Exciting News!

I’ve launched my writing website! 🙂 I started it as a blog a while ago when I was *very* excited about a *very* different story, but didn’t do much with it and turned my (admittedly sporadic) attention here instead. I’m hoping to be much better at keeping up the writing site with regular postings (I’m aiming for once a week, we’ll see how it goes) and plan to shift this site away from documenting writing-related updates (since I need *something* for that other site 😉 ). That being said, my first big “share” on the site is a piece of flash fiction from the world of Blood and Water, the book I’ve been working on all year. It’s set well before the actual story takes place, but gives a glimpse into my main character (Solvi)’s childhood.

If you feel like checking it out, it’ll drop *today* at annieatkinstories.com. I plan to share a few more “side stories” to drum up some interest, so if you do check them out, please be sure to leave a comment letting me know what you think–good or bad! I’m very curious to see if the story works without knowing any of the characters yet…everyone who’s read them so far already knows the characters almost as well as I do. 🙂 I’ll also share things like more writing playlists, and I’m sure I’ll have a few more random thoughts on writing to share as well.

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36 Hours in St. Louis

Hey everyone! This post has been a long time coming–both in that I’ve fallen behind in my secret commitment to get a couple posts out each week, and in terms of the topic: St. Louis!

My in-laws sent us an article recently about where to go during a 36-hour trip to St. Louis. It was *full* of tourist-traps, pricey restaurants, and odd recommendations. It really didn’t capture my St. Louis at all. So I figured, why not write my own?

Why haven’t I written this yet??

So, thirty-six hours is a little tough. There’s *so much* to potentially do, and a day and a half barely cuts it. You’ll have to skip the ballgame–though a 48+ hour trip during baseball season has to include a trip to Ballpark Village, which is just as fun as being in the stadium!

We’ll start with hotels. It obviously depends on price-point and location, but unless you have a legitimate reason for being *Downtown*, don’t stay there. If you’re a Four Seasons type, maybe opt for the Ritz-Carlton in Clayton instead, since there’s more going on in Clayton. If you want to be in “the city,” I’d recommend the Chase Park Plaza in the Central West End. It’s right across from Forest Park, walkable to a lot of great bars/restaurants, and has a really nice pool. Dogtown is another fun neighborhood to look at if you want to be close to a lot. Finally, the Moonrise Hotel in the Delmar Loop is a really funky hotel with a great rooftop bar.

When you get in Friday evening, you’ll be hungry, so I’ve got a few excellent dinner options depending on price point, vibe, and your level of patience.

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If you don’t mind potentially waiting for a table and fighting a crowd, Mission Taco is a hip, fun spot for some excellent tacos and margaritas. I’m partial to the one in Central West End, but I’ve had a great time at the one in Delmar, too. They’ve got a few more locations, all of which I’m sure are fantastic. I *love* the battered fish taco, the hot chicken taco, and the soft taco (which has ground Impossible burger “meat”, and is seriously SO delish). The tacos are pretty small, I usually get 3 or 4 so definitely be prepared to mix and match if you’re going the taco route (PS if you want to save this for a late-night snack, they have $2 tequila and tacos after 10pm). My husband loves the brah-rito, which has like French fries and stuff in it. Their house margarita is excellent, but they’ve got an extensive cocktail menu and some great local beers on tap.

Tacos not your thing? Prefer a nice, quiet sit-down meal and generous portions of Italian cuisine? Go ahead and make a reservation at Charlie Gitto’s. Located in the Italian neighborhood (the Hill), it’s one of our favorite date-night spots. The menu is a little pricey compared to most other spots on this list, but even saying that, the prices aren’t outrageous by any means. The chicken parm is my go-to, but really all their food is solid.

Want some low-key pub food? Dressel’s is the spot! You might recognize the name from my husband’s favorite burgers of St. Louis post–this is the burger he raved about to his (fellow-burger-loving) father. Dressel’s is a Welsh pub that feels like you’ve crossed the Atlantic when you step inside, and everything on their menu is fresh and yummy. The fish and chips portion is HUGE. I am *obsessed* with the grilled cheese and tomato soup. Their veggie burger is also really great. They have a rotating tap of local beers and some really fun cocktails, and the staff is so friendly.

Saturday can be as packed or as low-key as you’d like it to be.

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You’ve arrived in the Gateway to the Midwest, so if there’s one *tourist* thing to do, check out the Gateway Arch! The Arch grounds were recently redone, so there’s a really nice grassy area beneath it, as well as the museum. If you want to go up in the Arch for stunning views, you do need to book this in advance.

If you book your Arch trip early enough, you could swing by the Anheuser-Busch Brewery for a *free* tour of the St. Louis landmark–complete with a tasting of the freshest Budweiser/Bud Light you’ll ever drink, as well as a free 16oz pour at the completion of the tour. Depending on the time of year, you might even get to see the Clydesdales! These tours can fill up, so I’d recommend trying to go on the earlier side (tours start anywhere from 9am to 11am depending on the time of year–we start early in the Lou!).

Don’t think for a second I’ve forgotten about lunch! I’ve got not one but two excellent sandwich options for you: Blues City Deli in Benton Park or Gramophone in the Grove. I’m a big fan of the Mike’s Spicy Beef n Cheddar at Blues City, and the hubs loves the Alcatraz at Gramophone, but both spots have a great selection of interesting combinations to choose from. Be prepared to stand in line (out the door) at Blues City, but it does move fast. I will add a note around the locations: both are surrounded by areas that feel a little run-down, but don’t be daunted! The Grove is a really trendy spot that’s well-traveled during the day (and has a fun nightlife, but it can get a little dicier in the early-morning hours), and Blues City is in more of a residential area. A final note about Gramophone: if you’re in the Grove already, you might as well swing by U.R.B. (Urban Chestnut’s Research Brewery) to do a $1 sample survey–you get three good-sized samples of beers they’re testing out, and just have to fill out a survey about the notes/aromas/tastes that are present for you, and how likely you’d be to order a full pour. They also have pretty delish pizza if you prefer that to sandwiches! If burgers are more your thing, Mac’s Local Eats is *the* place. It’s been featured on the Travel channel, and the line can wrap around the bar, but again, it generally moves fairly quickly (though they will take the time to explain their menu in detail to every newcomer). If Mac himself is there, he usually buys a bucket of Busch beers for those waiting in line to enjoy. They’re all smash-burgers, so if you like a thick, juicy, red burger, Dressel’s is your spot. If you like thin, juicy patties smothered in cheese, Mac’s is everything. (It’s my favorite, I love the double classic with everything. The double pimento burger and the dirty sancho have received rave reviews from friends and loved ones as well). Insider tip: Mac’s is located *inside* Tamm Avenue Bar and Grill–other than a small sidewalk sign, it’s pretty well hidden if you’re not in the know. Head inside and follow the bar around to the window in the kitchen, where Mac or one of his team will take your order and get you squared away. There’s also a great (dog-friendly!) patio and an arcade in the back!

Ok, sorry about all that–you guys know I love food, right?–back to the “things to do”. If you want a quieter day, or just a break from adventure for the afternoon, head over to Forest Park and just wander the paths. We’re so fortunate to live across the street from one end of the park, and it’s one of our favorite places to just enjoy being outside. There are a lot of grassy areas or benches to just sit and read or contemplate life. Forest Park also has two golf courses, the St. Louis Zoo, and St. Louis Art Museum. Both are free admission, both are fun–though the Zoo is often *very* crowded. Art Hill itself is lovely, the Art Museum standing on a hill overlooking the Grand Basin (Instagram-worthy photo op!). If you’ve got kiddos to entertain (or feel like being a kid yourself), City Museum downtown is SO fun! It’s the only place on the list with an admission fee (other than the Arch tour), but with those $12 you get to climb through caverns, slide down a 10 story slide, and/or navigate a wire cage up to a suspended airplane.

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Any of the restaurants I’ve already listed would make great dinner options, too. If you’ve got a car and want to explore into the county, Katie’s Pizza & Pasta Osteria in Rock Hill has great pasta, interesting pizza combinations, and fun cocktails. Alternatively, Stone Turtle in Dogtown is a nice, cozy spot for good drinks and typical American fare (it might sound odd, but I also had some fantastic crab cakes there once). Speaking of cocktails, if you love a good craft cocktail you have to check out Taste in the Central West End. They have three pages of classic cocktails to choose from, plus a rotating menu of seasonal inventions. Their french fries are also *amazing*.

I didn’t go into the *many* brewery options, but if you enjoy beer, you’ve come to the right city! I’ve posted about the key ones I’ve enjoyed in more detail, but I’d definitely recommend checking out 4 Hands, Urban Chestnut, 2nd Shift, Alpha, and/or Rockwell Beer Co.

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Sunday morning before you leave, get (early) brunch at Cafe Osage. They can get pretty busy, but it is worth the wait. The french toast is my favorite, hubs loves the pancakes, but seriously everything on the menu is great. One note, the scrambled eggs do come pretty runny so you have to ask for them to be cooked firm if that’s your preference. It’s located within Bowood Farms nurseryso you can enjoy the plants and cute trinkets while you wait for a table. They’ve also got a cat who stands sentry near the door.

As you can see, I had a really hard time paring down all the places I love in St. Louis to fit into this post. If you take nothing else away from this exceptionally long rambling, know that St. Louis has something for everyone!

The OTHER Lou: Our Louisville Adventure

Maybe I’m being obnoxious by referring to Louisville, KY as the other Lou. I don’t remember my US history all that well (sorry, Mr. Jones!) but I’m fairly certain Louisville came before St. Louis, at least in terms of US Cities. (Ok, because I love history and hate being wrong, I had to turn to the ol’Google. Turns out Louisville was chartered in 1780, while the settlement of St. Louis was established in 1764 BUT [and here’s where that history lesson paid off] didn’t become a US city until the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Thanks TJ!*)

Anyhoo, the hubs and I took advantage of the less-than-4-hour-drive for a long weekend mini-vacay (side note: I don’t know why I have to so aggressively defend the fact that Louisville is 4 hours from St. Louis. Several people have tried to dispute me on this *after* I’ve made the damn trip!). It was such a blast, despite the weather being pretty frigid. As my husband put it: we didn’t do a lot but we saw a lot.

We stayed at the 21C Museum Hotel which was awesome–there was a fun video wall in the elevator lobby, my brother in sculpture form near the entrance, and we were able to get drinks at the hotel bar and wander through the exhibits–which makes weird art SO MUCH more enjoyable. We giggled a lot, which is one of my favorite things to do with my husband.

Our hotel was right next to the Louisville Slugger museum. I come from a family of baseball fans (like, my mom’s dad built a baseball field into their farm when she was a kid). We wandered the gift shop and touched all the different bats and read the wall of plaques bearing the names of baseball greats and their favorite Louisville Slugger bat number. We did not tour the actual museum, but I got a picture of the giant bat out front.

We also made the short trip to Churchill Downs. It was really cool seeing the racetrack from the highway (and through the slats in the fence). We got some pics with the horse statue out front, and entered the lobby of the museum…in the middle of a feral pack of elementary school kids on a field trip. No thank you, we agreed to save the inside of Churchill Downs for another day.

We checked out several different neighborhoods. Our museum was on Main Street, which featured a lot of distilleries and restaurants and shops. It was an easy/long walk to NuLu, a hip neighborhood with funky antique shops, more distilleries and breweries, and some tasty food spots. We also walked through 4th Street Live, which was bumping with the Guy Fieris of the world. We made a few trips to Bardstown Road/the Original Highlands, which I liked a lot. It had a lower-key vibe that reminded me of some of my favorite St. Louis neighborhoods.

Ok, now for the good stuff, the real reason a person checks out Louisville (apart from maybe horses): the bourbon! I’ve enjoyed a few whiskey drinks on occasion before this trip, but had next to no knowledge about the nuances of whiskeys/bourbons/ryes. Now, I can say I really like bourbon. I like rye whiskey, too. I really like Old Fashioneds.

So first stop for us was Evan Williams, partly because it’s one of the best known names, partly because it was only about a block from the hotel, mostly (for me, at least) because he was Louisville’s first distiller! I wish I could have learned more history–I got that from a street placard–but we did not do the tour. We just hopped on the elevator with another group and slipped into the bar for the best Old Fashioned I’ve ever had. We also got to keep commemorative Evan Williams bourbon glasses. Score!

We also wandered far enough down “Whiskey Row” to find Peerless–a younger distillery (closed before prohibition but recently reopened)–where we did an $8 whiskey tasting. 4 whiskeys plus a commemorative glass and a dee-licious piece of chocolate–I was obsessed with this place. Bourbon is aged for 4 years, so theirs won’t be ready until this summer–we had their rye whiskey instead. I learned how the barrel soaks its own flavor into each batch, and theirs had such unique flavors that most of their bottles are single-barrel (meaning–duh–only from 1 barrel) rather than small batch (combining several barrels). They also keep it cask-strength–this got a little too chemistry-heavy for me to remember fully considering the whiskey-fog my brain was in, but something about letting the alcohol evaporate rather than diluting it with water so it gets to the legal ABV without diluting the flavors (maybe?). We bought a bottle of their rye (as well as some of those whiskey-infused chocolates).

The tour we booked ahead of time was at Angel’s Envy. That was a lot of fun–the most memorable part for me was when we dunked our fingers in a bottle of basically everclear. He had us smack those fingers on the palm of our other hand, then smell it (straight ethanol). Then we rubbed our hands together a couple times and smelled it. Now, I can’t remember the order, but one time it smelled like corn, another grains, and after more rubbing, fresh-baked bread. It was a really cool “science experiment” to show how adding heat changes it.

A couple other notable experiences: my favorite bourbon drink was probably the bourbon slushy at Feast BBQ. There was a terrify bathroom at galaxie bar–painted black and lit only by black light, glow-in-the-dark paint, and a tv set on static (can you say flashbacks to the first/only 15 min I watched of The Ring??). I really loved how the air smelled of peat, similar to the hops-smell around AB in Soulard.

It was a lot of fun, a really cute city with a surprising amount to do. We’ll definitely be back for more bourbon–and maybe a horse race!

 

*TJ is of course Thomas Jefferson, hands down most popular president in Missouri, if the number of references to Jefferson (including the capital) are any indication.

My Husband Loves His Parents so Much it’s Both Adorable and Maddening

Guys, he just invited them along on our mini spring break trip. We’re stuck in the middle of a crazy midwest winter, so we’ve been discussing a long weekend somewhere warm and new and easily accessible given our central location in St. Louis (think: Dallas, New Orleans, Phoenix, Santa Fe…)

But we are both beach people, and it only took one mention of palm trees and warm sands for us to agree we’d love a beach trip if we could swing one. This led to me suggesting places like the Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico, and him to look into Bermuda–a locale where he made many a happy childhood memory.

A quick Google search showed reasonable prices–too reasonable. He HAD to call his parents to find out if the places they’d splurge on might have gone downhill. One conversation with his father later, and I’m pretty sure we’re all going to do a long weekend in Bermuda in March to take advantage of the great off-season pricing.

To reiterate: my husband just invited his parents on our romantic getaway. Fortunately for him (and my sanity) I think it’s absolutely adorable that he and his dad are such good buddies they discussed a whole fun adventure before remembering that their wives might want to tag along.

Rambling Recommendations: The Adventure Zone–Here There Be Gerblins

First and foremost: I wanted to change the name of these posts because let’s be honest, I don’t write very good, balanced “reviews.” I’m only telling you about books I recommend, so let’s call a spade a spade, shall we? It does make for an obnoxiously long title, which I’m beginning to think will be a theme this year. 2019: Because Sometimes You Don’t Need to Make the Long Story Short.

Yup, that feels right.

Anyhoo… on to the recommendation!

Okay, second confession: this is more a recommendation of a podcast than the actual book. Partially because I’ve always felt “meh” about graphic novels and “The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins” did not really shove me headfirst into a love of them. Don’t get me wrong, the book was thoroughly enjoyable. I just love the podcast adventures of Magnus, Merle, and Taako so much more.

If you’re looking for a relatively quick, fun, humorous read, definitely check out this book! IF you’re interested in hearing more about this podcast, you’re in luck, because as we’ve established, this year is all about rambling on and on…

The Adventure Zone podcast began as three brothers (Justin, Travis, and Griffin) introduced their father to the wonderful world of Dungeons and Dragons. Considering the nerd-level of my beloved Wildcards, I’m a little shocked this was *my* introduction to D&D as well. Side note about that link: I’m not trying to tell you how to live your life, but you’re gonna want to scroll to the bottom of the page and click “last” to start this bad boy from the very beginning. Partially because that’s how stories work–not starting in the middle or skipping to the end like some monster (Mom)–and partially because they’ve long since moved on to other role-playing games, so you won’t get a taste of that good, good D&D magic if you start with Amnesty. Go all the way back to the very beginning, “Here There Be Gerblins,” and you’ll meet Magnus Burnsides (the folksy human fighter), Merle Highchurch (the ornery dwarf cleric) and Taako from TV (the sassy elf wizard–and quite possibly one of the best characters ever created).  These three characters embark on a series of adventures, following an engrossing storyline that veered almost immediately from the D&D playbooks and was written by Dungeon Master Griffin McElroy, that delighted and enthralled. I seriously wept at some parts, laughed hysterically at most of their antics, and fell completely in love with these characters.

One little “Mom” note: there is a good amount of swearing, some dirty jokes, and a lot of creature-slaying.

Let’s Do What We Can to Get Our First 2019 Post Out in January…

Hi guys! It’s me, your (possibly) favorite recluse! Welcome to 2019, the year in which I anticipate several big changes–most notably, my husband’s graduation and eventual job-starting in a potentially new city (fingers crossed it stays St. Louis, though–and other fingers crossed it’s another entirely new adventure, I could go either way). Also, there’s the whole matter of my *finally* hitting the big 3-0 at the end of the year, which I anticipate will be hugely satisfying and I intend to arrive there with the two gray hairs I’ve grown and not a single one more.

I also have a goal to pursue publishing this year. Like, query some agents, let my baby fly, drown my rejected sorrows in any manner of alcohols, publish. I know I’ve had publishing as a soft goal in years past, but this year I intend to put my story into the world–even if no one bites until next year/the following, the process starts in 2019!

I’ve also made a goal (that sounds so much more “adult” and attainable than “resolution” don’t you think?) to read 40 books this year. So far, I’ve read 3. I’ll try to be better about posting reviews/recommendations (please note: that one’s a try, not a goal 😉 )

My last resolution–because this one feels the most like something I’ll say at the beginning of the year and let drop off sometime mid-February–is to take better care of my hands. I have Reynaud’s Syndrome which makes them dry out easily, especially in the winter, as well as anxiety that is short-term-soothed by picking at dry cuticles and ragged nails, but I’m an adult now (I’m practically 30, if you didn’t catch that). So I’m getting semi-regular gel manicures with the hopes I can train myself to treat my nails better with the hardier polish until I reach a point where I can be trusted to get a regular manicure bi-weekly without chipping the normal polish as soon as I get home.

So that’s my beginning to 2019. How’s yours going so far?

Rambling Review: Love, Lies and Spies

From the opening page, Love, Lies and Spies by Cindy Anstey is such a delight. The prose is fast-paced, the banter witty, the characters immediately enjoyable. I haven’t figured out why, but I’ve already mentioned how much I love chapter titles that tell me what will happen in a clever way that follows “In which…”

This book is chock full of just such chapters.

As for plot, I’d say it’s somewhere along the lines of Pride and Prejudice meets any spy thriller ever. Juliana is a scientist on her way to London for the Season when she is saved from a mishap by a mysterious, handsome gentleman. Neither of them is interested in marriage, but both have their reasons for attending the various outings and events of the Season.

Despite the fact that there are enemy spies and sinister dealings, the book remains lighthearted. I devoured it in about two days. The story is engaging enough to keep the reader turning page after page to see what happens next, yet easy to set aside when life demands it. Still, it’s easy to dive right back in the next chance you get.

This is the perfect vacation read. Whether you’ve got a late-season beach trip, family reunions, or maybe a honeymoon (*eyebrow raise/wink-wink* Erin), I’d highly recommend such a delightful, easy read!