A Week On The Emerald Isle

Towards the beginning of our relationship, Patrick and I would often browse Groupon’s travel section “just for fun.” We would plan imaginary trips to Italy and France, and talk about our future plans for world exploration.

But when a really great deal for a seven-day trip to Ireland popped up on our home feed, our dreams suddenly became reality. We whipped out our credit cards and purchased the trip before we could say, “But we’ve only been dating for five months!”

We spent the next seven months obsessively preparing (more me than him) for our eventual travels. We (I) created spreadsheets, bought travel books, and planned itineraries. It was our first time out of the country and we were going to be ready for whatever Ireland had to throw at us. However, we quickly discovered that despite all our research, our expectations were a bit different than reality.

And as we boarded our plane to Dublin, I realized that we had forgotten our travel books at home.

Fortunately, the best possible way to experience a new country is to jump in feet first! Here’s what we learned:

Expectation: We would sleep on the plane and wake up in Ireland, ready to take on the world.

Reality: Despite the fact that I slept for a total of two hours the night before, and despite the fact that I swallowed more than the recommended amount of ZzzQuil 30 minutes before boarding our international flight, and despite the fact that I had come prepared with a neck pillow and stretch pants, I did not sleep on the plane.

Believe me, I tried.

But after an hour of uncomfortably wrenching my neck to rest my head on Patrick’s shoulder, on the seatback table in front of me, or on my useless neck pillow, I resolved myself to watching The Hobbit followed by Night at the Museum 2 instead. In any case, we arrived in Ireland at 4:30 in the morning (Dublin time) and I had been awake for over 30 hours.

We stumbled through the airport, wandered around the parking garage in search of our mysterious rental car, and spent the final 45-minute drive to our hotel dreaming of the king-sized bed that was waiting for us. Unfortunately, upon arrival, we were told that we would not be able to check in until 3 p.m. — or at least, until the previous guests vacated our room.

With no other options, we returned to our car, eased the seats back, and attempted to sleep right there in the parking lot. When that didn’t work (and the sun began to rise), we moved to the lobby.

Photo Feb 20, 10 36 43 AMAt this point, it’s important to mention that this particular hotel is a pretty classy joint. While uniformed bellhops and refined guests streamed past us, I lay splayed on the vintage victorian style couch with a beanie pulled over my eyes (the glare from the crystal chandelier above me was just too much) and a couch cushion as a blanket.

Fortunately, a room opened up at about 9 a.m. — we were briskly whisked from the lobby and finally, mercifully, presented with a bed. We told ourselves we would sleep for just a few hours — we would wake up fresh and ready to start our day … but we woke up nearly nine hours later feeling hungry, sweaty, and disoriented. We kicked ourselves for wasting our entire first day in Ireland and, surely we thought, irrevocably screwing up our sleep schedule. Fortunately, after a quick dinner, we were able to return to bed and sleep for yet another nine hours. We awoke at 8 a.m. the next morning feeling well rested and, finally, ready to take on the world.

Expectation: Driving on the left side of the road and the right side of the car would be different, but doable.

Reality: It was one thing to read about driving in Ireland, another to actually do it — and it was much harder (read: scarier) than we thought.

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Bonus rainbow.

The roads in Ireland are impossibly narrow and winding — and they’re bordered on each side by a stone wall (so when another vehicle is cruising around the bend at 50 kph, straight towards you, you’ve got nowhere to go). Worse, the already narrow roads get even narrower when they pass over bridges or through tunnels. And, in the city, the questionable “two-lane” roads are effectively transformed into one-lane roads due to the line of cars parked on each side. We were told, “if you can’t casually high-five the driver of the car you’re passing, you’re not doing it right.”

On top of that, the speed limits are too fast for comfort, and Ireland drivers aren’t afraid to use their horns. Because the roads are so narrow and twisty, it’s impossible to pass slower drivers (read: me) without running the risk of a head-on collision (I mean, more so than usual), so we were often the brunt of tailgating and horn honking.

Now, take into consideration that it was pitch black outside the first several times I got behind the wheel … and Ireland isn’t big on street lights. As we exited the relative safety of the freeway for the first time (where the lanes are wide and the way is lit), we quickly discovered that we had been driving without headlights … and we weren’t quite sure how to turn them on. Through the use of brights, the saving grace of GPS, and a whole lot of pep talking on Patrick’s part, we somehow made it to our hotel in one piece.

Fortunately, the woman at the car rental counter had smoothed talked us into upgrading to an automatic transmission for the low, low price of €250. At the time, I was so tired I was willing to part with the money just to get out of the airport and into a hotel — but in the end, I’m glad we took the bait. There’s only so much my brain can comprehend at one time, and driving a stick shift with my left hand was just one less thing to worry about.

Expectation: We’ll drive everywhere!

We had plans to drive all the way across the island to see the Cliffs of Moher, to drive the Ring of Kerry, and to visit villages just a few short hours from our hotel.

Reality: Our eyes were a bit bigger than our stomachs in that sense.

Photo Feb 21, 1 04 01 PMFor one, we seriously underestimated how much time each attraction would take. During our first foray into Dublin, we planned to visit Trinity College, tour several cathedrals, see the Dublin Castle, and hit up the museum on our way out — leaving plenty of time for several other day trips. But by the time we had toured the college and the castle, we had already walked ten miles and it was starting to get dark. We decided to call it a night and return the next day — and even then we didn’t see all the things we had planned to see.

Secondly, as I mentioned before, driving was much scarier (and, in my case, slower) than we expected. The thought of driving all the way across the island was terrifying at best (I could barely drive to the pub in the next village over) — and while our GPS told us the trip to the Cliffs would take about two and a half hours, my cautious driving guaranteed it would be more like three or four. As a result, we stuck pretty close to home.

Photo Feb 22, 9 31 53 AMFortunately, the public transport system in Ireland is nothing short of fantastic. We bussed into Dublin each day for just €3.30 each. The bus picked us up right at the end of the hotel lane (which, granted, was about a mile from the hotel itself) and dropped us off in the city center. When we were done, we made our way to the nearest bus stop and enjoyed the relaxing ride back home.

Now, when I say “relaxing ride,” I really mean “I was just glad I didn’t have to drive.” The bus ride itself was actually pretty adrenalizing. Think back to the narrow, winding roads I described earlier — now imagine a double decker bus barreling down those roads at 10 kph over the posted speed limit. Patrick and I sat in the top front as much as possible and treated it more like an amusement ride than a public transport system.

On our final day in Ireland, we had a choice to either bus into Bray (the town closest to our tiny village of Enniskerry) or drive just north of Dublin to visit Malahide Castle. I didn’t want my fear of driving to stand in the way of seeing something really cool, so we loaded up the car and made our way north. And I’m so glad we did. We ended up spending the entire day at the castle, and it was well worth the trip.

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That being said, we both agreed that when we return to the Emerald Isle (someday), we’ll ditch the rental car and utilize public transport to it’s fullest extent.

Expectation: We’ll blend in seamlessly.

Reality: We picked Ireland because A) it was a great deal on Groupon, and B) we thought it would be a great first step into world travel. They speak English, they eat fairly normal food (read: American), and they operate much the same way we do. At least, that’s what we expected. What we got was a little bit of culture shock.

The Irish speak English, sure, but not the way we speak English, and we found ourselves wondering, “What did he say?” more often than not. Fries are chips, chips are crisps, and as far as we could tell, the locals communicated in nothing more than grunts and sounds.

And because we both suffer from a refusal to appear like we don’t know what we’re doing, and a refusal to ask for help, our first few forays into the world were a little bit scary. When we woke up at 6 p.m. on our first day in Ireland, we wandered into our hotel pub in search of food. Unfortunately, there was an event taking place that night and the pub was overflowing. Rather than sit at a table with strangers (which, we’re pretty sure is exactly what a local would have done) we wandered back to our room and hid there until we came up with a more solid plan. We then drove (after some serious cajoling on Patrick’s end) to a nearby restaurant and hovered near the doorway until the bartender kindly told us to take a seat. Unbeknownst to us, Ireland is a “seat yourself” kind of place. After our meal (of cheeseburgers), we waited patiently for the waiter to bring us our check. As it turns out, Ireland is more of a “pay at the bar when you’re ready to leave” kind of place as well.

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The oldest pub in Ireland.

With those lessons under our belt, we began to get more and more adventurous over the course of the trip — Patrick ordered corned beef and cabbage, bangers and mash, and consumed plenty of chutney — but more often than not we stuck to things that were familiar (read: American). We visited probably 10 different Starbucks locations, ate at Subway, and had dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe.

That being said, we were impressed by how incredibly kind the locals are. The bartenders encouraged us to “put our feet up” and relax at the end of the meal, rather than ushering us towards the exit, and our bus/shuttle drivers were more than willing to discuss their favorite stops.

Expectation: It would be cold and rainy the entire time.

Reality: We were expecting cold and rainy, my weather app forecasted cold and rainy, and, the first few days we were there, it was cold and rainy. But as Monday rolled around, so did the sun, and we were lucky to experience three entire days of pure sunshine.

Despite the fact that spring had yet to have sprung in Ireland, everything was still incredibly green and incredibly beautiful. I couldn’t get enough of it! Our hotel overlooked the Sugarloaf Mountain, which looks like something straight out of The Shire, and I took probably 500 pictures of that alone. Of course, no picture could capture how colorful and shining the world actually was, but I tried my hardest.

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The lovely Sugarloaf Mountain from the roof of the Powerscourt Hotel.

We enjoyed walking around in Dublin, but strolling around the Irish countryside while the sun beat down on our heads was one of the very best parts of the trip.

Expectation: Ireland would serve as our first step into world travel.

Reality: Ireland certainly wasn’t what we expected — it was better. And it left us more prepared (and yes, even more eager) to take our second step!

Sure, there were times when all we wanted to do was hide in our hotel room rather than face a world we thought we understood, but quickly realized we didn’t. But once we opened ourselves up to new adventures, new experiences, and a new way of life, we opened ourselves up to having the best possible time! We learned so much about traveling, and about visiting another country on our own — we now feel much more confident, much more gung-ho, and much more willing to ask questions.

It sounds incredibly cheesy, but we left Ireland feeling like different people — people who are thirsty for more: More knowledge, more travel, and more life experiences.

Photo Feb 24, 2 55 18 PMIn fact, a few weeks ago, we turned down the opportunity to see a potentially really cool David Bowie tribute concert right here in Boise. We didn’t go because we were tired, we had been working, or I had to do laundry. “I think … knowing what we know now, we would have gone to that concert,” Patrick commented. And I think he’s right. We’re less willing to sacrifice those moments — less willing to sacrifice experiences because we’re tired or unsure. And that outlook, along with my new hat with the poof on top, is the best souvenir we brought back from Ireland.

The Best

It’s hard to choose our favorite part of the trip — we saw so many amazing buildings, walked through endless beautiful gardens, and ate more than our fair share of great food — but our tour through Trinity College is definitely one of the highlights. It was a student-run tour, and it was filled with nonstop history and amusing stories (if you haven’t heard the one about the murdered professor, it’s a doozy).

It was definitely our favorite tour of week (Church of Christ comes in at number two — our tour guide took us up to roof of the cathedral, to the bell tower, and allowed us to ring the bells) and it culminated in the Old Library — my favorite stop of the entire trip (keeping in mind that we visited several castles). Those rows upon rows of books stashed under a cathedral-like ceiling were completely breathtaking — and if I could live in that room, I would.

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The Worst

I’m wont to say that driving was the worst part, but by the end of the week, I had really started to get the hang of it. The real worst part was my inability to sleep on planes — and consequently slept through an entire day in Ireland. I’m still kicking myself for that (although Patrick keeps reminding me not to regret it — we needed it).

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“This is how I die.”

And then, because we’re insane and I apparently did not learn my lesson, we decided to go to Disneyland on the way back to Boise. I refuse to categorize Disneyland as “the worst” — but how tired I felt in Disneyland was kind of “the worst.” Once again, I was running on zero hours of sleep and about 30 hours of awakeness (movies enjoyed on the plane: Hotel Transylvania 2, The Martain, and four episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia).

You know it’s bad when you start thinking in terms of rides you can realistically nap on. Hint: Hyperspace Mountain is not one of them. Pirates of the Caribbean kind of is. Fortunately, thanks to an excessive amount of sugar and coffee (and Mickey-shaped treats), we managed to make it through.

The Weirdest

Gaelic is the official language of Ireland, but a very small percentage of people still speak it. Nonetheless, all signs are written in Gaelic first, English second — which took some getting used to. Patrick really enjoyed attempting to pronounce the Gaelic words (which sounded more Elvish than anything else).

Also, all speed limit signs are posted in kilometers. We expected this, but it was still strange to be driving along at 120 kph (which translates to about 75 mph).

The Funniest

… er, it was funny later.

I mentioned earlier that the bus system in Ireland is truly fantastic, and it is, but if you don’t know the route very well, it can be easy to hop off at the wrong stop — which is exactly what we did. I’m willing to admit that it was 99 percent my fault, but I heard the word “Enniskerry” and popped off the bus before Patrick could say, “This is still five miles from our hotel.” Unfortunately, the next bus was about an hour away, and it was way too cold, and way too dark, to consider walking. So we huddled in the warmth of a nearby phone booth and prepared ourselves to wait.

That is, until I discovered that a spider also occupied that phone booth. At which point we found ourselves back out in the cold.

Fortunately, there was a small convenience store on the corner and, with luck, it was open! We wandered in and meandered up and down its two aisles several times, before eventually purchasing a package of mini muffins, asking the cashier to help us determine the correct bus fare, and returning to stand in the cold — you know, in case the bus was early.

The bus finally pulled around the corner (approximately 60 minutes later), we paid our bus fare for the second time, and 30 minutes later we were back at our hotel, warm, sleepy, and grateful for the mini muffins. So it wasn’t a total loss.

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Snow White and the Kiss of Death

I dressed as Snow White for Halloween for about three years in a row when I was a little girl … then once again when I was 24. I have a vintage Snow White movie poster hanging in my living room and a Snow White keychain dangling from my key ring. Knowing this, you might assume that I’m a huge fan of the Disney movie, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. But I’m really not. In fact, I think it’s pretty ridiculous. Here’s why:

Within the first minute of the movie, Snow White flees from the prince like she’s being chased by a swarm of angry bees – but when he kisses her awake in the final scene, she embraces him like she’s known him her entire life (keeping in mind that this is only the second time she’s ever laid eyes on him). She hops on the back of his horse and allows him to whisk her away to who-knows-where. Granted, by this point in the movie she’s experienced some terrifying hallucinations in the middle of a dark forest (after escaping a huntsman who intended to cut out her heart), she’s been poisoned by an evil queen, and she’s spent the last year or so sleeping in a glass coffin – so the sudden reappearance of a handsome prince is probably the least of her worries.

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All that combined with the fact that Snow White is a mere 14 years old (which is an improvement upon the original tale, in which she is about seven) makes the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs a little more creepy than heartwarming.

So, why the Snow White swag?

Well, for one, she’s the original Princess. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiered in 1937 and was Walt Disney’s first feature-length animated film. Snow was soon joined by Cinderella and Aurora (both released in the 50’s, both bona fide members of the Disney Princess lineup) – but for more than a decade, she was the reigning Queen.

On top of that, her dress is on point. There’s just something about that puffy sleeved, stiff collared, primary colored gown that appeals to my sense of style – which is why I have owned not one, but two Snow White costumes over the course of my life. Also, she’s the only Disney Princess to rock a cape … that is, until Elsa and Anna came along.

Finally, despite the fact that Snow White is no heroine, her story has just the right amount of darkness. She chomps into a poisoned apple and falls into a death-like coma for the span of several seasons – during which time she is kept in a glass coffin in the forest. It’s a little macabre, but that’s part of the draw.

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Of course, when you take into consideration that Snow White was originally published by the Brothers Grimm (infamous for their haunting folklore), that “darkness” makes sense. If Disney were to follow the original tale, they would have the evil Queen stepping into a pair of white hot iron shoes at the end of the story and dancing to death while Snow White and her new husband, along with every King and Queen in the land, watch from the sidelines. It’s not exactly how I would choose to spend my wedding reception, but, then again, I’ve never been the target of a murderous step-mother.

In any case, when I came across this even more macabre fan theory, claiming that the Prince is actually a living, breathing metaphor for Death, I had to know more.

One redditor proposes that the reason Snow White runs scared when she sees the Prince for the first time is because he represents a brush with Death – after all, she was hanging dangerously over a well right before he appeared … maybe she narrowly escaped becoming Samara from The Ring.

Hypocrites argue that Snow’s reaction is more due to the fact that she’s a naïve and isolated young girl – surprised by a handsome royal showing up in her courtyard.

But I’ve got a few different theories.

For one, she had just spent her morning singing over her wishing well, wishing for her Prince to come. Voila! He appears. Maybe it’s because I just watched the “Wishful Thinking” episode of Supernatural (in which a wishing well actually starts to grant people’s wishes – emphasizing the importance of “be careful what you wish for”), but that instant gratification would freak me out too.

Secondly, let’s say the Prince is, in fact, a metaphor for Death; I don’t think he appeared because Snow White almost accidentally threw herself down the well, I think he appeared for the sake of foreshadowing. Think about it, Snow White is just minding her own business, going about her chores, when the Prince appears (surrounded by doves, no less, also known as “celestial messengers” — I’m not saying that’s a sign, but it’s probably a sign). From that moment on, it’s all downhill for Snow.

First, the evil Queen sends a huntsman after her step-daughter with instructions to “Bring me her heart.” Fortunately, the huntsman can’t bring himself to rip into the chest of an innocent girl (whose only crime is being “the fairest of the them all”) and tells Snow to flee into the forest instead. While there, she encounters plenty of horrors that viewers could probably assume are trying to kill her (either that or she’s on one hell of an acid trip). Of course, she soon happens upon the dwarfs’ cottage and heaves a huge sigh of relief – only to bite into a poisoned apple and die. If the Final Destination franchise has taught us anything, it’s that you can’t outrun Death.

In the Grimm’s original, Snow actually gets a piece of poisoned apple lodged in her throat – causing the appearance of death. Later, when the Prince unknowingly dislodges it (his men stumble while carrying her coffin through the forest), she springs back to life and lives happily ever after. In the Disney movie, however, all the Prince has to do is kiss her to bring her back from her death-like state … but something doesn’t add up. Snow was poisoned, not cursed, so how does one little kiss bring her back?

Long story short: It doesn’t. According to this theory, the Prince isn’t giving her the kiss of life, he’s giving her the kiss of Death. And when you think about it that way, the rest of the movie starts to make a lot of sense.

For one, the feel of the movie seems to change from the moment their lips meet. The sun shines a little brighter, the music plays a little softer, and the clouds take the form of a magical, distant castle.

Snow White bids her final (and I mean final) farewells to the dwarfs before the Prince leads her away on a white horse (a possible shout-out to the “pale horse” in Revelations, which was ridden by Death), and the two disappear into the heavenly sunset.

This would also explain why she shies away from him at the beginning of the film, but welcomes him with open arms at the end. She initially fears Death, but comes to accept it and even embrace it – allowing the Prince to lead her into the afterlife.

… All this puts a dark twist on her classic song, “Someday My Prince Will Come.” And, as this article morbidly states, “Someday the prince will come for all of us.”

Surely Walt Disney didn’t intend for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to become such a gothic tale, but for those of us who find the original Disney Princess to be a little too sweet, Snow White and the Kiss of Death is an appealing twist.

When You Wish Upon a Star…

When I was about ten years old, my parents offered to take me and my little brother (then four) to Disneyland. I remember it clearly; I was unloading the dishwasher, which I detested doing, while my dad tried to convince me that, despite my fears, Mickey Mouse was not going to attack me—in fact, we might not even see him… or any other costumed characters at that. At the time I suffered from a completely irrational fear of people in costume—a fear that left me stranded in the ball pit at Chuck E. Cheese’s and cowering in the corner when McGruff the Crime Dog visited my school. On top of that, I had seen a commercial on the Disney channel in which Beetlejuice ran around the park, jumping out at innocent people and being an all around trouble maker. I wanted no part of his game. After a few minutes of heated debate, during which I flat out refused to visit the happiest place on earth and most likely threw a tantrum, my dad eventually dropped the subject (probably in relief) and the idea of going to Disneyland was lost forever.

That revelation might come as a bit of a shock—I would venture to say that I have something bordering on “obsession” when it comes to Disney princesses, and it’s definitely not a new trend in my life—but my ten-year-old self was so concerned with scary costumes and scary rides that she missed out on an essential childhood experience.

Fifteen years later, I am offered, for the second time, to visit Disneyland. This time as a 25-year-old who has somewhat grown out of her irrational childhood fears and thinks she can handle meeting Mickey Mouse (especially considering she is probably significantly taller than him). This time, I accept.

What’s it like to visit Disneyland for the first time as an adult? In a word, magical. In fact, I would venture to guess that it was even more magical at 25 than it ever would have been at ten. As an adult, I was able to make my own decisions—decisions like “eating vast amounts of junk food,” and “subsisting entirely on Mickey Mouse shaped waffles and Dole whip.” I was able to pick and choose the rides I wanted to go on, and the shows I wanted to see. I was able to wander off on my own and experience Disney the way I wanted to experience it. And if those experiences happened to co-exist with those of a three-year-old, which most of them did, so be it.

I entered Disneyland with an open mind. I was the only single person in a big group of families and I knew I would have to make some sacrifices. That being said, I had one goal, and one goal only; meet Cinderella. I was a little wary. A friend of mine had visited Disneyland only weeks earlier and claimed that the princesses were far and few between—her one and only Cinderella sighting was that of a private party… and from a distance. I walked through the gates for the first time expecting the worst. However, not ten feet into the park, we encountered our first character. Cinderella, in the flesh. I stopped. I stared. And then I panicked. We didn’t have time for a photo op, but what if we never saw her again!? I awkwardly sidled towards her while my friend haphazardly snapped a picture. I essentially photobombed a Disney princess. And not just any Disney princess, THE Disney princess, but I didn’t care. I had only been in Disneyland for 30 seconds and I had already accomplished my goal.

As it turns out, I needn’t have worried. I would meet Cinderella no less than five times over the next three days. Our last meeting was more “You again.” and less “I can’t believe it’s you!” Not that our first meeting was anything like that… I discovered one thing as I stood in line to meet the princesses; I am still the cripplingly shy ten-year-old that I was the first time my parents offered to take me.
“Hello!” the princess would say.

“Herkjldsf.” I would reply, as I attempted to contort my face into a princess worthy smile.

“You’re her favorite princess!” my friend would interject, causing me to turn beet red as I turned to face the camera, hoping my arms didn’t look as awkward as they felt (they definitely did).

By the third day I had somewhat regained my composure, enough to tell Snow White that I had been waiting all weekend to meet her before discussing the importance of wearing a big red bow in one’s hair. I lost it again, temporarily, when we entered Asgard and I was suddenly faced with the god of thunder (who, thankfully, was several inches taller than me). But the most disconcerting meeting of all was one I was looking forward to the most. Let’s just say it didn’t exactly go as planned…

IMG_4331Anyone who knows me knows that the movie Tangled can usually be found pre-loaded in my blu ray player. Anyone who knows me really well knows that I have a very real crush on a very fictional character, and that character is Flynn Rider. But I wasn’t the only one looking forward to meeting the handsome thief, my best friend and her three-year-old daughter were eager to get their hands on him as well (let’s just say that the three-year-old has a naked Flynn doll hanging out in her bathtub,
and her mom isn’t complaining). We were standing on the bridge to the left of the castle, contemplating our next move, when I (very literally) bumped into the man of the hour himself. Before I knew what was happening, he had complimented my shirt, twisted out of my way, and brushed right on by. I turned in shock to see my friend fumbling for her camera while Flynn greeted her daughter in the stroller. Not ten seconds later, he was gone. The three of us gazed at each other wide-eyed for several seconds before the three-year-old belted out “Flynn Rider touched my shirt!” A fact we won’t soon let her forget.

In reality, our entire weekend was filled with chance encounters like that. Mary Poppins and Bert strolled by while we ate our breakfast at the Jolly Holiday. Peter Pan and Captain Hook ran past while we waited in line at Pixie Hollow. And even Cruella de Vil crossed our path (arm in arm with a fireman, of course) as we made our way down Main Street. It was nonstop magic from the moment we exited the vehicle in the parking lot on the very first day when the parking attendant complimented our “royal carriage” and directed us towards the shuttle that would drop us off at the front gates to the magic kingdom.

After three days of blistering heat, standing in lines, and loving every second of it, I spent the 14-hour car ride home very seriously considering quitting my life and moving to Disneyland to work as a janitor (because, let’s face it, I’m about six inches too tall to be a Disney princess). In the end, I decided that “gum duty” probably wouldn’t be a very fulfilling career… but it’s always nice to have a backup plan.

Happily Ever After

Once-A-Upon-A-Time

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess; she lived on the highest floor of her apartment building, and her life was filled with Disney movies and coloring books. She spent her days reading and writing, and no prince or evil Queen ever told her what to do. She surrounded herself with beautiful things and laughing faces, and all that glitter kept the darkness away. She never worried about living happily ever after because she was happy right now, and that’s all that really mattered. 8482ee5074bc90572f81570b117cadf9Every morning, she rolled out of bed, about 30 minutes too late – because she was not a morning person, and asked “Mirror mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” And the mirror never responded, but she was pretty sure it would say, “You,” if it could…

I’ve always loved princesses and fairytales, but for some reason, since moving into my own apartment, my love for all things “fairest of them all” has turned into a full blown obsession. Maybe it’s because I’m finally free to spend my days doing whatever I want without some boy complaining that “we’ve already watched Beauty and the Beast 4 times this week,” or maybe it’s because I’ve purposely covered my walls with pictures of Cinderella… or maybe it’s because one of my best friends is a 3-year-old who’s equally as obsessed with the movie Tangled as I am – and she once referred to my apartment building as a “castle.” Whatever the reason, I’ve spent the past few months watching Disney movies every single day, and reading fairytale books every single night. It’s been absolutely wonderful. Without further ado, here’s a few books I loved so much, they’ve somehow taken my obsession with gowns and glitter to an entirely new level.

The Fairest of Them All by Carolyn Turgeon StarStarStarStarStar

The Fairest of Them All

If you love fairytales at all, you need to check out this author. I’ve read almost all her books. She takes a classic fairytale, gives it just the slightest (and oftentimes dark) twist, and makes it new (I’m pretty sure I’ve reviewed both Godmother, her modern – and psychological – retelling of Cinderella, and Mermaid, her somewhat morbid take on our favorite fishy-friend). However, Fairest of Them All takes fairytales to a whole new level – especially if you’re a fan of Rapunzel (aka the princess that epitomizes unrealistic hair expectations). Before delving into this book, which begs the question “what would happen if Rapunzel was Snow White’s evil queen?,” I decided to catch up on some classic Grimm’s fairytales.

Their take on Rapunzel starts with a husband and wife who, for some reason, live in the shadow of an evil enchantresses wall. Just over the wall, a bushel of rapunzel grows (I think it’s a type of lettuce). The wife sees the rapunzel and longs to eat it so badly that she begins to waste away. The husband, seeing this, climbs the wall to steal some of the rapunzel from the enchantresses garden. The enchantress sees him and allows him to take the plant, as long as he gives her his firstborn child in return (seems totally fair). The man agrees and when the baby is born, the enchantress, Gothel, takes the baby and names her Rapunzel. We all know what happens next; Rapunzel gets stuck in a tower, Gothel uses her hair as a rope ladder, and she spends her days singing beautiful song and bonding with whatever wildlife makes its way into her tower. One day, a prince happens upon Rapunzel and the two conspire to meet every evening. Unfortunately, Gothel catches wind of this plan, cuts Rapunzel’s hair off, and uses it to draw the prince to the tower – where she basically pushes him over the edge. In a weird twist, he lives, but some thorns scratch his eyes and blind him. He stumbles around the forest for, well, I don’t know how long, but eventually stumbles into the desert (in what universe is the forest right next to the desert?) where he discovers Rapunzel. Her tears heal his eyes (bring back what once was mine…) and he immediately whisks her back to the castle where she is crowned as “princess.” Talk about happily ever after.

The Fairest of Them All starts similarly – in that Rapunzel was whisked away from her parents by Mother Gothel, but she’s under the impression that she was “rescued.” You see, Rapunzel’s real mother was so obsessed with getting her hands on some rapunzel (the lettuce, not her daughter) that she went batshit crazy. Gothel took the girl and raised her as her own, deep in the woods. The two live beneath the ruins of an old castle (pretty much all that’s left standing is the tower – which Rapunzel sleeps in, but only by choice) and Gothel teaches the girl the art of healing. They both possess magic, but mainly just the magic to heal a broken heart. Magic is pretty frowned upon in the kingdom, but that doesn’t stop young women from stealing away in the middle of the night to beg Gothel, a known enchantress, for a love potion. In any case, a prince happens upon their cottage one day and invites Rapunzel to a royal ball – she, of course, agrees, but Gothel, wanting to keep Rapunzel safe from palace life, locks her in the tower. Fortunately, Rapunzel has long flowing hair – long enough for the prince to climb when he comes to her tower the next day to enquire why she missed the ball. Long story short; they sleep together, he tells her he’s engaged to someone else, and leaves her with her heart in pieces.

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Thus begins Rapunzel’s descent into…not madness – but something close to it. When she discovers that the prince, now King, has had a daughter of his own, named Snow White, with his new wife, the Queen, she and Mother Gothel decide to take matters into their own hands…

This book had it all; “mirror, mirror, on the wall,” romance, action, adventure, beautiful princesses, evil queens, and magic – both light and dark. Plus – just look at that beautiful cover!

When I shut the cover on Fairest of Them All (metaphorically, of course – I read it on my nook), I just couldn’t fathom leaving the world of princesses and magic just yet, so I picked up Spindle’s End and delved into the tale of Sleeping Beauty…

Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley StarStarStarStarStar

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In the Grimm’s fairytale, the King and Queen invite 12 of the 13 Wise Women of the kingdom to celebrate the new princess’s birth. This isn’t because they don’t like the 13th Woman, but simply because they only have 12 golden plates (obviously). The shunned Wise Woman bursts angrily through the doors, just after the 11th Woman has bestowed her gift upon Briar Rose, and curses the baby to prick her finger on a spindle and die on her 15th birthday. The last Wise Woman softens the curse by claiming that the princess won’t die, but sleep for 100 years. The King orders all spindles to be burned and, on Rose’s 15th birthday, they leave her home alone (seriously?!). Of course, she pricks her finger, and the whole castle falls into a deep sleep. Before long, the entire thing gets covered in thorns and any prince who attempts to rescue the Sleeping Beauty gets stuck to the thorns and dies. But then, 100 years later, just as the castle is about to wake up, another prince decides to try his hand at rescuing the princess – he finds the castle, not covered in thorns, but surrounded by flowers that part for him as he makes his way to the tower to wake Sleeping Beauty. Uh, yeah… doesn’t he sound brave?

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Did not actually happen.

Anyway, Spindle’s End begins with the birth of Briar Rose (although she has about 15 names in front of that) and the invitation of (almost) every fairy in the kingdom to serve as fairy-godmothers. All but one, evil fairy, at least. Katriona, a guest to the princesses name day, is disgusted by the gifts the fairies are giving – red lips, white skin, golden hair, etc., etc. But then the evil fairy, Pernicia, appears and curses the baby to, you guessed it, prick her finger and die before her 21st birthday. As Pernicia makes her exit, Katriona finds herself holding the baby and, suddenly, forced to kidnap her – or save her, depending on how you look at it. She takes the princess, now known as Rosie, to live with her in her cottage in the woods where “ordinariness” will surely save her from Pernicia’s grasp.

For 21 years Rosie lives with Katriona and grows to be, not beautiful, but kind of weird looking. She has golden hair, white skin, blue eyes, and pearly teeth, but all those features come together in a way that’s not quite natural. She spends her days working at the blacksmith shop and believing she is Katriona’s orphaned niece. But, because this is a fairytale, the dark magic eventually catches up to her – forcing her and her friends to go on a darkly magical journey that ends in, well, not quite “happily ever after.” a694ce22a8a0b7caa08ca32968313ce8

I loved this book because it was written like a classic – even though it was actually written just 14 years ago. It reminded me of the old books I used to read at my grandma’s house – things like “The Enchanted Castle,” “The Five Children and It,” or even “The Phantom Tollbooth.” And the ending proved that true love’s first kiss didn’t have to be between a prince and a princess, or even a man and a woman (take that FrozenSpindle’s End did it first!) – true love saves the day, but not in the way you would think. It was an amazing story, worthy of being a classic, and I can’t wait to get my hands on some more Robin McKinley books.

Mid-Twenties Ramblings

It has come to my attention that I haven’t posted in MONTHS. This is not because I haven’t read a good book in months (on the contrary, it’s probably because I would rather read books than write about them – given my limited time these days). It’s also probably because I spend ALL DAY writing, and despite my promises to my co-workers that I would continue blogging even after accepting the job as a writer, I usually don’t feel like writing MORE when I get home. I usually feel like laying on the couch and watching four or more hours of Netflix (yes, Netflix, I’m still watching, stop asking). In any case, I recently got a new laptop, and I was looking for an excuse to spend some more time with it, so I thought to myself, “Hey, why not write a blog?” And here I am.

In truth, I actually haven’t read many books these days. I binged on historical fiction, as I am wont to do, and decided to make the switch to paranormal (or in other words, “scary”) gothic tales a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, a few weeks ago I also found myself living alone – and if you’ve been keeping up with my blog at all, you already know what I’m a giant weenie. The sun has also taken to setting at 5:15 (otherwise known as “the moment I get home from work”) which leaves little to no daylight to read scary books by. The result? You guessed it; more Netflix. Or, in some cases, more writing – for work.

Which I don’t actually mind. Because, for the first time ever, I actually love my job. I love going to work in the morning (despite the fact that I do not love waking up), I love that the word “retail” doesn’t even cross my mind over the course of the day, and I love how quickly time flies when I’m doing what I do best – writing articles. That’s not to say I didn’t love working at a book store – I did. I loved the books, I loved the people, hell, I even loved some of the customers – but it’s nice to experience the holiday season without a disgruntled shopper accusing me of ruining Christmas for everyone in their family.

And guess what? I talk to the coolest people! My job is to interview clients and write their stories – and sometimes those stories are amazing! I’ve talked to a personal trainer who got his beginnings with one piece of used workout equipment in Puerto Rico. I’ve talked to a dentist who extracted his first tooth when he was 12-years-old in the middle of a South American jungle. I’ve even talked to (granted, minor) celebrities! If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that everyone has a story to tell – and I love being the person who gets to tell those stories!

If there’s one more thing I’ve learned it’s that I’ve been sitting around wasting my life. There are eight-year-olds out there who have accomplished more in the past two years than I have (or probably will ever accomplish) in my entire existence. There are people my age who have traveled to thirty foreign countries and speak multiple languages. There are girls, just like me, who have hiked Kilimanjaro or run on the Great Wall of China – all before they turned 25.

I wasn’t sure where this blog was going when I started it, but it’s turning into a mid-life crisis (er, a “I’m going to be 25 this year” crisis) and that could get ugly. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m lucky to have a job that not only inspires me, but one that I also enjoy. For now, telling amazing stories will be my outlet. And someday (that proverbial someday) I’ll do amazing things too.

Confessions of a Bookaholic

“Don’t ask me my favorite author,” I said quickly, not wanting to be disappointed too soon. “I can’t bear that question. I can never think how to answer it, which gives the impression that I hardly read at all, or that my tastes never change, or I never make new discoveries, when nothing could be further from the truth.”

– from The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson

Thus the conundrum I faced daily as a book manager. People were constantly asking me what I recommended, and I quickly learned that they didn’t want my opinion of a good book, or a list of my favorite authors, they wanted whatever was on the bestseller table that week – whatever had made the papers. They wanted Fifty Shades of Grey (don’t even get me started) and books that some reviewer at the New York Times had claimed were life changing or eye opening – and sometimes they were.

I have a serious case of book snobbery (I’ve admitted this here before…it’s no secret). Once a book reaches the best seller table there’s a good chance I want nothing to do  with it – unless I’ve read it before, then I pat myself on the back for contributing to that book’s success, unless the book was bad, then I just feel ashamed. I put off reading The Hunger Games for years because it’s all anyone would talk about, when I finally did read it I read the entire trilogy in a 48 hour period – I even called in late for work to finish it. It forced me to admit that sometimes books are on the bestseller table for a reason.

But then Fifty Shades of Grey came along and it destroyed any faith I had in the term “bestseller.” People are treating it like some revolutionary book because *gasp* it’s dirty – newsflash! It’s not the first dirty book ever written. There’s this genre called erotica and it’s been around since before the 1800’s (Fanny Hill anyone?). You can randomly select any book from the romance aisle and I guarantee it’ll have at least a little smut – if not A LOT. There is nothing revolutionary about Fifty Shades that would cause it to be placed in the category of “bestsellers,” yet everyday people would demand that I read it and look at me with a mixture of shock and disgust when I said “No, I haven’t read it, and no, I don’t plan to.” One woman even claimed it was the best, THE BEST, book she has ever read in her entire life. To which I replied, “You must not have read very many books.” And surprisingly did not get in trouble.

Needless to say it was sometimes incredibly hard for me recommend books to the average reader. However, every once in awhile I would encounter a book snob with an even higher level of snobbery than myself. And those conversations would go something like this:

Customer: “Can you recommend a good sci/fi series that I haven’t read?”
Me: “I can try, have you read (at this point I would rattle off every sci/fi book I had ever read or heard anything about).
Customer: “Yeah, I’ve read all those. I’m looking for something along the same lines as American Gods… have you read that?”
 Me: “…no. But it’s on my list.”
Customer: “Oh… (looks at me like I am an underdeveloped monkey), well I’ll just browse, thank you.”

And that’s why I read American Gods.

It was one of the many books I felt I HAD to read in order to consider myself a book connoisseur. I was pressured to know everything about all books; if someone said their favorite book was The Poisonwood Bible, I’d better know some similar books to recommend. And guess what? I got pretty good at that. I know A LOT about a lot of books.

The downside? I developed an irrational desire to read everything. Literally everything. I get overwhelmed and stressed out when I consider how many books are on my “to-read” list, I worry that I will not be alive long enough to read all the books I want to read, and to learn about all the things I want to learn about. This year I’ve already read 50 books, by the end of the year I can probably hit 60… maybe 70 if I really apply myself. But new books come out every single week, how am I supposed to compete with that?! I’ll never pull ahead. My only saving grace is that I no longer work at a book store, so I can’t physically see all the new books that come out every Tuesday. Perhaps my to-read list will stop growing so quickly and I can make some headway (you know, in five years or so, if I continue to read over 50 books a year).

I don’t remember what it feels like to wonder “what can I read next?” because there is always something waiting on my shelf. I look forward to the day I have to actively search out a new book to read – that day may never come, but I look forward to it nonetheless.

Read on!

“When I was reading and writing, I was in that exhilarating place where the life of the imagination is more real than the tiles and soil and rock under my feet.”

– from The Lantern

Mermaid Month

I love mermaids. Who doesn’t? What girl hasn’t flopped around like a mermaid in a pool? (Okay, I still do that). My dad had the entirety of The Little Mermaid memorized by heart by the time I was 4 and at one point I very seriously considered getting an Ariel tattoo.

Anyway, I’ve been on a bit of a mermaid kick lately… maybe it’s because I just spent a week in Key West walking up and down the beach… maybe it’s because summer is finally here and I’ve spent every spare, 110 degree moment in the nearest body of water… or maybe it’s because I secretly am one, we may never know. Regardless, it all started when I picked up Wake by Amanda Hocking (actually it started with Siren Storm, but I already blogged briefly about that), I got so shamelessly sucked into Hocking’s Watersong series that, after finishing Tidal, I had to have more. So I read every mermaid book I could get my hands on. If I’ve learned anything from these books it’s that all I have to do to transform into a sultry siren or murderous mermaid is launch myself off of a very high cliff into the ocean. Results will follow.

The Watersong Series by Amanda Hocking StarStarStarStar

Like I said before, I was shamelessly sucked into this series. I read them so fast I can’t even review the individual books, they blend together. I was honestly shocked at myself for loving this series so much – the main character, Gemma, is exactly the kind of girl I hate to read about (but appears oh-so often in teen books). She’s the baby of the family, much prettier than her older sister Harper, and the apple of her single dad’s eye. She’s irresponsible, self absorbed, and a liiiiittle bit stupid. She’s also dating Harper’s best friend, Alex, which is SUPER uncool in my opinion. Then Gemma meets Penn, Thea, and Lexi, 3 gorgeous yet terrifying girls who are new to the small beach town of Capri. And by “meets” I mean they drag her out of the water during one of her midnight swims and make her drink their blood in order to transform her into a siren, like them.

Siren Gemma is much more likeable than human Gemma. She suddenly cares about people other than herself, she’s forced to take responsibility for her own actions and she actually manages to think of something other than Alex for a moment or two. To be fair she does have a lot on her plate. Yes, she gets to be a mermaid, but in order to remain alive she has to eat a human heart every once in a while, and she has to stay with the other sirens (how ever evil they may be) or they’ll all die… and she can’t fall in love – rather, due to the siren curse, no one will ever be able to truly love her. She has to stay within range of the ocean and swim everyday in order to remain healthy. Above all she needs to keep her emotions under control. She quickly discovers there are fatal repercussions for using her siren magic on humans, a magic she hardly understands and can barely control. Suddenly Gemma has to choose between life with the sirens, or death… unless she can break the curse.

The first two books of this series were great. Gripping, exciting, intriguing… the third book fell flat.  It was more or less a 300 page set-up for the fourth and final book. Regardless I would consider this a worthwhile series and actually look forward to the final installment, Elegy. It’s a guilty pleasure kind of book.

Between the Sea and the Sky by Jaclyn  Dolamore StarStar

I was excited about this book because it was loosely based on the original Little Mermaid story – it was more “classic mermaid” and less “evil siren.” Unfortunately it just wasn’t very good.

Esmerine is a mermaid and she has just received her siren belt (okay, there are siren’s in this story too, but these siren’s aren’t murderous, they just have magic belts). She is the second siren in the family. Her sister, Dosia, received her siren belt a few years before. But the day after the siren ceremony Dosia goes missing and her family fears that a human man has taken her belt – forcing her to remain on land as his wife. Esmerine volunteers to go to the surface in search of her. The transformation from tail to legs is painful and every step she takes on land feels like knives. She makes it as far as the capital city where she unexpectedly finds Alandar (ahem, Alan Dare), her childhood best-friend. Alan belongs to a winged race of people and offers (unwillingly) to fly her across the country in search of her sister. His father frowns upon Alan’s fraternization with mermaids and Alan is loathe to rekindle the forbidden friendship… yadda yadda yadda, their journey brings them closer (literally, she rides on his back for days) and they start to see each other in a different light.

It was written almost like a Jane Austen novel – that’s not really a bad thing, it was just odd considering the content. There wasn’t really any conflict, there was a lot of formal conversation between Esmerine and Alan, and the ending was very “18th century romance.” It is set in a fantasy world but I have to assume it’s also set in the 1800’s, Esmerine complains about the stays in her dress and her stockings, and she faints and weeps like the women of 18th century literature a wont to do. The ending was anti-climatic and sudden (I was just thinking “something has to happen sooner or later” when *poof* it was over) and made me think I had wasted precious time reading this pointless novel. It wasn’t deep or dark or thought provoking, it wasn’t exciting or intense, it wasn’t swoon worthy enough to be considered a romance, it didn’t do anything different… it was just boring, and then it was done.

Lost Voices by Sarah Porter StarStarStarStarStar

I’ll admit it, I loved this book. It was beautifully written (seriously, borderline poetic), and it wasn’t just a run of the mill paranormal teen book. There were no monsters or curses, there was no romance, the main character didn’t perform any amazing feats of bravery or save the world from imminent destruction. Just complex characters trying to survive among other complex characters… and they happen to be mermaids.

Lucette, or Luce, used to live with her dad, he was a thief and she was his little helper, then he died in a boating accident and left her with her deadbeat, drunken uncle. Over the years she’s become numb to the beatings, she’s learned when to hide and when to run. But one night the beating goes too far and she finds herself on the ground at the top of a high cliff, beaten, battered, and violated. With nowhere else to go she rolls herself over the edge.

When Luce wakes up from what she assumed was death she discovers she has a tail. After the horror wears off she is taken in by a group of mermaids, originally girls who were mistreated in their human lives, ruled by Catarina – a fiery red head with a tail to match. The mermaids have made it their calling in life to take down as many ships as possible, to kill as many humans as they can. They believe humans are innately bad and should be drowned before they can hurt any other girls like themselves. Luce is still compassionate for humans and resists what her voice naturally tries to do; kill. This makes waves (heh) with the other mermaids, especially Catarina. The stormy relationship only intensifies when a new mermaid is introduced into the group; a mermaid who doesn’t deserve her tail.

This book was essentially a character drama that takes place under water. Luce was easy to relate to, sympathize with, and root for. She is written as a 14 year old but she acts much older. She’s likeable, rational, and compassionate. I would recommend this book to young adults, teens, and adults alike. Based on how much I liked it as a 23 year old I can’t imagine the love I would have had for it as a teenager.

Other notable mermaid titles for your reading pleasure:

Mermaid by Carolyn Turgeon (actually I recommend you check out ANY of her books because they are all fantastic.) Mermaid is a dark and wonderful twist on the classic tale.

 

 

 

A Mermaid’s Kiss by Joey W. Hill
It wasn’t fantastic but it was pretty good for a racy romance. Warning: VERY racy.