Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Fifteen Women Walk Into a Cabin...

And leave as friends. The end. Just kidding! Well, I'm not kidding about the friends part.  Sigh.  Let me start over.

Madison of Wetherills Say I Do and Rachel of Oh Simple Thoughts hosted the Renew Retreat this past weekend in Tennessee.  When they first announced their vision of a retreat for bloggers who are Christian, I thought it sounded like a lot of fun and also something I would never do.  I am really introverted and the idea of spending a weekend with a bunch of people I didn't know was so intimidating.  My thought process was, "What if I don't have anything to say, or worse, say something crazy? What if they hate me? What if I hate THEM?" Then my sister (Lisa of Life to the Full) said she was interested in going. I started thinking maybe it being something I normally wouldn't do was exactly why I should do it.  Get out of my comfort zone.  Meet some people in real life, not just on the computer. You know, actual human contact.

The retreat was in a cabin in the woods of Tennessee.  Isn't this view from the balcony gorgeous?!

The leaves were starting to turn and it was wonderful to be reminded of how beautiful our world has been created. (The baby bears we saw outside the cabin Friday night were less beautiful and more terrifying.) We were even treated to a fantastic swag bag with super cute things to bring home. Rachel has a great post detailing what was in the swag bag here.

We spent part of Saturday in Gatlinburg. We split into smaller groups for lunch and sightseeing or shopping then drove our caravan back to the cabin for dinner.  My family went this candy shop when we were in Gatlinburg last summer, so I was glad to visit it again.  I wisely (or sadly?) avoided buying candy this time.

Now, it made it a lot easier that Lisa went too, but I am SO glad I went.  I met thirteen other women who are all so amazing in their own ways.  Each one of them inspired me, whether they were relatively fresh out of college, well established career-wise, newly married or single, raising kids or birthing a new business.  And such talent! An unbelievable number of fantastic photographers (not me) and bakers of delicious biscuits, makers of all manner of delicious food, creative minds, kind hearts and super funny people.  Every single woman there had something wonderful to contribute, and I truly believe we all placed there together to lift each other up.  I feel a connection to these women, and have prayed for many of them specifically and all of them generally since I came home.
I'm already looking forward to next year's retreat!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Wet and the Dry- Book Review

The Wet and the Dry by Lawrence Osborne is a nonfiction "drinker's journey" that is not exactly the story I expected.  The description on the back of the book reads:

“Drinking alcohol: a beloved tradition, a dangerous addiction, even “a sickness of the soul” (as once described by a group of young Muslim men in Bali). In his wide-ranging travels, Lawrence Osborne—a veritable connoisseur himself—has witnessed opposing views of alcohol across cultures worldwide, compelling him to wonder: is drinking alcohol a sign of civilization and sanity, or the very reverse? Where do societies fall on the spectrum between indulgence and restraint?
An immersing, controversial, and often irreverent travel narrative, The Wet and the Dry offers provocative, sometimes unsettling insights into the deeply embedded conflicts between East and West, and the surprising influence of drinking on the contemporary world today.”

Based on this description, I was expecting an Anthony Bourdain-style travel monologue with tales of Mr. Osborne’s drinking escapades woven into a larger discussion of how various cultures view drinking.  Perhaps I expected a more historical explanation of how alcohol has become part of a country’s identity or how religious practices influence the role (or lack thereof) of alcohol in a particular area.  The book does address the context of drinking within various countries and cultures, but is largely a retelling of Mr. Osborne’s specific drinking escapades.  As in, having a no recollection of where he was or what he did the night before hangover. 

Something about this writing style just didn't click with me and I had a difficult time getting through it.  (I’m sure it did not help that my sister passed on a large stack of books that I was really eager to read.) It wasn't for me, but some readers will enjoy the drinking-related anecdotes.    

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. All opinions expressed are my own.  

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


September seemed to drag on forever, didn't it?  Maybe it was just me being in a bit of a funk or the never ending 80 degree weather but I am soooooo glad it is finally October.  It is still in the 80's here, but the weekend forecast is for highs in the upper 60's.  Yay!  The lack of autumn weather has not deterred me from enjoying pumpkin spice everything or viewing approximately a hundred pairs of boots online.  It can be fall in my mind, right?

I'm really looking forward to this month.  I'm feeling much better emotionally, my sister/BFF and I are going to a blogger retreat in a cabin in a couple of weeks, and soon to arrive cooler weather means breaking out all the cute sweaters!  I'd like to find some fun fall activities to do this year.  We went to the most awesome pumpkin patch/corn maze/kid activity place when we lived in Virginia and every place we have been since then just paled in comparison.  If anyone knows of a super pumpkin patch in the northern Atlanta area, let me know.  If it is really awesome, I'll send you some pumpkin butter.  Or a thank you note or something.  I plan to fully enjoy the fall, because I know in a matter of weeks I will be grumbling about how unbearably cold it is.  Happy October!

Monday, September 1, 2014

It's September! (Somebody tell the weather.)

Can you believe it is September?  Here in Georgia, we celebrated Labor Day with a high of 93 degrees so the first kiss of fall hasn't quite made it here yet.  I actually found three sweaters I loved at TJ Maxx this weekend (my buying clothes is a miracle unto itself) but I am assume they will hang in my closet mocking me for the next several months.  I can't complain too much because I HATE being cold more than anything and I will be begging for the heat of summer come January.  However, I wouldn't mind the comparatively chilly highs in the 70's.  I'd even take low 80's.  Despite the lingering summer heat, I have enjoyed a Pumpkin Spice Latte on two occasions already.  (Don't judge.)

This was the first weekend the kids spent the night at their dad's apartment.  I tried to keep myself busy in a possibly manic sort of way (see my shopping above).  I also went to IKEA in Atlanta, Wal-Mart and the grocery store on Saturday and was gone from my empty house most of the day.  Avoidance, anyone?  Some thunder storms rolled through Saturday night and E's demon Furby was woken up twice by the noise or vibration.  The second time I was woken by that evil furry monster, I decided removing its soul batteries was the prudent thing to do. E is still waiting on me to put the batteries back in.  Good luck with that, E. 

I had the girls back Sunday and today. To give you an idea of what goes on in this house, both E and S separately asked me if the dogs pooped or barfed in the house while they were gone (no).  Did a dog poop in the house today?  Why yes, yes he did.  Welcome home, kids!  

I'm really proud of myself that I figured out how to fix the garbage disposal today without a) paying for repairs and b) chopping my fingers off.  All the instructions online said never put your hand down the drain to mess with the blades.  Um, sure.  I did ultimately do it correctly- I turned off the breaker and everything- and still have ten complete fingers.  I did, however, call in a professional for wasp and wasp nest removal tomorrow.  I've never been stung by a bee, wasp, yellow jacket, etc. so I'm not really scared of them.  BUT, those little jerks are apparently short tempered and like to swarm.  No thank you.  Plus, not having been stung before, I always wonder in the back of my mind if I will turn out to be allergic.  Is it really worth the risk of anaphylactic shock? I think not.  All in all, not a bad way to spend Labor Day weekend.  

Friday, August 22, 2014

No Place to Hide- Book Review

No Place to Hide is the true story of neurosurgeon W. Lee Warren's deployment to the biggest Air Force hospital of the Iraq War. Dr. Warren details the stark differences between performing brain surgery in a state of the art San Antonio trauma center and in the middle of a war zone.  While surgeons in the U.S. may refuse to use an instrument they don't like (or throw it across the room), military surgeons in Iraq may have to wait hours for a set of instruments to be sterilized.  Dr. Warren had to adapt to an environment where supplies are in short demand, surgery may be performed while missiles are landing 100 yards away, and medical personnel must treat soldiers and terrorists with the same level of care.

Dr. Warren describes the stress and fatigue of his 120 days in Iraq so clearly that some readers may feel some stress just reading about it.  Aside from the challenges of being in a battle zone, he describes his personal struggles as well.  Facing divorce as he was deployed, Dr. Warren shares his disappointment with a failed marriage and fear of separation from his children, the testing of his faith, and the effect Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) had on him after his return to the States.

I have no background in the military as neither I nor anyone in my immediate family has served in the military, and I selected this book in part to stretch my usual reading selections.  I did not expect to be as taken with this book as I was, but I read it voraciously within a couple of days.  I highly recommend this book as anyone can relate to his struggles with faith and overcoming challenges and the depiction of life in a war zone is so insightful.  Some of the content may be disturbing for people who also struggle with PTSD or those are upset by descriptions of violence or serious injuries.  There are also eight pages of color photos from Dr. Warren's deployment with two photos showing injuries or surgery.

This book was provided to me for free by BookLook in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions are my own.  

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Birthday Weekend Spectacular

Saturday was my 38th birthday, and Sunday was S's 8th birthday.  The benefit of having birthdays back to back is the extended period of celebrating.  The downside of having birthdays back to back is the extended period of celebrating.  I was the only one awake at 10:30 pm Sunday night staring at a chocolate cake and a cookie cake- not cool.

For my birthday, I saw "The Hundred Foot Journey" and really liked it!  First of all, it stars Helen Mirren- love her.  Second, it is set largely in France, which is always a winner for me.  I haven't been to France (yet), but it is a biggie on my bucket list.  Third, the movie centers of a young chef, AKA delicious food is shown. Again, a winning topic for me.  It also doesn't hurt that star Manish Dayal is pretty easy on the eyes.

I went to a theater that lets you order dinner or drinks and they deliver it to you during the movie.  This may be old hat to some of you, but this is the first time I tried it and it was just as good as I expected.  Relaxing in a big comfy seat, watching a movie while a server brings you hot food and a glass of wine- perfection.  I ended up chit-chatting with the women sitting next to me before the movie started.  (Apologies to her husband who was largely ignored.)  We had a lot in common and she was really nice.  Plus, she has the same name as my BFF and sister, so that is a good sign, right?  At the end of the movie, the woman handed me her phone number and said to call her sometime.  Since I am trying to make and take new opportunities in life, and it is the complete opposite of what I would normally do, I think I will see if she wants to meet for coffee or something.

For S's birthday, she wanted a manicure and to have lunch at Cheesecake Factory.  She very specifically told me not to tell the server that it was her birthday because she didn't want them to sing to her.  She did not, however, pass this information on to her dad.  Can you see how thrilled she was to get all that attention?

HAHAHAHA!  Once she was eating the chocolate pudding cup they brought, she was all good again.  It was a great  birthday, but I will not be sad to see all this extra sugar in the house go away.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Happiness- Found or Made?

When I am going through a tough time, it is very easy for me to not see anything positive or happy.  I have a tendency toward depression that I have struggled with for years, with varying degrees of seriousness.  If you have ever experienced depression, it can be difficult just to get out of bed and eventually make yourself shower- looking for the upside was not a high priority to me.  I'm going through one of my lowest points in life right now, but I've been thinking a lot about happiness.  As in, I want happiness.  : )  I mentioned some marriage trouble in a previous post.  Well, Hubs moved out of the house Friday, our deceased son's birthday was Saturday and Sunday was the anniversary of his death.  I really expected the weekend to suck, but it was surprisingly okay.  Not great, but okay.  Here are some reasons I think I'm doing better than expected.

1) I hate chaos and the unknown.  It makes me crazy.  To counteract the chaos, I've started taking control. There is still a lot of uncertainty in my life, but rather than sit back and see what happens I've starting taking the reins.  Some actions are concrete, like opening my own bank accounts and finding my own therapist; other things are a conscious change in perspective.  It has helped tremendously to talk with other friends who have gone through similar situations and have every single one say "you'll be a better and happier person when you get through it." It's happening anyway, so I might as well figure out what about it will bring me happiness.

2) had this article on five ways to get happy.  I've been especially working on the being thankful part.  I've started praying again after a nine year absence, and since this marital mess started happening I've been telling God three things I am grateful for every day.  Now, some days I was just grateful that the day was over but I was able to come up with three things every day.  I can usually come up with more than three now.

3) A very wise friend sent me an Elizabeth Gilbert quote that contained the words "Ruin is a gift. Ruin is the road to transformation." How awesome is that?  I'm looking at the "ruins" of my life as a chance to change things and be a better and happier person. I went on a tour and wine tasting at a local winery I have wanted to visit for years.  I've started visiting a church with the girls for the first time in a few years.  I'm more open to expanding my circle of friends and experiencing new things than I was before.  I also starting looking at what relationships are complete downers and cutting those out of my life (thank you, Facebook unfriend button).

For a lot of years, I based happiness on circumstances and waited to find happiness, like it was a magical unicorn you just happen upon in the forest.  I'm starting to feel like happiness is something you pursue or create for yourself.  And I fully intend to have it.

How about you?  Are you a generally happy person?  Do you think your happiness (or lack thereof) is circumstantial or more an issue of perspective?