Friday, June 29, 2012

Eat, Pray, Love – My Review

A few years ago, everyone was raving about the book Eat, Pray, Love, but I never had the chance to pick it up. However, to celebrate JIAM2012, I decided to branch out from my usual fantasy audiobooks and pick up this book, and I just finished the last track!

As I review the book in my mind, my first thought is that I can hardly relate to it at all. I am not yet in my thirties; I have not been married, much less divorced; and I am still dreaming of the day when I can afford extensive international travel. Despite all that, I was able to understand the author’s desire to search for spiritual peace, or god.

I grew up in a church that, as an adult, I learned was complete and utter bullshit. Because of this, I wanted nothing to do with churches, god, or religion for a while. As time passed and the ingrained religious reactions faded, I found myself curious about what various religions were really about. I will not say I went into as much research as the reader did, but I was finally able to reach my own spiritual peace. It is because of my own search that I found the author’s own expedition interesting.

Unlike many people, I will not rant and rave about how fantastic this book was. In truth, I found it enjoyable and interesting, but not fantastic. I am glad I read it, and I did glean something from it, besides an intense craving for gourmet pizza. :)

In regard to the audiobook in particular, I liked how the author read the book herself. I feel this adds something to the story because her emotions are put into the words.

So this is my little, quick review:
Eat, Pray, Love is an enjoyable book that you will not regret reading. It is well written and informative of one person’s experiences and perspectives.

Happy JAIM2012! Now, onto my next book – The Magician King by Lev Grossman!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

155 Caches and 4 States Later

Adventure abounded as Dan and I set off for our very first geocaching weekend with our friends James and Dani. Our goal – to conquer the Delaware C&D Canal Speed Trail, a mini geocaching trail consisting of 138 geocaches along the north and south sides of the C&D Canal.

Our quest began early Saturday morning (the puppies having been dropped off at my dad’s the night before). The sun was bright; our water bottles filled; and we had enough food to feed a small army!

With James and Dan chatting away (seriously, they talk more than most females. haha!), we made our way north and into Maryland. I do not know if you have ever stopped at one of the rest stops in Maryland, but they are pretty impressive. That being said, we decided to take a quick stop at one to stretch our legs and get our first two caches of the day. They were fun, easy finds and provided us with some cool TBs.

TBs (Travel Bugs: a trackable tag that you attach to an item, usually a keychain or something of similar size. This allows you to track your item on The item becomes a hitchhiker that is carried from cache to cache (or person to person) in the real world, and you can follow its progress online.)

Finding our first cache of the day

The day moved into full-swing geocaching when we reached Middletown, Delaware, the start of the C&D Canal Speed Trail. With a few adjustments at the beginning, we worked out a fantastic system where one person would drive and the other three would alternate logging the caches. As the car would role to a stop beside the next cache location, one of us would jump out of the car, retrieve the cache, tag it with our group name “HIKD”, rehide the cache, and jump back in the car.

This system became so fluid that on one of my turns, I jumped out of the car, removed the camouflage over the cache, and almost grabbed a spider the size of a silver dollar before realizing it was there! Needless to say, I basically screamed and ran to the other side of the car. The guys jumped out to see what the problem was and were pretty impressed with the size of the spider. I let them finish logging that cache, and every time after, I moved the camouflage with my feet before getting too close to whatever might be underneath.

In addition to the 138 caches along the trail, we would occasionally get sidetracked to other stashes nearby. These finds were just as much fun as the trail and yielded some cool treasures. I think one of the best ones was the cache that you could only log if you had found over 100 caches in a day. At this hide, I found a wrist band that I brought back to the car for Dan. He thought it was pretty awesome.

Dan with his “Say no to Gangs” wrist band.

By the end of the day, we had logged a total of 153 caches! Quite a feat! These caches set both Dan and I over the 100 finds mark; James was over 900 finds; and Dani was over 1000 finds! We celebrated in style at a fun little pub near our hotel. :)

HIKD team at the final cache.

The next day, instead of going for another 153 caches, we decided to add a couple states to our cache list. (Geocache accounts track the number of caches you find, as well as the number of states and countries you find them in.) Our first stop was Atlantic City, New Jersey, where we had a late breakfast on the boardwalk and found a cache. Our second stop was Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where we munched on cheesesteaks and found a cache.

Since Dan and I had been to Geno’s cheesesteak in Philly, we decided to give Pat’s a try, that way we could decide which place had the best cheesesteaks. After a few thoughtful bites, both of us decided that we prefer Geno’s. No offense to anyone who prefers Pat’s. We thought both were tasty, but Geno’s has a better proportion and distribution of meat/cheese/bread. Geno’s is also not as soggy as Pat’s.

Me enjoying a cheesesteak

Overall, it was a wonderful, inexpensive weekend trip that we all enjoyed. Good exercise, company, and food. We are already discussing our next big geocaching power trip. :)

A few words about the C&D Canal Speed Trail:
This trail was a great start for those who are warming up for larger power trails like the ET trail or the Route 66 trail. It was easily completed in a day, and had some other fun caches located very close by. I definitely recommend it and think that it is a great way to perfect your team’s speed caching system.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

First Veggies from the Garden!

Me munching

This past weekend, we harvested the first veggies from our garden! Woot!! I was very excited as I picked the sweet, crisp pea pods from their gnarled vines. I also plucked some fresh basil leaves to put on our steaks. Mmm… There really isn’t anything more exciting than eating food that you have grown yourself. :)

Dan with the first veggies of the year

The rest of the garden is growing nicely. Check out the pictures below:

Our tomato plants are HUGE! One of them is already taller than me! Guess this means that the gardener’s trick I mentioned in my previous post really does work. :)

Here are our baby greenbeans!

The pepper plants are growing like mad. We already have a ton of chili peppers that are starting to ripen, and the jalapenos and bell peppers have lots of little baby peppers growing.

Ripening Chili Peppers

Baby Jalapenos

Baby Bell Pepper

Because of the crazy weather we have been having, we had to replant some seeds, and our cucumber and zucchini seeds would not grow at all. Since the seeds were being stubborn, my dad picked up some cucumbers and zucchini seedlings to give us a jump start.

Hope everyone’s gardens are coming along nicely!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom and Other Summer Movies

Apart from the sunshine and visiting pools and beaches, one of the best things about summertime is the movie theater! Everyone knows that the best movies come out during the summer, when everyone is on vacation or wishing they were on vacation. Some years have been very disappointing, but 2012 has an impressive lineup.

Dan and I have already started working our way through the list of movies that we want to see in the upcoming months. Some of these movies come out after the summer months, but I am going to include them anyway. Here’s our list (as of May) of movies that we want to see:

  • Avengers – seen
  • Dark Shadows – (already out of theaters, so I’m going to catch this on DVD)
  • MIB3 – seen
  • Moonrise Kingdom – seen
  • Rock of Ages
  • Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
  • Ted
  • Brave
  • The Amazing Spider-Man - possibly
  • The Dark Knight Rises
  • The Bourne Legacy
  • Expendables 2
  • Skyfall
  • The Hobbit
  • Les Miserables – possibly
  • The Great Gatsby

I am sure this list will change as time and money permit. :) For the movies we have already seen, here are some quick reviews, in case you are still deciding whether to watch them or not.

Another superhero classic. We both enjoyed all the action scenes and comic book humor, and I think they did a good job bringing so many main characters into one movie. There are also lots of good-looking characters for both girls and guys to enjoy. :)

Dan is a huge MIB fan! This latest installment was well done and almost had me crying at one point. There were lots of laughs and comical/creepy creatures. I thought it was consistent with the previous movies and very enjoyable to watch.

Moonrise Kingdom:
This film is about two kids who run away together while everyone else on their hometown island is frantically searching for them. You may not have seen a preview for it, because it is only playing in select theaters. Do not let this discourage you from seeing it though! It is filled with hidden wit and humorous situations, as well as having an all-star cast (including Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, and Bill Murray!).

One of my favorite things about the film was the cinematography. Each setting was detailed and beautiful, and I seriously want to buy the house in which the runaway girl lives!!

Of all the movies that Dan and I have seen recently (both in theaters and at home), Moonrise Kingdom is defiantly our favorite! For anyone who is curious to learn more, I am imbedding the preview below:

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Morven Park

Just outside of Leesburg town limits lies majestic Morven Park, home to Virginia’s 55th governor Westmoreland Davis. I first learned about the park at Leesburg’s monthly First Friday event, where a volunteer handed me a flyer and told me about some of the features the park offered. One important thing that I learned from the volunteer is that leashed dogs are allowed on the grounds – important knowledge for anyone who likes to bring their dogs on day trips.

A gorgeous tree I found in the gardens.

Covering 1000 acres of open and wooded property, Morven Park is a fantastic picnic location. The grounds contain numerous gardens, all of which are well maintained and great for pictures. The grounds of the park are free, and you can tour the governor’s mansion or take a ride in a horse drawn carriage for a small fee at different hours during the week and weekend.

One of the garden paths

I have visited the park on a few occasions and have always found it open and relaxing. Sometimes I see other visitors, but each time I have gone, it is never crowded. On my most recent trip, Dan and I brought the dogs with us. They LOVED running through the fields and playing fetch with fallen branches. :)

Puppies resting in the shade after playing fetch.

Whether you live around Leesburg, or are just passing through, Morven Park is a great location to visit. I would also recommend it to people who are planning an event, such as a wedding or party. The gardens and mansions are excellent settings for any event!

For any additional information, visit the Morven Park website. Enjoy!

A view of the mansion from one of the farther fields

Friday, June 8, 2012

June is Audiobook Month!

Hurray! I just found out that June is audiobook month! Today, I am going to dispel some common audiobook fears, as well as give you list of my favorite audiobooks, readers, and production companies.

First off, I started listening to audiobooks during college. Do not ask me how long ago that was! Simply realize that it was a while ago, and I am now an audiobook veteran. :) Being a commuting college student, I drove to and from campus everyday, and anyone who has driven in Northern Virginia knows how long, frustrating, and stressful commuting can be. With driving taking up hours of my day, I began to notice a disturbing lag in my personal reading. For someone who grew up with the ability to walk behind her mother in the grocery store, while reading, and never run into her mother or anyone else, you can imagine how poignant a decline in my book intake would feel.

I do not remember exactly how it happened, but one day, I walked out of the library with an audiobook. I cannot remember what book it was (which is usually a sign that it was not fantastic), but in spite of that, I have been an enthusiastic audio listener ever since. My listening has even extended to times when I am doing indoor or outdoor chores. Audiobooks also make a great listening option when you are running on a treadmill at the gym!

This is SO true! For both music and audiobooks!

One common complaint, that audiobooks are boring or put you to sleep, is not unfounded. There are audiobooks that have really annoying readers or whose readers are just plain boring, but do not let that scare you away! There are TONS of fantastic readers. Readers who you cannot stop listening to; readers who maintain dozens of unique character voices at the same time. They are out there, and you will never want to stop listening to them. I guarantee it!

Another complaint I have heard is that audiobooks are expensive, which is quite true. Buying audiobooks from a bookstore can get expensive, with prices ranging from $20 to $60 for one book. However, these prices can be easily avoided by borrowing audiobooks from your local public library. I have borrowed dozens of audiobooks from my library, and I only purchase the CDs or MP3 files if I really, really love the book. With libraries carrying the great selections they do today, there is no need to buy every audiobook you listen to.

Believe it or not, there are even health and knowledge benefits to listing to audiobooks. Numerous studies have shown that people who listen to audiobooks have a better vocabulary than those who do not, especially children. For myself, I find that I am less stressed during and after my work commute. I also find that I am more interested in new or unfamiliar topics. I have even branched out to a few non-fiction books, like Carrie Fisher’s “Wishful Drinking”.

This is not so scary when you have an audiobook!

Currently, I have two new audiobooks to listen to (The Night Circus and Eat, Pray, Love). With a little encouragement, my boyfriend recently picked up his first audio books (Dune and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). Here is a list of some of my favorite audiobooks, readers, or producers:
  • The Harry Potter Series – the audiobooks are really well produced and fun for all ages
  • The Kushiel series and the Naamah series by Jacqueline Carey – tons of fantastic books for adults. Some have different readers, but they are all good.
  • The Millennium Series (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) – another great series
  • Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series – fun teen girl series
  • Wishful Drinking – written and read by Carrie Fisher
  • The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan – a random find that I loved!
  • Grimpow by Rafael Abalos – great boy’s book!
  • Jim Dale – the audio reader for Harry Potter, Peter and the Star Catchers, and other fantastic books
  • Listening Library – consistently wonderful producing company
  • Tantor Audio – another good producing company
I hope this helps get you started on choosing an audiobook for yourself. When you find ones you enjoy, be sure to pass them on to others as well!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Lisbeth Salander is a Badass

By now everyone has heard of the book “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, but just in case you have been living in a fallout shelter for the last seven years, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is the first book in the Millennium series written by Swedish author Steig Larsson. The series includes two other books: “The Girl Who Played with Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest”. The first book was originally published in Sweden in 2005, and it was republished in English in 2008. Since then, the series has become immensely popular, spreading like wildfire through book clubs and movie studios.

There have been many summaries of these books, so I am going to avoid writing another. Instead, I am just going to point out what I did and did not like, without giving away too many of the fun discoveries.

Because I do not have much time to read, I actually listened to all three books, picking them up on CD from my local library. The audio reader was very easy to listen to. His voice was not boring or annoying, and he made a good effort to give each character an individual voice. If you are not able to sit down and read all three books, the audio version is a nice alternative.

The Millennium series is a fun, suspenseful series that you will read in every spare moment until you are finished. There are tons of interesting, well-developed characters that I either loved or loved to hate. I found the plot to be complex and detailed, which is the most important element of a book to me. Larsson told multiple stories simultaneously without losing the strength of any of them!

By far, my favorite character was Lisbeth Salander. She undoubtedly had some personal faults, and she had an appalling childhood. However, I love how she held onto her standards and morals, and I admire her skill at bringing “justice” to anyone who wished her harm. To put it simply, Lisbeth Salander was Bad Ass. Cheering her on was an unconscious compulsion as I listened to the books.

While I thought that all the books were great reads, I did not like how different the first book was from the second two. All three books contain many of the same characters, but the plot of the first book is extremely different from the last two. This makes it hard for me to see them as a three-book series.

In addition to reading the books, I have also seen both the Swedish and the US movie productions of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”. My personal favorite was the original Swedish version, because I felt that it was more true to the book and that the casting matched my imagination’s depiction of the characters. Another benefit of the Swedish version is that they have already created movies for each book, while the US versions are still in production. However, if you do not want to read subtitles, the US version is still fun to watch.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Barrel Oak Winery

Right off of Route 66 in Virginia is Barrel Oak Winery, or BOW for short. This fantastic winery has top ratings in multiple categories, including the most family-friendly. I love BOW for multiple reasons and have decided to dedicate a whole post to this fantastic location. :)

As with all wineries, the wine needs to be delicious, and Dan and I both enjoy the wines at BOW. They have a mix of both whites and reds, and I have favorites in each category. On our visit this weekend, Dan and I enjoyed glasses of their Norton and Seyval Blanc. We also picked up bottles of their Steel Chardonnay and Peanut’s Petite Cuvee (which is Dan’s new favorite summer red).

BOW’s tastings are done in a beautiful wooden building that also has lots of indoor seating for cold and/or rainy days. While I still visit wineries on cold or rainy days, the best days to visit a winery are sunny ones. To accommodate the sunny day crowds, BOW has dozens of patio tables and picnic tables scattered across its hillside. When we visited this weekend, there were cars parked everywhere along the hillside, but we had absolutely no trouble finding an open picnic table to sit down at. They even have umbrellas for those who do not want to sit in the direct sunlight.

Another wonderful feature of having the tables on the hillside is that everyone has an unhindered view of the grape-vine covered hills stretching into the distance. The scenery really was breathtaking yesterday!

As you drive up the hill to the tasting house, the first and most noticeable thing about BOW is that it is very family-friendly. Anyone and everyone can come to this winery had enjoy themselves. They have provided games of corn hole, and they even have a sand pile that kids can play in.

Of all the wonderful qualities of BOW, my favorite is its love for dogs. You can even bring your four-legged family members into the tasting room with you! BOW places bowls of water and containers treats to share with your dog(s). The owners of the winery have also adopted several sweet, friendly strays who wander the property greeting all the visitors. There are many great Virginia wineries that love and support animals, but there is something about BOW that goes above and beyond the standard expression– maybe it is the paw prints on the top of each and every bottle of their wine. :)

This is puppy found a cork and was carrying it around like a pacifier. Priceless!

Vander sitting on the picnic table and watching all the activity around us.

By now, it should be pretty obvious that BOW should be on your places-to-visit list. :) Be sure to bring your friends and family with you, especially your four-legged ones!