My Favorite Distant Worlds Songs

If you’ve been following my overall internet presence for a long time (which let’s be real, probably not?) you’ll know that I really enjoy music and nerd stuff which means Distant Worlds, a music project that turns songs from the Final Fantasy series into grand orchestral arrangements out of them, is right up my alley. I’ll be honest and say that I’ve only finished one Final Fantasy game (7), but I’ve played parts of some others (6, 8, Crisis Core, 10) and have watched friends play parts of others (9, 15) so I think I can say with some confidence that these games have great music (although, you know, that’s not exactly a controversial opinion).

I’ve known about Distant Worlds for a long time, but it wasn’t until 2020 when I found out about the A New World recordings. They describe them as “intimate music from Final Fantasy.” I don’t actually know the size of the ensemble used for A New World, but I keep referring to it as chamber music — it’s a smaller, more stripped down ensemble with less of a bombastic sound than the Distant Worlds pieces, but the arrangements are no less impressive or dramatic.

Buying the whole catalog of both of these music projects was my one big quarantine purchase, after I found myself listening to the recordings on YouTube a lot while I was working and figured I should actually give them money. Somehow the music still hasn’t gotten old for me despite the fact that I listened to it for days on end while grappling with the frustrations and limitations of working from home for two months, and it’s still music I reach for now even though I’ve been working back in the office for about a month (not by choice, I assure you).

So I wanted to share a few of my favorite songs with you all. All of these are available to buy on Bandcamp! Here is the link to the Distant Worlds page. And here is the link to the A New World page.

[Just a quick disclaimer before we get started! Despite playing flute in school concert bands for a decade there are certain instruments I can’t tell apart by ear. And also I can’t tell string instruments apart at all, so if I name an instrument incorrectly, please do not come for me.]

Let’s start with Tower of the Magi, originally from Final Fantasy II. This is from the A New World recordings and it’s literally just a piano and a violin. I almost always love songs that are in a minor key and sound kind of gothic, and this song definitely delivers that. It’s a simple little tune (this song was on the NES originally after all) but it’s made very interesting!

Next let’s talk about Not Alone from Final Fantasy IX, from the third Distant Worlds album. I can’t describe exactly what it is about this song that does it for me, but somehow the big broadness of what I’ll call the B melody gets me very hype. (It’s heard for the first time at 1:17 in this arrangement, but is even more hype at 2:30.)

I played enough of Final Fantasy X to meet Seymour, but did not play enough to actually get to hear his battle theme, which is surprisingly kind of disco-y? They covered it on the first A New World album and it’s one of my top five favorite arrangements in the whole Distant Worlds/A New World repertoire. Here are of the *chef’s kiss* moments for me in this piece: the fiddle riff at 0:40ish, the way the tension builds and the music gets increasingly layered and tense leading up to the beautiful broad long notes at 1:30ish, and when the key changes at 2:10ish and the bass gets especially chunky and prominent. I could go on, but I won’t. If you’re only gonna listen to one of the songs I’ve embedded here, make it this one!

I love a beautifully brassy bombastic boss battle theme, as I’m sure all video game fans do. Distant Worlds has quite a few to offer, but I think my favorite is Battle with the Four Fiends, originally from Final Fantasy IV. I feel like this piece has good ebb and flow dynamically (aka, they could’ve just been hella loud the whole time, but sometimes the song eases off and is quieter). In the section at 1:15 where they play the main melody quietly before playing it big and loud for the first time, there is a single little drum in the background. I don’t know what kind of drum it is, but it is used to great effect throughout the whole song. The loud punctuating brass hits whenever the melody is done loudly are also A+! Also for my fellow rhythm game fans, I picked up Final Fantasy Theatrhythm this winter, and I find this track particularly satisfying to play through for some reason, the chart is somehow just feels really good to play through.

And finally I’d like to shout out love of my life, Zanarkand from Final Fantasy X. I’ve been to two Distant Worlds concerts and this song made me feel mega emotional both times, and if I’m in the right mood I can get pretty emotional listening to the recording as well. This graceful, melancholy song has repeatedly given me goosebumps! They’ve covered this in both the Distant Worlds and A New World repertoires and they’re both very lovely, but I prefer the Distant Worlds version. It sounds like both ensembles are working with the same score rhythmically, but the fuller, lusher sound of the Distant Worlds ensemble is just more to my liking with this song, as is the way the layering sounds in the section starting at 2:17 compared to the similar section in the A New World version.

I’ve avoided what I imagine to be some of the more commonly known Final Fantasy songs in this post in favor of highlighting a couple of deep cuts. But I do have a few honorable mentions:

  • I would LOVE to hear Dancing Mad from Final Fantasy VI played live. Both Distant Worlds concerts I’ve been to have played the Opera (also from VI) as their big really long showpiece song instead of this and it is a PERSONAL ATTACK. (A joke, of course.) (…unless…?) (I don’t care much for the Opera.)
  • Sephiroth’s theme is another song that has been covered by both Distant Worlds and A New World. I prefer the Distant Worlds version. (Shout out to the trombone flick at 1:13!)
  • I can’t possibly leave out Vamo’ alla Flamenco (aka, the Chocobo Hot and Cold song from Final Fantasy IX). It’s just a really fun song!

I could go on, but I won’t because we could be here literally forever because there are so many great songs to choose from in these albums! Even if you’re not big on video games, I promise you’ll probably find something you enjoy. I encourage you to check out anything I’ve linked above. I’m not sponsored by them, obviously, who would pay me for these silly little blogs. I just wanted to share something nice with the world that people might not have heard of!

Black Lives Matter

I want to share some links before I start talking, because my voice is not the most important here:

I was starting to work on something else for this month’s blog post at the beginning of last week, before all of the protesting began. But to post what I was working on now feels incredibly inappropriate.

There is an instinct to say “the world has changed so much in just two or three days,” but that’s wrong. This is the same hateful country I’ve always lived in, people are just being more angry about it than I can remember in my lifetime.

The repeated killings and violence and injustice against people just for being Black is disgusting and outrageous, and it’s not anything new. It’s been happening throughout history, it’s just better documented now.

My town posted a statement that basically sounded like “look, our cops are actually good, unlike those other bad cops” but it didn’t feel serious. Sure, maybe we have good cops. My neighbor’s son is a cop and he seems alright. But I’m sure that there are bad ones too. I saw something online that said something along the lines of “If you have 10 bad cops and 1,000 good cops that don’t do anything about the bad ones then you have 1,010 bad cops,” and I think that is 100% a legitimate sentiment.

I’ve only been pulled over once, for a burnt out tail light, and I wonder how that situation could have escalated if I wasn’t white. To be fair, I haven’t heard of anything happening in my town what like the scores of senseless killings, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened or that it couldn’t happen, especially because my town has a wide range of races and social classes in it. My town also has far less affluent urban towns bordering it and just a short trip down the highway from Newark, a city that people from outside of New Jersey have often heard of because of its history of violence and the race riot in the 60s. I’m sure that unnecessary force against Black people is not uncommon just miles from where I live even if it does not happen in my precise town.

I will be the first to admit that due to my privilege I am undereducated on these types of issues, but I’m reading the words of people who know better than me and learning and I’ve donated what money I could. (I chose Reclaim the Block, Black Lives Matter Fund, and the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund if you’re curious. Here is a list of various local bail funds and tips for protestors.)

My reach here is small, I know, but I just wanted to make it plain that I think Black Lives Matter. How someone could think otherwise, I don’t fucking know!

The Enchanted Hike

I am very good at being alone in the world. This is something that I built up to gradually over time, starting with trips to the movies, progressing having meals alone at restaurants that were not fast food chains, and then finally I finding the guts to go on vacation by myself. This past September was my second solo trip. I think at this point I can say that I am more or less entirely comfortable being many hours from home on my own and really enjoy it very much, although this is perhaps because the destination of these vacations so far has been Cape May, a place that I went to often as a child.

There are multiple positives to traveling alone, but the main one for me is that I get to make all of the decisions. This isn’t my favorite because I’m some asshole control freak, but because when I’m out with my friends I worry a lot about their happiness, especially if I’m the one who planned the outing. “Will all of my friends be able to find something to eat at this restaurant despite their various niche food preferences?” “Do my friends actually want to do this activity or are they just going along with it for the sake of not disrupting the group even though they’re going to be miserable the whole time we’re doing it?” You know, just normal concerns. But when I’m alone, if I want to take an extended hike on a trail of unknown length I’m beholden to no one. And on my Cape May trip in 2019 a hike was one of my major priorities.

Cape May Point State Park is home to the lighthouse that is the root of my fascination with lighthouses. I’d climbed it many times as a child and also on the Cape May trips I’d made as an adult in 2015 and 2017. But the state park is also home to a set of trails and on this trip I chose to ignore the lighthouse entirely in favor of making those trails a major focus. In fact, paying them a visit was one of the very first things I did when I got into town, before I was even able to check into my hotel.

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The trails are split up into red, yellow, and blue. They all start at the same entrance and then diverge. I would say that none of the hiking is very difficult since it’s all on mostly flat land and a large portion of it is on walkways made of plastic boardwalks that are elevated maybe a foot or two off of the ground, likely in an effort to damage the environment as little as possible. These walkways wind through the woody marshlands that border the state park’s beach, and the paths actually lead out to the sand in some places.

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You’re probably thinking that the red trail is the most difficult one because that’s often the way of things, but I’d say it’s the easiest. It’s entirely on the plastic planks and while it branches off into a series of little paths and loops, it basically brings you back to the parking lot without having to double back. It’s also very tree-y, providing long stretches of shade, which is important when it’s hot and humid, like pretty much my whole vacation was. Additionally, because it is entirely on the plastic boards, I would argue that the red trail is handicap accessible! I’m no accessibility expert, but I imagine there are many nature areas and trails that cannot say the same.

On the other hand, the yellow/blue trails (which run concurrently for nearly their entire length) is much longer than the red trail and it doesn’t loop – if you walk out there, you will be retracing your footsteps to get back to the car. I recall there was less shade overall than the red trail. There were also portions way down the trail where the path became dirt which was occasionally disturbed by tree roots. This was not a difficult section for me to walk through, but it may be for others.

I did the red trail first. I had done it in 2017 and it’s a pleasant little walk. There are multiple areas with benches to stop and rest, some of which overlook ponds that provide good opportunities for bird watching. I kept running into the same nice woman who noticed my camera and kept giving me a heads up to good photography opportunities that I’d be passing, like the group of ducks at the pond in the lighthouse photo above. When I finished the loop I still had a lot of time to kill before I could check into my hotel room, so I decided to make a go of the yellow/blue trail. I expected it would be largely like the red trail, but I was very wrong.

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Maybe this will sound overly dramatic or cheesy to you, but I think that sometimes in life a moment comes along that feels literally enchanted, just steeped in magic to the core, and my time on the yellow/blue trail is something I would describe that way. It felt like it was there just for me on that sunny September day, a feeling that likely came over me due to the nearly complete lack of other people compared to the several pairs and small groups of other tourists that I saw on the red trail.

I first traveled over plastic plank paths surrounded by tall grasses and some trees. It wasn’t so unlike the red trail, but then suddenly I came upon something new. The plastic path suddenly ended and after a bit of following a slightly sandy dirt path through trees, the trail opened up wide and I passed into a strange little grove. It felt sort of like a clearing despite all of the trees. The trail curved around a set of trees that were widely spaced enough that I could have just cut through if I hadn’t cared about disturbing the underbrush.

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The canopy was a little thicker here, so it was cooler than the previous sections of the trail and the light coming through had a kind of green-gold tinge. The wind was gently shaking the trees and I felt quiet peace come over me. I’m not terribly religious, but I felt a sort of reverence that I can only remember feeling when I visited old churches on a family trip to Germany. Somehow this area felt like one of the the most special, most enchanted, places I’d ever been even though it was just an area of trees and a curved path. I thought I had taken better pictures, but I didn’t, or maybe it’s the kind of magic that’s impossible to capture on camera, so you’ll just have to trust me.

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After leaving the grove the next thing of note that I came across was a long straight stretch of plastic boardwalk. It cut across a huge open field of grasses. As I mentioned earlier, a beach is not far from these trails and wind from the water rustled the grasses into a symphony as bugs chirped musically all around me. I walked across, my sneakered footsteps clunking on the boards, and when I reached the other side I found dirt under me again.

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The next section of path ahead of me was really only wide enough for one person to walk and it was fenced in by foliage that was taller than I am.

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Soon after that I came to another area of trees. There was a wooden bench and roots were poking up through the ground in places. Late afternoon light streamed through the branches, dappling the area in golden spots. I stopped to rest, drink water, and wrangle with the remote for my camera to take a picture of myself while hoping no one would come along and see me doing so because that would be awkward. (The greatest downside to traveling alone is, obviously, there is no one to help you take pictures.)

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After my rest I walked further down the trail and after a little longer the path split into separate yellow and blue trails. One of them, I don’t remember which color it was, soon came to a dead end. The other led me out of the trees to a bridge over a little river. From my vantage point on the bridge, I could see that the path would soon split in two again and curve away around separate corners, but the grasses where high again and I couldn’t see what was ahead. The ground looked like it was turning more to sand and I thought maybe the trail was curving around to the beach. I was intensely curious about what lay around the bend, but after a moment of debate I regretfully turned back, mainly motivated by not wanting to ruin my good walking shoes with sand on the first day of my trip and the fear that I probably needed to reapply my sunscreen (which I’d left in the car) or risk burning. So I made my way back out, past the bench, down the narrow path, through the grove.

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I enjoyed the rest of my vacation, but the part I still think back on the most is my hike alone on the yellow/blue trail.

When I returned to work after my trip, I showed my coworkers photos that I’d taken and when I mentioned that I had been alone one of them, a middle aged woman with sons around my age, said, “You’re crazy!” And maybe, probably, I am a little.

I’m not completely without sense. It did cross my mind that if I hurt myself while hiking I at least could use my cellphone to call for help. At one point on the yellow/blue trail I passed an older man and felt momentarily nervous, but he was too engrossed in a phone call to pay me any mind. I am not unaware of the risks that face any solo traveler, particularly a woman alone. But somehow Cape May feels so comfortable and familiar to me that I found myself doing things that I would never do at home, like taking extended walks through the quiet post-Labor Day town after dark. Hell, I even went to the beach one night at 10 pm to watch the nearly full moon paint the waves and that was another enchanted moment in itself.

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And somehow, despite the little voice in my head saying “you were being foolishly risky” I can’t help but long to do it all again.

I want to go back to that enchanted green-gold grove.

I want to find out what lies around that bend.

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I’ll be honest, I can’t remember where on the yellow/blue path this was so I left it out of the tale above, but it’s an actual! wooden! boardwalk! in an area of plastic ones and is therefore a very enchanted place all on its own and deserves to be part of this post.

Creating Joy in Crisis

At the start of the year I promised myself I would write a blog post every month, and this month I have procrastinated that pretty badly. As I sit down to write this it is 10 p.m. on the last day of March 2020. To be fair, there’s been a lot going on this month that has made it hard to find the focus to sit down and write. If you’re reading this from the far off future, this was the month that COVID-19 finally hit the United States and my day to day life still feels very unreal. The other day I wrote a very long post about how exactly things have progressed and changed for me, but thinking about posting that right now feels wrong because if I’m being honest, on the whole, compared to many others, so far this virus crisis has been little more than an inconvenience to me on a personal level. 

So what if I have to work from home on shitty, frustrating remote work software? At least I’ve still got a job. So what if I’m stuck at home? At least I live with my family and don’t have to worry about getting lonely. So what if the news is increasing the anxiety of me and everyone around me? At least everyone I know personally is still well. I have come to the conclusion that no one wants to hear my mediocre problems when people are literally dying. 

So instead let me tell you a couple of ways that I’m keeping anxiety at bay and distracting myself from thinking too much by creating a little bit of joy in my life. Because, yes, this is a highly serious situation, but I’m scared of becoming overwhelmed by my fears and not being able to continue getting necessary tasks done.

My friend Brenda taught me the concept of “laughing so you don’t cry” and that is a concept I’ve clung to for the past few years, especially now. My current favorite way to have a laugh lately is by watching a British show called Taskmaster. I first found out about this show in the fall by spending too much time in British comedian YouTube and it’s rare for an episode not to make me laugh extremely hard. The concept of the show is that a set of comedians are all given ridiculous challenges to do, usually completing them in creative or unusual ways.

The best part is that they upload full episodes to their YouTube channel. I’m not one for binge watching and yet I watched almost all of a series in one day last weekend. I’d like to point your attention to series 4 in particular, which is the series I first watched because I’m a Joe Lycett fan. It’s got a good mix of personalities and it’s still my favorite series that I’ve watched so far. (I’ve now seen S1 and S2 as well.)

The other thing bringing me joy right now should come as no surprise to you if you follow me on Twitter, and that is Animal Crossing New Horizons. The previous game in the series, New Leaf, was my crutch through the biggest depression of my life back in 2013, so it feels weirdly correct that the new game has appeared during a dark time as well. It’s just one of the cutest freaking games out there! I managed to start off with one of my all time favorite animals on my island (after resetting 4 times because I kept starting off with really hideous animals).

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The routine of all the little daily tasks to do to take care of and grow the community on the island is very comforting to me now, just as the last game was in 2013. And it’s also been a nice way for me to spend time with friends in a way while we’re all separated!

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I understand not everyone has access to a Nintendo Switch, so please allow me to recommend a couple of other games. Stardew Valley is available on computers and other consoles and I found it to be a pretty relaxing time sink last year and lost large chunks of time to tending my farm and making friends. I’ve also downloaded Neko Atsume to my phone. It’s a cat collecting game that was first big around maybe 2013? 2014? It doesn’t have much in the way of gameplay per se, but it is very cute! I also 100% recommend Untitled Goose Game, available on all consoles and computers, to everyone who loves being a hilarious agent of small stakes chaos.

And that’s all I’ve got to say for now. I hope you all are doing as well as possible! These are rough times, but nothing lasts forever and we will get through one way or another.

Flowers (Meditations on Dating)

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It’s just after the new year when I finally make it to the salon for my quarterly haircut. It’s the coldest day of the winter so far. My hairdresser’s coworkers are gently teasing her about the massive flower arrangement she received at work that afternoon. She’s embarrassed, but excited, pink with the flush of new romance. Her joy could turn the winter to spring. I’m happy for her, and her mood is adorable and infectious, but my heart twists slightly with jealousy as I admit to her that no one has ever given me flowers. (Well, my grandma did once when I was in a play in middle school, but that doesn’t really count, does it?)

What I don’t mention is that the lack of flowers is entirely my own fault. When I was younger most of my partners were the kinds of immature guys that would never think to buy flowers, but when I sensed someone might try to buy them for me I said “don’t.” This wasn’t because I didn’t appreciate the thought or how pretty they were, but because it seemed pointless and wasteful to spend the money on something with such a short shelf life, to spend so much on something that would inevitably die. 

And yet, when I think about it I see how I have repeatedly spent so much of myself on situations with short shelf lives. If I had paid attention, I perhaps could have protected myself from being left to wilt. The past shouldn’t be changed because we are who we are because of our experiences, but who I am is so tired, especially by the thought of dating. 

My mom keeps a big ornamental grass in our backyard. Every winter she cuts it low when it dries up and every summer it grows back, full and lush. My last date was about two and a half years ago. Part of me was cut back then too, but I have not yet found the energy for regrowth.

How pointless to give time to someone, to become comfortable and open up, when they can suddenly decide you no longer fit the scheme of their garden, yank you up at the root, and chuck you out.

How wasteful to spend time grieving something you could not preserve, clinging to the memories like you’re pressing flower petals for framing only to have the blooms dry up too much and crumble to dust.

But when romance is freshly blooming, when they send you flowers at work, when they smile at you in a way that makes your heart feel so full it could blossom out of your chest, that is the point, that is the opposite of waste.

So when I see Sara, flush faced, caught up in something new, the flowers not yet wilted, I think that maybe this will be the year I try dating again. Maybe this time I’ll wind up with a field of bright blooms.

Goals for 2020

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My first selfie of the year!

I typically don’t like to set annual goals/resolutions for myself because I have a tendency to not complete them and then a tendency to really beat myself up about that. It’s not like I was in the habit of setting crazy goals — for the most part I picked things that I thought were attainable. And…then…still managed to not make them happen either through the universe conspiring against me (hello, years of saying “I’m gonna get a new job this year” and sending out resumes that no one responded to) or via my own lack of discipline (see: any time I said “I’m gonna do creative thing X more!”). 

So generally, I’ve found that it’s better for my relationship with myself to not even bother, even though I know that setting goals and making efforts to reach them is a way of growth, even if I do not ultimately succeed. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve never been able to set my mind on any big concrete lifetime goals. I have multiple friends that want to be published authors and others that want to improve at art while maybe getting to make money from it. I have two friends that aimed to be teachers, and now they’re doing it, which is awesome! 

I have two goals in life, neither of which are particularly concrete:

  • to be able to fully support myself financially; and
  • to be at least mostly content in my day to day life (because I know it is horrifically unrealistic to expect 100% happiness).

The second one I tend to do reasonably well at usually, which I am thankful for. The first one? Well, I’m currently typing this from my bedroom in my mother’s house, so, uh, there’s that. I can say, however, that even though I can’t afford to put a roof over my head, I don’t have to ask my family for money with help with my personal bills. And I will get closer to having the finances to move out when I finish off my college loans later this year!!!

But lately I’ve been thinking that having such vague goals is probably to my detriment. I’ve been having a bit of an existential crisis where it occasionally hits me that I do the same set of things every day and will probably be doing them over and over with slight variations until I die. My life feels really really pointless to me. The closest analogy I can think of is when you reach the endgame in an MMO, you’ve maxed out your level, and you’re stuck doing the same few dungeons over and over, just because you’ve put so much time in that you can’t give up on playing.

I am a person who loves having a routine and finds comfort in it. But I feel I am getting to a point where the repetition is starting to drive me a little mad. The path I’m on leads nowhere and in some ways I wish I didn’t have to continue on it. (But don’t worry, I will continue because there are good things in my life!)

So I’ve set myself two goals for this year, which I feel are highly, highly doable.:

  • Write at least one blog post a month. (I enjoy writing, but my lack of discipline the real challenge.)
  • Finally clear up some of my gaming backlog, starting with World of Final Fantasy, which I’ve been chipping away at for two years or more. (Too many games that I want to play have been coming out in the past few years and I tend to dip in and out of them, and not get around to finishing any of them, which is what keeps happening with WoFF. It’s cute and I’ll play it in long spurts and then abandon it for equally long spurts. I thiiink I’m reasonably close to the end, but I don’t want spoilers so I haven’t looked at a guide.)

There is a third goal I have in mind for the second half of the year, which is to get a new job (for real this time, I swear, guys). I’m holding off because I have some travel coming up in the spring and don’t want to start off a new job with “sorry, but I need to take these 7 days off scattered across the next few months” especially when many jobs do not start you off with any paid leave. My sixth anniversary at my current job is in May and I have once and for all finally fully come to terms with the fact that they will never pay me a living wage for our area there, despite telling me repeatedly what an asset I am to the office. That coupled with a ton of bullshit that happened in 2019 (not to me personally for the most part, but just things I witnessed) has me feeling very “fuck you guys, I’m done.” 

Besides all of that I think I really do need to get some kind of hobby that I need to work at and set time for me to do it on a regular basis. Because I enjoy video games, but at the end of the day they don’t go anywhere once the story is done. I’m not putting huge pressure on this for myself, but maybe I would feel better about myself if I could say “okay, maybe no one is willing to hire me, but look how much better I’ve gotten at watercolors.” Or maybe I could take up the guitar again. Or even if I just would read more books, and not only just cram in reading on my Kindle during lunch, I would feel like I was making progress at something. Doing more reading would also give a bit of a break to my hands, which have been feeling increasingly terrible since I was promoted to a position where I type a lot of dicatations a year and a half ago. 

Is this stupid? I don’t know. All I know is that this is the last year of my 20s (my 29th birthday is 1/31) and ever since the tenth anniversary of my high school graduation in June a part of my mind has been fixated on the notion of “ten years have gone by and I have nothing to show for it.” Which logically I know is very wrong, and I also know I’m not alone in this feeling, but I find it difficult to quiet the part of my brain that feels like I hasn’t lived up to my potential so here we are.

Six Lighthouses in One Day!

Fun fact: Maine is one of the top states in the U.S. when it comes to the number of lighthouses located there! I have a personal history with lighthouses as well, or at least one particular one down in Cape May, New Jersey that I’ve climbed on a series of vacations throughout my life. (A scan of my post history tells me I have somehow never blogged about Cape May — note to self: fix this oversight!)

Early into my trip to Portland with my friend Kristen in September 2018 we found a particular guide on a Portland tourism website that detailed a driving plan for visiting six lighthouses located close to the city all in one day. Being a pair of overachievers, on the last full day of our trip we decided to make the journey. Since we weren’t local, we weren’t really sure what the most efficient route would be for visiting all the lighthouses and decided to just follow the guide from top to bottom.

So we started at Two Lights State Park, a place where it is impossible to take photos of both lighthouses at the same time and also a place where you can climb neither lighthouse because they are both on private property. If I’m being honest, in reviewing my vacation photos for this post I wasn’t even sure if I photographed both lighthouses, because one of them was further off and harder to photograph.

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But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that this location was freaking BEAUTIFUL. The small peninsula that made up the park is made of rocks worn away in surprisingly geometric formations. It looks craggly and intimidating, but is easier to get around on than it looks. I loved it so much! If I was local, I could totally see myself stopping over here on a regular basis to decompress. (Also, the shape of the rocks totally gives off Dragon Age: Inquisition Storm Coast vibes if you’re a nerd about the same things that I am.)IMG_2465.JPG

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I always take way too many pictures when I am confronted with crashing waves, and this place was no exception. I honestly could fill a whole blog post with just pictures from this location and feel satisfied with the results.

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I found it! The second lighthouse! …Waaaay off behind that big house in the center.

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After a good chunk of time spent here while we both took way too many pictures, we set off for the next location, Portland Head Light. This lighthouse is located in a big state park area that had a lot of people walking around on trails, picnicking, etc. Used to money grubbing New Jersey, I was pleasantly surprised when they didn’t ask for money for parking.

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Portland Head Light is not only the oldest lighthouse in Maine, it is also still operational. Please note that speck on the horizon near the middle of this picture — that is Ram Island Light out in the middle of the water. It’s a very picturesque area. The travel guide we were using described it as one of the most photographed lighthouses in the country. I can see why!

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However, I was very disappointed that we could not climb this lighthouse either. There was a little museum on the ground floor, but they wanted money to enter, which is totally fair, but we decided it didn’t seem worth it as from the outside it looked like it was just one smallish room.

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We spent some time trekking around the grounds even as the sun came out. This was a bit of a pleasant surprise, because sun is nice! But it was also an unpleasant one, as we had not brought sunscreen in the car (and might not have brought water either, but my memory is not 100% sure of that). Somehow we avoided getting seriously sunburnt, thank goodness!

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Here’s a slightly closer view of Ram Island Light, the best we were able to get since it was way out there in the water alone.

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Once we’d had our fill, we got back in my car and drove off to what was probably the weirdest location on the list, Spring Point Ledge Light. This location is only weird because you literally have to drive through a community college to get to it. There were only a couple of parking spots set aside for the lighthouse, which were all occupied when we arrived. So we briefly illegally parked in a nearby college lot where we could still see the lighthouse and snapped a photo, just so we could say we saw it and check it off the list. I was kind of disappointed that we couldn’t get closer to this one because the guide we were following specifically noted that some days people are allowed inside, and our “lighthouses entered” count was still zero.

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The final lighthouse we visited was Bug Light and it was a very short drive from Spring Point Ledge Light. It wasn’t very tall but made up for that by being very scenic!

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Once you got up near the lighthouse there was an excellent view of the Old Port area of Downtown Portland. (If you read my previous Portland post, you will already realize that this is “you cannot escape the Old Port” in action, lol.)

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Kristen is about 5’6″ish, I think? Bug Light is not nearly as many Kristens high as you think a lighthouse would usually be!

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It me!

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Near the parking area of Bug Light is this neato giant ship sculpture that we checked out on the way back to the car. It houses an exhibit about shipbuilding in the Portland area that was pretty interesting!

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And that was it! By visiting Bug Light we checked the sixth lighthouse off of our list!

There was one thing I was slightly disappointed about as we drove away from the last lighthouse– we had not been allowed to climb up to the top of any of the lighthouses we viewed! We do have to take Spring Point Ledge Light out of the picture because we couldn’t actually walk up to it and see if it was open, but it didn’t seem like this situation was matter of not being at the lighthouses on the right day. They were all either inaccessible due to being on private land or didn’t allow visitors inside.

You might say, “Hey, but should you really be going up inside lighthouses that are still operational and serving their purpose?” To which I reply, Cape May Lighthouse is still operational and you can go up to the top. And also

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Jokes and slight disappointment aside, I had fun visiting all of the lighthouses. They were all located in beautiful places and it was a fun little adventure! It also doesn’t take too long, depending on how long you spend at each location, of course. We started off probably around 10 am and were finished by a reasonable lunchtime. It was a lovely day to cap off a lovely trip!

But of the lighthouses in this post, I really would only suggest visiting Two Lights State Park and Portland Head Light as they have the most to walk around and look at on the grounds as well as the loveliest scenery. But as I said at the top of this post, Maine has SO MANY lighthouses and if you research a little more than we did I’m sure you can find some other cool ones worth visiting!

This post is companion to my Portland, Maine trip overview post which you can check out HERE!

I hope you’re all having a good week! I’ll try to post again soon.

Portland, Maine 2018

Hello! It’s me! I’m back again with a blog post! I’ve quite missed writing, but over the past months I’ve found myself to have quite a lack of focus for pretty much anything, which has been troubling in more ways than one. I thought I would ease myself back into blogging by chatting about the trip to Portland, Maine I went on nearly a year ago with my buddy Kristen (aka @kristen_m_young over on ye olde Twitter). I’ve been feeling antsy and wanting to travel with no real opportunities to do so for a little while, and I’m hoping that writing this trip up will ease my restlessness at least a little.

This trip came about when my boss let me schedule a week off of work in September. I considered just doing a staycation, but decided instead to try actually going somewhere. So I hit up my college buddy Kristen and asked if I could come visit her in Massachusetts during that time. I thought I’d maybe explore the area where she lives during times she was at work and then we could hang while she was free — I never want to be a burden and didn’t want her to feel obligated to entertain me. I was pleasantly surprised when she responded by basically saying, “I can take time off that week too! Do you want to travel somewhere? Maybe Portland?” She had been there very briefly a couple of years before and while I had been to Maine on a family trip when I was in high school we skipped over Portland to visit relatives further north. It was set to be a fresh fun adventure for both of us!  

When September rolled around I first spent the better part of a day driving up to Kristen’s town and then the next day we set off for Maine. We stayed at the Portland Ramada. Not #spon, obviously, but I’m mentioning it by name because it turned out to actually be a nice place to stay. It’s a small drive from the actual downtown area and is surrounded by strip malls (some of which contain some…questionable…businesses, see picture below), but it was in our price range, it was clean, the staff we interacted with were nice, the attached restaurants were surprisingly decent, and it has a large pool and a gym. (Kristen used the gym every day, so the quality of it must have been fine.)

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Yes, that is a strip club sign that says “midget wrestling.” And yes, it -was- the first thing I noticed after parking the car at the hotel, lol.

Neither of us had done very much research about the area before we set out, so after checking in we rested for a little bit and looked up local hotspots on our phones before heading into the Old Port section of downtown Portland. Several websites had recommended this area as one with a ton of little shops to poke through and restaurants to choose from. This is an area that we would accidentally keep returning to on our little walking adventures in the city throughout the weekend, but we liked it there so that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. 

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I fell in love outside of a tourist trap store full of nautical stuff (aka, my jam).

 

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There’s some cobblestone roads and a lot of old exposed brick all over the Old Port area.

But something that excited me a lot was the actual port itself because, as I like to put it, this bitch loves a water feature. 

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We almost had dinner at the restaurant on this big boat, but decided it was too expensive.

We had dinner at a restaurant called J’s Oyster that was very small and tucked away near the end of the pier area, but it was absolutely packed so we knew it had to be good. It had a local dive kind of feel, but not in a shady way. I had lobster because, well, not having lobster in Maine would be like not getting a bagel from a mom and pop shop if you visited New Jersey! The food was pretty good — we were overall pleased with our dinner choice.

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Having looked up more tourism stuff when we got back to the hotel, we decided that our big goal on our second day would be to go on a tour of a famous old house called Victoria Mansion. We couldn’t take pictures inside, but it was fascinating to get a look inside such an old home. Much of the house still needs restoring, but a lot of the trompe l’oeil painting on the walls was still very impressive and I loved the library.

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Kind of bland on the outside, but fascinating inside, I promise!

After that we strolled through downtown for awhile. Kristen is a book lover, so she made sure we popped into a few different independent bookstores along the way. I don’t know any of their names, but we went to several. It’s definitely a good town for supporting local business! We also stopped for some excellent potato doughnuts along the way when we accidentally wound up at the Old Port. They were more dense than regular doughnuts, but still very nice. There was quite a line in the store too — I’m not sure if they’re locally popular or popular with tourists or both, but this place is apparently a popular choice.

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Kristen in front of the doughnut shop!

We eventually found a comic shop that Kristen knew about called Coast City Comics. I don’t really feel comfortable in comic shops because I don’t know shit about comics and I feel self-conscious that the (usually all male) employees can somehow tell and are judging me. (Why should I care? I don’t know, but I do, oops.) When I found a bunch of pinball machines in the back, I was instantly at ease while Kristen browsed the comics.

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I love pinball even though I’m usually terrible at it. I loved this machine based on one of my favorite bad movies (and actually had some good luck with it)!

 

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“I love me a good theater marquee,” said the blogger who chose her college largely because of a very old neon theater marquee in the downtown area.

For dinner that night we tried the restaurant inside our hotel, partly because we had been given coupons at check in, partly because we were curious about it. It wasn’t bad, despite this weird ominous sign on the way there!

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On day three we pursued a crazy ambitious plan from a guide we found on a Portland tourism website. Maine has tons of lighthouses and apparently Portland has six(!) within easy driving distance of the city/each other. This is a separate post, because six lighthouses would be a lot to cover in this already super long write up! But here is a preview picture of Kristen looking at one of those lighthouses from afar to whet your whistle for nautical adventure. 

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After this big adventure we popped into downtown to grab lunch (in, you guessed it, the Old Port area) and then went back to the hotel to try out the pool and hot tub. I’d never been in a hot tub before and it was so hot it felt like my skin/blood were tingling! Between swimming in the pool and relaxing in the hot tub I found nearly a dozen lost hotel room keycards, lol. Dinner was lowkey — we went to the Chipotle near the hotel and picked out ice cream at the nearby grocery store.

On the way back down to Kristen’s house the next day, we stopped off in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, another waterfront New England town full of old looking brick and cute little shops. I’m probably wrong about this, but I have this general impression of New Jersey as a place that really doesn’t give a crap about most of its cool old buildings and just wants to tear them down to build luxury apartment complexes for people who work in NYC (or maybe that’s just my area?) so I’m super jealous of New England’s respect for its old stuff.

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It’s also home to a kitschy looking little diner Kristen loves called The Friendly Toast. I don’t remember what I ate and I’m a terrible millenial for not memorializing it with a photo, but I remember the food was good! 

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Photo taken by Kristen because all this cool stuff was hanging out behind me.

Once we arrived in Massachusetts I spent one final night on Kristen’s sofa. This last night of my trip is actually one of the overall highlights for me because Kristen and I went to dinner with Kristen’s sibling and another local friend that Kristen and I went to college with. I rarely get to see or talk to either of them, so hanging out with them was a real treat! We drove out to this tiny beach area nearby and had a pretty good dinner in a bar before walking across the street to get ice cream. There was fog coming in off the sea and the area was basically deserted apart from the people at the bar. We spent a good chunk of time just chatting outside, catching up and having a laugh, and I dunno, it was just really nice! It really made me wish I could see them more and hang out like that all the time. But, alas, geography. (Why do we not yet have the power of teleportation? Or at least an equivalent of the Japanese Shinkansen for the United States so I can see all the people I love more often?)

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A car that I guess just lives outside the ice cream place forever.

And that was sadly the end of my trip. The next day I had to get up and make the long drive home. As if to rub in the fact how much of a bummer it was to return to my daily life, and in contrast to my smooth ride north, I got caught in a major traffic snafu near NYC just an hour or so from home and added a whole extra hour to my trip because of it. 

Someday I will get to have fun travels again, but until then I will always have my memories of this trip to Maine with Kristen.

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When I parked in the driveway at home, I took a picture of my odometer, which I hadn’t reset for the whole trip — in all, my travel to, from, and in New England on this trip put just over 800 miles on my car!

If you want to read about our visit to six lighthouses in one day on the last full day of our trip, you can click here!

I hope you’re all doing well.

 

My Convention Essentials

Another Anime Boston has come and gone, and seeing as how this is about the point where I really started to fall off of blogging last year, I thought it might be a good time to make an attempt at starting things up here again! I do want to do a general overview post about my experiences at the convention, but first I wanted do a bit of a “What’s in my Bag?” kind of thing. I did this as a video a long time ago on my now-defunct YouTube channel, but this year was my sixth Anime Boston (I attended 2011-12, 2015, and 2017-19), and as such I’ve really distilled down what I like to have on me during a day of running around at the convention.

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This is the bag that I bring. I bought it in the Dealers’ Room on the first day of Anime Boston 2017 when the massive cross-body purse I’d brought was causing me a lot of pain and this was the most functional thing available that didn’t have Naruto or Goku’s face on it, lol. This has been a go to day trip bag for me ever since because it’s a pretty good size and is pretty sturdy, although the back is maybe not as stiff as I would like.

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This looks like a mess, but it’s organized I swear. Firstly, there’s two small pockets at the top of the back that are the perfect size for my travel wallet and my phone or iPod to slip into for quick access. I don’t like to use the outer zipper pocket for valuables because I am paranoid about getting robbed and not being able to feel it happen. Everything else in here is either big enough to sort through easily or organized into a series of pouches.

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If the weather forecast is calling for rain, I always make sure to bring an umbrella, with a plastic bag to put it into when I go inside so I can put it back in my backpack without making everything wet. The scarf in the middle is large, blanket-like, and absolutely necessary — many of the panel rooms in the Hynes Convention Center are very cold for some reason. When I start to freeze, I can whip it out, but it’s easily put away when I start walking around in the main halls again. On the right is my refillable Brita filter bottle and the plastic bag that I keep it in if I carry it in a bag because it leaks if the water tilts up to the level of the cap.

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On the left here we have my Kindle, with stickers of some of my favorite ghost Pokemon on the front that were drawn by Miski (but aren’t available anymore, sorry!). My Kindle is indispensable to me in my life, whether or not I’m traveling. I can’t read on the long bus ride to Boston because I’ll get sick, but it’s great to have around for reading while waiting for the bus, during downtime between panels, or when you’re the grandma of the group who goes back to the room early to rest and waits up for all of your friends to come back so you can spend time with them. The notebook on the right was designed by Maya Kern and has stickers on it from inki-Drop’s Starwhal Kickstarter. Honestly, I only bring it to stiffen up the inside of the backpack, but it’s also proven useful for keeping my bus tickets tidy and for holding small prints, like this one that I got from Milkbun this year. (Oh how I wish I could get away with hanging this in my cubicle at work!)

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And now finally pouches! This pouch has a bunch of miscellaneous yet important things, like aspirin, hair ties and pins (in a reused orange pill bottle!), tissues, pens, a little mirror, etc.!

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This is my technology pouch. I’ve got two portable batteries in here, the wires to connect them to my phone and iPod, and three pairs of headphones. In hindsight this is an excessive amount of headphones, especially considering I had a fourth pair hooked up to my iPod all weekend. All I can say is, one time on the bus on my way to the con I realized one of my earbuds wasn’t working. I had a spare pair with me, but they were in my suitcase in the bottom of the bus. I can only imagine that in my packing frenzy this year I went “what if that happens again, but more times?” I also don’t tend to use these batteries at all because I’m not a super phone crazy person when I have things to occupy me. So maybe next year I’ll keep one battery in this pouch and only two extra pairs of earbuds, lol.

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This pouch fits both my phone and iPod, but my phone mainly lived in the upper inner pocket of my backpack or the pocket of my skirt because I don’t use my iPod when I walk around the con. It mainly stays with me just so I don’t run the risk of losing it in the hotel room somehow. I always know where it is, and I absolutely need it for the bus because, as mentioned above, I can’t read on the bus so I need music to help me drown out the noises and sleep to pass the time, lol.

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I don’t typically play my 3DS during AB, but I do collect Streetpasses. I don’t tend to try Streetpassing in my daily life because I never go anywhere, but thanks to AB over the years I’ve got a nearly complete puzzle collection and have nearly completely beaten the free Streetpass games. This year I noticed I was getting repeat Streetpasses, which was kind of exciting and interesting to me because it means those people were also at past ABs. It’s a nice little connection to other people!

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And now for the front zipper pocket of the backpack! Which actually -is- as much of a mess as it looks, lol.

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This pocket is for things I want close at hand that aren’t particularly valuable. The only thing I would really be upset about losing is that pen because it’s a really good pen! The little white pot is full of hand cream because I’ve been having a really awful dry hands problem all winter. The fan was actually a $5 impulse purchase I made on Saturday this year when I was starting to get really sweaty walking around the Dealers’ Hall, and I’d say it was well worth it — I’ll probably bring it back again next year. This pocket is where I keep my convention badge at night so I don’t misplace it, otherwise that badge is around my neck. The badge lanyards at AB are usually an advertisement for some anime company or other, but for the past few years I’ve been swapping it out for this YuGiOh one that my friend Kristen surprised me with from New York Comic Con in 2016 right before the anniversary movie came out in English because I will forever be YuGiOh trash and I want the world to know it, lol.

The only thing not in any of these pictures that I have with me every day is related to those granola bars and it is lunch. To save money on food I buy supplies for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and make them every morning before I head out. I also get a couple of other small snacks that don’t need refrigeration, like those granola bars or little individual applesauces. When it’s time for lunch, I find a spot to sit that has good people watching (so I can admire people’s cosplays) and chow down.

So that’s all! I’ll follow this post up soon with one about things I actually did at Anime Boston, but I thought my convention survival supplies might be interesting to share in the meantime.

Until next time!
–Krys

 

Another Year Older

One day shortly before Christmas I got in the elevator at my job and in that weirdly lit mirrored space, I noticed something unusual sprouting out of the front of my hairline. I looked at myself closely in one of the mirrored walls. ‘Is that…a grey hair…?’ It was kind of hard to tell. After years of dying my hair different shades of copper, I’d dyed it brown in the fall with the aim letting my light brown/dark blonde hair grow in and not dying it anymore (or at the very least, not for a very long time). But my natural shade is cool toned and I had mistaken strands of my roots for grey in the past, so I wasn’t sure if this was an early morning hallucination or the real deal. I didn’t dwell on it too much.

But one morning a few weeks later when I stood back up after leaning over the sink to wash my face the bathroom light hit my hair a certain way and there was no mistaking it — I had a grey hair. I often hear my coworkers complaining about their grey hairs, but I felt an odd little spark of excitement. It felt like a weird validation and proof of the struggles I’ve experienced.

Plus, I was kind of hoping to develop a cool grey streak like Claire Saffitz from Bon Appetit! (If her streak is somehow not real, please do not burst my bubble, lol.)

My single grey hair showed up at quite a timely point as well, just before my 28th birthday at the end of January. Some people might feel quite bad about getting close to 30 and in some senses I do, but mainly just because I don’t feel like I’m as far along in my so-called adult life as I think I should be. (For instance, if this is your first time here, I still live with my mom.) As far as the actual process of my body aging, who gives a damn?

This year my birthday lasted for basically a whole week! The party was kicked off the Sunday before with a little gathering with my friends. We had pizza and cake and watched the bluray I bought a while ago of the Takarazuka Revue’s most recent production of the musical Elisabeth, which is based on the life of an Austrian empress popularly known as Sisi. It’s in Japanese with no English subtitles, but I know Sisi’s real life history and found translations of the songs so I was able to explain what was happening as we went along. It honestly felt like the most selfish, self indulgent thing I had ever asked from my friends (“for my birthday I want you to listen to me talk about history and this weird musical for 2.5 hours”). But my friends said they enjoyed it so that made me feel better! I wish I could post a clip, but Takarazuka have mysteriously taken all the promo clips for it down from their YouTube channel unfortunately. 

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Friendly’s grocery store ice cream cake is required birthday food, even in the dead of winter, true story!

My family’s tradition is to stick three candles in birthday cakes, so I was surprised when my friend put in eight (because I’m 28). The HAP on the cake is partly a “the cake was too small to write much” joke and also an inside joke based on our school district’s name for its Gifted and Talented program, which most of us were in back in the day. (Aka: most of us have some kind of self-esteem issue because of it, lol.)

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My cubicle is right next to this little snack area. Please do not ask how many doughnuts I ate on this day.

My birthday continued into my work week. My office has six people born in January so the other secretaries decided to combine mine with someone born the previous week — they set it on Monday to kind of split the difference between me and the other birthday person. Whenever it’s someone’s birthday people bring in snacks to share, and we had a pretty nice spread! It’s Valentine’s season, so the the doughnuts were heart shaped, which I thought was really cute!

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My office is a fan of Bavarian creme doughnuts if you can’t tell from the fact that four are in this box (and I think there were even more before I snapped this).

My coworkers jokingly wished me happy birthday until my actual birthday rolled around on Thursday. And our newest secretary gave me a little gift!  No one’s ever given me a gift for my birthday at work before. She only started at the beginning of January and we really don’t know each other well yet, so this little angel coin was a sweet surprise. I’m not really religious, but I can appreciate the vibe of something like this.

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Thursday was my actual birthday. Often in the past my family winds up having pizza or something at home on the person’s actual birthday and then all the same people go out to dinner on Friday evening. But this year I told my mom I didn’t want that. I said that we only needed to celebrate my birthday once, because it would be back to back and also because it just makes me feel a little weird to be the center of prolonged attention. Maybe it’s a middle child thing? So anyway, I didn’t expect much of anything on my actual birthday, but my mom made macaroni and cheese and a cherry crumble and it was very nice.

Also on my birthday my goods from inki-drop’s Starwhal Kickstarter unexpectedly arrived! It was kind of like a gift from the universe. Everything is very cute, and the soft things (Mama Starwhal and the pouch) are exceptionally soft! I’ve already incorporated the pins into my pin frames!

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This is a pouch that a whole PS Vita can fit inside!

So then on Friday, to wrap up my birthday week, we went out to our favorite local Italian restaurant. My aunt stopped by our house beforehand and lemme tell ya, she is the queen of birthday cards. She always finds the loudest, most hilarious ones. 

She also gives scratchcards to everyone on their birthdays and on my birthday last year I became the family record holder, winning $40. This year all I got was a new ticket.

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I have a funny story from dinner that I already shared on my Twitter, but I want to immortalize it here as well. The restaurant was having two parties that night, so they put us in this upstairs room that allows them to do regular dinner service for people when they’re also having multiple parties. We had just ordered and were chatting when suddenly from downstairs came the sound of bagpipes! It only lasted about a minute and stopped as abruptly as it had started. My family naturally burst into laughter and started joking about how they should have the piper come up and play me happy birthday! We asked our waitress what was happening and it turned out it was a police officer’s retirement party. Regardless, it’s a birthday memory that I’m unlikely to forget, lol!

I was lucky to receive some neat gifts from my friends and family (tabletop games! a Dragon Age lore book! a cute reusable shopping bag, Pusheen magnets, and a book about pins! and more!). I’d like to close this post off by sharing a just one gift photo — I present to you, a ceramic Harry Potter goblet!

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One might jokingly refer to this as a pimp cup, lol. This was a find of my aunt’s. I could probably use it for drinking, but I’m too afraid to break it. The dragon makes displaying anything inside of it kind of awkward. I tried to put a small Ron plush I have inside and it just didn’t work. But in the alternate universe where I make enough money to move out on my own, I think this could be good for placing next to the door so I can put my keys in it! For now, I’m displaying it on top of my dresser.

And that’s all I have to say about my birthday week!

I hope you’re all doing well. I’ll be back with another post soon!