceptable wish. So clearly my New Year resolutions must have rules as well.

Do steps count as miles? Do tweets count towards my word goal? Does reading “Shimmer and Shine Make It Sparkle” for the 62nd time to my daughter count as a “book.”

No. No. And….. No.

Before breaking down the nitty gritty, here are my thoughts on these resolutions. First of all, the words and miles shouldn’t be that tough. I probably ran 1,000 miles last year. I spend the whole summer logging 30-40 mile weeks (but also most of November and December logging 5-10 mile weeks…so…maybe not). Anyways, it’s more of a resolution to keep track of miles more than any big lifestyle change. Same with the writing. I’ll get half of those words down during November’s NaNoWriMo, so it’s actually a pretty small goal. As for reading, I know I didn’t read 100 books last year, but I love reading so that one is just for fun. This way I can tell myself I’m being “productive” when I’m lounging around a novel. Genius.

So here we go with the rules:

Regarding the writing: Only new words of a novel count. Edits don’t count. Blog posts don’t count. Comments I leave on my student’s essays don’t count. I currently have the first draft of two novels 90% completed, so I figure that 100,000 words will be enough to force me to finish those and write a whole new one.

Running: I have to be on an actual run. Wearing running shoes. Daily steps do not count. On track workout days I’ll count my slow jog of a warm-up and cool down but recovery laps between sprints don’t count. Insanity workouts count: 10 mins = 1 mile.

Books: Okay, in order to get to 100 I’ve got to cut as many corners as possible here. Therefore, books I FINISH in 2018 will count. I decided this the last week of January and purposely left the last 40 pages of three separate books unread just so I could count them in 2018. It’s not cheating – it’s planning ahead.

Regarding genre, I legitimately read a lot of YA, and those books are pretty quick. I’m foreseeing a bunch of middle grade books in my future as well. As for picture books, I WILL count them as long as they are “good and useful” picture books. Good means that it’s worthy of some sort of award or placement on a reading list (preferably the National Council for Social Studies Trade Books list). Useful means that I can see a use for the book in a high school classroom. Basically, if my daughter’s don’t like it, it counts. Their taste in literature is terrible. I literally read the first chapter of a my little ponies book to them tonight. That one’s not winning any awards.

That being established, so far in 2018 I have run 19 miles, read three books (Americanah, the 4th in the Outlander series, and Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin)…and I’ve written a grand total of 450 words. Must get on that writing.

But first, off to a library.

All the Sno-Isle Libraries: Stanwood

In order to keep myself entertained until baseball season and my kids entertained until playground weather returns, we’re planning on going on little micro adventures, each other that includes a visit to a library. The hope is to hit all 22 libraries in the Sno-Isle system before the first day of Spring.

A few days ago our first trek took us to Stanwood. We arrived on a dark and stormy night…

But the library was warm and cozy

Then the rain and wind tapered off (a little bit) and we took in the last of the Christmas Lights at Warm Beach, just south of Stanwood. This is something you definitely want to do on a cold weeknight after Christmas because there were no lines anywhere. We hopped on the train three times, did pony rides, participated in story time, gave Rudolph and Frosty hugs, listened in a brass band and sipped hot chocolate. Good stuff.

Looking forward to a lot of reading in 2018

Books for Interfaith Day Campers

Things I dislike about Christianity:

  • Cheesy God-Loves-You Books. I’m looking at you, new Bernstein Bear books…especially that scene in “God Loves You” when Papa Bear tries to explain the science behind rainbows and Mama cuts him off to tell the cubs that rainbows are a gift from God. Ugh.

Gross

  • The politics of right-wing Christians
  • The continued insistence on evangelism, even though it’s had a hand in nearly all historical evils

Things I like about Christianity (in order of importance):

  • Familiarity with the New Testament makes Christopher Moore’s book Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff even more hilarious.
  • The idea that everyone should be nice to one another

Therefore, when my Episcopal-Priest-in-Training Friend mentioned that she was partnering with a Refugee Resettlement Office and offering an Interfaith Day Camp (Theme: The Golden Rule) at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, I was anxious to get on board. The two of us sat down with a bottle of wine one night and planned our week. I put myself in charge of maps, books, and games. My friend did all the actual work (you know, the organizing, purchasing, feeding, creating of legal forms, and anything involving prayer or actual religion). Although my “games” all quickly deteriorated into chaotic sessions of Freeze Tag, map time and reading time was a huge success. Thank goodness there are some awesome authors out there who know how to write a story kids care about. The only time our group of 4-9 year olds all sat quietly was during story time. Here’s what we read:

Sitti’s Secret

Naomi Shihab Nye’s picture book is about an American girl who visits her grandmother in the Middle East. They don’t have a common language, but there methods of communication are filled with gestures, smiles and hugs. At the end of the book Sitti writes a letter to the US president, reminding him to remember her lovely grandmother when making decisions. The book was published in 1997 but has become more and more relevant over the past twenty years.

Good books

Before reading this book, I had kids talk about their “special places” in the world – maybe where they used to live or where their family was originally from. Having been a middle school geography teacher, I was expecting a total lack of map knowledge from these kiddos (you know that statistic about how most American high schoolers can’t find Canada on a map? TOTALLY TRUE), but these campers proved me wrong. The five and six year olds marched right up to the map, and colored in Libya, Somalia, Spokane, and Arizona. The priest at the church colored in South Africa and talked about a road trip he’d taken through the country. There was a small squabble over who got to color in Ethiopia, as several of our charges were from that particular corner of Africa. After coloring in their special places, the kids talked about how hot it was (“because it’s close to that line thing…what’s it called again?”) and all the uncles, aunties, and grandma’s that were still living there. This was a perfect segue to the book, although none of the kids could understand the language barriers, as they all still spoke the language of their grandmas.

Map

Lailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story

Much like author Reem Faruqi, Lailah feels a bit lonely after immigrating to Georgia. The story is about how Lailah learns to share the joy of Ramadan with her new teacher and classmates. While Lailah in the story was the only Muslim at her school, feeling a bit lonely and out-of-place, the kids I read this book to are lucky to live in Seattle’s International District, where there teachers lead songs about saying hello in twenty different languages and nobody looks out of place in a headscarf. The kids all looked at me like I was crazy when I asked if they were the only ones in their classes who fasted.
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I loved this book so much because it made me think about fasting in a joyful way. I’d always felt a bit sorry for Muslim’s during this holy month (especially these years, when Ramadan falls in the long hours of summer), but this book reminded me that Ramadan is a time for celebration.

Naturally, our campers didn’t need this message. They enthusiastically shared what they love most about fasting: extra recess time at school. If that’s not a cause for celebration, I don’t know what is.

Kenya’s Song

Kenyas Song

Although this book has nothing to do with religion, I loved Linda Trice’s book so much I read it to our campers anyways. Kenya’s homework assignment is to find and share her favorite song. After sampling music from all over the Caribbean, she made up her favorite song – the song of her community (“English, French and Spanish too! Music’s how I speak to you!”) Naturally, we all shared our favorite songs afterwards. I made our campers learn my favorite: “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”

One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of Gambia

Before venturing out for a community clean-up, we read One Plastic Bag, Miranda Paul’s true story about a Gambian woman who forms a business salvaging plastic bags and weaving them into purses. While it wasn’t my favorite picture-book-of-a-true-story-from-Africa (that would be 14 Cows for America), it was a perfect one for talking about how we should not only be nice to each other, but we should also be nice to the environment.

So Interfaith Day Camp was fun. We talked about being nice to each other. The kids played together, ate together, hugged each other, and planned to see each other later at the playground. I learned a little bit more about Islam and Africa.

Campers

No cheesy God books were read. No Republican signs were waved. There were no converts to any religion. Success. Now I’m off to go re-read LAMB.

Custer, South Dakota

After wandering around the Crazy Horse Memorial site I decided to pick up something I’d been long meaning to read: Stephen Ambrose’s “Crazy Horse and Custer: The Parallel Lives of Two American Warriors.” I started reading it at the Black Hills Mile Hi Motel in Custer, South Dakota. Quite fitting, I believe. Then I wanted to bring the book along with me to the Buglin’ Bull, where I ate a delicious Buffalo burger, but I thought that would be a little too cheesy.

So I read most of the book back home in Denver, wherein I had an increasingly hard time picturing George Armstrong Custer in his namesake town where I spend subdued evenings spotting deer along the Mickelson Trail.  I don’t think the quiet small town matched the General’s flamboyant personality. Custer as the guy who racked up the most demerits at West Point (one hundred were allowed every six month period. Custer once hit ninety in the first three months), wore conspicuous attire even in the battlefield, and spent months in New York and Washington schmoozing with reports and politicians.

However there is no denying that Custer loved the area. He was constantly itching to get back west where he could hunt buffalo, march his men through blinding blizzards, and hunt Indians. Even when everyone else was miserable, Custer rarely found anything on the Great Plains to complain about. Custer once toured the area with Colonel Stanley, and his love of the area is downright comical when compared to Stanley’s notes:

“Stanley said it had rained four out of the past six days, sometimes in torrents, and that he was miserable. Custer said, ‘Our march has been perfectly delightful thus far.’”

“No artist, he [Custer] wrote, could fairly represent the wonderful county we passed over, while each step of our progress was like each successive shifting of the kaleidoscope, presenting to our wondering gaze views which almost appalled us by their sublimity.” Stanly told his wife that while the river itself was beautiful, “the country adjoining is repulsive in its rugged, barren ugliness.”

Hilarious.

Custer’s cockiness, optimism, and craving for attention caught up with him though. When he and his entourage (which typically included a menagerie of animals, a band, and a reporter) headed out to Little Bighorn he refused extra cavalry support, refused to rest his men and horses before the battle, and refused to properly scout the area. Crazy Horse and the largest collection of Sioux Indians that had “even collected on the northwest Plains,” trounced the cocky General. Custer and his 225 soldiers died that day.

I hate to say it was a good thing Custer died, but…well…yeah. Ambrose cautiously suggests that had Custer been victorious, he may have secured the Democratic Presidential nomination. And this pro-slavery Southern Democrat (who “had nothing new to say – he merely repeated whatever the current wisdom of the Democratic party might be. He filled his letters and his conversations with political slogans, which enlightened no one…”) would have been a terrible president. A town named after him is okay, but I’m glad school children have never been expected to revere him as a president.

A few miles north of Custer, SD is the Crazy Horse Memorial. Kind of. It’s actually the site of a museum that looks out at a huge rock face that barely appears to have Crazy Horse’s face carved out, despite the fact that construction has been going on since the late ‘40’s. The memorial is going to be HUGE, although I doubt I (or anyone reading this) will be alive to see it completed. The fact that it’s taken over half a decade to carve out but a face is kind of sad, but maybe symbolic of Crazy Horse. Unlike Custer, he was a much more modest leader, recognizable in battles for his lack of war paint and feathers.

 

*Purchasing “Crazy Horse and Custer via the affiliate link above will earn me a bit of cash, so thanks!

The Ever Elusive YA Geography-Based Book

As a middle and now high school geography teacher who loves reading to her kids, I’m always on the lookout for really, really good YA (Young Adult) books that are hilarious, moving, interesting to teenagers, and somehow linked to geography so I can read them aloud in my classroom.

It’s been a tough search. There are tons of picture books relevant to my subject and curriculum, but YA book are harder to track down. It’s pretty much hit or miss, because I haven’t found a really database of YA books on travel and/or geography. Luckily I love reading books meant for audiences ten (okay…fifteen) years younger than me and eventually I know I’ll run in to something perfect.

I’ve recently hit jackpot. Not one, but TWO novels about travel. One has a main character obsessed with maps, one has a map on the cover, and they both feature road trips. Perfect.

Jennifer E Smith’s “You Are Here” is the one with Peter Finnegan, the main character obsessed with maps and travel plans:

Instead Peter planned to go to Australia and Africa and Alaska and Antarctica, and that was just the A’s. The list grew from there, ballooning to include Bali and Bangladesh, China and California and Chicago. He had marked carefully on the map the place where you might catch a ferry from Ireland to Scotland, had research mountain climbing in Switzerland and cage diving with sharks off the coast of South Africa.

When Peter’s next door neighbor steals her brother’s car to drive from New York to North Carolina in order to find herself, Peter steals another car and takes the trip with her when the initial stolen car breaks down on the New Jersey Turnpike. When his road trip with the increasingly frustrating and loveable Emma get tough and confusing, Peter realizes this:

Maybe the answer to all of his problems was nothing more than a darkened sky and a glittering city, a lofty perch above the world below. It seemed entirely possible that it was all just a matter of setting and location, and Peter wondered why he hadn’t thought of it before. After all, he understood better than anyone the importance of geography.

What a great paragraph to read when my students start whining about the uselessness of geography.

The next geographically inclined novel is John Green’s “Paper Towns.” Green is one of my favorite authors, but I have to admit this isn’t my favorite of his books. The book is great, his other’s are just that much better. Like Green’s Printz Award winning “Looking for Alaska,” “Paper Towns” features a hilarious and exceedingly messed up female character that the male protagonists spends most of the book reacting to. Near the beginnig of the tale, Margo Roth Spiegelman crawls through Quentin’s bedroom window one night and ropes him into a night of law-breaking, stating: “I need a car. Also, I need you to drive it, because I have to do eleven things tonight, and at least five of them involve a getaway man.”

When Margo runs-away (and not for the first time), her fed up parents change the locks of their house and admit defeat. Quentin and his friends at school aren’t so willing to give up on Margo though. They follow her clues to discover that she is staying in a ‘paper town’ in New York. The author describes paper towns as “copyright traps [that] have featured in mapmaking for centuries. Cartographers create fictional landmarks, streets, and municipalities and place them obscurely into their maps. If the fictional entry is found on another cartographer’s map, it becomes clear a map has been plagiarized.”

Anyways, for various reasons that you will read about in “Paper Towns,” Quentin and his crew need to get to from their high school graduation in Florida to Margo’s paper town in New York in twenty one hours and forty five minutes. A frantic road trip ensues.

Now that I’ve found two YA books that have something to do with geography, I’m hopeful that there is a whole treasure trove of them out there, I just have to keep reading. “Paper Towns” may be a little too risqué to read to my 9th graders (lots of swearing and sex references. Not that high schoolers are fragile beings that have never heard a swear word, but I don’t want to be standing in front of them swearing and reading about sex. However, I can edit if I have to) and You Are Here may be a tad on the touchy-feely side.

So the quest for a perfect book continues. Let me know if you have any recs.

Denver Public Library

I can’t believe I’m just know getting a library card. I basically lived in the library in Las Vegas, but for some unknown reason I hadn’t even stepped foot into a branch of the Denver Public Library until last weekend. Shockingly, Denver’s seven-story downtown library is just a tad nicer than the one in Las Vegas. The castle-themed children’s library downstairs is adorable, with a story time area in a nearby “turret” with huge windows and pillows for all the kiddos to sit on. I must say the Young Adult “Our Space” section needs some work though – it’s pretty boring.

Looking up from the lobby, a huge painting covered wagons and trains runs around the 2nd story (which is mostly fiction). I love the painting, and it matches the wood panel (but not in a ’70’s type way) theme of the rest of the library.

My favorite floor is the 5h, where the homeless people smell (sorry, that’s not very PC of me. But this is a downtown public library after all) gives way to an old book smell. Plus the 6th floor is where all the maps and painting of western scenes and landscapes are.

The library is located in Denver’s “Golden Triangle” at 10 W. Fourteenth Ave 80204. Plenty of metered parking is available. Library hours are M-T: 10-8, W-F: 10-6, Sat – Sun: 1-5. I love that the library is open on Sundays 🙂 You can get a library card even if you don’t have a state ID yet, as long as you bring in a bill or other proof of address. If you don’t have that yet, the librarians will even give you a card with limited check out capabilities to tide you over until you can bring in a bill or state ID.

So now that I am the proud owner of a Denver Public Library card, I can start working on my must-read list. Any suggestions would be most appreciated!

Historical and Non-Fiction

  • Crazy Horse and Custer: The parallel lives of two American Warrios by Stephen Ambrose
  • 1776 by David McCullough
  • Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith (does that count as historical? Haha)
  • Sugar Changed the World: A story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom, and Science by Marc Aronson (A YA book)
  • Freeman: A Liberated Slave in Search of Family, by Leonard Pitts Jr

Fiction

  • Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, by ZZ Parker
  • The Same Earth, by Kei Miller
  • Human Croquet, by Kate Atkinson
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston – how have I never read this?

YA Lit

  • Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins. I read the first two Hunger Games tales a few years ago when they came out, but haven’t gotten around to the final installment yet
  • Where Things Come Back, by John Corey Whaley: The 2012 Printz Award winner
  • Jellicoe Road, by Melina Marchetta: A past Printz Award winner that I keep meaning to read
  • What Happened to Goodbye, Sarah Dessen’s latest. She is a YA genius and I love everything she writes.
  • Why we Broke Up, by David Handler.
  • The Fault in our Stars, John Green’s new one. Another YA genius.
  • Breaking Beautiful, by Jennifer Shaw Wolf
  • Sean Griswold’s Head, by Lindsey Leavitt

Washington D.C.

I’ve been pondering what to do with my Washington D.C. pictures because I don’t really have anything fabulous to write alongside them. Suggesting that readers copy my D.C. itinerary of walking around the Mall, visiting the Smithsonian, and eating at Jaleo hardly seems groundbreaking. I (sadly) wasn’t in my nation’s capitol long enough to do anything out of the ordinary, and nothing weird happened to me while I was there.

So I put off my Washington D.C. post until recently when I re-listened-to Sarah Vowell’s “Assassination Vacation,” (I have nothing against books, but Sarah Vowell’s stuff is best on audio) and inspiration struck. I didn’t have to tell my own D.C. story; I’d just steal someone else’s. Thanks Sarah!

In Vowell’s 2005 book “Assassination Vacation,” she travels around the US (often with reluctant friends and family members) in search of anything that might have anything to do with an assassinated president. Obviously her morbid quest lands her in D.C a few times. Here’s what she had to say about some of the spots I photographed on a very blue-sky day last October.

 

Sarah Vowell on the WWII Memorial:

Never underestimate the corrective lens that is sentimentality. Take for instance the new National WWII Memorial next to the Washington Monument. Each state gets it’s own bland stone pillar. The first time I see it, I hated it at once, (I think it mucks up the Mall) but nevertheless search for the Oklahoma granite pylon because my late great uncle, John A. Parson, served in the Philippines. Damndest thing, but the minute I spot it, Oklahoma, I burst into tears.

Daniel Chester French was the sculptor of the Lincoln memorial who fretted for nine years over the piece. Upon viewing his completed work he was horrified. Vowell writes:

 “The problem with putting in a reflecting pool? The darn thing reflects! When the light off the reflecting pool bounced up on to Lincoln’s face it looked as if a flashlight had been held up under his chin…Lincoln looks frightened, startled, confused. Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ by way of Macaulay Culkin’s ‘Home Alone.’ Apparently ‘hilarious’ wasn’t the aesthetic French had been going for.”

 Ceiling lights were installed to correct the problem. However these light would have been unnecessary on my particular visit as the reflecting pool had been drained for renovation.

“This tour of the assassinations of Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley ends up at the Lincoln Memorial because that’s where I’m always ending up. It’s the closest thing I have to a church.”

Post St. Patrick’s Day Reading

To contrast with a night of drinking Guinness and screaming “Slainte,” I’d recommend picking up some good Irish reads to round out the green month of March. My two recommendations were not on the designated Irish Reading Table at Denver’s, Tattered Cover, although there were some good reads there. Oscar Widle and James Joyce were the obvious choices, but I haven’t read Ulysses and writing a  blog about The Importance of Being Earnest and Dubliners might sound a bit too much like an essay for some Freshman Western Lit college course.

The shamrocked decorated table also included Tony Hawks’s Round Ireland with a Fridge, which I purchased because I’ve heard great things about the tale of the guy who carried a fridge around the Emerald Isle. However, I haven’t read it yet – look for the review NEXT St. Patrick’s Day.

My favorite Irish story to date is Leon Uris’s Trinity. Uris is an American writer, so maybe that’s why Tattered Cover didn’t have a place for him on the Irish Reading Table. Then again, there wasn’t a single copy of his book in the entire store, so that might have had something to do with it also.

I read my former husband’s copy of the book three or four years ago, after he’d been pushing it on me for years. I wasn’t initially excited about the read. The book was thick, the yellowed pages featured very small print, and the dusty cover was not very interesting looking. Plus I’d just started my YA lit phase (which has yet to end), and Trinity was going to be a serious departure from slim books about teenage angst.

But since I’m here writing about it, you know I loved the book. First of all, my grasp on 19th century Ireland is much stronger after reading Trinity. I even read Uris’s description of Ireland’s potato famine and tales of the Irish sneaking into British lands to steal food aloud to my 8th grade students, and they were captivated by the tale (although the girth and obvious age of the book had them initially suspicious as well). The conflicts between the British and Irish, Protestants and Catholics, those who immigrated to America and those who stayed (often to fight for Irish independence) were portrayed with all their complicated nuances. The fictional stories of Conor, Seamus, and their extended families is what made the history interesting (even to 13 year old “urban youths”) and the book one of my favorites. Be sure to read it by next St. Patrick’s Day.

From Leon Uris, I’m moving on to Marian Keyes. Writing about these two authors in the same 700 words is a bit like writing about how smart Einstein and Dave Barry are. Yet, here we go.

I went through my chick-lit phase in my early twenties, passing around pink-jacketed books with my girlfriends along with our Steve Madden heels. Authors from across the pond were our favorites, (exception: Jen Lancaster) most likely due to Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary. We still exuberantly text each other when the Renee Zellweger flick comes on TV despite the fact that we all have copies of the movie.

Anyways, my chick-flick phase has (somewhat) come to an end, but I still read anything Marion Keyes writes. Her best batch of books chronicles the tales of five Irish sisters. Keyes is working on writing a book about each sister. The oldest sister’s husband takes off the day her baby girl is born, another sister loses her mind and takes off to L.A. for awhile, another get a tad too friendly with heroin, etc. The books are HILARIOUS. Reading them in order is not at all necessary. My favorite of this series isAnybody Out There?

I’m not even mentioning the plot as to not give anything away, but unexpected heartbreak comes with the expected hilarity in this one. I’ve read it over and over – usually in one sitting. Don’t start this book at night if you have to get up in the morning.

Uris and Keyes are the ultimate Irish-tale due for girly wanna-be history buffs. If you are of the male persuasion, you might want to skip Keyes and pick up Round Ireland with a Fridge instead. Let me know if it’s worth the read.

Leitheoireacht Shona…Happy Reading!

My Favorite Christmas Story

My favorite Christmas story just happens to be about traveling. Kinda. Convenient, as this means it is an acceptable thing for me to write about here. My favorite book is not traditionally thought of as a Christmas tale. It is not read out loud by families on Christmas Eve (or ever). It is not displayed on Barnes & Noble’s holiday table. However, when I place the book between branches of my parent’s Christmas tree, it looks much more festive.

But my favorite Christopher Moore book really is Christmas-y! Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal,” is my go-to-gospel even though it’s not really a gospel or in the Bible and liberally uses the word “fuckstick.” The premise of this book is that Biff has been resurrected by an angel in the year 2000 to write another gospel, this one about Christ’s life starting at age seven. While the angel watches soap operas, professional wrestling matches, and MTV, Biff writes his gospel. He tells about how he and Jesus (called Joshua in the book) TRAVELED through Asia (see, traveling) to find the three magi that followed the star to attend his birth in Bethlehem. They then return to Jerusalem to round up the disciples. An excerpt, if I may:

             “What can we do?” said Andrew. “We’re only fishermen.”

            “Come with me and I’ll make you fishers of men.”

            Andrew looked at his brother who was still standing in the water. Peter shrugged and shook his head. Andrew looked at me, shrugged and shook his head.

            “They don’t get it,” I said to Joshua.

 

            Thus, after Joshua had some food and a nap and explained what in the hell he meant by “fishers of men,” we became seven.

             …

             We came to another small village and Peter pointed out two brothers who were fitting a new oarlock into the gunwale of a fishing boat.

             …

             “Come with us,” I said, “and we will make you oarlock makers of men.”

            “What?” said Joshua.

            “That’s what they were doing when we came up. Making an oarlock. Now you see how stupid that sounds?”

It is hands down the funniest and most thought-provoking book I’ve ever read. Although some would describe it as sacrilegious, I actually feel more spiritual and okay with Christianity after reading it.

Although most of the story is made up, the setting, events, and characters are meticulously researched. There are many references to the Bible in the story, some of which are real Bible verses and some of which are made up (from the books of Amphibians and Excretions for example). Author Christopher Moore has this to say on the subject:

…if the reader knows the Bible well enough to recognize the real references, there’s a good chance that he or she has decided not to read this book. [We]…advise those who are not familiar with the Bible to find someone who is, sit them down, read them the passages in question, then say, “That one real? How ‘bout that one?” If you don’t know someone who is familiar with the Bible, just wait, someone will come to your door eventually. Keep extra copies of Lamb on hand so they can take one with them.  

I often want to go look up this and that in the Bible after reading Lamb. I’d been re-reading Lamb last Christmas and hadn’t had a Bible handy in some time to look things up. That Christmas Eve, my brother, father, and I were drunkenly headed to midnight mass after a lively family dinner. We rolled up late, ignored warning glares from my mother in the choir, and found a pew. Then my brother and I had the following exchange:

 Me: “Where are all the Bibles around here?

Jay: “They don’t have Bibles in church.”

Me: “Why not? I want to look up something questionable.”

Jay: “That’s exactly why they don’t put them in church.”

This was extra hilarious after several glasses of wine. We couldn’t look at each other for the rest of the service without laughing. It should be mentioned here that Jay and I are loud and not discreet even in sober circumstances.

My parents were so glad that we’d come to church with them.

A final Lamb quote:

“Nobody’s perfect…Well, there was this one guy, but we killed him.”

 Merry Christmas!

Purchasing Lamb via the affiliate link in this post will earn me a bit of money, so thank you!

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