Summer Outings and Breaking Routines

This summer has been hot but beautiful. I love the smells of jasmine and roses and BBQs starting up. I love big sunglasses and simple cotton dresses and being able to eat outside. I especially love the long, sunny days that have just a hint of rain on the breeze.

When The Dude and I travel, we love to go to street fairs and festivals, hang out in city parks, and attend any local events we happen upon. We always lament that we don’t live somewhere that has all of those things and/or that we wish we could do more things like that at home.

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Lounging at the Wine & Jazz Festival

Well, we’re just whining.

We live outside of Philadelphia. There’s usually something going on within a 25 mile radius of our house, particularly on the weekends. The big problem is that it takes effort to find something that we think would be fun; it’s so much easier to sit on the couch and watch an episode of “Downton Abbey” or “Battlestar Galactica”.

That’s the crux of the issue: when we’re travelling, we’re prepared to be out and about constantly. We have already done research and often (though not always!) know about events we want to check out. We’re also ready to be spontaneous and love to wander around and just find new things to do and try. When we’re at home, it’s harder to break out of our usual routine. Work days tend to be stressful and exhausting and it can be overwhelming to try to plan stuff for the weekends unless there’s a specific event (like a birthday or wedding or something) coming up.

Routine is easy: you know what to expect and you don’t have to plan for it. But, it can also be boring and unhealthy.

To break our routine, to get out of our rut of spending nights and weekends at home, The Dude and I have been actively looking for and tentatively planning outings to different events or festivals in the area. Unless we’re going to a ticketed event (like the Wine & Jazz Festival at Longwood Gardens), our plans are flexible and depend on things like the weather and The Dude helping his dad do lawn work. But, it’s so nice to have things on the calendar and, on a given weekend, to only really have to think about whether or not we want to do x event.

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The Dude is always excited for tacos.

So, what kinds of things are on our list? The first Saturday in June was the Wine & Jazz Festival at Longwood. We’ve gone a number of times before, and really loved it again this year. Last weekend was the Manayunk Art Festival. We had never been before, but spent a lovely Sunday afternoon browsing the artsy wares and eating tacos at Taqueria Feliz. Coming up are things like the Kutztown Folk Festival, the Philly Night Market, and outdoor movies at Penns Woods Winery.

This motivation has also helped us go on impromptu outings. So far, we’ve wandered around Antique Row and the area around Eastern State Penitentiary (I can’t wait to finally tour the prison itself!)and hiked through a bit of Fairmount Park. It’s been so nice to just be outside with The Dude and discover more about the area (and, of course, to get something delicious to eat). I can’t wait until our next outing!

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Fairy Tale Pumpkins

I love going to Longwood Gardens. In addition to the beautiful, expansive gardens, they have yearly events like the Wine & Jazz Festival and A Longwood Christmas. One of my favorites is Autumn’s Colors; I love the fall, with all of its crisp air and vibrant colors. A few years ago, part of the Autumn’s Colors display at Longwood were hand-blown glass pumpkins. The below pumpkins were my favorites: stark white with silver stems and placed in a gray-green landscape, dotted with tiny yellow flower. It was such an unexpected scene, like something out of a fairy tale.

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Fairy Tale Pumpkins

I kept waiting for a fairy to wave her wand, for one of the pumpkins to grow, and for a princess to step out…

Disney To-Dos: Little Known and Hidden Things

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The key under the mat in the queue for Muppet Vision 3D.

One of the things I love so much about Disney is that there’s always something new to do, some area that can be explored just a little more. I like that you can go on a ride that you’ve been on a million times and notice a new detail or you find a new, quiet place to sit in a bustling park. Here are 10 hidden gems things I want to explore, find, or do during our next (yet to be scheduled!) trip:

  1. Meet the Mayor and pin trade with Scoop Sanderson (two of the Citizens of Main Street). Seriously, this has been on my to-do list forever, but I always miss them!
  2. Go to Jellyrolls to hear the dueling pianos.
  3. Find 10 Hidden Pascals in the Tangled rest area in the Magic Kingdom.
  4. Finally see the famous hidden Mickey plate arrangement in the ballroom scene in the Haunted Mansion. Somehow, I always miss it!
  5. Spend some time at the Animal Kingdom Lodge at night. I’d like take advantage of the night vision goggles (!!) to see the animals at night, or listen to an African story by the campfire. Obviously, we’ll be forced to stuff ourselves at Boma first…
  6. Submit a joke to the Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor. I also want to be “That Guy,” but I’m a girl so maybe I can’t be? BUT, maybe The Dude can!
  7. Check out the Metrophone in Tomorrowland and listen to intergalactic conversations. I am nosy, after all.
  8. Meet DiVine in Animal Kingdom. I’ve heard rumors that there’s a male version, too, but I’m not positive. Anyone know?
  9. Find and press the “Press for a Surprise” buttons in Epcot’s Italy pavilion. I’m sorry in advance if I inadvertently squirt you with water!
  10. Spend time appreciating hidden or in-the-background atmospheric details. For example, I love hearing the music lessons on Main Street U.S.A., but have never heard the people talking/dishes clattering on the back patio of Tusker House. Epcot is also full of these little features (like the talking water fountains in Future World or the single cracked tile in each of Morocco’s mosaics).

I can’t wait to go back!

Flags a’ Flying

Few things excite me more than the news of a restaurant opening, particularly if it’s in our neighborhood or very close by. I love the anticipation of seeing the storefront change day-by-day, of reading blurbs about the chef and restaurant concept on blogs or in magazines or taped haphazardly to a front window. I love wondering what the food will be like and whether it will become a favorite spot and I love when it finally opens and I get to pour over reviews before The Dude and I get to try it for ourselves.

The Dude just wants them to take down their damn grand opening flags.

There is a restaurant in our neighborhood that has been open since 2012 and their grand opening  flags are still flying. I got a flyer from them the other day, in fact, that advertised a “Grand Opening Special!”. Whenever we drive by, The Dude squints and grimaces at the flags. He hates them.

He also hates the huge “Grand Opening!” banner on a Little Caesar’s that’s on our way into the city and has been opening grandly almost as long as our neighborhood joint. I think he’s actually shaken his fist at that one.

A part of me agrees with him, agrees that there should be a limit on how long restaurants can advertise themselves as new. But, another part of me feels bad for those restaurants. If they were as successful as they wanted to be, would they still feel the need to fall back on novelty?

I imagine conversations between the “new” restaurants and the old, successful ones to go something like this:

Flag Flutterer: But, I want everyone to notice me! Look, I’m new and shiny and have things flapping around everywhere.

Old Standby: Ah, but they know me. They know how delicious I am.

Flag Flutterer: But, I’m good, too!

Old Standby: But, I’m better.

Flag Flutterer: I’m just as good as you are.

Old Standby: Hah. You have to wave things in front of their faces to get them to notice you. They just remember me.

Flag Flutterer: I’m just as good as you are. I AM.

Old Standby: Hah. Prove it. Take down your flags.

Flag Flutterer: But, I’m new and shiny…

The Dude hates those flags: “Leave them up 1 month, maybe 2,” he says. “This is crazy. We can’t ever eat there. I hate those stupid flags.”

And, we haven’t eaten there, not at any of those places. I don’t think we will.

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Light and Dark

Sometimes, I use part of my lunch break to take a short walk around campus. It’s nice to get out of my (currently windowless) office and into the fresh air. It’s particularly nice on days like today when my walk in was all steel gray skies, humidity, and spitting rain. Walking by one of the arches, I was struck by the juxtaposition of darkness and light as I went to walk through the arch and back onto the campus proper.

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Peeking Through the Arch

This picture makes me think about education, formal or informal, in the simplest and most ideal sense: walking from the darkness of ignorance and incomprehension into the light of knowledge and know-how. I like the idea of education being a threshold, where you can choose to expand your knowledge in a certain area or remain limited and turn back, ready to focus your attention elsewhere.

Creative Writing: June 30th, 1944

I’m not sure how many creative pieces I’ll put here, but the Writing 101 prompt moved me in that direction today. Please note that this piece is totally fictional.

Prompt: You discover a letter on a path that affects you deeply. Today, write about this encounter. And your twist? Be as succinct as possible.


Mom decided it was time to clean out Grammy’s attic, a daunting task if there ever was one. When I was a kid, I loved going into the attic and exploring. I loved the dusty boxes with their untold treasures, the grainy photos of people I had never met but seemed so familiar, and the cedar chests with the most beautiful clothes I had ever seen. Even now, even at the end, when we visited Grammy, I found myself sneaking up there to have a peek, to see if I would discover something new.

But, today, we had to start clearing it out. We had to start opening those boxes and cedar chests, had to remove the treasures and put them in piles, categorizing a life now faded. Sighing, I opened the door and started up the stairs.

An envelope fell from somewhere and landed on the step just above me. Yellowed with age, I recognized Grammy’s stationary, the kind she used since her coming-out days. It was addressed to my Grandpa Charlie. Smiling to myself, I opened it.

The letter was short, but so full I thought my heart would burst. In her strong, flowing hand, she had written:

June 30th, 1944

My Charlie,

It has been 25 days since your last letter and I cannot breathe. I think I’ve forgotten how. Do you think you can forget how to breathe, Charlie?

The garden has come in well; the roses are especially lovely and the tomato plants are threatening to take over. We will have lots of sauce this winter!

The doorbell rang three times yesterday. Every time, I thought my heart would leap from my chest. It wasn’t someone with news, Charlie, but it could have been. Doorbells have been ringing all over town, men in uniform giving their condolences to so many families.

Mrs. Carson and Betty Townsend both heard those bells. Mother said they had to take Mrs. Carson to the hospital. It’s all three Carson boys, now.

None of them will eat sauce again.

I can’t even imagine.

Oh, god, Charlie, it’s been 25 days since your last letter, 600 hundred hours since I last took a full breath.

Charlie, when you come home, you must help me plant an apple tree or two. I’ve been craving apple pie and Mr. Jenkins has raised his prices again. Promise me you’ll help?

Tomorrow, I’m going to make a new dress. It’s been so long since I’ve had one and all of mine are wearing through. Luckily, Mother squirrelled away some fabric in the blue you like so much. If there’s leftover, I’ll make you a nice shirt. Ha! Then, we’ll match like all of those couples you laugh at.

600 hours, and I cannot breathe.

(The next lines were scrawled so quickly, I could barely read them:)

Oh, god, Charlie. The doorbell just rang… Please, god, just let me breathe…

I could barely breathe. June 30th, 1944: the day Grandpa Charlie came home.

Things I Miss in Disney: Pappy

When I was 6 or 7 my grandparents took two of my cousins and me (and, our moms) to Disney World. For part of the trip, I was sick – not sick enough to not be in the parks, just sick enough to have no energy. My youngest cousin refused to let me ride in her stroller when I got tired, so my Pappy carried me everywhere. I don’t remember very  much about that trip, but I do remember him holding me.

I also remember sitting next to him in the Tiki Room and hearing him sing along. He’s never had a good voice.

One of my most vivid childhood memories is being in Disney World with him and going on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. I’ve always been small for my age, so this was my first “big girl” roller coaster. I remember standing in line and watching the train speed around the tracks and hearing those tracks rattle as it moved around. I remember clutching his hand and thinking that I didn’t think anything could go as fast as that train.

I was terrified.

I was terrified, but determined to do it. Pappy had been talking about this ride and promised that I would love it. He would never lie to me, I knew (and, still know). My Pappy, the strongest man in the world, would make sure I was safe.

I remember getting into the train car next to him. I remember him putting his arm around me and scooting me closer. I remember his telling me to hold on tight.

And, I remember him smiling from ear to ear.

We took off into the darkness of the mine. I remember getting splashed by water and screaming and we started to pick up speed. I remember looking over at him as we emerged from the mine and seeing his face filled with joy. I remember that, suddenly, I wasn’t afraid anymore.

And, I remember him looking at me and laughing. I remember that I started laughing, too.

It could have been yesterday: my Pappy and I, him in his brown polo shirt and with his arm around me, racing around a Disney-made mountain and smiling and laughing like we didn’t know how to stop.

Now, my Disney memories are made with The Dude, something I love and would never change.  Still, a part of me will always miss being there with my grandfather; I miss seeing that wonder in his eyes as he sees a new show or rides a new ride. Even now, when I go on Soarin’ or see Enchanted Tales with Belle, I think about how much he would have loved it.

My Pappy is still very much alive, but our days of Disney travelling are, I think, done. But, that memory of laughter and safety and joy never will be. Whenever I go on Thunder Mountain or hum the Tiki Room song, I’ll remember all over again.

And, I’ll smile like I don’t know how to stop.