All posts in: adventures

09 Aug 2016

beach reads: 2016 edition

Once upon a time, I prepared for my family’s annual sojourn to the Atlantic Ocean by shoving as many books into my luggage as I could manage. Or at least spent a few fun hours thinking strategically about which handful books I might like to read while plane flying, porch rocking, or beach bumming.

This year, I thought I’d set the bar low. Flying and beaching with a baby wouldn’t leave as much reading time as usual, and we were flying Spirit – no carry-ons, and limited poundage in the single checked bag I’d now be sharing with two other humans. It would be silly to pack 5 or 6 books for a 5 day vacation. Damn. Parenthood does lead to a certain level of boring pragmatism, doesn’t it.

I decided on two physical books. First, A Feast for Crows. I told my sister I’d mail her my copy to borrow when I send her a birthday gift in September – one more incentive to actually make some progress in this series I claim to love and have invested so much time in. I’m about halfway through! There’s hope!

Second, Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk. I’ve been feeling a little disconnected from what’s going on in kid/YA lit lately, and this middle grade debut has been getting some steady buzz since it came out in May. Also, this is my book club’s next pick, so if I can figure out how to juggle a baby with social outings, then I shall be prepared to discuss!

Any supplemental reading would be relegated to my Kindle. I’ve been doing most of my reading on my Kindle lately – it’s possible to nurse while reading a physical book, yes, but only if you can comfortably one-hand it. Library books are tough. Big Fat George R. R. Martin books don’t really work out. A Kindle, however, is a breastfeeding bookworm’s best friend. I hustled to finish Lucy Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face before leaving and queued up another memoir – Beverly Cleary’s A Girl from Yamhill.

Once upon a time, I’d pack 10 books for a 10 day trip. Once upon last week, I whittled my expectations down to three. I even started writing a nice little blog post about my beach vacation reading!


Once upon two days ago, I had to ditch A Feast for Crows because our checked bag weighed 42 lbs.

And left my Kindle sitting at home on the charger.

Ah, parenthood.

25 Dec 2015

a family holiday letter

Dear subset of Friends and Family who know how to read blogs,

Greetings to you and yours at the end of a long and winding 2015.

Do people still write holiday letters? You know, the photocopied missives tucked into their annual greeting cards updating interested parties in the comings and goings of one family over the course of the year? It seems a little unnecessary in The Age of Facebook – anything significant is bound to show up on a feed at some point – and maybe even more unnecessary to post upon a blog. What is a blog other than a perpetual Christmas letter – look at me! Look at what I am doing, and let me tell you all about it!

As of last year, there were a few stalwart Christmas Letter Writers remaining in my family. Whether or not they have taken to the task in 2015 has yet to be determined since one recent event that has occurred in my immediate family is that we have lost our mailbox key. I’m hoping that we will gain access to this box soon and that it will burst open with cards and gifts and Christmas checks and that piece of paper proving that I did show up at jury duty so my HR department can finally be sated.

But I’ve skipped ahead. Let’s roll on back to earlier in this fine year.

The first third of 2015 can be divided as thus:

  1. Snow

Boston had a record-breaking Winter. The first storm arrived just before my Darling Husband’s 30th birthday. The second, just after. The third and the fourth, I just can’t remember. Was there a fifth? A sixth? I’ve blocked it all out. Darling Husband had 10 snow days off from school; I had some as well, but I also had the good fortune of enduring the total breakdown of Boston’s reliable 1000 year old public transportation system! What joy. This paragraph is officially depressing me. Right now we’re looking at a High of 66 for Christmas Eve, so shall we refrain from uttering the S word until 2016 forever and ever amen.

  1. Books

As you may well know, I had the good fortune of serving on a children’s book award committee this past year. The first half of 2015 was spent reading. And reading some more. Scheming ways to convince myself to read even more. Also thinking about books. And making lists of books. Opening boxes and making piles of books and moving the piles from one place to another. My Darling Husband assumed a supportive role, cheering me on and pre-emptively declining social events on my behalf, and also cooking dinner twice a week.

Also, at one point our apartment looked like this:


After four months of housebound snow days and couchbound book reading, we transitioned into the middle third of the year, wherein we decided to GTFO of the house… and the state… and the country.

2015-04-20 10.28.25 HDR

In April, Darling Husband and I paid a visit to Favorite Roommate (and Favorite Roomate’s Favorite Roommate and their sweet pups) in scenic Kansas City, Montana – the City of Fountains. We saw the sights. We drank the local beers. We examined libraries and children’s book stores. We even took a jaunt over to the famed Manhattan, Kansas – home of the Wildcats, and also my baby brother-in-law. TBH, we also did A LOT of pajama-wearing, Pandemic playing, and donut eating. But is there really a better way to vacation? I think not.


In May, I took the fancy bus on down to New York, New York for Book Expo. If you exclude jaunts to visit family, this was my first solo overnight trip ever. I made all of my own travel arrangements, met up with my little cousin for a long walk around Central Park, fed myself (almost entirely on free food), and got myself where I needed to be when I needed to be there. I even had a glass of wine on my bus ride home. WHAT A GROWN UP. Then, in June, I took my SECOND solo trip, this time to visit with my two dearest high school chums in good old hot-and-sticky San Antonio, Texas.


Six days after my return to MA, My Darling Husband and I departed for our second grand European adventure.


Three nights in Paris, during which we…

  • gazed upon Notre Dame, the Musée D’Orsay, the Eiffel Tower, and the Moulin Rouge
  • bought a copy of A Movable Feast at Shakespeare & Co
  • suffered through record heats with the help of a supplementary air conditioning unit that appeared in our hotel room. (it was a giant bag of ice in a Styrofoam cooler)
  • ate a meal consisting entirely of wine, bread, and fresh cheese


Then, three nights in Amsterdam, where we…

  • accidentally wandered into the red light district whilst trying to find an Indian restaurant
  • made friends with our charming Airbnb-mates
  • observed a naked bike rally in the Vondelpark
  • cried at Anne Frank’s house, admired the expansive public library, and ate some street frites


Last but not least, Berlin. Highlights included…

  • a newly constructed, shiny, modern hotel room with a swanky roof bar and REALLY GREAT AC
  • zipping all over the city on big trains and little trains and buses like pros, I’m sure
  • the impossibly delicious creation that is the döner kebab
  • spending time with our dear friend Maren, who zipped on over from Dortmund to show us around town

PHEW. After that, we flew home, exhausted, and took it nice and easy for the rest of the summer.

And by “rest of the summer,” I mean “a few days.” In July, Darling Husband spent four nights on Cape Cod, camping out with his bandmates and ostensibly working on new music. He also bussed down to New York for the night to visit with a high school buddy who was in from Shanghai (and also to liberate his expensive trumpet from the borough of Brooklyn where it had spent a few unexpected weeks. Long, stupid story.) In August, we road tripped down to Sunset Beach, North Carolina to spend a week on the beach with my family. It was, once again, lovely, although we did reach some sort of testosterone tipping point. In where my usual family vacations are spent reading, beaching (tanning?), outlet shopping, and snacking, this time there was fishing and golfing and more golfing and spontaneous outbreaks of Magic the Gathering. Very curious.


At the end of the summer, we said goodbye to about a million of our Boston friends – everyone who was kinda trying to leave Boston for the past three years made an exodus in 2015. There were last drinks and last suppers and the desperate hawking of couches on Craigslist. There were emotions. To Colorado, Portland, Royal Oak, and New Zealand – what amazing, lovely people you now have among you. Treat them well!

The rest of the year has been (relatively) more bucolic. I prepped for a symposium in October and wrote a lot of book reviews. Darling Husband began his seventh (!!!) teaching year. I thought I couldn’t eat dairy for a while but decided I just can’t eat yogurt. We entertained my in-laws for another gracious visit. We switched Peach to diet food and subsequently cleaned up a lot of cat puke. After almost three years of living car-free, we bought a used Prius… and we kind of love it a lot. We attended a Friendsgiving. We went to seven zillion holiday parties. In five days, we will jet out of state yet again to ring our second consecutive new year in Michigan.

It’s Christmas Eve now as I finish up this lengthy missive. I had a nice day working in a completely empty office while Darling Husband did some last minute shopping. We have acquired some festive take out, I am cooking up a pineapple upside down cake, and we are settling in for a long winter’s 60+ degree night of enjoying some classic, cheerful television programming.

I’m thinking a few episodes of Game of Thrones.

I’m also thinking that I am a very lucky lady. Thank you to all of my dear ones who made 2015 the year it was for me… and my Darling Husband and my chubby orange cat. I’m wishing you the very happiest of holidays and a fabulous, fabulous, fabulous new year.






24 Jun 2015

update/up next


Hello, friends!

I think I’ve made reasonably good on my early 2015 predictions. I read some YA nonfiction (yay, Romanovs!) I’ve read madly – 115 books and counting! I’m still keeping a log book, and as of about two weeks ago I am a Fancy! New (ish)! Car! Owner! I’ve even examined my relationship with processed foods – my conclusion so far? “When you have a batshitcrazyGoGoGo! kind of year… you eat a lot of processed foods.”

And the trips! I just got back from four nights in San Antonio with my two best friends from high school (and some of their adorable progeny). In April, the boy and I did a DELIGHTFUL week in Kansas City, Missouri with our All Time Favorite Roommate.

Up next…

three nights in Paris (a la Anna and the French Kiss),

three nights in Amsterdam, (a la Postcards from No Man’s Land).

and two nights in Berlin (a la Going Over)

Because of said batshitcrazyGoGoGo year, I have done zero planning. If you have been to any of these cities or have a hypothetical itinerary that’s been burning a hole in your proverbial travel wallet (what does that even mean) please share. Please please. I have a butt ton of book reviews due before I leave and the boy is fi-na-lly finishing school this week, so I think we are both at about 1% brain function and unable of planning our own Tuesday morning, much less a vacation.

But who am I kidding: all I really plan on doing is drinking coffee, eating carbohydrates, and walking around taking pictures with my phone camera. Like a proper American tourist.

Equally exciting? Returning home in a few weeks and OFFICIALLY RESTORING MY LIFE TO NORMALCY

(with a quick break in August to go to the beach).


12 Jun 2015

BEA 2015

Four days after The Big Selection Day, I hopped a bus down to NYC for a quick trip to BEA. It was probably an ill-advised trip – yeah, strung-out Jessica, why NOT take a solo jaunt down to the city that doesn’t sleep to attend the craziest book conference available? Ahem. Anyway, I tried to make it as quick and painless as possible, spending one day at SLJ’s Day of Dialog and another on the floor at BEA proper.



I started off my trip with a long, briskly paced walk through Central Park with my cousin the 19-year-old super model. I’ve been to NYC bunches of times but never actually made it to Central Park before? ?? Anyway, we caught up and I took pictures like a dirty rotten tourist and we visited Alice, and then I went back to my hotel room and collapsed.

I attended SLJ’s Day of Dialog last year and my previous praise still stands. It’s a fun little event. Brian Selznick started the morning with his keynote address. He posited his last three books – The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Wonderstruck, and the upcoming The Marvels – as a thematic trilogy about the triumph of the story – of triumph over chaos. Is there anything that intrigues and delights me more than a “thematic trilogy?” Possibly not. I promptly began kicking myself for not having read ANY OF THESE THREE BOOKS. Don’t worry – I started reading Hugo two days ago. It’s really good.

The next panel focused on environmental issues in books for children, and featured Paul Fleischman, Louis Sachar, April Pulley Sayre, and Anita Silvey. I want to pause for a moment and try to express how excited my inner 9-year-old was to be in the same room as Louis Sachar. And he even talked about Wayside School and There’s a Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom!! WHAT. WHAAAAT. Okay. Anyway. The panelists talked about why they write or illustrate various environmental issues, how they tailor their content to inspire and engage a young audience (rather than scare the crap out of them), and why it’s so dang important. They also talked about how writing about the earth and environment for children is tied intimately to ideas of history and a shared humanity – the “presence of the past,” as a panelist put it so eloquently. Learning about the physical world and how it has changed and will change is also learning about one’s place in the world. It’s not all reduce-reuse-recycle – it’s about community, connectedness, and social responsibility.

The panel on middle school fiction was heavy on the entertainment and the kidlit celeb factor. Lisa Graff! Rebecca Stead! Tim Federle! Luke Reynolds! Rita Garcia-Williams! Embarrassing middle school stories were shared and jokes were had. The more serious discussion, however, reminded me of all of the things I love-love-love about middle school lit – middle school years are about forming identity, saying goodbye to childhood, gaining new levels of awareness, and struggling to understand yourself and to be seen for who you really are. Great middle school books let their protagonists muddle around with these questions, even if the answers are messy and half-formed.

I took fewer notes at the afternoon sessions, as is natural. A. S. King gave this drop-dead astounding luncheon talk about feminism in her life, in her work, and in the world around us. There’s a recap article over on SLJ – still hoping that the full-text or a recording of this one will be made public. Patrick Ness razzled and dazzled all over the YA panel. Publishers pitched their Fall 2015 books, and the last panel of the day went distressingly long. And then, the Big Announcement. I was nervous and so happy. There was some hooting and hollering in the audience, and then wine.


I hit BEA proper the next day, but the results were much less exciting. I popped into the YA editor’s buzz panel (Everything Everything looks like the definitive Big Fall Title, FYI) and a panel on ebooks in library collections. I checked in on the state of Hoopla ebooks. I tried to get publishers to talk to me about this little presidential ebook campaign you may have heard of, but it seems everyone is in just as much limbo as we are. I sat down for a quick minute at an adult fic panel moderated by Jami Attenberg (who I kind of adore), accidentally walked into a VIP networking event (where I proceeded to network with a reference librarian… who works in my building),  and then I hopped on the bus to go home.

My not-so-secret reason for attending: I wanted to take the chance to study the fine art of Panel Moderation. Because I am going to be called to the task this coming October. Gulp. Gag. Panic Panic Panic. I took notes! Because that’s the only strategic operative I have in my arsenal. If you’re going to be in the Boston area in October, you should definitely come to this really great event (*cough* it’sbetterthanDayofDialog *cough*) Even if I’m a panicked heaving mess, it will probably be pretty good.

Heaven help me.

04 Sep 2014

while i was away

I wish that taking a month off from social media felt like less of a big deal. The older and wrinklier I get, the more I aspire to be the kind of person who gives Twitter a good side eye, who gave up Facebook years ago. I’m not that person, though. I’m of a different age. The generation of Xanga, AIM, diaryland, and Livejournal. Now it’s Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and Tumblr, but you know what? It’s still all a time suck. So I gave up Twitter and Facebook for the month of August. Just because.

In May, I posted about posting less here. A week into my social media fast – as I didn’t check Twitter, check Facebook, OR update my blog – I realized that I was, apparently, trying to disappear (from the interwebs) completely.

What can I say. I’m of an age.

Taking a break did reduce my tendency toward Internet-induced rage. It provided a minor release from that whole click-refresh-check-click-refresh thing that stirs up one’s concentration. It was harder to make the decision than it was to execute. It was kind of novel to hear all of my social and pop culture news secondhand… I didn’t know what an ice bucket challenge was until last week.

It’s September now and I’m feeling ambivalent about those social mediums. Eh. Eh. Eh. I am feeling less ambivalent about this here blargh, but I’m still trying to work out the when and the how of all that. But either way, summer is almost done and I’m back etc. Here’s some stuff that happened while I was gone.


While I was away I learned…

  • Facebook will actually hunt you down if you don’t visit for awhile. I had The Boy change my password. Facebook emailed me a half dozen times in a month to tell me I had notifications (even though I don’t usually get emails for my notifications). And sometimes if I clicked the email links, I could get into my Facebook. Without a password. SPOOKY.
  • I suffer from anxiety-related social media usage. How did I learn this? Well, aside from catching myself trying to log on so. many. times. (embarrassing)… I also noticed a SIGNIFICANT uptick in my hypochondriacal googling. I diagnosed myself with so many different diseases in August! So many! I’m actually dying.
  • Deciding to stop was absolutely much harder than the act of giving it up. Didn’t miss it.

What I did instead:

  • Did 6 days in Michigan visiting the family.
  • Re-watched the first 4 seasons of Breaking Bad. SO I CAN FINALLY WATCH SEASON 5.
  • Listened to the Jersey Boys soundtrack more times than is probably healthy.
  • Spent the night in Vermont to attend the beautiful wedding of two of my cutest friends.
  • Hit 100 books read in 2014.
  • Wrote some book reviews.
  • Quality time with The Boy before his vacation came to an end.
  • Celebrated 5 years living in Boston (!)

Other, more normal stuff happened too. Working. Gym. Cooking. Peach-petting. I received two bits of professional good news in the same week, of which I may disclose later (much later). I spent a lot of time on parts of the Internet not-Twitter and not-Facebook. I turned up the heat on my 200 words goals and fell way behind, but in return I may have found a story I want to tell. So I’ll say what everyone says when they do something mildly puritanical for a fixed period of time: it was good. It was uniquely, unreproducibly good. You should try it, and see what happens.

30 Jul 2014

summer update

1. It is late July, and I am regularly reminded of my tendency toward summer doldrums. In summer, I am often found crashed upon the couch with little desire in my heart beyond another sip yet another cold beverage. The heat. The inevitably altered schedule when the boy is on vacation. The diet. The post-vacation comedown. The spinning of the earth around the sun. All of those things.

2. Thankfully, this summer’s slowdown seems to be more physical than mental. I’m tired and often lack focus, but am experiencing little misery and – surprisingly – little reading-related ennui. I am reading semi-fiendishly. Unless I squeak out another book this week, my July tally is 13. My 2014 total is over 90. It feels presumptuous to call the game so early in the year, but barring significant disaster 2014 will be my most impressive reading year to date.

3. I want to brag for a moment and tell you that I finished four of the seven books pictured in this stack. My summer reading list progress is less impressive – I finished Something Real, read one chapter of Brideshead Revisited, and am fifty pages into The Name of the Wind. If this is a proper calender-based list and I have until late September to complete my reading, then I am making good-ish progress I suppose. But when you are the product of twenty full years of schooling and you live with a teacher, it’s difficult to imagine Fall starting any other time than September 1. We will see.

4. Speaking of school year, I run our household budget on a September to September schedule. The family fiscal year, if you will. I’ve been putzing around with our account and various Excel spreadsheets in preparation for FY15 and have gathered some baffling and exciting figures. First, I would like to brag about paying off two of the boy’s student loans during this fiscal year, including the dastardly TEN PERCENT INTEREST loan we’ve been chipping away at since 2010. Seriously. What kind of public school teacher ends up with an unforgiveable student loan with 10% interest? Oh, the injustice. We paid off a second loan last week, bringing our total FY14 student loan contribution to just under 14k – a cool 20% of our joint take-home income.

I would also like to take a moment to praise the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and the Income Based Repayment Plan, both of which are provided by the federal government to keep my own grad loans manageable, and without which I would not be able to exist in this city.

5. Would you like an recap of my beach vacation? It was very fun. Exceptionally fun. We stayed in an adorable little house on stilts with comfy couches, a big dining room table, three porches, a grill, and central air. It was about a four minute walk to the beach, but that’s including the time spent lugging a cart full of beach supplies up and down a small sand dune. I got to meet my sister’s new man, our adopted German sister-friend, hang out with my Grandparents, and generally laze about reading books, playing games, and eating snacks with my family. In other words, all of my earthly dreams came true for a short seven days.

6. I’m no longer at the beach, but summer lives on in Boston, Massachusetts.  Days long, skies blue. White wine and cold cans of seltzer stuffed with lime wedges. My cat drapes herself upon the wood floors in dramatic positions assumed for the purpose of airing out her white tummy fuzz. It’s not all couch-laying and couch-moping. Yeah, I’m staying up too late and eating out too much. It’s also not snowing. Too much of my day to be seized, I’m afraid. Can’t let any of it slip.

04 Jun 2014

The BEA 2014 Experience

Last week, I had the good fortune to attend Book Expo America. It was my first time! I’ve been to ALA conferences more than once, so I fancied myself quite the conference expert. Oh boy was I wrong. BEA was an entirely different beast, in good ways and not so good ones.

I’m a bookish person with a bookish job. When presented with a buffet of choices at a conference, I like to attend the bookish panels. I have to forcibly wedge less-literary sessions into my schedule, lest I walk around like a dazed book fan rather than, oh, you know, engaging in meaningful professional development. I try very hard to attend a conference as a library employee first and a raging book fan second.

So now, I’m at BEA, and it’s ALL BOOKS ALL THE TIME. Walking into the Javitz center and seeing a grotesquely huge fabric sign hanging from the vaulted ceiling advertising the cover of Scott Westerfeld’s new YA book was a trip and a half. This is a gathering of my people, and we are all here to talk books. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

But before I arrived at BEA proper, I attended SLJ’s Day of Dialog. While gigantic conferences can be fun, the Day of Dialog is really more my jam. You show up, join a hundred or so other librarians in a normal-sized lecture hall with nice seats, and sit quietly while genius after genius takes the stage to entertain and edify. There are breaks with food. There is a free coffee station. At the Day of Dialog, there were even little vendor tables set up for ARCs, and, at the end of the day, free signed books to go around.

After that lovely little experience, BEA was exciting but completely overwhelming, even for the ALA-vet that I am. Publisher booths were swarmed with people, and most did not provide books or ARCS for browsing or taking. If you want an ARC, it seemed, you needed to get into a designated autographing line, maybe even get a ticket. As an introvert who has enough signed books to last a lifetime, this removed a lot of the fun of the exhibition floor. I missed the nice book displays at ALA, where you can browse and chat casually.

There were, however, enough attractive sessions to keep me busy. I attended an adult author buzz session and a middle grade author buzz session and came away with some new Fall titles to keep on my radar. (The big MG title that I saw EVERYWHERE? Kat Yeh’s adorably covered The Truth About Twinkie Pie). I caught a session where my friend Heather talked fantasy world-building Michael Grant, Scott Westerfeld, Kiera Cass, and Brandon Mull, and another on realism (or not) with E. Lockhart, Gayle Forman, Meg Wolitzer, and Jandy Nelson.

I also toured the Recorded Books studio which was freaking awesome. I got to meet the guy who says “Recorded Books Presents…” and who also narrated all of Lillian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who books. Guys, I probably listened to a dozen of those as a kid. Maybe all of them. He started talking and it was like, a bizarro time-warp out-of-body experience. Also, Miss Rosa from Orange is the New Black was wandering about the studio as well. No big deal, guys.

So, BEA, good. New York, good. I braved the transit system on my own, stayed in an Airbnb apartment in Brooklyn, dined with former bowling league-mates, and ate a lot of protein bars.

And then came BookCon.

My oh, my, BookCon. I thought BEA proper was huge and crowded enough. Little did I know… I wanted to attend the We Need Diverse Books panel but made the mistake of showing up a mere 3 minutes late. The doors were shut. A bouncer was fending off a few truly livid conference-goers. If this was the scene for a first-thing-in-the-morning diversity program, then what in the world was I getting myself into?

This year, I have become a quietly devoted fan of Lev Grossman’s work. His panel with Deb Harkness was the only panel I really wanted to attend. I showed up a half hour prior to the panel, thinking I could get a seat and wait quietly.

Oh no. No, no, no. The line snaked all the way into the food court. I waited for over thirty minutes, the line not moving, and when I finally got in I was the second to last person seated. Everyone behind me, who had been waiting nearly as long, was denied.

You would think that the mass of John Green fans waiting for the TFioS event a full 2 and a half hours prior to that event would have tipped me off, but no, I was shocked. I’m accustomed to attending professional conferences, where you might not always get a seat but you can probably get into your session at 11:00 and then flit off to your session and 12:00. Also, find a seat for lunch that is not on the floor. Also, find an outlet for your poor dead iPhone. None of this was the case. I went straight from the Grossman/Harkness event into yet another long line for an erotic romance panel that started an hour later.

I’d heard around the Internets that the BEA folks wanted to beef up their Saturday BookCon events, to provide a Comic-Con-type thing for Book Nerds. Well, the Book Nerds showed up. They swarmed, they hoarded galleys, they waited in hour long lines for the women’s bathroom. It was really thrilling to see such a passionate bunch – nay, mob – of readers, assembled to celebrate the continued existence of books, novels, novelists, and reader-culture. And so many of them young! Readers of the future! In this industry, where dour proclamations of the Death of [Libraries, Books, Printed Word, Reading] are so commonplace, BookCon was just a damn heartening thing to behold.

Sure, I didn’t want to actually MINGLE among the masses of rabid young fans, but I’m glad they were there.

The Final Scorecard

SLJ Day of Dialog:   Great

BEA:    Good

BookCon: Complete Nerd Madness

So that was my BEA. I’m glad I had the chance to go. I might not get to go again. I will probably post again soon about, oh, the things I *learned* at BEA. That is really my conference jam, guys. I love the panels and the speakers, the Big Ideas, the chit-chat with fellow librarians in between sessions. I take compulsive notes. I leave feeling refueled and excited to be a part of this industry. It seems a waste to let these great ideas fizzle away, so look forward to a more conceptual BEA post later in the month.

Oh, okay, okay. You want to see the goods. You’ve made it this far, I suppose you deserve it. Here are my top five galleys, the ones I really can’t wait to sink my teeth into.


Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

The Truth About Twinkie Pie by Kat Yeh

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin

26 Feb 2014

seattle 2014

Hello. I just got home from Seattle. It was my first trip to the West Coast and boy howdy was I charmed.

I was also charmed by this, my first opportunity to take a non-wedding related vacation in an exceptionally long time. I am married now, which means I am allowed to have sex, file jointly, and travel in peace. Also, own property.

Our first stop was Seattle proper, where one of my loveliest librarian friends has made her home. And boy, was it a nice home. First of all, do any of you have friends who have serious design skills? I feel like I am above average in my home decorating skills, but my darling Shelley? She has got something else entirely. More than a good eye – more like home design guts. Her apartment looks like she’s lived in it half her life – it’s filled with pictures and books and vintage furniture and art… basically, it was like stepping into an Apartment Therapy home tour. Just a lovely space.

Also, we met Ferdinand, my own ginger kitty’s male doppelgänger. Except skinny and all over the da-amn place. Ferdy made Peach look like a chubby, largely immobile pile of fluff.

We did a night and a day in the city. Our friend was so kind as to show us her favorite parts of Seattle as well as some of the required tourist spots. The big downtown library was first, of course. I was particularly enamored with George Legrady’s digital installation that displays library collection and circulation data in a visual live feed. 75% of my professional nerd-interests in an entrancing video loop. Amazing.

On Sunday, we hit up Ballard and Fremont. Farmer’s Markets, record stores, the antique mall, and brunch.

Yuppie stuff. Delightful, delightful yuppie stuff.

We even stopped by a bar for a 2 p.m. iced coffee cocktail. Shameless.


My boy and I usually have more travel aspirations than we have time or money. In order to afford our trips, we squirrel away tiny bits of money, slowly filling our special travel savings account for trips yet unimagined. We prioritize travel over many things – we don’t have a budget line item for concert tickets or video games or even books – but our trips have been relatively infrequent. It’s hard to consider travel a true passion. Passions are what you obsess over, what you do every day. Travel is imaginary until the plane takes off; every trip sneaks up on me.

What I am passionate about is being the kind of person who shows up. It was delightful and convenient when our Boston friend moved to Seattle, but this trip was percolating ever since one of my nearest and dearest Michigan ladies was first stationed at Fort Lewis. Before we could afford to visit, she moved to San Antonio. And shortly after we moved to Boston, she was sent out to Germany.

But now she is back in the States, and back in Washington. We spent most of the week in Tacoma, catching up and sleeping in and watching Gru and otherwise enjoying each other’s company. I hadn’t seen her since 2009. I had never met her three-year-old son. I missed meeting Baby #2 by a few weeks, but maybe next time.

Visiting new places is fun but when you are far from your loved ones, a week of conversations and good company is priceless. Travel can be prohibitively expensive – it was for us for a long time – but now I have the time and means to make it work. I might not drool over the Travel Channel or max out my credit card on plane tickets, but if you’ll have me in your home or your city, no worries, I’ll do the legwork.

I’d love to go back to the Pacific Northwest, but I probably shouldn’t because then I might never come back. Seriously. It was beautiful and laid back. The libraries were gorgeous. The food was great. Everything was cheaper than it is in Boston. There was coffee EVERYWHERE.

A Jessica Wonderland.

Watch out, West Coast.


30 Sep 2013

seven things about venice before i forget them

I did not want to go to Venice. Nope. I barely wanted to go to Rome, or to Europe. Then again, after a year of preparation and looming dread, I didn’t particularly want to get married. I mean, I wanted to BE married, I just didn’t want to GET married. This also sums up my attitude toward travel. I want to HAVE traveled, I just don’t want to get off the couch long enough to actually go through with it.

So I deferred honeymoon planning to The Boy. This was supposed to reduce the overall household wedding stress by division of labor, but I’m sure you guys know me well enough to know that it didn’t exactly work so well. First of all, I am an anal retentive freak and anyone who has to speak to me for more than 15 minutes deserves a medal. Second of all, at some point I told The Boy that I didn’t want to plan anything involving this honeymoon, that he should make all decisions in our best interests, but I also reserve the right to be pissed if things go wrong. Darling wife, love forever, etc.

I agreed to Rome and one other Italian city. The Boy insisted on Venice. I wasn’t keen on navigating European rail or dragging luggage on and off boats on my supposedly relaxing honeymoon, but Venice is sinking.

So we arrived in Rome on Monday afternoon, slept and ate pizza and drank wine for two nights. The next morning we carried our luggage down to the Termini station to board a high speed train. Four hours later, we arrived in Venice.

It was lovely and I forgot all of my anal retentive fears immediately upon arrival.

Just kidding. It was 90 degrees, neither of us could figure out where the proper water bus would pick us up or even how to purchase a ticket, and I probably did a lot of passive aggressive scowling at my dear husband for foisting all of these first world problems upon me.

Happy, happy newlyweds.


My mood improved significantly after we sat down for our first proper Italian meal. Wine. Bread. Spaghetti Bolognese for me and some seafood pasta for him. We were seated outside, the restaurant tucked away on a narrow side street. Supposedly Venice is known for having the worst food in Italy – chefs of any repute prefer to practice their craft without the practical limitations of acquiring fresh and fancy ingredients off the mainland – but my American taste buds were regularly impressed.

The sun went down and so did the wine and then it felt like vacation.

So what did we do in Venice?

Well, we hit as many of the touristy destinations as we could. We rode the vaporetto. We ate the same panini 4 or 5 times. We lounged around our BnB. We attempted to watch the fireworks at Festa del Redentore, but I got too grumpy. We chased Venitian kitty cats through the streets, trying to figure out where they lived.

But if you’re going to count the minutes, we probably spent 95% of our time in Venice getting lost, and getting un-lost.

Getting around in Venice is as close to an impossible task as you can get. You can get a map… but the names of the streets are so long and the streets themselves so short that even if the map-maker decided to label that particular street, what’s on paper won’t match what’s posted. And the canals. Oh, the canals. Each canal has a few bridges that cross over, but maybe a dozen streets that SHOULD have a bridge to cross over. So you detour around, looking for a bridge, and in the process lose your path.

You have no idea where you are. You do not speak the language. You are supposed to be having a relaxing, harmonious honeymoon with the one you love, not bicker over which way you should turn at an intersection… if you can call a giant square-ish open space with a toy store, a bar, and yet another ancient church an intersection.

Bring your patience to Venice. Instill in your heart a deep faith that you will find your way home, that you will not spend the night sleeping in someone’s boat. Follow the never-ending flow of tourists – they are generally on the easiest path to somewhere recognizable. And look closely at those churches – they’re large, they’re always on the map, and they will guide you home.


After experiencing the wonder that was the Italian Hotel Breakfast in Rome, we were dismayed to remember we did not opt in to the breakfast portion of our bed and breakfast stay. So began the hunt for the elusive cup of coffee.

For a country that is known for coffee delicioso, BOY did we have a tough time figuring out where to get some. Maybe our American, Starbucks-accustomed expectations were too high. The guide books and websites assured us that any local bar became a de facto coffee shop in the morning, that you could order a pastry and an espresso and take your breakfast standing at the bar, European style. But The Boy and I were either too timid or too lazy – or both. By the time we’d slept off the previous night’s vino della casa, dressed, and hit the streets, the bars seemed to be serving food-food, and the standers-at-the-bar drinking cocktails.

Even when I am on vacation, I cannot abide by booze before coffee. After who knows how many hours of stumbling, uncaffeinated through the streets, we finally found Caffe del Doge, which was exactly what we needed. Perhaps it would have been more European to stand in a darkened bar and knock back a shot of espresso to start our day, but I absolutely loved Caffe del Doge. It was just like the American coffeeshops I’ve grown accustomed to – there were tables, a large menu, folks who spoke English – but just substitute all the shitty caramel frappa-pumpkin-lattes with delicious and creative Italian coffee options.

The boy stuck to Americanos, espresso served with a little individual pitcher of hot water, while I tried a few things on the menu. Iced coffee with star anise was a favorite, but that shot of espresso with a giant pile of whipped cream wasn’t too shabby.

Let it also be known that I absolutely drank more black coffee in Italy than I’ve drank in my entire life. Desperate times, desperate measures. I lived to tell the tale.

Murano is a cute little group of islands off Venice proper. After riding the water bus over and watching a glass-blowing demonstration, we spent the rest of the afternoon wandering about Murano and talking about glass.

We bought a few souvenirs, but I am pretty sure that we didn’t succeed in buying any actual Murano glass. The best I could gather was that if it was real Murano glass, we couldn’t afford it.

That did not stop us from spending far, far too long playing the Is this real Murano glass? Is that real Murano glass? game. The Boy?  This is favorite game. Me? I don’t like to talk to strangers and I get exhausted when I’m on my feet for too long. I bought my overpriced little baubles and moved on with my day. The Boy haggled and debated and argued until the vaporetto was about to pull away and leave him stranded.


Speaking of souvenirs… they vex me. I don’t want to get ripped off on junky nonsense. I don’t want to spend an arm and a leg on anything (ever). I don’t want to pack an extra suitcase so I can acquire things. I don’t want to spend my vacation shopping.

However, I appreciate keeping items in your home that remind you of the places you’ve been. A few trips ago, we decided that until we feel financially comfortable enough to spend big bucks while traveling we will settle with buying nice postcards and framing them. REALLY nice postcards, you know, the artsy ones that cost like, 3 whole dollars. We were probably having an afternoon of Should we buy this? Should we buy that? when we came up with this scheme – I’m not sure that committing to hanging up random postcards is the best decor decision, but it was something that our stingy asses could agree on.

Anyway, we found a nice postcard of the Rialto bridge in Venice proper, so once we landed on Burano – The Most Adorable Place on the Planet – we did a little postcard shopping.

And by “we did a little postcard shopping,” I mean, he did some postcard shopping while I wandered down an adorable street and took photos of front doors and tried to find some cold coffee.

The Boy came back with a postcard. “I asked the woman if she had any postcards of Murano,” he told me, “but she said that Murano was too ugly.”

Venetian Island Feuds? Apparently a thing.

We spent four days and three nights in Venice. I got un-jetlagged. I adjusted to being in another country, drinking black coffee, and being on vacation. I started to feel adjusted, vaguely at home.

I did all that in Venice.

In our corner of Cannaregio, we regularly walked by a store with a maroon awning. We knew to take the alley to the right of the storefront, that we would be almost back to our bed and breakfast.

The second day in Venice, we popped inside the store with the maroon awning and it was a store filled entirely with wine and chocolate. So we came by every afternoon for the rest of our stay in Venice.

Even better? The wine was 3 euro for a liter. What romantic luck for the stingiest honeymooners alive.


Thanks everyone for indulging my summer ramblings about my summer ramblings. Glamor and glitz officially over. Now back to my regularly scheduled American adventures, such as  The Boy Takes 45 Minutes to Buy Vitamins at CVS,  Jessica Falls Down While Reading on the T, and We Have a Futon On Our Back Porch.

20 Sep 2013

working for the weekend

I’ve been living in Boston for more than four years now. Unbelievable, but true. Four years is a long time. Longer than I lived in my college town. Definitely longer than we planned on staying here. Four years is long enough to forget you are living in a city, but also render the suburbs a bit foreign. I have, occasionally, marveled over a particularly large parking lot. But most of the time city-dwelling doesn’t seem impressive. Wake up, commute, work, come home, cook, chat, sleep. Same human condition, smaller parking lots.

It’s been four years, but I don’t think I’d call myself “settled’ in this place. No. I think most of my city-dwelling friends feel the same sense of drifty impermanence about their Boston lives – it’s fine for now, but life could take you somewhere else. Of course, when pressed, most of us can’t pin down where that somewhere else will be, which worries me. Are we, the drifty, childless twenty-somethings who couldn’t possibly live in Boston forever all going to end up living in Boston forever? Even though we all want to leave, are we all stuck, already?

Maybe we’re already stuck, but we sure do not acknowledge it. In fact, the folks I know live like they might leave any day. Or at least, they weekend like they might leave any day. There’s probably a metaphor for life somewhere in there, but all I know is that my friends are wont to turn down my more austere weekend plans because they are going to the Vineyard. Or up to Vermont, or over to Connecticut, taking the bus down to New York, apple picking with their cousins, hiking with their friends from college, [insert any other adorable twenty-something-in-New-England activity here]. I made some posturing a year ago that I would like to join the weekending yuppie fun (please note the “because of course we’re leaving” tone, and yet, we remain), but I think two weeks after I wrote that post, our car died. Then a few weeks later, a tree branch smashed our windshield. We’ve been car-less ever since, and it’s difficult to have yuppie-fun in New England without wheels.

We finally crossed one off the list, though; last weekend our friends invited us out to Cape Cod for the weekend. And while visiting the Cape might have been on my Yuppie-Fun-I-Promise-We’re-Moving bucket list, it is definitely the preferred destination for any and all permanent Bostonians. And I can 100% see why: it was like driving into a beautiful green suburb, where every house has beach chairs and a deck, a pool and a hot tub. And if you take a turn and drive a few miles to the north or south, then you are on the beach. The kitschy dive brunch places and neighborhood bars are well-populated and clean. There’s a Starbucks AND a Dunkin Donuts. All the neighbors wave when you drive by. Your dad has a boat. It’s a wonderland.

Sometimes I feel like Boston is eating me alive. This is probably largely due to reasons that would preclude me from ever owning a place on the Cape, but maybe that’s how everyone survives here. You have a beautiful Cape house to escape to, where it’s always vacation, where your weekday worries aren’t. I suppose it’s different if you’re not staying in a gorgeous rental home free of charge, drinking margaritas in a hot tub with your friends like a spoiled rich teenager, but I definitely see the appeal.

Let me summarize the logical flow of this post as such:

City Living is Rough, therefore we 20-something yuppies pretend like we aren’t going to stay here even though we can’t figure out where else we’d want to go. While engaging in such I’m-basically-just-a-tourist type weekending behavior, I discovered that City Living is probably better if you have a Beach House.

Important addendum: teacher salary + librarian salary / City Living = you are never, ever going to have a Beach House, so you better hope your dear sweet friends don’t move to Australia and leave you without the comforts of a delightful rent-free weekend on the Cape.