Sisi: An Empress on Her Own Book Review

I am haunted. Haunted by someone who died over 100 years ago. Haunted by someone who was misunderstood but revered after her death. I am haunted by Sisi, one of the most beautiful women of her time. The longest-reigning empress of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

For my fifth wedding anniversary, my husband and I decided randomly one night to choose two cities and visit them less than a week later. I suggested Prague and Vienna not knowing much about the cities. I won’t go into much detail now about my Prague trip, but when we left Prague and arrived at night in the Vienna train station, I initially wanted to hop back on the train and go back from whence we came. I wasn’t prepared for the grand imperial city–I was expecting something older–not something partially reconstructed after the world wars.

I’m so glad I stayed for I fell irrevocably in love the next day. I fell in love with the city that Sisi hated. I toured the Hofburg Palace–luxurious but with rooms smaller in scale than you would expect for a large palace. I saw Sisi’s bathroom where she spent hours and hours at her toilette, taking care of her floor-length hair. I saw her workout equipment that she used to maintain her 18-inch waist. I saw Emperor Franz Joseph’s small desk from which he controlled an empire. I saw the Sisi Museum–filled with artifacts from a woman who was hated in the Viennese press during her lifetime, but upon her assassination, was exalted to almost god-like status.

My eyes took in richness beyond belief from a world that will never return again.

Almost four years later, I was vaulted back into this world that I did not want to leave in 2013.

Sisi by Allison PatakiSisi: An Empress on Her Own by Allison Pataki did that to me. For a short while, this Memorial Day weekend, I became a member of Sisi’s inner court. I almost became Sisi. I felt her emotions, her melancholy, her quest for happiness in a world that she felt “sold” into when she became an empress at the age of 16. An infatuated young woman too naive to know the constraints and criticisms that would barrage her for the rest of her life. A young woman unprepared for her husband to cheat on her, unprepared for her mother-in-law to steal her elder children; a young woman who could control nothing but her physical appearance which she spent most of her waking hours religiously (if not unhealthily) preserving.

Allison Pataki created a masterpiece–one I am in awe of and can’t quite let go of. Pataki’s superb research brought Sisi to life. I walked to the Gloriette at Schönbrunn Palace with Sisi. I stood at Neptune’s fountain with Sisi. I felt the weight of her corseted gowns fall over my body as I felt suffocated by yet another court event. Allison breathed life and emotions into real words that the empress and emperor actually uttered to one another. Fiction and fact were intertwined so richly that you can’t tell where one ends and the other begins.

My friends, if you are ready for a book that will not leave you–pick up Allison Pataki’s Sisi. This New York Times bestseller is on special right now for Kindle, but honestly, you’ll love this book so much you’ll want to get it and it’s prequel (The Accidental Empress) in hardcover. The covers are gorgeous and must grace my bookshelves. I don’t generally re-read books, but this one–I will. On a scale of 1-5 stars, I give this 10 stars. My highest praise ever.

You won’t be disappointed. Join me in being haunted by Sisi: An Empress on Her Own as you enter her world, which I share a glimpse of below.

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Battle of the Seasons

Spring and winter have been at war here in NYC the past couple of weeks. One day the high temperature might be in the 50s, and then just a few short days later it can be in the 70s or 80s. Thankfully, as winter stubbornly refuses to loosen its hold and make way for spring, there have not been innocent casualties of this war as I have seen in past years. The tree and flower buds have not sprouted only to suffer a deep freeze. Instead, as I’ve walked around the Manhattan, I see signs that spring is prevailing, something that has greatly lightened my spirits. I cannot tell you how happy it makes me feel to see such beautiful flowers in an urban landscape. I hope my shots bring you joy as well.

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Please note all of these photos were taken with my beloved Google Pixel with no filter or editing except for the squirrel photo. 🙂

September 11, 2016


No farewell words were spoken,
no time to say goodbye,
you were gone before we knew it,
and only God can tell us why.
It broke my heart to lose you,
but you didn’t go alone,
for part of me went with you,
the day God called you home.

~Author Unknown

Let’s Zoo-It

It’s Labor Day weekend, so it is the perfect time for a hurricane to come and mess up everyone’s plans as they want to send summer off with one last hurrah.

On Saturday, two crazy friends, my mister, and I headed to the Bronx Zoo since we were not sure what kind of weather to expect here in NYC as Hermine headed up the east coast on Sunday and Monday.

DSC_1929I’ve never been to the Bronx Zoo. In fact, it was the first time I’ve taken the subway up that far into the Bronx. It’s certainly a different world from the one I live in in Manhattan–ahem, not as pretty. I’m sure if you actually got away from the subway tracks, there are some nice areas of the Bronx. However, from the subway car, I saw just very industrial, graffiti-tagged brick buildings and crammed apartment residences with the occasional trees to provide a burst of green. I found the architecture to be definitely lacking and thought it was quite interesting that a lot of the signs were in Spanish rather than English or a mix of both.

After getting off the Pelham Bay Parkway stop, we walked about half a mile to the Zoo entrance. Thankfully, we had herds of parents pushing strollers to follow because there was a definite lack of appropriate signage to point people in the right direction to the zoo from the 2 subway line.

DSC_1931For the largest zoo found within a city, the Bronx Zoo surprisingly was surprisingly much more nature-y than I expected. There was a Bronx River that greeted you near the entrance, which who knew existed? Definitely not this Manhattan-ite. I was also pleasantly surprised by the number of trees and foliage within the zoo itself. Oftentimes, it was like entering a secret world (or a nightmare filled with strollers and children) as you exited the main walkway to see each animal exhibit that was tucked out of sight behind massive trees and other dense plant life. For the sake of the animals, I’m glad that there were so many trees that helped create a sound barrier since it definitely could get loud–hello sea lions! Can we say “arf, arf, arf?” The trees also provided a luxurious amount of shade so that I surprisingly did not get overheated as we walked over 6 miles and still didn’t see the entire zoo. Here are some of my favorite pictures, though I sadly didn’t get to see the lions before they were tucked away for the evening.

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Would I recommend people making a visit?

Yes! The only real negative I had about this zoo is the bathrooms (not the most modern, clean feeling facilities), and the fact that the poor tiger and polar bear seemed very unhappy. It wasn’t a terribly hot day (low 70s) but they were pacing and pacing with their mouths open. The other animals seemed okay with their captivity. I thought it was pretty amazing that a lot of the birds were not even closed up inside some of the building exhibits–they could have technically flown out of their exhibit into the darkened viewing area, but they had no reason to do so (no food, water, perches, etc.) Later on,  when visiting the Congo gorilla habitat, a gorilla got pretty ticked off and banged on the glass wall, so of course the human animals on the other side started banging back in an effort to get him to do it again. That truly annoyed me since it is beyond rude to provoke an animal. If I ever had a child, I hope he would turn out like this little boy who had a conversation similar to the following with his parents:

Little Boy: Can gorillas kill people?

Parent: Yes, they can.

Little Boy: I think the gorilla should kill the people banging on the glass.

Me thinking to myself: Yup, we’re the animals. I totally agree if it wouldn’t get the poor gorilla killed.

The zoo definitely had a different feel from my home town zoo of Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, which is very nice but had a lot more concrete as a whole I felt like around the animal exhibits. It also gets quite hot in the summer heat. If you ever think about visiting the Bronx Zoo, I would definitely recommend buying the “total experience ticket” if available since a number of buildings and the shuttle required you to have this ticket if you want to avoid paying extra to see exhibits like Jungle World, home of the black leopard. You can get an extra 10% off of the $34 total experience ticket cost if you purchase ahead of time online.

I hope you enjoyed this post and the pictures. Comments are always appreciated! However, please don’t take photos without permission. Thanks!

Even geese families take vacations.

Anyone who has spent just a bit of time around me or on my blog may notice that… well… I have a proclivity towards geese, chickens, errm, cats, lizards, raccoons, bugs, okay, well–any animals really.

So, imagine my happiness when seeing that my family and I were not the only family visiting the Statue of Liberty this week!

Look at those downy, teenage geese. Their parents must be so proud of the fine young geese they are becoming!

To the tune of The Little Mermaid song, Part of Your World.

I wanna be where the geesey are.

I wanna see, wanna see them waddling.

Strolling along on those, what’s that word again? Webbed feet!

Up where they walk, up where they flap, up where they stay all day in the sun!

Wondering free, wish I could be, where the geese are!

If you enjoy geese adventures, I may have a few more of them for you to read: here, here, and here.

We all bleed green today!

After hearing bagpipes, drums, and cheering for hours today while working at my desk, I’m glad I had a chance to sneak outside for a while to view the New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade–a parade that’s been gracing New York City streets for over 250 years! Only in New York can something this amazing happen yet most New Yorkers are in the “business as usual” mode. May you all bleed green today in a safe and not sick way! 🙂

Where the geese go, I shall follow.

I should feel guilty for so many geese posts, but I don’t. Geese make me happy, and we should all seize whatever opportunities we have to be happy in this world. I can hardly think of a better way to relax than listening to the quacks of dozens of babies during a beautiful evening in Central Park.

You just can’t end the year without a cute cat picture.


“You mean I still can’t eat the bows and wrapping paper? But…but…Christmas is over!” – Caesar

I just wanted to pop on the blog to say a belated Merry Christmas. I hope you all have a safe New Years Eve and a blessed year to come. I have thoroughly enjoyed sitting on the couch and reading a bunch of fabulous Christian, contemporary, and historical romance fiction this past year. It’s been nice having my blog as an excuse to read more books rather than cook and clean. 😉 I hope you have found the posts, especially the book review ones, to be helpful and entertaining. I know I have enjoyed writing them, even though it was sometimes challenging getting the wording just right. Before 2014 ends, I just wanted to say thank you so much for visiting and supporting my blog. I hope you will continue to do so in 2015!

Sara Beth

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Horseshoe Bend

Alone With God, Nature, and… Bobcats?!?

It was a dark and cold night. Well,  at least I knew it would be after the sun went down. The family and I had just returned to the hotel after rafting down the Colorado River in Glen Canyon when I remembered that Greg wanted to try and capture the sunset overlooking Horseshoe Bend (a part of the Colorado River that we had rafted down earlier that day). Normally, I’m the photographer in the family, but Greg has developed an interest (ahem, stolen my hobby) in photography lately. Even though I was literally falling asleep upright in a chair, I summoned the willpower to get up since I adore shooting landscape shots.

After a short drive outside of Page, AZ, Greg and I unloaded our new metallic hiking sticks and started racing across the undefined, sandy trail like some weird, clacking, prehistoric insects. Although there were a few people heading in the same direction as us, most people were walking back to their vehicles while there was still daylight available. We barely had time to set up the tripod before the sun dipped below the canyon rim.

Once I caught my breath (hey, hey, the air is thin at this elevation, okay?!?), the view of Horseshoe Bend was AMAZING. Unfortunately, in order to shoot the entire bend, you had to get precariously close to the 1,000-foot plus drop. Mom, Dad–if you’re reading this, just stop here since me getting close to any cliff edges seemed to freak you guys out on the trip. Anyways, for some reason, I’m not scared of cliff heights (building heights are another story), but I did make sure I stood on solid pieces of rock. I may have laid down flat by the cliffs edge, too, in order to try and capture some unique shots. Sadly, if I remember our rafting guide correctly, some people have died in years past when visiting the Horseshoe Bend overlook due to rock slides. Our guide said to be very careful of stepping on any sandstone that jutted out from the rest of the canyon wall since the stone could easily crumble and fall into the river below.

Horseshoe Bend right after the sun went down

It looks like a circle, but the Colorado River just curves like a horseshoe–hence the name, Horseshoe Bend!

As night (and the temperature) quickly descended, it wasn’t long until the other sunset photographers packed up and left. With no one else but a crazy, squeaking, canyon edge-darting mouse to keep us company, Greg and I remained under the starry sky experimenting with timed exposures and trying out a technique of using flashlights instead of the camera flash to illuminate nearby objects.

Playing with timed exposures and flashlights.

We waved around a flashlight to light up the rock in this timed exposure.

Finally, it became dark enough to see the Milky Way Galaxy, which as a hobbyist photographer I always have wanted a chance to capture. I’ve seen some amazing shots of the galaxy photographed in this area, but alas, those photographers used some crazy, expensive lenses. It still feels so surreal to have seen and photographed something so far away!

The best of my Milky Way shots outside of Page, Arizona.

“Or, I look out at the stars and the moon and the sun. and I see that there are billions and trillions of these great planets and suns out in space, hundreds of Milky Ways bigger than ours and something is back of that, and everything moving in perfect precision. And the whole thing could blow up. But it doesn’t; it keeps going. […] We know so many things that we didn’t know years ago. But something is there beyond man.” —  excerpt from “Billy Graham: Candid Conversations With a Public Man

After taking as much shivering as we could stand, Greg and I packed up and carefully started walking the three quarters of a mile hike back to the parking lot. Thankfully my Dad had reminded us to pack flashlights in our hurry to make it to the Bend before sunset; otherwise, we would have been in the pitch dark. As we walked with our hiking sticks primed to be used as weapons, we nervously scanned the vast emptiness surrounding us, keeping our ears peeled for any signs indicating we were not alone. I had hoped to see a bobcat on this trip, but I did not want to meet a hungry one at night up-close and personal. Apparently we were not as alone as we had thought the entire evening. Another couple that was hidden behind a rock not too far from us also started the journey back to the parking lot once they saw us leaving. Apparently, they were a little wary of the dark as well. I felt slightly bad that we must’ve been annoying the crud out of them as we waved our flashlights like crazy people in their general direction all evening!

Thankfully we made it back to the car safely with no wildlife encounters, as did the other hikers. Although Horseshoe Bend can be a bit dangerous at night, I’m glad we had a chance to experience the magic of being (mostly) alone with nothing but God and nature.