Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Do these tickets make us look old?

“This is how we know we are old,” my husband declared as he showed me our tickets for the Cape May Trolley Tour.  On October 26th, the date of our anniversary, we decided to take the day off to spend some quality time together.  A few weeks ago we visited the Physick House in Philadelphia.  During our tour we learned that there was a Physick Estate in Cape May and we decided that it too would be an interesting place to see.  You can take a tour of the house and grounds or you can do a combination with a historic trolley tour and an Estate tour and we thought…why not do both?

When everyone was assembled on the trolley we were handed brochures explaining the architecture of Cape May. 

The tour was interesting and I learned a lot so I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys history, architecture and/or just learning in general.  The trolley dropped us off at the Physick Estate and our tour guide Barbara escorted us around the massive Victorian home telling us bits and pieces of information about the time period and the family.  I wouldn’t recommend visiting the home during the month of October because it was decorated like a haunted house and the decorations really distracted and often covered up some of the interesting and historic décor of the home.  It seems that it would be beautiful and spectacular at Christmas.  We felt a bit rushed through the house tour and we were not able to spend any extra time looking around, examining and soaking up all of the Victorian Era fun. Despite this it was still worth the visit.


The Physick House grounds were decorated with scarecrows.  This was our favorite.

The trolley picked us up after the house tour and returned us to the originally departure point in downtown Cape May.  I have never been to Cape May in October and found it quite charming (even more than it usually is).  There were plenty of sweet smelling hay bales, tall cornstalks, bright colorful mums and roly poly pumpkins.  Each shop had their own scarecrow dressed to match the wares or theme of the shop.

We stopped at our favorite natural handmade soap shop to stock up on bars of soap that smelled of pumpkin spice, fall harvest and orange ginger.

After our leisurely stroll we felt that we were ready to finally eat something post our eating extravaganza the night before.  We have always passed Lucky Bones and now it was time to finally walk through the door and give it a try.  The food was great and it was interesting to see, instead of the usual sports on TV, everyone around the bar glued to the weather channel watching the approaching storm.  We started out with the small nachos, I had the crab cake and shrimp sandwich and for dessert (one of the main reasons for eating at Lucky Bones) we shared the Costa Rican coffee ice cream sandwich.  After I housed more than half I realized I never took a photo.

      “It looked so good, there just wasn’t time,” rationalized my husband. 

It ended up being a fun and relaxing day, just what we needed, and we look forward to taking the trolley tour and perhaps seeing the Physick Estate (not decorated as a haunted house) again in the future.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Ten Years! Let's Eat!

On October 26th my husband and I celebrated 10 happy years of marriage.  A few years ago we had grand plans of celebrating our first decade of marriage with a trip to Argentina and Uruguay…but life got in the way and time and money were needed elsewhere.  We did however make certain that we did not miss our yearly anniversary dinner at Amada in Philadelphia.  We always opt to do the Chef Tasting which consists of lots of surprise courses.  For us it is like Christmas with food.  Each dish that arrives to the table is like unwrapping a different unexpected present. They do ask you ahead of time if you have any allergies or other food restrictions so the meal can be tailored to your preferences.

The restaurant keeps dibs on you when you make your reservation so they knew that this was our fifth year returning and when making the reservation my husband mentioned that is was our ten year anniversary dinner.  To offer their congratulations our server (who reminded me of actress Kristin Davis) brought us two complementary glasses of champagne (as a note if you go to any of Emeril’s restaurants for a special occasion you will also receive a complementary treat).

Instead of bread, Amada serves a tuna-caper dip with tasty crackers.  It is very good.  We also ordered a pitcher of white sangria.


Our first course was a meat and cheese platter accompanied by cherry fig preserves.  This was followed by a spinach and cheese empanada.  Empanadas happen to be one of the foods we are connoisseurs of and this was one of the best we have eaten. The crust melted in my mouth.  


The next three courses arrived together.  One we have had in the past and were super excited to revisit.  It was the short rib flat bread.  We also enjoyed a plate of grilled pulpo (octopus), and the thing that looks like a meat log was actually a spinach salad wrapped with Serrano ham.  All three dishes were delicious, though the short rib flat bread was my favorite.
The final four courses were lamb chops, sea bass and a variety of sauces to spread on top of pieces of bread spread with goat cheese. We were also treated to a serving of artichoke hearts in a parmesan sauce that made us so excited I forgot to get a picture.  Every dish was excellent and was enthusiastically enjoyed.


Finally dessert was served.  One dish consisted of tiny Concord grape cakes with a Concord grape dipping sauce; they tasted like little mini pancakes.  Our second dessert was a rice pudding matched with a chocolate sorbet.  They were accompanied by pine nuts and the cherry fig preserves we encountered at the beginning of our meal.  The rice pudding (which I got all to myself since my husband doesn’t like rice pudding) was amazing, especially with the pine nuts sprinkled over top.  Trying to fairly divvy up the chocolate sorbet almost resulted in some fork stabbings.


Even if you don’t order dessert, your bill is accompanied by a thin crispy almond cookie.  I was stuffed by this point but I couldn’t help taking just a few bites.

Most of our conversation revolved around the food but we did do some reminiscing about our wedding and our “apartment days.”  I mentioned that back then I disliked having to go outside and into the shared basement to do my laundry and am happy to have a house with a laundry area which inevitably led to discussing the future possibility of purchasing a new washer and dryer.  That conversation made my past overly dreamy tween self groan at the idea that a washer purchase could ever be fodder for romantic anniversary dinner conversation but the thirty-four year old current me found the conversation and new washer prospect thrilling.  In all it was a wonderful evening and I hope we will find ourselves sitting here discussing another decade of marriage someday.


Getting Prepared

After prepping for Sandy I spent Saturday prepping for Nanowrimo.  I made sure I had all of my essential supplies, including my Hufflepuff mug cozy to keep my hand from being seared by the hot beverages in my mug that came all the way from the café where J.K. Rowling wrote some of her Harry Potter books.

I also worked on setting up my writing nook.  I use it when I need a place to escape that is completely free of distractions.

I did visit with my rheumatologist this week.  She thought that my low cell counts could be due to my intestine having chronic inflammation even if I don’t have symptoms of it all of the time.  She placed me on a medication called Asacol (the name makes me giggle given the nature of its use).  I’ve been on Asacol before but my G.I. doctor took me off of it because she felt that it could have been the reason my liver enzymes were high in the past.   It is more likely that the enzyme issue was because of the IVF drugs so my rheumatologist though it would be safe for me to take the Asacol again.  I have to have more lab work in four weeks and then return to her office in six weeks to see if my cell counts have improved.  If they don’t improve, her next step will be to have me begin taking a Flintstones vitamin with iron (because it causes less stomach upset than iron pills).  She didn’t want me start just yet because 1) it wouldn’t make a difference if I am not absorbing things properly due to the inflammation and 2) if you start two interventions at the same time you aren’t able to know which actually worked.  I’m sure with 50,000 words to write in November six weeks will fly by.    

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Stewing-in a good way

I am grateful that despite growing up in a fairly strict Christian home I was allowed to participate in Halloween.  There were some ground rules of course.  I wasn’t allowed to dress as anything that was perceived to be scary or evil.  Given my Anne of Green Gables colored world this was never a problem.  I wasn’t permitted to partake in activities that were considered evil or scary.  This included haunted houses, hayrides, forests etc.   I’ve never been a fan of such things because they usually involve a general invasion of personal space.  I cherish my personal space.  I was not allowed to watch evil or scary movies.  Not a disappointment at all given my overactive imagination; that rule has saved me many sleepless nights.

 I remember inventing, designing and making my own costumes.  My mom did try to talk me out of my “runaway orphan” costume when I was eight because she feared that no one would know what I was, but I simply used the inquiries as an opportunity to enlighten people on the plight of orphans everywhere.  I can still recall the feeling of running around with my friends; being as loud and as silly as we wanted because on that day we could.  Crunching leaves beneath our feet; our cheeks growing rosy in the brisk fall air as we pandered for candy that would be unceremoniously thrown away by Easter. My most fond memory however, was coming home at the evening’s end. As soon as I walked through the door the comforting aroma of my mom’s beef stew infiltrated my nostrils causing my stomach to growl for something more nourishing than peanut butter cups and snickers bars.  She would ladle it out into a big bowl accompanied by several slices of crusty French bread slathered with butter.  I would wolf it down while regaling her with my trick –or- treating tales.  The stew whispered comfort, love and home.

After my mom passed away I searched and searched through recipes to find that post trick-or-treating stew and was saddened to find that it appeared that it was a recipe that existed in her head.  Several years later I was lamenting to my Aunt about my unfulfilled quest to find the recipe for my mom’s beef stew and to my delight she said that she had the recipe.  She made a copy and passed it on to me.

Since I have to work on actual Halloween and the stew takes roughly four hours to make, I decided to make it on Columbus Day since the discovering of America affords me a day off. 

The first hour was prepping.

Then I did the preliminary cooking and simmered the stew for two hours.  I was nervous when I took my first tentative bite.  Would it taste like the stew I so fondly remembered?  I’m happy to report that it did.  It tasted exactly how I remembered and it transformed me into that skinny, freckled, frizzy haired little girl; comforted and thankful to be home.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Kinda Bummed

I received a call from my rheumatologist this week.  Unfortunately my lab results did not come back as hoped.  My hemoglobin, red blood cells and white blood cells are all abnormally low.  They were low earlier in the year when I had lab work but at that time we were taking a wait and see approach as it could have been a fluke or something temporary.  Now however it appears that there is something more serious afoot.  I have an appointment on October 25th to revisit my rheumatologist so we can have a “discussion.”  I know that this is something that I have little control over but I couldn’t help feeling like a naughty child who was being called into the principal’s office. The most logical explanation is that my body is attacking my red and white blood cells much like it attacked my platelets many years ago. I also made an appointment on November 12th with my hematologist from long ago as he did an excellent job of treating my platelet munching problem. For now it looks like my adoption medical letter will be on hold until we can get this situation sorted.   I would probably be exceptionally bummed if it wasn’t for the fact that I have plot, characters and words, words, and more words swirling through my brain taking up too much space for worry to creep its long tentacles into my mind (that’s brilliant, that’s what the worry monster in my novel will look like; a giant creepy octopus). This is just another bump in the road and as long as the bump stays “a protuberance on the surface” and doesn’t turn into a gigantic fiery chasm I should be able to remain positive.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Book Festival Fun-Part 4 (and the last I promise)

The last event at the teen tent and the one I was looking the most forward to was a discussion panel entitled "Reaching Out to Young Adult Readers."  There were five authors on the panel.

Ellen Jensen Abbott writes Young Adult fantasy.  I looked her books up when I got home and at some point I'd like to get around to reading one.

Charlotte Bennardo writes tween/teen novels which seem to be a cross between Sex and the City and Percy Jackson.  They seem to involve shopping...a lot.

Barbara Dee writes books for the female tween crowd.  They look sweet, cute and sincere and seem to deal with relationships with friends, siblings and parents.

Elisa Ludwig stated that her work was inspired by her love for the Sweet Valley High series.  Her book looks to be a cross between something like Gossip Girl (though I can't really say since I've never seen it) and Robin Hood.

Aaron Starmer had me at, "people describe my work as being weird and just a little bit creepy." Since that is what people often say about my writing he instantly became my favorite.  His first book is about a group of kids who must escape their school's basement after getting locked down there by their crazy vice principal and his second book is about a boy who thinks he may be the last person on earth.

Surprisingly not a lot of people showed up to the panel discussion.  It was me and one other woman who asked most of the questions.

I asked about how to write young adult characters without making them sound too cliche. 

My favorite responses...

Barbara Dee- Ask someone who is the age of your character to read parts of your novel out loud so you can hear how it sounds.  You'll know if it doesn't sound right.

Aaron Starmer- Don't write how you think your characters should sound.  Write how your audience thinks they, the audience sound.  He said that when adults reviewed his books they complained that his characters sounded too mature for their age (something both John Green and Orson Scott Card have been accused of) but his intended audience loves the characters because they feel that they do sound mature.  Don't dumb down what you write just because it's for tweens/teens.  They will appreciate not being talked down to.

I also asked if they could share a mistake that they had made as a new author and what they learned from it.

Barbara Dee- I wanted everyone to like me in the beginning so I agreed to all of the changes that the publisher and editor wanted even though I knew some things didn't make sense for the characters.  She said she had to learn to balance saying no with listening and taking their suggestions.  She and the other authors agreed that once you make it to the publishing stage, your book is a team effort and you have to learn to be part of the team.

Elisa Ludwig-said she was surprised at how long the process could take between writing a first draft and finally getting your book published.  Everyone agreed that it isn't how good of a writer you are but rather the talent is in the editing.

Some of the other points of advice I found interesting

Aaron Starmer-As a new not yet famous author, don't make your main characters 13 or 14.  He had a 13 year old character and his publisher asked him to change the age to 12.  Apparently, book sellers have a difficult time selling books that have 13 or 14 year old characters because tweens tend to favor their own age and teens like to read about characters older than themselves.  I found this to be both interesting and helpful. Aaron also stated that his best piece of advice though he knew it sounded cliche was to write the book that you would want to read because if you try to write something just so you can be popular and published it probably won't turn out to be any good because it's not what you love and are passionate about.  I really wanted at this point to ask if he would take me under his wing and mentor me because if he can write weird and a little bit creepy books and get published there may be hope for me.

Barbara Dee-agreed with Aaron about writing the book you want to read and advised not trying to jump on a genre/trendy band wagon.  She said that writing/publishing is a lengthy process and if you try to hitch your star to a specific trend, sparkly vampires, for example, by the time you are done your novel, everyone will have already moved on to the next big thing.  You never know what's going to catch on so just write what you want to write.

Ellen Jensen Abbott discussed world building and talked about making maps of both her world and even the buildings she uses/describes.  She stated that she wants to make sure that when her character is walking through her house to go to her bedroom she makes a left every time so there is continuity.  I never thought about drawing plans for buildings. It was a great idea.

I did end up purchasing one of Aaron Starmer's books and I won't lie about the fact that the cover art had a strong influence on my decision. Since I purchased it at the festival he also signed it which was pretty cool (I hope it turns out to be good because he was my favorite author of the day).

Altogether it was a fantastic day and hopefully next year I'll put a little time into being prepared.  They post which authors are going to be at the festival well ahead of time so I will try to actually read some of their books so I can feel more involved in the discussions.

Book Festival Fun-Part 3

The majority of my day at The Collingswood Book Festival was spent at the Teen Tent. 

The age range for this tent ran from tweens to young adults.  That is my favorite genre both to read and write and I was very interested in hearing what the authors had to say.

The first author I listened to was Rob Buyea.  He talked about his tween book "Because of Mr. Terupt."  He drew quite an audience of starry eyed tween fans who asked all manner of questions.  He was extremely friendly and engaging.  The one piece of advice I took with me was to take something you have seen or something you know and then expand on it.  He gave the example of being a teacher and reprimanding a student for playing with the water fountain and making a huge puddle of water on the floor.  Then he read an excerpt from his book where the main character described the traumatic experience of seeing his principal slip on a puddle by the water fountain exposing her giant flowered underwear and worst of all...she had a wedgie.  The kids were in hysterics by the time Rob finished reading and I may have been giggling just a bit.

The next author was Pat Hughes. She writes historical fiction for the tween crowd.  She reminded me of the stern elementary school teacher who causes all of the kids to pray very hard over the summer that they get assigned to the other teacher's class. I was too scared to take a picture of her for fear of being chastised.  There was a teacher there with her class and each student had a sheet of paper with four questions written on it so there were plenty of questions to go around. Someone asked if she thought the imagery and topic of war (she has written books about both the revolutionary and civil war) was perhaps too mature a topic for her audience.  She asked the kids to raise their hands if they watched South Park or Family Guy and a few of the kids raised their hands.  She made the point that what she wrote was historically accurate and had educational value and was no where near as mature as what is shown in those cartoons.

The final stand alone author was A.S. King.

Though her books are for teens the audience was made up of almost all adults.  Just from what I could gather her books were a combination of John Greensih angsty teens and historical fiction/history lesson. She seems to link her present day character with someone from an important historical event from the past.  It sounded intriguing. Her most popular book "Everybody Sees the Ants"  is about bullying (though she didn't make it about bullying intentionally) so bullying was a bit of a topic of discussion.  She called herself a pantser writer which meant that she "writes by the seat of my pants." That means she doesn't organize or outline, she just writes and sees where it takes her.  She admitted that not all of her ideas have worked and she has a draw of failed novels and keeps them around so that she can cannibalize them.  I liked that description.  A.S. King was interesting, insightful and friendly and I enjoyed listening to her speak.  She was also slightly sarcastic and funny which made her chat entertaining.  She seemed like someone you would want to grab a cup of coffee with and sit down to converse with one on one for a while.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Book Festival Fun-Part 2

Another musical act pulled me in with their siren song about macaroni and cheese.  The name of the band was Ernie and Neal and they were performing in the kid's tent.  Their music was fun without making my ears bleed.  If I had kids I probably would have picked up one of their Cds.  (can you spot the little boy who dressed himself today?) I especially liked the song called, "The Pink Pig Pancake Picnic Polka."

There was an entire children's section filled with lots of fun.

There was a puppet show to watch,

games to play,

and crafts to complete.

What kid wouldn't want a set of Hamlet finger puppets?

I enjoyed walking through the Book Festival Gallery.  It was filled with illustrations from various books that were featured at the festival.

A large portion of the festival is made up of tables where authors promote their books.

I'm not much of a poet but the people who were in the poetry tent seemed to be having a good time.  They were working on composing poems about the animals they hate the most.  There was also a paint a haiku wall.

To be continued...