Year In Books: 2018 Edition
My TBR pile broke a record this year! Here are the books I read in 2018, described in 5 words or less.
1. The World According to Star Wars by Cass R. Sunstein
"Bear with me..." Uh, no.
2. It's All Relative by A.J. Jacobs
Not my fave Jacobs.
3. Unfiltered by Lily Collins
4. Blessed in the Darkness by Joel Osteen
This book is a blessing.
5. The Joy of Hygge by Johnny Jackson and Elias Larsen
Full color hygge!
6. The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay
So much potential.
7. Movie Megacheese by Mike Nelson
From a mind behind MST3K
8. Rilke: Selected Poems
Keep trying this poetry thing...
9. Eat Mangoes Naked by SARK
I forgot about SARK!
10. Mind Over Matters by Mike Nelson
Random funny essays.
11. Do Butlers Burgle Banks? by P.G. Wodehouse
The answer may surprise you.
12. Living Juice by SARK
A little creative inspo.
13. A Creative Companion
A little more creative inspo.
14. In A Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson
A Bryson tribute to Australia
15. Treehouses of the World by Pete Nelson
I want a treehouse!
16. Healed of Cancer by Dodie Osteen
17. The Imagineering Field Guide to Disneyland by The Imagineers
I can't resist.
18. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson
Two women on an adventure.
19. Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury
So many great take-aways.
20. The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradybury
Not my personal taste.
21. Coyote Blue by Christopher Moore
22. Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
Sweet. Favorite childhood author.
23. The Quilter's Kitchen by Jennifer Chiaverini
3/4 recipes, 1/4 story
24. Trollbridge: A Rock 'n Roll Fairy Tale by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple
More Moira and Jacob!
25. Roverandom by J.R.R. Tolkein
26. Three-Ten to Yuma and Other Stories by Elmore Leonard
Some hits, some misses.
27. Fictitious Dishes by Dinah Fried
Place settings from books.
28. The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish
29. Hit the Road by Caroline B. Cooney
Mostly charming, a little infuriating.
30. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
Close to film. Exciting!
31. The World According to Mister Rogers by Fred Rogers
We need more Mister Rogers.
32. Life Journeys According to Mister Rogers by Fred Rogers
Wisdom from our favorite neighbor
33. The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
Ah, the adventures of childhood.
34. Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon
Read without stopping.
35. Coach Wooden and Me by Kareem Abdul Jabbar
A touching tribute.
36. You Are Special by Fred Rogers
Thanks, Mister Rogers!
37. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
Movie a teeny bit better.
38. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
My first Hercule Poirot!
39. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
40. New Horizons: Mandie's College Years by Lois Gladys Leppard
Not the best Mandie.
41. Laughing Gas by P.G. Wodehouse
I'm so stressed out!
42. Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
Want to steal this book.
43. Sam & Ilsah's Last Hurrah by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
Lots of angst.
44. The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith
Needed more elevator time.
45. How To Be Parisian Wherever You Are by Berest, Diwan, de Maigret, and Mas
I feel Parisian already!
46. Dictionary Stories by Jez Burrows
What a clever idea!
47. Ann-Margret: My Story by Ann-Margret
Elvis parts incredibly touching.
48. Elvis World by Jane Stern and Michael Stern
Their "love" for Elvis questionable.
49. Ten Things We Did (And Probably Shouldn't Have) by Sarah Mlynowski
Could see as a movie.
50. Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling
Super enjoyable, surprising read.
51. A Little Thing Called Life by Linda Thompson
Another dedicated Elvis ex-lover
52. Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby
Characters who love music.
53. The Kissing Booth by Beth Reekles
I could rant for days.
54. Just Kids by Patti Smith
55. My Life With Elvis by Becky Yancey
Everyday life at Graceland.
56. Christopher Robin by Elizabeth Rudnick
Sweet movie adaptation
57. My Squirrel Days by Ellie Kemper
58. To All The Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han
My first audiobook!
59. The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell
Needed more Lego.
60. Hindsight by Justin Timberlake
His life and process.
61. The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
Elvis's favorite book.
62. The Greatest Love Story Ever Told by Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman
63. This Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Phillips
A little whiney.
64. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
Crazy rich writing.
65. The Tiny Book of Tiny Pleasures by Irene Smit and Astrid vander Hulst
Great adventure ideas!
Also: Pocket Full of Colors, Ten Little Elvi, and The Little Man of Disneyland if you need picture book recs =)
Everything Everything, Just Kids, and Crazy Rich Asians are must-reads!
Day Trip: Solvang
I always feel so fortunate to live in a place that is centrally located to some of my other favorite places. Case in point: Solvang. In an episode of Modern Family Clare refers to a "little Dutch town up North" from where they live in Southern California. Every time I see this episode I yell, "It's Danish!" at the TV. Because Solvang (though technically they don't mention it by name) is a Danish town. Think Chinatown in San Francisco or Olvera Street in LA, only a little bit more Disney.
When you visit Solvang you are whisked by horse-drawn trolley back in time to Old World Denmark. Everywhere you look you are surrounded by Danish architecture, Danish people, Danish food. I spend so much time creating themed things that sometimes I forget that Solvang isn't a themed Danish town, but a living breathing Danish town that wasn't created by a design firm as an attraction, but by a community celebrating their heritage.
I visit Solvang several times a year, but one of my favorite times to go (tied with Danish Days in September) is during Christmastime. Not only is everything decorated with twinkle lights and traditional Scandinavian ornamentation, but each year local businesses participate in a tree decorating contest. You haven't experienced Christmas until you've seen a tree covered in tiny pans filled with aebelskivers (pancake balls).
So this week I packed up Trixie and her stroller (the first time I saw a dog stroller was in Solvang and I found in ridiculous - I was so naïve) and set out with my Mom and brother for a little Day Trip. We found a great parking spot in a little courtyard behind some shops and made a beeline for our first Solvang Must See - The Book Loft. It's been a long time since I've bought brand new books from a bookstore, since most of my books come from the library or local used bookstore now, so I was positively giddy as I browsed the shop, having given myself permission to buy whatever I wanted.
We spent at least a half an hour perusing titles, reading back covers, and flipping through pages. I left with a book on Forest Bathing, a book on Tiny Pleasures by two Scandinavian writer/artists, an Edgar Allen Poe Candle (cardamom, absinthe, and sandalwood) to go along with the Ralph Waldo Emerson Candle I bought last year at a bookstore in Monterey (cedar and wild fern), a used copy of House at Pooh Corner, and a book called American Cozy. I'm kind of obsessed with the Hygge movement and this books was supposed to be the American version of that (update: it wasn't - do not recommend).
On this visit a skipped the Hans Christian Andersen Museum upstairs because I couldn't bring Trixie, but Erik went up and I always encourage everyone to take a peek.
After leaving the bookstore we walked up and down the two main shopping streets and, of course stopped at the Solvang Pretzel factory for amazingly soft and buttery pretzels with bright orange cheese spread that can't possibly come from nature but tastes like heaven. Then, full of pretzels (and fudge) we popped into a couple of souvenir shops and rounded out the day by buying socks. What, you don't buy socks as souvenirs? Okay, I don't either although now that I'm thinking about it, that's not a bad idea. But this time I bought a pair of thick, cozy socks in a colorful Scandi pattern that I hoped to wear while sipping tea and reading American Cozy (update: I did).
Happy and satisfied we drove the short 30 miles home. What a wonderful winter outing.
P.S. While I don't recommend American Cozy (seriously, it was just a book about organizing which is not hygge) I do recommend that you read Meik Wiking's The Little Book of Hygge.
Adventure Spotlight: Kate Pocrass
If you're looking for delightfully illustrated journals that scream Adventure, you can't go wrong with Kate Pocrass's collection. I have three in my own collection and I find them super inspiring. Let's take a closer look...
En Route: A Journal
This is the most straight-forward journal of the trio. The first few pages are for making various lists (things to research, things to check out) which is very handy, but the rest of the pages are wonderfully blank so you can jot down any and all thoughts in whatever way you choose. And by blank I mean void of instruction, not that they are empty white pages. In fact every page is unique and colorful, with illustrations ranging from vintage cameras on orange backgrounds to Japanese mochi to luggage tags. One page might feature a dozen pale blue lines to write on, while another might be filled with flowers from around the world. The only problem, as with all of Kate's journals, is that you might not want to write in them because they're so darn cute!
I Was Here: A Travel Journal for the Curious Minded
If you love to travel and want a journal with a little bit more in the way of guidance, this is great option. In the front you will find places for contact information, lists, recommendations from friends, etc. Then the journal gets more personal as it urges you to have adventures. You are encouraged to read the local weekly paper at your destination, to take pictures of trees that look like vegetables, and draw your own maps. Some pages give you the opportunity to record specific details on specific days and some provide useful information like conversion charts. Taking a journal like this on a trip will ensure that you do not have a typical vacation experience!
Side Walks: A Journal for Exploring Your City
We're now 3 for 3 in the charming illustrations department. Seriously, guys. Kate's style is so fun you can't wait to see all the pages when you pick up one of her journals. While I Was Here focuses in trips, Side Walks focuses more on the staycation or Backyard Adventure. Kate suggests sitting and observing (complete with drawings of benches, bus stops, and stoops) and observing and recording what you see. Look for letters, look for certain colors, look for all of those little details you might not notice in your every day hustle and bustle. Try a new restaurant, walk down a different street, follow a stranger. In general just keep your eyes open and shake up the old routine.
All of Kate's journals are available on Amazon and you can get a great feel for her art on her website, www.katepocrass.com
It's already been established that I love all things Disney. And with that all-consuming obsession comes a whole world of specific things to love. Like, did you know I have a favorite Disney artist? I do. Mary Blair is my favorite Disney artist, followed by Eyvind Earle, Herb Ryman, and Rolly Crump. These are the artists who are responsible for look of Disneyland and early Disney films. The old guard, if you will. Don't even get me started on the new crop of Disney artists! So much talent!
If you've ever ridden It's a Small World, then you know Mary Blair's work. All of those adorable little figures were her babies. I could give you a list of her animation credits, her concept art, and her color styling, but how about I give you a book recommendation instead?
Pocket Full of Colors: The Magical World of Mary Blair by Amy Guglielmo, Jacqueline Tourville, and Brigette Barrager is a children's picture book (I mean, technically, but I don't think of it that way) that follows Mary's life from her childhood to her world travels to her work with Disney and how she always "collected colors". I am always drawn to things that are colorful and it makes me smile that we have that in common =) She wasn't afraid to be bright and vibrant in her life or her work.
Mary Blair lived a life adventure through color. If you're an artist (or even if you're not) you will find this book incredibly inspiring. And it's now one of my kids' favorite books.
Palm Springs Birthday Bash
Because I've been positively yearning for a Palm Springs vacation and have no vacation days to spend there, I decided to bring Palm Springs to me!
Of course, every great party starts with a great menu. If I had three wishes, one of them would be for an self-replenishing buffet table that was always laid out with delicious appetizers and hors d'oeuvres. So when I make a menu, it's usually all finger foods. For Palm Springs I wanted a menu that was fun and light and slightly tropical so I bought dozens of tiny utensils and picks and clear plastic serving vessels in different shapes and filled them with chicken salad, marinated baby corn, sugared blueberries, teriyaki sausage with pineapple, avocado and shrimp toast points with lime, and lemon cupcakes with cactus and flamingo toppers. Plus chips, Chex mix, cans of Spindrift (they're so pretty and perfectly color coordinated!), and pink martini glasses for sparkling apple cider (a stand-in for champagne because none of us are big drinkers around here).
The color scheme was aqua, pink, orange, and lime green so I made piles of tissue flowers in those shades, put down a fake grass rug surrounded by pool chairs (did I mention we used the pool as our setting?), I bought a leafy umbrella (and added pink fringe) and pink table cloths, and filled up unicorn, flamingo, donut, and pretzel pool floats, and stuck cactus and flamingo and palm tree cut-outs on everything. Phew!
Soundtrack: Lounge music and Rat Pack swinging standards
Party Game: Bingo! Because, hello, Palm Springs! It was either bingo or golf =)
And once again, I apologize for fuzzy photos. Sometimes I'm just having too much fun to worry about the perfect shot. I know, Instagrammers everywhere just fainted, but that's how it is, folks.
Adventure Bookshelf: Just Kids
Though the word is often overused, it isn't often that you come across a book that genuinely transports you. Some books provide excitement or escape, but few have that certain magic that makes you feel every word on every page. Just Kids by Patti Smith is one of those magical books.
After I finished Just Kids, I wrote one short sentence in my book journal: Beautiful. That was the only way I could think to describe what I'd just read. The book is essentially the lifelong love story of Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe and is written like poetry. It was the sixties, of course, a romantic decade in itself. What earns Just Kids a place on the Adventure Bookshelf is that Patti and Robert lived a life of adventure in its most raw state. They spent their days painting and reading and starving. They roamed the streets of New York, lived in the Chelsea Hotel, and dined with Andy Warhol. Their lives were pure art.
You guys! This weekend my Mom and I went to Venice Beach for a very special reason. Do you want to know what it is? Book research! That's right, I'm working on my second novel, Venice Beach Love Song. I'm so proud of my debut novel Hollywood Love Song and, as travel and adventure bug as well as a writer, I'm drawn to unique and interesting locales and you can't get more unique than Venice!
I won't bore you with all of the driving we did (I swear we went up and down every street at least twice as I mapped out my character's paths) or every shop I saw when I walked up and down the promenade, but let me just say that the weather was perfect, the smell of churros was strong, and the beautiful weirdos were out in full force. I took copious notes and can't wait to get back to writing!
Since my Mom had been to Venice, but never on the canals, we actually started our journey there and since it was so early in the morning on a Sunday we basically had the place to ourselves. Except for, you know, the people that live there. We meandered up and down the walkways and bridges, passing under cool shade and through warm sun. The few people we did see were friendly and we could hear Beach Boys and wind chimes around every bend. Can you even imagine living there? I can and I did. I imagined the heck out of that fantasy.
On the way back to the car at the end of our afternoon we even spotted a WRDSMTH! Score! And a lot of great street art literally everywhere. I heart Venice Beach so much.
I'm going to cheat a little here and tell you what the 99-year-old Anaheim Packing District has to say about itself: "Nestled in the heart of Anaheim, the Packing District encompasses three historic landmarks and the urban green of Farmers Park. The main ingredient of the district is the Anaheim Packing House, one of the last remaining citrus packing warehouses, which has been historically preserved and retrofitted as one of the great original American food halls."
How often can you say you ate at a Great American Food Hall? Well, technically I still can't say that, but many people now can! After a wonderful day at Disneyland and a stay at the magical Paradise Pier Hotel my friend Jason and I got up early to head out for breakfast and ended up at the Packing House... which wasn't open yet. The hall itself was open and various vendors were busy preparing for the day, but no food was being offered for consumption just yet. However, that gave us the perfect opportunity to explore without the crowds. Silver lining!
There were stalls for Vietnamese food, Indian food, and Syrian food. We saw a grilled cheese bar, a Hong Kong bbq, and what is called "Mexican gastronomy & mixology". There were Japanese crepes, bubble teas, and handcrafted gelato on a stick. Of course, we could only see these things in photographs or in the earliest stages of preparation, but they were tantalizing nonetheless. As our mouths watered we pointed out places we would like to eat if we ever came back during business hours. I myself was especially curious to find out what a Japanese crepe actually was.
We walked all around, taking pictures, and admiring the way each merchant had themed their particular piece of real estate. It was like walking around inside a giant artisanal charcuterie board.
As with any good road trip, the unknown is part of the fun. Sure, we could have checked out the hours before driving over, but then we wouldn't have had the place to ourselves to appreciate its unusual beauty. I mean, it also would have saved us from eating the most disgusting fast food hamburger known to man fifteen minutes later too, but that's life on the road.
I’ve never been a fan of the term “bucket list” so, when I was about twelve, I created a Life List of things I wanted to do or try. In 2009 this evolved into my Adventure List which became the basis of my blog and, ultimately, a life philosophy I would share with others. At the top of that list? Watts Towers. Why? I wish I could tell you.
The fact that visiting Watts Towers topped by Adventure List is a mystery (I must have heard about it or seen pictures of it in my youth and it just stuck with me), but it’s the perfect example of the randomness that characterizes such lists. There doesn’t have to be a reason, you just have to write down any and all things that spark your curiosity. Then go on adventures and have new experiences!
After almost a decade on my list I finally visited the South Los Angeles landmark and, what made it even better, I hadn’t even planned on it! I was traveling with my Dad and we missed the exit for another site we’d been planning to see because we were too engrossed in conversation, so I pulled up the ol’ Google and searched nearby places of interest. Eureka!
“Watts Towers!” I yelled.
“Let’s go to Watts Towers!”
To my complete and utter surprise my Dad agreed. I’d brought up visiting the Towers over the years and he never wanted to go because, having grown up in Los Angeles, he knew they weren’t located in the best neighborhood. I guess I caught him on a day he was feeling adventurous.
The story goes that Simon Rodia, an Italian immigrant, purchased a triangular-shaped lot on 107th Street in 1921 and began creating his immense works of art after work and on weekends. What are referred to collectively as the “Watts Towers” are actually 17 sculptures, the tallest of which is just shy of 100 feet tall. Rodia transformed his little triangle of land over the course of 34 years and lived on-site until moving to Martinez, CA at the age of 74.
According to wattstowers.us, he “worked single-handedly to build his towers without benefit of machine equipment, scaffolding, bolts, rivets, welds or drawing board designs. Besides his own ingenuity, he used simple tools, pipe fitter pliers and a window-washer’s belt” and “adorned his towers with a diverse mosaic of broken glass, sea shells, generic pottery and tile.” Apparently he “had it in mind to do something big” and just… did it. How fantastic is that?!
The site is now the official home of the Watts Towers Arts Center Campus. Anyone can take a self-guided tour around the towers, as we did, but if you want to go inside the gates you’re going to have to wait until the current refurbishment project is finished. Bummer!
While I can’t speak to the safety of the neighborhood, we had a very nice time there and the arts complex surrounding the towers was clean and welcoming. Even outside the fence, you get a great view of the towering structures and, if you look closely, all of the amazing mosaic detail. I was just as fascinated by what was created as why it was created, so after our visit I did a bit of research and made an unexpected discovery. I’m now 99% sure the first time I heard about Watts Towers was from Levar Burton on Reading Rainbow! It all makes sense now.
A couple of short documentaries I came across actually had interviews with Rodia and members of the community who grew up watching him work. He would sing along with Caruso as he worked, climbing higher and higher, and would tell people that he just wanted to make something. Maybe he needed a project to work on in his spare time, maybe he wanted to make something that people would like, maybe he wanted to reach the sky. The motivations behind his sculptures didn’t seem to matter much to him. He just wanted to create. And because of that, we get to see beauty through his eyes. Some people called him crazy, some people called him a genius, and some people felt his works of art brought the community together. My favorite quote was from a man who said Simon might have been crazy, but it was the kind of crazy we should all be.
Watts Towers is located at 1765 E. 107th St, Los Angeles. Call (213) 847-4646 or visit www.wattstowers.org for more information.
Backyard Adventure: Waller Park
Sometimes the best adventures can be found right in your own backyard! I was perusing a local paper (support your local newspapers, folks!) and saw an article on some public art that was being installed at the park. If your Adventure Radar is always set to ON like mine is, then seeing something like this creates a little spark and a call to action. I wanted to see this public art!
Erik and I took a little break from our daily routines and drove over to the park to hunt for Art Treasure. What we found were several large sculptures - a tiger, an eagle, a golden jaguar, and the colorful head of a ram. Fun!
"Life is pure adventure, and the sooner we realize that, the sooner we will be able to treat life as art."