Arkansas – What I Miss

A little over a year ago, I told you all of the things I thought I would miss about Arkansas. Let’s revisit and talk about the things I actually do miss. Friends and family not included because I am cold and heartless (or maybe just because that is a given).

Here we go:

Food. Food. Oh so, much food. Seriously, that is #1-9 on my list. #10 is cheese dip. Yes, it gets – and deserves – its own number. I’d like to share something deep and profound about the beauty of home, but all I can think about is sitting in front of a smoker watching a big hunk of pig cook for hours. “Oh but Stephanie,” you say, “surely you can have this experience in the great state of California?” No, no I can’t. Apartment complexes kind of frown on you doing such things on your third floor balcony.

I miss pulled pork, biscuits, fried okra, sausage gravy, red beans and rice, bread pudding, and boiled peanuts. I can’t remember the last time I ate a boiled peanut, but I still miss them. I even miss sweet tea, despite the fact that I never drank it – and never knew anyone who drank it regularly – because it was too sweet. I miss the idea of sweet tea.

It’s not that these things don’t exist in the Bay Area; it’s that they aren’t very good. Or, at the least, no longer ubiquitous.

They don’t put paprika on top of deviled eggs here, people. In fact, we had an Easter potluck at work and no one even brought deviled eggs. Not one single egg! I very much dislike deviled eggs, but still. . . That has to be the only real moment of culture shock I’ve experienced. The lack of damn deviled eggs.

I miss local restaurants – David’s Burgers, Capital Grill, Shotgun Dans – and I miss chain restaurants (yes, even silly chain restaurants!) – Sonic, Newks, On the Border, Moes. I miss being able to walk into a grocery store to be greeted by my favorite iced coffee, ice cream, and iced tea (also moon pies – I’ve never purchased one, but would just like them to be around).

Oh yeah, I also miss Wal-Mart. Never saw that one coming. Target doesn’t have enough variety and is slightly more expensive for a necessity shop. I can’t do all of my shopping at any one store in my vicinity anymore.

I do miss a few things that aren’t so calorie-heavy. Namely – courtesy waves, snow, and my laundry room.

Okay, I’m done now. It is all out of my system. Sometimes I forget how stereotypically southern I am.

By Land Or By Sea?

The husband and I aren’t exactly flush with vacation time right now after both starting new jobs in the last year. And actually, I’m not really accruing that quickly since I started at the bottom of the federal scale. A big vacation was out of the question this summer and so was our planned 15th anniversary vow renewal Vegas trip [first I typed vowel renewal and giggled to myself for a few minutes]. Instead, we loaded up the kids (and dog!) for a long weekend at a rented house in Sea Ranch, California.

All we wanted out of this trip was quiet, relaxation, and waves . . . and it delivered in abundance!

Sea Ranch is this picturesque planned community about 100 miles north of San Francisco. It is this fantastic little architectural marvel – all of the homes are abstract with large windows and definite 70s flair. Wikipedia tells me that this is called Third Bay Tradition that was “characterized by turning the horizontal form of the California ranch house into a vertical form.” I don’t know anything about architecture, so I’ll just show you these nice creative commons photographs to explain.


Sea Ranch, California is noted for its distinctive architecture LCCN2013634736

The architecture was actually what first attracted me to the location when I was searching around for a nice beach location to visit. It is right up my alley. Sea Ranch is absolutely the place I would buy a vacation home, if I was the kind of person who could afford a vacation home. I was happy to see that the house we rented had a copy of the original plans framed in the dining room. The archivist in me was happy to learn a little bit about the family who built the place in the 70s.

The second thing that attracted me to Sea Ranch was the view. Here is an unfiltered image of what we woke up to every morning. I took this from the deck – that entire side of the house was large picture windows to capitalize on the unobstructed view.

And every evening we were able to enjoy unbelievable sunsets.

We stocked the refrigerator and spent most of our time lounging in the living room. The little man got a bit bored by day three, but the rest of us had one of our best vacations. Reading, surfing the interwebs, and playing card games filled the time we managed to stay in an upright position. Bonus: a family of wild turkeys visited the house each day.

We weren’t total hermits during the trip – we did make it down to the beach one day. Absolutely beautiful and so peaceful.

Instead of driving back down Highway 1 on the way home (because frankly I wasn’t up for driving it again), we rerouted through redwoods and along the Russian River. We stopped at Russian River Vineyards for lunch (+ oh so much wine) and enjoyed a couple of hours on the patio. Marv (the tiny dog) was a huge hit and I especially loved the guitar player rocking out slow jazz versions of 90s alternative favorites. I didn’t know I needed a slow jazz version of Smells Like Teen Spirit, but my world if definitely a better place now that I know it exists.

Grand Re-Re-Re-Opening

I have a lot to say.

About the state of the American political system, about our future, about healthcare, etc. But writing about all of those things doesn’t make me happy. In fact, it makes me pretty damn sad. And I don’t write to be sad. See, as much as I’d like to be the voice of a generation* and get all of these important thoughts down on virtual paper, I much prefer to spend my free time pondering the ways in which the Roseanne series finale could have avoided total failure** or how Hey Arnold! is a flawless microcosm of the global economy.***

So I just quit writing. And that’s not cool – I’m not a quitter.****

Unbeknownst to you, dear reader – is anyone still left out there? – I’ve spent the last couple of weeks writing for pure enjoyment and stashing away a decent queue of posts to revitalize my little home on the internet. I do love my little corner. Nothing as thrilling as Roseanne or Hey Arnold!, but good enough.

Let’s kick this off with a little reminder about me with this questionnaire from Heroine Training. Read along while I try to be clever until it backfires and comes off as pretentiousness.

What is your name? Stephanie

What is your sun sign? I had to google to see if a sun sign was the same thing as a zodiac sign. . . I’m totes a Virgo.

What is the last film you saw in the cinema? Oh sweet Jesus. Maybe. . . Toy Story 3? No wait! I took the kidlet to see Annabelle. That can’t be right?! I haven’t been to the movies in 3 years?!

What is the most played song in your iTunes library? I don’t use iTunes anymore and Spotify doesn’t have an easy way to track how many times you have listened to something. But I think probably Click Clack by RuPaul and Send My Love by Adele over the last few months. After that, your guess is as good as mine.

What is the last picture on your camera? ::sigh:: It is a photo of a Starbucks croissant that I smashed in my purse then posted to Instagram. Not on purpose. I mean, I posted it on purpose, but didn’t smash it on purpose. I ended up eating my turkey sandwich deconstructed-style that day.

What did you do for fun as a kid? Read things. Carried out ridiculous historical fantasies in my room. Are you starting to feel the only child vibes yet?

The last conversation that lit you up was about? Ugh, don’t even go there. See the top of this post.

What is your favorite piece of clothing you’re wearing now and why? I happen to be wearing my absolute favorite shirt. It is stylishly oversized, super soft, and cheap. Just like me. Wait! Can that be my new tag line?

Last cup consumed was of? Coffee, no sugar, with vanilla creamer.

Favorite color pen? Black. I have no room in my heart for blue ink lovers.

If you could have anything for dinner it would be? Pizza. Yeah, I know it is boring. I will always pick that cheesy round pie of deliciousness though. Always. Not even a special pizza. Just a regular pepperoni with mushrooms and black olives.

Ice or no ice? Ice, ice . . .:wait for it::. . . baby.

Last new place you visited? Sea Ranch, California – we rented a house in this ocean-front community to spend a long weekend staring out at the water. It was marvelous. No commitments, no traveling, no typical vacation outings, just the waves.

Last time you broke a sweat was because? It was hot. But not sweatin’ like a sinner in church hot, just regular hot.

If you had to write a fan letter write now it would be to? Mary Roach!

What do you keep avoiding on your to do list? Unpacking the books still boxed up in my bedroom (although to be fair the husband hasn’t done it either). We’ve lived here for a year now. 365 days of boxes in a corner of the bedroom.

What’s in your pocket? I am a lady so I find pockets to be at the very least elusive and possibly even a full-blown myth. When I do discover a piece of clothing with those most-coveted little fabric cups, I prefer to just put my hands in them. As if to flaunt the pure luxury of being able to store things on my person by not, in fact, storing anything.

Most looking forward to? 5:30pm on Friday evening when I get to get in my pajamas and uncork a bottle of wine. Or that would be it, if I bought wine bottles with corks. Twist cap, all the way!

3 things around you right now? A basket of toys, a package of baby wipes, and a glass of tea. #momlife

What time is it? “For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity.” C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

*::gag:: No, not really.
**In summary, I believe the audience could have swallowed Dan’s death and the last year being a fantasy – perhaps even enjoyed the bittersweet ending – if the episode didn’t also negate so many of the family dynamics we had enjoyed watching during those pre-heart attack years.
***No clue. I just made that one up on the fly.
****Not true. I quit things all of the time. In fact, I’m known to be a bit of a “oh, look at that shiny thing!” kind of person.

Don’t you hate it when I footnote my own posts?

Photo time! Asian Art Edition

A couple of weekends ago we took advantage of free admission day and visited the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. Wikipedia tells me this particular museum houses one of the most comprehensive Asian art collections in the world with over 18,000 pieces (some dating back 6,000 years). I’ve been to a lot of museums and this one was pretty typical – exactly what I expected, I mean. They had some very interesting pieces, including some unlike anything I’d seen before. I especially enjoyed the juxtaposition of modern and antiquarian works in the same gallery space.

Bonus: The wonton soup from the café was unexpectedly delicious.

On My Bookshelf, February 2017

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (2017)

We’re only three months in to 2017 and I already have a very strong contender for best book of the year. Best book I’ve read, anyway.

This was a random read for me. It was offered as a selection from Book of the Month and I picked it simply because I felt I needed to up my novel reading. I’m sure you’ve noticed that I gravitate towards nonfiction. Really boring nonfiction, at that.

I hadn’t heard any of the buzz about Pachinko (and there is a lot!) and was honestly a little wary when it arrived and clocked in at 496 pages. No need to worry though, I devoured the entire thing in an evening over a couple of glasses of wine.

The story was beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. I didn’t love the second half as much as the first – but to be honest I can’t think of any multi-generational work I’ve read that was as successful when it reached late twentieth-century. Highly recommended. Like, go to the store and get this now. Immediately.

From “Profoundly moving and gracefully told, PACHINKO follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them. Betrayed by her wealthy lover, Sunja finds unexpected salvation when a young tubercular minister offers to marry her and bring her to Japan to start a new life. So begins a sweeping saga of exceptional people in exile from a homeland they never knew and caught in the indifferent arc of history.”

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge
-A book that’s published in 2017
-A novel set during wartime
-A book where the main character is a different ethnicity than you
-A book that takes place over a character’s life span
-A book about an immigrant or refugee

*This post contains Amazon Associate referral links.

Touring the Winchester Mystery House

I took the day off from work on Monday to spend some kid-free time with the husband. We ended up at the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose – someplace we could never visit with the little man as it isn’t wheelchair accessible. You’ve heard of this place, I’m sure. It is the house built by Sarah Winchester and kept in constant construction for 38 years, obstinately to make amends for those killed by Winchester weapons.

The front of the house. You can’t take photographs inside.

It is a standard feature of any show about unique architecture, historic places, or ghosts. Watching shows like that put the house on my to-do list, but there are some major difference between that television house and what I saw in person.

Specifically –

1) It is a lot smaller.
2) It is less crazy.
3) It is more interesting.

You pull up to the house and it looks a little tourist-trapish. The gift shop, café, and tour-waiting area (complete with arcade shooting gallery) certainly doesn’t help. The husband and I were getting quite a laugh out of the tacky, but also wondering if we’d wasted our money. The tours aren’t exactly cheap; $36 per adult for the basic mansion tour. We had pretty much decided that we were about to walk into a space that looked like a Victorian catalog threw up all over it. You know what I’m talking about – those historic homes or attractions that are just too much. Too over the top. Too ridiculous.

I’m happy to say this was not the case when we made it inside. So let’s talk about these takeaways –

It is a lot smaller. It is a mansion, don’t get me wrong. But it is hardly a sprawling Rose Red-esque estate. An entire floor plus a 3-floor tower were lost after the 1906 earthquake, leaving a house that varies from 3 to 4 stories depending on what part you are in. The interior is large, but the constant construction left all but the front original rooms small and cozy. The grand front rooms were gorgeous and looked a bit more like what you might expect of a mansion, but were still lovely and homey. I quite liked it.

It is less crazy. One of the strangest things about the house you see on television is the weird, tiny, winding staircases located in closets and back passageways. These actually have a perfectly logical function – Sarah had severe arthritis and installed small easy-rise stairs so she could get around her home easily. With these stairs you only had to raise your foot a couple of inches, but retrofitting the new access points meant a lot of turns and narrow openings. At the beginning of the tour we went up 44 stairs with 7 turns just to make it to the second floor. The tiny stairs for the 4’10” lady didn’t occupy any more space than a traditional staircase. They were hilarious to navigate, but made perfect sense for her situation. Once you could see the entire house at once, a lot of the weird just looked like a house that had been added to haphazardly.

It is more interesting. Sarah Winchester was an extremely wealthy woman. When she started construction on her home in 1881, she had $20 million (equivalent to nearly half a billion today) with shares in the Winchester company that generated an additional $1000 a day (between $20,000-$25,000 today). She started her staff at twice the regular rate for the area, gave pay raises, fed everyone, and built houses for families on her land (single workers lived in the house). She had funds to bring in all sort of modern conveniences for both her and her workers. Including the ability to just try things out and design efficient systems inside her weird house. Sarah Winchester closed up the front rooms of the house after the 1906 earthquake, so you were able to see details about building construction and the damage the house sustained when you toured those rooms.

So yeah, it is a weird house built by a troubled woman. But there is a lot more to the story. I suggest checking it out.

Back to our visit. For the $36, we got a guided tour of 110 out of 160 rooms in the house. It lasted about an hour and fifteen minutes. Our tour guide was great! It did occasionally lean a little to the hokey side – talking about the unusual things spiritualists did, could it be haunted, you could get lost and we’d never find you, etc. – but she was very knowledgeable. She spouted off facts about the house without even having to think and the sillier side of the tour kept the two kids that were with us fully-engaged. It was a great balance between fun and facts.

Overall, I had a lot of fun and I’m really glad we went. Totally worth the tour price.

On My Bookshelf, December 2016-January 2017

Searching for John Hughes: Or Everything I Thought I Needed to Know about Life I Learned from Watching ’80s Movies by Jason Diamond (2016)

From “For all fans of John Hughes and his hit films such as National Lampoon’s Vacation, Sixteen Candles, and Home Alone, comes Jason Diamond’s hilarious memoir of growing up obsessed with the iconic filmmaker’s movies—a preoccupation that eventually convinces Diamond he should write Hughes’ biography and travel to New York City on a quest that is as funny as it is hopeless.”

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge
-A book involving travel
-A book with a subtitle

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: An American Hero by Ronald D. Lankford Jr. (2016)

Don’t let the playful topic, decorative layout, and colorful images fool you – this is a detailed historical study of Rudolph and his place in American history and culture. Probably not the best choice for someone looking for simple holiday nostalgia, but a great read for the history-buff. Lankford’s work is well-researched and interesting. Recommended – if you like that kind of thing.

From “Ronald D. Lankford has written the definitive history of this iconic and much-loved Christmas character. . . . The result is both a glowing tribute and a rigorously researched biography that will appeal to fans and lovers of classic American holiday culture.”

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge
-A book involving a mythical creature
-A book with a subtitle

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher (2016)

My husband got me this book for Christmas, not knowing how relevant it would be. I didn’t enjoy this one as much as Wishful Drinking, but I’m also not a Star Wars fan. Of course, just being a Star Wars fan is no reason to read this book. In fact, unless you already know about Carrie Fisher’s writing, you would probably be really disappointed. At its core, this is a coming of age story – more about a teenager struggling with the transition to adulthood than behind the scenes stories from the movie. It is a good read if you like Fisher.

From “When Carrie Fisher recently discovered the journals she kept during the filming of the first Star Wars movie, she was astonished to see what they had preserved—plaintive love poems, unbridled musings with youthful naiveté, and a vulnerability that she barely recognized. Today, her fame as an author, actress, and pop-culture icon is indisputable, but in 1977, Carrie Fisher was just a teenager with an all-consuming crush on her costar, Harrison Ford. With these excerpts from her handwritten notebooks, The Princess Diarist is Fisher’s intimate and revealing recollection of what happened on one of the most famous film sets of all time—and what developed behind the scenes.”

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge
-A book about an interesting woman
-A bestseller from 2016

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (1939)

This one I read for book club and it is absolutely not a genre I would typically pick up off of the shelf. Call me pleasantly surprised, I enjoyed it overall. Yes, I found the plot of the crime ridiculously tangled and the noir doublespeak ultimately cloying, but Chandler was clearly a master of his craft. And it turns out he didn’t write this first book until he 44 and unemployed during the Depression. Good for him! If you are a fan of this genre, you’ve probably already read this. If you aren’t, this is probably a good one to start with.

From “In crime fiction master Raymond Chandler’s iconic first novel, a dying millionaire hires private eye Philip Marlowe to handle the blackmailer of one of his two troublesome daughters, and Marlowe finds himself involved with more than extortion. Kidnapping, pornography, seduction, and murder are just a few of the complications he gets caught up in.”

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge
-A bestseller from a genre you don’t normally read

*This post contains Amazon Associate referral links.

Monday Morning You Gave Me No Warning

I wrote something. It was about Monica Lewinsky and body image and things we learn from television . . . but I’m not going to share it. For some reason, this one feels too personal. You’d probably disagree if you read it and compared it to some of the stuff I’ve already written about here. It feels different to me though. So let’s skip it.

To be honest, I’m finding it difficult to concentrate on anything else expect the increasingly bleak political situation in America. I don’t intend to write anything in detail about it. I like to keep my little corner of the internet light and there are plenty of people out there – liberal and conservative – writing about it much more eloquently than I could. In my everyday life, I’m just trying to help any little way I can. It is hard to know what to do, but at least I can contribute to history’s remembering of these years as “and the resistance never gave up the fight” instead of “why didn’t they do something?”

So . . . how about some humor? Let’s start with The Awkward Yeti showing the kidneys a little love in honor of my father’s successful kidney transplant (!) week before last.

Up next, we have Adam Ellis illustrating the plight of the introvert.

Reading, POPSUGAR Style

I’ve decided to tackle the POPSUGAR Reading Challenge this year. Never heard of it? The site puts out a few lists every year providing prompts to guide your reading. Some are themed, but the main list (this one!) is more general.

I haven’t decided if I’m going to try to read one book for each prompt or if I’ll accept some overlap. I already know that there are a couple I likely won’t try on the main list. Specifically “the first book in a series you haven’t read before” and “a book you bought on a trip.” I’m not a good series reader and usually avoid books that aren’t a one-off as I’ve been disappointed so many times. I’m not crossing that off the list immediately though; there might be something out there for me (make me a recommendation in the comments?). And I won’t purposely plan to buy a book on a trip.

I’ll consider anything I read from the Advanced section a bonus. Seriously . . . who has time for 800+ pages these days? I tap out around 500 or 600, at the most.

California At 6 Months

Well, 7 months actually. But 6 just sounds much better for a title.

We’ve pretty much settled in, I guess. We still have art to hang and books to unbox, but the husband is going to handle that next month when he is unemployed [more on that in a sec]. The apartment was sufficiently cozy over the holidays – the fireplace certainly helped – and all of the decorations we brought with us fit in the space. The tree looks a little short now though, with the high ceilings. My suggestion to buy another in the Balsam Hill sample sale was summarily dismissed. It’s not like I was really going to buy it though; I can hardly justify spending that kind of money on a second tree when we are stretched thin already. Just play along with my winter wonderland fantasy. A tree in every room! Lights in every corner! An ornament in every bowl!

Christmas Eve at Half Moon Bay

I actually didn’t end up going to the sample sale at all even though I’d been looking forward to it since October. Completely forgot.

I still can’t believe that I uprooted my entire life and moved cross-country in the short span of seven weeks. I say “me” instead of “we,” because the rest of the family had an extra two months. I do not recommend following my lead and doing something like this on such a short time line. Especially not if you have a family and pets and too many doctors to count and a house to sell. Damn! Does it make me seem romantic and impulsive? I’m neither of those things, but I’ll support the illusion if it comes off that way.

Things I’ve Discovered or Acquired since Arriving in California: a favorite Chinese place, a love of fresh baked bread from the Asian grocery store (go figure!), an air of pretentiousness about living on the peninsula, way too many tote bags, a favorite free spot (Cantor Center for Visual Arts @ Stanford), a favorite Mediterranean place, a Starbuck’s habit (it’s next door), an extreme dislike of seagulls, a fear of double-decker highways (earthquakes!).

Still no good pizza. Although we have adopted a Chicago-style place that is more than acceptable (that’s high praise considering some of the options we’ve tried).

Let’s get back to that unemployed husband. His current job ends this month and his new job begins in March, leaving a little over a full month of stay-at-home-dad territory. Since we no longer own a home, his honey-do list will be significantly shorter than it would have been in Arkansas. Lots of errands, laundry, and . . . holding down the couch. That isn’t some kind of jab at him – there just won’t be much else to do. Someone has to watch all that Netflix.

In April, the husband starts working the night shift. I predict a truly awful month or so as we all (but especially him!) try to adjust to that. Oh the things we do to keep from having to hire a special needs nanny. . . . ::insert ch-ching sounds here::