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!)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Thank the Troops - for free! (sponsored post)

Guess what I'm doing, y'all? Posting from New Orleans! The Blathering is amazing and I wish you all were here. I'm taking a little break to tell you about something I think is pretty cool - Shutterfly's Thank the Troops Campaign.

If you design a card on their Facebook page here they will print and send it to troops overseas for FREE. There are four designs to choose from so it won't take long to write a quick message encouraging our soldiers.

If you do create a card, I'd love to see it! Click share to put it on your Facebook wall so others can see and join in! 

This post is sponsored by Shutterfly.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Date Night

No stay-at-home date night post this week because we went OUT! We put that extra hour to good use out celebrating a friend's birthday and came home around 1, which became the completely reasonable hour of midnight when the clocks changed. It was excellent, especially considering while we were out having fun Paul was awake anyway so we would not have been sleeping. (Sorry to my sister who was babysitting.) (She's moving away soon and I want to cry just thinking about it. The kids love her! She loves them! We love free babysitting! And, yeah, I'll miss her, too.)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

October 2012 books

I think I might need to start breaking up these monthly posts into bi-weekly ones or something. I read a lot this month!

A Modern Witch by Deborah Geary
This was a Kindle deal of the day and, honestly, I just bought it because the rest of the series is in the Kindle lending library and I can never find stuff I want to read in there. I’ve checked out one book in the seven or eight months I’ve had Prime. I figured if the series was decent, I’d at least be getting something out of it. 

Unfortunately, the book was a little too "magic is real guys, we draw our power from the earth, wind, and fire, like this." Like most people, I think, I enjoy Harry Potter, A Discovery of Witches, and the like, but I don't actually believe in magic. Too much time was spent trying to convince us this magic was totally plausible. If I skipped over the chanting spells, though, I did enjoy the personal relationships and will probably read more of the series because I like the characters.

I flew through the first five or so Sookie Stackhouse books, but they’re really dragging now. This took me a month and a half to finish. I only finally did because it was a library book I couldn’t renew anymore and I hate not finishing books, even boring ones. You’d think werewolf wars and vampire takeovers would be interesting, but…snooze.

Will I read more Sookie books? Yes. Someone needs to figure out how to make me stop reading when (serieses? Is that a word?) lose their way. I have a compulsive need to finish not just books, but all available books in a series. See also: TV. I’m still doggedly watching the West Wing even though I don’t think it’s very interesting. (Updated to say I wrote this when I finished the book early in the month and I actually love the West Wing now! Sometimes persistence pays off.)

Office Crush

Next, I won Shalini's beta reader contest and got to read the Office Crush book! You guys. This book is GOOD. Really good. I couldn’t put it down. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, check out the Office Crush blog. The book follows the same general storyline, but is much more detailed (and you have to buy it when it comes out!)

Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach
I don't even do most of the cooking in our house and I loved this. I read it more like a novel and enjoyed the story of how her family evolved through the years. I checked this out from the library, but am considering buying it because there were a bunch of recipes I wanted to try.

I very rarely want to re-read a book immediately after finishing, but I started over with this as soon as I reached the end. It's of those books I can't say a lot about, not because I'd give anything away but because it's hard to describe. The best advice I can give is to really immerse yourself in it. There's not a lot of plot; it's about the experience. Knowing that going in helped me to not get impatient with it. Also, save this for kid-free time, because trying to read it with screeching children around was rather pointless.

This was absolutely beautiful. It's another one you have to really get into, mood-wise, but it puts you in a different world. I spent one lunch break in my car sobbing while reading this.

The Essential Enneagram by David N. Daniels and Virginia A. Price

Maggie sucked me into the world of enneagrams and I ended up checking out tons of books. These are the two I ‘read’ completely enough to count toward my reading goal. The first one was the one on the left and I recommend you skip it. Everything in the book is on the Enneagram Institute's website and the personality "test" is just nine paragraphs summarizing each type and asking you to pick the one that sounds the closest.

In the second one, the text is ok, not great, but the personality test at the beginning was the best Enneagram test I've come across so far. (I’ve only looked at four books and one website, though, so I’m sure you can find similar ones other places.)

The ‘disturbing factor’ of this book almost seemed overdone. It was creepy for sure, but by the end it seemed Flynn was throwing everything she had and turning it into a full-on Halloween thriller. (Holly compared it to a bad Lifetime movie.) I read a review somewhere (might have been the book jacket, actually) saying it sneaks up on you then keeps you up at night, but I didn’t find that to be the case. By the end, everything was so out there it was a caricature of a nightmare, not a real one. Could this have really happened? I suppose so, yes. Is it something to stay up at night worrying about? No.

I’m not saying I was disappointed it took a turn for the “…what?” because I don’t want to be kept up at night. It didn’t make for a better book, though.

The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie
Sometimes you just need a nice little nostalgia read. I got this free on the Kindle a while ago and felt like reading it recently. It turned out, even though I haven't read this for years, I remembered too much about the story to really get into the mystery, but that's ok.

(This post contains Amazon affiliate links.)