Spring Break 2022

Our last spring break together as a family was in March (yes, this entry is a bit late). We really have no grounds for complaint, however. For several years, the college spring break for Jade coincided with the high school spring break for Marcus, and so we eked out a couple more years of spring break together than most families manage and feel fortunate for being able to do so.
A very wise friend of ours once told me that the way to get your children to continue to vacation with you once they leave the house is to choose interesting/fun places to go and pay for all of it. And so I bring you spring break 2022 in Los Angeles!
The kids started their spring break in San Diego visiting my parents (and eating). We then met up with the kids in Disneyland (Jade’s first trip to the mother ship!), where we stayed at the Grand Californian Hotel and spent 2 really fun days at the parks, riding rides (and eating). We then moved to Los Angeles itself (well, really, Marina Del Rey, for those familiar with SoCal) and did touristy things (and ate). We had a tour of the La Brea Tar Pits (very cool, with lots of bones and active tar pits still), a tour of the Getty Villa (it’s the classical antiquities part of the Getty—I will never look at Commodus in quite the same way again (in a good way!)), toured through the Getty Museum, and had an after hours viewing of the Griffith Observatory where we saw the Orion Nebula and an Orion star cluster, among many other things, and helped shut down the telescope for the evening. The common theme of all of the tours, for which we are immensely grateful, was the dedication and love of all the personnel we met for what they were doing professionally. Everyone was so excited about their work and loved sharing their knowledge with us. It was a good reminder to the kids that loving what you do is so important to leading a fulfilling life.
Memorable meals include Din Tai Fung (love, love those soup dumplings), Pink’s (an LA institution justifiably famous for its hot dogs), Spagos (a Wolfgang Puck restaurant that is still going strong after 30+ years), and Meizhou Dong Po (a transplant from China).
It was a fantabulously fun week with the four of us—maybe even more so because we know that opportunities like this, with all four of us together, will become scarcer as the years go on. I can’t complain—we’ve had more spring breaks together than we had expected and so each extra one is just a bonus. And this one was fun!

Big Thunder Mountain at Disneyland
Cars Land at Disneyland
view from the Griffith Observatory

Book review: Beyond by Mercedes Lackey

Beyond by Mercedes Lackey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Prequels are difficult. Because the readers (assuming they have read the subsequent books) know how the book turns out, it’s difficult to build up suspense. And origin prequels are especially difficult because everything isn’t supposed to work quite as smoothly as in the subsequent series (temporally speaking, not publication date speaking), and the author has to be cognizant of that when developing the origin story.
All of those caveats aside, if you are a fan of the Valdemar novels by Mercedes Lackey, this is quite a nice origin prequel. The author wisely focused on character development and the origin story rather than the buildup of suspense. If you haven’t read any of the Valdemar books yet, this is a good place to start. (The Heralds of Valdemar series and “By the Sword” are my personal favorites.)
I certainly will be reading the next book in the origin series to see how Valdemar develops and grows.
(I’m actually giving it 3.5 stars, which is impossible to do on Goodreads. :))



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Book review: Jane and the Man of the Cloth by Stephanie Barron

Jane and the Man of the Cloth by Stephanie Barron

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I had read the first of this series a long time ago because it’s Jane Austen and a mystery, what is there not to like? But as I recall, the debut novel didn’t grab me, and as my TBR list grows daily, I set this series aside. But the author also writes the Merry Folger mysteries set in Nantucket (as Francine Mathews), which I’ve really enjoyed, and I thought I’d give this series a second chance.
My impression of this book is more positive than my memory of the first novel in this series. The author incorporates phrases from Jane Austen’s works into the books, which is fun for Jane Austen devotees. In addition, this book has an interesting plot and while I don’t think the culprit was difficult to pick out, I like the indirect tribute to “Pride and Prejudice.”
It’s a nicely themed series and this book, at any rate, is a quick and engaging read.




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Book review: Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I was really looking forward to reading this memoir, and it did not disappoint. Michelle Zauner isn’t perhaps the most likeable person, especially as she relates her childhood, but she is bluntly honest about herself, her relationship with her mother, and her life. A lot of her experiences resonated personally with me, but even if you aren’t the child of immigrants or of mixed race, the themes she writes about–love, family relationships, grief–are universal. The author and her family expressed much of their love through food, and the author’s descriptions of cooking her way through grief were especially poignant.
It’s a straightforward read, and anyone who has dealt with the death of a loved one, especially a parent, will find much to relate to in this breathtakingly honest and heartbreakingly honest memoir. I highly recommend it.



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Book review: Cinderella Must Die by W.R. Gingell

Cinderella Must Die by W.R. Gingell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A re-telling of the Cinderella fairy tale that turns everything you know on its head. In this version, the evil stepsisters are good, and Cinderella is bad. Now the stepsisters are accused of escaping from prison, killing Cinderella, and are on the run. (Just for the record, the statements are true, false, and true.)
The re-telling is creative, imaginative, and fun. The story is irreverent, humorous, and a sly dig about confirmation bias. The romance is a bit deliberately topsy-turvy and quite fitting given the topsy-turvy nature of the story. The book is an enjoyable read and makes you think about all of those traditional fairy tales and how they could be turned upon their heads in a re-telling.
I’ve greatly enjoyed all of this author’s fantasy stories. (I haven’t yet embarked on her urban fantasy series yet.) And I look forward to reading more of her work!



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University of Kansas Basketball

We have extremely good friends (family, really) who are huge KU basketball fans and invited us to go see a game with them the first weekend of March. (To my K-State peeps: you know that I will always bleed purple and white, but the dodo bird in primary colors does have its moments, especially when it comes to college basketball. Not to mention that Kansans need to stick together.) Having grown up going to Kansas State basketball games at Ahearn Fieldhouse, seeing a game at Allen Fieldhouse brought back some really lovely memories.
It was Senior Day for the KU-UT(exas) game. (And, in an amazing coincidence, two of Jim’s cousins happen to be at the game as well.)

with Jim's cousins
with Jim’s cousins

The game itself was a grind-it-out-in-overtime-because-we-can’t-buy-a-bucket kind of game, which was both painful and exciting to watch. And the atmosphere was electric—loud, passionate, enthusiastic, and occasionally profane. It was fabulous! KU won in overtime and then we listened to some really touching and heartfelt speeches by the seniors.
We got stranded by an unexpected snowstorm in Kansas City flying back. Had we been stranded at an east coast airport, there would have been much yelling and anger towards the gate agents. But in Kansas City, while people were clearly unhappy, they did not feel the need to vent their unhappiness towards others, given that the weather was no one’s fault and out of anyone’s control. I like Midwesterners. We did eventually make it home (for those of you familiar with O’Hare, I made the E gate to C gate trek in 15 minutes!). And it was definitely worth it.
It was all the more fun, then, to watch KU make their run through the NCAA tournament and ultimately win the national championship. (And what a mind blowing game to win it all!)
Thank you, Sarah and Mark, for a wonderful weekend and an amazing experience!
And Rock Chalk Jayhawk! (At least when they’re not playing K-State…)

Rock Chalk Jayhawk!
Rock Chalk Jayhawk!

Book review: The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels by India Holton

The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels by India Holton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


A lighthearted frothy fantasy/romance. The book ostensibly takes place during the Victorian period and has many of the components of a Regency romance (I use “Regency romance” broadly and not at all accurately when it comes to time periods). The author then added elements of magic, several cups of irreverence, and a dash of humor, stirred it, and turned it into a fun, quick, and enjoyable read. It’s a great spring break/summer vacation beach read (or something to read while taking a break from studying).
No great secrets of life imparted–just an easy read if you want to give your mind some rest and relaxation and escape.




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2022 Disneyworld Princess 10K

This was our 3rd Princess 10K event (last year’s event being cancelled due to some random virus). We walked this one, as Jim had had an accident on the treadmill over Thanksgiving and had not yet been cleared by his cardiologist to exercise. (For the record, walking a 10K does not count as exercise!)
While we would have liked to have run the course (well, I would have liked to have run it, but I don’t think I’m speaking for everyone), it was actually a really fun opportunity to see all of the details that Disney puts in to make a runDisney event a little more fun than a typical running event. There are photo ops with characters, there are DJs putting out heart-pumping music, and there are Disney “volunteers” cheering you along the way.
One of the most fun events to attend during the weekend is the runner’s expo. Lots of vendors (although fewer this year than in past years) selling various needed and unneeded merchandise. Since we were walking it this year, I bought a matching tutu for my running outfit. It is the princess 10K after all.
One of the best things about this year’s event is that we had some very good friends who were also down for the event. It was great fun to go to the parks with them. And because we were there for three weeks remote working (aka fleeing the DC winter), we were able to have dinner with some other friends as well. We also visited the Kennedy Space Center, Cocoa Beach, and Tampa during our stay.
But the VERY best thing about this year’s event was that the photos of both of us are presentable!! (This has not been historically true for a variety of deliberately vague reasons.). Those who need a refresher course on this just need to search the blog for previous princess 10k entries. 🙂

we are “running!”

Book review: The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Erik Larson is fast becoming one of my favorite non-fiction authors. Who else could take 2 years from World War II and turn it into compelling reading about Winston Churchill and the war between Britain and Germany?
Quoting from diaries and letters by the main protagonists and their families (and others), the author paints a picture of Winston Churchill and his family, Churchill’s friends, allies, colleagues, and enemies, and the efforts of the British government to meet the German threat and cajole FDR and the Americans into joining the war. It’s all fascinating reading–from the London Blitz to the fancy parties given by the upper crust in defiance of the war, to Hitler’s mischaracterization of Britain to attempts by various Germans to defeat Britain/negotiate peace with Britain. It is an amazing series of events to have been crammed into twenty-four months.
The one weakness of this book is that because the author chose to focus on a two year period, he needed to include a lengthy epilogue to wind up the various story lines of the various characters. It is necessary and well-written and interesting, but it does somewhat detract from the narrative arc of the book. (If I may be so bold, it’s somewhat like the five endings Peter Jackson put into “The Return of the King.”) It makes for an anti-climactic ending.
That being said, if you are interested in history and World War II European theatre history, this is a must read.



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Book review: Death in the Off-Season by Francine Mathews

Death in the Off-Season by Francine Mathews

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


First in a mystery series. (Because, of course, why finish any of the many other series I’ve started? I am beginning to think I have commitment issues.)
This was a fun and good read, with interesting characters and a well-constructed plot. It helps if you’ve been to Nantucket, not because the mystery is lessened at all, but because it’s fun to identify the various types of people and the landmarks that are mentioned throughout the book. The tension between the locals and the off-islanders is real and accurately portrayed with nuance and complexity.
The author also writes as Stephanie Barron with a Jane Austen mystery series, which I will have to re-start. But this contemporary mystery is intelligently written and the literary skill of the author adds to the enjoyment of the book itself.
Note: the first few books of the series came out many years ago, but the author has revised and updated them as part of re-launching the series and adding to it.






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