Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Santa Spoilers

In case you have some true believers still around when you read this - beware! As a character on one of my all time favorite shows is fond of saying, Spoilers!

From article, Santa Spotted by NORAD
So, it was my younger sister who told me that Santa Claus might not be as real as I would like. I'd had inklings of course, I'm not that daft, but I didn't really want to not believe. I loved the magic of Santa and leaving out cookies and milk with sugar for the reindeer. Writing him a note to leave on the table, hoping he and the reindeer were having a good night. There was nothing quite like getting back to my house on Christmas Eve from my grandmother's and rushing off to bed because the next day was going to be the best day of the year. A little magic is lost when I realized that the presents had been moved from my grandmother's during the Christmas Eve festivities, that your dad was the one who ate the cookies and that your mom was the one who left the note, written with her left hand so we wouldn't recognize the writing. 

But, on some level, I made a deal with my eight year old self. OK, so there wasn't a physical being called Santa who came down my chimney but the idea of Santa and everything he stands for? I'll believe in that until the day I die. Because, well, I don't want to live in a world without a Santa Claus, without that possibility of magic and kindness and miracles. In fact, I think the world could all use more believers in things like that. This was long before I read Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus but obviously that is an editorial after my own heart. In fact, I consider it required reading about this time of year.

So, that little piece of my heart that is eight years old forever still gets excited for Christmas Eve and that moment when I get to go to bed. I know Mom and Dad are out in the family room putting out the gifts but I still love going down the hall and seeing it on Christmas morning, the mountains of gifts radiating from the tree and the overflowing stockings sitting in the easy chair because they are too heavy to hang back up. Even now, there is no room more magical than the family room all lit up on Christmas morning with snow out the window. The snow though is becoming more rare (curse you global warming!). 

But one of the best parts of the season is that we still have little ones in the family who truly believe. For years, I was Santa for my cousin. I'd call to get the inside scoop on his school and friends and things he'd done that year and then write up a letter from Santa to send to him. I loved coming up with the picture of the North Pole for him. I usually re-read some of them about this time of year too. It was fun to think up why elves would be putting together an iPod or where a sports jersey might come from if Santa needed one. Today's kids are smart - you have to stay ahead of them!

While my cousin has long outgrown those letters, I still get to hear from my other little second cousins about their excitement, about all the things they found on Christmas morning (paw prints in the yard! half eaten carrots!) and to share for a little while in that absolute certainty that of course Santa exists, how could he not?  

As I head home for the holidays, I wish all of you and your families the very best and magical moments the season has to offer. Happy Christmas Everyone!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Acquainted with the Night

From Goodreads
So I have a small confession to make. I actually do like vampire lit. Well, I should clarify. I like GOOD vampire lit. The kind that hasn't forgotten vampires are supposed to be rather nasty at times, not go out in daylight, and have some pretty awesome mythology in general. Sadly, it has been awhile since I found a good vampire read. The one I finished this weekend had potential and then, well, turned out to be kind of lame.

I first watched the original Dracula one Halloween season when TCM or AMC, one of the classic movie channels, did a Monster Marathon. The original Dracula movie is so awesome - extremely dated but awesome. I first read Bram Stroker's Dracula when I took a Ghosts and Goths class while I was in England and adored it. It's not scandalous by any stretch of the imagination these days but there is something fascinating about seeing a myth at its origins. You sit there and think "what a cliche" and then remember it's cliche because of the novel you are reading. I am nerd - I adore that!

So, I stumbled into vampire lit from Dracula. Anne Rice was of course the first stop and her books inherit the tradition of vampire lore while updating and morphing the myth into something new and interesting. I'm not a big fan of first person books in general (I am nosy, I prefer to have a narrator that can tell me a lot more info or a book that gives me a lot of different narrators) so The Vampire Chronicles are fun but not favorites. I loved Maggie Shayne's series of stories following a growing family of vampires. I liked how Shayne expanded the myth in all different directions, including creating an evil government agency that is hunting them. Somehow things are just better when there is an evil government agency to root against. I've read other one offs and updates but most don't stand out. 

I had high hopes of the book I finished over the weekend, Acquainted with the Night. It sounded like someone took The Da Vinci Code and added vampires which is a cool idea but the execution lacked here. For one thing, the characters were very flat. Only a few characters receive a decent backstory to explain their current actions and those are even kind of weak. It's a very black and white book - people are clearly either good or evil - which doesn't really work for the story which is flirting with the fact that not all vampires are pure evil, that like any species, there are good and bad eggs. Mainly, it was a book that couldn't sell the grey area it was trying to work within. The pace of the story was good; it certainly moves quickly from place to place but the "puzzle" solving piece of it was lackluster and I would have liked more puzzles, more mystery. Maybe then I wouldn't have noticed the flaws in the main characters so much.

Because, well, the heroine and hero are just sort of...blah. The heroine is whiny and really rather dumb. One of those heroines you spend the entire book yelling at. Don't do that! Don't go that way! Are you an idiot - DON'T TELL HIM THAT! It gets really old after awhile. And a bit exhausting. You wonder how a heroine who is supposed to be smart can be that consistently dumb and still make it alive to the end of the novel. Her hero is a bit better - at least he was supposed to be smart and consistently acted like it. He was prejudiced but he was consistent about it so I could deal with him. That said, he was a very flat hero - I didn't much care if he made it to the end of the novel either. In fact, I wasn't much invested in any character. The bad guys seemed to be bad because they could be - the mastermind behind the whole problem of the novel was really just a crabby guy with too much money who had an overdeveloped sense of entitlement. What made him scary was his vampire hunchmen, really bad, nasty guys who are apparently very bad and nasty because they are vampires? Like I said, the grey area of the book didn't really work...

I wish my thoughts were more clear about this book. On one level, it does take the Rice influence on the vampire myth and expand on it a bit but for the most part, it just got bogged down in its own issues. It's a long book - the author had plenty of time to develop the characters and tap into the vampire myth but it got caught up in its love story (way too was kind of ridiculous) and then failed to follow through on its own themes. I guess I shall have to continue to look for a good vampire read because this was not it.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Even More Magical

As you should know by now, going to Walt Disney World for me is the equivalent of getting to go to a second home. I know those parks, those rides, and all those good eats as well as I know my hometown. At Christmastime though, it becomes something even more magical.

I haven't been to WDW at Christmastime in 12 years. Think about that Disney people. The last time I saw the Osborne Lights they were on Residential Street, Snow on Main Street was still novel and there was that great theater back in Tomorrowland for the Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas show. There was also, gasp!, no Holiday tag to Illuminations which I think might be the most tragic thing of all.

So, now that I had my Florida Resident Annual Pass, I headed down to WDW for Thanksgiving to take advantage of my sister being a fantastic person who was willing to go to Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party for a third time with me. Sadly, my body decided to cause issues this trip (the Celebration hospital is VERY nice FYI) so we missed our planned Thanksgiving feast at Tusker House but we discovered that the food court at Pop Century does a nice Thanksgiving meal on their own. The things you learn...

OK, so what was my favorite part of all the new holiday things I saw...that would be like asking me to pick only one favorite book. I adored the new location of the Osborne Lights on the Streets of America. The snow added a nice touch but I especially like the "dancing" lights (which is apparently it's official name now...who knew?). Every 10-15 minutes, the lights "dance" to a song. It was fun to watch and see what they would do next! We also got there just in time for the lighting which I liked seeing - I think some of the impact is lost if you were to just wander in. Seeing all those lights come on at once was truly incredible. 

Looking down the Streets of America

Next, is Epcot. This is my favorite park anyway but add in the Christmas element and it's even better. I wish I'd had more time to go and watch all of the little shows in each country. We caught part of the show in Norway and their mischief maker Santa was fun to learn about. Also, apparently, you leave out Porridge and Ale for Santa in Norway. That is one St. Nick that knows what is up! We also didn't have time for the Candlelight Processional but that is at the top of my list for next year. It's something I know I will adore. I didn't make a big push to see it this year because I missed the narrator I would REALLY love to see by a day. Next year Neil Patrick Harris (and if you don't come, I will cry). Now, Holiday Illuminations. I love fireworks, well, let me rephrase...I love Disney fireworks. To see non-Disney fireworks is just sort of sad actually but I digress. As I was saying, I love Disney fireworks and Illuminations happens to be my favorite of them all. Holiday Illuminations adds a tag at the end. It is AWESOME in the true sense of the word. I don't know that I've ever seen so many fireworks! And as always it goes beautifully with the music and adds a truly magical element during the holidays. We actually saw this twice and it was totally worth it!

The park that pulls out all the stops at the holidays though is Magic Kingdom. Home to Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, MK is truly decked out in its holiday finery this time of year. Lights and garland are everywhere along Main Street USA and if you stay for a party, you also get snow on Main Street which is such fun to see. We attended a sold out Christmas Party so it was a bit crowded still. If we hadn't been so tired, I think I would try to do the later parade and show because most of the families with kids do the early ones and then leave after the fireworks. I enjoyed the show in front of the castle - If nothing else, I do love watching the cast members in these shows. I sometimes think it would have been fun to be a dancer at WDW if only for the fun costumes  The parade was so much fun - I didn't really remember it from before especially the smells! Yes, some of the parade floats come with their own smells like the Alpine float with Chip and Dale smells of pine and the Baking floats make me hungry from cookies even if I wasn't feeling well. We did get some of the (free with your $60 ticket) cookies and I tried the apple juice rather than the hot chocolate. The juice was tasty! It had an added kick of cinnamon which I enjoyed. I would have liked it hot though even better. The new show on the Castle before the fireworks is wonderful! I liked it a lot better than the one they ran over the summer. I especially liked they have added a Wreck-It Ralph section to it - it was fun to watch Ralph and Felix wreck and then fix the Castle! Then it was time for Holiday Wishes. They had a bit of a mishap with the fireworks the night we were there - the close up fireworks were firing just fine but the larger fireworks went MIA for a bit. Luckily, they got it back on track for the finale and if you didn't know better, I don't think you would have missed them. I do enjoy the perimeter fireworks they have for the special firework shows - it's fun to be "surrounded" by fireworks :-)

Seriously, you'd think they couldn't improve on the best sight in the world and then they do...

But wait! I forgot what I think is my favorite part of the Magic Kingdom at Christmas time. The Castle lights. A few years ago, Disney "iced" CInderella's Castle with white lights to make it look like ice hanging all over it. We didn't watch the lighting but it was truly a magical sight to see when we walked up to the Castle after eating. The lights will vary throughout the night but I think I prefer the blue best - truly makes it look like an iced confection!

Cinderella Castle at Christmastime

Yes, it is crowded this time of year, make no mistake but I think it's worth it because at this time of year, the most magical place I know of gets a lot more magical :-)

Friday, November 30, 2012

130 Books

Right before Thanksgiving, I very quietly passed my reading goal for this year. Back when I made the goal to read 130 books in January, I thought it would be an easy challenge. I had grossly underestimated myself the year before and blow my goal out of the water so I thought, I'll aim high but within reach this year. Then I moved 2,000 miles.

Moving tends to disrupt one's life in case you haven't noticed. It creates a whole set of problems that seem to take months to sort out. Add in the fact that I had major furniture losses during my move, I couldn't even unpack my books until a month after I got to Tallahassee. It was distressing. But I made it to the public library and slowly tried to get back into my reading groove. And then I got cable back...

I didn't have cable back in ND. With Netflix, it wasn't really a cost I could justify. But with the move, I was up for the introductory packages again and suddenly I had BBC America, ABC Family, Hallmark for cheesy movies and a myriad of other channels to lose myself in. Reading was something that I kept pushing off. Then I was 12 books off the pace to reaching my goal. Now, that wouldn't be so bad as I am a fast reader but I was losing momentum by the day. Something needed to kick me into gear.

Now when I say I am a fast reader, I am one of those people who can demolish a book in a couple of hours if I find it interesting enough. I like to know what will happen next :-) And luckily in October, rather oddly, I got into a Christmas mood and went to the library looking for a good fix. I found a ton of cheesy Christmas Regency books. I may have od'ed on them in the end but it got me back on track to start tackling my reading list more. Perhaps not the most highbrow reading but hey, we all have our guilty pleasures.

My original goal for this year was to read my to-read list in order. I will be the first to admit that did not happen. At times it did but most of the time if a book came up to the top and I wasn't in the mood, I would just go to the next book on the list or move that book out of my way. It's really hard to keep to a straight list! A lot of the books are on there haphazardly or all 20 books of a series are in a row and I like some variety to my reading. 

On the other hand, I sometimes plow through a series because I have to know what happens next. Take the Softwire series I read this month. It was a four book young adult science fiction series that I read over the course of two weeks basically. But I was invested in the characters and their plight and so I just kept reading. Plus, I never take for granted a series I can read in its entirety when I start. Harry Potter has made me very appreciative of a series I find after the fact because waiting for those books to come out was torturous. I also got back into the Amelia Peabody series in the last few months. Amelia is always nice to come back to and read a few books and then flit off again for a bit knowing I have half a series left there. I do want to get two more books in before I flit this time though - a particular relationship has to be coming to head soon!

So, a reading goal for next year...I'm working on that. I'm not sure if I want to aim for a higher number or maybe work on a particular genre on my to-read list. I have my favorite genres. Maybe I should challenge myself with some of the ones I don't read from enough or maybe I'll just give myself a year to read whatever with no real goal in mind. We'll just have to wait and see.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Ready Player One

From Goodreads
I have always wanted to be great at video games. But, if I am being honest, I really am not. It took me and three friends to finally beat Myst and, if I continue with my honesty, I don't think I contributed all that much in the end. I spent honors playing Commander Keen but never got very far. Same with Sonic the Hedgehog, the original Mario Brothers, any of the Sim games I played, you name it, I probably tried it but never got anywhere. But I wanted to. I wanted to be one of those awesome video game uberplayers. But really, the only ones I've ever gotten very far on are the Tycoon games - Rollar Coaster, Mall, Zoo. I made one heck of a zookeeper, people.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline may just inspire me to find some app version of Pac Man and dive in. This book is a classic gamer's dream. Also, if you wish it was still 1987, this is the book for you. Ready Player One takes place in 2044 (if I recall correctly) and the human race has succeeded in completely destroying pretty much everything. A world wide energy crisis has led to world wide poverty, crime, disease and overall chaos. Wade Watts (whose Dad actually gave him a name that would echo the comic book alter egos) is a kid from the wrong side of the tracks who escapes into the OASIS every chance he gets. The OASIS is like Second Life had a kid with World of Warcraft and the kid was like a billion times cooler than his parents. When the creator of OASIS, James Halliday, dies, he has no one to leave his billions so he creates a game within the OASIS. The first person to find all three keys, open the three gates and beat them, wins his estate. Wade, along with thousands, dive into the hunt. The hunt requires everyone to love what Halliday did; '80s pop culture, video games and MMO games etc. So Wade and his fellow "gunters" start on the ultimate game but, as usual, the stakes get higher the further along the game goes.

One, the geeky sixteen year old I carry in me has a serious fictional crush on Wade. He is adorable; a geeky, socially awkward teen whose real life is so bad, escaping into a computer simulation makes perfect sense - in fact, its self preservation. His virtual friends are also awesome - Aech (pronounced H) and Art3mis. In fact, if I am ever as cool as Art3mis, I will have reached my nerdy goal. These kids are all up against insane odds and you root for them, you yell at the book, you wish you knew enough to yell the answers along with them. As the game's stakes rise, you really wish these kids had an adult, someone with authority, they could ask for advice or maybe just someone who could ground them as they move forward. Luckily, a character like this does appear towards the end which led to a major fist pump from me. These kids deserved a little help; I was glad Cline gave them some.

Cline is also just a great writer - he has a great sense of pace which must come from his screenwriter background. He doesn't waste time telling you anything you don't need to know. Every piece of obscure '80s trivia he throws at you has a reason for being there. In fact, at one point, I thought he was going on a tangent. As I read, I was thinking what is he doing? He is wasting mine, and Wade's time, the clock is ticking! And then later, that scene, that time he took, was essential to saving the day. As the dust settled and Wade explained what had happened, I just sort of sat there and thought, well played Mr. Cline, well played.

Highly recommend this read for anyone who has a love of '80s pop culture and video games, then and now but also, this is a just a great action adventure story with characters you root for. Now excuse me while I dig up copies of WarGames and The Goonies and indulge in some childhood nostalgia.

(Also, sorry Wade, but Aech is totally right about LadyHawke....even I do not like that film and on paper, I should adore it but then I watched it...)

Monday, October 1, 2012

A Short Ode to my Favorite Park

Actually, ode is probably the wrong word since you won’t find poetry here. But I did feel the need to mark the 30th birthday of my all-time favorite Disney park.

You see, I was an odd kid (I can see your mock shocked expressions from here) and while most kids liked the glamor of the Magic Kingdom or the thrill rides of what was then MGM Studios, I couldn’t get enough of Epcot. Something about hearing that futuristic music as I entered the gates and seeing that giant geodesic sphere of Spaceship Earth enchanted me as no castle could.

In Epcot, I could see what the future would look like if I rode Horizons, a ride that has sadly left us but that I still have a crystal clear memory of, even how Dad used to let me choose how the ride would end. I also have very clear memories of the original Journey into Imagination and Dreamfinder’s marvelous presence alongside his Figment. I remember the Land before it was “that building where Soarin’ is” and the Living Seas before Nemo invaded and you got to ride in a hydrolator to Sea Base Alpha. While I love Epcot just as much today and all the new attractions, I still have a pang for the Epcot of my childhood which seems more whimsical than the Epcot of today and also more hopeful, like we were still excited for the future would bring, rather than worried about it. In a sense, the Epcot you visit today is much more concrete and based in reality than the one you would have seen on opening day.

World Showcase though seems very familiar still. Not much has changed over the years; the landscaping grew in, they updated the boring boat ride in Mexico to include Donald Duck and Martin Short narrates the Canada film. The trolls are still threatening to send us over the waterfall in Norway, the department store in Japan is still one of the neatest places to shop on property and France still has the best bakery. I was one of those kids that had to do a passport through World Showcase every trip and the thrill of seeing my name in different languages never got old. I appreciate World Showcase more now though. As a kid, Future World was my favorite but now I love exploring the countries. I think being able to explore each country’s drinks is also a plus!

So Epcot, Happy 30th – that Mimosa Royale in Morocco yesterday was for you!

(Sadly most of the photos from when I was a kid at Epcot are still actual printed photos and not digital files. Someday I need to digitize those...)

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Night Circus

From Goodreads
Yes, I am alive!

I've been busy rebuilding furniture in my apartment, getting a couch picked out and delivered and finding my way around Tallahassee without my GPS more and more. I love my new city as I get to know it more and more. I've also had my sister to visit twice and my parents arrive next week. I think that is the most I have seen family in the last three years so definitely a bonus to the new location!

As it may not surprise all of you, one of the first places I checked out was the public library, both the main branch and my local branch. I frequent the main branch the most because I literally drive by it every day going to and from work and also, it's just a great building. My one gripe with it is how they have their paperbacks set up, on spinning displays that mean it often takes me a lot longer to find my guilty read of the week in the romance section than it should. Still, I like the airiness of the building and how it's always teeming with people - families, students, people reading in various corners that you stumble upon at the end of the rows. For such a modern building, it's cozy. My branch library is also always packed but less...welcoming in a way. I mostly stop in there to return books or pick up books I had sent there. If I want to browse, the main library is the place for me.

But I did not start this to review the Leon County Library system, though I have found it fabulous so far, I started it to notify everyone that must immediately drop what they are doing and read Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus. This goes double for those of you who love fairy tales, read magical realism constantly and mostly wish they could live in a wondrous fictional world. The Night Circus is the place for you. This book got a lot of hype and book clubs have waxed poetic over it and normally that means I steer clear of that book for awhile but this one just sounded too much like a book I HAD to read, a book that was so up my alley it probably already had its own address there before I ever read it.

Celia and Marco have been playing a game most of their lives, preparing and waiting for the venue for the game to be announced. Finally, Le Cirque des Rêves opens and their lives will never be the same again. Both are talented illusionists, able to change the world we move in through the most fantastic of the circus's tents. There is the Ice Garden, where everything is made of ice, the Labyrinth where doors lead into fantastical landscapes and the Wishing Tree where your wish is lit by the person's wish before you.  However, this game has consequences and as time goes on, the way it must end will not work for these star-crossed lovers or for those who call the Circus home. It is time to change how the game is played.

So, I want to crawl into this book and never come out. It is almost torture to know I can’t visit the Circus! And, I think it is the smells Morgenstern is careful to waft through her writing that make me long for it the most. I remember one of the first short stories I ever wrote for a class, my dad read it and handed back to me and said, “you’re missing smells.” And he was right, a smell is a memory and we associate smells with so much more than just the object that creates it. A smell immediately draws a reader into the world they are reading about. Morgenstern’s book is autumnal; caramel apples and popcorn, crisp cool nights where bonfire smoke drifts through the sky and hot cocoa warms your hands are the smells of the Circus and you are there now, aren’t you? There is magic in nights like that and the smells of the Circus are key to its inhabitants. When the smell is not right, that is when you know something has gone very wrong.  

I love all the characters in this book, even the ones I am not supposed to like.  Celia is ethereal and yet as strong as steel, a dreamer who finds herself trapped in a game. Marco is more practical, a student who plays the game for her always. There are the twins, born the opening night of the Circus and affected by its magic in unforeseen ways. Hector, Celia’s despicable father who gets his just desserts in the end I think and yet I enjoy his oily appearances to torture his daughter, and Lafevre, the owner of the Circus who comes to be imprisoned by his own creation. They are tragic and yet wonderful and you are pulling for a happy ending so hard that you can’t read the text fast enough, hoping that Morgenstern is cleverer than you, that she has figured out a way to save this world she created from breaking apart though you yourself can’t see the way.

Needless to say, this book has made it onto my to-buy list, a feat few books do these days. My shelf space is precious but this book has more than earned its spot. As fall comes, and I have a feeling it will be a very odd fall for me (palm fronds don't exactly turn red, orange and yellow and then fall off), I will pull this book out and wrap myself in its crisp autumn nights with bonfires and caramel popcorn and hot cocoa and visit the Circus once more.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Hello Tallahassee!

I made it! Another cross country move later, I have officially relocated to Tallahassee, Florida. I don't have much else to report yet. I haven't been here a week and I'm finding my way through my first week of work at a new (HUGE) university. On the plus side, I've only gotten lost once so far and that is because I managed to type the wrong address into my GPS after triple checking that it was right (go me!). I have managed to find a really tasty fish sandwich though at Barnacle Bill's (the name caught the eye, the delicious food meant I'd actually go back).

My first impressions is that it rains a lot here. Even as I type this it is pouring down rain faster than I thought possible accompanied with thunder that is shaking the building. And yet I can see blue sky from where I sit...The old saying of if you don't like the weather just wait 15 minutes is actually true here! The rest of the country, the portion I just drove through over four days, is in drought and I'm under flash flood warnings here. A bit of a different world. Also, the humidity, heavens have I missed you! Walking out of the library is like hitting a brick wall of heavy air and I love it. I don't think my hair does but I rejoice. I'm certainly not cold around here. Unless I happen to be in a building because apparently if the A/C is on around here, it must be set permanently on the Arctic setting. So I wear a sweater all day and take it off to go outside. Talk about a reversal of the norm! 

I am still getting settled in my apartment and it will take longer than planned. The moving company managed to get all of my belongings here and if it was in a box, it was mostly in one piece. If it was furniture however, it was apparently free game. I lost both my bookshelves and my desk so it will take me awhile to replace those as well as hunt down a new sofa for the apartment. My living room currently looks very sad. I also have all my Christmas boxes stuffed into a corner of my dining room as I have to get plastic bins for them before I can move them out into my storage closet off the patio. BUT I have my own washer and dryer and a walk in closet big enough to be a guest room if I wanted. It certainly blows Harry Potter's Cupboard Under the Stairs out of the water. There is also a pool though I haven't been in the apartment (and without rain) long enough to do more than run up and take a picture of it. Even when I did that the storm clouds were rolling in. 

I am hoping this weekend to get out and explore. I know I want to check out the movie theater (I found one closer to my apartment than I thought!) and maybe head up to see the other mall in town where Barnes & Noble's lives. I also need to try to dig up the second hand bookstore in this town as well as the library branch down on my side of town. As I won't have cable/internet installed until the 18th, I have to find some way to entertain myself!

Monday, July 30, 2012

A New Adventure...

So, one of the reasons I haven't been writing very much on the blog in the last few months was I have been busy getting ready for a move. Two and half years ago, I started an adventure. I moved to North Dakota in the middle of winter to start my first digital library job out of grad school. I had no idea what I was getting myself into - I learned more about myself and my skills in one month here than I ever had before. I have certainly grown up a lot since moving out here and I am thankful for the time I've had. But, it's time to start the next adventure.

Later this week, I say goodbye to North Dakota and make another big cross country move to Florida. I am excited to be moving back to the east coast, closer to family and friends who live in that part of the country and to be starting a new and challenging job at Florida State University. I will be taking everything I've learned over the past few years and using it in a new setting, hopefully to great success. I'll also be learning again, which is always a good thing, and sharing my adventures in my new city with family, friends and anyone else who cares to join in!


Friday, July 27, 2012

Visiting the Park that Walt Built

Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland

One of my favorite questions to ponder when I visit my home away from home, Walt Disney World, is what would Walt think of his Florida Project today? What would he think of how they "translated" EPCOT, of Hollywood Studios, of Animal Kingdom? It's a fun exercise but we'll never know the answer like we do when it comes to its Southern California counterpart.

One of the pilgrimages every good Disney geek needs to make is to the park that Walt built, Disneyland. It's the one park we have that is stamped by Walt in every way, the one that started it all. I've been begging to go for years - insisting the photos from the one time I had been there at 18 months old were doctored. I was apparently miserable on that trip; I wouldn't let a character near me for a picture and the one of Mom and me and Donald, I am crying my little heart out. Luckily, I grew out of that quickly in time for my first trip to Walt Disney World a year later. So, going back to Disneyland has been a dream and finally, about a month after visiting my home parks in Florida, I got to go back to Disneyland.

It was work that gave me the excuse to go. I was presenting at ALA Annual which was being held in the Anaheim Convention Center, literally across the street from Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure. I wasn't staying on property but I could see California Screamin' from my hotel room window, which leads to my first impression of the resort, how small it was and how on top of everything it was. In Walt Disney World (WDW), once you're on property, you're in an area controlled by the Imagineers. You see what they want you to see, nothing more. They could do that in Florida because of the lessons learned in Disneyland. It also blew my mind to see the two parks directly across from each other - five minutes and you could walk from one and into the other. I sort of missed the anticipation of having to climb onto a bus to switch parks, the special moment as you have to walk up to the entrance for the next one you want to explore. Downtown Disney is also right there, next to the two park entrances and it's more like Universal CityWalk than its Orlando counterpart. I liked its atmosphere though; made walking through it to get to the parks fun rather than overwhelming.

Disneyland was the park I was most excited to see. Sure, California Adventure was an entirely new park to me but again, it wasn't the park that Walt built, it wasn't the one I'd really come to see. With Disneyland, I would have a chance to see a park that we know exactly what Walt thought about it. I'd get to see the Firehouse with the light on, alerting everyone that Walt was "home," the original Tiki Room, the original Haunted Mansion. I could pay my respects to Mr. Toad one more time and ride the Matterhorn after exploring Toontown. I could also, finally, get a good look at Sleeping Beauty Castle.

My first look of the castle though was rather rushed. Thanks to a disorganized shuttle company, we needed to run to make our Blue Bayou lunch reservation. My first reaction to the Castle was literally "oh look - the Castle! Excuse me, where is the Blue Bayou restaurant?" It wasn't until after I was stuffed with a Monte Cristo that I got my first really good look. I'd always been told it was small and of course I'd seen pictures but I'd never really understood how small until I was standing in front of it. My picture from one end of Main Street, you can barely tell there IS a castle there. But all of Main Street USA compensates, it is all built on a smaller scale - like its been slightly miniaturized from what I am used to seeing. The Castle itself was just...cute. Like the sort of castle you dream of as a kid, quaint approachable - all good fairy tales come to life. Cinderella Castle can look imposing; Sleeping Beauty Castle looks like a place to explore. Fitting it is the one with the walk through attraction in it.

All of Disneyland is like that - smaller scale than I was used to but approachable, welcoming, quaint - full of nooks and crannies to discover and explore. I fell in love with New Orleans Square, lots of courtyards and stores tucked into corners and it empties out at the Rivers of America where the Haunted Mansion and Big Thunder Mountain sit on opposite sides than where I expect them to be. I actually spent a lot of my time in Disneyland going in the wrong direction. Its familiarity was disconcerting. I'd think "I know where that is" only to realize it's not even in the same land as in the Magic Kingdom. Not only were things in different places, they weren't even in the right park! There is an Innoventions in Disneyland, a Star Tours too, both sitting in Tomorrowland and confusing me but it was fun to see how they fit into the Magic Kingdom park rather than in Epcot or Hollywood Studios. I think my favorite Disneyland ride had to be Indiana Jones Adventure. I had so much fun both times  rode it, laughing and enjoying its effects. It's the same ride vehicle as Dinosaur but I thought used to much better advantage in this attraction. I also loved the fireworks at Disneyland and was sad they don't have the soundtrack for them available for purchase (Surprised too, Disney doesn't usually miss a chance to sell you something) but seeing Tinkerbelle and Dumbo zoom around Sleeping Beauty Castle was so neat and the fireworks are huge! I realize its because they have to set them off much closer than they do in the parks in Florida but it was wild to see!
Carthay Circle Theater and Fountain in DCA

I did of course go over to California Adventure too - I had to see its new attractions though going a few weeks after the opening of Cars Land meant about a billion other people are there with you. I adored the Buena Vista Street area; it reminds me of how Hollywood Studios used to be before they built that awful hat in front of the replica of the Chinese Theater. It even has Streetmosphere people wandering around and a snappy newsboy show that is clearly playing on the current popularity of Newsies but I not going to complain - I do love me some singing, dancing boys. Cars Land is impressive; what I could see of it through the crowds anyway. It literally feels like you walked into the movie and the details are all there from the different "houses" of the characters to the statue of the founder, Stanley, sitting at the end of the street. I only got to ride its main attraction, Radiator Springs Racers as its single rider line was a fairly reasonable wait (about 45 minutes when we joined it, 60 minutes when we got off the attraction - considering the main line was never below three hours and fast passes were always gone while I was there, it's the only way I was getting on it). Racers is so much fun! Its story is great, the theming out of this world and the end "race" with another car full of guests is a blast. My only complaint is how short it was. If I'd waited three hours for it, I think I might have been a bit steamed. The other two rides didn't have single rider lanes and I wasn't going to wait an hour for them when I had so much to see and do. I kept telling myself it was another reason to go back! I also got to ride the Little Mermaid ride which is coming to WDW in the new Fantasyland expansion. It was so colorful and fun and hey, any excuse to sing along in a ride, I'll take it! As I didn't visit California Adventure back before a lot of its face lift was completed, I can't compare but this definitely seemed like an all-day park to me, especially since you'll be waiting for the three rides in Cars Land for most of it! Also, World of Color? A. MAZ. ING. And has fast passes - brilliant! I didn't have to stake out a good spot hours before the show, I could ride rides up until about 30 minutes before then proceed to my designated spot for the show, front and center (but back enough so I didn't get wet at all). Seriously, Disney needs to get on that for its night shows in FL, it made life so much easier and let me enjoy the park a lot longer than I could have otherwise.

Overall, I enjoyed my visit out to the park that Walt built and its next door neighbor. I didn't get to see everything and lines meant I missed out on certain things (like Space Mountain and the Matterhorn as they was either down or the wait too outrageous every time I was near them) but like I said, just another reason to go back!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Couple of ARC Reviews

Among other exciting things going on in my life, I attended my first ALA Annual this year where I presented on digital libraries with my good friend Julie Judkins. The bonus was the conference happened to be across the street (literally) from Disneyland but more about that later this week.

One of the fun things about ALA is its exhibit hall where publishers come to share their upcoming publications with the thousands of librarians who attend the event. ARCs, or Advanced Reader Copy, are just how they do that and it is a sight to see the ARCs stacked in piles in the publishers' booths. Some take tons of ARCs during their time at ALA, so much so that there is a temporary post office set up on the exhibit floor so that people can ship things home as needed. However, I did not need the post office as I kept to books I thought I would enjoy and that I would like to review to get the word out about them which meant I only came home with about 10 new books to read. I was impressed with myself because the temptation to grab up books like candy is there.

I also got two books signed. The Disney geek in me squealed when I got to meet Dave Smith, Disney Archivist Emeritus and have him sign his new book, Disney Trivia from the Value: Secrets Revealed and Questions Answered. The next day, I got to meet R. L. LaFevers, author of the Theodosia books that I adore and she signed the first book in her new series, Grave Mercy (a completely fabulous read about a female assassin in medieval France). It was fun to get to meet authors and talk with them about their books and work. But enough about that, I've finished three of the ARCs I brought back so I wanted to share my thoughts.

In Need of a Good Wife, Kelly O'Connor McNees

From Goodreads
The first sentence on the back of this book included mail-order brides so I knew I needed to read it. I love arranged marriage/marriage of convenience stories. I know most of them have major women's issues in them as well but I still love them - I figure a guilty reading pleasure is OK to have. McNees' story follows a group of New York City women as they journey to Destination, Nebraska and their future husbands. Three of the group are the focus for the narrative: the women who came up with the plan, a woman trying to escape debt and an older immigrant who is just coming to be a housekeeper. They find life on the frontier to be anything but what they expected and each faces her own trials upon arrival. As I said in my Goodreads review, I am ambivalent about this book. I liked the premise of it but the narrative was very fractured; I think the author tried to use way too many points of view. It would have been stronger if she had chosen one protaginist to focus on for the entirety of the story. The three main women are approachable, representing various points on a morality scale and quite black and white which makes them interesting, but not intriguing. In fact, all her characters are black and white; the "villain" of the town was like something out of a Saturday morning cartoon. The religious undertones are clear but not overwhelming and McNees brings it across strongest in her most likable character so I didn't mind that aspect as much as I could have.

Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling: A Novel, Michael Boccacino

From Goodreads
Charlotte Markham has been followed by Death all her life. Now a governess for two boys whose mother has recently died, she thinks that perhaps she has no one left for Death to come for..until her good friend and the boys' nanny is found brutally murdered on the grounds of the estate and suddenly there is a door into the House of Darkling where the boys' mother is waiting for them. The boys' mother  has made a deal with the master of the house for a second chance at motherhood but the more time she spends in Darkling, the more Charlotte is worried about the game she's gotten them all into. This is a delightfully creepy gothic fantasy tale with a likable heroine and fantastic visuals. Boccoacino's imagination is a fun curiosity cabinet of the amazing and grotesque and he's able to envelope those visuals into an interesting story, full of adventure and mystery. I would perhaps have wished for a more drawn out ending, the story seems to end abruptly and there are times I wish he'd spent a little less time describing the setting and more on the story and character development but overall, the atmosphere of this book is too wonderfully rendered to lament a little less character development.

The Midwife of Hope River, Patricia Harman

From Goodreads
I was iffy about this book; midwifery isn't really an interest but it was in my bag at the HarperCollins preview so I figured if it had their stamp of approval it must be good. And it was; I haven't like a book this much in a long time. Patience Murphy is a midwife in rural West Virginia. Her past is violent and tragic and she's been running from it for a long time. The book opens as she delivers the child of a mine owner of Liberty, West Virginia the day after the stock market crashed in 1929. The book is Patience's journal over the next year as loss and love comes into her life and with the crash, the mines shut down, racial tensions rise and people looking for work pass through Liberty at an alarming rate. I kind of loved Patience. She is too naive at times but the book always acknowledged that shortcoming by its other characters. Patience perhaps had too much tragedy in her life but she's fictional so I forgave her for the backstory that seems to have one tragic event after another. I think because of that backstory, her naiveté was charming, rather than annoying. She'd had so many awful things happen to her and seen so many terrible things but she was still naive, and I think hopeful, about the human character. All the characters in this work were likable and relatable; all had their secrets and their backstories, making them multi-dimenstional and also active characters throughout the story. Harman handled her large cast well which isn't always the case with authors who'll forget about characters sometimes in a large cast. I rooted for Patience - sympathized with her and liked that common sense always won out with her. She's the first main character in awhile that I never really wanted to reach in and smack at any point and if she did start to get ridiculous, one of the other characters would call her out on it. I like an author who understands her character that well but also the audience. The story itself is fairly predictable really but I loved the characters and the setting Harman put them in so much, I wanted the happy ending I could see coming a mile off.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Orzo with Chicken and Asiago Cheese

I really started to cook well for myself after my summer in DC. My cousin Kathy and her husband were nice enough to let me stay with them that summer while I completed an internship at the Smithsonian Institute Archives. Kathy and Scott are both doctors who have busy lives (even busier now with their son Jackson) so Kathy was very good about meal planning. It was Kath who taught me some of my favorite recipes - recipes that can last me a week if I double them or dishes that freeze well for nights when I don't feel like cooking. This recipe is one of my all time favorites.

Orzo with Chicken and Asiago is quick and easy to make and only requires one pot to make so an easy clean-up. I also like the nice zing the spices add to this dish, making it something different from my normal fare. Also, handily, this is not a picky recipe. I haven't been able to find straight asiago cheese where I live but a shredded Italian blend from Walmart that includes asiago does the trick. I also find this is a great summer dish as it cooks fast and doesn't need the oven so the kitchen doesn't have time to get hot.

Orzo with Chicken and Asiago Cheese
1 cup water
1 can (16 oz.) of chicken broth
12 oz. skinned chicken breasts, cut into bite size pieces
1 1/4 cups uncooked orzo
1 cup frozen green peas, thawed
1/2 cup (2 oz.) grated asiago cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary, basil or oregano (I prefer oregano)
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1) combine water and broth in a pan over heat; bring to boil
2) Add chicken and pasta; bring to boil
3) Reduce heat; simmer 12 minutes, stirring occassionally
4) Remove from heat; stir in peas, 1/4 cheese cheese, salt, herbs and pepper
5) Top each serving with 1 tablespoon of cheese

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Ah, the Classics

It is my tradition that when I have a Disney trip coming up, I watch all my Disney movies before I go. I also get all the Disney movies from the library, and this time Netflix even got into the mix. To me, that is like another countdown as I save my very favorites until right before I go (meaning on the docket this week is Beauty and the Beast, The Princess and the Frog, The Rocketeer and Wall-E). One thing I wanted to do this time was revisit some of the classic Disney films, ones I hadn't watched since I was a child.

From Listal

I started with Dumbo. I have only vague memories of ever watching this film as a kid. Re-watching it, I was touched by the drama of the animation. The storm when they are pitching the circus tent, the fire in Dumbo's clown stunt, the very odd almost Heffalumps and Woozles sequence after Dumbo gets (gasp!) accidentally drunk. The artistry of the film struck me as I know this was not one of Walt Disney's favorite films because of what he saw as a lack of artistry in it (it was essentially only made to make money and that was never something Walt was interested in doing really). This could be because hand drawn animation is becoming more and more a lost art that I just revel in it when I watch it. So that struck me. What also struck me was how...well...politically incorrect it is. The animal cruelty it displays is a bit appalling at times especially in the treatment of Mrs. Jumbo, Dumbo's mother. And I won't touch the singing crows with a ten foot pole. That said, I liked Dumbo. It's a fabulous little movie with a lovely story and great music. The crows that sing it might be questionable but "If I See an Elephant Fly" has to be one of my all-time favorite Disney songs. It's so catchy and bouncy and, English nerd alert, the word play is just plain fun!

From Amazon

I next tackled Bambi, and I do mean tackled. I have memories of sobbing watching this film as a kid because remember, it's me and this is a film where animals will be in peril ergo there will most likely be tears. However, I actually made it through without crying and I think that was because I spent the whole movie waiting for the other shoe to drop if that makes sense. I knew what was coming so I was on pins and needles, steeling myself for it the entire film. The first basically has the two major disasters and the plot works around both of them. It's almost episodic, more along the lines of a Fantasia with the same characters reappearing in each section. Now, in Bambi, hand drawn animation is shown at its finest. It was one of the film they used the multiplane camera on and you can tell they had fun playing and continuing to learn how to best use that camera. The depth of the camera shots is astounding and reminds me a lot of one of my favorite scenes in Beauty and the Beast - the opening shot of the Prince's castle through the forest and over the waterfall - the depth of that scene never fails to capture my imagination and all of Bambi basically had that sort of depth. The story is perhaps not my favorite - it's portrayal of family dynamics was fascinating but very 1940s and I won't even go into the ridiculousness of Bambi's love interest Faline. I didn't think it was possible to want to smack a is. That said, I am in love with Flower - he has officially entered Krystal's Favorite Disney Character Annuals.

From Listal

I finished up with Pinocchio. I distinctly remember not liking this film when I was a kid. I think Pinocchio annoyed me. I was very much a goody-two shoes (still am, let's face it) and Pinocchio's failure to do what he was told at every turn was just irksome, even to my eight year old self. Particularly when he had Jiminy Cricket there telling him that what he was doing was a bad idea (I am very much a fan of Jiminy's - I associate him more with the Disney environmental movement and as the voice of Wishes than I do with his own movie though). I also remember being scared by this film, a lot more than any others we watched when I was young. Not even the evil queen in Snow White could scare me as much as the scenes at Pleasure Island when the boys are all turning into donkeys. However, I am happy to report I liked it on my recent viewing. It will never be my favorite Disney movie - I doubt I'd ever even shell out the money to add it to my movie collection but I appreciated it much more as an adult than as a kid. The storytelling is really quite good - it flows well and it is plausible for Pinocchio to end up where he does at all times. Again, the animation was impressive, particularly the Monstro scenes. A belated kudos to the special effects animation team because those scenes were awesome as were the appearances of the Blue Fairy.

Overall, I was glad I took the time to re-watch these classics and revisit them as I truly don't think I'd watched any of these films since I was 8 or 9 years old. I grew up in the second golden age of animation - I was much more into Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King but as I get older, I can appreciate more the legacy those films fit into. I particularly wanted to watch these films again as these were Walt's films and as I get to (FINALLY) visit the park that Walt built later this year, I wanted to make sure to fit the classics of the first golden age into my schedule. 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Shells with Tomato and Basil

I am a fan of mixes. It should come as no surprise to you that one of my favorite cookbooks is Fast Fixes with Mixes. I like the convenience of mixes as a base to a recipe. It allows me to come home from work and create a meal that looks like it took me a lot longer than it actually did. So I am always on the lookout for new recipes that start from a mix.

This particular recipe is not new. In fact, I've had it for a long time; I think before graduate school even. My grandmother was getting rid of tons of cooking magazines so I stole them all and went through and cut out lots of recipes from them. You will not be surprised that I have rarely made any of them. But on my year long (some what stalled but getting back into it) trek through my own recipes, I decided it was time to make a few. Shells with Tomato and Basil was, I think, pilfered from a Kraft cooking magazine. I guess this only because its base mix is Velveeta Shells and Cheese - the brand is even included in the recipe.

I kind of adored this recipe actually for two reasons. One, it makes a ton of food so I had it for leftovers for three days after I originally made it. Two, it works as a main course or a side dish. The first night I had it with salad and fresh French bread. The second night I had it with baked chicken and peas. The third on its own again. A dish that I can have as leftovers but still add and subtract other dishes to keep it fresh and not repetitive is always a good thing in my book. Bonus? This dish is just...pretty. I do like it when my food is not only tasty but appetizing to look at as well!

See? Pretty and tasty!
Shells with Tomato and Basil
Serves: 6

1 package Velveeta Shells and Cheese
1 medium tomato, chopped (I also took out the seed parts)
2 Tbsp thinly sliced basil leaves
1/2 tsp garlic powder


1) Prepared shells and cheese as package instructs
2) Add remaining ingredients; cook until heated through thoroughly, stirring occasionally 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Hello There Stranger

Life often gets in the way of our best intentions. I was doing so well on my goal of writing once a week on this blog and then work sent me off to Washington DC for three weeks and all of the sudden, I didn’t have a lot of extra time to write anymore. It’s funny; I forget what it’s like to live in a place where I might have friends or family to do things with after work or live in a place where there are places that don’t close at 5PM as I leave the library. Most of the time I don’t miss it – the places to go part anyway. I do miss the people I could meet up with for brunch or have a friend to go to the movies with after work.

I always love going to DC because it is, in a way, like going home. I interned at the Smithsonian Institute as a grad student and my cousins thankfully let me crash at their house for the summer in the Capitol Hill district. If I am ever lucky enough to live in DC again, I’d love to be back in that neighborhood – its old brick houses, parks and scattered businesses seem like they shouldn’t be within walking distance of some of the most powerful places in the United States. One of my favorites things to do after work during that summer was walk back to the house, through the Mall, up the Hill, past the Capitol building and the Library of Congress and back into the residential streets of the Hill. There was a little café I could stop at or a bookstore that looked more like a crammed house of books than a place of business.

I am a museumgoer by nature so DC is a bit of a Mecca for me. I love picking up tidbits and facts and storing them away like a squirrel for winter. Museums, especially the Smithsonian cohort, seem to thrive on the miscellaneous. Why on earth did anyone ever save the paint box one of the Roosevelt kids used while living in the White House? But they did and now it’s proudly on display at the American History Museum. It is times like that in that I think the America’s Attic nickname for the Smithsonian is entirely accurate. 

But the museum I could happily live in, Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler style, is the National Gallery. You can keep the modern side of things – the modern school and me will never get along – but let me dwell in the French Impressionist rooms or the Dutch rooms and I will be one happy woman. I have cheerfully sat and stared at Van Goghs and Mary Cassetts for hours at the National Gallery. Rushed after work to have only 15 minutes before the museum closed to gaze lovingly at Monet’s Japanese Bridge, a bridge I’ve stood on myself way back in high school. These paintings are old friends and ones I sadly did not get to spend a lot of time with this last trip. I need to put aside a day for the National Gallery in the future to get reacquainted.

Of course, I was there for work and that meant spending time at the National Archives and the Library of Congress. Archives II, the behemoth NARA built in College Park, is overwhelming, cold and modern. Its reading room is lovely – huge and glass filled, giving a researcher a look out over a wood. It was easy to daydream in that room though and I found sitting with my back to the window helped my concentration. There was none of the romance of the archives at Archives II but I suppose it is a government repository; there is nothing less romantic than combing through the records of the Commerce Department.

I much preferred my time at Archives I, the downtown showcase building where one can make the pilgrimage to see the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Most of NARA’s military records still call Archives I home and while Theodore Roosevelt’s investigations of navy yards in 1898 might not have been riveting, the old research room with heavy wood paneling and large paned windows made me feel like I had stepped back in time for a moment and the lounging archivists at the desk should be harried looking clerks, pouring over ledgers and wearing frock coats instead of wearing jeans and hooked into their iPods.

Library of Congress’s manuscripts reading room at the Madison building reminded me of my elementary school library. I swear they had the same green carpeting. It was a room that could bustle quietly as microfilm readers scroll and archivists fetch and roll out four boxes for researchers at a time. The noise was never obtrusive; reminded me of comforting study halls in the spring when you were just starting to get the sense that the school year did have an ending. Up in the Prints and Photographs division, that feeling was even stronger as I sat at a larger table that looked transplanted from a public library and dug through photographs of the Roosevelt family on vacation or on safari or flipped through stereographs in filing cabinets, a stones throw away from an old-school card catalog.

Of all the places I researched at in DC, I loved LC the most. The materials here were the sort you pour over, wanting to read more (if you can decipher the writer’s hand well enough). These are the materials you become an archivist for; the handwritten letters and diaries, the ephemera that has no right to have made it from 1906 to 2012 and yet somehow managed it. A digital librarian I may be, and I love what my work can do for people around the world, but to my mind, there will always be something…something more…about holding and interacting with the actual item that the digital realm can never quite hope to replicate. I am a digital brat but a little piece of my heart will always be analog.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Pumpkin Cornbread

I love cornbread. And pretty much anything that includes pumpkin. So, this recipe was a no brainer for me to try. I tried it with a main dish that fell flat but this was waiting for me - still warm, moist, lots of pumpkiny goodness. Made my night instantly better. That and Kermit and Miss Piggy made an appearance at the Oscars...still bummed they didn't get to perform "Man or Muppet." back to the cornbread, top it with some honey or maple syrup, and you have a lovely treat for a cold night.

I used honey for my topper; maple syrup adds a touch more sweetness than honey

1 cup flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup cornmeal
2 eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/4 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp molasses

1) Preheat oven to 400F and grease an 8x8 baking dish
2) In  medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, spices, brown sugar, and cornmeal
3) In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs and then stir in the pumpkin, oil and molasses
4) Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients just until combined, and then pour the batter into the pan, smoothing out the top as much as possible
5) Bake 30 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean

Serve warm with honey or maple syrup

Recipe from Tasty Kitchen

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Happiest Millionaire

I grew up on a healthy dose of the classic live-action Disney films. I can quote The Apple Dumpling Gang verbatim and still prefer the original Escape to Witch Mountain than any remake they've done since. I was, however, not a big fan of the Love Bug movies - weird I know. I somehow missed The Happiest Millionaire until now. My sister should be pleased - she would have hated it. Me, on the other hand, I would have dug up the soundtrack and driven my parents crazy singing "Fortuosity" continuously while wishing I could have a pet alligator.

The Happiest Millionaire tells the story of the eccentric Biddle family, millionaires in 1916 Philadelphia. As the story opens, a new butler, John Lawless joins the family and Cordy, their teenaged daughter is having trouble growing up when her Father won't let her. So, Cordy goes off to a girls' school, falls in love with a car happy young man from New York and then chaos ensues as the wedding approaches when their two very different families clash.

The look of this film was so familiar - it's a musical in the best of traditions. The sets look like a cross between My Fair Lady and Hello, Dolly! In fact, the opening number "Fortuosity" has a dance routine to it that was a cross between Kelly's "Singin' in the Rain" number and a little bit of "Elegance" from Hello, Dolly! The songs, written by the Sherman Brothers, are fun and engaging and I really enjoyed the casting. Fred MacMurray is perfect as the irate yet loveable Father, a much more huggable Rex Harrison-type. Lesley Ann Warren made her screen debut in this film; while I loved her as Cordy, I just kept seeing her as Miss Scarlett.

The length of the film was daunting; I was impressed by the attention spans of kids in the 60s. The film even includes an overture, intermission and entr'acte - its set-up was a lot like The Great Race which is also marathon length (but so worth it if only for the characters Jack Lemmon plays and an epic food fight). However, at no point does the film drag which, at almost 3 hours, is impressive. However, it's worth the commitment. The last 30 minutes of the film are the best part, including a dancing sequence in a small, crowded bar, that as a choreographed scene, is extremely well done. I know I sound like a dance geek and a musical nerd, which I am, but I think anyone could enjoy this film. So don't be intimidated with the length, make a batch of popcorn and resign yourself to humming "Fortuosity" for the next week.   

Thursday, February 23, 2012


From Goodreads
Few books are improved upon once they become films. It is the book lover's lament; films rarely live up to our expectations. Beloved characters are twisted, plot lines ignored or changed as to be unrecognizable. Sometimes, if you love a book enough, watching a poor Hollywood adaptation can be painful. Now sometimes I break my own rule and see the movie long before the book finds its way to me. On most of those occasions, I find the book to still be infinitely better than the film. Gives me more insight into the characters, gives me more adventures that had to be left out of the movie. Stardust was one of those few books however that was actually better as a film.

Stardust is the story of Tristran Thorn who grows up in a town called Wall, so named for the wall that the townspeople guard between reality and Faerie. In love with the town's beauty who expects to marry much better than a shop-boy, Tristran promises to cross the wall and bring her back a fallen star they saw. However, surprisingly, the fallen star is a person, Yvaine and is less than enthusiastic about being given as a wedding present. However, witches are hunting the fallen star, so sticking together, Yvaine start their journey back to Wall. It involves witches and pirates and homicidal princes. Fun times all around.

So, I adore this film and have since I first saw it in the theaters. Reading the book this week, I find the casting spot on, the story enchanting and the quirky characters added or augmented from the book to be just right. Quite frankly, the characters are more likable and better developed in the film than in the book. Tristran and Yvaine in the book are sort of tedious and I wasn't quite sure if they ever even liked each other, even once they were together. They also don't seem to grow as much in the book or they grow and it's unbelievable. This was one relationship that needed some Hollywood finessing to make me care what happened to them. Bonus, the pirate captain is ten times cooler in the film than in the book - making him more eccentric and important in the film was a good call for all the characters.
Image from LiveJournal

Most of the major plotlines were in both book and film but the witches were less frightening in the book, rather a letdown after the awesome battle scene you get in the film. They just sort of fade away in the book; Yvaine even kisses one goodbye. Also, the king storyline in the book wasn't as interesting. I liked how the film made the ghostly princes a touch of comic relief and there resolution was also much more clear in the film than in the book.

The book was just a lot...less than the film if that makes sense. Gaiman's writing is always engaging and quirky so Stardust is fun to read but it's not as much fun as the film.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Afternoon Tea

I fell in love with tea while I studied in England. Those pesky British make sure you are addicted to cream teas from the second you land. Finding a decent afternoon tea stateside isn't always the easiest though. So, I resigned myself to missing afternoon tea. Then, last time I was down in Walt Disney World, I dragged my mother to afternoon tea at the Grand Floridian and remembered what all the fuss was about. So, when it came time for my birthday, something I haven't paid much attention to the last few years, I decided to have a tea party. As well as being an excuse to read lots of fun tea cookbooks, and start a places to have tea bucket list, it also meant I could try out a recipe I'd been holding onto for years. Sally Lunn's is a famous tea shop in Bath, where I lived while in England. The shop is famous for Sally Lunn buns and it was only a few months after I got back to the States that a blog I followed posted a recipe for the famous Sally Lunn buns. However, I never really had any reason to make them. Until now.

I have lots of recipes to share from my afternoon tea but most are ones you can find in any decent tea cookbook. Jam cookies, cucumber sandwiches and a fabulous honey spice cake (which led to me have a fight with a bundt cake pan but that is neither here nor there). One thing I did learn from putting on afternoon tea is why it fell out of popularity when people stopped keeping cooks. It takes a LOT of work to put one of these together on your own. It was fun but I think next time I'll just find a nice tea shop.

My afternoon tea spread
The Sally Lunn buns are just behind the strawberries. I made clotted cream to go with them and served them with the choice of raspberry or strawberry jam. Of everything I made for the tea, the Sally Lunns were actually the easiest and baked the best in my oven. They baked up nice and golden and tasted exactly like they should have.

Sally Lunn buns with Clotted Cream

4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/4 tsp. (1 package) instant yeast
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
4 large eggs
1 cup milk

1) In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, yeast, and salt. In small saucepan, melt butter.
2) With electric mixer, beat eggs until fluffy and pale lemon yellow, about 5 minutes. Add milk and beat until smooth, about 1 minute.
3) By hand with dough whisk or wooden spoon, add the flour mixture to the egg mixture in three additions, alternating with the melted butter and beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Cover mixture and place in refrigerator for at least 24 hours or up to three days
4) When ready to bake, remove dough from refrigerator. Stir down the dough, just a few strokes, with a wooden spoon.
5) With a 1/4 measuring cup, scoop dough into well-greased or cooking sprayed standard muffin tins.
6) Lightly butter a sheet of plastic wrap and place, buttered side down, over the buns. Let rise until puffy but likely not doubled in volume, about 1 1/2 hours. During last 15 minutes, preheat oven to 375F
7) Uncover the buns. Bake at 375 about 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Turn the buns out of the tins and cool on wire racks. Serve warm or cool completely and then store.

Clotted Cream

1 cup heavy cream
2 Tbsp confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature

1) In a small bowl, using an electric mixer, combine heavy cream and sugar. Whip until stiff peaks form.
2) Gently fold in sour cream and mix until very thick
3) Place in refrigerator and chill until time to serve