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Saturday, September 28, 2019

What I've Read Recently // August 2019

My very best and most faithful blog reader (Mr. Jones) had some fantastic feedback regarding the first "Recent Reads" post I made: "Give us less of what Goodreads had to say and more about what you have to say." Noted. Thank you. I love you.

Here's a list of what I finished in August.

One of Us Is Lying, by Karen M. McManus
From Goodreads:
The Breakfast Club meets Pretty Little LiarsOne of Us Is Lying is the story of what happens when five strangers walk into detention and only four walk out alive. Everyone is a suspect, and everyone has something to hide.
What I thought: 7/10
Both Geneva and Piper recommended that I read this YA novel, having read it themselves each around age 12. This would be a good book to read along with your teen (if you're into that sort of thing). I think there are lots of things to talk about and could spark some good discussions around friendship, romantic relationships, social pressure, and trust. Overall, this was a solid mystery. I was captivated by the first chapter and I found the story quick-moving and easy to read. Twists and turns kept me guessing and engaged.


Forever, by Judy Blume
Adapted from Goodreads:
Katherine and Michael meet at a New Year's Eve party. They're attracted to each other, they grow to love each other. And once they've decided their love is forever, they make love.
Forever is written for an older age group than Judy Blume's other novels for children. It caused a storm of controversy when it was first published because of its explicit sexual content.
What I thought: 6.5/10
First published in 1975, the story is full of amazing retro references. These small details were fun in the same way that watching Stranger Things is enjoyable for those of us that remember the fashion, expressions, and decor of the time. I can't believe that I never picked this up when I was a teenager. (Did you?) It was very provocative for the time and banned in many libraries across the country. According to Wikipedia, Forever appears on the American Library Association list of 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books for 1990-2000, coming in at number seven. Juicy. While the book is certainly dated, the overall message of having a healthy, responsible, mutually-satisfying sexual relationship is timeless. I hope my kids read it.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest, by J. Ryan Stradal
Adapted from Goodreads:
Each chapter in J. Ryan Stradal's startlingly original debut tells the story of a single dish and character. By turns quirky, hilarious, and vividly sensory, Kitchens of the Great Midwest is an unexpected mother-daughter story about the bittersweet nature of life--its missed opportunities and its joyful surprises.
What I thought: 7.5/10
I found this novel to be totally original and refreshing both in plot and structure --plus it has recipes! Bonus. The story was warm, funny, wry, and quirky. Somehow, it managed to be both light and serious. Eva Thorvald is an interesting character who is introduced to the reader through the memories of the people in her life. It's hard to define her clearly; however, I think it's safe to predict that you'll enjoy getting to know her as much as I did.

The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller
Adapted from Goodreads:
Profoundly moving and breathtakingly original, this rendering of the epic Trojan War is a dazzling feat of the imagination, a devastating love story, and an almighty battle between gods and kings, peace and glory, immortal fame and the human heart.
What I thought: 9/10 (Listened on Audible)
This book came on my radar because the newest Madeline Miller book, Circe, kept popping up in my feed and when I looked into that one, I discovered that she had written Achilles first --and that is where I felt I should start. I loved this book. Having little knowledge about Greek mythology (or ever having read the Iliad), I came to the story with zero expectations or ideas of where the plot might lead--which I understand might be different for readers who are more familiar with the content. I was completely taken away with the story. (It has to be said that the narrator was excellent and that listening to the book definitely added a texture and depth to the story that I may have missed out on, had I read it myself.) The relationship between Patroclus and Achilles was deeply human and moving and this novel sits near the top of the list of the Greatest Love Stories I've Ever Read.

The Gifted School, by Bruce Holsinger
Adapted from Goodreads:
Smart and juicy, a compulsively readable novel about a previously happy group of friends and parents that is nearly destroyed by their own competitiveness when an exclusive school for gifted children opens in their community.
What I thought: 7.5/10
Ooh --this was a really good, quick-paced read that resonated on several levels. My bookclub has selected this for our October meeting and I look forward to discussing it there and hearing everyone else's take. I read it on my Kindle and was surprised to notice afterward that it's such a long book. It did not feel lengthy. Given the current news cycle around the college entrance bribery scandal, this book was especially topical. While it was highly entertaining and felt like a well-done mini series (think Big Little Lies), it also touched on bigger themes like privilege, class, and ethnicity. The parents in the book are outrageous and in all honesty --also relatable. Here's line from the mother of twin boys talking to her friend that absolutely rang through my bones (several passages hit close to home), "Swear to God, if there's one thing that makes me absolutely insane, it's the smug parents of well-behaved girls." Ouch.

Becoming, by Michelle Obama
Adapted from Goodreads:
In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address.
What I thought: 8.5/10
I received two copies of this book for Christmas and I finally got around to placing it at the top of my What I'll Read Next list. I'm so happy that I did. I can't believe it took me so long --especially having heard so many great reviews from friends of mine whose opinions I trust. I enjoyed the humor, honesty, candor, and reflection that Michelle expresses throughout. I thought the book was warm and inspiring. My only criticism is that I felt the beginning chapters dragged a bit. Once Barack showed up on the scene, the pace and my interest increased. The hardest thing about reading this book was having to pull my focus away from the memories of those years and back to the reality of our times.

Circe, by Madeline Miller
Adapted from Goodreads:
Rejected by her family and banished to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology. Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love. 
What I thought: 8.5/10 (Listened on Audible)
I was captivated by the story of Circe, a daughter of the most powerful Titan, Helios (the Sun). Although she was born without any powers, she possesses her own talents and through the course of this epic story, learns how to cultivate her instincts and insights to find/create her place in the world. Circe is an outcast, a feminist, a witch, a mother, a fighter... there's so much here to dig into. Miller's writing is rich and beautiful and I loved listening to every word. Comparing the two Miller novels in this post, I would say that the writing was equally stunning but I feel a little harder for Achilles.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Things I Love Thursday // 9.26.19

  • Rosemary and Garlic Olive Oil - For Christmas last year, we received a jar of homemade rosemary and garlic infused olive oil from our all-time best and most loved babysitter. It went quickly, as I used it almost every time I roasted veggies or needed a dipping oil for crusty bread. I finally thought to ask how it was made and was able to quickly whip up a new batch and the house smells amazing now. If you're interested in making some for yourself, here is a recipe that explains the simple process (I added a few peeled and slightly smashed cloves of fresh garlic).


  • Cheering for Geneva's Volleyball Team - The Jonesies have always been active in sports. From soggy Oregon soccer, tee-ball, little league, warm (too warm?) North Carolina rec and club soccer, field hockey (indoor and outdoor), rec volleyball, and even a quick stint with basketball --we have always enjoyed and looked forward to watching them play. Now solidly in middle school, this season is our first foray into rooting for a school team and it has been so much fun. There is something special about rooting for her school that stands apart from other teams she's played for. The combination of school spirit/pride, being inside the gym with its victory banners and giant mascot on the wall, the players' peers shouting from the stands, and the nostalgia for us parents all contribute to the energy that sets the experience apart from other sporting events. Additionally, volleyball is quick, exciting, and temperature controlled. Ha! G's team is an absolutely blast to watch. They are organized, skilled, and so invested to perform well with and for one another. I love that she has this opportunity to play for her school.


  • Santhoshi's Kitchen Delivery - Santhoshi lives just south of Charlotte and I had the pleasure of attending one of her cooking classes with a group of friends. She hosts the classes in her home and teaches classic Indian dishes. The class culminates with 4-5 traditional dishes, served family-style. Everyone leaves with a packet of recipes and, like me, the intention of making some of the incredible food at home. However, not all of the ingredients are not readily available and for my part, I never got around to it. Now she's offering meal kit deliveries to the great Charlotte area and if you're in these parts --I highly recommend you treat yourself. Our first order was for a large serving of Butter Chicken with naan and basmati rice. The ingredients arrived (placed in the cooler we left out on our porch) prepped and ready for cooking. The instructions were clear and a followup email arrived later that day providing her phone number: should I have questions during the preparation, I should feel free to text her for an immediate reply. The food was amazing. We had four generous servings and there was plenty left over for the girls to both take some for lunch the next day. Next week, we are trying Chicken Tikka Masala. I can't wait!


  • Propagation Success - A couple weeks ago, in an effort to encourage growth from other areas of our big Fiddle Leaf Fig tree, I pruned it back in a couple places. In the past, I've just tossed the trimmed pieces (usually just a leaf or two) into the trash. This time, I placed one of the bigger cuttings into a small vase with water. I've been changing out the water every few days and for awhile, it didn't appear that anything was going to happen... but then almost overnight, it sprouted a flurry of roots and those have increased in length quickly. Admittedly, I have not a clue as to what I'm doing but it seems to be going good. If you have any advice about when and how I should plant my clipping, feel free to share!


  • Scoring this Wrapping Paper - Piper and I were in Marshall's the other day bopping around and looking for a few decorative items she wanted to help change up part of her bedroom. As we were exiting the store, she saw this wrapping paper in a standing box by the door. "Look mom, it's like they knew you were coming." Yes. Yes. It appears they did. I could not have designed a print better myself. And it was $2.99! Winning.


  • The Arrival of Fall - It certainly doesn't feel like fall around here yet. The temperature today is set to hit somewhere near 94º. Ugh. I'm so ready for jeans and sweaters, pleasant soccer spectating, and soups/crockpot/comfort foods. However, despite the delay on Mother Nature's part, the stores are beginning to carry all my favorite pumpkin and spice seasonal items. I'm that person. The one that memes are made for. What has put that smile on my face you catch me wearing everyday before noon? The Pumpkin Spice coffee creamer that I've been enjoying since 6:30am. "Yum. Smells great in here. What is that?" Thanks; I'm baking Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread. For dinner.


Monday, September 23, 2019

What I've Read Recently // Introduction + 10 Favorites

If you're a Regular Reader around here (and thank you, thank you if you are) then you might be aware that I am a big fan of lists. I'm working on a new list for you that I look forward to updating every month or so: What I've Read Recently. Included here will be a short synopsis (provided by the publisher, author, or Goodreads) followed by a few of my thoughts and a personal rating for each selection. If you've read any of the books listed here, let me know in the comments what YOU thought of it (no spoilers). I'm also always looking for recommendations!

For future posts, I will list and discuss the books I read in the previous month (or so) but before we get there, I wanted to do a list of ten of my All-time Favorite Books. This way, you'll have a little taste of what I enjoy and if it differs vastly from the kinds of books you enjoy reading --then you'll know in advance to just skip the post. You can assume that all of the books listed in this post are a solid 10/10 for me. ***Also, this post is longer than I anticipate the average "Recent Reads" --as I couldn't limit my "favorites" to under 10 and there's no way I could read/listen-to 10 books in one month.***

Tell the Wolves I'm Home, by Carol Rifka Brunt
From Goodreads:
In this striking literary debut, Carol Rifka Brunt unfolds a moving story of love, grief, and renewal as two lonely people become the unlikeliest of friends and find that sometimes you don't know you've lost someone until you've found them. 
1987. There's only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that's her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn's company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June's world is turned upside down. But Finn's death brings a surprise acquaintance into June's life—someone who will help her to heal, and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart. 
At Finn's funeral, June notices a strange man lingering just beyond the crowd. A few days later, she receives a package in the mail. Inside is a beautiful teapot she recognizes from Finn's apartment, and a note from Toby, the stranger, asking for an opportunity to meet. As the two begin to spend time together, June realizes she's not the only one who misses Finn, and if she can bring herself to trust this unexpected friend, he just might be the one she needs the most. 
An emotionally charged coming-of-age novel, Tell the Wolves I'm Home is a tender story of love lost and found, an unforgettable portrait of the way compassion can make us whole again.
What I thought:
This is one of those stories that I must have read at the "right time" in my life. It struck a deep chord that continues to reverberate. The book is a coming of age story that gets it exactly right. The transition between childhood and adulthood is often confusing, excruciating, and messy. June, at fourteen, is stubborn, selfish, and lacks self-confidence but she's simultaneously sincere, brave, and honest. As a protagonist, June is far from perfect --but I fell in love with her right away. To be with June through her grief and as she begins to understand herself and how she fits into her life felt like a gift.

Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles
From Goodreads:
On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar with her boardinghouse roommate stretching three dollars as far as it will go when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with royal blue eyes and a tempered smile, happens to sit at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a yearlong journey from a Wall Street secretarial pool toward the upper echelons of New York society and the executive suites of Condé Nast--rarefied environs where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve. 
Wooed in turn by a shy, principled multi-millionaire, and an irrepressible Upper East Side ne'er-do-well, befriended by a single-minded widow who is ahead of her time, and challenged by an imperious mentor, Katey experiences firsthand the poise secured by wealth and station and the failed aspirations that reside just below the surface. Even as she waits for circumstances to bring Tinker back into her life, she begins to realize how our most promising choices inevitably lay the groundwork for our regrets.
What I thought:
I loved this piece of historical fiction set in the late 1930s NYC. I loved the characters, setting, and the writing. It's hard to decide which character I loved more: Katey or NYC. The only thing that could have made my reading of this book more enjoyable was having a martini in-hand for the duration.
The Fault in Our Stars, John Green
From Goodreads:
Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.
Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning author John Green's most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.
What I thought:
The Fault in Our Stars was the first John Green book I ever read and because of it, I have read everything Green has produced. This YA novel is breathtakingly beautiful and equally heartbreaking. The writing is sharp-witted and smart. The dialogue is fantastic. The characters are lovely and original. Incredibly, and despite the subject matter, this book is also so so funny. It gave me all of the feels and if you don't want to ugly-cry in front of others, read it alone.

The Paying Guests, by Sarah Waters
From Goodreads:
It is 1922, and London is tense. Ex-servicemen are disillusioned; the out-of-work and the hungry are demanding change. And in South London, in a genteel Camberwell villa—a large, silent house now bereft of brothers, husband, and even servants—life is about to be transformed, as impoverished widow Mrs. Wray and her spinster daughter, Frances, are obliged to take in lodgers.
With the arrival of Lilian and Leonard Barber, a modern young couple of the “clerk class,” the routines of the house will be shaken up in unexpected ways. Little do the Wrays know just how profoundly their new tenants will alter the course of Frances’s life—or, as passions mount and frustration gathers, how far-reaching, and how devastating, the disturbances will be.
Short-listed for the Man Booker Prize three times, Sarah Waters has earned a reputation as one of our greatest writers of historical fiction.
What I thought:
This was a carefully constructed story set in post-war London that illustrated the class distinctions between pretentious upperclass elites and the rising middle class. As historical fiction, it painted a clear and vivid picture of what it would have been like to live in that place with these characters. I was transported and captivated. The story, which I listened to, was full of twists and turns as it dealt with moral issues including guilt, shame, and forbidden love. Ultimately, it could be described as a crime drama --but it was really so much more.

A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara
From Goodreads:
When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they're broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. 
Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.
What I thought:
Oh gosh. Where to start? After reading that this book was on the top of several critics' "top books" for the year it came out, I chose it for my bookclub. Then I read it. Then I panicked a little. We were reading it in December and planning to discuss it when we met again in January. Against the backdrop of the holidays, I found it to be a stark contrast to happiness, joyfulness, and celebration. I emailed the group with something like, "Hey... Sorry about the book selection. It's super heavy and so incredibly sad. If you haven't read it yet, maybe put if off for another time?" Seriously. This book wrecked me. I described it as, "Beautiful. Wretched. Devastating. Amazing. Heartbreaking." It is all of that and I loved it. (The club did end up reading it --for the most part. We all agreed that is was SO difficult but ultimately were glad to have experienced it.) It is definitely a book that will stay with you.

The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell
From Goodreads:
In 2019, humanity finally finds proof of extraterrestrial life when a listening post in Puerto Rico picks up exquisite singing from a planet that will come to be known as Rakhat. While United Nations diplomats endlessly debate a possible first contact mission, the Society of Jesus quietly organizes an eight-person scientific expedition of its own. What the Jesuits find is a world so beyond comprehension that it will lead them to question what it means to be "human". 
What I thought:
I first read The Sparrow for my bookclub in Oregon, circa 2011. It was someone else's pick and I was rushed to finish it only an hour or so before our meeting (I'm usually not a procrastinator but the girls were six and four at the time). Solidly a sci-fi novel, it was well out of the typical genre I enjoyed. That night, we had a great discussion; however, I really hadn't had a chance to process the story. I distinctly remember rating the book a "7" that night. In the days that followed, I found that I couldn't stop thinking about the characters, what happened to them, and how they faced their challenges. Several days later, I emailed the woman who had chosen the book. I told her that if I had a chance to rate the book again, I would give it 11/10. This book deserves your time.


Harry Potter (all 7 of them), by J.K. Rowling
Adapted from Goodreads:
Harry Potter's life is miserable. His parents are dead and he's stuck with his heartless relatives, who force him to live in a tiny closet under the stairs. But his fortune changes when he receives a letter that tells him the truth about himself: he's a wizard. A mysterious visitor rescues him from his relatives and takes him to his new home, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Full of sympathetic characters, wildly imaginative situations, and countless exciting details, the series assembles an unforgettable magical world and each book follows Harry and his friends through a year at Hogwarts. As the characters get older, the plot of each book gets a little darker. By the third and fourth installment, tragic revelations, heartwarming surprises, and high-stakes magical adventures await the boy wizard in this funny and poignant series. By the last book, the stage has been beautifully set for a the satisfying ending that this series deserves.
What I thought:
This series is not just for the kids! When I hear about someone reading the HP series for the first time, I'm so unbelievably excited for them to visit the amazing world created by J.K. Rowling. I am such a fan. My girls are both SuperFans (having each read through the entire series five and seven times). I read the first and second books aloud to the kids when they were too young to read them on their own. I remember editing "scary" scenes/dialogue from the The Chamber of Secrets (book 2) to them at bedtime (which seems like such a long time ago but really isn't). The way the characters grow up over the course of the series is believable and enjoyable to witness. I absolutely loved the major narrative threads that develop and twist throughout the seven books and culminate in an ending that lives up to the series.

Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett
From Goodreads:
In an unnamed South American country, a world-renowned soprano sings at a birthday party in honor of a visiting Japanese industrial titan. Alas, in the opening sequence, a ragtag band of 18 terrorists enters the vice-presidential mansion through the air conditioning ducts. Their quarry is the president, who has unfortunately stayed home to watch a favorite soap opera. And thus, from the beginning, things go awry.
Among the hostages are Russian, Italian, and French diplomatic types. Swiss Red Cross negotiator Joachim Messner comes and goes, wrangling over terms and demands. Days stretch into weeks, the weeks into months. Joined by no common language except music, the 58 international hostages and their captors forge unexpected bonds. Time stands still, priorities rearrange themselves. Ultimately, of course, something has to give.
Hearing opera sung live for the first time, a young priest reflects: 
Never had he thought, never once, that such a woman existed, one who stood so close to God that God's own voice poured from her. How far she must have gone inside herself to call up that voice. It was as if the voice came from the center part of the earth and by the sheer effort and diligence of her will she had pulled it up through the dirt and rock and through the floorboards of the house, up into her feet, where it pulled through her, reaching, lifting, warmed by her, and then out of the white lily of her throat and straight to God in heaven.
What I thought:
The language in this novel is unreal. The writing is lyrical and the plot was heartbreakingly beautiful. I found this story to be compelling, dramatic, and full of grace. The lines between good and evil are blurred, as friendship, goodness, and love for others is drawn out of the people on the page. The plot was gripping and the ending was unexpected.

The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
From Goodreads:
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.
What I thought:
This is one of the best YA novels I have ever come across. I listened to this book on Audible --admittedly, the narrator's inflection added a richer layer to the story. Starr's perspective is woven with youthful innocence and jaded reality and is so well done. Through the author's development, the characters are relatable and I cared about what happened to them. The story was salient for current events and I encouraged both Geneva (13 at the time) and Piper (12) to read it too.

Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris
From Goodreads:
David Sedaris' move to Paris from New York inspired these hilarious pieces, including the title essay, about his attempts to learn French from a sadistic teacher who declares that every day spent with you is like having a caesarean section. His family is another inspiration. You Can't Kill the Rooster is a portrait of his brother, who talks incessant hip-hop slang to his bewildered father. And no one hones a finer fury in response to such modern annoyances as restaurant meals presented in ludicrous towers of food and cashiers with six-inch fingernails.
What I thought:
This collection of essays by American humorist, David Sedaris, was the first book of his that I read. I found the stories to be heartfelt, hysterical, and honest. I loved this book so much that a copy of it sits on our guest bedroom nightstand. You can pick up a Sedaris book and enjoy it in small doses or you can sit down and devour it in a day or two. While the stories are sometimes "laugh out-loud" funny, sometimes tragic, and often times uncomfortable, they are always enjoyable.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Things I Love Thursday // 9.19.19

  • All of the Love - I posted a picture yesterday to my Instagram and Facebook pages that came up in my Facebook Memories from 14 years ago. I'm on the left, holding 2-month-old Geneva and on the couch with us is my mom, my grandmother, and my great-grandmother. Anyhoo... the picture elicits complicated feelings for me (which I touched on in the post). So many lovely comments and texts from and conversations with my incredibly loving circle of friends followed. Y'all lifted me up all day and it felt so nice. Thank you.

  • Cooler Temperatures - We have been melting in Charlotte these past few weeks. It's been difficult to watch the kids play soccer under these conditions --and not because I feel particularly bad for them (they're young; they can hang). I mean I literally find it difficult to endure the heat while simply sitting and sweating profusely. It's exhausting. According to the forecast, we should stay under/at 90º for another week. Bring on Fall!
  • Our lawn this time of year - We moved to North Carolina from the west coast. The first time I arrived at our new home (in January after only seeing it online), I was shocked to discover that we were "those neighbors" --the ones with the dead, brown lawn --on an otherwise green street. What in the world?? Turns out we have a kind of grass that "goes dormant" in the winter and needs a lot less attention in the summer. So for half the year our grass is ugly but for the other half it's (mostly) soft and bright green. When it's looking nice, I try to really appreciate it and store up some of that love so that it can see me through the long months of ugly.

  • Oreo Thins - When my brother was out visiting a few weeks ago, he told me repeatedly how delicious the new (?) Oreo Thins (especially Lemon) were. I finally bought some and we have now "opened a can" that I'm sure the lid will never fit back onto. 

  • Refreshing some frames - The wonderful thing about not owning any tremendous art is the freedom to change shit up on the regular. I've been working on replacing several of the prints in my gallery wall and other little vignettes around the house. When I get everything settled again I'll be sure to share a before and after but in the meantime, look at this Carlos Arl print I found called Books. I mean, could this be more representative of the Jones Girls?? I'm obsessed. I found lots of great choices at Society6 and they're constantly having sales. Today they're offering 25% off and free shipping on all of their Art Prints.

  • New Sprouts - Take a closer look at this snake plant... It's having a baby! This is very exciting. I hope you're excited. I'm super excited. 

  • Getting the can to the curb - You know that dreaded sinking you feel when you realize way too late that you've forgotten to take the putrid (because it's been so disgustingly hot) garbage can (Do we still call them cans even though they're plastic and have wheels?) to the curb before Garbage Day? I do. I'm very familiar with it. I felt it yesterday morning and even though I knew it was fruitless, I pulled the receptacle (that sounds way too fancy) to the curb and hoped for a small miracle. Can you believe that the truck rolled by not 5 minutes later (and several hours past the normal time)? It's true! I was so happy. Genuinely happy. 

It's the small things, people. And the big things too. It's all of the things. Find some happy. It's there if you look for it!


  • Also, this Hoodie from Athleta - This is a late add because I just found out one of my favorite sweatshirts is on sale today --and they have lots of sizes left in navy, soft pink, and heather grey. It's so soft, a great length, and I love the thumb holes. I'm wearing it today! (I'm 5'6" and this is a medium.)

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Things I Love Thursday // 9.12.19

  • Cotton Swabs - Ladies, if you are 45+, you need to hear this: You are likely walking around all day with residue mascara smudged on your eyelids (near the lash line) that you inadvertently placed there while applying your mascara the same way you have been doing since you were twelve years old (or if your parents were paying too close attention, 15 years old). The reason it is a problem now is because our eyelids are a little different than they used to be (just saying). And it's not been a problem before so you're not on the lookout. And you probably can't see the little smudges behind your lashes without taking a careful look up close to the mirror (which you're not doing because you've never had to before). SO... before you snap the lid shut on that last cosmetic and head out for your day, please grab a little cotton swab and take a close peek at your eyelid situation. We may have to lean in close to the mirror these days for a clear view --but we don't have to encourage people to attribute more years to our age than we have earned. 
  • Toddlers in Goggles - *giggling*
  • Italian Bomba Hot Pepper Sauce - I'm posting about a Trader Joe's item nearly every week. (If you don't have a TJ's near you, I'm so sad for you.) I bumped into a friend while shopping and she was enthusiastically in favor of me trying it. Holy cow. It's not just hot, it's tasty. Maybe the fermentation has something to do with it? It's seriously spicy so proceed with caution. We've added it to pasta, scrambled eggs, and sandwiches. It's great with cheese and crackers --or just crackers. You could mix a bit in with macaroni and cheese, add some to mayo or spice up your ketchup for a dipping sauce, punch up your marinade, or just enjoy it by the spoonful. KIDDING. Don't do that. It's very spicy and you may even think it's not for you after the first taste --but you'll soon realize you have to have more.   
  • Target Dress - If you're a regular reader here, you might think that Target and Trader Joe's (and plants) are my whole life. I promise, I have other interests and activities. Anyhoo... this dress from Target is comfortable, easy, and flattering. When you put it on with a pair of earrings and some sandals --you look like you really made an effort. So easy. I love the brown color --but don't think I can quite pull it off (near my face). The pink is a lovely, soft shade. I went with "Dog Bone" (ivory) and definitely need a slip with it. Also, it's longer on me than it appears on the model in the ad (not shocking --since only I'm 5'6" (don't let my family try to convince you that I'm only 5'5.5" --you're supposed to ROUND UP, people). 
  • Frozen Avocados - Have you tried these? They're great! Let's be clear, I haven't actually defrosted any to make guacamole --but I love adding some avocado to a smoothie and a few of these frozen wedges are perfect for that. Fresh avocados are a staple around here but they can be so finicky --like, "Sorry, Tammy. I know I was perfectly ripe about an hour ago but..." 

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Things I Love Thursday // 9.5.19

  • A Surprise - Especially when the surprise is my little brother on the back porch! Greg went to the gym, per usual, at the crack of dawn on Friday morning. But when he wasn't home at his regular time and then 20 minutes past his regular time, I started to get a little worried. Before I could get too concerned, he zoomed up the driveway and out of the passenger seat popped this cutie! As we live on opposite coasts, I don't get to see my brother all that often. (To be honest, I don't see my "this coast" brother very often either. *sigh*) We were due for a visit in August, but as you might remember, we had to cancel our trip at the last minute due to chickenpox. Anyhoo... THIS GUY coordinated a surprise with my husband and we enjoyed a very lazy weekend of golf, shopping, eating, and catching up. Love.
  • Quick Lunch Ideas - And this week's new winner is Trader Joe's Chicken Fried Rice from the frozen Asian food section. It takes 6 minutes for the girls to heat this bag in a skillet on the stovetop and another minute to transfer the deliciousness to their thermoses. It's the perfect amount to share between the two of them. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. Keep your fingers crossed that they don't fall out of love with this too soon, as I plan to stock up for 1-2/week offerings.
  • Little Big Meals - Speaking of easy food prep... The Fresh Market's weekly offering of their "Little Big Meal" is the best deal in town! Any day of the week you can swing by your local Fresh Market and pick up this meal "package." It's usually a main and 2-3 sides portioned to feed 4 people and it is always $20 or $25, total. Everything is prepped (chicken breaded, burgers formed, veggies chopped, salads made, etc.) and it typically takes about 10-15 minutes to put dinner together. Ta-da! (They do offer pot roast and lasagna sometimes and those take longer to cook but are still totally simple to put together.) Every Wednesday they swap out the meal. You can look ahead to see what's coming by visiting the Little Big Meal link
  • THIS PLANT - So my friend, Fran, is totally ridiculous (in only the best way) and she hired City Stems (who I mentioned last week) to create this "thank you" for me (which was very NOT necessary) for some neighborly favors the girls and I took care of for her during a very hectic time recently. And... because Laura (of City Stems) and I are friends and both crazy plant ladies, she knows that I have been fostering an unhealthy obsession with finding a variegated plant. I haven't had any luck on my own but she had this little baby up her sleeve and BOOM: Now it's mine and I'm so in love. She definitely needs a name... Any suggestions?
  • Getting Tucked In - Now that they are getting older and we are getting old, Greg and I want to climb in bed well before the girls are ready to "shut their show down." It took us a little time to figure out a new goodnight routine that seemed to still work for everyone and it is this: They tuck US in. Goodness how times have changed! (Please enjoy the photo below of P's first "big girl" bedroom setup. She was such a stinker at bedtime --having to be RE-"sleep trained" about every 8-12 months. This was the phase were we had to go over her Sleep Rules before bedtime every night.)
  • Listening to Books - I love a good audible book. I usually have two books going at all times: One to read at home (especially in bed while I'm waiting to be tucked in) and another in the car that I listen to whenever I'm alone --even if it's a 4 minute drive to the grocery store. My family thinks I'm so funny *not* when I never tire of asking them on group outings, "Are you all dying to find out what's happening in my book? Would you like me to turn it on for us?" Kidding aside, listening to someone else read to me always adds more texture to the story. Professional readers add tone, humor, and timing that enhance the characters as well as the plot. I recognize in myself the tendency to rate a book higher if I've listened to it --rather than read it. (Yes. I rate all the books I read on a scale of 1-5 on Goodreads or 1-10 in my book club.) I've lately begun deliberately selecting audible books in which the narrator has an accent. Delicious. My recent favs include: The Song of Achilles, Circe, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, and The Paying Guests. Who doesn't love an accent??