Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Best Books of 2015

How did another year go by so fast?! It's hard to believe it's almost over, but down to business.


I read 100 books this year. It's a record year (since I've been tracking), my previous record being 99 books. Five of the books were graphic novels, 4 were non-fiction, 2-3 would be considered classics. The rest were all over the place: mystery, YA, horror, romance, sci-fi, fantasy, and gothic.



Here are my favorites for the year:


One Plus One - JoJo Moyes
Brand new to me author this year and I loved this book so much. I borrowed it from the library and then went and bought my own copy. I kind of want to read it again just thinking about it. I quickly bought a few more of her books to read (ha ha but haven't got around to them yet).


Six of Crows - Leigh Bardugo
I was on the library wait list and then read some killer reviews and decided just to buy it and I'm so glad I did. I don't usually rank my favorites but it skyrocketed up to #1 book of the year. It deserves all the hype.


The Martian - Andy Weir
So. Much. Fun. I admit to zoning a bit on the math parts but like the rest of the (fictional) world, I was cheering for Mark to make it home.


Nimona - Noelle Stevenson
I read a few different graphic novels this year and this one just had me grinning from ear to ear. It was such a cute, feel good book. I purchased my own copy for Christmas and promptly lent it to my sister to read.


As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride - Cary Elwes
Another feel good book! This movie is a childhood favorite and the book was so fun to read.


DarkShip Thieves - Sarah A. Hoyt
I wasn't expecting this one. I picked it up on a whim, not even sure how I came across it. The cover is kind of ridiculous, but the book is a very fun space opera romp.


Rolling in the Deep - Mira Grant
I do love Mira Grant and this novella was fantastic. You know from the beginning (and the cover blurb) how it is going to end but getting there is still a shock.


I'll Meet You There - Heather Demetrios
Probably my favorite cover of the year; it reminds me of road trips.


Tower of Thorns - Juliet Marillier
Blackthorn and Grim are some new favorite characters. I think I liked this book even better than the first one.


Every Move - Ellie Marney
This one just had to be on the list. I gave all three books in the series 5 stars. It was a perfect end to what has become an all-time favorite series.


Still Life with Shape-Shifter - Sharon Shinn
One of the very first books I read this year, in fact #3, and I still think about it. It was devastatingly good and heartbreaking at the same time.


The Rose Garden - Susanna Kearsley
This one sneaked in over the Christmas weekend. I have been meaning to read one of her books for years and I just loved this. I have a serious crush on both Daniel and Fergus.


A few honorable mentions:
Not a Drop to Drink - Mindy McGinnis
Loved this take on the end of the world and it made me think about how far you should go to survive.
Night Owls (aka The Anatomical Shape of a Heart) - Jenn Bennett
Auto buy author and this didn't disappoint.
The Wrath and the Dawn - Renee Ahdieh
I expected this to be a so-so YA retelling and was very pleasantly surprised that's it so much more.
A Kiss Before Dying - Ira Levine
Anyone who likes Hitchcock movies should read this.
Act Like It - Lucy Parker
This one sneaked in at Christmas also. This is the way I like my romance books.


Books I'm looking forward to in 2016... or DYING TO READ in some cases:


Crooked Kingdom - Sequel to Six of Crows - Leigh Bardugo
Marked in Flesh - Anne Bishop
The Raven King - Maggie Stiefvater
Fire Touched - Patricia Briggs
Lost Among the Living - Simone St. James
The Rose and the Dagger - Renee Ahdieh


So next year... Besides the normal things I like to read, I think I'm going to try and tackle a few of the classics that I already own and are taking up space on my book shelf and find some more non-fiction to read. I think I'd like to read a book of Mary Oliver's poems too. I'm also in a mood to re-read some of my childhood favorites and a few of the books I own that haven't been read in many, many years. What's the use in keeping them, otherwise?


I normally say that you should read what you like to read and don't apologize for it. I still say that, but I've decided I like to branch out and I've discovered some good books getting out of my "reading comfort zone" these last few years.











Monday, December 14, 2015

Moving Day is Almost Here

I spent all day on Saturday helping my parents clean out their garage and shed and basement. If feels like we barely made a dent. There's still so much to do. The movers are coming on Thursday. I told my mom after the stuff they are keeping gets moved out, we can just load up the rest for the DI or the dump. We took at least 2 truckloads to the DI on Saturday and got rid of a bunch of other stuff. My brother-in-law had the back of his truck packed with some furniture and things they were taking. I ended up with another plant, a water container, a cast iron frying pan, and then a bunch of food storage stuff. I seriously won't have to buy noodles for a long time. But the big score was a can of potato pearls. The Church stopped canning them some years ago and those things are seriously the best! 


Before I went home, I gave up my keys. I won't be letting myself in ever again. Cleaning out 30+ years of accumulated stuff is never fun or easy. But as my sister pointed out, it is a lot nicer that we are doing it as a family while mom and dad are still around. And there will be a lot less stuff to clean out of the new house after they are gone. God willing, it will be awhile.


It puts me in the mood to clean out my own house. I went through my pantry yesterday while listening to Christmas music. I am so blessed to be in my own home and I really have a lot of space for one person.


It is snowing!!!  I'm so excited that we will have a white Christmas after all. Tonight is baking night for FHE!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Christmas Craft

I found this on Pinterest. I love it when the crafty things I find actually turn out. My niece helped me make a few of these. We had a good time.



Tuesday, December 8, 2015

My Bookshelves Overfloweth

I admit I might have a problem.

This year so far I have purchased 49 actual paper books from Amazon. I don't know how many from other retailers. A few for sure. And roughly 68 for Kindle. Some of those books were gifts (ha ha like maybe 4 of them).


This year so far I have read 91 books, some of which I borrowed from the library, so my reading pace is definitely not keeping up with my buying pace (like that's even possible).  Interestingly enough, I still read more paper than electronic books, yet I buy more eBooks. That one click button is just so easy to use.

In my defense I've purged twice already this year. I won't mention the container under the bed. I really am planning to get rid of them. Someday.





You can't tell from the pictures, but all of the shelves are stacked 2 deep with books on top and in pretty much any space I can get them.





I've decided I really need another bookshelf. Where to put it though...I might need to do some rearranging.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Seoul

A week before we were scheduled to leave I was notified that one of our flights home had been canceled. They re-booked us on a flight leaving a day early. That's the reason we had a day less in Siem Reap. Also, because of the way we booked the flights, we were going to have a long layover either in South Korea or Los Angeles. We chose Seoul for the layover. We were there overnight and got just a small taste of the city.


It was a big change from SE Asia. Not only temperature and humidity-wise. We were back to streets where they obeyed traffic signals and we had a huge subway system to use.

Our flight landed in the morning and we stored our luggage at the airport and only took what we needed with us. We explored Gyeongbokgung Palace for a while. 



I loved the fall weather and seeing the leaves. It was a nice change and more like what I would have been seeing at home. 




Then we wandered down the city taking in some sights. We eventually walked to our hotel and took a little nap. It rained that evening so we didn't go too far from the hotel. We ended up eating pho for dinner and then went to Baskin-Robbins for ice cream. 



I've never really had the desire to see South Korea, but this gave me a little taste and now I do think it would be fun to go back.

We had a great vacation. Once again, my eyes were opened and the world got a little bit smaller and bigger at the same time. No ideas where we will go next, but I'm sure it will be good. Still so many places to choose from.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Exploring Angkor

 My advice for exploring the temples at Angkor:

 


  1. Spread it out over a few days so you don't get "templed out". 
  2. Take good walking shoes because you will be walking on uneven ground most of the time. Never mind the Asian tourists you see in fancy dresses and sandals. 
  3. Drink lots of water. Food and water can be purchased at or near some of the temples but make sure you have some with you as well. We also had electrolyte tablets that helped, especially since we are not used to that level of humidity. 
  4. Moisture wicking fabric is more comfortable than loose cotton t shirts, especially if you sweat a lot.
  5. Waterproof sunscreen is a must but mine came off really fast when I started to sweat. Take a hat (I had my buff which I loved). I had an umbrella also but using it for a sun screen is hard when you need both your hands to climb. 
  6.  All the guide books, internet, etc tell you that you need to have your shoulders covered. You do have to dress modestly. These are temples, even if they aren't your culture or religion, and they should be treated appropriately. I did see a girl get turned away for a sleeveless dress (and it was one with wide straps that covered quite a bit). 
  7. Hiring a tuk-tuk driver off the street is very easy and it's a fun way to see the temples. Don't let your airport driver talk you into his air-conditioned car for double the price. Even though the air conditioning is nice.
  8. Have fun and see all you can but remember you won't be able to see it all. 




Monday, November 16, 2015

The Temples of Angkor

And now for the temples. Angkor Wat has been on my travel list since I first made it up and I finally get to cross it off. And there are so many temple ruins to see. I can easily see why people can spend a week or more here.


We ended up with 3 days in Siem Reap. We had planned for a bit longer but had some last minute flight cancellations and ended up cutting it shorter than we originally planned. You can see all the major temples and a few of the others in that time, especially if you sight see like me and my sister. We don't have to spend hours contemplating every little thing.  Plus, the humidity kills me and I was dripping wet most of the time so I can't imagine spending the entire day out exploring temples.

The other thing we didn't do was get up for the sunrise or stay for the sunset. The first 2 days were cloudy anyway and we wouldn't have been able to see it. I don't think we missed much. I'm sure it would have been beautiful but I feel like we got some pretty good views in without the sunrise. So we had our drivers pick us up at 9 all three days.


I have hundreds of pictures but am going to try and post just a few of my favorites if I can manage to narrow them down.

    
Ta Prohm - "Tomb Raider" temple

Chau Say Tevoda

Baphuon
Baphuon is huge! Lots of stairs to climb on this one but the view from the top is worth it. 


Bayon
Bayon

Bayon is pretty cool. Not my favorite but all the faces are pretty fascinating. 

One of the spires of Angkor Wat
Crossing the moat
Going across the moat to Angkor Wat was kind of a surreal experience. I just couldn't believe I was actually there. And of course, even though we went during a not busy season, it's hard to get photos that people aren't in. Especially in the more famous spots.

Close up in Banteay Srei

Banteay Srei
Banteay Srei is beautiful and shouldn't be missed. However, it takes a while to get out there (on tuk-tuk) and is small and filled with tourists. It's possible we went at the wrong time. It's worth it but be prepared for lots of people. Except for some zooms of the details, I don't think I got one picture without people in it.

Banteay Kdai

Banteay Kdai

Preah Khan

Preah Khan
I'm not sure if I could pick a favorite. The famous ones were great, but some of the others that are a little more in ruins and not as busy were probably the best to explore.

Elephant at Ta Som

Ta Som



Friday, November 13, 2015

Siem Reap

From Hanoi, we flew to Siem Reap. It was a breath of fresh air after the chaos of Hanoi. It was busy and there was the bustle of tourists all over but it felt less chaotic and I felt like I could cross the street without a death wish.


One of the things nobody told us before we left the states was that they take USD in Cambodia. Almost all the prices are listed in USD and you can pull it out of the ATMs. We had changed some money to Riel before we left the airport but actually had a hard time using it. And with all the prices listed in USD, we had to covert the Riel before we could pay with it. Except for the grocery store. The computer had prices listed in both Riel and USD. But if you paid in USD, you got Riel for change.I ended up bringing home some of the small bills that are only worth cents. I think I'm making bookmarks out of them.


We stayed at the Memoire d'Angkor Boutique hotel and really liked it. It wasn't very big but our room was nice.


And as it turns out, I don't seem to have a lot of pictures of Siem Reap, the city. We didn't see a lot of it though. We spent the mornings at the temples (which I'll do in another post) and would rest in the afternoon and then spend the evening around the night market and Pub street.


The night market was just full of tons and tons of stalls with all kinds of cheap tourist junk. And I'm not trying to put it down. We bought stuff there. You just had to look around. Most of it was the same and then you would find that one thing that was different and worth buying. I ended up with a bracelet, scarf, and sarong to take home and then we got the family some little gifts there as well.



Friday, November 6, 2015

Bai Tu Long Bay

Very early in our planning, I knew I wanted to go to Halong Bay. As I was researching which tour to take and how long, etc. I read how crowded the bay can get and issues with trash in the water. After a little more digging I found "the bay less traveled". Bai Tu Long Bay is north of Halong Bay but still has the same karsts and views.






We booked the tour with a company called Indochina-Junk for 3 days and 2 nights and it was perfect. I would highly recommend them.



Our boat was the Dragon's Pearl II

The tour started with a pick up in Hanoi and then we had to travel for about 4.5 hours until we got to Halong Bay city where we got on the junk. I'm not sure what the actual distance is but I think most of the travel time was because the speed limit isn't that high and there are lots of other vehicles and obstacles on the roads.
 
On the way we stopped for lunch and got to see a traditional water puppet show.

 
 
The junk was so much fun. Not very big, only 11 cabins. We had one of the cabins at the back of the main level. We just sailed around the karsts and got to stop to kayak and swim. It was really a perfect time and so relaxing.

Here I am relaxing on the sun deck

 


The sky was hazy a lot of the time (really, through our entire time in Vietnam) and I don't have the knowledge, or the camera, to really capture the water but I loved it when it was this jade green color.





Beach time after which we had dinner in a cave






View from the entrance of the cave

This cruise is going down as one of my favorite things we've done on our trips. The food was great, it was relaxing, the views were fantastic, our fellow cruise-mates were so nice, the weather was perfect...I could go on and on. I don't even have the words to describe the butterflies and the fish jumping or the feeling of cruising in the dark and relaxing on deck looking up at the stars.

Loved the views
 
 I'd recommend this to anyone thinking of going to Halong Bay. Go to Bai Tu Long Bay for 3 days and 2 nights with Indo-china Junk.


Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Hanoi

My sister and I did our trip to Vietnam and Cambodia last month. I was a little anxious about this one but it was all for naught. We were safe, had only very minor travel issues, and just had a great time.

We chose Hanoi because that's where the tours to Halong Bay leave from and that was the big draw for us to go to northern Vietnam.

Temple of Literature - Vietnam's 1st University


 
We were actually in Hanoi too many days. The city is chaotic and busy and is not really friendly to foot travelers. Walking takes a lot of concentration just so you don't get hit by a car or scooter. We could have cut out almost 2 full days there and been perfectly fine. Chalk that one up to experience.

The food was excellent! And cheap. That alone was worth a visit.

Pho!

 

Ho Chi Minh's memorial
 
We didn't get to go in because it was closed but it was one of the things on my list to see and didn't disappoint. We didn't stay much longer than just getting a few pictures. The sun came out from the clouds and it got hot. The sun and humidity just did us in.

 Hoa Lo Prison
 
We didn't do too many historical sites from the Vietnam war. This prison was much older than the Vietnam war, but was nicknamed "Hanoi Hilton" during the war.


Presidential Palace
 
The office government buildings were all this lovely cheese color.
 
Ho Kiem Lake
 
All things considered, if I ever got back to Vietnam I would go see central and southern parts, or even more northern like Sapa. But Hanoi was ok to visit once.
 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Farewell Home

My parents sold their house. They bought a smaller place in a retirement community. It's all on one level, they don't have to do yard work, etc. They've needed to downsize for years now as they've gotten older. We all used to balk when mom would bring up selling the house but it's a good thing for them and seems like the time was right.




But even so, it's a little bit sad at the same time. We moved to that house right before I turned 8 and even though I haven't actually lived there for years now, it's still home. I've had a great life in that house. And it's enough. It's really the people who make the home so even though we'll be celebrating Thanksgiving (probably) and Christmas (definitely) in a different place, I'll still be with the people who matter most.









Sunday, October 4, 2015

Quick Trip to Oregon

I love the Oregon coast. It’s truly one of my favorite places. I love how you can feel like you’re in the mountains and at the beach almost at the same time.


Near Devil's Churn

Cape Foulweather

Cape Foulweather


My parents rented a house just south of Waldport and I decided they couldn’t let that second bedroom go to waste so I flew up on Sunday and spent a few days there with them. It was great weather. The wind came up on the beach a little bit and I wished I had taken my ear muffs (or that great alpaca wool hat I bought in Peru) because they got cold, but other than that it was perfect. Seriously, waking up and taking a walk on the beach every morning is the best feeling. We did a little shopping, went to the cheese factory in Tillamook, walked on the beach, and just generally relaxed and had a good time.
View from the house

If I was ever going to own a vacation house, it would be somewhere along the Oregon coast. A girl can dream….
 
Seal Rock