Voyages: Hickory & Blowing Rock [@NorthCarolina]

Last weekend I had a hankering to get away from the city. My usual preference would be to go to the ocean but that trip is more of a commitment down here so the second best choice was to get up into the mountains.

Are you ready for the tale of another hysterical attempt at my navigating myself sans GPS? Good, because I’ve shown up to tell it. Like the journey up to Kancamagus, I wanted to try my hand at navigating this one with only a general idea of where I was going – a reliance on road signs, if you will. The excitement of that only lasted about an hour until I decided to take a quick peak at my Google Maps location to make sure I was on the right track. Yeah, sure, the road looked right, but the direction looked oh so wrong. For a second I had myself a bit of a panic over the idea of spending the day in South Carolina instead of the Appalachians, but much like my destination, that blew over once I figured out my phone was showing me the map flipped upside-down.

Deep breath, hearty laugh, and away I went.


Hickory, NC

First stop. The town was absolutely Saturday morning silent when I arrived. It took a few drives around the block to orient myself, but once I found a parking space I hopped out of the car on a mission for good coffee. Don’t ask me how the “city” of Hickory made it onto my list of North Carolina locals in the first place, it just did. And the only real research I did on it was for coffee shops so here we are.

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Taste Full Beans is clearly the spot in Hickory. A hugely expansive menu greeted me from the back wall and the baked goods arranged along the counter drew me closer, but I had my eyes on the prize: the two wonderfully friendly young women who I knew were my gateway to the good stuff. They laughed as I confided that the menu overwhelmed me and all I wanted was the largest cup of coffee they were legally allowed to give me. A small selection of options lined the counter to the right and I went with a blend called “Dark Bliss.” If you know me at all, I shouldn’t have to explain why.

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As I settled in to a comfy chair-coffee table-couch setup, my tunnel vision now dissolved thanks to the achievement of my coffee getting goal, I took a look around. The best part of local cafes is the local culture support. Art available for purchase lined every wall, fliers were at the counter or on the tables with information about more goings-on, and one man was even chatting with the women behind the counter about some local theater productions. This is my favorite part of small towns! I desperately wished I could have become a more habitual customer, but I’ll settle for making Taste Full my passing through Hickory haunt.

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As I continued to drain my super large cup of coffee in record time, I noticed the magazines stacked on the coffee table in front of me. A dozen issues of Rolling Stone and a Wall Street Journal magazine with Meryl Streep on the cover. My visit was starting to feel eerily fated.

Another note on the general vibe of this place. The setup to my note is that playlists are huge to me, and that goes for pretty much any place I go. A restaurant, a cafe, a clothing store, anywhere. A good playlist gives me validation that I’m actually supposed to be there, that I made a good choice. So my note about Taste Full’s music comes in two parts: an excellent Fields of Gold cover and the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack. Game over.

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Caffeinated and satiated, I trekked back around the corner to my car to continue on my voyage North-Westerly. Right across the street from my parking spot was this attractively aesthetic Carolina Theater which I didn’t even notice upon arrival! Thankful I did before departure because look how freaking pretty!

Blowing Rock, NC

Next stop was Blowing Rock and again, do not ask me how I got it in my head to visit this place. I just did, okay?

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Since Blowing Rock is more situated on the edge of the mountains, the scenic route happens pretty quickly. The highway starts to wind you upwards and suddenly the roads are narrowing (partly from construction, partly from actual nature). Then all of a sudden you round a corner and a huge sign pops up pointing you in the direction of the town-namesake: THE Blowing Rock.

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The legend of this location is 80% of what drew me to it in the first place. I’m a sucker for romantic history, especially when it includes a little bit of fantastic occurrences. The other 20%? The temperature cool down. It was mid-70s when I arrived at high noon. A wonderfully pleasant experience compared to the high-90s I left behind.

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The Blowing Rock itself was quite literally just a big slab of rock jutting out from the side of the mountain. I climbed up to the top pretty confidently but the wind made me immediately sit right the heck down for fear of getting pushed over the edge.

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It was indescribably cool to look out and imagine a young woman probably younger than myself sitting in the exact same place before the mountains and valleys below, spotting the love of her life wandering the wilderness. Too sappy? Okay, I’ll rugged it up a little bit. Imagine how good of a shot she must have been to make her arrow navigate the wind and get close enough to attract the attention of that guy.

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In all honesty, I could have sat up there in the breeze of the mountains all day. The fresh air felt so good and the scene before me so relaxing. Unfortunately it was time to get back on the road, but I made a vow to come back and visit the mountains again soon.

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Believe me when I say that I’ve got a list a mile long of places to go and things to do in North Carolina, but please do let me know any recommendations of yours! I’m gonna have to get to know this state at some point or another and I might as well start with the good stuff.

Real Moments: Tales Turns One!

It’s been one whole year since I started Tales of Casstastrophe and look how far we’ve come! If you’re here anticipating styled photos of giant golden balloon numbers or letters, please kindly close your eyes and imagine them for a moment so you’re not disappointed and then open your eyes and continue reading.

First and foremost, let’s review some of the adventures we’ve been on since we got to know each other last July:

Secondly, I’ve made a few updates around the site. Nothing too fancy but allow me to direct you to the new home page. This Is Me and Casstegories have also gotten a little sprucing. Have no fear, navigation is still largely the same and I want to make sure that my past posts remain unaffected so if you see anything looking funky please let me know!

And finally, thank you to everyone who has come along on this whirlwind of a year with me! I appreciate it more than you know that anyone out there, even one single person, cares to read my thoughts and prose. Writing is fun for me; it’s a hobby, it’s a habit, and it’s a love. While I’m thankful to have these musings recorded somewhere for myself in the future, I’m even more thankful to think that someone out there might actually get something from what I write. If that someone is you – please write back.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

Here’s to many more Tales of Casstastrophe!

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Recent Reads – July 2016

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A week or so prior to moving, my mother instituted a ban on my buying any more books until after my arrival in North Carolina. I know. “You’ve got a ton you haven’t even read yet!” She said. “You don’t have any more room to pack them!”

She even went so far as to physically remove the very platinum edition of The Outsiders I have featured here from my own two hands while at the book store. I’ll admit, I told myself I wasn’t going to get anything that day but very quickly had several paperbacks catch my eye on the tables at the front (book lovers, you know what I’m talking about). I could feel the tension in my upper arms building as the muscles worked to restrain my fingers from snatching up everything around me. Cue my mother seeing the mania in my eyes and pushing me towards the coffee section of the store in hopes of my indulging in a different vice.

Jokes on her because within actual days of moving to North Carolina I dragged my parents on an expedition to the nearest Barnes & Noble and absolutely lost my damn mind. You would have thought I was a contestant on an episode of Supermarket Sweep, Bookstore Edition. Pretty sure I was the only person actually utilizing the plastic baskets pushed off to the corner of the entryway and let me tell you, utilize I did.

Here’s my haul.


GO SET A WATCHMAN | HARPER LEE

Confession #1: I only just recently read To Kill A Mockingbird. It was never required reading for me and so many people talked it up as a fantastic book (rightfully so, Harper Lee was a literary goddess of an inspiration) that I avoided it at all costs. I didn’t want other people’s opinions clouding my own judgment so I waited. Then, this book was released last year and I had to wait a little bit longer but finally got around to the start of Scout’s story back in January. Seeing this particular paperback, a little something whispered into my consciousness that it was finally time to start the end. I know it has received mixed reviews, but I really liked it.

THE LAST STAR | RICK YANCEY

Super refreshing to see a trilogy on the table again. These days I feel like a lot of young adult novels are going for gold in the length of series competition and I am not about it. The Lunar Chronicles? Fantastic, capped out at 4 and very well planned out. The ones where the authors willingly admit, having just published book 6, that they aren’t sure when they’ll get around to giving us closure? Unsubscribe. In my days of being a pre-teen youngin’, I could keep up with a 10+ book series! These days? Ha.

That being said, I’d have to admit that I was unimpressed with this final book. No spoilers, but also no closure.

SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE | KURT VONNEGUT

Confession #2: never read this either. Kurt Vonnegut seemed to be the first runner-up to Shakespeare in every other high school English class in the country as so many people, real and fictional, referenced it as required reading. I only had one teacher who assigned us some of Vonnegut’s short stories but this book just never pulled my attention. Probably because I was too busy begging the same teacher to incorporate more Victorian literature. Apparently other kids thought that was boring but potato, tomato. So for years I’ve skipped this and then happened to walk by a copy in my already manic state. I made a bet with my mom that if it was more than $10 I wouldn’t buy it… $7.99, guys. $7.99.

Another personal opinion? Not my cup of tea. In fact, I consider this a regret.

GHOST FLEET | P.W. SINGER & AUGUST COLE

I had some doubts about adding this book to my pile. I still have doubts. I get easily scared by things. I also consider myself to be a pretty paranoid person about the future and humanity and all of that from time to time so this book seemed as though it had the potential to instigate a massive panic crisis inside of me and yet it also seemed too interesting to skip over? That’s the exact train of thought that chugged on through my mind and I can promise you there are many more cars to come on that thing.

To summarize, this is a novel about the next world war. An opening note reads “the following was inspired by real-world trends and technologies. But, ultimately, it is a work of fiction, not prediction.” This is my current read.

RED QUEEN | VICTORIA AVEYARD

Okay, let’s talk about the hard cover epidemic. Actually, you know what? Let’s bump it up to a pandemic. Let’s talk about the hard cover pandemic. I love a good hard cover, I truly do, but the concept of waiting almost an entire year to get a book in paperback is distressing. A few months? Fine. 6 months, even? Okay, for some kind of popular/renowned bestseller, sure. ONE YEAR? ARE YOU KIDDING? Not to mention as a series is published, the earlier hard covers tend to disappear from the shelves. So if you arrive at the series a few volumes late, you’ve got to wait that much longer to get books that will stay in format with the set you have already started to accumulate! This is a cause I very much believe in, people. Shorten Paperback Releases, 2016.

Anyways, yeah, I wanted to read this series and didn’t want the hard covers so I waited until the first one was comfortably paper backed before I picked it up and here we are, very excited about it. I can already tell that this will be my next Young Adult Fantasy Series pick because the first book just really hooked me in. As in, once I started I didn’t stop until I was finished. An actual blood versus blood war where people have evolved to have super powers… basically. It gets more complex, read the summary elsewhere.

THE OUTSIDERS | S.E. HINTON

My mom was astounded when I told her that I hadn’t actually read this book. It’s an 80s movie classic! And I love the 80s! And I always read the books before seeing the movies! Well, I’d done neither for this particular story and the platinum edition absolutely threw itself at me from the New Releases shelf so I couldn’t say no.

This freaking book… honestly, top of my list for Must Read recommendations to people now. It hits you in all sorts of places. Literally as soon as I finished it I watched the movie (the complete novel version, not the original) because I could not get enough. The story that S.E. Hinton creates is so… I’m at a loss for words. It’s incredible. Read it immediately.

Stay gold… *bursts into tears*

THE ROOK | DANIEL O’MALLEY

My Uncle is my go-to recommender of sci-fi/fantasy books. He usually tells me to read things and I think “mhm, sounds like I’d like that, okay” and add it to my Goodreads list and then, oops, 10 months later it’s pushed down to the third page of the list. Riding his ‘The Kingkiller Chronicles’ recommendation wave, this time I made more of a conscious effort to pick up a copy. This is my up next read.

THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA | ERNEST HEMINGWAY

Darling, dearest Hemingway is my absolute favorite male author to exist in this here universe. His prose style is captivating and almost meditative, really. I was surprised when I saw that this particular work, one of his shortest, was a Pulitzer Prize winner but considering Hemingway won the Nobel Prize in Literature a year later, it makes sense that this would be the one to make a splash (anyone? anyone?).

Anyways, I went into it not anticipating to really relate to the story much and came out of it in my own sea of tears (I can’t stop). It’s a quick read, there’s no reason not to.


As always, please feel free to follow along with my recent reading escapades over on Goodreads and if you’re curious how I’m doing on my 20[16k] reading challenge then go check out my progress.

If you’ve read or will read any of these, let me know what you think!

6-in-6: My Halfway Bucket List

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Although I tend to opt for reflections over resolutions when we hit those end of December days, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have a list of things that I want to accomplish throughout the year. My beginning half of 2016 was pretty action packed, but as I settle into a new home and a more routine life (at least for a little while) I wanted to make sure that I was still pushing myself to try new stuff.

So, I came up with this list of 6 things I want to do in the next 6 months.


1. Complete a basic coding class

Computer Science school drop-out doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, but I’m sure Boys2Men as Teen Angel(s?) would have made it work. Please, someone out there appreciate the reference…

I started college as an Information Science major, if we’re going to get specific about it, and only lasted about half the semester before switching into Finance. My reasoning used to be that I didn’t have the brain for coding, but I’ve since decided that that excuse is entirely inaccurate. It’s more like I just couldn’t keep up with the speed of the classes. I wasn’t entirely new to this, I had done some beginner HTML and C++ in high school, but it was still hard to get a handle on! A year or two ago I tried teaching myself how to code again and it’s… still a struggle. So I’ve been looking at some open source courses and decided THIS is the year I’ll do it. I’ll get to the finish line and I’ll get there at my own pace.

2. Start drum lessons

Another story of prior failures in life: I’m not musically inclined. Not to say that I haven’t tried (violin, saxophone, guitar, chorus) but I never found something to stick with (aside from singing Paramore’s greatest hits in my shower) and I’ve wanted to get into drumming for a while now! It’s impossible for me to listen to music without moving, whether it be tapping a finger or bouncing a leg or flailing in circles screaming the lyrics to S Club Party with friends at a “silent” disco. Drumming felt good for me to get into so I’ll let you know how that goes.

3. Cross-stich Christmas

This is the year for a crafty Christmas. Believe it or not I started working on things for people in January and I’m determined to give my close friends and family personally cross-stiched gifts. I’m not ruining any surprises with this announcement because who knows exactly what they’ll get cross-stitched for them? That being said, funny suggestions are appreciated.

4. Visit 6 new states

I’ve moved to an entirely new region of the United States of America and as a newbie, I want to explore my surroundings a bit. It’s absolutely ludicrous to me that I’ve been bitten by this home country wanderlust bug all of a sudden when I spent the other 22 odd years of my life within a 6 hour driving distance of 10 other states and 1 other country and did I do much exploring of them? Honestly, not really. Now all of a sudden I’m like “woo! gonna take a weekend trip to Cincinnati!” The good side of this is that I’ll have so many voyages to share with you.

5. Go up in a small plane

In recent years I’ve developed a fear of flying, which is utterly insane given how much I’ve travelled in said recent years. My brain has started to rationalize that the fear is coming from the element of unknowingness. Since I don’t know the technicalities of how we’re flying and how the pilots are controlling the craft, it makes me that much more panicky. And I mean really panicky, like tears streaming down my face mid-flight panicky. How do I figure I’ll confront this fear? I’ve got it in my head to maybe get my pilots license. But baby steps! Let’s get me up in a smaller airplane first and see how that goes.

6. Make lasagna from scratch

Being one of my favorite foods, I reckon I should learn how to make it. When I was in Ireland I spent some time with an Italian couple who were amazing cooks and they shared a few secrets of the trade. Let me know if you want in on the taste test!

Voyages: The French Quarter [@NewOrleansLA]

A warning that this post is longer than my Voyage posts typically are but that’s because so much happened! And so many pictures were taken! And I want to share all of that with you! So let’s get through a quick preface before you get to the good stuff.

This was an adventure literally 5 years in the making. Since we met, my best friend Robin and I have been wanting to go down to New Orleans, Louisiana. Last weekend we finally made the jump and road tripped from my newfound home in North Carolina to spend a few days in the French Quarter. 10+ hours, each way. 700+ miles, each way. Too many mixed CDs to actually count, each way. And quite a lot of new experiences in between. Enjoy!


THURSDAY

We left as early as the two of us could conceivably manage on Thursday morning and landed down in New Orleans around 7pm, after a very comical scene about an hour out which featured Robin and I running from giant killer wasps at a gas station in Mississippi while also trying to check mystery tire pressure levels. Let’s just say it was an unpleasant experience and it culminated in us deciding to push on in hope that the tiny little dashboard light would cut us some slack. It did.

After checking in at the French Market Inn, which is a beautiful little inn right on the edge of the river side of the French Quarter (I’m assuming that you could have assumed that from the name but I wanted to be really thorough with you, dear reader), we hit the streets! Mostly tired but also a little hungry, we went for a walk around our immediate surroundings in search of sustenance and happened to catch some cool sights as the sun was going down.

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I have a real love for wrought iron and the gates lining Jackson Square a few blocks down from where we were staying happened to play right into that!

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Stay tuned for a lot of pictures of porches, another architectural soft spot of mine. This particular one seemed oh so beautiful in contrast to the massive law-oriented, courthouse-type building behind it.

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And another view of Jackson Square (that brass man hanging out on his brass horse is none other than Andrew Jackson himself, go figure) and the St. Louis Cathedral at sunset.

After many shuffle, stop, read the menu, shuffle on, repeat scenarios we finally settled on grabbing a quick bite at Pierre Maspero’s. Despite having grown up on an island, I’m not the biggest fan of seafood, so I was a little hesitant about food options down in New Orleans. However, I’ve also recently become more ambitious in trying new foods so I was motivated to really give the southern creole cuisine a shot. As long as french fries were also on the menu.

That being said, Robin and I ordered a Crescent City Sampler to split, comprised of Cajun Jambalaya, Crawfish Etouffée, and Chicken & Andouille Gumbo. We wanted to try all of these things throughout the weekend and now we could knock them all out in one go so it was perfect! I highly recommend this game plan if you’re like me and had never tried this kind of cuisine before because it was a huge help to figure out what I could actually handle without having to waste a whole entrée sized portion. For example the Etouffée was definitely not for me, but I couldn’t get enough of the Jambalaya. Also tried: fried green tomatoes (yum!) and sweet potato stout (wish it had been just normal potato stout but also, yum!).

FRIDAY

After using the night before to plan out all of the things we wanted to do, Friday became a pretty big day for us. As soon as we woke up and got ourselves dressed for the day, we set out in fear of thunderstorms and stopped for cheesy tourist ponchos before heading across the street to try another New Orleans famed dish: beignets! Pronounced “ben-yays,” not bayg-nets… you’re in the French Quarter, people! C’mon!

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The very touristy spot to try beignets, but obviously a must for first-timers like myself. I’m sure there are other cute cafes to enjoy the deliciously New Orleans fried dough treat, so let me know if you know of any!

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As the skies opened up on us, the outdoor (but sheltered from the downpour) terrace area of Cafe Du Monde became extremely crowded. The rain was a nice little cool down, but still not cool enough for us to order hot coffees with our breakfast.

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Robin and I made the mistake of thinking that we each needed an order of beignets. Trust me, we didn’t. They’re a sweet treat but they’re also super thick dough so they can really fill you up quickly. We also went with the iced cafe au laits, which if you’re used to black coffee like me I do not recommend. In case you didn’t know, lait means milk in French and in New Orleans it means a lot of it.

After finishing up our breakfast we went back across the street to visit the St. Louis Cathedral, which is the oldest cathedral in North America! According to a woman who worked inside, the artwork on the ceiling was a major part of historians being able to date the construction of the Cathedral way back to the late 1700s/early 1800s. This place has seen some tragedy, so I recommend taking a look through the history if you’re interested. It was absolutely beautiful to meander through.

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We sat for a moment of quiet contemplation and then got back to business: unknowingly making our trips religiously oriented historical escapades, we decided to go visit the Old Ursuline Convent next.

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The place was absolutely massive and we only wandered the ground floor, which is open to the public. The general grounds and gardens were also beautiful and we spent a few moments sitting under the shade of a large tree out back before continuing with our day. Remember this convent, remember all this cheery sunshine, because it’s going to come back in a few paragraphs…

Leaving the convent, we walked the eastern residential streets of the French Quarter to gaze upon some beautifully colored New Orleans-style homes. So many porches!

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Bourbon Street! In the day time, from the residential end.

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Back Garden goals, amirite?

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As we made our way towards the Wax Museum, our next planned destination, we became increasingly aware of the rapidly approaching (and quite threatening looking) grey clouds trailing behind us. Unfortunately, the Wax Museum was closed! And sure enough little tiny drops of rain started to fall faster and faster as we figured that out. Robin looked up the closest cafe, where we could sit and form a game plan, and so we ended up at Cafe Conti.

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I was lucky enough to get the last of the Strawberry Basil Lemonade and it was… wordlessly good. Can’t wait to try making that at home.

After a little more adventuring around the riverbanks and a quick stop at the hotel, we were on to the evening phase of our day. The calm before the Ghost & Vampire walking tour!

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Look at the size of that bird! He did not appreciate my picture taking.

We arrived a little early and decided to stroll through Louis Armstrong Park across the street for a few minutes. A super cool location with all sorts of fun bridges and structures and art work to admire, all in tribute to the jazz culture of New Orleans.

As the clock struck 7pm, we crossed back over to the Voodoo Lounge – the walking tour meeting spot. We were still early so we took advantage of the two-for-one Hurricane deal and parked ourselves at the bar. Let me say this, I freaking love this place. I honestly could have moved to New Orleans just so I could become a regular at this particular dive bar (and yes, they self identify as a dive bar on their Facebook page). While we were there, we listened to an awesome playlist (featuring ditties like ‘Lips Like Sugar’ by Echo & The Bunnymen and ‘White Lies’ by Max Frost) and learned that the bearded bartending fella, Houla, has a pretty good movie and book stash going on. ‘City of Lost Children’ was on the screen (with a few other creepy scaries stacked up behind the counter) and a handful of enticingly titled books lined the window behind us. As Robin and I flipped through the book on interesting facts and myths, Houla told us that he used to have a comprehensive Vampire lore book… but it got stolen… and I then proceeded to get very upset.

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The Voodoo Lounge

It was time for the tour to start so we carted our drinks out to meet our guide Ducky on the pavement. We booked our walking tours with a company called French Quarter Phantoms and I am telling you right now: they were so fun. If you’re interested in cool creepy walking tours with amazing guides, definitely book with this place. Hanging out in the Voodoo Lounge was enough to set me off on the right foot but Ducky knocked the experience up a few pegs and well, we just had a really great time!

I won’t spoil any of the stories but I will tell you that I was inducted into the Undead Society (and am patiently awaiting my official cape and laminated membership card) and Robin and I discovered that that Ursuline Convent we walked around earlier in the day? Yeah, big spot for New Orleans Vampire lore.

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Creepiest thing about this photo is that I can’t actually remember whether or not there really were people on that porch while we were standing under it…

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See that hoard of people walking towards the building on the right? Yeah, notice how I was not one of them. Allegedly all sorts of crazy creepy things have happened to people in and around this building (American Horror Story Coven, anyone? Delphine LaLaurie… enough said) so Robin and I weren’t taking any chances. The weird light streak that later showed up on this photo proved we had the right idea.

And then we went to Bourbon Street! And returned home to sleep with the light on and music playing all night long because we were afraid of all the stories we heard on our Ghost & Vampire tour. Two grown girls, very much decided on the fact that they were probably going to be hunted out by vampires in the night.

SATURDAY

Well, turns out we weren’t.

And the big event of our Saturday can be described in two words: cemetery tour.

But first, breakfast. We decided to go back to Cafe Conti because when we had ducked in to avoid the rain we perused the menu and the crêpe selection really caught our eyes. Definitely worth it; the coffee was fantastic and the food was exactly what we needed to carb up for the day ahead. By the time we finished we had a little bit of time left before the cemetery tour we booked so we went back to Louis Armstrong Park to relax and chat for a while.

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I freaking love cool trees. This one happened to have what looked like a ton of mini trees growing on top of the bowed branch. As I took out my camera I said “I’m gonna take a picture of that tree” and without missing a beat Robin said “I know you are.” Because I love cool trees. And I make that very evident.

We chose to book our cemetery tour with French Quarter Phantoms again because, like I said, they were so good! These guys really are expert story tellers and what’s more, you actually get the feeling that they really enjoy their jobs. This time around we were matched up with Robert, though Ducky also noticed us from the night before and said hello! Pro-tip: do the Ghost & Vampire tour at the latest available time slot and the cemetery tour at the earliest. I’m talking about heat comfort here, people.

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Robert explaining the style of New Orleans cemeteries to us: as you can see the tombs are above ground and come in many different designs. Highly recommend looking up this style of burial because it is absolutely nuts. It’s like a burial-cremation combo. The general guesstimate is around 100,000 people lying at rest in this small cemetery alone.

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St. Louis Cemetery #1 happens to be home to a lot of cool people spanning all periods of history: Homer Plessy (from Plessy vs. Ferguson), Marie Laveau (the Voodoo Queen, allegedly but not confirmed buried here), the future dead Nicholas Cage (you know who I’m talking about), and a bunch of other really interesting people. One of my favorite tombs, not pictured, was the one with the blue jazz note on top, literally called the Musicians Tomb, where musicians without a burial spot can be interred.

After the tour we stopped for some drinks to cool down then went in search of the St. Charles Ave trolley/streetcar. The Garden District bordering the French Quarter seemed like a beautiful sightseeing opportunity but let me tell you, for those of us not used to this heat and humidity walking around can get exhausting pretty quickly! We wanted to see the famous beautiful houses but weren’t about to amble up and down the streets so we hopped on a streetcar at the corner of Canal and Carondelet to swing down the length of St. Charles Ave for us. Highly recommend for those of you without a lot of time and with a desire to sit back and watch the pretty scenery go by. I like to think we got the general gist of the Garden District.

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This chateau reminded me so much of the sights in my own hometown of Newport, RI! It looks very similar to some of the historic mansions we’ve got lining Bellevue Avenue.

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A lot of the trees were absolutely covered in Mardi Gras beads, which I can’t decide how I feel about yet. They look so cool, but I can’t help but wonder how the trees fare.

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Relaxing at the hotel for a little bit to work up our appetites was next on our list, then we were out in search of boiled crawfish. I was absolutely adamant about trying them because come on, where else are you going to want to enjoy (or not enjoy, but still try!) boiled crawfish than in Louisiana? Literally no where! So we did it, and it went much better than expected. I actually liked them!

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They look positively traumatizing, and I still can’t believe that so little of them is actually eaten, but we ate this whole thing! I will admit that we watched YouTube videos to teach us how it’s correctly done.

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Robin’s first attempt: looking confident!

We conquered the crawfish and got ourselves some delicious fudge on the walk back as a reward for our triumphs, falling into bed happily sunned and full of food in anticipation of yet another early rising, long day of driving.

SUNDAY

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On our last day, we woke up relatively early (again) and decided to take one last crack at the Café Du Monde beignets before hitting the road. This time we learned our lesson and split an order. We even picked up some of their famous Coffee and Chicory (remember when I attempted to make something like that?) as a souvenir. By the time we got back to the hotel and finished up our powdered sugar coated treats, the car had been pulled ’round and we were ready to hit the road!


It was a long weekend, this is a long post, but I hope I conveyed just how much I absolutely loved every minute spent in The Big Easy.

Have you ever been to New Orleans? Are you planning on going? What’s on your list that we may have missed out on? Because I definitely plan on going back.

Learn Stuff: My First Mile In A While

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So… let’s take a moment to be very real with each other. I’m not physically fit.

Once I hit 22 my body started giving me warning signs about my physical fitness, or lack thereof, with the tiniest bits of extra weight tucked here and there. Then I hit 23 and my body hit me. I started noticing bigger tucks and it made me a little worried. I’m not trying to be Adriana Lima, and I’m in no way making any negative comments about my body appearance or striving for weight loss (my weight is a perfect amount for my 5’8″ frame), but I’d like to maintain a relatively healthy lifestyle! Since every passing year proves my likelihood of becoming a vampire, and therefore immortal, is getting smaller and smaller, I figured I might as well try other ways of extending this life I’ve been gifted. Being an all-around healthier person seems to lend to that.

Individual exercise was never my thing but it’s been a while since I played competitive sports in any capacity to make up for that. The last time I was habitually physically active was in high school when I played soccer, a sport I’ve played since I could walk. I’ve done the odd yoga class or elliptical session in college, but even those clock in at maybe a few times a year. A couple weeks back I went to see my doctor for my first physical since those very high school soccer years and she told me that people my age should be doing at least 2 and a half hours of cardiac training per week. And no, getting your heart rate up over Pride and Prejudice (2005) does not count.

My baby step decision was to start running a mile a day. My friend Allison is the person that put that idea into my head in the first place. She runs an incredible health and fitness blog over at Fit For Real and a few months ago she posted about how she runs a mile every day. Even throughout my months of not exercising, I couldn’t get that post out of my head. It always felt like that would be something I’d start on if I ever decided to get into exercise and as soon as I started my recent panic about my physical fitness her words kept coming back.

A few days after my doctor’s appointment it was time to face the actual event: my first run in… at least 6 months but probably closer to a year. I was excited, I felt motivated, I laced up my sneaks and hit the pavement… only to barely make it to the bottom of my street before my body realized what I was doing and started trying to shut me down with a vengeance. Shins started aching, lungs beat back against my rib cage, feet grew leaden, legs trudged and dragged like a tantruming toddler’s.

My inner monologue really took off faster than I was running with a million things my brain thought about my getting back into the cardiac swing of things, and therefore I decided to turn them around to share with you in case you’re trying to get into that habit too. Here are some notes from my first mile in a while.


First, you don’t need to like exercise. I freaking hate exercise. People ask me what my favorite thing to do to work out is and I say stretching. Running was never for me. I marvel at the fact that I ever even made it through as many soccer seasons as I did, but I also acknowledge the fact that I played defensive positions which required more of a quick sprint than the constant stamina needed from the midfielders. But running a single mile? That seems like such an insignificant amount! I’ve seen quite a few websites that say running a 10 minute mile is a decent pace for beginning runners with moderate health levels so that became my first step goal.

When I run I listen to Steady130 mixes because they’re just all around ideal and they’re long enough (about an hour) to be a constant beat rather than listening to a playlist I made myself with breaks in between the songs that don’t even really match up well in the first place. If you choose to listen to these as well a tip from me to you is to start the mix before you start running. I press play as soon as I’m ready to get dressed and let the tempo get into my head as I lace up my sneaks and take one last sip of water. I assume it puts some kind of psychological pace into my head so that starting to physically run isn’t so much of a shock to the system but who knows.

Motivation is hard to find for me, as I’m sure it is for many other people out there in the world, so I make it competitive. I’m literally the most competitive person I know and I’m pretty happy to be that way because I like to think it’s more of a personal, inside quality than an annoying, outside one. I’m constantly striving for a personal best and what makes me get up and move to achieve that is when I see things, or people, I want to incorporate in that. Take Allison. She’s a motivator, she’s an inspiration, she is not in any way shape or form being factored as someone I need to best. I need to best myself, and my competitive streak tells me that in order to do that I need to take a page out of her book. Allison is only one example here. Trust me, there are many athletes and personal connections and total strangers that I add into my internal competitiveness.

Pace is also a big problem for me. Back to those soccer influences, I would rather sprint than pace myself. I’m a long-legged girl with a big stride, but that means that I happen to outstride the pace my cardiac system can actually maintain. My legs want to leap and bound themselves up and down the street but my lungs and heart can’t keep up so the biggest challenge I have is reining myself in. Eventually I’ll work my way through the 10 minute mile goal to get to 9 minutes and 8 minutes and ideally 7 minute miles (fingers crossed) but for now I’ve got to remember to pace myself because the important thing is to just make it to the finish line.


At the end of my first run, crawling up the stairs all red in the face, my neighbors were probably looking at me thinking I just finished a marathon rather than a mile. Quick side note: I’d like to say thank you to all of the people I went to high school with for moving out of the neighborhood so I could make less of a fool of myself in front of people who actually recognize me. But I had done it! I finished a mile! And it felt supremely miserable and painful in the physical sense but kind of rewarding in the mental/emotional sense. I’m not 100% sure I agree with the runner’s high thing, but I guess I have to concede that accomplishing a run definitely boosts my dopamine. Or seratonin. Or whatever it is that makes me happy and proud of myself.

Because a mile is hardly anything! And yet it’s so much! If Allison can, I can and if I can, you can. Probably. Most likely. Let me know how it goes regardless.

Follies & Fixations: May 2016

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“The Kingkiller Chronicles” by Patrick Rothfuss… on second thought, also just Patrick Rothfuss

Raise your hand if you’re over A Song of Ice and Fire. Okay, maybe not over but raise your hand if it’s been quite the wait for any new material on that front and you’re sick of it and want something else to bide your time with besides the dumb TV show. Yes, you read that correctly, I said dumb. Anyways, this particular series was recommended to me several times, by several different people, and even though it’s also unfinished as of my writing this I decided to give it a try. Not only is the story wonderful and interesting and different, but Patrick Rothfuss has such a style – man, can that guy write! The issue I personally come across in a lot of adult sci-fi/fantasy books is that the writers tend to be too concentrated on making a unique world and language and culture that they forget that the reader is not going through that process in their own minds with them. Sometimes I get lost with the maps and the reference guides and the family trees and then opt to skip them altogether rather than flip around in the middle of reading and then lose my page and then get exasperated as I try to find my page and then give up altogether and settle for just reaching the end with no clue why anything was significant because you had to understand all those stupid charts to do so.

But this series absolutely does not present that problem. Sure, a map is offered but it’s simple and when Rothfuss writes about other cultures or areas he explains them right there in the text so when I flip to the map it’s out of genuine curiosity. As far as Rothfuss himself is concerned, I’ve taken to reading through old posts on his blog and have since decided that he is my favorite contemporary author. I appreciate honesty and candor and this whole blog post about book two made me laugh. Some of you may not agree with me but I don’t mind waiting for book three because the other two were so damn good that I’d be heartbroken if he rushed through the ending. Big fan, give it a try and pace yourself.

Innis & Gunn beer

A rad Scottish brewery that created this beer by accident. I had a few pints of what I presume was the original draught when I was over in the homeland and became obsessed. Lucky for me, and also you, they do distribute their brews in the US so take a look to see if you can find some near you and lets share in the deliciousness together. Unluckily for me, and also you, they aren’t selling merchandise internationally yet and that really bums me out. It is imperative that I acquire a set of the branded IPA pint glasses because they are the most beautifully designed imbibing instruments I have ever seen.

Copacetic

Adjective, meaning “in excellent order.” And yes, it’s been stuck in my mind recently because of that Local H song. Ousted the long time list topper – complacency – for my favorite, coolest sounding word. You just don’t get it… or do you?

This music video

Kaleo did a music video last year for their single “Way Down We Go” inside of a literal Icelandic volcano and I am fascinated. Also, the most liked comment is “these guys could play row row row your boat and it would sound kickass” – wholeheartedly agree, Alice A.

This article

Ever since I stumbled my way onto Medium like 3 years ago, I’m pretty sure I’ve been at the top of the leaderboard for ‘people, no – not people – suckers, who read those articles about being a more productive person before 4/5/6/7/8am.’ It was refreshing to finally see something that made me feel better about the fact that I too wake up hating myself and my life.

Adult(HAHA)-life homeware shopping

As I’ll be moving to a whole new state, apartment, job, situation, existence at the end of this week, a lot of what’s been on my mind lately revolves around acquiring things to fill said apartment situation existence with. Might do a special little show and tell of what I’ve been purchasing after I’ve settled it all in, but for now just know that this type of shopping has been a very favorite folly of mine. And has also been exceptionally Halloween-themed… I’ll keep you posted.

Tuneage

Instrumentals have been on my mind recently mostly because I feel like I’ve been watching more movies than I usually do, and therefore appreciating more movie scores. Every song has been included on this list because it hit me with chills influenced by being well placed, emotionally, within their respective movies (and one TV show…). These are a few of my favorites from what I’ve been watching recently, so take a listen.

Real Moments: From Gardening to Glasgow to Graduation!

I’m well aware that there has been a lull in posts for the last few weeks – but that’s not for lack of things to say, trust me! An explanation by means of a life update felt in order.

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The most perfect of white camellias – which I cannot take the credit for finding. Tony, the head gardener at Inish Beg, discovered this beautiful botanical gem buried back behind the hydrangeas.

Apparently the letter ‘G’ has been the flavor of the past few weeks for me. What felt like immediately after my return from a month and a half of gardening in Ireland, but in actuality was only a week or so later, I set off on a trip to the homeland with my grandmother. My maternal grandparents hail from Glasgow, Scotland so we went over to visit a few relatives for two weeks.

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The view of Princess Street and beyond from Edinburgh Castle.

As I’ve been to Scotland a fair few times throughout my life prior to this trip, the travel bug wasn’t that strong and we didn’t venture off too far… with the exception of a day trip to the capital city. I must admit that I’m very proud of my 72 year old grandmother for trekking all over Edinburgh with me and not complaining once! We had a bonnie wee time to ourselves, we did.

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Took some time to go see The Elephant House – otherwise known as the birthplace of Harry Potter – while in Edinburgh. My nana was abhorred by the “graffiti” on the wall of the bathrooms but it’s common practice to sign a message when visiting.

I kid you not, the very next morning after flying back to the States from Scotland I drove off for a weekend of glowraging with my favorite girlfriends down in Maryland. The five of us met back in Cambridge, England last summer and this was a reunion mixed with a last hurrah. I’m so thankful to have made such lasting friendships with these ladies. They’re some of the most impressive, inspirational young women I have ever met and I just… well, I’m really grateful to know them. It was incredible to be down on their turf for a little while. Our weekend was over much too soon.

 

Upon returning it was straight on to preparing for the final tassel on the cap – my graduation! Technically I finished school back in December… and received my diploma in January… but the formal ceremony was in May and I did it!

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Took my family to one of my favorite spots after the ceremony – Punter’s Pub. A blurry cheers to 5 years was certainly in order!

I’m officially officially really definitely done with my undergraduate experience now. Please excuse me while I take a few seconds to mime the word “WHAT????” to this empty room I’m sitting in. It truly went by too quickly, but I’m thankful for the people I got to experience it with… most notably getting to go through it all with my very best friend in the whole wide world. It’s thanks to our alma mater that we were even brought together in the first place so leaving for the last time was a little bittersweet.

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This photo is the most tear inducing thing I’ve ever been a part of! 5 years later and still my absolute soul sister, twin moon, best friend. Cannot wait to see what the heck we end up making of our lives.

Now, it should come as a shock to no one that I’m pretty big on reflection and introspection so I’ll wrap this up with a few things I have to say about this here life I’ve been living lately. Over the past 3 months I’ve been unsettled in the best of ways. Most of my time was spent outside of my comfort zone, pushing personal boundaries, and learning new things. From the correct way to plant a tree to why patience is the ultimate virtue, from how to enjoy those precious few moments crossing the stage (instead of panicking about tripping over yourself in front of your entire class) to the significance of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, and way, way more. But most of all I’ve been questioning whether, at the ripe old age of 23, I’m on the life/existence/etc. path/journey/etc. that I want to be on. My answer?

For SURE, I am. In the past year alone I’ve spent 1/3 of my months abroad. I attempted to list out all of the different things I’ve studied (in some way, shape, or form) over the course of said year but let’s not double up our word count, shall we? Instead let’s just say that it has been quite the experience, the last 3 months I’ve recounted to you in this post especially.

As always, thank you kindly for following along on all of these adventures with me! We’ve got a many more ahead of us, so stay tuned for the tales.

Inch by Inch, Row by Row: Life Lessons from the Garden

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Almost 2 months ago when I told my family I would be leaving to go work outside on an estate in Ireland for a little while, they were incredulous. To them, and friends, and many others, it didn’t fit their image of me. They couldn’t see why I felt a need to do this. But to me, a lot of my childhood was spent outside and a lot of my lifehood is spent searching for something, anything, new to learn.

So that’s why I did it.

I want to once again say thank you to Tony, the head gardener I had the privilege of working with at Inish Beg. We had many conversations over my 6 weeks in West Cork and while some days those conversations were more oriented towards my obsessions with potatoes and Ice Road Truckers, most days they were of a more reflective and thought provoking nature. Whether or not Tony was aware of all the cogs turning and perspectives shifting in my head is another story, but turn and shift they did and this post is only a handful of the ones I took away from it all.

A few weeks ago I watched a movie called “A Little Chaos” which is about the construction of the gardens at Versailles. Not only is the original score almost unbearably beautiful (highly recommend giving the title track a listen), but the story and design of the movie itself were really moving for me. There was a particular quote in the beginning of the film that struck me:

“God put us first into a garden, and when we lost Eden we were fated to search and reinvent it again.”

Maybe without the context of the film this isn’t so moving for you, but it’s definitely a notion that has stayed with me since I heard it. I love being outside, I’ve always loved being outside, and as a relatively young person a lot of my life now feels like a search for the places I feel most comfortable in.

In a way, this trip was a piece of my search for Eden – and here is what I found.


Give back what’s taken | bare root planting

I’m gonna kick this paragraph off by saying bare root planting is hard but it was probably the thing I enjoyed the most. Before this trip I had planted one single tree in my lifetime, on a study abroad trip, and it was quite a different lesson. People aren’t the only things that destroy nature (though I will definitely agree they’re the largest cause). The elements, disease, plain old coincidence and circumstance – they all have a hand to play. It became a sort of fundamental importance to put back into the earth whatever was taken, regardless of the cause. In the case of self-seeding plants, Mother Nature might just do it herself. But in the case of trees and hedge and fruits and veg a little human help is probably greatly appreciated.

Give and take has always been around, I’ve heard people saying it all my life. But now I see that it applies to all facets: to the things we consume and create as well as the friendships and kinships and small ships and big ships and what? Where was I going with that? Oh yeah, kindness finds its roots in giving – so that it can grow better branches to take from.

Keep it simple | small garden beds

Massive scale is hardly something I’ll be able to balance in my own future gardening endeavors, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still want to enjoy fresh foods, herbs, and flowers. Keeping it simple doesn’t always have to translate to keeping it small, that just happens to be how my own personal garden will manifest itself. In order to avoid feeling overwhelmed or discouraged it’s important to remember that a little can go a long way. So I’ll be starting with the basics: potatoes and maybe a flower or two.

Aside from gardens, there are a lot of aspects of my life that I want to simplify. I feel that there is so much overcomplication these days and that’s a huge stress trigger for me. I hate wasted space, I hate lugging around a huge closet of things I don’t even wear, I hate trying to make convoluted plans just to spend quality time with friends… so it’s all getting nixed! Simple eating, simple living, simple wearing, simple being – I’m here on out making the conscious effort.

Have vision | the winter season

Now, arriving to work on a garden in the winter season is not exactly the best idea if you want to see luscious, blooming flowers and fresh, green shrubbery. Most of what I worked with was brown and dampened, but I was conditioned into a sense of remembering that life was still in full swing all around us. Just because a plant was brown or wasn’t visible didn’t mean that it was dead. Winter is not a deadly season, it’s a resting season. Whenever I learned new plants or got assigned new tasks, we’d talk through what those plants would become or why those tasks were instrumental to promoting their growth. Creating those visions made me excited for the things I was doing because I had a better grasp on what was to come.

I consider myself a person with a healthy amount of creativity and a big imagination, but I also know that I struggle with preconception. If I’m working on something new, it’s fairly easy for me to open my mind but when it’s something I think I know and understand already, breaking down the walls to create that vision becomes more difficult. There are a million different adjectives you can use to describe this quality of myself (hey now, I heard that one!), but let’s just stick with visionistically impaired.

Work the lens both ways | the brassica bed & pruning the Rosa Rugosas

What I mean by that is step back just as much as you zoom in. The Rosa Rugosas were probably my favorite plants of the entire trip, and it’s a shame that I won’t get to see them in bloom. When I did a little research I discovered that they are not in fact a spell from Harry Potter but are actually noted in the US for being a tough dune plant, highly concentrated along the Northeast coastline. Pruning them, however, is relatively challenging considering the entirety of their branches are covered in small thorns. In gardening, there is a fine balance between the aesthetic and the practical. You have to be empirical in pruning back the roses because you want them to be healthy, however you also have to be conscious of the look and shape they will produce after said pruning. AKA you’ve got to step away every few cuts to make sure you haven’t lost sight of the bigger picture.

The brassica bed was a place I put a lot of work into my last few weeks. The bed itself was pretty much the only outdoor space we had providing fresh vegetables for the winter months, before the new seeds were sown and the new plants grown. Each week we’d pick through broccoli and cauliflower, parsley and wild chives, kale and assorted rainbow chards. In no way was the general health of any of these plants attributable to me, but I happily took on preparing and maintaining them for a bit. Pulling a few weeds, cutting off the dead or slug-eaten leaves, and giving the soil a good turn were all relatively minor tasks yet they made such a huge difference in the appearance of the bed. When stepping back suddenly the greens looked greener and the since-staked slumped over broccolis looked taller. I contented myself with knowing that for such small modifications, they seemed to make a world of difference in the grand scheme.

Be gentle… | encountering bugs & new growth

Honestly, I’m terrified of bugs. When I was little my tolerance had a hard stop at snails and worms. Hopefully it isn’t news to you that gardens have all manners of bugs but I had to learn to suck it up and accept that a lot of them were on our side (although the slugs had to go). Apparently bumblebees hibernate! They bury themselves in the soil over the winter and I came across several while working through the strawberry beds. The Cassie of yesteryears would have likely screamed and run away but knowing the importance, especially in the general population decline, of those bees I tried my best to leave them as undisturbed as possible… or at least move them to a safer spot of soil. I found myself feeling a lot more compassion towards bugs than I ever have before, so we’ll see how long that lasts.

Bumblebees weren’t the only things I had to be careful of though. New growth was everywhere, and I just had to learn how to look for it. What little gardening skill I brought with me on this trip culminated in the brute force method of weeding – tug that sucker out as hard as you can and rip at whatever is left. Wrong! I had to kick that habit upon arrival because in this garden, there was a necessity to be gentle. That new growth was usually hidden deep under all of the weeds I was clearing away, or even looked like a weed itself, so it became important to take my time and use whatever gentleness I could muster. There was a satisfaction that came from slowly working the entirety, roots and all, of a weed out of the ground and leaving the beautiful new plants safely undisturbed beside it. There is a gentleness and compassion that is warranted with even the most imperceptible of things – including the weeds. Make of that what you will.

… but not delicate pretty much everything!

Again, Ireland in the winter is not a forgiving climate and I wasn’t even there for the worst of it. That’s not to say that I was out battering the elements for the sake of tidying up a few dead stalks of parsley, but I still had to learn to embrace a little rain and mud. I was excited about getting my hands dirty for once. This whole experience was meant to push the comfort zones of my physical, mental, and emotional states – and I’m happy to report that it did. I worked hard at removing hesitation from anything I was asked to do because that’s how you learn and grow as a person (or something). I got comfortable with the dirt and the mud, the shoveling and the wheelbarrowing. Not being super strong didn’t stop me from trying as best I could and I like to think that I made my coworkers proud… because I can definitely say that I made me proud of me.

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A panorama from inside the Walled Garden. That big bed in the left-center is the brassica bed I worked on!

Books I Brought Abroad [@WestCorkIRL]

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Travel Tip: figure out if your hosts used to own a bookshop in London and therefore have MASSES of reading options available for your perusal before you travel…

Packing to go anywhere is a struggle for me, as it is for most others as well. Some agonize over shoes, some over makeup, some over sweatshirts. I happen to agonize most extremely over books. Depending on how far out from the trip I am, I can spend weeks planning what reads to take with me. They get stockpiled in a corner of my room until the dreaded day when I have to see what fits. This year, I almost had to leave behind two whole paperbacks but I made the game time decision to kick out a pair of nicer boots in order to fit them in my case and let me tell you, I don’t regret a thing.

Since reading is such a huge part of my life and experiences, I wanted to give a quick list and a little note on each of the books I took with me to Ireland. I’m not huge on reviews, but some thoughts and nice quotes never hurt anyone. Maybe you’ll see something that sparks your interest.

Note before going further: none of these books are contemporary so be advised that if you’re looking for the latest Stephen King novel you won’t find it here.

Okay, continue.


JANE EYRE | CHARLOTTE BRONTË

“I should have appealed to your nobleness and magnanimity at first, as I do now – opened to you plainly my life of agony – described to you my hunger and thirst after a higher and worthier existence – shown to you, not my resolution (that word is weak), but my resistless bent to love faithfully and well, where I am faithfully and well loved in return.”

This has been a long time pushed off book and to be honest, a huge motivation to read it recently has been all thanks to Netflix. Every time I logged in to my profile I would get the recent Jane Eyre movie as a recommendation and I swore never to watch it until I read it. Impatience got the best of me and here we are. One thing genuinely surprising about this book is its captivation. I adore Austen, don’t get me wrong, but her style is the first that comes to mind when thinking of 18th-19th century novels and how authors take a few pages to go off on descriptive tangents where they almost forget about the reader and write for themselves. Charlotte Brontë masters maintaining that connection and it genuinely turned this book into a hard to put down read for me. Not to mention it’s written as a memoir so there is a huge interest in following Jane’s life from early development to older (but still pretty young) adulthood. Not a crazy big fan of the ending, but all in all worth the weight.

THE TRIAL | FRANZ KAFKA

“He now decided to make better use of all his future Sunday mornings.”

We all know those people who use words like “Kafkaesque” and dolly garn I wanted to be one of them! Kafka, like Proust, is one of those authors I always assumed you needed a PhD to be able to read and a Masters to even consider reading. Now that I’ve read it, I can’t say that I agree. I also can’t say that I was 100% into this one because, well, I wasn’t. The day I began reading The Trial was the day I stopped by The Time Traveller’s Bookshop and while there I noticed a work titled “A Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory” by J.A. Cuddon. Forget the fact that it looked to weigh a million pounds and yet I still spent serious time considering whether or not to purchase it (I did), I was curious to see if it had a definition of “Kafkaesque” somewhere in its many pages. It did. And The Trial is cited as a top example of all that the term implies. So while I didn’t necessarily like this book, or Kafka’s style at all to be quite honest, at least I know that I’m semi-qualified to use his literary namesake as a reference in the future.

DUBLINERS | JAMES JOYCE

“That takes the solitary, unique, and, if I may so call it, recherché biscuit!”

A friend gifted this to me a few years ago with a note explaining how it’s one of his favorites and I, being the terrible person that I am, put off reading it for soooo long. However, I couldn’t think of a better opportunity to start it than on a quick trip over to the homeland so it found its way into the stash. Dubliners is a collection of short stories about the lives and trials of middle class people from, you guessed it, Dublin in the early 1900s. The key word here is collection, as in not to be taken separately. At first, I felt that every story seemed to end too quickly, and very few actually provided a concrete resolution to the problem or issue presented. Worse, I couldn’t find any sort of lesson/message in them. However, that’s because I was reading the whole book incorrectly. The short stories are not meant to be taken as themselves individually but rather altogether as a compendium of life in Dublin. After looking back at the title, I feel like that’s probably obvious to everyone else but me? Anyways, just keep it in mind if you pick up a copy. My favorite of the collection was “A Little Cloud” though I’ve seen a lot of people suggest “Eveline” as the most noteworthy – both make you seriously consider the concept of alternatives, both I highly recommend.

TESS OF THE D’URBERVILLES | THOMAS HARDY

“A very easy way to feel [souls] go is to lie on the grass at night and look straight up at some big bright star; and, by fixing your mind upon it, you will soon find that you are hundreds and hundreds o’ miles away from your body, which you don’t seem to want at all.”

God love Thomas Hardy. Also God love the edition of this novel I brought with me. It’s beautifully designed; I found it at Brookline Booksmith in Massachusetts so if you’re going to order a copy I highly recommend getting it from there. Support the independent sellers, y’all.

Anyways, back to Thomas Hardy. What a freaking writer! The style of that man is something else. I would say A but I’m inclined to say My Perfect Contrast with the king of simplification himself, Ernest Hemingway (my favorite male author, just a FYI). For every 1 word that’s needed, Hardy gives you 4. I love how descriptive he is and I would love to be able to emulate writing like that. However, that’s about all the love I can give for this book because to be completely honest I was not at all a fan of the story. I can absolutely see why this novel received so much criticism in its time of initial publication – but all I’ll say further on that matter is that those people were Wrong, with a capital W. The best example of a character you’re genuinely rooting for, despite all the malefactions that come her way.

WUTHERING HEIGHTS | EMILY BRONTË

“Be with me always – take any form – drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! it is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!”

It wasn’t until I sat down to write this post that I realized I probably should have also brought one of dear Anne’s novels along with me to make it a real trilogy experience but alas. Wuthering Heights is one of my favorite rereadable books of all time and it is genuinely deserving of the habitual attention. I clarify rereadable because Anna Karenina is also a favorite but that puppy can only be tackled so many times, you know? And by so many I mean once for the very far off foreseeable future. I digress – for all intents and purposes I name this as my favorite book and this particular copy happens to go pretty much everywhere with me. It’s my safety novel. No matter where I am, I’ll always be able to turn to it in times of literary need. The story is unconventional to say the least. It’s chock-full of characters I love to hate because I hate to love them. It simultaneously invokes pity and indifference while conveying what it means to truly love someone, in all the ardent extremes. It’s also not everyone’s cup of tea, so if you’re looking for a sweet 19th century love affair allow me to direct you to the Austen shelf.

THE IDIOT | FYODOR DOSTOYEVSKY

“And what’s more, flourishes are permitted, and a flourish is a most dangerous thing! A flourish calls for extraordinary taste; but if it succeeds, if the right proportion is found, a script like this is incomparable, you can even fall in love with it.”

This goes back to my November sudden obsession with Russian literature. I packed this without actually skimming through the publishing style and what a doozie! If the look of Kafka was frustrating to get through (it was, it really pilcrowing was) then bringing The Idiot along was borderline masochistic. I saved this book for last for a good reason: plane reading. I can read just about anything on a plane, including all safety procedural guides (which everyone really should be reading anyway!), and at the time of packing this seemed like a nice fallback for when I inevitably did what I did and suffered from War & Peace flashbacks within the first 20 pages. It’s taking a little bit longer for me to get into the mood for The Idiot.

At the time of publishing this post, I am approximately not very far through this book and therefore I’m unable to offer any sort of thoughts on it. I’d say so far, so good but in case you were wondering Goodreads says “In the end, Myshkin’s (the main character’s) honesty, goodness, and integrity are shown to be unequal to the moral emptiness of those around him.” So… make of that what you will!


Please do reach out with thoughts and suggestions of your own for what books you absolutely refuse to travel without. Also, check out how these bad boys helped me in my 20[16k] challenge!