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Radio Days

Over the summer I divulged my curiosity about reading via audio books in How To Read.

Enamored with the fact that I can listen to podcasts while I walk around London or sit on the train while staring out the window, I was determined to try the concept of reading books this way. 

I thought, what better time to try this than during our Epic American Trip? I signed up for Audible's free month's trial and downloaded one of the books on my 2016 personal reading list (State of Wonder by Ann Patchett if you're curious). 

I was flying to the States on my own before the Hub, so I was surprised to find listening to a book very pleasant in the early hours on my own at Heathrow airport. I sipped my latte and sat in an armchair at one of the cafes as someone read me a story. It was also very good for filling all the "downtime" of being at an airport, such as queuing (lining) up to board.

Later on during our trip I was also excited to listen to the book on the bus from Chicago to Wisconsin (yes, we took a bus from one state to another). This was where I found out about the downside of listening to an audio book: it put me right to sleep. And then I would wake up and not know where I had fallen asleep. For the rest of the trip I didn't really listen to the book (I read a short non-fiction book on my Kindle app on my phone). I never started the paperback I had brought. 

When we returned to London, I wasn't really convinced about how I would really use audio books in my usual routine. I cancelled my subscription. However, when I bought my book club book for September -- Burmese Days by George Orwell -- Amazon offered me the option of getting the audio book for only GBP1 extra. I thought, why not? I had heard about how you could switch back and forth between the text version and the audio as the items would be synced. 

And I discovered something ground-breaking. Because I was so behind on everything when we got back from our trip, I was really rushed for time to finish the novel. I started reading it and realized I was never going to finish in the just over a week I had left. The problem: I was having trouble getting into it. And then I switched to audio. Miraculously, because it was a more passive activity, it got me into the book. I was hooked. So then I switched back to text (I can read a lot faster than someone can read out loud, as most of us can) and finished the book a day before the meeting.

This was a shock for most of my fellow bookclubbers. I am notorious for finishing the book on the tube on the way to our meeting. 

I am planning to start doing this a lot. Buying the audio along with the text just gives me that extra optionality to switch back and forth on whatever makes more sense . Clever, clever sales strategy Amazon. I have been taken in. 

Photo credit: 365-78 JAN 4 via photopin (license)

Photo credit: davidmulder61 Day 270. Earbuds. via photopin (license)

Enjoying The Ride

Hello friends! I realize it's been a pretty prolonged absence from me here on the blog. What I've recently discovered is that the amount of time you're away on a trip is equal to the amount of time it takes to catch up on your regular life when you get back -- and perhaps even longer if a time difference is involved.

The epic American trip was, well, epic. I was in the U.S. for 3.5 weeks, and the Hub joined me for 2.5 of those. We took a total of six flights, two bus rides and numerous car journeys. We visited five states and sampled four different styles of pizza (Chicago, New York, Buffalo and Wisconsin). And no, we won't pick a favorite. It just wouldn't be fair to anyone. But I will say that the pizza rolls we had in Buffalo at a baseball game (go Bisons!) were a pretty amazing riff on the traditional fare.

We were lowbrow and highbrow. We visited the Georgia O'Keefe museum in New Mexico and went to Ghost Ranch the following day to see the spectacular landscapes that so inspired her.

We toured two Frank Lloyd Wright homes in two states and learned all about this great American architect. We also toured the Jersey Shore house in Seaside Heights (architect unknown). But it was the best $10 I've ever spent. And then the Hub had his first ever funnel cake afterwards on the boardwalk.

We met our amazing new niece. And then some adorable new cousins too. We caught up with some family I hadn't seen in eight years -- and some the Hub had never met. It was really special. There was sitting around the fire pit at night roasting marshmallows, tubing on the lake and water sliding (and we all know that going to a water park is pretty close to Nirvana: see post Forget Your Worries And Break Out Your Bathing Suit). It felt a little bit like being a kid again, particularly having handstand contests in the pool with my 16-year-old cousin, who told us that he learned about Brexit on Snap Chat. (I so need to get onto that...)

There was an 18-hole game of golf in the rain (where I had a bit of a sense of humor meltdown on hole 14) and then getting caught under a tarp in another downpour at Ghost Ranch, which reminded me of the truth that sometimes it's the unexpected moments that can make the best memories.

To be very honest about this trip: I was apprehensive of its nature. I not only have homebody tendencies, but masked by my exterior social nature, I need a good chunk of time on my own to recharge. I clearly didn't get any of that. In fact, the only time even the Hub and I had on our own was our barely-24-hours together in Chicago.

But expectation is everything and it helped that I was prepared for the fact that the nonstop schedule and living out of our (three) small suitcases might be tough. I did an incredible amount of planning for this visit which helped me relax more and just enjoy it. There were a few times when I did have a bit of a internal wobble about something or other, but  then I pulled myself back and remembered that this trip was about seeing lots of people who I care about and to really just enjoy the ride (see me taking my own advice in the tubing photo).

It was great to learn that with enough planning I could do this kind of epic trip and really, really enjoy it. I love travelling, but not everyone likes doing it the same way. Also, it reminded me that the one real advantage of being a homebody is that I don't mind coming home: It's nice to be back, and it's nice to be back on the blog.

Your Choice: Burn Or Freeze?

I've had a reader question: Why in so many places in the U.K. (and in Ireland) are the hot and cold taps still separate?

Or precisely how she put it: How do people wash their hands in these double faucets? It's so annoying. I'm constantly burning or freezing my hands by accident. 

I told her I'd investigate it and write a post. She told me to call it: "Burn. Freeze. Not Cool."

I do see her point. And I've been here for so long that I hadn't even noticed recently how often I wash my hands in cold water -- and not just in old Victorian houses like mine, but in recently refurbished upscale gastro pubs. So why are they still installing separate hot and cold taps? 

The historical reason is that Victorian houses had open water tanks to heat for the hot supply, so they could be contaminated by rats (ew) or even dust particles or mold. The only water that was safe for drinking was the cold water, attached to the main water supply. Therefore, the two could not be mixed. 

That, my friends, is no longer the case. From someone who owns a Victorian house, I have yet to find evidence of this open water tank somewhere. But yet, as you can see from the picture above of our upstairs bathroom, the people who lived in the house before us installed two separate taps in a refurb done sometime between 2000 and 2014. (For the record, our downstairs bathroom and the kitchen sink both have mixer taps.)

I think there are two reasons why. The first is just a matter of taste. Because this is the way sinks traditionally looked, there is a desire for this kind of retro look. In a lot of pubs and restaurants the taps even have those old porcelain hubs at the center that say "hot" and "cold" and do look pretty cool. 

The second is that this just falls into the camp of the way things are done here or maybe "people can get used to just about anything." It's similar to the fact that barely anyone in the U.K. uses a dryer for their clothes. Most people hang them on drying racks. This really drove me batty at first -- what sense does it make to hang up your clothes to dry in the what is possibly the dampest country on Earth? But now I don't even think twice about it and I have even been brainwashed into thinking it's actually better for my clothes.

When I asked the Hub about the taps, he didn't see why there was any problem with washing your hands in cold water. He said the only time he used our hot water at the sink was to shave. 

And then he gave me his reason: energy efficiency. For some reason he thinks the Brits are just really green. I'm not totally convinced. I think this is a rationalization of the fact that this is just the way things are done. People -- and countries too -- seem to be creatures of habit. (Well, except when it comes to staying part of the EU apparently.)

This conversation started making me really nervous. The Hub seemed way too comfortable with cold water usage. I just hope he doesn't get any crazy ideas about limiting our use of hot water even further -- I am not a fan of cold showers. 

How To Read

Reading, as I'm sure you've gathered, is one of my favorite activities.

Recently I've been struggling with carving out the time. It's happening with my book group books as well as the books I have on my own personal reading list. And this is especially disappointing after getting very excited about 10 fiction books I really wanted to read this year, and then succeeding at reading a very impressive total of one so far (to see the list, visit my nascent author page here).

In total, I've read nine books in 2016. To some people who read this blog that might seem like a lot. And to others it might seem like very few. But there's a very important reason that I care about this number. It's just a fact that if you want to be writing, you have to be reading -- regularly.

Usually I read books on my way home from the office (the morning is for work reading). But recently, every night after a long day, I just can't concentrate on the written word. Instead, I cop out by listening to podcasts. There is something incredibly restful after a long day of staring at a screen to listen and free up your eyes to look at your surroundings.

So I am considering delving (finally) into the realm of the audio book. It's not a new concept of course. I remember listening to books on tape in the car with my Mom, and when I was a very little kid I would always fall asleep with the record player spinning out the amazing Sesame Street fairy tales. And of course my parents always read to me when I was small, which I suppose is really the same thing. 

I've written before about the recent podcast craze and I think it's taking us all back in time a bit -- to being much more eager to listen to content, like in the days where people sat around the radio in the evening. I think it's a welcome break from the constant barrage of visual content where we are always looking at screens, including those little computers we carry with us everywhere.

I'm curious to find out how listening might change my experience of consuming a book. And it reminds me that humans have told stories verbally for a long longer time than they have been reading them on the page. 

Like anything, I'm sure there are books that are better for listening to -- at this point I'm not considering reading non-fiction books this way. I would probably find it irritating as I read non-fiction books much faster than fiction. 

Will have a try and circle back to you at some point.

How do you consume books these days? Paper, audio, ebook? And when and where do you read?

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Photo credit: A Fada cathedral 1932 via photopin (license)
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