Friday, January 31, 2014

Book Club Friday-- The Best of Me and The Pilot's Wife.

GoodReads Synopsis:  THE BEST OF ME is the heart-rending story of two small-town former high school sweethearts from opposite sides of the tracks. Now middle-aged, they've taken wildly divergent paths, but neither has lived the life they imagined . . . and neither can forget the passionate first love that forever altered their world. When they are both called back to their hometown for the funeral of the mentor who once gave them shelter, they will be forced to confront the choices each has made, and ask whether love can truly rewrite the past.

My Thoughts:  This was probably one of my least favorite Nicholas Sparks books ever.  Two high school sweethearts come back to their hometown and encounter each other and sparks fly.  The only problem is that one of them is married.  So, I did not love this storyline.  Outside of that though, the last 100 pages or so just got completely outrageous and the ending was totally ridiculous.  Unless you just have to read every Nicholas Sparks book, feel free to skip this one.

On the other hand...
Amazon Synopsis:  A pilot's wife is taught to be prepared for the late-night knock at the door. But when Kathryn Lyons receives word that a plan flown by her husband, Jack, has exploded near the coast of Ireland, she confronts the unfathomable-one startling revelation at a time. Soon drawn into a maelstrom of publicity fueled by rumors that Jack led a secret life, Kathryn sets out to learn who her husband really was, whatever that knowledge might cost. Her search propels this taut, impassioned novel as it movingly explores the question, How well can we ever really know another person?

My Thoughts:  This book was so incredibly sad from almost the very moment it began.  But, somehow I still loved it.  It was just so beautifully written and the story kept getting better with every page and every revelation.  The characters were totally believable, and the way they were written made me genuinely care for them.  I can't wait to get my hands on more of Anita Shreve's books!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Delicious Whole30 Dinners.

I've gotten several questions from folks about what we eat while we're on the Whole30.  And I always say that we've had some AMAZING meals this month.  Before I started on this, Kelly had some great tips since she and her husband eat Paleo year-round, and she told me that they ate like kings.  And I completely agree with her.  Sure, I'm deprived of cupcakes and bread.  But I'm absolutely NOT deprived of food.  We eat a lot of food, and it's all been SO good.  These are two of my favorite things we've had this month.  I've made them both multiple times because they're so delicious.

The Best Pork Chops Ever
Recipe adapted from Just JessieB

Ingredients:
-4 pork chops (about 1 inch thick)
-4 tsp almond meal/flour
-1/2 tsp of each: garlic powder, italian seasoning, paprika, salt, and black pepper
-2 Tbsp olive oil

Directions:
- Preheat the oven to 425ºF.  Combine the almond meal and spices in a small bowl.  Coat both sides of the pork chops with the mixture, firmly patting the spices into the meat.  Pat the mixture into the pork chops on both sides, distributing as evenly as possible.
- In a large pan, heat the oil over medium to medium-high heat until warmed. Add the pork chops and sear on one side for three minutes.  **Do NOT pick up or flip the meat during these three minutes-- you want it to form a nice crispy crust.  After the three minutes are up, flip the pork chops and sear for an additional 2 minutes, again not picking up off the pan.
- After searing, place the pork chops on a baking sheet lined with foil, and bake in the oven for 7 minutes.
- After you take the pork chops out of the oven, let them sit for a few minutes before removing from the baking sheet.  (This helps keep the meat moist!)

CrockPot Meatballs
Recipe adapted from Kelly

Ingredients:
-1 pound of hamburger
-1 pound of itallian sausage
-2 eggs
-2 cloves of garlic, crushed
-2 tablespoons of oregano
-2 tablespoons of basil
-1/4 cup of almond meal (or breadcrumbs for non-Paleo eaters)
-1/4 cup of coconut milk
-1 jar of marinara/tomato sauce
-1/2 of a small onion

Directions:
- Place meat in bowl of stand mixer and turn on low.  As the meat is mixing, add in the two eggs.  Then the coconut milk.  Then the almond meal.  And then the spices.  Turn up the speed to 2 or 4 and mix until all ingredients are well combined.
- Chop up the onion and place half in the bottom of your crock pot.  Roll your meat mixture into balls, and put a layer of them over the onions then pour half of the sauce over the meatballs.  Repeat.
- Cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4.

Notes:
- If you don't have a stand mixer, feel free to use a bowl and your hands.  I just hate handling raw meat, so I use my mixer.
- My crockpot isn't huge, so I had meatballs left that wouldn't fit.  I just put them on wax paper on a cookie sheet into the freezer.  Once they were completely frozen, I put them in a ziploc bag for later use.  Super easy.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Book Club Friday-- A Stolen Life.

GoodReads Synopsis:  In the summer of 1991 I was a normal kid. I did normal things. I had friends and a mother who loved me. I was just like you. Until the day my life was stolen. For eighteen years I was a prisoner. I was an object for someone to use and abuse.  For eighteen years I was not allowed to speak my own name. I became a mother and was forced to be a sister. For eighteen years I survived an impossible situation. On August 26, 2009, I took my name back. My name is Jaycee Lee Dugard. I don’t think of myself as a victim. I survived.  A Stolen Life is my story—in my own words, in my own way, exactly as I remember it.

My Thoughts:  This book was so sad to read.  I can hardly believe that this even happened, but I know it did.  I liked that she peppered in some of her thoughts now thinking back on her ordeal as she's describing what happened.  It's not the best written book, but that's not really its purpose.  Even now, about a month after I finished this book, I can't get over the lapses in court supervision that allowed this man to do this for such a long time, not to mention the bizarre turn of events that led to her discovery.  Not to mention the mental and emotional trauma she must have had in order to not escape when she had multiple opportunities to do so.  It was a fascinating book that took me less than 48 hours to read.  I can't really say I'd recommend it as a good read unless you're particularly interested in the subject, but it definitely held my attention and kept me reading.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Currently...

Reading-- Sycamore Row.  I was so excited about the release of this book, but it has taken me forever to get into.  I'm almost halfway done and finally starting to get into the story.  Hopefully the last half picks up.
Excited For-- The Bachelor with my girls tonight!  This show is much more fun with friends around to laugh at all the craziness.
Loving-- The empty office and downtown today due to MLK day!  This is probably my favorite work day of the year-- it's a voluntary holiday for our office, so there's usually less than half of the staff here.  The phones don't ring, the court isn't open, and I'm able to get SO much done in peace!

Sad Over-- My beloved Patriots losing yesterday.  :(

Wanting-- Lush Bath Bombs-- they've been on my list since before Christmas.  I'm looking forward to my training in Chapel Hill at the end of February so that I can go to the Lush store in Raleigh!
Trying To-- Find a copy of Monuments Men to read before the movie comes out in a few weeks.  I'm so far down on the library queue that there's no way I'll get it before then.  And I really don't want to pay full price for it-- hopefully I can find a copy at the used book store.

Wishing-- Psych Season 7 would finally be released on Netflix so I can watch the new episodes of Season 8 that are currently airing right now.

Watching-- Justified.  To be more specific-- last season's Justified.  Since a season is so short (only 10 episodes), I like to record them until I get them all then watch.  The only problem is that I never got around to watching last season, and now there's a new season starting to air!  Oh well-- better late than never.
Looking Forward To-- Our trip to Texas!  It's officially set for February, and I'm so excited!!!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Book Club Friday-- Someday, Someday, Maybe.

GoodReads Synopsis:  Franny Banks is a struggling actress in New York City, with just six months left of the three year deadline she gave herself to succeed. But so far, all she has to show for her efforts is a single line in an ad for ugly Christmas sweaters and a degrading waitressing job. She lives in Brooklyn with two roommates-Jane, her best friend from college, and Dan, a sci-fi writer, who is very definitely not boyfriend material-and is struggling with her feelings for a suspiciously charming guy in her acting class, all while trying to find a hair-product cocktail that actually works.  Meanwhile, she dreams of doing "important" work, but only ever seems to get auditions for dishwashing liquid and peanut butter commercials. It's hard to tell if she'll run out of time or money first, but either way, failure would mean facing the fact that she has absolutely no skills to make it in the real world. Her father wants her to come home and teach, her agent won't call her back, and her classmate Penelope, who seems supportive, might just turn out to be her toughest competition yet. Someday, Someday, Maybe is a funny and charming debut about finding yourself, finding love, and, most difficult of all, finding an acting job.

My Thoughts:  I really, really enjoyed this book!  It did follow the typical chick lit formula of the girl dating the jerk until she realizes he's an idiot while trying to find success in her career then wrapping it up in a nice bow at the end.  But I thought it was a really cute story with a very likeable protagonist.  If you're looking for a quick read or are a fan of chick lit, then you'll like this one.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Roses Everywhere.

I'm still on the fence about Juan Pablo.  Most people seem to love him with a capital L.  But he didn't wow me while he was on The Bachelorette.  But I am starting to come around a little more.  He really does seem like a super nice guy.  And he's not bad looking...

First date of the night went to Clare, who I think is super cute and sweet.  If only she would stop talking about her poor dad dying...  Regardless, Juan Pablo (aka, the Bachelor producers) built a winter wonderland for their date complete with sledding hills and an ice skating rink.  Girl didn't look all that coordinated in skates, which makes me like her even more.
After they're done being cold, what else is left but to go to the hot tub! (Our first date of the season, and already our first hot tub sighting.)  And really, what is a hot tub for but for making out?  She gets the rose.

Next up for her date is Kat!  And let me say as a sidebar that as one with the name Kathryn, that I find the nickname "Kat" probably my least favorite option.  There are a million ways to shorten the name Kathryn (or Kathleen or whatever her full name is) that isn't the misspelled name of an animal.  

Kat's date started off so well with a private jet ride to some unknown destination.  But then Juan Pablo appears with some hideous neon outfit for her to wear, and it all starts to go downhill.  Their date is literally a 5k.  Granted, with some music and dancing, but still-- a 5k!  
She takes the evening in stride and seems to genuinely enjoy herself.  Or else she's a great actress.  But I'd take a winter wonderland in LA plus a hot tub over a 5k any day. 
The last, but definitely not least, date of the week is the always cringe-worthy group date.  And this was no exception.  What started out as a cute concept-- a photo shoot with puppies for a charity-- turns out super awkward.  First the cute... 
 The weird...
And the unnecessary...
I won't show you the pornographic.  Yes, if you missed it, two of our "ladies" posed nude along with Juan Pablo for this event.  (I actually doubt they were truly naked but wearing some flesh-colored something...)  Regardless, Andi very much did not want to pose nude, but she let herself be talked into it by Juan Pablo, who claimed he would be naked too.  Of course, Lucy was all too happy to walk around in her birthday suit, seeing as how she hates clothes.

At the cocktail party later, poor Victoria had a little too much champagne and made a huge fool of herself in front of everyone, screaming at producers that she wanted to go home and then locking herself in the bathroom crying for the rest of the night.  Even Juan Pablo couldn't coax her out.  Shock of all shocks, she got the ax. 
And just like that, it's rose ceremony time! Amy "interviews" Juan Pablo during their time together, Sharleen actually apologized for being a world class b*tch to him when he gave her the first impression rose, and Cassandra had a mini-meltdown due to being separated from her son. Which JP loved, giving her the first rose of the night. The rest of the rose recipients are Nikki, Andi, Elise, Sharleen, Renee, Danielle, Lucy, Alli, Chelsie, Lauren, and Christy, most of whom I feel like I've never seen before. Leaving brokenhearted are Amy and Chantel, who I actually feel bad for since she was merely the token black girl of this season.

Who's your favorite so far??  No spoilers!

*Note:  All photos from wetpaint.com and abc.com**

Monday, January 13, 2014

Katie Lately.

It's been over a week since I blogged last, and my husband informed me this weekend that I needed to get back to it so he could have something to read. So supportive, that one... ;) I did miss blogging last week, but I didn't feel like I had much to share. My life for the last two weeks has felt like it has revolved around our Whole30-- planning for it, shopping for it, prepping for it, and cooking for it. It's a LOT of work-- more than I had thought before we got started.  But I must admit that I really do like it.  Twelve days in, and by now I don't have near the cravings like I used to, my digestive issues have markedly decreased, I am generally full from meal to meal without that starving feeling I used to get between meals, and my energy levels are stable (no bouncing up and down) throughout the day.  I actually didn't want to go back to sleep during church yesterday!

The restrictions (which you can read about here-- whole30.com) were very difficult in the beginning, but I've gotten used to most of them now.  I've also enjoyed knowing virtually every ingredient that I've put into my body.  Not to mention that all of our meals have been made by my hands-- it's quite a sense of pride to know that I'm providing that kind of service to our little family.  We've had some DELICIOUS food too.  Our favorites have been these pork chops, spaghetti squash "spaghetti" with meat sauce, roasted Brussels sprouts (which I could seriously eat with every meal), and chicken salad made with this homemade mayo (yes, I actually made my own mayonnaise-- and I like it even better than the store-bought stuff!).
I am a little bit looking forward to it being done so that we can add in things like rice, beans, and even a bit of cheese.  And holy crap, I'd kill for some roasted potatoes...  But I definitely plan on sticking pretty close to these guidelines even when we're done.

In the midst of all this food upheaval, I joined a women's Bible study at my church on Wednesday nights.  It's led by my Bible Fellowship teacher, so some of the girls from our class decided to go.  We're studying the book of Malachi, which I already find fascinating.  I can't wait to get deeper into the study!

And of course, I've been so stoked about the return of The Bachelor!  My friend Katie came over last week to watch the premiere, and it did NOT disappoint.  This definitely looks like it will be a great season-- can't wait to see the first round of dates tonight!

2014 is apparently the year of reading multiple books at once.  I started the year reading both The Gods of Guilt (which was AMAZING) and 204 Rosewood Lane, finishing them both this past weekend.
So I started two more-- Sycamore Row and The Wolf of Wall Street.  (ps-- this is what happens when all the books you've been waiting on at the library become available at the same time...)

And last Friday, I got my first pair of glasses since 2007!  My prescription hadn't changed too much, so I never got another pair since the first ones were basically the same.  But then I did what I always do and lost them...  So after months of looking, I came to the realization that they were truly gone, so to the eye doctor I went to get some new ones.  I love them SO much!!
Can we also talk about how much clearer my skin is after only a week on the Whole30!!  CRAZY.

And since I've been getting up early in the mornings with Donny to make breakfast for us both, I've been spending my mornings reading the Bible.  I decided to read through the whole Bible for the first time this year, and I love it.  I love starting my days out in the Word in the stillness of the morning.

All in all, it's been a pretty great start to 2014!  :)

Friday, January 3, 2014

Book Club Friday-- The Spectacular Now.


GoodReads Synopsis:  Sutter Keely. He’s the guy you want at your party. He’ll get everyone dancing. He’ ll get everyone in your parents’ pool. Okay, so he’s not exactly a shining academic star. He has no plans for college and will probably end up folding men’s shirts for a living. But there are plenty of ladies in town, and with the help of Dean Martin and Seagram’s V.O., life’s pretty fabuloso, actually.  Until the morning he wakes up on a random front lawn, and he meets Aimee. Aimee’s clueless. Aimee is a social disaster. Aimee needs help, and it’s up to the Sutterman to show Aimee a splendiferous time and then let her go forth and prosper. But Aimee’s not like other girls, and before long he’s in way over his head. For the first time in his life, he has the power to make a difference in someone else’s life—or ruin it forever.

My Thoughts:  Honestly, this book was incredibly disappointing after all the hype I had heard about it.  I read or attempted to read several Young Adult books last year only to be let down (see also The Fault in Our Stars, The Lying Game, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, etc...).  I think I just can't get into the heads of teenagers even when they're well written, which is definitely this case with this and The Fault in Our Stars.  Something about teenage narrators don't seem to click with me.  But that wasn't my biggest problem with this story...

*Warning: Spoilers Ahead*

This book was so frustrating.  It was definitely an easy read, but the main character started and ended the story same lousy, pseudo-philosophical drunk.  Maybe I just don't have a tolerance for alcoholics (which he clearly is...), but I didn't find him funny or charming at all like others in the story do.  I consistently found myself cringing at his behavior and wishing someone would just slap him.  The author does a great job of getting into the head of a raging alcoholic who thinks he has no problem, blames everyone else for the crap going on in his life, then gets angry when people try to help him, so I can't say that it's not well written.  But I have ZERO sympathy for this character.  Even when he goes to see his father and sees for himself the destination for this alcoholic, carefree lifestyle, nothing changes.  When he almost kills himself and Aimee because of his drunk driving, nothing changes.

I get that the author didn't want to tie up everything in a neat bow by having him wake up to his problem and sending him to rehab at the end of the book with a "cliche ending."  But, what we got was ridiculous-- basically just a story of his last year of high school.  No changes, no growth, no lessons learned, no real END.  Just here's what happened.  And he's still a drunk who thinks he's smarter than everyone else.

I really hate to write such a negative review, but even now weeks after I finished it, I still have the same level of hatred for this book.  Oh well-- onto the next book!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

New Year, New Beginning.

Neither Donny nor I are big New Years Eve celebrators. Last year, we stayed home and watched the original Muppet Movie and had champagne.  So we didn't make any real plans for this year either.  We both worked during the day, and my coworkers had some cupcakes to celebrate my birthday since none of us were here on my actual birthday.  
After work, I went on a major shopping spree at Trader Joe's to prepare for our Whole30, that we started today.  It's expensive changing all your eating habits...
Then at the last minute, my mom asked if we wanted to come over to play games that night, so that's what we did.  We taught Donny how to play Rook, which is one of my most favorite games ever, and then Donny and I taught my parents how to play Skip-Bo, which I'm growing to love.  We went home before midnight and rang in the New Year watching Downton Abbey.  It was a pretty great night.

And now, it's a whole new year!  There are definitely things I want to improve this year over last year with myself.

First, I want to spend more time in God's Word and in prayer.  I used to be really good about having a quiet time every day, but I've gotten out of the habit of doing it.  I've never read the Bible all the way through in a year, so I decided to do that this year, and I'm pretty excited about it.

Second, I want to eat better.  After reading It All Starts With Food, I'm slightly horrified at the food (both the substance and amount) that I have eaten in my life.  So, Donny and I are starting the Whole30 today, which is quite a radical change for us both.  After we're done, we'll see what type of foods we will re-introduce, but I'm positive it won't be the sugar-laden, highly processed, chemically-altered stuff that it's been.

Third, I want to be more present.  I get annoyed when people are staring at their phones when they're with me, but I realize that I am the same way.  So, I want to put my phone down more and BE with the people I'm with.  And not spend unnecessary time staring at the TV when we could be actually talking to each other.  In fact, Donny and I have already started having breakfasts and dinners at our actual dining table instead of in front of the television.  It's been a great change that I want to spread to other areas.

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