Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. - II Timothy 2:15

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Friday, September 28, 2012

Book Review: Unbroken

o_O What an absolutely amazing book. O_o
(Yes, I do synchronize my pop-eyed awe faces, thank you very much!)

It's been on my to-read list for a...while and finally got around to reading it due to book club.

5 out of 5
Recommended for: Readers 16+ (intense brutality, some mature incidents, language)
Categories: biography, highly recommended literature, couldn't-put-it-down

On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood.  Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared.  It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane’s bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard.  So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War.

The lieutenant’s name was Louis Zamperini.  In boyhood, he’d been a cunning and incorrigible delinquent, breaking into houses, brawling, and fleeing his home to ride the rails.  As a teenager, he had channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics and within sight of the four-minute mile.  But when war had come, the athlete had become an airman, embarking on a journey that led to his doomed flight, a tiny raft, and a drift into the unknown.

Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, a foundering raft, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater.  Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor; brutality with rebellion.  His fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would be suspended on the fraying wire of his will.

In her long-awaited new book, Laura Hillenbrand writes with the same rich and vivid narrative voice she displayed in Seabiscuit.  Telling an unforgettable story of a man’s journey into extremity, Unbroken is a testament to the resilience of the human mind, body, and spirit.

This is a biography, so I'm not going to go all out for a review. I will say, however, that Laura Hillenbrand has written an excellent narrative.

I am not generally a lover of reality when it comes to books. Reality as in the sense that what I'm reading really happened. I don't know - it usually bores me and I can't stand all those little numbers scattered around that tell you to go to the back so that they can credit a source or give more information or what have you. 

But I almost felt as if I was reading a novel here. I found myself irritated at the author for not giving her characters a little more help until I remembered that they weren't hers - they were real - and she could do nothing but tell the story the way it happened. It's so intense that when I brought it with me to a five-hour work period and read it almost the entire time, I had to take a break and walk around to get my head back into the present. 

Unbroken is brilliantly written. It's a narrative. It's captivating. The story is intensely brutal (to the point where you become unable to absorb the cruelty and just read it because it's there) but there's also so much humor and hope. The uncrushable, indomitable strength of the human spirit. 

You have to read it to understand. 

And, good mercy, can she use adjectives and verbs!

Till next time, 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Modest as a...What?

A dress should be tight enough to show you're a 
woman and loose enough to prove you're a lady

~ Edith Head ~

I ran into this quote while reading an article about Kate Middleton's fashion choices in a waiting room magazine. (No, I am not a follower in any form of the royal couple. My interest generally extends no further than the headlines on the racks by the check-out lanes at the grocery store).

The quote caught my attention because it so aptly put something I've been committed to all my life.


What is it? 

From what I've heard, it comes to this: Modesty is a delicate power possessed by women to dress and to act in a manner that draws attention not to their bodies but to their personalities and to the things about them that really matter.

I know there are many different interpretations out there of how to gain this delicate power. Being homeschooled and raised in a conservative household with conservative viewpoints, I am definitely familiar with many varieties of modesty. 

Group #1: This is the if-you-dare-show-a-snitch-of-figure-you're-a-shameless-hussy brand of modesty. In this group, you swathe yourself in excess yards of fabric in the form of skirts, shirts and anything else you might happen to put on. Everything you own is long, high, and usually oversized. 

Group #2: This is the I'll-push-the-boundaries-and-be-semi-normal type. Generally speaking, this is the middle ground. They raise the eyebrows of the previous group and still somehow manage to get the odd looks from strangers on the street. Their wardrobes generally contain a mix of the modern fashions (which are worn when your plans call for a trip outside) and the more "modest" choices which are worn when certain friends (or fathers) are in the picture. 

Group #3: This is the group that doesn't really care anymore. They won't go all out but they're not really hiding it either. They give it a sort of half-way point and err on the side of the edgily modest. 

So what should we really strive for? In fact, why are we trying at all? 

When you think about it, it's a lot of effort to go through so that guys can protect their eyes. I've been known to say (in frustration) that guys could make a little more effort not to look, seeing as we're going through all the trouble of denying ourselves the things we'd really like to wear and we could sort of break even on a don't look/make an effort kind of basis.

But the truth is that modesty isn't just about guys or just about us at all. Though caring enough about them that we don't want to force them into total self-control mode is an excellent reason to cover up, the real point of modesty - and the reason we should keep our bodies to ourselves - is obedience to the call of the One who called us. 

When we look in the mirror with frustration because we're so tired of not being able to sport the latest fashions, instead of giving up and going on a shopping-binge, we need to remember whose image we are actually presenting (God's), who really asked us to value ourselves through modesty and what the meaning of that value is.

Value is a sense that God gives us (and which I, at least, consistently fail to utilize) that informs us that we don't need that skin-tight shirt that leaves only skin to the imagination to get the attention we want. Value is the sure confidence that we have so much more to offer than just an eyeful which enables us to wear the skirt that covers our knees even if it's not as cute. Value is the knowledge that, even though the jeans don't cut off your circulation and show what you've got, you don't need to show what you've got to receive the admiration of those around you. It's a question of value that we ought to ask when we try on that oh-so-cute top that just pushes it too far or the perfect jeans that are just a bit too tight or the adorable skirt that is just too short.

It's also the point that we are representatives of Christ and how we dress and act carries great weight with the way others view us and ultimately through us, Christ.

Yes, I know it's hard when people stare at you (or don't stare at you), and when everything in the store seems to be things you can't wear, and when you've tried on so many clothes your dressing room starts looking like a Hollywood costume storage unit only to find that the only cute things are the things out on the racks that you know you can't wear. 

Modesty is tough.

Value is tough.

Representing Christ is...really tough.

I will freely admit that I have (and still sometimes do) give up and decide it's easier to rub out the line than to make it stronger. There are things in my closet that I still wear that I know push the boundaries. Because my value of myself slips too - and it's hard to stand firm the when the girls around you who are getting the attention are the ones who aren't like you.

Sometimes, it just doesn't seem worth it.

Sometimes, it seems that if you keep going on with this cover-it-all-up-and-don't-show-it-off rule, you're going to end up an old maid, knitting voluminous sweaters to drape yourself in. 

Sometimes, it seems that screaming "does anyone really care what I wear?!" and then going around with polling sheets would be easier than silently hoping that someone appreciates your modesty and is just too shy to tell you. 

In fact, I've often wondered, in a world where the guys go after the girl who shows the most, why value is even important. 

Value, I sometimes feel, is what will land me in the spinster circle at twenty-six.

So why do I try? Why do I make an effort to keep up this ever-unpopular trend? Why do I grasp what, at times, seems to be an old-fashioned pretense?  

Aside from the fact that my father keeps an eye on me, it's because (and I feel weird saying this after talking about how a sense of value and obedience to God and care for how we treat His image should be the reason why we dress with care) I still believe that there are guys out there who will value us because we value ourselves (albiet uncommunicative guys who either don't get the message or are too shy to tell us that they appreciate our efforts - haha). But when I get my act together, it's also because I feel awkward when I know that I'm making myself a trap for guys to keep their eyes away from and I don't feel comfortable wearing something that I constantly have to pull up, pull down, adjust or watch like a hawk.
I struggle for modesty because I know that it's what God asks me to do. He asks me to guard my body and save it for the one man who will value it as much as I should. He asks me not to make it hard on young men by giving up. He asks me to do it out of obedience because He has plans for me that I don't know about.  

It's a struggle, I know, but it is always a struggle worth keeping up. 

Now I'm not saying that we need to wrap ourselves in sheets and present to the world a completely blurred image of ourselves. 

Nay, not at all.

We can dress attractively and still be modest. The point is to draw a line and have the obedience not to cross it. 

Long ago, I left Group #1 in the pursuit of something different. A sort of Group #2 without the drawbacks. 

It's certainly been interesting and I must admit that I've redrawn a lot of lines.

If I could rate my closet, I'd say I'm a solid Group 2 with slight Group 3 tendencies. I still love my twirly, floor-length denim skirts, but I'm also comfortable in loose jeans. I hate dressing up because that's where the Group 3 tendencies come to play. Dressy stuff is...not my style and it's always hard to keep those convictions when the stuff is designed to flatter - not cover.

What's your closet like? I don't know. But I do know this:

When you look at what you wear, does it say you value yourself and you're waiting for someone who will value it too? Does it say "God, I trust that you know what you're doing when you ask me to dress like this"? Or does it say, "forget it, folks; I'm tired of waiting".

When you try on that toe-the-line top that looks so good what is the first though that pops into your head? It's the reason you want it.

What it all boils down to is this:
There is clothing out there that is attractive and modest (I know it can be hard to find, but it's not impossible for a determined woman) and there are lines between what you should wear and what you know you shouldn't. 

It's a question of value.
A question of trust.
An act of obedience.
A sense of who we represent and how delicate that image can be.
And how easy it is to destroy. 

What will you wear?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Unofficial Announcement of Something Slightly Official

Hey folks, Jamie here! 

JR (how do you like my new nickname for her? She's in protest/denial about it) is supposed to be working on her fourth post from DC, but progress on that is going about as slowly as a  very - erm -  slow thing.


In her defense (I can't believe I'm saying this), she's been pretty busy lately.

So my news - thought I'd give this blog a little life! - is that I have officially decided (after years of waffling) to do NaNoWriMo this year! 


For those of you who don't know what NaNoWriMo is, it's basically a thing in November where a bunch of crazy people decide to write 50,000 page novels somewhere between the 1st and 30th and probably mostly in the wee hours. 

I really wanted to do it last year but I had school the first week of November and I wouldn't have been able to get much down for those seven days. Judging from what I heard from friends who have done it, you can't just miss seven days. 

So, here I am - a month early - impulsively jumping into what is most likely one of the crazier decisions of my life. 

But not to fear - for once I am thinking ahead! 

To get ready for the intensive experience, I have already researched key points that I need for my plot; mapped out my storyline; semi-written bios on the central characters (still need to get to the secondaries); plotted out some tangles and important areas so that I can glance in and know exactly what I'm supposed to do and where I'm going; and tapped out the first line so that I don't need to agonize over it later. 

Thus far, I feel prepared. 

And it's only September. 

I think I'm a leetle too psyched. Hopefully it'll carry over a month and five days and not get spoiled.  

That's me and the latest update from my most clandestine and adventurous life! 

Keep up the ... whatever it is you keep up! 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Book Review: Making Waves

I apologize beforehand for the length of this post. I needed to vent. 

As you all probably well know by this time, I loathe and despise mainstream Christian romance with a vengeance brought on by years of being steeped in well-written, wholesome literature. I only picked up Making Waves because it was a Kindle freebie (still is) and I was in Washington DC for a week and the metro commute was too long to just sit.

1 out of 5
Recommended for: No one
Categories: What to read if you want constructive information on what not to write

When spunky Marguerite Westing discovers that her family will summer at Lake Manawa in 1895, she couldn't be more thrilled. It is the perfect way to escape her agonizingly boring suitor, Roger Gordon. It's also where she stumbles upon two new loves: sailing, and sailing instructor Trip Andrews. But this summer of fun turns to turmoil as her father's gambling problems threaten to ruin the family forever. Will free-spirited Marguerite marry Roger to save her father's name and fortune? Or will she follow her heart--even if it means abandoning the family she loves?

The words that come to mind when I think about this book are disorganized and incoherent. I don't think the author had a clearly defined plot to follow because everything is jumbled up and thrown in. There are no guidelines. It's almost as if she remembers incidents and people that she wanted to talk about earlier, but instead of going back and putting them where they're supposed to be, she just throws them in where she is and leaves it. 
The beginning is rather promising - I actually thought it might have something to it - but after the first chapter, Marguerite falls into the lake and nothing is promising again.

Mrs. Seilstad seems to be more interested in filling us in on minute details about sailing, the very bottom of the barrel of Marguerite's closet, anything and everything about Trip Andrews, ice cream in its various states of representation and other as illogical and unneeded items than she is about clearly developing her characters and defining her plot to make sense. 

Towards the end, I was flipping through pages because there were so many twists and turns that could have been expediently placed throughout the book, but were shoved to the end because we had to wade through stagnant and over-detailed chapters about the blossoming, failing, re-blossoming, failing, blossoming again, failing and eventually blossoming for good relationship between Trip and Marguerite (even though the village idiot's idiot could have figured out by reading the back cover that they were going to end up madly in love, despite their "anger at each other"). When you do the same things over and over again, they do start to get stale. It's waterlogged with such repetitiveness that you begin to get lost and wonder if perhaps you're reading the same few pages over and over. They have a sailing lesson, Trip gets mad because Marguerite lies to him, they make up at a dance and the whole vicious cycle begins again. The real plot of the book is brought in too late to do anyone any good. The reader, especially, is the loser in this game. 

God is given backstage to Marguerite and Trip. There's the usual tacky summer revival where the heroine gets choky over her sins and meets the hero afterwards (neat, elegant and worn-out way for you to discover that the man you could hardly tell was a Christian, is in fact born-again and, supposedly, very adamant about it).
Marguerite, though her conversations with the Lord are amusing, used God as a crutch and deliberately misinterprets Scripture to fit her spoiled, "headstrong" agendas. Very often, we find her asking God to forgive her for something she's about to do and justifying things with Him to serve her purposes. 
And we're supposed to believe that she's really enjoying a deep relationship with God?
It's about as deep as Trip's. 
And Trip's is nothing to write home about either.
The man actually uses the verse in Romans (Greet each other with a holy kiss) as an excuse to give Marguerite one. And Marguerite, good Christian girl that she is, doesn't call him out on his error, but instead says she likes his "interpretation" and then wonders - of all things - what he would do with the Song of Solomon!
Is this supposed to be Christian? Because it's not even funny.

Not only that, but there are other discrepancies as well. Margeurite repeatedly kisses Trip "for luck" and only on the last one does she say "I don't believe in luck. I believe in God." 
As if we're supposed to believe it now. 
Roger (the sadistically evil villain and the man Marguerite is forced to engage herself to) repeatedly announces that Marguerite "belongs to him" but it's not until the last few pages that Trip lamely speaks up and says "she isn't yours. She belongs to God."
A little late to the party, aren't you buddy? 
I could go on and on, but it would basically boil down to transcribing the book for you here.

Sadly, there are moments where true inspiration in the plot could have peeked out, but the author simply doesn't know how to handle them. Flimsy excuses are given to support circumstances that could create sympathy with the characters or suspense in the plot and nothing is fleshed out satisfactorily.  The last few chapters are pell-mell with action running downhill and everything coming to a head so quickly and illogically that the reader is left in the dust. 

I've read elsewhere that there are glaring errors in the historical content as well. For example, the driving point of the first half of the book is that it's improper for women to go sailing, when, in fact it was an encouraged summer activity for proper young ladies. 
Just because something sounds good doesn't always mean it's accurate. 
That's one of the first lessons a true writer should learn. 
Research is key.

Marguerite Westing - Heroine
Before I begin here, I'd like to point out an interesting detail: Marguerite's sister, who comes in for a brief and illogically uninformative time, is named Mary. Her younger brother is named, a little less  commonly, Mark. These are solid, typical names for secondary characters. But illogically, why do Mr. and Mrs. Westing decide, after a run-of-the-mill handle like "Mary" to name their second child Mar-guer-ite? It doesn't fit. If they've got Mary and plan on Mark, it's hard to believe that there'll be a jump out of character such as Marguerite. 
But so she is, and so we are. Stuck with a flighty, manipulative, petty, childish young lady who behaves so badly that you wish she would be stuck marrying that "cruel" and "vicious" tyrant of a Roger because he's the only guy in the book who could give her what she deserves. 
Of course she's the most beautiful creature ever to touch a foot on this hallowed earth, but aside from that, there's really nothing behind it except a lying, conniving, oh-so-helpless heroine who rarely thinks of anyone but herself. 

"Trip" Phillip Sutton Andrews III - Hero
You say white, I say black. You say chocolate, I say vanilla. You say right, I say wrong. You say dog, I say cat. You say Phillip Sutton Andrews III, I say, most naturally, dimples. 
It's the first thing that comes to mind with a name like that, especially after you've been greeted with those roguish craters every time you meet him. 
Honestly, I have never known a man so more defined by a physical trait except perhaps for Santa Claus. In the good times, in the bad, in the rocky places, in the smooth, in the drowning and the saving, you can always count on them to come through. And Marguerite informing the reader that she longs to touch them. Or that she notices them. 
Other than that, there's not much to the man aside from his muscular arms, his broad chest, his gold-flecked hazel eyes, his sun-kissed brown hair and how good he looks in a striped, Union suit bathing costume (eew!).
He's the typical all-perfect hero-man who is sensitive and courteous, but carries a hurt deep inside that the heroine (in this case our hapless, careless Mar-Guer-Ite) can't help but stir up. 
Apparently she sees something in him that I missed.

Roger Gordon - Villain
The only problem with Roger is that he's only really a villain in the last, oh, four chapters. Other than that, he's just boring and mysteriously evil. 
Marguerite doesn't like him because he's dull. And not handsome. And not Trip. And she treats him rather cruelly though it's only meant to come off as headstrong. 
Roger IS dull, but at least he's human. And I don't blame him a bit for wanting to bring Marguerite down. She could use it. 
Of course, since he's the villain, you're supposed to agree with the persecuted heroine that just because he isn't handsome, has a caterpillar mustache and round shoulders, doesn't let her order what she wants at a restaurant, frowns upon her wild and childish caprices, and attempts to make her become a respectable member of society he is woefully evil and thus undeserving to be treated in a kind and courteous manner. 
In fact, it's all this that makes his descent into villain-hood all the more laughably unbelievable. An intelligent man like Roger, with his steely business mind, would think of much better evil plots than the bumbling attempts he and his henchman make at the end of this wreck and ruin to destroy Marguerite's family and force her to marry him (though, by the end, I am still wondering why he wouldn't hand her over to Trip with a "good riddance" and a sigh of relief anyway).
I don't like Roger, but I can't imagine why even he would go through all this trouble just because he wants to "own" Marguerite. She's really not worth it and it's a weak reason to go through such pains for. 

Mark Westing - Heroine's brother 
Mark isn't bad. He has his flaws and he's often too conveniently tucked away so that Marguerite and Trip can be alone together, but he's actually one of the better attempts at characterization that this author makes. 
He's sweet and caring and willing to put his life on the line for the people he loves. At the end, we're supposed to have the impression that Marguerite is the loyal, caring one who will do anything to save her family, but really, it's Mark who steals that role - and with good reason. 
He actually cares. 

Mr. and Mrs. Westing - Heroine's parents
They're both pretty weak as characters go. Mrs. Westing is the typical doting mother who only wants her daughter to marry into wealth and prestige. Aside from her pushiness at getting Marguerite to be civil to Roger and knack for showing up at just the right moment to choose the ugliest dress in her daughter's closet for her to wear, she's pretty much relegated to the background and is quite forgettable. (One point I'd like to bring up here: why is it that the pushy mothers (and ect.) always choose the frocks that make their daughters look the worst when they go out with the man the mother wants them to marry, but when the girl is meeting the man they really love, they always get to choose the dress they like best and the mother is never around?)
Mr. Westing is supposed to be this wonderful man whom Marguerite adores, but somewhere in the tussle this book represents, he never gets around to revealing that side of his character. What we get is a soppy weakling who sinks his family into ruin and who deserves neither his daughter's sympathy (such as it is) or loyalty. 
He could have added a lot to the book if not for his woeful underdevelopment.

Lily - Heroine's personal maid
Poor Lily. Not only is she this petty creature's maid, she also has to put up with all her complaining and whining over Roger and her fantasizing over Trip and her extremely misguided beliefs about what God's word is actually saying to her. 
This much-to-be-pitied girl handles the situation well, though she's often pushed to the wayside as well.  

The host of minor and secondary characters
This bunch is a motley crew including assorted servants, childhood friends, sisters and Trip's crew. 
Most of them aren't bad, but since they're only pulled out when needed, it's hard to give them any sort of accurate review. Mary, Laura and Alice are treated with especial carelessness. 

Surprisingly, there actually are a few. 

- The beginning of this book is great. It's exactly what an author wants to get their reader hooked on a book. It's funny, clever, and defines character traits very effortlessly. 

- Ok, so Marguerite has some pretty funny thoughts and there is some good repartee hidden in and around the clunky plot.

- The research behind Lake Manawa is detailed and the Mrs. Seilstad does have a flair for knowing the name brands floating around (though she does end up using them in a rather liberal and choppy manner). It's little details like that make the book more believable.

I'll try to keep this short because I've already outlined most of them.

- I have a real peeve with obvious discrepancies in language and action. For instance, no decent, self-respecting man like Trip would even try to touch a girl the way it's accepted now and he touches Marguerite. It just wasn't done. I know it's technically "romantic" but only a boy of ill-repute or shady upbringing would dare to act in such a manner.
Roger isn't much better, but at least he's engaged to the girl. 

- The modern figures of speech tossed around show that the author has no feel for the vernacular of the time period she clunks her characters into. "Calling the shots", "daddy", "guys" "I blew it" - those are all too modern to flow with the story line and thus only detract from it. There are hundreds of more examples, but I only had time to go through a few pages. If you can't strike the right tone, write a modern book for heaven's sake!

- The use of God to basically justify situations. God wasn't really the focus of any of these people's lives and He was only brought in to make the book "Christian". It's really not worthy of that genre in any way, shape, or form since God is pretty much ignored and manipulated anyway.

Making Waves is actually a rip tide and we all know what to do around those. If you don't, Google it or ask someone else. 

Till next time,  


Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Saga of D.C. {Part 3}

Well, oh well. How can a week go by without my noticing that there hasn't been a post up here? Do you ever notice how they never seem to write themselves? Irksome nerve...

Tuesday in D.C. finds us at Mount Vernon. I know why George and Martha never wanted to leave. There are tourists milling everywhere, but it's so serene and peaceful and the views are absolutely breathtaking - though I don't envy anyone who had to bring supplies up to the house from the river. 

Everything in D.C. (and the surrounding areas, so it seems) have introduction videos. This is a good one. Pat Sajak (of Wheel of Fortune fame) tromps around Mount Vernon in colonial garb, filling you in on all the tourist experiences you can enjoy while wandering around the grounds and that is followed by a short film of George Washington's life. Real actors. Wow!
Then we wander through the paths that don't make sense and end up at the circle drive in front of Mount Vernon. I could die of historical bliss. There it is!

We line up for the tour. Unfortunately pictures aren't allowed in the house, so I make a point to try and memorize as many details as I can. 
The first building we enter is the visiting servant's quarters. Oh well, every tour starts out slow. 
We take the covered walkway to the house and peek in the windows since there's a tour ahead of us and we can't get in yet. I'm so excited I can hardly stand still.

The first room we enter is the formal dining/ball room. It's a lot smaller than I would expect a room  that needs to hold a posse of petticoats and skirts to be. But rumor has it that Washington planned the Battle of Yorktown in that room.
Then we step outside onto the back portico to see the view that greeted George and Martha every morning. 

When the tour in front of us moves on, we go through the double doors in the back (original to the house - now I know why Colonial houses are so drafty! I could stick a finger in the cracks.)

The foyer is rather small, but there are four rooms around it. One holds the harpsichord that their granddaughter Nelly played and one is the dining room painted green. A algae sort of green. I wonder at their taste until the guide explains that green is the most expensive type of pigment and thus a display of wealth. 
I still wonder at the taste.

We go up the curving stairs, aided by the original railing. I'm a history buff, so I get a thrill out of touching it. =D

Upstairs is the room where Lafayette stayed - the bed is quite short - and the room where Nelly Custis had her first babies. We walk through the yellow room to get to George and Martha's. The bed that George died on is there. 

Then down the stairs to George's office and out to the kitchen. Imagine cooking there in the middle of summer! 
There's quite a collection of outbuildings to go through. Stables, blacksmith shops, carriage house, secretary's quarters, barns, gardens, spinning house, laundry house and so on. We get to some of them and then replan and head out to go to Washington's Gristmill and Distillery. It's a few miles away from Mount Vernon.

We feel a bit awkward when we realize that we we're the only ones present for the tour. Not the worst thing that could happen. It'll be up close and personal at any rate! 
Some light summer reading
The mill and distillery are fascinating - as are the period costumes the guides wear. I've always wanted one.
A period costume that is, not a mill and distillery.

Back at Mount Vernon we have lunch and then give ourselves stomach aches by running down to the pier to board the Miss Christin for a tour of the Potomac. 

After we recover our land legs (took about a tenth of a second after disembarking) we visit Washington's tomb where he and Martha are buried side by side. And then a trek through the orchards and seed gardens. 

We go back up to Mount Vernon and take some snaps at the back of the house.

Then we walk to the servants quarters and the greenhouse.
There's a lovely garden out back with very intricately trimmed
boxwood hedges. I've read about that in books.

We've had our fill of gardens after a few minutes and we head on out to the museum. 

The museum is small and full of china (Martha was, so I heard, an avid collector of dinnerware) and then we go to the giftshop. I find the books.

Someday, I'll go back. It's been on of the most 
incredible days of my life.  

Now I feel as if I've accomplished something today. 

Till next time!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Announcing the Winner!

First of all, we want to thank each and every one of you for participating in the contest. There were so many spectacular entries that we almost couldn't make a decision. Which means that next year there will probably be some changes to the general outline of the contest. 

But what do you care about all of that?

This year's winner of the 2012 If You Give A Girl A Pen short story contest is...

Victoria Watts!

Tori's story The Soldier's Prayer will be posted on its very own page for all to see and we are confident that you will enjoy it as much as we did!

Congratulations, Tori!

And once again: thank you to everyone who sent in their lovely work for us to read. See you next year!


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Entrants, I Have News for Thee!

Don't bother John - he's doodling
Though I sincerely doubt any of you looked or acted like this while writing your stories (and the caption is Jamie's contribution), I know you're all waiting in varying degrees of anticipation for the winner to be announced!

Well, I'm here to tell you that the winner of the 2012 If You Give A Girl A Pen short story contest will be announced on Saturday, September 8th!

At this moment we are greatly interested and occupied in reading your delicious entries and deciding on the winner. In fact, we're as excited about announcing the winner as we hope you are in knowing it!

That being said, we want to thank everyone for their awesome participation and thought-provoking questions and lovely, lovely writing.

Keep those fingernails, ladies!

Till next time,

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Saga of D.C. {Part 2}

According to my journal (which cannot always be depended on for its reliability) I got rousted out of bed at the obscenely early hour of 7 a.m. to leave for Pittsburg, PA. 

Pittsburg was pretty sweet. 

I love the hilly row houses and the impossible streets and the view over the lake. I said "guys, someday I want to live here", but by the time we left, I was ok with just visiting. 

First off, we took a trip down the Dusquene Incline (which is a little old trolley car type thing that carries you up and down a steep grade). A lady we met on the car said that she used it for her commute every day. What a way to start your morning! 

Here is a shot of the interior of the car (and one overexposed friend):

At the bottom we landed in a quaint, old-fashioned station complete with wooden settle and pot-bellied stove. 

After wandering around a bit at the bottom (there really wasn't much to see), we rode back up and took a gander off the observation deck, which boasted a lovely view of the city (see above) and made some new friends (see below). 

Norman and I

Then we went to Bessemer Court, which is a small square on the river surrounded by restaurants. In the middle there's an enormous fountain with a very intricate piping system powering fountains that choreograph to the music played over the speaker system. It was really, really cool. 

We had lunch there and fed the birds until the entire winged population of the square found out about it and we amassed a tell-tale flock that sat there, watching us with very unsettling expectancy. 

We left Pittsburg and drove straight to Gettysburg where we managed to make it through the entire Gettysburg museum in about an hour. The question remains how much we got out of it, but it only remains and shall not be answered. 

During that hour, we watched an interesting short film about the three day battle and we saw the cyclorama - an enormous oil painting that wrapped around a circular room and depicted that battle as well. It was neat to look at because (as the picture below vaguely shows) they built up a real wall from the stage we stood on to the painting and it shifted from reality to representation flawlessly. You really had to look hard to see where the wall ended and where the painting began! 

After that experience, hurried as it was, I definitely knew more about the battle of Gettysburg than I formerly did - though a pop quiz is not exactly on the agenda!

Outside was a statue of Lincoln sitting on a bench and we took some time to pose with him:


I thought he was very
<-- professional about  -->
the whole thing.

Then back in the car to eat some melted Meiji Panda biscuits <3 and tour the Gettysburg National Cemetery and the battlefields.

The cemetery is where Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address (for those of you who aren't really into history) and it had this sort of hushed, reverent feel about it that was eerily appropriate.

On a very heavy note: Did you know that nearly half of the Civil war burials were unknown soldiers? I thought that was so incredibly sad, because they weren't unknown to someone in the world.
This monument stands on the spot
where Lincoln delivered the
Gettysburg Address

After the Cemetery, we drove around the battlefields because none of us had the energy or gumption to walk anymore. Then we stopped at a local fruit stand for some peaches and plums before getting lost again on our way to the hotel in Clinton, MD.

(Just found out about the photo captioning option. Folks,
there will be some improvements on the next post!)

Thus ends the chronicle of our sojourning to D.C. On to Washington! After this...

Till next time!