Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Things I Love Lately

This is the last Things I Love for 2019... It’s been so nice to get back to the blog this year and carve out this simple time for myself writing my lists, sharing some recipes, and reflecting on the books I’ve read. Thank you for reading along!
  • Family - My family. Our family. Your family. All of the families in any composition. The holidays can be hard for so many people. Many of us have “complicated” relationships with family members. We all have loved ones we miss —especially during this time of year. While we needn’t wait to remind those around us how much we love and appreciate them —the idea of wrapping up the year and embarking on a new one certainly lends itself to reflecting on our relationships and taking stock of our blessings. This time with one another is a gift that I try not to take for granted. So hear this: I love you!

  • Snoogling (verb) - Through the holidays and all of the year, physical affection fills my bucket. Winter break means lazy mornings, pajama days, movie-watching, visiting family and friends... all of the situations that create opportunities for extra hugs, cuddles, and curling into our loved ones. So grab a blanket and get your cuddle on!

  • Snacking - This time of year is full of all of the yummy things! While I do enjoy sweets from time to time, my weaknesses are more on the salty, creamy, rich and crunchy end of the Sinful Spectrum. I love homemade ChexMix (that I grew up making with my cousins in my grandmother’s kitchen and now enjoy because my girl, Sara, gifts us this favorite). I completely overdid it this December on Neese’s Sausage Dip (which couldn’t be an easier crowd-pleaser). I dare you to have just one chip-full. For the fancier occasion, I could have made and devoured several of Half Baked Harvest’s Brie and Cranberry Pull-Apart Breads. Good grief! This one will delight the savory and the sweet cravings in every delicious pinch! We rang in our Christmas Eve (a day early —given our travel itinerary) with our traditional viewing of Die Hard and Piper made the cutest Santa Hat Brownies! Christmas wouldn’t be complete without my mom and sister’s homemade brittles. And nothing beats a beautiful cheese and charcuterie board (with Oregon honeycomb, pickled veggies, and marcona almonds served alongside a chilled glass of champagne)! Cheers to enjoying the season with every BITE!

  • People Who Work on Christmas - New this year, we traveled across the country on Christmas morning. It wasn’t exactly the way we planned it (flights were moved after booking) but it was fairly painless. From the Uber driver on the East Coast at 5:30am to the car rental agent on the West Coast upon arrival, everyone we interacted with was cheerful and friendly (and genuinely delighted by our little mint gifts).

  • H&M Sweater - I packed two of these for our trip out west and have been reminded how much I appreciate the simple details that make this cozy and affordable sweater one of my go-to items. I love the v-neck and I love the seam that runs down the front. Give it a French tuck into your waistband and you’re nearly set to go. They do run on the big side. I have one in orange (XS) and one in a darker brown (S) that for some reason isn't offered on this link (but the lighter brown looks tempting).
  • A Well-Received Gift - I could not have been more delighted to receive a sweet text from my friend Megan about how much her family is enjoying the gift of Rosemary Olive Oil that I delivered in the week leading up to Christmas. *such happiness* She had been drizzling it over tons of holiday yumminess and the most recent addition was to Oysters Rockefeller. Look at this! 
  • A New Year - It’s easy to love a new year —especially when your birthday falls within a week of ringing it in! I’m not one of those people who cringes at the idea of “another” birthday. On the contrary, I love my birthday. Anyone who knows me knows that I’ll celebrate just about anything (and my birthday celebrations typically last most of January). The fact that our youngest shares my birthday only makes it more special. While I do joke that I GAVE her my birthday (almost) 13 years ago —leaving me “forever 33” ...the truth is, I’m happy to be growing older and enjoying this life we’ve built. I honestly never imagined one so full and satisfying. I look forward to pausing throughout 2020 to think about and acknowledge all of the “Things I Love...” —whether it’s a book, a recipe, a lipgloss, a hug from my kid, a date with the hubby, the kindness of strangers, or something that made me giggle... I hope if it makes you happy, you’ll read along. Cheers to 2020!

This post may contain affiliate links and I may make a HUGE commission (j/k it's literally pennies) when you click on the links at no additional cost to you. You should know (and I'm legally required to tell you) that as an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Feel free to make me RICH. lol ;)

Sunday, December 22, 2019

What I've Read Recently | November 2019

Here we are again at nearly the beginning of January and I'm just getting around to telling you 
about what I read (and chose not to finish) in November. 
Better late than never?
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
From Goodreads:
This magnificent novel juxtaposes geographically distant places, brilliant and playful reflections, and a variety of styles, to take its place as perhaps the major achievement of one of the world’s truly great writers.
What I thought: 0/10 (Listened to on Audible)
I couldn't even finish this book! Ugh. First translated to english in 1984 and winner of the Los Angles Times Book Prize for Fiction, it is rated over 4 stars (out of 5) on Goodreads by more than 300,000 readers. Obviously, I'm not clever enough to "get it." The story (if you could call it that) is about infidelity and the writing jumps around all over the place. The only think you can count on is being annoyed by the author's philosophical musing that litter the pages and try to spoon feed the reader a specific interpretation of the events. I didn't care about any of the characters and they certainly didn't care about one another either.

The Islanders by Meg Mitchell Moore
From Goodreads:
Over the twelve short weeks of summer, these three strangers will meet and grow close, will share secrets and bury lies. And as the promise of June turns into the chilly nights of August, the truth will come out, forcing each of them to decide what they value most, and what they are willing to give up to keep it.
What I thought: 6/10
This was a solid "Beach Read" but the trouble was, I wasn't at the beach when I read it which may have left me longing for a bit more substance in the story. Told from the point of view of three people living on a small island during peak tourist season, there's lots of quintessential settings brought forth on the page (loved that) and the character development was good, given the brevity of the book and the number of voices in the story; however, it dragged in some spots and in the end, felt a little too "Hallmark Movie" for me. This book is for those who love a breezy read, (To be clear, I sometimes do enjoy a breezy read myself. I guess I just wasn't in the mood this time.)

The Huntress by Kate Quinn
From Goodreads:
From the author of the New York Times and USA Today bestselling novel, The Alice Network, comes another fascinating historical novel about a battle-haunted English journalist and a Russian female bomber pilot who join forces to track the Huntress, a Nazi war criminal gone to ground in America.
What I thought: 9/10
I loved this book. I've read my share of WWII historical fiction and have been a fan of most of it. What I found to be special about The Huntress were the strong female "leads" and the fascinating female villain. This book explores a dark and upsetting aspect (as if there were any other kind) of the Nazi program of which I had been ignorant. Additionally, I learned of the Soviet Night Witches --a remarkable and very real all-female regiment of the Red Army lead by Marina Raskova. This book was told from the point of view of three main characters and Kate Quinn does so masterfully. 

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
From Goodreads:
Deep in the stacks of Oxford's Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.
What I thought: 6/10
This is the first book in the All Souls Trilogy that had been on my "to-read" list since early 2013! I love a good vampire/witch story and this one had its moments. There was a lot here to sink your teeth into (pun totally intended and presented to you without shame) in terms of story detail and weaving a web to support the forthcoming story (big build into what looks to be a war between witches, vampires, and daemons all living among humans). Having said that, the "romance" and relationship angst between many of the characters came across thinly in both dialogue and internal thoughts. You know how everyone loves Star Wars but if you just concentrate on the dialogue then it's kinda laughable and juvenile? Yeah, that's how this felt. Which is to say, I will definitely watch the television series and might pick up the next installment, Shadow of Night, someday (perhaps 6 more years out?).

What the Wind Knows by Amy Harmon
Adapted from Goodreads:
Anne Gallagher grows up in America with her Irish grandfather. After his death, she returns to his childhood home to spread is ashes and is pulled into another time. She finds herself in 1921. Ireland is teetering on the edge of war. Upon awakening, Anne finds herself hurt, disoriented, and under the care of Dr. Thomas Smith, guardian to a young boy who is oddly familiar. Mistaken for the boy’s long-missing mother, Anne adopts her identity, convinced the woman’s disappearance is connected to her own.
What I thought: 8.5/10 (Listened on Audible)
I really enjoyed this book! I listened on Audible and the narrator was exceptional. If you liked Outlander, I imagine you would like this too. Both are time-traveling Irish stories --but please don't let that be a turn-off for you either if you've never read any of the Outlander series and are immediately disinterested in "sci-fi time-traveling." To be honest, I didn't care for the Outlander series. (In book form, that is. I did enjoy the first few seasons of the television series.) What the Wind Knows was romantic and rich in storyline and the historical happenings of the time. I learned so much about the Ireland in the early 1920s as tensions grew with Britain. This story is heartbreaking and passionate and told beautifully. I hope you pick it up!

Normal People by Sally Rooney
From Goodreads:
At school Connell and Marianne pretend not to know each other. He’s popular while she is lonely and intensely private. A strange and indelible connection grows between the two teenagers. Later, they’re both studying at Trinity College in Dublin. Marianne has found her feet in a new social world while Connell hangs at the sidelines. Throughout their years in college, Marianne and Connell circle one another, straying toward other people and possibilities but always magnetically, irresistibly drawn back together. 
What I thought: 8/10
I loved the writing in this book. The pace was exceptional and I found the character's interactions with one another to be honest and believable. The tension between the characters came through clearly in the passages. I was captivated by Connell and Marianne's relationship. This is not your typical love story. Some might hesitate to classify it as "love" at all --but that's what I'm calling it. I appreciated how Rooney made me feel uncomfortable at times. This story doesn't make you feel good. I found it to be a provocative puzzle about friendship and growing up. Again, I would describe it as a love story but no one would say it was romantic. Normal People was both refreshing and disturbing as it unfolded through the perspective/psyche of these characters. 

This post may contain affiliate links and I may make a HUGE commission (j/k it's literally pennies) when you click on the links at no additional cost to you. You should know (and I'm legally required to tell you) that as an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Feel free to make me RICH. lol ;)

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Things I Love Thursday // 12.19.19

  • My People - The girls are out of school after Friday and it can't get here soon enough. I love when they're home and we can all enjoy relaxing mornings and lazy days. We're heading to see family and friends for the holidays and there's lots to do before now and then but I believe we'll have fun getting it done (and believing is half the battle). HA!

  • Middle School Band Concerts - Ok. To be fair, chances are I would not "love" just any middle school band concert --but to be clear, I most definitely LOVE to see our flute and French horn players perform with their peers under the direction of their very talented music teacher. They'd hate for me to post pictures of them playing --but you can trust me that they are not only talented --they're super cute too!
  • Getting my cards OUT - It almost didn't happen this year... I wasn't feeling super inspired and the thought of putting a bunch of effort into a photo session seemed overwhelming to all of us. We managed to put a silly little something together and there was absolutely zero prep needed. I'll share next time. The important point right now is that they're all addressed, stamped, and out of my house!

  • The Practice of Medicine - Y'all... I acquired a little head cold over Thanksgiving: lots of congestion, low fever. It lasted a few days and then dropped into my chest. I developed a sore throat and cough. The cough kept me (and the Mister) up for a few days but then it went away and the cold moved back up to my head. I hadn't been feeling well at all --but not bad enough that I couldn't still do All. Of. The. Things. Friday rolled around and it was Greg's holiday work party. The night was freezing and wet. The party was fantastic. I mean, fan-tas-tic. I had a LOT of fun. All day Saturday I felt miserable --but chalked it up to all the Friday Fun I had (if you're picking up what I'm laying down). Anyhoo... Saturday night was nearly unbearable. I couldn't sleep at all because of the pain and pressure in my FACE. Ugh. Went to Urgent Care on Sunday afternoon, got diagnosed with a sinus infection, got on the meds (and the treatment plan), and now I'm felling so so so much better! Yay for doctors! Yay for medicine! Super Yay for sinus rinsing systems (for real)!
  • Zabar's Cinnamon Babka - Some of our favorite friends brought this to us after their visit to New York. OMG. It's unreal. It's not a hyperbole when I say that this little loaf of loveliness is bursting with yummy! It's been over a year since we first enjoyed the treat and we were all so thrilled to have received another delivery this last week! I didn't know you could order this online and now that I know, it might become a problem.

  • Brunch with friends - We enjoyed the most indulgent brunch with some of our best friends this weekend. The four of us + the five of them = a good time. Always. The festive atmosphere, amazing food, excellent wine, giggles, and shared love made it all the more delightful. Reach out to your loves, set a date, plan a gathering, spend some good time with one another. So good for the heart. 
  • Homemade treats - I usually try to put something together over the holidays for our friends. One ambitious year I embroidered jar tops and then filled the jars (with what, I don't even remember). I usually make many trays of Easy Toffee and package that up. Last year, I was gifted a jar of homemade rosemary olive oil by our babysitter-extraordinare. I loved it so much that as soon as I ran out, I asked her for the recipe and using the huge rosemary bush in our backyard, I whipped up another jar for myself (adding just a little garlic this time). I blogged about making it at the time and considered making a huge batch to gift this season. Guess what?? I got it done. Delivery will happen over the next few days. Check. Do you ever make gifts? What are your favorites to gift and to receive? Here are some great jars/vessels options if you choose to make some as gifts too: Similar 8oz. VesselTaller Style 8.5oz, Swing Top Lids.

This post may contain affiliate links and I may make a HUGE commission (j/k it's literally pennies) when you click on the links at no additional cost to you. You should know (and I'm legally required to tell you) that as an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Feel free to make me RICH. lol ;)

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Things I Love Thursday // 12.12.19

  • Old Navy Jacket - I love, love, love this camel-colored sherpa jacket from Old Navy. It's super cozy and I feel almost as cute as Fozzie Bear when I'm wearing it! I bought mine on sale for about 40% off and I'm sure they're running any number of sales between now and Christmas; however, they are almost sold out (sorry) but do have MEDIUMS left in stock (which is what I' wearing). 

  • The Holiday Shop at Children's Theatre of Charlotte - I've been volunteering with The Children's Theatre of Charlotte ever since we moved to North Carolina. The event that hooked me that first year is still my favorite. We just wrapped up this year's event which runs annually, the week after Thanksgiving. Thousands of gifts are purchased, wrapped, and organized over many months of volunteer hours, then we open our doors for hundreds of little shoppers between the ages of 2-10. Each shopper comes with a list of loved ones and a budget (about $10-$20). They are paired with a volunteer "Elf" who takes them into the secret shopping room and helps them select special presents for their family and friends. The children are so happy to be able to choose gifts for mommy, daddy, siblings, and pets (among others). Many shoppers come through our line on scholarship (funds raised through CTC's "Sponsor-a-Child" fundraiser in the fall) and are able to leave with a bag full of gifts they would otherwise not be able to afford. I'm telling you --it is a busy and tiring week but also so rewarding and worth every effort to pull it off. This year was the 47th! 

    A few of my very favorite volunteer elves.
  • Knives Out - Oh my goodness! What a great time! Our whole family loved this movie. It's a light, funny, thoughtful mystery that captures your attention and carries it along for a fantastic ride. The characters are outrageous but not over-played, the plot will keep you engaged and surprised, and the warmth of the story comes through in a delightfully surprising way. See it.

    {Photo via Washington Square News}
  • Uncle Bobby! - My little brother is here! Yahoo! It's always a treat to have Uncle Bobby in town. He's smiling 90% of the time. As long as you have eggs in the fridge, he's happy. He never met a sink of dishes he couldn't conquer (without prompting). He loves Richard Parker (maybe even more than we do). His favorite phrase is, "Do you need any help?" He shleps all of the bags all of the time. Also, he's the best company as I drag him all over town getting things checked off my to-do list. 

    ("One Trip Bob" There are SIX bags in his left hand.)
  • Elf in the OPEN - What I mean is, our girls are well-aware at this point that Elvis Peppermint Kate Jones does not actually fly back and forth to the North Pole every night and that his movement around our home is reliant on mom and dad remembering to shift his position at some point between sleeping and waking. But the squirrels (my forever nickname for the girls) continue to appreciate the tradition of him. With our flipped schedules these days (Greg and I are usually in bed before the girls head upstairs), Elvis commonly moves in the morning hours over a cup of coffee. If, for some reason (the only reason: we forgot) he doesn't --it's met with understanding and a whisper, "We're going to look for Elvis soon..." I'm also happy to be done with the idea that a little elf visits my kids every day in December so he can spy on them and then fly back to Santa in order to tattle. Did anyone else struggle with this part? I don't know... we certainly chose to buy the doll and book all those years ago... but then it started to feel like a shitty manipulation. Am I'm overthinking it? And on that note, of those of you who heard, "If you don't believe, you won't receive" --Are you telling your kids this same thing? 

This post may contain affiliate links and I may make a HUGE commission (j/k it's literally pennies) when you click on the links at no additional cost to you. You should know (and I'm legally required to tell you) that as an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Feel free to make me RICH. lol ;)

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Things I Love Thursday // 12.5.19

  • Cousin Love - We had so much fun last week hosting Greg's sister and her family for the Thanksgiving holiday. Of course, we loved having Grandma Lulu here too --but there's definitely something special about having a 2YO squish in the house! He was full of love and adventure, giggles and curiosity. He was generous with his hugs and kisses and always found a cozy lap. We already miss him so much!

  • Holiday Cards - Receiving holiday cards from across the country is a highlight of the year. Having moved several times during our marriage, we have had the pleasure to meet so many wonderful friends from coast to coast. With social media, we do get a peek into one another's lives from time to time --but I love the tradition of snail mail and opening the envelopes to see who's inside. This year feels like a crunch with December rolling in so quickly on the heels of Thanksgiving. I usually try to put something clever together for our annual card but inspiration was late in coming... It was a scramble and I'm happy to say that cards have been ordered (finally). I'm satisfied with the result. We shall wait to see if anyone else is. LOL! Here is my absolute favorite card (from 2016).

  • Twinkling Yard Lights - Another highlight of the season is enjoying all the lights that decorate the yards in every neighborhood. I always think to myself, "Why don't we have these up all year round? They look so beautiful and festive..." But then I remember also thinking, come early February, "Wow! Where did the time go? I supposed we should take the lights down now... and I think the dried up tree might be a fire hazard... perhaps we should make some time to undecorated it and get it out of the living room." (Just kidding. We always have our tree down by late-January.)

  • Advent Calendars - I love an advent calendar and so do my girls. This 12 day version from Trader Joe's looks like it might be a total winner! For $20 you get to try Winter Citrus Hand Cream, Coconut Body Butter, Rose Facial Oil, Brown Sugar Body Scrub, Cranberry Cider Shimmer Body Wash, Blueberry & Acai Facial Scrub, Enrich Face Lotion, Charcoal Face Mask, All-for-One Shampoo/Conditioner/Body Wash, Exfoliating Sugar Cube, Warm Vanilla Body Butter, and Pomegranate Lip Balm. Pick one up if you have a chance and start your party no later than December 14th to get through the treats before Christmas!

  • Sparkly Hair - Call the dentist and make an advance appointment. My husband is so sweet that this next bit might give you a cavity just reading it. I am WAY overdue to touch up the color in my hair and cover my greys. I'm not entirely sure why this has been such a challenge of late --I have a box of dye under my bathroom sink right now (and I'm so practiced at applying it --it literally takes only 15-20 minutes added to my typical routine). The delay has been, in part, to the fact that my bangs are helping to mask the heavier grey areas at the temples and hairline. Anyhoo... I was standing in the kitchen a few days ago with the light blasting in through the window (and clearly onto my crown of wiry grey sprouts) when Greg, standing beside me, declared, "I know you'll cover them over and that's totally fine too --but I just want to say that I really love your sparkly hair." Good grief. The sweetest. I might have caught diabetes from his comment. When I do get around to coloring my hair, I will use this because it's so easy!

This post may contain affiliate links and I may make a HUGE commission (j/k it's literally pennies) when you click on the links at no additional cost to you. You should know (and I'm legally required to tell you) that as an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Feel free to make me RICH. lol ;)