Voyages: Biltmore Estate [@NorthCarolina]

Over four years of living down here in North Carolina, and I finally made the trip out west to visit Biltmore.

Of course, I am writing this post a few weeks later, from my current home built on Catawba and Sugaree land, about an estate that was built on Cherokee land, while thinking back to my Rhode Island home built on Wampanoag land.

That is a land acknowledgement statement, which I learned about thanks to Anti-Racism Daily. Apparently they’re common in places like Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, but I haven’t seen many in the US.

I’m learning, as many of us are, about the importance of contextualizing the places we inhabit or visit in the cultures of the many people who have passed through or laid claim to them over the years. Native Land has been a great help with this. It’s a slowly but surely process that I’m adopting, to do my research, apply the lenses of those cultures, and understand how I can better help them in the fight against the injustices they experience. I invite you to join in. Land acknowledgements are just the first tiny baby steps.

For those of you who may not know, Biltmore House and Gardens is an 8,000-acre estate built by George W. Vanderbilt in 1895. Yes, of those Vanderbilts. And yes, the W in his name does stand for Washington. I know, I laughed out loud too. What isn’t as well communicated by or about the aforementioned estate is how it displaced many formerly enslaved people in the old Shiloh neighborhood of Western North Carolina. Buncombe County, where Asheville (home to Biltmore) is located, was largely built up through the labor of enslaved people. Another lens.

Before we go any further, let me also remind you, Dear Reader, of the fact that I grew up in Newport, Rhode Island. Why is that important, Cass? Good point. It’s important for any number of reasons, so perhaps I should have posed a more specific question on your behalf. Why is that relevant, Cass? There we go. But, let’s take a second to cover both.

It’s important because Newport has its own history with slavery. A history that I unfortunately did not learn much about during my 18 years of living there. Not only was Newport a major trading port for enslaved people forced to come to North America (many of them children), but it also heavily consumed the products of enslaved people’s labor in the West Indies: sugar and molasses, the keys to a burgeoning rum distillation and distribution industry.

Many enslaved people were relied upon for their skilled labor in trades such as rope, barrel, furniture, and candle making, masonry, carpentry, shipbuilding, rum distilling, and silversmithing. Brown University, Touro Synagogue (the oldest existing synagogue in North America), Redwood Library (the oldest extant library in America), and the United States Navy were all built from the profits of Rhode Island slave traders.

It’s relevant because Newport happens to be home to many mansions, also affectionately known as summer homes, and of those many mansions, or summer homes, quite a few belonged to the very same Vanderbilts that constructed Biltmore. Hence my desire, nay, my need, to visit the North Carolina estate and draw the connections between the mansions I looked at all of my adolescence and the largest privately owned residence in the United States.

I’m a sucker for big houses with rad libraries, what can I say?

Come along. Learn some things.


What a facade! I could do without the flagpole on the roof though, if I’m being honest. I’m sorry, I’m not all that sorry. It’s gaudy! Put it on the ground so we can run it up the flagpole and see who salutes (but no one ever does). Are you having that? No? Right, this is Biltmore House. Carry on.
The Winter Garden. Easily my favorite part of the house. The greenery plus the natural light plus those floors and vaults? Come on! This will definitely let all of the heat right out of your house, but so worth it. The sculpture in the center is Boy Stealing Geese by Karl Bitter.
This is one of my favorite pictures I have ever taken. Look at that ceiling! Still the Winter Garden. For those of you who are new around here, I have an obsession with ceilings. You’ll see. They’re freaking incredible.
Told you. When I visit these big houses, I spend more time with my neck cricked back than I do looking around at eye level. It’s a checklist of ceilings and libraries, really. My dream of dreams is to have a house with different styles of ceiling in every room. This tiling was in the hallways that circled around the Winter Garden. What a combo.
Absolute beaut of a Grand Staircase. That chandelier went up four stories and I stopped to stair at it on every single one of them. (Eh? Are you having that?)
Any guesses on this one? Correct. The ceiling of the Grand Staircase.
The Library looks bright thanks to my editing, but trust me when I say that it was a very dimly lit room. Most of the house was kept in dim lighting, which I understand – light being the arch nemesis of preservation and all. This is only half of George W. Vanderbilt’s (let’s call him G.W., shall we?) 22,000-volume collection. 22,000 volumes! I asked, and hardly anyone ever touches these books anymore. Wholeheartedly depressing. G.W. read an average of 81 books a year. He also kept meticulous lists of what he read. A kindred spirit. I’m going to go ahead and hypothesize that his favorite book was Sir Walter Scott’s Waverly.
I gasped so loudly in the dungeons (“Stone Hallway”) when I saw this sign. I had no idea it was coming! A whole room decorated for Halloween? Sort of. There was an unfortunate lack of information on whether or not the Vanderbilts were big Halloween fans, but this definitely confirms for me that Cornelia was a witch. I’m here to pass on the “facts” to you, Dear Reader.
The Halloween Room was covered in hand-painted murals, which were apparently done by Cornelia Vanderbilt (G.W. and his wife Edith’s only daughter) and her husband, the Honorable John Francis Amherst Cecil… for a New Year’s Eve party in 1925? Your guess is as good as mine on the thinking there. But a Halloween-themed New Year’s Eve? Talk about the Roaring 20s. Count me all the way in.
I may or may not have really scared myself by standing in this exact spot and imagining a Shining-esque moment of blood gushing from the back wall as I snapped this photo. This underground pool was right next to the Halloween room, after all. What is it with rich people and basement pools?
Technically speaking, I should have hated this room. I really wanted to hate this room. It’s the Smoking Room (not cool) in the Bachelors’ Wing (very not cool). But look at that wallpaper! And those books! It was one of the few rooms with strong natural lighting, which would have made it a preferable reading spot, methinks. My scotch cart would go very well with that carpet.
That wraps up what I found interesting with the interior of Biltmore House. Now on to the exterior, starting with the equally absolute beaut of an encasing for the Grand Staircase.
The back of the house offered stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This little corner was part of the Library Terrace, which is shaded by an arbor of wisteria and trumpet creeper vines. Imagine the things those trees have heard over the years.
You know I can’t resist a good framing photo opportunity. More Blue Ridge Mountain views on the South Terrace.
It’s not a proper estate without a Walled Garden, is it? Especially without a Walled Garden that has a Rose Garden right behind it and a Conservatory peeking out in the distance. I was very pleased to see the Walled Garden teeming with bees. It also made my heart hurt with reminiscence of Ireland.
Eden, is that you? How are the children?
Coming right on the heels of the Winter Garden, the Conservatory was my second favorite place at Biltmore. It was a little difficult to appropriately wander through it, what with the social distancing restrictions. Not much space to stop and (literally) smell the flowers, but I did my best.
Not quite the perfect white camellia shot, but pretty close.
After visiting the Conservatory, I set off on the trails that led away from the house and out towards the Bass Pond. There was a quick stop made at the Azalea Garden (I flipping love azaleas) but unfortunately nothing was in bloom so no interesting photos for you.
THIS monstrosity is the Bass Pond. Green everywhere. Everything green. I did not linger long. Fish freak me out. That’s a me problem, but if you were smart you’d make it a you problem too.
We wrap with a trek back up to the front of the house to head off for Antler Hill Village & Winery. No photos, but while I was there I tried a Biltmore Malbec (I know, I know, I don’t know what I was thinking either) and it was… exactly what you’d expect a Malbec made in North Carolina to be like. I don’t trust a 2018 so I think that could have been part of the problem too. Needless to say, the Winery visit ended there.

In conclusion, I wasn’t super impressed by Biltmore House itself. Maybe it’s because of the designs of the Newport summer homes that I’m used to, or the English country estates that I so enjoy visiting, but give me a Rosecliff or a Chatsworth House any day. Or maybe it’s because I’m not architecturally educated enough to appreciate Biltmore. Whatever the reason, it wasn’t for me.

The grounds, on the other hand? Absolutely stunning. Obsessed. Dying to learn more. Will be reading ‘Genius of Place’ as soon as I get my hands on it. Biltmore Estate was originally approximately 125,000 acres. That blows my mind. After G.W. died in 1914, Edith carried out the sale of 87,000 acres to the federal government to create Pisgah National Forest. What’s left of the land has been gorgeously maintained. Well done to the grounds crew. I definitely could have spent days wandering around all of the trails and gardens.

When I reached the end of this estate-filled day, I set off on another fun adventure. Hint: South Terrace inspired. Follow-up Voyage coming soon.

Real Moments: The Speed of Time

“But I also learned that it’s possible to go on, no matter how impossible it seems, and that in time, the grief… lessens. It may not ever go away completely, but after a while it’s not overwhelming.”

September 27th was the last day I saw you alive. Well, alive alive. The last day that I saw you as yourself. We hugged on Field Street.

I remember how, a few days later, on October 1st, the day that you died, I was sitting on the hospital floor and holding your right hand, crying. I held it the same way I did when we went to church and it came time to say the Our Father. That was my favorite part of church. That and kneeling next to you in silent prayer after Communion. I always wondered if you were praying for your mother and brothers, who had preceded you in death. We prayed in different ways. I had always known that. I think I spent my time asking God for ridiculous things. But I did always remember to ask that my family and friends remain happy and healthy and safe and strong. I still ask for that, but I send out the same plea to the Universe now too. For safety.

Everyone was crying, that day in the hospital. Obviously. We knew why we were there. Well, I didn’t know until I showed up and Mom told me “it’s really bad” after I kept trying to make myself stop crying. I wanted to be brave, like the time I showed up at the hospital early in the morning before you went in for heart surgery. You weren’t supposed to go in that early. I thought I’d get some time to visit with you before Mom got there and you went in that afternoon. I didn’t tell anyone I was coming up that morning. I called Mom from the hallway outside your room and told her that they were taking you in. She told me I had to be brave and that I couldn’t get upset because it would make you upset to see me upset. You and I didn’t say much to each other, and I know that’s because we were both trying to be strong for the other. You didn’t want me to see that you were scared. I didn’t want you to see that I was scared.

That was the trained nurse in Mom, though. While I sat there on the hospital floor, holding your right hand, she kept saying nice things like how much we all loved you and how it was okay for you to pass on. I was angry at her for saying those things, at the time, because, to me, it wasn’t okay. But that is what Mom does. She’s trained in end of life care. She’s seen this dozens, if not hundreds, of times before. She knows that these are the things you’re supposed to say so someone will let go, and not linger and suffer any longer than they have to. That didn’t make it any easier for her to say those things to her own father, I’m sure. The actual nurse that day assured us that you were too sedated to feel anything.

I remember the sounds of your last breaths, though. It sounded to me like you were fighting it. Trying to tell us that you didn’t want to go. Or maybe it was just me who thought that. Maybe it was just me who hoped that. Hoped that you’d decide against the whole thing and talk to us, tell us to get you a Budweiser and get you the hell out of there. Maybe it was just me who thought that you were stronger than death. You were the strongest man I had ever known! If you didn’t want to die that day then surely you wouldn’t have.

I’m sure we were only there with you for minutes. I think it all happened so fast after I got there from school. But it also felt like hours? I sat on that floor, and I held your hand, and I cried, and I stared at our hands together, and I realized, for the first time ever, under those fluorescent lights, that your arm hairs had a burnt red in them. I had noticed the same coppery redness in my own long brown hair a few years earlier. I had always wondered where it came from.

From you, apparently. I got a lot of things from you. Those chronic purple bruises and swollen bags under our eyes? Quite a few of us got those. The gap between our two front teeth, mine, which Mom tried to fix with braces 13 years ago, slowly widening itself back out again? The way our left eyes squint smaller than our right, and the roundness in the apples of our cheeks, when we smile? I noticed these shared traits only this year, when looking back through some of my favorite pictures of you, and while aching over how much life you managed to pour through into the stillness of a photograph.

There are other, not looks-related things, too. Our lower back pain, which gets particularly bad when we drive for a while. But, oh, how we love to drive. Our contentment to sit quietly with those we hold most dear, because we’re comfortable in that. How we can’t turn away from any opportunity to break it down on the dance floor. Our need for crunchy textures in everything we eat, and something sweet to cap off every meal. The way people treat us like their nucleus sometimes. I struggle hard with that one, I don’t know how you did it. Our love of solitaire, which you must have taught me how to play. The happiness we find in small adventures. Our preference for car radios.

It’s been five years, Papa. I’ve learned that that’s the funny thing about the speed of time. Some days, I feel like it was only yesterday that I was sitting on that hospital floor. Some days, it feels like 20 years have passed. I still find myself wishing for more time with you, but that seems to lessen as time without you stretches on. Instead, I turn to those photographs. I look at little me and younger you and I wish to go back to those times, the ones spent together in such obvious ultimate happiness.

For a little while, I was worried that I was forgetting you. But, it’s not forgetting. It’s being my own person. It’s being alive and growing older and filling my mind with new years of people and memories and experiences. I know that now. You were so much of my life for so long, and now you aren’t. What I have left of you is everything that you’ve left in me, as me.

I think this might be it for us, Papa. At least, for a little while. I could write about you for lifetimes, and I’m sure that I will, but not around here. What’s ours is ours now. See you in the morning.


One rotation leads two another
Three trips ’round now, all four your mother
Make a five year window seem a little closer
Bring it on down, fly a little lower
Going six times now, and seven is getting closer
Eight my meals alone, I’m not over him
Nine comes round, so does ten
You’re my piece of heaven

Learn a Book! – [20]20 From To-Be-Read

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Another year, another witty gimmick gone half-made. Last year apparently I promised to read 30 books and then proceeded to immediately forget that and, for the rest of the year, assume that I must have promised to read 19. So 19 books were read.

This year is another one in which general fatigue and weariness have continued to slowly chip away at my bibliove. There was some consideration given to reading 20 books written in the 1920s, but that was immediately abandoned for reasons I really don’t think need explicit explaining.

A Tale as old as Casstastrophe is the one in which my book buying addiction always and forever outpaces by book reading. Part One of the issue is that I love to visit independent bookstores whenever I’m travelling and I happen to have made a personal vow to myself never to enter into an independent bookstore and come away empty handed. Support the brick and mortar, am I right!? Part Two of the issue is what I call The Blackouts. Some days I wake up with a visceral need to read something new. Nothing in the monstrously large To Be Read piles will cut it, and next thing I know I’m coming to back at home with a few (or a many) new buddies to add to the stacks.

In 2020 it’s time to get serious about said stacks. No more give but so seldom take. This year I’ll commit to reducing the current state of these piles by at least 20 books. I will not commit to not adding any more to them.

Hey, the first step is admitting that I am powerless.


  1. ‘Persuasion’ by Jane Austen [252 pgs]
  2. ‘The Clockwork Dynasty’ by Daniel H. Wilson [309 pgs]
  3. ‘Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA’ by Amaryllis Fox [224 pgs]
  4. ‘What Should Be Wild’ by Julia Fine [351 pgs]
  5. ‘The Call’ by Peadar O’Guilin [307 pgs]
  6. ‘Weapons of Peace’ by Peter D. Johnston [466 pgs]
  7. ‘The Alice Network’ by Kate Quinn [503 pgs]
  8. ‘Dreyer’s English’ by Benjamin Dreyer [269 pgs]
  9. ‘Dear Edward’ by Ann Napolitano [336 pgs]
  10. ‘Dear Madam President’ by Jennifer Palmieri [175 pgs]
  11. ‘Selected Poems of Robert Frost’ by Robert Frost [282 pgs]
  12. ‘Crave’ by Tracy Wolff [571 pgs]
  13. ‘Hex’ by Rebecca Dinerstein Knight [215 pgs]
  14. ‘The Chemist’ by Stephenie Meyer [518 pgs]
  15. ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’ by Jennifer Egan [340 pgs]
  16. ‘Toil & Trouble’ by Augusten Burroughs [320 pgs]
  17. ‘Keats: Poems’ by John Keats [248 pgs]
  18. ‘Black Leopard Red Wolf’ by Marlon James [620 pgs]
  19. ‘The Lottery and Other Stories’ by Shirley Jackson [302 pgs]
  20. ‘Selected Poems’ by T.S. Eliot [127 pgs]
  21. ‘I’m Telling The Truth, but I’m Lying: Essays’ by Bassey Ikpi [256 pgs]
  22. ‘Akhmatova Poems’ by Anna Akhmatova [255 pgs]
  23. ‘Catherine House’ by Elisabeth Thomas [310 pgs]
  24. ‘Hood Feminism’ by Mikki Kendall [258 pgs]
  25. ‘Brontë’s Poems’ by Emily Brontë [249 pgs]
  26. ‘Queenie’ by Candice Carty-Williams [328 pgs]
  27. ‘Willow Weep for Me’ by Meri Nana-Ama Danquah [269 pgs]
  28. ‘Native Guard’ by Natasha Trethewey [49 pgs]
  29. ‘And Still I Rise’ by Maya Angelou [54 pgs]
  30. ‘Warm Bodies’ by Issac Marion [239 pgs]
  31. ‘Anna of All the Russias’ by Elaine Feinstein [288 pgs]
  32. ‘Midnight Sun’ by Stephenie Meyer [658 pgs]
  33. ‘A River of Royal Blood’ by Amanda Joy [351 pgs]
  34. ‘The Water Dancer’ by Ta-Nehisi Coates [403 pgs]
  35. ‘Children of Blood and Bone’ by Tomi Adeyemi [527 pgs]
  36. ‘Amelia Fang and the Barbaric Ball’ by Laura Ellen Anderson [206 pgs]

Total Page Count: 11,435 pgs


Boldly go where the bolded books bid you.

As always, feel free to follow me on Goodreads. Reviews will never be written so cease and decease with the ask.

27 Delays To 27

There was an idea for this year’s post in my annual birthday series that wasn’t what this post is now. Try as I might to write that original idea, it just didn’t feel right.

Much like the arrival of 27.

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This birthday felt weird. Weird because every other age has felt, in some way, anticipated. They’ve all been defined by impatient countdowns to shakily defined milestones. In fact, when I started these annual age posts at 23 it felt like the most exciting year of my life was upon me and, at that point in time, I suppose it was. Then 24 arrived with many lessons learned to prepare me for it, with 25 fast on its heels and hyped to impossible heights by just about everyone I came into contact with, thereby making me hellbent on spending the time leading up to 26 keeping things as low to the ground as physically possible.

27, on the other hand, just seems to have strolled its way into my life with a quick passing wave, taking a seat over on the wooden bench at the far side of my inner consciousness’s train station. Stubbing out its cigarette on the back of its own hand and settling back with crossed arms to watch what the hell I plan to make out of it. I know, I’m scared to meet it too.

Every time I sat down to write that other post I was pushing and pulling myself through it. There was an element of research and information gathering to it that I just couldn’t find any interest in. One of the super fun personal traits that I’m trying to work on is mistrust. And there is a scale of, let’s face it, insanity as to what I don’t trust. On one side we’ve got microwaves and central air systems, on the other side we’ve got myself. One of those rightfully deserves to be targeted and I’ll give you a hint – I’m not super concerned about learning to enjoy microwaved food. I am super concerned about being able to listen to myself and follow those instincts. See that I’m just not into something and not do it.

So I did that. I stopped writing that other post. Then I got a little down because as the weeks kept going up to, then at, then past, then really past my birthday it seemed like maybe I just wouldn’t write anything about 27 at all. But I really enjoy writing these annual musings, knowing that they’ll be here for me to look back on in my later years. I can still write something, I thought, it’ll just be a little delayed.

Talk about a thought that resonates. Everything feels a little delayed these days. My own birthday felt like I was late to the proverbial and also literal party! So I asked myself, what caused that? What delayed you, my Cass?

And then I came up with these.


I was learning to golf. That’s right. Finally something on those bucket lists got crossed off. Don’t get too excited though, it’s a strong work in progress. Still haven’t actually worked up the courage to go out on the course, but wow oh wow do I love me some hot coffee drinking on a Sunday morning at the driving range.

My changing body. The changes have always come in phases. I hit the usual year-over-year growth track until about 12 or 13, suddenly shooting up to full height and living an awkward gangly few years waiting for everyone else to catch up. Then some time around my Middler (Northeasterners, what’s up) or Junior year of college things changed again and there they’ve remained until this past year. But this time things are moving slowly, giving me a better chance at noticing the change. My body communicates with me now. It tells me that we’re getting older. Sometimes we move the wrong ways and things tweak out for no good reason at all. High time to take care.

Aliens arrived. My view count of ‘Arrival’ is potentially disturbing but also not at all because it’s become so integral to me and my spirit and my soul and everything about me, et cetera and so forth. A lot of time has been spent watching this film, thinking about this film, embodying this film in past, present, and also future. For that, I treasure.

I work a lot. God, do I work a lot. And not really in the ways that I think people should work a lot. I have many not great feelings about it, and I’m pushing myself to mull on that. Mull in that. Mull all around that. There have been one too many times where I’ve been called a ‘machine’ these past few years and at one point I disturbingly took that as a compliment. Now it’s in my top ten list of insults. Work can be a passion, can be fulfilling, can be time well spent. ‘Can’ being the operative word. Glad we got this one out of the way up top.

Blame my cell phone… and the internet. We’re all in this mode of technological absorption. We will continue to be in that mode from now until the day that we perish. I cling to my personal brand as a late stage millennial but also a grandmother. My phone does not have many apps on it, and the few that it does I’m actively trying to claw myself away from. My response times to text messages or phone calls are atrocious and downright insulting for most people, but I dig the independency of it. Consider it conditioning. I’m fine, you’re fine, go do something. On your phone or off it, who cares, this is our world now.

There was YouTube content to consume. Speaking of the internet, have you ever heard of a little something called Bon Appétit? What about the popular British television “programmes” Taskmaster, Would I Lie To You, QI, 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown… ever heard of those? I don’t pay for cable television here in America because I think it’s a complete rip off, mostly trash, and also, oh yeah, because I’m never home to watch it (see above re: working a lot and also below re: travel). I used to feel sheepish about telling people that I watch YouTube but I don’t have the capacity to keep that feeling around anymore so, yeah, I watch YouTube. And there’s a lot of quality content out there. Too much. I’m actively working on reining in my consumption because also, like, hobbies, my girl.

Families, am I right? There’s love, there’s stress, there’s obligation, there’s missing them. There’s a lot of inroads to this topic and all of those roads go in totally different directions so I’ll just say that families are a lot. I love and miss mine, but there are reasons humans are meant to grow up and leave to go find their own lives too.

I was reading out loud. I love doing this. I’ve always loved doing this. I used to read books to our Christmas tree as a kid, ornaments included. It was my favorite part of English classes, my favorite activity when babysitting. It made me finally understand and like, and in some cases love, poetry. I struggled so hard with the silent reading and analysis assignments of Dickinson or Frost in high school. Nothing clicked. Then Obvious State came along and inspired me to try reading it aloud. There’s something intimate about speaking the written word. A habit I hope to never lose.

My memory and attention span have fallen to tatters. My shoddy memory used to be something of a joke with friends but it just makes me kind of sad now. There are a lot of wonderings as to why my brain works the way it does. Why I can’t remember conversations and interactions with people, and not in the total verbatim recall kind of way, in the we conversed or interacted at all? kind of way. Friends I continuously prompt to tell me things that we cherish about our relationships. Already that grandmotherly figure reliving stories over and over again because each time means that I haven’t lost them yet. Certain books avoided because I really want to retain the information but know that I never will. Note taking and journaling tried but in mere milliseconds the moments lived flutter right on out of my mind. Scary to wonder how it’ll continue as I age on.

I’ve been thinking about a move. It’s been quite a few years in Charlotte. About as long as I ever expected to stay. The cravings are coming for something else and my eyes have settled on an albeit chillier prize. More soon.

Books required reading. There are so many of them. The past few years have seen my pace of reading drop off monumentally and I’m desperately trying to resurrect it. There have been those weekends where I bury myself beneath pages and pages and I’d like to blame my time spent on those but there haven’t been enough. No, the blame instead goes to agony over weakening.

I was working out. HA. This is new. Again, my body is in desperate need of some care. I’ve found that those people who eat well and exercise regularly, who never shut up about how good and happy it makes them, are actually on to something? We’ll all be waiting to see if this is just a phase, but here’s hoping it’s a true blue lifestyle change. I’m late for hot yoga.

I was spending time with my car. Oh Linus, my Linus. A favorite pastime of mine is finding any and all excuses to get behind the wheel of my little blue bug. We cruise around the city, music far too loud, sometimes steered by knees when changing radio stations while sipping coffee. But, like me, my boy is getting old. And with thoughts of moving, it comes more and more to my mind that maybe it’s time we part. I’m not kidding whatsoever when I say that that thought makes my heart drop and tears flood my eyes. He’s seen me through so much. Some day I’ll write a Ode to him and tell you all of the whats and the whys.

Women. There isn’t enough WordPress word count space to handle me on this one. The past few years I’ve grown so much deeper into understanding and feeling and learning and reading all about women. Women professionally, women politically, women personally. The things we go through day in and day out. At home and afar. Together and alone. So much of my time is spent lost in the things that I’m seeing and hearing and reading and thinking. Not enough of my time is spent fixing and helping and changing and being.

My kitchen was making me dance. Another favorite pastime. I have a whole playlist dedicated to the cause. This part of the home is used solely to dance around in and store vino. Odd occasions occur here and there where we fire up the stove tops while getting our groove on. It is all that it is, and nothing less.

I was drinking. Not in a clinical kind of way, don’t worry. Relax. My taste in scotch and wine has grown quite beautifully over the past year or so, if I do say so myself. Considering the first time I ever had Laphroaig I burst into tears from the pain and now it’s my scotch of choice (Lore me all the way up, take me to that altar to die) says quite a few things, methinks. The palate developments, and my quest to become a whiskelier, live on.

I wasn’t drinking. Another new super fun thing, another trial decided by my body. And in the time before that, mostly attributable to nights that made me cool my jets for a few days. Again, I get why people kick alcohol. I’m not going to be one of those people, but I’ve done my time walking that mile and Everlast was on to something.

Travel was taking up my time. My little brother thinks my airline status makes me cool but my fellow road warriors know it for what it is. A life lived too often 30,000+ feet above the rest of the world. And not in a jet-setting, vacation travel kind of way. My career means I need to travel a lot, which I honestly don’t mind at this stage in my life. It makes it that much important to me to have a perfect home base. I did almost two years of weekly cross-country travel and at the start of that I was having full meltdowns on every takeoff and landing. Now I’m well attuned to the sights and sounds of flying so that the meltdowns only really occur in times of heavy turbulence. Even that’s starting to go down. Now to add in more of that travel for fun stuff that everybody’s talking about these days.

Thinking about Papa. Too much but mostly not enough. Missing and hurting. Coping.

Hill House was being haunted (again). Scroll up to Aliens arrived then replace ‘Arrival’ with ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ and ‘film’ with ‘show.’ My everythings.

I was trying to find my power. Another relatively new thing. Something I didn’t even realize I needed, but when I did realize it I felt like I was bowled over by one of those giant cylindrical haystacks. It came at a time of struggle and confusion, of feeling generally lost about what to do with myself and feeling afraid of why I felt like there was something to be done in the first place. This is something I hope to keep exploring and thinking on, maybe to share some day when I settle more on and around it.

There was chocolate to be eaten. A fiend, am I.

I was in the bath. I took myself on a birthday vacation this year explicitly to revel in doing absolutely nothing. Said vacation involved a hotel with a standing tub, excellent eucalyptus bath products, and the best chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever had. Daily routine, don’t mind if I do. I take a decent amount of baths at home too and wholeheartedly recommend. Pour a beverage, run that hot water, bubble city, put on a podcast or an album, even get old fashioned with it and grab a book. Get in there, kid.

My muse left me. Writing was such a passion. I found any and all excuses to type or scribble away. Took English class assignments too seriously and undoubtedly pissed off all of my teachers, crammed up to and sometimes past the page and / or word limits. Sank into stories big and small as they danced in and out of my head. Now I’ve fallen into a state of negative conditioning, responding Pavlovian style. I think of writing and fill with sudden exhaustion and dread. Too much of myself has been given and taken elsewhere, I haven’t been trying hard enough to get it and grow it back.

My energy needed protecting. Time and effort goes into protecting against feeling drained and fed on. There’s a lot of ongoing study with this one.

Stitches were waiting to be crossed. I was in college when I learned that drawing with the grid method helped my anxiety. It was the only thing I had ever known that captured my full attention. I’m not a great artist but I didn’t have to be to copy a reference image one square at a time, hyper focused on the details so that my brain didn’t have any free capacity to think about anything else. I found the same thing in cross-stitching. Concentration fully devoted to counting the squares and decoding the colors to produce the full image from the pattern. There’s something mathematical about it. The closest I’ve come to meditation.

Uber drivers were being nice to me. There is a whole Evernote on my phone where I keep track of the kind, considerate, and uplifting things that a select very few Uber drivers have said to me over the years. Thanks to my job and lifestyle, strangers’ cars are places where I spend a lot of time (second, of course, to airplanes). It doesn’t always go well, but when it does it really does. A fan favorite of mine, spoken and then immediately left to silence for the rest of the ride: “Ready to start another day? Everything will go exactly the way you want it to.”


Also, for anyone who cares, when I got the idea for this post I sat down and wrote it in one go… Trust yourself.

Recent Reads – Halloween Edition 2019

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If you look closely, you’ll spot a cameo by a previous Recent Reads – Halloween Edition book

So, you’re telling me the season for spook is over? Think again, buddies. Some people leave Christmas decorations up until after New Year’s. Others leave Halloween decorations up until after Thanksgiving. I make the rules in this house.

It’s been such a long while since we did anything in the Bibliove world, let alone a Recent Reads. Fair warning: I’m a very different person now from who I was last Halloween Edition. Once one of the biggest wimps on the block, I am now on a constant quest for the best “horror” books and movies. Quotations there because I’ll concede that true horror is defined differently for each of us, based on your scare spectrum and thresholds. 10 points to Slytherin if you can figure out what exactly it was that triggered my thresholds to expand as far as they have over these past two years. And no, the current state of global affairs does not count.

Two of the books on this list were technically read last year but with the way my life’s been going, that’s recent enough. The rest were found and / or read over the past few weeks, when another one of my manic (and, let’s be real, borderline blackout) book buying sprees occurred. If you’re new around here, these are the days when I wake up and find that there isn’t a single book in my many floor piles of books-to-be-read that fit the vibe I’m going for. All things must be dropped or rescheduled, an immediate trip to the bookstore must be made, and anything that passes the general vibe test must be clutched to my person until I’m willing to hand it over at the counter for the sales woman to give me a knowing smile, as if to say “we’ve all been there,” and kindly apply as many discounts as humanly possible because damage has been done here in this bookstore today.

It isn’t until I’m safely back home, stacking my haul on the floor with the rest of their brothers and sisters, that the mania dissipates and I can crack on with one of those new reads. Look, I could have worse habits.

Halloween may have come and gone but if you’re like me and you’re looking to stretch it out for a little bit longer then I present to you some of my favorite Recent Reads – Halloween Edition. Onward we go. Enjoy.


‘The Supernatural Enhancements’ by Edgar Cantero

This book is so great. A true favorite regardless of how recently I’ve read it. A related but not super relevant fun fact about me is that there is a direct correlation between the amount of unsettlement and stress going on in my personal life and my attention span for books. The worse one gets, the worse the other gets. This was the book that survived a double digit spell of pick-up-put-down switches during a particularly hairy life transition time a few months ago. As I said, so great.

What pulled me in was the style and format of the writing. It felt a bit like what I imagine listening to an old radio show would feel like. There were scenes in which the main characters were on the main stage, then scenes in which they were playing out an aside somewhere else, then intermission-type segue scenes in which you were exposed to letters or discussions that were tied to but not really part of the main attraction. From a plot perspective, the idea of a haunted house was used as a bit of a red herring for the broader “real life” mystery plot. All in all, ‘The Supernatural Enhancements’ is very uniquely written and very addictive. Highly recommend.

‘Strange Practice’ by Vivian Shaw

You had me at vampires and Doctor to the Undead, Vivian. Set in London (massive check one), Dr. Greta Helsing goes off on an adventure with her ancient vampire, demon, and ghoul friends (massive check two) to take down a sect of supernatural monks (massive check two-and-a-half because there is also a budding romance between the Doctor and one of the aforementioned ancient vampires, which is a massive check to end all checks as far as I’m concerned).

You lost me at ‘Strange Practice’ being the first in a series. In my younger years I could crush a 13+ book series without giving it a second thought, but now there are just too many things to read that I couldn’t possibly commit unless the first one is an 11 out of 10. Not to mention series are difficult to manage with my constant war on paperback publishing delays. Get your hardcover release dates out of my face.

That being said, this one is a fun read. The plot is good, the writing is good. And don’t fret, the series aspect doesn’t make this any less of a standalone. I’d rather read an entire book dedicated to Ruthven though and I suppose I can thanks to John William Polidori… but something tells me that it just won’t be the same. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for that spin-off.

‘City of Ghosts’ by Victoria Schwab

Despite the fact that I Did Not Like ‘A Darker Shade of Magic,’ which is by the same author just with a slightly adjusted pen name, the synopsis on the back of this one was hard to turn down. A young teenage girl who sees ghosts and is traveling to Edinburgh, Scotland for the summer because her parents are paranormal historians / investigators? Didn’t realize someone had been scouring the recesses of my brain for story material lately. Another series, which is unfortunate, but this is a lovely read with some ace character development of the three main youngsters (one of them is a ghost and that’s not a spoiler so don’t get mad at me).

‘City of Ghosts’ is technically for a younger demographic, but if you’ve given up on children’s or young adult books then you need to sit yourself down and sort yourself out because they have some of the best plots and life lessons that I’ve ever encountered. Maybe authors feel less pressured to develop kitschy narrative styles or something, but wow oh wow do books for younger audiences really punch you right in the heart sometimes. Don’t knock ’em. Try ’em.

‘The Price Guide to the Occult’ by Leslye Walton

Not only is the physical printing of the book absolutely gorgeous (see red pages under skull above), but as is the setting and imagery that Walton conjures. Oh so wondrous. Lush greenery galore on an island that feels more alive than the humans inhabiting it.

I love a good cursed-by-the-sorrows-of-the-scorned-matriarch-witch witch book. Think ‘Practical Magic’ meets ‘Beautiful Creatures’ then add a dash of teenage grunge sass and you’ve got ‘The Price Guide to the Occult.’ There’s a female bloodline curse, an evil mother on a power bender, a faithful familiar… what more could you possibly ask for? Better acknowledgement of the fact that the main character’s grandmother slash the book’s main living matriarch is a member of the LGBTQ+ community, that’s what. Otherwise, I’m delighted with this one. There were definitely a few setups at the end that could lend to a follow-up if Walton so chooses to write it, but they weren’t so dramatic as to make the reader feel like they didn’t get closure. This is a story for witch (are you having that?) I’d pick up the next one in the series.

‘The Rules of Magic’ by Alice Hoffman

Speaking of ‘Practical Magic,’ this book happens to be its prequel. ‘The Rules of Magic’ has been sitting at the bottom of one of my books-to-be-read piles for ages and, I’ll be honest, it’s been left down there for so long because Hoffman’s writing in ‘Practical Magic’ wasn’t exactly my favorite thing of all time (even though the movie adaptation means more to me than most things ever could). It had its moments, Hoffman’s just isn’t really my cauldron of tea. Once HBO announced a potential pilot for ‘The Rules of Magic’ though I knew I had to hop to it in order to settle on my usual footing of reading the books before watching the adaptations. Girl’s got a brand to keep around here.

Anyways, in this prequel The Aunts are much younger (but not any less feisty) and are learning about the hardships of life and magic in New York City. There is the addition of a brother to Fanny and Jet, and if you’re familiar with ‘Practical Magic’ then you can probably figure out the connections if you really think about it but I won’t say any more about him than that. There was a part approximately halfway through this book that made me start to cry and next thing I knew I couldn’t stop crying for the next few hours until I finished it completely. That could have been a me and my emotional state problem or it could have been classic Alice Hoffman hitting you with those quality one-liners. You can decide.

‘Alice’ by Christina Henry

This one has to have a caveat thrown out there because technically it’s a Currently Reading selection. I’m about 100 pages in as of writing this. So far, it’s got a few of my favorite things going for it. ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ Asylums. Seers. Horror. I’m a sucker for a good fairytale retelling (‘The Lunar Chronicles,’ I still see you… ‘Charm,’ I try really hard not to see you) and ‘Alice in Wonderland’ retellings might be up there as the record setter on my shelves.

Within the first 25 to 30 pages Henry makes it abundantly clear that you’re in a much darker and more adult version of the tale you thought you knew. Inclusive of some stomach dropping abusive assault moments that aren’t the easiest things to read. I’ve never read or seen Handmaid’s Tale, but I assume this is along the same lines (Game of Thrones, looking at you too). Why is this the new form of female character building these days? I can’t speak for all women here, but I personally find myself quite capable of fathoming the struggles of my gender in past, present, and future well enough without the added and increased tortures of physical and sexual assault, thank you very much. Fingers crossed that writers of television, movies, and books let us get to know female characters for themselves, and not for what the horrors of men have turned them into.


Still not sold on the idea of recommendations, so if you have any and you keep them to yourself then I wouldn’t mind. But if you find you absolutely must pass them along then I suppose I won’t turn my back on you completely… unless they’re true crime or excessive gore. I still draw a hard line in the fake blood on those.

As always, feel free to follow along with my real time bibliove over on Goodreads.

Real Moments: Growing On Without You

Editor’s Note: This was written to be published last year but, alas, it was not. The why is because many things were happening. Many changes, many adjustments, many repressed, many too much. I’ll never force myself through putting something out here on Tales just to do it. So know now that it’s time.


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I say that I miss you and more and more, every year, it feels like I’m saying that to nothing at all. To myself and an otherwise empty room. I tried for a long while to pretend like there was something about you that lingered, like a piece of you was still hovering here somewhere with me. But I don’t feel that anymore. Or rather, I don’t trick myself into feeling it anymore. Why would you ever have come back here?

I do still feel the loss sometimes. The emptiness. The difference. I don’t remember most days but then when I do it’s in waves of anger, always ending on a begging question, the closure point to end the momentary relapse, the push back into accepting defeat. Why did you leave me?

You are the particular space that no one and nothing else will fill. Year after year I’m learning what it is to be on my own without you. Without your soul, your being, your life. Faced with the temporality that you were and now are not but that I still am and some day won’t be. Different people have different fears but that is decidedly the most significant of mine. Another conversation for another day.

You’ve never known me now, Papa. You never knew so much of this life that I’ve built for myself. You never came here. Never saw this place that I’ve turned into a home, albeit another temporary one. If you did, the pool would have been your favorite part. You loved the sun. We would have visited together and talked, but talked of nothing at all. Parting ways at the end of every night with a kiss to your cheek, a promise to see you in the morning.

I often wonder what you’d think of this life that I live. What you’d think of me. I don’t know that you’d have any particularly strong thoughts, if I’m being honest. But it took me a while to settle in that. You had so many quietly uncommunicated expectations of me and I went out and I achieved them all. But we never, not once, ever talked about them. Which leaves me now to wonder what else? What else did you see for me? Want from me? Want for me?

You never told me. You never gave me the rest of the plan. When you were here we walked my path together, then when you left I felt shoved right off the side of it. I remembered enough, the direction of the twists and turns we still had up ahead to keep me going for a little ways, but now here I stand beside Alice and her pup, watching it sweep the forest floor into nothing while patiently waiting for you, my guide, to reappear and show me what I’m supposed to make of me.

Do you want me settled, with someone who will settle themselves with and for me? Do you want me searching for the one that is the absolute, the soul piece? Do you want me with children, to grow and adore? Do you want me in a career that puts money above all else, or all else above money? Do you want comfort? Do you want success? Do you want happiness?

You’ve made it incredibly difficult to live this life for me when I’ve spent so much of it living always and forever for you. But I’m trying. Standing here in this unknown forest, moving onward in a way that I can only hope is the way. I’m learning. Learning to change things and choose things. But I still wonder what you’d think. Your silence feels so indefinitely loud. I still want you here front row to every change and every choice. Here for all of it. Here to tell me what you want. You are my soul, and my being, and my heart, and my home.

But now my life is what it is, and I am who I am. I’ll grow on without you.

Learn a Book! – 30 in 2019

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We’re going (going) back (back) to simple (simple).

Look. The past few years I’ve been all talk, no read. I set these kitschy challenges for myself (that I adore! oh, how I adore them!) but have I actually completed any of them? Ask 2017 and 2018. Those two fell right to bits and tatters, they did. This year, I’m shaking it up with my annual reading challenge by going back to the basics. Let’s just get through some books this year. Haven’t we been through enough with the hellstorm that was 2018? Will we ever stop saying that? Spoiler alert: we have and we won’t.

Just give me a break, me. I can’t do it.

Fine, me. Have it your way.

So here we go. Here’s to learning all the books I never got to imagine up myself. Happy 2019.


  1. ‘The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle’ by Stuart Turton [430 pgs]
  2. ‘Smoke’ by Dan Vyleta [536 pgs]
  3. ‘Jackaby’ by William Ritter [299 pgs]
  4. ‘A Brief History of Time’ by Stephen Hawking [197 pgs]
  5. ‘Monstress, Vol 1: Awakening’ by Marjorie M. Liu & Sana Takeda [235 pgs]
  6. ‘Circe’ by Madeline Miller [385 pgs]
  7. ‘Conversations with Friends’ by Sally Rooney [307 pgs]
  8. ‘The Supernatural Enhancements’ by Edgar Cantero [353 pgs]
  9. ‘The Essex Serpent’ by Sarah Perry [418 pgs]
  10. ‘Red, White & Royal Blue’ by Casey McQuiston [418 pgs]
  11. ‘Strange Practice’ by Vivian Shaw [353 pgs]
  12. ‘The Rules of Magic’ by Alice Hoffman [366 pgs]
  13. ‘The Death of Mrs. Westaway’ by Ruth Ware [368 pgs]
  14. ‘The Woman in Black’ by Susan Hill [164 pgs]
  15. ‘City of Ghosts’ by Victoria Schwab [285 pgs]
  16. ‘Alice’ by Christina Henry [291 pgs]
  17. ‘Ninth House’ by Leigh Bardugo [455 pgs]
  18. ‘Hiddensee’ by Gregory Maguire [283 pgs]
  19. ‘A Cosmology of Monsters’ by Shaun Hamill [320 pgs]

Total Page Count: 6,463 pgs


Bolded books still favor the recommendations of mine self.

As always, feel free to follow me on Goodreads. Reviews still not written but at least this year I’m thinking about becoming a ‘bookstagrammer.’ I’ll let you know how it doesn’t go.

26 Places to Commemorate 26

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I wanted to kick this off with the phrase “another year around the moon” but then I got really stressed that I’ve used it in all of my other annual birthday posts. I’m inclined to think that 23 and 24 may have made it out alive, but 25 feels sneakily suspicious.

Alas, here we are. Another year around the moon. 26. I hate it. This is terrible and this is awful. This is the decline of my youth. There is no excitement.

I’m kidding, of course. Mild excitement. But I learned my lesson from last year. 25 was an age where everyone piled on more expectation than I’ve ever known. “This will be the best year of your life!” “25 holds so much promise!” “That is the greatest age!” Thanks to all of that, I went into it with too much energy and created too many of my own expectations and, shockingly, very few of them were actually lived up to. Very few. I left the year quite displeased with all of those people who did that to me! I’m convinced they put the whammy on it.

So, in 26 I’m decidedly expecting not much of anything at all. It’ll be an age, alright. It’ll hold so much… who knows? We’ll come back and see this time next year.

For now, let’s look behind us. I wanted to get a little different in my birthday reflective writings this year because lately I’ve been giving some serious thought to where I want to settle this here life of mine. As in, settle settle. I thought I had that figured out already. It felt so known for so long. I had a plan and a timeline and a too-stern nod of the head whenever anyone asked me. But lately half of the plan appears to be smudged and the timeline is ticking by too quickly and the brow on the sternly nodding head is beginning to furrow.

I know, I know, we’re throwing expectations right out the window and apparently this is one of them. Rather than get decided about where I’m going to be, this age wants to remind me about all of those tiny nooks and not so tiny crannies that I’ve been. That make me feel like my soul is in a home place. Maybe that’ll help me solve the settle.

Captured below are 26 places that give me those soul feelings. That commemorate what it means for me to make it to the unripe, not-so-old age of 26. “Pin drops” have been provided for the specifics.

Onwards, in no particular order…


1. The Front Porch @ 42

[Pin Drops]: the wall ledge against the house, the edge before the stairs, the original green door

2. Long Lived Papasan Chair

[Pin Drops]: every turned page, every tucked leg, every grey morning

3. West Cork, Ireland

[Pin Drops]: the strawberry patch, cake crawling, Levis’

4. Pembroke College, Cambridge, UK

[Pin Drops]: Pembroke Library, the dungeon room, Brewsday Crewsday

5. On Top of the World

[Pin Drops]: Pride & Prejudice (2005), dir. Joe Wright, mus. Dario Marianelli

6. Where Orion Was Its Brightest

[Pin Drops]: my heart, and soul, and fresh air

7. Cancun, MX

[Pin Drops]: Back of the Jeep, mirror selfies with actual digital cameras, hang outs in hotel rooms where coconuts hid under the bed

8. The bar at Knights of Columbus

[Pin Drops]: paper animals, shuffleboard tables, the salty sweat smell of home

9. Liguria, Italy

[Pin Drops]: the lights, cobbled streets, architecture to steal my breath clean out of my lungs

10. Pacific Coast Highway Beach

[Pin Drops]: warm rocks, cold water, highway air

11. The Special Room @ Kings Library

[Pin Drops]: my tears, most of my tears, all of my tears

12. Boston, MA

[Pin Drops]: Northeastern, the T, the whole damn city kid

13. Kangamagus Highway

[Pin Drops]: Scottish Fest, the condo, that last Tennants up in the lodge

14. Glasgow, Scotland

[Pin Drops]: River Clyde @ the Childrens Museum, Big GG’s garden, Wee GG’s electric coal fireplace, the Genius couch

15. Kirstenbosch

[Pin Drops]: 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42

16. Wigtown, Scotland

[Pin Drops]: hill down from the train station, bookshelves, quietness of the mind

17. Cape Town, South Africa

[Pin Drops]: bus rides, Wobblies, money, more laughter than my heart will ever know again

18. The Olympic Peninsula

[Pin Drops]: La Push (baby), Worlds Biggest Spruce, Bella Italia

19. The Old Living Room @ Euclid

[Pin Drops]: 5am, Lord of the Rings, putters under couches for Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed

20. The Attic @ 42

[Pin Drops]: animal hospital, makeshift apartment, imaginings

21. The Atlantic Ocean

[Pin Drops]: Second Beach, Ocean Drive, Ireland

22. The Night Sky

[Pin Drops]: Ursa Major, airplane windows, front windshields

23. The Upper West Side

[Pin Drops]: Museum of Natural History, Cafe Amrita, Dead Poet

24. Parker Hill Abbey

[Pin Drops]: cuddle puddles, the (6 hour?) shower, open-doored bedrooms

25. Punters Pub

[Pin Drops]: Danger Zone at #1 on the jukebox, that Bud Diesel tap, the broken booths

26. My Inside Breath

[Pin Drops]: the moors, the forest, the heart places


As always, thank you for being part of this. I guarantee you, yes you, are woven into one and / or many of the above. Here’s to many more together.

9 Lessons to Lead Through 2019

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Hello, friends. Have you missed me? Okay, very well. But have you missed me like I’ve missed me? Doubtful.

I hadn’t realized that this post was something lingering around in my head to write until one recent eve, standing at my kitchen counter, listening to a single song over and over again trying to learn the lyrics, and realizing the great deal of many other things out there that I’d still like to learn. All out of a sudden sorts this list started forming itself (with a little help from my friend my mental inside voice) and I had no other choice but to write it down. Then to write it down in a way that I could share with you as some of the lessons I want to lead myself through in 2019.

If that sounds ridiculous to you, it’s because it is. But don’t worry, these lessons are just as. I haven’t written much lately. To be too honest, it’s because I haven’t found much worth writing about. But over the past few weeks I’ve worked really hard at hardly really working, in an effort to force myself to repress the hyperdrive and just take stock. I scanned my body to see what it was unwinding to tell me, scanned my mind to see what the heck takes up all of the space in there, scanned my soul to see where on earth or elsewhere it wants to be. Settled into a deep breath and a shrapnel approach to this whole reflecting and resolving business.

These lessons I’m about to share with you are just one of the many jagged pieces, probably the one lodged into my spleen. Yes, I did think about adding “medical school” to this list and yes, I am on my 100th re-watch of the hit classic television series “ER.”

Last year was something, though, wasn’t it? I’m still trying to work out how it happened, how we got here to this point. The collective we, the we that is my mental inside voice and me, the we that is you, dear reader, and me, your dearest writer. Take your pick. My point is – I’m taking my sweet time to mull it all over. To understand what happened and why it happened and what I think and feel about what happened. To decide what I’m going to do and say about what happened. That takes a lot out of a woman, let me tell you.

I hope that most others out there are in the mulling it all over camp as well. Or maybe you’ve sufficiently mulled by this point. The new year has officially kicked itself off, after all. Just please oh please don’t be one of those people who think that reflecting, resetting, and resolving during this time of year is overrated. Life goes on! you may say. What’s new about it!? you may also say. New Year, New Chumps! Time still ticks!

Time does still tick. Your life may very well continue on. Humanity certainly will (at least for an ever so slight little while longer). But, that doesn’t mean that something isn’t out there beginning. How terribly uninteresting all of this would be if nothing ever began.

Maybe you’re not a “reflections” or “resolutions” person. Sure, I get it. Maybe goals are more your thing. Dream setting. Aspirations organization. Mind cataloging. Winter hippocampus cleaning. Whatever you want to call it. Do what you must. Or don’t. Either way, there is still so much more to come. For you, for me, for us. In it together. Deal?

Diatribe over; lessons abound.


Handwritten Stamina

Where has all the handwriting gone!? I recall spending years of my life in school only physically handwriting assignments. Now, I get through half of a thank you note before my knuckles start cramping. I whinge and I whine and then I turn to typing because, like many of my generation, I’m actually quite good at it. All those years of writing thousands of words of nonsense on the internet really paid off. But I miss a handwritten note, a letter, an anything. Time to bring that stamina back. This year, I’m penning things left and write (are you having that??).

The Step One: Repression of texting in favor of letters. So many letters. You want a letter? You got one.

Play the drums

I know, I know! Get it out now. In through the nose, exhale that exasperation right back out. I’ve been saying this one for years. We’ve all been here for it, evidence can be found all over this website. But this is the year, I can feel it. After all, it’s only a matter of time before that Foo Fighters CD really does make me break my steering wheel clean off of my car.

The Step One: My eyes have been trained on a potential lessons spot prize. Next weekend I’m stopping by to schedule my first lesson. Keep me accountable.

Conscientiousness

It’s exhausting to get to know yourself. I know I can’t possibly be alone in this one. I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes I go on autopilot. It’s a running joke that work-Cassie can become a bit of a machine. But when the machine runs for too long and you finally turn it off, sometimes it takes a second to remember what you’re like without it. This year I want to learn how to be more conscientious about what it’s like to steer the ship myself. No autopilot. Not just for work-Cassie but for all-Cassie.

This one is a little more abstract than the others, but it essentially boils down to making the effort to be more well-rounded. I had one of those moments when I was on the cusp of 20 (not as catchy as the edge of 17, trust me I know) which made me wholly and entirely comfortable in the knowledge of who I am. I’m incredibly thankful for that, I know it’s a fortune some others don’t have. But to keep it and, more importantly, to grow it – I’ve got to be aware of changing with the life and times.

The Step One: Plan more trips to make the effort.

Taste in Vino

I’ve gotten into a semi-aggressive wine drinking habit this year. Not semi-aggressive in a worrisome way, but in a completely contrary to my steadfast collegiate declarations of never drinking anything other than Bud Heavy and Guinness way. So far my libations of the vino variations have been isolated to one particular type and, to be frank with you (O’Hara, never Sinatra), I want to understand what it is about it that I like so much. What is my flavor palate’s profile picture, or whatever the heck you call it? As you can see, the only way to go is up.

The Step One: Try some new vino, I guess? I’m a big Argentinian Malbec drinker, but apparently this type of wine originated in Bordeaux so let’s head in that direction first. Yes, I am quite skilled at the 20-second Google scan.

Find My Narrative

My dream of dreams is still to become a published author. The number one commendation that teachers and professors would scribble into the corners of my papers was “good narrative voice!” But, in my opinion, that was always just me being me. Naturally argumentative about whatever it was they asked us to take a stand on because I’ll semi-literally argue someone to death on just about anything. Go ahead. Question me about being semi-literal.

Becoming an author, a true honest to goodness writer, is a completely different narrative voice. It’s not like me here writing to you. It’s not my voice that gets pulled through, but at the same time it is something that belongs to me. And I absolutely agonize over that. I’ve had such a hard time trying to sit down and write something that I’ve developed this fearful aversion to almost the entirety of the institution! And that, my dear reader, rightly and truly breaks my heart.

The Step One: Learn how to get over my fears of even trying. Find a routine and a safe space.

Flight School (hoo ha ha)

Yes, yes, this one is still around too. I want to learn how to fly an aircraft. Been there, said that. Still hasn’t happened. Met an Air Force vet on a flight recently and he gave me an extra little nudge. This will be the year.

The Step One: Research flight schools and schedule an intro-flight.

Talk It Down

Anxiety is something that I, along with 40 million adults in the United States, deal with more often than I’d like to. Worse, it’s still something that I get surprised by. This past year, my body caught me off guard… a lot. The usual signs that used to warn me, to tell me that something is coming and I need to take notice, weren’t the only ones anymore. New things cropped up and I didn’t listen. I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t realize what was happening. Lesson One learned.

Now for Lesson Two. This year I want to push myself a little bit, get a little scientifically experimental when those signs start coming around. Not in any sort of dangerous way, but I want to learn how to listen to myself. There are times when I get that chest feeling, that stomach feeling, that head feeling, and I just accept it. My fight or flight is flight, always flight, and I get the heck out of dodge. But why? What about that situation or place or person caused that? Is it actually my usual anxiety or just a weird feeling? Is something else going on? I never know! This year I vow to listen and to learn the ways to talk it down.

(As an aside, I know I keep saying that I’ll save my full dissertation on anxiety for another day and then that day never comes. I’ve had drafts on here since 2015, it’s just never felt like quite the right time to take it on. Mental health and wellness is something I’m incredibly passionate about – in personal and in professional – but it’s not that easy for me to strip out and write down. Please bear with me a little longer.)

The Step One: I’ve devised a little system to keep record of the various “waves” of anxiety that I experience. I’m an analytical type of gal. Fingers crossed we can make sense of it.

Play Golf

Someone gave a presentation on golf at a work event recently and I loved every second of it. We talked swings, we talked courses, we talked luck, we talked calculations. There’s always been this threat of mathematics to the people of my skill level (read: novice), but very rarely has anyone ever actually offered to explain them. I keep meaning to become a better (read: just flat out ‘a’) golfer, because I feel like it’s an affront to my Scottish heritage to not learn and also because I’m really looking forward to the day when I absolutely crush an old white guy out on the course. Let’s call it The Old Course, shall we? According to the presentation, golf is mostly mental and luckily so am I.

The Step One: North Carolina has some great golf courses, so I’m on the hunt for one of the lesser great ones. Preferably one in possession of a driving range. Also going to research all the names of the clubs. A driver is definitely a thing.


Please do come back around from time to time. I’m trying my best to get both of us back to this space more often in the coming months.

Until then, I’ll be off in search of some Tales.

Queen City Caffeine Crawl [@CharlotteNC]

I’ve done it before and I’m doing it again – this time on the opposite side of the Atlantic, and this time with a Queen City caffeine theme.

Charlotte, North Carolina has been home for over 2 years now. Since the day I arrived, I’ve been pretty bent on finding the best coffee this place has to offer. Come to think of it, that’s one of my top missions anywhere I go. It’s a close jostle with bookstores. But before going any further with this, let’s get something out of the way. Writer, you ask, is Charlotte known for its coffee? Reader, I say, no it is not! This search has been a difficult one but are they a-changing or what, these times?

I’ve been noticing a slow but sure growth of new places to stop for a cup of coffee in the Queen City. I love the idea of a ridiculous crawl and now felt like as good a time as any to launch the next installment. Café Cake Crawl wasn’t going to work here, so I had to scrap visions of a part two. Of the many coffee places I started to peg as potential stops while researching, none too many featured café cake options. If anything, planning for this yielded a clear North Carolinian distinction between coffee shops and bakeries. Down here those two just don’t mix (are you having that??) and Café Gluten-Free Zucchini Bread Crawl didn’t have the same ring to it.

Let’s get going with this quest for the best caffeination station. The rules: No chains (but local multi-locationers accepted). No additives to the coffee (I drink it black anyways and yes, my teeth do hate me). No to-go cups because I’m not that busy of a woman – substitute in some worry over a personal problem where if it’s served in a mug I will try to drink it before it’s cooled enough and therefore will ruin my t-buds and thus and thenceforth this crawl. Smallest size only, for fear of cardiac arrest (remember this one for later). And last but not least, must sit down to absorb the vibes (as the kids say) for at least 30 minutes in each individual location.

Understood? All aboard? Great. Now, prepare your heads for this second-hand rush.


Trade and Lore

I purposefully chose to kick off with Trade and Lore because the name and photos from Google Maps were extremely intimidating to me. It seemed like the type of place that looks at you like you have 14 heads and they’re so bored of seeing people with 14 heads so kindly stop breathing their air and go sit in the corner uncomfortably until your coffee is ready, but not announced, so it’s actually been sitting at the counter for a few minutes and was mistakenly picked up then put back down by two other customers before you apprehensively stood up and went to go get it. You know what I’m talking about? Good, because Trade and Lore is nothing like that type of place.

Trade and Lore is upstairs above a NoDa Brewery, Salud, and the space feels exactly like that. It actually went so far as to remind me of some of my favorite spots in New York City. Except instead of astral ambient electro synth, they were playing some tracks in the stride of ‘All Because of You’ by Rise Against. My new preferred way to kick off 8am. The entrance was a little tricky to find so I ended up walking around the block (a fault entirely of my own, I can confirm that there was in fact signage) before climbing to the top of some cool looking stairs that led into a cool looking second floor which I guess I’d describe as a really, really cool looking den? When I thought the thought that I was glad it felt hidden and protected and wasn’t a more obvious in-your-face glass storefront, I realized that I was becoming too annoying for my own good.

I give this coffee a rage against that espresso machine out of 10.

Basal Coffee

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I’m obsessed with the floors here. Also pretty much everything else about here. Confession: never knew this place existed. Never knew it was even about to exist, but allow me to introduce you to yet another fault entirely and all the way of my own. Basal Coffee opened back in March of this year, further emphasizing my point that the Queen City coffee scene is positively blooming (that… are you having that??). The biggest difference I noticed was that where other spots have waited until 100% to open their doors to the community, Basal opened with the minimalist necessities and so many exciting growth plans to share with their customers. I know this because the owner happened to be behind the counter while I was there and gave me a very passionate summary of what’s to come (Block parties! Coffee block parties! Do you hear the people sing?). It’s really cool that our community is going to get to go through this journey alongside the employees and owners of Basal. Who knows, maybe I’ll learn something about opening a place like this of my own some day (Hopes? Dreams? Is that you? How are the children?).

My Colombia pour over (pourover? pour-over? Pour Over? poor over!) was a presentation and a half. Coffee is taken seriously here. Not pretentious seriously, but you can tell that they love it like one of the family. People were coming in all morning describing the tastes and styles that they were looking for and the guys behind the bar weren’t disappointing. I must find out exactly what type of Colombian coffee this was because it was delicious.

I give this coffee a best pour over I’ve ever had in my quarter century of a life no seriously I’m equal parts floored and amazed and also stunned but mostly thankful out of 10.

Not Just Coffee

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Quite a few of my young millennial friends have social-media’d about this place and a new Charlotte city limits location seems to appear every other month so I figured it was time for me to jump on in. The Not Just Coffee spot in Atherton Mill was fine. It wasn’t exactly my scene, if I’m being entirely honest. It is literally situated in the middle open space corridor of a modernized mill. My personal feeling is that a little more greenery could have enhanced the space to feel less pop-up industrial but I think that might actually be what they’re going for here?

Unfortunately my no to-go cups rule was broken at NJC but it didn’t seem like they had any of the capabilities to deal with dishes so I get it. It also didn’t seem like anyone was coming here for that? Of the short time I spent sitting and watching, most of the people cycling through were intentionally picking up something to leave with or they were bringing in their lunches and getting a cup of coffee to go with it, then back out and on with their lives. Given its growth, Not Just Coffee is clearly great for the citizens of Charlotte, but it’s just not the coffee for Cass.

I give this coffee a paper cups for paper people out of 10.

Queen City Grounds

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Absolutely without a doubt couldn’t leave Queen City Grounds off the crawl, could I? Again, I judged by Google Maps images. I searched coffee, this place popped up, and I audibly groaned because I wanted to stay out of Uptown and, to be honest, it didn’t look super inviting from the photos. Let me say, completely different impression when I walked through the doors. Energy levels were great for an early afternoon. People were sitting and chatting or working away on laptops. Hanging plants! Off of an open loft area! Now we’re talking, this was a vibe.

On the way here I had to make a stop for french fries as a last-ditch effort to build up a liner because at this point the caffeine on the empty stomach was really starting to buzz directly to the tips of all ten fingers. I know, I’m dumb, I know. We’ll speak about that later. I went for a Guatemalan drip brew by the name of Finca Los Chorros. No idea what that means but it was really good. At this point I was really devolving into preserving the integrity of the crawl and not so much focusing on enjoying what I was drinking. When I ordered, the barista behind the counter was super energetic and friendly which made a lot of sense for someone working in a roastery surrounded by coffee shakes, rattles, and rolls all day. A few short minutes into sipping on this, the foot tapping had begun.

I give this coffee an I imagine this is what lightly smoldered firewood tastes like and I’m super into it apparently? out of 10.

Central Coffee Company

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My neighborhood favorite. Had to add Central Coffee Company even though it’s not a new find like the others on this crawl, mostly because I wanted it as a control group. Really didn’t need it, but wanted it. By the time I got here, it began to feel as if all of the coffee in my system had made itself a body-sized reservoir in between the epidermis and hypodermis layers of my skin. A jitter that hadn’t quite taken over my body yet but was definitely enough to make me feel extremely… weird. Ever feel like that? No? Huh.

I love coming to Central in South End first thing in the morning because it’s extremely well-positioned for natural sunlight in the early AM. I bring my tree encyclopedia to veg out for a bit with a to-here, then pick up a to-go for the trek (read: barely half-mile stroll) home to start the rest of my day. Central also has the best weekend hours of any coffee place in Charlotte. Fact. On this trip I tried a Papua New Guinea Kange brew, but there is one particular light roast that I’ve had here a handful of times and it’s the best light roast I’ve ever experienced and it kills me that I don’t know what it is. The flavor profile (if that is its real name) reminds me of crispy birch bark with a hint of toasted marshmallows (don’t ask). I’ll never be able to make it at home though because, fun fact alert, I am terribly horrible at making coffee myself. Seriously. Can’t work out the “mathematics” of it. And people have tried to help. Save yourselves.

I give this coffee a central to my mental and emotional comfort company out of 10.

Undercurrent Coffee

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When I was living in the Plaza Midwood area, I used to drive by this place and anxiously await the day when the “Coming Soon!” signs would be replaced by “Now Open!” signs. Undercurrent Coffee reminds me of exactly what it is: a house that was converted into a coffee shop. It’s refreshing to be in a place that offers multiple brew styles to their customers sans pretension and judgement. I don’t know where it is that hurt me to expect that type of vibe from every coffee place I go into now, but I’m delighted that the Queen City has wrecking-balled that into a very friendly and welcoming dust of nothing.

The ladies and man behind the counter here are phenomenal. They honestly make the place. They make it feel like Undercurrent actually wants you to learn how to appreciate coffee. It doesn’t expect you to walk in the door as a master roaster with a world class palate. They’ll help you figure out what you want (they quite literally offer classes) and “I think I like things that are light and woodsy and kind of taste like caramel” was sufficient for them to make a recommendation and for all of us to move on with our day. Related to vibes, the man and woman sitting next to me were practicing tarot while I worked on writing this – making me feel right at witchy home. The playlist was set to a roll of the “rock and” persuasion but at one point the Kate Bush classic “Wuthering Heights” came on… I just about internally strangled myself to prevent a cry laughing scene. Do yourself all the favors and watch that music video.

I give this coffee a HEATHCLIFF out of 10.


As with the cake crawl… I did not feel great at the end of this! Shocking!

In fact, I sincerely discourage anyone from trying this if you’re not extremely in touch with your caffeine intake limits. Seriously, for health and safety and well-being purposes do not do this. On a normal day I usually drink anywhere from 2 to 4 disturbingly large coffees so I figured I could handle 6 small ones but I was duped, my friends! Firstly because hardly anyone served me in sizes that I would describe as anything other than full. Out went the “small only” rule.

Secondly because it was a lot of caffeine in not a lot of time. This whole crawl took me around seven hours to complete. When I reached the last few stops, I was able to recognize the signs that enough was enough. In fact, I even went so far as to fear caffeine overdose because I’m the Queen of Internet Diagnoses. In all seriousness, the mild chest pain and twitchy shoulders insisted that I not finish the last few sips of some cups. I love coffee, I do, but I love it because I enjoy it. At the end of the day, this started becoming very not enjoyable.

I’m an idiot, I know, but as Eddie Vedder once said, I’m still alive.