Where I've Been

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Two months and one day. That's how long it's been since my last blog. I have been remiss, people of the internet, but not without reason, I promise. It has been a busy couple of months here at the Wreck, and I felt I owed it to you (and to myself, so I can remember later what it was that kept me from you all) to share a pictorial account of my last few months. There were trips! Job changes! Writing of the academic kind! Loads of lovely books! And way too many hours spent playing games on my iPhone and Kindle Fire.

Exhibit A: I've reached Level 368 in Jetpack Joyride. This, I believe, is an extreme sign of Insidious Things going on in my brain.
Exhibit B: My Level 50 bakery in Bakery Story, which now must go with me everywhere lest my red velvet cakes and blueberry buckles spoil due to the kind of neglect this blog routinely faces.
Exhibit C: My pride and joy, my prosperous Level 37 city in City Story. I spend hours each week rearranging neighborhoods and building immaculate green spaces. I should have been a city planner. If only road construction were as easy as it is here.
(BTW: Pictorial accounts? WAY more time consuming than regular old written ones.)

I kind of fell behind on my reading in April because of the Book-That-Shall-Remain-Nameless that I just could not finish. I mean, I finished it, but it took three or four weeks, and finally I just sat down and finished off the last 25% of it just so I could move on to the books I really wanted to read. Because you guys. So many great YA titles came out the past few months. And some not-so-great ones, but I'm not going to talk about those. I just want to share the ones I loved.

First up, Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard.
This was probably my new favorite YA book this year, so far. It's about backpacking in Central America, serendipitous encounters, coming-of-age and learning to stand on your own two feet. It is true travel fiction, and thus, a story after my own heart. Plus, the writing is lovely, the characters are interesting and different, and the protagonist is an artist who sketches many of the places and people she meets (all included!), which is a total bonus. I'll admit that I wasn't a big fan of Hubbard's first novel, Like Mandarin (although many people luuuuuved that book; it just wasn't my cup of tea), but this one knocked my socks off. I read it one evening when my husband was out of town, and literally I read from the time I walked in the door after work until I finished it. I could barely drag myself off the couch to get dinner. It was that good.

Second on my list is Jessi Kirby's In Honor, also a sophomore effort and an excellent one. In this case, though, I loved Kirby's first novel, Moonglass (and only heard about Wanderlove from Kirby's blog, where she sang its praises). This is a novel about sibling relationships, fulfilling promises, and an epic road trip, so again, my kind of story. Kirby is also an excellent writer, and she paints scenes that stay with me for years. Or at least one year, since I can still vividly recall whole sections of Moonglass, and In Honor had me wanting to scuba cenotes at night and visit a vortex in Sedona. Also included: perhaps the best drunk chapter I've ever read. Seriously. If I ever have to write a first-person account from a drunk teenager's perspective, this will be my model.

Other books I really enjoyed included The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, Divergent and Insurgent by Veronica Roth, and The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin. I'm not going to talk about those because the first three especially have dominated the bestseller lists these past few months, so there are plenty of other reviews out there.

I have also started reading the A Song of Ice and Fire series (a.k.a. the Game of Thrones books, which is SUCH a better title). T and I just started watching this spring and flew through the entire first season in a weekend and then have watched religiously every Sunday since. I was going to wait and read the books after the whole television series was done so as not to spoil things, but things started happening this season that drove me crazy and I JUST HAD TO KNOW what was going on. So, I'm reading the books. I just can't wait a whole year to find out what's going on with these characters.

On the academic front, I read lots of articles and books about women and travel, women and India, Indian history, etc. (which you will never see listed on GoodReads, because that is my sacred space for fun reading only); I drove my library crazy with ILL requests; and I bought and read the most amazing writing book of all time, Demystifying Dissertation Writing, that revolutionized my research and writing process. That book should be required reading for anyone embarking on the insane mission of writing a dissertation. I only wish I'd read it two years ago. Thanks to the book, though, I established a regular writing/research routine; an accountability chart (something I have desperately needed); learned how to take better, more usable notes; and FINALLY wrote my introduction and an extensive outline of the whole dissertation.

Last week while in Alabama I met with my dissertation director and she had nothing but good things to say about the introduction (no revisions even requested!), so now I finally feel like I have some forward momentum on this whole dissertation thing, which I'd neglected for nearly a year. We also established some concrete deadlines, which I desperately need, so my first chapter is due August 1. That's almost two months from now, so it might sound like I'll have plenty of time, but we will be on vacation for half of July (and I long ago gave up trying to write on vacation), so it's going to be a tough few weeks getting it all done. I'm just excited to finally be working on it again, though. 

Speaking of Alabama, that was our most recent trip. We flew down for my sister's graduation and then spent Memorial Day weekend in Orange Beach, eating yummy food, lounging on the beach under an umbrella, and spending way too much money at the outlets.

View from my balcony for four days, people! SO hard to come back to PA after that.
Then we drove up to Auburn so I could meet with PB and see friends. It was a truly wonderful week, and it was so great to see my whole family and my best Auburn friends again. Going home always reminds me of what I'm missing here--namely, a community.

Since we have almost zero social life up here, T and I have tried to fill the last few months with Small Trips. Going home was a Big Trip because it required flying and a week off from work, but Small Trips usually only last a long weekend. Our recent trips have been to the Canadian-side of Niagara Falls...

Required accoutrements of 4.5-hour car travel
The fraction of Horseshoe Falls (Canadian Niagara Falls) I could capture with my camera. Darn you, Instagram!
T.J. embracing his inner-child at Dave and Buster's (I'd crashed out already because I SUCK at racing games.)
All the delicious goodies we brought back from Canada, including multiple bottles of my new favorite wine--vidal icewine. Most of them were purchased here:
Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
McFarland House, built in 1800

The lake (Ontario)
Vineyards on our winery tour
Home of my favorite of the wines I tried. Icewine slushies, FTW!
Although we spent most of our time touring wineries, spending way too money on yummy goodies, and wandering the quaint streets of Niagara-on-the-Lake, we also spent a fair amount of time at the Falls, although it was still too early in the season for any of the main water attractions to be open.

Easter weekend (when we had Friday and Monday off from work) we headed down to Washington, D.C., where we visited the National Zoo and saw pandas (both red and black/white)...

I love red pandas, but I'm still not quite sure what they are. Part bear? Part fox? Part raccoon? With those adorable faces, are they related to Boo somehow?
This panda was WAY too hungry to give us the time of day.

and big cats....

Eventually we grew tired of fighting crowds of families and small children and headed downtown for dinner, a brief White House stop...

...and a disastrous evening bus tour...

Seeing the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial lit up at night was NOT the disastrous part; however, breaking down for half an hour, extending the bus tour 1.5 hours, and freezing our butts off on the top of the bus were. 
The next day was MUCH better. We decided to go down to Union Station and meander in the direction of the Capitol, Folger Shakespeare Library, and Smithsonian museums. So we walked...

and walked...

Supreme Court
Library of Congress
 and walked....


Along the way, we stopped to see the "Shakespeare's Sisters" exhibit of early women's writing at the Folger Shakespeare Library, where I got to see eighteenth-century editions and manuscripts by some of my faves like Marguerite de Navarre, Louise Labe, Aphra Behn, Katherine Philips, Susannah Centlivre, and Anne Finch. The security guard also encouraged us to sneak up to the balcony of the theater to watch a rehearsal of The Taming of the Shrew, which was really neat.

Afterward we wandered around the Capitol grounds for a while and then walked over to the U.S. Botanic Garden (a.k.a. Orchid Heaven), where I bounced around like a kid hyped up on cotton candy. I went a little Instagram crazy here, so please bear with me...

Next we went over to the Air & Space Museum for a chaotic, kid-crazy lunch, and then sought solace in the Hirshhorn Museum. Sometimes I'm happy that the general populace prefers engines and space travel to modern art.

Picasso's Woman with Baby Carriage (1950)
T.J. making his way through the spaghetti fields!

One of the Rodin sculptures in the Sculpture Garden.
Since T.J. had never been to D.C. before, we walked around the Mall for a while, watching the picnicking families, kite flyers, and games of Frisbee.
I promise I was happier than I look.
When we'd had our fill of the dusty, windy Mall, we decided to drop by the American History Museum. When I was in D.C. in 2007 the museum was closed for renovation and there was a small exhibit of the best artifacts stationed at the Air & Space Museum, and I have to say I got a lot more out of that experience than I got out of the real museum. For one thing, the museum was super crowded, and it seemed that every exhibit we tried to see either had an enormous line (First Ladies) or was closed for renovation (Pop Culture--including Dorothy's ruby slippers!). We did get to see a few awesome displays:

Wizard of Oz script
Scarecrow's hat and boots
Terribly dark picture of the gunboat Philadelphia
The best thing we saw, though, was the Star-Spangled Banner, which was surprisingly moving (in part because of the lighting and way it's displayed), despite the small children we kept pushing in front of me and stepping on my toes. You're not allowed to take pictures of it, so you'll just have to see it for yourself (or click this link). Pictures don't do its size justice anyway.

We had a great weekend, but mostly what I learned on this trip to D.C. was not to try it during a holiday weekend again (especially one during many spring breaks!) AND that there are some fantastic travel apps for iPhone that might make it unnecessary to ever pick up a map in a visitor's center again. The Smithsonian app, National Mall app (with GPS!), and iTrans DC (Metro) app were particularly helpful on this trip.

Our final Small Trip was an overnight trip to Pittsburgh, where we saw our first opera...

Downtown Pittsburgh. It sort of looks like a movie set in this pic, though.

Intermission curtain
The stunning Benedum Center, perhaps the most beautiful theater I've ever seen
...(and learned we are not opera people), had a couple of exquisite meals (Elements for dinner and Six Penn Kitchen for brunch), and toured the fantastic Mattress Factory, a museum solely dedicated to art installations. Although I'm not a huge fan of a lot of modern/contemporary art, I love installations because they are immersive, complete mind, body, sensory experiences. At the Mattress Factory, we sat in complete darkness (until I cheated and lit up the "room" with my iPhone flashlight), walked through deconstructed rooms, and wrote wishes on balloons.

Sarah Oppenheimer, 610- 3356 (2008)
Than Htay Maung, My Offering (2011)
A corner of Greer Lankton's artfully creepy It's all about ME, Not You (1996)
Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Dots Mirrored Room (1996)
T.J. and me caught in the mirrored, black-lit ceiling of Yayoi Kusama's Repetitive Vision (1996)
Ling He's Wish exchange dandelion (2012)
Pablo Garcia, Windows (2012)
Nina Marie Barbuto, Glory Holes (2012)
Gill Wildman, House Says (2012)
But my absolute favorite installation, the piece that I sat through twice, thanks to my long-suffering husband who said, after we had left the main building and toured the smaller Gestures: Intimate Friction gallery around the corner, that we should go back to the main building and take the elevator to the fourth floor just so I could see it again, was Pablo Valbuena's Para-Site [mattress factory] (2011). Words cannot describe how thankful I am that I got to see this installation and how sad I am that it is no longer at the Mattress Factory. I'd never heard of this artist before, but I will definitely be on the lookout for his work in the future. To get a tiny taste of the installation I'm talking about, click here. This is just a few minutes of the entire sequence, but trust me when I say that the entire display was mesmerizing, a transcendent experience that revealed the power of light and silence on our senses. I love optical illusions, and this one had my mind spinning the entire time. Even more amazing, the changes in lighting were palpable; I could feel what was happening to the point where I almost lost my balance just standing there watching it. I left in awe of Pablo Valbuena.

In the past two months, I have seen so much, I have experienced so much. In the course of one week, winter melted into spring...

View out my office window, Monday, April 23
View out of office window, Friday, April 27
...and I had officially survived my first winter in Pennsylvania. With the end of winter came the end of the semester, the last few weeks of me working full-time, and endless possibilities for my first "free" summer in quite awhile. I don't want to waste this opportunity, though, so I've made a lengthy to-do list for this summer, including blogging more often. Tomorrow we leave for Alabama AGAIN (this time to see my husband's family and to attend my friend Carrie's wedding, where I will be bridesmaiding it up in watermelon pink), but NEXT WEEK I promise to come back and share some of the life-changing dissertation writing strategies I have learned in the last couple of months. Until then, happy writing and happy travels, wherever they may take you.


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