Monday, July 23, 2018

Books: Educated

I just finished the memoir by Tara Westover, Educated. I read it compulsively over the past couple of days. It has been on the best seller list for many weeks and I've been curious about it. I finally got a chance to read it when I borrowed a Nook from the library that had many recent titles loaded in it. Educated is Tara's story, she is born to a survivalist mormon family in the mountains of Idaho. Her father is a bipolar who despises government institutions, including schools, and believes that the end of times is near, stockpiling food, fuel, guns and ammunition. Her childhood is far outside the normal experience. She doesn't go to school, and is supposedly home-schooled, but because she's one of the later children in the family her mother is tired of teaching, and she's pretty much left to her own devices as far as learning is concerned. In later years she suffers terrible violence inflicted by an older brother. This abuse, and recovery from it, is a major theme of the book, and eventually leads to her being cast out of the family.  Despite all odds, she goes on to college, and does so well that she earns a scholarship to go to Cambridge, England, where she gets a PhD.

The book is very well written, and a quick read. It is fascinating to read about people that we know exist, people who live outside the norms of the society, with children born at home, with no medical assistance, no vaccinations, no birth certificates, who hate anything government related. Socialist and feminist are curse words for them. These people don't have driver's licenses, car insurance, never take any medications, etc. Especially for someone like me, a feminist socialist,  living in the East Coast liberal bubble, it's mind boggling that people like that still exist in modern day America.

Tara's life makes for a good story and in her capable hands, it becomes a very thought provoking, and deeply affecting book. You appreciate your life and family so much more after reading this book, and maybe even understand America just a little bit better, which is why I would recommend reading it.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Travel Diary: The Hoover Dam

On our road trip in the west, our first stop was the Hoover Dam which is situated perfectly on the way from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon. (Actually, I'm lying, because our first stop was the Las Vegas outlet, from where I scored Tory Burch sporty sandals. But since I don't have any pictorial evidence of that quick shopping stop, let's not dwell on it.) The Hoover Dam, however, I have lots of pictorial evidence. It is an impressive place. Especially when you think that it was built before the computer era. The sad thing is that many people died building it. But the dam was (and is) extremely important to the economy and livelihood of the west, from Arizona, Nevada and California, all the way to Los Angeles and the coastal area; to this day it provides a major amount of electricity of the west.

After stopping at the Hoover Dam, it's about three hour drive to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. You drive through a mountain area first, and then desert, and it's a beautiful drive in a very strangely shaped land. The lack of trees is a little disconcerting, and reminded me a little of Iceland, although Iceland is much greener. I think it would be hard to live on the dry desert climate. 

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Books: Little Fires Everywhere

I finished this book in the plane coming back from Nevada, so I guess it's ok to sandwich the review in between my travel diary entries (yes there is till more to come of our little winter break trip - a whole lot of pictures that all look alike from the great and grand Grand Canyon).

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng was one of those books that I picked up because it got so much praise everywhere. It was named the best book of the year (2017) by Goodreads, and a number of magazines and newspapers, among them The Washington Post, so I figured that this must be a good book. Despite the hype I didn't know much of the story, plot or the characters before I began to read so I started from a clean slate in that regard. This was the first book I read by Celeste Ng. Maybe because of the praise I felt it was slightly a let down. Don't get me wrong, this is a wonderfully written book. The language is crisp and beautiful and the characters really come to life. However, I had an issue with the major set-up, or the question of who set up the fire, and it just didn't somehow catch my interest fully, or in the end seem that plausible or even important. One of the major themes of the book is motherhood, and I found agreeing and also disagreeing with the book's premises relating to motherhood. I think the worst thing for me was that I didn't fully like either of the main characters. However, the book did make me think and got under my skin, so I guess that's a good thing. Also the way the book described the town and the environment's impact on the residents was great. All in all, I'd give this a solid four stars.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Travel Diary: Las Vegas Day 2

After having a pretty chill day 1 and spending half of it at the pool, we were ready to explore on day 2. We walked the Strip all the way up to Mirage, eating, shopping, and checking out the casino complexes on the way. Since we stayed at the Mandalay Bay on the other end of the Strip, this was quite a walk. I racked a serious amount of steps on my tracker again on day 2.

Are we in Paris or Las Vegas? Yup, that's the Eiffel Tower 
Ha ha, Paris casino featured Seine City slot machines.. 

It was also chandelier central

and shopping galore 

The famous Bellagio Fountains show was cool 

We all liked Cesars Palace

It was over the top grand, but in a good way

This one was so excited about the artwork at the Cesars Palace grounds. She educated us what all the replicas were. This one is the Winged Victory of Samothrace. It depicts the Greek goddess Nike (victory). 

Cesars Palace was so full of detail. 

Treasure Island

Pirate show was canceled, but it was still fun to see the ships. 

So, a word about kids in Las Vegas... There's not a lot of kids around. 

And I would not recommend it as the first choice for a family vacation. But you know what... it was not half as bad as I had expected. Potentially because this is off season there. But I was expecting it to be more seedy and questionable. We saw a few drunken people, but then again, my kids are used to seeing drunk people when we travel to Finland. There was no rowdiness or bad behavior. Once we saw a lady run off to the bushes to pee... The Strip was clean and the kids enjoyed looking at the casinos and eating at the restaurants. 

The Mirage has a "volcano" show that the kids enjoy. 

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Someplace You've Never Been Before

"Once a year, go someplace you've never been before." by Dalai Lama

A few years ago when I turned forty, I made a promise to live by this advice from the great Dalai Lama. Whether near or far, I would visit a new place every year. That year I went to California for the first time, and since then we (the whole family) have traveled to Montreal, Iceland, then last year I went to Los Angeles with my hubby, and this year, during the winter break, we traveled with the kids to Las Vegas, Nevada, and the Grand Canyon, Arizona.

Las Vegas was more fun and less seedy than I had expected. The casino complexes on the Strip are totally over the top and it's fun to see the details of these huge complexes. Some of the best ones are Mandalay Bay, New York New York, Paris, Cesar's Palace, Venetian, Palazzo, and Wynn.

We did not see a show, but there was enough to see and do without spending a hundred bucks (or more) per head for a show ticket. I was surprised at the number of restaurants, and the quality of the food. Each celebrity you can think of has a restaurant in Vegas.

I was also surprised at how good the shopping was. I never want to spend much time shopping when I travel, given that my area on Long Island, or New York City, has every shopping option you could ever want. But the shopping areas in Vegas are plentiful, beautiful and well appointed. And so I ended up shopping quite a bit...

First three nights we stayed at the Mandalay Bay, a huge complex with countless restaurants, a "beach" and a somewhat quieter location at the end of the Strip. 

I had to take a selfie with this four story wine tower  at the Aureole restaurant in Mandalay Bay.  OMG. 

Mandalay Bay had some interesting art. This mural is by a Puerto Rican artist Alexis Diaz. The mural is a bunny with wings, with human body parts sticking out from openings in the wall. 

The statue of Liberty outside the New York New York casino. 

The weather was on the cool side, but we were able to enjoy lounging by the pool on our first day in Vegas. Mama sipped some white wine while the kiddos splashed in the pool. aaaah.  

I picked Mandalay Bay for the pool area, which is amazing. However, due to the somewhat cool weather, the main pool area was closed and only one pool open... 

A lot of live music in Las Vegas. This was a street concert outside the New York, with Brooklyn bridge as the back drop. 

The Fattburger is a Las Vegas holdout of the old times, complete with cocktail service. Of course we had to try its legendary burgers if not the cocktails. 

We're not in Egypt despite the giant Sphinx

We walked so much I got 7 miles on my tracker the first day! 

Some parts reminded me of Disney World (this is Excalibur)
Hubby and I went out for drinks on our first night in Vegas. 

Mandalay Bay has two roof top lounges, the Foundation Room, and the Skyfall in the Delano building. We checked out both, and had amazing views of the Strip from each. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Book Review: Fire and Fury

I’m trying to keep up and document each book I read, so here goes another book review. I finished Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury Inside the Trump White House in the plane coming back from California. Unless you’re really living under a rock you’ve heard about this book when it came out in early January. There was a big media circus because Trump reportedly tried to stop its publication. 

The book promises shocking revelations about the Trump campaign, presidency and white house dysfunction. To me it wasn’t really that shocking. Maybe because my opinion about Trump is so low that I find nothing about him shocking anymore, or maybe because I've been following the news in quiet (or not so quiet) desperation. But it is very interesting to get a confirmation to the suspicion that he really did not intend to win the election, was not planning to be a president, and that he has no clue about any policy issues, nor any interest or patience to learn about them. He really just is all about sound bites, ranting and raving, and acting whichever way he thinks will bring him the most instant gratification. 

The book spends a lot of time discussing the warring factions of the white house, where it seems nobody is working together towards the same goals, but everyone is just grabbing power and working cross purposes in utter dysfunction. For us democrats that’s good news as it means that they (republicans) won’t be able to get much (damage) done. 

Although the writing is good on its face (and the vocabulary is interesting - I think I learned a few new words), the book was a little tedious at times, went off in tangents that didn't always add much to the story, and was very repetitious. The book could have lost at least a third of its length to good editing. However, I think it's an important book to read if you are interested in politics and really want to understand the current president and the people around him. 

Monday, February 12, 2018

It's a dirty job but someone's got to do it

Last week I traveled to California for work. I stayed at the Ritz-Carlton at Laguna Niguel. What can I's tough to complain about the long days, stress and jet lag when you're staying at the Ritz. Along with the Montage at Laguna Beach, which is just a couple miles up the coast, this is one of the most beautiful hotels I've ever stayed at.

The public spaces are full of beautiful details. 

Every window has a view of the ocean

The rooms are absolutely gorgeous

And the views are magnificent

That's the hotel up on the cliff. The Salt Creek Beach is a known surfer spot. There were numerous surfers out every day, and various schools' surf teams came out to surf early in the morning. The surfers were out there from morning dawn to sunset, waiting for that perfect wave. 

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Binge worthy shows

Aaah. I love Amazon Prime! I just finished binge watching the classic Pride and Prejudice miniseries with my 15 year old, who is my partner for these types of shows. This version is made by BBC in 1996, starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, and it's just so wonderfully romantic and good. This is the best version of Pride and Prejudice, and even though I've seen it a few times, it's still amazing. Amazon Prime has this version, and so many other quality shows (not the least Downton Abbey). This show was so needed after a rough week at work, and provided some much needed relaxation before I head out to a work trip next week.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Books I've Read Recently II: The Rules of Magic

The second book I read in January was Alice Hoffman's The Rules of Magic. I read it without knowing that it's actually a prequel to Hoffman's previous book, Practical Magic, which I have not read. Since I liked the Rules of Magic, I now may have to read Practical Magic too.
The Rules of Magic tells about siblings from New York City who were born to a family that has witches in their bloodline, and a curse about falling in love. The book is a pretty simple love story and coming of age story jumping between two sisters and a brother. I like Hoffman's style of writing, which is like a fairy tale for adults. This book is a little confection, mostly light and sweet and delectable. The characters are likable, well developed and I had a hard time putting the book down. I have a few books on my reading list, but I will definitely add Practical Magic to that list too.