A rambling of hobbies, travels, personal histories and penchants.
Born and raised in Iowa, in the city, not on a farm, I've been reading science fiction and fantasy literature, among other genres, since elementary school. Robin McKinley, Diana Wynne Jones, Anne McCaffrey, and J.R.R. Tolkein were early favorites of mine. At the moment, I particularly follow the work of Sheri Tepper, Tanya Huff, and - from a distance - Robin Hobbs. (My experience reading her Assassin series was gripping, perturbing, disturbing, physically uncomfortable from the sheer numbers of consecutive hours involved. I'll read more of her books eventually, when I can put aside a week and have access to an entire series at once.) I still attend a literary convention or two a year: Ad Astra is the in-town literary SF/F convention. I'm a particular fan of Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair series at the moment. Last year, I finally read Diana Wynne Jones' Howl's Moving Castle. It's one of the most delightful books I have ever read.
I've taken years of flute and lap harp lessons: my lap harp was an impulse purchase and is, unfortunately, too small to even have tuning levers. I also have a small accumulation of flute-related instruments: penny whistle, wooden flute, and panpipes, although the tin whistle is the only one I play regularly these days. I don't have many opportunities to play with other people these days - I attend a once-a-month music night. Both the joy and the burden of it is that the group is entirely improvisational, and I never learned to play instruments that way, so I go and sing instead.
On the subject of music, I particularly like going to musicals and operas. The COC is a decent, solid opera company, but Opera Atelier's productions are downright exciting to attend. They perform baroque operas, complete with seriously researched mannerisms, gestures, dance, costumes, and the style of scenery which would have been used then. To balance out this scholarly aspect to their performance, they do a superb job of bringing out the humor in every piece they do - and they're all sung in English. My favorite musical of the moment is Bombay Dreams.
I enjoy being other places, if not travelling per se. I've spent various swathes of my life living in various places: Florence and Venice, in Italy; London and York, in England; and now Toronto, in Canada (of course). I've travelled as far west as Japan (I flew west to get there!) and as far east and north as Lappeenranta in Finland, and as far south as Atlanta, Georgia.
Speaking of travelling, one of the real pleasures of it is being able to eat varied and wonderful foods. I like guidebooks, and they've proven one of the most reliable ways to find good food. In Toronto, Mitzi's is a reliable favorite for brunch, while in London (UK), I have trouble resisting Belgo, and the high-quality fast food chain Prêt a Manger. In York (UK), it's hard to compete with Cafe Concerto's tomato soup, banoffee pie, and tarte au citron. If you're ever in Melk, a small but beautifully scenic town in Austria, there's a hotel there with absolutely incredible food - it's worth the price, and cheaper than you could have such a meal in, say, Vienna. The memory of a cascade of golden spun sugar spilling over and off of a white-and-red parfait, as if spun by Rumplestilzkin himself, has stayed with me. (See food for more information)
I would happily own an entire wardrobe from the Cambridge, MA clothing store Gypsy Moon. Their fabrics are delicious and it's almost all machine washable. Lambertrand makes beautiful creations, but, sadly, it all requires dry-cleaning. Anne LaRochelle sells some machine-washable clothing, pseudo-medieval, but actually rather practical. Any Direct Flight in Toronto makes very elegant suits.
I still like toys and games, both good sources of amusement. Toys include origami and Playmobil - at least Playmobil doesn't come out with new creations very often. Their magic forest series introduced me to their goods (with a little help from Diane), and I've been sporadically accumulating their non-modern-type things since. I own quite a few Cheapass games, a company which presumes its customers already own things like dice and pawns, and just provides the least amount of additional material necessary to play the game - but they're inspired games, fun, well-designed, engrossing, and original. We've been playing Settlers of Catan quite a bit lately too.
Other kinds of games include roleplaying. I started gaming online towards the end of high school, and with real, live human beings at university (although I have never played D&D). Vampire: The Masquerade was my introduction to live-action. The most enjoyable table-top game I've played was during my time in York, a Mage game. I've done very little gaming (except some online) since beginning my PhD. (See worlds for more information)