Last Friday, we drove up to Asheville to see daughter in the UNC-Asheville Dance Concert. Dear husband took the day off so we had the whole afternoon to wander around the Biltmore Estate. It was a beautiful afternoon!
I'm usually very much against public Christmas decorations* before Thanksgiving, but I know that the Biltmore house has a lot of Christmas tours to do so they start early (the tours get really crowded in December)(Hint we got from someone who works there - go at about 4 pm. The day tourists are mostly done, but the Candlelight tours haven't started yet). Here, they have the outside Christmas tree up.
The greenhouse was beautiful as usual:
Bird of paradise
Wreath made of...
...epiphytes and succulents
The greenhouse roof
The orchids were beautiful:
The paperwhites smelled wonderful!
Very large ferns
* I don't care if people decorate their own houses that early - I just don't care for it in stores.
When we were in Asheville a few weeks ago, we had lunch at the West End Bakery. I tried hummus for the first time a few years ago there. It was wonderful, although, unfortunately, the hummus I've tried from other places, while good, is never as good as it is there. Here's the hummus we got three weeks ago:
When we were in Asheville for our early anniversary trip last weekend, we spent Sunday at the Biltmore Estate. The gardens are beautiful right now - there's so much blooming and so much color that it was like walking through a box of crayons. Here's the video I took (I'm still getting used to the camera so it took a few seconds to stop recording at the end):
Dear husband and I went for an early anniversary trip.* We had breakfast at the City Bakery early Saturday morning, and then we wandered around downtown Asheville before all the stores opened. I enjoyed doing this when I was visiting daughter back in June. It's calm and peaceful, you can really see the architecture because there are fewer people and cars, and the people downtown, in some ways, are more diverse than later in the day.
You can't take a photo down Lexington Ave. later in the day.
Dear husband took this photo of a sunflower on Wall St. (I'm too short to get this angle for the photo).
The last time we were in Asheville, younger son mentioned wanting to go to a stream or river after our Saturday morning hike. We ended up going to The White Duck Taco Shop, getting takeout, and eating lunch at a park next to the French Broad River.
Early last week, I started looking at the weather forecast for this weekend - it was supposed to be beautiful. Older son was starting his last week at his intern job and didn't want to go anywhere this weekend. Younger son said he'd be happy staying home. I started playing with the idea of dear husband and I going away for a WARM anniversary trip. Our anniversary is in February, which is a bit on the chilly side if you like to spend as much time outside as possible.
We also wanted something familiar and relaxing (since I'm still trying to slow down). Beautiful scenery, familiar, great restaurants - we went to Asheville again! Dear husband and I had a wonderful time, took long walks, sat and watched the kayakers and tubers paddle/float by on the French Broad River, and really enjoyed having a late Saturday dinner with daughter after dragging her up to Craggy Gardens for a chilly (temperature in the 50's!) sunset.
Saturday afternoon, after wandering around the River Arts District, dear husband and I picked up lunch at Duck Taco, and ate it, again, at a park next to the French Broad River. This could get to be a regular habit until it starts getting cold.
We spent today at the Biltmore Estate. We almost never go in the mansion, but we love to wander the grounds. When we had breakfast at Dough,* we picked up salads (bean, chickpea, chicken pesto, etc.) for lunch and ate lunch by the French Broad River.
* Best chocolate croissants ever - and fresh out of the oven this morning!
In September's world, many things began with pan. Pandemic, Pangaea, Panacea, Panoply. Those were all big words, to be sure, but as has been said, September read often, and liked it best when words did not pretend to be simple, but put on their full armor and rode out with colors flying. - p. 51
Some of the most common reviews don't affect me at all. I don't really care what the New York Times, The Washington Post, Time Magazine, etc. think about a book.
I do look carefully at books recommended by some of my favorite bookstores - Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, the Regulator Bookshop in Durham, and Malaprop's Bookstore in Asheville. I love to browse in their "Recommended" or "Staff Picks" sections. At Malaprop's, the staff member whose tastes are the closest to mine usually has her recommended books at the bottom right hand end of the "Staff Picks" shelves.
That's where I found The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (back in June when I had my vacation in Asheville). Granted, I was already looking for it because of a review that they'd had in a Tumblr post. Unfortunately, I can't find the exact post, but it highly recommended the book and said to ask any staff member if you couldn't remember the title while you were there.
The book had three recommendations which also almost sold me on it right away. Neil Gaiman's recommendation was on the front cover, Tamora Pierce's was on the the second page, and Peter S. Beagle's was just below hers. When three of the most creative fantasy authors recommend a book (and I don't know if I've ever seen another book recommendation by Peter S. Beagle), then I look at it very seriously.*
Recommendations aside, I always read the first few paragraphs of a book. If I love the writing style, the plot isn't actually as important to me - or... maybe it's that, if I love the writing style, liking the plot seems to flow naturally from that (as long as the plot isn't too depressing/gory/etc.). If I don't like the first few pages, I'll read a bit from various points in the first few chapters. If I don't like the writing style, I probably won't finish the book.
The first paragraph charmed me:
Once upon a time, a girl named September grew very tired indeed of her parents' house, where she washed the same pink-and-yellow teacups and matching gravy boats every day, slept on the same embroidered pillow, and played with the same small and amiable dog. Because she had been born in May, and because she had a mole on her left cheek, and because her feet were very large and ungainly, the Green Wind took pity on her and flew to her window one evening just after her twelfth birthday. He was dressed in a green smoking jacket, and a green carriage-driver's cloak, and green jodhpurs, and green snowshoes. It is very cold above the clouds in the shantytowns where the Six Winds live.
I bought it at Malaprop's. It continues to charm me, and I'm about 1/4 of the way through. It's one of those books that I only read when I have lots of energy and attention so that I don't miss any little detail.
However, I'm not sure I'm going to continue where I am. I was reading it this evening, and realized, about the time that I got to the quote at the beginning of this post, that it would be a beautiful book to read out loud.
Younger son is 14 yo now so, before June, it had been a while since I read out loud. In June, I injured my hand and there were lots of things I couldn't do, including dishes and cooking. I started reading out loud to dear husband while he was cooking, and younger son and older son usually ended up in the kitchen listening too. So far, I've read many chapters of Let's Pretend This Never Happened** by Jenny Lawson, which is a hilarious book, and the first chapter of The Americans: Fifty talks on our life and times by Alistair Cooke,*** which is as thoughtful as you'd expect from him.
I think I'll start reading this new fantasy out loud soon.
* Here are the three reviews:
“A glorious balancing act between modernism and the Victorian fairy tale, done with heart and wisdom.”—Neil Gaiman
“September is a clever, fun, strong-hearted addition to the ranks of Bold, Adventurous Girls. Valente’s subversive storytelling is sheer magic.”—Tamora Pierce, author of The Immortals series
“When I say that The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making reminds me simultaneously of E. Nesbit, James Thurber, and Eva Ibbotson, I don’t mean to take anything away from its astonishing originality. The book is a charmer from the first page, managing the remarkable parlay of being at once ridiculously funny and surprisingly suspenseful. Catherynne M. Valente is a find, at any age!”—Peter S. Beagle, author of The Last Unicorn
** Also bought at Malaprop's on vacation.
*** Bought at The Book Exchange on vacation. It was a wonderful vacation for bookstore browsing!