Book Review: Travels with Charley

It’s been a minute, friends! With so much time at home this past year, you’d think I would have read a lot, but the year didn’t allow much time to read. I don’t know what I’ve been doing, really, but I’ve been busy trying to be more present in the moment with everyone in quarantine. Also, I lacked the motivation to read. The only book that has renewed my interest in reading has been the Bible. Recently it’s been the end of the OT and the book of Romans (I’m trying to finish my Bible reading from last year). [I was supposed to read the OT and Psalms/NT simultaneously but it turned out as OT and Psalms for the most part. I’m finishing up the NT and then I’ll be done for another round!] I digress.

Steinbeck. There are travel books, and there are travel books written by Nobel Prize winning authors.

Travels with Charley was a good read. Travels with Charley is America, past and present. Steinbeck’s account of his travels across the country in the early 60s is still very much a reflection of society today. The fact that not much has changed other than its physical appearance is a scary and sobering thought. I learned from his version/vision of America. I caught a glimpse of the country through the lens of an older white, upper-middle class American male. Oftentimes it was funny because he seemed like a cranky old white man doing something he didn’t feel like doing, which was traveling around the country in full circle. Why would he leave the comforts of his home in New York and the embrace of his loving wife for an uncomfortable, long journey around a massive country, by himself, with his dog, in a pick-up truck? He thought it was ridiculous too. But it was going to be his last.

With the knowledge of his deteriorating health and the encouragement from his wife, Steinbeck packed his GMC pickup, specially made with a deluxe cabin, said goodbye to his wife, and hit the road with his faithful “old French gentleman poodle known as Charley.” I specifically say his dog was French because Steinbeck made it a point that his dog was from France. He states, “Actually his name is Charles le Chien. He was born in Bercy on the outskirts of Paris and trained in France, and while he knows a little poodle-English, he responds quickly only to commands in French. Otherwise he has to translate, and that slows him down. He is a very big poodle, of a color called bleu, and he is blue when he is clean.” The dog turns out to be more than just a companion and conversation starter with strangers; he serves the purpose of keeping Steinbeck grounded in each section of the book.

Though Steinbeck is an older-white-upper-middle-class-American-male, his America is not romanticized or idealized. Other than his ability to travel, freely, without being attacked or discriminated against because of his skin color (or gender), his insights and descriptions of the places he visits and the people he meets seem mostly raw and unfiltered. He acknowledges and understands the privilege of his status, and while he also seems to relish in it both socially and economically, he interacts with the poor, the rich, the uneducated, the privileged, and the under- and un-privileged; near the end, he finds himself feeling sick and running away from the clash of realities. He writes, “I had seen so little of the whole. I didn’t see a great deal of World War II…but I saw enough and felt enough to believe war was no stranger. So here–a little episode, a few people, but the breath of fear was everywhere. I wanted to get away–a cowardly attitude, perhaps, but more cowardly to deny… I tossed about until Charley grew angry with me… But Charley doesn’t have our problems. He doesn’t belong to a species clever enough to split the atom but not clever enough to live in peace with itself. He doesn’t even know about race, nor is he concerned with his sisters’ marriage…I’ve seen a look in dogs’ eyes, a quickly vanishing look of amazed contempt, and I am convinced that basically dogs think humans are nuts.” There’s a section in the book where he tries to generalize the American image, but he soon realizes its paradoxical nature. There was no generalization for people, especially for America. Steinbeck’s intention for the book started off as a way to revisit his past and to prove that no two journeys were alike. Along the way, it seemed he also wanted to find that American identity. He ends the book weary and filled with sorrow, glad to head back home, but he leaves us with the idea that “many a trip continues long after movement in time and space have ceased.” Travels with Charley was only a small part of Steinbeck’s life but his experiences and portrait of America continue through our present.

[photos from goodreads]

Some highlights/quotes:

“I saw in their eyes something I was to see over and over in every part of the nation–a burning desire to go, to move, to get under way, anyplace, away from any Here.”

“I drove as slowly as custom and the impatient law permitted. That’s the only way to see anything.”

“Everyone was protecting me and it was horrible.” … “A sad soul can kill you quicker, far quicker, than a germ.”

“In Spanish there is a word for which I can’t find a counterword in English. It is the verb vacilar, a precent participle of vacilando. It does not mean vacillating at all. If one is vacilando, he is going somewhere but doesn’t greatly care whether or not he gets there, although he has direction.”

“It is very strange that when you set a goal for yourself, it is hard not to hold toward it even if it is inconvenient and not even desirable.”

“My voice took on a strident tone of virtuous outrage which automatically arouses suspicion.”

“One goes, not so much to see but to tell afterward.”

“Charley is an elderly gentleman of the French persuasion.”

“I saw only two real-man fights, with bare fists and enthusiastic inaccuracy, and both of those were over women.”

“Sometimes the view of change is distorted by a change in oneself.”

“And there are true secrets in the desert. In the war of sun and dryness against living things, life has its secrets of survival.”

“I remember a man in Salinas who in his middle years traveled to Honolulu and back, and that journey continued for the rest of his life. We could watch him in his rocking chair on his front porch, his eyes squinted, half-closed, endlessly traveling to Honolulu.”


2021 sneaked up on me and I can’t believe 2020 is over. I didn’t set aside any time to think about resolutions and plans for the upcoming year. But then again, if there’s anything 2020 has taught us/me, plans go awry and with the pandemic still causing havoc in our country, there’s not much I can plan to do in the foreseeable future.

So here’s to living life a day at a time, singing His praise as we ride the waves together.

Psalm 96

Sing to the Lord a new song;
    sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
    proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
    his marvelous deeds among all peoples.

For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
    he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the nations are idols,
    but the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
    strength and glory are in his sanctuary.

Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
    bring an offering and come into his courts.
Worship the Lord in the splendor of his[a] holiness;
    tremble before him, all the earth.
10 Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.”
    The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved;
    he will judge the peoples with equity.

11 Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
    let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
12 Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
    let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
13 Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes,
    he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
    and the peoples in his faithfulness.

Jan. 1, 2021

Gift Guide: for the boy (ages 5-7)

I am not a boy expert, so for this post, I asked a friend to suggest some gifts for boys of ages 5-7. Thank you, friend! :) I think it’s interesting how the girl and boy lists are pretty similar. Kids from ages 5-7 seem to enjoy building things, reading books that involve imagination or interesting facts, and they like to engage in cognitive activities/games.

  1. LEGOs. As my friend states, “You can’t ever go wrong with LEGOs.” It’s no surprise because each set is made with such detail and it is satisfying to build as pieces snap into place like a 3D puzzle. And if that’s not satisfying, it’s only because it leaves you hungry to build more. [Star Wars: Anekin’s Jedi Interceptor, Batman: Pursuit of Joker]
  2. Hands-on, sensory/Stem activities. Kids at ages 5-7 are more creative than their younger 3-4 year old selves and can build animals, castles, and entire towns without instructions or guides. They begin to tell stories and use what they build to play with their other toys. It’s fun to watch and listen to what they come up with. *Note: Kinetic sand can get messy very fast. I recommend a large container in which to hold the sand and advise having the child play with it outdoors. [Kinetic sand, Magna-Tiles, brainflakes]
  3. Games. Kids are able to understand rules, follow rules, and play competitively as they learn to strategize and navigate moves. They also learn to lose and not take losses personally–not to make the same mistakes and understand why certain moves are not advantageous. Interactive games are fun and they love it when parents play with them. [Ticket to Ride, Battleship, Spot it!, SushiGo!, Bananagrams]
  4. Bows and arrows. This was a surprise and very original. Don’t worry; these arrows have rubber tips so they will not pierce through people/animals. According to my friend, her boys have been loving the Green Ember books and the latest one was about archery. I think it’s a great gift idea and I’m sure the boys will love it. They can later read other adventure books involving archery, like Robin Hood or The Hobbit, and imagine themselves as characters in the stories. [2-pack handmade bow and arrow set]
  5. Weaving kit. Another surprise! I don’t know why it surprised me to learn that boys could also enjoy crafty activities, when of course! Most kids enjoy making crafts. Funny and true story: My husband said he went through a crocheting phase when he was a kid. Yes, crochet–as in, looping yarn with a small hooked needle to make scarves, doilies, hats, etc. As mentioned in the gift guide for a man, my husband is the most barbaric man I know, and to imagine such a wild child sitting down, crocheting… haha, what! That simply validates how boys, too, can enjoy what would usually be perceived as girly activities. Such crafts promote concentration, patience, and creativity. Why not encourage boys to learn to sit still and concentrate without the use of video games. With the weaving kit, kids can make coasters, dust wipes, quilts, or weave different patterns just for fun. [Ultimate Weaving Looms & Loops]
  6. Chapter books or Illustrated informational texts. As mentioned above, the Green Ember series are a hit with kids this age. I was also recommended this series by another friend and she said the library provides free audiobooks to download (according to the library’s digital lending period). I downloaded the first book onto my phone and my daughter and I listened to it in the car as we travelled. We don’t go out so much, so I haven’t played it for her as regularly, but I also borrowed the book onto my Kindle and have been reading it with her throughout the week. Another recommended author was Julia Rothman. She writes and illustrates informational texts and there is so much to learn for curious minds. [Green Ember series, Last Archer: Green Ember Story, Julia Rothman Collection]

Thank you to my friend who recommended the items. I may have bought my daughter some of these gifts as well. ;)

Gift Guide: for the Girl (ages 5-7)

Before my daughter turned six, all she wanted were things that sparkled and glittered. She still does, but now that she owns everything sparkly made within the past five years, she’s learned to branch out to less colorful, cognitive play things, like board games. It does require us, as parents, to expand our patience and play the games with her countless times, and to let her win, sometimes. We have also learned to make it fun: My husband and I play Apples to Apples (Disney edition) like a game within a game, us against each other and wife vs. husband–a game to see who knows our daughter better. A funny moment was when she was the judge for the word ‘trustworthy’ and the cards he and I put down were ‘fireworks’ and something that actually related to trustworthiness. She looked at the cards with a serious expression and said, “Hm, these are both really good,” and proceeded to choose ‘fireworks,’ which was my card. It was such a funny moment as my husband sat there with mouth agape. Why did I put ‘fireworks’ down for ‘trustworthy’? Because I had no cards related to trustworthiness, and out of all my cards it was the sparkliest, which I thought would intrigue her. And I was right! haha. She is the most trustworthy to choose the pretty cards, and fireworks was pretty trustworthy to her. No matter what the word is, she will always choose the princess card and anything cute or pretty; so when it’s me against him as our daughter plays the judge, it’s ultimately about who has the prettiest card.

Anyway, here are some things she has enjoyed this year and I hope may give you ideas for the girl in your life who is of similar age.

  1. Board games. The junior games are perfect introductions to learning the adult versions. Monopoly has so many themes, I’m sure you can find one to your kid’s liking. And chess! Have you watched The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix? I never learned to play chess, or any board games for that matter, and the show has sparked my interest. I started reading about how to play, but reading about a game is confusing and I couldn’t wrap my head around all the different moves without physically seeing how they would play out. If I get the chess board, my daughter and I can learn together. [Monopoly Jr., Apples to Apples (Disney Edition), Scrabbles Jr., chess board]
  2. Book sets. My friend recently held an Usborne book party online and I bought my daughter several sets since she’s now able to read chapter books. She especially enjoys reading the non-Disney version fairy tales and lift-the-flap informational texts. Another friend and I got to talking about how we grew up reading American Girl books, and how she’s been rereading them with her daughter and found them just as entertaining. She lent me a few sets, and I really enjoyed Kit’s story, especially because it takes place during the Great Depression and it resonated with today’s economic climate and social unrest in a kid-friendly way. Each girl has 6 short books, and if you can get a hold of the collection that’s all in one hardcover, it’ll be easier to keep organized as you collect all the girls’ stories, as I’m sure you will. ;) [Usborne: Questions and Answers, Usborne: book sets, Usborne: Anne of Green Gables, American Girl: Kit story collection]
  3. Digital camera. You may not need to buy one if you have an old one lying around, even if it be 10 megapixels–they wouldn’t know the difference. My daughter and I used to visit museums and gardens before covid, and every time we’d go, I would take pictures with my phone. She started asking if she could take photos too, so I’d give her my phone and she’d walk around taking random photos with me standing nearby feeling uneasy she might drop the device. I recently found an old digital camera collecting dust in my closet and I gave it to her to see if she’d play with it, and she’s been having so much fun recording stories with her Barbie dolls, and one time she took photos of my husband throughout the day and it was funny to see her unique angles and candid shots of her father going about his day–on his computer, washing the dishes, organizing the garage, watching football, walking, etc. When we’re able to go out in public again, I’m sure she’ll have fun taking photographs and videos with her own device. [Polaroid 16MP Waterproof digital camera]
  4. Scooter. The ones made for kids nowadays has two wheels in the front and one wheel in the back. This is supposedly more intuitive and helps them navigate and control the scooter better as the child leans in the direction in which he/she wants to turn without needing to turn the handles. [Micro Kickboard]
  5. Terrarium kit. Any craft kit is a good gift as long as it’s within their interests: unicorns, jewelry, fairy gardens, etc. I found this terrarium kit on Etsy and it’s perfect for my daughter as her recent interests have turned to fairies and gardens. [Terrarium Kit, Big Gem Diamond Painting kit, Enchanting Craft Kit, Crayola Glitter Dot Key Chains]
  6. 3D puzzles. I found this product online and it seemed fun as it comes with a book. There are different stories from which you can choose. [Storytime toys]
  7. Osmo for the iPad. If you’re okay with screen time, Osmo has fun, interactive, and educational activities that uses the child’s work to translate onto the screen. It’s fun to watch drawings come to life and math becomes play. [Osmo Genius Starter kit, Studio Disney Frozen 2, Math Wizard Bundle Game]
  8. Sparkly shoes. I had to include one sparkly gift. ;) I’ve learned that quality and cost doesn’t mean anything to my daughter. In fact, the cheaper and tackier it is, the more she’ll like it and actually wear. I’ve then learned to embrace her unique fashion sense and give up the notion of making her look normal in public; because the truth is, most girls her age dress in tulle and sparkles and that is, in fact, normal. [glittery dress up shoes, printed ballet flats, leather padded sandals, toddler lily ballet flats]
  9. LEGOs. Surprisingly, I have been the one interested in LEGOs this year (due to covid confinement), and my daughter has learned to help me organize pieces and read visual instructions as I’ve built my “small” Harry Potter collection. She has her own LEGO sets and now she’s able to build them completely on her own. [Dolphins Rescue Mission]

Practical Gift Guide: For the Lady

Continuing from my previous post, here is a list for the lady in your life. These items are practical but nice enough to call a gift, because no one needs a silk pillowcase, but they say it’s gentle on the face to prevent wrinkles and it’s an indulgence one wouldn’t own unless it was a gift.

  1. Longchamp Le Pliage tote. My mom recently shared that she prefers to carry and use lightweight objects because of her weakening wrists. Whether it’s plates or bags, she gravitates towards lightweight objects, and the same goes for me even though my wrists are fine. The Longchamp one is the ultimate lightweight carry-all bag and they come in various sizes and colors. It’s good quality, it matches most everyday outfits, and you won’t feel guilty if you spill coffee all over it as I have done too many times. [Longchamp Large Le Pliage tote]
  2. Name/signet rings. I’ve been following a blogger who now has 5 kids. She’s been ordering and wearing these gold rings with each of her children’s names, and I thought they looked chic stacked and worn together. A signet ring worn on the pinky is another good idea–you can use your children’s initials and combine them onto one ring. I made a ring of my daughter’s name and I love it. [Dainty Stacking Name Ring, Gorjana Bespoke Signet Ring]
  3. Diamond stud earrings. Diamond studs are surprisingly affordable. They don’t have to be large 1+ carat diamonds, because you know, we’re not rappers, and I think the smaller ones can be comfortably worn every day. If not for Christmas, diamonds studs would also be a nice gift for a birthday. [Mejuri diamond mini studs]
  4. Silk pillow case covers. I’ve read years ago on Cup of Jo and I’ve read it again today on Good Housekeeping, that silk pillow cases do make a difference. As I’ve mentioned in the intro, it’s something one wouldn’t purchase and own unless it was a gift. If you do decide on buying one, do consider whether the product is machine-washable and easy to care for, because there’s nothing worse than giving your lady something else to add onto laundry. [Fisher’s Finery 100% Pure Mulberry Silk Pillowcase, Slip Pure Silk Pillowcase]
  5. Ember mug or Cold Cup . Only consider it if she appreciates drinking hot beverages throughout the day. It’s pretty expensive, so unless you think she’s going to enjoy using it regularly, it’s going to end up as one of those gifts that sits in the back of the cupboard or remain in its box to regift. As the weather gets colder, my mom has mentioned a couple of times she’d like a nice warm cup of coffee or milk. She’s the type to appreciate something like this as long as it’s easy to use, but there are some women who only drink iced beverages all year long, so if that’s the case, a reusable tumbler might be a better choice. [Ember Mug, Starbucks Cold Cup, Kate Spade Insulated Tumbler]
  6. (Machine-washable) Silk Pajamas. Similar reasons to purchasing silk pillow case covers. I think a lot of us still wear leggings and old t-shirts as pajamas, and I personally will not understand why cotton pajama sets are over $50. But If you’re going to buy a nice pajama set, go all the way and buy the silk ones. [Everlane Women’s Washable Silk Pajama Set, Mommesilk Piped Silk Pajama Set]
  7. Wireless earbuds. Same reason as I’ve provided in the Men’s Gift Guide below. It’s a must have. [Apple Airpods Pro, Sony – WF-1000XM3 True Wireless Noise Cancelling earbuds]
  8. Jo Malone body cream. When I was going through my dry skin trauma, I tried many types of body creams, butters, and oils. One product that felt and smelled especially nice was Jo Malone’s body cream. It didn’t cure me from my dry skin, because nothing could, but it felt nice to apply right before bed as the mild scent comforted me to sleep. The texture is silky smooth and I especially like the ‘myrrh and tonka’ scent. I always wanted to know what myrrh smelled like, and after I bought the cream during Nordstrom’s anniversary sale, I use it as I imagine it was one of the gifts the three wise men gave to baby Jesus. My husband said it smelled like an old white lady, ha, and maybe it does, but it’s comforting nonetheless like a grandmother’s hug. There are safer scent options, like ‘nectarine blossom and honey,’ ‘wood sage and sea salt,’ ‘peony and blush suede,’ to name a few. [Jo Malone Myrrh and Tonka body crème]
  9. Fur-lined boots. What do you call winter slippers you can wear outside? (No, not Crocs) UGGs! Yes, there are cheaper options, but if you’re going to indulge her, the soft shearling and quality of UGG brands are incomparable to others. Years ago, I once bought copycat shearling lined boots from Costco for my mom and grandma thinking they were practically the same thing. My mom later shared that though the boots warmed her feet, the bottom of the shoes lacked ridges and grip, so she slipped everywhere in the icy/snowy roads of Korea. I was so sorry! Since then, I have vowed to always buy the real deal. [UGG Classic Mini II, UGG Classic Femme Toggle]
  10. Heat pads. It’s for cold nights, that time of the month to relieve cramps, back pain, and stress relief. [Sharper Image Infrared Heating Pad, Pure Enrichment Heating Pad]
  11. Hair products for thinning hair. My mom once had thick hair like mine. I don’t think it was as thick, but she didn’t worry much about hair thinning during her younger days. That is, until she reached her 50s. If she doesn’t clip/tie her hair a certain way, you can see her thinning area. She’s never been a high-maintenance lady and never invested in quality skincare items, but I’ve been noticing its repercussions lately. Her once pretty eyes are now droopy and her once puffy thick hair is now flat and thinning. I know the stress I’ve caused her has also affected her, so it makes me all the more sad to see her so aged, especially these past few years. I don’t know if the hair products will help, but it’s worth a try and it’s something I know she wouldn’t purchase on her own. [Kératase Densifique Bodifying Shampoo, Kératase Initialiste Advanced Scalp and Hair serum, Ouai Fine Hair shampoo & conditioner]
  12. Skincare products. Same reason as above: for preventative, self-care efforts. Any quality skincare product is a good gift in my book. If purchasing a gift set, beware of sample sizes. I think many gift sets during the holidays tend to trick you into buying more sample sizes than the original sizes you think you’re purchasing, especially if you’re shopping online. You won’t be able to tell if you’re buying the real sizes or sample sizes unless you look at the ounces. Calculate well and don’t get tricked unless you’re not sure if the recipient will like the brand and therefore you intentionally want them to try sample sizes. Also, try not to buy gift sets with cleansers or toners (unless that was your intention). If you don’t know what you want to buy, buy the good stuff with creams and serums. [Sulwhasoo Cult Classics, Estée Lauder 3-piece Radiant Skin Repair, Clarins Double Serum Set, Charlotte Tilbury Red Carpet Skin Secrets, Sisley Paris Black Rose Skin Infusion Cream Set, La Mer The Hydration Comfort Mini Collection]

Next up: Gift Guide: for the Girl