Charting life's circuitous path

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Ode to Sparkles – Saying goodbye to a beloved car

Ode to Sparkles

Her bright lights lit our travels and our smiles.

We’ll ne’er forget her smooth ride and black wheels.

May your slumber be peaceful and your oil clean.

Goodbye, sweet aveo, our beautiful, wonderful machine!

Review: AutoNation Direct – Sell Your Car

Just before the stop sign that permanently checked our car into extinction, we had just been loving our aqua Aveo.  The bright little car had drawn appreciative looks and smiles as it scooted down to the shops and to work.  The car had never given us grief, even though others seemed determined to crash into us at every opportunity.  What was it about our bright, shiny color that attracted other cars to it like flies?   We remember the horror of the slowly reversing SUV in the grocery parking lot that dented our door, or cringe with phantom pain as the man smashed his door open into ours at a burger joint (they kindly paid for our meal, but it didn’t erase the small dent).  There were the scary icy spiels and the distracted teenagers ignoring stop signs.  Through it all, the trooper kept chugging.

Still, it got us where we needed with nary a squeak and we loved our car.  It was only the second car we had bought and it had a lot of memories.   We went on summer trips to renaissance fairs, attractions and to see family.  We traveled to nearby cities and carted our pets, flowers and groceries.  People would stop us and say “That sure is a nice car!  I love that color!” as we got out.

aveoUntil its timing belt pulley decided to break and suddenly there were no more sunny vacations in its future.  Now, it’s probably destined for the scrap yard.

And I can’t tell you how hard it was to let her go. 😦

This happened in April and it wasn’t until a week ago that we finally got up the nerve to sell it. It sat for four months as we struggled with what to do.  Do we keep it and fix it for a cool $5k? Do we trade it in for another car and risk two car loans?  Do we sell it and deal with the hassle of a sale?


So, I looked around online for the answer (as you do) and found that various car sites will buy your car.  AutoTrader will hook you up with a dealer for an estimate and AutoNation Direct will give you an offer upfront.  We tried both, but while we tried to get our car to the dealer for AutoTrader, it didn’t work out.  The sandpaper-y sound from the brakes and the mysterious thumping (along with only running on 2 cylinders) seemed a bit iffy to take up the highway.  We decided to play it safe and take the AutoNation Direct’s offer of…

Are you ready for this?

$300  😐

Wow, right?  To us, the car was worth much more than that.  I had hoped for at least a $1000. 🙄 Sure, it had been in a few accidents ( they knocked off $200 for the bad report), but it was in beautiful shape!  Sure, the engine needed replacing (and here’s where they knocked off the rest), but that wasn’t so bad.  Course, we couldn’t afford the cost of a new engine, but that didn’t mean it was worth just $300.  Poor thing. 😳

While the offer arrived quickly (got it the night we submitted our info), the actual process of getting rid of the car was laborious.

Here’s the basic breakdown of working with AutoNation Direct to sell your car:

  1. Fill out their form with all of your details and the car’s nitty-gritty.
  2. Wait to receive offer, once received, accept or decline it.  They called us the next day and the day after asking us our decision. It was like we couldn’t get them to stop calling us. This did give the impression they were on top of things (especially since the offer expires after 10 days).
  3. Accept their offer by calling their number.  Then, if you happen to live in a large city but unfortunate enough not to live anywhere near their dealers, you wait.  And wait.  We waited for the guy to ask his boss (who was in a meeting) about what to do.  We called back the next day when no call came and then waited to hear from the dealer that was finally assigned to us (they had no clue what we were talking about and called AutoNation Direct who said they had given it to the wrong people).  Then we waited for the call from the correct dealer that we were promised would happen within 24hrs.  No call until 48 hours later to confirm that, yes, we did want to still sell it.  Then we waited again for the call on the day they were to pick up the car and drop off our check.
  4. Finally, you hand over your title, take your check and say a sad goodbye to your wonderful, beautiful car.

And after all that delay, they had the gall to knock off $4!  We were so tired of it by that point that we didn’t argue.  Just took the loss and moved on.

In all, while AutoNation  Direct does take your car and they do give you a check, the actual process was tedious.  Would we do it again? Not sure.  I suppose we might, but I think next time we’ll remember how it all went and we might go a different route.  We wish we had traded it in when we bought the new one, but that’s all over now.  I don’t know if the process is smoother if you happen to live next door to them.  I don’t know if you get more money if your car lacks major repairs.  Maybe our experience was hampered by living in a big city that they didn’t actively support.

I’d give the process a 3/5.  It got the job done, so no complaints there, but if you have other routes, maybe look into them first before you go with AutoNation Direct.  They aren’t bad, but they weren’t something to gush over, either.


(All opinions are definitely mine and no, I wasn’t sponsored by any of the sites mentioned.)

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2013 – a bundle of reads

Being already Christmas Eve, I always wonder who exactly believes, I mean really believes that this is the “most wonderful time of the year”. 😐 Between all of the cookie baking, blitz cleaning and gift wrapping I remember why I don’t really like Christmas.  Of course, once the BIG day arrives it’s like giving birth to your first born. There’s excitement and happiness as you eat all of that yummy food you spent the last week prepping, and all of the pain and suffering of the previous 30 days are magically wiped clean away.

Until the next December when you wonder why it was that you thought you could take on multiple parties and organize too many gift exchanges. 😯

Ah, Christmas! Thanksgiving doesn’t even compare.

Once the new year arrives all fresh and sparkling with promise, hopefully we can all kick back and relax a bit.  I know I plan to indulge in a bit of me time.  Like go through my old school work boxes and finally toss the lot in the recycling bin (so I like to organize a bit for fun!). Or play some computer games that I’ve been woefully ignoring (Playstation, here’s looking at you).  I may even just sit back on the couch with a blanket tucked around my feet and a good book in hand.  Quiet coziness with a touch of adventure sounds heavenly right about now!

Not that I haven’t been reading.  In fact, according to Shelfari, I’ve read nearly 100 books!  (96, in fact – so close yet so far!)

Admittedly I’m lucky that I work in a place that lets me listen to audiobooks so I get through books like they were cookies.  If I had to rely on actually sitting down with a real paper and glue book, well, let’s just say that the ghost of English degrees past would come and haunt me.

With Christmas tomorrow and New Year peeking out from beneath the tree skirt, my present to you is a list of my top reads from this year.  These are books that surprised me with their lovability and made me want to give out copies to all of my friends.  They’re series that just keep getting better and they’re classics that made me remember why it was that I fell in love with books in the first place. 🙂

So, with little ado, here are my top reads for 2013! A brief summary and opinion is presented for you so as to avoid spoilers but whet the appetite.  You can always follow my reads on Goodreads (see the widget in my right sidebar).

Best in Series: The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher.

StormFront_Hardcover_1-120 (I just finished book 7, Dead Beat.)

Meet Harry Dresden – a wizard trying to make a living in modern-day Chicago with a batch of quirky friends and a whole lot of evil enemies.  Mainstream Chicago doesn’t know about the magical underbelly of the city and it’s only the gruesome side that they see.  This is paranormal without the glitz.  There’s real pain and real nastiness in this series that doesn’t waffle in the romantic side like a lot of other paranormal books. I like how wise-cracking Dresden can be and it’s that lightness mixed with grit that keeps me reading this series.  It’s also one of those rare series that keeps getting better and not weaker (like some other series *Evanovich*) and Butcher actually develops the lives of his characters (*Evanovich*).  The sheer number of books is a bit daunting, but I don’t let it get to me.  I savor each book and I let a bit of time pass before I indulge again.  These are books with weight, and I find a bit of time in-between can make each read that much better.

Best in Fiction: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozekiozeki

This novel plays with time and distance that can make your head hurt a bit if you think too hard.  If you just accept it and focus more on the teenage girl trying to live in modern day Japan after living in the US, the 30-something writer who is trying to exist in the way-beyond on the West coast, and the diary that connects the two and their existences, then you’re good to go.  It’s a complicated and sometimes brutal novel that I found difficult to put down.  I connected with both characters and their dual ethnicities and with a lot of the day-to-day identity issues they face.  It’s a wonderfully told tale that carries you along like the wave that carries the girl’s diary to the woman across the world and the pasts that bind them together.

Best in Comedy: Where’d you go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

booksI laughed out loud more with this novel than with any other this year (and that included Sedaris’ very funny Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls)  It’s crazy and snappy and just spot on in its ridiculousness to draw light to the reality of the characters’ situations.  Bernadette is a mother whose architectural career has been put on hold after the birth of her daughter, Bee.  Her marriage, her relationship with her daughter and the people of Seattle are all tested when her daughter announces that she wants to go to the Antarctic if she gets all As.  It’s told from Bee’s perspective for the majority of the book but it becomes more of a “portfolio” once Bernadette goes missing and Bee sets out to discover everything that might have led to her mother’s disappearance.  I loved the freshness of this book and how it tells a typical story of a woman who’s lost her way in a completely different and hilarious way.


Best in YA: Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy

Skulduggery isn’t your normal PI –he’s a skeleton for one and a wizard to boot.  And he’s just acquired a new partner in sleuthing, twelve year old Stephanie Edgley.  Except something wants Stephanie dead and it’s up to the two of them to stop the evil from manifesting.  This is a paranormal world that feels more Dresden for kids and the interplay between the two characters had me smiling.  I liked how quick and witty it was and how it was a kid’s book that felt intelligent and fun.  Skulduggery’s life is still mysterious by the end, but what we do learn left me wanting the next book in the series.  This is the sort of novel I’d have devoured as a child and I loved it more for giving me the chance to feel 12 again.

10600242Best in Non-Fiction: How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

Not really a how-to guide at all but more of a “this is what I learned” kind of book.  Moran is part crude, part intense but all woman as she lays out what it means to her to be a woman.  I agree on most of her points (and not quite agree on others) and while I can’t say we share any life stories, the essence of the experiences are definitely relatable.  I found her bluntness refreshing in a way because it burst the topic out of its confines.  True, sometimes she seems to do it for the sake of shock and awe, but the very fact that it didn’t bother me after a bit means that our own hang-ups are just that – they aren’t intrinsic to the words themselves but to the ideas wrapped up in the surrounding mess.  I only wish I had this book to read as a young feminist growing up in an anti-feminist culture.

Best cookbook: Vegan Holiday Kitchen by Nava Atlas


There were so many good cookbooks this year that it was hard to narrow it down.  I picked this one, though, because it has a bit of everything and it’s all veg.  I’m not a vegan since I eat a bit of dairy, but I appreciated the vegan recipes in this book because Atlas takes the time to break it down by holidays and each is packed with flavor.  I am always tasked with bringing a vegan dish to potlucks (my grandmother can’t have cheese so most casseroles are out) and this book gives me so many different ideas and all of them are do-able (no uber-gourmet dishes here).  The color photographs are beautiful and the recipes are easy to read and follow – double win!

 Best classic: The Double by Fyodor Dostoevsky Golyadkin doesn’t know what’s happening to him and by the end, you won’t either.  It’s a brilliant telling of psychological collapse as Golyadkin meets his “double” who steals his life away bit by bit until ultimately you’re left with only one.  Dostoevsky weaves the story so intricately around the collapse that the reader can only hope to understand it by joining Golyadkin in his downfall.  I have a soft spot for all of Dostoevsky’s work, but this one truly made my mind melt by the end – but in a good way!  It’s a story that doesn’t give it to you straight and because of that, it’s hated by many.  If you’re open to a bit of mind-play then I definitely recommend this book with a strong cup of coffee.

Happy Holidays and may all of your reads be bright!

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Blueberry Crumble Pie and Seattle Indulgence

I love crumble.

I love pie crust, too, but between that and crumble, the crumble has the rumble to win it all the way!

bluepieBlueberries are on sale at my area grocery stores and I couldn’t resist buying a few pints.  We ate a lot of dessert on our vacation and while it was all delicious (Shari’s Creamy Pecan Pie was voted our table’s most yummy pie and it was all MINE!), I didn’t really go for many fruity desserts.

Sure, there was a wonderful strawberry frosted, vanilla cake with rhubarb compote cupcake from Cupcake Royale.  I was also told that the double chocolate vegan cupcake was very good and the salted caramel and chocolate cheesecake cupcakes went down a hit as well (and gobbled up just as quickly!). We definitely lucked out with having the shop a minute down the road from our rental home!


So many wonderful cupcakes with just the right amount of frosting and a deliciously dense cake – almost like a dense angelfood in texture. Even though there are a lot of chocolate cupcakes in this box, these were all that were on offer. Not your place to go if you want a wide selection of chocolate cupcakes.

There was also the surprisingly delicious white chocolate cheesecake with berry topping from Collin’s Pub in Pioneer Square whose thick crust won my heart and vote.


A wonderfully understated cheesecake at a pub that didn’t have a dessert menu and only two desserts on offer. We’re glad we asked our server! Seattle doesn’t seem to really do dessert menus as much as the midwest, so definitely ask!

But what we overly indulged in were the cinnamon laden pastries.  Like the chocolate chip cream cheese topped cinnamon roll from the Pike Place Bakery.  The extra large, two palm sized buns were dolloped generously with cream cheese frosting and sprinkled with chocolate chips and curls.  We also ate a Bavarian cream horn and an apple fritter from this bakery, but they paled next to the deliciousness of this bun.  (In fact, I’d suggest skipping their other desserts since they all tasted like ones you can get at other places like your local grocery – not bad, but nothing fancy.)  If we ever go back to the market and brave the crowds again, we’re hitting them up for more of these buns!


The moist bun wasn’t overwhelmed by the topping at all – perfection!


A lot of great looking desserts, but they didn’t all live up to their looks. Be selective here and go for the buns.

Our sticky fingers were well licked by the end of the vacation and it was all worth it!  Every cinnamon bun, apple danish, coffee oreo ice cream cone bit of it!  🙂

But I was seriously craving my OWN, home baked dessert and one with fruit.  So, when these bright blueberries went on sale, I knew that I wanted to make a pie.  We had a wonderful piece of cream pecan pie at Shari’s Cafe and Pie, but while it was decadent and definitely worth indulging in, it wasn’t quite the same as a solid, crunchy, fruity crumble pie.


Shari’s Cream Pecan Pie – very delicious, although more cream and less pecan than I would have preferred. There are 4 layers in that pie – pecan pie filling, a dense vanilla cream, chocolate (I think) and the cream topping.  Whew!

I love me some double crusted pies, sure, but I have a big soft spot for crumble pies.  There’s something irresistible about that crunchy, oat topping on a fruit pie that brings out the flavor of the fruit without weighing it down like a crust can.  I also like really thick crumble, so I went for big crumbs with a LOT of spice – but not too much spice that it dominated the berries.

This is no ordinary blueberry crumble pie.  This is the BEST blueberry pie I have ever made.  The fresh berries maintain their plump shape, the crumb crumbles on your tongue and the flavors are deep and developed.  Go on, try it out!  Trust me, this is no runny pie. 😉


Blueberry Crumble Pie


1 pie crust either homemade or pre-made.  I used a Trader Joe’s pre-made crust with great success.


  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar (or 2 tbsp brown sugar splenda – which I used and it worked beautifully)
  • 1/2 cup old fashioned oats
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter (use more if needed, but that’s all I needed to make my crumbs)


  • 5 cups blueberries (2 pints)
  • 1 tsp lemon juice (or Real Lemon crystals)
  • 1-2 tsp dried orange peel
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar (or, again, 2 tbsp brown sugar splenda)
  • 3 tbsp flour + 1 tbsp potato or corn starch


  1. To make the crumble: Mix all dry ingredeints in a medium bowl.  Using a grater, grate butter into bowl and mix with fingers until big crumbs form. Set aside.
  2. To make the filling: Rinse berries, pick any stems and set aside.
  3. Mix dry filling ingredients in a plastic bag and reserve 1 tbsp for later.  Sprinkle rest of mixture over rinsed berries until coated.
  4. Press crust into 9 inch pie pan and sprinkle reserved mixture over crust.  Fill with coated berries (it might mound a bit, but that’s okay!).  Top with crumble and press down gently (don’t squish the berries but press to keep the crumble in place).  Place in preheated 375 F oven and bake for 50 – 60 minutes or until golden brown.  Cool completely on a wire rack and serve at room temperature.

Leftover pie won’t go all runny on you and will hold its shape and its crumb the next day, if need be. 🙂