Category Archives: Life

The Long Overdue Italy Post

On my trip to Italy last month, I tried to do one sketch a day, and came pretty close to it. They aren’t exactly stunning works of art, but after not doing any drawing or painting for a year I was happy with them. Besides, a sketchbook makes for a great souvenir!

(I also took photos. They’ll get posted someday. Maybe.)

Piazza del Signori, Padua

Piazza del Signori, Padua

We flew into Milan and immediately took the train to Padua, where we walked around for four hours before enjoying Campari and Aperol spritzes on a piazza. We also had gelato and pizza because Italy. We ran across the 9/11 memorial (with a girder from one of the towers), got a bit lost, and got un-lost again. The next morning we saw the botanical garden, which has a palm planted in 1585 that inspired Goethe, and some very modern greenhouses. The hotel’s free breakfast was amazing–lots of pastries and cold cuts.

Outside the Artblu Cafe, Venice

Outside the Artblu Cafe, Venice

The next day we met up with the rest of the family in Venice, which looks like all the photos you’ve seen of it. We walked from Campo Santa Margarita near our Airbnb to the La Salute church, stopping for gelato twice because Italy. Dinner at Artblu involved Aperol spritz and gnocchi.

Then we had one full day in Venice. We walked to St. Mark’s Square and then to the Jewish ghetto. The Jewish history museum was interesting (and depressing–this is where the word “ghetto” comes from) and the synagogue we looked into was lovely.

That evening we had our obligatory gondola ride.

Gondolas in Venice

Gondolas in Venice

Bridge in Venice

Bridge in Venice


Friday we drove to Bardolino, a town on Lake Garda. It’s very touristy, but mostly German-speaking tourists. The American guidebooks barely knew it existed.

We had the best meal so far there. First, they brought us complimentary glasses of the local rose. Then we all decided to actually order first and second courses for once. I started with pasta with smoked salmon and zucchini ribbons in a cream sauce. That was followed by what turned out to be a salad of warm steak, fresh arugula and cherry tomatoes, Parmesan, and a wedge of lemon. We also had a local red wine. The other three adults had the mixed seafood grill which had too many legs for my taste (the octopus and white fish I tasted were delicious, though).

Despite being full we all decided dessert was a good idea. The tiramisus were nine cubic inches. It was amazing. And then, because we had not ingested enough, they brought us bottles of limoncello and Goccia Nera (licorice liqueur).

I did sketch the tiramisu but it looks like a drawing of a rectangle, so I didn’t bother to post it.

We had an afternoon in Verona, which is really emphasizing the Romeo & Juliet connection. The more interesting thing was the Roman arena. I’m pretty sure there was gelato in Verona, too.

In Milan, the main thing I wanted to see was the Duomo, a really fancy cathedral that looks like a fairy tale castle crossed with a seven-year-old’s idea of a wedding cake.

The best part there–other than the sculpture of the guy who got skinned and is wearing his skin as a cloak, which was clearly carved by someone who studied anatomy via dissection, which was illegal, yet this is in the cathedral–the other best part was you can climb 300 stairs up to the roof and walk among the spires where the frosting fairy threw up.

Then we wandered back toward our apartment via Sforza castle, a 14th century fortress where da Vinci lived for a time. Dinner included bacon and cheese risotto and a suspicious-looking Negroni.

Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia, Milan

Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia, Milan

We spent the whole next afternoon at the science and technology museum, housed in a former monastery. They have one long hall with models built from drawings in da Vinci’s notebooks, which were interesting to see. Plus some trains, planes, boats, and a submarine.

Random small tower near our dinner spot

I can’t remember if we had gelato in Milan. I guess I’ll have to go back someday.



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BLTTs and Fall Fun

On the way home from work the other night, I was grumbling about having to make tofu for dinner. I keep looking for good tofu recipes, but we always end up falling back on stir fry. I didn’t want to do all that chopping only to end up with a meal that’s only ok.

Luckily, when I walked into the house the bowl of tomatoes caught my eye. I’d been meaning to have BLTs ever since the tomatoes started getting ripe. I ended up slicing the tofu into thin slabs and frying it in the bacon skillet once the bacon was done (best tofu ever). The bacon, lettuce, tomato, and tofu sandwiches turned out quite tasty.


I still plan my life in semesters. Here’s what I’ll be doing this fall:

• Writing, of course. I’m working on a short story to be finished this month, I plan to write a novella in November, and I have various things in various stages of revision to finish up and send out.

I also have a new story coming out in November: Fictionvale is publishing “Alpaca Tricks” in their mystery issue. This was a fun story to write. I watched a bunch of alpaca obstacle course competitions on YouTube.

• Tennis. I rejoined the singles league I was in a couple years ago. I’ve been playing doubles all summer, and the Thursday workout we go to is mostly doubles, so playing singles is tough. Tennis courts get really big when you have to run back and forth across them for over an hour.

• Painting. I signed up for an introductory acrylic painting class. Then it was canceled because no one but me registered. They moved me to the second session. If that doesn’t work out, I’ll either try to switch to a drawing class or find some tutorials online.

• A Coursera class called Designing Cities that covers the history of cities, current urban issues, and possible future cities. In addition to being interesting, it might be a good source of story ideas.

Some recent posts from my writing group’s blog:

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Places I Slept on My Vacation

1. The plane from Newark to Heathrow, for maybe two and a half hours. I tried to watch Divergent but gave up because the sound from my headphones wasn’t loud enough, and I’d already read the book. Since we’d already been traveling for 12 hours by the time our plane took off from Newark, it was time to sleep anyway.

2. The Peugeot my dad rented to drive from the airport to Somerset. We stopped at a random pub along the way for an excellent fish-and-chips lunch.

3. North Cadbury Court, our home for the weekend and the site of my sister-in-law’s 50th birthday bash.


Specifically, the Kinnordy bedroom


and the library.


I didn’t take many photos of the interior because they have a gallery on their website:

The owner gave us a tour one evening and told us the history of the house. His brother showed us how they make cheese and gave us some samples. The Dean & DeLuca store in DC and Zingerman’s online sell their Montgomery cheddar.

We also watched a movie version of Persuasion, parts of which were filmed there.

I spent a few hours over three days drawing the front view. I got impatient with all the windows.


I didn’t do much sketching on the trip–it would have taken too long.

There were some great views from the roof. Cadbury Castle (the site of Camelot, possibly) was less than two miles away to the southwest. We walked up the hill and had a good view of the house.


Cow Arthur defended the walls of Camelot.


Glastonbury Tor was farther away to the northwest, barely identifiable by St Michael’s Tower on top.


4. The buses to and from various places (put me in a moving vehicle and I fall asleep):

A. Glastonbury, where we walked up the Tor.


On the way up, we missed that this was the correct footpath to take, despite the very clear signage.

We also visited Glastonbury Abbey, where there was an annual Catholic pilgrimage. It was neat to see the destroyed building in use, though it made for a crowded visit.


B. Cheddar Gorge, where we saw some cool caves and climbed 274 steps up to a walk around the top of the gorge with some great views.


I bought a variety pack of real cheddar cheese, including one that was actually aged in a cave.

C. Bath, where Jeremy and I managed to squeeze the Roman Baths, a walk by the Circus and the Royal Crescent, the Jane Austen Centre, Victoria Art Gallery, and a peek into Bath Abbey into just over four hours. The baths were a great feat of engineering.


D. Stonehenge, which we stopped by on the way to Heathrow.

Me at Stonehenge

5. Dulles airport and the plane to St. Louis. We had an afternoon flight out of Heathrow, and I had working headphones, so I stayed awake for that flight. I watched a couple documentaries and three movies I’d been wanting to see: The Great Gatsby, Her, and Frozen. Our flight out of Dulles was delayed by an hour, leaving shortly after 11pm, which felt much much later given our jet lag. (We had a hotel in St. Louis and drove home Saturday.)

When I wasn’t sleeping or running around with a camera, I was hanging out with a large number of people in my family.

Photos with people in them are on Facebook and photos without (easily recognizable) people are in my Somerset 2014 set on Flickr.

It was a fabulous week. I’m so glad Jeremy’s sister came up with such a wonderful idea to celebrate her birthday and that she was able to bring so many of the family together.

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New Year’s Goals. Or Not.

When I wrote up my blog schedule, I thought today I’d blog about my non-writing-related goals for the New Year. Except I don’t have any.

The thing about setting annual goals is that I change them frequently throughout the year. Either my schedule changes–the drawing class I’m signed up for this spring means I won’t be doing something else that day, but once it’s over I get that time back–or my interests change–more/less tennis, less sewing, more drawing, less/more piano, whatever. I don’t really want to force September Elizabeth to run three times a week if she’s decided she wants to swim, or to draw every day if she decided she doesn’t like it. I trust my future self to make her own decisions.

I do have a bunch of writing goals, which I’ll cover tomorrow, but even those are on a list that I plan to revise throughout the year.

So, while right now, I would like to learn to draw, play more tennis, and learn to play Air on the G String on the piano, by June I might have come up with some other plan.

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The road not taken

I love this comic: Robert Frost: The road not taken

(And the poem, but the art is what I’m getting at here.)

Whenever I think that I wish I’d known earlier that I wanted to write novels, because then I could have taken different classes in college, and not started grad school for physics, and and and — I remind myself that I like my life, and I made good decisions for what I wanted to do at the time, and while my life would have turned out differently it probably wouldn’t have turned out any *better*.


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In which we meet lots of sheep

Or, the second part of our trip to Europe.

On the Saturday after we arrived, we drove to Perry Green to see the Henry Moore sculpture garden, which had a special exhibit by Auguste Rodin. (Here’s a virtual tour of both men’s sculptures.) The Moore sculptures are outside, and widely spaced, and for the special exhibit the Rodin sculptures were dotted around the landscape as well. It was a really nice setting to see the art, especially the larger pieces.


I didn’t expect to walk through a sheep pasture to see things. The closer one here is called “Sheep Piece”. The sheep seemed to appreciate its shade. The sculpture in the distance is called “Large Reclining Figure”. I was not impressed with Henry Moore’s titles.

Afterwards, since we weren’t that far from Cambridge, we drove up there and walked around, looking at the ornate buildings.

I like the light and shadows in that one.

We peeked through the gates into a lot of courtyards.

I bet the students just love all the tourists.

Then we stopped for dessert. I had Eton Mess, which is broken up chunks of meringue mixed with cream and topped with cherries and walnuts. It’s like a big pile of the topping for a real dessert. Tasty, but different.

Sunday, we went on a walk along some canals.

The Basingstoke canal didn’t have much of a current and was covered in bright green algae, at times a solid mat. There were a lot of locks, which I imagine makes traveling very slow.

Cygnets! We saw some that were almost adult-sized, and some very small ones still on a nest with one parent while the other supervised from a few feet away.

We stopped for lunch at a pub where I got very tasty (and hot, and greasy) fish and chips. It seemed like the appropriate choice.

We took a different route back, not along the canals, and passed a field of corn. I would have thought I was back in Illinois, but then we walked out of a forest and and found this:

On the drive home, I was too slow to get out my camera for the ruins of a stone church standing in a field–no roof, just sharply peaked stone walls with long holes for the windows.

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Europe, Part 1

We flew to London from O’Hare on a Wednesday. The terminal had angled skylights, which made it hot as a greenhouse even for our 9pm flight. We ate dinner at the terminal because we were there at dinner time, and then they fed us breaded sweet and sour chicken on the plane at 10pm–I ate my salad and my dessert. You’d think a snack and breakfast would have been a better plan than dinner and a snack, but I suppose it’s better for them to serve the hot meal first.

While we were in line for the flight, a guy behind us was complaining that people in London wouldn’t take his US money (he claimed that in New York, the street vendors will take foreign currency), and the woman with long gray dreadlocks in front of us seemed absolutely shocked. J explained to her how she could go about changing her money once we arrived.

Walking around J’s sister’s neighborhood, I noticed the front yards. Many are paved as courtyards or parking spots. Most were walled in. It struck me as odd that people would have these lovely gardens in front of their houses and then park cars in them. I suppose you have to park somewhere. A fair number of people were out walking, especially on the footpath along the Thames (this was Thursday afternoon). Couples, mothers with baby carriages. No joggers.

Friday we went to Hampton Court Palace, which was near the top of my to-do list, and the Royal Horticultural Society Flower Show, which J’s sister wanted to see and which was conveniently on the grounds.

These guys lined the path to the palace entrance:


Henry VIII’s chambers had a comfy-looking red velvet-covered toilet seat, which was apparently actually from the 1700s.

The Tudor part of the building had elaborately styled chimneys:

In the kitchens, the boiling vats were in their own little nooks, up a few short steps and around the corner from other parts of the kitchen–no huge cauldrons hanging over fires.

Ages of soot above the roasting fire:


There’s a sharp contrast between the meandering navigation of the older part of the palace and the more modern feel of the 1700s building.

The yew hedges of the maze (my first hedge maze) are contained in iron fences so you can’t cheat and cut through the hedges.

Mushroom trees (trimmed yews) on the grounds between the palace and the flower show:

The king’s privy garden–this is a restoration of William III’s garden from 1702:

Part of the exotic plant collection:

Part of the flower show was a “concept garden” about recovery or renewal. Maybe 6-10 themed gardens. One had everything planted in freezers. Two were about recovery from forest fire, one with a smoke machine, one with saplings that got taller and taller as they curved in a line from then”burned” area planted with black plants.

I fell in love with some of Susan Entwistle‘s paintings.

The flower show had a florist exhibit with all sorts of scenes made out of flowers:

Also, chicken coops:

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Home, sick, but not homesick

I’m back from two lovely weeks visiting family in Europe – England (London area) and Sweden (south of Stockholm), specifically.

I took a bunch of photos. I even posted them to Flickr. But I haven’t written up any explanations of what’s in them because I had a cold this weekend and spent lots of time napping.

So a description of my trip will have to wait. Sorry to keep you in suspense. I’m a big fan of sleep right now.

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Happy April!

It’s finally starting to seem like spring. After the joke of a snowstorm a week ago–we got so much that there are still unmelted patches–temperatures in the 40s seem delightful. Saturday I went jogging (which was a success in terms of my foot not hurting as well as being out there in short sleeves). Sunday I sat on the deck for a while after turning the compost piles for the first time since fall and pulling garlic mustard from the backyard.

I’ve found two purple crocuses in my yard. I assume they were planted by squirrels during the great crocus feast. Too bad they didn’t put them back where they found them next to the driveway.

In short: Spring! Warm weather! Next weekend, I need to Do Stuff with my vegetable garden. It needs better walls to hold the dirt in and keep out the grass. And it needs seeds. The chard, by the way, seems to be definitely dead.


By now any of you reading this via Google Reader don’t need me to tell you that GR will be killed in a few months. I’ve switched my feed reading to Feedly. I’m impressed at how prepared they were for the influx of users. No downtime, and a series of blog posts welcoming new users and app updates to improve the interface somewhat.

So far it seems pretty decent, though I have several problems with the iOS app. I can live without offline reading, but I’d like a better way to save to Instapaper than by emailing (without killing the built-in “save for later” feature).

At any rate, I’ve been reading a lot fewer blogs than I used to. I’m trying to read more books, though lately that’s been derailed again by a) all the Coursera and edX classes I’m taking, and b) discovering that my library provides magazines through Zinio. And also, sewing books. I need to work on making a dent in my backlog of novels. I’m starting to feel like Henry Bemis in “Time Enough At Last.”


Last Monday was my last sewing class. I’m not signing up for the next one because I want to consolidate what I’ve learned on these first three projects before moving on to new things. (Also, as I’ve been dropping evening activities I’m really getting to like having my evenings free. I feel less rushed and I have more writing time.)

Last week we finished our t-shirts. Mine was…a learning experience. It fits tighter than I’d like, the neckline is way too low (even though we already raised it by an inch!), and some of the sewing went less than well. On the bright side, I picked a really difficult fabric, which means that using a cotton knit should seem easier, and I’m not afraid of using slippery knits next time.

I just hope I remember how to do a neck band by the time I get a chance to try again.

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Story sale and other updates

I already announced this on Facebook and Twitter, so apologies for the repeat if you follow me there, but I made my first pro sale! “Pictures in Crayon” will appear in Daily Science Fiction some time in the next several months.

This is the 20th story I’ve written, or so. The first story I ever sold was my 10th. I wonder what I should expect of my 30th story.

In other news, I won a speech contest for Toastmasters on Saturday. I have a trophy and everything. Next weekend I have to compete again against people from a larger geographic area. If you ever saw me give a presentation in school, know that I’m laughing right along with you at the idea of me winning anything other than “most stutters per minute” or “best depiction of a tomato”. I find a lot of things about Toastmasters rather dorky, but I can’t deny that it’s been helpful.

In other other news, I finished my pajama pants in sewing class last week and have been wearing them around the house since then. Tonight we start our t-shirts. I couldn’t find fabric I liked for mine, so I have some plain black knit. My goal is to get the pattern and sizing worked out so it fits right (because different parts of me are different sizes) and then buy some cool fabric I found online and make some nicer tops. This weekend I also got most of the way through a second tote bag.


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