I’ve been trying to get to a hot air balloon festival for a couple years, and we finally had a chance to go to the WRAL Freedom Balloon Fest over Memorial Day weekend.

I wandered around open-mouthed with childlike awe, which amused the Hubs. Due to some incoming weather, the festival wasn’t able to hold the mass ascension as planned, but we did still get to enjoy the balloon glow as all of the balloons fired their burners simultaneously after the sun went down.

Balloon rides weren’t possible due to impending inclement weather, but even if the weather had permitted, we would’ve had to skip that due to cost. Rides were $300 per person, which sounded absurdly exorbitant to me until someone pointed out the astronomical cost of purchasing, maintaining, flying, and insuring a hot air balloon.

Admission to the festival was free, however, and parking ranged from free to $20 depending on how far you were willing to walk. We love a good hike, so the mile-and-a-quarter walk to ensure free parking was worth it. I highly recommend checking out the festival next year–it was such a magical experience!


Most of you who have read my books know that my first novella was published in Five Glass Slippers, the first Rooglewood Press anthology. Winning the contest gave me my start and launched the rest of the The Cendrillon Cycle; that single event has had the greatest impact on my writing.

Now Rooglewood Press is inviting YOU to join in their final creative writing contest for the Five Poisoned Apples anthology. If you’ve ever toyed with the idea of submitting an entry for the previous contests but did not, don’t hesitate this time: do it. This contest is an amazing opportunity for writers, whether brand new or established. Click here for the contest details!

And just check out this gorgeous cover, folks.


Learn more about the photographer, Wynter Clark, here at her website. Julia Popova has done all of the covers for the Rooglewood Press anthologies (Five Glass Slippers, Five Enchanted Roses, and Five Magic Spindles), and more of her beautiful work is here on her website.

Now go get busy writing your very own retelling of Snow White…

As you may recall, last June I dyed my hair with Kool Aid for a Lady Macbeth costume.

Unfortunately, the darned stuff never did come out, contrary to expectations. The red did fade over the first few months, but after that it just…stayed. I tried everything I could think of to get my original color back, short of dying it over again. After 10 months, I figured it was permanent. Once my hair reaches knee-length, I usually chop a foot off and sell it anyway since it becomes difficult to manage. This seemed as good of a time as any. The Hubs reluctantly cut 14 inches at my request so I would be able to grow the red out a bit faster. Don’t worry; as you can see from the “after” picture below on the left, the hair is still long enough to have its own zip code.

Still a few years of red to grow out, as you can see even with the hair being wet. Alas, I was not able to get much money for this sad little amputated limb of hair this time around due to the Kool Aid (grr), but I’m enjoying my new haircut.

We’ve been taking full advantage of strawberry season in spite of a lot of rain in this area. This time we headed out to Vollmer Farm in Bunn for our fruit marauding.

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He was the one who wanted to go, I promise.

We also took ridiculous advantage of Teacher Appreciation Day last week. My husband’s haul included the following:

  • Free chicken sandwich at Chik-fil-A
  • Buy one, get one free burritos at Chipotle
  • Free chicken meal at Zaxby’s
  • Free chicken sandwich at a different Chik-fil-A

Look, North Carolina consistently scores as one of the worst states and sometimes THE worst state in which to be a teacher; you gotta take the perks where you can. It’s a good thing for the kids that the Hubs is a saint with unlimited patience and the ability to work 60 hours per week on very little sleep. And he can really pack away those chicken sandwiches.

This past winter was abysmally warm, but we did have one all-too-brief snow day, so the Hubs and I made the most of it.

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We still lived near Lake Johnson at the time, so a hike around the snowy park was just the ticket.

But then spring descended, which always makes me a little sad because spring means summer is coming, and I hate North Carolina summers. But hey, crocuses are nice.

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In March we took off for San Francisco to visit my sister-in-law and others in the area. The Hubs lived in California for quite a few years and has a slew of friends out there, so we raced through a whirlwind of visits, seeing as many people as possible.

We walked around Pier 39 and checked out the sea lions, walked through Ghirardelli Square, and had a famous hot fudge sundae at the original Ghirardelli Chocolate Shop. Most overpriced but also best sundae I’ve had.

Good grief, he’s cute.

We hung out a lot with my super cool sister-in-law, who has the best Doctor Who bathroom I’ve ever seen. (Maybe it’s weird to post pictures of other people’s bathrooms…sorry, Marty.)

We explored Japantown, walked around insanely steep streets, and enjoyed a reduced-cost stay at a hotel that went to a lot of money and trouble to make the rooms look like rustic fishing boats. Cost of living in San Francisco is insane, so we spent a lot of time grousing about the ridiculous prices like a pair of crotchety old men.

My husband spent a few years as a kid living on Hamilton Airfield Base, which is now mostly deactivated. Large parts of the base are abandoned, and we got to see the theater (now disintegrating) where my husband used to go see movies. We picked lemons at some abandoned officer housing near where he used to live. Eerie atmosphere, but a fascinating trip.

We finished up trip with a few days in Petaluma, home of the beautiful Hotel Petaluma, my very favorite hotel ever. It was built in 1923, still has the original pull-door elevator, and has been exquisitely renovated while still preserving its history. The rooms have everything you need but nothing you don’t and have crank-open windows overlooking historic Petaluma. For lunch, we went to the Petaluma Pie Company, which makes the best handpies I’ve ever eaten.  I also had my first chocolate earl grey tea, which was worth the trip in itself.

I cannot recommend this little town highly enough. If you’re ever remotely close, make sure you check it out!

The Hubs attempted to chronicle our experiences on video but ran out of time to do the editing for the last half of the trip. If you’re curious, though, you can see the first four days of our journey immortalized in digital format, mainly consisting of me complaining about him filming incessantly.

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4, part 1

Judging by the Hubs’ schedule, I have serious doubts as to whether he’ll ever have time to do the rest, but if you enjoy touristy, rambling videos with us making eyes at each other, these are for you!

I failed to tell you about our adventures at the tea room! *wavery back-in-time music*

The Olde English Tea Room, alas, closed its doors for good on December 23, 2016. My friends and I had the intense pleasure of being able to visit (for the first time, for most of us) on its final day of business. I was both elated that we managed to check it out before it closed and devastated that we could never go back again.

Isn’t it adorable?? And the tea was exceptional.

We all dressed up because that’s what you do at an old English tea room. Each afternoon tea came with its own tiny tea pot, which you could get refilled with hot water as much as you wanted. We basically sloshed our way out of the place.

They even had sugar cubes!! I had never actually seen sugar cubes before. And, as you can see, there were tea sandwiches, scones, and petite desserts. The food was incredible.

And such good tea. Not pictured in the group picture: my amazing sister-in-law, who took the photo for us. We all had a glorious day, topped off by a visit to some antique shops and a book shop.

I recently discovered the Oak Park Tea Room, so a reunion may be required to explore that new location and see how it measures up.

Here are some bookish internet discoveries for you:

Next up, all the other adventures I didn’t have time to write about when they were happening!

This will be another post about the new house, to give you fair warning in case you want to skip it and come back when I’m talking about books again. The house is after all what is keeping me from the book talk, so posting pictures seems like justification for my absence. “Look, this is what I’ve been doing instead of blogging!” It was a wild week involving surprise mold under the sink (NOT the fun kind of surprise, I can tell you), some buckling laminate flooring, and other exciting times, but here’s the stuff that has actually worked out. Click the pics for bigger versions.

This is our living room, which is to say the first part of the library. There are two more bookshelves that didn’t fit in the picture. The second picture is just our scifi/fantasy books when it came time to organize the books (by FAR the most fun part of moving). I spent a delightful day doing nothing but dividing books into genres and then alphabetizing by author within each genre. Don’t judge me.

The Hubs really wanted a fireplace, and even though this one is gas, it’s still better than no fireplace. The tree is a decal I had on the wall in my office for years and managed to scrape off the wall with my fingernails when I quit my old job. The tree was coming with me, dangit. We don’t have a television, but we have a really cool projector, so we project movies and such on the wall above the tree. It’s like having a giant tv without having, you know, a giant ugly tv taking up one whole wall.

We also really wanted an open floorplan since the Hubs loves to cook and bake (lucky me!) and hates having the kitchen isolated from whatever else is happening in the dining room and living room. Plus, we can fit in the odd bookshelf in the dining room.

The first photo is my cool work-from-home office (also known as the second part of the library–there are four bookshelves that didn’t make it in the picture). The guest room/exercise room is the third part of the library, wherein the Hubs keeps his massive comic book collection. The last photo, dark and poor as it may be, is to illustrate that yes, we do have matching swords, and yes, we do use them for window decoration in the master bedroom.

When we moved in, there was a rotten ramp and porch left behind by the previous resident. It was pretty dangerous, so we dismantled it (messy middle photo), and the photo on the right is the end result. I’m starting seedlings in the cups, and so far both the basil and the tomatoes have sprouted, so I’m already set for bruschetta, basically. The green peppers have refused to sprout so far, but I’m hopeful I can talk them into surviving.

2017-04-29 19.10.33 We also put in this teensy little garden and started a compost bin, so it’s getting all Little House on the Prairie up in here.


We did not grow these lovely strawberries, alas, but we did have a grand time picking them. And drying them. And freezing them. And making them into pies. Well, the Hubs made them into pies. I ate the pies.

I promise proper adventures and book talk next time, not lame house stuff!

I read over my last entry and laughed. A few weeks of work on the house? Try a few months! We’re still taking care of a zillion little (and not so little) odds and ends. We should’ve taken more pictures during the process, but here are a few before-and-afters:

Someone had put up a backsplash, but it was goopy with dried glue and looked terrible up close. The Hubs chiseled off the glass, sanded it down to a terrifying looking mess, and my mom took care of the rest with her amazing mudding skills.

It’s hard to take pictures in a bathroom, but this gives you an idea. New floor, new toilet, fresh paint, and a really cool birch tree shower curtain.

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Very hard to get a good photo of this bathroom, but we put in a new toilet, new vanity, new floor, new mirror, and new light fixture. (The before pictures for the bathrooms look worse than they really were, since this was partway into demolition.)

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All of this renovation meant that we moved in later than we thought and were slower to unpack. This was our bed for four nights. (You can see our priorities: books and tea made it to the new house before the real bed.)

More updates to come!

I’ve been terribly scarce around here, but with good reason. This week we finally closed on our new house!


It needs some work, which I’m not thrilled about, but once we get things shipshape, it’ll be lovely. The work will take a few weeks, so we don’t plan to move until March, hopefully before our week-long trip to San Francisco. In the meantime, the Hubs and I are spending all of our free time cleaning, painting, and generally working our tails off. The Hubs wants to put in a garden too, despite the fact that he and I have killed almost every plant we’ve ever owned, including a cactus. That takes real talent. The only victim to escape so far has been an aloe plant, which I nearly decapitated the other day by accidentally knocking it into the kitchen sink.

I finally got caught up on my Goodreads reviews the other day, so if you want to know what I think about what I’ve been reading, check out the reviews here!


Whew! Not sure I have any fingernails left after this episode. The usual warnings apply: massive spoilers for all episodes of Sherlock season 4. My earlier reviews can be found here in the Sherlock tag.

First, the Doyle story references:

  • The episode title is, of course, taken from the story by the same name, “The Final Problem.” The show has already used that story extensively for inspiration, and the episode draws less from the actual plot this time. However, it does use the element of an explosion at Baker Street. (If you thought the explosion looked fake…well, it wasn’t.)
  • The episode also pulls heavily from “The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual,” in which a nonsense riddle is also a clue to a buried, somewhat grisly mystery. Mycroft calls the Holmes house “Musgrave, the ancestral home,” and in the episode Eurus’ song is called “her little ritual.”
  • Mycroft mentions that he’s seven years older than Sherlock, which is true in the stories as well. (We also learn that Eurus is a year younger than Sherlock.)
  • Mycroft dressing as a sailor is a nod to the several occasions on which Holmes masqueraded as a sailor.
  • We got another reference to Sherlock and John’s danger signal, Vatican Cameos, taken from the “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” in which Holmes says, “I was exceedingly preoccupied by that little affair of the Vatican cameos, and in my anxiety to oblige the Pope I lost touch with several interesting English cases.”
  • Eurus forces Sherlock to solve a mystery in which one of three brothers named Garrideb killed a man named Evans. In “The Adventure of the Three Garridebs,” one of the three men turns out to be Evans, a murderer.
  • Eurus mentions that Moriarty happily agreed to do the recordings for her, and she speculates that he was jealous of his brother, who was a station master. In The Valley of Fear, Holmes says that Moriarty’s brother is “a station master in the west of England.” (Then again, Doyle also says Moriarty has another brother who is a colonel and who inexplicably has the same name, James Moriarty. Doyle never was terribly good with continuity.)
  • Sherlock’s childhood friend Victor Trevor is taken from “The Adventure of the Gloria Scott,” in which Victor Trevor is described as one of Sherlock’s earliest friends from university.
  • Mary’s voiceover at the end paraphrases The Sign of Four: “I am the last and highest court of appeal in detection.” There is a similar quote in “The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual.” She also calls Sherlock and John, “the best and wisest men I have ever known,” taken from Watson’s description of Holmes in “The Final Problem.”
  • The ending montage features several story references, including one of a chalkboard with stick figures, which is from “The Adventure of the Dancing Men,” in which these identical stick-figures are a secret message. And of course, the ending shot with Sherlock and John running out of Rathbone Place was a nod to Basil Rathbone, who played Sherlock Holmes in the 1940s.

Not story references, precisely, but fun little Easter eggs nonetheless:

  • The Wilde quote “The truth is rarely pure and never simple” was intriguing since Wilde and Doyle met at a dinner party in real life and, by some accounts, were friends.
  • Mark Gatiss who plays Mycroft has been dying to use a sword cane for years now, and finally gets his wish in this episode.
  • Hudson was vacuuming to “The Number of the Beast” by Iron Maiden.
  • I searched high and low to see if Uncle Rudy mentioned by Mycroft had a Doyle counterpart. I couldn’t find anything, but if you know what that’s referring to, leave a comment!
  • In the first episode ever of the series, Lestrade says, “Sherlock Holmes is a great man. And one day, if we’re very, very lucky, he might even be a good one.” In this final episode, a police officer mentions to Lestrade that Sherlock is a great man. Lestrade responds, “No, he’s better than that. He’s a good one.” Nice way to bring that full-circle.
  • The fairy tale theme started by Moriarty continued a bit in this episode, with Eurus stating that “good and bad are fairy tales.”
  • The water theme that has been so prevalent was finally explained in this episode as well. Kyle Powers drowned in a pool (Holmes’ first case), the showdown between Sherlock and Moriarty took place at the pool, “The Abominable Bride” featured the fight at Reichenbach Falls, Sherlock fought with AJ in the first episode of this season, and Vivian Norbury kills Mary at the aquarium.

Sherlock fans can be incredibly picky, and it seems every season there’s a large dissatisfied faction, but I thoroughly enjoyed this season. This definitely felt like a wrap-up episode (being the only season finale NOT to end on a cliffhanger), and it’s a good note to end on if they choose to do so. There have been a few rumors of season 5, but it doesn’t sound like that would happen anytime soon. We shall see….


Trying really hard to crank out this review/reference list before the final episode airs! As usual, you can read my earlier reviews here in the Sherlock tag. Spoilers for 4×02 and rampant speculation for 4×03 from this point on!

First, the Doyle references:

  • This episode almost draws too much from an existing Holmes story, but I found that rather enhanced my enjoyment of it. The episode entitled “The Lying Detective” closely follows Doyle’s story “The Adventure of the Dying Detective,” in which villain Culverton Smith (didn’t even bother to change the name) attempts to kill Holmes to cover the murder of his nephew. Holmes lets Smith believe that he is indeed dying of poison to lure Smith to 221B, where he tricks Smith into a confession. The story even features Mrs. Hudson driving like a maniac in a panic to reach Watson, although admittedly in a hansom cab and not in an Aston. Fortunately, however, the episode didn’t rely on Sherlock’s near-death for its main twist.
  • Sherlock’s line, “Your life is not your own. Keep your hands off it.” is lifted directly from “The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane,” in which Holmes convinces a female client not to kill herself.
  • The name Blessington is from “The Adventure of the Resident Patient.”
  • Sherlock says he “caught a triple poisoner in High Wickham,” which may refer to a line from The Sign of Four:“I assure you that the most winning woman I ever knew was hanged for poisoning three little children for their insurance-money, and the most repellant man of my acquaintance is a philanthropist who has spent nearly a quarter of a million upon the London poor.”
  • Nurse Cornish and her criticism of John’s blog might be references to a Cornish boatman who once rowed Arthur Conan Doyle across a river and complained to the author that the Holmes stories were “never quite the same after he came back from the dead.” Everyone’s a critic.
  • Sherlock quotes much of Shakespeare’sHenry V, including “the game’s afoot!” Of course, Doyle took the phrase from Shakespeare in the first place.
  • The Killer Orangutan is likely a reference to Murders at the Rue Morgue.
  • Culverton’s hospital is named after Saint Caedwalla, the patron saint of repentant serial killers. (Seriously. There’s a saint for everything.)
  • While American audiences might be tempted to identify Culverton with Trump, British ones will recognize his origins in children’s entertainer Jimmy Saville, who abused children in hospitals but was kept from justice due to his powerful friends and influence. Culverton mentions his inspiration in serial killer H.H. Holmes, an historic serial killer with an insane Wikipedia article.

As neat as these references are, the really fascinating part of this episode, of course, is the reveal of the third Holmes sibling. In retrospect, of course, it seemed obvious, but I didn’t figure it out until only a moment before the reveal (and even then I didn’t put it together that E was the same as Faith too—great job, costuming department).

But the clues were definitely there. Early on, the therapist calls John out on the difference between “looking away and looking to. I tend to notice these things. Now I am reminding you of your friend, I think.” Holmes siblings have a lot in common. When Sherlock hinted in the last episode that Rosie should’ve been named after him, John and Mary say, “It’s not a girl’s name!” Sherrinford isn’t either, which threw viewers off since Mycroft asked to speak to Sherrinford in the last episode. But if Sherrinford were, for instance, a secure prison or mental institution where the third Holmes sibling was being held, the lines would still make sense. (I say the third Holmes sibling and not the last because, as the last episode reminded us, “People always give up after three” and this show is just crazy enough to throw in a fourth sibling.)

After Mycroft assures her that “the fact I’m [Sherlock’s] brother changes absolutely nothing. It didn’t the last time and I assure you it won’t with Sherlock,” Lady Smallwood asks if he still speaks to Sherrinford. Mycroft says he gets regular updates and that “Sherrinford is secure.” From this we might infer that the third Holmes sibling has caused some mayhem in the past, but her brother was dutifully unsympathetic and locked her up.

A few things seem to imply that Eurus (as we know she is really called) was removed from the Holmes family life at a young age. As Faith, she tells Sherock that he’s nicer than she expected, and she seems to mean it, so possibly they haven’t seen each other in years. This helps to explain why Sherlock wouldn’t recognize HIS OWN SISTER, for crying out loud. Perhaps her crime, whatever it was, was committed quite early. Eurus (as E, texting with John) says she’s a vampire. Perhaps this was a reference to her predatory nature.

However, Eurus mentions that a mutual friend put her in touch with Culverton Smith. Now, she does give Sherlock the info he needs to solve the case and bring Smith down, but she’s also clearly a bit crazy (if she really does try to shoot John, as it appears she does). It’s fair to say that the “mutual friend” is Moriarty, although it also seems clear that Eurus was behind the big “Miss me?” message at the end of season 3. So maybe not as secure as Mycroft thought.

Eurus, the Greek god of the east wind and of rain, is an odd name, but the east wind has been referenced many times in the series. Sherlock says in season 3, “The East Wind takes us all in the end… It’s a story my brother told me when we were kids. The East Wind — this terrifying force that lays waste to all in its path. It seeks out the unworthy and plucks them from the earth…That was generally me.” Later when Mary asks if Moriarty is back, John says, “Well, if he is, he’d better wrap up warm. There’s an East Wind coming.”

The only reference to the East Wind in the original Doyle stories dealt with Holmes’ comment about WWI: “There’s an east wind coming all the same, such a wind as never blew on England yet. It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us may wither before its blast. But it’s God’s own wind none the less, and a cleaner, better, stronger land will lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared.”

I predict that the Moriarty thread and the Sherrinford/Eurus thread will end up intertwining in the finale, but we shall see!

You seem to have stumbled upon a storytelling of ravens. Watch for falling collective nouns; you may find a wing of dragons or a charm of hummingbirds caught in your hair. Hardhats are recommended.

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Stephanie Ricker's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

A Storytelling