Monday, April 29, 2013


I grew up with lots of animals around. I don't remember a time when my family didn't have a pet of some kind. Dogs, hamsters, horses, cats, lizards, fish, rabbits - you name it, we probably had it at some point. I was also lucky enough to have an awesome fifth grade teacher who kept a Florida King snake in the classroom. We fostered baby snapping turtles that year too. I love animals of all kinds. So, not being able to have one around on a daily basis for almost three years was rather cruel. Where I lived before heading south didn't allow pets and there wasn't a lot of options in the apartment market there. So, when I knew I was moving, finding an apartment that would let me have a pet was essential.

Now, I think I am naturally more of a dog person. I think that is because my first best friend was a dog. Luk was the best friend a girl could ask for - I could do anything to that dog and he'd let me with this very patient, slightly pained look in his eyes. However, my mom put her foot down about another dog and it took me a few years to talk the parents into a cat. Me being me I chose a cat breed that grows to the size of a small dog (do you see what I did there?) I love big animals in general - I always have. Make of that what you will. However, I couldn't see bringing a dog into my tiny apartment and then making it be cooped up all day while I was at work. A cat is more self-sufficient; more willing to be queen and rule the roost than a dog so a cat fits into my lifestyle better now.

After a series of delays, I finally brought home a cat at the beginning of April. I got Brie, my adorable little black shorthair, from the shelter. I've never actually been to one which I think was a good call. About five seconds in there was heartbreaking. Little Brie was just waking up from her spay surgery earlier in the day but she came right over to the cage door to say hello to me. She was tiny - they think she is about 7-8 months old and hasn't quite grown into her ears yet. I took her out and played with her for a bit. I had to try to keep her from jumping or being too active since she was just out of surgery but I liked her and I decided to stick with her. Taking another cat out just would have made things worse for my decision making skills.

Brie has adjusted well so far; it's clear she's never been inside a house before and trying to teach her to not jump up on the kitchen table or kitchen counters isn't going that smoothly but she'll get the hang of being a house cat. When I first got her, she was by far the most zen cat I'd ever had. She rarely startled or jumped at things and just always wanted attention. She then fell ill with a massive cold. Poor thing just slept constantly and sniffled and sneezed and coughed if she was awake. I am happy to report she is definitely feeling better and acting much more like cats I am used to. She is playful and haughty and wants attention only when it is her idea and even then she might suddenly decide your hand is more fun as a toy than something to pet her. We need to work a bit on not using Krystal's feet as toys whenever she walks but we'll get there. I am just happy that she is adjusting well. I'm sure I'll be sharing more exploits in the future but in the meantime, everyone meet Brie!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

84, Charing Cross Road

There is something delicious with books about books. Forget the metaness of it for the moment. It's like reading a book by the one person in the world who gets you. A person who understands the mystery and romance and adventure that can be held between covers and 300 pages. I have always loved books that explore the reader, that gives the reader the sense that they are enjoying a story written by someone who should be their new best friend. I love all books of course; however a book that loves books as much as I do gets its own category. Literally. I have an entire shelf on Goodreads entitled books-about-books. It ranges from the scholarly explorations of reader response and histories of books and readers to fiction that lives and breathes book culture. There is nothing more disappointing than finding a book in that category that mislead you. That was supposed to revel in books and then just doesn't (I am looking at you Time Traveler's Wife. I tossed you against a wall and hurried to donate you for lots of reasons but your lack of book love when one of your main characters is a librarian was nothing sort of despicable to my mind). If you can find a book that stars a bookstore on top of readers and their books, you have hit the jackpot and that book must be savored. 84, Charing Cross Road is one of these gems.

From Goodreads
Helene Hanff is a struggling writer in 1950 New York City and laments the lack of easy to get English Literature. She finds her way to writing to a bookstore at 84, Charing Cross Road in London and so begins this epistolary novel in which Helene and Frank Doehl, the worker at the bookstore who responds to her orders, develop a close relationship over several decades. The novel is a quick read; I believe I read it in one evening but not because I was not savoring it. Helene and I might not share the love of the same kinds of literature but our love of books as a thing, of reading as an activity and of London as a place made me feel like I'd found a soul mate. This is a book that celebrates so many "endangered" communication methods - mail by post, packages literally tied with string, and books of the leather bound, beautiful paper variety. While I think books as objects aren't quite as close to obsolescence as some people lament, they are a form of communication at a moment of crisis and I can't help but wonder what Helene or Frank would think of where we are in the ebook debate.

After I had enjoyed the book one rainy evening, I discovered there had been a movie made starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins. While the fact an epistolary novel was turned into a movie gave me pause, I was curious enough about how they did it to check the film out through Netflix. I am glad I did. Bancroft and Hopkins perfectly portray how I imagined the rather abrupt and ornery Helene and the very proper and upright, yet with that sneaking British sense of humor, Frank would be. I especially loved that the script very much used the letters in the book for the dialogue. Bancroft is especially strong when addressing her letters directly to the camera, as if she was speaking directly to Frank. Post-war London was depicted as both resilient and yet still recovering form the long years of war and deprivation which post war New York is both quaint and yet bustling - showing the major metropolis it would become so quickly in the 1950s and 1960s. It was a New York I think I would like better than the modern version.

I would recommend the book, it's such an approachable read, but if you must, at least watch the film. It is a charming romance between people and books an ocean apart.

Friday, April 5, 2013

A Visit to Maclay Gardens

It had been cold and gross in Tallahassee for about a week. I know, all my Northeastern readers are crying foul since apparently they are still in the dead of winter in April. I remember those winters. They are not fun. Which is another reason on my growing list I am very happy to call Florida home now. So, this past weekend when the weather finally decided to be sunny and 80 again, I decided to take myself off early and do some exploring at Maclay Gardens.

The House Path leading from the Front Gate
Now, if I'd done a little more homework before I went, I would have realized the state park, which the Gardens is a part of, was hosting a triathlon that morning. Though it was winding down by the time I arrived, it made for a crowded entrance to the park. However, once I was parked and into the Gardens area, I found it to be quiet and serene. I started out walking directly to the house at the tip of the Gardens. However, the House path travels alongside the lake so I took lots of detours to the lake edge, running into some turtles sunning themselves in the perfect morning sun.

Found some new friends lakeside

Once up at the house, a docent gave me a welcoming spiel of history surrounding the Maclay family, how they came into the area and how the house and its gardens were donated to the city. The house is half museum, half still kept decorated as the family had it when they lived there. The museum exhibits were a bit outdated and faded in places but full of good information about the family and the flowers I would see in the surrounding gardens.

The House itself is quite small; of course there was a separate house for the kids!

After the house, you enter the gardens proper. The path from the house leads directly to the Walled Garden which is when I wanted to move in. It was like something out of The Secret Garden. Though small, it embodied all you'd want to find in a walled garden: a fountain, lots of flowers, trees growing out and overhanging, benches, a secret corner. It was awesome; a childhood dream come to life. Stepping out of the garden, you find a long reflecting pool leading back down to the lake. When I visited, there was a young woman having pictures taken in an old fashioned costume along the reflecting pool.

From the Fountain in the Walled Garden to the Reflecting Pool and the Lake Beyond

Once you're past the reflecting pool, the trails get a little more wild, more like nature trails than garden paths. I did run into another bricked path that ran along a pond for a little while but that faded out once I reached the azalea patches and the Oriental tree grove. It was also about this time I realized I should have brought bug spray...the mosquitos were out in full force. Following one path after another, I found my way out at the main entrance to the Gardens again.

The only bricked path beyond the Walled Garden runs along a pond

I did explore a little more on the Native Plants trail which lead me down towards the lake again but at this point the bugs won the battle and I decided to come back another day to explore more of those trails. Despite the mosquitos, I adored the Gardens. I could have explored a lot longer as paths just seemed to go in every direction. Though I don't think you could get lost, you could definitely spend more than the few hours I did seeing what's down each of them. Also, afterwards, treat yourself to a cupcake at Lucy and Leo's Cupcakery as I did. It was, as luck would have it, on the way back to my apartment!