Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

An old photo of mum and me
I'm guessing this was my second Halloween -- I was a hobo

I hope everybody has a wonderful Halloween!  Do you have any fun plans for the holiday?  I'm hoping to carve some pumpkins and visit my younger sister -- whose birthday is today!  If I'm going to chop up some gourds I better get on it.  Trick-or-treaters will be invading the streets in no time. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Roller Coasters & Haunted Houses

The parentals are in the front row

A few days after the pumpkin festival, I was lucky enough to have another Halloween adventure with my Dad's side of the family (minus sister Rachel).  Last Friday we drove up to our local amusement park where, in addition to the usual rides, they were hosting some Halloween events.  Two thoughts struck me on this visit.

Observation No 1: Man, I am getting old.  I remember the days when I would get off a roller coaster and go right back on -- no problem.  I aspired to ride The Colossus (the behemoth of Utah coasters when I was a wee girl) at least ten times.  I usually achieved, and occasionally exceeded, my goal.  But, I'm just old.  I left each ride feeling dizzy and nauseated.  It took me a good half hour to regain my equilibrium and gear up for the next go-round.  I managed most of the roller coasters once, but in general I found myself gravitating towards the mild attractions, like the classic carousel.  And I'm not even thirty!  What happened?!  What will an amusement park visit look like ten years from now?  Will I be driving around a little motorized cart (you know, the tiny vehicles generally reserved for senior citizens), because I can't even handle walking anymore?

 I'm on a pig!
By the way, I love carousels
They remind me of Mary Poppins

Observation No. 2: Why, oh why, did we ever come here in the summer?  Going to the amusement park was a summer tradition when I was growing up.  We sweltered in the July heat while inching our way through an hour-long line for a 90-second ride.  But in October...the weather is perfect.  Slightly warm during the day, just chilly enough at night to require an extra hoodie.  The lines are shorter, and you get all the added Halloween features as a bonus! I revelled in the ghosts and pumpkins; the synthetic fog; the dressed-up employees whose sole objective is to wander round the park frightening the patrons.  And while I may have clutched tight to my family while walking through the haunted houses, I rather enjoyed myself.  Except for the maze of clowns. Everything about clowns is so, so wrong.  

 I loved the faux gravestones with hilarious epitaphs that littered the park
Like this one
Bonus points for the skeletal hand popping out of the earth
A picnic for lunch
Lovely fall leaves
The family gets ready to blast off on The Rocket
The Sky Ride
Courtney and me on The Terror Ride
 Dracula's Castle
The spiderwebs are an October treat
Dad on the Bumper Cars
A ghoul searching for prey
Jack-O-Lantern Pyramid
Like father, like daughter

Wow, what a fantastic day...even if I received an unwelcome reminder that I am rapidly approaching senility.  Thanks to my family for this October treat!

The Vampyre; Or, I Am a Reading Slacker

After posting about my favourite Gothic reads, I was inspired to make some grand plans for my Halloween reading.  Illness and family time, unfortunately, have drastically carved into my reading time.  In short, I have yet to read a single Gothic text this month.

Then I remembered that I've been dying to read The Vampyre by John Polidori for ages, and a lovely copy of the text is sitting on my bookshelf waiting to be opened.  The tale is very brief as well, so I'll be able to plow through it (and hopefully a few other tales of the macabre to which the cover refers) by Halloween.  The history of The Vampyre is quite dramatic, which has only enhanced my curiosity.  I'll let you know what I think (and share more about the story behind the story that fascinates book nerds the world over) after I've finished it.  I hope others have been more successful than I with October Gothic reading.  Have you picked up anything exciting this month, Gothic or otherwise?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Button, oh Button!

I carry around what many would term a grandma bag, mostly because I insist on carrying certain items with me at all times.  A book, sunglasses, hand sanitizer, and my camera are must-haves without which I rarely leave home.  While there are lots of chic, over-sized bags out there, I can't pull myself away from the bookstore long enough to shell out for one.  Over the past year in England I accrued a small collection of literary buttons from various museums that spice it up a bit.  It's wonderful to have these little reminders of past travels that pay homage to some of my favourite books and authors.  I think I need to start a proper collection.

 It's abundantly clear where I picked this one up.
It was the first little button I purchased.
'Hail to thee blithe spirit'
Courtesy of the Keats Shelley House in Rome
This 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' button 
from the RSC in Stratford was a gift from Ana
Thank you, I will take that as a compliment!
Finally, the world's coolest address
from the Sherlock Holmes Museum on Baker Street, London

P.S. The title of this post is an allusion to the Potter Puppet Pals video, Snape's Diary.  When Snape tragically loses a button on his cloak, he conjures the following 'Ode to a Button' (that's not the title, but this one just came to me):

Button, oh button! Oh, where hath thou fled?
Did thee tarry too long amongst fabric and thread?
Did thee roll off my bosom and cease to exist?
How I wish I could follow thee into the mist.

There are many, many recitations of this Ode at my house. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Cornbelly's Pumpkin Festival

Last week the fam and I (minus one working brother) went to the local fall pumpkin festival.  Our main purpose in going was to choose some perfectly round and orange gourds for Halloween pumpkin carving.  We got so distracted by the farm animals and activities (most of which were aimed at children) that we went home pumpkin-less.  Chelsea's allergies flared up as soon she came within range of the hay, so we didn't stay long.  But it was still lots of fall fun!

Farm animal races!
Left: piglets; Right: pygmy goats
By the Pumpkin Pyramid
 Baby Sister
This is The Beast
You crawl through its mouth, past its heart,
through the intestines and out...never mind.
A clown quite randomly haunted The Beast's bowels.
 We then ventured into the Hay Maze
I thought it was quite cosy
Which meant blocking maze traffic for a photo op
Afterwards we went for a ride on The Grain Train
The Grain Train is pulled by a tractor
So it's a pretty wild ride
The route is haunted
I don't know how we survived
On our way out, Mum and I played a round of pumpkin tetherball
I won, even though she cheated (mwahahaha)

Back at the home front we feasted on
Krispy Kreme donuts and hot chocolate
Thanks for a fantastic fall evening, family!
Now about those pumpkins...

Thursday, October 27, 2011

100th Post!

Wearing red lipstick (see #5)

This humble little blog has reached its 100th post!  I understand that it's a sort of blogging tradition to share 100 facts about oneself on this occasion.  So I've accrued some random tidbits about me, myself and I.  I just hope it doesn't bore everyone to tears.  Right, here we go...

1. Today is my birthday! One more year before the dreaded 3-0.  I was born exactly half a century after Sylvia Plath, which I think is pretty awesome.
2. I have to pinch myself sometimes when I think about how spectacular my friends and family members are.  How did I get so lucky?! (By the way, I don't literally pinch myself.  It's just a metaphor.  I like metaphors.)
3. I am prone to tangents (see #2).  Sometimes others poke fun at me for it, but I like to believe this is due to the fact that I'm always thinking (see #61).
4. I can't stay away from sugary treats.  Cake is a favourite, so I constantly rephrase the infamous line of Marie Antoinette propaganda to 'Then let me eat cake!'  And then I eat cake...
5. I adore the color red; can't stay away from it.
6. I have lived in England on and off for three years, but in all that time, I never once visited Scotland, Wales or Ireland despite the best of intentions
7. I'm determined to change that the next time I cross the pond, starting with Edinburgh.
8. I have four sisters and one brother.  Some of these are half-siblings by blood, full-siblings in terms of love.
9. I am the oldest.  Hello baby-sitting duty!
10. Therefore, I can't quite understand those people who are scared of babies.  Seriously, it's just a baby. 
11. London is the best city in the world.  No question.
12. I can quote entire scenes from movies I haven't seen in years, thus provoking some spontaneous one-woman shows.
13. As I ease into my 'old age' this 'gift' is beginning to fade. It now requires 3-5 viewings for me to memorize full passages of dialogue.
14. This is a tragedy for me, but a blessing to those around me.
15. My first job was as a market research associate; aka, I endured the cruel hell that is conducting over-the-phone surveys.  Never again.
16. Every time I live in England, I move further North.  I worry that if I continue this trend I will eventually end up at the North Pole.  
17. I love trees.  They make any setting more beautiful.

Taken at the grounds of Harewood House

18. Pride and Prejudice is the first classic I ever read.  It was my gateway to the wonderful world of nineteenth-century literature. 
19. I want to visit every English estate that has starred as Pemberley in a P&P adaptation.
20. I want to get a degree in the History of Art.  Just because.
21. I adore Pre-Raphaelite art. Millais' Ophelia and Waterhouse's The Lady of Shallott are among my favourite pieces.
22. I firmly believe a life without spicy food is not a life worth living.
23. I can't watch The Office (UK version) or Extras without laughing.
24. Extras once made me laugh in my sleep.  For reals.
25. It drives me crazy when people use the word 'good' in a sentence when they should be saying 'well.'
26. Obviously, I'm a bit of a Grammar Nazi.
27. I moved approximately twelve times before the age of eighteen (the moves before age three are a bit fuzzy).
28. I was born in Utah and have also lived in Idaho and Colorado.
29. I'd love to live back East.  I think it's more my style.
30. I'm engaged to Richard Armitage from the BBC adaptation of North and South.  He just doesn't know it yet.

31. It drives me crazy (no pun intended) when people steer vehicles with their knees, especially if it's only so they can employ hand gestures while chatting.  I'm talking about you, Mum!
32. In 13 years of driving, I've managed to avoid a ticket. (Touch wood.)
33. Jane Eyre is the book that I go back to most often -- for the good parts.  You know what I mean.
34. If you don't know what I mean, I would advise you read said novel at once.
35. I am obsessed with all things Victorian.

36. I finally visited Italy in April of this year.  Florence is my favourite Italian city.  I think.  It's so hard to choose.
37. My favourite household chore is vacuuming.  I dream of owning a Dyson.  Literally; I'm not using a metaphor for this time.  
38. My guilty pleasures are bad YA novels and reality television.
39. Chip (or crisps) and salsa is my favourite food.
40. I always crave them when I'm ill.
41. English chips cause me to gain approximately 10 pounds every time I'm over there. 
42. I am terrified of sharks, but I tune in to Shark Week on the Discovery Channel every summer.
43. If I could travel back in time, I would check out Victorian London.
44. But I would do so as a man, like Irene Adler in Arthur Conan Doyle's 'A Scandal in Bohemia.'
45. I love nerds. Seriously, a man instantly becomes more attractive to me if he's reading a (good) book and/or wearing glasses.
46. Misogyny, an inability to make me laugh and smoking, on the other hand, are major turn-offs.  As are non-readers -- I just can't do it.  Is this why I'm perpetually single?
47. My Master's degree is in Victorian Literature (see #35)..
48. I also adore children's lit and novels from the late eighteenth century.
49. Beauty and the Beast is my favourite Disney film.  I know a lot of men like Gaston.
50. I maintain this film has one of the romantic moments in screen history.  He gives her a library.  A library.  I'm practically swooning as I type.
51. I've made a lot of jokes about swooning ever since reading Ann Radcliffe's The Romance of the Forest earlier this year.
52. I am an absolute baby when watching horror films.
53. So I just avoid them altogether.
54. Unless they're set in the Victorian period (see #35).
55. I'm a proud feminist.  Gender rights for all!
56. I can't wait to explore more of Europe.  Vienna and Prague are at the top of my list. 
57. I adore Flight of the Conchords and sing their songs at random moments.
58. Elizabeth Gaskell is a favourite author, but I've only discovered her in the past few years.
59. I'm a night owl who can't seem to convert to early birdism despite my best efforts.  I'm always a zombie in the morning and often do ridiculous things in my sleepy state -- like look for milk in the cupboard for a full minute before realizing why that isn't leading to the desired result.
60. I get very annoyed by pretentious people.
61. I can be a pretentious person. 
62. I don't keep up-to-date with the music scene, but I enjoy indie rock.
63. Chopin's Etude in E is one of my favourite piano pieces.
64. I am always very curious and eager to learn about new subjects.
65. Except mathematics.  Gross.
66. I have so many rules for borrowers of my books to follow that people generally don't bother.
67. But I use any excuse to buy books for others, which I hope makes up for my OCD book behavior.
68. One of my favourite quotes is from Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey: 'The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.'
69. I love, how they went crazy with commas, in the nineteenth century, and often have to restrain myself, from following suit,,,
70. I have seen every episode of Sex and the City numerous times.  I'm a Miranda.
71. Modern Family is my current tv fave. 
72. I obsessively sanitize surfaces in the winter to avoid illness. It never works.  I still come down with the flu.
73. I enjoy yoga but very rarely practice. 
74. I'm dying to visit India where I hope to ride an elephant.
75. I'm kidding about the elephant.  Kind of.
76. I adore dogs, especially my terrier Percy.
77. He is named after The Scarlet Pimpernel, a favourite from my teenage years.

78. I don't understand why people don't like dogs, even though I went through a lengthy period where I was indifferent to them.
79. Little Women was the first literary adaptation for which I went absolutely crazy.
80. Amelie is my favourite foreign film.
81. I used to want to live in France. Then I saw the error of my ways. : )
82. High modernism is my literary phobia.  I avoid it at all costs, because I feel like the biggest idiot on the planet when attempting to interpret it. 
83. I dream of having a job that pays me to read and/or travel.
84. Bach's Prelude to Cello Suite One moves me every time I hear it, even if it's the soundtrack to a ridiculous advertisement. Thus, learning to play the cello is on my bucket list.
85. After years of being told I look too pale, I have finally embraced my pallor.
86. I rarely leave the house without sunscreen, because I'm slightly heliophobic. Thus I adore the rainy English weather.
87. I saw JK Rowling across Leicester Square when scoping out The Prisoner of Azkaban premiere.  I think this is far more exciting than conversing with the vast majority of celebrities.
88. It's one of the supreme disappointments of my life that I never attended Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry -- pretty sure I would have been a Ravenclaw.  
89. One of my pet peeves is Microsoft Word's limited vocabulary.  Transgressive is a word!  I tell you, it is!
90. Bad 80s movies (like Dirty Dancing, Sixteen Candles and Troop Beverly Hills) take me back to my childhood.  Love them. 
91. I can't get enough of West End theatre when I'm in London. 
92. It's now difficult for me to stomach community theatre (see #61).
93. The Sound of Music is my mom's favourite movie, therefore it's a childhood favourite for me.
94. I used to enact scenes from the film.  I played the first six Von Trapp children.  My sister Deb played Gretl. 
95. So I suppose it's no surprise I was a drama geek in high school. 
96. I hated high school and am very suspicious of anyone who says it was the best time of her life. 
97. I love(d) university.  I could go to university forever. 
98. Favourite contemporary films include Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and 500 Days of Summer.
99. Christmas is my favourite holiday, and it's entirely possible that I've already begun holiday cheer preparations by researching Christmas music on iTunes.  Don't worry, I haven't actually downloaded anything.  Yet.
100. I would be very surprised if a single person has made it through this list.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Pisa, Round Two

I have just a few more pics of Pisa to share before moving on to the Leaning Tower and what not.  These were taken by Maggie, which explains her absence from the shots.  I think she really captured the spirit of Pisa. I particularly love the photo she took of Tanya, Francesca and me walking through a small Italian market.  The produce available from fruit and veggie vendors is so fresh, and I love the aesthetic burst of colour a market like this provides.  Picturesque and charming, they fit in with the European architecture perfectly. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Mr. Darcy or Mr. Wet Shirt?

It occurred to me after my post on Mr. Darcy kitsch that not everyone may be familiar with the phenomenon of The Wet Shirt.  Though...I'm not sure how this could be.  Isn't this something they teach in schools worldwide?  

In my effort to educate the masses I am including clips of The Wet Shirt from the classic Colin Firth Pride and Prejudice as well as its parody from Lost in Austen (which appears at the bottom of the post).

I particularly love the response to The Wet Shirt in the latter scene:

'I'm having a bit of a strange postmodern moment here.'
'Is that agreeable?'
'Oh, yes, yes.'

I hope you find it agreeable as well!

P.S. Do you know, I've actually visited the estate that stars as Pemberley in Lost in Austen.  I'll have to share more about that soon.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

I am a hopeless sugar junkie, and this past Sunday I found myself craving a classic fall dessert.  Something pumpkin was the order of the day.

As far as I have observed, pumpkin doesn't strongly feature in British cuisine.  But in America, it's a seasonal favourite.  We have the following pumpkin desserts available at this time of year: pie, cookies, cake, ice cream, muffins and cheesecake.  And those are just the pumpkin varieties that immediately spring to mind!  After hearing about this great recipe, I decided to go with the cookies.  They turned out quite well, and I am already eager for another batch.

Rounding up the ingredients
Wallet optional
Butter + White Sugar + Brown Sugar = Heart Disease
But isn't it worth it?
Adding the canned pumpkin
It smells like baby food -- blech
Mixing the Spices
I used milk chocolate chips in lieu of semi-sweet
Ready to bake...
...And voila!  Ready to eat!
Enjoying the fruits of my labour
Or is pumpkin a vegetable?
Can I say the vegetables of my labour? Hmm...