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Back home! We had a fantastic trip to Europe. The Hubs started to put together videos for each day of the trip, although as usual, commitments have eaten up video-editing time upon his return, so the project isn’t complete. But here are the first five days of our trip in video form, for those who are interested in such things:

Day 1: Arrival
Day 2: Marienplatz
Day 3: Castles
Day 4: Rest and rain
Day 5: Austria

You guys, Iceland was so tantalizing. North Carolina, when we left it, was hot and sticky and disgusting. Iceland was cold, cloudy, and rainy, and tasted so clean. We had a few minutes outside (no jetway, so we climbed down the stairs from the plane) to breathe in the cold air before hustling into the airport. We bought Icelandic snacks and herbal tea and browsed the airport, which was very quiet in spite of being full. We learned that all of Iceland’s electricity comes from natural renewable resources, and that Icelandic is one of the oldest languages in the world that’s still currently spoken. We also learned that Icelandic planes board any which way (people just crowd up by the gate and board as soon as they’re let in) and that they, apparently, never board on time. Still, we all got in our seats in roughly the same amount of time as the more typical zone-style US boarding, and our flight left on time, so I guess it works. We will definitely, definitely be back.

Germany was unexpectedly friendly and comfortable. I had learned just enough German to be useful, and we had very little trouble navigating. Our AirBnB owner airily remarked that we could leave the door unlocked “because it’s Germany,” and I was tremendously impressed with Germany as a whole. The transit system was pristine, punctual, and comfortable. Munich was the cleanest city I’ve ever been to, and there was a strong focus on recycling and looking after the city. There was very little litter, and very few (if any) homeless people, both of which were incredibly stark contrasts with NYC, DC, Chicago, etc. Germans were polite and helpful, if not chatty, and I really enjoyed the efficiency with which things were done. It wasn’t dehumanizing; on the contrary, when a woman fell in one of the subway stations, she had half a dozen people rush to her assistance, which was such a far cry from how people behave in US cities that it made me realize how terrible we can be about helping people, especially if they look like they’re homeless.

We did a walking tour of Munich on our first full day and enjoyed dinner at our first beer garden. The next day, we took the train to Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau to tour both castles. GORGEOUS.

Neuschwanstein was unbelievably beautiful. Even knowing full well that it’s nothing at all like a true medieval castle and is basically the architectural version of a renaissance fair (i.e., meticulously crafted Elizabethan costumes on one hand and cheap Halloween pirate costumes on the other), you just have to admire the grandeur and scale of the place.

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On Marienbrucke (Mary’s Bridge) across from the castle.

 

The ever-present swans on Alpsee, which was deliciously cool on our hot and weary feet. There was a LOT of walking on this trip!

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Hohenschwangau, built on the ruins of a much older (actually legitimate) medieval castle.

We took it easy the next day since it was the Sabbath, but we still found time to go for a walk and find the chapel (now a Russian Orthodox Church) where my husband’s parents were married 42 years ago, get caught in the rain a few times, and wander around a beautiful cemetery. Fortunately I married a man who finds cemeteries fascinating too.

We headed to Austria to visit some friends of my husband’s family, and they very hospitably put us up for the night, fed us tremendously, and took us on a hike along the Danube River.

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More swans on the Danube, what a surprise.

We spent the next day in Salzburg, Austria, and saw Mirabell Palace and GardensSt. Peter’s catacombs, Mozart’s house, the oldest bakery in Austria, an incredible amount of beautiful churches in old town Salzburg, and Hohensalzburg Fortress. We ate frankly astonishing quantities of pretzels and tried mozartkugel.

We also procured one of our only souvenirs at the fortress:

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You all should have seen this coming, what with all these castles.

The following day, we went to Dachau concentration camp, which was the most moving part of our trip. My husband’s grandfather was imprisoned in Dachau for three weeks in 1938, and we visited the archives to learn the exact dates he was there and which barracks he stayed in. My husband’s family is Jewish, and several extended family members were in other camps.

I don’t know how to write about Dachau. The atrocities committed there are almost unbelievable in their hideousness and scope; simultaneously, I find it all too easy to imagine people being so cruel to one another. Even though we are separated from the camp’s liberation by 72 years, so many of the camps effects are still felt. All Bavarian high school students are required to tour the camp once during their school years; there’s a very strong sense of national responsibility that this can never happen again. Our tour guide told us how it took decades for denazification to take hold enough for survivors to come forward and tell their story. So many local companies and officials were involved with the camp when it was in operation that it wasn’t until the 1980s that a camp survivor could be assured that the judge in any given legal case wasn’t a former Nazi, or that his boss wasn’t a former Nazi. Antisemitism and Holocause denial is still so unbelievably common; just in the last few years, the Auschwitz gate was stolen by Neo-Nazis. The Dachau gate (replica pictured below) was also stolen but was later recovered in Norway.

On the left is the site of barracks 14, where my husband’s grandfather was assigned. On the right is the famous sign, “Arbeit macht frei,” (Work sets you free), a cruel irony; the only freedom from the camp was death by overwork.

Visiting Dachau was supremely powerful, mainly because of my husband’s family history, but in part because of the terrifying parallels between the beginnings of Nazi persecution and current politics. One of the most shameful chapters in US history occurred when we turned away boatloads of Jewish refugees in the late 1930s; many were forced to return to Europe, and a quarter of them later died in the camps. My husband’s family has stories of how hard it was to leave Germany in 1939, even when they desperately wanted to, and how difficult it was to find a country that would take them in. I see a frightening parallel in our lack of compassion as we turn away Syrian refugees today. The isolationism and suspicion of refugees that characterized America in 1939 is mirrored in our society today; I hope it doesn’t have the same result.

We left Germany for home the following day, connecting in Boston where we had the chance to spend time with a friend (and who graciously allowed us to crash on her insanely comfortable couch so we didn’t have to sleep on the airport floor). We were glad to get home to our own house after a long day and a half of travel, but we had a wonderful time trotting the globe. We’ll have to save up for a couple years before our next big trip, but rest assured, it’ll happen!

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The Hubs and I are off to Germany and Austria in three days! I am super excited! (Especially by the fact that we’ll be connecting in Iceland on our flight to Munich. I have extracted a promise from the Hubs that we’ll go back someday and spend a proper amount of time there, but I fully intend to spend the 45 minutes between flights with my nose pressed to the glass of the nearest window, drinking in as much as possible.) We’ll be cramming as much as possible into our short trip, which includes several days in Munich, one in Linz, and one in Salzburg. I fully intend to blog about it (seeing as how this is my first trip to Europe), though probably not until after we return due to the aforementioned cramming.

I’ve gotten back into editing quite a bit lately, and it feels really good to stretch my fiction-editing muscles again! Nonfiction editing is enjoyable, but definitely not in the same way as helping an author whip their manuscript into the best possible version of itself. Check out http://www.stephaniericker.com if you’ve got a writing project in the works. I’d love to help!

The Hubs and I celebrated our second wedding anniversary on June 14th! Hard to believe it’s already been two years; hard to believe it’s only been two years. It feels as though our lives have always been entwined at the same time that it feels like our wedding day was last week. I cannot imagine losing a spouse after fifty-odd years; after just two years, the very idea of that uprooting, amputation-pain is incomprehensible. Ross is the most tremendous blessing I’ve ever experienced.

On a less dramatic note, we enjoyed the annual Medieval Month festivities at the Sanders residence last week. This year’s theme was Vikings. I’m sad to say that the Hubs and I played right into the stereotypes: he was Hagar the Horrible, and my costume was inspired by the historically inaccurate Vikings tv show. But we had a blast, per usual.

2017-06-24 14.01.27I was really proud of the beard. That’s some kind of curtain trim (I think?) from Goodwill, layered and pinned to a cloth headband he was wearing.

 

I won the archery competition! (Several years running, ahem.) That darned kool-aid still hasn’t faded from my hair, after a full year. I had dyed it red for last year’s Medieval Month when I dressed as Lady Macbeth.

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The Hubs very definitely won the knife- and axe-throwing.

Ross demonstrated a hitherto-unknown, terrifying ability to throw knives and axes. Don’t mess with the Hubs, apparently.

19399711_10158811590140702_2483069792448447790_n (1)The party would not be complete without boffer sword duels. I did not fare nearly as well here! I’m missing a leg (read: hopping on one foot) in the above shot after being hit.

 

Next up: European adventures! Less weaponry, more getting lost and trying to decipher German street signs.

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 can’t really call these recent adventures anymore, but I will still relate them! Hurricane Matthew knocked our power out for three days, which turned out to be quite adventurous indeed. We read scifi by candlelight (some kind of irony there), played my first game of Settlers of Catan, and built a candle stove, which we used to cook eggs and bacon, roast marshmallows, make tea, etc. Check out the candle stove in action below.

It worked surprisingly well and will definitely be utilized again if the power goes out this winter. We put 6-9 candles inside our metal sink (raising the candles up high enough so that their flames came close to the top of the sink), put a stove rack on top, and surrounded the edges with foil. We put the food we wanted to cook in the middle, with a metal bowl on top. VERY effective!

Soon after, we went to Sault Ste. Marie Michigan and Ontario for a week, which was lovely. But don’t take my word for it:

The Russian babushka look was essential, I assure you. Lake Superior is beautiful, but it is COLD. We went out on an old tugboat and had a glorious time. Good times, good friends, good food, and beautiful scenery, on both sides of the International Bridge! In Canada we made the required pilgrimage to Tim Horton’s and Canadian Tire, so all duties were fulfilled enjoyably, and I would love to go back.

November’s adventures will have to wait for another post. Stay tuned!

The conference in VA Beach went smoothly, and may well be the last conference I have to run onsite! I’m super excited about that. Due to long hours at the registration desk, I spent all of 20 minutes on the beach, but I did get to see some glorious sunrises:

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The Hubs was able to come with me for the first time ever, so I enjoyed spending my evenings with him in our swanky hotel room. We also found Yukai Japanese and Sushi Buffet on our last day and desperately wished we had discovered it sooner. REALLY good food!

Book Reviews:

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. Whew. I had read The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett and disliked it, but I thought I’d give the author another go (probably due more to my affection for the movie adaptation of The Thin Man than for any charitability towards Hammett). I do believe I loathed The Maltese Falcon even more. How this book became a classic is beyond me. Clumsy, endlessly repetitive description! Uninteresting, trudging plot! Thoroughly irritating characters! I wouldn’t have minded a bit if everyone were killed off in the end, but sadly most of them survived to be amoral, sleazy manipulators into the future.

Ransomed from a one-star review on Goodreads (just barely) by the fact that Sam Spade epitomizes a genre, but heck if I know why, and for the audiobook narrator, who did a grand job with Gutman’s and Spade’s voices.

The Prophet by Kahlil Gabran. Three and a half stars on Goodreads for this book is probably more accurate, but the language was beautiful enough to elevate the score (subject of this post is stolen from this little book). We received the book as a wedding present, and I savored the wisdom in it–while recognizing that much of the beautiful language was lacking in substance. I can see why the book was so popular during the hippie movement; there is a strong undercurrent of “do what feels good” running throughout, and God loves everyone and we’re all God and bro, have another smoke, etc. And yet I feel badly for mocking it because there WAS wisdom in it too. Perhaps younger Stephanie would have been more deeply affected.

In spite of my four stars, I would say that this lovely book had very little impact on me.

Tik-Tok of Oz by L. Frank Baum. Continuing the tradition of reading Oz books aloud with my husband whenever we’re traveling (whoever isn’t driving gets to read). Gotta say, not too impressed with this one. Baum completely disregards continuity, and the title is fairly nonsensical given that Tik-Tok features so little in the book. Still enjoyable because I have such affection for the Oz books, and the scene discussing why Toto doesn’t talk makes the whole book worth reading.

My husband went to a week-long teacher development class at Harvard, and I caught a cheap flight out to Boston to join him for a few days.

The flight out was eventful, which is something desirable in stories but not in real life. I was supposed to connect in Newark and then go on to Boston, but as we landed, the pilot told us we were not in fact in Newark, but were in Philadelphia, because there might be a fire in our cargo hold. Fire trucks zipped up to the plane, and we were told to stay in our seats with our seat belts buckled, which is exactly the opposite of what I would want to do if I were on a burning plane. Fortunately, they couldn’t find a fire, so we were taken to a hastily cleared gate. From there, less fortunately, we had to take a bus to Newark, since Philadelphia thought it was nice we stopped by for an unscheduled visit but had no plane to give us to get us to Newark. After a lengthy bus ride to Newark, I finally caught another flight to Boston and got in about 5 hours after I had intended. But the plane didn’t explode, so that was nice.

On my first day, I visited the Longfellow House/Washington’s Quarters in Cambridge.

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Looking good for its age.

Lots of cool history here! For example, the smithy from Longfellow’s poem lived just down the street, and when the chestnut tree in the yard was cut down, the neighborhood children were quite upset. Longfellow had a chair made out of the chestnut tree and invited the kids to come by and sit in it and get a free copy of the poem. Long before Longfellow, Washington occupied this house during the siege of Boston in 1775-1776.

I met my husband and some of his coworkers for lunch at Darwin’s Ltd. (yummy) and spent some time in Goorin Bros. Hat Shop. I puzzled out the subway system enough to get myself over to Brattle Books, a book store established in 1825 featuring rare old books. The interior was great, but my favorite part was the outside book lot:

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Now that’s what I’m talking about.

I bought an Ellery Queen mystery for $1 and read it in the grass at Boston Common before meeting my husband for dinner in Chinatown. Lovely day!

The next day I met up with my mother’s cousin, who is a nun with an infectious laugh and an impossibly upbeat attitude. Together we toured the Robert Shaw Memorial, Granary Burying Ground, King’s Chapel and King’s Chapel Burying Ground, and the Old State House.

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We took a Boston Massacre tour, walked around Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, and had a lovely time. At one point, someone doing interviews on the street asked us if we would share our thoughts on the feud between Taylor Swift and Kim Kardashian. I said, “She’s a nun and I’m a bookworm, so we don’t really have an opinion.” He turned on his heel pretty quickly.

That evening, we met up with my husband for dinner at Warren’s Tavern, a favorite watering hole for many a founding father, which was named after Dr. Joseph Warren who was killed at the battle of Bunker Hill.

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Looking a little worse for wear after a long, hot day of walking, but happily full of good food!

My flight home on Friday morning was uneventful, but my husband’s flight that evening was terribly delayed, so I picked him up from the airport after 2:00am. Tired folks! See you next time, Beantown.

P1050441This past weekend, I had the opportunity to be a chaperone on a three-day field trip to Washington, DC with 19 middleschoolers. You get lucky like that when your husband is a superhuman teacher who can pull off organizing a massive trip in the middle of working on 17 million other things, including a master’s thesis.

 

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Crazy, but with eyelashes to die for.

If you’ve ever wondered whether it’s possible to see Ford’s Theatre, Holocaust Museum, Vietnam War Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Arlington Cemetery, Iwo Jima Memorial, Capitol Hill, Supreme Court, Library of Congress, World War II Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, White House, Museum of American History, Natural History Museum, National Gallery of Art, and Air and Space Museum in three days, the answer is: you can. But only if you care nothing for your sanity.

P1050592I must also explain that I have, shall we say, a lack of enthusiasm for children in general, to put it very mildly. By the end of the second day, I truly wanted to strangle a few kids who shall remain nameless. But we returned with the same number of kids with which we left, and I didn’t push a single one down the escalator at the Air and Space Museum. Even if I did fantasize about it a little bit. HOW can you not appreciate the Gutenberg Bible? Or the ONLY Da Vinci painting in America? (Responses to both were to glance up briefly from the smartphone and complain about being hungry.)

P1050467But even apathetic teenage angst couldn’t keep me from enjoying DC. It’s a beautiful city, with more history than you can shake a stick at. At every turn there’s some inspiring monument (inspiring to those of us who aren’t teenagers, anyway). I desperately wanted to see more of the museums, since time necessitated that our visits there were distressingly brief. But DC will always be there, and at the end of the trip, even the infuriating little monsters had all signed a book thanking us for taking them on the tour. So I guess I’m glad I didn’t surrender to my homicidal tendencies.

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On an unrelated note, if you haven’t already signed up for the Rooglewood Quarterly, you should! The upcoming issue features a map of Goldstone Wood from Anne Elisabeth Stengl’s series, as well as an article by yours truly. I slaved over that article on the plane back from San Diego; read it and don’t make my efforts for naught!

I’m not dead, but I could very easily see how you could come to that conclusion. SO BUSY.

Enjoyable adventures have included cookouts, baby showers, weddings, pet-sitting, a few movies, seeing Doctor Who on the big screen, my first race, the acquisition of a cider press for some excellent friends, throwing a birthday party for said friends, and meals with a slew of magnificent people in a variety of locations. One of the very best evenings was a picnic in the park with my young man, during which we ran into several other couples we knew. The gentlemen whisked themselves away and emerged from the woods moments later with bow ties, flowers, and a rehearsed barbershop quartet version of the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows.” Incredible man, mine is.

Less enjoyable adventures have included my first speeding ticket (incurred while being enthralled by an episode of RadioLab, curse your fascinating stories), my car springing a massive oil leak, somewhat botching a conference, and slogging through editors’ notes. If there’s anything more character-building than reading editors’ notes, may I never experience it. This is really good for me! It’s also a little agonizing.  Revisions on the first volume of The Cendrillon Cycle are due at the end of the month, so any spare time stolen from an insanely busy day-job is being used for those.

Next Wednesday I’m off to Tennessee for a blissful week and a half for the Feast of Tabernacles, which will be wonderful!

I know. It’s been an eternity without a proper post. I am without excuse.

To be fair, however, I am in the twitter-pated stage of a relationship, I’ve been working like a dog on various projects, and I’ve been traveling a lot. So I guess I have excuses, they’re just not great ones.

Everything cool I found on the internet is now obsolete, but I’ll probably post links anyway…eventually.

My trip to Colorado was exceptional! The conference itself went well overall (though there are always a few hiccups…one speaker didn’t show up until 4 minutes before she was scheduled to talk, so I was having a small heart attack by then, as you can well imagine). In the evenings after work, I found the Tattered Cover bookstore and explored the 16th Street mall.  I spent a few extra days in the state because I’ve always wanted to go to Colorado. I saw a picture of it when I was 3 and decided that I would live there in a log cabin when I grew up. I didn’t change that goal until more than a decade later, so it must have been one heck of a picture.

In my free time in CO, I hiked Rocky Mountain National Park, which was exquisite. I could’ve spent days just doing that, but unfortunately time was at a premium.

So fuzzy!

Anyone know what these things are?

But what ilk of elk?

Chilling with some elk.

I had an exciting time hiking the park; turns out the map that the rangers hand out at the gate is rather incomplete. I ended up on an unmarked trail and found myself on an unidentified mountain top with day drawing to a close.

Don't tell me you're not itching to explore.

Beautiful! If only I knew where I was…

But enjoying it.

So lost.


I finally ended up following my own trail back, since the loop I thought I was on was not, in fact, the loop I was on. Googling after the fact revealed that I was actually on a 13-mile trail that would have put me very, VERY far from my cute little rental car, so I’m glad I turned around when I did.

The next day I hiked Green Mountain near Boulder, Colorado. I love Boulder. I could easily live there. The hiking is great, and on the way down I almost stepped on a deer leg, which I’m told was an indication a mountain lion was nearby. Didn’t actually see one. I’m not sure if I’m disappointed or glad about that. After that non-encounter, I went to the Boulder Bookstore, which is practically heaven, and then had lunch at Two Spoons Café, which was definitely heaven. I found an exquisite copy of William Timlin’s The Ship that Sailed to Mars, and even though it was huge and weighed a ton, I managed to fit it in my suitcase. Then I went on a tour of the Celestial Seasonings Tea Factory, which was fascinating. We walked into the mint room, which is basically a vault where they store all of their mint so that it doesn’t contaminate everything around it because the aroma is so strong. The menthol in the air immediately made everyone’s eyes water. The tour ended in the tea shop, so naturally you can imagine what else I had to cram in my suitcase when it came time to pack.

I had a pretty quiet day on Saturday and met a friend for coffee at Pablo’s. We had such a good time talking that there wasn’t a whole lot of time to do more after that, so I had a quiet evening in (working on editing and whatnot) and flew out the next day. I’d had a wonderful time in CO, but I was glad to get home—and even more so to find a certain young man waiting for me with flowers, in spite of my atrociously late arrival time. I’ll spare you the nauseatingly smitten gushings, but suffice it to say, I seem to have found myself a keeper.

Book updates, etc. to follow!

In Five Glass Slippers news, the anthology blog for all five of us contest winners has launched!  Bless Rachel for actually getting the ball rolling, because I was prepared to procrastinate for another month or so.  Be sure to read up on the fascinating inspiration for her protagonist!  I hope to write up a post of my own about A Cinder’s Tale…uh…soonish.  Don’t hold your breath.

I’ve been delinquent in pretty much everything this week that didn’t directly pertain to my day job, since I was horrendously busy in Richmond for the conference.  There wasn’t even time to explore any historic Civil War graveyards.  *grumbles*  I did, however, have dinner at Penny Lane Pub, which was a fascinating and delicious experience.  Folks at a table near mine were talking about the Narnia books, and I was sorely tempted to pull up a chair and crash the conversation.  Instead, my coworker and I voyaged down the tremendously sketchy (by night, at least) Canal Walk, wandered around some historic buildings including the capitol, and found ourselves in Shockoe Bottom, which is intriguingly named, tragically historied, and home to a really nice coffee shop now.

Geekery:

Fascinating:

Music:

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.

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

A Storytelling