One More Time

I have been blogging for five years now.

In September of 2008, when I was a high school senior who fancied myself enough of a writer that I thought I should do it publicly (still not sure if that was a good idea), I started my first blog.  It was drama-laden and iffy at best in the adjectives department and still exists if you really want to go there.  But don’t think I’ll be providing the URL.

Actual picture of high school me in an actual marching band uniform.  I look like such a baby.  I wish I could go back in time and warn myself not to take Intro to Statistics.

Actual picture of high school me in an actual marching band uniform (I’m on the left). I look like such a baby.  So naive about the ways of the world.  I wish I could go back in time and warn myself not to take Intro to Statistics in college.

In September of 2011, I began my second blog upon departing for a semester in Salzburg, Austria.  I only posted about a dozen times on that one, since I was, you know, living my grandest Sound of Music daydreams.

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In December of 2011, back from my travels, I decided that I didn’t want to return to the high school Blogger blog, and anyway, I had a new goal in mind: I was resolved to blog once a day, every day for the entire new year.  Thus Eight Days a Week was born on WordPress.  When that year ended I stuck around for another year, blogging about whatever struck my fancy.

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In September of 2013, I decided to start yet another blog.  My last, I fervently hope.  I have long wanted my blog to be its own website, to have a higher level of creative control, to have a chance to join blogging communities, and to interact with blog readers on a larger scale.  Additionally, while the name suited my original project well, Eight Days a Week no longer describes what I’m trying to do as a blogger and writer.

So, I’ve moved.  One more time.

Don’t think for a moment that this changes much.  Goodness knows I’ll be writing the same goofy sagas and literary rants as always.  Also, as I mentioned before, my posts from Eight Days a Week have transferred over to the new blog, so the gang’s truly all there.

Although it’s not really goodbye, I want to take what feels like a solemn moment to thank all of you for reading, for following, for liking, for commenting.  Thanks for not rolling your eyes when eye rolling was more than justified.  At least, thanks for not rolling your eyes where I could see you.  It has meant a great deal to have the support of fine folks such as yourselves.

I hope that you’ll follow the link below to the new blog**, where an introduction is waiting:

http://www.hollyinspec.com

**Please note that if you’d like to continue to receive my posts in your email, you’ll have to resubscribe at my new blog (link above).  I will no longer be posting on Eight Days a Week.  

The Host[ess] With the Mostess

After a four-hour saga involving more internet jargon than I ever cared to translate, mild to moderate profanity, one million “what do I do now” Google searches, three live chats with Bluehost techies, five Bluehost FAQ video viewings, one phone call to Bluehost, one unwanted run-in with an architectural firm, one irresponsible Tweet, and three pieces of homemade pizza, I have created a new blog hosted via Bluehost.

Not only that, but I have also installed WordPress so that I might continue to use it (but on an independent URL), and have transferred all of the existing Eight Days a Week posts over to the new blog.

Whew.  As I mentioned in the irresponsible Tweet: I think I need a hug.

(So far only Ruby has offered.  I showered today and everything.)

I would love to be able to share my newfound blog hosting wisdom with you fine people, but unfortunately, even now (a half hour after completion) I don’t think I could walk someone through what I did.

What I can tell you is that blog hosting was more difficult than I thought it would be. The pros claim hosting can be done in 20 minutes.  Ha.

Another thing I can tell you is that when I was in the thick of things–and by thick I mean nearly in tears because I didn’t understand what an FTP Account wasBluehost really, really came through for me.  Their website contains dozens of step-by-step how-to videos and a live chat service which allows you to receive instant answers from knowledgable representatives. It’s obviously too soon to speak to Bluehost’s long-term reliability, but I would definitely recommend them as a host based on their solid tech support.**

They even responded to my despairing Tweet with genuine concern.

Here are three additional links I found helpful, especially during my preliminary research:

http://www.fannetasticfood.com/how-to-start-a-blog/

http://www.paulryburn.com/blog/how-to-start-your-own-blog-part-2-decide-where-to-host-your-blog/

http://www.theblogbuilders.com/blog-setup-video-tutorial/

As for the new blog: It will be a week or so before I make the official transition over.  It’s in need of some scrubbing up and tricking out before I show it to the world.

**Note that I am not being paid by Bluehost to promote their services.  Nor do they know about this post.  I am simply happy with their services and wish to share the joy.

Friday Favorites 6

This town:

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There is a town in Maryland named Chevy Chase.

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Not after this man, although that’s what I thought at first.

This Chevy Chase’s real name is Cornelius.  According to Wikipedia (only the most reliable sources for you, dear reader),

“Chase was named for his adoptive grandfather Cornelius, while the nickname Chevy was bestowed by his grandmother, derived from the medieval English The Ballad of Chevy Chase. As a descendant of the Scottish Clan Douglas, the name “Chevy” seemed appropriate to her.”

And according to the town of Chevy Chase’s website,

“The name … can be traced to the larger tract of land called “Cheivy Chace” that was patented to Colonel Joseph Belt from Lord Baltimore on July 10, 1725. It has historic associations to a 1388 battle between Lord Percy of England and Earl Douglas of Scotland. At issue in this “chevauchee” (a Scottish word describing a border raid) were hunting grounds or a “chace” in the Cheviot Hills of Northumberland and Otterburn.”

Further research into The Ballad of Chevy Chase reveals that actually, it refers to the same battle (mentioned in the previous passage) between Lord Percy and Earl Douglas, a “chevauchee.”

So, both comedian and small Maryland town are named after the same 1388 border dispute in the Cheviot Hills of Scotland.

This is why I love history.

This TV ad:

Now, I’m not saying that I don’t think it’s a good idea to create a flu vaccine that can be sprayed instead of injected.  I’m just saying that I first saw this commercial while SNL was on, and until the very end, I was convinced that it was a skit.  I thought, something this odd can’t possibly be a real flu vaccine commercial.

Boy, was I wrong.  It’s real.

Second 22-25 is my favorite part, but the scene in which the whole family struts down the street wearing those nose superhero masks is pretty great as well.

These memes:

I’ve been a meme fiend this week.  I literally spent a good amount of time googling “Henry VII memes,” “Mad Men memes,” and “Teddy Roosevelt memes.”  Pathetic?  Yes.  Fruitful? Yes.

Here are some of the best I dug up:

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And now, a series entitled “Mean Mad Men:” Scenes from Mad Men captioned with Mean Girls quotes.  I can’t believe it, either.

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I should mention that I am currently working on a full post about Mad Men.  Because if any show deserves a full post (well, aside from Dawson’s Creek), it’s Mad Men.

This angry celebrity:

Given, he’s not very specific about the contents of his “revolution.”  But Russell Brand has some interesting things to say.  And he’s more eloquent than you might think.

This book:

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After a summer-long hiatus following my Honors Capstone Project, I am once again reading Virginia Woolf.  This is my first time through The Years, and I have to say, it’s strange to read Woolf knowing I won’t be back in Woolf Lit on Monday to discuss the latest.  I’ve been doing all right muddling through on my own, although I worry that I’m missing some richness that could only be uncovered in an academic setting. Reading with a pen helps.  Here are some of the beauties I’ve underlined so far:

“Is this death? Delia asked herself.  For a moment there seemed to be something there.  A wall of water seemed to gape apart; the two walls held themselves apart” (44, Harcourt edition pictured above).

“One after another the bells of Oxford began pushing their slow chimes through the air.  They tolled ponderously, unequally, as if they had to roll the air out of their way and the air was heavy” (47).

“Well, since it was impossible to read and impossible to sleep, she would let herself be thought.  It was easier to act things out than to think them … She stretched herself out.  Where did thought begin” (125)?

“For it was October, the birth of the year” (86).

Happy weekend, friends.

O, What a Luxury

We all know that I have a terrible inferiority complex when it comes to meeting celebrities (even local ones).  “Will they like me?” I think.  “Can I trust myself to say something witty and endearing?” I think, sweating profusely.  “What if I’m not dressed nicely enough to impress them?” I think, from a dead faint on the floor.

It’s silly, and it doesn’t make much sense.  We’re all people, after all.  We’re all plodding through this wonderful, cruel maze that is The Human Condition.  Celebrities just happen to have a marketable talent.  Or are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.  Or are really, really ridiculously good-looking.  Or are hard workers.  Or some combination of all four.

The fact is, I can’t seem to remember any of this wisdom when faced with a real, live celebrity.  And thus I’m always surprised when they turn out to be nice, regular people.  (Of course, some celebrities are as appraising and arrogant as I fear, and those I choose to smirk about later: “It goes to their heads. It always, always goes to their heads. Heh heh heh.  I was right all along.”  But then again, plenty of people who don’t have their own TV shows are appraising and arrogant.)

So when Wednesday night found me sitting in the sixth row at a Garrison Keillor poetry reading, I knew I was in for it.  Here was a man whose voice I had literally been hearing through the radio for my entire life.  My parents own a boat on Lake Superior, and some of my earliest memories are of hurtling through the northern woods on Sunday afternoons, listening to Guy Noir or News From Lake Wobegon and laughing whenever my parents laughed.  Sometimes, uncomfortably full with the Happy Meals we had begged for for miles and miles (and which were somehow disappointing once actually opened and consumed), my sister and I would fall asleep in the backseat of the minivan to the sound of Mr. Keillor’s voice, and wake up at home.

Garrison Keillor is perhaps the most important public figure of all, in the Minnesotan mind.  He brought us–our church basement suppers, our bars and hot dishes, our passive aggression, our experience of being up at the lake or down on the farm or “in town,” our grandparents and parents and cousins–to the world.  And sure, we’re not always so neurotic as A Prairie Home Companion portrays us to be.  Nor always so poignant nor so musical.  But the spirit of the show is right.

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All of the sudden the poetry reading was over.  The wide sheets of paper Mr. Keillor had read from were scattered on the floor.  And Mr. Keillor himself was strolling down the stage steps, down the aisle, and out into the lobby, where, as he said, he would be happy to sign copies of O, What a Luxury and to chat.  Mom and I joined the growing line, squashed in between an older woman who exclaimed that she was “just wild for E.E. Cummings” and a young couple tossing computer jargon–discs and codes and bytes–back and forth like a softball.

Then we were at the front, and I silently handed my book to Mr. Keillor, deciding in a split second that perhaps I should just be quietly friendly and not attempt any conversation.  He looked up, though, and jokingly commented on my mom’s hair, and then turned to me with an “what do you have to say for yourself, young lady?” expression.

So I told him that I’m a recent graduate from the University of Minnesota.

“And what did they do for you there?”

“They gave me an English degree, but I’m still figuring out how to use it.  I’m trying to get a job writing or editing.”

“Are you a good writer and editor?”

“Yes.”  (Then, because that seemed too vain) “I mean, I like to think I am.”

“Send your resume to Prairie Home Companion, then.”

I’m going to end the conversation here, but note that there was some additional stuttering on my part before the exchange was over.  Perhaps also some gushing to my patient mother during the drive home: “I can’t believe Garrison Keillor told me to send in my resume!  I mean, it wasn’t exactly a promise of a job, but still.  I’m going to have to write a cover letter right away.  I think I’ll say something about listening to APHC as a kid, but I don’t want to ramble, you know, so I’ll have to be concise…”  You get the idea.

To conclude this saga, I think there’s a lesson to be learned: if we ever happen to develop a marketable talent; or are in the right place at the right time; or become really, really ridiculously good-looking; or increase our work ethic…in other words, if we become celebrities, let’s remember to be kind to stuttering recent graduates who ask for our autographs.  Because it will mean a lot to them.

Blog Update

For those of you who are new round these parts, and for those of you who are still hanging around: please note that the “About the Blog (And Me)” page has been updated.

As in, I’m no longer pretending to still be in college.  I have officially stated my graduation.

As in, I have set up lots of links to some of my more…notorious…posts.

As in, there’s still no photo of me because my goodness I struggle to take a nice selfie.  We can’t all have that gift.

In other news, I am currently working on taking ownership of this blog.  Which means, essentially, that I’ll pay to host it separately from WordPress.  I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time, this being to make Eight Days a Week into an independent blog.  One of the major perks of this change will be that I can look into applying to be part of BlogHer, which is where all the female blogging powerhouses make their home.

Don’t misunderstand me, I have little idea of what I’m getting myself into.  I’m doing plenty of research, though, so that when the switch is made, you (the reader) will hopefully not be inconvenienced.

Writing “Rules”

Admittedly, upon waking this morning and reading the Weather Channel’s description of the cool temperature and slight breeze, I bolted outside in my pajamas to confirm for myself.  I appreciate every change of season as it comes, but there’s something about fall.  Perhaps it’s the (lifelong, I suspect) association with a new school year, but summer to fall feels like the greatest shift of all.  It feels like a shift that permeates not only the temperature and the leaf color, but people’s lives.  Big things are afoot, my friends, for you and for me.  Even if we don’t know what these big things are yet.

What I have for you today, far from the promised materialism of Friday Favorites, are my writing “rules.”  I typed these out last night instead of working on a short story.  That’s right: I wrote rules for writing instead of actually applying the rules and writing.  Though writing the rules was writing …  just not the kind of writing I was thinking of when I wrote them.

Right.  Or write, if you’d prefer.

Needless to say, I don’t actually believe that my writing rules should be your rules, or even that my rules apply to my writing all of the time (thus the obnoxious quotations around “rules”).  But it was a surprisingly good time to think about how I write and how I’d like to write and how I live so that I might write.

Holly’s Written “Rules” For Writing

1. Never show a first draft.  No matter how encouraging your reader is, the brilliancy of your fragile baby draft will shrink in your eyes once you let another’s eyes judge it.  Wait until a draft is as good as you can make it before you let people tell you how far it has yet to go.

"The first draft of anything is shit." -Ernest Hemingway

“The first draft of anything is shit.”  -Ernest Hemingway

2. When stumped, start over.  And by start over, I mean start a new word document, entirely separate from the stump-inducing one.  Retype the parts you liked on the old document, but do so without looking.  This is how you find a new angle: via blank slate.

3. Find your writing power song and don’t be too proud to use it.  Mine is “Briony” from the Atonement film score.  Because of the typewriter sounds.  Note: your power song does not need to be subtle.

4. Read your work out loud, even when you don’t want to, or are in public.  You will always catch typos and icky-sounding syntax that you couldn’t possibly have otherwise.

5. Write down an idea, name, image, conversation the minute it strikes you.  You will have forgotten it by the following morning otherwise.  See “Marble Memo” post for my portable solution.

6. The power of mulling is highly underestimated.  Not everything to do with writing has to do with the act of putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.  Sometimes the solution to a plot tangle is to write until you get it right.  Other times, you simply have to puzzle it out to yourself while circling the local roundabout intersection in your Subaru.

7. Even if you can’t take criticism well, learn to take it and then cry later.  Because you need criticism.

8.  Do things.  Meet people.  Be out in the world.  Be afraid and uncomfortable and awkward and curious.  Let it all filter into your writing.  Emily Dickinson has dibs on the secluded attic writer, and goodness knows we couldn’t do it as well as her anyway.

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9. Tell people you’re a writer.  The title “writer” has nothing to do with publishing status or age or degree.  If you love writing and do it often–whether for hobby or for career–then you’re a writer.  Revel in the raised eyebrows that will often follow your proclamation.  Don’t forget to adopt the Hemingway swagger as you walk away.

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10. Let yourself be intimidated by the greats.  Let yourself revel in their genius, regardless of who the greats are for you.  For me, they’re primarily Scott Fitzgerald and Virginia Woolf.  And they scare me and sometimes make me feel like I will never amount to anything because I don’t write like Scott Fitzgerald and Virginia Woolf.  But they also make me proud to be part of this rowdy clan of crazy genius writers.

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11.  Write your own writing rules.  Or know them, at least.  Make some standards for yourself and stick to them.  This is how we prove to those eyebrow raisers (and to ourselves) that what we do is as important and as “real” of a job as, say, accounting.

If you do write your own writing rules, share them with me.  Comment with the link.  I’d love to read them.

Top Ten Favorite Pieces of Contemporary Literature (Part 1)

I was too late applying for a job today.  The posting was still on the company’s website, but the deadline at the bottom was August 12th.  I sent an email anyway, asking if the position had already been filled.  And if not, if I could send my application and begin dedicating various lucky charms toward the cause.  Sarah, who responded to my email, said in the friendliest way that the position had been filled, but that I should check back later.

I will certainly do so.

But what made me want the position badly enough to send that email in the first place was that applicants were asked to include–along with cover letter, resume, writing sample (the usual)–a list of their ten favorite pieces of contemporary literature.

Let me tell you.  I’ve applied for many a publishing job.  At larger and more prominent publishing houses.  But not one has asked me for such a list.

This is strange, because it seems to me that for one to work in publishing, one must be first and foremost a reader.  A crazed, midnight oil burning, Half Price Books residing, I can’t sleep until I know this character will be all right reader.  Able to recite the red wheelbarrow poem on demand.  Able to explain the origins of Samuel Clemens’ pseudonym without pause.  Unable to use the term “Harry Potter English Major,” because, Good Lord, all readers are wonderful and miraculous and welcome.  And we all have guilty secrets.

The entire Twilight Saga is on my bookshelf right now.  In hardback.  I am not ashamed.

But mostly, readers delight in such lists.  That’s why, if I might be so brash, I’d like to make my list now.  And to make it even thought August 12th is long past.

Don’t think of this as my desperate plea for that job that got away.  Think of it as the kind of opportunity I wait all year for.

Holly’s Ten Favorite Pieces of Contemporary Literature (in no particular order, because I couldn’t possibly):

1. Into the Wild.  This book served as my introduction to creative nonfiction.  It showed me that true stories could be told in literary prose.  Jon Krakauer told us about Chris McCandless without presuming to know him.  And more importantly, without presuming to criticize him.  I like an author humble enough to give you the facts, set the scene, and then back off.

2. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.  Tell me how overdone Hamlet plots are and I’ll smirk and hand you this book.  I haven’t yet been able to describe the plot without making it sound silly (it’s not) and as if it’s for young people (it’s not).  The prose in Edgar Sawtelle is breathtaking.  The story is set in the Chequamegon National Forest in Northern Wisconsin (my childhood stomping grounds).  And I’ve never wanted to bring a character to life more than I’ve wanted Almondine to be real.  Almondine is a Sawtelle dog.  You’ll know what I mean when you read the book.

3. Never Let Me Go.  I am not a professional reviewer.  My adjective pool is somewhat shallow.  The word flawless comes to mind, however.  Heartbreaking.  Eerie.  Masterfully layered.  I read this book when I need a lesson on how to reveal a world slowly, subtly.

Expect the next three on my list in the next post.  You didn’t think I wouldn’t prolong this delight, did you?  Whew double negative.  I’ll just leave that there.

Out East Road Trip Day 3: Charlottesville, VA to Washington D.C.

Yesterday was the day we attempted to tackle both Jefferson’s Monticello and Washington’s Mount Vernon.  Our house tour reservation for Monticello was at 9:00 a.m., and our house tour (or “Mansion Tour” as the brochure so elegantly dubbed it) for Mount Vernon was at 3:30 p.m.  The estates are about 2 hours apart by car.  And we needed a lunch/gas stop in between.

We felt a little rushed, a little like we should be humming the Mission Impossible theme as we sped through the Virginia countryside, but for those of you who also want to see both estates in one day, let me tell you that it is entirely doable.  That’s with a Jimmy John’s lunch, Exxon stop, and end-of-weekend traffic included.

Before I get to the Tom Cruise-esque madness, however, I need to talk a little more about Charlottesville.  Or Cville, as the cool cats say.

There were a few pilgrimages to make in Cville.  First, to Thomas Jefferson’s adored University of Virginia.  What a lovely university.  Before driving through the UVA campus, I had been able to keep my post-grad pangs at bay for the most part, but as soon as I saw the clusters of brick buildings, the shaded sidewalks, the Dinkytown, it suddenly felt so wrong not to be buying textbooks and color coding notebooks and folders (not that I’ve ever done that).  While I swallowed the lump in my throat, Mom attempted to locate the famed UVA Rotunda.  We knew basically what it looked like.  Brick.  Pillars. Dome. But even when we spotted this:

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we weren’t convinced that it was the Rotunda.  So we drove around some more, rapidly punching buttons on Bea The Misguided GPS, until we ended up back where we started.  At the Rotunda.

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And Jefferson was all

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I bought a $20.00 mug at the Monticello museum shop to make it up to him.

The next pilgrimage is slightly more creeper-ish.  Kath’s blog is one of my favorites.  I actually squealed loudly in the UMM library upon seeing the announcement of her son’s birth last September, which drew a few glares from those in deeper study mode than I.  I never imagined that I would actually make it to Charlottesville, but since I did, I thought I should swing by the Great Harvest owned by Kath and her husband, Matt.  Alas, they are closed on Sundays.  I settled for a photo of the infamous building (the creeper part).  Wish I could have met you, Kath!  And eaten some bread!

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Here are my thoughts on Monticello:

1. Our house tour time was 9:00 a.m., which was the first tour of the day, and so the grounds were nearly empty.  This meant that we didn’t have to wait in line to peer into various rooms and to read the signs attached to various sites.  As someone who likes to take the time to read everything while touring, I rather liked being there early, and would recommend it for future visitors.

2.  Monticello didn’t feel like a tourist destination. It didn’t feel like a sight that had been paved over with excess pathways or altered for the sake of the public.  It felt like Jefferson’s house, and it was easy to picture the man himself walking around and living at Monticello.  This I appreciated above all else.  Tour guides and signs were candid about what had been restored and/or supplemented, but when they had needed to, say, repaint a room, they were careful to match the color exactly to the original.  Hooray for history buffs who take the time to read through journals and records just to find evidence of a specific paint color.  You make the world a better place.

3. The house tour was phenomenal.  If I ever return, I’d like to do the nooks and crannies tour, which covers the upstairs of the house, but I was plenty content with the standard tour.  The standard tour covered the exterior, entrance hall, sitting room, library, Jefferson’s bedroom/study suite, dining/tea room, formal parlor, Madison Room, and terrace.  Our guide explained what was special about each room and included interesting tidbits that humanized Jefferson as much as praised his character.  I gained a good deal of new perspective about Jefferson that only came from visiting his property.

4. Next we tried the garden tour.  I say tried because we are bona fide tour ditchers.  We are the tourists other tourists look down on.  But we also didn’t care to listen to the guide explain each tree and flower on the property.  I say that respectfully, because the guide was doing a wonderful, thorough job of it.  We just weren’t interested.  So we hung back and then made our getaway and were perfectly content to wander the gardens on our own.  Everything is nicely labeled at Monticello; I never spent any time guessing what the significance of something was, even sans guide.

Here are some Monticello photos:

Monticello means "little mountain."  Naturally, then, views were involved.  This was taken from the practical garden, which grows the same fruits, vegetables, and herbs today as would have been growing there in the 18th century.

Monticello means “little mountain.” Naturally, then, views were involved. This was taken from the practical garden, which grows the same fruits, vegetables, and herbs today as would have been growing there in the 18th century.

The house.

The house (back view).

The house (front view).  I really try to take straight pictures.  I really do try.

The house (front view). I really try to take straight pictures. I really do try.

Part of the storage/workrooms that lay under the terrace.  Jefferson apparently liked to keep those bits hidden.

Part of the storage/workrooms that lay under the terrace. Jefferson apparently liked to keep those bits hidden.  (Sorry about the out-of-focus.  I try to get that right as well.)

The kitchen.  All set up and reading for someone to start mixing up hoecakes.

The kitchen. All set up and waiting for someone to start mixing up hoecakes.  A sign on the wall that I found funny mentioned that Jefferson “never visited the kitchen except to wind up the clock.”

Jefferson's grave, with what he considered to be his three greatest achievements inscribed upon it.

Jefferson’s grave, with what he considered to be his three greatest achievements inscribed upon it.

Thoughts on Mount Vernon:

1. We did successfully make our tour time, but unfortunately, it fell during the hottest part of the day.  The time of day when I am prone to both grumpiness and sleepiness.  It was also a time of day when the estate was crowded and the lines are long.  Hot+grumpy+sleepy+crowds don’t a happy camper make.  So there were parts of Mount Vernon which I perhaps didn’t appreciate as much as I might have had conditions been ideal.  It’s not Mount Vernon’s fault.  Visit early, friends.  Don’t let George see you cry.

2.  Mount Vernon felt a lot like Versailles to me (the only comparison I can think of.  I apologize for whipping out my “this one time, when I was in Europe” line) in that the estate was huge, mostly self-guided, and more often than I would like, I wasn’t sure of the significance of what I was looking at, or whether it was original.  Because of my garden tour ditch, you know that I don’t always jive with guided tours.  But I do like information-laden signs.  And there weren’t enough such signs, in my opinion.

3. The best part about Mount Vernon was the fact that there were various buildings to explore.  Most of them were located in a semi-circle on either side of the “mansion.”  So, for a selection, we peeked into the overseer’s house (and read a brief description), the salt house, the stables, and the kitchen.  Washington’s estate was self-contained, and it was interesting to see its various operations.

4. Most of the Mount Vernon guides were as grumpy as I was!  Perhaps they were merely responding to my chi, but my goodness, people were being barked at left and right instead of being helpfully directed.  I didn’t feel as welcomed as I had at Monticello, which lessened the experience for me.

5. The mansion tour was not the typical small-groups-led-through-by-one-guide tour.  Instead, a continuous line wound through the entire house.  In each room was a stationary guide who repeated a memorized spiel over and over again.  They answered questions, too, but as we were kept moving, there wasn’t much time to ask.  Some of the guides were animated and entertaining, but some recited their pieces in a monotone which again, dampened the quality of the tour.  I didn’t feel Washington come alive at Mount Vernon.  I had trouble convincing myself that we were really in his home, on his lands.  I wish I didn’t have to speak so negatively about an important historical site, but I want to be honest.

6.  Lest you think I hated the experience, here are a few big positives: first, the original blacksmith’s forge is still being used.  The blacksmith was pounding away as visitors watched, and often paused to hand onlookers examples of his work to examine, and to explain the various steps involved in making axe heads or hooks or hoes.  Further (and this is the really cool part), the blacksmith–who again, does his work where it would have been done in Washington’s time–makes all of the pieces necessary for restoration projects on the estate.  The second positive is an honoring ceremony that takes place at Washington’s gravesite twice a day.  The guide pulled two veterans from the crowd to place a wreath on the grave, asked two girl scouts to lead the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance, and asked another audience member to read from a passage about Washington.  I thought it was wonderful that visitors to Mount Vernon are allowed to participate in the honoring of Washington and his contributions. Third, there are animals at Mount Vernon.  Sheep and pigs and cows and horses.  And they smell and lay in the shade and chow down and otherwise behave as naturally as could be.  They lent some authentic ambiance to the place without even trying.

Mount Vernon photos:

The "mansion."  Okay, it really is a mansion.  I'll stop with the quotes.  But why is Monticello a house and Mount Vernon a mansion?  I'll never know.

The “mansion.” Okay, it really is a mansion. I’ll stop with the quotes. But why is Monticello a house and Mount Vernon a mansion? I’ll never know.

Because he had an abundance of timber on his estate, Washington chose to use it for the mansion and surrounding buildings.  But, since stone was considered the classier siding choice at the time, Washington had the wood siding made to look like stone.  This simultaneously baffled and delighted me.

Because he had an abundance of timber on his estate, Washington chose to use it for the mansion and surrounding buildings. But, since stone was considered the classier siding choice at the time, Washington had the wood siding made to look like stone. This simultaneously baffled and delighted me.

The Potomac!  I won't say how much I squealed when I saw it.  It's rawthur a famous river, you know.  I'm partial to the Mississippi, but I have to say that this view from Mount Vernon's backyard was quite grand.

The Potomac! I won’t say how much I squealed when I saw it. It’s rawthur a famous river, you know. I’m partial to the Mississippi, but I have to say that this view from Mount Vernon’s backyard was quite grand.

The stables still smelled like horses!  Amazing!

The stables still smelled like horses!

No offense TJ, but GW's gardens were better than yours.

No offense TJ, but GW’s gardens were better than yours.

The overseer's house.

The overseer’s house.

The blacksmith's shop, where we spent a good deal of time gaping.

The blacksmith’s shop, where we spent a good deal of time gaping.

My sheep friends.  Notice the ones dozing against the cool stone wall.

My sheep friends. Notice the ones dozing against the cool stone wall.

The Killers and Preparing for Departure

Here’s the thing.  Tomorrow evening I shall be attending one Killers concert in Minneapolis.  I’ve talked about going to see the Killers for years: it was this band, you see, that plucked me out of my oldies reverie and forced me to take interest in–heaven forbid–music that people my own age were listening to.  Of course, I still like oldies, but “Change Your Mind” saved me in those days.  It was what I listened to on the bus during my nightmarish first year of high school, when the lime green iPod Mini I clutched was still considered a novelty (I actually remember kids asking if they could just hold it).

Some time has passed since then; now I’m twenty-two-nearly-twenty-three and adult enough to go see my saviors live without a parent.  Imagine that.

Here’s the other thing.  Following the concert, I will be setting off on a road trip of presidential proportions.  Which is my way of saying that I will be visiting Jefferson’s Monticello, Washington’s Mount Vernon, and Washington D.C., among other eastern United States destinations.  There is quite possibly no one on Earth (except perhaps Mr. McCullough) who would enjoy such a trip as much as I will; it’s as if all of my history buff dreams are coming true at once.  I feel undeservingly lucky, but plan to take you along via this blog, if you’d like to come.

We saw the West last summer:

DSCN3021

My word, my hair was short.

My word, my hair was short. (Badlands)

Salt Lake City LDS Temple

Salt Lake City LDS Temple

Let’s go East this summer.

Inaugural Friday Favorites

When I’m not writing blog posts–that is, when I’m not slaving away in a garret with only a stubby candle to light my laptop and a small mouse for company (A Little Princess style)–I am often reading other blogs.  And what I have noticed over the past few months is that many “other blogs” have a feature called “Friday Favorites.”  Friday Favorites is typically a pictorial-with-captions list of some of the blogger’s favorite products, techniques, memes, recipes, etc. from the week.

I’ve explained before how much I love information in blurb form when it comes to the internet and magazines (funnily enough, since I am a rather long-winded blogger myself), so needless to say, I am a fan of Friday Favorites.  I am also a fan of having a weekly tradition.

Therefore, I have decided to start a kind of Friday Favorites of my own.  I can’t promise anything cute or crafty or delicious, but I can promise you a pictorial representation of my week.

Here goes:

This book

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I’ve been eyeing The Pillars of the Earth for years.  Every time I passed it on the shelf in library or bookstore, I would pause briefly, sometimes pick it up, but always eventually put it back.  For some reason, it never seemed the right time to dive into such a massive volume.  But last week I was finally finally in the mood for a real story.  A story that wouldn’t be over quickly.  Now I’m almost 300 pages in and entirely hooked.  I plan to write a real review once I’ve finished the thing, but if you’re another TPOTE (pronounced tee-p-oh-t) stalker, I advise you to give it a chance now.

This song

Can I like Taylor Swift now?  Now that she’s pop and punk and all grown up?  Because I’ve been listening to this song all week.  What can I say?  I swoon for acoustic duets.

Writing at a desk

Hemingway_at_his_writing_desk.

Yeah yeah, it’s a little presumptuous to choose a picture of That Crazy Genius Bastard Hemingway* to accompany this post.  But to get back to my point, I have only recently begun to write at a desk.  Before, I was in the camp that believes that in order to truly focus on creating, one can’t be distracted with the discomfort a desk chair often provides.  Now, I’m in the camp that believes that in order to truly focus on creating, one needs to get their rear out of bed and into the kind of chair that screams NOW WE’RE GOING TO WORK.  And you know what?  I’ve never been so productive.

This Brand

imagesLike most high quality outdoor outfitting brands, Patagonia is ridiculously expensive.  But they also make the kind of comfy, fleecy, that-girl-could-climb-a-mountain gear that I could quite easily live in.  In fact, Patagonia fits perfectly into this daydream I have about living in the North Woods of Wisconsin and rolling out of bed each morning for flannel, coffee, and writing.

This child

1374688572_kate-middleton-prince-william-prince-george-lg

There were some fiery Facebook posts this week concerning young George Alexander Louis.  Apparently, it’s a terrible sin for people to stop and pay attention to the birth of a baby when there are so many “more important”–and much more sober–things happening in the world.  I say, the world would be a terrible, terrible place if we couldn’t take a break from tracking violence and death and injustice to celebrate something joyful.  I certainly admit that I will likely never actually meet George.  Nor do I live in the country which he will someday preside over as king.  But I think it’s silly to pretend that the small family in the country above doesn’t impact the world at all, or to pretend that the way they live and dress and speak to the public doesn’t say a great deal about the modern times and the modern monarchy.  This is culture happening, and I think it is deserving of our attention.

Road trip planning

National-Lampoons-Vacation-e1362095010677

I will not at this time disclose the destination of the road trip, nor the date of departure.  But you’d better believe I’ll document every sweaty, touristy, awe-inspiring bit of it.  For if any family can match the Griswolds, it is surely mine.

*A literature professor called Hemingway this when I was a sophomore.  Since then, I haven’t been able to shake it.