the wonderful world of veena.

31 October 2014

[audio] book review: the goldfinch [donna tartt / david pittu].

There's no easy way to say this: this book was a beast. The print version of The Goldfinch clocks in at a cool 775 pages, and the audiobook is 32 hours long. That's a long book. Thank goodness it was good.

The Goldfinch [written by Donna Tartt; read by David Pittu] is the story of Theo Decker and the people who populate his world. After an unspeakable tragedy occurs when Theo is 13, his world is turned upside down. We travel with Theo from New York City, the city of his birth and young life, to Las Vegas, and we navigate life along with him. Along the way we learn about his secrets, those he keeps even from the people closest to him.

As Theo grows up and returns to New York, those secrets remain with him, and combined with other life events, they begin to consume him. He finds his escape in drugs and alcohol yet still manages to complete college and hold down a steady job. But the cracks are there, lying just under the surface, and over the course of the book Tartt explores how Theo's life is effected by these events and by his own [often destructive] decisions.

Having read two of Tartt's novels before and being somewhat disappointed by both, I was skeptical when The Goldfinch released to rave reviews. Even after it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, I maintained by hesitation. And then, one by one, friends of mine - whose literary opinions I value - began reading it and recommending it. I continued to maintain my stubborn resolve not to read it - and not to have to tote around a 775-page book - until I decided on a compromise: rather than read it, I could listen to it. So I downloaded the audiobook [after a slight freakout that it was going to take me 32 HOURS to listen to the whole thing] and started listening.

And then, chapter by chapter, I got caught up in it. The story kept me interested, the characters were certainly entertaining, and the notes about New York City made me reminisce about my recent visit. And before I realized it, I was hooked. I would listen while getting ready, and I would listen in the car. I would listen when my parents fell asleep on the couch, and I would even sometimes listen while i cooked. I was determined to chip away at those hours, and slowly, bit by bit, I did.

Although all the characters had their little quirks and attractiveness, my favourite had to be Hobie. I loved every bit with him in it, and there was something about hearing his words that provided such a clear picture of him to me.

There were some parts that dragged for me, but on the whole I thoroughly enjoyed The Goldfinch, certainly much more than my previous experiences with Tartt's novels. Being such a long book, I'm actually glad I chose to listen to rather than read it -- knowing myself, I would have gotten bored around page 400 and then found something else to distract myself with, but with the audio I was determined to make it all the way through.

If you've got 32 hours to spare, look into downloading this guy for your next listen. It'll keep you entertained for a while.

30 October 2014

book review: midnight's children [salman rushdie].

Well, I finally got around to purchasing and reading Midnight's Children. After years of wanting to read it but putting it off for a number of reasons, I finally decided that this was going to be my year.

I had previously read two of Rushdie's books - Shalimar the Clown and The Ground Beneath Her Feet - so I knew what to expect as far as his writing style and his use of big words I don't know the meaning of. What I didn't expect was the history lesson to go along with the narrative. I knew the basic premise of the novel, but it had depths I could only imagine.

The story is narrated by Saleem Sinai, of Midnight's Children. Born at the stroke of midnight as India became an independent nation - August 15, 1947 - Saleem discovers at a young age that he and the other children born in that initial hour have special powers. One can walk through walls, one can time-travel, one is a witch, and on and on throughout the country. And Saleem, born at exactly midnight, has the power to communicate with all of them.

But as he grows up, Saleem learns some hard and invaluable lessons. He has to deal with the expectations that come along with being born alongside a nation. He has to deal with growing up Muslim in an India that is experiencing religious turmoil. And he has to deal with difficult family secrets that come to light when he is at a vulnerable age. Saleem walks us through his life and how it mirrors India's young life: both are trying desperately to find themselves in a time when many are struggling with identity and their place in the world.

Saleem's story takes us from Kashmir to Delhi to Bombay to Pakistan to Bangladesh to Delhi and finally back to Bombay again, and it spans four generations and a multitude of history. Although India has been around practically forever [the Indus Valley is often considered the birthplace of civilization], it is practically a baby as far as being an independent nation. It has been settled and ruled by Mughals, the French, the Dutch, the Portuguese, and the British, to name the most famous of conquerors. Having been free for only 67 years means that it holds a unique place in the world, and I really enjoyed reading about that time and transition and the years that followed.

I found myself having long discussions with my parents after reading certain passages; although they were both very young at the time of independence, they remember some of the after-effects pretty well, and we had some very interesting chats. I know some of the information in the books is fiction, and the timeline is skewed in certain places, but for the most part I think the historical aspect is vaguely accurate, and it was fascinating to me both as a student of history and as a person of Indian origin.

This book is certainly a heavy tome to get through, but it was well worth the time it took to read it to the end. In many ways I'm glad I read it now as opposed to 9 years ago, and I can see why it has been receiving accolades for over two decades, including being named the "Booker of Bookers" in 1993 and 2008.

currently reading: The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith
next from-the-list: either The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri or Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

Rushdie has a number of other novels I would like to read at some point, but for now I'm good with taking a break. The man uses some big words.

28 October 2014

veen on the road: favourite road trip eats.

I definitely ate well on my road trip. Perhaps a little too well, even. From seafood to Thai food to pizza to Indian, I stuffed myself silly on more than one occasion. Today I would like to introduce you to my favourite meals from the road.


Hot chicken is a Nashville staple, and Hattie B's is the most famous and the most popular of all the hot chicken joints in the city. I have been trying to get there for ages, but I'm usually in town on the weekend, and the lines are often out the door with people waiting to order. Since Winkates had never been there, either, we decided to try our luck, and since it was 1pm on a Tuesday, we didn't have to wait too long. The chicken was totally worth any wait and hardship, and the sides just added to the deliciousness. Technically there are two locations, but if you're trying it out for the first time, I'm pretty sure you have to go to the one on 19th Ave. I stuck with the "Hot" option this time, but I would love to try their famous "Shut the cluck up!" on a future visit. Challenge accepted.

[small dark plate with mac-and-cheese and baked beans on the side. yes please and twice for dinner]
Also while in Nashville, I finally got to catch up with my lovely Little Sis Missy over drinks and dinner at Sambuca. Sambuca has a really fun, upscale atmosphere, but Missy and I managed to get a nice cozy table where we could chat and catch up over the last 6 years of our lives. They had a live jazzy sounding band who were just loud enough to enjoy but not so loud that we couldn't carry on our conversation. The lead singer especially had a great stage presence, and they played a nice combination of their own songs interspersed with rearrangements of popular songs. Food-wise it was also excellent. Missy and I shared one small plate each of the buca beignets and one other [I think the pork belly, but my memory is currently failing me], as well as the shrimp and crab dip. I ordered the filet for my main course while Missy opted for the Mediterranean vegetarian lasagna. All of it was great, especially the cheesecake sopapilla we had for dessert, and we spent nearly 3 hours enjoying the food, the drinks, the music, and especially the company. It's a little on the pricey side and a place to save for a special occasion, but it is definitely well worth a visit.

[cheesecake sopapilla for dessert at sambuca. even better than it looks]

A quick backstory: I have loved Bojangles' since I was a small child. When I was younger, there was a Bo on South 3rd Street, right as you entered Memphis from Mississippi, and we would routinely stop there on our way into town for some chicken biscuits or fried chicken, depending on the time of day. And then one day, without warning, it was gone. And it still remains one of the saddest moments of my childhood. Ever since, I have pined for Bojangles' and will make every effort to seek one out if I'm heading east. Luckily for me, Britney also loves the Bo and is not above planning a road trip around a visit. This specific location, right off I-40 in Canton, North Carolina, was of particular interest, because it still serves brown gravy with mashed potatoes, a staple from the original recipe and different from the white gravy that is now most prevalent. Since Bee knew about this phenomenon, we planned our drive from Knoxville to Fallston around a stop here for an early lunch in order to partake. And trust me when I say that it was well worth the planning and the phone call I had to make to determine exactly what time they began serving lunch. Oh, Bojangles'. You'll never know just how much I love you.

[just look at all that deliciousness and then try to tell me your mouth is not watering. just try. i dare you]

To wrap up Brit's Bach Beach Bash, we hit up Gibby's for brunch on Sunday before people started dispersing. It was a beautiful day - albeit on the hot side - and we got a table out on the deck so we could enjoy the fresh air and a view of the water. The catfish basket I had was pretty delicious, but the highlight for me was definitely the Bloody Mary bar. I have enjoyed many a Bloody Mary over the years, but I have never actually had the opportunity to make my own like this. I got a little happy with the Tabasco sauce and the pickles, both of which were to be expected, and I thought it turned out pretty well indeed. Overall Gibby's was a fun place to chill out and enjoy our final meal in town, the food was excellent, and the prices were very reasonable. And a super fun fact: you can dock your boat right at the restaurant and come in to enjoy your meal.

[bee with her bloody mary concoction]

I already mentioned the Alexander, available only at the Corner Slice in Greensboro, but probably my favourite meal during my visit was at Fishbones. We definitely had a very memorable experience that none of us are likely to forget anytime soon -- our waitress forgot to put our orders in, so she bought us a second round of drinks to hold us over during our extra wait. It wasn't a huge deal, and she was extremely apologetic about it, so it was fine, and it just meant we had more time to enjoy our drinks and chat. I had the beer battered fish burrito in a bowl, and it was fantastic. It was a great mix of all the fixings, and the fish had a great flavour to it. Carrie and Stu both seemed to enjoy their meals as well, so I would call it a good night. The prices were reasonable, the drinks were good, and they have extensive options for anyone with a gluten intolerance, as Carrie does. Check it out if you're in Greensboro!


It's no secret that I am a Memphis BBQ purist. I love the dry rub, I love the ribs from Blues City Cafe, I love the pulled pork nachos from Central BBQ. I really do love it all. Britney and I have had a number of arguments about Memphis v North Carolina BBQ, so I knew I needed to try some while I was over that way. There is a big debate between "Eastern" v "Western" BBQ even within NC, with the differences having to do with the sauces. At Bib's Downton in Winston-Salem, however, their tagline is something along the lines of "Neither Eastern nor Western, Ours is Bestern" [I can't remember the exact wording, but that's fairly close]. I told the girl taking my order that it was first visit and my first experience with NC BBQ, so she suggested that I go for the Two Meat Combo in order to get the most out my visit. I followed her advice and got the combo with pulled pork and beef brisket, and I went with beans and mac-n-cheese as my sides. The pork was really good, but the brisket was just alright; I attribute that more to my lack of interest in brisket rather than it not being good. And the sides were excellent. More than anything I liked the laidback atmosphere of the place, particularly the musician seated at the front of the restaurant serenading the patrons. Two thumbs up for price and ambience, and the food was good, but I'm still a Memphis BBQ girl at heart. ps - Bib's was suggested to me by Lauren and Sam, my super awesome AirBnb hosts, and I have had numerous people comment on both Instagram and Facebook to tell me they love Bib's as well.

[two meat combo + beans, mac-n-cheese, and some hushpuppies at bib's downtown]

When I visited Hema Masi in Charlotte, she took me to a super cool spot right in the heart of downtown: Vida. We timed it perfectly and snagged a booth just before the Friday night rush hit, and we spent a few hours catching up over drinks, spicy salsa, our delicious dinners, and a mango crisp to top it all off. I ordered the shrimp jalapeno bacon tacos, and there are not enough great things I can say about my dinner. They were so very tasty and delicious, and the tacos + rice and beans were just the right portion after the amount of salsa I had already ingested. And on top of the tasty food, I loved the laidback atmosphere of the restaurant; despite it being dinnertime on a Friday night, we were never rushed or hurried through our meal, allowing us to enjoy our time and our food. Oh, and the dessert was pretty great, too.

[shrimp + jalapeno + bacon + tacos. life doesn't get much better]


I first ate at Littlejohn's 10 years ago on my first visit to Charlottesville, and through sheer good luck I managed to stumble upon it again this July. The last time I was there, on a Sunday afternoon following a home football game, it was crowded with hungover college students in need of something to soak up all the excess alcohol. This time, however, I was there on a Thursday afternoon in late July and nearly had the place all to myself. Despite the change in atmosphere, however, the food was still as delicious as I remembered it. I opted for the Bum Steer, one of their specialty sandwiches, and paired with a chocolate chip cookie and some cold water, it was unstoppable. Littlejohn's has been a staple for UVA students for ages, and I look forward to hitting it up again whenever I am back in town.

[this is what littlejohn's looks like when it's not filled with hungover college students]
Bodo's Bagels came to me as a recommendation from Sarah Leer, but as soon as I posted something about it, Kate Sherrard and Christina both chimed in with their love for the establishment. And what's not to love, really? A place that specializes in sandwiches served on various kinds of bagels? Sign me up. I ventured there for lunch on Friday before heading to Kilmarnock, and my choice of a BLT on a whole wheat bagel did not disappoint. It was delicious, it was filling, and it was fairly cheap. And best of all, despite being consistently busy, I was still able to snag a small table and read while I enjoyed my food without feeling like I was keeping others from sitting. It definitely seemed to be full of regulars, and I could see why. If I lived in Charlottesville, I would probably be there on a regular basis, too.

[blt on a whole wheat bagel. that's a healthy lunch, right?]

On the Sunday morning following Pete's 30th birthday shindig, those of us still in the White Stone / Kilmarnock area gathered at Willaby's for a fun family brunch. Situated right on the water, you can drive or boat your way over for a delicious meal on the river. They offer a buffet for a fixed price that has eggs, bacon, and all your various breakfast wants, or you can order from their menu. They have Eggs Benedict to order, so obviously that's what I went with, and they were fantastic. More than the food, however, was the company of the Goodrich family and friends, and we had a great time chatting loudly and stuffing our faces. It was a great way to wrap up the weekend, and the yummy food was just icing on the cake.

[the sunday morning brunch group]

On the day I rolled into Richmond, Ansley and I were on the hunt for some food before she boarded her train back to New York City. As we strolled through Carytown, we saw lots of places along the way that looked good, but the one that seemed to grab both of our attentions immediately was Ginger Thai Taste. The sound of Thai appealed to us both, and after a roughly 30-second conversation, we headed in. It has a small but homey interior, and because of the odd time we were seated immediately. Ansley finished her noodles [not pad thai but the other one], and my Panang Curry was perfect for one meal that day and as leftovers on another. The food was fantastic, and we were both pretty proud of ourselves for our selection on the day.

One of my favourite memories of my time in Richmond was an impromptu Rhodes reunion dinner. About a week before I was to be in Richmond, I remembered that Amanda Godbold [Payne] and Ashley Diaz [Mejias] live in RVA. I messaged Godbold on the Facebook and mentioned that I would be in town, and in her response she said that Joel Harris, another Rhodes friend, would also be in town on Monday evening, so how about a full-on reunion of Rhodents? To which I heartily replied YES. Godbold suggested Union Market in Union Hill, and we had a fantastic time eating and drinking and chatting and enjoying some beautiful weather. We also enjoyed lots of entertainment courtesy of Godbold's daughter Harper and Diaz's two girls Belen and Maisy; both Will and Alex - the hubbies - were kept on their toes running after all the girls. As far as food went, I ordered half a turkey sandwich with half a chopped salad, and both were extremely scrumptious; I really shouldn't have eaten all of it, but it was so good that I couldn't help myself.

[love these fellow rhodents. and maisy too, even if she doesn't love me back]
I was on the hunt for food after my adventure at the Byrd, and I ended up getting food at Don't Look Back, a taco place in Carytown. My AirBnb hosts had mentioned it as one of their favourites, so when I spotted it across the street from the theatre, I made my way over. Since it was around 9.30pm or so on a Tuesday night there wasn't a large crowd, so I settled in at the bar and had a drink while I was waiting on my to-go order. I got two tacos - one shredded beef and one carnitas - traditional style on corn tortillas, and they were downright delicious. I am a big fan of tacos, and these were probably top 5, so if you are ever in the neighbourhood, be sure to check it out. Also, a full dinner for under $8? You can't really beat that.


I am a very big fan of ice cream, and Clumpies in Chattanooga continues to be one of my absolute favourites. It's partly the nostalgia of eating there when I was in school, but it is also because the ice cream is just plain delicious and the people who work there are beyond friendly. Add to that the fact that Will was in the 'Noog at the same time, and ice cream is kind of our tradition, so obviously that's where I ended up on my first night back in town. The old John Deere seats have given way to normal white bar stools but otherwise not much has changed, and we had a very enjoyable time devouring our ice cream and catching up on each other's lives. My go-to is some combination of a scoop of butter pecan, one of chocolate chip, and / or one of cookie dough; they're pretty basic, but they're also pretty delicious.

[oh clumpies. my 15-year-old self cannot get enough of you]
During my time in Chattanooga, Mama Ellen and Papa Ken invited me along on their traditional Saturday evening outing to Mary's Lounge. Mary's is a dark, hole-in-the-wall bar on McCallie Avenue, and Ken and Ellen are part of a group who get together every few weeks for beer and catfish sandwiches. I happened to be in town during one such get-together, so I tagged along. I'm not big on beer so I opted for a Straw-ber-Rita, but the real winner of the day was the catfish plate. I got two huge pieces of catfish, fries, and bread, and it was amazing. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to meet some of the Ken and Ellen's friends, and I very much enjoyed my catfish.

When I finalized my travel plans and told Steph that I would be staying with her parents in Chattanooga for a few days, she responded with only one thing: GROCERY STORE TACOS. From then on, in the weeks leading up to my visit, every message or email I received from her mentioned in some way, shape, or form the necessity of making Mama Ellen and Papa Ken take me for grocery store tacos. According to Steph, they were delicious and not to be missed, and because we're all a little scared of her, we made sure to stop by on Saturday evening. The store is called Carniceria #7 [because number 7 is always lucky], and it's your regular Mexican grocery store that also has a taco bar in the back. I opted for the carnitas tacos, and they were finger-licking delicious. So if you ever find yourself in Chattanooga, make sure you try out some of those grocery store tacos.

[grocery store tacos are the best tacos]
Lupi's was one of my staples during my Baylor days, and I love stopping by if I have time whenever I am back in the city. Located downtown, it was a perfect place to stop by before heading to a movie or if we generally didn't have much else to do. This time around I went there for dinner on Sunday evening, and somehow I managed to miss the crowd. The pizzas are still awesome, as is the salad, and no matter how old I get, I'll never be tall enough to see the drinks fountain properly, but that is half the charm. In the 16 years that I have been eating there, it's not changed one bit, and for that I am eternally grateful.

While I was in town, I got to catch up with James Scott, one of my old Baylor classmates. He just moved with his wife and son to Glasgow for postgraduate work, but he was still in town when I was, so we managed to find time for a lunch at the Honest Pint. It's an Irish pub on the south end of downtown, and we had a very enjoyable lunch over some delicious food. We started with Pomme Tots, tater tots fried in duck fat and served with a trio of sauces. Finger-licking good is really the only way to describe them. We also shared some potato skins, which were equally good, and for the main course we each had a boxty, a traditional Irish pancake. I can't remember which one James had, but I went with the pulled pork, and it was fantastic. The interior of the place was very cool as well, and I hear mumblings that there is live music on the weekends. But be warned, I have a feeling it is a place that allows smoking in the evenings, so be prepared for that.

In other ice cream news, the Ice Cream Show was also a big hit. It's located right at the south entrance of the walking bridge, so I stopped by for a cone before taking a stroll across the river. The options are pretty much limitless, and at this point I really don't remember what I ordered, although I'm pretty sure chocolate with M&Ms is a pretty good guess. Whatever it was, it was delicious, and I probably looked like a giddy 7-year-old as I walked across the bridge licking on that cone. They have a great-looking patio as well, and judging by the people hanging out with laptops, they appear to have free Wi-Fi, too.

One of my favourite stops in Chattanooga was Grocery Bar in the Southside, where I had dinner with Joli and Yogi. It's pretty much exactly what it sounds like, a grocery store with already-prepared meals as well as a buffet that allows you to pick and choose what you want and then pay by the weight. It was great because we could each make our own plate of whatever we wanted, we could also pick up some chips and guacamole to share, and we could bring our own wine to enjoy on the patio. All of the food is prepared fresh daily, and it was all delicious. Joli had sushi while Yogi and I each prepared our own plates, and we had ourselves a nice little picnic, sitting and chatting for hours. Meals with Joli and Yogi tend to last for a while, and I loved not feeling rushed or like we were preventing others from being able to eat. It just opened in July, but I continue to see stories about it online, so it appears to be doing pretty well. And it was perfect for me, as it was about a 3-minute walk from Ellen and Ken's house. Definitely check this one out if you are in town.

And now we arrive at my favourite, Typhoon of Tokyo. Typhoon is about a 10-minute drive from Baylor and is a staple for all Red Raiders, especially seniors who have short lunch leaves or for boarders who need a quick meal before heading back to campus. When I was in school, they knew me by sight and over the phone, and I was well taken care of. Typhoon is essentially fast-food Japanese, hibachi steak [or chicken or veggies, etc] without the hibachi. It's cheap and it's tasty and the portions are huge, all perfect things for a boarding student surviving on $20 a week. And then there is the legendary white sauce, the yummy delicious sauce you can spread over your food or use to clean your pennies [who discovered that, I'll never know, but it's a bit of a legend]. Once upon a time I could finish the entire meal, but alas, my stomach is no longer 16 years old. Typhoon is my one constant staple, the place I will always be sure to visit whenever I am in town, and it is just as great today as it was when I first ate there in the fall of 1998.

[that's the stuff right there]

Mela was perfect timing for me. I was beginning to miss and crave Indian food by this point in my trip, and not one but two people recommended it to me in the 10 days before I arrived in Asheville. All signs pointed to me needing to try it out, so try it I did. And the entire experience was fantastic. The ambience was super trendy [note: not a place I usually go to, but I liked it], and I had a great seat at the bar. I read my book and enjoyed my mango lassi while I waited for my meal, a veg thali with extra roti on the side. And from the first sighting of my meal to the last bite I was able to force into my overly-stuffed stomach, the only word that kept coming back to me was "wow", running over and over in my head. I know I've used the word delicious so much at this point that it seems to have lost its meaning, but there are no other words to describe this meal. There was enough food to feed at least 3 people, and I was so stuffed after getting through about one-third of it that I had to walk for 20 minutes after dinner and do a 30-minute workout later that night before I could sleep. But trust me when I say that the discomfort was totally and completely worth it, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. Thank you, Avni Didi and Andrea, for the suggestion; you ladies know your food!

[i still sometimes dream about this meal]
The other double-recommendation I received was for Early Girl Eatery, a self-professed "Farm to Table Southern Comfort Food Experience". I went to Early Girl after visiting the Biltmore, and it was perfect: it was pretty empty since it was late afternoon, so I could put up my feet and relax with my book and some good food. Although the breakfasts [served all day] looked tempting, I ultimately opted for the "Meat & Two" option which allows you to choose one protein and two vegetables. I chose the grilled pork loin with sides of applesauce and macaroni & cheese. All were delicious, and I loved my meal. On my next trip, however, I'm definitely trying one of the breakfast options.

I realized just how well Britney knows me when I stepped inside Chocolate Fetish to have a look around. Chocolate Fetish offers case after case of homemade chocolates, something for everyone, and I could easily have stayed in there for days. The girl who helped me was extremely informative, and she talked me through the different chocolates on display to help me decide which ones I wanted. I filled up a box with assorted regular and dark chocolates, and I managed to bring the box almost entirely intact back to Memphis to share with my parents. And it was a big hit. Go to there if you're in Asheville, and then send some back to me.

[i'm pretty proud that i made it back to memphis with this box mostly intact]
My last meal in Asheville was at 12 Bones Smokehouse for some Carolina BBQ. According to Britney, 12 Bones is where President Obama eats when he's in Asheville, so obviously I had to check it out for myself. I went around 1pm, so the line out the front door wasn't too long, and I managed to snag a small table for myself as soon as I ordered. I had a pulled pork sandwich with baked beans and possibly green beans [hey, it's been 2 months, give me a break] as my sides. The sandwich was pretty good, as were the sides, and I enjoyed the mustard sauce more than I anticipated. And I especially loved the space -- it's in an open warehouse in the River Arts District, with tables inside or benches on a covered patio, so you can sit wherever you like.


On my way back to Memphis, I stopped for a night in Nashville to break up my journey and to hang out with Lindsay, Steve, and baby Evelyn. Since it was such a short trip, I sent a message to my Nashville friends to come to the Jackalope Taproom for a drink. Lindsay and Evelyn went with me, and Natasha and Natalie - and later Catherine - met us there. It was a beautiful late afternoon, and we enjoyed the lovely weather out on the patio with a few beers. I love Jackalope for a number of reasons: I love supporting my friends, I love supporting local businesses, and I especially love the laid back feel of the taproom. If you find yourself in Nashville, make your way over there and have a beer [Red Rompo is my favourite]. And feel free to take a tour as well! [more of my thoughts on Jackalope here]

[friends enjoying the jackalope patio]
Looking back over this list, it's no wonder I put on a few pounds in those 5 weeks. But they were totally worth it.

27 October 2014

42 of 52: all the little things add up.

This was one of those weeks where there were a whole lot of little things that added up to make it a great week. Mostly it was a few great nights with awesome friends that reminded me what wonderful people I have in my life.

On Monday night Christina invited me to join her and few other friends to have dinner with her father and brother at Local on the Square. It's always fun and exciting when friends' parents come to visit, and this was no exception. Both her father and brother were delights, and we had a blast shooting the shit and stuffing our faces [that chicken and waffles is some serious stuff].

On Thursday Christina asked for my help packing in return for a free dinner. She wanted to pack for a weeklong trip to Richmond, VA, and San Diego, CA, in a carry-on, so we went through her outfits for every possible scenario and managed to pare it down enough that everything fit. And I got a free dinner out of it and a chilled out night, so it was a win-win.

My parents and I resurrected Friday lunches with a trip to Babalu, and it was delicious. We got the table-side guacamole, which was fantastic, and we also got a free plate of lamb tacos because the kitchen had made extra. My parents liked it as well, and it was nice to bring back our tradition.

I had no plans for Friday night, but around mid-afternoon I got a message from Walshie asking if I wanted her extra ticket for the final Grizz preseason basketball game, and obviously I said yes. We got there just as the game was getting underway, and we were joined just after the 1st quarter by Bev, Dan, Chrystal, Meg, and Jane. After the game ended we decided to head over to Hard Rock's new location on Beale St to check it out. We enjoyed some hooch [delicious!] and some live music before venturing upstairs and outside onto the rooftop dance floor. It was a blast dancing in the fresh air, and since it wasn't crowded, we had lots of space to enjoy ourselves. Following a quick run to Silky's and a pit stop at Krystal [because Chrystal had never before been to Krystal], I dropped everyone home and was back in the dirty 'Dova by 12.30. Awesome night all around.

[feels good to be back in this place again. can't wait for the regular season to start this week!]
[loving the stage and dance floor inside the new hard rock] 
[the view from our rooftop dance party]
On Saturday morning a group of us made our way to Collierville for the Mid-South Race for the Cure; we had decided kind of last-minute to participate in celebration of a friend of ours who just began treatment for Stage 2 breast cancer. We walked for a bit, but it was way too crowded, so we split off a little ways into the race and camped out by the finish line to cheer on others who were finishing before heading to brunch at Russo's.

Saturday night found us convening at Side Street Grill to celebrate Chrystal's birthday. I had never been before, and I really liked the place, and we had a great group together for the festivities. Dinner was a blast, the cupcakes Meg made were delicious, and to wrap up the night Walshie and I headed back to Jane's house to chill for a while before going home.

[birthday cupcakes courtesy of meg]
I made beef stew for our Sunday afternoon lunch, after which Walshie and I made our way downtown for the River Arts Fest on South Main. We wandered through the booths, got some soda, and listened to DeltaCappella sing a few songs before picking up Mulan and watching football on her couch.

[i don't know which i want more, the print or all of the books in it. probably both] 
[pop-up shop for the new soda shop opening on south main]
[amtrak's central station on south main] 
[hey! i know these guys!]
[loving this building on south main. i want to be friends with whomever lives there]
[gorgeous sunset on my way home]
other highlights included: a long but fun day with the Carlson boys; cleaned out the corner in my room in preparation for a new bookshelf and made some nostalgic discoveries [hello, Christopher Pike books from middle school]; easing my way back into the running groove.

[my two favourites. i'll probably be giving these a re-read later this fall] 
[i discovered this sign pete made for my atlanta airport arrival circa 2005. love that guy]
Happy Grizz season opener week to us all!

24 October 2014

veen on the road: the books.

Come on, you know you weren't going to get through a road trip update without hearing about the books I read and listened to along the way. In total I read two-and-a-half books [I started Americanah right before wedding weekend but didn't get fully immersed in it until after I returned from my trip] and listened to four more while on the road, and today I share my thoughts on each with you.

The Graveyard Book [written and read by Neil Gaiman]. We all know how much I love me some Neil Gaiman audiobooks. I love what his voice brings to his stories, I love some of the added inflections, and I especially love the musical accompaniments that are included between chapters. For the start of my 5-week road trip I began with The Graveyard Book on audio, and I finished it somewhere between Fallston and Greensboro, NC.

The Graveyard Book tells the story of Nobody Owens - affectionately known as Bod - who wanders into the graveyard as a toddler on the night his parents and elder sister are murdered, unknowingly escaping The Man Jack who wants to kill him as well. Bod is able to communicate with both the living and the dead in his graveyard, and as a baby he is granted the freedom of the graveyard but is not allowed outside its gates, where his life is sill in danger.

Bod is officially raised by Master and Mistress Owens, long-time residents of the graveyard, but it is from Silas, his guardian and a Hound of God, that he gains his knowledge. Silas sees to it that he is fed and protected and educated, and he answers Bod's questions about his history and the world around him as simply and as honestly as he can.

As Bod grows into a teenager, it becomes more and more apparent that The Man Jack is still out there, seeking to find and kill Bod. With each chapter, the climax of the story inches closer and closer, and with Gaiman's storytelling, it's both suspenseful and exciting. I loved listening to this one, and I would love to read the book itself somewhere down the line.

Real Happy Family [Caeli Wolfson Widger]. As an Amazon Prime member and Kindle owner, I get a free download at the beginning of every month of a book that is slated to be released the following month. It's a really cool offer, but there have been very few books that I've actually downloaded. I got this one a few months ago, mostly because it was free, and read it while I was in Winston-Salem and Charlotte. I didn't love it, but it was a fast read.

The story of a wannabe actress and model who thinks she's more talented than she is, her overbearing mother who is trying to relive her youth through her daughter, her father who is just trying to get through life, and her brother and sister-in-law who are trying to help but have their own problems to deal with shows you the seedier and less rosy side to Hollywood, where it's tough to break into the limelight, and it's often who you know rather than how talented - or not talented - you are. Because of the setting, most of the characters, especially Lorelei and her mother, are shallow and rather vapid. Not really my scene.

If you're looking for a fast, mindless read, check this one out, but it's not going to set the world on fire. I very likely would not have read it if it hadn't been free.

Bossypants [written and read by Tina Fey]. I read Tina Fey's book a few years ago while I was living in Little Rock, but I downloaded the audio version for my drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains, and I am so glad that I did. Fey reads the book herself, and hearing her voice read those stories of her awkward childhood left a pretty steady grin on my face throughout the entire book.

Fey talks about growing up in Pennsylvania, fighting for a spot with the Second City troupe in Chicago, becoming Saturday Night Live's first female writer, and eventually pitching her own show to NBC, and through all of her stories her originality and humor shine through. I loved listening to this book, and it inspired me to re-watch all of 30 Rock [I just finished in mid-September. what a great show]. I very highly recommend this as a read or a listen, or even both. I promise you won't be disappointed.

This Is Where I Leave You [Jonathan Tropper]. I picked this one up on a whim after seeing the trailer for the movie full of a cast I am mildly obsessed with, and I read it while I was in Richmond and Chattanooga. It was a quick read, and I sped through it in about a week, which is coincidentally the amount of time in which the book takes place.

Narrated by Judd [played by Jason Bateman in the movie], This is Where I Leave You tells the story of the Foxman family [changed to "Altman" in the film]. The mother and 4 children reunite following the father's death, and all are required to stay with each other under the same roof for 7 days as per the old man's dying wish. Dysfunctional doesn't even begin to cover this family, and as we move through the days of the Foxman family learning to live together again and like each other, Judd also fills in the backstory of how they all ended up the way they are.

The book is at turns funny and dramatic, and it always has the underlying tone that no matter how far you go, you can never quite escape your family or where you came from. I liked the book on the whole, but it was a rare case of the book actually diluting my interest for seeing the film, rather than the other way around. From reading the book and then re-watching the trailer for the film, it appears that while it loosely follows the book, there are lots of things that are changed around. Also, the book involves quite a lot of Judd's inner monologue as he explores his own life [wife cheated on him with his boss; he quit his job; living in a basement apartment; etc] and struggles to rediscover his place in the world, and I'm unsure of how that will translate to film.

Let's be honest, I will probably still see the film, because I love that cast, but I am trying very hard to distance the film from the book so that I can judge them as two separate entities. Wish me luck, and perhaps I will let you all know what I think of the movie once I see it.

The Secret of the Old Clock [written by Carolyn Keene; read by Laura Linney]. I straight up loved Nancy Drew when I was a kid. I loved following her mysteries and trying to solve the puzzles right along with her, and I am now building collections of her books for Evelyn in Nashville and for Nilah and Evika in Bangalore so they can enjoy them as well. It's made me a little nostalgic for the stories of my childhood, so I decided to listen to one of the books while I was on the road.

The Secret of the Old Clock is the first of the original mysteries, and in it we meet Nancy Drew, all-around awesome 16-year-old who has a great penchant for solving mysteries. In this particular story, she is on the hunt for a hidden will so that a man's rightful heirs can have access to his estate. We follow Nancy as she meets characters both nice and evil, hunts down clues that will lead to the will, and eventually solves the case.

It was definitely interesting to re-visit this series as an adult. I still love the stories, and I still get just as caught up in them as I used to, but there are lots of little quirks that I couldn't help but giggle at. The language, for one, as well as the descriptions of the clothes and hair. Additionally, I couldn't help but marvel at some of the things Nancy does in the name of sleuthing, including trespassing, breaking and entering, and some pretty obvious obstruction of justice. Now, I know these were written in the 1930s and reworked in the 50s, so these were not necessarily concerns at the time of publication, but I definitely picked up on little things like that as an adult in 2014. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed my little jaunt down memory lane and have since listened to the next two books in the series. At only 3 hours each, they go by quickly.

Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls [written and read by David Sedaris]. I have read and loved all of David Sedaris' books over the years, but this one brought a slight departure for me: rather than read it, I listened to it while on the road. Because Sedaris reads the stories himself, they take on an entirely new shape, and I love the dimension that it adds. His voice sounds pretty much exactly how I always thought it would, and to hear him tell the stories of his childhood or his travels is truly a delight.

This is the general Sedaris tome, full of stories of his dysfunctional family and his life traveling and living with his partner Hugh, but to hear him tell it makes it even more poignant and entertaining.

An added element that I loved: for a few of the stories, rather than playing the studio version, it was a recording of Sedaris reading the story in front of an audience. It was great to feel like I was a part of the audience and to laugh along with them, and I liked that it was always a surprise when one of the stories was presented in that way.

So there you have it. Have you read or listened to any of these books? I rather like the idea of listening to fun books like Tina Fey's after I've read them in print, and I am generally always a fan of the author reading his or her own work.

Any new book recommendations floating around out there for me?

23 October 2014

the running diaries: what the rest of the year will [hopefully] look like.

It's been a while since I talked about my on-again-off-again relationship with running, but with St Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend only 6 weeks away, I figured it was time to jump back on the running train.

In theory I am training for the St Jude 5k on December 6th, but I've been slacking. I've been struggling to motivate myself and have taken to trying new routes and playlists and running patterns to keep things interesting.

A large part of it for me was the weather. With the hot weather in August and September, I was less than enthused about having to get up and run at 6am. October has been better, and I've enjoyed being able to sleep in and run at 8 or occasionally even 9 [or 12.30pm, like I did today!].

Another has been my muscle loss. Because I stopped doing my workouts, my legs are not as strong as they once were. I'm running slower as a result, and it's also making my runs tougher to get through. I need to start alternating my runs with workouts to make myself stronger again.

And finally it's been my schedule. I started getting into a routine in September, but then October hit, and with it came an overnight babysitting gig; a 4-day house- and pet-sitting gig; Homecoming / Reunion weekend; and then a week where all I wanted to do was sleep. This is the one I'm working hardest toward re-establishing, because I know once I have a routine, everything else will fall into place.

To help myself out, I'm setting some goals for myself. They're all attainable, but I'll definitely have to work to meet them in the next 6 weeks and through the end of the year.

my goals:
  1. complete a Nike+ training program. I often lose patience with these, or I skip a day and then never get back on track, but I figure it'll be good since I have an actual race at the end of it. In theory I should have started it 2 weeks ago, but there's no time like the present. it begins on Monday, October 27, and wraps up with the St Jude 5k on December 6. and the good thing is that it automatically incorporates cross-training into the program, so I'll really have no excuses.
  2. reach the next levels for Nike Fuel and and mileage. I've been using the Nike+ running app for nearly 3 years now, and I am closing in on two milestones: reaching 150k in Nike Fuel [only 2,000 away] and reaching the Blue Level for running [621 total miles run]. I'll probably reach the Nike Fuel milestone next week and so will increase that goal to see if I can get to 200k by the end of the year. as far as the running level, I'm about 74 miles away from the 4th milestone within the Green Level and 167 miles from the Blue Level. that one is going to be tougher, and it might be early January by the time I hit it, but it's something to work toward.
  3. increase my mileage each week. this will happen anyway with the program, but once that finishes I will have to keep it up on my own. I figure if I just increase each run by a quarter-mile or so, that will take care of itself.
  4. break a few of my records. I'm hoping to break my 5k record in December, but I'd love to beat some of those other records along the way. fastest mile; most miles in a week; most miles in a month; etc. because why not?
  5. get some new insoles for my shoes. the shoes I bought in April are still holding up well, but my flat feet have pretty much destroyed the insoles and I can slowly feel my arches hurting more and more after each run. I'm hoping to get this taken care of this weekend to ward off any potential injuries; if I've not done so by the middle of next week, you have my full permission to kick my butt.
  6. [not strictly running related, but also kind of] get some new running music. I love most of the songs I have on my running playlists, but there are also a few I would love to switch out for some newer ones. I am always up for suggestions!
  7. and finally, make running a priority again. this is the main one I have struggled with in the wake of two half-marathons and a summer largely spent on the road, but I am slowly coming back around to it. missing the Nike Women's Half in San Francisco last weekend has kind of kicked me back into gear, and I want to capitalize on that and see where it takes me.
So there you have it. I'll check back in around mid-November to see where I'm at.
Happy trails!

22 October 2014

veen on the road: the thomas wolfe memorial.

I had some time to kill between checking out of my hotel in Asheville and reporting to Yesterday Spaces in Leicester [about 30 minutes outside town] for wedding duties, so I decided to swing by and check out the Thomas Wolfe Memorial.

Located near downtown, the boardinghouse that Wolfe's mother ran throughout his childhood is now open for tours. Adjacent to the home is a small museum that holds artifacts from Wolfe's life and houses a theater that shows a film about Wolfe.

Being early on a Thursday in August, there was no one else in the museum when I arrived. I arranged to take a tour and then strolled through the exhibit about Wolfe's life and work. I really didn't know anything about Thomas Wolfe going into my visit, so the whole thing was pretty educational.

It only took about 20-30 minutes to walk through the exhibit, after which I watched a film that brought to life much of what I had just read and seen. It talks about Wolfe's childhood in Asheville, his unhappy family life, and his adolescent exploits in college and later in New York City.

When I emerged from the theater, I was notified that no one else had signed up for a tour, so I got a one-on-one tour through the house. Pretty cool, if I do say so myself. Wolfe's mother bought and ran a boardinghouse when Wolfe was a young boy, and he spent his childhood and adolescence in and out of the home. It is still set up in the much the way it would have been back then, and because I was the only person on the tour, I got a lot of extra tidbits and details that you might not get in a larger group [at least, that's what I like to tell myself].

It was certainly an interesting visit, and I loved learning things I didn't previously know. I am definitely interested in reading some of his work now that I have visited the home in which he grew up. Any suggestions?

If you're interested in visiting:
  • located at 52 North Market Street, Asheville, NC 28801
  • tours are only $5. well worth it, in my opinion
  • October is apparently Thomas Wolfe Month! check out their website for further details
  • if you live in Asheville, a Thomas Wolfe Book Club is beginning in January 2015! check the website if you are interested
And so wraps up my individual posts from my road trip. It's taken us a few months to get to this point, but I think I finally got all of it posted. I've got a few more posts in the works, including my favourite eats from the road as well as the books I read and listened to while I was away; those will hopefully be finished and published next week. It was such a great trip, and I have loved reliving it and remembering tiny details as I've been writing these posts, and I can only hope they have been marginally entertaining for you as well.

And now on to suggestions for posts now that this adventure is finally coming to a close!

book review: the moonlight palace [liz rosenberg].

While I am continuing to slog through Midnight's Children [Salman Rushdie], I also quickly read The Moonlight Palace by Liz Rosenberg this month.

My memory is hazy, but I think I got this one as part of the Kindle First program. Regardless, it appeared on my Kindle at the beginning of the month, and I read it during my baby-sitting and house- / pet-sitting adventures the last few weeks.

The Moonlight Palace is the story of the last living members of one of Singapore's oldest and most royal of families at the beginning of the 20th century as told through the eyes of its youngest member, 17-year-old Agnes.

Agnes is the epitome of the mixed Singaporean of the early 1900s: she is half-Chinese, one-quarter-British, and one-quarter-Muslim. Her paternal ancestor was a sultan in Singapore and built one of the grandest mosques in the city-state; as part of a deal with the British government, his family is allowed to live in the Kampong Glam Palace as long as there is a living mail heir. His name is Uncle Chachi, and Agnes lives in their crumbling palace with him as well as her maternal grandparents, British Grandfather and Nei Nei Down.

Although the Kampong Glam was once one of the grandest and most opulent of residences in Singapore, dwindling finances and a decline in power of the family have sent it into a state of disrepair. Agnes' immediate family - her parents and older brother - died in the flu epidemic, and since that time the family has struggled. British Grandfather has struggled to hold the palace together, Uncle Chachi has struggled to keep the family relevant in a post-British society, and Nei Nei has struggled to maintain a once-glamorous household on small pensions and income generated from boarders. And through it all, Agnes struggles to navigate adolescence and a rising need to help her family survive in the changing climate around them.

I really liked this book. For one, it was a fast read. While being mired in the middle of Midnight's Children, this book offered me a quick and easy distraction from the heavy tome. For another, I learned a little about Singapore at the turn of the century. I admittedly know very little about Singapore's history. I know that at some point it was a British colony, because much of that world was at some point a British colony. I know that it is fairly autonomous, a city-state-country sitting on its own, completely surrounded by water. And I know that it has been influenced by a number of different cultures over the years, British and Indian and Asian and everything in-between. But that's about it. I learned a little more, and there were a number of things I could relate to because they are still true today in India's post-colonial culture and structure.

At times I found myself growing frustrated with Agnes, but then I had to remind myself that she was only 17 years old, and the book was set in 1919. She is young, and it was a different time with different mindsets. It only happened a few times, and it didn't detract from my overall enjoyment of the book.

In some ways I loved how short and matter-of-fact it was, and in others I wish it were longer and more in-depth. But nonetheless, I enjoyed it.

And now that Singapore has been named Lonely Planet's top country to visit in 2015, I am [not-so] secretly planning an adventure. Who wants to join me?

always reading: Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie. but there is light at the end of the tunnel -- only about 60 pages to go!

always listening to: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, read by David Pittu. 25 hours down, only 7 more to go! [why I thought reading a 530-odd page book and listening to a 32-hour audiobook at the same time was a good idea is beyond me. I'm just a sucker for punishment, I guess]

21 October 2014

veen on the road: the biltmore estate.

We have finally arrived at my final stop and penultimate individualized post from my time on the road! I know, I didn't think we would get here, either. But here we are nonetheless.

And what a place, too. The Biltmore Estate. The granddaddy of US estates. The end-all-be-all of mansions.

[the biltmore]
While most of the places I visited on the road were somewhat spontaneous decisions or suggestions from along the way, the Biltmore was the one I had on my list from the beginning. I have been wanting to visit the Biltmore for years, and now I finally had my opportunity.

Biltmore was constructed as the country estate of George Vanderbilt - yes, as in that Vanderbilt family - between 1889 and 1895. It is an absolutely massive building, boasting nearly 250 rooms, including 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces.

[looking out from the front steps of the house]
But it's not just the mansion. Yes, it's stunning, but it is even more so because of its surroundings. With sweeping views of Asheville and the mountains, and surrounded by meticulously maintained gardens and wineries, I would venture that it is one of the most scenic spots in the country. And today the house and grounds are open year-round to visitors.

I gave myself the entire day to spend on the grounds, and I am so happy that I did. I was in no rush and could spend as much time as I wanted wherever I wanted, and except for a light drizzle early in the afternoon, the weather was stunning.

[close-up of the front of the house]
The tour of the house itself was spectacular. I paid the extra $10 for the audio guide, and I thought it was well worth the spend. I learned so much about the history of the Vanderbilt family and about the home itself. For example, did you know that one of the rooms inside the Biltmore was used to store the most valuable and priceless works of art from Washington DC during World War II? True story. Regardless of whether or not you opt for the audio tour, visitors are free to take their time going through the house and seeing everything on display.

I especially loved the huge dining hall and spent some time imagining throwing a fantastic dinner party for all of my favourite friends. I also thoroughly enjoyed the back "porch" - it's really so much more than just a porch - and I really, really wanted to curl up on one of the benches out there and just stare for a while, but all of the signs telling me it wasn't allowed kind of dissuaded me.

[the house and front lawn from way up high]
Walking up the giant front staircase was pretty awesome, as was exploring the upstairs halls and bedrooms, but I was particularly fascinated by the basement exhibits. I loved walking through the pantries and kitchen [once a foodie, always a foodie] and imagining the schedule and routine that would have gone into running the household [not gonna lie, I definitely had a few Downton Abbey moments while I was down there].

And I was completely fascinated by the pool. Completely indoor and constructed in the basement, it's now empty, but you can easily imagine what it would look like all filled up. It's one of those old-school pools with white tiles all around, and it goes from shallow down to super deep really fast. I bet it would have been awesome to swim in at night with just a few dim lights on.

[the greenhouse in the main garden]
So as you can tell, I loved the house. It was amazing and spectacular and fascinating. It's got so many nooks and crannies that you could wander around and get hopelessly lost but probably find some really cool things.

But we're not done yet. That's only my visit to the house.

The general admission ticket also allows you to tour the gardens, so that's what I did next. The road through Biltmore only goes one way, so as you leave the mansion area, you end up near one of the gardens. You can drive straight through, or you can park and wander around. There are numerous trails you can take to see more gardens as well as a few ponds scattered throughout the estate. Because the weather was beginning to look slightly unpredictable, I opted to just stay in the central garden where there was a greenhouse and a few gazebos to offer shelter should I need it.

The garden was awesome, and it was pretty empty [very welcome after the crowds in the house], so I spend some time walking around and taking photos until I determined it was time to move on.

From there I continued following the road until I found myself in Antler Hill Village, home of some shops, restaurants, and the winery. I managed to sneak my way onto the winery tour that was just getting ready to leave, and while the tour was great, the tasting at the end was my favourite part. The tasting room is absolutely huge, and each person over the age of 21 is given a list of all the wines that are made at the Biltmore. You can choose to taste as many or as few of the wines as you want, and prices for the bottles are included should you decide to stop in the attached gift shop to purchase a bottle or two.

[walking through]
I tasted about 5 of the wines before heading into the gift shop. I purchased 3 bottles - a Malbec, a House Merlot that is only available for purchase at the winery, and one other that I can't currently remember - in addition to some chocolates and a few other knick-knacks before heading out.

All told I think I spent about 5 hours on the grounds. I could easily have spent more and taken time to walk some of the trails through the gardens, but that was pretty solid for my first visit. Plus my snacks had run out and I was ready for a late lunch.

[pretty flowers in the gardens. i'm trying to convince my mother we should grow these at the house]
Everything you have heard and read about the Biltmore is absolutely, 100% true: it's gorgeous, it's grand, it's scenic, it's amazing, it's majestic, etc etc etc. I can't even fully describe the feeling of walking those halls and dreaming of what it would have been like a hundred years ago. If you have never been, there is no better time than the present. It was great in the summer, but I imagine it's even better right now, with fall in full bloom and the leaves an array of magnificent colours. And I've heard great stories of the estate at Christmas, decorated to the nines for the holiday season. The entire Asheville area is well worth a visit, but this is the crown jewel of the town.

Go there. Now:
  • located at 1 Lodge Street, Asheville, NC 28803
  • a general admission daytime ticket gets you access to the house, the gardens, antler hill village, an exhibition about the Vanderbilt family, and a free tour and tasting [for those over 21] in the winery. same-day tickets are $59 for adults and $29.50 for children 10-16, but if you buy your tickets in advance you'll get a discount. the further ahead you buy your tickets, the higher your discount, so plan ahead! [I learned this from Rachel over at Hippie in Heels and so purchased my ticket a few days in advance and saved $5. thank you, Rachel!]
  • audio guides are an additional $10 and are, in my opinion, well worth the extra spend, particularly if you are interested in learning in-depth about the history of the home
  • there are additional tours - including a butler's tour - that you can choose to do, but I decided I had enough on my plate for one day
  • no photography allowed inside the house but feel free to take photos throughout the grounds
  • visit in the fall or during the holidays if you can; I imagine it'll be beautiful during that time of year
  • there is food available outside the mansion as well as in antler hill village, but as per usual with food at attractions, it appeared to be pretty pricey. I carried water and a few snacks with me in the morning, and those sustained me until I was ready to leave in mid-afternoon.
  • wear comfortable shoes. you'll be doing a lot of walking.
  • if possible, give yourself 5-7 hours on the grounds. the house itself will take you between 1.5-2 hours, especially if you pick up the audio guide.
  • fun fact: for anyone who has ever seen Richie Rich, the fountain and exterior of the home were used in the movie. remember all those bubbles in the fountain? yep, this is the one.
If you enjoy pretty homes, history, scenic surroundings, gardens, or wine, you will love the Biltmore.

41 of 52: the lost week.

I'll be honest, last week kind of fell through the cracks. With my parents out of town until late Tuesday night, I took advantage of having the house to myself for a few days to recover from Reunion Weekend. I babysat Wednesday morning, celebrated Jane's birthday with a group of fun friends Wednesday night, and spent Thursday hanging out with my father. And then we had repair guys in on Wednesday, Thursday, AND Friday to finish up what we hope is the last of the repairs from all of our leaks and flooding issues.

So all of that is to say that I'm not really sure where last week went. Other than a phone chat with a friend in London and a meeting with a friend here in Memphis, I really didn't get many things on my to-do list finished. I didn't send in any cover letters or apply for any jobs. I chose to let the pile of clothes in my room continue growing rather than put any of it away. And I spent the weekend at home, cooking and watching football, as opposed to attending any of the numerous fall events happening around the city.

And you know what? It was pretty glorious. I need weeks like these to recharge my batteries and get my head on straight again. I read my book. I enjoyed the fabulous fall weather. I spent some time with my parents. I made Sunday lunch for the first time in what felt like months. I went on walks with my mother. And I slept. A lot.

It's back to the grind this week, and I have a long to-do list of things to get through. I've got a bookcase to finish building, at least 3 jobs I need to write cover letters for, a number of emails and parcels to be sent, and a lot of ideas for posts I want to get written down. I am also always planning trips in the back of my mind, and I have one or two that are slowly taking shape above the others. Perhaps if I am able to make one of them happen, you'll read about it on here.

Last week, in pictures:

[throwback pictures of me and jane to celebrate her birthday last week]
[shrimp deliciousness at frida's] 
[found these gems for the razorback game on saturday. still didn't help us win, unfortunately]
[sunday afternoon in our neighbourhood]
[sunday evening stroll with my mother]
Here's wishing all of you a restful and relaxing week.