So Much Goodness! | My 2016 Reading List

mug of tea and Ursula K. Le Guin book

In the past, I’ve gone super crazy with resolutions/learning goals for a year. And then not met them. I don’t regret it, though. At least making the resolutions and goals encouraged me to try. The half-goals I’ve achieved have still greatly enriched my life.

Last year, I scaled it back a bit and made only two resolutions: 1) to floss every day and 2) to read 52 books/one book per week. I didn’t achieve either. I certainly missed days with the floss. And I came up one book short for the year.

boston used bookstore storefront

That still makes 2016 a pretty great reading year for me.

I started the year with a bit of a random mix between memoirs, science fiction, and history. Then I started reading some specific memoirs and non-fiction in preparation for that Eurotrip I keep writing about 🙂 Things went forward again from there with a bit less direction until about October, where I started reading for an interstate book club which focused on the fiction nominees for the National Book Award and the Man Booker Prize.

Between Me and the World Ta-Nehasi Coates
My Life On the Road Steinem, Gloria
The King in the High Castle Dick, Philip K
The Thing With Feathers Stryker, Noah
Hunger Makes Me A Modern Woman Brownstein, Carrie
Lafayette and the Somewhat United States Vowell, Sarah
M Train Smith, Patti
A Year in Provence Mayle, Peter
The Perfect Meal Baxter, John
The Basque History of the World Kurlansky, Mark
Ladies of the Grand Tour Dolan, Brian
A Room with a View Forster, EM
Under the Tuscan Sun Maybes, Francis
My Brilliant Friend Ferrante, Elena
Much Depends on Dinner Vassar, Margaret
Zadig ou La Destinée Voltaire
Hellgoing Coady, Lynn
Helping Kids Succeed Tough, Paul
La Femme du Boulanger Pagnol, Marcel
The Rum Diary Thompson, Hunter S.
A Curious Mind Grazer, Brian
Shrill West, Lindy
The Only Street in Paris Sciolino, Elaine
Modern Lovers Straub, Emma
My Beloved World Sotomayor, Sonia
Americanah Ngozi Adichie, Chimamanda
The High Mountains of Portugal Martel, Yann
Only in Naples Wilson, Katherine
The Genius of Birds Ackerman, Jennifer
Sense and Sensibility Austen, jane
Why Nations Fail Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson
1000 Years of the Annoying French Clark, Stephen
Another Brooklyn Woodsen, Jacqueline
My Antonia Cather, Willa
Tender is the Night Fitzgerald, France scott
La Casa en Mango Steeet Cisneros, Sandra
Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life Finnegan, William
The Underground Railroad Whitehead, colson
Here I Am Safron Foyer, Jonathan
The Story of a New Name Ferrante, Elena
The Portable Veblen Mckenzie, Elizabeth
News of Other Worlds Jiles, Paulette
The Association of Small Bombs Marajan, karan
The Throwback Special Bachelder, Chris
Hot Milk Levy, Debra
The Sellout Beatty, Paul
Homegoing Gyasi, Yaa
The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo Schumer, Amy
Food Rules Pollan, Michael
The Badass Librarians of Timbuktu Hammer, Joshua
Les Mouches Sartre, Jean-Paul


My favorites/main suggestions include The Sellout, Homegoing, My Antonia, Barbarian Days, Americanah, Underground Railroad, The Portable Veblen, and The Basque History of the World. None of these, not a single one, are hidden gems. But wow, these books were recognized and respected for good reason. I would have swapped out a couple books on my list, but for the most part, I read so many things that I enjoyed.

For 2017, I’m sticking with my two resolutions from 2016. And adding a couple others.* My reading resolution isn’t too focused this year either–just reach the 52 mark. That said, my sister and I are doing a mini Shakespeare reading challenge and I’m planning on working more science fiction into my reading list and participating in the interstate book club yet again.

Let me know what you’ve read in the last year!

mug of tea and Ursula K. Le Guin book

*I’m going to finally kick that habit of nail biting. And I will finish the knitting project that has been lingering since 2015!

Celebrating Three Kings Day

Growing up, I only vaguely new about the holiday of the Epiphany/Día de los Reyes Magos/Three Kings Day. I had certainly never celebrated it. As an adult, the first time I really learned about how important the day was in Latin American and Spanish culture was during one of our trips to Puerto Rico. Still, I’ve never timed travel in these countries to coincide with January 6.

If you’d like to learn a bit more about the holiday, check out this article explaining the history, facts, and traditions of the Epiphany.

Since moving to Boston, I have been practicing Spanish with a conversation partner who’s morphed into a friend. She’s from Spain, so I ask her oodles of cultural questions that arise while watching Spanish movies and television shows. This means I asked her a lot about Three Kings Day, both the food and the traditions. Naturally, after these conversations, I was getting amped up to make the traditional cake. She and her husband were nice enough to put up with me in their kitchen for a few hours and have Jordan and I over to celebrate with some Spanish food.

Would you believe they even have an entire leg of jamón iberico in their apartment right now?! It was too exciting for me. I got to to a bit of the slicing myself, which was humbling. I now respect those people in Spanish restaurants or at Spanish weddings that are in charge of this duty a lot more.

A little manchego cheese and salchicón into the mix! We also had salad, quiche (okay, not so Spanish, but tasted great!), croquetas, and picos (those little, tiny, crunchy breadsticks you are served at tapas bars). I was also introduced to calimochos (or kalimotxo), a mix of red wine and Coca-Cola. I’d rather stick to a good Rioja in most cases, but it was fun to try one 🙂

The bakers:

If you didn’t take a gander at the article above, it’s traditional to eat a king cake, or roscón (rosca in Latin America) for the holiday. Much like in France or Louisana during Mardi Gras, a token is inserted into the cake. However, in this case, there’s a lucky token (we used a small toy) and a not-so-lucky token (a dry garbanzo bean). When eating, you must bite carefully into your piece, just in case the tokens happen to be in your slice. The lucky winner gets to wear the king crown for the night (Jordan won, so please imagine him wearing this headband–he won’t let me share the photo with you :)); the unlucky winner is required to pay for the cake. In our case, no one was unlucky, since it was homemeade. We happily dipped our slices of cake in hot chocolate.

The food was fun, the conversation more so. We had a lovely night and learned a bit more about Spanish culture. We even got to take a bit of the roscón home!

Did anyone else celebrate last night or the night before?

In case anyone is wondering, we followed a recipe from the site Javi Recetas. I’ll be spending more than a little time browsing for other recipes…

One Too-Short Weekend in Munich

I’ve heard enough about slow travel. Really. I understand the concept. But I also understand that I was on a Caravaggio quest (my count tripled on this trip) and that I needed to reach Madrid via train and bus at some point. And for the most part, I didn’t feel rushed on our trip. Except in Munich.

Rushed maybe isn’t the right word. Things just didn’t line up. Ill-timed? We arrived on Whit Monday weekend, so many places were closed. We arrived on a rainy weekend, so many people were hiding inside. We also had much laundry to do, and spent a full morning struggling with translations and finding drying space. Of all of the cities we visited, I feel like I got to know Munich the least, despite some really great experiences and interactions.

I have virtually no complaints about our time. Lodging was perfect for our needs. Food was as expected or better. People (despite a couple waiters) were really helpful when we were lost. Those we chatted with for longer periods of time were positively wonderful. The beer hall experience was simultaneously just as cheesy as I’d hoped and more authentic than I’d bargained on. I ate pretzels big and small. Same with sipping beers. Jordan found a great [and super hip!] cafe to work at. His work meeting was fun enough that I tagged along and had coffee with them while they discussed research. The museums are world class. The park was beautiful and calming. But I feel as though we barely scratched the surface due to holiday closures and I-don’t-even-know-what.

Like always, I’m excited to share our stories and photos. Just know that I wish I could tell you more about this city.

From the minute we stepped into Munich’s Hauptbahnhof, food was everywhere. The air was filled with cinnamon, cloves, and candied nuts. People seemed to be ambling from cookie stand (with those same enormous gingerbreads that we saw in Vienna) to bread stand (Oh, brot!) to pretzel stand. We were so excited to be there, and I was so enthralled by the victuals on offer that I had to have something. We stumbled our way to the closest bakery stand. They were selling croissant-wursts! Oh, European culture! It took no more than one bite to realize we’d fallen victim to nothing more than a pig in a blanket. Purchased in a train station nonetheless. How I giggled upon this realization. No surprise here–this was the wurst thing we ate on the trip (I mean, there had to be one wurst pun in a Munich recap, right?).

Not to worry, things picked up from here.

After what felt like a Covert Affairs-style key pick-up for our Airbnb, we found our cute, cozy, and carefully curated first-floor apartment in the hipsterish Schwabing neighborhood of the city. We were in jogging distance of the Englischer Garten urban oasis or basically anything in city center, the kitchen was well-stocked, and the host had preempted nearly every need or question on our behalf. My eyes wandered from knick knack to enviable book collection to poster to kitchen gadget with remarkable speed. The kitchen has nearly every gadget you would want. Plus a gas stove. And after our hostel stay in Vienna, I was really missing the kitchen. The only problem: no markets were open.

We Googled and Googled to find a supermarket or even a not-so-super market to stock up for a couple days of white spargel, spaetzle, and at-home wursts to no avail. It seemed odd and was disappointing, but we thought, okay, one night out at a restaurant is fine. We’ll just eat an extra lunch “at home” later.

Our independent searches had both led us to Augustiner Bräu. We took this as a sign. Rarely do we agree so quickly on our restaurant. Augustiner Bräu is listed as one of the first brewhouses in the city and reviews were positive. We gave it a shot.

Thought the streets of Munich seemed all but deserted, the restaurant was nearly filled to the exits. Without a reservation, we were told, we’d have to fight our way into the open seating at the bar. The waiters told us we should have made a reservation for the holiday. Ah, so it was a holiday…

Magically and swiftly, a table at the corner of the bar opened up, the crowd parted, and I secured it as nonchalantly as possible. Yes, you can assume this means I squealed with delight and then elbowed my way to the table, adding to the horrible reputation that every traveling United Statesian hopes to shed.

I deliberated for about three seconds before deciding to go for the real meal of my choice. I drowned my I-couldn’t-make-my-own-spaetzle sorrows in a huge plate of meat medallions, vegetables (these were just good and boiled, but I was dying for vegetables), and homemade (I saw into the kitchen!) spaetzle all served in a mushroom cream sauce that had more butter than I care to know about. Oh, yeah, it came with a salad too. My dining companion ordered the “Mountain-style schnitzel,” which used pretzel crumbs as the breading. This meal was much more expensive than the simple home cooking I’d planned on, but we left full, warm, and happy.

Thanks to some skillful (read: regular ol’) Googling, we learned more about the holiday that we should have probably already known about. Whit Monday, or Pentacost Monday, takes place 50 days after Easter. Honestly, I know very little about how it is celebrated other than what you can read on Wikipedia. I do know that markets are still closed, some museums close as well, and many people seemed to be getting brunch that weekend.

We started our weekend on a healthy note, taking our only run in the last two weeks. From our apartment, we headed over to the Englischer Garten. I have not photos of it, but it really was teeming with green and looked as though it would be lively on a sunny, non-holiday weekend. The excursion was fun–I wished we could have run farther, but we had trouble understanding how the paths connected and needed to get back, since the mister was planning to meet up with a colleague.

Mid-stride, the mister spotted what we feared may be the only open bakery in the city, so we ducked in while in our running gear. Oh, Vancouver, how you have led us astray! You can go nearly anywhere in your biking or Lululemon gear and no one bats an eye. The sideways glances we received at the bakery only increased as we spoke our ridiculous attempt at German. Still, the transaction occurred in German, my pronunciations completely off, resorting to pointing and gesturing. Jordan, somehow, with less practice before the trip, pronounced his nusse schittes perfectly.

After returning “home”, showering, and a failed attempt at translating spin cycle on the washing machine, we had to rush out for Jordan’s meeting. If you ask me now, I’d tell you this work meeting was actually a good time, but now I’m reading my travel journal, which says, “Really, I shouldn’t have joined for the meeting. It was a bit awkward…” There was a lot of tech talk/jargon and I wasn’t sure if I was obligated to include myself in the conversation or not. Had I not reread this, I’d still only be concentrating on the fact that he bought us a great coffee/hot chocolate, gave us tips and history about the city, and was really nice.

From the university area, we wandered again through the garden over to Hofbraueukeller at Wiener Platz. The garden area was closed, but the actual restaurant was still open, so we walked on in. I wrote that we ordered a plate of oven-baked pretzels that are the size of a man’s fist. What man? Not sure. But I assume I found them to be bigger than my own. Next came our plate of sauerkraut and “special sausages.” None of those normals for me, please. Not when I’m in Munich, anyway. For any of you familiar with a nice brat from Grimm’s (or Lotts-A-Meat, now) from northwestern Wisconsin, imagine six small brats of that style. So, yes, good. And special.

From there, we explored a bit more of the city on foot, taking in the architecture, seeing where the city had been destroyed, rebuilt, or anything in between. There’s obviously a ton of history here. Some good and proud, some very sad and painful. You see it when you see the building façades portraying the way they once were. It’s hard to know how to bring the subject up as a tourist. But everyone we met from the region was very upfront about the region’s history, not shying away from it, and also hoped to be part of a welcoming and tolerant Germany going forward. Sure, this isn’t necessarily representative, and the migrant crisis is serious and polarizing. But the people we met are doing their part in making sure that Germany is a place of refuge for those who need it. And they make me hope that when people visit the US, they are able to say the same after meeting me.

One of our best experiences was at one of Munich’s biggest tourist spots–the Hofbräuhaus. I went in thinking it would be one big tourist trap experience. But one big, obligatory experience, nonetheless. We were pleasantly surprised at our visit.

We entered hesitantly, wandered around, snaking throught the reserved sections and waiters with three liters of beer on their trays. We narrowly avoiding the pretzel ladies and other wandering tourists. Finally, a large table toward the back of the 1,300-seat hall opened up. We slid in, at first accompanied by a family of four from northern Germany. We didn’t chat too much, just some small talk, and they quickly left.

Within a minute, we were joined by Sven and Matthius. Jordan quickly struck up a conversation. They live just outside of Munich and were excellent cultural ambassadors. They let us know the history of Oktoberfest, convinced us it’s still worth the trouble, even with the hordes of tourists. The let us know which songs were traditional, helped teach us how to sing along, let us know that it was something noteworthy and neat that the traditional band featured a woman horn player. They let us know that I should order a Maibock, since it’s a special transition time treat. They helped us get the attention of the pretzel vendors. They talked frankly about the refugee crisis and Germany’s role; Matthius is one of his community’s leaders in welcoming the refugees in their area. Seriously, we loved these guys so much that Jordan exchanged e-mail addresses with them and we’ve invited them to visit us.

After we had chatted with Sven and Matthius for a good while, we were joined by two Argentines, who immediately meshed well into the group. The conversation jumped from humorous and uplifting to serious and meaningful. These are the kinds of conversations that make you want to travel again and again.

We walked in afraid to be walking into a tourist trap. We walked out so thankful to have stopped. The building is beautiful. The band, even on an average night, was entertaining. The pretzels and beers were mighty fine. So good was the night that we bought one of those glass mugs just because we wanted to be reminded of the night.


On our final day in Munich, the holiday haze and the actual cloudy haze lifted. Cafes were open, museums were open, people filled the sidewalks.

Unfortunately, we hadn’t ever figured out that spin cycle, and since most places don’t have dryers, we spent most of our morning in the laundromat. Fortunately (woot!), we were able to visit a great cafe with lovely, crumbly croissants and eat them leisurely while waiting for our clothes/sneaking in work time (not me, clearly).

After breakfast, we went for second breakfast. But for real! You think I’m kidding, but the previous night, Sven and Matthius explained the role of weisswurst as a traditional second breakfast for workers. Of course, these days, the sausage is fine to eat later as a tourist, but the weisswurt is hard to find anywhere after 2PM. The mister wanted to round out his German experience with some proper currywurst. Thus, to the Viktualienmarkt we went! (Via the Glockenspiel, naturally).

Visiting the market made me both excited and regretful. I loved the market. The presentation was wonderful, the quality of the produce was high. The breads were plentiful. It was everything you’d want from a market. And I never got to cook with it.

I decided I wasn’t going to miss out on my white spargel moment in life. I bought just over 600 grams to pack with us on the next leg of our journey. At this point, I was carrying spices, a few cherries, asparagus, and some flour on my shoulder from place to place.

After getting our fill of carbs and wurst, we walked back toward the university and the stretch of museums. We found a cute cafe where Jordan camped out for hours working on his dissertation, and I spent hours splitting my time between the Alte Pinakothek and the Pinakothek der Moderne. The Neue Pinakothek wasn’t open on this day, so I’m clinging onto that as my reason to return. I again took oodles of gallery notes, found myself swimming in Rubens (and thus feeling better about my carbohydrate intake!) I love the Alte and the Moderne, except I just don’t know enough about design or furniture to fully appreciate it. Still, the smattering of Picasso, Oskar Kokoschka, one of my new favorites from this trip, and Braques, etc. can never disappoint! I just couldn’t get my fill of art this day. And for the second time in one week, I had to be thrown out of an art museum 🙂

Because we were taking an overnight train to Italy (not nearly as glamorous as that sounds), we found ourselves with a leisurely trip to the train station. We arrived way too early and found ourselves stocking up on some snacks for the trip. This time, we skipped the pig in a blanket.

The train arrived and our time in Munich officially ended. It was short–too short. There was nothing slow travel about this stop. But as you can see, for us, it was still extremely meaningful and worth visiting. Can I say that I understand Munich or Bavarian culture? Nope. But I can say that I understand both better now than before. And that’s still a travel win in my book.