Looking Back: Books

Now that the third quarter is drawing to a close, I thought I would do a quick review on some of my favorite books for the quarter! In the third quarter I read a lot since I did a lot of hiking and bikepacking and driving. However, because of this, most of them were audiobooks. I also DNFed a lot of books, maybe because they were (mostly) audiobooks, and I don't always get hooked at the beginning and I tend to then lose focus and so I end up just giving it up. 

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. As most of you know, we reread this book as part of Engie's book club, and it was great to not only read it again, but do to so with a group of people who had so many different views. I had a great time getting into the details and discussions of this book and it was just as good this time as it was when I first read it when I was a child. (5/5)

Good For a Girl: A Woman Running in a Man's World by Lauren Fleishman. To be honest, I did not know much about Lauren except that she was behind Picky Bars, but I really enjoyed this inside peek into the world of elite running. Lauren not only talks about the difficulty of being a woman in a mostly male sport (or at least one where the males are more prized), but she also gets into some of the eating disorders that the young runners had and it was very eye opening. I also read The Longest Race by Kara Goucher recently and was appalled at some of the things that were done to some of the elite running women.  (5/5)

I Feel Bad About My Neck, And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron. This book was recommended by Nicole and Elisabeth (<---new blog link here!) and it did not disappoint! Thanks ladies! Ephron talks a little about her past in a very funny way, but a lot of what drew me to this book is that it is a very real glimpse into the things we (women) experience as we get older. She talks about menopause and how she feels about her purse, how she depends on coconut oil, and the conversations with her sister about combatting hair thinning. I know that some of these things are on deck for me and I appreciate being able to giggle about them rather than dread them! (4.5/5)

The Likeness by Tana French. I am trying to read and give away books on my bookshelf (as always) and this was one of them. Some of them are pretty crap (random thrift store buys or Little Free Library finds or free on the street finds - I can't resist) but this one was good. French writes detective novels and this is #2 of the Dublin Murder Squad series. I thought I had read another book by her and liked it, but I don't see proof of that on Goodreads, so it appears that I did not read #1 of the series, but this did not make me like the book any less! (4/5)

I Have Some Questions For You by Rebecca Makaii. I went into this book highly doubtful, as I DNFed her other book The Great Believers. However, I really enjoyed this one. I would call it a cold case type of book, which I do think is right up my alley, so maybe that is why this one drew me in when the other didn't. Basically it is about a grown woman who goes back to her alma matter to teach a course and ends up getting tangled up in trying to solve a murder case that happened when she was at school there. It is similar to the show Serial, where they convicted one person but are now going back to review the details to see if perhaps the person they blamed is innocent. (4/5)

The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett. My favorite Patchett books are her essays: This is The Story of a Happy Marriage and These Precious Days. Similar to Ephron, she talks frankly but humorously about her life and how she got to where she is now. However, her fiction is sometimes not bad too! I do find her a bit hit and miss; I liked State of Wonder and The Dutch House but did not love the Magicians Assistant or Run. The Patron Saint of Liars is about a woman who goes to a home for unwed mothers with the plans to give up her baby, but after living there for a while starts to think of things differently. (4/5)

The Good Sister by Sally Hepworth. Oh man, this one will make you cringe! It is about a woman who I would say is on the spectrum, Fern and her sister Rose, who is not. Fern's sister has been taking care of her for years due to having a difficult mother growing up. Fern is happy doing her daily routine, working out, working at the library etc. When Rose is having trouble getting pregnant, Fern decides to help her by getting pregnant for her. Things do not go as planned and we learn that a relationship between sisters is not always what it seems on the surface. (4.5/5)

Stealing by Margaret Verble. This book was highly praised by Lisa, and it was a good one! It is about a Cherokee girl growing up in the 50s (?) in the Louisiana bayou. Things were difficult for Native Americans then (even more so than now) and she was taken away from her family and sent to live in a Christian boarding school, where things were not better than they would have been had she stayed with her family. It is disturbing and it will make you mad. One thing I did not like about this book was the abrupt ending. I wanted a resolution or a solution, and I did not get it. For that, I am docking .5 stars. (4.5/5)

The Many Lives of Mama Love by Lara Love Hardin. This one is all about sex, drugs and rock and roll. Okay, maybe more like drugs, jail and redemption. I am not going to lie; I had no idea who this woman is, but she was the ghostwriter for Desmond Tutu's book and The Sun Always Shines, which I enjoyed. The first chapter had me railing against her, as she dragged her three year old from place to place in an effort to score drugs. I wanted to slap her! Then she gets arrested, and chronicles life in jail, which I do find fascinating. When she finally gets out, it is a struggle to manage life, try to find a job, not break parole, find housing, and stay clean. She finally does all of this, becomes a successful writer and even gets to meet Oprah and the Dali Lama in the end! So yes, it is a feelgood "rags to riches" kind of story, but I enjoyed hearing the ins and outs and some of the struggles that people face in a world that I am not part of. (recommended by Beckett - thanks!) (5/5)

DNFed books -- China Rich Girl by Kevin Kwan (paper), The Passenger by Cormac McCarthy (audio), The Boys From Biloxi by John Grisham (audio), The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates (paper). 

What were your favorite books of the third quarter? What books have you DNFed lately? 


Rants About Trees & Neighbors

Last Saturday was an important day; it was the first day of fall, it was free entry day to the national parks in the US and it marked the point where we have 100 days left of this year. Woohoo! We don't really see a huge change in the weather here due to the change in seasons, although this week we are supposed to get rain (and possible snow in the Sierra) for the first time in a while. I have a maple tree in my front yard and while beautiful in the fall, it has a lot of leaves and all of those leaves need to be raked. It also has a lot of seeds and they are those little round spiky balls shaped ones and they can really hurt you if you step on them, due to both their spikiness and the possibility of rolling an ankle. My neighbor calls them ankle breakers. 

It's a constant battle!

Speaking of neighbors, she hates the tree and would probably be happy if I chopped the entire thing down, but I am not going to do that. In my area, there are rules for who is responsible for what when it comes t trees. This is something I learned the semi-hard way, as I have had tree issues with the neighbors on all three sides. The one on the side of the maple had branches touching her power lines. Technically if the branch is over the property line, the neighbor can cut the branch as long as it does not harm the tree (i.e. cutting an entire side of the tree off). However, as a good tree owner, I not only paid for the work to be done but had to coordinate with PG&E to have the power shut off and the lines taken down for the day while the arborist cut the tree. 

On the back of my house, I have a huge incense cedar, which has needles. The neighbor in the back came over and complained to me that "the leaves were dropping on his property" and he would like me to cut off the entire side that hangs over his property so he did not have to clean up the leaves. He also said that he was afraid that a branch was going to fall on a car parked under the tree. In this case, I had the arborist trim any dead looking or dangerous or extra long branches off and do maintenance for the health of the tree, but I was not about to lop off one entire side of the tree. 

The rules are that the person with the trunk on their property is responsible for regular maintenance of the tree. It should be trimmed in order to get rid of any dead, dangerous or dying limbs to keep it safe, but if a hurricane or natural event comes and knocks off a healthy branch and it damages the neighbor's property, technically they should have their insurance pay for it. If there is a branch hanging over their property and they want to trim it, technically they can; like I said, as long as it does not damage the health of the tree, it is allowed. They do not even need to ask for permission, although as a good neighbor I think that it is only polite. 

The guy in the back did not like that I did not lop off the entire tree, so when I asked him politely a couple of years later to stop leaning heavy things on our shared fence because it was starting to buckle under the weight, he gave me a "I will remove the items if you chop off the tree" retort. Sigh! Not to make this rant too long, but technically the fence is shared and if it needs to be fixed, we should share the cost. Now, if the one neighbor is a pain, you would have to go to court to request payment for half, which of course nobody wants to do, so you may just be SOL. 

The neighbor on the third side asked if he could trim a bit of the tree (the incense cedar) since it was hanging over his garage a little and I said sure and he cut off that entire side of the tree, which was much more than a "trim." In this case, I was not happy, he did not do what he said he was going to do, but the action had been taken and there was nothing I could do really at that point, so I opted to do nothing. Who knew that a simple things such as trees could cause so many discussions, issues and conflicts in the hood!? 

Enjoy the new season! Good luck with the raking! 

Have you ever had a conflict with a neighbor and if so, what did you do about it? What are the rules about shared trees and fences in your neighborhood? Is the weather changing where you are? 


Buses, Boats and Bicycles

Normally each year I pick a fun international destination and spend a couple of weeks there for my annual vacation. This year, I decided to stay local and instead of eating my way through France, I opted to instead torture myself for two weeks by pedaling Bob (the mountain bike) across the state of Washington. Not only that, but I wanted to do it on dirt, so it was not a straight shot. Instead I wound my way around the state and up and down some mountains before getting to the end. After that, I still had to get back to my car, so the adventure was not done. Then I was like John Candy in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, except my adventure was Buses, Boats and Bicycles. 

The adventure started by driving from California to the Olympic Peninsula and the tiny town of Forks, Washington. This may be familiar to you if you are a Twilight fan, as it is the setting that the author used for the series, and also one of the rainiest places in the US, according to Wiki. Luckily it did not rain when I was there, nor did I see any vampires. I parked my car there and got a ride to La Push, which has the westernmost zip code in the contiguous US, and also many beautiful beaches. As is customary, I dipped my back tire in the water and then started my journey. 

Sign outside of Forks, WA

I will not bore those of you who don't care much for a play by play of my entire bikepacking trip. However, there were a few highlights that I think everyone can appreciate! 

The Olympic Peninsula is beautiful. There are huge ocean beaches with enormous waves that remind me of the crashing waves of the Pacific where I live, but that doesn't make them any less intriguing. I could sit and watch them for hours! There are also tons of hiking trails, many tiny towns where you can get a coffee or a breakfast, and lots of places to stop and just take in the view. 

The lovely Pacific coast

Bob hanging out near Port Angeles

But the thing I utilized the most was the Olympic Discovery Trail. This is a mostly flattish bike trail that goes all the way from La Push to Port Townsend, which I think is about 135 miles. Right now, some sections are on the road, but you could easily find a 20 mile stretch that is mostly bike paths and quiet streets. There were a ton of blackberries along the sides and I think I spent more time eating them than I did riding. The other highlight was an alternative section called the Olympic Adventure Trail, which was a really smooth and fun single-track section that I really enjoyed, especially when it started raining and the canopy kept me halfway dry! They have a great set of maps on their website that you can even download to your phone and get turn by turn directions if you want. 

Olympic Discovery Trail near Forks

Bob and the ODT near Lake Crescent

The next fun thing was taking the ferry across the Puget Sound. Did you know that if you do not have a vehicle, riding the ferries eastbound is free? You have to pay $10 for the westbound trip but unless you have a car, you only pay one way! I have taken the ferries in the San Juans before, but I have never done it with a bike, so that was a first for me! It's quite exciting to zip in (and out!) before all of the cars come rushing up behind you and you have to get your bike out of the way and tied up before they run you over. Also, just like in San Francisco, taking the commuter ferry is a great way to see the bay (or the sound in this case) without paying for an expensive "bay cruise." For $10 I got to see the Seattle skyline and watch the sailboats in the Puget Sound. I call that a win! 

View of Seattle from the ferry

I also rode for a long time on the Snoqualmie Valley Trail, which I started on in the town of Carnation, which is east of Seattle. It goes along the Snoqualmie River into the mountain towns of Snoqualmie and North Bend. This was a steady uphill but it was shaded and cool and since it was an old rail trail, it was not very steep. I would really recommend going there; you can camp at the campground near Carnation and ride east to North Bend and get a hamburger at Twede's cafe. For those of you who are fans of the show Twin Peaks, this is the location of the famous cherry pie diner. I found it a bit kitschy of course, but I got a seat right away, my food came out fast, and they had bottomless French fries, so yay! After gorging yourself on fries, you have a downhill ride back to your camp. By the time you get back you will be ready for a swim in the river right next to your campsite! For me there is nothing better than a swim in the river on a hot day. 

Snoqualmie Valley Trail

Twede's Cafe in North Bend

Last but not least, the Snoqualmie Valley Trail links up to the John Wayne Trail, now known as the Palouse to Cascades trail. This is also a rail trail that has been converted to a bike trail, and is again all dirt and slightly uphill for the first 20 miles. I ended up loosely following this trail almost all the way to the Idaho border. The highlight of the first section of this trail is a more than two mile ride through the Snoqualmie tunnel! If you do not want to ride all the way up the hill from the start, you can also start at the town of Hyak and then it is less than a mile from the tunnel from there. It was very dark and kind of damp and chilly but pretty fun and was a new experience for me! We used to run through the train tunnels when we were kids; it was such a thrill to see if we could get through before a train came. I don't think the Snoqualmie tunnel had that same element of danger, but it was eerie being alone in the dark for several minutes, and you literally cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel!!!

Snoqualmie Pass Tunnel

Camping along the PTCT with the Enchantments in the background

In the end, it was a grand adventure! There were many hard days; I rode my longest ride ever so far (80 miles) in one day, and one day it was about 100 degrees out and of course this was in eastern Washington where there are no trees, so I think I baked my brain a little bit that day. However, I rewarded myself with a lot of ice cream when I could, and had fun seeing the small towns (and I do mean small! One was about 500 people) and farmland along the way. I saw a lot of dead animals, banana peels and trash, specifically aluminum cans. On one stretch of highway, I counted over 100 cans in a one mile stretch!! I ended up getting to Idaho via Spokane, where I then took my buses, boats and bikes back to my car before driving home. 

This photo was taken on the hottest day

Made it to the border!

Hottest temperature:     100 degrees
Longest day (miles):      80 miles
Total elevation gain:      31,784 feet
Total mileage:                688 miles

Have you ever been to Washington state? If so, what is your favorite place/thing to do there? Are there any fun bike paths or rail trails where you live? What did you do for your vacation this year?