Author Archives: kiesa

Reading in 2021

Overall, I read 94 books this year.

I started this year with a goal of finally finishing a Sirens Reading Challenge but I didn’t finish. I was doing reasonably well till late spring and then I was getting bogged down and not reading because I wasn’t in the mood to read the books in my TBR pile. So, I threw any sort of reading goal out for the rest of the year and just read books. I didn’t even attempt to read the Hugo Award nominations1 or purposely read Hugo-eligible works for next year. However, that’s ok. I needed fluffier books and I appreciate that these books existed when I needed them.

Probably one of the biggest shifts, both this year and last compared to previous years, is the number of ebooks I’ve read. If you give me an ideal reading environment, I still prefer physical books. However, I found it easier to browse for new books via Overdrive instead of first finding books that sounded interesting and then hoping that the library had it. My current public library is the smallest of my adult life2 and so the selection is smaller than I’m use to. Mind you, if I run across a book that sounds particularly interesting that the library doesn’t own, I do request the library buy it and, so far, they have approved every purchase request I have submitted. They’re a good library. It’s just obvious they have finite resources and need to prioritize books they know will check out.

This was a pretty good audio book year for me. 41% of the books I read were in audio format. This is the first year that I’ve been driving with Julian daily, during which we listen to audiobooks, and it looks like that increased my audio reading a little bit. Though, probably the biggest change is that Jaeger and I swapped evening duties back in 2020. I now do the dishes, while he puts Julian to bed, which allows quite a bit more listening time than in the past. I’ve also reduced the number of podcasts I listen to. I use to be a faithful Marketplace listener but I’ve had less energy recently to deal with the news3.

Favorites Books read in 2021:

  • The Kate Daniels Series by Ilona Andrews – I haven’t finished this series yet. So far, I’ve read novels 1-9.
  • Anxious People by Fredrik Backman – After I read this book, I felt like everything would be ok after all.
  • The Last Watch by J. S. Dewes
  • Brilliant by Marne Davis Kellogg – I have no idea why but I find this book weirdly calming and bought the audio version for my night time listing.
  • Paladin’s Strength by T. Kingfisher – I love Kingfisher and own this book as a physical book, an ebook, and an audio book.
  • Paladin’s Hope by T. Kingfisher – I own both the physical and ebook versions of this book, the audio version isn’t available yet.
  • Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
  • Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts by Kate Racculia

  • Books from the Sirens Reading Challenge:

In a completely different vein, I’ve also been thumbing through a lot of interior design/home books to get ideas for our house. I didn’t include all of these in my reading count because I didn’t read some of them cover to cover. However, my favorite house-related books were:

I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to try any reading challenges this year. For now, I’ll just take it one day at a time.

  1. Unlike Jaeger who read most of the main categories.
  2. Well, the smallest that I regularly got books from. Longmont was smaller but that was when I was working at High Plains and so I had access to their excellent collection.
  3. The podcast I currently listen to the most is Fated Mates which is all about romance books. I don’t read a lot of romance at the moment but I love listening to people talk about it. Some of their Trailblazer episodes are particularly fascinating.

Train Adventure: Part 2

We spent a couple of days in Los Angeles and then took the train back to San Jose on Saturday, New Years Day. Our train status claimed it was on-time so we left a bit before 9:00am to catch the 9:51am train. The metro station was open but we had a slight snag when all of us, with the exception of Calvin, went through the fare gates and then Calvin confessed he’d somehow lost his Metro card1. This required me to hop back out and get a new card. Once we arrived at Union Station, Jaeger got coffee and then we proceeded to our train’s platform. Unlike San Jose, Union Station does show the platforms for each train which was very useful.

We had decided not to check our bag this time and instead use the luggage rack in our train car. We arrived a few minutes before departure and successfully boarded. However, this time Julian and I ended up on the top part of the car and Calvin and Jaeger ended up on the bottom. Our compartment was slightly different from the way down but mostly the same. The biggest change was there was a tiny hidden closet to store coats rather than a small closet hanger with a strap to keep the coats from swinging into a passenger’s face. Overall, I preferred not having the dedicated coat closet as it made things a little bit more flexible with bag storage. Plus, I was afraid I would forget the coats. To hopefully prevent this, I decided to put our shoes in the coat closet. Presumably I would notice if I tried to leave the train without shoes. (In the compartment I just had socks. I brought slippers to wander around the train but put those in the coat closet also so I wouldn’t be tempted to leave the train just in slippers.)

Fairly soon into our train ride Julian decided he wanted the seats made into a bed so he could lounge better. However, we shared the bottom bed. I moved the soft carry-on that had his sleeping bag and my pillow against the wall and used it as a large cushion so I could stay sitting upright with my legs out.

Julian spent a little time coloring, a little time filling out an activity book, a little time playing Catan on his iPad and then asked if we could play a game. I had brought along the dice version of Catan and so we played that until it was lunch time.

Because the train left on time we ate both lunch and dinner on the train. The menu was the same going back as it was on the way down so on a longer trip vegetarians may end up eating the same meal again and again. Though, possibly they’d let one order from the kids menu which has a “classic” grilled cheese sandwhich (the adult one has bacon) as well as a mac & cheese option. For lunch I got the one adult vegetarian option: chili with a baked potato. It was fine but I thought the vegetarian dinner option was better.

Unfortunately, our roomette ended up on the opposite side from the ocean. However, we had pretty decent views during lunch in the dining car. When I booked online, I didn’t see a way to request specific rooms. I read online that if you call, some Amtrak staff will take requests. Anecdotally, people felt the west coast staff were more open to requests so they suggested calling after the other offices had closed for the day.

Between lunch and dinner I read, wrote a bit, and started counting up how many books I had read in 2021. We went to dinner at 6:00pm and at that point I was tired of the vegetarian options. We finished dinner around 7:00pm so we only had an hour before our train was scheduled to arrive in San Jose. I spent another half hour reading and then got the compartment ready for us to leave, including pulling everything out from under the seats and the coat closet.

The train didn’t line up perfectly on the first try with the San Jose platform but eventually we were able to get off the train. It was really nice we had parked in the Amtrak lot as it was a quick walk from the station before we were on our way home.

I enjoyed the train trip. It was certainly an experience. However, I’m not completely sold on it for future vacations. I really enjoyed the ride down but I got a little antsy coming back from sitting in one place for so long.

  1. Jaeger had double checked before leaving the hotel that Calvin had it so I’m not sure how it disappeared.

Train Adventure: Part 1


Jaeger and I started talking about holiday vacations in September. We concluded that while traveling wasn’t going to be completely safe, it was safer than last year and it might be years before it was truly “safe”. At that point, everyone but Julian was vaccinated and we had hopes/dreams that Julian would get vaccinated in October or November. So, we decided to pick up our normal holiday schedule. This year my parents for Thanksgiving and Jaeger’s parents for Christmas.

Jaeger loves to travel and see new things and the last year+ of very little traveling has been very frustrating for him. Both he and I had a full week off after Christmas and Jaeger was interested in traveling in addition to a family gathering. I wasn’t as fond of the idea because I get overwhelmed easily and need weeks off between trips before I’m back to equilibrium. Thanksgiving and Christmas are particularly stressful times because they are so close together1.

Toward the end of October I started reading Murder on the Orient Express, by Agatha Christie. When I finished, I watched the 1974 adaption of the movie2. That put trains in my head. About the same time, I was thinking about cruises. I liked the one cruise I had been on. However, I don’t foresee a time in the next couple of years where I’ll be comfortable going on a cruise3. I spent some time thinking what it was I liked about being on a cruise. A lot of it was being by myself with no other obligations. However, I also liked that I traveled between destinations in a relaxed way with room to spread out and enjoy the journey. Don’t get me wrong, I think planes are magical. They make it feasible to visit family anywhere in the world. However, flying economy is not a comfortable experience. After mulling things over in the back of my head for a bit, I realized that trains had the potential to include many of the things I liked about taking a cruise but had what felt like less risk.

I tentatively floated the idea of a train trip to Jaeger and he seemed interested. I think he was just relieved I was willing to do something. We decided to test the experience by taking the train down to LA the week after Christmas. San Jose to LA is a whole day experience, just under an 11 hour train ride. We decided to spend one day going down, two days to explore LA, and one day for the return trip.

Once we settled on the general plan, we had to decide what type of tickets we wanted to get. After a bit of research, I decided for our purposes either coach or a roomette would make the most sense. Coach was clearly the cheapest, by more than half, but I’ve always wanted to take a trip in a sleeper car. One other consideration was that, because of COVID-19, only sleeper cars were allowed to order food from the dining car. There’s (probably) a snack area everyone can order from but the food did not sound inspiring. After some discussion, we decided to take coach on the way down and get two roomettes on the way back. Our thought was that it would be easier to pack food for lunch/dinner on the way to LA versus on the way back.

Our Thanksgiving trip went well but that was also the week that the Omicron variant was identified. I thought about it some more and decided I would feel more comfortable on a long train ride in a roomette that allowed more space between passengers. So, I went ahead and upgraded our tickets. Getting a roomette also had the advantage of letting us sleep if the train ended up behind schedule.

Day 1

The day before we were suppose to leave I installed the Amtrak app on my phone. The train we were taking is the 11 Coast Starlight that starts up in Seattle. I looked up our train status and realized that our train was already wildly behind schedule. On one hand, this was good as we could lounge in bed and take our time with the final packing. However, this also meant that we were estimated to arrive in LA slightly past midnight. When I woke up, I checked the status and it was even more behind schedule. I re-evaluated our packing scheme and packed pajamas in one of our carry-on bags.

Around 1:00pm we meandered down to the San Jose Diridon station (our train was initially scheduled to leave at 10:26am). We got there an hour prior to when it claimed the train would arrive so we could check our bag. It was very unclear what the parking situation was. The website said that the Amtrak ticket agent could give us a parking pass but at the same time, referred us to another website to reserve parking online. There was no online parking for the entire time we were going to be gone. So, our plan was to check at the Amtrak station and if there wasn’t parking, Jaeger would drop us off, park in airport parking, and take a Lyft to the train station. Fortunately, Amtrak did have parking for round-trip passengers. The San Jose station is functional but not very luxurious. It reminded me a lot of the Kelso Amtrak station. This is also a Caltrain station and the status boards only had Caltrain info on them, not info on our train. Our train’s status kept slipping later and later. Eventually, the train arrived and we boarded at around 4:00pm.

When we boarded the cabin steward showed us where our roomettes were located. Julian and I ended up in one roomette and Calvin and Jaeger in another. They were right next to each other, rather than across from each other, so it was easiest most of the journey to communicate via chat/text rather than popping over to the compartments.After we started our journey the cabin steward introduced herself and double checked if we needed anything. Shortly after that, a dining car attendant came by so we could reserve a dinner time. After that, we were mostly left to our own devices, aside from the occasional station announcements.

I was a little worried the roomette would be too cozy with two people. Most of the reviews I had seen online were for single travelers. However, I was pleasantly surprised. There certainly isn’t a lot of space but it was comfortably cozy for Julian and I. After closing the door and curtains it felt like we were in our own little world. Here’s a good overview of what the room looked like (around 6:20): The seats are a good size but there isn’t a lot of space for carry-on. However, both my little red suitcase and Julian’s backpack fit under the seat. That left our old Rick Steve’s bag to awkwardly perch on the “stair” to the top bunk. However, it just contained Julian’s sleeping bag, my pillow, and our pajamas so it was nicely squishy. There was also a hanger for our coats as well as additional hooks for coats4.

Because of COVID-19, we were required to wear masks except when we were eating in the dining car or when we had the door closed in our roomette. So in practice, this meant we didn’t have to wear masks most of the time.

Prior to leaving, I had created a long checklist of relaxing things to do on the train. This included things like catch up on emails to friends (of which I am desperately behind), read books, organize my digital books, and journal (something I am also terrible at finding time to do). As far as I could tell, there wasn’t WiFi on the train. My phone’s internet connection was sporadic. Much of the time it worked fine but occasionally we went through areas with no service. Fortunately, there was an outlet (one per compartment) so I was able to hook up a USB charging station and hook in most of our electronics. In any case, I didn’t have as much time as I expected to get through my list because of how late the train left our station.

At 6:00pm we headed for dinner. My understanding is that usually passengers share tables with others. However, because of COVID-19 they currently only allow people on the same ticket to sit together. This greatly reduced the dining car capacity and presumably is why they weren’t allowing coach class the option of buying dinner (at $45/person!). They did end up with a couple of extra tables (probably because of other families like ours that took two compartments but only one table) and did give business class the option of buying dinner. The snack car was available for everyone. I did not bother checking it out as I had brought lots of snacks with us. They had white tablecloths on the table and real roses in vases on each table.

I was expecting something along the lines of airplane (economy class) food but was pleasantly surprised. We were able to pick our food from a menu. There weren’t a lot of vegetarian choices but enough. Vegans would have been out of luck. Unfortunately, Julian spent most of the dinner perilously close to melting down. I don’t think it was because he was hangry, I had been feeding him snacks just 10 min prior to eating, but he was definitely out of sorts for some reason. At one point he broke down it tears for reasons that were a complete mystery to me. My best guess was he was more tired than hungry.

We finished dinner around 7:00pm so it was theoretically time to start Julian’s regular bedtime routine. I got Julian changed to his pajamas and read Ottoline and the Yellow Cat. Then I pressed the attendant call button in hopes of getting the beds setup. Unfortunately, I didn’t hear back, my best guess was they weren’t expecting anyone to go to sleep so early and were taking a supper break. However, Julian noticed that the tray had instructions for how to setup the beds so we were able to do it ourselves. I did discover that once the beds were laid down, I could no longer access the luggage under the seat. I pulled out my red suitcase and put it in front of the door so I could grab various things like charging cables and books.

I decided to give Julian the bottom bunk to reduce the chance he would somehow manage to roll off. I belatedly realized I had miscalculated my reading material, leaning more toward physical books rather than eBooks. There is a reading light for the top bunk but it wasn’t great and Julian was still having trouble settling down so I eventually turned it off and read an eBook instead. I couldn’t sit up in the top bunk so was reading lying down and the rocking of the train was making me sleepy. I gave up around 9:30pm and settled down to sleep for the rest of the trip. While I was a little disappointed I hadn’t made much progress on my train to-do list, it was very fun to be sleeping in a train. There were regular station announcements so it wasn’t a fantastic sleep experience but I did still manage some high-quality dozing.

Our cabin attendant woke us up about 20 minutes prior to arriving in Los Angeles. In spite of the sporadic sleep, I felt pretty good and gathered up our stuff. We arrived right around 2:00am to pouring rain. Parts of the underground walkway to the station were flooded and we had to walk around large puddles. We got to the station too late to take the underground Metro to our hotel, our initial plan. Instead, Jaeger tried to summon a Lyft. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of Lyft cars designed to take four passengers so we had about a 20 minute wait. Union Station is a beautiful train station. Though, it was also immediately clear that Los Angeles has the same housing and homeless issues that every city I’ve lived in has (and I’m including smaller cities such as Boulder and Santa Cruz in this).

We exited our Lyft and I did a bag check to make sure we had gotten everything out of the car. It was at that point I realized I had left Julian’s backpack under his seat on the train. I hadn’t pulled it out when I converted the seats to a bed so it was hidden and I just didn’t think about it. However, it was now close to 3:00am so I decided to try to problem solve later.

We checked into the hotel without incident and then tried to go back to sleep. I had gotten enough sleep that my body wasn’t interested in going back to sleep right away but eventually I nodded off again.

First thing the next morning I filled out Amtrak’s online lost luggage form and later in the day we went back in-person to see if they’d found the backpack. They hadn’t but noted that the massive amounts of rain was making it hard to be as efficient as normal. I was afraid the backpack, and the things I had packed in it which included our iPad 2 were lost. However, I got a call on Friday that they had found it and everything was still in the backpack. This definitely falls into the “where we got lucky” part of the trip.

Overall, I really enjoyed this train ride. Though, I would have preferred more daylight hours. That said, being able to sleep on the train was a decent consolation prize for getting in so late.

  1. I envy the Canadians their Thanksgiving.
  2. After spending way too much time trying to figure out what version I should watch. I eventually followed’s recommendation and watched the 1974 edition. Good but Poirot was kind of weird.
  3. It’s not just concern over getting sick but also concern about being stuck in a tiny cabin quarantining for weeks.
  4. This ended up being particularly handy when I was in the top bunk as I used it to hang up my mask for easy access.

Book Stuff: Organizing Digital Books

Our family owns a bit over 2000 books. The majority of these are physical books. However, my digital editions are increasing rapidly1.

Many years ago . . .
My first memory of reading a digital book was when I was in high school2. My father had bought several educational CD-ROMs. One of these CD-ROMs contained a bunch of public domain books, probably related to Project Gutenberg, but I can’t remember for sure. This was how I discovered the Sherlock Holmes stories which I read on one of those old CRT monitors. However, while I enjoyed the novelty, it was a lot more comfortable to read physical books.

Toward the end of college I got a Handspring Visor. I read some Baen ebooks on it but that was mostly it.

When I started at High Plains Library District, at that time Weld Library District, I remember opening a drawer at the reference desk and finding two very clunky ereaders that had a selection of books loaded on them. I can’t remember what brand they were but I remember they had enormous wall wart adapters. I don’t remember anyone asking to check them out.

In 2006 I got my first iPod which was when I first started listening to downloadable audiobooks. At the time, it took me around 45 minutes to get to work so I had a lot of time to listen to audiobooks. Downloadable audiobooks were easier to use than CDs and didn’t involve trying to change CDs while driving down the freeway. All my audiobooks came frome the library. As such, there was no organization problem since the books disappeared when I was done listening to them.

Our family got our first Kindle at the end of 2011. Jaeger was the one that wanted it but the library subsidized it because they wanted staff to be more familiar with these new-fangled devices3. After about a year we realized that organizing books on the Kindle was a problem, particularly if you were reading books within a series. I researched how other people were dealing with the problem and came up with a file naming scheme to try to eliminate at least some of the problem. At a high level, it boiled down to renaming each book title to be series name, series number, a dash, and finally the title.

Once I started buying audiobooks, I stored them in iTunes on Anna, my old kitchen computer. I used Calibre for my ebooks. However, Anna is quite old and running out of space4. I also no longer listen to my audiobooks on an iPod that requires being synced to a physical computer.

Current Organization
In modern times, I haven’t fully embraced ebooks5 but still own around 240. I also own around 150 audiobooks, many of them duplicates of the ebooks since, as I’ve mentioned before, sometimes that’s a cheaper way to buy them.

Last year I finally decided to store my “digital library” on Google Drive. I already used Google Drive and knew it worked with all my devices. Once I had the basic concept sketched out, I upgraded from the free 15 GB to 200 GB6 and started my migration in earnest.

Google Drive’s search is fantastic. However, I still wanted to be able to browse my books so I created a hierarchical folder structure. At the base is my Digital Library folder. Next are folders for Fiction, Information, Music, Personal (mainly photos and small videos), Picture Books, Recipes, Temp, and Video. Within the fiction folder are folders for each author. Within the information folder I’ve roughly organized by subjects (such as biography cooking, travel, etc).

In both the fiction and information folders I have a folder for each book title and then, if they exist, a folder for M4B, MP3, and eBook. It’s probably a little over the top to have so many sub folders but it helps keep related files together, particularly in the case of MP3 when there’s often many files.

Preparing Books for Uploading
For eBooks, I open them up in Calbrie. If necessary, I strip the DRM7 and then convert the book to both MOBI and EPUB. I probably don’t need the MOBI format anymore but at this point it’s habit. Once converted, I upload the MOBI, EPUB, and original eBook file to Google Drive.

It currently isn’t convenient to use Anna so I now use Myfanwy, my Linux laptop, for audiobooks. It took me a while but I finally discovered OpenAudible which works great with my Audible and non-Audible audiobooks. For Audible books, I strip the DRM which converts the audiobook to one MP3. At that point, I’ve been converting them to M4B format also but I’m not sure that gives me any real benefit so I may stop. The books I get from are divided into multiple MP3 files (one per chapter, I think) which I find annoying. I use OpenAudible to convert them to a single file and then often also convert them to M4B. Once all the conversations are done I upload the MP3 and M4B versions to Google Drive.

Using the Digital Library
During the day, I read/listen to my digital books on either my iPhone or iPad. Because of this, I usually use the original vendor app to read/listen (i.e. Audible, Kindle,, Downpour, etc). However, some of my content I didn’t get from one of the main vendors. In those cases, on the iOS devices, I usually read in iBooks and listen using Bound because it has direct integration with Google Drive.

At night, I listen to audiobooks to help me fall asleep and go back to sleep when I wake up in the middle of the night. I only listen to a subsection of my audiobooks that are interesting but I already know what will happen next so I don’t stay awake to find out. Unfortunately, I need an audiobook app that has a sticky sleep timer. That is, if the sleep timer stops a book but I start it again with my earbud, the sleep timer automatically restarts and will once again turn off the book at the 20 min mark. As far as I can tell, there are no iOS apps that will do this. I have spent countless hours looking. As a result, I use the Smart Audiobook Player app on my old Android phone at night. There’s certainly a better way to transfer the audiobooks onto my Android device. However, for now I download them to Myfanwy and then from there transfer to my phone’s SD Card8.

  1. In 2020 we bought 23 Audible audiobooks, 3 Downpour audiobooks, 5 audiobooks, and 31 Kindle ebooks for a total of 62 downloadable books. By comparison, we bought 2 physical audiobooks and 30 physical books for a total of 32 physical books. As an aside, the Kindle ebooks were almost always discounted while the physical books were almost always full book-cover price.
  2. Probably high school, maybe middle grade, I can’t remember for sure.
  3. Ok, they weren’t super new-fangled. By this point, Amazon had released 4 models of the Kindle.
  4. Giving her an SSD many years ago was a great upgrade at the time but it’s only 500 GB.
  5. Sometimes I’ll read one while waiting in line at the store and I’ve grudgingly switched to eBooks when flying.
  6. I’m approaching the 200 GB limit so have reluctantly upgraded to 2TB, the next level up, and expect to stay at this level for quite a while.
  7. To be clear, I strip the DRM so the books will work on all my devices/apps and they’re more future-proof.
  8. That said, this phone hasn’t gotten a security update since 2017 so I rarely let it connect to the internet.

Book Stuff: Organizing Physical Books

There are many ways to organize books. Each house I live in I organize them slightly differently. However, usually there’s at least one “featured” shelf, a general fiction shelf, a non-fiction shelf, and a kid’s shelf. This time we have a built-in bookcase in the living room which I put all our Hugo award nominees and winners (as well as the “not-a-Hugo” awards given out in the same ceremony)1.
Built-in bookcase with games and books.

Also in the living room are our three very cheap bookshelves which have survived being moved five times so far. You can see the shelves are starting to bend and we daren’t put our computer science books on it anymore. I have kid books on the bottom three shelves, so Julian can reach them, and some of our adult non-fiction (mainly travel and history) on the top two shelves.
Three book cases side-by-side with books.

In our entry way we have most of our fiction books. I don’t want to buy more bookcases until we find a permanent house and I know what will fit. However, space is getting really tight so I’m having to get creative with how I can fit all the books while also allowing (some) room for growth. That’s while some of the series are stacked vertically. I’ve also started interfiling the few DVDs we have, mainly because I don’t have a better place to put them.

Three bookshelves crammed with fiction books.

In our Wallingford house I had a bookshelf in Julian’s room that contained his favorite books. The downstairs “playroom” had a lot of built-in shelves that I used for overflow picture books, juvenile books, YA, and travel. Without those built-ins, I don’t have enough space for all of Julian’s books in the house. I have one large shelf in his room that contains the read-aloud chapter books he likes, old board books he still enjoys looking at, easy readers, library books, and about half of his picture books.

The house we’re renting comes with a detached garage that has a second unfinished level. I thought it’d make a good play area so I set up our smaller tent with a rug, blankets, pillows, and a bin with the other half of Julian’s picture books. Julian enjoys reading in the tent, it makes things feel more adventurous.

REI brand tent, with rain fly on, setup in an unfinished garage. (In case you’re wondering why the rain fly is on the tent, it’s to protect the books and blankets. The garage has bats and isn’t 100% weather-proof.)

View from inside the tent. Blankets on floor, books in a plastic bin, and a pillow that reads "Just One More Chapter".

Most of our technical non-fiction books are in our bedroom in Jaeger’s sturdy double oak bookshelf. Calvin has some books in his room but not a lot. He’s currently more an audiobook listener than a physical book reader. I have a couple of shelves of cookbooks in the kitchen and then various other books scattered around the house.

  1. If one book in the series won, I put the whole series on the shelf.

Book Stuff: Buying Books

I usually read new books through the library. However, once I find a favorite series or author I buy them. Quite an expensive habit when you move as much as I have recently, books are heavy. However, my new place never feels like home until my books are on their bookcases. I almost always buy the physical book and then, if I enjoy listening to the book, I may buy the audio version and possible the ebook version.

Physical Books
I usually buy physical books from my local independent bookstore. Up in Seattle, that was Elliott Bay Book Company1 , Ada Technical Books, and sometimes Third Place Books (usually when they had author events). Elliott Bay was particularly convenient because if I timed the bus just right I could request a book and pick it up on my lunch break. Ada Technical Books isn’t super big but has a really nice collection of STEM books for children. I bought my favorite t-shirt from Third Place Books.

Since moving back to California, I’ve been shopping at Bookshop Santa Cruz. I’ve ordered their Book Bundles several times as gifts which are pretty fun.

I also occasionally buy books from Amazon, usually when I need them really fast.

For many years I bought mass market paperbacks. This was due to cost as well as it being easier to carry around2. Now, I prioritize the book’s looks over price or size. Sometimes I end up with multiple editions of the same book if it’s later released in a more attractive format.

I love audiobooks. I listen to my favorites during the night to help me fall back to sleep and new ones are great when I’m doing something that leaves my brain relatively free. For a long time I had a Downpour subscription. At first, they were DRM free. However, I discovered by accident that they had also started adding DRM’d books, depending on the publisher. I figured that if I was going to have to deal with the hassle of DRM, I might as well get an Audible subscription instead3. I kept it for a couple of years. However, the Audible subscription always made me a bit uncomfortable because of how hostile Amazon is to libraries. Last fall I was going through an audiobook buying binge and I decided it was a good time to pickup a second subscription via In February, I decided it was time to get rid of my Audible subscription and just use I lose access to some of the Audible-only authors but so be it.

eBooks are my least favorite format. I usually stick to Kindle unless the author/publisher is promoting a direct download somewhere else4. Unless I am particularly obsessed with the author, I only buy ebooks if they are on sale or if I can buy the ebook and then add on the Audible version for less than the audiobook would cost by itself. The one exception to this is chapter books for Julian. Amazon has a feature they call Immersive Reading which is amazing. Julian can listen to chapter books that he couldn’t read himself while also being able to watch the words as they’re spoken and see the pictures5. It’s not a replacement for reading with your kid but it is a really nice supplemental option6.

  1. Thanks to Elliott Bay, I can never remember how to spell Julian’s middle name because we spelled it with one less t.
  2. Through college, I required my main coat have a pocket big enough to carry a book.
  3. I had the Audible Premium Plus plan because I wanted to be able to buy books, not just temporarily listen to them — that’s what a public library’s for.
  4. Such as the monthly ebook from
  5. Overall, this works really well. However, occasionally editions get crossed. For example, the US edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factor is paired with the UK edition of the audio and it turns out they Americanized some of the words and concepts in the US edition so it doesn’t perfectly match with the audio
  6. I’m also annoyed that traditional publishers didn’t come up with this option before Amazon did. Granted, audiobook rights aren’t always sold with the book but it was such an obvious value-add option.

Book Stuff: Where I Borrow Books

There are many things I feel like I should talk about. I keep thinking I should do a post about our move or online school this year. However, those subjects take more energy than I have. On the other hand, books are always fun to talk about. So this is a post about random book-related things. Originally, this was going to be one post but I suspect it would become unbearable long so I’m going to chop it up into a couple of different posts.

For much of my adult life I have been spoiled because I worked at a public library. This made it very easy to request and pickup books. True, I telecommuted for quite a few years. However, I was working part-time so if I couldn’t arrange my book pickup to coincide with the occasional trip into work, I still had time after work to take a trip to the library with Calvin.

One of the first things I did after moving to the Santa Cruz Mountains was figure out where my local library was. Turns out that was a tricky question. We are located almost exactly between Los Gatos and Santa Cruz, both are about 30 minutes away. However, since we are technically in Santa Cruz county, I decided I’d start by getting library cards for the family at Santa Cruz Public Library. I was very excited to see that they were offering curbside pickup, albeit during limited hours1. Picking up books worked fairly well while I had a flexible schedule. However, their hours were still fairly limited and as I got busier it became harder to time my trips off the mountain to coincide with when the library was open.

Fortunately, Santa Clara County Library District has a bookmobile with a monthly stop only 15 minutes from our house2. We can only request up to 12 titles per library card so it requires me to spend more time managing my requests than I’m use to. However, the convenience of having the books delivered to us is worth it. Plus, they have a really great collection. My one quibble with using them is that because I live in Santa Cruz county, I’m not directly funding them. To salve my conscience I made sure to donate at least as much as they’d get from us in property tax if we lived within their taxing district.

While I love physical books, I also read ebooks and listen to eaudiobooks3. I think all the libraries I have access to have both Overdrive and Hoopla. However, I have a strong preference for Overdrive. If I have a specific book I’m looking for and it’s not available on Overdrive, I will look at Hoopla. However, when I’m browsing, I only browse Overdrive. I have a hierarchy of where I look for those books. Because I live in Santa Cruz County, I try to check out ebook/eaudio from the Santa Cruz County Library when it’s available. This is because e-versions are insanely expensive for libraries so it seems fair to me that I put most of that cost on the place where I live. However, if it’s not available there, then I look at Santa Clara County Library.

Next post, to be published sometime in the nebulous future, I’ll talk about where I buy books.

  1. The Seattle Public Library started offering curbside service the day after I left so I had been without physical library books for months at that point.
  2. Unlike Washington, most California libraries in this area will give you a card even if you aren’t in their service area.
  3. I almost never checkout physical CDs. Downloadable audiobooks are so much easier to deal with these days.

Reading in 2020

I spent the last several months thinking I had read substantially less this year than previous years. I guess it was the expected narrative. Everyone was having trouble concentrating and I knew I had started a lot of books I hadn’t finished. It wasn’t till I reviewed my reading log that I realized it wasn’t that I had read a lot less than 2019 but I had forgotten to log most of my reading from May and June. It turns out I managed to read 78 books in 2020, only 2 less than 2019.

The other thing I completely forgot until I started to write my 2020 recap today was that I had set a reading goal for 2019/2020. Given that I had forgotten I had a reading goal, I did reasonably well. Though, there were a couple of areas I didn’t come even close to making my targets. When I made my reading goal, I knew reading 26 YA books was going to be a stretch for me. I only ended up reading 9. Though, I did start a lot more YA than I chose to finish. I read one historical fiction novel but the goal was for two. I didn’t list any in the Librarian Recommended category though I think I may have just forgotten where I got some of the recommendation from. Then there’s literature . . Apparently I just don’t naturally read straight-up literature anymore. So, if I want a stretch goal for the future, literature might be a good one.

Best Sellers
Goal: 2
Read: 3

Biography, Autobiography, Memoir
Goal: 2
Read: 3

Librarian Recommended
Goal: 2
Read: 0

Written by an author from another country
Goal: 2
Read: 3

  • My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite – My favorite parts of this book involved Korede talking about cleaning. It might be weird, but I find discussions about cleaning and precision to be very relaxing. I really, really wish Home Comforts, by Cheryl Mendelson, was available as an audiobook. I’m sure it’d be the most soothing read ever.
  • The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson – This was a delightfully weird and quirky book. Little tidbits of appalling history were dropped all over the place in between the obviously fictional story.
  • Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – I really liked Gods of Jade and Shadow but started, and never finished, The Beautiful Ones. This one was kind of in the middle for me. It was interesting, and worth reading, but not really my thing.

Graphic Novels
Goal: 2
Read: 2

Historical Fiction
Goal: 2
Read 1

Goal: 2
Read: 3

Juvenile Books
Goal: 6
Read: 7

YA Books
Goal: 26
Read: 9

  • vN, by Madeline Ashby (2020 pre-pandemic)
  • Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo – This turned out to be a re-read which I didn’t realize until I was most of the way through the book.
  • The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black
  • Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine
  • A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro
  • A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher – T. Kingfisher is delightful and I love almost all the books she writes2. What’s amazing about this book is she started writing it years ago, way before the baking/sourdough trend that exploded this year.
  • Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson – This was the most recent book I read and I really enjoyed it. Stevie is a very interesting character and I loved the description of the eclectic school. My one annoyance was it ends on a cliffhanger. However, I still liked it enough that I’m currently listening to the 2nd in the series.
  • Catfishing on Catnet, Naomi Kritzer (2020 pre-pandemic) – Delightful
  • Girls with Sharp Sticks, by Suzanne Young (2020 pre-pandemic)

Goal: 2
Read: 0

Goal: 2
Read: 9

Poetry Anthologies
Goal: 2
Read: 3

General Fiction
Goal: 2
Read: 2

  • Small Admissions by Amy Poeppel
  • Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson – I listened to this book while driving down to California. It was a hoot. This book probably falls best under magical realism but it’s shelved in general fiction.

Short Story Anthologies
Goal: 2
Read: 2

Other Books I Read

  • The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams
  • Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo – I really enjoyed this book. I’m definitely going to read the next one.
  • Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear
  • Generation V by M. L. Brennan
  • Smoke Bitten by Patricia Briggs
  • Changes by Jim Butcher- Part of the Harry Dresden series. While I generally enjoy this series, one of my pet peeves has always been around Dresden’s benevolent sexism. I keep reading the series because the story is good and there are interesting strong female characters. However, usually there are multiple times in a book when I end up grinding my teeth at Dresden’s attitude. However, in this book, I didn’t notice as much teeth grinding. Hopefully that promising trend continues with the rest of the series.
  • “Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom” by Ted Chiang
  • The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho
  • Finna by Nino Cipri – A weird but fun novella.
  • The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark
  • Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn – A fun romance. I particularly enjoyed how it started.
  • How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse by K Eason
  • Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey – I had to like it for no reason other than the librarians 🙂
  • The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix – I have no idea why I picked up this book. Probably because of the whole housewives come out victorious over evil angle. It was an engrossing read. However, the husbands’ treatment of their wives bothered me way move than the ostensible monster of the novel (which is probably what the author intended, it just wasn’t what I was expecting and may have avoided if I realized that).
  • The Bride Test by Helen Hoang – This is the second romance I’ve read by Hoang, the first being The Kiss Quotient, and it was wonderful.
  • Null Set by S.L. Huang – I had a harder time getting into this book than the first one, Zero Point. However, once I finally did, I enjoyed it.
  • Blood Price by Tanya Huff – This book was originally published in 1991. However, in spite of that, it has aged remarkably well. I really enjoyed reading the book. Personally, I particularly liked that it was an urban fantasy without any romance plotline. I like romance but often prefer it not be mixed with other genres.
  • Valor’s Choice by Tanya Huff – After reading Blood Price, I went back and listened to Valor’s Choice, which is the first book in a space opera series. I thought I had listened to this book before. However, I think I must have just listened to some of the ones later in the series because nothing sounded familiar. That said, it was very good.
  • Paladin’s Grace by T. Kingfisher – Another one of my favorite reads from 2020. Kingfisher does macabre romance wonderfully well.
  • The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune – I loved this one. It was such a nice kind book. This is another book that I bought the audiobook for as soon as I finished.
  • Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire – I’m not 100% sure I finished this one but I think I did so I’m going to count it.
  • Middlegame by Seanan McGuire – Seanan McGuire tells good stories. This one is no exception but it’s in a very different style than the other McGuire stories I’ve read.
  • Chaos Reigning by Jessie Mihalik
  • Hunting Party by Elizabeth Moon (reread)
  • Sporting Chance by Elizabeth Moon (reread)
  • Once a Hero by Elizabeth Moon (reread)
  • What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
  • Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir – Hmm, still not quite sure what to think about this one. Parts were fascinating and parts I got a little bored. I reread Gideon the Ninth before this one and enjoyed it better than the first time. So, maybe this one would improve on a reread also.
  • Demonology and the Tri-Phasic Model of Trauma: An Integrative Approach by Nnm (Good Omens Fan Fic) – This might be the first fan fic I’ve ever read and it was really good. Also long (around 390 pages on my iPad mini). It was recommended on the Be the Serpent podcast. While I did immensely enjoy this story, I’ll probably wait for other recommendations before wading further into fan fc as the immense volume of stories available is very intimidating.
  • A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik – This was one of my 2020 favorites. Personally, I feel it’s a YA novel but it’s another case where it appears to be classified by others as an adult book. I waited several months to get it from the library. However, I only got 35 pages in before I bought it from Bookshop Santa Cruz. Then, I finished the book and bought the audiobook so I could listen to it at night.
  • Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk – I really enjoyed this book. It’s a regency romance but set in a fantasy world. Also, in true romance style, there was a HEA3.
  • The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai – I really loved the female protagonist being a tech entrepreneur.
  • The Last Emperox by John Scalzi – This is the conclusion to the The Interdependency series. It was over-the-top and a ton of fun.
  • Murder by Other Means by John Scalzi
  • The Deep by River Solomen
  • Starship Repo by Patrick S. Tomlinson
  • Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes – Another book I felt could fit into YA. I listened to the audio version which I thought was read really well.
  • The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo
  • A Pale Light in the Black by K. B. Wagers – A really fun book. Basically, it’s the Coast Guard in space.
  • Network Effect by Martha Wells
  1. Not from my family, mind you, but from some of the especially conservative church members I knew.
  2. The exceptions being her horror novels. I’m sure they’re good but they’re not for me.
  3. Happily Ever After

Work and School from Home: Walking Around Wallingford Part 2

The rest of my memories are in a random jumble but all show something I enjoy or find unique about Wallingford. I was going to write something about each of the pictures but I don’t think I’m going to have the energy anytime soon to think about them. So, in one big jumble, here they are (some are repeats from the first post about Wallingford):

Yard picture: Yellow rose tinged with pink.

Yard picture: Yellow rose.

Yard picture: Yellow flowers.

Wildflowers between the sidewalk and road.

Yard picture: White flowers on tree.

Yard picture: White rose with pink edge.

Yard picture: Tall white iris.

Yard picture: Large white flower in front of tiny pink flowers.

Large circular mosaic on stair langing. Circles of black, blue, green, and purple with marine motifs.

Yard picture: red and yellow tulips.

Yard picture: Bare tree, kind of artistic looking.

Trash in circular mesh tube to create wall art.

Sign on fence that says Together We Will.

Mural on tatoo place. Picture of orange striped cats.

Orange crocheted (or knitted?) swing hanging from tree.

Yard picture: columnar yellow and purple flowers on a stalk.

Small tree hung with summer colored decorations.

Front yard decorated for summer including cut-out of a turtle riding a bicycle.

Yard yard decorated for summer with turtle riding a bicycle and pinwheels in the yard.

Plants growing in old stump.

Bumper sticker on truck says "Warning: Student Driver. Be Afraid . . . . Be Very Afraid".

White yard: white strawberry bush.

Yard picture: star mosaic.

Yard picture: red fairy door.

Yard picture: red fairy door 2.

Yard picture: red tulips surrounded by purple flowers.

Yard picture: Red tulips.

Front Yard: Red tulips just starting to open surrounded by purple flowers.

Yard picture: purple iris, a smaller variety.

Yard picture: black flamingos with skeleton outlines painted on them in pink and white. RIP gravestone.

Mosaic sign that says "Seattle Mosaic Arts piecing together"

Mosaic sign that says Seattle Mosaic Arts piecing together and shows a sunset picture?

Bush with pink flowers in a median surrounded by brightly colored plastic tulips.

Yard picture: multi-colored small roses that are pink, red, and white.

Yard picture: pink rose with a yellow center.

Yard picture: purple flowers with a mirror mosaic in the middle.

Yard picture: Red rose.

Yard picture: brilliant red rhododendron bush.

Yard picture: orange flowers with yellow centers.

Yard picture: tree with fine purpleish leaves.

Church with rainbow colored steps, one color per step, and flying a progressive pride flag.

Truck with women in the bed holding signs. Trunk tailgate has a sign that says #Seattleqartineparade.

Very large rainwater tank.

Quaratine hopscotch on sidewalk.

Green house with purple stairs. The front door is glass with painted picture on it.

Poem in front yard.

Poem in front yard.

Bench with words that say "Poem bench" on it.

Sign in planter asking people to give the plants words of affirmation.

Yard picture: bright pink flowers.

Yard picture: California poppies.

Yard picture: orange tulips.

Yard picture: yellowish-orange rose.

Sign advertising four legged friend meetup for those acquiring new puppies during COVID-19 quaratine.

Yard picture: nerfgun dart next to California poppies.

Yard picture: Ceramic blue mushroom cap.

Quirky bird art on concrete retaining wall for a front yard.

California poppy mosaic on steps going up to a house.

Square mosaics of different pictures in place of cement flagstones as walking path between yard and street.

House has a mylar Minion balloon hanging outside.

Mask sign on fence that says "Not forever, just for now".

Street roundabout median with plastic tulips, potted plants, zebra on a birdbath and other quirk.

Yard picture: purple Lilac bushes.

Little Free Library with copper plate decoration.

Chalk on sidewalk that says Just Married.

Painted roundabout medan with quirky design.

Huge ivy hedge in front of a house with space cut for door and window.

Random large hook hanging off the house.

Outside house art. Metal tree triptych.

High hedge surrounding house.

Handrail covered in small coloring tiles.

Front yard growing grain (wheat?).

Picture of front of a house. Stuffed giraffe peers from the front window.

Yard picture: fringed white and red tulip.

Sign with free chained around tree.

Pink flowering tree.

Small Mosaic in front yard.

Yard picture: red rose.

Yard picture orange California poppies.

Fire hydrant with two eyes stuck to it.

Fence with encouraging quarantine messages written in chalk.

Fence with encouraging quarantine messages written in chalk.

Yard picture: white daffodils and red spiky tulips.

Tree with hanging decorative eggs for Easter.

Picture of yard with large, maybe 1 foot high, ceramic eggs scattered about.

White daffodils laying on ground due to stems being unable to support them.

Bright pink flowers in strip in the middle of the driveway.

Yard picture: blue ferry door in tree.

Yard picture: round fairy door in tree.

Yard picture: yellow fair door in wooden electric pole.

Yard picture: toy digger in patch of dirt.

Tree surrounded by wooden rectangular supports.

Stump with pictures paint on it.

Flowering tree with paper cranes hanging off the branches.

Pink flowering tree.

Tall, and oddly shaped, cedar tree.

Seattle You are cool sign.

Yard decoration: concrete cat looking through binoculars.

Thomas Vbra studio sign on tree trunk:

Yard picture: masses of orange California poppies.

Yard picture: butter fly mosaic.

White Cutout rabbit underneath sign with inspiration pandemic messages on it.

Brown Cutout rabbit underneath sign with inspiration pandemic messages on it.

Rocks with inspirational sayings painted on them.

Birdhouse on top of 2 hour parking limit sign.

Painting of owl next to house.

Sign that says "Bigfoot xing".

Fence gate that says Beware of Dog with dog crossed out and Frogs! underneath.

Garden sign that says Be Happy.

Orange california poppy with bumble bee.

Bamboo and pink flowering trees.


Yard picture: artist advertising painting.

Julian in master bath with his large water table.

Yard picture: pink flower.







Front yard of Wallingford house.

Yard picture: yellow rose edged in pink.

Calvin hanging out in hammock colored in blue blanket reading a book.

Calvin and Julian playing in the snow on the deck.

Sitting on the sofa enjoying the fire in the fireplace.

Fire in fireplace.

Small multicolored rose: red, yellow, and pink.

Yard picture: red flower.

Yard picture: pink flower.

Yard picture: peach rose.

Yard picture: bush with brilliant purple flowers.

Calvin and Julian playing in snow on the deck.

Update: Updating Site

Ok, I didn’t get around to updating the website. However, that’s still the plan, eventually.

I’m going to be updating the software for this website over the next several days. So, some parts may be temporarily broken for a while.