I admire my more fiscally-savvy friends who get most of their reading material free from libraries. These far-smarter-than-me women only buy the books they really love.
But I can’t help it. If I need a new read, I’m dishing out the cash for my own copy. I love accumulating books (always the physical kind–I just can’t talk myself into digital books). I love the record they make of my reading journey. I love their color, with covers that are works of art in their own right. I love the enchantment and history and adventure each embodies.
And I especially like buying them from independent bookstores. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a hater of the big box bookstore. They have their own role in the book-buying-and-selling ecosystem. But nothing’s quite like an indie shop–they’re lovingly-curated little jewel boxes, full of surprise reads and knowledgable booksellers. And they’re intertwined in the local community in a way a national chain can never be.
Which is why I was so excited to discover East City Bookshop in Washington, D.C. (my new stomping grounds). Not unlike a good book, the store unveils ever better surprises as you progress. Reaching the store requires a jog down a flight of uninspiring concrete steps. You enter a small upstairs area with an artfully-shelved but small collection of books. A stationary section occupies much of the floor space. But then you notice a set of descending stairs and behold: a lower story that somehow manages to accommodate a beautiful children’s section, extensive shelves of adult and young adult fiction, a charming reading nook, book-themed art and knick-knacks, AND a seating area for author events… all without feeling cramped. Continue reading “East City Bookshop”
Beautiful Nueces River.
One of the cabins.
Glamour shot of my dad.
Jared, my dad, and Hunter prepare to ride out.
An bird’s eye of Money Mountain Ranch and surrounding properties.
My trusty boots.
A misty morning.
Our state squirrel.
Hunter proves that camo can be pretty darn effective.
Butterfly convention’s in town.
Stairs down to the river.
Jared bags a beautiful axis buck. (Picture courtesy of Tiffany!)
The moon says “howdy.”
Serenity looks like this.
I’ve already admitted that I’m a spoiled creature. But my husband took it to a whole ‘nother level when he flew me home to spend my birthday weekend with my family at our ranch in the Texas Hill Country. It was a last minute decision and I was up until 1 AM packing… but it was perhaps my favorite birthday present of all time! (And particularly generous, since the husband was sadly unable to join due to work.)
It’s hard–nay, impossible!–to capture the Texas Hill Country’s rugged beauty in late October. It’s untamed and sunshine-y and serene, unspoiled by internet access or cell service. Some moments were almost ridiculously Arcadian–my stroll through wildflower fields rife with butterflies (the monarchs are migrating right now), or when my brother Hunter and I accidentally spooked two fawns, sending them leaping lightly from a thicket. But they say a picture’s worth a thousand words, so in defiance of my writer’s heart, I’ll let my snapshots speak for themselves. Continue reading “Texas: Home, Home on the Range”
Brooke and I raise a glass!
Logo by Great Shoals.
My (half-devoured) bottle of Riptide.
Photo by Great Shoals.
My first experience doing a wine tasting was at a dear friend’s bachelorette party, when we did a marathon session at five different vineyards in the Midwest, starting at the early hour of 11 a.m. (Don’t worry. We were safely D.D.ed by our handy-dandy limo driver.)
Needless to say, by the time the tasting portion of the day was starting to wine-d (get it?!) down, I was very ready to stop sipping and get something more than cheese and crackers in my stomach. But I was also pretty sold on this “tasting” thing. It was like a little adventure in a glass–you never knew what flavors awaited you in the next sample.
But I’m not into doing tastings solo, so my opportunities have been pretty few and far between–living overseas for long stretches and often being far from family and friends has that effect. But I’ve rustled up the occasional partner in crime. My bro invited me to join him and his friends at a lovely Texas winery. And on her recent odyssey to visit us in our new homestead in the D.C. area, my sis-in-law Brooke was good enough to accompany me to Great Shoals. (We abandoned the husbands at home. #SorryNotSorry.) Continue reading “Wine Tastings & Touring New Towns”
Cotton fields as far as the eye can see.
Cotton in bloom.
Hunter, preparing for his dive.
Views off St. Joe’s island–popular for fishers and surfers alike.
The husband, all decked out and ready to dive.
Dad, on the hunt. Fish beware!
Hauling in a sheepshead!
Hunter, proudly displaying his kill.
The war wound.
One of the many (
many MANY) odd quirks of Foreign Service life is a little something we call “Home Leave.” A congressionally-mandated series of leave days following the end of an overseas posting, Home Leave is designed to help culture-shocked American readjust to life stateside.
Since July saw the official end of our time in Suriname, we’ve been spending our month-long Home Leave traipsing around the country, visiting loved ones and preparing for our move back to ‘Merica, where we’ll be posted to the D.C. area. Our trails took us from D.C. to Michigan to Indiana to Texas, seeing treasured family and friends all along the way. Continue reading “Texas: There’s No Place Like Home”
Giant molten chocolate column.
There’s nothing like living overseas for a year-plus to make you appreciate being home for the holidays. This past month has been a whirlwind of visiting American friends and family as the husband and I have ranged from down south in Texas, all the way up to (what this Texas gal considers) the Far White North of Indiana. Although both of our overseas posts–China and Suriname–celebrated Christmas to some degree, the American Christmas experience is truly unique. In no other place that I’ve lived has the holiday been as sugary, extravagant, bustling, or glistening as I’ve found it to be in the States. Traveling home to share in all that chaotic cheer gives me an effervescent kind of happiness.
One of the moments on this trip that quintessentially captured American Christmas was a stop at Albanese candy store, AKA Santa’s Workshop. Some of our dear, Indiana-based friends took us to this massive–and I do mean massive–sweet shop in western Indiana. The instant we crossed the threshold, we ran into an almost palpable wall of warm, sugary scent. The sights were equally dazzling, with banks of home-made chocolates (maple truffles, malted milk balls, chocolate-covered animal crackers, turtles, haystacks, etc.) and endless bins of rainbow-colored gummy candies (did I mention that their gummy bears are home-made?! From scratch?!) Vintage-style candies lined the back of the store, and an extra wing of the shop boasted a glorious array of glittering Christmas baskets and speciality items. And as if that weren’t enough, a gigantic column coated with flowing molten chocolate stood sway in the midst of all the Christmas sparkle.
Considering all the temptation around, I was pretty proud of the fact that we walked away with only two packs of bubble gum cigarettes (a nostalgic favorite of my husband’s) and 1.5 pounds of chocolate candy (peanut butter meltaways, chocolate-covered cookie dough, and chocolate almond toffee). I’m also grateful that the Suriname to Indiana commute is long enough to prevent our being regulars at Albanese. Because my waist-line cannot take that abuse on a regular basis!
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Texas SouthWind Winery’s tasting room.
An up-close view of it’s awesome door.
A Texas native, this white-tailed deer watches over proceedings in the tasting room.
This winery’s won just one or two awards.
Miles and miles of Texas… grapes.
The lovely outdoor tasting area.
Wine tasting for two?
Early spring is when Texas wildflowers throw their most extravagant gala. But these sunflowers, black-eyed susans, and other blooms of my childhood are making a respectable showing.
A grill–a necessary accessory for every Texas home.
Me and this guy I’m SO blessed to call “bro.” Though I don’t think I can accurately call him “little” brother anymore.
Bye-bye, blueberry wine. You were delicious.
There’s that gorgeous Texas sky.
Perfect spot for a swing.
And no Texas institution would be complete without at least one pickup truck.
At a party this weekend, a dear friend (another American diplomatic spouse) and I were chatting about our home states. She’s a California/Colorado girl, and I’m Lone Star State born and bred.
“But you aren’t one of those annoyingly proud Texans,” she said, reassuringly.
I felt obligated to come clean. “Oh, no, I totally am. I just try to keep it at least a little bottled up, for the sake of my Indiana husband.”
And that’s the absolute truth. As proof, here’s Exhibit A: Today’s coffee cup, last night’s wine glass, our welcome mat, a piece of decor in our living room:
Given all this, it likely comes as no surprise that some of my favorite wines are also Texas born and bred. Continue reading “Wine Not? When in Texas….”
A snapshot of Hemingway’s writing room above the carriage house (and the iron grate that protects the room from wayward tourists).
I’m a sucker for this sun-licked wrap-around porch.
Hemingway’s house is famous for its polydactyl cats. Not all of the approximately 50 cats now resident there have manifested this gene, but all are carriers.
A few pieces of Hemingway’s private library. Most of his books reside in Cuba.
A treatise on the Iceberg Theory.
A movie featuring Hemingway and wife no. 3, American novelist, travel writing, and journalist Martha Gellhorn.
Love these posters for the movie adaptations of Hemingway’s novels.
A snapshot of Hemingway’s house, way back when.
Hubby and me, proving we were there.
Hemingway’s home was one of the first in the Florida Keys to have running water.
This pool, upon completion in 1938, cost $20,000 in the currency of the day. (Or, approximately $350,000 today.) It was the only in-ground pool within 100 miles when built, and was dug out of the solid coral that comprises the island.
Entrance to Hemingway’s house.
A portable typewriter, like those Hemingway might have taken on his adventures.
Stairs up to Hemingway’s writing hideaway.
Hemingway’s bed, custom-made to accommodate his large size. The headboard is an antique Spanish gate.
A tribute to one of Hemingway’s favorite pursuits, discovered in Key West: sport fishing.
A wall o’ the four wives. A somewhat unsettling group of portraits, perhaps.
Another shot of Hemingway’s writing getaway. Note to nods to his passions: writing, books, fishing, and big game hunting.
Hemingway at the helm.
A tribute to Hemingway’s love for big game hunting.
As always, a nod to Hemingway house’s horde of feline residents.
“The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” one of the stories inspired by Hemingway’s hunting expeditions.
Cat standing guard over Hemingway’s writing room.
Note the base of this fountain: a urinal Hemingway acquired from a local Key West bar.
In my last post, I mentioned that I was recently in Key West, soaking up the sea and much longed-for time with family. I got to swim in turquoise waters, stuff myself silly with seafood, and wander streets lined with tropical trees and homes that, to my untrained eye, blended the beach architecture of my childhood with southern-Victorian and Spanish styles.
But of course, no writer’s visit to Key West would be complete without a stop at one house in particular: The Hemingway Home and Museum.
I’m always a bit embarrassed to admit this–after all, I have a Masters in English and American literature–but I haven’t actually read all that much Hemingway. I did read his “Hills like White Elephants,” a short story that exemplifies Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory (the concept of writing around a particular subject–here abortion–without ever explicitly naming it). But my research emphasis in my degree was Romantic, Victorian, and Post-Colonial British literature, and Early American and 19th-century literature. Chronologically-speaking, Hemingway came a little too late for me.
But a few years ago, I picked up Paula McLain’s historical, Hemingway-themed novel, The Paris Wife. Obviously, this book is A) fiction (and therefore, a not-necessarily-rigidly-factual interpretation of history) and B) more focused on Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson, than Hemingway himself.
Continue reading “Key West: Hangin’ with Hemingway”