Friday, January 20, 2023

A Trip To DC and December Reads

Let's time travel for a moment, back to the year 2022. Specifically, December. So long ago, right?? With some time off of work, Jason and I were able to leave the kids with Grammy for one night and spend some time in Washington, D.C. This was not a far distance (in fact I used to go into the city every day for work), but there's always a ton of new things to see, do, and eat.

The National Gallery was all decked out for Christmas - those poinsettias were gorgeous. It doesn't take much to make this building look spectacular, though. The National Gallery is split into two buildings, the classical one with older art, and the modern one with - you guessed it - modern art. For this visit we spent most of the time in the older wing. We saw two exhibits, one on Sargeant and another on Vermeer. My favorite time period in art is about 1850-1915, and we got to see a lot of new art from this era, since another museum in DC recently closed and donated most of its collection to the National Gallery.


This Calder mobile has been here for a very long time - I remember it from when I was a child.


They even had a room full of fruit and flower paintings! It's hard to see in photos, but the paint absolutely glowed. And of course I had to stand way up close and try to identify the flower varieties.



As we walked to dinner at an amazing Indian restaurant (Rasika if you're ever in town), we heard chanting and the beating of drums. It turned out to be a protest against the Iranian regime. The photos of those who had been killed in protests were displayed on the Mall, which was a heartbreaking scene. Living in such an international area is always a reminder that everything happening in the world is actually quite close.


The Christmas tree in front of the Capital building was decorated in North Carolina-themed ornaments. Later I looked it up and found out that schoolchildren from the state where the tree is from get to make the ornaments. Oh, and this tree is MASSIVE (78 feet).



We also visited the US Botanic Garden, which was humid and warm on a cold day - and absolutely packed with people. You can't tell from the pictures, but the paths were a solid line of visitors. They had a special display of models of DC landmarks made out of natural materials, mostly sticks and leaves. The models were so intricate and I can only imagine the hundreds of hours it took to build these.



It was a grey day and the sky and buildings blended together. Later in the day on a Saturday hardly anyone was around; the Capital building did seem to be a popular spot for photos. We saw new graduates in their robes and what I am guessing was a quinceanera. 


Union station is the main train station, and where we got off the metro. Every year the Norwegian embassy sets up a Christmas tree there. I have no idea why Norway specifically does this. In past years I've seen much more elaborate displays with running miniature trains, but this tree was still impressively large and twinkly.

I posted my year-end wrap up before I could write about the books I read in December! Again, 10 is a lot but three were graphic novels, which are quick reads.

We Spread by Iain Reid: This novel is categorized as horror, but I didn't see that. It's narrated by an older woman who, after her partner dies, moves into an assisted living home in the woods. Strange things happen, and you can't decide what is really going on: is it a sinister place where the elderly are experimented on? Or, is the narrator being overtaken by dementia? You're left without solid answers in the end, which makes sense for a book about how your mind cannot always be relied upon.

Quiet Girl in a Noisy World and Book Love by Debbie Tung: These were both short comic collections focused on introverts and books. If this is you, you'll enjoy these comics and know exactly what the author is writing about.

Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller: Thank you to Laura who introduced me to Claire Fuller! This book turned out to be one of my favorites of the year. She has a gorgeous writing style, and the way the book is constructed is unique and masterful. After their father is injured, two sisters return home to care for him and reckon with the disappearance of their mother twelve years ago. The story switches between present day to letters written by the mother, which she has hidden in a few of the thousands of books that have taken over the house. Fuller leaves little clues throughout the book for the reader to put together, which I loved. I can't wait to read all of the rest of her books.

The One by John Marrs: Through a DNA test, your perfect match can be identified. This book follows five characters who have found their matches, and all of the complications that ensue. One of the characters is a serial killer, so that was certainly something. Each chapter follows one these characters, and each story was interesting in itself; but the thing that ultimately lost me was that the separate stories never came together. This could have been a book of short stories. It was a quick read and I have also since watched the Netflix show based on this book, which has the same premise but does not follow the book at all.

I'm Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy: A super-hyped book that lives up to its reputation. McCurdy went through some really heavy and dysfunctional years as a child actor. Her mother was emotionally abusive and essentially taught her how to have an eating disorder. There were some graphic descriptions of her eating disorder as well, so heads up if that's something you don't want to read.

Keep it Moving by Twyla Tharp: Twyla Tharp's previous book The Creative Habit is one of my favorites on the subject of creativity, so I picked up this one on a whim. I was initially intrigued because there don't seem to be a lot of self-help books focused on older people. It ultimately boiled down to one piece of advice: keep learning, moving and trying new things as you get older.

Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle: A graphic novel about the author's time spent in Burma, accompanying his wife who worked for Doctors Without Borders. I knew nothing about this country going in, and learned a lot through reading this. 

The Bookshop of Second Chances by Jackie Fraser: I had just finished an audiobook and quickly needed a new one to accompany me on a walk. I was looking for something light, and checked out this one purely based on the description and image of cozy bookshop on the cover. It was so promising: a woman inherits a cottage in Scotland, moves there and works in a bookstore, romance ensues. I learned my lesson with this one: don't randomly pick up books without reading reviews. It was horrible. Do not read it. The male love interest is a terrible person! As the bookshop owner, he refuses to hire her because she is a woman and "they always end up falling in love with me." Then, when he finally kisses her (without her permission) he FIRES HER which I'm pretty sure is illegal? Instead of her thinking "what a jerk", she doesn't want to tell anyone she's been fired because she's embarrassed about it. Oh, and one of the major plot points is that he's fighting with his brother because a long time ago his brother played a mean prank on him, and to get back at him he's decided to sleep with all of his brother's girlfriends/wives for the rest of his life (????) I guess he is just so irresistible that all of these women agree to this? I should have DNF'd this.

Normal Family by Chrysta Bilton: My second book about someone's dysfunctional childhood in a month! Bilton is the daughter of a lesbian mom who used a sperm donor to have her children. It turned out that this man had been one of the most prolific donors for a clinic in California, and had fathered at least 37 children (probably many more). That's actually not the focus of the book - Bilton's mother was quite a character and her childhood is spent moving from mansions to converted office building as her mom becomes involved with many different women over the years. 

And now I can fully be immersed in 2023. Does anyone else not like odd numbers as much as even numbers? At least I'll be 42 this year!

10 comments:

  1. I agree with you on the even vs. odd. It bugs me, too!
    I have I'm Glad My Mom Died on my reading list for 2023; I've heard a few people rave about it and a few people throw it under the bus, so I'm VERY curious what I'll think. Sounds like it covers some very tough/dark material.

    Love all the holiday pictures; those landmarks made out of natural materials are unreal! It always boggles my mind when I see things like that - wait a minute, that was someone's JOB for hours and hours and hours etc! Somehow my gut reaction is that someone snapped their fingers and it just appeared. But...no! I am not good with precision work, so perhaps that's why it stands out as so unusual to me.

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    1. And I think, how do I get the job to build models out of sticks? I think I'm Glad My Mom Died is one of those books that even if you don't like it, you'll be glad you read it.

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  2. I had I'm Glad My Mom Died on my to-read list, and then I took it off, and I'm considering putting it back on. If I do read it, I will report back! Swimming Lessons sounds like something I would really enjoy.

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    1. I think you'll really love Swimming Lessons, based on favorites you've written about on your blog. She has a slight Katherine Heiny vibe.

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  3. You found some really interesting things on your visit to DC. The Botanical gardens are a great place to go on a cold day and the display of intricate models you found there, an added bonus.

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    1. The warm humidity was a nice change for December!

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  4. I loved We Spread. It was especially touching for me as my mother is suffering from dementia and is often visited by attacks of losing track of time. It was a great book. And I'm glad you are enjoying Claire Fuller. I can't wait for her to get her next book out!

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    1. Thank you again for the Claire Fuller recommendation!

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  5. Your visit to DC looks really interesting thank you for sharing the places you went to. It sounds like you have read some unusual books in December, The Bookshop of Second Chances sounds like a book I really would not like!

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  6. I'm puzzled about the Norway tree. Isn't that a tradition that Norway gives the UK a tree to thank the country for its support during WWII? Maybe it's similar to that? Hm. I feel like I need to get to the bottom of that.

    I've been seeing The One mentioned in a lot of places, but I think the structural problem you pointed out might make me crazy!

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