Finding Percy Wren

At this point I’ve written four books about Percy Wren, who’s gotten “Isn’t that a boy’s name?” so many times that she doesn’t even hear you anymore. Just to be clear: I am not Percy Wren. She’s braver, better at driving (and driving recklessly), far less anxiety-ridden, and deals with her problems in unhealthy ways that I never would. But we do have a lot of things in common. We’re both allergic to cats, because the world needs to know more about that battle. We both have sassy cars named Trixie because Trixie’s awesomeness transcends dimensions largely out of my control. And we’re both from small town coastal Florida.

If you ask me about that, I would probably tell you it was entirely motivated by laziness. I know exactly what it’s like to grow up in small town coastal Florida, and I’m already doing research on so many other things, that I’d rather give myself one easy setting. And that’s definitely true, and certainly saved me a lot of time. But, as my parents retire and plan to move away, I’ve realized it’s something else too. This quote from my favorite book, The True Meaning of Smekday, does a good job of explaining:

Arizona would always be one of our places now. It would be on the list of things we own in our heads. Don’t we all have this list? It’s like, everything that secretly belongs to us–a favorite color, or springtime, or a house we don’t live in anymore.

I think about this a lot, how even the most inconsequential-seeming parking lot or street is, to someone, one of their places. A setting they are so familiar with that their mind goes back there without even trying. Something they own, in their heart, through built-up memories and time and maybe affection, but maybe not. Everyone knows that certain places have meaning for them: the spot where your boyfriend proposed, the house you grew up in, your favorite restaurant. But I think there are other places that are important to us too, even though they lack these momentous events that make us realize it. Maybe it’s just the route you walked to school everyday, a tree in your neighborhood that’s been there as long as you can remember, a creepy half-built neighborhood that isn’t even there anymore, but left an indelible impression on your memory.

These are the places we own in our minds, the places it’s easy to reach for in fiction because they mean something to us even if we don’t realize it. Some writers set their works in wild and beautiful locales where the breathtaking scenery is almost a character in its own right. But I would say that it’s no less true, no less moving to set your scene in suburbia, a public library, a mall bathroom. They’re someone’s places, after all. Not all of us grew up amidst wild and untamed scenery. Some of us rode our bikes to school and hung out at the mall. It’s just as valid and just as real.

So, knowing that it might be one of my last chances to really go “home”, last time I visited my parents in Florida I tried to find all the places I secretly own. Places that came out in my writing whether through laziness or personal significance. Places that Percy Wren and I share. This is probably as close as we can come to actually finding Percy Wren.

Percy’s Neighborhood

This setting is definitely the most vivid. When I read the first description of it to my mom, she said she knew exactly where I meant. When we took these pictures, she drove there without any direction. Here’s how it’s described in the first book, The Untraceable Percy Wren:

In some other neighborhood, you’d probably have to worry about that—leaving your bike out all night in some vacant lot. But not mine. There’s never anyone around in mine. It’s big; it was supposed to be a fancy new development. They bought some old family orange grove and bulldozed it, reclaimed some other land from the swamp. The stucco wall around the outside and the streetlights were about the only things they had time to put up before they ran out of money. Our house is one of the few actually completed. The rest of the space is empty lots, some with concrete foundation already laid down, others with empty wood frames and plastic sheeting like sad ghosts. Every morning I ride out through a pointless expanse of little curvy streets, twisting away past nothing, and every night I ride home under the glow of hundreds of lonely streetlights, illuminating the emptiness. I don’t know why they did all the streets and lights before anything else, but it’s creepy, looking out my bedroom window, especially when a fog comes in off the sea. It’s like a long trail of ghost lights, twisting off into the darkness.

In the real world, in Seminole, there was a family orange grove bulldozed to make way for a fancy new development. And for the longest time, it was a big swath of emptiness inhabited only by twisty roads and streetlights. I don’t know how often I drove by those streetlights in the dark, illuminating nothing, but it didn’t have to be many to make a lasting impression. Now, though, the development is almost complete:

Although there are still some empty lots

Although there are still some empty lots

The houses there are huge and packed really close together, basically a testament to the housing bubble. Like people that rich want to live in Seminole? I was able to find a few empty lots to take appropriate pictures:

One of the streetlights, a lot less creepy now that there are actual houses

One of the streetlights, a lot less creepy now that there are actual houses

The stucco wall separates the housing development from the bike trail

The stucco wall separates the housing development from the bike trail

In the book, it's a bayou behind the wall behind Percy's house

In the book, it’s a bayou behind the wall behind Percy’s house

Even though the neighborhood is fancy and finished, there are still places to find alligators

Even though the neighborhood is fancy and finished, there are still places to find alligators

The Bike Trail

In The Untraceable Percy Wren, Percy is riding her bike just everywhere, since she’s still 14-15 and lacks a car. She rides it to school:

It was a huge let down the next day, to ride my bike to school and sit through a math test. Who can think about logarithms when the world is so huge and interesting?

She rides it for work:

I was just unloading the very last delivery: a Siberian tiger rug. I’d spent most of the ride with it peering out of my bike basket at me accusingly. I wasn’t sure if it was real or not and had decided not to ask.

And pretty much any other time she needs to jaunt around town/the world:

I was riding my bike to the library—the actual library. I had to study for exams.

All this bike riding comes naturally, because I grew up with a kickass bike trail spanning the entire county:

It goes through parks

It goes through parks

Past the back of random neighborhoods

Past the back of random neighborhoods

With big bridges over major roads

With big bridges over major roads

You really can get anywhere in the county on a bike. Of course, since Percy can see the shortcuts scattered about the world, she’s not just limited to the county:

It was possible, if I squinted my eyes right and concentrated, for me to not see the shortcuts. Otherwise I would end up in Mongolia every time I took the pedestrian overpass above the highway.

Here’s that overpass:

Unfortunately, I'm not Percy Wren, so no Mongolia in sight

Unfortunately, I’m not Percy Wren, so no Mongolia in sight

School

Very few scenes actually take place in Percy’s school, but one thing we know about it is that it’s haunted:

The school’s resident ghost wafted above me in the air current from the vent in the ceiling. She didn’t even bother to reenact her suicide for the 181st time, for which I was grateful. It had been so hard to concentrate the first week of school with her hanging from a spectral noose everywhere I looked. I think maybe she was just excited to meet me—I’m the only one who can see her, as far as I know. But now that I was over jumping and cringing away every time I saw her, she’d settled down to a more sedate, atmospheric kind of haunting.

There’s a little more detail about this ghost given in a short story at the end of the second book (titled by Percy “The Unquiet Dead or Percy Thanklessly Saves the Day Again Because She’s Awesome”):

The oldest ghosts faded away until almost nothing was left but a cold spot, or just a strange feeling. There had been one in my high school that looked just like a student, albeit with old-fashioned 1920s clothes. She used to follow me around and reenact hanging herself at me, since I was the only one who could see her.

Percy’s school can be haunted by a student from the 1920s, because my high school totally was that old. And, according to legend, that haunted:

Also, it has bell towers

Also, it has bell towers

St. Petersburg High School was built to look like a Spanish manor, with interior courtyards and breezy outdoor hallways perfect for pre-air-conditioning Florida:

Percy's school also has courtyards

Percy’s school also has courtyards

Why was I sitting in a school courtyard eating a sandwich when I should be out looking for her?

And, really, how can this school not be haunted:

Creepy early morning pictures courtesy of my mom, who teaches there

Creepy early morning pictures courtesy of my mom, who teaches there

These stairs always smelled like humidity and ghosts

These stairs always smelled like humidity and ghosts

Two levels of outdoor hallways, taken from the courtyard

Two levels of outdoor hallways, taken from the courtyard

And fancy light fixture by the main doors

And fancy light fixture by the main doors

And this bitchin side door, which actually makes an appearance:

And this bitchin side door, which actually makes an appearance:

But the next day was Monday and so I had a full day of school to dwell on it before I needed to figure that out. Or so I thought. I was walking into school when I noticed a tall man in a suit standing in the shadows near a side door.

The Swamp

Florida is a huge swamp. They try to trick you by paving over parts of it, but nature is having none of that nonsense. It comes up in the book multiple times:

I couldn’t hear anything. Not the chirping of the katydids, the buzzing mosquitoes, the squawking swamp birds or the faint hum of cars on the road outside the neighborhood.

I took this at Millennium Park, near where I grew up, but it might be anywhere where Florida is just let alone to be Florida

I took this at Millennium Park, near where I grew up, but it might be anywhere where Florida is just let alone to be Florida

“It was perfect,” I said, despite the sweat trickling down the back of my neck and the promise of a hot, air-conditioningless night listening to the song of the swamp through my open window.

And you better believe I know the misery that is Florida when your AC is broken

And you better believe I know the misery that is Florida when your AC is broken

[At the hospital,] She pulled around to the back, where she knew there was a small terrace that looked out on a swamp. It may have been an uninspired view of scrubby bushes and brackish water that always gave off an unpleasantly organic scent, but it was still a nice change from the antiseptic smell and the fluorescent lights inside.

In Florida, everything overlooks the swamp, sooner or later

In Florida, everything overlooks the swamp, sooner or later

The Beach

Percy Wren and I definitely share an affinity for the beach. I don’t particularly like the beach–I burn instantly and sand feels dirty and gross. But I still have to go sometimes, just to see it. Percy does too:

She walked the way she had the last time she’d been here, towards the sea. She missed it when she didn’t see it for a while. The sound of the waves would fill her dreams, and she would take a detour the next day to some spot and just look out at the wide, blue expanse, like a bit of the sky trapped on earth.

This is the one near my parents' new apartment

This is the one near my parents’ new apartment

My favorite beaches are the kind in national parks like Ft. De Soto or the Pensacola National Seashore that don’t feel so touristy and tacky:

I was pretty experienced with beaches, of course, having one a short bike ride from my house, but it was strange to be on one so empty. Sometimes I imagined I’d traveled back in time, to a beach before we’d covered it with pastel hotels and t-shirt shops. It was peaceful, and the sea and sky seemed to fill the whole world.

Rita’s Italian Ice

Rita’s Italian Ice was THE place for drama in middle school:

You can smell the angst

You can smell the angst

It had a prime location, across the street from a middle and high school and on the way to the beach. Every time I come across a Rita’s that’s not a little shack with no indoors, I don’t know what to do. It’s obviously the place where the teen drama goes down in Percy Wren’s town too:

Gossiping with my French partner, Shae, about who had come back from vacation dating and who had been at the center of dramatic public breakups at the Italian ice stand on the beach.

He was smiling at me in a friendly way. If it had been my normal life, and he was just some guy at Rita’s Italian Ice, I probably would’ve swooned.

It’s real.

The Park

Percy no longer lives in Florida after The Untraceable Percy Wren, but the third book in the series, Revengeance does feature a pretty big scene at a park there:

He was waiting for them under a shelter with rows of picnic tables underneath. The rain was coming down in torrents, blown almost sideways by the wind. But after you hunched your back towards it, it would quickly change direction so it always seemed to be pelting you in the face. The world all around them was an indistinct, hazy gray. The children’s playground nearby was almost completely invisible in the downpour, except for some vague, somehow ominous shapes, like beasts in the mist.

This is that exact shelter, right by a playground and the water

This is that exact shelter, right by a playground and the water

Of course, I visited on a much more pleasant day where everything wasn’t flooding catastrophically.

Percy tried to shoo an egret off the driver’s side mirror, and it snapped at her, long neck darting out like a snake. She opened the door and slipped in as quickly as possible…
“There are far too many alligators here,” Silas remarked as she piloted the floating car around submerged trees in the rushing floodwaters. “And that picnic shelter was destroyed by some kind of wave. I don’t know how you survived here to grow up.”
“Swimming lessons,” she replied easily.

It's true, everyone who lives here was on a swim team at least once

It’s true, everyone who lives here was on a swim team at least once

The Library

Percy and I have pretty different opinions about the library:

I tried my old standby of “I have to go to the library… for homework.” But then my dad offered to drive me! So I actually had to go to the actual library. It was terrible.

Where as I, of course, spent a lot of years working at this one:

Don't listen to Percy; it wasn't so terrible

Don’t listen to Percy; it wasn’t so terrible

The Mall Bathroom

I told you I tried to go to every place specifically mentioned in my books:

At the mall near my house, if I opened the second stall in the ladies’ restroom, I would be met with a wall of water and some fish lazing around a coral reef. I reached out to poke it the first time I saw it, but, of course, it was cold and wet. I wondered if the fish ever got confused and ended up flopping around on the tile floor for a fed-up janitor to find. Probably not. Fish couldn’t see the shortcuts, same as anyone who went into the bathroom. No one avoided that stall but me. It was possible, if I squinted my eyes right and concentrated, for me to not see the shortcuts. Otherwise I would end up in Mongolia every time I took the pedestrian overpass above the highway. But no bathroom trip should carry the risk of a watery grave, so I generally just waited till another stall was free.

Mall bathroom photoshoot!

Mall bathroom photoshoot!

Don’t be jealous of how much fun I am to hang out with.

Reasons You Should Visit Me

I know Cary might not seem like a great vacation destination, but that’s just because you don’t know it like I know it. Let me take you on a virtual journey of the for-real journey we could take if you came here.

1. Steven is a master cook

I don't think I can stress that enough

I don’t think I can stress that enough

Steven treats good food with an almost religious respect, and so you can be sure your trip will be expertly/adventurously catered. Or maybe we’ll go out. Whatever. The point is, you will never have to eat at Chili’s. Which was also part of Steven’s wedding vows to me, I’m pretty sure.

2. Company=Time for Pie

I'm not too modest to tell you that I rock at pie

I’m not too modest to tell you that I rock at pie

Pie is awesome, but it’s impossible for Steven and I to eat a whole pie by ourselves before it gets all mushy and sad. And there’s nothing sadder than having to throw away uneaten pie. So I only bake it for special occasions. Like you! You are a special occasion.

3. The Umstead

If you're feeling fancy

If you’re feeling fancy

The Umstead is North Carolina’s only five star hotel, and it’s right here in Cary! See? We have things here! I’m telling you. It has an awesomely extravagant spa and fancy restaurant too. We went one time.

3a. Fancy Tea

This takes place at the Umstead, but I felt like it needed its own entry because FANCY AFTERNOON TEA WITH A LIVE HARPIST. Here is the fancy menu. Unfortunately, I’ve never been because Steven says he “doesn’t like tea” like they won’t let him have a Coke or something. ONE DAY.

4. Crosswords

Ignore his face, he likes it

Ignore his face, he likes it

Every Sunday we go to Panera and (try to) do the two crosswords in The News and Observer (oh yeah I get the paper, because I am totes an adult). The people who work that shift know us and are pretty great, and sometimes I try to dress up because everyone else there is in church clothes and crossword times are serious times. Plus, most Sundays the Triangle Greyhound Owners Club seems to be meeting on the outside patio tables at the same time, so that’s awesome. You too could join this ritual (actual crossword expertise optional–just ask Steven).

5. Scavenger Hunts

SCAVENGER HUNTS!

SCAVENGER HUNTS!

I wrote up a full post about this here. Basically, museum scavenger hunts are the most fun way to visit any museum, and we have a lot of great free ones around here, including the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, NC Museum of History, and NC Museum of Art.

6. Free concerts

Let's say I know a guy

Let’s say I know a guy

Okay, but if, for some reason, that’s not enough for you, Cary also has just a plethora of free concerts and events, plus some not as free. For instance, we’re the summer home of the North Carolina Symphony.

7. Cary History Museum

I literally make everyone who visits me take a picture with this guy

I literally make everyone who visits me take a picture with this guy

This museum is in the attic of the historic Page-Walker Hotel, and it is literally the museum your grandmother would build with her sewing circle in her spare time. It is awesome. Plus, taking a picture with the slightly ominous Doc Templeton mannequin is kind of a tradition.

8. Farmer’s Market

This picture maybe doesn't capture the scope well

This picture maybe doesn’t capture the scope well

Cary actually has a local farmer’s market twice a week, but I usually go to the state farmer’s market, which is only about ten minutes away and open seven days a week. There’s a giant fruits and vegetables pavilion, another that’s just for plants, and a third that has a bunch of local wines, jams, nuts, snacks, and what have you. Plus, there’s a restaurant. And a place where you can buy bouquets of fresh flowers! And different bakeries have kiosks! Including the German bakery! Hello kuchen for breakfast!

9. Hunt Library

This library is amazing

This library is amazing

About 15 minutes away, on NC State’s Centennial Campus, the Hunt Library is new and shiny and full of technology and walls that are actually screens and freaky book robots. They give tours, or you can wander around yourself marveling at everything like my boss and I did one day last winter. She had it on her “Things To Do in America” list, and I don’t think she was disappointed.

10. Servery Challenge

This is the picture I always use for Servery Challenges, always and forever

This is the picture I always use for Servery Challenges, always and forever

Servery Challenges actually began in the actual servery at Wiess, but our most famous since then have usually involved Chocovine. I can’t guarantee you a new Chocovine flavor, but I can guarantee you a fast-paced, loosely-judged cooking competition based on skill, presentation, and bullshit artistry. And Rob trying to game the vote. We can all count on that.

11. Steven needs someone to make fancy drinks for

His dream is to have a dedicated drinks cabinet

His dream is to have a dedicated drinks cabinet

I can’t drink alcohol anymore. Steven is a total lightweight who loves pretending to be a bartender. It’s a tough combination, which you could reap the rewards of. I’m just saying.

12. The Cary

Also, the snack bar has hummus

Also, the snack bar has hummus

The Cary is an awesome restored olde timey theater that just opened up in downtown Cary! It shows old movies and indie movies, as well as musical acts and stage shows. Plus, tickets range between free and $5, less than half the price of going to another theater.

13. Bollywood movies

Samosas are the best movie snack

Samosas are the best movie snack

Cary has a big Indian population, so all the theaters around are usually playing one to two Bollywood titles at any given time. It’s twice the length of a normal movie, but also twice the awesome.

14. Corn Mazes

I claim this corn maze, in the name of tie dye

I claim this corn maze, in the name of tie dye

I don’t know why, but this area has a ton of corn mazes. Haunted night corn mazes, treasure hunt corn mazes, trivia corn mazes, regular old corn mazes… It’s not a successful autumn if Steven and I don’t have a big argument inside at least one corn maze! We didn’t have them in Florida, so I definitely consider it an area attraction.

15. La Farm

La Farm is an actual French bakery started by an actual French dude filled with actual deliciousness. The reason I don’t have any pictures of their breads, sandwiches, pastries, or macarons is because I always eat them immediately.

16. Trixie

Trixie is cooler than me and she knows it

Trixie is cooler than me and she knows it

Trixie makes personalized playlists for guests. Okay, James Fox once got All Boybands All the Time, but their relationship has always been fraught with discord.

17. You can become Internet famous

People who visit me tend to end up on my blog

People who visit me tend to end up on my blog

It just happens, okay? It’s because I’m pretty boring on my own and I’ve vowed to update at least once a week. And if nothing exciting happens to me, I have to think up some filler post like this!

In conclusion, Cary is the ultimate vacation destination, so you should totally visit me. Fact.

July Books

This month I got through 7 books, which means I’m 67% done! Only 32 more to go!

Tequila Mockingbird by Tim Federle

Tequila Mockingbird by Tim Federle

Title: Tequila Mockingbird
Author: Tim Federle
My Rating: 5/5
GoodReads’ Rating: 4.22/5

This book is full of amazing drink recipes based on literature, most of which are named with amazing puns! Yes!!!

Book of 1000 Days by Shannon Hale

Book of 1000 Days by Shannon Hale

Title: Book of a Thousand Days
Author: Shannon Hale
My Rating: 4/5
GoodReads’ Rating: 3.94/5

I almost quit this book halfway through, but I’m glad I kept going because it went to a place I did not expect. It’s written from the point of view of a maid, shut up in a tower with her mistress who refused to marry the man her father picked out for her. It reminded me a lot of Mulan, I guess because there’s an invading army led by a total creeper, a lot of assuming false identities, and unconventional uses of power.

Notorious Royal Marriages by Leslie Carroll

Notorious Royal Marriages by Leslie Carroll

Title: Notorious Royal Marriages
Author: Leslie Carroll
My Rating: 4/5
GoodReads’ Rating: 3.90/5

This book was pretty chatty, which I like. I learned some things I didn’t know. I wish it had included even one non-European example. Or that it had included more royals from countries besides England. I know all about that already, thanks.

172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad

172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad

Title: 172 Hours on the Moon
Author: Johan Harstad
My Rating: 2/5
GoodReads’ Rating: 3.61/5

This book is completely ridiculous. Completely. The only reason I gave it a 2 was because the concept of creepy evil doppelgangers is incredibly creepy, whether they are on the moon or otherwise. So, yes, there were one or two parts of this book that definitely creeped me out. But overall it is pretty hilarious bad. NASA decides to send three non-US teenagers to their secret moon base for a publicity stunt, except that the things on the moon that caused the base’s abandonment in the first place are–surprise!–still there and bent on killing everyone. One of the most hilarious things about the book is the author’s stereotypical treatment of teen girls that he never bothers to flesh out fully. “But what would I do on the moon? There’s nowhere to shop!”

It by Stephen King

It by Stephen King

Title: It
Author: Stephen King
My Rating: 1/5
GoodReads’ Rating: 4.06/5

Some parts of this book were legitimately creepy. I wasn’t as scared as I thought I would be, probably because jump scares don’t work as well in literature compared to film. The characters were less like cardboard cutouts than a typical King novel, and I liked the non-chronological storytelling. Unfortunately, I can’t get over the completely random sex scene towards the end where seven 11-year-olds decide to bang in a sewer tunnel they’re supposed to be escaping for vague “This way we’ll always be friends” reasons. And the implication that this was the way the one girl character was able to “save” the others. No thanks forever.

The Ones I Decided Not to Read

Title: The Sweet Revenge of Celia Door
Author: Karen Finneyfrock
GoodReads’ Rating: 3.73/5

Title: Winger
Author: Andrew Smith
GoodReads’ Rating: 4.2/5

Previously: June Books
Next: August Books

Science Museum Scavenger Hunt

This happened back in February so I don’t know why I’m only talking about it now. Maybe because none of the pictures look that great due to me being completely unable to make normal expressions in selfies. It’s a curse. Anyway, I wrote this scavenger hunt for the science museum:

I don't know how you visit museums, but it's probably way less fun

I don’t know how you visit museums, but it’s probably way less fun

Scavenger hunt completion depended on taking a selfie with all the things listed. I know it was a little unfair, since I wrote the hunt in the first place, but I totally won. Here’s how:

#1: T-Rex Head!

#1: T-Rex Head!

You can tell it is the past because of my hair: both its color and the fact that I haven’t chopped it all off yet.

#2: A live animal

#2: A live animal

There is totally a fish back there. It was harder than it looks to maneuver some of these things into a selfie with you.

#3: A dead animal

#3: A dead animal

That’s a taxidermied bird if you can’t tell.

#4: Something in the gift shop you wanted as a kid

#4: Something in the gift shop you wanted as a kid

Leopard shark whatttt yes! I still want this.

#5: A museum employee

#5: A museum employee

This was definitely the most difficult item to get. For Rob because he fears strangers and for Rachel because guys who work at museum cafes hate their lives. Steven and I lucked out and met awesome people, though!

#6: A butterfly

#6: A butterfly

The butterfly dome was super hot and I got sick of trying to get a live one to land on me. Butterflies don’t know anything about selfies.

#7: Something trying too hard to make learning fun

#7: Something trying too hard to make learning fun

This was probably the hardest picture for me to finagle my way into.

#8: Something that terrifies you

#8: Something that terrifies you

That’s my scared face

#9: North Carolina

#9: North Carolina

This was probably the easiest one. North Carolina is everywhere in the North Carolina Science Museum. Of course I went for the biggest one.

#10: A sea creature

#10: A sea creature

I have no idea what this expression means.

#11: Something purple

#11: Something purple

Rob and I both spotted this purple thing at the same time, but I was faster/more willing to elbow children out of the way.

#12: A globe

#12: A globe

Another easy one

#13: Where you would sleep if you were secretly living in the museum

#13: Where you would sleep if you were secretly living in the museum

This is a tunnel showing you the ~underwater world~ of prehistoric North Carolina. It would of course be the coolest place to sleep if you were Mixed Up Files of Basil E. Frankweilering it

#14: Something you want to steal

#14: Something you want to steal

Giant ground sloths are my favorite prehistoric creature!! But I promise not to really steal them, NC Museum of Science. I know that’s been going around lately.

#15: Creepy child statues

#15: Creepy child statues

There are actually more than one set of creepy child statues in this museum.

#16: A map of North Carolina highlighting where we live

#16: A map of North Carolina highlighting where we live

This one probably got me the most stares from other museum-goers. Probably just jealous they weren’t having this much fun

#17: ROCKS ROCKS ROCKS

#17: ROCKS ROCKS ROCKS

If you’ve ever been to the geology section of the NC Science Museum, that expression makes total sense

#18: Someone else doing this scavenger hunt!

#18: Someone else doing this scavenger hunt!

Rob was unaware I had taken this picture somehow. SCAVENGER HUNT NINJA!

I’m excited to write one for the history and/or art museums! Just one more reason to come visit me.

Lorde’s “Tennis Court” Song is about the French Revolution

It’s probably a coincidence that this song came on the radio while I was listening on my way to the library on Bastille Day. OR WAS IT. I am 99% sure that this song is all about the French Revolution, most obviously the tennis court oath:

Let's go down to the tennis court and talk it out

Let’s go down to the tennis court and talk it out

I mean, really, what ELSE could that lyric be referring to? In 1789, Louis XVI was broke, in no small part because of France’s involvement with the American War for Independence, so he called the Estates General, an advisory body made up of nobles, clergy, and commoners. The Estates General was a purely advisory body, and traditionally each of the groups had met and advised the king separately, but the 3rd Estate, the Commons (i.e. 99% of France), wasn’t taking that shit anymore. In protest, they refused to do any work until the others agreed to meet all together. The stalemate went on for weeks, until one day the Third Estate found their traditional meeting room locked. Coincidence… OR ROYAL PLOT? They filed on down to a tennis court and took an oath to not leave until they’d given France a Constitution. A little act of Englightenment-style rebellion that basically led to this:

Because I'm doin' this for the thrill of it, killin' it

Because I’m doin’ this for the thrill of it, killin’ it

And then later:

Getting caught's half of the trip though, isn't it?  I fall apart with all my heart

Getting caught’s half of the trip though, isn’t it?
I fall apart with all my heart

Think about it.

Baby, be the class clown

Baby, be the class clown

I'll be the beauty queen in tears

I’ll be the beauty queen in tears

Everything's cool when we're all in line for the throne

Everything’s cool when we’re all in line for the throne

But I know it's not forever

But I know it’s not forever

Open your eyes, comrades!

June Books

This month I got through 10 books, so I’m 59% done with this project! 39 to go!

Relish by Lucy Knisley

Relish by Lucy Knisley

Title: Relish
Author: Lucy Knisley
Rating: 5/5
GoodReads’ Rating: 3.89/5

This is a graphic novel/memoir about food adventures that includes recipes!! Delicious recipes! I tried the chocolate chip cookie one and definitely plan to use it again.

I actually checked it out of the library again when I realized I forgot to write down the recipe

I actually checked it out of the library again when I realized I forgot to write down the recipe

The stories in the book are hilarious, the recipes are delicious, and the art is fun. A great book for anyone who loves food!

The Theory of Everything by J. J. Johnson

The Theory of Everything by J. J. Johnson

Title: The Theory of Everything
Author: J.J. Johnson
Rating: 4/5
GoodReads’ Rating: 3.97/5

Even though I rated this one a 4/5 after I read it, I literally remember nothing about it now so maybe it wasn’t as good as I thought. I actually had to look it up again to remember what book it was. Even then, I’m just remembering it as “dead best friend + Christmas tree farm”. Each chapter started with an amazing chart or graph, which is probably why I upped its final score.

Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities by Mike Jung

Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities by Mike Jung

Title: Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities
Author: Mike Jung
Rating: 3/5
GoodReads’ Rating: 3.91/5

I read this book while waiting for my car inspection, so it wasn’t really a deep read, but it was okay for what it was: a middle grade novel about a town with a resident super hero and his biggest fanboy. So of course major drama ensues when he discovers the superhero’s secret identity: a girl at his school. I liked the girl power messages (of course).

Concierge Confidential by Michael Fazio

Concierge Confidential by Michael Fazio

Title: Concierge Confidential
Author: Michael Fazio
Rating: 3/5
GoodReads’ Rating: 3.34/5

I wouldn’t say the writing in this book was particularly strong, but it was interesting to read about funny and ridiculous stories from a concierge’s past. I guess I never really knew the full extent of a concierge’s job, not usually frequenting the kind of hotels that have them. My favorite part was probably his attempts to fill and subsequently clean up a hotel bathtub with liquid chocolate for a guest’s romantic anniversary surprise.

The Ones I Decided Not To Read

Title: Joel and Cat Set the Story Straight
Author: Nick Earls
GoodReads’ Rating: 3.74/5
Why I’m not reading it: This looks like the kind of gimmicky chick lit I would enjoy on a plane, but not enough to ILL.

Title: The Boy Who Sneaks Into My Bedroom Window
Author: Kristy Moseley
GoodReads’ Rating: 4.06/5
Why I’m not reading it: I’m pretty sure this was only on my list because the title reminded me of Clarissa Explains it All. This book could never live up to that expectation.

Title: September Girls
Author: Bennett Madison
GoodReads’ Rating: 3.01/5
Why I’m not reading it: The reviews didn’t sound great after further investigation

Title: Railsea
Author: China Mieville
GoodReads’ Rating: 3.93/5
Why I’m not reading it: I read the first chapter, and decided that I would love this movie, but it ultimately wasn’t worth forcing myself to read the rest of the book. It was more about worldbuilding and spectacle and I need to care about characters first.

Title: In the Garden of Iden
Author: Kage Barker
GoodReads’ Rating: 3.78/5
Why I’m not reading it: Similar to Railsea, the concept the novel is built around is interesting, but the first chapter didn’t grab me.

Title: Divergent
Author: Veronica Roth
GoodReads’ Rating: 4.37/5
Why I’m not reading it: I feel like I already know everything about this book.

Previously: May Books
Next: July Books

The Ultimate Kitchen Challenge: French Macarons

After hearing that delicious French macarons are “the ultimate kitchen challenge,” you’d better believe I was ready to pick up that gauntlet and use it to punch baking in the face. My opponent was Steven, because everyone else I texted about it has lives. FOOLS.

Here’s a picture of what French macarons are supposed to look like:

If you do it right, and are fancy enough to have this many flavors

If you do it right, and are fancy enough to have this many flavors

They’re a delicious mixture of crispy outside, cakey inside, with different kinds of ganache/coulis/whatever fancy filling in between. They’re also, hands down, the hardest cookie to make. Even this youtube tutorial, which is a “foolproof” method trying to convince you that YES YOU CAN, admits that. And that one little mistake can make all your work for naught. These cookies are finicky as hell. The batter has to be mixed to just the right consistency–my recipe even specified the approximate number of spatula turns in an attempt to guide me that still didn’t work–and then it’s piped out onto a cookie sheet and baked at just the right temperature. After reading a few online tutorials, all of which began with something along the lines of “Okay, I’ve tried this five times, and here’s what I’ve got so far…” I started to think that maybe I had started trashtalking a little too early. Regardless, I powered through.

My macaron game face

My macaron game face

The first step (in my recipe at least) was to sift together the almond flour and the powdered sugar. I had a long argument with our food processor, but finally, after covering most of the kitchen in sugar, ended up with this:

So far so good, except for the mess

So far so good, except for the mess

Apparently it has to be as powdery and fine a consistency as possible, or else. Next step, beat the egg whites into stiff peaks. I think this step was my eventual downfall:

Next time (lol) I will turn the mixer up higher

Next time (lol) I will turn the mixer up higher

My biggest mistake, looking back, was that my egg whites weren’t stiff enough. So when I reached the crucial step of combining the ingredients–but only just enough OH GOD IS IT OVERMIXED OR UNDERMIXED WHAT IS HAPPENING–the batter was too runny. So when I piped it out (or tried to–another battle with a kitchen apparatus ending in stalemate) I got blobby puddles:

Ehhhhh it's probably fine

Ehhhhh it’s probably fine

At this point, I was pretty sure all was lost, but I was going to put them in the oven anyway, because whatever. Though the recipe was supposed to be for 24 macarons (therefore 48 cookies), I ended up baking about 18 after said battle with pastry piper. Probably because they were thinner than called for, they ended up a little more golden than they should:

Crispy

Crispy

Plus, the tops of many of them had separated from the still-gooey bottoms, which were stuck to the parchment paper like glue:

Nice try

Nice try

Undaunted, I whipped up the lemon mascarpone filling:

So lemony

So lemony

And assembled what macarons I could from the cookies I could salvage:

The grand total

The grand total

Then I put them in the fridge since one of the tutorials I read said they needed 24 hours to mature. I was pretty sure I had lost, but wouldn’t know until Steven tried his recipe later.

He’d done way more research than me (I spent more time assembling my power playlist), and he started so strong. His egg whites were definitely whipped to perfect peaks.

His were chocolate, but he dyed them pink

His were chocolate, but he dyed them pink

His piped beautifully too:

I knew I was doomed

I knew I was doomed

And, though they’d changed color after coming out of the oven, they still looked great:

Ugh

Ugh

Some chocolate ganache filling and they seemed to be the perfect macarons:

I was pretty mad, not going to lie

I was pretty mad, not going to lie

BUT THEN, after maturing in the fridge, his were still hard as rocks and crunchy, not at all the consistency a true macaron should be. While mine were few in number and a little weird-looking and thin, at least they had the crunchy outside and soft insides that make macarons so delicious. Plus, mine were super lemony, his favorite flavor (not cheating–he could have picked any flavor too). So, with complete astonishment, we agreed that I was the true winner of THE ULTIMATE KITCHEN CHALLENGE!

clapping

Although we were both far from perfect. And while I’m content to never try that again (too much work for too little pay off), Steven is all set for more experimentation. As you probably could have guessed.

2014: Halfway Point

Alright, roughly halfway through 2014, so that means it’s time to check in on my goals to see how I’m doing. I’m not looking forward to the brutal truth.

1. Read All of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable: 44%

After my initial enthusiasm, my reading pace has definitely flagged. I’ll forget about it for weeks, then freak out and read 20 pages in a day. I’m still on H.

Bring it

I don’t know if this is happening

I have to try harder in the year’s last half!

2. Make a pie once a month: 33%

I’ve actually made more pies since the last time we talked! I think maybe three?

They turned out awesome

And there was pie day of course

Unfortunately, this is one of those goals you can’t catch up on once the month passes.

3. Make a new cocktail once a month: 0%

I can’t drink anymore

whatishappening

So that’s not happening

4. Get everything currently on my “To-Read” list off it: 58%

YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

celebration

It’s a slight lead, but I’ll take it

5. Make dwarf helms: 60%

I have literally not touched these since the last time we talked.

6. Update my blog at least once a week: 50%

Suckas

Total: 40%

Sigh

Previously: 2014 Goals
Quarter Quell

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