Best of 2022: Books

Just like that, another year has gone by...Although each year brings many changes, one thing that remains the same is my love of books. This year I only beat last year's number by about 3%! The slight increase could be due to the fact that audiobooks continue to play a more important part of my life. I listen to books while cleaning, cooking, driving, running, hiking...you get the picture. Of all the books I read in 2022, about three quarters of them were audiobooks. 

Here are my recaps from prior years: 2021202020192018201720162015201420132012, and 2011

This year I gave the coveted five star rating to nine books. I am trying to be a little more generous with my stars, as some years there are less than a handful of five star reads. Without further ado, here are my favorite reads from 2022, in the order that I read them. 

Remember: The Science of Memory and The Art of Forgetting by Lisa Genova: This is not the first of Genova's books that I have had in my top picks. She is a neuroscientist who has written about many neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's, Huntington's and ALS. In Remember, she talks about the brain in general and how many of the things we worry about, like that the fact that we cannot remember where we put our keys, is not necessarily a sign of aging but perhaps just of our brains prioritizing. 

The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn: Based on a true story, this is another WWII novel by Quinn, but this time its from a different perspective. Kiev native Mila is a bookish mother until Germany invades the Ukraine and then she becomes Lady Death, a feared Nazi sniper. She tallies up so many deaths that she gets invited to the US by Eleanor Roosevelt. However, things go south while she is in the US and she has to battle both inner and outer demons to survive. 

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe: I was a bit hesitant to begin this book, as I had to put down one of his other books, Say Nothing, due to it being an overload of information. However, he went from zero to five stars with this story of corruption and greed in the opioid industry. The Sackler family is one of the richest in the world and the producers and marketers of the highly addictive opioid OxyContin. When asked about the addictive properties of the drug and clear signs that it was being abused they were in strict denial of either point. 

Pony by R.J. Palacio: By the author of Wonder, this was another YA novel with an underlying message. When horsemen steal his father away, 12 year old Silas and his imaginary friend set out on a rescue mission. On the journey, he faces many fears, but with his friend and his pony, he not only survives but learns a lot along the way. 

Blindness by Jose Saramago: This book really made me feel very emotional. I put it on my to read list during the pandemic, as it was supposedly "pandemic related." Then a friend of mine gave me the physical book this year and I was going to read the first chapter to see how it sat. After that I could not put it down. It was like a car accident; it both disgusted and fascinated me. In the story, a man is struck blind out of the blue. Soon after, another man becomes blind, and then another. Not knowing what is causing this, they are isolated in case it is contagious. Soon more are "infected" and things start to become messy, literally. They are in confinement with only one meal a day and nobody to clean up their waste. There are no rules and nobody to enforce them; it becomes like Lord of the Flies. It is disturbing and thought provoking and there are many parallels to the pandemic that we have just experienced. I recommend it but just know that you are going to feel lots of things when you read it. 

I'm Glad My Mom Died by Jeanette McCurdy: When I first read the title of this book, I knew it was going to be interesting. I was not familiar with the author, but this story still sucked me in. She becomes a child star fairly early, but is subjected to her mothers ideas of beauty, including calorie restriction and at home makeovers. Not surprisingly, this leads to eating disorders, abusive relationships, shame and addiction. 

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin: A story of a 17 year old girl and an 83 year old woman who meet in the terminal ward of the hospital and become fast friends. Since their combined years add up to a hundred, they decide to do an art project honoring the stories they have had over these years. Although one has had a short life and the other has had a long life, they learn that who you share it with is what matters. 

Carrie Soto Is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid: This is the third book by TJR that I have had on my end of year Best Of list. I have now read seven of her books and have given five stars to two, four stars to two and three stars to three of them. Almost everything I have read of hers has been entertaining and interesting, especially the more recent ones! This story details a tennis star who at 37 years old decides to try and reclaim her title after a six year hiatus. She is definitely the old kid on the block, and she struggles both mentally and physically to try to live up to where she was in the past. 

These Silent Woods by Kimi Cunningham: Cooper and his daughter Finch live in an isolated cabin in the woods. It's just the two of them and this is how Cooper likes it. However, when a girl turns up missing in the woods nearby, they cannot maintain their isolation any longer. Cooper has to face up to his past, including coming clean about it to Finch. 

Have you read any of the above and if so, did you like them? What were some of your favorite books this year? 


On Being Uncomfortable

As adults, we become fairly stuck in our ways at times, doing the same routine or same tasks over and over. Having kids definitely gives people a new outlook, new tasks to do, new people to meet. For example, for the last couple of years I have been helping a single mom friend shuttle the kids to soccer and lacrosse practice and games. Not only have I learned about pickup and drop off (did you know that only a couple of the parents get out of the car? I always get out of the car. Am I doing that wrong?), but I have been learning how to play lacrosse (this is not a sport we had available when I was a kid). I am learning how to listen to and to give advice to kids; I am learning some bad (but very fun) dad jokes. 

Aside from that though, what do we do to put ourselves out of our comfort zone? Last weekend I took a bike ride with Bertha (that's my bike). This may seem easy enough, but my plan was to take my old bike all the way around the bay. Here is my CalTopo map. This would mean crossing two bridges and going into towns that usually I only fly by on the freeway. It would mean riding in the street, sometimes on roads with little shoulder and across two bridges with various rules and strange entry points. It would mean not knowing where I could use the bathroom or whether or not I needed to lock up my bike or where I could lock it up. It would mean riding further than I ever had before. It would mean being out of the house for an unknown period of time, in the cold and the wind. My bike could break down; I could get a flat; I could get lost; I could encounter all manner of things. 

But. I could have fun, learn something I did not know yet, stretch my ability and see new things. Which is what I did. I started at my house and rode to a bar in uptown Oakland to watch the World Cup final. After watching Argentina get a much deserved win, I got back on the bike and started riding toward the Richmond bridge. Luckily, there is a bike path that goes all the way from Emeryville to Richmond, which is about 10 miles long and sticks to the shoreline so there would not be too many cars to contend with. 

I followed that for about 10 miles and then had to go on the streets to get to Point Richmond, which is usually easy to get through. However, they were doing construction and there was a detour and instead of going on a flat street through downtown I went nearer to the coast and the hills and got quite an unexpected work out. Once I recovered from that, I went toward the bridge, but I didn't realize that when it said right turn it meant right after the street, not ON the street, so I almost went on a freeway entrance until a guy rolled down his window and told me that the bike path was just up the street. Oops! 

Bay Area bikeways

Next was the approach to the bridge and then a four mile stretch on the bridge, which always seems flat when I am driving on it, but I swear was uphill the whole way on the bike. Plus there was a cross wind that did not make it any easier. This was the point that I decided that my 50 mile circumnavigation of the whole bay may be a little ambitious and I should start thinking of a plan B. Luckily, depending on how long you want to wait, there are three ferry options that go into San Francisco as well as several bus options. So I got off the Richmond bridge and cruised into Larkspur where there is a ferry. Unfortunately, the next ferry came in about an hour and a half, but I did not want to just sit around and wait, so I decided to press on to Sausalito where I could catch the ferry from there if I hurried. 

Approaching the bridge

Richmond Bridge

Of course from Larkspur to Sausalito there were about 17 different turns and it did take me a while to make sure I was going the right way. Also when I got on the bike path that goes into Sausalito, which I have run on before, it was a lot more miles than I remember to get from there to the ferry. Of course the headwind did not help and I was passed several times by cyclists with large strong thighs, which really made me realize that I need to train more for this sport. However, it was a beautiful sunny day and there were people out enjoying it and it really was a great day to be alive. 

In Sausalito, I literally walked onto the ferry and it left, so if I would have been 5 minutes later I would have missed it and had to either wait another couple of hours or climbed the dreaded hill and crossed the Golden Gate bridge. Instead I had a great ride, ate a snack, enjoyed the view of the city and Alcatraz (if you have never taken this ferry, I highly recommend it. It is much cheaper than a proper bay cruise) and the all of the bridges. 

From San Francisco, I took the BART back to Oakland where I had about a four mile ride to get back home. I will admit, but this time I was super hungry despite my snack on the boat, but my butt was definitely not as sore as I thought it might be after such a long ride. This actually is now my longest ride ever! 

So, after this long story, what is my point, you are asking!? I would say the moral of the story is thus: first of all, you can teach an old dog new tricks...just kidding. Seriously, get out and try new things. Maybe it is embarrassing or unusual or uncomfortable or HARD, but you won't know until you try it and if you hate it you don't have to do it again, because you know what? You are an adult! However, I have found that many of those hard or uncomfortable things often become my favorite new thing to do.  Did I learn from this one? Yes. Did I have fun? Most certainly. Was it hard? You bet it was. Will I take another long bike ride? Definitely.

Total miles: 42
Time taken: 4 hours
Bridges crossed: 1 (Richmond)
Modes of transport: 3 (bike, boat, train)
Map of my trip: https://caltopo.com/m/G96UB 

What uncomfortable thing have you done lately? Have you ever taken a long bike ride? If so, what tips can you impart for my next ride? 


Best of 2022: Travel

This year, I made up for two years of lockdown and scheduled all kinds of weekend shenanigans. Most of them involved the outdoors but I also visited some cities and had some delicious food. I also finally knocked some places off my long time wish list. Here are a few of my favorites! 

Snowshoeing and skiing at Dodge Ridge. In January, Broski, Bunny and I took a long weekend for some skiing and snowshoeing near Pinecrest Lake. It was the perfect weekend; it was sunny but not hot and the runs are short and sweet but so were the lines. I even did a few (tiny) jumps, which gets my blood going! 

Pinecrest Lake

Music, BBQ and kayaking in Austin, TX: In February, KB and I finally made it to Austin after years of wanting to check it out. It did not disappoint and we had a great time running around the lakes, eating BBQ, checking out some live music and kayaking. And did I mention eating? There was a lot of eating. Also KB's sister and friend came from Houston to join us, so it was a fun girls trip all around! 

Could not leave without getting a picture of this. 

Grandma's memorial on Cape Cod: Although not the happiest of occasions, it was good to see the family and to spend time on the Cape. In March, we rented a big house for the entire family and spent time eating, walking on the beach and even enjoying a springtime snowstorm. I also tacked on a visit to some friends in Boston who I haven't seen in a few years and we went out for a seafood feast and had a great time catching up. 

Cape Cod

Wedding weekend and croissant eating in Brooklyn: My favorite pastry is a bear claw/almond croissant and Brooklyn has plenty of options to pick from! Aside from a fabulous time had at my friends wedding where there was dancing and lots of cheese, I spent the rest of my weekend in Brooklyn on the quest for the best almond croissant. From Park Slope to Green Point, my favorite was the Julien Boulangerie, but of course I will have to keep trying to see if it can be beat! 

Bikes and croissants, oh my.

Backpacking in Yosemite: I spent a couple of different weekends doing cross country backpacking trips in Yosemite and both of them were great. There was still a lot of snow at times and this made for some slow going, but it just gave me more opportunities to enjoy the scenery. 

Snow on Vogelsang pass

Teton adventure: In July, Broski, Bugsy and I took a road trip to Wyoming where we did a 5 day hike around the Teton range. It was absolutely beautiful, although it was still a bit snowy and some of the passes were still a bit slippery! 

Hiking near Death Canyon Shelf

Road trip to Washington and Oregon: I finally knocked a couple more of my hopefuls off the list and tackled the Timberline Trail around Mt. Hood, the Enchantments and the northernmost section of the PCT in Washington. 

PCT - Section L

Hiking and dragon hunting in Slovenia: After years of wanting to go see this tiny jewel of a country, I finally made it and it did not disappoint. From wine to beaches, from mountains to cities and lots of good food too, Slovenia has a bit of everything. I spend a good time hiking the Slovenian Mountain Trail and then supplemented that with some relaxation, good food, and fun sights! 


I also had some fun CA trips to the Lost Coast, Mt. Shasta and Castle Crags, Emigrant Wilderness, Mt. Whitney (x 2!!), and the Hoover Wilderness. 

What was your favorite trip this year? 


Quirks & Randoms

You may have noticed that I came out from  under my rock. Like Punsxutawney Phil, I am. I crawled out the first time and it was too sunny, so I went outside. Now it's raining and I am getting into purge mode. One of the things that I need to purge is computer stuff; my C drive is almost full of stuff, I have too many junk emails, I have a lot of unfinished blog posts. 

So I have started unsubscribing to emails, little by little and going through photos and removing blurry ones and dupes. This is not something that gets resolved overnight; I started it during the pandemic (or before?) and have been chipping away a little each month. I also decided to finish up some of those draft posts that are two thirds done! This post was started in 2016 (!!), I worked on it a little in January of 2022, but alas, I never came back to it. So, without further ado, I give you a six-years-in-coming list of randoms and quirks, in no particular order! 

About three years ago my cat gave me fleas. I thought I would be environmentally friendly and I decided to use diatomaceous earth. If you are unfamiliar, it is is a natural product that looks like baby powder but is actually a rock with jagged edges that will supposedly kill the flea by drying out its exoskeleton. However, it is not toxic to animals with endoskeletons. So...I did what it said and I spread it all around the corners of the hardwood, on the furniture and all over the house and then I vacuumed it up. Or should I say that I attempted to vacuum it up. It did not want to be vacuumed up. 

What a mess!

This may have been one of the stupider things I have ever done. First of all, it did not kill the fleas. Secondly, despite multiple sweepings and moppings over the years, I still find remnants of powder in the corners of the room, or when I bang into the couch some sprinkles out. I guess the moral of this story is that I should have either gone with the bug bomb despite the poison (which is what I ended up doing in the end) or gotten rid of the cat. (P.S. I did later use the same product to successfully kill a bunch of hornets in my garden, so it is not entirely useless). 

Gato supervises but never works.

I eat the same thing for breakfast every day. At the original time of this writing in 2016, breakfast consisted of  oatmeal with peanut butter (95% of the time) or Cheerios. Currently the breakfast du jour is eggs. We have hard boiled ones at work and I usually have a couple of those, or if I am home I will fry up a couple. The only real deviation would be on a weekend when I eat out, and then its usually omelet time, but that is still eggs! I also generally eat the same thing for lunch on the weekdays and maybe two or three dishes for dinners. You call it boring; I call it efficient. 

I believe that everything has its place. For instance, the milk in the fridge belongs on the right hand side of the top shelf. It doesn't belong on the left side, nor the middle shelf, nor the door. It belongs where it belongs and it always goes back there. In the risk of sounding a bit neurotic, I can usually tell if someone has moved something, eaten something or used something of mine, as they don't put it back exactly so (for instance, at work, I KNOW when you have used my stapler). I also like things put away in their place before I leave. The bed has to be made. The cupboards, shower curtain and closet doors have to all be closed etc. 

I am trying to save the environment. As I am running the water to heat it up for a shower, I put a bucket under the tap and I use that water to water the plants in the yard. In winter, when they don't need water, I use it to flush the toilet. I know that in backpacking and running, we definitely use too many single serving packets; I try to use reusable ziplocks and buy things in bulk when I can. For my last race, I carried peanuts with me in this reusable snack bag. The other thing that I really try to do is to not use plastic water or other small sized bottles. I am not perfect, but I am moving in the right direction. 

I am long winded....as you can probably tell from this post. I don't know if this is a quirk or an annoyance at times. I blame my father, who can make a 3 minute story last for 15 minutes. I notice my brother does the same thing as well, so watch out if you are in a room with all three of us (my poor mother!). Don't get stuck in a corner! However, I think that this makes me an excellent running partner. Just ask me to tell you a story about X and I will take until the end of the run to finish!

Stay tuned for more random finished draft posts; you never know what may be coming soon! 

What stupid thing have you done lately? What quirk do you have? 


What I Learned

The older I get, the more things I realize that I do not know. Here are a few things that you probably have known about for ages, but I have just recently learned. Why I did not know this earlier, I don't know, but it is kind of fun and surprising to learn such simple things. 

How to Eat a Banana My coworker used to peel his banana upside down. Then I realized that actually, his way of doing it was better. If you squeeze the bottom of the banana like a zit (ew), it easily opens. Sometimes when you open it from the top (the stem side) it is difficult and you get banana pulp under your fingernails. If you do it from the bottom, it comes open easily. Not only that, but if you peel it down about two thirds of the way, you now have a handle (the stem) to hold it by and to easily throw it away from when you are done. Voila. 

How to Have Spreadable Peanut Butter: I always used to wonder why in the world some people stored their peanut butter in the fridge. Like butter, it is so much better when it can be smoothed easily on a piece of bread. Peanut butter from the fridge was thick and tore up the bread. The other thing I thought was gross was that natural peanut butter that my parents used to buy in the 80s. It has that oil slick on top and you would get peanut butter all over your hands trying to stir it so that you could get down to the actual peanuts. Then I started being more health conscious and I now buy the natural peanut butter...and was stirring it each time. Then Broski told me he had discovered a magic trick: stir the peanut butter once really good and put it in the fridge and the oil doesn't separate. What!?? I did that, and have never looked back. It is amazing. Perfectly stirred peanut butter every time. I recommend this peanut butter from Costco. 

How to Pour Milk: You know how it is when you pour milk from the carton and it goes glug, glug, glug? I always thought that was just because the milk was full and it was a fact of life and there was nothing that can be done about it. I was wrong. If you just turn the bottle around so that the little hole is closer to your face than the counter, it does not do the glugging thing! 

Not this way! 

This is better.

Last, I will leave you with an oldie but goodie: the egg trick. When I was a kid I was afraid that I would accidentally crack open a raw egg rather than a hard boiled one and my Dad showed me how to spin the egg to see if it spun evenly or not. If it spins evenly, it is hard boiled, as the weight is evenly distributed. If it spins wonky, it is because the liquid is sloshing around. 

Teach me more! What tricks do you use that maybe I don't know about?