Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The 13th Gift- Book review

The 13th Gift: A True Story of a Christmas Miracle is Joanne Huist Smith's recounting of how her family was deeply affected by the kindness of strangers.  Getting in the holiday spirit was at the bottom of Joanne's priorities the first Christmas after her husband unexpectedly passed away. From Joanne's description, her husband was a huge force in her family, especially during the holidays.  Without him, Joanne wanted to curl up on the couch and wait for Christmas to pass by. With a daughter desperate to come together as a family and celebrate and a son desperate to escape all things family related, Joanne's family seemed to be failing apart.

Twelve days before Christmas, a gift is left on their doorstep from their "True Friends".  The Smiths, even Joanne, become intrigued with who could be leaving these presents.  As the family tries to figure out clues and stage an occasional stake out, they slowly regain their footing.  

I found this to be a charming story about the kindness of strangers and how even small gifts can have such a large impact on someone in pain.  It was a quick read, largely in part because I found myself reading in bed saying "Just one more chapter then I'll go to bed" and then reading five more chapters.  It is great story to read during the holidays, but it would have held my interest even outside of the holiday season.  

I received this book for free from Blogging For Books in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.  

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Big Picture

Last week, instead of the typical boisterous talking and skipping/running down the sidewalk, E trudged from the bus stop to our house.  When asked how her day was, she said, "It was terrible and my teacher hates me."  Well.  Probably not true but it seemed true to her.  (Sidenote: her "real" kindergarten teacher has been out on medical leave for the last several weeks and I have not met the substitute teacher.  Regardless, I doubt she is a hater of children.)

When we sat to talk about it, E explained that after she completed one of the centers in class, she went to color at the coloring center and was told that the rule is they can only color on Fridays.  She was then told to "pull a strip", which in her class is their system of discipline.  E claims she didn't even know this was a rule.  When she pulls a strip, the only thing that really happens is the teacher writes "S" in her folder with the number of the strip pulled (#2), I look on the list of strips that #2 means "did not follow rules" and then it is up to E to convey to me what happened.  It is usually a reasonable explanation, we talk about how to do things differently next time, and it isn't that big a deal.

Well, it isn't that big a deal to me.  I know that E is a great kid and generally doesn't do things to be naughty on purpose.  But this was a big deal to her.  So big she thought her teacher didn't like her as a person.  As an adult, I can see the big picture that this isn't a big deal and her teacher probably won't even remember that E pulled a strip last week.  But E is only (almost) six.  She can't see ten years in the future- things that happen now are a big deal.  It made me think how often I have the same mindset.  I have a bad day at work, and I feel like a failure.  I have a bad day as a parent, and I put more money in their future therapy fund.  It can be very easy to let a little blip in my day to blow up in my mind.  I have a feeling God looks at me frequently and wonders why I let such small matters color my outlook on my whole life, just like I view E's problems.

I sat E down with her folder and we looked at how many days she pulled a strip and how many days she did not.  While pulling a strip was such a day destroyer to her, she has not pulled a strip on over 95% of her days.  She seemed to feel better looking at the big picture and went skipping off to play. Maybe the next time I have a bad day, I'll remember to look at the big picture and say, "It's just one day."

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?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Divorce Papers- Book Review


The Divorce Papers is a novel by Susan Rieger about criminal law associate Sophie Diehl.  Sophie is happy to represent criminals as it limits her face-to-face contact with clients (I totally get that), but is stuck doing intake on a big client's divorce case when all the partners are out of town.  Having no experience in divorces and seeing this case as particularly nasty, Sophie wants nothing more to do with it.  Against her will (and better judgement), Sophie is pressured by the client and her boss to stay on as lead attorney in the divorce case. As she works through the case, Sophie examines the complicated relationships in her own life and reevaluates whether she is truly happy.

I was partially drawn to this book because I am an attorney and the inner workings of a law firm are fascinating to me.  However, I did not anticipate that I myself would be faced with the prospect of divorce when I selected this book.  The irony is not lost on me.  : )  These factors may have contributed to how much I enjoyed the book, but Sophie is a very likable character.  She has a sarcastic, frantic nature that I relate to and she is genuinely concerned about doing a good job.  This novel is written entirely in the form of emails, office memos, personal correspondence and legal documents, so if you really like a flowing narrative, you may have to get used to this style. Some of legal documents are a little tedious but the relevant portions are highlighted in gray.  I would recommend this book to anyone interested in a story about the nastiness of divorce, the struggles of a young lawyer or the story of a young woman figuring out her complicated relationships with parents, friends and co-workers.

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for my review.  All opinions are my own.  

Monday, July 14, 2014

I Don't Think That Means What You Think It Means

Anyone who has spent more than 10 minutes with children knows that you absolutely cannot use the bathroom without interruption.  If it were a once in a while occurrence, it might be tolerable.  When it is every single time, it becomes much less endearing.

This is why parents establish rules about interrupting their bath, shower or other bathroom time.  I've told my children repeatedly to not bother me when I am in the bathroom unless it is an emergency.  By "emergency", I mean someone is bleeding, someone has passed out, or something is on fire.

Here are examples of what my children thought constituted an "emergency" this weekend during my bath or shower:

  • "G has the iPad and I want it."
  • "The TV is saying there is a new version of Netflix ready to download.  Can I click "okay"?"
  • "Biscuit (the dog) coughed but he's okay." 
  • "Can I ask you something when you get out?"
These "emergencies" may explain the current popularity of dry shampoo.  

Friday, July 11, 2014

Love Skip Jump- Book Review

I don’t personally know Shelene Bryan, but she seems awesome and inspiring and a little bit crazy!  In Love Skip Jump: Start Living the Adventure of Yes, Shelene encourages us to say yes to God and experience what great plans He has that we might otherwise miss.  Shelene said yes to traveling to Africa to see where exactly her charitable contributions were going.  That trip inspired her to form her own charity,, which provides food and clean water to children around the world.  The book chronicles the numerous times Shelene said “Yes!” and how it has changed her life and many other lives in response.

Shelene makes many wonderful points about how much richer life can be when we say yes and jump in.  I was completely on board with working in impoverished communities or feeding starving children.  Putting your house up for sale by God (chapter 15) just to prove you’re willing to sell your house is where it got a little crazy for me.  However, I still took away her point about our own openness to God’s will.  (But I’m not putting my house on the market.)

One passage that really made an impact on me was when she said sometimes God wants us to go through a process without ever achieving what we thought was the goal and that the journey can be more important than the end result (page 134).  I tend to be very goal focused.  I like marking things off a to do list, so the idea that we may go through things to get a completely different result than we wanted is something I grapple with.  This book encourages me to look for more opportunities rather than challenges, and to really listen for what God is asking us to jump into. 

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

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Accepting Help

I like to think of myself as a generally helpful person.  I don't think twice about helping a stranger pick up things they have dropped or pushing rogue grocery carts over to the cart corral in the parking lot.  Of course I do all sorts of things for my kids and would be glad to help family and friends if they needed it.  Accepting help, on the other hand, is not my favorite thing.  It may be a sort of pride or determined independence, but I hesitate to accept help when offered and would almost never ask for help (shudder).

I'm going through a personally difficult time that is just so emotionally draining, I have almost nothing left to give.  However, I still have to work 40 hours a week.  I still have three kids that need love and reassurance and attention and, you know, expect dinner every night.  It's been tough.  And still, my first instinct was to act as if everything was okay.  To just carry the burden myself and stuff it down.  It really made me feel better. Just kidding- it was awful.  Keeping these major distractions inside made it so much worse.  As I have started sharing my situation with friends and family, my load has felt a little bit lighter.  It is still there, of course- but it seems a little bit more manageable.

Accepting help reminds us of how loved we are when we feel unlovable.  My dear sister has listened to long, tearful phone conversations, numerous complaining emails and has repeatedly offered to come visit or have me visit her.  I have spoken with two friends who have previously been in a similar situation to mine and their advice has been golden.  One has exchanged numerous, lengthy Facebook messages with me offering support and tons of things to consider I had not thought of yet.  Another sat with me for over three hours in Starbucks Saturday listening to me cry and say all the things I needed to say (probably more than once). She also offered fantastic perspective and texted me Sunday to say "Hey, I'm making you and the girls dinner tomorrow night.  Is 5:00ish okay for delivery?".  If she had asked what she could do, I'm sure I would have told her nothing, I'm fine.  I'll admit I hesitated a moment before texting back that 5:00 was fine.  I ended up feeling really grateful that she took something as simple yet overwhelming at the moment like making dinner off my plate.  The girls and I enjoyed a delicious hot meal that I didn't have to think about, and I felt like special.

If you need help, please don't be afraid to ask for help or to accept it when offered.  People genuinely care about you.  If you are the one helping, please know that it is appreciated.  Any small gesture may be the one thing that person needs most and will remember for years to come.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Recent Distractions

It has been rough going in my house the last several weeks.  They are the sort of issues I am not yet comfortable posting for the world to see, largely to avoid any pain or embarrassment for those of us wrapped up in it right now.  Maybe I'll be ready to share more in the future, but just know it will be tough for weeks or months to come.

I've spent an obscene amount of time mentally reviewing all that is happening and sometimes I just need a good distraction.  Don't we all crave a little escape when times are challenging?  In fairness, I could read or watch TV every day if I was happy as a clam but it is especially welcome when a little gray cloud hovers above my head.  Here are some books and shows I have enjoyed over the last few weeks.

Last Tango in Halifax- This BBC romantic series centers around Alan and Celia, childhood sweethearts (now in their 80's) who have been apart for the last 60 years.  They find each other through a social networking site, realize they still love each other, and decide to get married.  If I have a little crush on Alan, I think you'll understand once you watch- he is so sweet and adorable! The lives of their children and grandchildren also come into play and it is a really interesting dynamic of blending a family that late in life. Personally, I think it is awesome to see older characters are the leads, not just the grandma that guest stars in an episode here or there.  They face realistic issues, and all the characters show some interesting flaws and redemptive qualities.  Netflix has season 1 (or series 1 as the Brits like to say), but will hopefully add season 2 soon.  I understand the series has been signed on for a third season yet to be filmed.

Girl Most Likely- This 2012 movie (on Netflix) stars Kristen Wiig in a more serious role of Imogene. The Netflix description reads "After staging an unsuccessful suicide to get her boyfriend's attention, a struggling playwright moves back home to live with her mother and two men." I feel I must warn you that this movie has received generally poor to average reviews on Netflix and Rotten Tomatoes, so it is clearly not everyone's taste.  I like kind of quirky movies, so I enjoyed it even though it wasn't the most deep or exciting thing I have ever watched.  Imogene (and her brother) appear to be kind of losers in the beginning of the film, but by the end I thought they showed much more complexity than I expected and vulnerability in a relate-able way.  

Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown (2 seasons on Netflix)- Most people either love or hate Anthony Bourdain, and I apparently love him.  I enjoy his general disdain for...everything and I love to new places so this is a sort of heaven for me.  Having never seen this show before, I didn't realize how much of the show was not just food, but history and culture and talking with people who are living in these environments every day.  I have three personal favorites episodes.  First, Libya (season 1, ep. 3) showcases some revolutionaries that helped overthrow Qaddafi.  When I think of revolution, I tend to think of 1950's Cuba or earlier, but these guys are younger than I am and were fighting just a couple of years ago.  Their struggle really touched me.  Second, Copenhagen (season 2, ep. 4) just for the food.  Chef Rene Redzepi's method of sourcing local ingredients (including moss) is showcased, and I loved the scene of his staff presenting dishes they have developed to everyone else on staff for criticism or applause.  Every bit of food in this episode looked delicious or intriguing (or both). My final favorite was Peru (season 1, ep. 7) for one reason: guest star Eric Ripart.  Do I need to say more?  : ) 

Hello Goodbye Hello, by Craig Brown- I borrowed this book from my library to read during the drive to vacation last week.  It is a collection of 101 meetings between famous people of varying backgrounds.  Each story connects to the next, for example, the story of when Frank Lloyd Wright met Marilyn Monroe, then the next story is when Marilyn Monroe met Nikita Khrushchev, and on.  This is written by a British writer with a fair number of British "well knowns", but there is a handy note to the U.S. edition explaining who some of these people were or some facts about them to help explain the context of the story.  Some of the stories were less interesting to me, but others were really fascinating.  Plus, I now feel secure in thinking that Phil Spector has been a crazy little man for a very long time and Madonna is probably every bit the jerk I always suspected.  Isn't learning fun?  : )  

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Harm in Asking- Book Review

I admittedly went out on a limb in selecting this book.  I was not at all familiar with author Sara Barron, and comedy-type books are tricky.  Some people you think are funny in stand-up are not that funny in print, or an unknown comedian turns out to not be your type.  Sara Barron is just not my type.

Let me put it this way: I am on page 116 of 306, and I will have to force myself to read the rest of it.  I am all for weird humor, and I am not of a conservative nature that finds cursing or ribald humor inherently unfunny. This book has both, which may turn some people off, but this entire book just misses the mark for me.  There are nineteen chapters (essays?) that are vaguely connected in that they chronicle Sara's life in a generally chronological order, but address various issues or events.  Her essays largely focus on her voracious need for attention since childhood and the myriad ways in which she attempts to gain such attention (forcing herself to attempt lesbianism is one example).  There are a few anecdotes that I found funny but they were few and far between.  

Some of the stories seem forced, like the only way to be funny is to be provocative, but the provocativeness is of the more desperate for attention variety.  Maybe I'm wrong and this book is a perfect reflection of Sara's personality and life.  Even if that is true, there is little about this book that is appealing to me personally.

This book was provided for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for my review.  All opinions are my own. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Nesting Place- Book Review

The Nesting Place blog has been on my daily blog feed for a while, and the site's mantra "It Doesn't Have to be Perfect to be Beautiful" captures blogger Myquillyn Smith's decorating style perfectly.  Don't misunderstand: every luscious scene of a living space or bedroom is in fact beautiful.  I would say gorgeous. But it isn't a study in perfection.  Myquillyn believes a beautiful space can (and should) also be comfortable and inviting. With chapters on giving up perfection and "the gift of messes", she makes you believe a beautiful, yet "yes, children live here" home is possible.

I really appreciated chapter 5: "A Place of Peace: Embracing the True Purpose of Your Home". Personally, I frequently think things should be a certain way because, well, that is how people do it.  Mind you, these "people" don't live in my home and understand how we need it to function.  It is just a knee-jerk reaction that certain rooms have a purpose and you should make your home fit that purpose, rather then making your home fit what you really need (or want).  How many people have that formal front room where no one is allowed to sit on the furniture?  A whole room just waiting for someone who might, but most likely will not, one day possibly use it.  I think Myquillyn would advise against that. From this chapter, I am thinking more of whether I would actually benefit from a more formal sitting room, or if a second home office is more useful. (Hint, both adults in my house are currently working 40+ hours a week from home.)

This book largely addresses broad ideas of decorating, such as don't be afraid to try new things or put nail holes in your wall.  It is not going to provide you specific decorating advice, like pairing stripes with patterns, etc.  Given the frequent change in what is considered current or stylish, this is, in my opinion, a better way to go.  There is also loads of advice on how to make your rental place a home where you may be limited in what permanent changes you are allowed to make.  A paperback copy of this book was not available for my review, and I really dislike reading books electronically, but even on my tiny iPhone screen the photos were beautiful.  It was a quick read, but made many good points about finding your own style and I would recommend it to anyone interested in design and home decor.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Start of Summer

This is the first summer I have looked forward to in a long time.  I usually prefer the organized structure of the kids being in school, having homework, going to bed earlier.  :  ) But something about warmer weather and a looser, more relaxed lifestyle sounds so appealing.  Unfortunately, my office still expects me to work 40 hours a week, so "more relaxed" is going to be a relative term.  

We spent Memorial Day watching S and her Girl Scout troop walk in a parade.  Poor S (and poor me) had to wake up at 6:00 am for a 6:30 am pickup by her troop leader.  Her troop leader deserves the most sympathy for hanging out with nine 7 & 8 year olds from 7:00 a.m. until the parade started at 10:00 a.m. We were very lucky to find a nice, shady spot under trees to watch the parade.  The troop was handing our candy down the parade route, and I told S it would be nice for her to try to give some candy to her sisters as she walked by.  As she walked past, S smiled and waved at us and then immediately walked to other side of the street!  It was so funny and so perfectly S.  She said later that she was told to stay on the other side of the road to keep the girls from clumping up together.  E & G got plenty of candy of other people in the parade, so don't feel too bad for them.  This is the best picture of S I could get.  Do you see the girl on the left in a white shirt and brown sash who looks like a street lamp is growing out of her head? Yep, that is S.  I know, I should be a professional photog.  

Here are G and E enjoying the parade (and the shade).  G is on her phone- shocking.

S saw a couple of school friends she knew in the crowd as she walked the parade route, and I think it made her feel extra special.  She said they were yelling and waving at her and she liked it.  She's already a pop star in her own mind, so she should really be used to the attention.  : ) And side effect of waking a kid up at 6:00 a.m. and having them walk over two miles in the heat is they tend to fall asleep on the couch pretty early. 

S & E started summer camp on Tuesday and have field trips every week.  Just this week, their field trips have been playing in the park and jumping on trampolines.  Maybe if they keep this up, we won't have later bedtimes this summer after all.  

Thursday, May 15, 2014

No Rest for the Weary

I came home last Friday night after spending two of the last three weeks out of state on work trips.  My first trip was to Miami, where I greatly appreciated the 80 degree weather and incredibly delicious Cuban food. It was also a (rare) treat to a) travel with other people, and b) travel with people I like.  Like, enjoy having lunch and dinner with them kind of people.  I took one solitary picture while I was in Miami from a moving car (no, I was not driving at the time).  Actually, the prettiest view I saw of Miami was on the Miami people mover train thing that carried me from the terminal to the rental car center.  I would have taken a photo there if I wasn't afraid of looking like a tourist (horror).

I was home for a week after that, then went to White Plains, NY.  I was extremely lucky to take the train into NYC and have dinner with one of my favorite people, who happens to also be my aunt.  We celebrated Cinco de Mayo at a Mexican restaurant with the most amazing taco sauce.  They also served fantastic watermelon basil margaritas, of which I may have had more than one.  I took this photo of Grand Central Station on my way home to dazzle my kids.  They were duly dazzled.  I even overcame my fear of looking "touristy" as I figured most New Yorkers are not impressed by anyone anyway.

My flight home on Friday was cancelled due to low lying thunderstorms.  Ordinarily, I would be very upset about a last minute change in plans, but considering my plane in and out of White Plains was of the 17 row tin can variety, I was fine with it.  I was able to get a later flight out of LaGuardia and switch my return of the rental car there.  Unlike typical heavy and slowed down Atlanta traffic, the drive to LaGuardia was heavy traffic but still speedy.  Even going through the toll booth was...efficient.  One fabulous thing about LaGuardia was their gate areas.  Every little table had an iPad with free (free!) Internet access and plugs to charge up your phone.  There was even a a credit card swiper to pay for food and drinks if you wanted to order something off the iPad.  It was probably the nicest gate area I've occupied in quite a while.

Upon coming home, little kids wanted all my attention and Hubs wanted some peace and quiet (ha!).  As school comes to an end, there is a constant stream of pre-K graduation, awards night, field days, final exams, and trying to cram every last bit into the year.  It also happens to be my absolute busiest, most time consuming project time of year at work.  I'm very happy to be home, but I will be even happier when I can take some time off.  There is a massage table just waiting for me.  : )

Monday, April 28, 2014

A Table by the Window- Book Review

A Table by the Window by Hillary Manton Lodge combines a few of my favorite things: food, non-cheesy romance, and a bit of mystery.  The book follows food writer Juliette D'Alisa as she navigates an increasingly stressful career, contemplates opening a restaurant with her brother, tries to solve a mystery surrounding her beloved late grandmother, and oh, begins a long-distance romance.  If her life was not complicated enough, she must also manage her large, incredibly nosy (and opinionated) family of restaurant owners.

I liked that Juliette is a successful and independent woman but struggles with realistic self-doubt.  She is part of a large, close-knit French-Italian family that have a lot to say about her job, her love life- just about everything.  While her family is in everyone's business and a couple of siblings really push Juliette's buttons, it is clear the family acts out of love and truly cares for each other.  Their nosiness came across as endearing rather than annoying.  I enjoyed the bit of mystery involving the possible romantic past of Juliette's grandmother, and the romance angle for Juliette developed nicely.  Three possible suitors appear throughout the book, and while none were terrible choices, I was rooting for one relationship in particular to blossom (and it did!).

I hate when you already know where the plot is going in chapter one, and this book was not one of those books. While there were no huge plot twists, it kept me guessing and changing my mind throughout the romance and mystery story lines.  Food does play a role in the book as Juliette's family has always revolved around running restaurants and sharing great meals.  Luckily, the author previously interned at Northwest Palate magazine and, knowing a thing or two about delicious meals, includes multiple recipes throughout the book.  I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a somewhat light read with romance and a bit of mystery.  And food.      

A copy of this book was provided to me for free by Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.   

Friday, April 4, 2014

Let Me (Okay, Netflix) Entertain You!

There are certain times of the year when there are so many excellent shows on television, I can go weeks without watching Netflix.  Now is not one of those times.  The Walking Dead's season is over, Scandal is losing my attention, and Mad Men isn't back on yet.  I've dropped The Americans, Hannibal and The Following, so all I have left is The Good Wife and The Blacklist.  This leaves me plenty of time for some Netflix entertainment. 

In case you are looking for some recommendations for your weekend (and I know you are), here are some things I have enjoyed on Netflix over the last few weeks/months. Warning up front: I tend to like independent, quirky things, and I am not at all bothered by cursing or most violence.  

  • Mud- Two Mississippi teens befriend a peculiar drifter named Mud (Matthew McConaughey) and get caught up in his tales of lost love, crimes of passion and bounty hunters.  McConaughey gets top billing, but the movie really revolves around the life of one of the teens, Ellis.  I thought it was a poignant story of young boys learning about hurt and loss of trust that all of us experience growing up. If you like quirky, emotionally challenging movies with more dialogue than action, you may like this one. Rated PG-13, I assume primarily for language and some violence.
  • Unfinished Song- This movie made me cry like a baby, and I'll probably watch it again just to cry again.  Arthur is a cranky old man whose wonderful wife, Marion, is terminally ill with cancer.  Marion joins an unconventional church choir.  Imagine elderly British folks singing "Let's Talk About Sex" a cappella.  Yep.  When the choir is chosen to perform in a competition, Arthur reluctantly joins.  A surprisingly touching movie that shows Arthur struggling with the fear of losing his wife and alternately destroying and rebuilding a relationship with their son.  Rated PG-13 for some sexual references and rude gestures. 
  • Blackfish- This documentary made me extremely sad.  I realize this is a very controversial movie and probably neither side is 100% accurate.  However, the stories told by former trainers and the man that helped capture whales from the wild are very disturbing.  There are also scenes in the movie that were difficult to watch because they showed injuries suffered by the animals as well as the trainers.  Rated PG-13.
TV Shows
  • Lilyhammer- Steven Van Zandt (of The Sopranos and the E Street Band fame) stars as a New York mobster who goes into hiding in Lillehammer after testifying against his former associates.  While I would personally hate the cold in Norway, the snowy landscape in this series is gorgeous.  For a highly manipulative person, Steven Van Zandt's character, Johnny, is very likeable.  There is a quirky cast of characters that are fleshed out enough to see the good and bad in all of them.  There are some clever (and some obvious) nods to both Springsteen and The Sopranos. This was Netflix's first original series and they have renewed it for a third season to be released later this year.  It is rated TV-MA.  There is a large amount of swearing, violence and more than one instance of nudity, just so you are forewarned.  
  • An Idiot Abroad- In this hilarious British series, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant send their "idiot" friend Karl on a different adventure in each episode.   He is completing an item off a bucket list in each show, though as Ricky frequently reminds him, this is not Karl's bucket list.  Karl is a somewhat grumpy man who isn't too enthused with trying new things, meeting new people, experiencing new cultures- you can see where this is going.  He expresses some viewpoint where I think, "Aw, Karl isn't so awful" and then he says something else to make me think, "Idiot".  Ricky and Stephen really enjoy putting Karl in some very uncomfortable situations and I thought much of it was funny and interesting.  There are two seasons, though I personally thought season one was a little bit more entertaining.  Rated TV-14, there is frequent cursing, though some of it is British slang so maybe that doesn't count.  FYI- the British use the F word too.  There are also a few instances of nudity in a culturally appropriate way (native tribes in traditional dress), not in a sexually charged way.  
  • Doc Martin- I just started watching this British show about a grumpy surgeon who moves to a small seaside village with eccentric townspeople.  Think Dr. House with less overt nastiness.  Netflix has seasons two through five, though the details I missed by not seeing season one seem pretty small.  I've been able to figure out some of the backstory and enjoy the episodes in season two.   
  • Parks and Recreation- I'm probably one of the last people in America to watch this comedy because I have never been a huge Amy Poehler fan.  After it was recommended to me for the billionth time, I decided to give it a go.  I watched all five seasons on Netflix and started watching the current season on TV.  I'm still not a big Poehler fan, but the show is entertaining to me.  I don't need to take one of those incessant Zimbio quizzes to know that while we aren't in sync on everything, I most closely identify with Ron Swanson.  If you haven't watched it before, give it a good two or three episodes to see if you like it.  
  • House of Cards- Keven Spacey: enough said.  Okay, if you need more, this is a seriously suspenseful drama of D.C. political maneuvering.  There is something so deliciously evil about Spacey's character, Frank Underwood, that I couldn't stop watching.  If you loved The West Wing, but wished it were darker, more sinister, more murdery, and generally made you uncomfortable, this is the show for you. Rated TV-MA for very good reasons- lots of cursing, sexually explicit scenes, drug use and violence. 
I promise I actually do more than just hang out and watch television, though this list is a bit longer than I anticipated.  Any shows or movies you would recommend?  Do you like quirky movies too?  

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

"Riley Mae and the Rock Shocker Trek"- Book Review

I thought it would be fun to let one of the kids review a book and S enthusiastically agreed. "Riley Mae and the Rock Shocker Trek" is the first book in Jill Osborne's The Good News Shoes series.  In this book, Riley Mae becomes a Swiftriver Shoe Company spokesperson for their outdoor sport collection.  Riley Mae's love of softball and adventure sound like a perfect match for this deal, until the responsibility of shooting commercials and attending promotional events takes up the whole softball season.  She also suspects something isn't quite right at Swiftriver and aims to find out what is going on.  

I thought Riley Mae was a seven year old just like S, but she's actually a seventh grader.  Oops. S still read it just fine, and said she would definitely read more books featuring Riley Mae.  S actually wrote our her own book review and wanted me to post it here, but I had to explain what "spoilers" are and point out that her written review had two of them.  Here is what I can share from her review: "I loved this book because there were some really shocking parts!  For instance, SPOILER.  And I was shocked when SPOILER.  It was just shocking and that is why I liked this book."  Well, there you have it.  HA!

I also read this book, and thought it was generally a pretty cute story about Riley's friendship with her BFF changing as she starts to miss softball games and let her friend down.  She also makes a new friend, Rusty, whose family is struggling financially.  I found this sub-plot a good jumping off point to discuss with S how some families don't have enough food every day, and how we should treat people kindly even if our other friends don't want to add new friends to the group.  Riley Mae's parents are largely involved in her decision to become a spokesperson, and they emphasize throughout the book the importance of sticking with commitments.  The ending of the book wraps up enough of the various sub-plots to leave you (or your child) satisfied, but also leaves some lingering issues I assume will continue to play out in book #2 of the series.  

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Stillness of Chimes- Book Review

A Stillness of Chimes is the first novel by Meg Moseley I have read.  If this novel is an indication of her work, I will definitely add her other books to my reading list.  Meg is originally from California but moved to the south and worked as a journalist for the Atlanta Journal Constitution for four years.  As a fellow Georgian, I appreciate that she sets this novel in our state and describes it full of southern charm (and doesn't make characters into a caricature of  uneducated hillbillies and buffoons) - even the kudzu sounds charming!

The plot revolves around Laura Gantt's return to Prospect, Georgia after her mother's death.  As Laura stays in town to clear her mother's house, she is reunited with former sweetheart Sean and best friend Cassie. Laura's father, Elliott, was presumed drowned in a fishing accident twelve years before, but his body was never recovered.  Rumors of Elliott sightings begin swirling around town, and Laura sets out to find out if her father could possibly have survived all those years ago.  Sean tries to support and protect Laura at the same time, but he has his own reasons for keeping Elliott a ghost in the past.

I really enjoyed Meg's storytelling in this book.  There are threads of several stories woven throughout the book, and the last few chapters really tied all those ends together well.  I liked that there were some resolutions spread throughout the book.  I'm not a big fan of having a bunch of questions that carry on until the last page, and I enjoyed having some bits of information fed to me throughout the book.  For example, you do not have to wait until the end of the book to learn Sean's secret.  There are vivid descriptions of both Laura's mother and father, and even though they are dead (or are they?), you learn a lot about them as people from flashback scenes and descriptions from the other characters.  The only tiny issue I had was a subplot involving Cassie and her husband.  There seemed to be a build up to some relatively large plot point involving them, then it kind of petered out.  I don't know if that was a casualty of editing, or if I placed too large an expectation on what troubles Cassie may be having.  Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fiction surrounding relationships and mysteries.

This is Christian fiction, so characters attend church, reference God and voice prayers.  As you might expect, there is no cursing, little violence (not graphic), and no sexual scenes.  You can read the first chapter here, and visit Meg Moseley's website here.

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review, but all opinions are my own.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Way In Which I Ruined My Kid's Life (this quarter)

So, we are only in the third month of the year and I've already ruined G's life forever.  Well, at least for the next two years.  G was placed in an intro Spanish class last semester for one of her nine week "connections" classes.  (They change out connection classes every nine weeks unless you are placed in one of the few semester long classes.) It was more of a study of Spanish culture and some basic language than a hard core learn to speak Spanish class.  G said it was okay but kind of boring, and she was glad when it ended.

A month or so ago, G brought home a letter explaining the school's two-year Spanish program.  By completing this Spanish program in seventh and eighth grade, students earn high school credit.  Students have to apply and (get this) fill out an essay on why they want to be in the program.  When G showed us the letter, she said, "I didn't even want to show this to you but knew I'd be in trouble if I didn't." That should give you a clue of how thrilled she was at the prospect of applying.

Hubs and I sometimes have differing opinions of how to handle what the kids want to do.  I am much more soft and gushy in this regard and sympathetic to when kids don't want to do something.  (Something voluntary or interest-based like this, not things like brushing teeth or going to school.  I'm not a complete pushover.) I kind of sympathized that G adamantly didn't want to take the class.  Plus, she was in Spanish before and didn't like it, the class is a two year commitment, and she is already in an all year connection class (orchestra), so she will not be able to take any other classes for the rest of middle school.  Sad face.  Hubs, on the other hand, is the Honey Badger in these matters. (Google "Honey Badger Don't Care" if you don't get the reference.)  After much discussion, we agreed that this was a great opportunity, it is important for our kids to learn another language, and that she needed to apply.  G was as excited as you might imagine.  The first couple of essay drafts were, while hilarious, inappropriate.  Getting a kid to explain why they want in a program they don't want in, with the stipulation that they try not to lie, is not easy.  Ultimately, she wrote something we could all live with and turned it in, I'm sure hoping she wouldn't be accepted.

So, of course she was accepted.  It probably didn't help that G came out of Spanish last semester with an A. Or that her teacher probably liked her because she is generally quiet and does her work.  I asked G how she felt about it a couple of days after she was accepted.  She said, "I can't get out of it, so I've decided to accept it with as much emotional detachment as possible."  Well, okay.  She's twelve, so we're getting into that tough (for me) arena of what decisions do we still make for her and what kind of independence do we start giving in greater doses.  I hope she ends up really enjoying the class and decides it was a good experience.  If not, I'll just blame Hubs.  ; )

Friday, March 7, 2014

Sisterchicks Do the Hula- Book Review

Sisterchicks Do the Hula by Robin Jones Gunn is a Christian fiction book about long lost friends Hope and Laurie.  Hope and Laurie were best friends in college but lost touch with each other over the years.  They reconnect as Hope's fortieth birthday approaches and agree to take the Hawaiian vacation they originally planned in college.  The book chronicles their (mis)adventures in Hawaii and highlights the value of female friendships.

This book is a pretty quick read, partially because I didn't want to put it down!  Overall, this is not a terribly deep book.  It's more of what I can a "beach read", meaning the kind of fun, lighthearted book I would typically take on vacation with me.  Some of the plot points a little silly, and some may find it unlikely that two friends would take off to Hawaii after not speaking for twenty-something years.  However, the friendship between Hope and Laurie was really relatable to me.  I could totally picture my sister (and BFF) and I taking off to the islands, enjoying a luau and discussing the appeal of traditional Hawaii cuisine.  There are some tidbits of Hawaiian history thrown in, which I found interesting.  It also doesn't hurt that I would LOVE to walk the beaches of Hawaii.  This is a Christian book, so there are Christian elements thrown in, such as references to prayer and God but it doesn't hit you over the head.

I enjoyed this book, and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys stories of friendship and a fun, light read about two women helping each other embrace the new phases of their lives.  There are nine or so books in the "Sisterchicks" series featuring different female characters.  Visit Robin Jones Gunn's website for more information on her books or read an excerpt here.

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

Friday, February 14, 2014

Sometimes Good Enough Is Good Enough

Gwinnett County Schools are closed again today because of icy roads.  (Some might say they are using an overabundance of caution, but having a kid who rides the bus, I'll take caution over an accident any day.) Missing school today means kids will not share these joyful gifts of love with their friends until Monday.

I know- impressive, right?  Look, I know Pinterest has a million creative, handmade valentine ideas. Thankfully, my middle schooler has apparently aged out of Valentine's Day, but that is still more than 50 cards between the other two.  Don't let those Pinterest photos fool you.  I know darn well that either a) I'd stay up until midnight making 50+ cards by myself, or b) the kids would make a sticky, glue covered mess and at least one of us would end up in tears.  No thank you.  My kids loved these cards, the kids in their class really just want the candy, and we're saving ourselves from discussing this holiday in therapy down the road.  Win, win.  Maybe store bought cards aren't the most original idea, but sometimes good enough is good enough.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Stop: Family Time (seriously, stop)

On Saturday, we loaded the kids up on doughnuts and iced lattes.  I think is a good representation of almost every time our family goes out in public.  S is super silly and laughs through every meal.  I am pretty surprised she is sitting down in the picture since most we usually have to remind her to sit down 100 times a meal. (She shared her iced caramel latte with me because it was apparently not the 90% sugar/10% coffee mix she wanted.)  E loves to be in pictures, but she takes her eating pretty seriously and doesn't talk during meals too much.  G wants to read a book and pretend she doesn't know us.  Oops, I got caught taking her picture.

After breakfast, we took the girls out to every kids dream day of outings- a huge antique market and a car lot.  : )  This was Hub's first trip to Scott's Antique Market in Atlanta and I think he is now a believer.  It probably helped his art lover heart that he came home with a Salvador Dali print.  The girls were less thrilled with walking around giant buildings full of furniture, art, and antiques.  An occasional slice of pizza or ice cream cone made them slightly more agreeable.

On the way home, we stopped at Car Max and left with a new (to us) car!  We'd been looking at replacing our minivan for a while.  First of all, I never wanted a minivan in the first place.  I never felt cool driving it (shocking, I know) and it got terrible gas mileage.  Plus, it was starting a downhill slide of repair issues that I really didn't want to invest in.  We ended up surprising ourselves by getting an SUV without a third row.  The back seat has plenty of space for all three girls and lots of cargo space in the back.  I'm really happy with it and Car Max was a great experience.

By the time we got home, it was closing in on 11:00 pm, and as G said, "We've had about 13 hours of family time together, and I am pretty much over it."  Amen, sister.  Of course, because God has a sense of humor, we are now on our third day of snow entrapment.  It has been a lot of time together.  A lot.  I think we will all be relieved when school opens again.  Some of us are getting even weirder.  : )

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Oh Luggage, Where Art Thou?

Okay, the title isn't entirely accurate.  I know where my bag is, I just have no idea when we will be reunited. Here is my sob story.  I was supposed to fly into New York on Monday, but all flights to NY for Atlanta were cancelled.  Not cancelled that morning, or on my way to the airport, but cancelled as I literally walked into my gate area.  I was booked on the next available flight for Tuesday morning and went to the baggage claim office to retrieve my checked bag.  The baggage claim lady strongly recommended I let them keep the bag because it would be put on the same flight as me, and said if they pulled it for me then I would be waiting for hours.  After I drove home, my office decided to cancel the whole trip.  I immediately contacted Delta to get my bag back.  Oh, yes, we'll pull that bag and bring it to the Baggage Claim Office they assured me. Liars.  Fifteen hours is clearly not enough notice for Delta.  My bag was put on the NY flight Tuesday and has been hanging out in the White Plains airport ever since.  Allegedly, once the weather improves my bag will be placed on the first available flight back to Atlanta.

I understand that Delta is probably handling thousands of bags a day and that with the winter storm coming through this week, numerous flights were cancelled.  However, fifteen hours seems like sufficient time to find a bag.  They scanned the bag's tag as they put it on the plane.  Why wouldn't their scanning system say, "Hey, don't put that bag on the plane!"? My biggest gripe with Delta is that their whole bag tracking system is ridiculous.  You can track your bag online in real time.  Sounds great, right? Well, you scanning my bag two days ago isn't helpful to me.  Here's what would be helpful: an online note that my bag is sitting in White Plains because flights out of NY have been cancelled.  An estimated delivery date.  Anything really.  I've called the baggage claim office numerous times and only one person was remotely friendly and helpful.  Kudos to you, Rebecca- you should probably be managing that whole office.  She is the only person who seemed to have any idea what was going on, apologized for my inconvenience and reassured me that this situation is typical given the weather issues and gave me hope I will one day have my bag again.

This is first negative experience with luggage so I am probably more stressed about it than is really necessary. Have you ever had lost/delayed luggage?  Is waiting for days with few if any updates normal?

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Jack Frost is a Demon

The Atlanta area was hit with approximately 2 1/2 inches of snow this week.  For areas that experience regular extended periods of snow, I'm sure 2 1/2 inches is laughable.  Keep in mind, dear Northerner, that your area has probably invested in snow plows, salt trucks and various other appropriate snow removal equipment.  There is probably a well thought out and efficient plan to address snow and ice. You anticipate the snow and ice and act accordingly.  We aren't like that here.  : )  We do not regularly navigate icy roads or shovel sidewalks.  We frequently wear shorts at Christmas, okay?  Could preventive measures been taken more quickly?  Probably.  Would I vote to pay a significant amount of my tax dollars for equipment that may be used once every four or five years?  Heck no.  A friend on Facebook threatened the life of a certain groundhog if spring is not predicted soon.  I don't believe a groundhog's self-awareness has any actual effect on the weather, but some hope, however flimsy, of warmer weather would be encouraging.

I am extremely grateful that my girls made it home from school Tuesday without any problem and that we were safely ensconced in our home the next two days with power, heating, and plenty of food.  I'm sure if I enjoyed a couple of unexpected snow days with hot tea and a movie marathon, it would have been a banner week.  However, I am a teleworking employee.  Part of the "joy" of teleworking is that unless you lose power and/or Internet service, you are fully capable of working.  And by capable, I mean totally expected to work or use up some of your leave time.  Luckily, Hubs was able to take time off so I could actually work.  I was able to get a lot done, despite children repeatedly wanting to regale me with tales of their latest Mario Brothers adventure or showing me The Worm (don't ask).  Schools opened again Friday, and I made it all the way until 1:00 pm before day care called. Poor E had an ear ache so I picked her up.  Funny how the kid crying in pain at day care morphs into the kid singing "What Does the Fox Say" at home.  Hmm.  Either kids Motrin is really effective or someone played me.

After this week of family togetherness, I am leaving Monday for a work trip to New York and won't be back until Friday. Bwah ha ha!  You can understand why Hubs had to escape the house last night for karaoke and beer. I'll enjoy my time out with other professional grown-ups and possibly cocktails, but have a feeling I will pay dearly for it when I come home in snuggle demands and so much talking.  Good heavens, so much talking.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Day(s) of Rest

Last Tuesday, I woke up extra extra to drive over an hour to attend an all day meeting. I was required to talk, actively listen, and take notes for more than eight hours then drive home again.  I did it all again on Wednesday, except I also stumbled down some stairs.  Thankfully, only one person in my group was with me and have the grace to make sure I was okay then never mention it again.  Thursday (and Friday and part of Saturday), my ankle and thigh muscles were extraordinarily sore from catching myself on the stairs.  I've also been enjoying daily sinus pain from a head cold.  This tells me that a) my thigh muscles rarely get a workout of any kind, and b) the fact that these relatively minor aches and pains have been so bothersome tells me I generally enjoy pretty good health.

Long hours, sore muscles, and sinus pressure have made this long weekend welcome.  I have done a quite noble imitation of a sloth for the last two days.  The lights were shaking above my head yesterday as children ran and laughed and possibly wrestled elephants upstairs, but they were leaving me alone to read a book so on the couch I remained.  Today I will wash clothes, unload the bookcase from my van and generally resume normal life responsibilities but it was nice to have a couple of days off.  : )

Friday, January 10, 2014

Friday is My Happy Day

Everybody loves Friday!  The day, not that horrible song.  Well, I guess if I worked on weekends I would not love Fridays as much as I do, but I don't, so I do (follow me?).  Fridays are the day I say, "Yes! I WILL have that Starbucks drink today-it's Friday!" Have you seen ads for the new Caramel Flan Latte? I may need to check it out today.  I use the word "need" very loosely.  Like I need new clothes.  And makeup. And maybe an SUV to replace my minivan because minivans are very uncool.

One thing I always need (for reals) is a good book.  I'm a little iffy about a lot of recommended book lists because I never know if my taste in reading is the same as the person who created the list.  I'm a lot iffy about movies being made from books, as the book is almost always better than the movie in my opinion.  However, I am really excited about this list on Buzzfeed. It combines my love of books with my more than like of movies!  I must confess I did not realize a couple of these movies were based on books.  Other books on this list have not been on my radar at all (insert face of shame).  I love Helen Mirren and would probably watch her read a phone book.  Add in food and Paris- I'm totally there.  Kate Winslet and George Clooney movies are pretty safe bets as well. Quirky movies are my thing, so I'm really interested in "A Long Way Down".  Since a lot of these movies look promising to me, I would really like to check out these books.  This may be the first reading list I actually follow.  We need to return a lot of books to our local library this weekend, so hopefully they will have at least a couple of these.  (As if I need more books to read- see my post from two days ago.)

Wish me luck- S and I are attending a "Leadership Academy" at her school Saturday morning.  When I signed up for it before Christmas, 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday seemed a lot more reasonable.  I think a lot of things probably seem more reasonable when they are that far off.  Well played, elementary school.  

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Near Miss

Yesterday was the girls first day back to school (cue the angels singing).  When I went to pick the little ones up from after-school care, E was very excited to tell me that the fire alarm went off that day and her classroom was flooded.  Um, what?  Apparently, the sprinkler system was somehow activated and three pre-K classrooms were soaked.  Luckily, a) there was no actual fire, b) the pre-K kids (like E) were at lunch in the cafeteria area, not the classrooms, and c) their backpacks were already hung out in the main room.  No wet kids or backpacks, just wet classrooms.  Very exciting for the kids.  Much less exciting for the owner, I am sure.

When E and I rolled up into the drop off line for pre-K this morning, we were second in line and no one else pulled in behind me.  AKA- clue #1.  Clue #2 was the nice day care worker who came out to tell us pre-K is cancelled today and tomorrow because of the watery classrooms.  This is when Tom Cruise from "A Few Good Men" whispered in my ear, "And the hits just keep on coming." and I briefly wondered if 8:00 am was too early for a drink.  I just got these kids back in school, I can't take her home again!  Then that sweet day care angel said the kids enrolled in before or after school care could come on in.  They would be in a different room with a different teacher, but they would sort of follow some pre-K type lesson plans.  Score!  I love that kid but I can't miss her if she's always here.  : )  Hopefully, today will be a little more boring at day care.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Weather Delay

Today was supposed to be the first day back to school for kids and work for me since the holidays. Instead, county schools are closed here today due to weather.  The weather isn't actually bad: no snow or rain going on here.  Apparently,  letting kids wait on the bus in below freezing weather poses some safety issues.  Who knew.  I absolutely have to get back to work today, so we will see how we all get along throughout the day.

Have I mentioned this is Day 18 of fun, family togetherness?  : )  Day 18.  I have enjoyed time off from work, and we were able to do some family activities we all enjoyed, like looking at Christmas lights with hot chocolate, seeing "Frozen", and Saturday's Cuban restaurant and bowling night.  However, eighteen days is a looooong time for me to be around the same people.  I need my personal space, and two of my children don't believe in my having personal space.  At all.  I love them to pieces, but they need to go back to school.  : )

I have been able to tackle this stack of lovelies during my time off:

Some are library books, some were Christmas presents and some are borrowed from my sister.  So far, everything I have read has been pretty good.  If I could get paid to read and watch really good TV shows all day, I would be in heaven.  Speaking of really good TV shows, how wonderful was it to welcome "Downton Abbey" back last night?  Sigh, I've missed them (both upstairs and downstairs folk).  I'm also super ready for the return of "Sherlock" this month!  I re-watched seasons 1 and 2 this past week to get ready (and remember what the heck was going on).  So, if you hear of a great need for book readers and show watchers, just let me know.    

Friday, January 3, 2014

Hands Free Mama- Book Review

In 2010, Rachel Macy Stafford realized she was spending more time with her phone and laptop than her young children and decided something had to change.  Becoming a hands free mama was her solution. Rachel doesn't rail against the "evil" of technology or advocate saying no to any responsibility outside of the home, as I partially feared.  Instead, she discusses how becoming hands free allows us to focus on life's moments as they happen.

Hands free doesn't mean going without a phone or laptop- it is limiting the time and energy we spend on things other than the people in our lives.  Each chapter covers a singular aspect of hands free living such as deliberateness or presentness.  An example is how Rachel realized all the time she spent volunteering,  She began to select more carefully what events or causes she wanted to devote time to, and what opportunities she began turning down.  Each chapter includes hands free weekly intentions and a hands free weekly reflection, short essays relevant to the chapter topic.  Most, if not all, the ideas in this book could be applicable to non-mamas as well.  Anyone who would like a little encouragement to re-prioritize their time and habits could benefit from this book, though most examples given in this book as specific to Rachel spending more quality time with her husband and kids.

Hands Free Mama will be released on January 7, 2014.  It is Rachel Macy Stafford's first book, though she has written numerous articles and runs the blog Hands Free Mama with over one million visitors per month.

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

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year!

There is something so refreshing and hopeful about a new year, isn't there?  I am not at all sorry to see 2013 go.  It wasn't the worst year of my life, but it wasn't great either.  I am hoping 2014 fares much better.

I am not big on making resolutions every year but I do take some time to reflect on the past year and what I hope to gain in the new one.  I like the idea of having an overarching idea or theme for the year rather than specific resolutions.  Gretchen Rubin tackles a single word to cover her year, and I think that could be great too.  I'm still mulling over what I'd like to focus on this year, but the theme of looking for flowers, not roses keeps rolling around in my head.  The idea of reaching or stretching (toward a goal, personally, etc.) appeals to me too. Are you making a specific goal or resolution for 2014, or is that a recipe for failure?