A Mix for a Much Needed Spring.

Well, that was a terrible winter. Five months of sub zero wind chills and piles of snow. It seemed like it would never end. But, now the temperatures are in the fifties and I was flying kites two days ago. At least there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Which is why I gave my lovely Spring Mix (download here) this name:

Spring Mix

1. Team – Lorde

2. Bela Lugosi’s Dead – CHVRCHES

3. In Better Hands – Fefe Dobson

4. Air Balloon – Lily Allen

5. Waves – Sleeper Agent

6. Somebody Loves You – Betty Who

7. Before I Ever Met You – BANKS

8. No Strings - Chlöe Howl

9. All Too Well – Taylor Swift

10. How Long Will I Love You – Ellie Goulding

11. I Could’ve Been Your Girl – She & Him

12. Completely Not Me – Jenny Lewis

13. Let Go for Tonight – Foxes

14. Be Okay – Oh Honey

15. Millions – Hannah Georgas

16. Shut the Fuck Up – Kari Kimmel

17. Behind Closed Doors – Lana del Rey

18. Crazy – Au Revoir Simone

19. Empire – Shakira

20. The Crooked Kind – Radical Face

21. Burning Gold – Christina Perri

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Book Review – ‘The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls’ by Anton DiSclafani

yrcfgthree of five stars

This was sort of a difficult book to give stars to. There were parts that were wonderful and parts that were simply not. I will admit, I initially picked this up because of the word “camp” in the title. And though I was pretty much one hundred percent sure that the experiences of a character at 1930s riding camp would have little in common with my experiences at summer camp, anyone who has ever been to camp will know this is a singular experience you want to talk about. Constantly and rather irritatingly to your friends from home. So, camp was why I picked up this book, but not the reason I stayed.

Theodora “Thea” Atwell arrives at the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls after a family tragedy, sent away because of the part she played in it. There, high in the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina, Thea meets girls of her own age for the first time. A world away from the isolated, country life she enjoyed with her parents and twin brother in Florida. But soon past mistakes start repeating themselves and the question is not whether she can return to her old life, but rather if she can keep her new one.

I read a lot of complaints about this book because it dealt with wealthy girls and that the protagonist’s ostensible camp punishment, going to a luxe camp with maids and daily riding lessons isn’t exactly much of a punishment. Valid, perhaps, but this was the South in the 30s. What exactly did these readers think would be the punishment of a Southern Belle? She was not being punished; really, she was being removed from a situation. This is what happens in the face of impropriety that you don’t want anyone else to know about. Real punishment begets some real questions from the neighbors. So is Thea’s fate bad? Certainly not. In fact, this is probably the best thing that ever happened to her. A sentiment she seems to reflect by the end of the book (not really a spoiler). Wealthy characters seem to have fallen out of favor lately, but I still find them entertaining. First world problems are still problems if they make you unhappy.

This book was certainly not without fault, however. As mentioned above, I went to camp. I was molded at camp and was spit out after two months every year with a coat of dirt on my skin (and caked in my feet) but with a much deeper understanding of the important things in life. Camp can’t be explained to people who did not go, because it’s just not something that can be understood. Stories are stories but what camp leaves you with is feeling. Cheesy but true. This was present in this book. A little. In my opinion the opportunity was lost. This is not a book about camp. So, please, if that is your only reason for picking up this novel, set it down again. It’s not for you. Instead this is a coming of age story about a girl who picks very bad bedfellows. Her internal struggle is recognizable, but many of her actions are not. There are two romances in this novel, both are inappropriate. The first was, perhaps, necessary, but the second was not. It added less than nothing to this story. In reminded me, a bit, of this film ‘Mona Lisa Smile’ starring Julia Roberts and Kirsten Dunst and took place in 1960s Wellesley College. I couldn’t help but think that movie would have been better without Julia Roberts. Girls can teach each other far more than a misguided authority figure that often bogs down the story. The adults in this novel did the same thing. Tidbits are necessary, of course, one can not live in a world without adults, but this would have fared much better had Thea’s journey been about the girls she met at Yonahlossee and not the adults she ignored them for.

Overall, I liked this book. I would give it three and a half stars, truly. Worth a read and half filled with great stuff. The other half, however, pulled down the narrative and I couldn’t throw it an extra half when I had to choose between three or four stars.

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For a Reign-y Day

I would make a new weekly thing; guilty pleasure Sunday (I have enough of them), but I know I wont write one every week. This particular guilty pleasure I have been taking notes on, intending to write about since it premiered in the fall. But, well, you know how it goes.

Today I am here to talk about the CW television show Reign.

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I don’t particularly know why I was looking forward to this show. It was on the CW after all. It was bound to be stupid at best and completely historically inaccurate. Perhaps I just desperately wanted something to do with Mary, Queen of Scots (a long favorite monarch of mine, and yes I have favorite monarchs [I also have favorite founding fathers]) or perhaps I was just looking forward to a historical fiction show that had no pretenses about what it was. This is fluffy, history lite, and for once doesn’t try to be anything else.

 
One would think that, being a history buff, it would drive me crazy to watch something historically inaccurate. But, I have never been that way. I am able to read the difference between what really happened, what I read in history books, and the fictional accounts I am presented with one television, movies, or often in historical fiction books (I’ve read far too many about Anne Boleyn). I enjoyed The Tudors (immensely for the first two seasons and then diligently through the final two) despite knowing things were often not the way depicted. And I was slightly (read: completely) addicted to The Borgias, even though things really did not go down that way. At all. Spartacus was a favorite (after I got myself used to the ridiculous 300 stylization) even though, again, it deviated from history. These changes are made for a reason. History is fabulous, interesting, and often entertaining, but it doesn’t always follow a coherent storyline that will keep audiences watching. And how often has a great show gone down because it couldn’t keep butts in the seats? Historical fiction is just that, fiction inspired by history. Some people get very uppity about it, I am not one of those people. Still, I can certainly see how someone would be turned off of Reign because of it’s complete and utter lack of historical accuracy. It basically said; hey here is this queen who is pretty rad, she married this guy, let’s throw them together with a bunch of other, fictional, characters and see what stews. Perhaps it would have been better to just make this fiction completely, with a fictional queen and her fictional consort, but there is something to be said for name recognition.

 
But, to be honest, I am not sure I would have watched this show in the first place (oh who am I kidding, it’s still a costume drama) if it weren’t for the involvement of Megan Follows as Queen Catherine, the primary antagonist of the show. Yes, that Megan Follows who’s picture has graced my blog several times while gushing madly about Anne of Green Gables. Because those Kevin Sullivan movies that came out in 1985 and 1987 and then again (less fantastically) in 2000. That was her. And everyone who knows me knows that I tend to be fiercely loyal to those I once liked. Even if they disappeared from my view for fourteen years. Yes, Anne Shirley is back and she makes a fantastic slightly bitchy regent.

 
The pilot of Reign was not terribly strong. It gave me enough to check back the next week but it was clear that if the show continued on the way it was going it was going to get old very fast. Thankfully at episode three the show seemed to find its footing. The palace intrigued has stepped up to be unrealistically entertaining. There are no bored royals lying around eating bonbons here. Instead there is murder, treachery, backstabbing, random hook-ups, and Nostradamus (I don’t even care to check if this is historically accurate or not. I once read a book about Anne Boleyn during her years in France and she was a close personal friend of Leonardo Da Vinci and was able to roll with it.) Mary’s gaggle of giggling ladies in waiting have mostly been flushed out to actual people at this point (though one is called Kenna and I can’t imagine that name was terribly popular in the Renaissance). Meanwhile, Mary shows the beginnings of becoming the monarch we know; using what she has for the benefit of her country. Mary is a queen first and a teenager second. She’s become, for me, pretty likable. But what impresses me, really, is the sheer audacity of this show. It doesn’t seem afraid to just “go there” wherever there may be that day. Characters are killed at the drop of a hat, others dispatched when we know they must not be ultimately. Often I find myself wondering how the hell the writers are going to get thing round to the way they eventually must go. Mary’s engagement, for example, has been broken several times, to a character we know she marries in the end. It may be history lite, but it’s damned entertaining. And there are a few surprisingly strong performances, most notably by the aforementioned Follows and Adelaide Kane as Mary.

 
People, of course, love to complain. Apart from the historical inaccuracies I have already mentioned there are two other things that deserve a mention. The first is the music. It’s mostly modern. I don’t have a problem with this. Assigning modern music to period pieces is nothing new. People were all up in arms when Baz Luhrman’s The Great Gatsby was released with a soundtrack including Jay-Z and Lana del Rey last year but the tactic was also used in A Knight’s Tale starring Heath Ledger, which I loved in another guilty pleasure sort of way, and in the same year for Luhrman’s Moulin Rouge, which I love in a legit way (no apologies), and then perhaps most notably in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette in 2006. The CW’s relationship with music is not slight, so it only seems natural to me that they would go with music they can attempt to sell. The idea, I believe, is to make a story that took place many years ago relatable to modern audiences. And this is on a channel geared towards teenagers. I don’t really get why this is a problem.

 
The other problem, and it’s real, is the costumes. People, okay women and gay men, are drawn to costume dramas for one very large reason; all the pretty historical costumes. Sadly, this is not the show for that. The costumes are horrid. They’re certainly pretty, and every so often there’s a frock that vaguely resembles something time appropriate, but for the most party they are frustratingly anachronistic. I’m not sure who decided it was okay to make Renaissance dresses that omit sleeves. Whoever designed the covers of the Luxe book series by Anna Godbersen, I suppose. But there is far more to a historical dress than a long skirt. Sadly, these dresses look like the costumers raided the Nordstrom teen department circa the time I was getting ready for my Junior Prom. Not to mention the choice to have all the girls wear their hair down, waved and tucked like the cast of The O.C. Observe:

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As opposed to:

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Sarah Bolger as Mary I (who was on the English throne at the time Reign takes place) in The Tudors

But, this is not HBO, Showtime, or even occasionally Starz. The production value is clearly not as high. It was never going to be and I knew that, as everyone should have, going in. I think people often watch shows and forget what channel they’re airing on. A Lifetime movie is never going to be as good as an HBO Original, even if you really, really want it to be. This is the CW. The channel that rides along the coattails of a show that’s gotten as terrible as The Vampire Diaries. It might be admirable that they’re branching out, but it’s still a channel that caters to primarily teenagers. So sure, this is CW history, but it turns out CW history is pretty fun!

 
The best way to look at this show is not by judging it against what you wanted it to be or what it could have been. Too many have been fowled by their own expectations. Look on this as what it is; slightly trashy amusement and you might just have a good time watching it.

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Book Review – Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

So, I used to do a monthly round up of all the books I read and posted my reviews from Goodreads. I’m not doing that anymore, basically because I haven’t had enough time to write reviews for every single book I read. But I do have time to write them for some of the books I read. I am just going to post them on the days I write them instead of it being some dramatic thing at the end of the month. If you want to find me on Goodreads, I am here.

Me-Before-You

Four Stars

Jesus this book. I don’t remember what caused to me want to read this, but I do know that I loaded it up on my Nook and took it to Europe with me over the summer. It seemed like the sort of fairly light read, while still being somewhat meaningful, that is perfect for train reading. Well, I never got around to it in Europe and I am sort of glad I didn’t. Because this isn’t exactly the sort of book you want to finish while encased in a metal tube speeding along a pair of tracks with people you don’t know.

When I was little I used to pride myself that I didn’t cry at books or movies. They could be the saddest tale in twelve centuries and I would nod my head, agree it was sad, and then move on my my day. Not a tear shed. That’s not to say I wasn’t affected by stories, of course, but you get what I mean. Then when I was somewhere around thirteen I watched the movie ‘Camelot’. I had seen this movie before, many times, but this particular viewing I was suddenly struck with a sort of deep emotional response. That world, the Arthurian world, so perfect and happy and chivalrous, where knights performed acts of heroism and the ladies were so delightfully dramatic, was obliterated in the blink of an eye because the Queen couldn’t keep it in her pants. And what’s more I couldn’t even approve of her choice because Arthur seemed genuinely awesome while Lancelot was just sort of… okay. The end scene when Vanessa Redgrave, dressed in her nun’s habit, approaches Richard Harris to apologize, far too late, I suddenly broke down into floods of tears. Remembering how these two character’s met, liking each other immediately and realizing that their lots in life might not be so bad with each other and then it all went to hell. I cried for maybe an hour. My mother was very alarmed.

That entire story might have seemed like a ridiculous tangent, but it really wasn’t. Because how I felt about that movie at that time in my life is pretty much exactly how I felt about this book. This book was easy reading, I sped through it and couldn’t put it down, but it was so emotional that, even though I was prepared (having read the beginnings of a few other people’s Goodreads reviews which generally began with “I just put this down and I can’t stop crying”) I really didn’t know how this was going to affect me emotionally. I was a little skeptical reading a book by an author who makes no bones about her genre being “romance”, but I shouldn’t have been. Romance takes place in more books than it doesn’t and this book was far more than just a boy meets girl sort of tale.

Louisa Clark doesn’t quite know what to do when she loses her job at the Buttered Bun. She’s always been happy living the quiet life, serving up tea and watching customers come and go in her small town. Out of desperation she takes a job as a daytime caregiver to quadriplegic, Will Traynor. Will, was an action man, always looking for a new adventure, mountain climbing, scuba diving, always a new place to see; all funded by his high powered job. That is until he was cut down by a motorbike outside his glamorous London flat and found himself in a wheelchair. Unable to move anything belong his neck, except slight mobility of one hand, Will is angry, bored, and frustrated with the world. So much so that he’s decided to take his future into his own hands. Louisa is only a complication, but one that might just be exactly what he needed. Scared at first, Louisa finds herself settling into her new roll and eventually realizing that the two of them might just be good for each other.

The plot of this story is fairly simple and it would be easy to dismiss it, thinking you know what is going to happen. And, you might. There are only a few outcomes here really. But like they say with road trips; getting there is half the fun. These are wonderfully crafted characters. Will, in his justifiable anger at the world; Louisa in her cramped fear of the broader world. Even their respective families are colorful characters in their own right. His stoic mother and philandering father. Her warm parents and selfish sister. All their negative traits splayed out of us without judgement. That doesn’t happen to often. Especially in the chick-lit or romance genre. Ancillary characters often become caricatures.

None of the characters in this story where perfect. None of them. But that is what I liked about it. People aren’t perfect. Perhaps it’s easier to judge a character in a book than the people around you but the way I see it is that everyone is messed up, everyone has their issues, you just have to figure out how and if those issues fit with your issues. This wasn’t a book about two people finding each other is strange circumstances, this is about people, all people because the ancillary characters are included in this assessment, fitting other people into their lives and how that changes you. Whether or not the two main characters fall in love is completely arbitrary because their are a lot of ways to change someone else, and yourself at the same time (because, let’s face it; it’s impossible to do one without the other) an it’s not always romantically.

The thing that impressed me most was the natural changing of the character’s feelings. Everything felt realistic. Nothing too broad or dramatic. Everything took time, like in life. And while this isn’t a particularly funny story, I found myself laughing out loud a few times simply because they were such fun to be around. And that’s the real testament, isn’t it? I wouldn’t mind spending a few more days with these people even if I knew the ending was the right one for the story, if not for my heart.

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Winter Mix

Winter can be a real bitch of a time. Especially if you live in a northern state on a Great Lake. We have a habit of getting piled under snow. I meant to have this mix up and ready by the end of December, but between Christmas and events that I will talk about later, I just wasn’t up to it. So now it’s part way through January and I am just giving you, my many many fans (I’m sure), some music to get you through the Grays (the time after Christmas until Spring). I couldn’t quite keep my music down to one CD, much like last time I guess, so it’s a double. The second significantly more poppy than the first. But I often need a little lift during the Grays so some mindless pop tunes are often on my menu for pretending it’s summer.

Feel free to download here and here.

deer

Disc One:

1. Everythings Illuminated! – Nerina Pallot

2. This Lonely Morning – Best Coast

3. Hemiplegia – HAERTS

4. Now I See – Tessa Rose Jackson

5. Forever – FMLYBND

6. Rolling Waves – The Naked and Famous

7. You Might Think – Weezer

8. Cool Kids – Echosmith

9. The One That Got Away – The Civil Wars

10. Reflektor – Arcade Fire

11. Buzzcut Season – Lorde

12. White Coats – Foxes

13. We Won’t Go Home – The Colourist

14. Great Day – The Sounds

15. Don’t Save Me – Haim

16. Before the Light Takes Us – Darkness Falls

17. Sweeter Than Fiction – Taylor Swift

18. Big When I Was Little – Eliza Doolittle

19. Heaven Knows – The Pretty Reckless

20. Run – Delta Rae

21. Hits… A Musical Portrait – Bonnie McKee

Disco Two: 

1. 24 Hours – Sky Ferreira

2. Boys Don’t Cry – Natalia Kills

3. Sugarcane – Sleigh Bells

4. SuperLove – Charli XCX

5. Sweet Nothing – Calvin Harris feat. Florence Welch

6. Under Control – Ellie Goulding

7. On Our Way – The Royal Concept

8. Sleepwalker – Bonnie McKee

9. 17 – Avril Lavigne

10. Lolita – The Veronicas

11. Cannonball – Lea Michele

12. Alone – Kelly Clarkson

13. This is How We Do – Katy Perry

14. Thunder – Jessie J

15. Lost Kitten – Metric

16. Hard Out Here – Lily Allen

17. E.V.O.L – Marina and the Diamonds

18. Perfume – Britney Spears 

19. Still Into You – Paramore

20. Mary Jane Holland – Lady Gaga

21. Sweet – Annie

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Adventures in Babysitting: What Does the Fox Say?

I was lucky enough over the summer to be able to quit the worst job in the world in favor of the best job in the world; babysitting. Besides the obvious perks, more money, better hours, more flexibility and diversity, I also get to hang out with some pretty kick ass kids. What’s more, they are hilarious, cute, and I find (probably to the chagrin of my friends) myself telling stories about what one of them said or did that day.

Now, I would never broadcast anything about anyone else’s child over the internet. But! I can give them aliases with no real information.  So here’s my first installment. I obviously have to name this segment after one of my favorite movies as a kid.

aib

Miss Dashwood, Miss Woodhouse, and Miss Burns are sisters all pretty similar in age. They are a very lively bunch. I love them.

So, today Miss Dashwood came downstairs with her new stuffed fox that she acquired sometime between semesters (her mother is a grad student, which is why she needs me). I complimented the toy, considered breaking into a round of Ylvis before deciding that’s a bit douchey, and then recalled a little story about a fox.

As a counselor at Fleur-de-Lis Camp one of my duties was to patrol in order to make sure that the kids stayed in bed after Taps. Essentially this requires us to stand around in the mosquitoes waiting for all the campers to quiet down so we can head in to our respected living areas and goof around for a couple hours before we, too, hit the hay. In the senior field, where this story takes place, the tents (platform tents, we’re not literally “camping” here) are arranged in two semi circles with a large pathway through the middle, one leading down to the bathrooms and the other out to the road. One night while on patrol I was minding my own business chatting with another counselor when suddenly she got a look of complete terror. “Don’t turn around,” she said, her voice shaking. My first thought was that Jason Voorhees was behind me, clearly. My second thought turned to some sort of bear or even one of the coyotes we can hear in the distant woods sometimes. So, despite the warning, I clearly turned around. Slowly, precisely, and with the smallest amount of movement possible. Behind me was a fox. A tiny little cute thing just staring at me while standing stock still. I was not afraid of this fox. It clearly meant me no harm and was basically adorable so I turned around fully and the little thing scampered away. End of story.

This is not exactly the sort of story that needs to be passed for the ages; just a small anecdote about something that had come up. In the “I saw a fox once” fashion. Had I been with an adult they wouldn’t have even registered this as something to even keep in their brain for more than the eight seconds it would take to come up with a new topic of conversation. The Misses Dashwood, Burns, and Woodhouse, however, screamed with laughter. They were all smiles. They even acted the scenario out six or seven times alternating who played which role; Miss Lindsay, other counselor (honestly I can’t remember who it was, if it was you and you’re reading this, let me know), and the fox. “Don’t turn around,” they practiced saying the way I had, with my voice shaking in mock fright. The fox, when played by them, was all smiles.

gann girls

Eventually they moved on to something else, as children do, but sure enough whwn their dad came to pick them up they were all shrieking “Guess what happened to Miss Lindsay!”

The world is just a better place when seen through little eyes.

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The Three Shillelaghs: Moonshine Kingdom

I’ve been doing a lot of travelling lately. After my grand tour of Europe over the summer I headed over to Massachusetts and Rhode Island for some historic mansion touring (one of my favorite things to do and more on that later) and then for a yearly vacance down to Nelson County,  Virginia with my two besties, K and J, where K’s family has some property and a cabin. We go pretty much every year and since 2010 we’ve always attempted to come up with snappy names for our trips, and if you don’t know where the Three Shillelaghs bit comes from, well then I suggest you search for it on this blog. This year, thanks to a couple jars of moonshine , we went with Moonshine Kingdom. I’ve written about this place before here, so I decided this year I would let pictures tell all their thousands of words.

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When K told me that members of her family built this place on a piece of property in the middle of nowhere Virginia, I assumed it would be pretty much a one roomed log cabin; cute but a little rough. I did not expect three bedrooms and all the modern conveniences. And then, of course, there’s the fire pit out front stocked with plenty of firewood. We got a pretty good blaze going this year. Unlike many other years when I failed miserably on that point.

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I found this ‘Murder, She Wrote’ game at a thrift store once. K has been a fan since before it was somehow trendy so I had to buy it. And then I forgot it at home for about three years before this year when I remembered, and we played. K and I thought it was pretty fun, but it would have been better with more people. J… didn’t seem to care for it much.

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And then how could we play ‘Murder, She Wrote’ without playing my awesome new (to me) Jurassic Park card game! My only complaint? They refer to the dilophosaurus as a spitter. I mean, what?

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We had perfect weather.

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Another of my favorite things about going to Virginia? Smoked meats. When we first started going down there we bought all our groceries at the IGA and cooked our meals. But since then things have been happening in Nellysford and the surrounding area. A couple of breweries have opened and it seems like everyone has a smoker going out back. Mmm, succulent slow smoked delicious meats.

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And, of course, flights of beer. Which… well, I don’t like beer. But J, does and so he enjoyed one at Wild Wolf Brewing Company. I tried their Berliner Wolf and thought it was pretty good, which is a first. But, I am really obsessed with their root beer. It’s made with honey and delicious. I get a growler full every year.

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We always head up to the Blue Ridge Parkway to take some pictures of the beautiful view. I am pretty sure that I have the same pictures from every year, but it’s just so damned beautiful that it’s hard not to take some more.

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Raven’s Roost Overlook is the perfect place for pensive portraits.

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And dramatic angles.

IMG_20131106_172729And threefold selfies.

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I am pretty sure that tiny tree is the only thing that keeps this rock from falling at Greenstone Overlook where there are some excellent little hiking trails.

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At night there is moonshine. Midnight Moon Apple Pie flavor and Ole Smoky shine soaked cherries (they were STRONG).

IMG_20131106_172951Also, cigars. Arturo Fuente Hemingway Short Stories purchased at Cigar Cigars in Ohio City. Since my name-twin is a cigar connoisseur in New York City, it seemed appropriate.

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But honestly; this did not end well for me. Even if it was really fun going down, there was some Exorcist-style vomiting later on. Still, I’m pretty sure I’d do it again.

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We were only there for one full day, drove in on Saturday and out on Monday, so it never feels like enough. Especially when the drive in is this beautiful.

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But at least we know we’ll be back. Probably at the same time next year.

 

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