A year ago today we crossed the Nevada state line into California at the tail end of an 8-day cross country drive. Our first taste of California as residents was Lake Tahoe, and all three of us were smitten. Our dog Balthasar celebrated by swimming for the first time. He then introduced us to his “Tahoe Face” – a look of astonishment we had never seen before. Living in California this past year he has been astonished by the Pacific, coyotes, and mountain lakes. We wondered whether we’d see the Tahoe face again on his trip, our first one back to Tahoe in a year.
Well, reader, here it is. I introduce Balthasar’s Tahoe Face.
For more about what astonishes our bouvier, follow him on Instagram @BouvierBalth.
Once you were in a store and someone purchased you.
Once you were treasured and loved and tossed and retrieved.
Once you were lost on a trip to the beach.
Once you were found by another family on a trip to the beach.
Once again you were treasured and loved and tossed and retrieved.
And, then, once again you were lost on a trip to the beach.
Oh, Chuck-It ball, we can only hope that you were found once again at the beach.
And you are currently being treasured and loved and tossed and retrieved.
Have you ever read a novel that was 400+ pages long and at the end you realize that it could have been an excellent short story?
Brevity is not easy.
I recently finished a short novel and was impressed that the author was able to pack more storytelling into fewer than 200 pages than most long novels I’ve read. Heck, she even packed more storytelling into the first paragraph than should be humanly possible.
(Elena Ferrante is a genius, yall.)
It got me thinking about the books that are small, but mighty. Here are 8 books that are fewer than 200 pages that you should read now.
Days of Abandonment – Elena Ferrante
If intensity could be defined by a book, it would be this one. Woah. It is one of those hold-on-to-your-hat this will be uncomfortable and may induce anxiety but wow that was one heckuva ride types of books. The first paragraph sets the stage (see above) and then you’re off. It’s like climbing into the mind of a woman who thought she had everything together and figured out and is suddenly very aware that this is not so. I could say more, but I couldn’t say it better than Ferrante, so just go read the first paragraph and, well, the rest of the novel because you won’t be able to look away.
A Mercy – Toni Morrison
Set in the 1600s in Colonial America, Morrison tells the story of slavery from the perspective of several distinct characters but mainly focuses on the story of a naive teenage girl, Florens, who works as a slave on a small farm in Maryland. The chapters alternate between the voice of Florens who is writing a confessional to a lover and the other characters tell their stories one at a time in the even-numbered chapters. The effect is you get a lot of points of view of a haunting tale and all in fewer than 200 pages.
The All of It – Jeanette Haien
This is one of those novels I read quickly and then it kind of stuck around with me. Set in Ireland, the story focuses on a woman who is grieving her husband. Or at least we think he’s her husband. We, and the priest she is telling her story to, find out that things aren’t always what they appear to be.
Desperate Characters – Paula Fox
If there were a predecessor to the intensity of Ferrante’s Days of Abandonment it would be Paula Fox. Once again you find yourself quickly in the middle of a story of a woman who thinks she has everything together and then… a cat bites her. And it’s all spinning out of control from there. Francine Prose, in Reading Like a Writer, uses the novel as an example of excellent paragraphing. That certainly is the case, but Fox also excels with narration, gesture, and character development in the novel. And does this all in 170 pages.
Grief Is the Thing With Feathers – Max Porter
If you like weird books, then, hello, here you go – grief in this short novel takes the form of a crow who has moved in to the home of a widower and his young children. It’s both painful and beautiful to read. If you aren’t in to weird books then this one might be better saved for later, when you would find a crow embodying grief would be a thing you could actually connect with.
Another Brooklyn – Jacqueline Woodson
I’ve recommended this one before, but it’s worth adding to the short but mighty list.
It’s the story of a black girl who moved with her father and brother to Brooklyn from Tennessee in the 70s. This short novel is packed with thoughtful insights about our memories coming into contact with hard truths.
Chronicle of a Last Summer – Yasmine El Rashidi
A diary-like story of a woman (who starts out, in this novel, as a girl) growing up and recording her life through successive revolutions in Egypt. El Rashidi uses the character’s voice to convey growth and maturity in this coming-of-age story. As a reader you “grow up” with her as she becomes more politically and personally aware.
Goodbye, Vitamin – Rachel Khong
You probably are not used to laughing out loud when reading about dementia, but Khong made me smile, laugh, cringe, and cry. It is a diary-like tale of an adult woman moving home to help her parents as her father’s dementia takes him away from a job that he loves.
National parks are one of our nation’s treasures, but I’d like to introduce you to national forests. Our forests, with the tagline of “Land of Many Uses,” are in many ways better than parks.
Here are 5 reasons you should visit a national forest instead of a national park.
1) DOGS ALLOWED!
If you’re a dog owner, you might know that the National Park Service doesn’t really roll out the red carpet for our pups. Most parks don’t allow dogs on trails and basically only allow dogs on paved roads and parking lots and in some campgrounds. National Forests, on the other hand, are extremely dog friendly. Your dogs are invited on trails and most forests have very few dog-related restrictions. You and your dog are free to explore the lands of many uses.
Honestly I could end the post here (because dogs!), but I will keep going…
2) No Crowds
Last year, there were 331 million visitors to national parks. The top ten parks had between 3 – 11 million visitors. That equals a lot of crowds. Lines for spots in parking lots, traffic in Yosemite Valley, elbowing your way around large groups on trails – these aren’t really things you’d expect when visiting protected natural lands. National forests on the other hand, had an estimated 140 million annual visits (and more than double the amount of acreage of the national park system). When you visit a national forest, chances are you won’t see another soul. Or you’ll only see a handful of souls (and several of them will be furry!).
3) Save Money
Personally I love paying the entrance fee to a national park. It’s a simple, monetary way for me to show my appreciation for the work of the NPS. But, those fees can add up so if you’re looking to save some money, a national forest is a free option.
4) More Adventurous
Similar to point number 2, the lack of crowds lends itself to a more adventurous feel than, say, driving the south rim of the Grand Canyon. But not only are you often by yourself, you will also come across slightly less groomed trails. Sometimes the markers won’t be clear or you might take a wrong turn or two. If you like the idea of “getting lost” you’ll probably enjoy hiking a national forest more than a national park.
5) It’s Basically the Same as the Park
The greatest thing about national forests is that they often surround national parks. Love Yosemite but hate traffic? Head up to the surrounding national forests and you’ll get the same exact rock formations, waterfalls, and views of valleys. If you’re visiting a park this summer, check out some of the national forests nearby and give it a try.
What national forests have you visited? Why do you love the land of many uses?
Death Valley National Park boasts the highest air temperature ever recorded (134°) and routinely hits 120° in summer in the shade. Why would anyone go here? Well, it’s your closest chance of experiencing Mars on Earth. Cracked salt flats flanked by colorful striped hills and badlands. A valley that you both want to walk farther into and also run far away from. In December we thought the park would be empty. It was packed, parking lots teeming. But on our way out, we pulled off the perfectly paved road and watched dusk descend on the valley without another soul in sight.
I used to be solidly in the I-don’t-get-it skincare camp.
Although I didn’t have the delusion that people being interested in skincare was a novel thing (cough…the outline…cough).
I took awful care of my skin. In fact, I barely took care of my skin.
After a conversation with my dermatologist I started washing and moisturizing my face twice a day with Cetaphil and Cerave AM and PM. That was more than a year ago and my skin has never been happier (or smoother, or brighter, or cleaner, or more moisturized).
I recently stumbled upon a breakthrough of sorts when it comes to skincare that I wanted to share with all of you. It’s simple.
If you make any skincare routine a habit you will see improvement. No matter how much (or how little!) you spend on the product.
Here’s what happened:
I have always had dry, chapped lips. Just always. Like so chapped that I can’t wear lipstick or gloss because it gets all cracked and ugly.
Intrigued that there might actually be a solution to my chapped lips, I put the mask in my online shopping cart.
But I just couldn’t convince myself to spend $20 on something that was not even an ounce.
Wait, I thought. I have never, ever tried anything habitually to get rid of my chapped lips. Sure, I use chapstick but that was basically it.
I did some searching and found a similar product (Rosebud Salve) that cost only $6. I told myself – buy this. Try it every night until it runs out. If it doesn’t work, buy the lip mask.
Just the simple act of moisturizing my lips every night has made a tremendous difference on my lips during the day. I didn’t need to spend $20. I just needed to make it a routine.
So whether you’re trying to rein in your skincare spending or you aren’t convinced that skincare “works,” I recommend that you try this out on just one thing: buy a less-expensive, affordable product and make using it a daily habit. Give it time and see if it makes a difference.
I bet that it will.
A year ago today we drove three hours through the mountains of Maryland and West Virginia. It was a drab December morning, but we were filled with anticipation.
Santa was riding on a fire truck near your home, so our first shared moment consisted of listening to you whine at the sound of sirens while you had a dingleberry removed.
We didn’t even know what a dingleberry was back then.
Now we do.
And we also now know that whine of yours can range from frustration to discomfort to just looking for some attention.
Back on the ground and out the door you took off, running on impossibly short legs through the grass, jumping, weaving around our feet, latching on to loose pant legs. Within 20 minutes you were passed out in the car and basically slept through the 3-hour ride to your new home.
A year with Balthasar. It has consisted of taking you to 12 states (plus D.C.), to four national parks, and you’ve already dipped your paws in both the Atlantic and Pacific.
You’re living quite the charmed puppy life.
Some things haven’t changed much over the past 12 months – you still have puppy dreams and make adorable noises before falling asleep. You hate closed doors (especially to the bathroom when one of us is in it) and you don’t want us to be in separate rooms. You love running on grass and cleaning out peanut butter jars. You have been tearing up cardboard boxes with zeal since day one with us.
Other things have changed – you now love cuddling and getting “scritches.” You’ve developed quite the obsession for tennis balls and got rid of your habit of stealing other people’s newspapers. You love the water now and can’t imagine not at least testing the temperature by getting your tummy wet (it’s never too cold).
This past year you’ve wowed us with your intelligence and the speed that you pick up new commands. As you’ve grown into an adolescent we have found ourselves questioning our positive-only, force-free training.
But then you’re so polite, ask permission for everything, and are kind with every human you meet. It’s been a challenge, but the training is working.
We hope to have many many more years with you and celebrate many many more “gotcha days.”
But today we’re thinking back about the 365 days with a bouvier named Balthasar. We’ve gone through thousands of poo bags, had hundreds of ear licks (your “kisses”), taught you dozens of commands, and you’ve taught us to be more forgiving, curious, loving, responsible, and to cherish the moments when the herd is all together.
Our puppy Balthasar turned 7 months this week. In honor of that I’m sharing 7 things that I didn’t anticipate about raising a puppy.
1) Your Heart Will Feel Ripped Out Every Time You Leave
We are lucky that both of our jobs allow us to work from home a lot. We’ve been able to sync up our schedules mostly so that at least one of us is home during the workweek. Of course, we do have to leave the pup alone from time to time (in fact, we even have to make up reasons to leave so that he can get used to being home alone). But it hurts our hearts every time we have to be away.
2) Walks Aren’t About You
When you take your dog for a walk, it’s not a time for you to relax or decompress. It’s a constant training opportunity and you have to be on alert—rewarding good behavior and modifying when he’s being impolite. If you want to take a stroll and be lost in your thoughts, you should leave the pup at home (but, also, see lesson 1).
3) You Will Always Wear Crappy Clothes
The first several months (year?) of your life with the puppy you’ll want to always be in clothes you don’t mind getting ripped or dirtied. Just keep the nice outfits in your closet. The pup will ruin you clothes. So don’t set yourself up for disappointment.
4) Your First Routine Will Become THE Routine
Dogs thrive on routines. So that routine that you start up when you first get the pup will most likely become the routine. Make sure you can stick with it! Can’t do mid-morning walks usually? Then don’t do those when you first get your pup and you’ve taken time off from work. Jump right into the routine you want to have and try to stick with it as often as possible (even on weekends).
5) You Will Spend Inordinate Amounts of Time Talking About Poo
My friend Molly warned me of this, but I didn’t quite realize how much poop talk there could possibly be. Has he pooed yet? Was the poo soft? When was the last time he pooed? Did you see x in his poo? (x being that thing he shouldn’t have eaten / isn’t edible).
6) You Will Think You’ve Broken Your Dog
Put your vet’s number on speed dial. You’ll be calling them a lot. (And paying them a lot). (Hello, stool samples!). (See? Poo again). Your puppy’s behavior will be completely new the first couple of weeks and just when you get used to it all of a sudden he’ll start doing something super odd—like walking around in the evening with his mouth open. When Balthasar did this we thought we had broken the dog. We hadn’t. We called the vet, he said don’t worry. Just know that sometimes there are reasons to worry. So pay attention and note those behavior changes. And don’t be afraid to call the vet.
7) You Will Feel Amazing When the Puppy Falls Asleep
Our puppy, since day one with him, has made this cute little licking noise right before he falls asleep. We call it the “nap noise.” Whenever we hear him make that noise it’s such a good feeling. Finally! You’ll think. He’s going to sleep! Yes, puppies sleep a lot, but when they are awake it’s a lot of work and you have to pay close attention so you will look forward to those long sweet naps. Good night, sweetheart!
Want to follow more of Balthasar’s adventures? He’s on instagram: @BouvierBalth
For this month’s Readers’ Workshop, we read Paula Fox’s Desperate Characters with the goal of paying attention to paragraphs.
So what did we notice? That Fox is a master at dialogue and paragraphing.
Jonathan Franzen agrees. In the novel’s introduction, he calls Fox’s prose a pleasure, and notes that her sentences are “small miracles of compression and specificity, tiny novels in themselves.”
Some may say the title is not catchy enough, but most of the Readers’ Workshop participants agreed that it’s apt. The book is filled with literally desperate characters. (One person mentioned they kept referring to the novel as “Desperate Creatures,”at first accidentally but soon realized they might be on to something).
Even though most of us wanted to have a nice, stiff drink while reading it, we appreciated the writing, how human the characters felt, and the way that Fox moved us. She made us feel uncomfortable, and perhaps even desperate.
And yet some members said they read the novel twice or were in the process of re-reading it. A testament to the odd draw that Fox seems to have on readers – you cause us discomfort and we come back for seconds.
Fox passed away this month, she was 93. Several club members recommended reading the New York Times obituary, and I’m glad I did. Knowing more about her life helped put some of the themes and the setting of the novel in perspective.
This was our third month of reading closely per Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer. What have we gotten out of it so far? Some are finding it to be a hard habit to instill – they have to consciously remind themselves to slow down and read closer (myself included). Others have decided to continue reading for plot first and then taking time after finishing a novel to reflect on the writing.
Regardless we are meeting each month and having thoughtful discussions about the novels we read and the writing we are learning to appreciate even more.