In Search of the End of the Sidewalk’s 2016 Reading Challenge

Book challenges are not normally my thing, not because I don’t read enough or because I don’t like the variety they provide, but rather it is an issue of self-control. Several times a week I spend a few hours perusing critical reviews of new releases, scrolling through best seller lists in an array of categories and jumping around to a few book blogs. In these virtual travels, I always end up with a list of “must read” books and because I have no will power to resist buying them as soon as they are published or as soon as they pop up on my radar, whatever “challenge” list I had flies right out the window.

But, a few weeks ago, a reading challenge list started circulating and ended up on my Facebook wall at least three separate times. (I am not sure where it originated for credit to be given.) I figured I ought to give it a look. What I instantly liked about it is that it is twelve books long- a perfect fit for 2016. As I continue to expand the literary parts of In Search of the End of the Sidewalk , I’ve decided to use this book challenge as a guide for at least one “Book Musings” post each month. Between now and December, I will read through the book challenge, writing a few thoughts/review on each one as I go. I’ll not be going down the list in order, but will hit all twelve by the end of the year. (They will count towards my other goal of reading 100 books this year, so it’s a double win!)

I’d love for you to join me in along the way!

In Search of the End of the Sidewalk’s 2016 Reading Challenge



Filed under Book Musings

Not a Pioneer

If you are of a certain age (not to give anything away, but let’s say 30-something), you probably remember eagerly awaiting your turn on the one classroom computer to take your chances on Oregon Trail. (Actually, when I was in first grade, I remember having to go to the hallway to use the computer, which was on a rolling cart and had a Puff the Magic Dragon on the screen when it booted up. I have no recollection about whether that was part of a particular program or had to do with the operating system, but I loved that giant green dragon with smoke billowing from his nose. Computer time!)

I remember rushing through my phonics workbook so that I could get my name on the computer-user list early, as nothing was more exciting than taking chances on a virtual trek across the United States in search of the bountiful land promised by the Oregon territory.  (To be fair, I always rushed through my phonics workbook. It was utterly boring. And worse than the phonics pages themselves was the fact that the teacher then told me to color in all of the pictures when I was done. I remember being extremely annoyed by this request, as even at the young age of six I could detect busy work when it came my way. Coloring in the socks, fox and clocks in no way taught me that “cks” and “x” had the same sounds, but it did keep me from being first to the pillow pile with my library book!)

But I digress.

Oregon Trail.

I loved that game, green screen and all. Hunting was a huge part of surviving to the end of the game and I was an ace at taking down a bison or two (big and slow, no skills needed), but the squirrels and rabbits alluded my slowly typed “POW”s and “BANG”s. Wild game may have kept virtual-me alive long enough to fall victim to typhoid, dysentery and snakebites, but I’ve recently been reminded IRL (you know, gamer code for “in real life”—I’m hip like that!) that I was never cut out to be a pioneer.

I just don’t have a tough bone in my body.

A few weeks ago, I was home in Idaho for the holidays (the first time in years!) and was greeted by falling snow the very first morning. Luckily, I brought home my one pair of pants and my one hoodie so that I had something to wear to Target where I could pick up another sweater or two. (Right there you can realize how un-tough I am. My first stop Stateside was Target.) That beautiful snow that covered the ground through Christmas morning set the perfect scene for a winter wonderland holiday season, but it also dropped several feet of wet, sticky frozen mess on the deck/roof of my parent’s cabin in central Idaho. Not long after the wrapping paper had been bundled into the recycling bin and the last of the holiday treats were consumed, we headed north to do a bit of snow shoveling. I’ve never loved winter, but after spending nearly two years acclimatizing to a low of 75 degrees, when the thermometer in the car hit -7, I knew I was going to be in trouble! As soon as we got to the cabin, folks geared up for the cold weather, heading outside to shovel and snow blow, taking weight off the deck and making room for the roof snow to come off in sheets. Realizing I was in no way prepared to face the freezing temperatures, not in terms of clothing or mental toughness, I quickly volunteered to tend the home fires.


With flames raging in the fireplace, I made it my task to make indoors nice and cozy so when the shovel-bearing folks came in, they’d be able to thaw their fingers and dry their layers. I also spent the morning entertaining the young ones who quickly got tired of the cold. (Snow is fun when it is above freezing, but below that mark, it doesn’t take long for a little body to chill all the way through, even with sleds calling their names.) Plus, on top of fire tending and child entertaining, I made lunch for the entire work crew. (Alright, those of you who know me well are starting to think this must all be a dream. That is more domestic duty than I’ve done in my entire life! But I promise, those options were far more enticing than facing the cold, wet snow in jeans and a hoodie.)

So, I am not tough when it comes to cold. Fact established. I would have died from exposure on the Oregon Trail.

(After complaining about being frozen for a few weeks, my vacation was over and it was time to head back to Kuala Lumpur, work and my “real” life. I was looking forward to some warm weather and eating on patios once again, but it seems my complaining bit me in the butt. Let’s call it temperature karma. An embassy near the equator with no air conditioner. That is what I found on Monday morning.  The details are long and uninteresting, but basically there were generator problems, which meant AC problems, which meant our office was 96 degrees on Monday. [Not an exaggeration.] Tuesday was not better. )

Temperature isn’t the only thing that would have prevented me from being a hardy pioneer. The first major obstacle to my successful reincarnation as an outdoorsy survivalist? Food. As a matter of fact, I would most surely have died of starvation before the elements got to me. I may have made it through the virtual continent crossing on wild game and my wits, but on a day to day basis, I’m more likely to starve than eat something strange.

Case in point: Today I ordered a chicken quesa from the food truck parked outside the embassy. (Chicken quesa= chicken meat and cheese in a soft taco shell, folded over like a taco.) I ordered it plain, figuring that minus the onions and sauce, it would be an acceptable lunch and get me through the afternoon. I was wrong. I am not sure how much actual chicken meat made it into my quesa (quesa is not a thing!), but I can tell you that I must have had close to half a chicken’s worth of chicken skin in that thing. I tried to discreetly pick it out, but when I pulled on a huge, slimy chunk, I almost lost what I had already eaten. Enough of that. I pulled the tortilla off and ate that and then supplemented today’s lunch with some chocolate. Not an option for pioneers!

In the end, it appears that I was just never meant for the life of crossing the continent in a covered wagon. If the food that was entirely “meat on the bone” didn’t cause me to starve to death, the inclement weather over the passes would definitely have done me in. (And don’t even think of the possibility of the two combining in a macabre Donner party-esque manner.) As a matter of fact, I’m not sure I survived the virtual trek too many times, even as I was sitting in a warm classroom, avoiding the busy work of phonics sheets. I’ll stick to my white-meat boneless chicken breasts, my humid Malaysian climate with the comforts of AC a few steps away, claiming the giant beanbag/pillow as my own personal reading corner.

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December 24, 2015 · 11:22 AM

Bangles and Babies

Bangles and babies go together, right? What newborn doesn’t want to “Walk Like an Egyptian” or doesn’t dream of an eternal flame burning? Okay, maybe I’ve got the wrong type of bangle there (but really, who doesn’t love singing along to some fantastic 80s ballads?), nevertheless, bangles and babies collided in my world last week.

I’ve been to a lot of baby showers for friends and family over the years (and blogged about several of them), usually grumbling because for a married woman with no kids, baby showers are filled with landmine questions.  In general, baby showers are my least favorite kind of shower (rainy season rain showers in Malaysia may rank as my top choice) because they are open season on personal questions about why I don’t have kids, regardless of how well I know the asker. Apparently, if you are co-guests at a baby shower, you can ask anything that pops into your head!


My less-than-stellar past baby shower experiences were eclipsed last week through when the consular section in Kuala Lumpur hosted a party for one of our officers who is having her baby in late January. Malaysia’s eclectic mix of cultures took center stage Friday night, when our American-style shower was combined with an Indian bangle ceremony.


One of our local staff members who is Indian-Malaysian offered to give the party an Indian-twist, which she did in spades! She brought in sarees for any of the ladies who wanted to really get into the theme of the party (I chose a deep purple one with a beaded paisley pattern long the edge), jewelry to match, all the accouterments for the ceremony itself, and of course, a beautiful saree and flowers for the mother-to-be. Of course, the baby shower was not about me (thank goodness!), but I did love that I got to dress up in an absolutely gorgeous saree and spend the night contemplating a tour in India. (I’m actually not super keen on a post in India, but I am dying to see the Taj Mahal at some point. I don’t need two years of India, but I could definitely use two weeks!)

While most American bridal showers consist of a few games (ick!), gift opening and lots of cake, Friday’s event was unique in the way that the focus was on the soon-to-be-mother. Each person who attended the shower was invited up to individually greet/bless the mother through a small ritual consisting of sprinkling rose water over her, putting sandalwood paste on her cheeks and placing glass bangles on each of her arms. These few brief moments were special, as it gave each guest a chance to say a few words one-on-one, even in a room full of chatting women. It was a bit of calm in a room filled with music, conversations and laughter.

Living abroad can be difficult, especially when it means missing out on important events in the lives of family and friends at home (yes, even baby showers!), but it is nights like Friday that help fill those gaps. Never in Idaho would I have gathered with friends from Yemen, Malaysia, Venezuela and the US, donned a magnificently hued saree and attended an Indian bangle ceremony in celebration of a friend’s impending motherhood.

Sand dances, gold crocodiles and foreign types with hookah pipes-Bangles and babies are where it is at!

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December 16, 2015 · 7:23 AM

Wordless Wednesday: Santa or Clown? Same-Same!


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