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Readers’ Workshop: Why You Should Read Fiction Word-By-Word

Have you ever struggled with describing exactly why you like or dislike a book? Maybe you enjoyed the plot, related to the characters, but for some reason you wouldn’t recommend it to others.

y648I’ve had this problem for a long time. Usually my response would be, “well, the writing isn’t great.” But what did I mean by that? What made the writing mediocre?

Then I read Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer and suddenly I had the knowledge and tools to notice a beautifully crafted sentence, natural dialogue, and unforgettable details. The main idea is to read slowly and closely—word by word. When we read for plot we can just fly through a book, but Prose advocates reading analytically by paying attention to style, detail, dialogue, diction and how sentences were formed and information conveyed.

Because this book made such an impact on my reading, I am leading a book club called Readers’ Workshop throughout 2017. It’s held the second Thursday of every month (except December) at 7 p.m. at the Curious Iguana bookstore in Frederick, MD.

We are using Reading Like a Writer as a reference guide and we’ll read one chapter a month as well as a work of fiction. We’ve only met once so far, and already I’ve learned a lot from the participants. So I am planning to write blog posts summarizing some of the discoveries we make as a group.

9780679732709This past Thursday we read the chapter on the importance of words (Chapter 2) and Alice Munro’s short story collection, Moons of Jupiter.

Prose describes Munro’s writing as plain, sparse and Spartan. Although it seems effortless, every word “challenges you to think of a more direct, less fussy way to say what she’s saying.”

The club members agreed with Prose’s characterization and pointed out that despite the fact that she uses such plain language and short sentences, the stories are very complicated and dense and tackle difficult subjects like psychological abuse.

One person pointed out that Munro has a lot of respect for her readers—she trusts that we’ll be able to figure out the meaning and depth in her stories.

Another member said that her writing is almost as sparse and spare as poetry, but that she has a precision that is exact. We may not have loved every story in the collection, but we could all agree that you are rewarded when you slow down and pay attention to Alice Munro’s language.

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When You Just Have to Get the Shot

We decided to venture out of the house after 30 inches of snow dropped on our city in fewer than 30 hours.

The day after was beautiful. We went for a walk to see Frederick covered in several feet of snow.

At one point, walking by Baker Park, I realized that at a certain spot there would be a shot of Frederick’s spires with a frozen Carroll Creek below. Unfortunately there was a barrier of snow in my way.

Not being that committed to this shot, we kept walking. Then I saw a small plowed path from the street right up to the creek. I followed it to the end and realized it opened up to just the right spot for that shot. As I walked back a man came out of his house and asked, “got that shot? I plowed that path just for it.”

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Have I mentioned that I love living in Frederick?

The episode reminded me of another shot that I got when we were in Venice, which is full of great photo opps. We were in St. Mark’s square when I saw a many lying on the ground. He was in search of a perfect shot. He probably got it, too, because the puddle from the previous night’s flood offered a spectacular reflection of the basilica. Of course I couldn’t pass up the opportunity of capturing him in action.

He is committed to the shot

Not that I can judge. Last month in Arizona, I was so invested in getting this shot of the red rocks that I risked falling in a pool (albeit heated, but I was fully clothed). Dedicated to the shot.

Bloggers, photographers and Instagrammers alike can relate. Sometimes you just need to get that shot.

Eight (more) Reasons Frederick Is Just Like Stars Hollow

You guys. I’m so excited that Netflix confirmed it will be producing four new episodes of Gilmore Girls. In honor of that, here are eight more reasons why my city, Frederick, Maryland, is a town just like Stars Hollow. (Don’t miss the original post with 15 more reasons).

1. We hold public hearings for homeowners who want to make repairs or changes to their homes.

2. One Saturday we were all told to meet at the corner of Market and Patrick Streets to take a town photo.

3. During the blizzard last week, there was an organized snowball fight in our town park, Baker Park. I believe they met at the gazebo…

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4. We had a parade about the British Stamp Act.

5. No, we’ve never had a hay bale maze set up in the middle of town. However they do haul out bales of hay during the High Wheel Race and close down all the streets. So basically the same idea.

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6. Last month I sat listening to harp music in a beautiful historic church during Frederick’s Historic Houses of Worship Candlelight Tour. Harp music.

7. We have a town carillonour. He plays once a month in the bell tower in Baker Park and leaves the door open so you can climb the stairs and visit and watch him play.

8. Rory would sit for hours at the town book store. You could certainly do that at our independent book store, Curious Iguana. You’ll fall in love with the book collection first and then quickly find out the staff is just as lovely.

Are you ready to visit the real-life Stars Hollow?

We’re Not Going Anywhere: Blizzard 2016

Have you heard about that blizzard we’re supposed to have in Maryland this weekend?

Of course you have. Because it’s DC. And we freak out about these things. On a national scale.

The last blizzard of this magnitude was in 2010, and as I looked at pictures from it (Snowmageddon) I realized that this weekend’s storm is timed exactly the same. In 2010 the snow started falling on a Friday afternoon.

For those of you thinking you’ll be able to get out of the house on Sunday, I have…um… bad news.The creek

During Snowmaggedon we barely were able to leave our house (by car) even on Monday night.DSC_1157

But we could walk. And walk we did.

So when the storm is over, go out and walk and take photos and maybe go eat at Volt.This is third street *our street* check out those power lines.

Hunker down, my friends. And be safe.

A Pimms Cup in Frederick

We spent six days in the U.K. recently and it wasn’t until we were just about to go back home to Maryland that I realized we should have been drinking Pimms cups the entire time. It’s the ultimate British summer drink, and we had completely neglected it.

DSC_0654 Needless to say we had a major Pimms craving when we got back to Frederick.

After a little Internet searching we found that you can get a version of a Pimms cup in downtown Frederick. The Tasting Room has a Pimms Stawberry Smash, which sounds delightful with *you guessed it* strawberries (but also cucumber vodka).

We decided to go another route – we’d make our Pimms cups at home. We found Pimms #1 at Riverside Liquors for $19.99. Next up was figuring out the mix ins.

Recipes are all pretty similar for the Pimms cup, but one suggestion I decided to take was to use San Pellegrino Limonata, which sounded more interesting than lemonade or Sprite.

Here’s the recipe for our Pimms cup if you’d like to join us toasting this ridiculously hot and muggy summer we’ve been having this year.

Pimms Cup Recipe

Ingredients
Pimms #1
San Pellegrino Limonata
Orange
Lemon
Mint

Muddle 3-4 mint leaves in your glass. Add 2-3 orange slices and 1-2 lemon slices. Muddle. Add in 1 part Pimms #1 and 3 parts limonata (I used 1/4 cup Pimms and 3/4 cups limonata). Add ice and enjoy.DSC_0659

Have you found a Pimms cup anywhere else in Frederick?

Fast Casual Frederick: Two to Try in Downtown

If there’s one thing we could use more of in Downtown Frederick, it’s fast casual restaurants.

What’s fast casual? It’s higher quality food (than fast food), but without table service. There are a good amount of lunch choices Downtown, but most of them have table service. That means longer and more expensive lunches.

I wrote about Doner Bistro last year, which is a fast casual restaurant on Carroll Creek. Recently a new comer opened on East Patrick Street – Rex’s Downtown Grill.

Rex’s prides itself on burgers and wings, but it’s also got a variety of healthier options like chicken sandwiches and salads.

See? Great people watching opportunities in these bar seats.

See? Great people watching opportunities in these bar seats.

Located next to Little’s Furniture, the space was completely gutted and renovated. The decor is industrial chic with a lot of natural light. Don’t miss the upstairs seating, which has even more light and lots of tables. The bar that lines the Patrick Street windows at the front of the space offers prime people-watching opportunities (although, be warned, you’ll probably be watched by the folks on the outside as well).

Order at the counter and pick a table to wait for your food. We were there on a Saturday right after it had opened and our food took a long time, but that’s excusable. I had a burger, which was good, and sweet potato fries, which could have been crisper. My husband had bratwurst, which he said was good but not as good as Doner.

We really liked the space and atmosphere, so we’ll definitely go back again to try some more things on the menu.

The second fast casual to try in downtown Frederick is That Hummus Place. We had passed by the lime green building on South Market (between South Street and All Saints) many times, but never stopped to try it. Recently we had a craving for eggplant and headed there for lunch – I’m so glad we did.

It’s a completely vegetarian restaurant with a middle eastern flare.  We always get the hummus and eggplant pita sandwich, which can satisfy even the hungriest carnivores. The staff is friendly and the food is very fresh. I highly recommend it.

What are your favorite fast casual restaurants in downtown Frederick?

The Improved Carroll Creek: What’s Next for Frederick?

Alive at 5 on Carroll Creek.

First time I saw Carroll Creek (2008)

The first time I visited Frederick, Maryland I was already hunting for an apartment downtown. I had never even set foot in the city, but had already decided that I would 100% be moving more than a thousand miles to live there. How was I so sure? I had seen so many photos of the charming historic town and, well, it looked like a real-life Stars Hollow. When I finally saw Frederick in person, it was Carroll Creek that really cinched the deal. We happened to be in town on a Thursday in summer, which meant there was a band playing at the amphitheater and tons of people walking, hanging out and enjoying themselves on a beautiful summer evening.

Summer on Carroll Creek

Summer on Carroll Creek

You may have noticed that Carroll Creek is in the process of getting some upgrades. There’s construction in several spots along the creek. I can’t be the only one curious about it, so I got permission from the City of Frederick to post some artist renderings of the project.

First let’s take a look at the map of the Creek. It runs from Baker Park past East Patrick Street. Currently most of the Creek from Baker Park to almost East Street is developed. With the new phase, the developed creek will be almost 1 mile long.

There’s some work being done on the south side of the creek between West Patrick Street and Market Street (more on that at the end of the post). However, the bulk of the new construction is on the east side, particularly from East Street to E. Patrick Street. Check out this artist rendering looking East from the bridge over East Street toward McCutcheons!

artist-east

This artist rendering is from a 2003 draft park plan of the Carroll Creek Park Project. It does not represent the actual plans. Source City of Frederick.

Here’s a more detailed plan of this portion of the project – bridges, fountains, paths, landscaping and seating.

east-plan copy

From a 2008 Carroll Creek Park Briefing document. Source: City of Frederick.

Some more features from a 2003 plan on this portion include a kayak and paddleboat marina. I don’t know if these are still part of this phase of the project, but if so that would be a great addition to the creek.

From a 2003 draft park plan of the Carroll Creek Park Project. Source City of Frederick.

If you’re curious about the status of the project, the City’s Economic Development group is blogging regular updates of the construction in progress with lots of photos. Here’s a few plans for the other portions of the creek that are part of this phase. Below is a plan from the work being done on the south side of the creek to the west of Market Street.

west-patrick

From a 2003 draft park plan of the Carroll Creek Park Project. Source City of Frederick.

The City is also working on finishing up the creek from the Delaplaine (40 S. Carroll Street) to East Street. Here’s an artist rendering of looking at East Street (in the direction of the train station) from approximately the Delaplaine.

marc-east

From a 2003 draft park plan of the Carroll Creek Park Project. Source City of Frederick.

Can’t wait to share actual photos of the project after its completion!

Note: All images were used with permission from the City of Frederick and are from two documents on the City’s website: 2003 Draft Park Plan (pdf) and 2008 Carroll Creek Park Briefing (pdf).

Shop Small: Downtown Frederick Walking (& Shopping!) Tour

In honor of Shop Small Business Saturday, I am sharing a few of my favorite small businesses in Downtown Frederick.

Oh! And! It’s a walking tour. So let’s get started:

Start: We’ll start at Shab Row, which has lots of cute little shops, but one of the newest (and my favorite) is Primitive Homespuns (120 N. East Street). If you’re even just a little into the whole Shaker look, you will love this place. The space itself is worth a visit, but it’s also packed with adorable items like these hand-made animals!Frederick Shopping Tour

Walk south down East Street and take a right on Church Street. No shops here for this tour, but just one of the many adorable Frederick blocks.

Turn left down N. Carroll Street, and after a block, take a right on East Patrick Street.

1) Head into Maven Beauty Bar‘s new (and much larger!) space (118 E. Patrick) and pick up some items for your oh-so-dry skin. Also a great place for gifts for any women in your life.

2) Now that you’ve got the girls covered, walk down East Patrick to Citizen Frederick (112 E. Patrick) to get gifts for the men in your life. It may remind you of Best Made Co. (and that’s a wonderful thing to have in Frederick!) and you’ll find a lot of hip men’s clothing and accessories. Plus the store just looks cool.

3) Time for this kiddos on your list. Head down to Dancing Bear Toys (15 E Patrick) to get fun battery-free toys. (Even if there aren’t any kids on your list, it’s totally appropriate for adults to stop in and explore).

4) When you get to Market Street, we’re going to do a quick detour south to check out the Trail House (17 S. Market). Even if you’re not into hiking and the outdoors, after visiting the Trail House you’ll want to be. Plus the staff has great tips for local hikes, kayak routes, etc.

5) Ok, head back up north on Market and stop in to Voila! (10 N. Market) for loose-leaf tea. My favorites here are Japanese Green Sencha and the signature Voila black tea blend.

6) Next door, you’ll want to pop in to our bookstore, Curious Iguana (12 N. Market). Get a book (or three) or just take a lot of time to browse. They have a really nicely edited book collection.

7) Feeling chilly? Head over to Hunting Creek Outfitters (29 N Market) because he’s been selling Barbour jackets before it was even a brand the M-Street yuppie crowd had ever heard of. Also find a lot of Smart Wool socks and other cold-weather accessories.

8) Time for chocolate, right? Next stop is Zoes Chocolates (121 A N. Market)! Pick up their adorably packaged hot chocolate mix and also a few of their hand-pulled candy canes. And you can’t leave without getting a few truffles…

9) Probably the newest store on Market Street, Treaty General Store (218 N. Market) is a good spot to find special gifts for those people still on your list. Find hilarious letterpress cards, kitchen accessories, ornaments, and even baby clothes and toys.

10) Cross the street and celebrate! You’ve made it to the end of the tour! Time for some wine. Viniferous (227 N. Market) is the place to go if you want to find a delicious wine (that not everyone and their grandma is already drinking). Tell Bob and Luke what’s for dinner (and your price range) and be amazed at their pairing skills. Looking for craft beer? They’ve got that too.

Walk south on Market and take a left on East 2nd Street. Stroll down another one of the lovely Frederick downtown streets until you get to East Street, which is where this lovely Shop Small tour started.

New in Frederick: Lunch, Dinner, Dessert

It should come as no surprise that I love living in Frederick, MD. Recently quite a few new places have opened downtown, and I wanted to share just a few of them with you.

Doner Bistro
It seems like everything is closing on Carroll Creek (which bums me out) – Lunch Box is gone, Ben & Jerry’s packed up, and Five Guys has been closed for a while. In better creek news, however, a unique place called Doner Bistro recently took over the old Five Guys location. There are a few other franchises in the area (like one in Leesburg). Basically it’s a German place. But! Their specialty is actually Turkish. What? Well apparently in Germany, Turkish street food is widely popular. Doner Bistro brings you both Turkish (think kebab) and German (think bratwurst). The people who work there are so friendly and the food we tried was delicious (bratwurst and currywurst). We also enjoyed the Weihenstephaner Wheat Beer. It’s an order at the counter and wait for your food type of place, which is just the casual type lunch place my husband and I have been wanting for Downtown Frederick.

Pistarros
Taking over the former Shab Row Bistro location, this pizza restaurant is a welcomed addition to downtown. There were a few places where you could get pizza downtown before, but no one who was specializing in it. Enter Pistarros. The problem? It’s way too close to my home. I’ve ordered pizza to go a couple of times already and have been pleased with the Neapoletan-style pies. My second time there the tomato sauce could have used a bit more seasoning, but overall it’s got a lot of potential.

Pro tip: if it’s a beautiful day outside and the limited patio seating is taken or you’d rather not sit and have table service, order a pizza to go and picnic at the next door Third Street Park.

Cakes to Die For
The one definitely winning in the branding category is the newest bakery downtown – Cakes to Die For. And, yes, the branding includes skulls and crossbones (LOVE!). Specializing in cakes (hence the name) this shop also has cinnamon rolls, croissants, lemon bars (below), pies, etc. I’ve only tried the lemon bar but I’m excited to test out the other treats. The prices are super resonable and the space on Market Street is not only a prime location but it’s filled with natural light and has some trendy goth-chic decor. If she added an espresso machine and wifi I’d spend my telecommute mornings right there! (Hint, hint) (Nudge, nudge).

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Why I have reservations at Firestones for Frederick Restaurant Week

You may remember that last month I went on a preview of this week’s Frederick Restaurant Week. My group of journalists and bloggers went to and sampled the menus of three participating restaurants. By the end of the day, there was one clear winner.

fred restaurant week logoFirestone’s Culinary Tavern.

Let’s back up. Frederick Restaurant Week runs from today (March 3) to Sunday, March 9. The 18 participating restaurants offer a 2 course lunch for $15.14 or a 3 course dinner for $30.14.

Why Firestone’s? Out of all of the menus we tasted, Firestone’s was by far the most thoughtful. It was unique and varied. We tasted sushi grade tuna tempura roll, grilled hanger steak with pickled root vegetables and creamed leek and, for dessert, a lemon tart served with a side of chocolate almond crisps.

After the tasting, all six of us were gushing. The chef (Dave Rusk) came out and amid our chorus of praises he seemed to recede into himself, politely (but concisely) answering our questions. Humble or introverted. Either way he makes amazing food.

It helps that the restaurant is housed in a 100 year old building that began as a sporting goods store, then a pub, and has been Firestone’s since 1999. My favorite part is the mezzanine. And the two-story windows peering down on Market Street.

firestone's tavern

Forgive the poor photo quality. I only had my phone with me.

Some restaurants will feature a separate restaurant week menu, but Firestone’s has decided to keep its entire menu for the week. You can order anything off the menu and it will be within the restaurant week prices (there are several items that have a supplemental fee). You can see the menus here.

So, where will you be dining in Frederick this week? Should I make more reservations?