Friday, December 21, 2012

30 Second Book Review: Snowy Recaps

The end of 2012 is nigh, not the end of the world, obviously, we're still here, but the end of the year. So I thought I'd offer up a final 30 second book review, just in time for your last minute shopping for that beloved book nerd in your life.

I've read several books that I adored this year, a few I loathed, and plenty that I didn't feel very strongly about. Those bug me the most. The ones I don't care much for, not enough to hate or love, just meh. Meh is the kiss of death. Meh means I don't really care about the characters, or the writing isn't beautiful or challenging enough to elevate a weak story or plot. Or the author just never grabbed me, or the timing was off and it's my fault as a distracted reader. That happens. Frankly it's happening right now, and no book I've picked up in the last week is capturing my attention. I blame Christmas. So I'm going to focus on the books I've loved reading this year, and what I've read since September.

Of the more than 100 books I've read this year, many of them audio books on my commute, four of my favorites are included here: Tiny Beautiful Things, Absolution, Wild and Tell The Wolves I'm Home. (Others from earlier this year, wrapping up my top ten of 2012: The PassageEleanor and Park, Daring GreatlyMatterhorn, The Warmth of Other Suns, and The Night Circus.)

So let's dive into the recent offerings, so you can go hit Barnes and Noble and buy the paper copy to wrap up for a lovely present, or be lazy like me and just send your beloved book nerd the Kindle/Nook version and stay in home, comfy in your pajamas:

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed - I read this book on our flight to Maine in September. I cried, I laughed, I sighed. It's one of the most open, heartbreaking and real books I've read in ages. A compilation of the most insightful, vulnerable and personal advice column answers from the Dear Sugar series. I became a convert to the cult of Dear Sugar, who is actually the writer, Cheryl Strayed.

Run by Blake Crouch- No clutter no heavy character development, just fast paced terrifying action. I devoured this in one night, and then couldn't fall asleep for the thinking about it. Sort of a zombie apocalypse novel, but not really.

The Girl Below by Bianca Zander -I liked parts of this book. The writing is consistent and the story line and setting are interesting, but I kept waiting for something significant or just more to happen. It really never did.

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty - Enjoyable, but not as good as I wanted it to be. I loved the stories of the Orphan Train and New York in the 1920's but it tried to cram too much history and

The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey - A modern day, well 1960's, retelling of the Jane Eyre story. Lovely, just lovely.

Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson- Clever, thought provoking and creepy. But a little unbelievable, ok, totally unbelievable.

Absolution by Patrick Flanery - Joe went to high school with Patrick and I had the pleasure of meeting him a few years ago, he's charming and an incredibly gifted writer. Absolution was one of my favorite books of the year, but it wasn't an easy read. The novel is set in South Africa during and after apartheid and told from several perspectives including the main character Clare, a famous novelist, and her young biographer, Sam. The book doesn't follow a straight narrative flow, but instead weaves nearly five different story lines with overlapping characters, including letters, journals, a draft of a novel/memoir, some of them fictionalized versions of the truth, so you never quite get your footing as the reader. What is true? What really happened to Clare's daughter? Who is Sam? Is South Africa really free from apartheid yet? Who is Clare? Absolution is a book about sin, our roles as both sinners and those offering forgiveness, and more than a story about apartheid, this is a story of family and betrayal and a search for truth, a truth that may not even exist in the way we want it to. Patrick's writing is simply beautiful and inspiring. Scenes of hideous torture and violence can be wrought in an eerie and jarring way, each page has a layered intensity that made it a challenging and rewarding novel to dive into. It left me anxious, confused and contemplative, in all the ways a good novel can. Thank you, Patrick. I can't wait to read your next book.

Son by Lois Lowry - A fine conclusion to The Giver series. I love how Lowry's stark, clean style takes on the heavy, broad philosophical issues of evil, love, family and belonging and places these struggles in such a personal context at each of her distinct dystopian communities. I wish I'd had these books to read as a middle school student.

Once Upon a Secret by Mimi Alford - I watched the Rock Center interview with Mimi Alford, and I felt for her, young, naive, seduced by a powerful man, famous horn-dog philanderer, President Kennedy,but the balance of the book was not particularly engaging or intriguing. Keeping secrets can be incredibly damaging and suffocating, but doesn't necessarily require a full length memoir.

Diary of a Submissive by Sophie Morgan- Well, at least the writing was better than 50 Shades of Grey. I struggle to believe that this is a real memoir. Not because anything in it is too shocking or surprising to be believed, but because all of the characters feel cliched and bland. Sure, some of the many many many sex scenes are sexy. They should be since that's really all there is to this book. A couple of pages of non sex plot or back story stringing together the sex scenes. It just got boring after a certain point. Like watching five hours of pornography in a row. Though I'm sure some readers will find this book enlightening and racy, it just made me want to read another Dan Savage column or listen to another episode of his pod cast. Real callers, real stories, and real advice. Or try Whip Smart by Melissa Febos, a memoir of a young dominatrix in New York City that was insightful and engaging, or for straight up filthy sexy fiction read Ann Rice's Beauty series. It's full of strong characters set in creative, intricate and layered worlds where dominance and submission are the rule of the land. Hot.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn- Quite a twisty little novel, amusing and fast paced once it gets moving. You'll be shocked by the twists and turns, unless someone gives the secrets away, which they accidentally did to me, so it might have cut into my enjoyment just a bit. Still inventive and fun.

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown - This should have been a rollicking audio read on my commute. Or stupid. Or both! Verdict: stupid and it went in way too long.

History of a Pleasure Seeker by Richard Mason - Charmingly ambitious romp through 1900's Europe, makes social climbing look fun. Can't wait for the sequel to find out where our bi-sexual adventurer will end up.

The Wolf Gift by Anne Rice- I'm bummed, just didn't like this book at all. All the things that I used to enjoy about an Anne Rice novel have faded away into overblown details and flat characters that are simply rich and pretty. Stopped less than 1/2 way in.

The Twelve by Justin Cronin -Why did I doubt this sequel to one of my favorite books, The Passage? It weaves it's story slowly down a seemingly disconnected and indulgent path until Cronin suddenly shocks you with plot twists and the hidden history in his elaborate fictional world. I should have just leaned into it and trusted him. He's got the carefully constructed map and I just need to be along for the ride. Not quite as good as The Passage, but how could it have been? Long wait for the finale.

Nick and Norah's Infinite Play List by Rachel Cohen and David Levithan- Just goddamned adorable.

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt- This book just killed me. Such a beautifully rendered portrait of a young lonely teenage girl, the tragic confusion of loss and grief, and the pain of growing up during the early years of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980's. There was so much beauty in the book and so much unnecessary sorrow that I found myself crying like an idiot for the last perfect pages.

Everyday by David Levithan- 14 year old me would have been blown away by this one. I thoroughly enjoyed the premise, the encapsulated day long stories of each sixteen year old that the main character, A inhabits, and the impossible chemical connection between A and Rhiannon. Unique, thoughtful and engaging.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed- Probably one of my favorite books all year. Insightful, gripping, sad, and uplifting all at once. Cheryl Strayed is a brave, bold, fool-hardy woman who I can't wait to read more from. This book is incredibly popular for a very good reason, Cheryl is engaging, self-aware and so willing to delve into her deep suffering, sadness and mistakes that you fall in love with her.

Pure by Andrew Miller - A strange little novel set in 1700's France, as a young architect sets about moving the overflowing Les Innocents cemetery, which has been polluting the surrounding neighborhood for decades. Right before the revolution, a time period rarely covered in historical novels, this was a captivating, gruesome story.

The Happiness Project by Gwen Rubin - Fine. It was fine.

No Angel by Jay Dobyns - I liked the idea of this book better than the book itself. The first 100 pages whiz by and then it stalls a bit. Also to spend nearly two years of your life collecting evidence on biker criminals and having the charges against them dropped or reduced has to be infuriating. I think I'll read Hunter S. Thompson's book on the Hells Angels for more history of the notorious Angels.

Insomnia by Steven King - What's happening in this book? And why is it taking so long? Ok, skipping to the end. I just can't take the slooooow speed of this audiobook. Turns out, I like most every Steven King novel, but not a huge fan of the fantasy Talisman type stories. And this is essentially a part of that series. Not for me.

Sybil Exposed by Debbie Nathan - Sybil was one of those books and movies that swept me away when I was in high school and certain that I'd grow up to be a world renowned child psychologist. This expose takes a look at "Sybil", her psychiatrist and the author of the book, Sybil, and essentially pokes gaping holes in every part of the story you thought was true. Sybil was an mentally ill woman, but Sybil the book is blatantly false. This whole book was sad and frustrating and eye opening. Sally Field would not approve.

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bojahlian - I knew nothing about the Armenian genocide that occured right before WWI, before reading this book. A very sad and compelling story. I would have preferred to just stay with the past story line and cut the present day story line entirely. It felt rather perfunctory and was only there to move the narrative along and wrap things up. Cut that out and keep us with Elizabeth and Armen, and their moving love story instead.

So that's it for 2012 30 Second Book Reviews! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year Reading!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Ridiculous Hand Wringing

Joe and I had the most asinine conversation yesterday morning and it was all on me. I came upstairs from the basement, where I'd just finished a really good interval training run/walk on the treadmill. (Inside, not because it's too cold outside to run yet, but more because I'm obsessed with Breaking Bad and must watch as I work out, so I can see how evil Walter White truly will become here in the fourth season, but anyway, back to my story.)

I'd just spent the 45 minute workout staring at the TV transfixed by Skylar White's suddenly puffy face and Hank's struggles to walk again, while in the background I tried to ignore the nonsense and anxiety and questions that seem to be constantly running through my brain the last few weeks. My brain is full. Really full. I feel the normal stress of the holidays, shopping and baking and wrapping, the normal stress of working and stepping it up so I feel like I deserve my recent promotion, and then there's all this other stuff taking up new space in that vital brain area.  Joe and I are seeing a fertility specialist and I'm shocked by how stressful, overwhelming and frustrating it all can be. But mostly I've been gnawing away at this one issue.

I can't train for the triathlon that I committed to do next July. I can't do it. Doctor's orders. And I'm disappointed and guiltily a little relieved, and I feel like I'm letting myself down even though it's not my fault. That's probably that little bit of relief making me feel guilty.  But I came up from the basement, all sweaty and crazy eyed, and just started talking a mile a minute, interrupting Joe's quiet morning with an onslaught of questions that had been percolating in my head for days. Questions he had no idea I was even stewing about. Because he is a man. And I am a lady machine powered on hormones, self-induced guilt and too much self-flagellating negative talk disguised as self-analysis. Should I sign up for the tri just in case I don't get pregnant and can then start training? But when would that even be? Why can't we have more control in all this? This sucks, right? Are people going to think I'm a quitter? What should I do? Why did I ever tell people I was doing this in the first place? Why am I an idiot? God, I'm being narcissistic. Why am I making such a big deal out of this?

He looked at me, closing his eyes and patiently shaking his head and said, "What's with all this ridiculous hand wringing? The doctor told you that you can't train for it, so you can't do it. What's the big deal? No one's going to care. And why do you care if they do?" And he's right. There will be other years. I want a kid. So no heavy training. It's simple.

I can still run and work out, I just can't work out at the level that I'd need to in order to be ready for the triathlon next summer. Joe suggested I sign up for a 5K instead. So I just did. Like 15 minutes ago. It's a small thing, a 5K. People do them all the time. But I haven't. So I'm gonna go run a race. For a great cause: January 26, the Polar Plunge and 5K Strut for Special Olympics! So if you live in Kansas City I'd love you to join me. Or just show up and bring me some hot coffee. Or if you want to make a donation to this wonderful organization, just click on the friggin adorable Oz themed polar bear below. Or do nothing and wait for me to post gross sweaty pictures of my happy, shiny face when I cross the finish line. It might take me an hour, but I'm doing it. And I'm going to stop wringing my hands about it. I'm going to control the things I can, and let the rest go. Or at least I'm going to try. You're welcome, dear.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Friday Five: Festive Procrastination

Shouldn't you be in the other room watching football or wrapping presents or making a grocery list or something? Procrastinating then, huh? How about some Friday Five question and answers? Ok, ok, it's Sunday you tell me, I know that. Duh. But I'm pretending otherwise. So read on, Captain Obvious! And kill a few minutes before you go fold that laundry or finally put on pants. The pants can wait. I have no formal dress code over here. I'm pro-no-pants.

You know those delicatessens that name sandwiches after famous people? What would be the ingredients of the sandwich named after you?

Bacon, Smoked Turkey, Mayo, Spicy Mustard, Sliced Gouda on soft Potato Bread. Because as stated on my favorite show this week: "Things with fat in them taste better than things without."

What’s your favorite part of staying in a hotel?

The bed gets made every day, the trash gets emptied, and free tiny bottles of shampoo and lotion. And hotel sex. Ok, mostly hotel sex.

What was the last book you read, and how was it?

I've been in a reading funk the last couple of weeks. I've started and stopped about three books, most recently Cloud Atlas, which just made me feel like I was re-watching the movie. And I got tired of Tom Hanks popping up in my head with a variety of creepy accents and heavy pancake make up. That's the stuff of nightmares. I'm sure the book is better, but not today.

What’s something super-unhealthy you’ve recently eaten?

Member that thing I said about fat? Yesterday was a day spent making cookies and candy with my brother, dad and step-mom. It's a tradition. So I had to have some samples. Peanut butter cookies baked with a bite size Snicker hidden in the middle, chocolate cookies with white chocolate chips and dried cranberries, spritz cookies, and peppermint patties. Yeah, I might I have had at least one, ok, two of each.

Chocolate cookie with cranberries and white chocolate chips.

What do you do with all those Christmas cards with photos of friends and their kids?

We have a large window/pass through that opens our kitchen out into the entryway/living room, so all of the cards get taped up around the frame of the window. Come January I pick my favorites, tuck them away for future scrapbooking/crafting, and sorry, being honest here, I trash the rest. You and your kin end up getting recycled if you aren't cute enough. You'll keep that in mind next year, I bet. Sorry.

Now go lay on the couch or make dinner or put your pants on and take the dog for a walk. Whatever you had on your to-do list today. I'm off to put some pants on myself and head to a holiday concert with my mom and a bus full of wealthy elderly investors. They do have a dress code, and pants are most certainly a requirement. So Merry Christmas!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Friday 5: Click and Clack

Why, Good Evening, my beautiful and lively readers. How have you been? How was your Thanksgiving?Turkey coma, eh? Well, as it should be. I've been remiss in my writing lately, but I can always rely on the Friday Five for a little sweat free inspiration. They may sweat when they try to come up with the questions, but I don't have to and that's always better for everyone involved, because I am a gross and accomplished sweater. That sounds weird.

Anyway, we have a "tired car metaphor" theme for today's questions. I like that. And without a single "Can you drive stick?" or "lube metaphor." Good work, Friday Five! So here we go, my tired car answers....

What area of your life has lately (and pleasantly) been on cruise control?

Probably home life. Everything at home, both my home and my close family's homes seem to be running smooth like butter right now. As soon as I say that something hideous and unfortunate will occur and I'll blame myself, but that's nothing new. No, things are good here. Good, solid, happy in general. Smoothly on cruise control without any slow asshole drivers slamming on the brakes in front of me in the fast lane. I'm smooth on the home front.
Where in your life should you probably hit the brakes? 

Umm. I don't know. I think I need to think about this one. I want to cut down my screen time. TV, phone, iPad, but more like tap the brakes, not hit em' hard. Just a light tapping of stepping away from the Facebook, Twitter, Blog reading, Instagram time suck, very pleasurable time suck, but still. And again, that sounded dirty, damn near like a lube metaphor. I'm digressing all over the place today.

Where do you go when you just need a little tune-up? 

I'm excited about roughly three new things that are going to happen in 2013. They are big and fun, both work and personal (no, I'm not pregnant, Mom) but I can't talk about them yet, for privacy and jinxing it all silly superstitious reasons. But tune-ups, changes are on the horizon, and I'm terrified and excited about them all. Is there a word for that? Terri-cited? Excit-errified? One of those, but mostly excited.

How much junk have you got in the trunk? 

Well, less than I had at the beginning of 2012. I have officially, as of 6:30 am this morning, lost 30 pounds so far in 2012. I'm thrilled. I'm doing my best to stay focused on small goals. Run farther and longer every time I hit the road, and run/walk at least 5 days a week in the morning. And it's working. I feel good. My favorite jeans might need to be replaced soon. But I like some junk in the trunk. But not in my car, I like a clean car. Clean.

My lady friend and I need a car wash. #fmsphotoaday #vehicle

Where is the needle on your fuel gauge pointing today?

I'm about 3/4 full. This weekend I'll fill-er-up. You?

    Wednesday, November 21, 2012

    A Good Pour and a Good Weekend

    I was born and have lived in Missouri most of my life. Yet somehow I completely missed the fact that Missouri has a thriving, beautiful and lush wine country just an hour or so outside of St. Louis. At least, that is until a couple of weekends ago. My charming friend Tara invited Joe and I to join her and her husband, Mike, to help celebrate Mike's 40th birthday this month. And celebrate we did.

    We loaded up in their minivan, minus the kiddos plus enough food and Pinterest recipes for an army, and hit the road toward the quaint and welcoming small town of Hermann, Missouri. Three hours of catching up and talking in the car made the trip whiz by. We don't get the chance to spend as much time with Mike and Tara as we'd all like since they have two little girls under the age of three. Their time is filled with work and making meals and piles of laundry and bedtimes and tiny hugs and less tiny tantrums and next to no sleep. So it was great to have the chance to just talk and spend some adult time together all weekend. Adult time with wine. So much wine. And sleeping in. If 7:30am counts.


    Tara rented a beautiful spot, the Spirit Hill Guest House for our weekend and had some surprises up her sleeve for Mike's birthday. In addition to Joe and I, Tara invited Mike's best friend Don and his wife Sara to fly in from their home in Washington, DC for the weekend. Mike had no idea when the four of us arrived that Don and Sara would be joining us later in the evening.


    When we arrived at the house we unloaded the car, got a tour of the house from the owners, picked rooms, unpacked a bit and wandered around, rather gobsmacked about how gorgeous the house was. Recently renovated in 2010, every room was filled with bright clean lines, soothing color, bold art and carefully selected accessories. It was a wonderful space and perfect for our group. With a spectacular view from the top of a bluff down over rolling hills and the Missouri River, we walked around the manicured and landscaped grounds, took in the water features in the front and the back of the house and just got acclimated. The four of us scoped out a couple of places for dinner and drove around Hermann a bit, which like most small towns, pretty much closes up by 8:00pm.



    We ended up at a local wings place called Wings A-Blazin', that was jam packed with people, always a good sign, plus a table full of police officers with sauce all over their faces, another good sign. The food and service were fantastic. We enjoyed some local beers, Tara got tipsy on one lonely strawberry daiquiri, and I fell in love with the Jamaican jerk chicken lips. The jerk sauce was tangy and perfect, all curry, rosemary and spices and the boneless chicken wings (lips) were juicy, frankly the best wings I've ever had. Plus homemade fries.  If you ever find yourself in Hermann, please stop here, and have the jerk sauce. Please.

    As we headed back to the house, Mike was starting to suspect something was going on. Tara kept teasing and taunting him, and by the time we got home, the surprise had arrived. Don and Sara flew in from DC, where Don had just flown in from a work trip to France. Needless to say, the poor guy was dealing with some serious jet-lag. Tara had made a late reservation for a port and chocolate tasting at the historic Alpenhorn Gasthaus just a few minutes away, so we grabbed jackets and drove over, while Don went to bed, hoping to catch up on some sleep before the rest of the weekend festivities.


    Alpenhorn Gasthaus, owned and operated by Adrian and his wife Kate, is an historic property, built in the 1800's that has been everything from a brickyard, to a winery and now a Swiss style B&B. We didn't get a tour of the whole property, which includes the main house, two small guest houses, gardens and even goats. But we did spend the evening in their beautiful wine cellar, completely lit with candles and chandeliers. It was romantic and cozy and a perfect place for a port tasting.






    I've never been much of a port drinker. It always seemed like a stuffy after dinner drink for titans of industry smoking cigars and speculating on gold prices or something. But I've been converted. Adrian was our host for the evening and lead us through the port tasting, which was part stand up comedy, part friendly chit chat and part wine class.  Port is usually a sweeter red wine fortified with a type of brandy, and ranges in flavor. We tried five types of port, starting with ruby to vintage to tawny.




    Starting with lighter ports that tasted more like wine, stronger ports that have a heavier brandy flavor, but the best part were the homemade chocolates that we had paired with the port. Adrian's wife makes the chocolates, which included small dark chocolate raspberry truffles, mini cupcakes and chocolate covered strawberries. They enhanced and complemented the flavors of the port. The atmosphere, the company, the port, it made for a memorable and delectable evening. And tiny sips of port and one glass of port makes for not too bad a hangover actually. No wonder the titans of industry enjoy it.



    After the port tasting we went back to the house, sated and tired.  Joe and I stayed up late chatting with Sara, who we'd only met once before, and talked about everything from therapy to running to travel. It was great getting to know her better. And then Joe and I finally headed to bed in our pretty little Asian themed room.




    Up early the next morning, we bundled up and sat out on the deck overlooking the river, enjoying tasty french toast that Tara whipped up in the Crockpot (thank you, Pinterest), guzzled cups and cups of hot coffee, while Mike and Don opened their  birthday gifts (wine from the Turning Old winery complete with personalized labels and themes) and we planned out our day. We decided to drive over to Augusta, which is another small winery town close to Hermann. We fell in love with a vintage port from the Augusta Winery the night before and decided we'd drive over and buy some for ourselves. And sample more wines. And then more wines. This is wine country, right?


    Augusta Winery was small, but the service was impeccable. We tasted about five different wines, whites and red, and one delicious apple pie mulled wine, warm and spicy for the holidays. The weather was absolutely perfect. After we bought our wine and thanked our hostess at Augusta, we drove over for lunch at the Augusta Brewery. Sitting outside on a bluff overlooking the Katy Trail, we drank local beers, talked, enjoyed the view, ate some yummy food and just relaxed. Just sitting in the sun with nothing to do and nowhere in particular to be. It was perfect.










    After our long lunch, we drove over to a larger winery, Montelle Winery that has an enormous outdoor deck. The wine was good, but I think because of the sheer number of people they deal with everyday, the service was a little brusque and condescending. No descriptions of the wine or smiles. Just, here, drink your free sips of wine, schmucks. We did. Then we bought some snacks, a few bottles, and popped one open on the deck and took in the view. Ignoring the mildly irritated wine lady, Montelle was worth it for the view alone. And the conversation eavesdropping. As we were in line waiting to buy our wine, Mike came up to Joe and told him that a big group of middle aged ladies, all animal prints and bedazzled T-shirts, asked if someone could take their photo. Of course, Mike offered Joe's services. Joe grudgingly went outside and found all twenty ladies ready for their close up. He gathered them together, asked them to smile, to which one of them quipped, "Smile, and say 'climax', ladies!" and her friend protested "Saying 'sex' is easier!"
    Tittering, tipsy laughter ensued. And Joe proceeded to take their photo with five rounds of cameras and shouts of "Climax!"




    After Joe pried himself away from the cougar clutches, we sat on the deck, drank like classy people from real glasses instead of the plastic cups, thanks to Sara's insistence, it really did make the wine taste better. And just enjoyed the fall leaves, the slight buzz, friends and blatant eavesdropping on the racy conversations of Joe's photo ladies.





    After a day filled with eating, drinking, lazing about and just general relaxation and indulgence, we were exhausted. I mean, all that takes it out of a girl. A quick trip to the grocery store for provisions for dinner that night, and we drove back to the house, took naps, read, and walked around outside. Then Tara prepared a wonderful dinner of rosemary potato soup, fresh bread, Caesar salad, and about 100 other delicious things. We ate a late dinner, sat outside for a bit, listened to music, watched some sporting event on TV, and then called it an early night.


    I got up early the next morning with plans to hit the road and sweat out some of the wine and work off a little potato soup. So I laced up my shoes, tucked my earphones in and ran around Hermann in the bright morning light. The weather was mild, the town was still asleep and I made it about two miles, with stops for photos and taking in the small town sights and beautiful old buildings, and spotted some antique stores for our afternoon plans.



    I've never run in a new town before, it was wonderful. The time flew by and other than wanting to stop every five seconds to take a picture, it made me want to run every time we travel. It's such a different way to see a place and take in the streets. No traffic, no pedestrians, just me and Hermann, all alone. I loved it.




    I loved it until the massive hill back up to our house tried to kill me. But thankfully I had coffee and vittles to look forward to on my way back.


    Tara had breakfast taken care of again, of course, cinnamon rolls, some summer sausage and cheese, orange slices and of course Christmas cookies, courtesy of her mom. Again, we snacked and talked and enjoyed our last morning in Hermann. Our house was right next to an old cemetery, so after breakfast, Joe, Sara and I walked over to take a look at the old headstones, including some unusual wrought iron crosses and luminous white statues, and this stone wall with rounded masonry. I love old headstones and cemeteries, but moved on pretty quickly from one section when we realized it was the children's cemetery.



    Headstones dating back to the mid-1800's, so worn that you could barely read the names.


    Stones made to look like rugged wooden crosses.




    And of course, Mary and baby Jesus, keeping watch over everyone. I loved her beatific face and the white stone of her draped robe against the blue, blue sky.


    We showered, packed up the car, cleaned the house a bit, said goodbye to our lovely accommodations and then drove into Hermann for a little shopping.


    Hermann has a great collection of little antique shops, art shops and restaurants. One of the strangest was an art co-op with beauties like that painting right up there. I want to hang it over my fireplace. You know you do too. We visited a few spots, while Mike and Don waited patiently outside most of them, but our favorite was The Golden Rhino.


    Filled with all the best things, it was as if someone had gone through and carefully curated their own shop, Joe and I could have dropped a chunk of change in that place. Instead we bought a few little pieces and headed over the Hermann Wurst Haus for some sausages and traditional German side dishes for lunch on our way out of town.



    We also hit a small shop that was actually part firefighter memorabilia museum and part antique shop. I've never seen so much cool firefighter themed stuff in my entire life.


    After our shopping, and scrumptious lunch it was time to part ways with Don and Sara. We had a wonderful time getting to know them better, talking about Don's work and international travel, their families and Sara and I nerding out about our mutual love of books. I hope we all have the chance to hang out again soon. They headed to St. Louis to catch their flight and Tara, Mike and Joe and I hit the road back to Kansas City and back to reality.

    Back to a land where drinking wine, laughing with friends on a broad deck under the fall foliage and eating chocolate all day is a rarity. A huge thanks to the lovely Tara for pulling this weekend all together. She is a consummate hostess and made everyone feel welcome, full with both wine and rich meals, and loved. So thanks again, my friend. It was a wonderful trip all around. When can we go back?


    All photos by the intoxicating Joe Sands, except for a few I took when I wanted to stop running and catch my breath.