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