The Lazy Book Club

I am in a book club. Now, before you judge and make comments about how lame a book club is, how nerdy is that, this is a different sort of book club. This is not a group of pretentious book snobs who only read the boring 1000 page novels and expect you to come to these meetings to dissect every aspect of them. Instead we are a group of amazing, intelligent, fun-loving, wine-drinking, food-eating ladies who happen to love reading and the books are an excuse to get together every couple of months to eat, drink and laugh our asses off. Of course we discuss the books but we have a tendency to deviate. A lot. In fact, we probably spend most of our time just talking about our lives. Basically, what is said in book club, stays in book club. I have never laughed so much than when I’m at these gatherings. No book is off limit for us. We read fiction, non-fiction, young-adult, old-adult, chick-lit, adventure, etc. We submit books and vote on what to read. We have a benevolent dictator who keeps us scheduled and organized. It is such a great system.

This month’s book was Matched, by Ally Condie. It is a young adult novel about a dystopian world where everything is controlled by the Society, from what you eat, where you work, who you marry, etc. The book focuses on a young woman, who is “matched” to her best friend but a glitch in the system shows the face of another boy. Our group did not enjoy this book at all. We did not like the writing style, the story, the characters. Many made the connection between this series and the Hunger Games. And the Hunger Games was infinitely better. Now, it’s a trilogy and I couldn’t even bear to read the other two, thank goodness a couple of the ladies read it and gave us the synopsis. They didn’t like the other ones either, it got progressively worse, more confusing and ridiculous. Needless to say, we did not spend too much time discussing this one.

Life just gets so busy and I barely get enough sleep but this book club makes me put my love of reading a priority. I love it.

An Evening With Jonathan Franzen

I read The Corrections in 2002, after the whole Oprah debacle and was completely blown away. Jen got me his first novel, The Twenty-Seventh City and that book cemented Jonathan Franzen near the top of my list of favorite authors. Imagine my delight then, when it was announced that Franzen would be doing a reading at Christ Church Cathedral in support of his most recent work, Freedom. We got there just before the reading and the place was packed — it had already been moved to Christ Church from a smaller venue to accommodate the crowd. Jen had a seat, but her view was blocked by a pillar. I stood nearby, with a view of the podium and in front of the A/C. Standing was fine, and the room was quite warm, so it probably worked out for the best.

After a glowing introduction, Franzen came out and spoke for a couple minutes about his trepidation when it comes to reading in his hometown. He then read from Freedom for 15 or 20 minutes and took questions for another 30 or 40 minutes. The reading was great, and the questions led to some interesting insights about his writing process and the ordeal of creating and promoting such a thing.

Once the questions wrapped, they started queueing up people for the book signing. Since we were among the last to arrive, we were in group 12. I used the time to start reading, and the book has held up to the incredible hype. Once I got the book signed, we made our way home.

Looking back at my narration of the event, it doesn’t sound that exciting, but it was a great time and the opportunity to meet one of my favorite authors was very cool. Thanks to Left Bank Books for putting this all together.

Our Trip to the DR

Jen and I had decided that we were overdue for a vacation. And not just any old trip to see friends and family. No, we were going to go someplace warm, with a beach, just the two of us. Checking our calendar, we found the perfect excuse: if you combine Valentine’s Day with Jen’s 30th birthday (just 4 days apart), you can throw in President’s Day to save Jen a day of vacation. We made our plans and shipped off early on Saturday, the 13th for an all inclusive at Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. The Peimannses (Peimenn?) and Lakes both honeymooned in Punta Cana and loved it, so we completely bit their style. Jen did the legwork and found a deal at Royal Suites Turquesa through Apple Vacations and we were on our way.

Upon arrival, we were struck by the natural beauty of the resort. We found our way to the Sports Bar to get some food, as it was in between mealtimes, and got a good tour of the grounds in the process. After filling our tanks, we chilled on the beach and ordered room service for dinner, as we were tired from the early morning and looking to unwind completely.

On Sunday morning, we met with the Apple Vacations rep who explained the tours and gave us valuable information about the island. We registered for two tours and then proceeded to laze around on the beach, reading, sleeping, eating and swimming for the rest of the day.

The resort had beach beds and chairs with a variety of sun and shade options. I was very diligent with the sunblock and the shade seeking, so while I did get some sun, I managed to avoid the vacation-altering sunburns that so many of our fellow travelers were sporting throughout the week. Sunday night we had a romantic dinner at the Royal Gourmet, a restaurant reserved for guests at the Royal Suites, and enjoyed the night air from our patio.

A quick word about the Royal Suites. We chose this particular hotel for a couple reasons. One, it was recommended by Stephanie, who stayed there on her honeymoon. They enjoyed it and we figured we would as well. Two, it was adults only. Now, the Palladium resort was actually four resorts on one large property. The Royal Suites was the most “exclusive”, not allowing kids and allowing us access to the Royal Gourmet, probably the best restaurant on the property. This might sound trivial to you, but when we ventured to other restaurants or walked down the beach, the running and screaming little shits just drove us crazy. We definitely preferred the option to relax in peace and quiet.

On Monday, we got on a bus and headed to a snorkeling tour. We got on a boat and went out into the ocean, sunning ourselves on the top deck along the way.

Once we reached our destination, we got out and explored a coral reef with lots of tropical fish. It was beautiful. Probably not as beautiful as Captian Cook’s Cove in Kona, but we have very high expectations for snorkeling spots. What can I say? We’re spoiled. After exploring the reef, we went into this penned-in area where they have nurse sharks and stingrays to swim with. It was really neat. Even though you know that nurse sharks are vegetarians and bottom feeders, it’s still a jolt to look down and see a six foot shark just below you. After that, the boat took us to a natural pool — a shallow, wave-protected area well off the coast where we could swim and enjoy drinks from a floating bar. After returning to the resort, we staked out a couple of beach chairs and chilled for the rest of the afternoon and evening (starting to see a pattern?).

Afterwards, we headed to dinner at the steak and seafood restaurant. Dinner was good, but the highlight was a quiet stroll along the beach back to our room. Along the way, we saw an impressive sand pyramid with accompanying sphinx.

The next day we got up early and piled into a rugged truck for a trip up a mountain. It was a windy, hilly, bumpy ride that made the rest of the Americans sound like over-protected ninnies, but once we finally got to our destination and put on our gear, we knew it was all worth it.

That’s right: Zip Lines!

Doug and Stephanie did zip lines and loved them, so we figured it would be fun, but really, I had no idea it would be this awesome.

Look at that shiteating grin!

The longest zip line was almost half a mile over a valley and a river. It was incredible. You literally felt like you were flying. Just go experience it yourselves. It was great.

Afterwards, we came back and (surprise, surprise) laid on the beach for the rest of the day.

Our dinner that night was at the Italian restaurant. Afterwards we came back to the room and pretty much just went to bed. One thing that cannot be overestimated is just how exhausting it is to lay in the sun all day. I don’t think there was a day that we went to bed after 11.

Since we went to bed so early on Tuesday, I was up naturally around 7AM on Wednesday. We had blocked this entire day out for shopping and chilling on the beach, so I wanted to make sure we got good chairs. Since I was up anyway, I decided to partake in the Towel Game (aka the MFing Towel Game). This “game” is one where you sprint out the beach at the ass crack of dawn and toss a towel down on the best possible beach chairs to call dibs on them. Then, you can go back to bed, eat breakfast, whatever, and you still have a good seat on the beach. We had lucked into good spots the previous days, but I didn’t want to risk it.

After breakfast, we did some shopping with the various vendors along the beach and then laid on the beach for the rest of the day. Shocking, I know.

Now, you may be wondering how we can spend so much time on the beach. Jen went through three Matthew Riley books, a bunch of magazines, and half of a sudoku book. I powered through Bill Simmons’ The Book of Basketball (easily my new favorite non-fiction book) and the new Chuck Klosterman book. Also, we had many opportunities to hit the swim-up bar in the pool, frolic in the ocean, and take naps. I’m not usually a sedentary person, but I definitely see the appeal of the beach bum lifestyle.

On Thursday, we celebrated Jen’s birthday (I won’t say which one, but her age rhymes with “dirty”) at breakfast with some great French Toast. We went back to the room and packed, preparing for our long journey back to the cold and snowy States. It certainly was a letdown to come back, but we learned a few things:

  1. All-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean are awesome.
  2. We really can lay on the beach all day.
  3. Five nights really isn’t enough (but what is?).

We had a great time, and we’re definitely not waiting that long to take a vacation again. Click here for all the pictures.

Ming Dynasty Exhibit, Plus An Evening in the CWE

Friday night, Jen, Kim, Kate and I went down to the St. Louis Art Museum to take in the Ming Dynasty Exhibit. The exhibition had been running for a while and was nearing its end, and with Fridays bringing free admittance, we figured it was perfect timing. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures, so allow me to describe the evening the old fashioned way. We got up there around 5:45 or so and were able to walk right in. Crowds came out later in the evening, so this is a great time to visit. Strangely, there weren’t many Asians visiting the Asian art exhibit. Either they aren’t that interested, or they didn’t procrastinate until the very end like SOME people.

The exhibition was huge and diverse: scrolls, paintings, sculpture, textiles, tools, ceramics, and even architectural ornaments were all included. When you take into account the idea that these things are all al least 400 years old, just the fact that they were preserved in such exquisite condition is amazing enough. The colors of many of the scrolls are just as vivid as they must have been on day one. My favorite piece was a 30-foot scroll that depicted the emperor playing sports on the fields of the castle. Turns out, the Chinese played golf back in the day… who knew? Jen was a big fan of the jewelry. The amazing craftsmanship and intricacy of the pieces was breathtaking and the purity of the gold made for blinding bling. The porcelain pieces were really nice as well.

After the exhibit, we went to Llywellyn’s in the Central West End for dinner because it was a beautiful night and we wanted to sit outside. We scored a nice table on the sidewalk, and with the exception of a karaoke DJ thinking it’s OK to get the party started with “Tears In Heaven”, the night was perfect. The food there was good and a couple beers went a long way towards putting my mind at ease. Afterwards, we went to Left Bank Books to support local booksellers and visit Spike the Cat. Then, while I was dropping our purchases off at the car, Jen and the girls enjoyed the various street performers. The best was the fire twirling girls:

Fire Twirler

With it still being a beautiful evening, we strolled down Euclid to the gelato joint next to Culpepper’s. I had half chocolate, half coconut. It tasted like a Mounds bar. I could have added Almond, but I wasn’t feeling like a nut. All in all, a good time and a great night to be outside.

Omigoodness, Free Books!

Over my last vacation, we organized all of our books on our bookshelves (I know, very exciting). We scanned them into Delicious Library (I LOVE, LOVE this program), arranged them alphabetically by author, returned those books that weren’t ours, etc. After doing all that, I’ve come to realize that I have a lot of books! That’s quite of bit of money tied up in four bookshelves in our extra bedroom. So, I’ve decided to put a stop to my addiction. No more purchasing of books. If I really want to own a book, I’ll just put it on my wish list and cross my fingers that someone will gift me with it. If I’m dying to read a book, I will utilize this place called the St. Louis County Library. Apparently, they loan you books for free, that’s right, free. I can’t believe it! And what’s even better is that you can request books to be sent to a specific library for easy pick-up. Amazing!