Wednesday, December 26, 2018

My Favorite Books of 2018

I fell a few books short of my reading goal for this year, completing only 32 of the 40 I pledged to read.  But then I've been busy getting ready for retirement and travel.  If not for the long commute to work and audio books, I probably would not have even come this close.

My last book read this year was Michelle Obama's autobiography Becoming. It is simply marvelous! Starting with her life growing up in the south side of Chicago, it takes you through her childhood, education, meeting and marrying her husband and starting a family, right through her time as First Lady. It is not a book about Barak Obama, but about her and her struggles raising a family in the public eye.

I read a lot of non-fiction, mostly biographies, and this year was no different. This year I read eight non-fiction books, including two about the Trump White House. But my favorite non-fiction book of the year was Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon, first published in 1982. I'm sure my love of this book is due to my soon to be nomadic life, but even if I wasn't travelling, this book was just so genuine in its portrayal of the people found throughout out country. When push came to shove, it squeaked out ahead of Michelle Obama's book for my favorite non-fiction read of the year.

Being a writer, I have a lot of writer friends, and this summer was the summer of my friends, catching up on some of my favorite series written by some of my favorite people such as Matt Coyle, James Ziskin and Glen Erik Hamilton. All worth reading. I'm all caught up now on their wonderful series, except for the very latest.

I also read a lot of short fiction this year, such as short story anthologies and novellas. My favorite short fiction for 2018 was the novella Cleaning Up Flynn, written by my friend Sarah M. Chen.

And now on to full-length fiction. Two novels really stood out from the others. One was She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper. The other Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds. So different from each other, yet both powerful in their own right. For the winner in my favorite fiction read of 2018, I must go with Long Way Down. This book, written in verse, is haunting and amazing in its depth and simplicity. From the moment I read it, I knew it would make this list.

Wishing you all a 2019 filled with favorite books. Or maybe discover some new authors.

So many books, so little time!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Lady With The Book Tattoo

I have a bucket list. It's not written down. It's fluid and always changing. Over time items get added to it and items get checked off. This year several items were checked off: 1) I finally got to Yosemite; 2) I finally got to the Alabama Hills; 3) I got a tattoo.

I'd been wanting a tattoo for more than fifteen years, but I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted. I just knew that it had to mean something to me if I was going to wear it for eternity. A few years ago I finally decided what I wanted inked onto my body, but I had trouble finding a tattoo artist who saw my vision. Usually they saw something bigger, grander, more expensive.  Originally, I wanted it on my leg, then changed my mind to my arm. Time went by and I kept putting it off.

Finally, one evening in early October, as I was driving home from work, I told myself that tonight's the night! I found a tattoo artist near where I live and he knew exactly what I wanted. The rest is ink history.

And, yes, it hurt.  But I'm thrilled with it!  And just so you know, I doubt I'll get any more.

Recently, I went into a diner near my home. It's a place I go off and on. After I took my seat in a booth, a waitress came up to me and said, "There you are! I was just asking one of the other waitresses if she'd seen the lady with the book tattoo lately."

So, Lisbeth Salander, keep your stinkin' dragon tattoo. I've got books!

Monday, December 10, 2018

T Minus Whatever...

My life is spiraling out of control. It's caught up in the countdown until retirement. Each turn of the calendar page is a march toward something that both excites and terrifies me. Retirement means I'll be hitting the road as a full-time van-dwelling traveler.  My first stop will be Joshua Tree National Park on December 31st.  I want to spend New Year's Eve already engaged in my new life, staring at the desert stars while enjoying some crisp wine.

In the many weeks since I've blogged here, I have signed up for Social Security and Medicare, had a physical, got new glasses, put some of my short stories into wider release, continued writing on a current work in progress, and even cut a convenient hatch in one of the bed platforms in my van. I've also started training my replacement at the law firm.

So many things to do before the 31st. So little time...

This weekend I tackled another big item on my To Do List: I set up my Patreon page for The Novel RV Journal!

I am using the Patreon platform for this because The Novel RV Journal will only be available via a subscription. But from now until January 1st, you will be able to view it for free using the link below. The reason for the subscription site is that The Journal will be a daily detailed account and the raw material for a travel book. Your subscription helps me continue as an indie author, while creating this new book, and others.

However, should you not want to subscribe, don’t worry, I’ll still be posting on Facebook and on Instagram, and on Babble 'n Blog, just not as often or in as great detail as on The Journal.

I invite you to take a look at The Journal on Patreon. I think you'll like it.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Gators, Scorpions, and Bears - OH MY!

Gators, Scorpions, and Bears! Oh my!
It has been four months since I've blogged at Babble 'n Blog. Time flies when you're preparing to retire from your day job and hit the road full-time in a van!  The van is already my home and has been for seven months, but I'm still counting down the days until I make the highways of this country my home.

During these past seven months, I've been very busy learning as much as I can about my Travato and how to live as a civilized nomad. I belong to a lot of groups on Facebook. Some are for van life in general. Some are just for Travato owners. Some are only for women or for campers over a certain age.  In all of them there is often discussion of wildlife.  Not wildlife as in drinking and carousing, but as in creatures who live in the areas I'll be visiting.

Back in May I went camping in Yosemite for the first time.  I loved it, but for weeks before I was worried about bear attacks. I was sure a bear was going to break into my RV and eat me and my Oreos. I never saw a single bear, even when I went for a long walk by myself (brave of me, right?).

Throughout the year in these groups, people talk about the wildlife they encounter. Bison in Yellowstone is a popular one. Sightings of grizzlies in Alaska. Alligators roaming around watering holes on the outskirts of RV parks in Florida. Rattlesnakes in campgrounds in the desert. Of course there are also the tales of spotting sweet deer, the occasional moose, and magnificent birds. Even wild horses. But today one of the forums was abuzz with talk of scorpions.

Yes, I said scorpions. Scorpions in shoes. Scorpions in beds. Scorpions seemingly everywhere.

Let me say this right now, so there's no misunderstanding: I am a city-raised wussie!

Yes, I managed to see Yosemite without being eaten or losing my Oreos.

But still ...

The first quarter of 2019 I'll be spending a lot of time dry camping in the desert, the natural habitat of scorpions and snakes. True, I'll be in a van. But I'm still breaking out in premature hives. What if I encounter said snakes and scorpions? Many people in the forum said it will be winter and the critters will be hibernating. Then someone else will counter with a tale of finding such creepy crawlies in the winter when they slither into people spaces looking for warmth.

Okay, Sue Ann, get a grip! You're not going to let a few snakes and gators spoil your plans, are you?

I'm thinking. I'm thinking.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Laughing In the Slow Lane

People always ask me: What do you miss most now that you're living in a van.

I miss two things: my queen-size bed and my former 15 minute commute to the office.

My Winnebago Travato has twin beds and they are narrow twin beds. It's also the model year before they added the ability to turn the twins into a full size bed. Even so, that feature has its drawbacks, like having to crawl over the bed to get to the bathroom, and having to dismantle the bed every morning, instead of just making it. It took me a few months, but I've finally adapted to sleeping in a twin bed.

One of the biggest downsides of having downsized from a large apartment to a van is I went from a 15 minute commute to my office to a 90 minute commute. Unfortunately, the closest RV park I could find to make home until I retire was in Van Nuys. It's not that far from Century City, only about 15 miles, but during weekday rush hour mornings, I might as well be driving to Vegas.

On really bad traffic days, the commute can stretch to 2 hours or more, depending on whether some dumbass caused an accident along the already overcrowded 405 Freeway in Los Angeles. Without accidents, it takes me about 90 minutes to get to work and about 60 minutes to get home. The shorter travel time home is mostly due to my not leaving the office until after 7pm, when traffic is a bit lighter. However, several months ago there was a horrific accident involving a big rig that made my commute time home over 3 hours.

This is why true Angelinos pee out every last drop before starting their commute.

My usual morning view.
One of my favorite things to do during my commute to work is listen to audio books.  On the way home, I'm more likely to listen to the news. This morning I almost finished Calypso by David Sedaris. I love listening to audio books, especially interesting autobiographies read by the author. Sedaris's books are a series of essays about his life and observations. They are hysterical.

This morning I was in the usual bumper-to-bumper traffic, listening to the chapter titled I'm Still Standing. As the chapter began,  I had just taken a big gulp of coffee. With the first belly laugh, I nearly sprayed it all over my windshield. The entire chapter was that way, so I put a hold on the coffee and just enjoyed the wild ride that is David Sedaris.  I was laughing so hard, tears were running down my cheeks. By chance, I glanced to my left to see the man in the car in that lane watching me and laughing.

He was laughing at me laughing.

Now that's the way to start a Wednesday.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Not That I'm Keeping Track Or Anything

Well, I did it! I gave my law firm my date for retirement. It's January 11, 2019. Just 212 days away!

Holy Crap!

This just got real!

I have 212 days to:

Update my dental work
Get new glasses
Get a passport
Sign up for both Medicare and Social Security
Update websites
Make sure Novella is in tip-top shape
Write my fat ass off and get things ready for publication

I'm in the process of taking care of most of these items, and recently created The Novel RV website and updated the Sue Ann Jaffarian website. Medicare and Social Security will need to wait until I'm closer to retirement, and I'm learning more about Novella all the time and am growing more secure in my ability to take care of my van.

The one thing I really need to focus on is my writing. I've been writing here and there since the beginning of the year, but not nearly at the pace I'm use to writing. Of course, I had to put writing on the back burner a bit while I bought and set up Novella and learned to live in a van. But now I'm back in my writer's groove and ready to produce all kinds of fun things.

Why January 11th?

I can tell you that I didn't pull that date out of a hat. Careful and deliberate planning went into choosing it. Mostly due to finances. You see, I have to be at my job on December 31st to be eligible for pension distributions, not to mention there's the year-end bonus, and I don't turn 66 until the end of December either. So it all works out just fine.

I decided to dribble into the new year for specific reasons also. The last few weeks of the year and first week of the new year can also be extremely busy at my job and I didn't want to leave them in a lurch in case they didn't have my replacement lined up yet.

So When Are New Books Coming Out?

There was also a lot of consideration of when to publish new books. I will be writing like a mad woman and getting new books ready for publication in the next 7 months. After all, I'm mostly an indie author now. But since I am so close to retirement, WHEN to publish them became important because of tax reasons, I will not be releasing new books until 2019, when my personal tax base is much lower.  I will be releasing a new short story soon, but no new novels until 2019.

In addition to the above chores, between now and January 11th, I'll also be taking a couple of camping trips, as Novella and I become better acquainted. So far, we doing great together, and every day I'm sure this was the right decision for me.

Novella and my new office.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Novel RV Lives!

Novella and Me, Together At Last!
I have not updated Babble 'n Blog in three months, but in my defense, I have been very very busy.

You may recall that I was planning on buying a Winnebago Travato, downsizing all my stuff, and moving into the van full-time in preparation of retirement. Well, guess what? That's exactly what I've been doing!

I started getting rid of all my extra belongings in mid-February and didn't stop until it was all gone. Some went to charity, some were sold, much of it was given away. Most of it I didn't care about. The stuff I did went to friends and family. All my books went to a local library and a senior center. The biggest pain in the butt were my clothes. I purged and purged and purged, and I still had way more clothing than I could fit into the van. I gave away even more, and finally I had my wardrobe pared down to the clothing I really did need and little more. The same went for my shoes and handbags. Even my jewelry.

On March 17th, I flew to North Carolina and took possession of a 2016 Winnebago Travato 59K Touring Coach, which was purchased from a friend. That same day, after he gave me a thorough crash course in the vehicle, I hit the road for the long drive back to California. My first stop for the night was a Walmart parking lot, where I not only camped for the night, but also spent a nice wad of cash on things like sheets, blankets, a mattress pad, shelf liner, soap, and food.

The trip wasn't without its mishaps, but all were small and manageable. The largest being when my black tank overflowed because I left the water pump and a faucet on one day while driving. Trust me, you haven't lived until you are stopped in a rest stop wearing rubber gloves and scouring sewer water from your tiny bathroom/shower.

In fact there were a lot of things I did along the way that I never thought I'd ever do:

  • Scrubbing sewer water from my bathroom somewhere along a highway
  • Washing my panties out in a rest stop ladies room because I didn't pack enough (Yeah, I know, I should have added those to my Walmart shopping list.)
  • Taking a shower at a truck stop
  • Sleeping in parking lots of Walmarts and truck stops. (Only one night was spent at a friend's home, all the others were spent in parking lots.)

Once I got back to California, I parked Novella at an RV park at Dockweiler Beach and went back to work, living in the semi-set up van while continuing to empty my apartment mornings and evenings. A week later, the apartment in my rear view mirror, I moved to my semi-permanent spot in an RV park, where I'll stay until I actually retire from my job in less than a year.

Novella is all set up now. She's decorated inside and my stuff is pretty well settled. I really enjoy living in her. She's cozy and cute. We even took our first camping trip. It was to Yosemite for four days to meet up with other Travato owners. Next week, we'll take another trip. The plan is to take long weekend camping trips to get use to it until it's time to hit the road permanently.

If you would like to follow the adventures of  The Novel RV, Novella, and me, you can do so on Instagram (thenovelrv), The Novel RV Facebook page, and The Novel RV website (which is still under construction.) The full story of my maiden trip from North Carolina to California is posted on The Novel RV Facebook page.  Please stop by and catch yourself up. There are also lots of photos of the van inside and out.
* * * * *

In all this there was one major change that wasn't fun, but expected. B, my beloved sweet cat, had to be put down. She was 19-1/2 years old. She had feline dementia and was starting to really fail. She did manage to get moved into the van with mixed reviews on her part. As long as the van was still, she seemed to be okay. When it moved, she lost her mind. I was worried she would die while I was on the road from North Carolina and she was under the care of a friend, but she lasted a few more weeks. She died with me by her side rubbing her belly.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

We Need To Break Up

I just finished my second week of my 28 Day Challenge. I didn't lose any weight this week, and even fell off the wagon once. Considering I lost a lot of weight my first week, I'm not too concerned by the lack of weight loss. Falling off the wagon concerns me more.

One of the things I'm trying to accomplish in my 28 Day Challenge is to adjust my relationship to and with food.

And it is complicated.

We use food to celebrate. We use food to remind us of childhood memories. We use food to comfort us in times of disappointment, anger, and loneliness.

I'm an emotional eater. I tend to eat more when my world is shaken or rocked. The more upset I am, the more likely I am to overeat, and when I'm in that state, I NEVER choose salad or fruit. It's more likely to be pizza, mac 'n cheese, pie, or ice cream. What adds insult to injury is that I'm never happy with just a slice or a cup or a scoop. Having a really bad day means decimating a half bag of Oreos.

Odelia Grey, the main protagonist in my Odelia Grey mystery series, is an emotional eater. She will stuff down a carton of Ben and Jerry's or a box of Thin Mints or cheesecake while stuffing down her true feelings or emotions. But that's a character in a book and it's funny. It's not so cute and funny in real life.

"Put down the cheesecake and no one gets hurt."
Zee to Odelia in Too Big to Miss.

So one of my goals during this month is to break up with food. It can't be a complete break up, of course. I need to eat to live. I just don't need to live to eat.

I did have one night the first week when I received some bad news and was very close to doing the backstroke in a half gallon of ice cream.

But I didn't.

I stood strong again the emotions and long bad habits whispering in my ear to just go for it.

Who will know.
Who will care?

But, you see, I will know. And I will care.

Last night my fall from grace was face-first into a bacon burger and fries, and I know it was because I was so upset over the shooting in Florida. Not that eating that crap would have made things any better for anyone, but I knew I didn't want to go home and cook, and I knew I needed to calm my stress. Seeing that in the past I'd always done that with food, I made the easy choice. But on the bright side, I only ate half of the burger and fries, and I did not have a soda. Baby steps.

My exercise this week was spotty but improved on last week.

I vowed that in 2018 I would fall in love with my life, and this is part of that journey. I like my life, but I need to care for it and truly, deeply, love it. Eating healthy and getting exercise is part of that. And it's never to late to start.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

One Week Like A Boss!

On February 1st I began a personal 28 day challenge.  The challenge was to eat healthy and increase my exercise for the entire month. Yesterday marked the end of my first week - 7 days - and I'm proud to say I did it. YAY! But it wasn't without some close calls.

For the food challenge, for 28 days I vowed to not eat fried foods, fast food, sugar, or dairy. This last one I shouldn't eat anyway because of an allergy to it, but I can't seem to keep my hands off dairy in spite of the horrible rashes, sometimes painful, it gives me, but I'm too much of a dolt to listen to my body.

But I digress..

Anyway, my first near stumble came on the very first day when on my way home, tired and grumpy, I started to point my car in the direction of a fast food drive-thru. But in the end turned the car for home and a healthy dinner. Win!

Later in the week, I received some really disappointing news that put me in a bad funk. I had to go to the grocery store on my way home and once there battled the urge to fill my cart with mac 'n cheese and ice cream - my two favorite comfort foods, along with pizza (notice the dairy theme here, and YES, I am aware of all of the yummy non-dairy substitutes, so no need to be a nag and remind me).  Like with the first day, my strong, determined side, slapped my weak side upside the head. I left the grocery store with only what was on my list, along with a basket of strawberries. Win!

Another challenge for the week was adjusting portion control, even with healthy foods. I fought the urge for second helpings and kept to normal portions. Win!

For the exercise, I didn't jump right into anything strenuous, but I did do senior yoga several mornings and I brought my Fitbit out of retirement and fired it up. I try every day to add a few more steps to those of the day before and have mostly managed that.

Sleep, it's what's good for you. Another health challenge for me is getting enough sleep. I tend to burn the candle at both ends. I get up early and often go to bed late. This week I was asleep no later that 10:30 pm each night, sometimes earlier.  I would get up usually at 5:30, but if I was still tired (and not just being lazy), allowed myself to sleep in a bit.

And the proof is in the pudding! After 7 days of healthy eating and moderate exercise, I am down 5.6 lbs and feel better overall. And I'm much more productive, both at work and in my writing. Do I still want all that yummy fattening food? Yes! But I'm taking one challenge day at a time.

So, what's up for the 2nd week? Incorporating more exercise.

See you in a week!

Thursday, February 01, 2018

28 Days - Go!

One of the attorneys at my law firm who, in spite of having four children and juggling a busy career, is carving out time to challenge herself physically.  For the last several months she has been doing personal challenges such as 30 days clean eating, 30 days of intense exercise/yoga, etc. She's always been one of my favorites and most inspirational bosses and yesterday she left the firm, along with another favorite attorney, to pursue a new opportunity.  I am deeply saddened, but happy for both of them.

Any way, I was lamenting to Hope about how I used to be much more focused on my physical well being. When I challenged myself to do the Camp Pendleton Mud Run in 2009 I set my sights on training for this grueling undertaking, knowing that my doughy out of shape body would be chewed up and spit out. I knew I could not run the course with my gimpy knees, but I did walk the entire course and finished. In preparation, I walked 2-3 miles a day, and on weekends 5-6 miles on a day. I trained for hills and distance. I lost weight and I got stronger.

Okay, I know that was 9 years ago, and I was younger and about 45 lbs lighter than I am today, but more than the weight, I am mourning my lack of focus on my physical care. Last year my doctor diagnosed me with high blood pressure and pre-diabetes.  The blood pressure is now under control and I've lost weight since then, but I'm still depressed/angry that I can't focus on this or take it as seriously as I should. Frankly, I'm pissed off at myself.

Right now I'm focused on packing up my apartment and getting my RV for my retirement next year. I'm also focused on building an independent writing career. But there should still be time to take care of my physical well being. It's especially important as I head into retirement that I be stronger and self-sufficient physically, considering my plan is to hit the road and travel full-time. I need to be the best I can be for that endeavor.

In the movie 28 Days, Sandra Bullock goes to court appointed rehab for drugs and alcohol. Fortunately, I don't have a problem with either substance, and when motivated I eat extremely well. But I still need rehab of sorts.

Beginning today, February 1st I'm putting myself in "rehab."  For the next 28 days I'm going to eat healthy (i.e., no fast food or sweets or fried foods), and I'm going to exercise at least 6 days a week.  There is absolutely no reason why I cannot do this. No reason on earth, considering the other goals I've set and met in my life.

I know you've all heard me say this before, and I'll keep saying it and setting these challenges until I get it right or die trying.

Women like Hope and super athletes like Jessie Graff can be my inspiration, but only I can be my own superhero. And it's never too late in life to be a superhero.

Monday, January 01, 2018

2018 - Fall In Love With Your Own Life

My friend Christopher Hudson sent me this after finding it on a FB page. I loved it immediately, and decided to adopt it for my 2018 mantra.

2017 was a year of turmoil, uncertainty, anger and division, and I don't see much of that ending as 2018 opens.  We can't control a lot of what happens around us, but we can control how we react to it and how we allow it to affect us.

In 2018 I'm sure I'll still be anti-Trump and voicing that opinion. I'm sure I'll be speaking out against things I find unjust. I'm sure I will be disappointed in some of the people around me, and even in myself. And I'm sure I will disappoint others. But in 2018 I vow to think more about other's feelings, and I vow to not let others' bad attitudes and behavior be destructive to my life and thinking.

I have a lot to do in 2018 as I ready for retirement and plunge into my new independent author role. I'll need a clear head and clear path to make those goals a reality, and negativity, whether it comes from others or from my own mind, just gets in the way. No one has time for that!

Every year I make New Year Resolutions. For 2018 I vow to fall in love with my own life. I already like my life and love my friends and family, but in 2018 I'm going to do whatever I can to make my life better, whether that be eating healthier, getting more exercise, managing commitments better, or pushing negativity to the background. 

I will love my life and treat it with respect and kindness. I will protect it, not just physically, but emotionally. If not me, then who will do it?

In 2018 let's all put the hurt and insults behind and fall in love with our lives and grow together.