Monday, December 31, 2012

Should it Stay Monday: Yellow Shirt

I’m in Memphis as we speak (…read?) wearing this exact shirt. I went to Kohls a couple weeks ago desperate for something I could wear out to the bars in Memphis that would show I’m there as an Iowa State fan (for the Liberty Bowl) without being a plain team t-shirt. I was thinking a red and yellow striped sweater, but I couldn’t find anything, shirt or sweater, that was red and yellow. 
You know what I've gotten better at through Should it Stay Monday?
Flattering photography. I'm fairly certain this shirt looks worse in
person, but maybe it's better than I think?
I found this on the 90% off rack. If I didn’t have a specific purpose for it, I don’t think I would have bought it. But it was $3 and I thought it would work pretty well with a red sweater. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find one of those, either. I ended up wearing it with a red zip-up sweatshirt, which isn’t as nice as I’d hoped, but works well enough for my purposes. I’m still not sure about it on its own, though. (FYI, I'm sucking it in pretty hard in that picture. (That's what she said.))

Should it Stay: Yellow Shirt

P.S. If you’re reading this during the actual game (which starts at 2:30 central) I’m actually wearing something quite a bit warmer.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

He's a total ham

Margaret was really excited to meet Santa, so we hoped her enthusiasm would lead Paul into following along. We stood in line for almost an hour and he seemed excited when it was our turn. When I tried to set him down next to Santa, though, he freaked. Santa suggested rearranging so Margaret would be in between him and Paul. He still wouldn’t sit. I figured, well, this happens, and just got in the picture and held him on my lap.

Margaret stayed to tell Santa what she wanted for Christmas while Paul and I went over to choose a photo. When he saw himself on the screen his eyes went really big and he got excited. I said, look! It’s a picture of you and Santa! and it was like a lightbulb went off in his head. “OH! Mommy wasn’t just leaving me on some random guy’s lap and running away! It’s a PICTURE! I can do that!”

He pointed back at the couch urgently and I asked if he wanted to take another picture. He nodded emphatically and the elves said ok. I ran over there, plopped him down and the little stinker threw a huge grin at the camera.

Margaret was a little thrown by the sudden re-takes, but that’s about as good of a smile as you can get out of a three-year-old anyway, so we were really happy with it. Santa photo = success.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

December books, part 1

Prospect Park West by Amy Sohn
This book was not at all what I was expecting. For starters, it was way dirtier than I expected from chick lit. Not that everyone was having sex (though they did), but it was all they could think about. Also, no one liked themselves or anyone else and whatever they had, it wasn't enough.  Basically the whole book can be summed up as sex and unhappiness, with a side of craaaaaazy. I did read all 400 pages in a few days, though, so it was definitely addicting. Having learned Amy Sohn's newest book follows some of the same characters, I really want to know what happened to them.

Talking with My Mouth Full by Gail Simmons
This was blah. It didn't read as a novel, but like she was interviewed about her life and the transcript was typed with minimal editing. "So, Gail, how do you feel about weight issues relating to women in the public eye?" "Funny you should ask! I have lots of rambling thoughts on that issue."

I suppose you could say that's a good thing, that the book felt conversational and I could hear her voice. But it wasn't compelling reading. I think whomever gave her a book deal had a great idea. Her career trajectory and each job she has had seem really interesting. It just didn't come out right. It kind of made me sad to see all of the super-interesting stuff turned into such a boring book.

I don't necessarily not recommend you read it or regret that I did. As I said, there is interesting stuff underneath the stilted writing. You just have to kind of work for it and slog through at times.

I used to read everything Carolyn Hart wrote. There were two things that should have led me to skip this one, but I ignored them. 1. It was published by Berkley Prime Crime, not her usual William Morrow (Step down? Right? I don’t really know publishing) and 2. “She understands the thoughts of cats when she looks into their eyes.”

It was awful. Really awful. Besides the whole cat thing, it was just a bad book all around. The mystery was boring and the love story was ridiculous.

“If you were smart” – her voice caught in her throat – “you’d stay away from me.”

“Not,” he said quietly, “in this lifetime.”


Interestingly enough, the cover quote on that one - "What the Cat Saw will surprise and engage any mystery reader." - was by Charlaine Harris. I realize most of those are quid pro quo kind of things and/or required of authors with the same publisher, but still. Interesting.

I can't really say much about the Sookie series that I haven't already, but I liked this one. I wasn't feeling up to a heavier book and deliberately went for the brain candy.

A Touch of Dead (Sookie Stackhouse: The Complete Stories) by Charlaine Harris
This book explained so much. When I started book six, I checked several times to make sure I hadn’t skipped a book, because there was a fairly major plot point I seemed to have completely missed. I was sure I’d forgotten to read the last chapter of the previous book (nope, checked) or misremembered what book I was on (nope) or was just plain going crazy. Turns out all the answers were in a SHORT STORY. Now how was I supposed to have known that?

I had noticed there was a book of short stories, but I had no idea they were required reading. Pretty much every area I was fuzzy or confused about from the series originated in one of these stories. I’m kind of mad actually.

Some of the stories stand alone, but it’s helpful to read them all, at the appropriate point in the series. Even if that’s not feasible (and why would it be? Unless you BOUGHT the short stories book?), you definitely should read “One Word Answer” before book six. Or ask me for a synopsis. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

I don't think I'm going to miss the sketchy hotel rooms*

As you can tell, it's kind of been radio silence around here. We were out of town this weekend for the first of our family Christmases and after one night at home I had to turn around and go out of town for work.

I always think I'll have so much time to write sitting alone in a hotel room at night, but somehow that doesn't happen. Monday nights are reserved for three hours of Love it or List it, of course. (I desperately wish they'd put that show online sometimes, as we don't get HGTV at home. If I'm ever in a hotel on a Monday night it's a big treat for me. I'm easily pleased.) Tuesday nights I realize I haven't gotten to any of the books or magazines I brought, and after that point it seems I'm too tired from working 10-11 hour days to focus on writing.

It's hard to believe this is my last work trip. I turned in my resignation a few weeks ago, did I tell you that? I told people at the Blathering and then on Twitter, so it seems most everyone knows, but I wanted to wait to really put it out there. My last day is January 10th and after that I'll be a stay-at-home mom. Kind of scary, but really exciting.

I didn't intend this to be a big revelation post; I was mainly going to explain why I don't have any Should it Stay Monday or date nights to talk about! I guess this solves the problem of when I was going to write about leaving work. See, I can get things done on hotel nights!

Anyway, I'll probably skip out on Should it Stay Monday and date night Wednesday again next week as a Christmas break and the following week my family is traveling to Memphis for the Liberty Bowl (go Cyclones!!!), but expect me to start clogging up your reader again after the new year...

I do have a book post that should be done sometime this week, but if I don't talk to you again, I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas, or a plain old great week if you don't celebrate:)

*Last night, I picked up the pillows on my hotel bed and found HAIRS on the sheet underneath. Gross.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

52 Date Nights: Week 11, Re-read your wedding readings

Previous date night posts here. Free stay-at-home date night ideas PDF download here. (Not sponsored.)

While we were in the tent last week, we decided it would be a nice cozy place to tackle #25 Re-read your marriage vows and wedding readings. This one was tough, as we don’t have a copy of our marriage vows. We didn’t write our own, just assumed the church had standard ones. That was a bad idea. The pastor did not use standard vows, but wrote his own. I thought every church ceremony included the whole “in sickness and in health, til death do us part” stuff, but no. I dreamt about saying those vows for MONTHS.  My whole life, really, and he didn't do them. I was really, really mad and disappointed. Still not over it, actually. This was my one wedding day and I didn’t get to say “til death do us part.”

(Also, don’t give me that line about how being married is the only thing that matters. Obviously the marriage is much more important than the wedding, but it doesn’t mean the wedding doesn’t matter. If it did, why do we even have weddings? Why not just go to the justice of the peace? We both believe in and act upon “until death do us part” despite the fact we didn’t say it in front of our friends and family, but that doesn’t mean there was no POINT in saying it. Also, how belittling is it to say to someone who is planning a wedding or whose wedding didn’t go like they planned “all that matters is that you’re married at the end”? OTHER THINGS MATTER. Sure, they don’t have the lifelong consequences your marriage does, but they’re not meaningless.)

(You know what else doesn’t matter? The fact some people don’t say “standard vows”, either by not having a wedding ceremony or by deliberately leaving them out. I made the choice to say those vows - but didn’t communicate it well, which was my fault - and just because some people choose not to doesn’t mean the fact I didn’t get to is OK.)

Let's take a break to look at me signing our marriage license!
I'm still a big fan of the decision to do it during the ceremony.
(I have no idea what's up with the lighting on my nose. Is that a shadow?)
In the interest of avoiding another rant, I won’t even get (too much) into what he did use as vows. Let’s just say they included the lines “I will submit to you” and gave all our guests the impression I’d never be making a decision on my own ever again. I’m assuming the pastor’s views on submission are more nuanced than that, but he did not do a good job communicating. Also, in retrospect, asking him to do a short sermon without reading a transcript prior to the ceremony was a bad, bad idea. I should point out we asked him to base the sermon on one of our three readings (his choice as to which one) and he did not. On the plus side, pretty much everyone there remembers our wedding well! To this day we get remarks on the extremism of it. (Which I like, as it gives me a chance to clarify that's not exactly what we believe or how our marriage is structured.)

Anyway. We skipped the “recreate your wedding vows” part of this one and just went through the readings, which were: Song of Songs 8: 6-7, Romans 12:9-13 and 1 John 4:7-12. We talked about why we chose them and what we think about those choices now. It was quite nice, actually. I did not recreate my wedding vow rant for Thomas. He's quite familiar with it, so that honor was given to you lucky people!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

In case of death

Megan (a mortician) asked today what marks we have that could be used to identify our bodies and whether our significant other could identify us (risky question!). It made me think - I’ve always accepted without question how on crime shows the husband or wife is always like “s/he had a such-and-such shaped birthmark on the inner thigh!”

Seems like something a significant other would know, right? But I have no idea if Thomas has any birthmarks. Though, to be fair, I have trouble remembering where mine is, too. (It’s pretty light, but I did find it on my first try just now. I’m certain Thomas doesn’t know about it.)

So my list is pretty non-existent:

1. Stretch marks all over my stomach and bum from pregnancy and my upper inner arms and thighs from growth spurts as a kid. Though the older ones have faded so much you can’t really see much.

2. Slightly darkened skin (birthmark) on my stomach 4.5 inches to the right of my bellybutton. (Yes, I am sitting at my desk at work with a ruler on my stomach, so what?) (Also, that’s my right, not someone else’s right as they’re looking down at my body trying to identify it. How am I supposed to say that?)

That’s it. A tiny birthmark and run-of-the-mill stretch marks. I suppose you could say I have a bunch of acne scars on my face, but they’re not in memorable places and often fade away. I also have a mole on my neck that might be identifiable if you compare pictures of me to my body, but not in a place someone could describe as an identification. Plus, I have a tendency to photo shop it out just to make everything more smooth in pictures. (I’m usually photoshopping out acne scars and figure why not erase the mole, too?)

I used to have a triangle-shaped scar on the inside of my right arm, near the wrist, from a cookie sheet. I was taking it out of the oven with a pot holder, but wasn’t good enough at keeping my arm out of the way. This was probably 12-15 years ago. For years and years it was a dark, noticeable scar. The pan was air-bake with a kind of lattice-y underside for the air pockets, and the somewhat distinctive pattern was burned into my skin.*

But it kept fading and fading and when I first looked just now I thought it was gone. I eventually found it, but no one would ever think it’s a burn mark – it just looks like (very) slightly discolored skin, like from uneven sunning or something. Really, it’s so light that if I pointed right to it people might say I was making it up and there was no discoloration.

Everybody cross your fingers I still have fingers in the case my body ever needs to be identified, because it looks like fingerprints are all I’ve got. That and dental records, I guess.

*If I were on a really lame crime show, my mom could have brought in the cookie sheet and the medical examiner would have matched the marks on the bottom of the pan to my arm. Voila! IT’S HER.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Should it Stay Monday: Christmas outfit traditions

I keep forgetting to link my Style All Over posts here! Last Thursday I wrote about what I normally wear for family Christmas celebrations. We usually have five and I wear a nice sweater (or maybe shirt) and jeans to four of them. Each outfit has to be different because we take LOTS of pictures. (I suppose they don’t have to be different, but I like it that way.)

The problem is that four sweaters per year is kind of a lot. I do repeat sweaters from year to year, obviously, but I try to at least dress them a little differently – new jewelry, maybe a skirt instead of jeans. It’s not that I mind wearing the same thing year after year, or even twice the same year; it’s that I like variety. Aside from the Blathering the last couple years, this is my one chance to really “plan” outfits with makeup and jewelry and everything. It’s fun for me.

The main reason I go with sweaters is most of my family dresses very casually for these things. At least half are also in sweaters/jeans and the other half are often dressed down further. I don’t mind this at all, but I don’t want to be the one person in a dress, you know?

Again, though, five outfits, four of them quite similar, is a lot and usually only a couple of them end up being an ensemble I really love. At least one, often two, I don’t feel good about at all. Take this sweater: it’s static-clingy, yet lumpy, and, to top it off, uncomfortable. But it’s a red sweater and therefore, in my mind, Christmassy. I think I wore it for two, maybe three, Christmases.
Christmas 2009 with bonus baby Margaret!
Also, 2009 Jessica needed to learn to accessorize.
I don’t really expect anyone would vote for me to keep it after I went ahead and said I just don’t like it and it doesn’t wear well, so I’ve already donated the sweater. I do want your opinion on the overall issue, though. If I come up with two or three great outfits, should I just wear them over and over? Or stick with my something-different-for-every-celebration plan?

Like I said, I love planning five different options, even if one doesn’t work out – as I sit there all uncomfortable, or at least thinking I didn’t knock it out of the park with that one, I’m still loving the fact it’s different and that I made an effort. I get a sort of perverse pleasure out of it, actually, that makes up for the uncomfortable aspect. It’s not quite as good, though, as the feeling of being in something I really love.

But the one outfit that’s set in stone already this year is pretty dressy (meaning I might be out of place) and pretty distinctive (meaning we’ll look back at the pictures of Christmas 2012 – which I actually do often – and think, wow, Jessica really loved that dress, huh?), which makes me lean against repeating it.

Basically, I’m going in circles over here. Does your family take a lot of pictures? Does that make it less likely for you to wear an outfit more than once? What do you think I should do? Please comment!

What should I wear for Christmas this year?

P.S. I should say I'm talking about the picture-heavy family celebrations only. I do wear some of the same outfits I wear on those days to other Christmas parties. The set-in-stone outfit I mentioned above I wore to a Christmas party last night!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

52 Date Nights: Week Ten, Make a Tent

Previous date night posts here. Free stay-at-home date night ideas PDF download here. (Not sponsored.)

When I read this one, I was thinking make a tent like you did when you were a kid. A fort, really. You know:  where the couch was one end of the fort and you dragged the coffee table over to form another side, maybe stacked a bunch of couch cushions on a third side, then draped a blanket over the whole thing. Low tech, nothing too strenuous.
Well. Apparently when you tell Thomas to build a tent, he builds a freaking tent. Isn't it awesome? Don't ask me how to replicate it; all I can tell you is it calls for a lot of twine, binder clips, two coat stands, and a curtain rod. Also, concrete blocks (visible in the pictures below). Way at the top there you can kind of see the back end of the roof blanket is tied to the basement windows.
I added the yellow tissue paper flower garland I made for Paul's birthday party. We tried to hang it over the entryway at the party and it didn't work AT ALL, so I am very glad I was finally able to put it to good use.
Clearly my contribution was vital to the integrity of the structure.
When we started this whole date night thing thinking it would be a good way to keep us from passing out in front of the TV every weekend night, we had no idea. This was definitely not your typical Saturday night.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

November books, part 2

Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty
I picked this up because it's written by the author of What Alice Forgot, which I loved. I kept waiting for there to be some sort of plot. It's about triplet sisters and...that's pretty much it. One is having romantic troubles, one has marriage problems, and one is really stressed with her kids and small business. 

The characters, especially secondary ones, were hard to keep straight. It took awhile to even be able to remember which triplet was which. I stuck with it only because I'd just returned several books to the library unfinished and I was desperate to finish something.

After that point (about halfway through), things picked up and I finally (mostly) figured out who was who. I actually liked the second half a lot. Still, I wouldn't necessarily recommend it.

Gypped: A Regan Reilly Mystery by Carol Higgins Clark
I seem to be on a roll with the 'fluff' books lately and this one is no different. I read Carol Higgins Clark's new book each year mainly because I prefer books where I know what I'm in for, even if it's so-so, over picking something new and being disappointed (see above!). Carol isn't the greatest writer (lots of telling instead of showing), but her books are fun and take a couple of hours, at most, to read. I wouldn't pay for one of them, but they're easy for me to put on my library request list. I went into this one with low expectations, as always, and was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Again, I don't think I'd recommend it, but if you need a beach read and agree to not expect too much, go for it.

Simplify by Joshua Becker
I got this for 99 cents on the Kindle a long time ago. Lately I’ve been desperate to pare down our stuff. I think I’m going to get this book Ashley recommended, but buying a book seems counter to “living with less,” doesn’t it? I’m annoyed the library doesn’t have it.*

I saw this in my Kindle library and thought it might be a good place to start. I figured out pretty quick why it was so cheap. It’s only 46 pages and basically an overview of reasons to be minimalist with big-picture, as opposed to detailed, advice. There were some good tips and its worth checking out if you’d like,'s not a book. 46 pages!

*Yes, I know I could buy a copy and donate it to the library when I’m done. That’s probably what I’ll do. But I haven’t managed to get over the “spending money” hurdle yet.

(Right now my husband is probably laughing so hard he’s choking, because I have a LOT of stuff and I hate getting rid of things. I’m one of those “But what if we need it?” people. I find the argument we could simply purchase a replacement completely unconvincing, as then I'm out money. But I’m working on it! I’m slowwwly getting rid of things I don’t need, even if they’re usable and could conceivably be helpful to have around. I don’t think I’ll ever be an actual minimalist, but maybe we won’t be swimming in every possession I’ve acquired since I was 8. My goal is to stay off Hoarders.)

P.S. Yes, I'm counting a 46 page "book" towards my reading goal. I figure since I also count 849 page books like 11/22/63 it all balances out.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Should it Stay Monday: Bubble Necklace

When everyone was buying bubble necklaces off ebay this summer I followed right along, because 1. I have very few necklaces, but want to be a necklace person and 2. I thought it would be an easy way to fancify any outfit (totally a word) - for example, for Christmas parties I could wear a nice black sweater, dark jeans, and the necklace. Basically, it was my way of getting out of having to wear a dress, which leads to heels, which leads to ouch. This is the reason I went with the red, because I couldn't really think of other occasions where an ostentatious necklace is called for and/or what color I would want the necklace to be if so.

When it arrived I realized I hadn't fully appreciated just how huge this necklace is. I've tried it on with many things and it always seemed like too much. But Christmas season is here and if I continue to not wear the necklace that has sat in my closet for six months, it's time to get rid of it.

Here is the necklace with the grey shirt I happened to be wearing Saturday. My post was going to be: See! It doesn't work! kind of does. Do you think?

So I need two things: someone to tell me to just wear it already (OR just get rid of it) and an idea of what I should wear it with (Only plain shirts/sweaters? Or are patterns/stripes okay? Crew neck? V-neck? What do YOU wear it with?)

P.S. The pic is updated to show a shorter length. I finally got it to work.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

52 Date Nights: Week 9, Exchange Love Letters

Previous date night posts here. Free stay-at-home date night ideas PDF download here. (Not sponsored.)

Thomas took over date night last weekend. He made up cards of a few options and had me draw one. I drew #7 Exchange Love Letters. I’ll admit, I groaned. I’m not a big fan of love letters. They’re usually so awkward and overwrought. At a minimum, they’re often flowery and I don’t do flowery. I hate poetry.

Fortunately, Thomas also hates poetry. He graciously listened to me bitch about love letters, then wrote the perfect one. Not flowery. Not awkward. Not overwrought. Specific (I like facts) and genuinely sweet without being over the top.
The list suggested thinking of 10 things you like about your spouse and turning them into a letter, which helped me a lot. My letter was rather brief (basically the 10 things in sentence form) but Thomas said he liked it and I wasn’t in trouble for writing a letter half the length of his.

I doubt we’ll be writing weekly letters, but I’m glad I committed to doing every activity on the date night list, because if not I might have skipped this and it turned out to be nice.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Should it Stay Monday
Tuesday: Lime green cardigan

Apparently the long weekend fried my brain, because I totally didn’t think about this until midday yesterday. I had a picture and an outline and everything, I just didn’t DO it!

So, anyway, this cardigan:
The green is brighter and more saturated
than it appears in the photo.

(Also, I threw it on over something else at the end of the day for the photo and it occurs 
to me now that particular white tank wasn't a good choice with the sweater.)

I’m not overly attached to this sweater, but I love the color. It looks great with brown, which is half my closet. I also like it with black, which is another third of the closet. I like how it adds a punch of color to an outfit.

Unfortunately, it’s too short. Half of the time I try it on, then take it off again. The other half I wear it anyway because the color makes me so happy. I’ve been looking for another sweater this color for years. In the meantime, I’ve been hanging on to it, and wearing it occasionally, until I can find its replacement. (Also, FYI, I originally bought it at Goodwill for $3.)

Should it Stay: Lime green cardigan

As I said, I’m rather indifferent about the stay or go decision. I’d like to keep it and do wear it occasionally, but if I have to get rid of something, it’s high on the list. My closet is stuffed and I should probably let it go. But I still want a replacement!

I’d prefer something medium weight and somewhat structured. (I don’t want an Old Navy/Target type shapeless cardigan.) Basically, this exact sweater with some length on it. Have you happened to see anything like it while Christmas shopping?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

52 Date Nights: Week Eight, Bartend

Previous date night posts here. Free stay-at-home date night ideas PDF download here. (Not sponsored.) 

Way back on the first date night, which was 'play a board game', I slipped in #31 Bartend because I figured we might as well try to knock out more than one a week. This week, though, we decided to give it its own night. (Or maybe we were just very tired and didn’t want to do anything that was too taxing.)

Thomas had spent all week gathering the components for fancypants Manhattans, though. He and his coworkers are trying to replicate ones they had on a business trip. One coworker special ordered the bitters. We…found them at the grocery store. (Same brand the upscale bar used and the liquor store didn’t carry!) Then we had to go to a different liquor store for the (cheap) vermouth. You’ll notice we did not stock up on fancy glasses.

I felt very glamorous and Mad Men-esque with my almost-Don-Draper’s-signature-drink (which is the Old Fashioned, but is pretty similar).

Then I took a sip and HOO BOY those are strong. The glamour kind of evaporated as I almost choked. Over two hours I drank half of it. (The remainder is actually what is pictured, as I totally forgot to take photos before. I should have taken one of Thomas mixing them up!)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

November 2012 Books, Part 1

I'm splitting it up this month! I read a bunch on the way to and from the Blathering and finished a few books I started in other months. Also, I'm trying to ramp it up to make my reading goal for the year - 12 to go...

The Racketeer by John Grisham
This book grabbed me on the very first page. I’m not one to get caught up in the mechanics or impressiveness of a writing style, but even I can’t help noticing Grisham doesn’t use a single extraneous word. Every sentence imparts the maximum amount of action and information.

This is what he does best and it makes me wonder why he ever bothers to write anything else. I mean, his sports/nonfiction/short story books are good, but not exceptional in the same way.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future by Michael J. Fox

Soon after I bought Michael J. Fox’s memoir Lucky Man as a Kindle deal of the day and loved it, this also showed up as a daily deal. I bought it not realizing it was advice for high school graduates. A lot of it was a repeat of stories in Lucky Man and only Part IV was really new to me, which, given that it was about optimism, may have been a repeat of his second book, Always Looking Up.

This might be a good gift for a graduate who isn’t much of a reader, since it’s only about a hundred pages and a quick read. Otherwise, just skip it and buy Lucky Man. 

I liked this book a lot better than Sharp Objects. There was one part of the ending I really hated, though. I won't spoil it here, but if you've read the book and want to know what it is, you can go to my Goodreads review and click past the spoiler alert.

Pretty Little Mistakes: A Do-Over Novel by Heather McElhatton
This is a choose-your-own-adventure type novel Swistle recommended as a good book gift for a wide variety of people. I enjoyed it at first, but it quickly got repetitive. It was also frustrating what seemed like the responsible choice often led to ruin while the opposite led to lifelong happiness. I understand mixing it up and trying to be unpredictable, but she took it so far she WAS predictable - always choose the 'wrong' choice and you'll usually do well. There's also some really weird, unnecessary storylines I could have done without, prepared.

I only gave this two stars, because I don't recommend reading the whole book. I made a little chart and crossed off each section I read. By the time I was halfway through I was DONE. This was in August. I picked it up again this month thinking I might enjoy finishing after a break I finished it, but did not enjoy it. Which is sad, really, since, as I said, I enjoyed it so much at first.

Dead And Gone (Sookie Stackhouse, Book 9) by Charlaine Harris
I read this while on the way to and in New Orleans. I don't think I would have liked it much better than book 8 if I had tried to read it at home a few minutes here and there like usual. It was a nice diversion for the plane, though. I actually got into it and was sad when I finished.

I should probably only read this series on vacation.

Operation Bonnet by Kimberly Stuart
Kimberly Stuart goes to my church. I've read all her books and, unfortunately, didn't like this one as much as the rest. It was essentially a YA novel, though the main character was (a naive, immature) 20. There also wasn't much substance to it. But, again, that made it a good vacation book. I like Kimberly's sense of humor and laughed out loud at several points.

For a Christian novel, it was pleasantly light on the "Christian-ness." Instead of hitting you over the head with it, references were sprinkled in and didn't detract from the story. If you like YA fiction (even if you don't like Christian fiction) I think you'd like it.

This was another vacation read. The author contacted me on Goodreads because I put in my profile I like 'cozy mysteries'. The Kindle version was free at the time (now 99 cents) and she encouraged me to try it. It was a well-written, not at all pushy promotion of the book and I needed stuff to read in the airport, so I figured why not?

My uncertain expectations might have figured into it, but I liked the book a lot. It was another fluffy-ish vacation read, but it was my favorite of the three. I didn't finish it before getting home and was crazy busy doing stuff like five loads of laundry in one night, yet I often thought "I can't wait to read more of that book."

(To warn you, though, I wouldn't exactly call it a mystery, since the murder doesn't happen until 73% through the book. Some reviewers called it a historical romance, which I suppose it technically was, but it's certainly not a bodice ripper. It was lighthearted and fun, with some romance, and a little mystery. So...historical chick lit, maybe?)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Create and send a free card from Treat, today and tomorrow only

Good thing I only have two kids, huh?
I certainly don't mean to inundate you with sponsored photo-site posts, but this one comes with something free for everyone. I love free card offers and I'm not picky where they come from. I try to stockpile free cards from various photo sites throughout the year so I don't end up running to Target on the way to birthday parties and spending too much on the first card I see (this, uh, happens a lot). For instance, in May there's often promos for five free "graduation" cards. The thing is, you can usually use the code for any cards and I order all of the birthday cards I need for the summer!

If you're in need of any birthday, thank-you, holiday or any other kind of cards, Treat is offering a free card - including postage - today and tomorrow only. Don't need a birthday card until January? Order it now and ship it to yourself! (That's totally what I'm doing.)

Just use the code TREATBLOGR here today, Monday 11/19 or tomorrow, Tuesday 11/20.

This post is sponsored by Shutterfly/Treat.

Should it Stay Monday: Photo cringe

We need to talk about this:
Hi Caitlin! Sorry to drag you into this.
(Ditto to partial Kammah.)
I like this outfit. Before seeing this picture, I thought it was pretty good. I actually took a picture back when I bought it a month ago and was planning to ask you about it, but I thought it good enough to not need to go on Should it Stay Monday.
Where did this go wrong?
A few things:

1. In what was clearly a horrible idea, I rolled the waistband of the skinny jeans once in the top picture. I discovered they stay put that way instead of inching down and have worn them like that ever since. Unfortunately, this also creates a heck of a muffin top. (WHY DID I DO THIS?)
2. I don't think the boots were a good idea. I never particularly did, actually, but I didn't have room in my suitcase for the shoes I originally wore.
3. I also thought the combination of spandex-y shirt with skinny jeans wasn't going to work, but was emboldened by the good picture plus a few people commenting they liked it in person. Also by the fact the shirt is longer than most and I make it a rule to only wear skinny jeans with extra-long shirts/sweaters.
4. Believe it or not, I'm (I think) the same weight in both pictures. Obviously it's not an ideal weight. For a while I've kind of been going with the idea that if I ignore the baby weight it isn't there. Turns out this isn't true! I'm working on it, though. We're going on a cruise in January, so have decided to focus on healthy eating at home and exercising during November/December instead of letting ourselves go and then having that compounded by all-you-can-eat-buffet-January. 

So I have a some questions:

1. Do you think it will always look like that from the side (i.e. would it still with better pants)?
2. If you saw me in this at the Blathering did you think it was an unfortunate outfit choice?
3. If I promise to a) never wear the shirt with muffin-top-creating pants and b) never roll the waistband of the jeans should I keep them?
4. What should I wear these items with? For instance, should the shirt be worn with only non-skinny pants? Or is it good with skinny jeans as long as I don't wear boots? Should the pants only be worn with loose tops?

Honestly, the Blathering picture has soured me on both items and if you tell me to get rid of them, I'm fine with it. But I also think it could have been a combination of bad decisions that are fixable. What do you think?

I would love it if you'd comment as well as voting to answer any of my questions above or just tell me how you think I should wear these items.

P.S. If it helps, here's the pants in a different outfit. I do think I'd like to keep them.
P.P.S. I would like to note I still sent this picture to my fellow garden-tour Blathering-mates even though I was appalled by the way I look. I consider this a win in the self-respect and not-caring-too-much-about-looks department for not only not deleting it as soon as I saw it, but voluntarily sending it to seven people. (And, uh, blowing it up and posting it on my blog.)

Friday, November 16, 2012

52 Date Nights: Week Seven, Dress to the Nines

Previous date night posts here. Free stay-at-home date night ideas PDF download here. (Not sponsored.) 

Turns out date nights are addicting. After we skipped last week, then I went out of town for the Blathering, I missed having them. As I traveled home on Monday, I thought about how excited I was to see my family and how, if I hurried, I had time to make our night a little special.

I decided clear off the dining room table (no small feat, given that’s where we ‘store’ all the junk mail), make it pretty, and we could Dress to the Nines (#5). I made turkey meatloaf – using Thomas’s recipe, because he’s the real cook around here – and Margaret* helped me spread silk rose petals from our wedding on the tablecloth. I finished the table with the beautiful welcome home flowers I found on the counter upon my return.
I was trying to stage this picture with just the one plate of food, but this 
unintentional ‘family dinner’ shot ended up being our favorite.
Afterwards we went downstairs and put a slideshow of my Blathering pictures on the TV so I could tell them all about the trip. We gave Margaret the camera so she could take a picture of mommy and daddy in their fancy clothes.

*We never call her Meg. It's time to switch. How much more googlable does using her actual name make this, anyway?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Blathering Recap, Part II

Lucky for you, you get to read more introspection on the Blathering! I promise we’ll get back to business as usual next week (I even have a date night to tell you about, but I haven’t written it up!). I’m sorry if you weren’t there and really wish you could stop hearing about it already.

Last year when peoples’ summaries of the Blathering were essentially “I found my people” and that became the tag line of the whole conference (“Find Your People”) I didn’t really get it. I figured maybe it meant we were all internet people? Therefore the same? So we “found” each other by meeting up? I didn’t know. I know I felt like I got to hang out with some fun people and do cool things, but I didn’t feel “known” or “found” or anything like that. In fact, I felt kind of lonely. Like everyone found each other and, oops, no one happened to find me. I didn’t feel rejected or on the outside looking in, I just felt like I missed some essential thing.

Part of it was having my whole family there, I’m sure. I didn’t go to the Gypsy Picnic with Blatheringers, I went with my sister-in-law, Thomas and the kids. I had mixed feelings about that – on one hand hanging out with a bunch of sort-of-strangers is exhausting and it was nice to take a little break in the weekend to regroup. I really loved hanging with my family and it’s actually one of my favorite family memories. I wouldn’t go back in time and take that away. On the other hand, as I said, I felt I maybe missed out on some secret imparted or, more simply, wasn’t around for people to notice or remember me.

As I got ready for this year, I thought: this is it. This is MY YEAR. I didn’t make any specific plans; I was going to go along with whatever people wanted to do and just BE THERE. Finding my people. Letting them find me. Not being nervous, because I know all of you now. Even the ones I hadn’t technically met before. I would have been happy spending the afternoon with anyone there so I didn’t have to stress about maneuvering myself into the group I wanted. And you know what? It was perfect.

I’ve said in a few comments sections this was the best weekend I’ve ever had and I do think it was. (Though it might come in second to my wedding/honeymoon.) I wish I could put finding my people into words because I get it now. I did it. Like I said in the first post, I just felt so comfortable with everyone. We get each other. We know each other. You’re my people.

The first year you put yourself out there and meet dozens of people is hard, and, honestly, for me the second year wasn’t much easier. But the third time was the charm and while we may not all be call-each-other-up-every-day best friends, I do feel like I have 60 wonderful friends I *could* call up anytime at all, even if I usually don’t.

I'll go wherever these ladies go*

What strikes me the most about the Blathering is how comfortable I felt with everyone. People I’ve only seen in person once or twice before. People I’ve never seen before. I felt comfortable with every single one. I recognized them all by sight. I didn’t have to introduce myself. I never felt awkward. Really. Not once.

I’m sure a big part of that is the fact this is my third time. I didn’t have as big of a learning curve as some, given that I had met at least half of the people there at previous Blatherings and have been reading their blogs for years. The first year I went, I started reading attendees’ blogs in June, then met them in November, and yeah, it was awkward at times. I knew them academically:  how many kids they had, where they lived, what their husband did. But I didn’t KNOW them yet. It was still a great weekend and I always felt welcome and like we all ‘got’ each other, we just weren’t best friends yet.

But now, even the people I started following in June of this year, I felt like I KNEW. I’m repeating myself, but it felt easy and natural to hang out with every person there. I ended up in a lot of different groups through the weekend and it was always easy. I was never the third wheel. I just have never known anything like it.

*Subtitle: But New Orleans is a terrible place for an introvert, so perhaps let's not go there again. (I did not like the city. But I'd go again if my people were going to be there!)