Monthly Reads

Monday, June 29, 2015

I go through times where I can read several books a week and then other times where I only read a couple a month. Because I spent a lot of time earlier in June working on Claire's book, I didn't spend much of my free time reading other ones. Here are mini reviews of the two that I did read:

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The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman
This book was a quiet, slow read. That being said, the timeline of the story actually moved quite quickly, lightly and thoughtfully touching upon brief moments in the lives of its characters just enough to let you know how they were faring. It would then zoom in and focus on detailed moments, closely examining their importance. I love when stories do this. I'll be honest, I had no idea what this book was about when I ordered it or when I began reading, and I liked it that way. I just knew that I'd seen this book on every list everywhere and that has to mean something, right?

The main character in this story, Tom, takes on the job of light keeper on a deserted island off the western coast of Australia so he can remove himself from society while he deals with the PTSD he is struggling with after WWI. In the closest small town on the mainland he meets a girl, Isabel, and they communicate through letters for a while before he proposes and she joins him on the island as his wife. As the sole inhabitants on the island with the lighthouse, their heartache truly begins when Isabel has repeated miscarriages. One day years later, a boat washes ashore with only two passengers: a dead man and a tiny, weeks-old infant baby girl. And here the struggle between heartache and moral principles begin. You'll have to read it to find out more.

This book has been picked up by Dreamworks as a movie, currently in post-production, directed by Derek Cianfrance, featuring Michael Fassbender as Tom and Alicia Vikander as Isabel. It is said that it will possibly be released at a film festival this fall, and will probably be more of an indie release than a full-theatre one.

The Heir by Kiera Cass
If you haven't heard of the Selection series, you need to go look it up! The Heir is the fourth book in this series, which was a surprising addition to a set of three that everyone suspected was complete. And not only do we get this fourth book, but a fifth one too! Kiera Cass went to the same college as me, which was one of the first things that drew me in (were we in creative writing together!? I'll never know!) and honestly, who isn't attracted to those covers?

If you aren't familiar with the first three, here's a little backstory: America Singer lives in a world that has been compared to the districts of the Hunger Games, but everyone is mixed in together. (Can we please stop comparing every dystopian and divided-society book to THG? This world is unique enough to stand on its own!) America's world is a post-war, dystopian North America whose population is divided into seven castes, each depicting the limits and careers of its people. America is a five, the artist caste, and she has very little chance of ever moving up in life, something she's fine with. The King has other plans, though, as he offers up a "Selection" as a way to find a wife for his son, Prince Maxon. This is where "The Hunger Games meets The Bachelor" comparison comes from, and I get that; it was very "The Bachelor"-esque. America ends up as one of the 35 "contestants" in the Selection against her will... the rest, well... you'll have to read it. There is war and drama and various love stories, and I loved and drank up every minute.

I guess the title and blurb of this new, fourth book in the series will give a lot away, though. Sorry 'bout it. The Heir picks up 20 years later, and if you loved the first three you'll love this one too. I called this series my "guilty pleasure," because it's definitely YA made for younger teen girls, but I think anyone who loves a good, entertaining read with well-developed and lovable characters will really enjoy it. I can't wait for book four!

Also!.. I was OVERJOYED to find out that Warner Brothers has purchased the film rights to this series!! Finally! After a failed pilot for a TV show of this series several years ago that was never picked up, the studios have made a smart move by listening to the fans of this series and riding the momentum of the YA-books-to-movies success we've seen so often these past few years. I may be the only person sitting in the theatre over 30 when it comes out, but I will be there!

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Speaking of books, I can't post these little reviews without one last plug for Claire's book! When Faults Collide is available now in paperback from Amazon and Barnes & Noble (online only) and will be available on Kindle starting this Wednesday, July 1st (pre-order available now!)

You also have two more days to enter my giveaway of one paperback copy! The giveaway ends tomorrow night at midnight. I'm so excited send it to the winner on Wednesday!

Weekly Roundup

Friday, June 26, 2015

Time is moving much too fast lately! Nothing made this more clear than seeing Chelsea and Audrey cat leave for the east coast on Wednesday night. Dan and I came home and were suddenly so sad; no Audrey sitting in the window watching us walk towards the apartment; no Chelsea yelling "heyyyy!" from her room when we walked in; no Audrey flopping down on the floor in front of us wanting rubs and loving. The only way to keep ourselves from getting to upset was to start taking things apart. We took apart her bed (which we're taking back east with us) and started boxing up small appliances we don't use often. I found a few of Audrey's toys and that made me really sad. How were we making so much noise without her nosing in to see what all the fuss was about? We didn't know how it would really affect us, having them gone, but it definitely hit a lot harder than expected.

I wrote a post on Wednesday as 'An Ode to Chelsea.'

We're supposed to be here until August 1st, 35 days from now, but we may just up and leave a little bit sooner. Why not? I've been listing things on Craigslist and packing up things we can ship to my parents' house ahead of our move. I think I could do this thing in three weeks if I had to; I've done it in less time!

In other news, my cousin proposed to his long-time girlfriend last night! About time, Justin! Also, how are you not still just 12? When did this growing up thing happen?

ICYMI, I'm doing my first ever giveaway! You know the book I've been talking about for weeks? The one my friend Claire wrote and I did the layout and design for? "When Faults Collide" is real and finished and I'm giving away one paperback copy to whoever wins my giveaway! The giveaway is open and taking entries until the end of the month (next Tuesday.) There is also a discount code good for $4 off until next Tuesday as well. The Kindle version is available for pre-order and will be available starting July 1st! You can enter here! Only 153 entries? You guys can do better than that!

It's been a really busy week so I haven't been exploring the internet like I usually do, but anyway...

  • Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed (author of Wild). I just started reading this last night, but I'm so very much in love with it so far! Cheryl took on an advice column for a website years ago called "Dear Sugar" where she anonymously answered readers' most intimate and heartbreaking questions. This book is a collection of questions and her thoughtful, beautiful responses. You really should pick it up! She is so inspiring.

  • Jurassic World We finally went to see this blockbuster hit last Friday night! As a 90's kid and huge fan of the original (no matter how much it scared me as a child) I was super excited to see this one! It did not disappoint. I really hate suspense, especially when I know something is going to jump out at you, and this one had me feeling like a little kid again, afraid of the big scary dinosaurs. Ridiculous haha.
  • Dark Places (trailer) finally has a US trailer and release date! This movie is based on the book of the same title by Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) and is her most horrific storyline yet. I don't know why there hasn't been much hype around this one, especially after Gone Girl did so well, but it's only having a limited release in theatres on August 7th.
  • Masterminds (trailer) came out of nowhere and looks hilarious! Starring Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig, Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis.

On the Internets

An Ode to Chelsea

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Chelsea is leaving California tonight on a one-way, red eye flight back to the East Coast, Audrey-cat in tow. I have all the feelings right now, but thought it was appropriate to write a post in honor of her on the day of her parting.

Some people who read this blog might see my posts including Chels and wonder, Wait... isn't she married? Does this girl live with them? Why yes, she does! Well, until tonight. Living with a roommate while married is something that most people would never even consider, and I never dreamed we would either, but it has gone really well. When we announced we were moving to California to our group of friends back home, we added at the end, "...and anyone who wants to come with us should speak now or forever hold their peace." This was their chance; head off for the unknown with us, help us with the astronomical rent in Orange County, and give us a little peace of mind in having someone familiar around while we do this "living 2,600 miles away from everyone we know" thing. Chelsea was in.

Chelsea and I go pretty far back, and I'm sad to think that parting now could mean the end of us seeing each other so frequently. We met briefly at Radford through a mutual friend, then found ourselves in every single class together my final semester there. No joke...from Art of the African Diaspora to some of my final graphic design classes, Chels was right there with me. We became quick partners, working together on projects and drawing up our favorite figure drawing mascot, Saint Francis the Fantastical. She put up with daily complaints from me at Starbucks as I stressed over planning my wedding and I tried to help nudge her awake enough in class that the teachers didn't notice (too often.)

We shared mutual friends after I graduated and continued to hang out nonstop. Camping, Tuesday's at Tom's, my bachelorette and wedding weekends, a Lady Gaga concert, the Annual Cabin Parties (for Halloween,) Tacky Sweater Christmas parties, one Lost Finale Party, New Year's Eve parties, and on and on.

Eventually we even decided we needed a project, and soon our design business was born. Over the next eighteen months we designed and published four issues of a visual arts magazine in our home city of Roanoke, Virginia.

Classmates, friends, business partners, and now roommates for the past two years; few people in my life have been around for such important moments over the past decade as Chelsea has. It's going to be really strange not having her here for the rest of the time we're in California, and I'm really going to miss her... and her cuddly kitty Audrey, too! Luckily, she won't be too far away in New Jersey when we're back on the east coast and we're already planning a few things we have to do in the future.

If you'd like to follow Chels and see what she's up to in New Jersey, you can follow her on Instagram @seamarie3. I'm sure there will be lots of creativity and new adventures in her future!

My First Giveaway! Win a Copy of "When Faults Collide" by Claire Granger

Monday, June 22, 2015

If you've been reading my "Weekly Roundups" these past couple of months, you'll know that I spent a great part of May and June designing the cover and interior of my friend Claire's first book, When Faults Collide. Claire has been one of my best friends since our junior year of high school. When she told me she was writing a book I jumped on board to help out in any way that I could. I've done publication design before, but this was the first time I've typeset and designed the interior of an entire book and then been able to hold that book in my hands knowing it looks exactly the way it does because of my design work. I mean, the story is pretty great too... but you know, the way it looks is really the important part. ;) Joking, Claire!

Here is the blurb for When Faults Collide:
After a dark childhood in a brothel in India where her mother was a prostitute, Asha was brought to the United States to live with her father at the age of thirteen. Ten years later, she is a successful graphic designer and blogger living in Richmond, Virginia. 
While she has survived her past, she lives a fairly sheltered existence, living under a strict set of self-imposed rules in an attempt to protect herself. Her most important rule: never get involved with anyone romantically. 
Then she meets Blake, the owner of a local music venue, who she discovers has an equally dark past. From their first encounter she finds it difficult to follow her own rules and cannot deny—or resistthe connection that is forming between them. Can Asha overcome her demons and move beyond surviving, to thriving? Will Blake be the perfect piece of the puzzle for her broken heart?

Claire has experienced enough in her life that she has a lot of insight to the issues she approaches in her book. She and her husband are currently the foster parents to four children at their home in Richmond, Virginia, and the foster child experience is a subject that the book deeply explores. So you can see, When Faults Collide is much more than just a love story; it's the story of two people who have come from very troubled childhoods trying to make peace with their pasts and learning to trust someone else enough to let them in. I fell completely in love with Asha and Blake, and I think others will too. This is book one of a series, after all, so I love that I'll get more!

You can enter below to win one paperback copy of When Faults Collide. If you would like to purchase your own copy, paperback versions are available now through CreateSpace (an Amazon company) for the discount price of $9.99! Use the discount code "ZARX5W3B" to purchase it early! This discount only available through June 30th. Paperback and Kindle editions will be available on on July 1st.

Buy It:  Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble

Sorry, but this giveaway is open to US residents only. I will announce the winner and ship the book on July 1st.

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Weekly Roundup

Friday, June 19, 2015

I've been pretty MIA on the blog this week, for a couple of reasons. One is that Chelsea is leaving so soon and there has been a lot of packing, organizing, Craigslist-ing, and thrift store-ing this week. Because of that, there hasn't been a lot of "blog-worthy" stuff going on around here. All of this is just making it more and more apparent that our time here is running out. Chels has taken down our friend's art from above the couch (it belongs to her) and nothing makes your apartment feel more temporary and empty than blank white walls.

I think Audrey-cat can also tell that something is going on. As things on the walls in their room have been taken down and the contents of shelves and closet space packed away, she's been a lot more needy and hiding in her little cat house often. Poor little kitty has no idea what she's in for next Wednesday. She'll probably bit a bit traumatized from suddenly being surrounded with strangers, new sounds and smells, and a long flight across the country. Chelsea read that she'll have to take her out of her carrier to go through security at the airport, so she bought Auds a harness and leash so she can have a handle on her if she manages to wriggle away and tries to run. We've been warming her up to the idea by putting the harness on her and taking her outside for little walks. We've created a monster because now she'll sit and scratch at the front door, letting us know she's curious and wants to go out. Cats: like dogs, with more sass.

We'll miss you, Vince's painting. Photo taken for future Craigslist post. Anyone need a couch?

‣ I finally received my physical copies of Claire's book!! I just love flipping through it and being in awe of my friend's accomplishment. I can't wait to visit her in Richmond in August and have her sign my copy.

‣ I wrote a post of my 10 Favorite Restaurants in Orange County. I'm hoping this may be helpful to anyone visiting the area in the future, or maybe to people who have just moved here or already live here. There are a couple of places in Anaheim on the list that may be of interest to anyone visiting and staying near Disneyland!

Listening To

  • One of my favorite bands from my college years, Emarosa, is back with a new lead singer and is amazing as ever! They've somehow managed to stay true to themselves while also growing with their fans. Their new song, 'But You Won't Love A Ghost' is beautiful. I was so happy to find this following last week's plea for new music. (Thanks for all of your suggestions, by the way!)

Watching (Movie Trailers)

  • 'The Falling' featuring Game of Thrones' Maisie Williams.
  • 'Queen of the Desert' featuring Nicole Kidman, James Franco, and Robert Pattinson
  • 'A Walk in the Woods' featuring Robert Redford, Emma Thompson, and Nick Nolte (and lots of fun cameos!)

On the Internets

My 10 Favorite Restaurants in Orange County

Thursday, June 18, 2015

In keeping up with this whole "we're leaving soon, let's be super sentimental about everything" theme I've had going on lately, I thought it might be nice to create and share a list of my favorite places to eat in Orange County. There is no shortage of new places to try out. Orange County is so huge and varied that you could eat somewhere new every day and still never scratch the surface of what's available. We tend to be creatures of habit though, returning to favorite places repeatedly, and usually with good reason. Here are ten of my favorite places to eat here:

Popbar gelato pop, at the Anaheim Packing House in Anaheim, California

Quick & Easy (Basically Gelato & Pizza)

Popbar is such a delight! This international gelato-pop sensation only has two locations in the US; the one in Anaheim and one in the West Village of NYC (thank goodness!) The one here is located in the Anaheim Packing House, where the line curls around the corner and out of the front door but is totally worth the wait! The concept is simple: choose from a variety of pops made from gelato, sorbet, or frozen yogurt then add "dippings" and/or "poppings," a drizzle or dip of chocolate sauce, a dip in crushed almonds. My go-to flavor combo is a hazelnut gelato pop with a drizzle of milk chocolate and nothing else. So good!

Newport Beach, Irvine, & Corona del Mar
I can't tell you how many pizza places we visited searching for good, legit New York-style pizza. If you've ever been to NYC, you know exactly what I'm talking about. It took us over a year, but when I found Johnny's online we all hopped in the car and took off to the Newport Beach location to try it worth it! We'd finally found really good New York pizza in Orange County. Amen! Sorry, just really don't know how to do hand-tossed pizza, but Johnny knows what's up. You cannot go wrong with any single thing you order here. I recommend the garlic knots.

Various LocationsThere are three in OC: Tustin, Irvine, & Fullerton.
OK, I know I just dissed California on the pizza thing, but Pieology is different. It's "fast food" technically, but everyone has a fast food place they like to frequent, right? Their pizza is made to order as you create it at the counter (similar to how you order at Subway) followed by a quick trip into a brick oven. Pieology is a chain and even has locations in Minnesota, Kentucky, and Alabama (random choices), but it's a chain that I'm sad has not made it farther east yet, because I'm going to miss it. We frequently visit Pieology before or after a movie, since the Tustin Marketplace location is located in the same little shopping block as our cinema. My favorite creation is half barbeque chicken with mozzarella and cilantro and half chicken and spinach with ricotta and cracked pepper...yum!

"Country Style" southern chicken and waffles at The Iron Press at the Anaheim Packing House in Anaheim, California
The 'Country Style' at The Iron Press
Casual Service

Anaheim & Costa Mesa
Found in the same location as Popbar, The Iron Press may win as one of my favorite meals since I've lived here. (In fact, anything at the Anaheim Packing House is probably a good bet, and there isn't a cooler place to visit in OC.) IP's main focus is waffles (hence the name,) but they also feature sandwiches that aren't made with waffles. Waffle sandwiches are made panini-style in the waffle irons, pressing burgers or your other choice of foods in the middle. My favorite meal is the Country Style, a southern classic of fried chicken on top of a waffle and smothered with country gravy, plus a side of their waffle fries with garlic aioli. They also have an impressive list of local microbrews. Warning, it's a lot of food, and sides can be shared or probably aren't necessary. You probably won't eat again that day if you have lunch there.

Huntington Beach
I'm not a sushi eater, but Dan (and everyone else I know) definitely is. Sushi on Fire is always packed and has a great atmosphere, located along the main drag in Downtown HB. They have a huge assortment of sushi, sashimi, and rolls, plus cooked dishes like tempura udon and chicken teriyaki (my choice, and it's sooo good here.) Dan and Chels both say that the sushi is superb. Get the garlic edamame to start, for sure. PS - If the wait is too long here, check out their sister restaurant, Shabu on Fire. It's on the same block and serves everything that Sushi on Fire serves, plus shabu shabu. Sadly, the atmosphere here is lacking, so many will just opt to wait at Sushi. (The host at Sushi may try to shuffle you down the sidewalk to Shabu to try to fill it, which can come off as a little rude, especially when you compare the atmosphere.)

Various SoCal Locations + 1 in Vegas. Four in OC: Tustin, Westminster, Orange, & Brea
Lazy Dog is a great choice when you're not sure exactly what you want to eat, but know you'll end up with a great meal. They serve everything from sandwiches to pasta to ribs to pizza to fish, and all of it is really good. Their happy hour could go a bit longer (only until 6pm) but we've rushed over there after work several times to grab a spot on their dog-friendly patio and catch up with friends over sweet potato tots and house beer samplers. My favorite dish is the Sweet & Spicy Chicken Noodle bowl, which is found on their lunch menu, but they've been happy to make it for me for dinner multiple times. PS - They even have a menu for your dog, if you bring him/her with you to dine on the patio.

Various SoCal Locations. Ten in OC: Irvine, Tustin, Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Anaheim, Orange, and more.
Islands Fine Burgers & Drinks is one of those restaurants that does one thing, but does that thing well. With a variety of different burgers to choose from and a full bar, you can't go wrong. They also offer turkey burgers and grilled chicken for those who don't want beef, as well as salads and veggie bowls. Try the Hawaiian burger, made with teriyaki sauce and grilled pineapple (Dan's favorite!) And definitely get the sweet potato fries... they're the best!

Huntington Beach
Dos Toros is located right on the main drag of Main Street in downtown Huntington Beach, complete with sidewalk seating and a lively nightlife. Having lunch on the sidewalk in HB on a weekend offers an amazing atmosphere and lots of people watching. Dos Toros cooks up quality Mexican fare and offers a lengthy list of beers on tap. I recommend the Tacos de Carnitas.

Dinner at The Winery in Tustin, California

Fine Dining

Serving steaks and seafood and a wide variety of wines and cocktails, Prime Cut Cafe is a nice choice for fine dining in a contemporary setting. The service is above and beyond; this is definitely a place to slow down and enjoy your meal and your company. Try a wine flight with an appetizer before your meal to find a varietal you'll really enjoy later.

Tustin & Newport Beach
The Winery in Tustin is probably the nicest dining I've ever experienced (maybe tied with a restaurant we visited in Orlando on our honeymoon.) Dan took me here for just a random date night, and we had the absolute best time. Course after course, the service was exceptional and everything we ate was incredible. Absolutely try one of the chef's specials, and don't forget to add a side of their gratin dauphinois. Plus, their Tahitian vanilla bean crème brulee is perfect.

Weekly Roundup

Friday, June 12, 2015

Hiii blogland. It's the end of the week! Would you believe it if I said I haven't heard from that freelance guy for almost two weeks now? That means I haven't had any work to do for him since last Monday, as in two Mondays ago. So much for having some steady work coming in. Thank goodness my friend Claire has kept me so busy with this book, which is now done, by the way! It's on its way to the printers, and I'll be holding a copy in my hand by the end of the month! Copies will be available on Amazon starting July 1st, and I'm so excited... it's real! I designed that!

Dan and I have been together for eight years today! Isn't that crazy? I almost can't believe it myself, but then again I feel like it's been longer. We're getting closer and closer to our five year wedding anniversary, too. I got super nostalgic and pulled out some pictures from eight years ago, emo kid haircuts included.

This past Monday I posted a little information about visiting the Griffith Observatory in LA. My biggest tip? Be prepared to hike.

Countdown: Chelsea leaves CA in just 11 days. And only 49 left for us! Ahhh! And I still haven't announced where we're going. I might get around to that soon.

I've been invited to join a community Pinterest board of travel bloggers called Wanderlust Stories. Head over, check it out, follow it, and join if you'd like!

Listening To

The Tron: Legacy Soundtrack by Daft Punk Not even joking. I am so, so sick of all my my music right now and absolutely hate everything the radio stations have been playing for the past 18 months nonstop. (What's up with that? Do they want us to hate them?) I tossed my tiny case of CDs to Chels (yes, I still buy legit hard copies of music I enjoy,) and the only thing in there that we weren't sick of was the Tron soundtrack. We popped it in the player and drove all over Tustin feeling like we were on some sort of intense world-saving mission. (Play track 8: The Game Has Changed. Can you imagine?) It has come to this. Please someone give me some suggestions for new music.


Finding Carter Because I come from a different experience family-wise, I tend to be drawn to shows where the main character has a different family experience as well. Finding Carter is about a girl who finds out at 16 years old that she had been kidnapped at the age of three; the woman the thought was her mom was actually her abductor. I love watching to see how she deals with her new and actual family. What is nature and what is nurture? I'm hooked. I also really love that the teen situations are so real: they can meet up after school and share a beer with friends and smoke a little pot and they're all still just fine, normal teenagers; it's not shown as risky and detrimental behavior. If this was on ABC Family they would have had one scene like this and someone would have almost died and learned from their mistakes and changed their ways, just to "be a lesson" to the kids at home watching. This show does it real; the pot is the least of their problems. And trust me, there are plenty of problems. You can watch all of Season 1 and what they've had so far of Season 2 on Hulu.

On the Internets

Throwback Thursday: June 2007

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Just when I don't think I can be any more nostalgic lately (it's getting intense, guys,) I wake up this morning and realize that tomorrow, Friday the 12th, will mark eight years from the day Dan and I started dating. I know most people don't keep track of their dating anniversary anymore after they get married, but I am "Mrs. Memory-Saver" and cannot avoid the memories and yearly announcement when this day rolls around each year.

Eight years. Wow. It seems like such a long time, but it also seems like not a long time. I know people who have dated longer than eight years before even getting married, so it seems like nothing in comparison. We only dated three years before we tied the knot; I wanted to get married on the exact date (it was a Saturday that year, and that would have been fun) but we pushed our wedding as far back in the summer as we could without hitting the start of a new school year for my kindergarten-teaching mom. So unfortunately, our "dating anniversary" and wedding anniversary don't match up...but that just gives me two days a year to be all nostalgic and start digging though old photos.

Oh man, to be twenty again. Twenty was a transitional age for me. I spent my nineteenth year and half of my twentieth in a whole lot of trouble, waging a war against myself and everything I'd ever believed, tearing apart a long-term relationship I had never truly treated well, and causing a lot of self-harm along the way. I was a m.e.s.s.

Around the time I met Dan (early that spring) was when I was starting to get my act together and getting back to being the "me" I always knew was hiding in there somewhere. This second half of my twentieth year was when I started learning how to truly be happy, no matter what came next. I decided to leave the university where I'd spent my first two years of college and planned to resume my studies at a new school the following January. I signed up for a couple of gen-ed classes at the local community college for that fall, moved into a house in town with a few friends, and picked up more shifts at the restaurant where I'd been employed for close to a year. I felt like an actual adult who was making her own—and the right—choices for once.

Summer came and life was wonderful. I had close friends as roommates and neighbors, my job allowed for lots of free time during the day, and I loved living in town where I could pop over to pick up Japanese take-out or hit up a dollar movie any time I wanted. (I'm from a small rural area where nothing like this was possible, so these were big-deal things for me back then.) The feeling of freedom was extraordinary.

Suddenly, I realized that the small talk Dan and I had been having online (AOL Instant Messenger, anyone?) since meeting was possibly heading somewhere. I needed to spend more time with this guy. We spent a couple of days together in late May and early June leading up to his band going on a small tour through Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky. A few days into the tour, I missed him already. We weren't even "a thing," but I had strong feelings for him. The bassist's girlfriend had given me her number the day the band packed up to leave, so I gave her a call. Suddenly, we had an idea. I called into work and switched out my shifts for the next three days.

I woke up early the next morning and hopped in my car with a duffle bag. I drove the two hours to the bassist's girlfriend's house and picked up this girl I'd only met once, and off we went towards Tennessee. Anna and I had quite the adventure that day, driving eleven hours non-stop to Memphis, Tennessee, just hoping we'd end up at the right place.

Luckily, mostly thanks to my amazing map skills (we had no GPS back then,) I navigated us to the right bar and we hid in the corner while the band warmed up. Suddenly, we were spotted from across the room. Dan was so surprised and excited! I made the slip-up comment, "What other girlfriend would drive 13 hours to see you play?" and was teased in return, "Oh, so you're calling yourself my girlfriend now?" Cue the blushing and serious embarrassment. A nod of the head and it was official. No turning back. We spent the whole next day exploring Memphis and stayed another night for a second show.

I returned to Virginia with a new boyfriend and my life was forever changed. I know that sounds cheesy, but it really was. I spent a ton of time that summer and fall visiting him in Roanoke. Two of our best friends met through us and started dating (and eventually married!) so we always had double dates; Nicole and I would drive to their town and then they'd drive to ours, taking turns each weekend or on random weeknights. I eventually chose a school in Southwest Virginia to start at that following spring semester, partially for my own reasons, but partially because I now had a ton of friends—and Dan—in that part of the state. My entire life shifted: new school; new forever friends; meeting Chelsea; my first real job; starting the magazine; our first home together. Everything could have been so different had I not been so spontaneous and fearless in June of 2007, and I am so, so thankful that I was.

Visiting the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles

Monday, June 8, 2015

Tips for Visiting the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles

On Saturday Daniel, Chelsea and I ventured to Los Angeles for a visit to the Griffith Observatory, a LA landmark we've been wanting to visit for quite a while. Chelsea only has a couple of weekends left in California, so we're checking off all of those last places on the list that we can! We've planned to visit the Observatory multiple times but it has always been really overcast or surprisingly raining, and the whole point is to see the view, right? Saturday was beautiful; it was the perfect day to make the trip.

Getting There & Parking

We exited the 101 around Silver Lake and drove around a bit, just checking out the neighborhood we've heard so much about. (It's cited as one of the best hipster neighborhoods in LA, but I think we went through the wrong area; we were disappointed.) Through a series of turns through several residential neighborhoods, we ended up on Vermont Avenue heading north towards Griffith Park.

A friend warned me that we would probably have to walk quite a ways to visit the Observatory because of the parking situation, but the walk couldn't be so bad from the parking area, right? Wrong. The actual parking area for the Observatory isn't all that large and had filled up long before we arrived. We followed a long line of traffic through various curves along the mountainside until we found a place to parallel park along the edge of the road, probably around a mile away from the actual parking lot. We had quite a little hike ahead of us. Luckily, it wasn't a hard walk and the elevation wasn't noticeably rising until we reached the sidewalk near the entrance. Either way, be prepared to walk quite a distance to get there and wear good walking shoes; the only pathway was dirt and full of roots.

When leaving we continued heading south instead of turning around and going out the way we came. This brought us to the bottom of the valley to a large parking lot the Fern Dell Picnic Area. We'd seen a lot of hikers down below in the valley from up above, and it seems that people who want more of a challenge to reach the Observatory park here and walk up through various dirt paths. Modern Hiker has a great post about this very hike, should anyone be interested.

Red: Griffith Observatory | Yellow: Where we parked | Purple: Fern Dell Picnic Area
Tips for Visiting the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles
Tips for Visiting the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles
Tips for Visiting the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles

The Observatory

The Observatory itself is free to visit and offered some of the best views I've had of Downtown LA, Hollywood, the Hollywood Sign, and the rest of the surrounding area. We could see all the way west to Santa Monica and the ocean and as far south as Redondo Beach! We snapped several photos outside and then headed inside to see some of the exhibits. There were several galleries on two floors offering information about the telescopes used to look into space, the history of astronomy, actual meteorites, information about each planet in our solar system, and videos and photos of our galaxy, sun, stars, and planets. Each exhibit was well done and very informative, although Dan said it reminded him much of an elementary school visit to the science center. (We aren't all science buffs like Dan, though! haha) The place was full of families and people of all ages and the kids there were especially excited to push buttons and look through telescopes. Various terraces offer exceptional views, including the roof, where you can have a peek inside of the dome housing the Zeiss telescope.

There are currently three shows going on in the planetarium, but it seems they change those out every once in a while. We wanted to purchase tickets to attend one of them, but had finished checking everything out with an hour to spare before the next show. They open the box office in phases, selling tickets to the shows at three times throughout the day. Tickets for the 6:45pm shows and later did not go on sale until 6pm, and people started lining up to purchase them at 5:30. We gave up our spot in line and decided to head west to Santa Monica for dinner instead of hanging around so long to wait, though I've heard from friends that the shows are worth the time.

Tips for Visiting the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles
Tips for Visiting the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles
Visiting the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles: The best views of Downtown LA and the Hollywood Sign
Visiting the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles: The best views of Downtown LA and the Hollywood Sign
Visiting the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles: The best views of Downtown LA and the Hollywood Sign

To Know When You Visit

  • Address: 2800 E Observatory Rd, Los Angeles, CA 90027
  • Website:
  • Open: 12-10pm Tuesday - Friday / 10am-10pm Weekends / Closed Mondays
  • Admission: Free!
  • Planetarium Shows: $7 adult / Seniors & Students $5 / 5-12 $3 / <5 free / available only at ticket booth inside
  • Be prepared to walk up to a mile, slightly uphill on a dirt path. Handicapped parking available.
  • The Hollywood Sign Shuttle operates on weekends for a fee and makes a stop at the Observatory.

Weekly Roundup

Friday, June 5, 2015

Is it Friday already? The week is pretty much over and I've been so busy working on my friend's book that I've barely left the apartment. Dan and I started the week by visiting the Lyon Air Museum on Sunday, and that was about it other than errands. I haven't been "going and doing" so much lately, but I hope to change that this weekend. The book design is 99% finished as of yesterday after all, so I should celebrate by getting away from my laptop for a change!

Because our time here is running short, I've decided to do a series of comparison and retrospective posts about our time here. Expect lots of lists from me as the clock counts down, from my favorite places to eat in Orange County to things like how huge a difference it is to drive here compared to where I grew up.

Speaking of countdown... 56 days until we move out of California!


  • When Faults Collide by Claire Granger I guess this can count as what I've been reading this week, because I've read it about three times now while I've been designing the interior and line editing the entire thing! Claire and I have been friends since high school and I am so excited for her as she works to self-publish her first book. And I may be biased, but I think the storyline is great. I will share more about this as it gets closer to the release date!


  • Kung Fury I love to watch really bad, stupid movies... like, the "they had to do this on purpose" kind of bad. I blame my friend Tom for my love of these gems; we would all hang out over at his place on Tuesdays or on weekends watching Mystery Science Theatre 3000 or RiffTrax versions of some of the worst movies ever made, like The Room or Hobgoblins, as well as some of RiffTrax's masterpieces to movies like Twilight and Harry Potter. (Seriously if you do anything today, click one of those two links and watch how much more fun they can make a movie!) Anyway, Kung Fury was actually made to be just as ridiculous as it is. It's only 30 minutes long, so if you have time... you're welcome.
  • Game of Thrones Only two more episodes left this season, guys! Things are getting intense! I'm obsessed, so I love seeing little inside looks like this one, about the battle at Hardhome. (Spoilers! Do not watch unless you're caught up, or just watch at all.)

On the Internets

On the Blog

I've been a little nostalgic about home lately (Thanks Jordan!) so I've included a few links to older posts I'm really fond of. (Hint: They're mostly about Virginia!)

California Comparisons | Transportation

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Now that our time in California is quickly counting down towards a close, I think it's time to talk about some of the things I've learned during my time here. I've said it many times and I'll say it again: We may as well have moved to a different country when we moved to Southern California... they just happen to use the same currency, have the same President, and most people here speak a great deal of English. I could go on and on about the differences from my former Appalachian city life and rural upbringing, but it would be easier to just focus on one thing at a time.

One thing I've most frequently had to deal with since moving here is the difference in driving. The traffic, the rules of the road, and the crazy things I've witnessed on the road here are worth a post of their own.

Virginia Driving

I guess to truly understand the difference for me, you'd have to understand what driving is like in small town Virginia. I grew up learning to drive a car on roads with no lines, but I'd been driving all over the community on my 4-wheeler for several years before that and knew how to drive a tractor even before that. Farm life. Our highways "to town" (a 45 minute drive away) were four lanes (two each direction) and the speed limit was 55-60mph (96kph). That's if you took the highways. The most common way to get to town was to take a combination of two lane roads or unmarked back roads. The interstates (I95 or I81) were also mostly four lanes (three in some places) and currently have a max speed of 70mph, but just try to go 70 on a crowded four lane highway; if the right lane is full of 45mph-driving slow pokes, you have no choice but to get in the left lane behind the big rigs. If one of those is going 55mph, you're shit out of luck... you're now stuck going 55mph and under threat of being run over by the angry guy who is now tailgating you with a dixie flag proudly flying from his truck bed. People do not know how acceleration lanes work, frequently stopping altogether, looking over their shoulder for a break in traffic so they can try to gun it. I don't think I have to explain what a disaster this can be for everyone behind those drivers on the on-ramp. Driving in Virginia is a frustrating and sometimes scary thing.

California Freeways

I've driven all over the east coast and consider myself a pretty good driver (no accidents yet,) having navigated successfully through unfamiliar traffic patterns in places like Washington DC and Miami, but the freeways in California are a totally different animal. Six lanes, I think I can handle... but sixteen!?

California freeways seem like a free-for-all, a "survival of the fittest" landscape dotted with cars more expensive than a three-bedroom house would sell for in VA. Traffic can go from 80mph to 0 in less than 30 seconds, then back to 80 again a minute later. I've forgotten what cruise control is, because it's nearly impossible to be in a situation here where you can use it. When traffic is moving quickly, it's like a real life version of Mario Kart, with the brave (or crazy) ones zipping from lane to lane. Merging is it's own game of chance; you know you have to get over for your exit, but you're not sure you can make it... you do it anyway, just hoping and wishing the person flying towards the position you desire will have the decency to let you in. Somehow it always works, and I haven't had any fender benders here yet. I truly can't decide if I think the drivers here are really good drivers, or if everyone is just absolutely batshit crazy.


When we first moved here we only had our one car. If Dan took it to work, I couldn't leave the apartment during the day, so I would drive him to work and then pick him up. We did this for well over four months, until he got his motorcycle. This was a more practical purchase for us for three reasons: he just needed a way to get to work and back (7 miles away); it cost half the price of a car and a quarter of the cost in gas; we knew our move was temporary and we didn't want another car to deal with going back.

California is the only state in the nation where lane-sharing (or lane splitting) is not illegal. (It's technically not legal either, but there are no rules against it.) This used to terrify me, but as the wife of a motorcycle driver, I now see this as an important part of Dan's commute. At a stoplight Dan can slowly make his way to the front of the line, gassing it quicker and able to get out of the way of traffic when the light turns green. When traffic is backed up for any reason, he can do the same, slowly and safely making his way through and out of the congested area. Why should he have to sit in an hour of traffic with the cars when he could simply bypass it all? He's not zipping through cars and zig-zagging while traffic is going 70mph; that's not what I'm talking about here. But people do get insanely mad, inching their cars closer to the one next to them at a light just so he can't fit through and pass them. Jealous, maybe? People also open their doors at stoplights, not looking to see if someone might be coming through (you'd think they'd be used to this by now) and often merge without a glance. It's scary; people hate motorcyclists and have some weird, unjustified anger towards them on the roads. Are some of them zig-zagging and doing stupid things? Yes, but so are the car drivers. Just please don't kill my husband.

Traffic vs Flying

Traffic can be so bad here that people actually find it more affordable to fly everywhere. This would be nearly impossible on the east coast, where a two hour flight can cost you over $300, and that would be after you drove two to three hours to a major airport. (Regional airport flights are even higher in cost!) But here you have two options: wake up at 4am and try to beat the worst of Saturday traffic to Vegas, taking anywhere from 6 - 8 hours to get there (less than 300 miles) or drive 45-60 minutes to LAX and take a 1-hour $110 flight. At this point it's about what's more important, time or money? We flew to San Francisco last August for less than $250 round-trip, combined, (1.5 hour flight); this saved us from a 6 or 7+ hour drive each way. I have to say, flying just makes more sense, and I love that. It's still just a crazy notion for me to imagine flying to be so affordable.

A Few Bizarre Car & Road Situations...

  • Bike lanes serve as turning lanes at red lights. During high traffic, the whole bike lane can turn into a complete third lane. I don't know that this is legal, but there seems to be some unwritten shared agreement to do this. Don't ever get too close to the bike lane at a light; don't you know another car needs to be able to fit through there!?
  • Just a few days ago Chels and I were sitting at a red light, waiting for traffic to ease up enough for us to turn right. Wouldn't you know that a guy on the other side of this six-lane roadway decided that he was just going to cross those six lanes of moving traffic and get across that crosswalk right then, because screw it. It was like watching real life Frogger; this guy must have been completely out of his mind. He just walked right on across, towards us, while cars who were flying through (at least 50mph) slammed on their brakes and honked at him. Somehow he survived, and I remembered to breathe again.
  • Moments later, at the next light, I watched a guy in a BMW a couple of cars ahead open his passenger door and just relieve himself of all of his trash. Two plastic water bottles, some balled up receipts, whatever. Just open the door and drop them on the ground under you, totally cool... you jerk. I don't know why anything surprises me anymore.
  • Favorite car moment: Let me set the scene... Chels and I are sitting on the PCH just north of Newport Beach, heading towards Huntington Beach. We stop at a stoplight and pedestrians start crossing the road in the crosswalk. Older guy, maybe in his 60's, clearly wealthy, starts dancing across the highway. He's smiling, jamming out, and takes just enough of a moment to look right towards us and point at us excitedly. It was this, with less hat. It truly made our day.
  • Public transit feels almost non-existent. There hasn't been a single situation where public transit would have made a difference in our commute to somewhere, and it definitely hasn't been available in a way that would improve a trip. I know the trains might be great for long distance travel, but we can't even take one to LA on a weekend without being stranded, since the last train back to OC leaves about 30 minutes after we'd arrive. Crazy.

I know that this type of driving is just normal for so many people, but I hope you can imagine what a world of difference it is for someone from a part of the world where this kind of traffic just doesn't exist. I have many more things I could say about driving here, but those are stories for another day!

Visiting Orange County's Lyon Air Museum

Monday, June 1, 2015

Visiting Orange County's Lyon Air Museum

One interest I have picked up from Dan is that of airplanes. Both his father and grandfather are pilots and he was raised with frequent discussions of planes and flight. In fact, it's only a matter of time before Dan will start working on a private pilots license of his own; we just need to settle in one place long enough for him to enroll in a flight school where he can get in his hours. One day!

Even though we're not taking to the skies by ourselves yet, we can still find a way to get our airplane fix from the ground. We visited the Chino Planes of Fame Museum last summer with Dan's grandfather and Cynthia while they were in town and it was great, but there is a plane museum closer to home, too... less than ten miles away, in fact.

The Lyon Air Museum in Santa Ana is situated directly on the north side of the runways of John Wayne Airport (aka, 'SNA,' 'Santa Ana Airport,' or 'Orange County Airport.') Some days Dan and his friend will both ride their motorcycles over to the parking lot there on their lunch breaks just to watch the planes land and take off from the airport. We used to do this sometimes during empty afternoons when we lived in Roanoke, too. I think a fascination with flight is just human; the fact that we've figured out how to do it is just amazing.

The Lyon Air Museum was small but worth the visit. They had several planes inside, ranging from World War II to Vietnam, all with interesting stories and pasts. All of them still fly, too, which is really cool for how old they are. Besides the planes, there are also several military trucks, motorcycles, and passengers cars, including a Mercedes-Benz previously used by Hitler during his reign of Nazi Germany. Creepy!

Everything in the museum is in incredible condition. Like in the museum in Chino, veterans wander the grounds ready to answer questions about the planes, many which they flew in during wars themselves. The stories these men share about their experiences during their service is really interesting. I definitely recommend seeking them out and being friendly with them if you ever visit a museum like this; they'll teach you more about the planes than any signs or videos ever could.

Visiting Orange County's Lyon Air Museum
Visiting Orange County's Lyon Air Museum / WWII Planes, Motorcycles, Cars & Trucks
Visiting Orange County's Lyon Air Museum / WWII Planes, Motorcycles, Cars & Trucks
Visiting Orange County's Lyon Air Museum / WWII Planes, Motorcycles, Cars & Trucks
Visiting Orange County's Lyon Air Museum / WWII Planes, Motorcycles, Cars & Trucks


Address: 19300 Ike Jones Rd, Santa Ana, CA 92707
Hours: 10am - 4pm every day
General Admission: $12/ Kids 5-7: $6 / Kids under 5: free