Beginning the Year with Austen and Tea

2016 was a lot of ups and downs for me. But on the whole, it was not one of my better years. So, 2017 is going to be about small steps and silver linings (it is; I have as my theme in my new planner). And honestly, 2016 needed one helluva chaser so it was time for some Austen. And tea.

Luckily, Austen fit in well with one of my reading goals. I need to empty my to-read drawer and two books are fit my need for an Austen chaser. I started with the annotated version of Pride & Prejudice that I picked up in the coolest bookstore I have even seen in an airport during my work trip to Milwaukee in November (a trip I’d otherwise happily never think of again as it was over election). It was too good a deal for the copy that I happily hauled the substantial volume back to Tallahassee. This annotated version is edited by David M. Shapard and I’ve seen added his other Austen annotated versions to my reading list. P&P of course can always stand on its own but add in lots of footnotes, explaining language, social customs, Austen’s own experiences as well as literary criticism and this Janeite is in a particularly fabulous nerdy heaven. I savored both re-visiting my second favorite Austen and learning more about all the world it inhabits historically and along the author’s timeline.

Which brought me neatly to a biography on Austen. I’ve read quite a few and honestly, unless someone stumbles across a hitherto unknown cache of Austen letters (swoon at the thought! Can you imagine?!), her story isn’t changing much these days. So finding a new take on her life story was a pleasant surprise. Paula Byrne’s The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things is delightful. It looks at Jane through the window of different objects, big and small, that she either owned or would have interacted with often throughout the course of her life and then frames that chapter around the item and its significance. These range from her writing desk to a bobbin of lace. I have read Byrne’s excellent biography on the actress Mary Robinson so I knew she would do Jane justice and she does (and refrains from too much poetry this time around so gold star for that!). I particularly loved the chapters on her writing desk and her first check from her publisher John Murray. Jane is often presented through the framework of her family but she is at her best in my opinion when she is being presented on her own and shown as the genius she was, even if she deviates them from the usual Austen family memoir line.

These books were just what I needed. I have moved onto Phryne Fisher now (who could not let me down if she tried – she’s too fabulous) and I have a retelling of Beauty and the Beast in the wings so happy reading times ahead!

The Best Beach (Question of the Month)

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North Central Shore, PEI

I am not a beach girl. I love water; would cheerfully live on the water if at all possible (I’m thinking a house boat would be awesome). However, I loathe sand. With everything in me. I hate that it gets everywhere and that no matter how well I rinse my feet off, there will still be sand on them. No matter how much I shake out my towels, there will still be sand on them. For a neat freak like me, it’s sort of the worst thing ever. I also burn to a crisp in the sun pretty easily. I bathe in sunscreen which helps for maybe an hour if I’m lucky before I need to bathe in it again. So, beaches have tended to not be my thing. I live in Florida now and can still count on one hand the number of times I’ve been to a beach in the last four years, including a trip to the red beaches of Prince Edward Island.

So, maybe for me, the best beach is the one of memory. I have very fond memories of my first time spent next to the Atlantic Ocean (or at least the first time I remember). We were staying in Cocoa Beach in Florida for a day or two before catching our first cruise ship. There were shells in the sand, like little treasures to find. I was a big rock collector at the time (growing up along the Great Lakes with their rocky shores, rocks were my shells) so it seems to me that this was the sort of beach I’d only read about in fairy tales and I loved it.

Another beach I remember fondly for a very different reason is Omaha Beach in Normandy. I visited as part of a high school trip my senior year. I still have the little film canister of sand from where I stood on that beach, looking up and marveling at the cliffs. Wondering what on earth had possessed them to think they could make it on D-Day; awed even more by the fact that they did somehow make it work. Later in the same trip I collected a small emptied hotel bottle of sand from the beach at Cannes but I hold the sand of Normandy a bit more dear.

Which brings me back to the red sandy beaches of Prince Edward Island. I should have emptied something to bring some of that glorious sand home with me. I sat and read on that beach and for a moment, lived out a childhood dream of dancing with Anne and Diana on the sand dunes as the sun set over the gulf. It was worth the amount of sand I had to shake out of my jean jacket later.

I will admit to a great fondness for the beaches on Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island and I’ll admit even Panama City Beach is slowly growing on me (I went swimming twice last week when I was there for work; I felt like I should alert the media or something). So I am deeply unqualified to really chime in on the best beaches but I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about the ones I remember fondly.

So, a month happened…

The last month has been CRAZY! Lots of traveling (for both fun and work), I visited both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, ran a 10K and tried out a new recipe to try and get myself back into my regularly scheduled program. I also only finished books which had nothing to do with my reading goal for the year. When I travel, I find bubblegum for the brain to be what I want to read (aka trashy romance novels). So, while I have been reading, I haven’t made any progress on my reading goal for the year.

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Me, Ally and Mom at Disneyland

So, my mom, sister and I hit up Disneyland for a girls’ trip in mid-April. Sadly, the weather was being very un-Southern California like while we were there (very rainy and cold) but we still had a blast. I liked the parks much better this time around than in 2012 – I think it was because I could actually enjoy the parks and not be running off to a conference for work every few hours. I got to see and do a lot more this time and really enjoy the differences between DL and WDW. I also am jealous of those on the West Coast; the history of the parks seems to be a lot more present in DL especially since they’re celebrating the 60th anniversary right now. WDW doesn’t always harken back to its history well which confuses me. People like me, who grew up on WDW and not DL, always want to see that more but I do understand it’s the effect of the different audiences at both resorts. Disneyland is defined as a much more “locals” park whereas WDW is a vacation destination. Still, a show like what World of Color is running right now, mining the history of the resort, using the archives, vintage footage, past attraction audio? Honestly, pretty unthinkable in WDW. At least, I’ve never seen it. Can you imagine if they did a World of Color-esque show at Epcot that showcases that park’s history?! Be still my heart.

So, once back on the East Coast, I did some work traveling in Central Flor

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Still smiling at 6.2 miles

ida because I needed to stay in the Orlando area because I was running in the inaugural Star Wars 10K. Guys, it was so much fun! I sort of loathed my first 5K last summer. Well, not sort of; I definitely loathed it. But I wanted to do a Disney run and I needed to up the ante so 10K it was. I went into it thinking it was something I would be happy to say I did but never want to do again. So not true. I’d do another Disney run in a heartbeat. For one thing, the weather was awesome for it (meaning it was chilly, the sun wasn’t up yet and it was misting which kept it cool as well). My first run was on July 4th in Tallahassee after the sun was up…it was MISERABLE. Clearly, I am game to run at 5:30am to avoid that. Plus, that 5K was also, well, boring. Disney knows how to entertain you on a run. At no point did I feel like “OMG, WHEN IS THIS GOING TO BE OVER?!” For the Star Wars 10K, there were fireworks to start the race, you ran through Epcot and Hollywood Studios, periodically there were screens showing scenes from the movies, characters to have pictures with, other effects to run through etc. I loved every second and hey, I did really well! I’d definitely do another Disney run in a heartbeat; to me, it was worth the cost. I’m not sure if I’m game just yet to move up to the next distance though…

Clearly, I’ve been busy! Look for the recipe I tried over this past weekend on the blog later this week!

 

Well, that’s summer then…

I will admit, the fact that it is September literally shocked me. Summer went so fast! It helped that I was very busy for most of it and had lots of fun times but that also meant I apparently didn’t have time to blog. I have reasons.

Up a tree. Photo credit to my awesome cousin Jodi
One, summer was, as I said, busy! I got to go home when the temperature was above 40 degrees which means dinner at the Loop, races in Oswego, ice cream at Byrne Dairy and especially an awesome, no holds barred feast up at Grandma and Grandpa’s camp. It was awesome! And then I went to Orlando to hang with a super awesome family which meant actually having children with me at the Disney parks. This was novel and so much fun and slightly nerve wracking because at times, in case you’ve never visited a theme park of any kind in the summer months, it was CROWDED. The amount of people required capital letters. But, we had a blast and rode lots of rides and ate lots of food and just had a fantastic time at Disney. I then turned right around and left for New Orleans for a conference but I did get to see some of the city but it’s on my “really need to go back and spend days exploring” list because I really only had a day to see the highlights and that wasn’t doing it justice. I did get beignets and coffee at Cafe du Monde though and it is as tasty as they say. I always like when things live up to their praise.
Two, work. I love my job, I really do but we were very busy this summer. Hopefully, sometime this fall people will start to see the fruit of all our work when our new digital library site goes live but until then, I don’t have much to show for everything we’ve done but know that we worked hard this summer on lots of stuff and hopefully this fall we’ll get some awesome things to show for it. One of the downsides of my job though is a lot of hours in front of the computer screen meaning the last thing I often want to touch when I get home at night is my laptop.
Three, I think I am officially in a bit of a reading slump. I haven’t been reading very fast or very much. Nor have I been that interested in what I’ve been reading. I am hoping to get back on track this fall and into a reading routine again. That always helps me stay on track with books even if they aren’t holding my attention very well.
Four, something about summer just means I go out for an hour and then spend four in front of the TV. Not good. I was hoping to get rid of cable (and temptation) but a frustrating couple of phone calls meant it would cost me more to pay for just internet instead of my current bundle (how twisted is that?!) so cable stays. However, a reading routine and books I actually want to finish will help me kick the cable habit I have developed! Also, the start of the fall TV schedule will help as when I know there is a show I want to watch at 10, I make the effort to read from 8 until 10.

Sigh, so good. Beignets and coffee at Cafe du Monde
I also am debating a movie re-watch of all my movies and blogging about it. This is both an effort to do some cleaning of my DVD collection (would I want to watch this ever again?) and also an effort to blog more about movies AND books again. We’ll see if this fall works out for that or if that becomes a winter project (or at least as wintry as it gets in the South – autumn is just depressing because I really miss all the colors)
And recipes too should be making a reappearance here! I actually think I have a recipe to share that I just never did this summer so I will try to dig that up and share ASAP. I did just try a new dish last week but it was kind of blah so not sharing that one. Again, I am hoping to get back into a routine this fall and cooking is on the list to make a priority!
Happy Fall everyone!

All Nighter

I never pulled an all nighter in college. I was one of those annoying students who finished papers and take home exams days before they were due. I can remember two late nights. One was on an essay for my Working Girls class. Not that kind of working girl mind you, the class took a look at the portrayal of women and work through the 19th and 20th centuries. I’d not done well on my first paper for that class so I did what I often did in cases like this, blew the second paper into major dramatic proportions. I needed to nail it; it needed to be the best paper this professor had ever read. I had gone to the library to start work on it in the early evening but I got into a groove and just kept working and writing and suddenly it was 2AM and I was still in the attic of the library. Not a big deal really but it happened to be I lived quite a walk from library at the time so the walk was perhaps not something I should have been doing. The other time was actually before the last one though I remember it less vividly. I’d been getting no where on a paper. I didn’t know what I was trying to say in it or where I wanted to take it. I was frustrated and annoyed. So, I did the only thing I could think of; scrapped it. All four pages of useless pratter I’d managed to write and started over. At 11PM. My poor roommate. However, once I didn’t have to worry about what I’d said before, I was able to make headway and once I started making headway, I didn’t want to stop for fear I’d run into a roadblock if I walked away. So I got about half the paper done before I was confident I knew where I wanted the rest of the paper to go. All this to lead up to a story about Walt Disney World. Bet you didn’t see that coming.

Heading into MK at 11PM

I missed the first 24 Hour event in the Parks. I was in Florida at the time but unable to justify taking the day off, driving down and dealing with the crowds. So, I lived vicariously through my Twitter feed and was bummed I missed it. When the Monstrous Summer All-Nighter to promote the upcoming release of Monsters University was announced it just so happened to fall on a weekend I was already planning on visiting. So I talked my sister and her newly minted fiance into going when I got to Orlando after driving down from Tallahassee at 9PM. To start with, I think our timing was off. We managed to arrive just as Wishes! was going off which meant the pakring lot at MK was still full as the first mass exodus from the park had not occurred. Instead, we were parked at Epcot and left to work our way to MK. The line for the monorail was mammoth so we opted for a bus to the Contemporary and then a walk to MK. It’s funny to see the park packed to the gills at 11PM which is about the time we finally made it in the gates. They had already run out of buttons and t-shirts so no souvenir merchandise for me which saved me money. We did make it for the second showing of Memories. Because of the lighter crowds in the Hub, we were able to get closer than usual and really enjoy the detail of the show.

Full Moon over Cinderella Castle

We then booked it out of there to avoid getting caught by the 1AM showing of the Main Street Electrical Parade. However, the park packed. The wait for Big Thunder Mountain was more than we were willing to wait (it would have put us on the ride at about 2AM) so we hit up Haunted Mansion and The Little Mermaid. The full moon lit the park in both a cool and eerie way. I was thinking it was a good Kingdom Keepers vibe. After Mermaid, we decided the other lines were longer than we wanted to commit to (I’d had coffee before coming so I was wide awake, my sister and her fiance however were fading fast) so we headed for our last stop – ice cream. At 2AM. No better time! The Eye Scream Sundae, special for the event, was delicious. I went for the Mint Chocolate version complete with a white chocolate Mike circa University disc. Just as we finished eating, the dance party in front of the Castle was getting started. A DJ was setting up to keep people awake and moving as they entered the home stretch. We danced out way down Main Street and started the long trek back to our car at Epcot. Taking the monorail in that time of night was fun though – seeing Epcot getting spruced up for guests the next day.

All in all, I am glad I went and experienced one of the 24 hour events though I don’t know that I’d need to attend another one. A fun novelty definitely but not something I need to do again.

A Visit to Maclay Gardens

It had been cold and gross in Tallahassee for about a week. I know, all my Northeastern readers are crying foul since apparently they are still in the dead of winter in April. I remember those winters. They are not fun. Which is another reason on my growing list I am very happy to call Florida home now. So, this past weekend when the weather finally decided to be sunny and 80 again, I decided to take myself off early and do some exploring at Maclay Gardens.

The House Path leading from the Front Gate

Now, if I’d done a little more homework before I went, I would have realized the state park, which the Gardens is a part of, was hosting a triathlon that morning. Though it was winding down by the time I arrived, it made for a crowded entrance to the park. However, once I was parked and into the Gardens area, I found it to be quiet and serene. I started out walking directly to the house at the tip of the Gardens. However, the House path travels alongside the lake so I took lots of detours to the lake edge, running into some turtles sunning themselves in the perfect morning sun.

Found some new friends lakeside

Once up at the house, a docent gave me a welcoming spiel of history surrounding the Maclay family, how they came into the area and how the house and its gardens were donated to the city. The house is half museum, half still kept decorated as the family had it when they lived there. The museum exhibits were a bit outdated and faded in places but full of good information about the family and the flowers I would see in the surrounding gardens.

The House itself is quite small; of course there was a separate house for the kids!

After the house, you enter the gardens proper. The path from the house leads directly to the Walled Garden which is when I wanted to move in. It was like something out of The Secret Garden. Though small, it embodied all you’d want to find in a walled garden: a fountain, lots of flowers, trees growing out and overhanging, benches, a secret corner. It was awesome; a childhood dream come to life. Stepping out of the garden, you find a long reflecting pool leading back down to the lake. When I visited, there was a young woman having pictures taken in an old fashioned costume along the reflecting pool.

From the Fountain in the Walled Garden to the Reflecting Pool and the Lake Beyond

Once you’re past the reflecting pool, the trails get a little more wild, more like nature trails than garden paths. I did run into another bricked path that ran along a pond for a little while but that faded out once I reached the azalea patches and the Oriental tree grove. It was also about this time I realized I should have brought bug spray…the mosquitos were out in full force. Following one path after another, I found my way out at the main entrance to the Gardens again.

The only bricked path beyond the Walled Garden runs along a pond

I did explore a little more on the Native Plants trail which lead me down towards the lake again but at this point the bugs won the battle and I decided to come back another day to explore more of those trails. Despite the mosquitos, I adored the Gardens. I could have explored a lot longer as paths just seemed to go in every direction. Though I don’t think you could get lost, you could definitely spend more than the few hours I did seeing what’s down each of them. Also, afterwards, treat yourself to a cupcake at Lucy and Leo’s Cupcakery as I did. It was, as luck would have it, on the way back to my apartment!

Walking and Reading

(Disclaimer: I don’t actually walk and read. I did try to perfect that back after I saw Beauty and the Beast and wanted nothing more to be Belle. Unfortunately, I lack the talent to walk any length of time reading and not hitting something or injuring myself. I reluctantly concluded I would never be as cool as Belle…)

I am feeling much more like my old self these days. I still have some tweaks of pain when I move in certain ways but overall, I am 100% better! Hopefully, this health scare will keep me on the right path from now on! While I am not quite feeling up to the zumba class a friend found for me, I am hoping to attend that soon! In the meantime, I continue my tour of Tallahassee’s parks with Tom Brown Park.

Lake Leon at Tom Brown Park

Tom Brown seems to be, if not the largest, one of the biggest parks in the city. It holds the annual 4th of July celebration for Tallahassee along with being host to ball fields, Mountain bike trails, a dog park and a 1.5 mile paved trail, Goose Pond Trail. I met up with a friend one night after work last week and wandered from Lake Leon onto the Goose Pond Trail. Since we lost the light quickly, we didn’t make it very far but we also stopped to enjoy watching the dogs at the dog park for a bit so I think we lost a bit of time there. But I liked what I saw of the park. I didn’t see much of the extensive ball fields the park has since the walking trail where we started isn’t close to them but the park was a busy place on a late Wednesday afternoon which is always a good sign. It was much busier than the park I’ve visited before but Tom Brown, as I said, it one of the largest parks in Tallahassee as well as more centrally located, right off Capital Circle. It also happens to be much closer to where I live so I hope to visit and walk regularly once we get over the spot of bad weather we’re having (it’s warm out but rainy and stormy for the next few days).

I also enjoyed having someone to walk with. I love my alone time, and I usually need more of that that the time I need to spend around people, but it’s also fun to just walk with a friend and talk about random things, about work and family and home. It’s also fun to take some time after work to unwind and complain a little if you need to. Normally, I don’t have that decompression time to talk something out if I need to and I appreciated having it along with walking and feeling better.

Next, I want to feel up to a high power zumba class but I think I’m still a week or two from that. I watched one of the Step Up movies over the weekend which meant I was dancing like an idiot around my apartment and yeah…not yet ready for zumba! So, I’ll keep walking. I also should work on getting over my fear of the treadmill so even when it’s gross out, I can get some walking in as pacing in my apartment just doesn’t do much. That said, I don’t think it’s the treadmill I’m afraid of so much as the odd people I run into at the small gym at my complex. Always nice people, just odd. I almost miss a large gym just for the anonymity they offer. I might need to think about investing in a gym again at some point but for now, baby steps!

In other news, I need to get back into my reading groove. When I feel crappy, I mostly want to lay on the couch like a slug and watch TV. But, since I’m feeling better, I’m getting back into reading.  I got a bit dragged down too by The Cookbook Collector. I really wanted to like this more than I did but in the end, I was sort of ambivalent to it. It made interesting use of the dot com bubble followed by the bust and 9/11 but I just never much cared for the characters. Confession (AND SPOILER ALERT): I thought good riddance when she killed two characters on one of the planes that hit the Twin Towers. How awful is that?! For one thing, you can see it coming so the shock value isn’t really there and two, one of the characters was awful, just completely unlikable and the other character I had nothing invested in. She could have never mentioned him again after she spent a chapter or two on him and I wouldn’t have ever wondered where he went. Luckily, I followed it up with a fun historical romance of a girl who runs away to join a ballet company in Brazil in 1912 and then Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens which is about a plane crash which lands the contestants of a teen beauty pangent stranded on a not so deserted island. I would tell you more but it’s a book you must read to believe and I highly recommend it with a caveat – you need to be someone who likes snarky comments with a Mel Brooks sense of humor (and as someone with family members who do not get that humor, I always like to warn people where it appears).

I just finished Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s love letter to books, The Shadow of the Wind. Seriously, I’d like to crawl into the library described in the first chapter and never come back out. After I finish one last library book, I need to start on the stack of books I’ve accumulated since Christmas as gifts and from book store sales. First up on the stack? A new Flavia de Luce novel (well, new to me, I’m a bit behind on the series). A little Flavia is always a good thing!