Rereading Pratchett

17 Feb

Most of us, readers especially, can point to a work in our lives that influenced the way we think. We’d prefer it be someone impressive, Nietzsche, Kant, Salinger, Steinem, or Malcolm X. Someone you can genuinely bring up with reverence in intelligent company. There’s a range, somewhere from your teens to early twenties where works of literature, film, and philosophy have a greater impact than any other time in our lives. They’re introductions to thoughts outside of what we grew up with. What our parents, teachers, and friends taught. What we discover through these works can shape our beliefs in enduring ways.

I did not encounter someone pretentious at this age. Instead, I stumbled across Terry Pratchett. To this day, I’m glad I did.


I’ve been having a hard time finishing books lately, so I decided to return to Pratchett for some comfort reading. I picked up Jingo. It was one of the first books I read by him in high school. Jingo is the story of our heroes in the Ankh-Morpork City Watch getting swept up as their city goes to war against neighboring Klatch over a worthless island that spontaneously pops up in between their territory. When you reread something at a different point in your life, there’s a danger of it losing its magic. Instead of diminishing returns, I was struck by how much he must have influenced me in ways I could not see while I was introduced to his Discworld books for the first time.

If you’re not familiar with Pratchett, let me tell you what resonated with me as I reread Jingo. It’s really hard for me to recap a Discworld novel without descending into just listing quotes. So while I’m trying to avoid that, I’ll go ahead and start with one, shall I?

It was because he wanted there to be conspirators. It was much better to imagine men in some smoky room somewhere, made mad and cynical by privilege and power, plotting over the brandy. You had to cling to this sort of image, because if you didn’t then you might have to face the fact that bad things happened because ordinary people, the kind who brushed the dog and told their children bedtime stories, were capable of then going out and doing horrible things to other ordinary people. It was so much easier to blame it on Them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone’s fault. If it was Us, then what did that make Me? After all, I’m one of Us. I must be. I’ve certainly never thought of myself as one of Them. We’re always one of Us. It’s Them that do the bad things.

Much of the book deals with xenophobia, racism, and patriotism. How do you remain a patriot when you think your country and countrymen are bloody stupid? Yes, I asked the book, hypothetically how would one handle that? At one point, a new leader takes over the city and demands that the Watch takes all Klatchian residents into custody because they might… do something. And everyone’s saying 1984 hits close to home.

 Odd thing, ain’t it…you meet people one at a time, they seem decent, they got brains that work, and then they get together and you hear the voice of the people.  And it snarls.

I like that the characters struggle between optimism and pragmatism. It can be a little heartbreaking to feel goodwill towards man dissolve into reality. That’s the point where Pratchett gives me hope. He suggests, throughout his books, that we need to see the truth of things, but we also need to work to change them for the better and believe that’s possible because what else can we do? I couldn’t put it into words then, but now I know that through his works, he made me a humanist.

Books Benches, Discworld

My first time around reading Pratchett, I was impressed with his observations on human nature, his belief that most people are mostly good, and his acceptance that, despite point two, people can do really bad things to each other out of malice or ignorance. That’s life, he said. Accept it, or… Well, there’s really no other option so might as well enjoy it as much as you can. I didn’t know that as I voraciously consumed his writing, I was incorporating it into who I am. So while the first time I read most of his books I relished his viewpoint, as I read them again, over a decade later, I see my own perception of life echoed back to me. Guys, I’m pretty sure he put that there.

I think Pratchett is a great writer to be reading right now. I think, if he were alive, he would be calling  bullshit on this current U.S. administration, but he would also remind us that turns out the other side is probably trying harder to be good than we think, and we’re a lot less righteous than we think. He’d caution us to be aware that the other side might be right sometimes, and we might be wrong. Even if we come to the conclusion that this is not the case, it’s good practice to remind ourselves. Pratchett’s books make you glad to be a part of humanity, even when you’re fully aware humanity is a bloody, vindictive, irrational mess, and that’s a feeling I need to keep close right now. Thank gods I chose him instead of Rand.

Further reading: Terry Pratchett was fantasy fiction’s Kurt Vonnegut, not its Douglas Adams

~ April

How to Run a Reluctant Book Club

7 Feb


“We’re looking for a book club book, but nothing depressing.”

It’s one of my least favorite reader’s advisory requests, but it’s pretty common.  It turns out that most books worth talking about cover some pretty heavy topics.  Conflict is what drives a story along and there’s not much to discuss when the characters are happy and well adjusted, except maybe how much you hate them.

To put a twist in things, I’ve been part of such a book club.  My friends and I started a book club a few years ago, which was really just an excuse for getting together and having dinner and drinks.  After the first year, which included Brett Easton Ellis’s Less Than Zero and Room by Emma Donahue, the members decided that kidnapped children and sociopaths did not jive with our girls’ night vibe.  We tried some other options, but school and life got in the way and the book club went by the wayside.  Recently, we’ve decided to revive it, but with the political climate, they’re clamoring for feminist fiction. Our first book is The Handmaid’s Tale, so, y’know… Not light. However, there’s still a lot of people in a similar position, so here are some suggestions for a low-key book club.

Graphic Novels – Here’s my most important rule.  If it’s easy enough (and over fast enough) it can include some depressing content. Reluctant book club members don’t want to struggle through Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, but Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home is manageable.  They’re also great for last minute readers since you can usually finish them in one or two sittings.

  • Pride of Bagdhad by Brian K. Vaughn
  • Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
  • Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
  • March by John Lewis

Short Stories – Collections of short stories are great for several reasons.  First, we have the whole short thing going on like the graphic novels.  The other bonus is that no one has to read the whole collection in order to have a productive discussion.  Members can end up recommending their favorite stories to others that may not have read them.  Whether it’s a high concept collection or something more literary there will definitely be something to talk about.

  • Barbara the Slut and Other People by Lauren Holmes
  • Get In Trouble by Kelly Link
  • Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
  • Machine of Death by Ryan North

YA Books YA is huge among all ages.  The books are fodder for Hollywood and their designation makes them less intimidating. I swear, if you told people War and Peace was a YA title, they’d immediately think “Yeah, I think I can handle that”. If you’re me and really just want to get people to read more, you can also get them hooked on a series they might continue with when everyone’s moved on to the next selection.

  • Bone Gap  by Laura Ruby
  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
  • Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older
  • Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Books to Movies / TV – This is a perennial favorite of book clubs and I’m not breaking any ground by suggesting it, but there’s a reason they’re popular. Once you tell someone they’re making a book into a movie, they, almost without exception, perk up. It’s not that they’re lazy and want to skip the book. People just love comparing the written word to the visuals. It gives them an extra topic of discussion as well as another activity to do with their book group friends. I think it also helps them feel a little superior to other movie watchers and that’s never a bad thing.

  • The Gunslinger by Stephen King
  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman
  • Hidden Figures  by  Margot Lee Shetterly
  • Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

My last rule is to try and keep things under 350 pages unless everyone’s pretty stoked about it. Adults being assigned a book are worse than 6th graders with their attention to page count. Under 300 is even better. And suggest audiobooks as well. Reluctant, if optimistic, readers can often be convinced if their commute is long enough and the narrator is good enough.

What books are you guys reading? And any suggestions for reluctant book club attendees?

~ April


3 Feb

I wrote this post a almost a year ago, but never shared it.  Obvi not drinking now. Enjoy this new old content! 

One of the ways my husband and I like to spend our weekends is brewing beer.  It’s usually a pretty relaxed afternoon with a lot of waiting around (until there’s a boil over).  Brewing beer reminds me of making jam. It’s a curious intersection between chemistry and cooking that makes it interesting and prone to getting completely ruined if you miss a step.What fun!

One of the downsides to homebrewing is that there’s a lot of waste.  We recently switched from a water bath to an immersion wort chiller. The water bath took a lot of water and so much time.  The word chiller is way faster, but it uses more water.  For five gallons of beer, this is how much water we had leftover from the chilling process:


We run a hose to a trash can that I use for watering my plants so all that water’s not just going to waste.  I can’t reuse the sanitizing water and I don’t have anything in place to save other wash water, so there’s still some leftover, but not quite so much.

Another byproduct of brewing is the spent grain. At the beginning of the process, you steep milled grain in boiling water.  It’s like a tea that tastes like stale beer! You take the grain out when you’re done.  Lots of people have come up with recipes to use for spent grain.  Every time we brew, I save the grain, and every time my husband asks me if it’s okay to throw it out a month later. Considering it’s usually sprouting a new cure for the common cold at this point, I acquiesce.  This week I decided that if I was going to use it, I would have to do it immediately or I’d lose interest.  Not only that, I was going to use the grain as many ways as I could so I would be familiar with easy ways to use it in the future.  Here’s my experiment with three different ways of using spent grain from easiest to hardest.

Dog Treats


Luna licking her lips after devouring her treat.


I don’t have a dog [note from current April: Now I do!], but my in-laws have two.  The dog treats use up the most grains of any recipe and they’re super easy.  I’ve taken to keeping a big jar of cheap peanut butter in my pantry for baking and this was a good use of it.  I only made a half recipe of this since I wanted to try the other recipes, too, and it made about two dozen treats.  I’ll definitely use this in the future when I just want to use up the grains quickly. I can’t comment on the taste, but the dogs seemed to like them.

Bread Untitled
Oh, how I love the idea of homemade bread. I love the way it makes my kitchen smell and I love how I can spend the following week telling people I made homemade bread. It makes me sound like I have my life together. Baking bread usually takes too much commitment for me though. I hate waiting around for it to rise. I do not have the world’s longest attention span and after all the waiting that comes with brewing, more waiting from bread does not appeal. This recipe, however, is fantastic. Maybe it’s just the ease of these instructions, but I found a recipe I can stick to. The bread itself turned out great. I brought it to work with some jam made by a family member and it was a hit in the office. I may have eaten most of it.

Pretzel Bites
These are the first things I tried since I love pretzels.  The process for making them is really fun, too.  You get to play with yeast like you do with bread and you get to boil the dough.  The timing works out really well with this recipe since you can make the dough and let it rise while the beer is boiling. Then, you can finish up with the dough boiling and baking after you set up fermentation.  I let my dough rise for several hours since I got sidetracked and it still worked out.  We had a baseball game the next day so they were a great snack!


These Violent Delights…

30 Jan

After Rogue One came out, there was a lot of talk about how relevant it was given our political atmosphere. A group of scrappy rebels rising up to fight an oppressive racist demagogue? Sounds good. (Granted, it doesn’t end that great for the rebels so maybe we don’t want to use that as a rallying cry. Let’s try A New Hope instead.) Some reports claimed that Trump voters boycotted the movie. While Rogue One was right up my alley, I think we all could have chosen a better contender for “Most Politically Relevant Movie of the Year”.

See, Star Wars is based on Joseph Campbell’s monomyth. Purposefully. So take pretty much any period of time and Star Wars will probably be relevant somehow. That’s why the series is so popular. I would propose a different scifi vehicle for most politically relevant. It’s not a movie, so Variety’s title can still stand, but I would like to present HBO’s Westworld as the entertainment of choice for the Trump resistance.


Image by retrocactus

Here there be spoilers.

While Star Wars paints a broader picture of good vs. evil, Westworld‘s evil is more insidious. Our heroes, for the most part, are the hosts. Captives in a world created for the pleasure of the rich, they don’t know anything else exists. They are androids, reset after their stories have played out with no memories of what they’ve experienced before. When confronted with anything that contradicts their world, a picture of New York City, say, they respond with “It doesn’t look like anything to me.” They completely reject anything outside their prefabricated world.

Over the first season, certain hosts begin to wake up to reality. They realize that they are part of a game they have no will of their own in. They begin to fight their predestined paths. This is sure to cause the employees of Westworld a few headaches in season two.

The arc feels familiar to me. It seems like after the election, there was a lot of talk about fake news. There were a lot of very surprised people that Trump managed to win. How could he? No one they knew voted for him. The truth was we were all living in a filter bubble. Everyone’s news tailored just for them. We only saw posts from people who agreed with us. We assumed that our online worlds accurately reflected the real world.

Then, we woke up. Just like hosts realizing how orchestrated their lives were, we got angry. We blamed the media for tricking us and Google for “curating” our content. Yeah, we were going to pay so much more attention now. But it’s easy for us to be reset. I already see people angrily responding and reposting news items without double checking their facts. The last thing we need is more propaganda, even if it’s propaganda we like. The media is not going to look out for us. Even the good outlets fail sometimes. Facebook is not going to change its algorithms for us.

In Westworld, they discover that a maze has been set for the hosts. In order to find their way out, they need to discover their own inner voice, or consciousness. In order for us to find our way out of our filter bubble, we need to rely on our own knowledge of how to recognize good information and think outside of our comfort zones. We don’t want to be hosts that unknowingly live in a constructed world, or guests that gladly take the opportunity to immerse ourselves in a manufactured reality. Let’s take responsibility and do our best with the world that, for better or worse, we actually have.

Further Reading: ‘Westworld’ creators explain the show’s dark parallels with Trump’s presidency

~ April

Without a Map, With a Mortgage

26 Jan

When I started writing at Without a Map, my purpose was different than it is now. I was single, fairly new to my area, and afraid of surrendering to my introversion. I was sure I would just stay inside reading and watching Netflix until I crumpled up and died. Blogging was a way for me to force myself to do fun things “for the blog”.

I started that over six years ago.

Cole shortly after I adopted him

Okay, to be fair I haven’t blogged much in the last year or two, but I’ve been feeling the itch again. And not only the writing itch, but the need to blog for a purpose again. In the last two years I’ve gone from footloose and fancy free (ha!) to married lady with a house and a kid on the way. I’ve gone from not having or wanting a map, to having a pretty clear idea of where the next six years will take me, theoretically. I like where I’m at in my life right now. I love my job and my husband and my house and my new puppy and, sometimes, my cat. I love having friends over for a fire and painting my walls bright orange. I’m excited (and super nervous) about becoming a mom and all the excitement that will bring.

Cole exploring the first day in our new house.

I don’t think my life has become stagnant by any means, but even with a lot of goals, it’s easy to miss things that are important to you. I want to get back into the blog to connect to those things. I don’t expect to blog a ton, as usual, but I do want to go back into this with an awareness of my new perspective.

I’ve also been getting the itch to write things that aren’t about our usual fare. I just realized I buy this little corner of the internet where I can write whatever I want and put it up. I don’t want to get too far from our core of crafts, the environment, and nature, but I have some other ideas. And I’m going to share them. You’re free to skip those.

Cole adjusting to life with a new puppy. Just you wait, cat…

I recently signed up for a craft swap again for the first time in many years. I had strayed away from them because I thought they were taking up too much of the time I could be using to craft for myself, friends, and family. Turns out they make me inspired and I’ve been crafting way more both for my swap partner and myself since I started. So I hope to share some of those projects soon, too.

Oh, yeah, and I’ll probably post some mom stuff. This isn’t going to become a mommy blog by any means (cue Robin sighing in relief), but, hey… That’s where my map is leading and the point is to share my journey.

Thanks for traveling with us.

~ April

High Tea

17 Apr

Oh hello! Is this thing still on?


I’ve been wanting to throw an elaborate tea party on a scenic vista for a long time, and a few weeks ago I finally got the chance.


We headed up to Turtle Back Dome and laid out our spread, which included these awesome baby chick deviled eggs that Katie made.


There was sparkling conversation.


There was music.


There was art in many mediums. (Jacqueline had the brilliant idea of painting her nose to be The Nose on El Capitan, although I think if we want to get really specific I think her nose is actually the Great Roof.)


Sunset was pretty splendid.

Over all I’d say it was pretty spectacular. There aren’t nearly enough tea parties in my life.


P.S. Pictures are compliments of Daniella’s phone since I failed to bring a single functioning camera.

Bet You Can’t Have Just One

2 Oct

I’ve wanted to hike Potato Chip Rock for years and a few weeks ago I finally conquered it.  My brother was coming to visit and we wanted to do a simple one night camping trip.  By the time we booked, most of the more popular camping spots were taken, so we chose one of the few spots left Southern California at William Heise Regional Park.  From the reviews I assumed it was going to be more crowded and full of families.  After all, it boasts a playground and year round cabins.   I was pleasantly surprised with the isolated, wooded sites and miles of hiking trails overlooking the Anza Borrego Dessert.  Sure, we could see a couple of fancy houses on the hills surrounding the park, but overall it was a great spot for summer camping.

After a night of camping, we headed over to our destination.  My brother had Googled photos of Potato Chip Rock for ideas on how we should stage our picture.  If you look it up, you’ll see all kinds of creative ideas, from rock climbers hanging off the edge, to yoga poses, to groups that have set up a fancy tea party on the rock.  We weren’t prepared for the long line of photo takers and by the time we got up there (and I overcame my fear of the short jump to the rock), we didn’t have a lot of time for creativity.

By all rights, this should be a Photo Adventure, but it’s not.  Mostly because i was too caught up in the actual hiking to stop and snap pictures.  Partly because I didn’t bring a camera and my phone was dying.  Because of that, you only get one.  Just one picture, achieved after an hour wait in line and a four-mile hike straight up in the heat.  But boy was it worth it.


~ April

Read Harder is Harder Than I Expected

8 Sep

Earlier this year I posted about the Read Harder challenge. The goal of the challenge is to make you read more diversely and boy did I feel like I was doing a great job.  I read books in translation, books by authors from different countries, graphic novels, nonfiction, and still managed to keep up with books that I just wanted to read anyway.  I figured that putting any focus on reading diversely would expand my reading life. Proud of my accomplishments, I decided to take a quick inventory of the demographics of the authors I read.  I was expecting a pretty even distribution.  I didn’t get that.

While the ratio of men to women authors was split pretty evenly, of the 34 books I read so far this year, only six could be considered to be by authors of color.  And four of the authors of color were men.  That’s pretty shabby for someone actively trying to introduce diversity into her reading.  Sure, I’ve succeeded in pulling myself out of my literary comfort zone and I feel like that’s an accomplishment in itself, but I’m going to try harder the rest of the year.  That means that I’m putting aside the rest of the explicit Read Harder challenge (no worrying about reading a book written before 1850 or by an author under 25), but I’m going to take the spirit of the challenge to heart.  I want the majority of my reading the rest of the year to be by authors of color.

And I think it’s going to be harder than I anticipated.  I don’t think I’m going to get close to a 50/50 distribution, but if I can get a third of my year’s reading to be diverse that would be great.  I know it would be easier if I completely banished Anglo writers from the back half of 2015, but that’s not my goal.  I want to read a Stephen King book in October and after finishing We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, I want to start The Haunting of Hill House, too.  There are far too many awesome Anglo authors that have something unpredictable to add to my life to remove them.  I just want to make room for other voices as well.

So here’s to the next stage of my 2015 reading journey.  I’m currently reading Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai, a middle grade novel that takes place in Vietnam.  It’s taking me awhile because I keep stopping to figure out how to pronounce Vietnamese words.  That’s what reading diversely does.  Makes you look like a fool trying to pronounce things to yourself in public places.  I think I’ll keep it going.

~ April


1 Sep

I’ve been thinking a LOT about the drought lately.  It’s hard not to when you live in an area that’s marked by a red so dark it borders on black on all the drought maps.  It’s as if they ran out of shades of red with which to convey the seriousness of the situation.

Then, I went here.


And hallelujah, if I wasn’t already thinking about water issues I was now.  There’s nothing like going somewhere where your scarce resources are abundant to put things in perspective.  It’s like when my mom comes to California and discovers that avocados are two for a dollar.  It’s guacamole time all the time.  I could regale you with tales of what it’s like to have so many avocados that you worry they might go bad, but instead I’m going in a little more sobering direction.

This is what it’s like to live in a drought.


There’s so much blame. Have you seen the #droughtshaming hashtag?  A quick Twitter search will give you pictures of runoff from faulty sprinklers, well-manicured golf courses, and more watered sidewalks than you can count.  It’s like environmental McCarthyism.  I may be guilty of overusing the term, but I tend to do it in conversation and not on the internet.  Whether that’s better or just makes me so fun to hang out with?  You be the judge.

Even the cities are getting in on it.  Most cities have hotlines that you can use to turn in your neighbors.  I haven’t done so, but I may have been tempted by the neighbors watering down their plastic chairs int he middle of a light rain.

Drought shaming is a nice vehicle for righteous anger, but doesn’t really solve anything.  Luckily Californians are looking for more positive ways to address water waste.  In fact, if you look at the #droughtshaming hashtag, at least a third of the tweets offer other solutions.  That’s not something you normally find on social media.

You can find resources. It seems like everyone in our community is offering programs to learn more about how you can conserve.  Our library recently offered a Water Wise Gardening program, but I was surprised when I saw similar programs offered several times a month through different organizations.  There are rain barrel classes at the nature center, landscape seminars at the universities, and drought-tolerant workshops at the garden centers.

Water districts, which really had no need for flashy graphics before, are now among the top destinations on government websites. Residents who would like to get a rain barrell, tear out their lawn or replace their faucets can find rebates and classes from their city or water district almost anywhere in California.  Unfortunately most of these rebates don’t apply to California’s many renters.


The rules are a constant source of frustration. Conversations on water usage come up all the time.  I spoke with a coworker who was concerned that her city’s prohibition against planting new plants that aren’t drought-tolerant meant she had to forgo her garden.  I leaned toward the growing your own food uses less resources than purchasing shipped food side of the equation, but the answers aren’t always clear.  Different cities have different rules.  Even neighbors might have different days that they are allowed to water on.  Certain rules, like that you can’t water within 48 hours of significant rainfall, come into play so rarely that it’s not a surprise people forget they exist.  Then there’s the distinction between restrictions (mandatory) and conservation measures (recommended)… If you haven’t already been immersed in water education, it’s easy to get a little lost.

It’s working (kind of). Many cities are meeting or exceeding the conservation thresholds Governor Brown has mandated and the savings have been improving drastically throughout the year.  You can have tons of fun with the State Water Resources Board’s conservation reports to see the statistics.  My city went from a 5% decrease in February (over 2013 statistics) to a 22% decrease by May.  That’s higher than our mandated benchmark of 20%.  Some places (yay! Merced at 43%!) are doing much better and some (boo! El Monte at -10%) are doing worse, but the good far outweighs the bad.

Remember all those rebates I mentioned?  Our water district has already run out of funds for turf removal and that’s pretty common throughout the state.  Other rebates are taking months to get to processed there are so many of them.  On one hand it’s frustrating, but on the other it means people are making changes and making them rather quickly.  That’s exciting!

Water conservation is a topic that seems to cross political boundaries, too.  I could have a half hour conversation with someone about water usage and still have no idea where they stand politically, despite water conservation being tied into government regulations.  Anytime people come together to make the world a better place,  it’s a positive step for our state.


Now, I hate to be a downer, but even with all these positive steps, it’s unlikely that our drought problem will be solved.  The state even has a website that allows us to watch our water supplies dwindle.  California supports too much agriculture, too many people, and has too little precipitation.  Unless that changes, these are only delaying tactics.  I think that’s what really captures the reality of living in a drought. Even when we know we’re fighting a losing battle, we still band together to resist.  And talk about how, hopefully, El Niño will be strong this year.


Photo Adventure: Ten Lakes Redemption

20 Jul

On completely separate occasions, both my friend Daniella and I, had kinda lousy experiences at Ten Lakes. Not that we’re complaining, mind you. Camping in Yosemite is still preferable to many things, even if it does involve blood loss, sickness, missing persons, and monumental amounts of whining.


But looking back on the experience several years later, I still remember amid all the complaining, the jaw dropping view from Ten Lakes Pass, and the view of the lakes. It was time for us to give Ten Lakes another try.



Glacial Polish


In the early evening we heard rockfall off of this wall.


The moon, Jupiter, and Venus reflecting on glacial polish


The wildflowers were so fluorescent they could have been painted by Lisa Frank.



I was apparently obsessed with glacial polish on this trip.


Blue Conness