Hell is Other Tourists: The One Problem with Seeing The World's Wonders

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

There are many times that I'm thankful I read Jean-Paul Sartre's play "No Exit" in college. Haven't read it? Here's the theme: Hell is other people.

I know, I know, 'tis the season for more cheery sentiments about mankind, but...once you embrace this theme it is so utterly flexible and applicable that I promise you, too, will come to love it. Take, for example, Cheryl Strayed's spectacular advice column entitled "Hell is other people's boyfriends." And, on our wonderful trip through Spain, I drew the profound conclusion: Hell is other tourists.

Spain is a fabulous country—we went to Madrid, Barcelona, and Seville. While in those cities, in addition to eating todos las tapas, we wanted to see the sites. But here's the thing about seeing the wonders of the world—spoiler alert!—you won't be the only one there. Actually, there will inevitably be so many people there.

Also? Selfie sticks. So. Many. Selfie sticks.

I highly advocate going to the Sagrada Familia, the massive church in Barcelona which was Antoni Gaudí's masterpiece. It's beautiful. It's moving. It's unlike anything I've ever seen before.

But, while you're walking beneath the church toward Gaudi's grave, brace yourself for someone's cell phone ring tone to loudly echo through the chambers.

"Thank God we have service down here," I whispered to Stephen.

Another place with superb service? The top of the Giralda, the tower connected to the Cathedral in Seville. After climbing the 34 ramps and few steps to the top, you could take in the panoramic views of the city, or you could block those views from other people and angrily yap into your cell phone. The choice is yours.

I should note that these tourists were not exclusively American. Although it's tempting to deem those we live nearest as the most exasperating of all people, my trip to Europe proves annoying tendencies know no geographical boundaries.

And of course, pictures. So. Many. Pictures. Pictures will be taken at all costs. Even, let's say, if you're sitting in a dark Flamenco theater in Seville and they explicitly said 900 times not to take pictures. The tourist in front of you will not listen.

The issue, of course, is that while you're witnessing all these irritating tourists you are hit with the cringe-worthy realization: You, too, are a tourist. You are forever bonded to these people by this unshakeable commonality. And to some say, the locals, you are these people. It's like the conundrum with catching someone kissing with their eyes open—the only way you can catch them is by opening your eyes. Thus, you are the victim and the culprit. You become the very thing that annoys you.

But, I digress. Thankfully, I am not a philosopher.

I write this not to deter you from witnessing popular sites, but to appropriately readjust your expectations. You likely won't have a Sleepless in Seattle moment at any of these places. But they are still, undoubtedly, worth going to. So, please, go to Barcelona. Walk through the Sagrada Familia and bask in the glory of Gaudi's creation. See a Flamenco show in Seville. Go to the top of the Giralda. But, for the love of the holy family, silence your cell phone.

How to Plan a Wedding in 48 Hours

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Stephen and I got engaged a few weeks ago, and right after it happened I was so excited to be married to Stephen, but I was feeling this palpable sense of dread around planning the actual wedding. I was thinking I'd rather have a plane delayed by maintenance forty times than make a guest list. And I'd rather miss my connection by four minutes after sprinting through the airport than take nauseating engagement photos. And I'd choose getting a flat tire and being stuck on the side of the road in the freezing cold in the middle of Illinois over anything to do with centerpieces. Do you know what you should worry about instead of centerpieces? LITERALLY ANYTHING.

Yes, I was equating my wedding planning with a series of terrible business trips of my past, and thinking those would be preferable. Because at least when you get a food voucher from the Delta lady at midnight in DTW she doesn't ask you what your wedding colors are. 

And here I must profusely apologize to every woman who has ever had a wedding or will have a wedding with a perfectly curated guest list, adorable engagement photos, lovely centerpieces, and the perfect colors. Your engagement, bridal shower, bachelorette party, and wedding was or will be amazing. Seriously. I have attended these perfect weddings and enjoyed them immensely.

And I mean this with complete sincerity: Good for you, not for me.

So....right in the midst of a few weeks of "Let's elope" thought processes where whenever anyone asked me about my impending wedding I wanted to a.) punch them in the face b.) apparate to another time zone. and c.) eat an entire tub of Ben & Jerry's ice cream. (To be clear, I perpetually want to do c. regardless of the topic of conversation.) Right in the midst of this brain hurricane of wedding-induced panic, Stephen helped me have this life-altering epiphany:

It doesn't matter.


Let me say that again.


I love that sentence. Yes, in some instances it has a depressing ring to it but in others—take, this one—it can be incredibly freeing.

So, in this post-revelatory happiness haze void of meaning, Stephen and I, basically, did it all in 48 hours. Chose a city (Madison), chose ceremony space, and chose a venue for a reception.

And, I surmised there are two key things you need if you want to plan your wedding in 48 hours:

1. A very restricted/limited guest list. People will understand. They should be cool enough to get it. If they're not cool enough to get it—do you even care about them?

2. A healthy dose of apathy. (See above mantra)


So whatever your "wedding" of the moment is—the thing churning around, unsettling your skull, rattling your peace of mind—ask yourself: how much does it matter? Five years from now, how will you feel about this very thing that's bothering you so much right now it's eating away at your sanity? Free yourself, yo.

And never forget: There are infinite things more important than center pieces. Take cats sprawling out next to toilets, for example:

Hope you're all having good weeks! xx

Read This: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Have you ever read a graphic novel? If not, now is a good time to start with Alison Bechdel's Fun Home. It's an autobiography called a "tragicomic" and it left me completely awestruck.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

An incredible part of this book is it's full of surprises, so I am not willing to give away any plot details (unless you've read it, then call me and let's talk forever!) but I'll discuss other elements I loved.

Fun Home is an autobiography about a small-town Pennsylvania family, yes, but it's full of literary allusions—an English major's dream come true. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Camus, James Joyce, Proust, some Greek mythology...to just name a few. I felt smarter as I read each page. 

The emotional journey of the protagonist is so relatable, and really causes you to reflect on your own upbringing, however different it may have been from Bechdel's. She uses a lot of her childhood journals to piece things together, and, as I was a "journaling child" that made me smile.

Another thing I've never appreciated about graphic novels until reading this book is how very few words they get to tell a story. Her word choice is on-point, with almost a poetic quality.

Do you want to buy a copy yet? Well, I feel like a should mention a couple things regarding content. I think this book would be an amazing read, both for males and females, as it explores issues both sexes face, but it does not restrain itself on the female side. If you are a grown, mature man who literally can't look at a box of tampons without squirming....maybe get over it, first, then read this book. If you can't get over it, I hope with every fiber of my being that you are blessed with five beautiful daughters.

Also, if you are a grown, mature adult who has no problem in the world with heterosexual sex scenes, but just can't handle homosexual sex scenes, you should reconsider the "grown" and "mature" adjectives, read some James Baldwin, and then this book. ;)

Disclaimers aside: Everyone should read this, for their own sake. But also, because I want to talk about it with everyone.

And now, I need to know: Any other graphic novels I've been missing out on? I feel like Fun Home is my gateway into graphic novels, and I couldn't be more excited to explore a new genre.

p.s. Does Alison Bechdel's name sound familiar to you? You're probably thinking of the famous Bechdel test and, yep, same person.

p.p.s. Although I struggle to imagine how this story could translate into a Broadway musical—others did not. It won a Tony in 2015. So now, given my love for Broadway, I must see it.

Our Engagement Stories

Monday, October 19, 2015

These days, there's a lot of pressure put on a single moment—the wedding proposal.

With so many meticulously planned and filmed proposals destined to go viral, it raises a lot of questions. Does he really love her if there isn't a flashmob? Did the moment actually happen if it wasn't captured on video? Or at least photographed? Does the number of "likes" on a Facebook engagement announcement increase their chances at everlasting love?

All this to say...Stephen and I got engaged yesterday! And, surprisingly, no flashmobs were involved. I want to tell you the wedding proposal story—I do—but reducing our five and a half year relationship to one moment seems impossible, like reducing your life to a single piece of paper. I couldn't pick just one. Here are a few of our engagement stories:

When I was a junior in college, in the middle of the worst basketball season of my life, Stephen and I started dating. We're talking a single-digit win season. Stephen came to every home game. Even if you're one of the few who considers women's basketball extraordinarily exciting, these games were not that. They were often downright painful. But Stephen came, cheered, waited (and waited) (and waited) after the game for me to be done in the locker room. Stephen was my fan, from day one. His enthusiasm has never wavered, all these years later.

The first picture taken of us together. Photo by Cosi!

Only a month or so into my relationship, my aunt died unexpectedly. I got the terrible news, then went to basketball practice. After practice, I knew Stephen had been looking forward to playing poker with a group of guys. Instead, he was at my apartment holding my favorite Dairy Queen blizzard, and refused to leave.

Stephen's graduation weekend. Before the wine and cheese thing at Bucknell.
I started this blog one year into our relationship. I was terrified to let anyone read it. Stephen would patiently proof every post, reassuring me it was good. His belief in me has caused me to more deeply believe in myself, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Somewhere on some trail in Arkansas.
Stephen and I dated long distance for over two years. Most of that time, he was in Little Rock, Arkansas, and I was in Madison, Wisconsin. Nearly every time I flew down, he'd text me after I landed something like: "Got held up at work. Can you take a cab to my place?" or "Sorry, not there yet." He was always there. He was always waiting. (And often hiding behind something so I had to look extra hard for him.) Despite all the miserable things about long distance dating, I'll never forget the joy of reuniting in airports.

Getting in touch with our artistic sides in Arkansas.
Since I had a job in Wisconsin, Stephen moved here. A little over a year after he moved here, I decided to quit that job. He was unquestionably supportive. Even though I wouldn't have an income. Even though we now lived in Wisconsin, away from all of our families, because of me and now I was quitting the job that brought me here. Stephen never stopped supporting me.

Stephen's first weekend living in Madison! (At the terrace)
Over the weekend, we flew to my home in Pittsburgh for my friend, Nicole's, beautiful wedding on Saturday night. On Sunday morning, Stephen asked if I wanted to go for a walk and, since we go for walks all the time, I agreed without thinking anything of it. We walked down to Hopewell Park and started going on a trail through the woods. The air was crisp, but not cold. The leaves on the trees shimmered in the sunlight—all shades of yellow, red, and orange—and the leaves on the ground crunched beneath our feet.

Once we neared the top of a hill, he suggested we sit on a bench for a bit, and that's when he got on one knee and asked me to marry him! Upon our return home, my entire family was there along with cake, flowers, champagne, and cute decorations. We had a big family brunch together. I couldn't stop smiling.
This picture snapped by Grace after showers were taken post-walk :)
If I had one wish, it would be that every person in the world has someone who loves them the way Stephen loves me. I look forward to making many more stories with him for years to come. 

I love you, Stephen!

Favorite Madison Brunch Spots

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

It's almost a travesty I haven't written this blog post yet because there are few things I do better than brunch. And one of them is hang out my cat—no shortage of photographic evidence of that! Yet, brunching has been something I have never fully vetted on the blog: Accept my most sincere apologies. Madison has tons of great brunch spots (in my opinion), but over the last four years I've narrowed it down to my top two places to grab brunch in Madison, Wisconsin, and here they are:

1. Lazy Jane's 

I have three key things to say about cozy Willy Street house-turned-breakfast spot: scones, scones, scones.

Perhaps you're one of those people who says "I don't really like scones" and first off—I hear you. I used to live in your sad state of existence, thinking scones were dry and hard tasteless things only edible perhaps when drenched in coffee/tea or if you're England and have no other options like the all mighty muffin.

BUT THEN. I had a Lazy Jane's scone. And listen up: Not all scones are created equal. 

These scones are, to incorporate some underutilized eighth grade vernacular, the bomb.

I always get a scone as a pre-brunch appetizer, eat my brunch, and then occasionally (real talk) stop at the Lazy Jane's annex bakery and get another scone for the afternoon. #notashamed

But let's say you, perhaps, like eating things for breakfast that aren't just heaps of butter and sugar. I will suppress myself from asking the obvious question (what's wrong with you?) and say that Lazy Jane's also offers delicious savory breakfast options. My boyfriend loves their frittata, they always have great scrambler specials, and I'm a BIG fan of their granola, yogurt, and fruit (okay, that's not savory but it is delicious).

Lazy Jane's is cash only (but there's an ATM on site) and totally worth it!

2. Marigold Kitchen

Located right off the square, Marigold has been my go-to brunch spot for years. They offer the most delicious classic breakfast classics, and amazing specials. I always check out their pancake specials, have ordered them many times, and never been disappointed. If I want pancakes, I go to Marigold's.

The only problem is their side of breakfast potatoes are so good, and those don't come with pancakes. So, just you're average #firstworldproblem of too many good brunch choices. They also serve up killer omelets and—if you want something more lunchy than breakfasty—high quality soups and salads too.

Their location couldn't be more perfect for Farmers' Market Saturdays, but, if you do go then, be prepared to wait a little bit for a table. The place is well-managed though, with friendly wait staff, so you shouldn't have to wait too long.

The way I look at it is going to an empty brunch spot is like going to a movie and being the only one in the theater—it's probably not very good. Marigold's is always buzzing, but always delivers. And, if you're a fancy-coffee fan, like me, you can't miss their maple latté.

What are your go-to brunch places in Madison? 

Read This: Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

It's hard for me to recommend Truth & Beauty because I can think of two words to succinctly describe it, and one of them is sad. The other word, of course, is powerful. I suppose I am advocating that you read it for the second word, if you can handle the burden of the inherent sadness. However, if you're in a state where you don't want to read a "downer" book, maybe this isn't for you. At the same time, I think we are in a culture addicted to being happy—and maybe fully recognizing and exposing ourselves to a wider range of emotions can help us, as a society, develop a sense of empathy that seems to have gone missing from the world.

In short, I recommend this book. But if you find it moderately depressing, don't say I didn't warn you.

Ann Patchett wrote Truth & Beauty shortly after her dear friend and fellow writer, Lucy Grealy, died at 39. Lucy had cancer as a child that left her face and jaw disfigured, and had over 30 surgeries in her lifetime. In Truth & Beauty, Ann chronicles their friendship, which blossomed while rooming together at the Iowa Writer's Workshop in Iowa City, continued long distance (predominately pen-pal style) while Lucy was in Scotland for surgery, and persisted while Ann settled in Nashville and Lucy "settled" in New York.

I must put settled in quotations for Lucy, as she never seems settled—she seems boundless. Through reading Truth & Beauty, I feel like I got to know Lucy on an almost intimate level. Ann includes letters from Lucy that capture her spirit, her struggles with self-worth and depression, and her desperate desire to find true love.

There's definitely some darker adult content in this book—sex, drugs, abortion, suicide attempts. Yet still, to me, the book feels sweet. I think that's due to the current of deep friendship underlying it all.

Ann also shares their collective struggles of to break into the writing world, something they both successfully did during their friendship, which I enjoyed from an aspiring writer's perspective.

Not only did this book make me want to read Ann Patchett's other works, but I also put myself on the library wait list for Lucy Grealy's memoir, Autobiography of a Face. Have you read any Patchett or Grealy? Would love to know your thoughts!

Watch This: The Intern

Thursday, October 1, 2015

If you're looking for a feel good movie to see this weekend—or just looking for an excuse to eat an exorbitant amount of butter-soaked popcorn—I recommend The Intern where Robert De Niro plays Ben Whittaker, a 70 year-old retired widower who wants to shake things up so starts interning at an e-commerce company run by Jules Ostin, played by Anne Hathaway.

Photo by Francois Duhamel/Warner Bros. Pictures
I saw it on opening day last weekend with Becky and it exceeded my expectations.

The New York Times review has some criticisms about what director Nancy Meyers is suggesting with her Jules character, but they also say Robert De Niro steals the show, and I agree. He is absolutely captivating.

For me, it was refreshing to see a movie that didn't center around a love story. Yes, there's a bit of romance—and some marriage struggles—but the main conflicts are more work/life balance for Jules, and finding meaning in life post-retirement for Ben. During a few scenes, I laughed out loud. During a few, I teared up. And, overall, I enjoyed the movie and would recommend it! Have you seen it? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

p.s. I also just caught the trailer for the Burnt movie with Bradley Cooper, a redemption story of a two-Michelin star chef. What do you think? I definitely think I'd see it! It comes out October 23!

p.p.s. Joanna Goddard interviewed Nancy Meyers and I enjoyed it!

Read This: Shotgun Lovesongs

Monday, September 28, 2015

I rarely (never?) read books that take place in Wisconsin, so when I heard that local author and Eau Claire native Nickolas Butler's first book was not only a national best seller, but also set in small town Wisconsin, I had to grab a copy.

Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler

I was incentivized to read this book, fast, because BRAVA magazine was hosting a book signing/Q&A with Nick. So I set down Steinbeck for a bit and gobbled this up. It was a very emotional character-driven book, and I really enjoyed my binge read.

Farmer Hank, his wife Beth, super star musician Lee, former rodeo stud Ronny, and big-time commodities trader Kip don't seem to have much in common, but they're all childhood friends who grew up together in the fictitious Little Wing, Wisconsin. But the realities of adulthood—marriages, divorces, kids, money, and a particularly incriminating secret from their pasts—threaten to get in the way of their childhood bonds.

Butler beautifully flows between five different perspectives—four male, one female—on an emotional ride through Little Wing. I was really impressed by his five distinct voices!

There's also one (minor) character named Joyce, but I was so excited about it so I thanked him for including a Joyce character when he signed my book, and he wrote this nice note:

If you're looking for a sincere story of friendship and forgiveness with Wisconsin flair (mentions of Packers and cheese curds and Leinenkugels always got me excited!), I recommend this book. Have you read it? I'd love to know what you think!

Vamos a Espana!

Friday, September 25, 2015

When I put together my 101 in 1001 list a little over a year ago, I added one ambitious item in my "Wanderlust" section: 34. Go to Europe! If I'm being honest, I didn't think it would happen.

Although I'm pretty well traveled within the U.S. (including Hawaii, California a few times, Puerto Rico twice, terrible places for work infinite number of times), I've never been to Europe. To me, it feels kind of like the farm with the rabbits in Of Mice and Men. Some far off magical dream that's never going to happen anywhere but my imagination.

But then....we booked our plane tickets to Spain! (!!!)
*Barcelona image here
Even though I traveled constantly for my last job, I never redeemed a single Delta frequent flyer mile (I'd been hoarding them for a "big trip"), so we used all miles. We are flying from Madison to Madrid in late November, and I'm so excited.

We are staying for 11 days and planning on staying in 3 cities: Madrid, Barcelona, and Seville, with perhaps some day trips to other nearby cities. Lots of people asked me: Why Spain? Well, first off, we wanted to go somewhere neither of us have been (Stephen has seen England + Italy). Secondly, we wanted to see ONE country. We didn't want to see 9 countries in 11 days, or whatever. I know some people do that and love it, but it's not us. Also, the food :)

And now is where I need your help: Have you been to Spain? Do you have any tips? Any must sees? Restaurant recommendations?

Oh, and does anyone know how to learn Spanish in a couple months? I am listening to CD's I got from the library in my car..so that's at least a start.

I would love to hear any and all Spain advice!

Field Trip: Devil's Lake

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

I've been to Devil's Lake State Park a number of times over my 4+ years in Wisconsin, but we just went for the first time this year this past weekend! I can't believe the whole summer slipped away and didn't make it up there until the very last summer weekend. At the risk of sounding like everyone else in the world (or at least on the internet): Where did this summer go?

I'm so glad we went, even though our cat gets antsy when we leave him all day on Saturday. If you have a Wisconsin license plate, it's $7 for the day. Although you can do a number of things in Devil's Lake itself—kayak, canoe, fish, swim if it's warm enough—Stephen and I usually go for the hiking. There are many trails, but this is our favorite way is to hike around the whole lake. We park at the visitor's center on the North Shore then do the West Bluff trail, which is 1.4 miles with lots of pretty overlooks, as shown:

We actually saw some rock climbers, which both impressed and terrified me.

Then, once we made it down to the South shore, we read for a while, looking out at the lake and snacking. (Stephen's reading The Fountainhead which is really making me want to read it—anyone else recommend Ayn Rand? I read Shotgun Lovesongs by local author Nickolas Butler and enjoyed it, book review to come!)

Then, to continue our loop around the lake, we like to take the Balanced Rock Trail up to the East Bluff trail. For me, the Balanced Rock Trail is physically challenging! (Stephen hiked a trail like it all the time when he used to live in Arkansas, so it's NBD for him and I'm falling behind and trying not to slip.) It is pretty though! And you have a sense of accomplishment when you make it to the top. In my opinion, only go up the Balanced Rock Trail, not down. Yes, it's challenging going up it, but when I went down it on a previous trip, I just felt like I was going to fall the entire time! (You can scope out all the trails here.) 

Overall, it's such a pretty park (sorry for the onslaught of photos), and not a bad drive to get there at all (only about an hour from Madison). I'd love to go again when the leaves start changing, as it is officially fall now, believe it or not. Hope everyone's having a good week! xx

Advice on Writing, Vol. 5: Grammar Girl Podcast

Monday, September 14, 2015

As Stephen King emphasized in his amazing book, if you want to be a writer, you need to read a lot and write a lot. But, sometimes, one must do other things. Take laundry, for example. Or dishes. It's nearly impossible to read or write while washing dishes! That's where listening comes in. And, although my go-to is audio books I've recently been exploring the world of podcasts, and found one I'm really excited about and wanted to share with fellow writers: Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing!

I highly recommend this podcast. Her episodes vary in length, but are relatively short—usually between 10 and 15 minutes, which I really enjoy. Even in such a short time, I always feel like I learn a lot!

She generally begins her episodes with "Quick and Dirty tips" where she answers sent-in grammar questions. For example, is it band together or ban together? When you're using and/or as a subject, should the verb be singular or plural? And so on. I enjoy this part because I feel it helps me improve both my writing and speaking. Sure, if you're writing a book an editor will likely catch grammatical errors—but isn't it nice to feel you know as much as an editor? And to feel more confident when speaking?

Often, episodes continue with "meaty middles" which generally delve into ways to improve your writing, like understanding parallelism or story structure. I particularly liked Episode 473 from July 9, "How Understanding Toy Story Can Help You Get Into College" which went into how most Disney/Pixar movies follow the same story structure. She used great examples!

Then, she generally ends with a fun language tidbit, usually about the origin of an idiom. For example, did you know the term "following suit" stems from card games?

Her podcasts are incredibly well-researched—she'll often read excerpts from books or speeches, and gather advice from linguists if she needs to. Overall, I love this podcast because it makes me feel smarter. If you are one of those lucky people who avoids doing laundry and dishes at all costs, it would be a fun thing to listen to while driving :) Check it out on iTunes or on the Podcast app on your iPhone!

Any other podcasts I should check out?

p.s. Advice on Writing Volumes one, two, three, and four.

Read This: On Writing by Stephen King

Monday, September 7, 2015

The joys of reading an author writing about writing were revealed to me when I read Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird and loved it. So, I was itching to get my hand on a copy of Stephen King's book, which so many other authors had recommended reading in the FAQ section of their websites. I've never read any King, because I am SUCH a scaredy cat when it comes to all things horror. (Embarrassing, yes. But I'll have nightmares for weeks that are no joke!) So, I was a tad hesitant to even read this book but I thought...how scary can writing be? :)

Stephen King approached this book in a completely different way than Lamott approached hers. Whereas Lamott's mixed writing advice and life advice all at once (and contained beautiful metaphors), King split things up. The first chunk of the book (labeled C.V.) reads like a memoir (which I loved! See here, here, and here for proof of my memoir obsession).

King had a fascinating childhood and is (duh) a very good storyteller so his childhood/early writer and recovering alcoholic stories flew by. The origin story of Carrie, his first successful book, is incredible. (Hint: his wife is a pivotal player in getting him to write the book that ultimately launched his career.)

Then comes a section entitled "Toolbox" where he talks about assembling your writer's tool box filled with things like vocabulary ("the bread of all writing") and grammar, and elements of style (for which he highly recommends this book by Strunk and White).

Grammar tips from King range from relatively basic "avoid the passive tense" to hilarious "I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs" (especially adverbs that attribute dialogue.)

Once he's covered the necessary tools, King moves onto the most lengthy part of his book: On Writing. He delves into things from dialogue to plot to character to theme to writing method. One of my favorite parts of the book is King pulls examples from all different kinds of books, so you can dissect different writer's choices.

A few favorite parts:

"If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut."

King says he writes 2000 words a day, and recommends new writers start with at least 1000 words a day, and can take one day off a week. 

King compares writing fiction to extracting a fossil from the earth. The story is there you just need to patiently find it. He very much prefers character-driven not plot-driven stories. He says using plot to get your story is like using a jackhammer to get your fossil. Sure, you'll get it, but it won't be pretty. Personally, I love this analogy. He is very anti-outline, thinking you should listen to your characters above all else, and I am finding this to be true for me in my writing as well. (And consistent with what Anne Lamott said in Bird by Bird.)

Overall, I felt like I learned SO much from reading this book, and this review (obviously) just grazed the surface. If you are an aspiring writer: read this book! And let me know what you think :)

California Trip Advice: Part 2

Thursday, September 3, 2015

I can't believe this Saturday I am heading back to the Golden State! So, I figure it was high time to share some more photos from last September :) See Part 1 for the first bunch.

After we explored San Francisco, we rented a car and headed down the Pacific Coast Highway. Let's just say for miles on end I wanted to stop every 15 minutes to take pictures.

It was a breathtaking, leisurely drive down to our Airbnb in Carmel-by-the-Sea. If you couldn't tell by the charming hyphenated addition to its name, Carmel by-the-Sea is a city overflowing with charm. The city is on a hill that spills into the Pacific Ocean. The beach overlooks the famous last hole in the Pebble Beach Golf Course. Since Carmel is not a cheap place (there were people visiting from all over the world!), we stopped a farm stand on the side of the road on the way down and stocked up on incredibly delicious and cheap avocados and almonds. So, pro tip: buy fresh avocados and almonds!

If time were no factor, I would have spent an entire day marveling at the cottage-style Carmel houses. Most have adorable names like Robin's Nest, Sanctuary, and Pear Tree Cottage. Of course, we opted to spend out days driving along the Pacific instead. Our airbnb was only a few minutes from the start of the 17 Mile-Drive, a drive through a gated community of famous views. For only $10, you can take your time driving through a well-marked route and stopping for the sites. The highlight of the drive is the famous Lone Cyprus standing triumphantly above the Pacific. 

The Lone Cyprus
Although you won't see the Lone Cyprus anywhere but the 17 Mile Drive, you don't have to pay for incredible views in California. Driving on the PCH south of Carmel leads to the Bixby Bridge—a must-stop spot! The beautiful arched bridge connecting the winding highway cutting through the mountains is a site to add to your bucket list, stat.

The Bixby Bridge
It's difficult to leave the Bixby Bridge, but Big Sur beckoned. The road winds on and on, and right when you think there couldn't possibly be another magnificent view, there was one. We veered off the PCH to make stop at the secluded Pfeiffer Beach. This also had a $10 entrance fee but was worth every penny.

Pfeiffer Beach
Although the wonders of the PCH continued, we spent our evenings in Carmel, watching the sun set over the beach and eating at places like La Bicyclette and Dametra Cafe.

Our final stop was Yosemite. Actually staying inside Yosemite National Park is astronomically expensive, and also must be planned as far as a year in advance. However, I can't stress this enough: stay as close as you can to an entrance. You're going to inevitably be doing a lot of driving to get to Yosemite, so don't add more car time onto your trip. Also, there was actually lots of traffic in the park, so just be ready and wake up early! We stayed in an Airbnb in a one-room private apartment about seven minutes fromt he south gate which was perfect. Pro tip: Go old school and print your directions! Cell service cannot be relied upon in most parts of the park, so don't trust in your GPS to get you where you need to go! There's no point in splurging on a large room in Yosemite, as you'll want to spend as much time as possible outside, as shown:

Here's the breathtaking Glacier Point that looks like a painting:

We also spent a morning wandering around the vibrantly red otherwordly Mariposa Grove, the only pictures I shared in a reasonable amount of time :) Based on our Airbnb host's recommendation, we ended up dining at The Narrow Gauge Inn, a rustic steak house near where we stayed, and really enjoyed the food. 

And that leads me to the biggest problem about California: There are so many beautiful sites to see, you'll never want to go home. I'm very excited to go back this weekend, though this time I'll miss little TT. :) Hope everyone is having a great week! 

Read This: A Separate Peace

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

There are quite a few classics which I a.) own and b.) have always meant to read but somehow c.) haven't gotten around to. I mentioned quite a few in my summer reading list (made entirely of books I already have), and I'm happy to report I just finished one. Checking off one of these books always feels gratifying, and, as is the case with most classics, my only wish is that I read it sooner:

A Separate Peace by John Knowles

Most people I've chatted with read A Separate Peace in high school, but somehow my school skipped right over it. It's the story of two boys at a New Hampshire boarding school called Devon. Devon is fictitious but is based on the author's high school alma mater, Phillips Exeter Academy.

(Many boys at Bucknell went to similar schools; I frequently parked beside a car at Bucknell with a "Phillips Exeter" bumper sticker, which further made me want to read this book!)

Though Knowles accurately paints the place of the story, the time seems to be an even more powerful force of the setting: during World War II.

The two Devon boys, introverted, academically-driven Gene and sporty, extroverted Phineas (or Finny), are attending school at an intriguing time in history—when the march to high school graduation is nearly synonymous with the march to the battlegrounds.

The progressing war courses throughout the background of the story—but the tumultuous relationship between Gene and Phineas takes the forefront. They are best friends and roommates with polar opposite personalities, but still, each seems to see the other as an extension of himself.

At the beginning of the book, it seems that Gene (the narrator), rather envies Phineas and looks up to him in kind of a hero-worshipping way, he says:

"He could also shine at many other things, with people for instance, the others in our dormitory, the faculty; in fact, if you stopped to think about it, Finny could shine with everyone, he attracted everyone he met. I was glad of that too. Naturally. He was my roommate and my best friend." 

However, when a terrible accident occurs and both Phineas and Gene are involved, it prompts Gene to deeply and darkly explore their friendship, and learn about himself.

I really enjoyed reading a book that focused on a complex, but deep, platonic friendship. So many books are saturated with romantic love, but friendship can be just as big of a force in someone's life, especially someone in high school.

As a warning, I wouldn't call this an uplifting book by any means, but, for me, it was thought-provoking, beautifully written (I loved his metaphors and how they often related to nature), and definitely worth reading.

Recipe: Tomato Confit Pasta

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Today I wanted to share one of my favorite pasta recipes for summer. It's simple—only four key ingredients!—and refreshing. I got the initial recipe from an old Cup of Jo post, but will share my (slightly modified) version below.

What you need:

1 lb. pasta (I used penne)
~50 cherry tomatoes, stemmed
7-8 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
A small package of basil (a couple hands full)
Olive oil
Salt & Pepper

What you do:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F

Put (peeled & smashed) garlic cloves, rinsed tomatoes, and rinsed & torn basil leaves on rimmed baking tray

Drizzle in olive oil and add salt and pepper

Toss to coat

Cook for 45-60 minutes, occasionally stirring tomatoes

Near the end of the cooking, boil water for pasta & make pasta, as per usual.

Mix cooked tomatoes with pasta, drizzle some olive oil, and top with fresh basil and cheese of your choice!

I have made this quite a few times, and loved it each time. It feels more refreshing than a heavy tomato sauce...especially good for summer! Which, sadly, is coming to an end. Where did the time go?

Regardless, I hope you enjoy this dish! xx

California Trip Advice: Part 1

Monday, August 24, 2015

I can't believe in less than a month Stephen and I will be heading back to California with his entire family—I can't wait! It also reminded me that I never shared details from last year's California trip (other than a few Mariposa Grove pictures)...oops! If you're looking to travel to a beautiful place, but want to keep it domestic, I can't recommend Cali enough. Here's how we planned our trip last year, with some advice scattered in along the way.

My first piece of advice for seeing California is much like you hear for seeing Europe: Don't try to do it all. It's more valuable to pick a few places to stay and immerse yourself there, rather than spend much of your trip checking in and checking out.

We decided to stay in two different places, and tried to do those places well: San Francisco, Carmel By-the-Sea, and Yosemite. We got two amazing travel books which I recommend Lonely Planet Coastal California and Pacific Coast Highway: Traveler's Guide by Tom Snyder. The internet (obviously) has tons of valuable travel information, but I loved flipping through the books and dreaming of Highway 1. These books certainly helped us narrow down our destination list!

Except for the last couple nights in a Marriott hotel in San Fran (that I booked with points), we stayed exclusively in airbnb's. If you haven't used airbnb yet, I highly recommend it (use that link to get $25 off your first stay). It's an ingenious website with an incredibly user-friendly app that lets you rent out other people's rooms/apartments/houses. You can easily communicate with your hosts via the app and pay them directly. We loved all three of our airbnb's—and it was much cheaper than booking hotels!

Upon landing in San Francisco, we stayed in a private room in the Lower Haight neighborhood. It was magical staying downtown; I've never been in a city with more personality. From our room, we could easily walk to the Painted Ladies and admire them (and reminisce about Full House). We actually walked all the way to the Ferry building for a market, explored Fisherman's Wharf for the sea lions, and Ghirardelli Square and Union Square for shopping. If you're going to walk as much as we did, bring comfy shoes!

If you want Alcatraz (the infamous prison) tickets: buy them early! Even though tour books (and the internet) told us that, I still didn't buy them soon enough. Instead, we got on a double decker bus tour that exceeded our expectations. We didn't rent a car when we were in the city, so the bus gave us a chance to go across the Golden Gate Bridge—which was amazing and windy!

After exploring the city by the bay, we rented a car and began the legendary drive down the Pacific Coast Highway. It's impossible to describe the majesty that is the PCH....but I will try to do just that in my Part 2 post! :)

Wishing you all wonderful weeks! xx