Wednesday, September 30, 2015

New Seasons and Clean Slates

Since returning home, the weather has been almost uniformly gray, foggy, and humid.  Those blue-blue skies of autumn have yet to peek out from behind the clouds, and even the cooler temperatures are marred by drenching humidity.  Still, I'm hopeful that as the world turns into October, mornings will become bright and crisp, and golden-red-orange leaves will stand out against a blue sky. 

Regardless of weather, I'm excited for October-- my favorite month.  I can't wait to watch Halloween favorites like Practical Magic, Hocus Pocus, It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, and, of course, Halloweentown.  This year, Zan and I plan to watch some horror films (for real, this time!) like The Orphanage, and maybe have a vampire movie-a-thon (with films like Only Lovers Left Alive and Interview with the Vampire).  I'm also looking forward to the release of Crimson Peak in theaters. 

Besides movies, October is my favorite month for food!  It's finally the time of year for full-on pumpkin ales and porters.  It starts to get cool enough for chili, stew, crusty breads, and roasted vegetables.  I have a million recipes to try (I will make a chicken-chili this year!). 

It's also the best time of year for hot apple cider and sweaters and starting to look forward to Christmas and beginning to work on homemade Christmas gifts.  The change of seasons makes it ideal for a good "autumn cleaning," taking stock of the year as it starts to spin into its last change.  I want to tidy up our apartment, then fill it with seasonal items, like a cinnamon broom and maybe a few decorative gourds.  I also hope to fill it with wonderful smells of baked apples and pumpkin pie.  Autumn is the best time for cozy-ing up with a good book and popcorn and seeing friends and feeling thankful.

Moreover, new months are lovely in and of themselves: as Anne Shirley says, "Tomorrow is always fresh with no mistakes in it."  New months and new seasons are inspiring-- clean states, all ready to be filled with new (ad)ventures and new memories.  Happy Autumn!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Through the Looking Glass and What I Found There

Just arrived back from an amazing journey to England where I presented a paper as part of the Alice Through the Ages conference at Homerton College, University of Cambridge.

The conference was absolutely amazing.  I heard so many good papers, and so many of them left my mind ruminating over the ideas and ready to explore more.  The three plenary sessions inspired me, especially.  All three were incredible, but the last-- on Alice and Fashion from 1865-1901-- helped me to view Tenniel's illustrations and the popular culture surrounding Alice in entirely new ways.  In addition to the academics, the conference-organizers put together a beautiful "Looking Glass Banquet" in the Great Hall at Homerton on Wednesday night.  The Great Hall was lit entirely by candlelight, huge Alice-inspired props decorated the main dias (including a giant chess board and a huge blue caterpillar with light-up eyes and a hookah), and we ate "Mock Mock Turtle Soup" (French onion), pork chops with vanilla-apple sauce, and a lovely chocolate-strawberry-mousse heart-shaped dessert.

By the time of the banquet, I had also met three incredible women from three different countries, and, summer-camp-like, within three days we were inseparable.  We supported each other in our paper sessions, we took tea together during the breaks, and we marveled at the beauty of the banquet side-by-side.  I fondly hope that these friendships will continue to grow and develop-- and perhaps lead to new intellectual pursuits and travels. 

Cambridge itself was lovely, too.  After the conference officially ended, we spent a few more days exploring the city.  We attended a "Fantastical Victorians" exhibit in the reading room at the Fitzwilliam Museum, and concluded the week with a lovely Mad Tea Party at Homerton College.

Here are a few more pictures of Cambridge and my adventures there!

The Cheshire Cat in a tree at Homerton College. This was just one of the many beautiful decorations spread throughout the grounds and halls of Homerton during the conference.

 A view of punters on the River Cam. We did not go punting, but I must say, I quite envied the people on the boats with their Saturday morning bottles of champagne.

 Mathematician's Bridge. I thought this was an appropriate picture to take, given that Charles Dodgson (better known as Lewis Carroll) was a mathematician.

 Cakes and scones at the Mad Tea Party finale to Wonderland Week and the conference.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

September Senses

As September begins I am...

Listening to... the podcast Welcome to Night Vale. I listened to the first episode of this show around Christmas time last year, but didn't fall in love immediately. After attending GeekyCon and meeting the Night Vale guys, I decided to give it another go. So, in August I listened to a few more, and in the last week, quite a few more than that. It's official: I'm totally addicted to this podcast!

Also listening to... a Great Course on the history of London as a city. Just started today, but it's helping me to get (even more) excited for my upcoming trip to the UK.  This course is serving as my bridge between "summer" audiobook listens and "autumn" listens.  I have three books lined up that I hope to finish before mid-November: Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman, Dracula narrated by Alan Cumming and others, and Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury.  Plus, I'm adding to that list both the Night Vale book and The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet which debuts at the end of September.  Technically that last one feels more like a "summer" read, but I plan to listen to it as soon as it's available.

(Note: as expected, I quickly finished Felicia Day's book, and moved on to a short story called The Water Horse by Dick King-Smith. I'm told there's a movie of The Water Horse that is not very good, but the short story was just lovely. I'm consistently impressed with short children's fiction: another of my favorite audiobook 'reads' was Clockwork by Philip Pullman.)

Reading (in book form)... Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and Coraline. I meant to do this ages ago, but now I have literally ten days left to get them re-read and to re-watch the cartoon versions of each.  Also, I may have bought the books for Maryellen Larkin, the new American Girl from the 1950s...

Seeing... golden early autumn sunset outside, best friends inside, fresh clean clothes drying on their drying racks, and two fuzzy kitties who currently want dinner pretty badly. I understand kitties, because it smells insanely good in my apartment since I'm...

Tasting... pulled pork, caramelized green beans and onions, and funfetti cupcakes!  When best friends cook, it's fantastic.  And, now that it's September, I can drink pumpkin ale with impunity!

Excited for... well, my upcoming trip, of course!  But also for the continuation of my job at Special Collections and the chance to see my current collection and its related collection through to the end. Best of all, I love my new work schedule.  It's perfect in terms of hours, and leaves me with time during the week to pour energy into new creative ventures-- and also to take up Spanish language-learning again (which I slacked on a lot during August).  And of course, I'm excited for the beginning of autumn! My favorite season!  As much as I love warm weather, September and October are my favorite months.  There's something about September and that 'back-to-school' feeling that has never gone away (granted, I usually am going back to school).  The cozy nights and crisp days and sweaters and boots and warm stews and crusty breads of fall make me tingly happy.  I can't wait for the World Series and Halloween movies and here's hoping that this year I might finally make it to an autumn festival or two!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Finally, an August Post!

I've been just terrible about blogging this summer.  I keep starting posts, then not finishing them.  Or finishing them, then deciding they are not worth posting.  I never blogged about my amazing trip to GeekyCon nearly four weeks ago, and my visit to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter for the Open at the Close event-- which mostly involved drinking unlimited amounts of butterbeer in Diagon Alley at 1:00 AM.  Aside from that event, the Con itself was fantastic, too!  I attended some really interesting panels, met some wildly creative people, reconnected with favorite artists, and discovered new artists to admire.  I fell in love with the artwork of Casey Robin (check out her etsy shop!), who was as nice as she is talented.  Most excitingly, I finally got to meet Mary Kate Wiles in person-- she is one of my favorite actresses (check out her YouTube channel!).  I listened to interviews with screenwriter James Moran, with the Hillywood girls, and with Anthony Rapp.  I bought a Hermoine time-turner necklace in the marketplace for only $5!  And on the last day, I went to Disney World.  Because really, how could I be so close and not visit?  A few laps around the World Showcase were just what my heart desired.  The potato-wrapped snapper at Flying Fish Cafe didn't hurt either, nor did the Polynesian Pearl cocktail at Trader Sam's Grog Grotto.

In the ensuing weeks, I've taken a short jaunt to the Outer Banks for Zan's family beach week, and this past weekend Zan and I visited Natural Bridge, VA.  For my birthday, my friend Kay gave me a night's stay at the Historic Natural Bridge Hotel.  The package came with tickets to the bridge itself, and to the caverns nearby.  Additionally, Zan and I spent an afternoon at Virginia Safari Park, feeding tons of animals and even petting a kangaroo!  It was an incredible weekend.

Most of my time, of course, I've spent processing my collection at Special Collections.  I will be wrapping up that project soon-- in fact, my last day of full-time employment is Friday.  After that, THE WORLD!  Err, no... after that, I'm a little uncertain.  Change is definitely in the air: from the cooling days and the sun setting noticeably earlier, to the sudden end of the pattern of my days.  I feel a bit like I'm on a ski jump, the kind that let off suddenly into mid-air, leaving the skier flying through the sky-- whoosh!  I'm trying to look at it as a fun adventure, to remain calm and even a little zen, but I've always been too nervous to try skiing.  I have some fun adventures lined up for the autumn (including a presentation at an academic conference in the UK), and I have some ideas for new projects that I hope take off, but I feel like I'm mostly making it up as I go along.  I suppose what I need to learn is that everyone feels like they are making it up as they go along, cobbling together days and activities and hoping for the best.

Before I go, quick book list (if I can remember them): a long while back I read Jade Green by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, an old favorite from middle school.  I've read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (to prepare for GeekyCon, of course).  I read all of Jenny Trout's hilarious/troubling recaps of 50 Shades of Grey on her blog (she read that one so I didn't have to-- thank goodness), which prompted me to read Trout's novels The Boss and The Girlfriend (written under her pen name Abigail Barnette).  I also read an incredibly sweet debut novel by Natalie Lloyd called A Snicker of Magic.  It's a children's novel (think Newbery Award age) with a lot of heart.  The writing is so unique; I can't even explain it.  As for audiobooks, I finished listening to Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, and then pretty much mainlined My Antonia by Willa Cather.  Currently, I'm nearing the end of Felicia Day's audiobook You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) and I'm re-reading Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in order to revise my conference paper.

Until next time, which hopefully won't take another month...  gonna get better at this...