Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tuesday Travels: Lancaster, Pennsylvania

(James Buchanan's House - Wheatland)

30 years ago my parens took a long weekend trip to Amish Country and my mother has been dying to go back ever since. My dad however was traumatized by the Straussburg Railroad (or as he has dubbed it "the train to nowhere") and has refused to go with her. So for years we've heard her plea of "who wants to go to Amish Country with me"? Last weekend I took one for the team!

My mom and sister are going to Seattle in August and I couldn't go with them so my compromise was that my mom and I would spend a long weekend in Amish Country after my Golf Tournament was through. We left on Friday, June 26th and came back on Sunday, June 28th. It's not a bad ride from NJ - just about 3 hours. I have to say that there is a nice variety of things to do in Lancaster, PA.

Friday when we arrived after lunch we headed to the Sturgis Pretzel Factory in Liditz, PA for a tour and of course to purchase some pretzels. The tour was $3 and lasted about 30 minutes. We started out each getting our own piece of dough that we rolled out and were taught how to twist it into a pretzel shape! It was pretty exciting as someone who grew up in a pretzel loving family (more like pretzel obsessed family!) Then the tour guide explained to us the history of the pretzel and how Mr. Sturgis was the first person to open a pretzel factory in the US. She also explained how they used to make pretzels versus how pretzels are made now. It was all pretty interesting. The tour leads out into the gift shop and of course we had to purchase pretzels. My mom got a nice assortment for my dad and I purchased two bags of Cheese Pretzels (that are divine!) We also shared a soft pretzels straight from the oven. I have to say it was the 2nd best soft pretzel I've ever had (1st place goes to the pretzels in Munich, Germany.) We learned that the average person consumes 2 pounds of pretzels a year and the average Pennsylvanian consumes 20 pounds of pretzels a year. I think my dad should have lived in Pennsylvania!

After the pretzel tour we did a driving tour suggested in my mom's guide book that drove us through typical Amish Country where we got to see some farms and many Amish people traveling in horse & buggy, by scooter or by foot along the road.

(The Carriage House at Wheatland)

On Saturday morning our first stop was Wheatland, where President James Buchanan lived. You know me and my Presidents! James Buchanan was the 15th President, the President right before Abraham Lincoln. He bought Wheatland with the intention of retiring. However, under President Pierce he was the Ambassador to England and then he was nominated for the Democratic ticket. He actually ran his campaign for the Presidency from Wheatland. When he was nominated for the ticket and elected President he made both of his "thank you" speeches from the front porch! He was our only bachelor President, never married. I found the tour very interesting and I love seeing places that were such a part of our history. It was an hour tour.

(Mom with our rail car at the Straussburg Railroad)

After Wheatland we headed down to Straussburg to ride the railroad! After hearing about "the train to nowhere" for 30 years I certainly wasn't going to come all the way to Lancaster and not ride on it! We got there 15 minutes before the next train was about to depart and snagged ourselves "First Class" tickets. We boarded the train at noon and sat in our plush comfy chairs. The train ride began and the conductor pointed out different items to us as we went along. We rode for 20 minutes to a "rail yard" and then the engine moved to the other side of the train and we rode 20 minutes back to the starting point. It really is a "train ride to nowhere"! I could see if you had small children that the novelty of riding on a train would be worth it but as adults I think my mom & I both felt that it was a little overrated. Nevertheless, I'm glad that we did it.

After that we went to the Mennonite Information Center and watched a movie about "Who Are the Amish?" It was a very interesting 30-minute segment that literally answered almost every question that I had asked out loud to my mom over the course of our weekend. I'm glad we took some time out of our day to learn about the people who make the community of Lancaster, PA so special.

I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of activities that there are to do in Lancaster, PA. There was more stuff we wanted to do but we just ran out of time! I can't say that I'll be running back to Lancaster, PA but if I ended up there again someday I know I'd have a good time.

Post in Comments:

Have you ever been to Amish Country?

If so, what was your favorite activity?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Monday Bookwors: The Novice

The Novice, Trudi Canavan

Back in January of 2008 I read the first book in this trilogy, The Magician's Guild, and really enjoyed it. I was looking for something light and unchallenging to read and so I decided to pick up the 2nd book in this trilogy, The Novice.

In the Novice, Sonea (the magician we met in the first book who was unaware of her magical abilities) joins the Magician's Guild and begins classes as a Novice. It is immediately clear that none of the kids like her or want anything to do with her because she is from the slums. Even having a magician guardian, Rothen, does not seem to help her status.

There is one novice in particular who makes life difficult for Sonea, Regin. As the book progresses he plays many pranks on her and she struggles with what is the proper course to defend herself. Then the High Lord takes an interest in her and the trajectory of her year changes.

On the side, her guardian's friend, Dannyl, has become an ambassador for the guild and while gone he begins to uncover some of the High Lord's secrets. What exactly will he uncover?

Overall, I didn't enjoy this book as much as the first. I don't know if it was because of the timing of when I read it, (being swamped at work with a big event coming up), that I just couldn't get into it. Or, perhaps it had to do with Regin picking on Sonea and that just irritating me after awhile. His character kind of ruined my reading experience. (Remember that teacher in HP 5, ugh, she almost ruined my reading experience of that book, I just hated her so it became painful to continue to read the segments she was in!)

It was still a good read and I look forward to reading the 3rd book in the trilogy and learning exactly what the High Lord is up to!

3 Stars

Post in Comments:

What science fiction have you read recently that has been good?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Monday Bookworms: More Tween Lit & Real Literature

Runner, Carl Deuker
216 pages, @ 2005

Funny story about this book! Jon and I exchange small easter baskets every Easter and we set a small budget to purchase little things (candy, lotto tickets, etc). This year, Jon was in the bargain book section of Borders and saw this book for $2 so he was like "perfect"! He gives it to me in my basket and I'm of course thrilled to get a new book (the little things in life!)

Well, after receiving the book I realized that I haven't read a lot of the books that Jon has gotten me during our relationship, because I've been "saving" them. So I decided I wanted to pick up Runner and looked it up on Amazon to see if it had gotten good reviews. This is when I realized that it was a "tween" book! I called Jon and told him but said it didn't matter (heck I was reading the Twilight books at the time) and I was excited to read it. We had a good laugh about it.

The premise is that Chance Taylor, a senior at Lincoln High School in Seattle, lives with his dad who is an alcoholic who has a hard time keeping a job. They live on his dad's small old sailboat. Since his father is unable to keep a job money is very tight. One day this man at the Marina offers Chance a job that makes easy money. All he has to do is wear a backpack when he goes out on his daily run and pick up a package at his turn around point. What is he picking up? He doesn't want to know. Easy money however always has consequences.

Deuker is a much stronger writer then say Stephanie Meyer. The flow of the story was good, the characters believable, and the problem very relevant to the times. Would I recommend it, that depends on if you read "tween" books? My only complaint with the book was that I felt he rushed the ending a bit. All of a sudden it was upon us and it was suddenly over with a shocking ending.

3 stars

The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro
245 pages, @ 1988

This book was Shion's pick for our book group discussion in June. I was excited to pick this up, as I have heard a lot about Ishiguro's other novel "Never Let Me Go".

This book is about Mr. Stevens, a butler in a large home in England. The book takes place in the 50's after Mr. Stevens main employer, Lord Darlington has already passed, and an American, Mr. Farraday has purchased Darlington Hall. Mr. Stevens decides to make a cross country journey as part vacation and part visiting an old colleague from the days of Lord Darlington. During his journey he recalls times during Lord Darlington's life and explores his reasons for working where he did, for whom he did, doing what he did. His recollections take place in the 30's.

My biggest problem with this book was just the pace. It was only 245 pages so I expected to breeze through it, but the pace was much slower and it was a book I really needed to "read" not just read (if you know what I mean). That slowed me up a bit. Once I got into the story though it flowed more smoothly and became more interesting. It was a self examination of himself to see if his life had meaning and if he served the world well by serving Lord Darlington.

I will say that I felt the book group discussion allowed me to look at the book in a way I had not previously. It made me sit back and reflect and appreciate the sublties of this novel. It was a pretty powerful story when I really sit and think about it. I would definitely read Kazuo Ishiguro again.

3 stars

Post in Comments:

Do you ever save books for later?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Monday Bookworms: Devil in the White City

The Devil in the White City, Erik Larson
390 pages, @2003

I have had this book on my shelf forever (at least 5 years) and I've always meant to read it but I've never picked it up. I decided some time ago when setting up what books I was going to read during this current 6 month period of the book journal that I would finally get to it and it did not disappoint.

Devil in the White City is a non-fiction account of the World's Fair in Chicago in 1893. It chronicles the building of the Fair from the very beginning, the year of the Fair, all the marvels that those that attended got to experience and what happened to all the key players after the Fair was over. At the same time, every other chapter is dedicated to telling the story of H.H. Holmes, a serial killer on the loose during the time of the Fair. Larson was attempting to show two sides of the city - the hope & greatness of humanity depicted in the Fair and the pure evil of humanity depicted in the story of H.H. Holmes.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I had never realized what an impact The World's Fair in Chicago had on modern day society. There were so many ideas that originated at The Fair that inspired different people and new ideas. I would wow you with all of the information but then that would take away from the ah-ha moments of the book. The story of H.H. Holmes was interesting and some times it was nice to have a break from the Fair to read about what he was doing in Englewood, Illinois! Pretty scary stuff.

I would definitely recommend this book to the avid reader. It reads like a fiction book most of the time so don't be turned off by it being non-fiction.

4 stars

Post in Comments:

Did you like Devil in the White City? What was your favorite ah-ha moment?

Friday, June 5, 2009

Catch-All Fridays: Fiddlesticks Bar Review

I could not find a cool picture of Fiddlesticks Pub but I couldn't leave you guys hanging - so hence the letter f - representing Fiddlesticks!

A couple of weeks ago ABC Club visited F Bar - which was Fiddlesticks in the West Village. Let's face it if you've lived in NYC for at least a year and you're under 30 you've been to Fiddlesticks!

Fiddlesticks is a HUGE bar with indoor and outdoor space. It's segmented into like 3-4 different rooms inside. They play awesome music, they always get an awesome crowd, and you can't beat drinks in an Irish pub.

We certainly got a great crowd and Fiddlesticks hooked us up with awesome drink specials! We celebrated 3 bdays, had some parents in attendance for the 1st time ever and rocked the pub until well after midnight!

If you live in NYC or just visiting and you are under 30 I would definitely recommend Fiddlesticks for a good time. It's definitely a younger crowd then most places!

56 Greenwich Avenue
New York, NY 10011

Post in Comments:

Have you been to Fiddlesticks? Do you have a Fiddlesticks story?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Entertainment Thursdays: Twilight Movie Review

I know, I know, this blog has been very "Twilight Centric" but hey that's what happens when I'm blogging about things I do, read, see, etc and this dominated my life for a good 10-14 days so fortunately or unfortunately for you (depending on if you are a fan) you get to hear about it!

When we were out to dinner at Penelope's Cafe my friend Christina and I were talking about Twilight and we agreed that we needed to watch the movie together! I rented it from Netflix and we picked a date to get together.

I picked up wine because let's face it when watching cheezy movies they're always better accompanied by some cocktails! We were probably a little too excited given all the bad reviews we had heard about the movie.

I'm not going to get into what it's about because I've already reviewed the first book. Let's just say the movie was JUST OK and I think we both felt that way, well maybe I liked it a little more than Christina. The first half of the movie was just incredibly awkward and intense and it made me a little uncomfortable (and glad I wasn't still in high school!) The second half of the movie had some redeeming qualities. The story picked up which alleviated all the awkward and intense staring and I forgot about Edward & Bella's weirdness and got into what was going on on the screen. I enjoyed the second half of the movie much more.

Overall, I enjoyed it, I would not say it was a great movie by any stretch of the imagination but I was glad I saw it being a Twilight fan and all. I do think that the New Moon preview looks better than the first movie - everyone seems a little more natural - well everyone but Bella. So I will admit that even though the 1st movie was sub-par I'm totally going to see New Moon (and probably in the theatres if I can convince anyone to come with me!!!)

3 stars (Well OK it should probably be 2 1/2 stars)

Post in Comments:

Have you seen the Twilight movie? Did you like it?