Sunday, February 28, 2021

February Books

Can you believe that reading wasn't my jam growing up?! Clif Notes were my best friends in high school - I'd "read enough" to get by for a paper or test, but other than that I did not enjoy the act of reading so never did it... like ever. Maybe I wasn't reading things that held my interest or maybe it was because it was "required" so I didn't find it enjoyable, but whatever the reason, I'm glad I challenged myself to add the goal of reading 17 books in 2017 (which turned into 88 books in 201777 books in 201867 books in 2019, and 66 books in 2020). In the last year or so, especially since going back to work outside of the house full-time, the majority of my "reading" has been through audiobooks because I don't have as much time to sit and read physical books (not to mention I walk to work and walk on my lunch break so have at least two hours a day I can listen to something). Even still, holding a physical book is the bomb diggity and I hope to get back to adding more reading vs listening this year. Just like in years past, writing a monthly recap of the books I get through is a great way for me to both record what I'm reading and to stay accountable. So here are the books I finished in February:

  • The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo - I had this one in my "favorites" for a while on my Hoopla app, but hadn't grabbed it yet... Wow, that was silly of me... This book is AMAZING! Normally I wouldn't say I prefer an audiobook over a physical book, but in this instance, the audiobook was pure perfection! The author was the one who read the novel and it was literally like a spoken word poem for 3 1/2 hours. Don’t get me wrong, I love holding a physical book in my hand, but I don’t think I would have done the book justice by reading it. The power behind the prose is awesome! It definitely hit me in all the feels; I felt like I was right there growing up/ struggling/ living with Xiamora. The author was pulling on my heartstrings the entire time! I sort of love this was my first book of February, Black History Month. If you haven’t read or heard this book yet, please give it a chance! I realize it's a young adult read (although there are some "mature" topics discussed, so even though it's for 13 years and up, you've been "warned"), but I think anyone would enjoy it. I would give it a 10 out of 10.

  • American Street by Ibi Zoboi - I saw a post at the beginning of the month of books someone would recommend for Black History Month for teens. Obviously I love the young adult genre, so I took a screenshot and figured I'd snag some of the recommendations. As per usual, I didn't know anything about this book when I grabbed it. I absolutely LOVE that it turned out to incorporate Haiti (I went after the major earthquake) and Detroit (I grew up about 45 minutes south of the city). The story is about Fabiola, who came to the United States with her mother from Haiti, was separate from her due to immigration and went to live with her aunt and cousins in Detroit. The book is super well written, gritty, but beautiful. I didn't know the specifics of voodoo mythology, but appreciate that it was explained and weaved throughout the story. It really is a social commentary, focusing on topics like the pursuit of the "American Dream", immigration, drugs, poverty, etc. The book is written for high schoolers, but that shouldn't stop you from giving it a read (or listen). I would give it a 9 out of 10.

  • I Wish You All The Best by Mason Deaver - I was scrolling through the YA books on my Hoopla app and came across this one. It referenced a few of the authors I had read and enjoyed recently in the little blurb so I figured I'd give it a shot. This might be the first book I've "read" that had a non-binary character as the main character and I greatly appreciated it. I know it was a novel, but it was still a peek into a life I am not 100% familiar with and I enjoyed learning through entertainment. I have recently been working on trying to use a more non-gendered vocabulary (I am pretty terrible about saying "guys" to refer to a group of people, which I am doing my best to STOP!), so hearing the third-person singular pronoun of "they" or "them" was super helpful. The story itself was engaging, heartfelt and raw. I would give it a 9 out of 10.

  • Allegedly by Tiffany D Jackson - I listened to one of this author's previous books and enjoyed it, so had put this one in my "for later" stack and finally got around to it. Other than liking the author, I didn't know anything about the story (like most of the books I grab). It was a novel about a girl who "allegedly" killed a baby when she was nine. Mary, who is now 16 and living in a group home after being released from "baby jail", gets pregnant. Let's just say I didn't see some of the twists and turns that happened. I don't know, I guess I pride myself on figuring out the plot before it is officially revealed, but this one definitely threw me for a loop. It definitely kept me engaged the entire time. I feel like I went through the full range of emotions in this book - fear, anger, despair, joy, worry, etc. It was intense and played with my feelings for sure! It was suspenseful, interesting and, in the end, a bit depressing, but I applaud the author. This was technically in the Young Adult genre, but I'd suggest it for the older end because there are definitely some "mature" topics discussed. I would give it a 9 out of 10.

  • The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater - The hubby and I needed a book to listen to on our road trip to Joshua Tree. I sent him a few that fit the allotted time we had and he picked this one. This book explains what took place on Bus 57 in Oakland, California. I hadn't heard of the crime before, so I was intrigued from the beginning. Sasha, who identifies as agender, fell asleep while riding the bus home. Their style preference was to rock vests and skirts. To Richard and his friends, it appeared to be a boy wearing a skirt, which rubbed them the wrong way. They decided to "play a prank" and light Sasha's skirt on fire. Sasha's skirt went up in a blaze and landed them in the hospital with second and third degree burns, requiring multiple surgeries. The author took three years researching this crime and it absolutely shows. She was able to get to know dozens of people and get their perspectives. What I think I appreciated most about this book and how it was written was the different sides. Don't get me wrong, what Richard did was absolutely wrong, but the way that the author shows the human side of Richard really was eye opening. So often the media portrays the perpetrator of a crime as a monster, but this dives deeper. I also appreciated that the undertone was love, forgiveness, tolerance and acceptance. Again, I am not saying there should be no consequences, but I am saying that characteristics like love, forgiveness, tolerance and acceptance can make this world a better place. I would give it a 9 out of 10.

  • Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian - Another YA love story that I grabbed for my walks to work. This story is set in New York in the late 80s/ early 90s during the height of the AIDS crisis. The three main characters, Art, Judy and Reza, grapple with love, life, death, friendship and so much more. As I've said before, I love books told from the different characters' POV and this was another that switched between first person perspectives (with the audio book having each read by a different actor - which I love). The author did such a great job describing everything that when it was done I felt like I had actually watched a film, not just listened to a book (or maybe it was that Rent is one of my favorite plays and I sort of felt like this could have been something happening next door to that storyline). Shoot, maybe it will become a movie someday! I love books with characters outside of the heterosexual "norm" {that are so often the only people in mainstream media} finding themselves, finding love, finding happiness. It all felt real and raw (the story, the characters, the setting). This is a coming-of-age story about friends, family and friends who become family (or, as we like to call it, FRAMILY). Oh yeah, and Madonna ;) PS I love that there was a little "afterward" with an update on where everyone was 25+ years later. I know some authors love to leave it up to the reader, but sometimes I am left wanting more and the ending was just what I needed to cap off the book perfectly. I would give it a 9 out of 10.

  • Yes Please by Amy Poehler - Every few weeks it seems as though I am doing a closet clean out of sorts. Recently I had some books up for grabs and swapped a couple for new ones from an online friend. I sent her two and in return I got this one (and another). I had actually favorited this book in my Hoopla app a while ago but hadn't gotten around to listening to it, so was stoked to get my hands on the physical copy. I started reading it while we were in Joshua Tree (when the hubby went to get in some rock climbing and I stayed back in the AdventureMobile with the pup) and finished it on my day off while I laid in the sun at the pool. As with most memoirs, I wouldn't say you walk away with any earth shattering revelations, but it's always awesome to sort of get a behind-the-curtain view into someone's life. If you know Amy Poehler, you probably would expect her book to be full of comedy, and it was. It was also fill of other goodness. She isn't writing a tell-all with tons of big, juicy secrets or anything like that, but it's still cool to see how she made it in the comedy world (how much hard work it actually takes and how much she attributes to those amazing people around her). And, real talk, it made me want to give Parks and Recreation a try (once we finish Schitts Creek that is ;)). The book was light, easy reading that kept me entertained, which is what I expected. I would give it an 8 out of 10.

  • In The Distance by Dave Griffin - This was another book I was gifted by a friend that I read by the pool (I normally work Monday through Friday, but my manager's husband's birthday was the coming Saturday, so she asked if I'd cover her Saturday and she'd cover my Monday, which left me with a free Monday and perfect pool weather!). I'll be honest, this book was not my jam. I'm not sure if I just wasn't in the right headspace or what, but I found myself wishing it was over less than half way through. I didn't feel connected to the author (maybe it's because he was a semi-elite, talking about winning races and it just wasn't relatable) and the anecdotal stories he threw in didn't seem to flow with what he was talking about. The only real positive I could come up with was that it was about running and I like reading about/ talking about/ hearing about running... so at least it was about a topic I'm interested in, even if the book didn't engage me. I would give it a 4 out of 10.

  • Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad - When I first grabbed this book in my Hoopla app I didn’t realize that it was an extension of a 28 day challenge/workbook. Once I found this out, I decided what I would do would be to listen to the audiobook in its entirety and then work my way through the workbook/ journaling prompts. Actually, I'm hoping to talk the hubby into doing it alongside me. With that said, this is still a very important book. The book is broken down into 28 days, each with a different topic about white supremacy/ tackling racism/ becoming a better ancestor. As the author states toward the end of the book, “knowledge without action is meaningless”. I feel as though not only did I learn a lot from this book, but hopefully my actions/ outlook/ life is changed because of it. A word of warning - this is not an “easy” book to work through, it will bring up all the feelings, but we must address them so that we can work through them. There were a few topics specifically that were extremely eye-opening, as well as challenging. One such topic was 'white silence'. I'm not going to go into my justifications, that is NOT what this recap and or this book is about. The point is to do the work, create change, make a difference! I would also suggest that this not be a book you read once, but multiple times. As the author recommends, these journal prompts do not need to be a one time thing. Just as anti-racism is a lifelong commitment, practicing it should be a daily endeavour. I would give it a 10 out of 10.

With that, February has come to a close. My reading may not be going gang-busters like it has in the past, but I hope it never completely stops. If you have any suggestions, let me know! I'm always willing to add them to my library wait list! 

PS I created an Amazon list that includes all of the books I've read and would recommend to others. Check it out!

What was the best book you've read lately? 

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Joshua Tree Camping Trip

As of this point (almost a full year after "the world closed down due to COVID19"), I can't even tell you how many trips and camping adventures we have had cancelled/ postponed {please hear me when I say, this is such a minor inconvenience, especially with people dying from the virus, so I'm in no way downplaying the seriousness or severity of what happened/ is happening, I'm simply sharing my story}. We've continued to schedule things, hopeful that we would have a handle on the virus (also giving us something to look forward to during these unprecedented and trying times), but in most cases it was all for naught and trip after trip was kaput. After another spike in California cases recently, we were "locked down" again until the health care professionals could get a better handle on everything. Thankfully the stay-at-home orders were lifted (both because that meant fewer people were contracting/ spreading the virus and because being locked down takes a mental toll on you {or at least it does for me!}) and with that, the campgrounds were reopened. The hubby had Presidents Day off of work (and I had requested it off as well just in case we'd be able to get a trip on the books) which meant ADVENTURE TIME! Luckily for us, we were able to snag a campsite in Joshua Tree and started planning the trip. 

Originally I had taken Friday off as well and the game plan was to camp Friday through Monday, but my boss was going to have to work by herself on Friday because no one else was available, so I offered to work it and head out the following morning instead. With that said, we packed up the AdventureMobile and hit the road Saturday morning! #TeamPlayer

All packed up and ready to hit the road!

Views from the road

The hubby loves to rock climb and the Indian Cove Campground (technically outside of the official National Park) has tons of it, so, whenever possible, we try to snag a spot there. Honestly, we could spend all of our time in the campground and not even have to go into the park. If you haven't checked out Indian Cove, I'd highly recommend it (although, a word of warning, trying to reserve a coveted spot can be extremely tough, especially on Saturdays, no matter the time of year!).

When we were planning our mini trip, we mentioned it to some friends and a couple was able to join the fun. They were able to book a site on Friday and were going to try to snag a first come-first serve spot on Saturday morning for the both of us. Since all of the spots were booked for Saturday night, we were planning to stay at a BLM spot, but figured if they could grab us an actual spot we were all in! We called when we were getting close and they said the ranger had told them to meet her at noon and she'd try to hook them up. We were STOKED to hear this because they were forecasting extremely high winds for the desert and having "shelter" in the rocks would definitely be prefered rather than open land. 

The winds were no joke!

We met our friends at the spot they had stayed in Friday night and just relaxed for a bit before driving to meet the ranger. After checking out a few spots, we were able to secure one that would fit both of our vehicles (they were car camping) and hadn't already been reserved - SCORE! The ranger mentioned the sand storms that were on the horizon and told us to be smart with the wind (watch any tent/ structure we might put up, don't have a fire if the winds were still gusting, etc).

Looking in one direction there was blue skies...

And in the other direction the blowing sand was causing a "haze" over the sky!

Once we were able to "set up camp" (for us, that really just means taking our camp chair out of the truck, since everything else is already set up inside the pop-up), we hung out for a bit and then went into "town". Some of the shops were closed due to COVID, which was sad to see, but most were open (with limited capacity). We loved checking in on our favorites. 

The Station is always a fun spot stop stop.

It looks like a vintage gas station, but it's got awesome wares inside for sale.

Love seeing all of the "art" around town!

And the murals/ paintings are always amazing too!

While we were wandering around the main drag, the sand storms blew through. The hubby had to scoop up Walt so he could keep his wiener dog face safe (otherwise he'd probably stare directly into the wind and get whipped with all of the debris). We were getting pelted with sand and pebbles, but eventually it let up and we hightailed it back to the truck.

The McDots with Murtle the Turtle

Walt might have been a little confused but Ry asked me to snap this shot of them ;)

The visitor center in town is pretty tiny, but we still like to stop by anyway.

Once we got back to the campsite we hunkered down inside the truck, hoping the wind would die down (the weather app said it would/ should by 8pm), but the howling never let up. We played a little Skip*Bo and hit the hay by 9:30 or so. 

It definitely could have been worse, that's for sure!

The views and surroundings did NOT suck!

Ryan's sister got Walt his own sleeping bag for Christmas and we got to demo it on this trip!

Saturday morning came around and we decided we would head into the park to hike Ryan Mountain. We hadn't done the hike before and seeing as the hubby's name is Ryan he thought it would be the perfect way to start the day ;) {Note: Dogs are NOT ALLOWED on the majority of trails within the National Park Service [a major bummer, in our opinion], so we decided to go as early as possible so it would be cool enough to keep Walt in the camper portion of the truck.}

Very good advice ;)

We kept our eyes peeled for the sheep but never saw any...

The hike to the summit was interesting for a couple of reasons. First, the wind was still whipping all around us, which added an extra element that we normally don't have to deal with. Second, although we've done our fair share of uphill hiking, this was the first trail (at least that sticks out in recent memory) that the route was made majority out of stairs. 

Trying not to blow away...

Up, up, up we go!

Roundtrip the hike was just under 3 miles, so we hit the peak right before my watch showed 1.5 miles. The climb didn't feel that terrible, even though we gained over 1,600 feet, but maybe that's because we had done the 5-Peaks Challenge a few weeks before so our perspective was a little warped ;) The wind on the top was so strong (the weather app was calling for 30-40 mph winds with gusts upwards of 70mph!) that the hubby was leaning into it and it was holding him up! 

I legit was trying not to get blown over at this point!

The views from the top

We did it!

On the way back down, we rounded a bend and there was JT! I had no idea he was in Joshua Tree for the weekend (I normally turn my phone on airplane mode when we go out of town so I can truly unplug) so when we came across him it was such an awesome surprise! We gave each other a BIG hug (golly gee have I missed hugging my friends!), did a little catching up, snapped a quick selfie and wished one another well. How random and amazing is that?!

After Ryan Mountain we were meeting our friends at Arch Rock. I don't remember doing this one before, but, to be honest, the arch isn't that amazing so we could have seen it in the past and I had just forgotten about it. Don't get me wrong, nature is awesome... we've just seen much more magical arches so it's hard to compare this one to others we've been to.

The hike was pretty busy, but we did our best to give everyone their space.

I love that Andy is hiding up in the upper part of the arch!

On the way back to the cars I ended up grabbing a ton of trash. GRRRR! I think I was maybe 100 feet from a dumpster when I grabbed the majority of the rubbish. I hate when people leave their garbage out and about. #DontBeTrashy

Maybe it's a good thing I have on glasses and a mask or else you'd see my "death stare"...

At least the views along the route made me smile... even if I was disappointed in mankind for trashing the natural beauty!

Can you see the smiling clouds through the rocks in the far right photo?!

Took off our masks for a quick selfie among the rocks.

By this time we were getting hungry so found a nice little spot to make our lunch and enjoy the gorgeous surroundings. We let the pups explore a bit and then decided to head to Hidden Valley Campground so they could get in a longer walk.

Taking shelter behind some rocks to give us a little reprieve from the wind

The rock formations are so amazing here!

Walt always looks "too cool for school" in any of our pictures, but I still love him anyway!

You better believe I kept my eyes peeled for the desert tortoises... but unfortunately we never saw any...

Eventually we made our way back to Indian Cove to max and relax. The hubby wanted to do some bouldering, so I decided to stay back in the truck with Walt and do some reading while he went and did some climbing. #WinWin

Just call him "Walt the Adventure Dog"

Thankfully the winds had finally died down and we were able to enjoy being outside without the threat of being blown away (or being constantly pelted with sticks, sand and stones). We made some dinner and took in our surroundings.

Hubby in his element

Can you see the tiny sliver of a moon a the top of the shot?

The AdventureMobile looks pretty perfect in the sunset glow if I do say so myself ;)

Anyone else love making funny panoramic photos like this?! No... just us?!

And a camping trip wouldn't be complete without a s'more or two ;) This trip I actually tried using PROBAR Chocolate Nut Butter in place of the standard filling - YUM! (I even wrote a whole post about it in case you wanna give it a read.)

This is completely plant-based, but you don't have to use vegan ingredients if you don't want


Although I probably should have been sleeping in on Monday morning, I set my alarm so I could wake up and see the sunrise (I might be alone in this, but I think I might love sunrises more than sunsets). Mother Nature definitely did NOT disappoint! I climbed around on the rocks near our site and just hung out, taking it the sights and sounds around me. 

Sunrises are just so peaceful... and beautiful!

All is calm, all is bright...

A panoramic view from my perch in the rocks, looking down at our campsite

Our reservation at the campsite officially ended at noon on Monday, so we decided we'd hang out and enjoy the area for as long as we could before leaving. After breakfast, the hubby and I took Walt on a long walk around the campground.

Walt pondering if he would rule the valley ;)

And obviously picking up trash along the way...

Then we hung out for a bit longer and played Rummikub with friends while the pups watched on in excitement napped ;)

Just in case you were wondering, yes, I did win all three games ;)

Puppy friends are the best friends!

On the way out of town (oh yeah, I didn't really talk about packing up, since our rig is super easy and all we really have to do is throw our camp chair back in the truck and lower the pop-up), we wanted to stop at Pappy + Harriet's for lunch. Since it was Presidents Day they weren't opening until noon, but we thought if we got there a few minutes early we'd be fine. Well, apparently everyone else had the same idea and there was a HUGE line outside. We decided if that we could get a table (all of the seating is outdoors, of course, but they have two huge patios so we were hoping we'd make the cut once they opened for the day), we'd eat there, but if we had to wait it would probably be at least 45 minutes since everyone sat at the same time so we'd bounce. Thankfully we got a seat in the first round and enjoyed a DELISH lunch. 

If you're ever in the area, you NEED to stop by!

During non-COVID times they have tons of live music! It's a hip-happenin' place to be!

Although everyone is doing their best to "get on with life" we still need
to make sure we are doing our part to keep everyone safe and healthy! 

I got the quesadilla and the hubby had the veggie burger... SCRUM-DIDILY-UMPTIOUS!

We walked around the Pioneertown once we were done so Walt could stretch his legs before we started the drive home.

How awesome are these cactus?!

There was quite a bit of traffic on the way home, so we decided to make a brief pit stop to see the Cabazon Dinosaurs. I had noticed on the way to Joshua Tree that they were "dressed up" in Valentine's Day gear, so we HAD TO stop ;) 

There were TONS of people, so we kept our distance, snapped our pictures and left...

Eventually we made it home (I think the traffic added an extra 45-60 minutes to the drive) safe and sound. We unpacked, wiped everything down, aired everything out, put everything away, got the laundry going and {finally} showered. The trip wasn't super long (we were gone for a total of about 55 hours), but it was something we needed for sure! But, let's be real, getting away, unplugging, enjoying nature and one another is never not needed in my book!

We may be covering the sign, but you get the idea ;)

While on this trip I asked the hubby if he'd like to start a new "tradition" with me. I want to start learning about the indigenous peoples who live/ lived on the land we were visiting. I asked him that on our coming trips if he'd be interested in digging deeper about the area we'd be staying on. Obviously he was all in! Since we didn't discuss this until we were already there, this round of research came after the trip, but on future trips we hope to do it before or while we are there (hopefully even searching out some of the history first hand). The NPS has some information about some of the history of the different indigenous peoples who inhabited the Joshua Tree area. Much of the information I found shows that the Serrano, Cahuilla, Chemehuevi and Mojave tribes are intimately connected to the land in and around Joshua Tree National Park. "In spite of the visually barren, seemingly inhospitable desert, these tribal groups recognized an abundance of available resources and made this area their transitional or long-term home long before the arrival of Europeans in 1769. These tribes were in tune with their land and made use of that which nature provided." {Sand to Stone}


Side Note: While in the park, everything felt super busy. Maybe it's because we've been used to being alone/ secluded for the past year, but there definitely seemed to be a lot of folks out and about. Everyone wore masks and tried to give others their 6 feet of space, but it was something both of us noticed so I wanted to mention it... If/ when you #OptOutside (since COVID, it seems as if more and more folks are finding the great outdoors), please do so respectfully and responsibly

Source: NPS's Facebook Page

Have you ever been to Joshua Tree before?