Book Review - The Art of Racing in the Rain

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Since I recently started a list on Goodreads, I thought it might be fun to add book reviews to the blog. My aunt had told me about the site a few months ago and I was amazed at how many of my friends were already on there. I started adding books left and right and ended up with a pretty lengthy list.

I actually started reading from the list a couple months ago so I figured I would kick off the reviews with a book I have already read. I'm only on the third one so I won't have to do a lot of backtracking. All of the posts from here on out will be current.

Since I am too lazy to summarize the books myself, the summaries will be taken directly from Goodreads. I started to type up my own summary only to feel like I was back in middle school, writing a book report, trying to word every sentence perfectly, with correct formatting and supporting quotes, and write in such a way that somehow inspired others to read the book too. I do not have time for "homework" such as this on top of everything else I do, so needless to say, I hope you enjoy the Goodreads version. If you have a problem with it, well then scroll down as fast as you can until you reach the review section.

Book #1 - The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

[image source: Goodreads]

A friend recommended this one to me and the moment I checked the book out from the library, I knew it was going to be good. I mean, there's an adorable dog on the front cover, what's not to love?

Summary (source)
Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television extensively, and by listening very closely to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver.

Through Denny, Enzo has gained tremendous insight into the human condition, and he sees that life, like racing, isn’t simply about going fast. Using the techniques needed on the race track, one can successfully navigate all of life’s ordeals.

On the eve of his death, Enzo takes stock of his life, recalling all that he and his family have been through: the sacrifices Denny has made to succeed professionally; the unexpected loss of Eve, Denny’s wife; the three-year battle over their daughter, Zoë, whose maternal grandparents pull every string to gain custody. In the end, despite what he sees as his own limitations, Enzo comes through heroically to preserve the Swift family, holding in his heart the dream that Denny will become a racing champion with Zoë at his side. Having learned what it takes to be a compassionate and successful person, the wise canine can barely wait until his next lifetime, when he is sure he will return as a man.

A heart-wrenching but deeply funny and ultimately uplifting story of family, love, loyalty, and hope, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a beautifully crafted and captivating look at the wonders and absurdities of human only a dog could tell it.

My Review
What I Loved
1. The fact that the book is narrated by a dog. How cool is that? To write an entire book from the perspective of a pet. And not just any pet, an incredibly intelligent, caring, and funny one. It also made me realize though, that your dog sees pretty much everything you do. Which kind of freaked me out. Those late night trips I made to the fridge for six scoops of ice cream with triple hot fudge and every piece of candy in the pantry on top? The ones I thought no one would ever know about? Yea, he sees it all. And secretly judges me.

2. I thought that Enzo really showed insight into a world where simple communication isn't an option. It may be strange, but to me, it made me think a lot about people who are deaf or blind or have other disabilities that make communication more challenging. To understand his struggles made me sad and opened my eyes to see what it might be like for people who lack certain abilities.

3. Enzo is also incredibly wise and philosophical. For me, I've always felt my dogs had a wise old soul and this book definitely made that come to life. It was certainly a story that made me think. I really enjoyed Enzo's commentary and his thought process about everything that was going on around him.

4. "Your car goes where your eyes go."

5. I bawled at the end - which to me, means it was good.

What I Didn't Love
1. I'm really, really not into Formula One racing or cars at all for that matter. I thought the way it was used as a metaphor for life was clever but I just don't get the point. As an environmentalist, when they were describing Denny's races, all I could think about was how much gas they were wasting and how someone might get hurt. I couldn't really get into the thrill of those parts like some people reading probably could. Of course, DOGS on the other hand, I am totally into, so when Enzo got to ride, I was definitely excited!

2. I wanted more details about the humans in the story. Denny's character was very well developed since he was Enzo's owner, but everyone else was kind of vague. I guess that was kind of the point though, since it was written from the dog's perspective. You only know what Enzo knows. I just found it frustrating at times and I wanted to know a little bit more about them.

4 out of 5 stars

Florida Visit

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Our trip to Florida was incredible. We had such a blast visiting with my grandparents. We flew down on Saturday and from the moment my grandma picked us up until the moment we were dropped off on Tuesday, we couldn't stop chatting. There was so much to catch up on and so much to share. Our first and most important stop was at my grandpa's facility in Land O' Lakes.

When we got there, we were so excited to see him and I was so glad that he finally got to meet Mike. We sat outside (it was a gorgeous 75 degrees) and talked for a while. Grandpa started telling stories and he and Mike really hit it off - especially when the topic of golf came up. At each visit throughout the trip, we talked about everything from grandpa's days in the Navy and his life growing up to sports and politics. Over the days we were in Florida, we got to spend quite a bit of time with him which meant a lot to us. We played Farkle, took a tour of the facility, saw some of the old military uniforms they had hanging on the walls, shared lunch, and even got to capture some of grandpa's story telling on video.

We also gave him his belated Christmas present which now hangs over his bed. Mike and I thought it would be nice for him to have some framed photos from the wedding. We were sure to include the one of me holding the old photo of me and grandpa.

Back at the house with grandma, we had an awesome time relaxing in the hot tub, watching the Ravens game, helping her around the house, and putting on old home videos. Grandma even got into the Ravens game with us and put on a purple shirt to support them! What's even better is THEY WON! I can't believe we are going to the superbowl!

We also got to go bowling!

There is honestly so much to share about this trip I could write a whole series of posts. While it was short, it meant so much to spend a few days making up for lost time. The greatest and perhaps the most important thing that we learned from this trip is how essential it is to keep in touch with your loved ones. You only have one family and they should not be taken for granted. Instead, you should cherish every minute you have with them. Whether they live next door or in another country, find ways to connect and stay connected.

My grandparents are exceptionally special people. To hear about the struggles they have faced together and apart as well as their best years and the happiest times they shared, it is easy to see why they are a part of "The Greatest Generation." It was incredibly eye opening for Mike and I to see the love that they share and how strong it is today despite the hardships of my grandpa's illness. When we were leaving on the first day, Mike and I will never forget the moment after we had hugged and kissed grandpa goodbye, when he took my grandma's hand, looked up at her and said "I miss you, Jean." After all they have endured both good and bad, their love is still so strong. Things may get tough and incredibly frustrating. Each day it may be hard to keep spirits up, but the bond they share is eternal. They don't throw in the towel when the first bump in the road comes along. Instead, they cling tighter to each other. It doesn't mean things will be perfect, but they will always have each other.

I think we could all learn a serious lesson from these two.

I am so blessed to call them my grandparents and to have shared some of the best years of my childhood with them. I am now even more blessed to introduce them to my husband and for them to share in the journey as our family blossoms. We can't wait to plan another trip and we are hoping it may even be as soon as this summer.

Florida bound!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

It's mini-vacation time! Mike and I are flying down to Tampa, Florida today for a miniature vacation or vacationette as I like to call it. We will be spending four days with my grandparents that live down in Hudson. We are so excited to see them!

Mike has actually never met my grandfather. We really wanted them to meet before the wedding since my grandpa couldn't travel to Maryland for the wedding, but our busy schedule didn't allow it. We were thrilled when we found cheap tickets a few months ago and I have been looking forward to it since.

The even nicer part is that Maryland is starting to get pretty snowy. I am definitely ready for 75 degree weather and their pool/jacuzzi combo! It will be so great to spend some time with them and I promise to take LOTS of pictures!

Au revior! Adios! Ciao!


Ellicott City

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Since we moved into our apartment, we haven't had as much time as we expected to explore the area. We didn't think we'd have much time before the wedding but I kept saying that once all the planning was done and we got through the big day, we'd have SO much time on our hands... YEA, RIGHT.

Obviously, we are a bit busier than I anticipated and I can't believe how quickly the holidays flew by. It's amazing to me that we are already halfway through January. I wish time would slow down a little so I can catch up!

Since our schedules are pretty full most weekends, we rarely ever get a chance to take time out to see all that this side of Maryland has to offer. So, when an empty Saturday fell into our laps, we knew exactly what we wanted to do.

In all honesty, we started out thinking that we would use the whole day to clean the apartment and get caught up on all of our chores. After about ten minutes though, we realized we were crazy for not taking even a little time to ourselves and hopped in the car to do a little exploring. We headed straight for historic Ellicott City. We parked and made our first stop at this cute little coffee shop, the Old Mill Bakery Cafe. We got a couple of hot chocolates and relaxed for a while. The drinks were divine. Seriously, I don't know how they made them but they were so good. Most places you go, when you ask for a hot chocolate, they hand you a watery-powdery-whipped cream mixture and call it a day. These were no such drinks. These were incredible. They have all kinds of delicious desserts and sandwiches too that they make there. It was a great first stop.

We made our way up and down Main Street going into each of the adorable little shops there. They have some absolutely incredible antique shops. My favorite was Taylor's Antique Mall. If you are looking for something fun to do on a random lazy afternoon, you have to check this place out. It's nuts how many floors and rooms they have. I originally thought it was only 3 stories but it has so many levels and rooms, it's like a maze. Every room you enter is filled with unique pieces and there are always more rooms attached filled with more awesome stuff. If you're one of those people that hears the word "antique" and immediately shudders thinking of your grandmother's furniture, you have no idea what you are missing.

We grabbed some lunch at one of the restaurants on Main Street. I've eaten at a bunch of restuarants there in the past and each time they get better and better. I don't think I've eaten at the same place twice yet just because I want to try them all!
It was an awesome day and it's so cool to have such a neat little town right around the corner. We will definitely be back the next time we find ourselves wanting to waste a perfectly good Saturday cleaning.

Bloomin' Onion Bread

Sunday, January 13, 2013

For our New Years get together, I wanted to make this recipe and bought everything I needed so that I would have it ready to go. Unfortunately, because I got sick, the only snacks that made it to the table were the veggies and dip, chips and salsa, and the cocktail meatballs I had in the crock pot. I was disappointed that we didn't get to try it because it looked so cheesy and delicious. So instead, I saved everything and made it this past week. As a result, I am now slightly obsessed with pull-apart bread recipes! So, so, sooo good!

If you are ever looking for something fun and different to make for a party or a potluck, I recommend this for sure. I found this one over on a blog called Your Homebased Mom. She has all kinds of other good recipes too, so check it out!

I also wanted to mention that she talks about making sure you find a crusty, artisan bread and how others, like the sourdough she tried, might not work if the crust isn't hard enough. Honestly, the loaf I found at our local bakery was sourdough and somewhat soft and I didn't have a problem. I feel like as long as you use the right knife and it's plenty sharp, you shouldn't have a problem cutting it properly. I don't know, that was just my experience and I thought I'd share. Do what works for you!

[Image Source: Bloomin' Onion Bread]

Bloomin' Onion Bread

1 unsliced loaf of sourdough bread (round is preferable)
1 pound Monterey Jack cheese, thinly sliced
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup finely diced green onion, including white part
2-3 tsp poppy seeds

Using a sharp bread knife, cut bread into cubes going both directions but do not cut through the bottom crust. Places slices of cheese between cuts. Mix together butter, onion, and poppy seeds.  Pour over bread. Wrap the whole loaf in foil and place on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Unwrap. Bake 10 more minutes, or until cheese is melted.

Ray's Last Dance

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Since I was a kid, Sundays have always meant one thing - football. In 1996, when Art Modell moved his team to Baltimore, my family was eager to finally have a home team in the NFL to root for after the Colts left years before. We have stood by the team since their inaugural season and even became one of the founding PSL owners. It's an understatement to say we love the Ravens. While we don't have the same history that many other NFL teams do, we are extremely proud of the legacy our team has built. I grew up hearing about the legendary Johnny Unitas and the Colts so when I got to see original members of our very own team breaking records and winning awards, I was proud to call myself a true Ravens fan!

This past Sunday, our last original Raven played his very last game in Baltimore. There was no doubt that the moment Ray Lewis announced his retirement my family wanted be there to watch his last home game. He is the heart of our team and one of the greatest players to ever play the game. Now, I will get the chance to tell my kids the story of the legacy he left behind. The coolest part is that we were there to witness it all. From his signature dance to his part in the last play of the game, we never forget how incredible it was to experience the day!

It was a cold but very exciting day. We met early to tailgate and watch the Ravens face the Colts. We won 24-9. It was sad to see Ray go and I know he knows how much Baltimore loves him. The next question is, how far in the playoffs can we go knowing this will be his last season ever? We'll see next week as we face Denver. Here's to hoping we can go all the way for Ray!

Happy New Year!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Yes, I know that it's officially January 5th and I'm a bit late. Our New Year's celebration was pretty quiet this year. My immune system decided to make things interesting for me and I caught a nasty bug. Last night was the first time since New Year's Eve that I felt up to moving out of bed so we went out to Bonefish Grille to do a little belated celebrating.

On New Years Eve, despite my oncoming illness, we went to my godparents' house like we do every year for dinner with my family. We had steak, steamed shrimp and my godfather's traditional (and DELICIOUS) caesar salad. He uses a secret family recipe and I'm not sure what's in it but it is absolutely addictive. I only get it once a year so I never miss the family New Years party! After dinner, we went back to the apartment and had Kristen, John, and Mike's best friend Matt over to play games and watch the ball drop. We had a really good time but I was starting to feel pretty crappy so we didn't get too crazy. We have big plans for next year though!

Between Mike and me, we haven't had a healthy New Year's Eve since 2009. One of us has always been sick. My resolution for this year is to build my immune system so that I don't get sick again next year. We'll see how it goes!

We were sad to see 2012 go. We had so many big things happen for us this past year. We planned our wedding, got married, went on our honeymoon, and moved into our first apartment. We started our lives together with Mike's new job and my recent promotion. While I'm still adjusting to my new last name, it was a beautiful year and I can only hope that 2013 brings just as much adventure!

We've had a lot of firsts this year and we can't wait to make lots of wonderful memories in 2013! Happy New Year!