The Best of October

I’ll be honest: I can be kind of a grinch when it comes to October (actually, I’m kind of a grinch about everything – I was complaining my butt off about how the summer was too hot, and look at me getting ready to moan about October!). Don’t get me wrong – I love me some fall cliches, the cooler weather, and finally taking out my sweaters and boots again. But there is one thing about October I don’t love… Halloween.

I KNOW, I KNOW. I’m a monster (every day of the year). But in honor of all the things I do love about October, allow me a non-bookish blog post with a detailed ranking.

Behold! The best things about October:

Reason 47,896: Halloween

I admit it: I don’t love Halloween. Coming up with a costume is stressful and often expensive, it’s usually too cold to wear for the end of October, and I tend to dislike any holidays that mainly revolve around drinking (see: New Year’s Eve, Mardi Gras) and prefer holidays that revolve around presents (see: Christmas, birthdays, also the fact that I am obviously spoiled). So, I sometimes celebrate Halloween – the gentleman is a big fan of clever couple’s costumes, which is stressful in and of itself – but I do it with a slight scowl.

Moving on to happier things!

Reason 5: Mini candy

DUH, October is cool because of the explosion of mini candy bars in the store. Perfect K10 snacking size.

Reason 4: The smells and the cuddles

At my heart, I’m an 85-year-old woman, so nothing delights me more than to finally have a reason to sit on my couch, lit a nice-smelling candle, and cuddle up with a book, Netflix, or a person (sometimes).

Reason 3: Earlier sunsets

OOOH, I’m a maverick! I secretly get stressed out in summer when the sun sets super late, feeling guilty for being inside when it’s *sO gLoRiOuS* outside. An earlier sunset gives me the perfect excuse to stay firmly inside.

Reason 2: The Return of Fall TV

Finally, after a long, dry summer of television, my stories are back.

Reason 1: The *EXCELLENT* Halloween media I always have to consume this time of year

Tradition is tradition, folks. Starting when I was a baby freshman in college, I watched a few Halloween classics with my friends annually: namely, Hocus Pocus (obviously) and “And Then There Was Shawn” on Boy Meets World.

Everyone’s seen Hocus Pocus – OR SHOULD HAVE – but I implore you, go back and watch that episode of BMW. It is genuinely one of my favorite things and brings me a chuckle every time. “We’ll always remember he was this tall.” “You put on weight since the last time you were scared?” It’s just the best, people.

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Since then I’ve added in some other good media selections – Return of the Living Dead (which is just pure absurdity), the Parks and Rec Halloween episodes, and – of course – the Community Halloween episodes, especially the one where they all turn into zombies. Stop what you are doing and watch that RIGHT NOW.

WHO KEEPS THROWING CATS?!

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Note: not from that episode referenced, but also an amazing ep.

In related news, I just realized Sabrina, the Teenage Witch is streaming on Hulu, so excuse me while I do that forever.

 

I Eat All the Pasta So You Don’t Have To: Carmelina’s North End

YOU’VE BEEN WARNED – this is very ranty. Hey, it’s my blog!

I had high hopes going into my dining experience at Carmelina’s in the North End. It’s one of the better reviewed places on the main drag in the North End and came highly recommended by two of my favorite people in Boston (and the world), Katie and Josh. Moreover, the Beyonce to Katie and my’s Michelle and Kelly (despite the fact that she hates Beyonce) was in town and the dinner promised to be a fun gastronomic adventure.

This lil lady in the middle! Of course she's in the middle. She's our Beyonce.

This lil lady in the middle! Of course she’s in the middle. She’s our Beyonce.

Our first hint that something was amiss at the restaurant was when we took a look at the special note in the menu…

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…I mean, okay, you’re a fancy restaurant and that’s fine, but just a little bit sassy, no? Of particular Sasquatch note, in my humble opinion:

  • “Please refrain from asking us to add or delete any item from a dish.” Why? According to your previous little sassy blurb you are carefully and conscientiously preparing each and every dish. Is it really so difficult to refrain from putting peanuts into mine if that’s my dietary preference?
  • “We do not accept credit cards for charges under $20, cash only.” REALLY?! Come on, people. This isn’t a little taverna in Greece run by somebody’s grandma. This is a major, high class restaurant in Boston. If I can use a credit card to pay for a 75 cent stick of gum at CVS, are you really telling me I can’t use a credit card for something that’s $19?

Anyway, as I said, that’s just fine. We were shown to our table and after a nice long wait (enough time for us to select the wine and our dishes and do the whole, “awkwardly making small talk while we wait for the waiter to finally come around” dance), the waiter swung by our table and hurriedly took our orders, assuring us bread would be on the way. I’m not going to string you along, gentle readers – the bread was not, in fact, on the way.

That was the theme of the night – we received minimal to zero service at our table, despite the fact that every other table around us did. We asked for the bread literally five times, each time being told it was on the way/in the oven/just a minute. About ten minutes after we got our meals (well, three of us did), the bread finally arrived… strangely enough, not piping hot and fresh from the oven, but lukewarm at best. Strange also is that every other table around us, most of which were seated after us, received bread almost immediately after sitting down.

Of course, someone’s dinner at our table arrived about 15 minutes after everyone else’s did. If you read the sassafras message from their menu, that is only to be expected,  capice? But you have to admit — 15 minutes (more than enough time for everyone else to finish their meal) is a bit much, especially considering she ordered the same thing someone else at the table did.

The icing on the cake was that at no point did anyone come around to refill our water or ask if we needed anything (which we did). After begging them for our check (to be fair to them, they did take the late meal off the check), the coup de grace was finding out they can only split the check on two cards – which apparently isn’t even true, as by that point we engaged in a conversation with the manager about our dissatisfaction and he told us that we were lying and could split the check on three cards (perhaps tell your staff that…?).

I was, most of all, SHOCKED by how they treated our concerns. They were rude and dismissive, stating that it was busy. I understand that, but if you cannot handle that amount of clientele, don’t seat that amount.  I was so shocked when, after the manager listened to our concerns, we could see him and his staff LOUDLY complaining about us and then he just threw the check back to us without another word. I didn’t want a gift certificate or something, but at least a polite if insincere, “I’m so sorry for your experience and I hope we can see you soon” would be normal human behavior – particularly when you are paying $16+ per entree, not to mention alcohol and extras.

Needless to say, I shan’t be dining here again. I took my complaint to Twitter and the Executive Chef Damien engaged in some back-and-forth with me, but never followed up with an email as he promised. Luckily for me, there are about fifteen thousand other places that serve exactly the same food. The hunt continues!

Thankfully, we got a lobster tail at Mike’s after, and all was right in the world.

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Book Roundup: August

So, I kind of have a thing for books. If I could, I would read all day every day (and when I was unemployed, that’s pretty much what I did). My absolute favorite thing is getting book recommendations from other people – whether friends, bloggers, or even in the “Best Books of This Year” round-ups that newspapers publish annually. Because of that, I decided to do a monthly round-up feature of my books: what I read, why I read it, and what I thought. Enjoy!

Another month, friends! And what a month for books it was. As before, there were a couple of times I dashed through old favorites while I was waiting for a new book to come in to the library, so I shan’t review them here (although if you haven’t already read The Fault In Our Stars, what are you waiting for?). Away we go with new books for August! Sorr for the length. 

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WHAT I READ: The Gray Wolf Throne and The Crimson Crown, Seven Realms #3 and #4 (the last in the series), by Cinda Williams Chima

WHY I READ IT: I read the first book in this series following a recommendation from a friend and had to see what happens, OF COURSE. Quick background: the main characters are Raisa, the young newly-crowned Queen of the Fells (one of the Seven Realms), and Han, the gang-leader/streetlord ragger turned wizard/friend of Raisa/perhaps something more…

WHAT I THOUGHT: Real talk. I kinda forgot about what The Gray Wolf Throne was about. It suffers from the classic middle-of-the-series setbacks: it doesn’t have the excitement of setting up the story like a first book does, and it often lacks the crazy battles that will happen in the last book.  I do remember constantly thinking in TGWT, “MAN. Raisa is SO COOL.” That’s overall one of my favorite impressions of the series. I love, love, love fantasy books that feature a strong leading lady. But the Seven Realms novels are interesting because unlike a lot of other YA/fantasy novels with a strong female, Chima pairs it with a strong male leading role in Han. That’s where The Crimson Crown gets so interesting. Both characters are at the peak of their development and, towards the middle of the book, tragically separated with no seeming way out. Needless to say, it all ends spectacularly. I don’t think I will buy this series for myself, but I THOROUGHLY enjoyed reading it, and if it ever catches my eye in a used bookstore or is a Kindle Daily Deal, it’s added to my cart!

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WHAT I READ: Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

WHY I READ IT: One of my favorite bloggers tweeted that she couldn’t put it down — good enough for me! I also recently read Jordan’s When She Woke and enjoyed it immensely.

WHAT I THOUGHT: It’s outside of my normal YA/fantasy selection – the things I do for you, readers! – but I still ripped through it in two days. Not because it was an easy read; it is an emotionally difficult book to get through, as it touches on so many sensitive and in recent memories topics: it’s set in rural Mississippi post-WWII. It opens with two of the main characters digging a grave for their father, and then exists mainly in a series of flashbacks. What I found most interesting was that you knew what would happen (the death of the father) but you didn’t know how you get there. I felt like the novel was a cliff: after a climb, you suddenly start plunging down. Let’s just say I sat down to read a few chapters over lunch and an hour later, finally closed the back cover.

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WHAT I READGrave Mercy by R.L.LaFevers

WHY I READ IT: Received 4.5 stars from one of my favorite book bloggers.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Uuugh you guys. Not a fan, unfortunately. I really wanted to like it since it got an “absolutely spectacular” from one who has not yet led me wrong, but I was just not into it. Interesting concept (historical fiction in 15th century France, young teenaged girl assassin), but it just did not grab me. I kept forgetting/not caring about the characters, which isn’t a good sign. And if a book is that boring, at least throw in more romance instead of approximately 5 pages of it in a 500 page book. Definitely skimmed the last 100 pages. The part I hated the most was that 90% of the dialogue would be “normal,” and then the author would be like, “OH YEAH this is historical fiction. I should probably throw in a ‘mayhap’ or something.” I laughed every time. Line that made me laugh the most? The VERY dramatic, “The desires of my convent have collided with the path of my heart.” UM OKAY. Next.

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WHAT I READThe Shadow Reader by Sandy Williams

WHY I READ IT: Received a great rec from my favorite book blogger

WHAT I THOUGHT: Solid 4 star-er (loved reading it, but I don’t want to immediately rush out and read the next one, especially since it is not available at the library). 80% of it was battle scenes, 17% sexual tension, 3% exposition. That meant I was 90% confused about what was going on and I kept forgetting who the characters were, but I still LOVED it. Kickass main character who is actually a 20-something woman, which was a nice change from what I normally read. Plus she cursed a lot.

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WHAT I READ: Bone Season, by Samantha Shannon.

WHY I READ IT: This is undoubtedly the “It” book of the season (come on, people. OBVIOUSLY). I’ve been waiting months for it to come out and actually bought it the day it came out, which is reserved for only the very special books. People had been calling Shannon “the new J.K. Rowling,” which is pretty heavy stuff if you ask me.

WHAT I THOUGHT: As far as I can tell, the only similarity between Shannon and Rowling is that they are both British novelist who write compelling stories. It’s impossible for me to categorize Bone Season. It’s kinda sci fi, kinda fantasy, kinda young adult, kinda adult, definitely scary, definitely mature. Knowing that it is the first of seven books, I expected it to have a bit of a slow buildup, which it did. Shannon did an excellent job of creating this incredible alternate-history London/Oxford and pulling me into the world. I did find all the vocab a bit challenging, but luckily there is a helpful glossary! I found it different from HP in that many of those books stand on their own – while they fit into the larger puzzle over the seven book series, each is a very independent novel. Bone Season needs companion books to continue the story and continue to pique my interest. But I am definitely excited for the next book. Less excited about the fact that the author a) LITERALLY just graduated university and b) it was Oxford. So there’s a way to feel terrible about your life.

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WHAT I READThe White Queen, by Philippa Gregory

WHY I READ IT: Honestly, because it’s been made into a TV show and I love me some historical fiction.

WHAT I THOUGHT: A solid “eh.” I was a good break from the heavy book I read before it (The Bone Season) – it’s basically a perfect summer beach read for nerds. With the main character of Queen Elizabeth Woodville, the wife of King Edward and one of the main figures of the War of the Roses in 15th century England, it was interesting enough. This was a period of time that I did not know too much about, so I appreciated learning more about it in a really simple and easy-to-read way. It just got a little stupid sometimes and, real talk, I skimmed the last 100 pages. I also laughed every time the author wrote that Elizabeth had an eerie premonition about the Tower and how much she hated it (Elizabeth was the mother of the famous “Princes in the Tower” whom Richard III supposedly imprisoned/killed in order to claim the thrown). Cheeze-its, amirite? But it did result in me looking up articles about the period and listening to the Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast on Richard III so if the point of reading is education, then well played, Philippa. I probably won’t read the next one, even though I got it out of the library – time to move on to something a bit more erudite.

Annnnnd that’s it for August! To kick off September, I’m actually steering away a bit from my typical contemporary novels and diving back into the classics. What shall it be? (Or you  can follow me on GoodReads and know for sure. I am not that mysterious.)

The Art of Eavesdropping on an Awkward Date

I had every intention of doing a “postcards” style post of the favorite reading spots I’ve found in Boston, although that is probably interesting only to me because I read there and my mother because she gave birth to me and is forced to be interested in what I say. So instead, I am going to share with you a story about just how intrusive I can accidentally be.

Recently, on the eve of a rainy day, I made my way up to Harvard Square in order to acquire some rain boots from a nearby shop. As when I make any excursion to a new place, I hopped online beforehand to see if there were any good coffeeshops around there – during my unemployment period, I delighted in playing “America’s Next Top Coffeeshop” and trying out all the ones in my neighborhood, partly because I adore sitting in a cozy cafe reading and partly because it gave me a reason to leave the house. Lo and behold, I found a charming little place called Tealuxe around the corner.

I could go on and on about Tealuxe itself, a wonderful little teashop with a huge selection of teas, tea drawers stacked up to the ceiling, and the most wonderful aromas a tea-lover could ask for. But the real part of my experience was the possibly-a-couple on a possibly-a-date in the corner.

Let it be known that this is a tiny shop and they were speaking very loudly. One cannot help but overhear. To the best I could determine, they were either on a first date going really well or a second date — they clearly felt comfortable with each other and had good rapport, but were still trading pretty basic life information.

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At first, their conversation was SO typically Harvard I actually rolled my eyes and thought, “HARVARD. Apparently not just clam bakes and trips to the Cape.” They were talking about, like, social darwinisms and the pros and cons of democratic republics and the current flaws in our governmental system or whatever. Either way, they knew how to sound lofty and important.

And then… it got a little weird. From social darwinism, they started talking about their own personalities (they are both introverts technically but consider themselves ambiverts) and different personality tests one can take to determine where you fall on the introvert-extravert scale. Still interesting but they kept going onnnn and onnnn.

And then, I don’t even know how, they fall into talking about various bodily ailments they have and, I kid you not, the woman said, “Yeah, I highly recommend custom orthopedic shoes, they really help me.”

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I left before they did so unfortunately I cannot say how the date turned out, but if you feel comfortable enough throwing down the custom orthopedic line that early in a relationship, then more power to you, sister.

And in case anyone is wondering, I later went back and took that test to determine where fall on the introvert/extravert scale. I’m 45% an extravert/55% an introvert, which totally makes sense. Thank you, awkward daters, for introducing it to me.

I Eat All the Pasta So You Don’t Have To: Greg’s Restaurant

I happen to be a gigantic fan of Italian food, and in case you haven’t heard, Boston happens to have a bunch of Italian restaurants. HOW PERFECT! Recognizing that everyone I know has a different favorite joint, I decided to start a series where I go to all the different top-recommended-by-friends restaurants and give them a go. Hence, I Eat All The Pasta So You Don’t Have To. In related news, I’ll also be starting a series where I document my pasta-weight gain.

I could not be prouder of myself than when I came up with this genius plan. I get to eat a ton of Italian food while hanging out with friends, all in the name of research and writing?! You guys, I am so freakin’ smart I blow my own mind.

I kicked off my explorations with a visit to the favored place of Lauren, aka college roomie, aka bff, aka lady whose apartment lease I took over. Called Greg’s (Lauren: “I know… not very Italian), the only thing she told me was, “It’s wonderful and cheap and the waitress is funny.” My response: “I’m so there it’s insane.”

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THE K10 LOWDOWN: For what the menu offers (pretty standard steak and Italian fare), the decor of the restaurant (fairly chintzy checkered tablecloths), and the prices (my meal was $15 with tip), I shouldn’t be surprised that I wasn’t overly impressed. They brought out free bread which is my standard for determining if I like a place or not, and salad came with the meal, which was nice. But my cheese ravioli was pretty drenched in the meat sauce and overall didn’t have a particularly inspiring flavor. Luckily the serving was so big that Mama has lunch tomorrow. YESSSS.

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Also, we got ice cream at JP Licks afterwards, which was so good that I’m uncomfortably full now.

So, overall impression on Greg’s  — you could take me back and I wouldn’t be kicking and screaming, but there’s gotta be better out there. Onward!

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How to finally nest (ish)

For someone who loves stability, I have been remarkably without a home for the past year+. I’ve thankfully always had a roof over my head and a bed(ish) to sleep in, but since I moved out of my last actual abode in May 2012, I’ve slept in – count em – twenty nine different beds/homes. The largest chunks of my time involved spending July 2012 in Boston (where I got to experience wonderful university housing beds – it was so uncomfortable I honestly had to go buy a foam padding thing from BBB the next day cause I’m a princess), August-December 2012 in London (another time spent in university housing, except I funnily enough had three single beds to call my own. I like to be crazy!), and April-July 2013 in the parental dwelling (where I stubbornly refused to give up my first comfy bed in a year unless it was to a worthy elder).

Needless to say, I’m pretty excited to finally – FINALLY! – be able to unpack my bags for the final, foreseeable time, and unwrap my belongings that have been in storage since last May.

Alas and alack, we are not at that point yet. My first two months in Boston are consisting of me living with two very good friends of mine (it’s an awesome Three’s Company/Big Love kind of situation, except not actually) and then a month-long sublet with a rando who I literally agreed to live with because she laughed at my jokes and didn’t seem murdery. The person moving out (from whom I am subletting) has two cats and I was a inch away from saying, “…but can the cats stay?” I HAVE CAT NEEDS, PEOPLE.

How I inserted myself in with my friends/roomies/hosts, the married couple. I think they find me adorable

How I inserted myself in with my friends/roomies/hosts, the married couple. I think they find me adorable

Anyway. Come September 1, I have a home again! Where I actually live, and pay rent! And not sketchy back-alley rent but a rent attached to a lease! (At least, I think so. The property manager just scribbled out the name of my friend, since I’m taking over her lease, and handwrote mine in. I got panicked that the Boston Public Library wouldn’t accept that as a viable proof of residency and did some questionably-legal things to get that library card, but that’s a story for another day).

In the meantime, I have this whole nomadic thing down to a science. The basic rules:

  • When feeding off the teets of a friend’s generosity (yup), be sure to leave secret signs of yourself around the house. If you are staying with a married couple, even better! See above.
  • Never assume a plate is microwave-safe.
  • You haven’t really worn out your welcome until you’re accidentally blown the fuses in your nomadspot
  • There is no sadder thing than to excitedly unpack your backpack into a dresser of your week-long home, only to find that your three shirts don’t exactly need five drawers.
  • I like to believe I can sleep in most places, but I at least need a window. And wifi. And high standards of living. JUST KIDDING I really just need a window. Windowless rooms are the pits.
  • Laundry is for fancymen, and ain’t nobody got time for that. If it is not visibly dirty or have a five-foot-smell radius, it’s fine.
  • When you do have to get your laundry sent out since you don’t have a home and obviously don’t have a laundry machine, assume that something will get stolen/lost, and it will probably be the t-shirt present you got from your mom less than a month ago
  • Bedbugs aren’t that scary, you guys. Man up.
  • Most important one: you never realize how powerful your friendships are until you are in the wandering state of moving. I have relied on the kindness of several friends just to get me up to Boston, including and not limited to: a friend driving me to the airport, her wonderful parents taking my bags in their car since it wouldn’t fit in hers,  friends graciously hosting me immediately upon my arrival, a friend offering to lend me a sofa bed when I realized my August sublet option would only be an air mattress, and another friend sourcing a real bed for me to borrow and, without asking, volunteering to help me move it.

As much as I love traveling, I seriously can’t wait to stretch into a new joint and start nesting, y’all. Mainly because I picked up a blanket from the store that I proclaimed I loved more than my current hostess, and she threw it on the floor in anger. It’s a really good blanket.

(A week later, after she had accidentally had five limoncellos at dinner with her family, she came home and sheepishly told me the blanket was really good.)