Tuesday, December 27, 2016

my favorite books of 2016

I'm terrible at retaining books. Thank goodness for Goodreads and rating systems. Here are the books that stayed with me in 2016 and a little bit about why.

Books You've Probably Already Read
The Royal We - it's fun to think about what it would be like to date and marry a prince!
The Storied Life of AJ Fikry - I put this book off because I found the title and description boring,  but it's a great story. Read it if you haven't already.

Nonfiction Worth Your Time
Seinfeldia - tons of tidbits about how the show was made, received, and behind the scenes stories. Read it if you're a fan.
Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman - This book is important. From fat shaming to abortion to internet trolls, Lindy West covers how all kinds of issues have impacted her life with humor and truth. I don't like buying books but I asked for this one because I want to reread it and pass it around.

Stories That Stayed With Me
The Girl You Left Behind - I liked the intertwined stories and thought of the characters after I finished the book.
All This Life - Another book with intertwined stories. It shows how a single event can shape us and social media can connect us.
Indiscretion - The narration is different than many other books. The cover makes it look like a romance novel, but it isn't. There's a storytelling device used that I will never, ever forget.

That's the quick version since I've already talked about these in more detail. I never found a book that I loved and recommended to everyone this year, so I'm hoping to get some recommendations today. Linking up with Steph and Jana as usual!

Monday, December 26, 2016

books for the end of 2016

We went on vacation in October and in the weeks leading up to it, I didn't want to read. Then there was vacation and the ridiculousness known as the election and I just lost my reading mojo and read articles and listened to podcasts for most of the rest of the year. But, I do want to document the last few books I read in 2016, mostly just for me.

I'm Glad About You - This book basically told the story of the one that got away. A couple spent their teen and college years together only to break up and the book follows his life as a doctor with a perfect wife and hers as a TV actress and the way their relationship with one another continues to affect their lives. I loved the origin of the title - basically there's a Native American way to say I love you that translates to "I'm glad about you," as in I'm grateful that you have been in my life. This wasn't a must read, but it was interesting to get into the minds of two seemingly perfect people. I just wish it had delved deeper.

(A) Indiscretion - I saw this book described as Gatsby-esque since it's about a perfect couple and their life but told from the point of view of the wife's best friend since childhood, a man who is admittedly in love with her. I think it would probably be a good beach read since it's set in The Hamptons (or a town like it) and many of the characters are wealthy. Some of the narration goes on unnecessary tangents, and there are a few 50 Shades sections, but the payoff is a twist that happens near the end. I don't even know if I could call it a twist, but it was a decision the author made that made me unable to get the book out of my head for several days after finishing it. It may not be my favorite book ever, but I liked it because it was so different from anything I've read lately. I really want more people to read it because I want to talk about it.

Swear On This Life - I remember bloggers going crazy for this, so after two months of not reading anything, when it was my time for it at the library, I thought I would be silly to let it go. I read it in one sitting. I felt that the book-within-a-book needed stronger writing since it took up so much of the story, and some of it was way too drawn out, but it was interesting enough for me to stay up late to finish. It's more of a 3.5 for me because I could see the end coming, but I was interested to see the path the author took.

This took me to 54 books finished in 2016 - not too bad, and my goal was 50. I read 70 last year, but I think finding so many podcasts that I love affected how much I read this year. I'm excited to read about everyone else's favorites of 2016 to get my reading list going - favorites of the year post to come!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

thursday things

So many things in my head, so little time to write them out coherently.

- I'm in a book slump. I think the vacation/election/daylight savings triple whammy have just made it hard for me to get lost in a good story. I haven't read or listened to a book since mid-October. I have Commonwealth checked out from the library - is it any good?

- The Gilmore Girls revival is next week. I admit, I have a bit of Gilmore fatigue. It went from being a show that was shared among a select group of diehards who were glued to the CW in the early 2000s to being this phenomenon that everyone knows and not to be too much of a hipster, but it was more fun when the fanbase was smaller. I should be happy that something so great has been shared with the masses but honestly, I feel a little Gilmore-d out. That said, if anyone ruins Seasons for me, I'll cut you.

- The election, you guys. I keep trying to inform myself from different sources, read more, and form my own opinions based on more than articles that are shared on Facebook (because didn't you hear? They're mostly fake). I signed up for a washingtonpost.com digital account (free with my .edu email address!) and actually try to read articles that interest me, or those that sound slanted, or things with which I feel like I don't agree. Maybe it's confirmation bias, but doing these things still has be deeply concerned about the next four years.

- Onto lighter things: the show Search Party starts on Monday on TBS. Andrew and I went to a screening for the pilot when we went to the ATX TV Festival over the summer and both really, really liked it. It kind of had the self-aware tone of Girls with less sex and more of a plot. They're playing the entire series in a row so you can set your DVR and binge at will.

- Everything that I want to post about in bullet point form (like the amazing Adele concert and finding a new, hidden coffee shop) I've posted about on Instagram lately so here's a reminder to follow me there if you don't already. How do you feel about Instagram stories? Not gonna lie, I love seeing who has viewed mine yet never ever seems to like any of my photos.

- I'm trying to "like" more lately. Like more instagram posts, more tweets, more cute photos of people's kids or pets on Facebook. Those damn digital hearts shouldn't have meaning, but isn't it sometimes nice to get a little acknowledgement? On a blogging note, I've been reading a lot and commenting less. Time to spread that liking over to this area a whole lot more (and, um, maybe respond to comments from weeks ago? Eeek.).

- Thanksgiving. For the first time in over ten years, Andrew and I are hosting. It's his family, which is thankfully much, much smaller than mine and there will only be 11 of us, total. And, my brother-in-law went to culinary school so Andrew has a sous chef far more skilled than I am. And we'll spend Black Friday eating BBQ because of course we will. At least he isn't cooking that, too.

Why is it that I always think I have so much to blog about but by the time I sit down to put thoughts into words, my mind is blank? Tell me I'm not alone. Also, John Mayer has new music out today and since much of my musical taste is held over from 2003, I'm pumped. Linking up with Kristin and Joey for Stuff and Things.


Thursday, November 10, 2016

post election post

You need more election thoughts like you need another picture of a red Starbucks cup, but I need to get this out of my head so that I can process and move on. This is one for me, not for you.

At first, I was with her because I was for anyone but Trump. As the race went on, though, I started to feel like I was more with her. Yes, the email situation was bad. Yes, Benghazi is a whole score of things that went wrong and there is blame on many, many people. But there were things she said and was going to work on that are important to me.

I respect your right to own guns, but I don’t think you need a semi-automatic weapon. I work in a school. I get messages about “troubled” students we need to be on the lookout for. Every time I’m reminded of the uniformed officers who patrol my campus, who are fathers and mothers working this extra job to help their families, I send up good thoughts that they never have to put their lives on the line to save mine. I stood with the candidate who was going to work to get the most dangerous weapons out of the general public’s hands.

You may not realize it, but I’m half Mexican. I never had much of a racial identity growing up; I was definitely raised identifying as white, but normally felt not white “enough.” I’ve had people say derogatory things about the Latino community in my presence when they didn’t know my last name. Luckily, my grandparents were born here so I pass Ann Coulter’s test. But crazy people on the streets don’t know that. If they see my darker-complected grandmother or aunt or father walking around, I fear that those who support our future president will harass them or threaten to deport them, simply because our leader seems to think that’s okay. There is absolutely nothing in my heritage that gives my family more of a right to be here more than someone trying to come to America today (but perhaps there’s a prize for getting here first? May I remind you that it does not say RSVP on the Statue of Liberty). I also – since I look like your average Caucasian – feel the need to apologize to the people of color I encounter on a daily basis, out loud, even if I don’t know them that well. I’m sorry that it seems that so many in my race failed you and didn’t take your actual daily struggles into account.

I’m with her because I couldn’t be with him. I couldn’t support a man who would decry an entire religion based on the actions of some. Are we going to stop allowing white men in public? They seem to commit the most mass shootings, after all. I believe marriage is between two people who love one another. Period. I believe a woman has the right to control her own body, whether it’s from the unwanted advances of a man or an unwanted pregnancy. I believe in America as a land of opportunity and that there should be a path to citizenship for good people. I don’t believe in breaking families up through deportation and I don’t think a wall is the answer to the war on drugs or illegal weapons. I admit, I believe in these things SO MUCH that yes, I was able to overlook any flaws that Hillary Clinton has. And there are many. She IS human after all. No candidate has ever been perfect. A certain amount of trickery is always involved in getting things done in government. Haven’t you seen Lincoln?

I will find it hard to support Mr. Trump in the next four years. I believe that the 16 women who spoke out against his treatment toward them were speaking the truth. Men of America, please know that sexual assault isn’t something someone would claim for attention. I do think his financial privilege puts him at a disadvantage when dealing with most of America, his quick temper will cause him to spend more time apologizing than getting things done, and his ugly rhetoric will continue to incite his most ardent supporters and disappoint those of us who don’t see the same version of America he so clearly does. I have never before wanted to be wrong about a person so badly, though, and I definitely hope to be proven wrong.

Let me be clear: Democrats aren’t “whining” because their candidate lost the election; they are feeling lost and helpless in their home country because the president-elect has made promises to do things that will disenfranchise them moving forward. His worldview seems to indicate to him that Latinos work for him and the black community is limited to inner cities. He may nominate a Supreme Court Justice who will tip the Court into overturning longstanding cases, or encourage additional profiling based on ethnicity or religion, or hell, he may even push a button in a briefcase just to prove he can. We don’t know now, but we do know we don’t want to live in that world. People have rioted for far less; at least this time, it’s more. We are also afforded the right to peaceful protest, and I hope that Mr. Trump sees these groups and what they stand for and takes them into account when January 20th rolls around.


But this is America and democracy is king, so we have to move on. I have hope in those who will stand up for what’s right, even if it’s against the President. I have hope in this wakeup call so that we all begin seeking and respecting different viewpoints. I was under the impression most Americans, regardless of party, thought Trump was a joke; clearly, I was wrong. So was the media and the pundits and the late night show joke writers. But we all still have to go to our jobs and love our families and live our lives. It’s now our burden to do it in a way that shows increased love, tolerance, and strength in order to combat whatever lies ahead.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

bbq wife life by the numbers

A pop-up is when a restaurant or concept takes over a space that isn't its own for a limited time. Since Doubleback BBQ doesn't have a "home," pop-up is a good phrase for the monthly food services they keep putting on. The one over the weekend was the 6th.

(I struggle with saying "we" in conjunction with Doubleback; on the one hand, I help where I can. I feel pride and a sense of ownership through my husband's hard work and some of my own. On the other hand, I make it very, very clear that this isn't my dream and don't work nearly as hard as Andrew and his business partner.  That's why I like the BBQ Wife concept, and others in similar situation seem to get it. Our husbands are completely consumed by smoked meat, whether it's making it, eating it, thinking about it, or writing about it. Anyway.)

So many good ideas come from Jana and Steph. This post idea seemed to work really well with summing up how the weekend went, and BBQ life in general:

2 - services - both lunch and dinner

4 - types of meat

20 - hours of brisket smoking

3 - extra trips to the store I made because someone forgot something

5.5 - combined hours of sleep on Friday night for the pitmasters

43 - estimated number of apple crumble bars cut and packaged by yours truly

7.5 - lbs of German potatoes prepared and sold (they were an unexpected hit!)

4 - dishwasher loads of dishes from prep to post-event in my house alone

5 - people working for a smooth service

25 - hours spent smoking meat

9 - bottles of Doubleback BBQ sauce sold (all that was made!)

10 - supportive friends and family members of Andrew and me who showed up to eat

1 - amazing birthday cake bought by Doubleback BBQ (ironically, from Truth BBQ) for their wives' October birthdays... it was phenomenal and even half of it was so massive that I'm going to have to freeze it.

50 - forks and knives wrapped with a napkin and sealed with a Doubleback BBQ logo (not by me,  but by my BBQ wife partner in crime who is way nicer) (And they all disappeared and then some so there were probably 65-70 people served, at least.)

90 - lbs of meat (before cooking) prepared for the event

6 - lbs of tater tots in the tater tot casserole

48 - homemade buns made, sold, and eaten for the event (brioche hamburger buns and pretzel hot dog style buns)

2 - number of smokers used

0 - Nothing. What was left at the end of the night. They were completely sold out and had people bummed to have missed out on dinner. What a great feeling.

A pic I took of the aforementioned apple streusel bars during our test run the weekend before, along with mustard made from a local Oktoberfest beer and homemade sauerkraut.

Some things are harder to put into numbers, like how I had to learn really quickly how to take an order in a way that made sense, use a credit card swiper, be friendly to customers (whoa you guys, they have actual customers!), learn people's names, and talk about the food all at once, on a Saturday, when I had been on my feet helping all day. But this was the most successful night yet. People who we didn't know before this started are coming to the bar to eat their food, asking for certain menu items, leaving Facebook reviews, taking photos of their plates, and basically validating the fact that they're doing really, really well at this thing. It's like when you plant a seed and you barely start to see it sprout through the dirt; it's confirmation that something's in there, that thing you started wasn't a dream, and there are things that you can't see working. The change from event to event is small, but it's a huge change from where they were in April. Let's see where the numbers take them next.


Monday, October 17, 2016

the things unsaid

... aka, the posts I haven't written yet. I wrote this post to join Alyssa's non-challenge blogging challenge but realized after mostly finishing this post that I read the prompt wrong and this should be things I haven't written but want to.  I just thought about things I haven't written and honestly, this is all I'm going to say about most of them. I mostly just want to be more motivated to write more.

There are many reasons I haven't written many posts. A lot of it goes back to thinking that no one cares what I think about things and no one really reads blogs anymore which is why I wanted to embrace this challenge at least once while Alyssa is running it. It's hard to find motivation to sit in front of a computer for what seems like no reason.

Many posts are silly and haven't happened because I was to lazy to recap something and now, the moment is gone:

- What to pack on a trip to Napa (this padded, cross-body camera strap was the biggest reason I wanted to write it - I love it!) (Not an affiliate link because I'm not fancy.)

- How we ended our Napa trip... that we took in September 2015. In short, we went on a safari and even though it wasn't supposed to be like a zoo, it was. It was fun but sad. A cool experience, but not a must do.

- A recap of the ATX Festival, season five. That happened in June. In short: it was biker week in Austin so our AirBnB was super loud, Friday Night Lights is one of the best shows of all-time, you should watch the show Search Party when it airs on TBS in November, and Tate Donovan aka Jimmy Cooper playing Jimmy Cooper in front of me in an OC script reading was fantastic. Olamaie is also a must-visit restaurant next time you're in Austin.

On top of our safari jeep in California | In the REAL Panther Fieldhouse with the authentic J. Street signature and Panther P | Tate Donovan in the center, surrounded by Jack from Revenge and Mindy Riggins.

Some things just never got fleshed out, but were probably mentioned in other blog posts in passing:

- Blog Your Unpopular Opinions, volume two. Volume one happened way back in 2013. Volume two includes things like my dislike of Chipotle, Scandal, spirit animal, Fri-yay, and hashtags in blog posts. Sorry guys, they just aren't for me.

- My at home alone behaviors. Lots of trash TV, laying in bed like a starfish, and listening to bad music - what would you expect?

And other things are just hard to write. Or I don't want them on the internet forever for various reasons:

- My feelings on everything election-worthy. If you follow me on twitter, you can see that I'm With Her, but I've never listed why. Normally we don't talk politics, but this election has changed the rules. Voting for him just seems like a step back in history and it seems to be obvious that most people are voting for anyone but him. I've considered elaborating on that beyond 140 characters, but why take a chance on spreading misinformation, pushing my opinion as fact, or trying to be better than many of the awesome things already out there?

- Kids. I don't even want to elaborate on why. I feel it's a very "you do you" topic so I'll just stay over here keeping quiet.

- A time I was wronged that still stings when I think about it. It was a long time ago, and it doesn't need to be addressed, but not posting it does show how much I fear being vulnerable on the internet.

The more I think of posts I wouldn't write, the more topics I realize there are. Some stories aren't mine to share. Some ideas would come across so one-sided that they would hurt others in my life if they ever came across them. Some topics are still such a mystery to me that I wouldn't know how to tell anyone else what I feel about them, let alone why. What are some posts you haven't written, whether you intend to or not?

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

book talk

This post is coming to you from day two of a cold medicine induced haze. It's probably a good thing that I didn't read much this month because I don't think I could handle a longer post.

My guess is that the combo of new TV shows, getting up more consistently to go to the gym (which eliminates my nighttime reading time), and nothing good coming up at the library has contributed to my weakest reading month yet. Such is life - more to come this month, I'm sure.

(A) I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections - I read another Nora Ephron book a few years ago and really liked it. When I saw that this one was narrated by her (she wrote When Harry Met Sally and You've Got Mail, among other things), I thought it would be a fun audiobook. Unfortunately, it came across in many places like a cranky old(er) woman was complaining about the next generation. Some parts where poignant and made you think about aging as a whole, but that would have come across much better in a print book. (3 stars)

(A) Calling Me Home - This one may have been recommended by another link-up person. It isn't something I would normally read. A 90 something white woman asks her hairdresser - who is in her 30s and black - to take her on a road trip from Texas to Cleveland to attend a funeral. The story is told from the POV of the older woman, telling the story her forbidden first love with the black son of the woman who cleaned her house and from the POV of the hairdresser dealing with her own love life and children in present day. I hated the audiobook narrators for this so, so much but I was just curious enough about where it would go to keep listening. Had I been using my free time to read this myself, though, I probably just would have quit. Am I the only one more lenient with audiobooks since I use them along with my more passive time? It was fine, but no need to rush off to grab it. (3 stars)

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - I started reading Harry Potter books in high school, right around the time book four came out, and anxiously awaited each subsequent book like everyone else. I wasn't sure how to approach the play - JK Rowling has very specifically asked people not to post spoilers - but I really liked it (plot elements follow - if you consider that a spoiler, stop reading). Cursed Child basically picks up at the end of the 7th book, with Harry and friends dropping their kids off to head to Hogwarts. Harry's middle son, Albus, is the titular Cursed Child. It's strange to see Harry as an adult, especially as a flawed parent rather than a clever boy who can work his way out of everything. The play is missing Rowling's trademark descriptors (since it's meant to be acted out and not read) and it doesn't quite carry the magic of the seven books. But, overall it was a fun little visit back to Hogwarts, like seeing an old friend you've missed. I would love to see how some of the wizarding world elements are put on stage, so if Cursed Child ever travels, I definitely want tickets. (4 stars)

The Hopefuls - I saw this book described as hilarious but it didn't make me laugh at all. All of the main characters seemed mostly miserable and unhappy with their lives with only one really willing to do something about it. I think the thing that really bothered me, though, was that a large portion of the book takes place in Sugar Land, Texas, a suburb of Houston (and where I spent a lot of my teen years). The home in Sugar Land is described as having a basement (we don't have basements in this part of Texas as it floods all the time and we're too close to sea level!) and a big deal was made of Torchy's Tacos, which wasn't in Sugar Land at the time this book took place - a detail that just annoyed me. Overall, though, the book didn't have much of a point or tell a story that was all that interesting. I kept thinking there would be a big reveal, or something that someone was hiding, but the thing to cause conflict that happened at the end was over so fast that it was almost inconsequential to the reader. It's an easy read, and maybe I missed something since I mostly read it while I was sick, but I think it's one that's safe to skip unless you're really into DC life (3 stars).

I just got The Light Between Oceans and I'm Glad About You from the library - any suggestions as to which to read first? Congrats to Steph and Jana on two years of Show Us Your Books and here's to many more!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

stuff and things that are new with me

If you follow me on twitter and read most of your timeline, a lot of this is a repeat. I always go to it when I have something to say but at least I can elaborate here. I need more twitter friends who use it to talk and share so if that's you and we aren't already friends, let's fix that. (I'm @eatdrinklauren.)

- This was on twitter, but it bears repeating: I made a recipe over the weekend that my husband really, really liked. He went to culinary school so I never learned to cook and finding things that I feel comfortable attempting to make that he likes is virtually impossible. This Mediterranean chicken and chickpea dish with turmeric rice was a huge hit and it has now been added to the rotation.

- I tried yoga for the first time over the weekend and surprisingly, I didn't hate it. I know I should do weights at the gym, but it's so intimidating when other people are there and let's be honest, I really enjoy using my gym time as TV watching time. Yoga requires so much more strength than I ever imagined. During the class, I was miserable and I hated it, but thinking about it after (and for the next two days, when I was sore), I actually liked it. My first class was on Saturday and I went again Wednesday so this might become a thing.

- Related: I feel like yoga requires new workout clothes. I need shirts that are longer and looser.

- I tried to go to one of the Gilmore Girls/Luke's Diner things yesterday but the line was literally a block long. It was a cute idea but I didn't want to wait in line for over an hour for a disposable cup and to take a few pictures. The fervor reminded me of seeing the cast at the ATX Festival all over again.

Let's #tbt to that time I was two rows in front of Logan and Jess (even after all the rewatches, I'm still Team Logan...)

- I built a website! Okay, "built" is being generous; I played with a template until I had something I was happy with! Andrew chose wix.com to build a website for doublebackbbq.com but then gave me the awesome task of making it work. It wasn't too bad once I got the hang of it so I would recommend it if you ever need something similar.

- I'm loving the push to get back to blogging basics lately. I'm definitely going to steal Steph's post from yesterday and I think Alyssa's non-traditional link-up idea is completely genius. What else is out there that's a break from the norm? I used to be able to open up to bloggers, and write long comment responses, and turned my blog friends into text friends, gchat friends, and in real life friends, and that hasn't happened in a long time. I'm excited to know there are other people out there who want to be known.

- We're going to Charleston in a few weeks and I'm super excited... but all we have planned is where to eat! What are the best things to do in the city? We'll have to uber everywhere if that affects anything.

- A few weeks ago, we went bowling with three other couples. I was awful but it's so fun. I get worse the more I drink so by the end of our two hours, I was embarrassing myself. I'm glad no one else was good, either.

- If you have a fancy camera, how did you learn to use it? I want to learn to use mine - help!

Okay, that's enough stuff and things that are new with me. Linking up with Kristin and Joey and Kristen and Gretchen.

What's New With You

Stuff, Things, etc.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

my favorite cheap planners

When I talked about my goals, I talked about my planners - specifically, using them more and not letting them collect dust. A few people wanted more info so I'm happy to share.

I went the Erin Condren route a few years ago, and it just wasn't for me. I didn't carry it with me, so I didn't need the pockets or pouch, it was a little bright for my conservative workplace, it was bulky, and it was expensive. After that, I decided Target planners were for me moving forward.


Craft paper: Sugar Paper Signature Planner | Green + Gold: Ashley G Blue Sky Planner | Pink + White stripe: Sugar Paper Weekly/Monthly Planner

After my less-than-great experience with a nice planner, I have exclusively gotten Sugar Paper planners from Target. They normally come out in November for the upcoming calendar year (and then again for the school year). In 2015, I got the basic Weekly/Monthly Notes layout. It's spiral bound with a clear, rigid plastic cover, laminated monthly and notes tabs, and is about the same size as the Erin Condren Life Planner but much, much thinner. The notes section is pretty ample - about 30 pages. The pages do suffer from some bleed-through, so if that bothers you, this isn't for you. I typically press down hard when I write so bleed-through is just a fact of life for me and I don't mind. The spirals were about the same size as the Erin Condren planner, so I was able to use the ruler/placeholder from that planner in this one.


Weekly/Monthly Planner: Monthly layout | Weekly view. I liked the pink accents throughout.

For 2016, I wanted something a little different. For a $15 investment, if I hated it, I could get something else. I decided to try the Sugar Paper signature planner. It's a little larger than the Monthly/Weekly (about 1" wider and longer with a similar thickness). It's spiral bound with a craft cardboard cover on three sides an an elastic band to keep it closed. The monthly tabs are all laminated but there's no notes section in the signature model.

I use my planner to keep up with dates and make checklists for work, so this model was really appealing to me. Each month has a page for monthly notes, work goals, personal goals, financial goals, a focus, important dates, and "etc." As I've mentioned, I'm not a goals person, and those pages are inconveniently placed (between the monthly spread and the first week of the month), so I never use them. I think they would be a really good place for others to get organized and plan for the future, though. Each month also gets its own traditional two-page spread.

The weekly spreads are my favorite part of the planner, though. On the left, there are spaces to write your top three for the week, lists labeled To Call, To Do, To Email, and To Buy, a don't forget box, and a place for this week's goal. My top three are normally things that need to get done that week. To Buy works really well for me as it's where I list any catering or other supplies I need to order for events. To Call/Email reminds me about vendors I need to reach out to for any reason, and then general things that need to get done go under To Do. Each line has a check box next to it and getting to check something off of my list - literally - is very satisfying. The right hand side of the spread is divided into seven parts  by each day of the week. I don't like that Saturday and Sunday are each in separate boxes, but because of how I use the planner, it doesn't bother me too much. I write reminders, meetings, or events in each day as well as notes of things that come up that need to get done that day from people who pop by my office.


Sugar Paper Signature Planner: Cover with elastic band | Weekly View | Monthly Notes and Goals | Monthly Calendar Layout

My office planner lives on my desk. I'm fortunate to rarely have to bring work home with me. But, I found that I needed somewhere to track my home life a little better - everything from plans with friends, dentist appointments, work-outs, when the dog needs his medicine, and stuff like that. I was also always full of ideas - blog posts I haven't written yet, podcasts to try, chores I needed to do, and other things that needed a place to go. I wanted a monthly calendar so I could keep up with dates along with a notes section to keep up with ideas. Target to the rescue, again. I was browsing around in late July and flipping though every calendar I could find when I came across the Ashley G for Blue Sky planner. It's very, very plain, but perfect for my needs (and it was only $9, I think). The first 24 pages are nothing but monthly layouts that run from August 2017 - July 2017. There's a pocket divider and then a ton of notes pages. No tabs, which is kind of annoying, but I solved that problem with a few post-it flags. The cover is just cardstock; it's very basic and gold spiral bound. There are some polka dot accents on the notes pages, but that's about it. For what I need, it's perfect. On days where all I do is go to work, I try to at least write down some kind of highlight from my day if nothing else. It's a good memory keeper.


Ashley G for Blue Sky planner: Monthly layout | Notes pages

This is what works for me, at least now. I'm already thinking about next year's planner and while I was in Target over the weekend, I saw the Sugar Paper Daily planner that had a page per day with sections running from 7:00 - 6:00, a box for evening plans, a to-do list, and a top three list. I thought about getting it, but I'll at least wait for the 2017 version to come out. Tell me about your planner use - I can always use mine more.

Friday, September 30, 2016

cost money, make money, no money

I have blog posts in my head that I never write because I feel like they should look or be a certain way. Instead of doing what I should do - collaging all of this and making it look pretty - I'm just going to tell you about a few things that I like a lot lately since it's Friday and who wants to read anything real, anyway?

Things that cost money:
I'm not a huge makeup person, but I love this NYX Gotcha Covered concealer. It's $5 and a little goes a long way. It's super thick and I think of it as paint, but I really like it for getting rid of under eye circles.

One of my friends was looking for rose gold nail polish and in trying to help her, I found this rose gold glittery polish at Kohl's. I had to have it and I love it - metallic without looking like glitter and light enough to not notice too much when it chips.

Things that make money:
I installed the Ibotta app a long time ago and thought it was confusing, so I deleted it. I saw something about it recently so I decided to try it again and I love it. It's so easy - basically after you shop, you select items you bought, scan them, and then take a photo of your receipt -  and it has items on there like bananas and onions that I buy often and things like bread and milk that I sometimes need as well as name brand things that I might want to try. There was a $4 coupon for lipstick that only cost $5.82 so that's a pretty good deal. If you haven't tried it yet and want to, use my link and you get $10 when you redeem your first rebate (and, to tell the truth, I get $5, so come on...)

Things that are free:
NPR's How I Built This podcast is one of my new favorites. Hearing the stories behind how major companies started as ideas and became worth millions or billions of dollars from the people who built them is fascinating to me.

Twitter. It's my favorite form of social media. The challenge of making a point in 140 characters weeds out miscellaneous information and it isn't like facebook where you have to follow people back out of obligation. I find it especially interesting during election season - the memes, jokes, and ridiculous fights keep my attention for far too long.

iOS 10. I love it. Many people do not. The fact that gifs are at my fingertips and photos are super easy to send make me happy. Plus, my phone seems faster than ever and I like that you can easily swipe for the camera PLUS sending confetti and balloons has yet to get old.

So far, there are no plans this weekend and the weather is cooling off (kind of) so I'm excited to see what we find to do. Saturday is the beginning of my birthday month so I have high hopes.

Apologies for having captcha turned on - I've gotten literally 40 spam comments in the past few days! It will be gone again soon!

Friday, September 16, 2016

goals from a non-goal setter


Truth: It's been so long since I posted a photo on my blog, I had to think about how. Another truth: When I saw my friend Bre post these free stock photos for bloggers, I knew I wanted to write about the goals I've been working on. Seeing that Steph and Sara are hosting a goals link-up sealed the deal.

I'm not a goal-oriented person. I like to do what needs to be done and do it well, but looking to the future isn't my forte. Perhaps I fear failure, so if I never plan to accomplish anything, I never let anyone down. It isn't ideal. I've been thinking a lot about hard work, doing things that benefit me, and the payoff that comes from working hard, or at least consistently, toward something. I felt like I needed to make some goals for myself, simply for the satisfaction of getting things done, the same way I'll make myself a checklist of things to do at work just for the simple joy of crossing them off. So, here are some goals from a self-proclaimed non-goal setter. They've been in my head for about a month and will definitely take me through the fall and beyond.

1) #tenfortieks: Yup, it's something I have never tweeted about but in my head, it's a hashtag. I wear ballet flats to work daily and cheap ones just aren't cutting it anymore. I've seen Tieks before on bloggers, but it wasn't until I saw two coworkers with pairs that I got really interested in them. I was able to ask real people if they were worth the steep price tag (they start at $175!) and actually comfortable and I got a resounding yes. So, I decided I needed to have them, but I need to earn them. Enter Ten for Tieks (#tenfortieks). I need to lose 10 lbs and if I do, I get myself some shoes. It's been a good way to motivate myself to get up at 5 a.m. and go to the gym, take walks at lunch, do less mindless or emotional snacking, and think about the money I save every time I don't give in to junk. I've lost about 6 lbs in six weeks - I'm not doing anything crazy - but I think the mindfulness I'm gaining will make the process worth it.

2) Use My Planner: I have a $10 planner from Target with an unconventional set-up that totally works for me (post to come, possibly). I like to use it to keep up with all the things I want to do, from podcasts to listen to, new TV shows to watch, cleaning chores to do that night or in the future, how much I worked out, and things like that. I also try to document a little thing I did each day in it, from trivia nights to lunches with friends or binge watching a TV show (yup, there's a Stranger Things day). I like that it helps me see where I spend some of my time and helps me remember things I'm bound to forget.

3) Dress more like an adult: The aforementioned daily ballet flats are usually accompanied by pants, a top, and a cardigan. There's a reason I'm not a fashion blogger. But, I have noticed when I wear heels or a dress or have my nails painted I feel... better. Older. Like I'm playing the role of Real Adult Professional and have my life together. It's a nice feeling. Not for every day, but I have been trying to keep it in mind as I create a fall wardrobe. I want to buy a blazer, but they always make me feel like an extra in an 80s movie, but surely there are some without shoulder pads, right? And, I've been painting my nails more which is so easy that I wonder why I don't do it more often.

I have other, smaller life things I'm working on, too. Write more, start Christmas shopping, be a more supportive friend, use my time more wisely, and try new things. It's a lot. But it's nice to have a focus. Maybe I can become a goals person after all. Does that count as another goal?

Life According to Steph
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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

seriously good reads

I feel like this was my best book reading month of 2016 yet. So far this year, I think I've only rated one book 5 stars; this month, there are three 5s and one 4.5. Though there were two books that weren't for me, the books I liked, I really liked. Let's get to it.

The Underground Railroad - This book was part what I was expecting, and part not. Maybe the acclaim and putting Oprah's name on the cover made my expectations too high, but overall, I just didn't care about this book or its narrator at all. Stop reading if you mind mild spoilers - okay seriously, what was the point of making something surreal about the Underground Railroad? It was a book so deeply rooted in reality that making the railroad an actual railroad was jarring and unnecessary and downright confusing. (2.5 stars)

The Woman in Cabin 10 - This was the right book at the right time. I wanted something with more action and intrigue after The Underground Railroad, and this delivered. It isn't the best book ever, and it shouldn't be the next Gone Girl or anything like that, but the plot kept me guessing and the narrator's anxiety spilled over into me so much that I had to stop reading so close to bedtime. I was excited to discuss it as soon as I finished it - I just really liked it. I definitely recommend this one if you want a solid story that will keep you interested. (5 stars)

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg - I don't have much to add to this that Steph and Jana haven't already said. If you're the least bit interested, just read it. It's the Cliff's Notes of an awesome woman's life with insight into her nontraditional (for its time) marriage and all of the glass ceilings she broke through to become the second female US Supreme Court Justice. I love RBG and her principle that "We the People" means everyone and her constant work toward equality. My only complaint is that there is SO much stuff in the back of the book - an index, a glossary, footnotes, etc. - that if you're reading a digital copy, you'll be at like 68% when the book ends. I was really bummed because I wanted more. Also, can we talk about how I got to breathe her air and be in the same room with her a few years ago? (5 stars)

Girls on Fire - I had two days to read this before it went back to the library, so I committed myself to it on Labor Day. By the time I realized I really didn't like it, I was too far invested to quit, so I pushed through. I basically hated this. Stupid teenagers doing dumb things with zero payoff and being awful for the sake of being awful. I'm not sure who this is for. I should have put it down. (2 stars, and that feels generous)

The Sea of Tranquility - I saw this book on everyone's list last year and my library kept adding it to the digital collection and then taking it away. I didn't really know much about it, and I was bummed when I saw it was YA since I had just finished Girls on Fire. However, this is a far different book. I like the way the story unfolded and it was one that I wanted to read at every spare second. I didn't mind the changing viewpoints and the characters' actions mostly made sense. I liked the teen love story, though it was ridiculously farfetched. My only gripe is that in some moments, the characters were wise far beyond their years whereas in others, they seemed closer to 13 than 18. Nonetheless, it was a good YA story and none of the kids had cancer, which is always a nice change. (5 stars)

(A) One True Loves - Good ole Taylor Jenkins Reid. If you haven't read any of her books yet, do it now. I have listened to all of them, I think, and they're really enjoyable. Sure, the women nearly always make choices that I completely disagree with and just plain don't get, but TJR explains where they're coming from and how they make sense for that person. I liked the premise of this book - a woman's husband is presumed dead so she moves on, gets engaged to someone else, and then her husband comes back - and it definitely had me wondering what I would do in a similar situation. I think what I really like about these books is that the author always tosses in little details about the character's thoughts or the setting that sit with the reader and make the books feel more real and relatable. (4.5 stars)

It's going to be hard to top that many good books but I'm excited to try! Looking forward to finding new recs from Steph, Jana, and everyone else who links up.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

riding shotgun to chasing dreams

If you have asked me what's new lately, my answer has invariably involved barbecue. And that seems unfair. You're asking what's new with me, not what's new with my husband. But, it seems that no matter how independent a person thinks they are, the interests of one half of a couple tend to color the other. Especially if that interest is a love of barbecue turned into a burgeoning business.

So what's new with me is Doubleback BBQ. I know that it's actually what's new with Andrew; I'm just along for the ride. But it absolutely affects me - our house is its unofficial home, its wares are tested in my kitchen, and all of the time that a new business baby takes comes from time spent with my husband, or spent sleeping, or the time we used to spend doing anything besides eating and thinking about smoked meat. And I only feel okay about it.

I've never been good with dreams or goals. As a kid, I knew I wanted to get married and go to college. I've done that. I still wonder what I want to BE when I grow up, beyond simply "happy." So while I get dreams and hard work in theory, it's hard for me to understand all of the work that's now going into Doubleback. It's hard for me to grasp that even though he's beyond tired, staying up all night smoking a brisket is kind of fun for my husband. It's hard for me to give up weekends "to cook" since I know that Friday is spent prepping, Saturday is for serving, and on Sunday, we recover and try to cram a weekend's worth of activity into a few waking hours. And it's hard for me to comprehend that a willingness to clean a kitchen spattered with meat juices is now viewed as a sign of love and support when I do it with minimal grumbling. It's a hobby and a dream that might one day be a career but right now seems like a never-ending sink of dishes, a garage full of wood, and a to-do list that's never quite done.

I guess my thing is - and maybe you can help me out - how do I fit myself in the picture? How do you wholeheartedly support a dream that is not your own without resenting it? Resentment hasn't taken residence here yet - this is still new and exciting - but I worry about it. I think about the money we've spent, the vacation days used, and the sacrifices that could be in an attempt to run a successful barbecue endeavor (I feel like I should mention here that Andrew does have a business partner who is also married, and it's awesome to have someone who understands, though we really haven't elaborated on how we feel - yet). I remember how dry my hands get after doing dishes for what feels like days and how weekends used to be for antique malls and netflix bingeing and sometimes I just don't want to deal with meat, or packing the car full of supplies, or my event planning brain that refuses to shut off and constantly asks the guys if they're sure they have enough forks/foil/tablecloths, etc. But how do you shut down a dream?

The answer, for me, right now, is that you don't. You help your husband (mostly) when he asks you, but you draw the line and escape to Target when you need to. You learn to keep quiet (which is SO HARD) about business matters that don't concern you because, both literally and figuratively, it isn't your business. You plan "special days" for no reason where there is no BBQ talk and little BBQ texting to said business partner. You get your nails done because you deserve it. You understand that your weekends are subject to smoking meat, tasting BBQ, or prepping for anything in that realm for the near future. You give your best advice, encouragement, patience, and understanding. And you learn to be okay, at least for now, with answering a question like "what's new with you?" with an answer that isn't entirely your own because you have faith that this dream is worth it.

Linking up with Kristen and Gretch because when I write an actual post, I want some people to see it. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

summer books

I totally skipped the last Show Us Your Books so I have some definite catching up to do. Here's what I've been reading:

The Nest: I've seen this book on a million lists and found it completely forgettable. The characters are alright, but not a lot happens and I didn't care about any of them. It was too many characters spread too thin without much to keep them together. I don't get why it's such a big thing. Steph and Jana nailed it when they discussed it on The Armchair Librarians so listen to that and know that I completely agree.

(A) LaRose: Another book where nothing happened. The premise was fascinating. The book takes place in 1999 - so, not in ancient times - and a Native American man accidentally kills a young boy, so to atone for his mistake, he offers his son, who is the same age. The story follows the son, LaRose, and both families. While the central conflict affects everyone, I just couldn't wrap my head around this as a plausible solution and there wasn't an obvious course of action going on that let me forget it. The prose in parts is very beautiful, but I couldn't wait for this to be over.

(I blame these for putting me in a book slump. It took a while for me to want to pick up something new!)

Side Effects May Vary: This book was better, but still didn't help my slump. It's by the same author as Dumplin' but just isn't as good. The main character was mean for no real reason and for me, the teen angst in this one was too much for adult me to want to get into. If teenagers could learn to communicate more, would YA even be a genre?

(A) Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything: This book was perfect for me since I have been in such a TV watching mood. The author basically interviewed anyone she could find who knew anything about the history behind and the making of Seinfeld and put their anecdotes and opinions in this book. If you're a Seinfeld fan, you'll definitely enjoy this and learn something. For example, Larry David wanted the show to be cemented in real life as much as possible. Since the show was so fast-paced, most of the writers used their best material in one season of work so nearly every season, the entire writing staff was turned over. Stuff like that. It's really dense and you definitely want a background in the show to appreciate it, but I found myself constantly sharing what I learned with Andrew. It was a fun read.

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman: You guys, this book. I loved it. I learned about Lindy West through This American Life (she's the woman who confronted her internet troll and the one who wants to be called fat, both of which are detailed in the book) so I was excited to read her story. She's an unapologetic feminist and a writer. She talks about how her body image has affected how she is and how she receives love, what it's like to have such a public job when you aren't society's definition of beautiful, and tells stories about how she has stood up for herself and other women (most notably, by calling out stand-up comedians for making jokes about rape). I want to be her friend and learn from her. The book is more essays than memoir, but it's very cohesive and tells a lot about her experiences. I liked it so much I want to buy it - my highest level of praise.

Listen To Me: I read books because I want a good story. I like things to happen. I don't like to notice tone shifts and draw a ton of conclusions when I'm reading a novel. At face value, this book was boring (again, nothing happened. I have awful taste this month). After reading reviews on Goodreads, though, I see that people far more intellectual than I got a lot more from this book than I did. Does that change my personal opinion? No. But at least I kind of get it now.

Black-Eyed Susans: Several months ago, I told Steph I needed a book to completely suck me in and she suggested this one. It was a good pick. I liked the way it was told, alternating present day with flashbacks. I liked the Texas setting, too. It was one I didn't want to put down to go to sleep at night. I didn't like the too-obvious red herring, though, and that the mystery was revealed at the very end with very little wrap-up as to how the characters dealt with the aftermath, but overall, I definitely recommend it.

I'm currently listening to a Taylor Jenkins Reid book and about to start reading a new book (probably Modern Lovers by Emma Straub). But, between the Olympics and starting to watch Veronica Mars (so good!), it's hard to find time for anything else...


Life According to Steph

Thursday, August 4, 2016

the summer of...

For me, summer ends next week. I work at a school and students are back. I can't wear jeans anymore, and traffic will pick up.  The past three months were over before they started.

It was the summer of...

- Starbucks. I've stayed away from them for the better part of two years in favor of buying local but the convenience of mobile ordering and the sweet cream vanilla cold brew have made them at least a weekly indulgence.

- TV and podcasts instead of books. Maybe one day I'll write about my second experience at the ATX TV Festival, but not today. Let's say that it  made me want to watch more TV than I have in a long time, and it was time well spent. And I talked about podcasts last week. (I spent a lot of time on Orange is the New Black and what happened this season? Why so many characters with storylines that just weren't expanded upon enough?)

- Trying to figure it out. What do I love? What makes me happy? Where do I see myself in x years? I have never been good with goals or long term planning, and I tried to change that. I didn't get very far. How does one plan when one can't figure out what they want from life, let alone how to get it?

- BBQ Wife Life. If you follow me on snapchat, then you know all about Andrew and his friends and the early stages of their BBQ business. Doubleback BBQ is becoming an actual thing, and I couldn't be more proud. Except when I am sweaty and attending the pop-ups or cleaning up before or after they cook. At those points, I wish his passion was a little less messy...  but I'm still excited about his success.

- In-laws. Due to my sister-in-law's wedding in Atlanta and some other things, I have spent more time with my in-laws this summer than ever before, and it was all good. Something about weddings brings me out of my shell and makes me a total embarrassment on the dancefloor. Plus, I got to spend more time with my SIL than ever before and I feel like I got to know her as her, and not jut as Andrew's Older Sister, if that makes sense.

- Trivia. We discovered Geeks Who Drink trivia and it's so fun. And we're pretty good at it. It's a fun way to break up the week.

- Giving advice (both solicited and not), becoming the in-house interior designer for my office (a post I'm definitely NOT qualified for), realizing that I lucked into some pretty great friends, trying to stay politically informed. attempting to stay cool, and trying to find more hours in the day. I can't believe my summer is nearly over.


What's New With You

Friday, July 29, 2016

podcast love: summer edition

Something about summer has made my attention span short and put my desire to listen to audiobooks at zero. But, I spend nearly two hours a day in the car and another half hour walking the dog each night, so I have to listen to something and podcasts are it. I find the variety nearly crippling but the ones I love I really, really LOVE so of course I have to share them.

If you missed the podcasts I recommended in May, check them out here.

Anna Faris is Unqualified: You guys, I didn't really "know" Anna Faris until I listened to this. I mean I have seen The House Bunny and Scary Movie and knew she was married to Chris Pratt, but that was it. After listening to a few episodes, I adore her because she seems so kind, genuine, and funny. The podcast is always Anna with her friend and producer Sim and 1-2 celebrity guests. They talk about anything and everything, sometimes do an improv scene, and then call people who have reached out to them for advice. It's so interesting to listen to celebrities be real people instead of just hearing them plug their latest project on a talk show for five minutes. They really think about the listener's situation and give heartfelt advice. The Chelsea Handler episodes were SO GOOD (and I didn't think I was a Chelsea fan anymore...) and the one with Keegan Michael Key is a lot of fun, too.

Revisionist History: This one skews on the nerdy side, but if you want to learn something, check it out. Like most of my favorites, I learned about it from This American Life (which I have never outright suggested, but it is the grandfather of all good podcasts and if you haven't tried it, start NOW). It reexamines or explains a misunderstood part of life. There's a three-part series he did that I'm currently in the middle of on education where he talks about the smart kids stuck in poverty, why some college cafeteria food sucks, and how the two are related. I love the way it's produced to inform me, yet keep me entertained. Start with Carlos Doesn't Remember and then listen to the following two episodes.

Millennial: Thanks to Bre for getting me into this one. I had to go through and listen to every episode because Millennial talks about the lessons you learn in your twenties in real time by following its creator, Megan, as she tries to find a job, create a podcast, and otherwise live as a millennial. At times, she isn't relatable, but her often present boyfriend Ben serves as her voice of reason. Like following a personal blog, I got to care about Megan and her well-being and wonder what she was going to do after listening to a few episodes. While it may not be for everyone (sometimes I want to yell "this isn't a real problem!" as I listen), it's nice to follow along as Megan figures things out. To get a feel for the whole thing, you really need to start with the first episode, though some season two episodes can stand alone. 

The Vulture TV Podcast: If you're a real TV nerd, this one is great. I only listen to ones where I have watched the shows, but if you want a deep dive into a certain TV show or topic, the discussions are always fantastic. I especially loved the one with the author of Seinfeldia (a book chronicling Seinfeld's history that I just finished) and with the guys who adapted The People vs. OJ Simpson for TV. Just this morning, I finished an episode recorded at the Vulture TV Festival that was an interview with the cast of Better Call Saul.

Honorable mentions for  passing the time:

Casefile: One story per episode, anywhere from 30 minutes to a little over an hour. The narrator is Australian (I'm pretty sure) and most of the crimes took place there, so the chances of Americans knowing about them are slim. The stories are interesting, but you  have to pay attention.

This Is Actually Happening: (First, I just love the name). Did anyone else watch the show I Survived that used to be on A&E? This is basically the podcast version. People tell true stories about scary things that happened to them, from being shipwrecked to having the worst-case scenario happen to them (note to pregnant friends - skip that one). I've only listened to a few, but the episode titles alone are really intriguing.

2 Dope Queens is next on my to-try list. If you're a podcast lover, what do you love lately? Anyone else dying to try a Casper mattress or start running a website using Squarespace?


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

in which most books have too many narrators

My book choices were drawn from many places this month - I really tried to bring some new offerings to the link-up, but when it's your turn for a hold at the library, you have to pick it up. Several stories were told using multiple narrators, and quite honestly, I'm tired of that trend. I'll specifically look for books in the next few weeks that keep with one POV the whole way through. Unless it's my time for something I've been waiting for... no promises.

Maybe good for you, but not for me:

Dept. of Speculation - What the hell, you guys? You know how sometimes you come across a social media account for someone you kind of know, so you go down the rabbit hole of being inside their mind for like, ten minutes, and then you get bored so you move on? This book made me feel like that, only I was stuck with it for far longer than ten minutes (though it was quite short, for a book). It's a spillage of thoughts - some beautiful, but many mundane - and there was no characterization or description. Readers had to infer some of the action, and the main character just felt like a disembodied voice. The POV changed about halfway through so I kept reading to see if I could understand why, but it never happened. I wanted a book I could get lost in, and this definitely wasn't that kind. It was far too jagged and real.

Lilac Girls - Another book with fascinating subject matter that didn't work for me. This book takes place just before, during, and after WWII and is told from the points of view of an American socialite with ties to Paris, a female Nazi doctor at a concentration camp (I use that word loosely as she conducted horrific experiments on women in the camp), and a young Polish woman sent to the concentration camp in which the doctor works. The first two characters were based on real people. I hated the socialite's storyline and too much time was wasted describing people at parties that did nothing for the plot. The way the doctor went from being a normal, albeit brainwashed German Nazi supporter to a blind follower of Hitler conducting experiments and causing pain would have been an interesting plot point to speculate on and dive into, but it was glossed over. The Polish woman's storyline was the one I liked reading about the most, but it was so sad that it's hard to say I really enjoyed it. The subject matter is something that needs to be remembered, but I don't think this book is the way to do that.

If I had to describe it in a word, it would be "fine."

What She Knew - The story of a woman whose young son has been kidnapped should have been engrossing, but this suffered from poor characterization. The plot was good enough with some twists thrown in to keep the reader guessing, but I just didn't care for the mother of the missing boy like I should have. It was an okay read, but I don't think anyone should drop everything to grab it.

Hidden Bodies - (Skip to the next book if you haven't already read You and you plan to.) I really liked You so I was pumped to read this book. I guess what I liked about You - Joe basically stalking Beck via social media and becoming who she wanted - would have been boring in a second book. I get that. But I still didn't like Hidden Bodies that much. I felt like Joe was less of himself and I got tired of the formula that he thought something awful was going to happen and he was wrong. I get that it was set in LA, but the pop culture references were too frequent and too current and distracting to me. In You, I cheered for Joe despite him being a horrible person and a murderer. This time around, I found myself hoping he would get caught. Also? Love is an annoying character and I was ready for her to die after about 20 pages.

Consider these:

(A) All This Life- While I could have gone without the author really, blatantly driving his point home at the end (please trust that your readers are intelligent!), I liked this book. As a blogger and person who says she lives much of her life on the internet, I appreciated so many of the sentiments - that life should be lived and the personal connections we make matter far more than the people who live inside our phones and provide passing likes and notices of our being. This book is told from different points of view using characters who are only tangentially connected. Each one is interesting and relateable and was at a place in life with something going on that I wanted to hear about, from a dead sister to a released sex tape to being a runaway mom.

(A) All There Is - I love NPR and slices of life, so this was perfect for me. This book was put out by StoryCorps, which is a public radio initiative that encourages listeners to bring a loved one to one of their locations to talk about love. A copy of the conversation is sent to the Library of Congress and visitors are given another. All There Is is made of stories people have shared in this project about falling in love or losing their love. It made me smile and almost made me cry. The audiobook was really unique in that it sounded like a show on NPR and the actual recordings were used to tell the story; from what I gathered on Goodreads, they were transcribed in the book. I think hearing the emotion and the accents added a lot. Best of all, the book is 150 pages or one hour as an audiobook, so I knocked it out on a particularly traffic heavy drive. A few of the stories were fantastic and will stay with me.

(A) Necessary Lies - Apparently, as recently as the 1960s, poor women were sterilized without their consent in the United States. Necessary Lies is the story of a poor teenager and her family and the social worker who is supposed to get her sterilized simply because she is poor and deemed too simple to ever life a life outside of the welfare system. There are plenty of books about racism during this time period, but I have never encountered anything that examines relationships between social classes. The story is told in alternating viewpoints, so you get both sides, and I really liked hearing about the social worker's marriage and how she tried to juggle working and being a wife when that was rarely done. This definitely had moments where I didn't want to stop listening.

Halfway through the year and I haven't found too many books that I love enough to shout from the rooftops. I'm currently reading The Nest and just got LaRose as an audiobook, so perhaps one of those will be something I can't get out of my head. Linking up with Steph and Jana so I can see what everyone else has been reading.


Life According to Steph

Thursday, June 2, 2016

what's new with you: may

May was a good month. I'm glad I'm taking the time to document some of it because it makes my Grinchy heart smile to see how much time I spent with friends - I didn't realize that until I sat down and typed this up. I love that I check in everywhere on Swarm and take a lot of pictures on my phone (mostly of food, you've been warned) to remember everything.

I started the month with a long (and long overdue) dinner at Good Dog Houston with Miranda and Sarah. My neighborhood started doing Food Truck Fridays once a month, so Andrew and I went and met my friend's friends our friends Beth and Nate who live in our neighborhood and stood in too long lines for eh food, but it was nice getting to know them two-on-two since we have always seen them in group before. We tried ice cream from a cart and the salted caramel latte ice cream was definitely worth eating again. The four of us went to our favorite bar that night and had a great time getting to know them better and listening to music.

Flowers for no reason from Andrew at work | fries, fizzy mint lemonade, and a hot dog with provolone, mixed greens, and giardiniera | Houston friends, if you see this ice cream cart, stop!

Andrew and I spent a day looking for sausage and spices for his ongoing barbecue endeavors and I thought Penzey's had the cutest set-up. I wanted to spend tons of money on things I didn't need. One of my friends and I checked out the new donut/breakfast/coffee shop in town on its first day and though there are kinks to work out, I loved my latte. I went for a long walk through downtown and caught the Bunny Invasion art installation - huge inflatable bunnies that you could hug and touch. They were so weird but fun.


Doesn't the kitchen set up make you want to bake? | Instagram repost but I love latte art | the bunnies! That ear was taller than the second floor of the building.

I casually mentioned to my friend Hayley that I really wanted to go see Dave Matthews Band in concert three days before they came to town. Andrew didn't want to go since he has seen them more times than I have, but I was dying to since we didn't see them last year and they aren't touring next year. Hayley and I agreed on an amount we were willing to spend per ticket, and by the end of the day, tickets were purchased (for less than face value!). It was such a fun girls' night with wine and good music and I'm so glad we went. I was dying to hear You and Me OR Cornbread OR #41 and they didn't play any of them but proceeded to play all three in Dallas the next night so I was a little bitter, but it was still an amazing show with three new songs, a Prince cover, and some great ones I hadn't heard live before. We've already made plans to see them in 2018!


Pre-show | Not bad seats for the last minute!

Andrew wanted barbecue and we had nothing better to do, so we decided to drive out to Killen's BBQ on a random Saturday. It ended up being extra fun because Sarah and her husband and their (eighteen-ish? month, super adorable) daughter were able to meet us and there was a burger pop-up, so I didn't have to eat barbecue. All good things.

May also means graduation, which means working on a Saturday. But, after that was done, I finally got to meet Kate (you might remember her blog having to do with a slate being clean...) in person after being blog friends for like... a few years? So that was fun! She invited Andrew and me to a baseball game with her and her boyfriend and the Astros lost, which was a bummer,  but she and I spent our time judging the actions of others, which made the game more fun. We got to take them to Okra, one of our favorite bars, where I drank $5 rose and recognized the bartender from another bar I like to go to outside of a coffee shop and accosted him for not being at work in his own bar. No more rose for me...


The brand new Killen Burger | Good seats! | Glad Kate took a pic because I forgot! That feeling when you meet someone you already know... | BBQ spread

It rained a ton in Houston, I was sick for two days in one week, and we spent lots of time cleaning the house since Andrew's sister came to visit for Memorial Day weekend and his other sister and her daughter came over to eat - you guessed it - more barbecue. It was fun to host everyone but exhausting and remind me that I should keep more paper plates on hand because dishes are the worst.

Next month, I have the ATX Festival to look forward to (Friday Night Lights party ON Panther Field!), our sixth wedding anniversary, and the rest of Andrew's family coming to visit (and eating our way through Houston with them) so I'm already excited for June.

What's New With You

Sunday, May 15, 2016

april recap

I like using my blog so that I remember things, but I rarely take the time for Weekend Recaps anymore. I think I'll take a page from Kristen's book (or a post from her blog, I suppose) and do monthly recaps, probably along with her What's New With You? linkup. But since I'm late to that party, here's what happened in April, even though it's mid-May.

The month started with a long walk through downtown to get my boss cupcakes for her birthday. I loved the chance to go to the top of the Chase tower to see Houston from up high and checking out some street art on my way. Houston is really trying to step it up for the Super Bowl in February and I love it. Andrew did a BBQ cookoff on April 1st and our friends who we never see were able to come, sans kiddos, and I loved catching up with them.

 From the 60th floor, I believe (my ears always pop in the elevator) | installations on Main Street

Three random things worth remembering: I mentioned a while ago that we found a great bar, and we keep going back... like, every weekend. So far, I have ordered three beers there and liked them. This is huge. I've wanted to like beer since I realized how much cheaper it is than cocktails. I had to work one Saturday night and noticed that my school library has a space dedicated to RBG coloring pages. Oh, and we got our landscaping refreshed and a dead tree removed from the yard and it looks so much better.

One Sunday, Andrew and I took our annual BBQ and Bluebonnets trip. We ate at Truth BBQ in Brenham and the corn pudding was amazing. We went to a bluebonnet festival, which was really just a huge craft fair. Bluebonnets were hard to find - we even went to a state park in hopes of finding some but just got a snake instead. A small patch on the side of the road had to do for this year.


I need to go get these pages | sad year for bluebonnets | instagram repost, of Heidi and me, sorry.

I had brunch with my friend Heidi and every time I see her, I wonder why we go so long between chats and visits. It reminded me to be a better friend and text to say hi every so often. April is one of my busiest work months, so I got through that without any major crises. The biggest thing that happened in April, though, is that Andrew and his friends smoked a ton of meat, descended on the aforementioned bar nearby, and actually sold their barbecue to willing customers. It was basically a dream realized for them. I invited some friends who came out to support them and they fed strangers who went on social media and actually complimented them. It was a proud wife moment. They have already made plans for pop-up #2 and you're all invited. (Seriously, let me know if you want to come).


With work friends turned real life friends (can you tell which pic was stolen from snapchat and got the beauty filter treatment?) | there was an actual LINE. 

Other than that, I've been thrifting a ton (too much), working out occasionally, and going to restaurants. In April, I tried a Greek food trailer in my 'burb, a kolache house not too far away, and Mandola's Deli, an Italian spot pretty close to my office. I'm glad I use Swarm to keep track of that. That's what was new with me.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

what to read, what not to read

This was one of those months where a few books didn't work out for me so I gave all books a break. I also kept thinking two books would get better, and they didn't. I've been looking forward to this link-up as a reset of sorts so I can add a few new things to my list and get back into things next month for sure.

Maybe good for you, but not for me:

Down the Rabbit Hole: Curious Adventures and Cautionary Tales of a Former Playboy Bunny - I'm not sure why I read this. I guess I thought it would be an interesting glimpse into Holly Madison's life with Hugh Hefner. There were a few interesting tidbits (apparently Hef is super controlling and the mansion is a pigsty), but it was mostly a story about a woman who didn't know how to be on her own who made excuses for why she lived a lie for a decade. I felt like Holly made a lot of excuses for her choices - I wanted to tell her to own them! I mean clearly she ended up doing well for herself. A lot of detail about what being Hef's main girlfriend was like was eliminated, so if you want to know how that situation worked, don't waste your time. I gave this three stars on Goodreads but that seems too generous.

The Truth and Other Lies - I could never remember the title of this book and it took me over two weeks to get through. I read at a decent speed and make time for books I enjoy, so this is unheard of. I was intrigued by the plot - it's about a man running from his past who becomes a famous author, only his books are written by his wife - but the writing felt stilted and abrupt. There wasn't enough characterization for me to really feel anything about any of the characters. The author is German, so it seems that this book was translated, and I think that was a big part of it. The plot twist that sets the action in motion was very interesting, and I wanted to see where everything ended up, so I kept reading, but I just couldn't focus for more than a few pages at a time, and then I felt like the book just kind of ended without wrapping up a few things that were alluded to. Maybe I missed something? Two stars on Goodreads, and that almost felt generous.

(A) Pretty Girls - I thought this would be an interesting thriller. I mentioned last month that it was twenty hours long; most books I read are closer to eight! This is the story of two sisters uncovering the mystery of their sister who was kidnapped twenty years before. The detail and the bad guy in this book are truly sickening. I could feel myself making faces while I was listening to it; I felt like it was unnecessarily gory and disgusting. It was too much and it could have been a lot shorter. I gave it three stars because I liked how all of the pieces connected, but I can't say I recommend it. The audiobook contained a short story written by the author that covered the day the kidnapped sister was taken, but honestly, I was so over these characters that I didn't finish listening to it. I totally blame this for abandoning audiobooks for most of the month.

Consider these:

What Alice Forgot - If you like Liane Moriarty, read this. If you don't, then stay away because it's like all of her other books. I liked that this took the three characters/three storylines formula that are Moriarty's trademarks and made them more subtle. Basically, Alice falls down and hits her head and has forgotten the past ten years of her life. Moriarty did a good job of keeping readers in the dark so they were as confused as Alice.  It was interesting to wonder about my own reactions if I had forgotten the past ten years, but this book wasn't exactly deep. This is probably my favorite of her books - four stars.

(A) Dollbaby - This is one of those books that I really loved and I'm not exactly sure why. The narrator for the audio version was fantastic. The first third has elements of The Help and To Kill a Mockingbird, but Dollbaby is its own story. It's the story of a young (white) girl sent to live with her grandmother in New Orleans in the early 60's and the relationship they have with the (black) maids - a mother and daughter - in their home. Social issues unfold, but they're more of a background to the characters. Even though there isn't much action, it was enjoyable all the way through for me and I rated it a four on Goodreads (but really consider it more of a 4.5).


I'm currently listening to All This Life and I don't know what I think about it yet, but I think these characters will stay with me. I have Dept. of Speculation waiting on my kindle since I just finished The Truth... last night. After listening to The Armchair Librarians, I definitely want to move Shotgun Lovesongs up on my list. Have you listened to them yet? Now I feel like Steph and Jana are in my head, reading their posts to me. Linking up with them because it's always fun.