Book I Read In 2017 – Part 1

Reading is one of my favorite hobbies. It’s free. It helps me better understand other people. And I can totally do it while curled up in bed on a cold day. This year I thought it would be interesting to keep track of what I read just to see how my interests change over time. Even within this past month, however, there seems to be a pretty decent variety.

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The Book of Genesis by R Crumb – If you’ve already read a couple of translations of Genesis and are interested in another perspective, this illustrated book definitely fits the bill. The illustrations are sometimes distracting from the story but more often add another layer of context and understanding.

War with the Newts by Karel Capek – The plot is similar to Capek’s R.U.R. in that there are creatures who start to become more human-like and then get out of hand. This book touches on war, slavery, humanity, and invasive species. It’s a delightfully quick read, but it makes up for that with time that you spend staring out into space just thinking about things.

One Hundred Demons by Lynda Barry – If you had to draw 100 of your personal demons, what would they be? One of mine would probably be a leaf-footed stink bug because they’re just creepy. Here Barry shares her own demons in these illustrated stories.

Eco-Chic Home by Emily Anderson – There are only a few projects in this book that I’d do. The rest left me either uninspired or in some cases disappointed that perfectly good items were being upcycled into something of lower value.

90 Classic Books for People in a Hurry by Henrik Lange – In one page each, I finally learned the super high level plot of some classics like One Hundred Years of Solitude (I’ll read it someday) and Lolita. Others I had already read, and the summaries varied from hilarious to meh. And yet others, I had never heard of. (How do you define “Classic Books”?) If you pick it up in the library, you can probably read the pages for just your favorites and be done in a few minutes, so there’s nothing to lose.

The Story of My Tits by Jennifer Hayden – This is a sometimes humorous, sometimes serious graphic novel, telling the story of the author’s own life and the ways in which she’s been impacted by breast cancer. So many people I’m acquainted with have been diagnosed, and the whole time I was reading this book I was hoping she would explain what the hell is going on with the world. But I start thinking that way whenever my brain gets on this topic. Would recommend this book both for the engaging storyline and the insight into understanding how different people deal with hard truths.

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond – This was our book club book of the month. First of all, one word of warning, this is a really long book. That said, it contains insights into why people sometimes do things that destroy the environment, against their own best interests. One of the stories involves Easter Island, once full of trees totally deforested by the time Europeans set eyes on it. For the person who cut down the last tree, what was he thinking?

The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger – Yet another graphic novel, this time about a bookmobile that contains everything the visitor has ever read, including cereal boxes and journals, and about the lengths that one person would go through to be united with these written memories forever.

The Hypo: The Melancholic Young Lincoln by Noah Van Sciver – This book left me in the lurch, as I was afterwards wondering how in the world this guy could have ever become president. I may have to read a full biography someday to learn what happened in that gap before my education kicks in about him actually being president. Wouldn’t recommend just because it ends so early.

Perennial Vegetables by Eric Toensmeier – Some of these would absolutely not grow in central Texas, but I now have a few more plants on my wishlist. I just wish there was also such a thing as a carrot tree.

Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash by Elizabeth Royte – Most books about garbage get either excessively scientific or depressing, but I love them all anyway. And this book is even better because it’s told by an outsider of the garbage world who is enthralled to explore what becomes of her refuse. She jumps hurdles to be able to visit landfills, MRFs, composting facilities, and more. In her more personal journey, she tracks those things that she disposes, tries to reduce her own garbage, attempts to reduce the related manufacturing garbage by buying less, and finally discusses extended producer responsibility. Loved it. 🙂

That’s it so far! You may see some other gardening books in the photo above, but I’ve only listed out the ones where I read at least half of the book this year–not just a particular chapter for reference or a quick skim before setting it aside uninterested. These all went back to the library today. Time to pick up the next set of good reads!

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A Ten-Mile Stroll to the Library

Sunday the library was closed for New Year’s. On Monday again it was closed for New Year’s (observed). But Tuesday the libraries opened at ten o’clock, and I was ready at eight to start my new year’s resolution of hiking the circuit of Austin Public Library branches. My maps and supplies were on hand to assist me in this awesome journey. And the weather was absolutely beautiful.

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Overall route

Why would I walk ten miles just to go to the library? you may ask. Well, it’s simple. I love walking and I love libraries. I’d like to walk more and to visit more of the libraries in Austin. Plus, as a non-driver this is a great opportunity for me to explore ways of getting around the area independently. As a non-consumer, it’s a fulfilling activity that doesn’t require spending a dime. And as someone that doesn’t always get out enough, it’s designed to bring out a bit more of the explorer in me.

Little Walnut Creek branch library

Well… I stopped at this library before it opened, but the lights were on inside so I’m counting it! Don’t worry, I’ll be back many times this year.

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Kicking off my hike at the Little Walnut Creek branch library

The route took me through a part of the neighborhood I had never explored before. Sadly, it was full of litter and I quickly had my fill of picking up trash. Next time I go out I’ll need to take a bag with me for collecting it. 😦

(It turns out the litter is most prevalent in my neighborhood. An hour into my walk, I stopped seeing so much trash everywhere.)

It was cool to see more of the area though. All the little creek and railroad crossings were my favorite. There were areas widely paved for pedestrian traffic and areas with no sidewalk at all. Winter really is the best time for walking in such places because the shrubs and other unruly growth (or worse, poison ivy) aren’t pushing you into the middle of the street with the cars.

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Walnut Creek trail–once a dirt path and now a huge concrete slab complete with an amazing quantity of signs and a dashed yellow line in the middle.
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Crossing MoPac safely via underpass
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The area once known as Waters Park. This old railway transported in the granite used to construct the state capitol building in the 1880’s and a town built up around it but is long gone now.

Milwood branch library

Two hours after heading out, the Milwood library was finally in my sights. It was an area that I never visit. The bus doesn’t stop close by and I’ve always considered it to be in the middle of nowhere. How amazing that I was able to walk there!

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Metal sculptures in front of the Milwood branch library

I quickly gobbled down a couple of rolls before going in, grabbed a few editions of Texas Gardener magazine, and enjoyed an hour of replenishing relaxation.

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Entry to Milwood branch library

The seating didn’t look that plentiful. Fortunately, it wasn’t at all crowded during my visit.

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One seating area at Milwood branch

I marveled at the checkout center for electronic devices to use in the library. Next time I’ll have to try it out instead of just getting a quick glance.

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Laptop / tablet kiosk!

Soon my hour was up and it was time to head out on the second part of my walk if I wanted to get home at a normal hour.

The strangest thing about this trip was that I was sure I’d be tempted as afternoon approached to make a quick stop at the Krispy Kreme or Rudy’s barbeque or some other delicious food place, but I wasn’t. The few snacks I had with me kept me satisfied throughout the day. I’ve experienced this before too. Just by getting out and doing something active, I’m less tempted to overindulge. Then again, maybe it was due to that dead raccoon I saw by the side of the road.

Spicewood Springs branch library

Less than two hours after setting out again, I made it to my final circuit stop for the day.

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I made it to Spicewood Springs!

I’d been to the Spicewood Springs branch before, but it seemed way out there even when travelling on the bus. No wonder my feet were starting to hurt a bit. I quickly grabbed a couple more books and a comfy seat and sat down to read.

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Kicking back and reading Lynda Barry’s “One Hundred Demons” at the library.

After some relaxing easy reading, I had to walk just a few blocks to hop on the bus back home. There was a transfer towards the end involving a fifteen minute wait.

But no, I had a crazy idea. It wasn’t that far from the transfer stop to my home. I could walk that too! This may not have been the best idea. I could feel a few little blisters forming on the bottom of my feet and the first several blocks felt like the longest of all. Good thing it was only a half hour distance on foot from my house….

Home Base

Woohoo! I made it back in one piece. I was just in time to catch the episode of MacGyver with the robots that look like Daleks, while I made and then ate delicious fideo. My husband was really lucky he got home in time to eat some of it too.

Hike #1 of the Austin Public Library circuit was a resounding success. It was thrilling to realize the huge area that I could now consider “walking distance” and I immediately started dreaming about the next hike. Will I do another long trek all the way downtown to the central library (still shorter than this one)? Will I explore one I’ve never been to before? Every option sounds good right now.

A Walk in the Harvested Woods

This week at Talk Green to Me book club, we were discussing Bill Bryon’s A Walk in the Woods. It’s a hilarious tale about the adventures of the author and an acquaintance walking the Appalachian Trail. The stories of beautiful scenery and the sense of accomplishment after braving tough weather conditions and still going forwards–well, it inspired me and I was ready for a hike of my own after reading this book.

Of course I’m not going to travel halfway across the country for a hike, no matter how epic. There are just so many parts of Austin that I haven’t even seen yet. I had an idea, though. And to test it out, I decided to walk to book club at Recycled Reads from my office. It’s not the Appalachian trail, but at 5.7 miles it’s a decent trek. Google Maps predicted just under two hours to make this journey on foot. (And fortunately we are just far enough removed from the summer heat that being outdoors that long isn’t arduous in itself.)

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A lovely wide walking trail along North Burnet Road 😛

This definitely was not the most scenic hike. Since almost my whole route was alongside Burnet Road, I had a great view of traffic and there were all kinds of shopping centers. Fortunately, crossing 183 was easy (I expected more of a mess of traffic lanes like at Lamar Boulevard and 183) and there were a variety of scattered trees and plants that I was able to stop and view more closely at my leisure. I arrived at my destination just a few minutes later than Google predicted and barely breaking a sweat.

Since that two-hour walk didn’t kill me, I was reassured that my more insane plan would work. A couple of months ago, I came up with the idea of a new years resolution to visit every Austin Public Library branch in 2017. Nearly a couple dozen of them. It doesn’t involve buying anything, which makes it a near perfect resolution for me, although not that much of a challenge.

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Map of Austin libraries

Well, you can probably see where I’m going with this. For 2017 it would be awesome if I walked to every libary branch! No, I’m not going to walk from the northernmost Spicewood Springs Branch to the southernmost Southeast Austing Community branch in one go. My idea is to start from my home to the nearest library constituting a single trip. The next trip would be from that library to any other library. And so on, accumulating a new potential starting point with each new destination achieved. For some sense of scale, the distance between North Village Branch and Yarborough Branch is about an hour walking, so none of the branches are more than a two-hour walk from another (although I have the option of making non-optimal trips).

Do you think I can do it? I think I can. The library is closed on January 1 & 2 next year, but I’m already planning my January 3 walk up north to Spicewood Springs branch–a happy 7.6 miles from my neighborhood branch. Worst case scenario, next year December I’ll hop on the bus to quickly visit any branch locations that I didn’t make it to on foot. 🙂

Gratitude Journal #2

It’s been a little while since Journal #1, so I’m sharing just a few more of the things that I’m grateful for. The first brightens my day every time I walk up to the front door.

Zinnias

When this flower bloomed recently, I was really surprised how a weed could be so beautiful. As it turns out, these are from the zinnia seeds that I planted months ago and which I had given up on. They look totally different from the picture I remember on the seed packet, but no matter, these are stunning. More are just starting to bloom now.

Our New Air Conditioner

When it’s really hot and humid out, the cool air in the house feels so good. It should be saving energy compared to our old unit. And it definitely helps me sleep better, which is worth anything. I’m also really thankful that we were able to afford it without having to borrow money.

A Backyard Bounty

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So many tomatoes!

There’s not as much going on in the veggie garden at the moment, but I’m still harvesting a bunch of Roma tomatoes. We’ve been slicing them on pizza and chopping them up into chili and spaghetti sauce. It might soon be time to make some salsa.

Turtles

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Our neighbor, Leonardo

For a while now, my husband has occasionally been seeing a turtle or two in the creek near our house, but today was my first sighting. I’ll call him Leonardo, after my favorite ninja turtle. 🙂

The Library

Because in addition to everything else they recently got new copies of The Monkees on DVD, which I’ll be enjoying over my summer vacation.

Curbside Free Piles

Because I was able to get rid of the dirty and not needed yet fully functional ice chest from the back yard (that came with the house) without doing anything more than dragging it over near the sidewalk out front.

The Buy-Nothing Personal Holiday

Friday I took a personal holiday. In past occurences, I’ve gone out shopping or even spent most of my day at the mall. Unfortunately, this has often resulted in impulse buys and often the corresponding buyer’s remorse. So this time, and in the spirit of Buy Nothing New, I avoided the shops entirely.

… Um, well, my first stop after leaving home in the morning was to stop at the Co-op and pick up a couple of things I needed for dinner, but come on, potatoes and salad dressing are low-risk items for buyer’s remorse. (At least until I learn to make a salad dressing from scratch that my husband approves of.)

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First creek discovered on my exploratory stroll

After taking care of that necessity, I walked over to a park not far from the Co-op. The air was clear and brisk and it was a great day to be alive. Before long I was swinging at the park and particularly enjoying that brief moment hitting the peak each time that’s almost like weightlessness before coming back down. I was there totally enjoying myself for about 40 minutes before I was fidgeting with my phone and promptly slipped off the swing and fell on my butt. That must be what I get for not living in the moment.

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Lunch on the lawn with vibrant green patches of clover

After a bit of wandering through areas both new to me and areas which I vauguely remembered from years past, I sat on the grassy knoll by the LBJ museum and leisurely ate my packed lunch of banana bread, nuts, and a salad. Usually I’m in the middle of a conversation or sitting in front of a glowing screen while eating, so this was quite a reminder of the joy of actually savoring my food and not rushing through it. (Maybe my resolution for the next year should be to not eat in front of a glowing screen.)

I had an agenda for the afternoon, though, which in retrospect did detract from my day. There were two new-to-me libraries I wanted to visit. For some reason, most of the branch libraries in Austin don’t open until 1 PM on Fridays so there wasn’t a huge rush to get there.

Since the libraries open so late, I had a chance to explore the neighborhood around Twin Oaks libary and happened upon a creek. With no major traffic nearby, the clearest sound was the water calmly swishing along. Part of the creek bed was dry, and I walked along for as far as I could, which unfortunately wasn’t that far. They were building a retaining wall along part of it or had possibly widened the creek to handle future floods. So it wasn’t all natural after all, but beautiful nonetheless.

At the libraries, I picked up all the volumes of Oishinbo and happily enjoyed the bus ride home reading the delicious manga about Japanese food.

Discovering in a single day two creeks I had never visited before was pretty amazing. Next time I’ll have to declare a no-book, no-agenda day as well and see how many more wonders I can discover. Better than visiting a mall anyday!