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Book Recommendation: Girls & Sex by Peggy Orenstein


Book: Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape
Author: Peggy Orenstein
Genre: Nonfiction

Why You Should Read It (In My Humble Opinion): You may have recognized the name Peggy Orenstein from a previous book review (read the Cinderella Ate My Daughter review here) and she may now be one of my favorite nonfiction authors. She's a journalist who has dedicated her writing to girls' issues and while Cinderella Ate My Daughter was a book delving into the Disney princess phenomenon, Girls & Sex is Orenstein's ode to understanding girls and their thoughts, views, and practices about sex in this digital age. Orenstein interviewed dozens of girls about their ideas about sex, sexuality, relationships, all in their day to day life. Their responses are varied and bring to light new questions and a myriad of answers. We learn that each girl has their own definition of what sex really is, and Orenstein questions them on their thoughts about virginity, their own sexuality and understanding their bodies, dating, the hooking up culture, sexual harassment, body image, the media, and rape.

The answers and stories can be hard to read, because the girls Orenstein interviewed (all names have been changed for privacy) answered truthfully and with an emotional honesty that only teen girls can give. Orenstein writes with a swift, humorous, and intelligent hand, never judging the girls' activities and thoughts. You can tell that she has bonded with her young interviewees, and they trust her, which makes the material much more insightful.

The end of the book focuses on sexual education/sexuality classes that includes both girls and boys, which adds another important point to the book: both girls and boys should be educated together about sexuality, and most importantly, consent. The group discussions and commentary from the teacher of one of the classes that Orenstein transcribes is incredibly enlightening and shows a possible, better way method for teaching kids about sex and their own (and others') well being.

Even though I have left my teen years almost ten years ago (dear god, I'm old), I can sympathize and empathize with all of these girls, with their confusion during this hyper-sexual age. Your morals, your choices are always being judged. You're either a prude or a slut, and while you may think you're in the middle, no one else thinks that. Orenstein wrote the ultimate book about girls and their sexuality, one that every woman, girl, mother, and teen should read. In her writing she urges girls to understand and discover their sexuality, not to be ashamed, but celebrate it and find out what feels good for the girl. That sex and relationships aren't just about giving, but receiving, and that consent and safety is key to healthy relationships and life in general.

I wish that I had had a book like this to read when I was younger, but after reading Girls & Sex, I had one question I want to ask Orenstein: Can you please write a sexual education book for girls, with your witty and engaging writing, your understanding and patient compassion, and honesty? Because that's the kind of thing our young (and older) girls need to hear and be reminded of. But for now, I'm just happy that you wrote this book and will continue to sing its praises.

Stay Weird,

9 Reasons Why Libraries Are Magical And Deserve More Love!

Photo by Nong Vang on Unsplash
Now that it is officially summer (at least when I wrote this!), library reading programs have started! Summer reading programs always make me nostalgic and happy. They remind me of when my sisters and I were little and my mom would load us into the minivan on a blistering hot summer day and we would head off to the book-filled, icy cold air conditioned library. Keeping track of your books/reading hours was super exciting when you had a fun piece of paper styled like a board game (with prizes after you read a certain amount!) and you'd get to go home with a huge stack of books (the book limit at our old library was twenty-five books and you bet I took full advantage of that on every single trip I took to the library during those summers). We were young, out of school, with a long, hot summer stretching out in front of us. There was nothing to do but read and I absolutely loved it. I got lost in so many stories and discovered so many characters and their worlds in those days. The smell of sizzling asphalt in the library parking lot will always remind me of 110+ degrees summers.

But thankfully, reading programs just aren't for kids. A lot of libraries now have an adult summer reading program and I, of course, always sign up. Sure, the prizes aren't as cool as the kid prizes (I think adults would still appreciate a good sticker pack or a cute eraser shaped like food, but that's just me) but at my library you get a free book of your choice (I decided on Outlander by Diana Gabaldon to see what all of the fuss is about!) and you're entered into different drawings! I also entered a "one sentence book review" contest and won a $20 gift card!

Summer reading programs are great and promote fun and reading (though I love reading so I didn't need much motivation. Besides winning prizes. I love winning prizes) to those who may have gotten off of that habit due to everyday busy life. And it's because of all of these fond memories I have for the summer reading program that has inspired me to write this post.

As you can see, I've been going to the library for years and years. My mom always encouraged my sisters and myself to read and I cannot thank her enough for that. There's nothing I love more than disappearing into a good book. And the one place she took us to the most was the library, a magical, magical place filled with endless books, and I have to thank her again for that because any library is my safe haven. I never want libraries to become obsolete, despite the take over of everything digital. E-books are great, but nothing will beat that paper and glue smell of a book. The turning of the pages, the crack of the book's spine as you first open it...nothing can beat that feeling and sound (and smell!). I know people (especially kids) are getting too busy to read and are just in general losing interest in reading (despite a growing book lover communities have risen up lately, on Youtube, Instagram and blogs like this one), but I hope that my reminder of why libraries are awesome and will forever be of benefit to the community will help people see why we need to keep our libraries active and funded! Enjoy my list! (I love lists!)

#1: All the Books You Can Read! 
Yep, books are the main attraction at the library. You can go in so many different directions when you walk in. Thinking of a romance novel? Head on over to the fiction section. Feel like reading about a grisly murder? That would be over in nonfiction. The possibilities are literally endless. Can't find the exact book you want in your local library? Ask a librarian about interlibrary loans (it'll change your life, I swear). I know actual book shopping at a bookstore is incredibly fun (there's nothing I like better than losing a few hours in a bookstore and discovering new books to read) but how do you know the book you buy will be great? Better to check it out of the library and read it first. You can't waste money if you didn't spend it in the first place! Your inner bookworm and very real wallet will thank you.

#2: New Release Movies and Old Classics! 
Did you know the library has movies? As in DVDs and Blu-rays of current releases and old favorites and everything in between. I have saved so much money by reserving my place for newly released to video DVDs and Blu-rays. Sure, you may be 56 of 203 on the wait list, but with all of the counties copies of that movie, you'll get it in no time. Okay, all of the nominated Oscar movies will most likely come in after the Oscars, but again, you're going to save a LOT of money on some less than stellar movies (all that you're wasting is your time, not the price of multiple movies tickets, plus overpriced drinks, food, and popcorn. Think about that next time you're on the fence about seeing the latest dumb blockbuster).

#3: All the Latest Hits in Music! 
Not only do they get the latest movies, but they get the latest albums. You want the latest tunes? They got 'em. And other artists from A to Z? They got 'em, too!

#4: No Need For a Magazine Subscription Because the Library's Got 'Em All! 
Seriously. The library still has magazines. And newspapers. It's kind of awesome. Print isn't dead, people!

#5: Free Wifi and Computers for All! 
Do you have a library card? Congrats, you can use one of the library's many computers to surf the web! Did you bring your phone, laptop, or tablet with you? The library has free Wifi. You're set!

#6: Classes, Lectures, Free Programs and Much More! 
There are way too many to list here, but like the aforementioned summer reading program (and some library have winter reading programs, too!), libraries also hold classes on just about everything- both educational and fun, like how to apply for Social Security, or even a special history exhibit about the clothes of Downton Abbey. Or story-time for kids and even special movie events for teens. Sometimes guest speakers or local politicians also make an appearance. There are so many special (and free) events offered at your library that you don't even know about, so check them out! Back in the day my old library used to hold Harry Potter themed trivia nights, in the style of the Triwizard Tournament. It was the event and you had to reserve your spot it was so popular. (Remember when the Harry Potter series wasn't over? Me too. *sobs*)

#7: Super Helpful Librarians Who Love Reading and Books As Much As You Do! 
Librarians are there to help you with whatever you need while you're at the library. They've got the Dewey Decimal system down pat (even though it's becoming obsolete due to technology. Poor Dewey) and they know exactly what keywords to use when searching for your item. Need a book recommendation? They'll have one for you. They also are excellent at finding lost books and are incredibly organized. And I bet when they re-shelve books they don't even sing the alphabet to finally shelve The Book Thief onto the teen fiction "Z" shelf (for Markus Zusak, duh). Librarians love reading, books, and helping people in general, which makes them library superheroes in my book! (See what I did there? Book? I'll stop)

#8: Your Overdue Charges are Pretty Much Just a Donation to Your Library!
I know, I know, everyone hates overdue charges. I mean, paying 20 cents for an overdue book? Or even worse: at my library, if a DVD/Blu-ray/CD is late, it's $2 a day. Yikes! As crappy as overdue fees are, think about your local library. It gets its funding from the government. You're pretty much getting access to all of this material for FREE. So in a way, your overdue charges (which I hope that you do pay or else you can't check out books) are actually a donation to the library (when you pay them, that is. C'mon, it's only like 20 cents. Just pay your charges, people!). It's such a small price to pay for getting books, movies. CDS, and MORE for free. Pay your overdue charges and try to think of it as a small donation to buy copies of the new James Patterson book. Plus, a lot of libraries now do a canned food drive where they'll take off some money from your outstanding late fees for every can of food you donated. How cool is that??

#9: Check Out Your Library's Website- Yeah, Your Library Has a Pretty Cool Website! 
Okay, so pretty much everyone and everything has a website. Heck, Space Jam still has their website up and functioning. But your library's website is even cooler than Space Jam's website (sorry, Bugs). Because if you have a library card, you also now have access to free e-books, movies, and music all through various web streaming services through the website or you can even download free apps to use on your phone, tablet, or TV! Also, emphasis on the word free.

I love my local library (and all libraries in general) and everything it stands for and offers, so I hope my list has reminded you all of just how useful and fun libraries are. If you haven't already, go out and visit your local library! Explore all of the cool material, programs, and classes that they offer. And if you don't have one yet, sign up and get a library card! Because remember:

Thanks, Arthur and friends!

Who else loves their local library?? The library I used to go to even let you check out different cake pans so you could bake a cake in a fancy shaped pan! The library is full of fun and free things! Let me know what you love about your local library in the comments!

Stay Weird,

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The Exorcist Steps, Cupcakes & Cats in Georgetown!

Here's the part 2 of my adventures on the east coast!

On Saturday, my sister and I decided to explore Georgetown, a big college town right next to Washington, DC. My big reason for going? To see something from one of my very favorite movies: The Exorcist.

In case you've never seen The Exorcist or read the book, shame on you! Now go read the book then watch the movie. But alright, if you're too scared to watch it, The Exorcist is about a little girl possessed by a demon and at the very end (SPOILER ALERT) one of the priests who tried to exorcise her dies, leaving the young priest to desperately confront the demon by telling it to possess him instead. Though he succeeds in exorcising the demon and having it possess him, he then crashes through the little girl's bedroom window, where he stumbles down a very long, concrete staircase that is attached to the side of the house, and dies from his injuries. Sad, but if you've seen the movie or read the book it symbolizes something much bigger and meaningful than anything I could ever try to paraphrase. This is the power of William Peter Blatty, who wrote the book and movie's screenplay. Did I mention I love The Exorcist?

Now my sister wasn't keen on visiting a place where a horror movie was filmed (which baffles me, because it was just a movie, a little girl didn't become possessed and a priest definitely didn't die at the bottom of these stairs, but to each their own...) but she was a trooper as we traipsed around Georgetown in search of the steps. After consulting my iPhone's maps app, we found the right cross-streets but weren't exactly sure where the steps were. My sister looked to the right. "Oh my god," she said. "There it is."

Sandwiched between a building and a house high on a hill, we looked down and there were the stairs. It might have been more dramatic (there are 3 flights of stairs) except for the fact that there was a Crossfit group that were using the steps as an endurance exercise drill. Despite that, my sister and I started on the long way down on those hard, deep steps. Reaching the bottom (after a minor round of vertigo. The steps are tall, y'all!), we were finally able to see the full scale of how tall and impressive that stairway is.

That Weird Girl Life

That Weird Girl Life
A plaque attached to the wall on the right officially makes it a DC landmark. Plus, there were a couple of other like-minded guys who braved the storm of exercisers doing frog jumps and laps up and down the stairs to visit and take pictures of the steps.

That Weird Girl Life
Can't you just imagine Father Damien Karras falling down these hallowed horror stairs?

That Weird Girl Life
Also, look at this line of exercise nuts waiting for their turn to climb up and remind us regular people how out of shape we are. I'm just kidding, they were all very nice and I think if I had asked, they probably would have stood out of the way if I wanted a decent photo of the stairs without them Stair-mastering up it. But I didn't, because I knew that their drill instructor- I mean, team leader- was timing them.
That Weird Girl Life
I did get this great picture of the stairs from the top, complete with a guy leapfrogging his way up the stairs! Nice form, man!

That Weird Girl Life
Walking back up the stairs (following a girl jumping up each step while I huffed and puffed and wondered if this group was training for something or was just doing this for "fun"), both my sister and I got a little winded (not going to lie) and also had another round of minor vertigo. After recovering, we then set off for our next stop: Georgetown Cupcake!

If you've ever watched TLC or Netflix, you may have noticed a TV show called DC Cupcakes, which is about the owners of the cupcake store, Georgetown Cupcakes. I had watched the show a couple of times and while it was okay and mildly entertaining, I was more interested in the cupcakes. There always seemed to be a line to the store on the show, and I wanted to know if the cupcakes were really worth it. My sister said they were but I had to see for myself and who doesn't love a trip to a cupcake shop?? Taste test time!

The line wasn't too bad, but while we waiting we heard a group of college kids (who were everywhere, considering that it was Georgtown) mention a cat cafe. That immediately piqued my interest. I turned around. "Cat cafe??" I asked, manners be damned. They told us there was a cat cafe called Crumbs and Whiskers located not too far away. After stepping out of line to research and possibly make an appointment to hang out with cats, drink tea, and eat some macaroons. Sadly, we couldn't find any available appointments for the times we wanted and contemplated coming back the next day, but we eventually decided that we'd just walk by the cafe and peek inside. I mainly felt a little guilty for even thinking of going to pet strange cats when I missed my own cat at home so much. (Trust me, cats know when you've been unfaithful to them)

We got back in line and thankfully the line moved quickly and we were inside Georgetown Cupcake! The menu of the flavors available for the day were posted on the wall and the impressive line of cupcakes were on the other side. So many flavors!!

That Weird Girl Life
That Weird Girl Life

That Weird Girl Life
We bought seven cupcakes, one for each of us, plus an extra just to share (one is not pictured but I believe it was a chocolate lava cupcake. Also, the salted caramel one got a little smushed but my mom said it was still delicious):

That Weird Girl Life
I was super happy that they had the flavor I wanted (cookies and cream!) since I couldn't see it on display but they had just made a fresh batch. Yes!! After we had collected our cupcakes, took pictures (of course) and tried to look through the viewing window of the women in back decorating their cupcakes (but the ladies doing the frosting gave us dirty looks when we tried to look in so why would they have a viewing window where you can watch the employees work on the cupcakes if they just give you dirty looks?), we were off to go find the cat cafe!

Have I ever mentioned that Washington DC is humid? Because it is SO HUMID. As a person who grew up in the desert, I'm used to a dry, searing heat, not a warm, soggy atmosphere. So on the walk to the cat cafe, I was literally drenched with sweat and chugging the water out of my water bottle. Despite looking like I had just encountered a freak shower, we found Crumbs and Whiskers and saw a little feline trying to lure us into the establishment!

That Weird Girl Life
He/She was so cute and almost made us want to make an appointment and spend that $15+ to pet it and other precious fur babies for a 75 minute appointment. But after going on three separate historical tours and spending god knows what on souvenirs/presents for others and myself (I went a little crazy with my credit card. What can I say, I was on vacation!), I knew I probably shouldn't spend the money plus I had my own feline waiting for me at home (who I missed very much while I was away). So instead, we took a few pictures of the cat and talked to it through the window. Which I'm sure made us look like a couple of loons unless fellow cat people saw us, then they'd totally understand what we were doing. I was just happy to learn that cat cafes weren't just in Japan and are thankfully popping up in more places. I'd still like to visit one one day! (Another thing to one day check off my bucket list!)
That Weird Girl Life
By the time we walked back to Georgetown Cupcakes, we (well, I was because I was perspiring profusely) were ready to head back and be lazy after our adventures (and to eat our cupcakes with our family).

I was so happy I finally got to see the Exorcist steps. It was incredible to finally see them in person after viewing them so many times while watching the movie (check that off my bucket list!). The cupcakes were delicious, they were totally worth the wait in line (the cookies and cream cupcake had Oreo pieces IN the cupcake. Not just in the frosting, but IN THE CUPCAKE BATTER ITSELF. I never knew true love until that moment...Apparently everyone else's cupcakes were good too, but let's be honest, in my mind my cupcake was the only one that mattered) and finding the cat cafe was just an awesome bonus! I'd definitely go back to Georgetown (I heard there's also a Sprinkles Cupcake there...taste test between Sprinkles and Georgetown Cupcake, maybe?) to do some more exploring. But maybe when it's not so humid out...

Stay Weird,

Ghostly Misadventures in Historic Alexandria, VA!

When a family trip to go out to the east coast to visit my sister and other relatives popped into my family's mind, I knew exactly what I wanted to do while I was there: see family I haven't seen in years and catch up, of course... But the old, colonial history immediately turned my thoughts to one thing: GHOSTS.

Places that are old and steeped in history usually have the most paranormal activity. And Alexandria Virginia is considered one of the most haunted cities in the US. thanks to its rich past of the Founding Fathers and the founding of our country, and of a little squirmish you may have heard of called the Civil War.

And as luck would have it, my aunt, who we were staying with, lives in Alexandria, in a neighborhood that is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from historic old town!

After a quick search on the interwebz, I found a few places in old town Alexandria I wanted to explore. My first stop? Gadsby's Tavern, where I had read that a very mysterious ghost, nicknamed the Female Stranger, may haunt its halls.

Originally just a tavern built in the 1700's and located in downtown Alexandria, it was much later expanded into a restaurant where you can still eat. Our tour of the museum portion of the tavern was small, but our tour guide, who's name I forgot to ask and seriously wish that I had, was amazing. You could tell she was passionate about the history of the tavern and was open to all of our question.

Gadsby's Tavern was a big meeting place for the founders of the U.S., with George Washington often having supper there, as well as Thomas Jefferson, but was also an inn, where rooms and bedding were limited and up to three men would often share a bed in a small, plain room. You really got to know your fellow travelers, our tour guide joked. As the years went on and the tavern was expanded, more rooms were added to accommodate women and the richer travelers. These rooms were much more lavish, with canopy beds and a fireplace (remember these fancier rooms because they will come up again in the next few paragraphs!).

The tavern was usually not a place for ladies to stay, or even visit, but there are two giant meeting rooms/ballrooms, where performers (such as acrobats, or my personal favorite, a traveling pig who could spell, add, and subtract with blocks) would perform for the tavern's guests and townsfolk. Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson had birthday dinners or other important celebrations held in the ballrooms, where musicians on a balcony would play music as the party goers danced and dined.

The tavern has been painstakingly repainted and furnished to look almost exactly how it used to, down to the colors of the paint and chandeliers. Going into this unassuming old tavern, I had no idea that I would be walking into a place where history is literally seeping out of its pores. To think that you could be standing in the same room as the first President of the United States was awe-inspiring.

After the tour, we stopped by the gift shop (okay, I'll be honest, we started at the gift shop when we first walked in the tavern) and after thanking the tour guide for a the very informative and entertaining tour, I finally decided to ask (after the other people from the tour had left) about the ghost who exactly this mysterious ghost was. Her eyes lit up. "Oh! You mean the Female Stranger!" she said.

Back in the 1800's, a man and a woman arrived at the tavern. The woman fell deathly ill, and the man, who everyone assumed to be her husband, called for a doctor. She was put in room 8 in one of the nicer rooms (these were the rooms I said to remember earlier!). On her deathbed, the woman made everyone promise, including the man, the doctor, and the women who attended to her, to never reveal her true identity. They all swore and when she died, she was buried in St. Paul's Cemetery, where the man paid for a large, inscribed headstone, that must have cost a pretty penny in those days, especially since they charged by the word. Here is part of the beautiful and mysterious inscription:

"To the memory of a FEMALE STRANGER, whose mortal sufferings terminated on the 14th day of October, 1816 aged 23 years and 8 months. This stone was placed here by her disconsolate husband, in whose arms she sighed out her last breath, and who under God did his utmost even to soothe the cold, dead ear of death."

(Note to self: next time I visit Alexandria, make a special trip to see the Female Stranger's grave at St. Paul's Cemetery! Something else to add to paranormal bucket list?)

(Note to self II: Make up a paranormal bucket list?)

Our tour guide concluded that no one knows for sure who the Female Stranger was or what she even died from, but there are rumors and theories that are still debated still today. She then said that she wasn't supposed to talk about the ghost or the haunting, but unofficially, she had some experiences. She apparently lives very close to the tavern and late one night her boss calls her to check on the tavern because the security alarm kept going on. She arrived, and no one was there, of course, so she went on her rounds to check to see that all of the doors to the guest rooms were closed and locked. Just in case.

When she arrived at room 8, she had trouble unlocking the door. The moment she finally unlocked and opened it, it slammed in her face and locked. A little shaken, she unlocked the door again and opened it, just to have her slam violently back again. After giving it another try a few times, she said she was in tears and terrified and called her boss to tell him and to have him call her down. Our tour guide said she would like to think that maybe it was just a draft and not the ghost of the Female Stranger, but others who work and volunteer in the tavern have had experiences as well, so she says anything is possible.

I highly recommend touring Gadsby's Tavern. It was a pleasant surprise, walking into an unassuming brick building and finding all of it's rich and detailed history all wrapped up in a mysterious and chilling ghost story. And I certainly hope you get an awesome tour guide like I did!

(Learn more about Gadsby's Tavern here and the Female Stranger here)

After the Tavern, we stopped at another historical site in Alexandria, the Carlyle house, which was a beautiful old house with a rich history steeped in the Civil War. In their gift shop, I bought the book Ghosts of Alexandria by Michael Lee Pope, filled with all of the sites and stories of ghosts and spirits that seemingly haunt the very historic city. Reading it, I learned even more about the Female Stranger's story and who her "husband" might have been and even who she may have been. Some claim to know, but I don't think the mystery will ever be solved which makes the supposed haunting more mysterious and tragic. I also found out that Gadsby's Tavern's staff vehemently denies any sort of supernatural activity and refuses to discuss any mention of the Female Stranger. After learning that, I was so grateful that I had asked the tour guide about it after the tour and that she was nice enough to break an unwritten rule to tell me about her experiences! Again, best tour guide ever.

Also, after reading the chapter about Carlyle house, I learned that the house itself is also supposedly haunted by three separate spirits. After I had purchased the book in their gift shop and left! Ugh. Well, that's just another reason to visit Alexandria again. Plus the garden in the back of the house is beautiful. They hold weddings there, and while we were in the gift shop, a couple was there inquiring about booking their wedding there. All of the women in the room (me included) gasped, saying congratulations and what a wonderful place for a wedding it would be! The garden was that lovely. (Learn more about Carlyle house here)

(Ghosts of Alexandria is a great ghostly guide to exploring the city! I highly recommend reading it to plan out your trip. Check out the book here)

The next day we went to the Woodlawn Plantation, located right near Mount Vernon. Which makes a lot of sense after we learned that it was a wedding present from George Washington to his step-granddaughter Nellie. President Washington was devoted to his grandchildren, but Nellie was his favorite and she adored him.

My family and I had actually stopped at Woodlawn a few years back when we went looking for a Frank Lloyd Wright house to tour very near Mount Vernon. Woodlawn is a beautiful house that looks right out of a Jane Austen novel and I really wanted to take a tour of it, but at the time it was undergoing some renovation. This time around, I was determined to go back, not only because it's a gorgeous house and property, but because of what I had just read in Mr. Pope's book: it's reportedly haunted.

Our tour guide this time was a bit different than our first. Less outgoing and smiling, but quick with dry humor and information. I liked her instantly. She explained the history of the Washington family, and of how Nellie and her brother came to be part of it and live with them, and also General Washington's affection and love for his granddaughter. Nellie was an accomplished singer, musician, spoke and sang in different languages, and was very beautiful. Basically, she was the whole package and with Mr. and Mrs.Washington as her dedicated grandparents, she had it all and every opportunity handed to her (lucky girl). She loved and admired him so much that she got married on his birthday. Their devotion to each other, our tour guide said confirming our thoughts, was a little much. "I don't love my grandfather that much," she commented wryly.

We explored the beautiful rooms of the house, including a sitting room with several old instruments, like a piano and a harp that were on display. Another part of that particular sitting room that I absolutely loved was one of the windows. It wasn't the original window of the sitting room, but an original of one from an upstairs rooms. I don't remember exactly who did it (either a young relative or family friend of the Washington family) but a young woman back in the 1800's got engaged or married and to commemorate the happy occasion (and to test the ring to make sure it was a real diamond) she etched her name on the glass, which is still visible. It's such a nice reminder of the people who used to live and visit the house during those times. Also, it's impressive that she signed/scratched her full name, in cursive, on the glass of a window. Her penmanship was flawless.

After walking up the gorgeous floating staircase, we saw the bedrooms and the different ways they would have been laid out during the years. The furniture was old but very well preserved and they featured many different intricate designs, such as pineapples, to show off wealth. After our tour upstairs, we passed by the roped off wooden staircase to as we were heading back towards the top of the staircase. "That's the attic," our tour guide pointed out. "It's not part of the tour, but I think during Halloween they offer haunted tours that go up there. I personally would not go up there if you offered me any amount of money."

(Note to self: go back to VA around Halloween time and go on all of the haunted tours historical sites have to offer?)

That peaked my interest. "Oh, have you had a lot of experiences?" I asked rather innocently, but really I was fishing for some personal paranormal stories.

"Oh yeah," she said, shaking her head. "I've had enough experiences with ghosts to last a lifetime. I don't need to have anymore."

I decided to leave asking questions about ghosts til the end of the tour, like I did at Gadsby's Tavern, and once we went back downstairs and the tour had officially come to an end, I asked the tour guide what exactly happened in her experiences.

"I've had so many experiences," she said, rolling her eyes, as if the experiences with ghosts had once been terrifying, but they had happened so much that they were now annoying. "One time I was in the downstairs entry way and all of the doors in the hallway on both sides opened all at once. I used to work at Mt. Vernon and I was touched there multiple times. As in I was alone in a room at night and then a I would feel a hand touch my shoulder from behind. That was it for me and I decided to leave that job and work here." After the goosebumps on my arms had all but disappeared, we thanked her for the very informative and interesting tour.

All in all, my family trip to Virginia was fun and informative and the weather was wonderful and rainy (what can I say? Growing up in the desert you learn to appreciate rain). Though I didn't have any personal experiences with ghosts (I'm assuming most experiences happen to the people who work or volunteer at the historical places, when it's night or they are alone. Apparently ghosts aren't known to perform for large groups of people), it was incredible to be in these historical places and be reminded the people and times that came before you. It's a learning experience that's also fun, plus you get some great ghost stories out of the deal. Win-win-win! See you soon, Alexandrian ghosts! I'll be back :)

(Learn more about the history of Woodlawn and its gorgeous property here)

Stay Weird,

PS. Another thing I wanted to do in Alexandria but never got a chance to (this visit and the time before that) was to go on the Ghosts and Graveyards tour in old town Alexandria. Maybe next time, but you can check it out hereThough honestly people in historical costumes pretending like they're from another time period freaks me out but I'd risk it for some historical ghost stories)

PPS. I know I suck at taking pictures. Sometimes on tours I get so wrapped up in the history and information that I completely forget to take any pictures. But hopefully my descriptions and anecdotes make up for the lack of visual material!

Book Review: After You by JoJo Moyes (Sequel to Me Before You)

Pamela Dorman Books


[Disclaimer: This book and movie has stirred a lot of controversy lately about the subject of death with dignity aka doctor-assisted suicide. In this review I am neither for or against it and am just reviewing the story, not a specific subject of the story]

Book: After You

Author: JoJo Moyes

Genre: Fiction

Subgenre: Romance, family, death, grief, relationships

My Review and Thoughts: I read Me Before You earlier this year after borrowing it from a friend. I knew that the movie was coming out and I am a big proponent of reading the book before seeing the movie (for compare and contrast reasons and because usually THE BOOK IS ALWAYS BETTER. ALWAYS. Usually). Going in with a very blank (and open) mind (though I knew it was a romantic tear-jerker judging by the movie trailer), I was instantly invested in the characters. Moyes writes with an earnest and realistic hand, showing off her characters' good and bad sides in equal measure.

I fell in love with Louisa Clark, a cheerful and brightly dressed but stuck young woman, and Will Traynor, a once successful businessman and adventurous traveler, now a depressed quadriplegic, like they fell in love with each other. Lou was hired to care for Will, and though he was already set on ending his life, another reason Lou was hired was to see if she could change his mind about his decision. Through lots of conversation and some adventures, they grew to love and care for each other, sharing their thoughts, secrets and dreams, with Will pushing Lou to live and experience life, like he used to when he was able. But as much as Will loved Lou and vice versa, it wasn't enough for him to stay and suffer in declining health as a quadriplegic. He argued that he couldn't truly be everything he could for her and with great sadness, she finally supported him in his decision to end his life in Switzerland.

(That was such crappy paraphrasing. Me Before You is so much better. Just go read that now instead of that summary and then come back to this review)

The sequel, After You, is in no way as good as the first, obviously, but I am so glad that Moyes decided to write it because it may not be as emotionally taut, it helps not only Lou deal with her grief over losing Will, but ours as well. At the end of Me Before You, Will encourages Lou to live life, go travel, have adventures, and pursue her dreams. He also leaves her a vast amount of money to help with all of this. Lou does travel, to Paris, across Europe, but though she sees the sights she doesn't really take them in. Will is always a cloud hanging over her head and when she arrives back in London, in a lonely flat she's bought with Will's money, working a boring job at an Irish themed bar in an airport.

Lou is just going through the motions, living, but not in the way Will wanted her to. A sudden accident throws Lou into a series of events that will introduce her to a new love internet, reunite with her family (her mother was livid with her choice of supporting Will to end his life) and forces her to come to terms with the fact that Will is gone. And a mysterious person from Will's past will make Louisa and everyone else who cared about Will see him in a whole new light, and help them see a possible future without him.

After You is a great example of the grief process and how it's different for everyone. What may take a year for one person, for another person it may take many years. You'll go through ups and downs, blame yourself, blame your loved one, be filled with guilt, denial, or anger. After her accident, Lou joins a group for those who are having trouble moving on from a loved one passing, where she meets a colorful cast of people (one of the best parts of Moyes' books are the back and forth conversations of the characters), who are all at different stages of their grieving process. Grief and fear has made Lou stuck and even a hunky new love interest, Sam (sometimes known as Ambulance Sam, in loving reference to his profession) is making it hard for her to move past Will in a way that won't dishonor his memory and the love they had for each other.

All of the characters you've loved (or not loved) from the first book (Lou's mother, father, Treena, their grandfather, Thomm, Nathan, even Patrick -boo- and Mr. and Mrs. Traynor and Will's sister) have their parts to play in the aftermath of life without Will. Lou's crazy, loving family was one of my favorite parts about the first book and I was so happy that we got to revisit that group and their joys and struggles.

The love story of Will and Lou will never compare to any emotionally charged part of the second book, but as much as we all loved him, all we really want is for quirky, cheerful Lou to be happy again. Even if it means moving on, but never forgetting, about Will.

Should You Read It: If you enjoyed the first book, then yes. If you haven't, then you'll probably be pretty confused and wonder why this girl Louisa and everyone else in the book is so sad about losing a guy named Will. So you should probably read the first book, then this book, and your life will probably be better for it. Well, I really liked both of the books so I recommend them. But you do what you want. Read them, don't read them. Live your life, queen! Or whatever all the kids are saying these days.

Stay Weird,

Where to Buy:
Barnes & Noble

Or, check out a copy from your local library!

After You
Author Page

Check Out the Author:
Official Website