December 17th, 2014

book talk // flesh and fire.

I am always on the hunt for novels with new fantasy worlds — bonus points if they possess a unique magic or class system that doesn’t feel like a standard trope. Recently, I read Flesh and Fire, which was rec’d to me via Goodreads. The book definitely satiated my desire for a unique magic system.

The magic in this particular world centers around wine, and, coupled with my own burgeoning real-life interest in wine, I found the properties of “spellwine” to be compelling. In Flesh and Fire, the protagonist Jerzy begins as a slave working in his master’s vineyard. However, he is elevated to vineart-student when his master distinguishes his ability to detect magic in the grapes. Apparently, only slaves can become vinearts due to their lifetime of hardening through trials. Although Jerzy’s origin story is a bit of a mystery, he possesses a prodigious, Harry Potter-like palate and skill for crafting vin. The book itself spends much of the time focusing on Jerzy’s progression in the art of spellwine, until his master sends him out into the world with a greater mission.

The class system is set up as following: vinearts, princelings and Washers are all essentially separate from one another, but work in tandem when necessary. Vinearts possess the power to harness magic, but no authority in legal matters and they cannot possess any land (beyond their vineyards) or true power. They are the only class that keeps slaves. Princelings and land-lords are landowners and rule municipalities filled with their subjects, who are just ordinary people. Finally, there is the religious element of the Sin-Washer, a demi-god who separated church and state 1500 years ago. His priests are called Washers who are ruled by a Vatican-like assembly referred to as the Collegium.

One thing that really irked me about the novel was the title. I felt it was disconnected from the overall story, as though it had been chosen from a hat filled with arbitrary words that were used in the novel. The “____ & ____” format is oft used by fashion bloggers (Cupcakes & Cashmere, Sequins & Ballet Flats, etc) so it reeks of the mundane to me. The second book is called Weight of Stone and I hope that it holds up to scrutiny a bit more.

Overall, the first third of the novel dragged a bit for me, the world-building felt a teensy bit tedious, as the beginning of a series sometimes does. By the final third, the plot had thickened significantly and I was drawn in to a mysterious storyline of misused magic that affected vinearts and princelings alike. Considering the subtitle is “Vineart War #1,” one can only assume the presence of action will increase with each coming book. I am definitely looking forward to reading the second installment — so much so that I’ve already acquired it from the library.

Rating: 4/5
Recommended For: fantasy junkies, fans of wine

December 15th, 2014

outfit no. 112

The holidays approach with rapidity and, suddenly, we are leaving for Texas in just four days. This fact also brought to my attention that we have called San Francisco home for seven months now. Jared and I have careers, friends and favorite places in a city we never really intended to inhabit at all. My life this Christmas looks distinctly different than the previous year’s.

This past weekend, to celebrate the aforementioned holiday season, I attended a low-key shindig with my lady-friends and our man-counterparts in Mill Valley — we had fancy drinks, exchanged Secret Santa gifts and played Cards Against Humanity. It was really nice to spend an evening feeling cozy and accepted and full of brie. It also provided me with a valid excuse to don my tulle skirt, which seemed appropriately festive when coupled with this red sweater. The sweater is shorter than something I’d normally wear, so pairing it with high-wasited skirts is my go-to combo. In fact, I may recycle this look for Christmas in Texas.

Sweater: swapped // Skirt: Modcloth // Boots: Old Navy

December 12th, 2014

outfit no. 111

Are y’all tired of my orange sweaters yet? Me neither. At some point I should probably do an orange sweater roundup, in order to showcase all the posts that have repetitively featured my three favorite sweaters. I always find it interesting that my British friends refer to these types of sweaters as jumpers. To me, jumpers represent the unattractive, plaid overall dresses I wore to my Catholic elementary school. Not so secretly, I want to adopt the BBC vernacular. Anyway, it’s finals prep week / dead days at work, I have used this fact as an excuse to dress more casually than usual. Next week the students actually take their finals and I guess I will have to trade my jeans for yoga pants or something to continue sinking deeper into the casual hole of casualness from which I may never escape.

Jumper: H&M // Jeans: UO (old) // Shoes: Minnetonka Moccasins

December 10th, 2014

tv shows with strong female leads.

I have not had regular cable in several years, but I do watch Netflix and sometimes Hulu. I don’t keep up with current shows and, instead, I tend to become immersed in a particular show or genre then binge watch it into eternity. So, I may go several days without watching TV, then watch an entire season in two days, becoming quickly infatuated with the characters. My favorite shows of late tend to have strong female characters that are all “Eff the patriarchy! I am going to get shit done!” and lots of period clothing. Obviously. I’ve decided to compile a list of appreciation for strong females on TV. All of these shows have the shared commonality of taking place during a time period when women had little power, or what power they had was only attainable with the assistance of a man — making them, in my opinion, badass trailblazing bitches.

Reign (on Netflix & Hulu)

Reign follows the story of Mary Queen of Scots and her ascent to the throne of France. It’s a campy teen soap complete with the Forever 21 version of period costumes and a delightful ability to display copious historical inaccuracies while still holding my attention. For example, Mary and her ladies attend a ball where the minstrels strike up a version of Lorde’s “Royals” amidst all the dance floor scheming.  It’s fanfiction of the 1500′s French court.

However, unlike so many of the shows that have come before it (Gossip Girl comes to mind), Mary and her ladies are determinedly friends, despite some pretty thick barriers that emerge between them. The girls support each other and are shown at times in moments of childlike play, for example: tossing snowballs in the courtyard. It illuminates the bond between women that can grow both weaker and stronger as life weaves its endless tale;  it also explores how marriage, children and family can affect these bonds.

Despite the knowledge that one cannot be single at court (everyone is essentially married off in season one), Mary continually asserts her independence in surprising and varying ways. As her character grows and she takes on the full mantle of her queenhood, her naivete falls away and she becomes the only person she could possibly be — a queen. 

Vikings (on Hulu)

Vikings is a show I already knew would be easy for me to like. What I was not expecting was how empowering some of the characters made me feel as a woman. The show is much more sexually-suggestive than Reign and shows the open relationships many of the Viking men enjoyed, as well as married couples being pretty open about discussing adult relations with their children. Although I’m not cool with getting jiggy in a hut full of people, this old-school version of sexual freedom feels brazen, and even modern, in a way that’s natural to the characters, something that shows like Girls try so hard to attain.

From the outset I was drawn to Lagertha’s character (featured above). They describe her as a powerful shieldmaiden whose popularity among the other women is obvious. Despite having children with her husband, Ragnar Lothbrok, she continues to travel with him and fight in battle — she’s never expected to give up battle because she is also a mother. These two warrior-lovers have some pretty aggressively epic disputes. As the story continues, Lagertha makes exceedingly difficult decisions regarding her own freedom and well-being, ultimately attaining prestige few women of the time knew.

Throughout the show, there are examples of strong women who overcome great tragedies. Additionally, I enjoyed seeing more than one token woman in battle — there were always several, fighting just as hard alongside the men. Vikings also has the most accurate period clothing of all three shows, perhaps because it’s created by the History channel and they have a vested interest in such details.

Salem (on Netflix)

To be honest, I still have really mixed feelings about Salem. The first time I watched it all I could think was: “What the literal eff did I just watch?” There is so much wtf-ery. Once I got over the fact that this show is batshit crazy, I started being able to appreciate the characters. As a literature teacher, I also enjoyed drawing parallels between the show and The Crucible, as many of the characters have the same names: Giles Corey, Cotton Mather, Magistrate Hale, Mercy Lewis.

Again, this is a show that exemplifies how little women could do without men — but the witches of Salem have essentially made the patriarchy their bitch. The main character, Mary Sibly, began as a poor girl living in a Puritan town that branded “fornicators” and put promiscuous women in the stocks. Her lover was sent off to war and she was left behind with no husband and a hidden pregnancy. To get rid of the baby, she asks the devil to take it, thus saving her from public humiliation and death, and in turn becoming a witch.

It sounds awful, because it is — she had no other choice. To exact her revenge she marries the leader of Salem and turns him into a drooling, pooping invalid. Thus, Mary Sibly is the head witch in charge and uses her husband as a sock puppet in her plan to complete the Grand Rite (some witch thing that requires sacrifice that I still don’t really understand). She turns the Puritans against themselves, convincing the ruling males to kill innocent people in a rabid pursuit of false justice, proving that these men are inherently evil. Overall, it’s an interesting show filled with strong-willed women, but definitely not as light-hearted as Reign or as action-packed as Vikings.

What are some of your favorite shows with strong female characters?

December 8th, 2014

outfit no. 110

I had a weekend that can only be classified as “very San Francisco.” We spent our Saturday in Sonoma / Napa doing all the Christmas shopping, which also just happened to include all the wine-tasting. My parents accompanied us on our first Napa adventure and had particular requests for the upcoming Texas holiday festivities, which I intended to fulfill in the form of libations. Our first stop was Nicholson Ranch where, after a complimentary tasting and purchasing said libations, I joined their wine club — something I have been considering for a while and which I feel equal parts excited and smug about. Sunday, I ordered groceries online (like a proper city dweller) — and wow! I feel like I may need to devote an entire blog post to my very generous feelings regarding grocery delivery. Game changer, y’all.

Anyway, this outfit is what I wore to the vineyards. The weather was mild and damp, but not raining. I knew we’d want to explore outdoors and sit on the terraces, so I sported layers. The dress is a recent purchase, it has embroidered bell sleeves and an off-the-shoulder neckline — it’s also quite see-through, hence the layers and tights. Add my favorite thrifted booties and fisherman’s sweater and you have an outfit that encompasses my style fairly accurately.

Sweater & Dress: UO // Tights: H&M // Scarf: Korea // Boots: thrifted

December 3rd, 2014

my internet firsts.

When I saw this post about “internet firsts” on Darling Stewie’s blog, I knew I had to jump on the bandwagon. There’s nothing I love more than a nostalgia bomb. So, here I’ve compiled my own weird journey of Internet inceptions. Y’all are about to delve deep into the origin story of my geekery in a way that might make you feel a little uncomfortable.

My First AIM Username

AIM was everything to me. Seriously. It was a part of my day-to-day operation in a way that few things ever were, or have been since. There was nothing I loved more than updating and color coordinating my profile, posting cryptic or what I deemed to be witty away messages and chatting with everyone from my friends to my latest crush. I used AIM well into college, only discarding it when Facebook came on to the scene, effectively replacing all other forms of casual online communication.

My primary username was abzdragon3: my name is abby (abz), I like dragons, and three seemed like an auspicious number. Ta-da!

My First PC / Internet-based Game

My first PC game ever was Oregon Trail. Obviously. I often played during elementary “computer lab” because I was a super-fast typer. Still am. To my friends’ dismay, I always insisted on being a teacher even though it meant I would have less money and no applicable survival skills. It’s kind of like my real life now…

But my first REAL computer game was Neopets. OH GOD NEOPETS! I think a friend introduced me to Neopets in 6th grade, before it got all mainstream and the Bruce was actually a photo avatar of a dude named Bruce, not the penguin he eventually evolved into. I cannot count the hours that I spent playing this game; but, I logged back in recently (yeah, still remember that password — boom! mic drop!) and my Grundo was 4,385 days old (12 years!) which means I created that character when I was 16. And he was definitely not my first character. Mind-boggling like woah. Sometimes I still miss the late nights of Scorchy Slots and trolling the marketplace for underpriced paintbrushes, but I refuse to rejoin because they now require tangible money for some aspects of the game, not merely neopoints.


My first MMO was Ultima Online, a game which I played at my best guyfriend’s house in junior high. He had a better computer and faster Internet and I begged him to let me start a character on his account. Then, all I wanted to do was be an animal tamer, wear antlers and collect snowglobes. We had different goals. I was the crazy person chasing village cats around, meowing at them in an attempt to “tame” them. Again, perhaps not a far cry from my current life…

My First Forum

The first forum I ever joined was Dizzied, it does not currently exist in any form. Through that forum, I was introduced to pixel art for the first time via blinkies and kaoanis. My life was quickly immersed in MSPaint and Jasc Animation Studio as I learned the basics of pixel art. From Dizzied, I joined the Palace Chat. I wasn’t particularly interested in hanging around the Palace Chat except to view the avatars — at this time the prep and skater dollz avatars were gaining popularity and I wanted to learn how to make them.

Eventually, I got SUPER DUPER into dollmakers and creating my own freehand dollz (I was even paid to make avatars for a time) and joined Eden Enchanted. In many ways EE was my first real forum experience. This website was comprised of an amazing, close-knit group of primarily doll artists who shared basebodies, collaborated on projects and critiqued one another’s art. Although there were also cliques and disagreements, I am not over-exaggerating when I say that EE was magical and I made some great online friends there, a few of whom I met in person. Eventually, I became a moderator at EE, but it closed a few months later and, despite our best efforts, the dolling community that I knew and loved was essentially broken. A few of us still linger on DeviantArt and quiet forums, but mostly we’re elusive and (unfortunately) adult now.

My First Website

Abzdragon’s Dungeon was my first official web presence, complete with a tiled, draconic-themed background, dungeon midi and flaming .gif torches. When I was 11 or 12, I went to the library and checked out a book entitled Basic HTML, or something similar, from which I gleaned enough information to make a simple website complete with tables and multiple pages to house my adopted webpets (loved those — there were these dragon eggs that would “hatch” on certain dates), dedicated dragon-related information and webrings. So. Many. Webrings. Eventually, my website evolved into Abzragon’s Meandering Mind Musings (lovingly referred to as AMMM) and then Fishbowl Designs, both of which housed only my pixel and vector art.

My First Blog

I don’t recall in which order I procured which blog, but I think first I started a Livejournal under my “abzdragon” pseudonym — I primarily utilized LJ for the community aspect though. In college, I transferred to blogspot and blogged religiously, sometimes twice a day albeit in a naive, yet over-the-top-TMI type of way. I was also most decidedly lacking in the humbleness department. Eventually, as I matured and grew out of that infantile writing style, I started my second blogspot blog, and so on and so on, until it became the blog you are currently reading. Internet wizardry!

I’m not sad about shedding those pieces of myself from the Internet as I grew up and moved on and learned about what’s appropriate to post online. I love this blog in its current iteration and I hope that it only continues to evolve as I continue to grow as a person. Also, if you have written a similar “internet firsts” post, please share!!

December 1st, 2014

hiking // the muir woods (again).

The day after Thanksgiving, Jared and I decided we needed to get outdoors. The weather has been cold and rainy here, essentially putting a damper on our otherwise frequent nature-centric activities, thus I felt the nagging urge to wander aimlessly though a forest again. I can grow incredibly restless for movement and salty air and the smell of evergreens. To assuage this restlessness, we opted to head back out to the Muir Woods, a place we’ve hiked once before.

Our exodus from the city left a trail of fog behind us in exchange for a clear, cold morning where my breath lingered lightly in the air. Our very early arrival at the park assured ease in procuring a good parking spot and we were seamlessly merged together with a group of Korean tourists, all decked out in their North Face gear. “여기! Yeogi!” the guide called out to his cohorts. I smiled, pleased to still recognize that once very foreign language. I entered the initial great grove of redwoods both thankful for where my feet were presently planted and homesick for another place entirely.

We bypassed a lot of the initial viewpoints near the Visitor’s Center in favor of getting straight onto a trail, away from people. One of the interesting things I’ve noticed about the parks I’ve visited this year is that only the valleys and easy to access areas are steeped in humans, the trails are most often not. We chose a similar loop hike as on our previous visit, hiking first the Ocean View trail (which does not have an ocean view, fyi) and consistently gaining elevation until almost the top of the Panoramic Highway. We then turned back and down Lost Trail, embarking on a gradual descent down some very unevenly spaced trail stairs, and eventually arriving in the Cathedral Grove where I emerged abruptly back in humanity feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, looking forward to another excursion into the woods.

November 26th, 2014

outfit no. 108

Recently, I’ve been reading some style blogs that deal with the cost analysis of outfits. Blue Collar Red Lipstick further breaks her outfits down by analyzing the cost per wear of each item (here’s an example in her wardrobe analytics post). I decided to attempt something similar with my most recent outfit.

Outfit Analytics:
Dress (on sale): $19.99
Sweater: $20
Boots (on sale): $7
Necklace: bought with a giftcard
Outfit Total: $47

Dress / worn twice: $10 per wear
Sweater / worn five times: $4 per wear
Boots / worn 20+ times: $0.35 per wear

I don’t know why I never thought about applying my frequently utilized sweater-over-dress technique to maxi dresses. Now this Gap maxi dress (that I bought during a 50% off end-of-season sale) can be easily translated into the upcoming colder months. Bonus: the wine color is perfect for winter!

Dress: Gap // Sweater: H&M // Boots: Old Navy // Necklace: Sam Moon

November 24th, 2014

my geeky holiday wishlist.

Pacific Rim Fangirl Wishlist: mecha leggings (size M) // bomber jacket (size S) // pac rim novelization
Board Game Fangirl Wishlist: (all for 2+ people)  morels // ticket to ride // jaipur // machi koro
Wannabe Backpacker Wishlist: sweater (size M) // bio-lite stove // 101 SF hikes

November 21st, 2014

outfit no. 107

Life moves continuously and in measured waves; it ebbs and flows like some ethereal tide that I can never quite touch or make sense of. Ideas, memories, longing. Some days I wake filled with optimism, inspired and ready to accomplish anything. Other days I fail to summon the energy necessary to read a book, write a letter or feed myself. Seemingly random factors and events contribute to all of these emotional meanderings — the weather, my own assessment of self-worth, the amount of projects I’ve taken on. Instead of evaluating myself harshly by what I fail to accomplish, I want to try and be more kind to myself. I want to claim little victories in the stream of life and celebrate both simplicity and the seemingly mundane. My appreciation for the little things has diminished of late and I’d like to get back in the practice of physically writing in my journal and really taking note of the world around me.

I wear a variation of this outfit quite frequently (sweater remixed here & here). I recently acquired this Southwestern print scarf and threw it on top of, what I consider to be, a tried and true ensemble because the recent mornings have had this fabulous nip in the air that requires an additional layer. The below photo happened to capture the only sunny day we’ve had this week. But no matter, I like the London-esque gloom.

Sweater & Boots: thrifted // Leggings: StitchFix // Skirt: Target // Scarf: H&M