Monday, October 6, 2014

Our Annual Mountain Weekend.

This weekend, Donny and I took our annual trip to the NC Mountains.  I realized on our way that this was our FOURTH such trip, going back to Donny's first time in NC!  Four??  Where did the time go?

Our first stop was Blowing Rock, where we had lunch and wandered around all the downtown shops.  We actually got some Christmas shopping done!  From Blowing Rock, we drove up the Blue Ridge Parkway to Grandfather Mountain. There are so many gorgeous places along the parkway!
We actually drove a little further on the parkway than we were supposed to and ended up taking a different road to Grandfather Mountain.  On the way, we found this adorable Christmas shop on the side of the road!
I almost bought this for Donny...
It was so beautiful inside! 
We finally made it to Grandfather Mountain, where it was FREEZING.  At 5200+ feet of elevation, it was 36* with sustained winds at 22mph and gusts up to 45mph, making the wind chill a whopping 23*!
Despite the cold, it was GORGEOUS!
After a delicious dinner at our favorite mountain BBQ place in Marion, NC, we headed home!  It was a fantastic way to start October!!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Book Club Friday-- September Reads.

Again, I'm trying to catch up my book reviews with the books I've read.  This month started out slow, thanks to a few books that seemed to take forever to read.  But once I got over the hump, I managed to pick up the pace.  There were some great books this month, and some that were just okay...

GoodReads Synopsis--They’re one of the country’s most telegenic couples: beloved TV journalist Sara Lowell and New York’s hottest basketball star, Michael Silverman. Their family and social connections tie them to the highest echelons of the political, medical, and sports worlds—threads that will tangle them up in one of the most controversial and deadly issues of our time. In a clinic on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, a doctor has dedicated his life to eradicating a divisive and devastating disease. One by one, his patients are getting well. One by one, they’re being targeted by a serial killer. And now Michael has been diagnosed with the disease. There’s only one cure, but many ways to die...

My Thoughts-- This book was fascinating on several levels.  First of all, it's Harlan Coben, so of course it's twisty and mysterious and unpredictable.  But also, it's a book about an AIDS clinic from 1991 (Coben's first book ever written).  So it's kind of surreal to read about how AIDS was treated and misunderstood and feared not that many years ago.  Definitely an interesting read, but not my favorite Coben novel.  Don't let this be the first one of his you pick up.

GoodReads Synopsis-- In the frigid pre-dawn hours, in a distressed Midwestern city, hundreds of desperate unemployed folks are lined up for a spot at a job fair. Without warning, a lone driver plows through the crowd in a stolen Mercedes, running over the innocent, backing up, and charging again. Eight people are killed; fifteen are wounded. The killer escapes. In another part of town, months later, a retired cop named Bill Hodges is still haunted by the unsolved crime. When he gets a crazed letter from someone who self-identifies as the perp; and threatens an even more diabolical attack, Hodges wakes up from his depressed and vacant retirement, hell-bent on preventing another tragedy. Brady Hartfield lives with his alcoholic mother in the house where he was born. He loved the feel of death under the wheels of the Mercedes, and he wants that rush again. Only Bill Hodges, with a couple of highly unlikely allies, can apprehend the killer before he strikes again. And they have no time to lose, because Brady's next mission, if it succeeds, will kill or maim thousands. Mr. Mercedes is a war between good and evil, from the master of suspense whose insight into the mind of this obsessed, insane killer is chilling and unforgettable.

My Thoughts-- From what I've read, this is Stephen King's first foray into the crime novel genre.  And since he's Stephen King, it was pretty darn good-- the man knows how to bring characters to life.  It's definitely not my favorite crime novel, and he's not the best crime writer.  But, once the plot picked up about midway through, I couldn't put it down.  Some of the story was a little improbable for my taste, but nothing that kept me from giving it five stars.  

GoodReads Synopsis-- With a career, a boyfriend, and a loving family, Piper Kerman barely resembles the reckless young woman who delivered a suitcase of drug money ten years before. But that past has caught up with her. Convicted and sentenced to fifteen months at the infamous federal correctional facility in Danbury, Connecticut, the well-heeled Smith College alumna is now inmate #11187–424—one of the millions of people who disappear “down the rabbit hole” of the American penal system. From her first strip search to her final release, Kerman learns to navigate this strange world with its strictly enforced codes of behavior and arbitrary rules. She meets women from all walks of life, who surprise her with small tokens of generosity, hard words of wisdom, and simple acts of acceptance. 

My Thoughts-- I wanted to love this book.  I wanted it to be a fascinating look into life in the prison system.  But sadly, I felt more like it was 1) a lecture on federal drug laws and mandatory minimums and 2) the author trying to convince us that she was a progressive, true friend to the downtrodden despite her upper-middle class background.  It didn't quite seem sincere to me.  It was a very interesting look into prison life, but not as great as I had hoped.

GoodReads Synopsis-- Mickey Bolitar's year can't get much worse. After witnessing his father's death and sending his mom to rehab, he's forced to live with his estranged uncle Myron and switch high schools. Fortunately, he's met a great girl, Ashley, and it seems like things might finally be improving. But then Ashley vanishes. Mickey follows Ashley's trail into a seedy underworld that reveals that Ashley isn't who she claimed to be. And neither was Mickey's father. Soon Mickey learns about a conspiracy so shocking that it leaves him questioning everything about the life he thought he knew.

My Thoughts-- This is the first YA book by Harlan Coben, and it's also first in a series that follows Mickey Bolitar (nephew to my fave Coben character, Myron Bolitar).  The characters were loveable despite their annoying teenager-ness, and it was full of the trademark Harlan Coben suspense.  I loved it!

GoodReads Synopsis-- When tragedy strikes close to home, Mickey and his loyal new friends—sharp-witted Ema and the adorkably charming Spoon—find themselves at the center of a terrifying mystery involving the shooting of their classmate Rachel. Now, not only does Mickey need to keep himself and his friends safe from the Butcher of Lodz, but he needs to figure out who shot Rachel—no matter what it takes. Mickey Bolitar is as quick-witted and clever as his uncle Myron, but with danger just seconds away, it is going to take all of his determination and help from his friends to protect the people he loves, even if he does not know who—or what—he is protecting them from.

My Thoughts-- Second in the Mickey Coben series, this is a great follow up to Shelter.  Same great characters, same great suspenseful storyline.  I can't wait to get my hands on #3!

GoodReads Synopsis-- The President knows it's a perilous, high-risk assignment. If he gives the order, he has the opportunity to take down a global menace, once and for all. If the mission fails, he would face certain impeachment, and the threats against the nation would multiply. So the president turns to the one team that can pull off the impossible: Will Robie and his partner, Jessica Reel. Together, Robie and Reel's talents as assassins are unmatched. But there are some in power who don't trust the pair. They doubt their willingness to follow orders. And they will do anything to see that the two assassins succeed, but that they do not survive.  As they prepare for their mission, Reel faces a personal crisis that could well lead old enemies right to her doorstep, resurrecting the ghosts of her earlier life and bringing stark danger to all those close to her. And all the while, Robie and Reel are stalked by a new adversary: an unknown and unlikely assassin, a woman who has trained her entire life to kill, and who has her own list of targets--a list that includes Will Robie and Jessica Reel.

My Thoughts-- Not my favorite Baldacci book, but a decent continuation of the Robie/Reel series. It felt a bit disjointed since it jumped from crisis to crisis instead of one overarching story.  I did enjoy the part of the story set in North Korea.  I don't know much about the country, nor I suppose do many people.  So it was fascinating to read about life there.

GoodReads Synopsis-- An ordinary snapshot causes a mother’s world to unravel in an instant. After picking up her two young children from school, Grace Lawson looks through a newly developed set of photographs. She finds an odd one in the pack: a mysterious picture from perhaps twenty years ago, showing four strangers she can’t identify. But there is one face she recognizes—that of her husband, from before she knew him. When her husband sees the photo that night, he leaves their home and drives off without explanation. She doesn’t know where he’s going, or why he’s leaving. Or if he’s ever coming back. Nor does she realize how dangerous the search for him will be. Because there are others interested in both her husband’s past and that photo, including Eric Wu: a fierce, silent killer who will not be stopped from finding his quarry, no matter who or what stands in his way.  Her world turned upside down, filled with doubts about her herself and marriage, Grace must confront the dark corners of her own tragic past she struggles to learn the truth, find her husband, and save her family.

My Thoughts-- Another great Harlan Coben book!  It was incredibly suspenseful and intriguing.  I read it within a day, so it definitely was interesting enough to keep me reading, and it had a great twist at the end that I did NOT see coming. 

GoodReads Synopsis-- Mitchell McDeere, raised in the coal-mining region of rural Kentucky, has worked hard to get where he is: third in his class at Harvard Law. He's young. He's bright. He's ambitious. Mitch could have the pick of the big firms in New York and Chicago, but he's chosen the Memphis tax firm of Bendini, Lambert & Locke. They're selective. They pay outrageous salaries. They have a turnover rate of zero. And Mitch is about to find out why.Several events fuel Mitch's growing suspicions: two of the partners die in a suspicious diving accident off Grand Cayman; the senior partners seem unduly proud of the fact that no one has ever resigned; and security measures at the office are, even for a company with billionaire clients, more than a little extreme. Then Mitch makes an explosive discovery: The firm is owned and operated by the most powerful organized crime family in Chicago. Even as Mitch discovers the truth, he finds himself caught between the FBI, who wants an informant inside the firm, and the firm itself, which will make him a very rich man—or a very dead one.

My Thoughts-- LOVED it!  I decided recently that I wanted to go back and read all the John Grisham books that I either read many, many years ago or for which I only saw the movie.  I love the movie version of The Firm, so I figured I'd enjoy the book too. But it was so much better than I even anticipated or remembered the movie being!

What did y'all read this month?  Anything fantastic?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

September Beauty Favorites.

It's been a while since I shared some of my favorite products, but I've been trying lots of new things recently thanks to an Ulta opening up in my city and 2x points!  These are some of my favorites from the last month:

1. Urban Decay Subversion lash primer.  How did I live without lash primer this long??  It makes my lashes look SO much fuller and longer.  I only use it on the top lashes because I think lower lashes that long are kind of creepy, but to each her own.  Once my free sample runs out, I'll definitely be purchasing a full-size version.

2. MAC Cremesheen lipstick in Modesty.  This is perhaps the most perfect nude-pink color in existence.  I almost bought Blankety instead, but this had a touch more color, so I went with it.  And boy am I glad I did.  I love it and haven't worn anything else in a while.  

3. L'oreal Carbon Black Lineur Intense liquid liner.  I bought this after my Lancome Artliner finally ran out (after three years).  I didn't really feel like spending $30 on a liquid liner, even though it does last SO long.  After doing some research, I decided to give this a try with my Ulta coupon.  Now I know that Lancome owns L'oreal, but I really expected there to be a difference in the product.  I was wrong.  It's the exact same brush, the exact same ease of use, and the exact same stay-put formula.  It's not quite as black as the Artliner, but two coats will get you there.  And I top mine with eyeshadow anyway, so that was not important to me.  I couldn't believe it.  $9 for the same $30 product??  Yes please!

4. NYX Butter Gloss in Creme Brûlée.  This is not my first NYX Butter Gloss, so I already knew that I loved the formula.  In my opinion, it's the best lip gloss out there-- great color payoff, non-sticky, and lasts forever.  I got this color to top off my MAC Modesty lipstick, and it's a perfect match!  It's got just a hint of a cool undertone, which is perfect for my skin.  The two together are a great combo, but the gloss gives enough color to stand on its own.

5. Urban Decay Perversion mascara.  I'm a sucker for just about anything by Urban Decay, so it was a no brainer that I'd pick up their newest mascara.  And duh, it was a winner.  Just like everything from UD.  My lashes look so long and full with the primer/mascara combo, and they even hold a curl with these.  It's a fantastic duo.

6. OPI nail polish in DS Extravagance.  A burgundy purple with sparkles?  It's the absolute perfect dark color for fall while still being fun and festive!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

September Rewind.

One of my fave book bloggers, The Perpetual Page-Turner, does this monthly rewind every month.  I love reading hers, so I'm stealing her idea for September!


1.  After firing my paralegal of several years, I went through one of the roughest times I've ever had in my career-- both without an assistant and then with a new, untrained assistant.  It was the most stressful and trying month, and probably the least productive while also being the busiest.  I will say that two of my co-workers have really been wonderful to me this month and great friends, and I'm so thankful that they were there with me through the transition.

2.  I completed my second Whole30.  There were many ups and downs on that journey.  It was fantastic, and it was horrible.  I went from crying because I couldn't eat Chick-fil-A one night (thank God for Donny to help keep me on track during that stage...) to not having any stomach for food.  I fell off the wagon pretty hard the last week, so I'm fairly disappointed about that.
3.  For most of the month, I didn't read a whole lot.  I think July and August burned me out on reading for a while.  Add in Dawson's Creek expiring on Netflix (which obviously meant that I had to re-watch the entire show... duh), and I spent way less time with my nose in a book this month.  But I was on a tear the last week of the month, so it kind of balanced out.

4. Several couples from our previous sunday school class branched out this month into a new class with new leaders.  So far, it's been really great!  The ladies in our class even started doing a women's Bible study, which I'm so excited about since my former small group quit meeting a few months ago.

5. Donny bought me this awesome water bottle, and I've really been loving it!  It's 32 oz, which is perfect because I only need to refill it once mid-day to get my daily 64 oz in!  Having it with me all day sitting on my desk really helps me remember to drink more water.
6. As I wrote a few weeks ago, I was in a huge funk for the first half of September.  But Donny was really amazing through the whole thing.  Sometimes I really take him for granted.  We've been married for less than two years, and I'm learning that I have to be more intentional in our relationship.  Things that were once second nature are now things I routinely forget.

7. September is the best because it means new tv!!  New episodes of favorite shows and all new series to try.  I'm so excited that The Big Bang TheoryGrey's Anatomy, and New Girl are back, and I'm loving How to Get Away With Murder and Scorpion.  I'm still on the fence about Gotham though.

8.  I pulled out my Leaves candle last week, and it makes me so happy!

1. All About that Bass by Meghan Trainor
2. Bang Bang by Jessie J, Ariana Grande, and Nikki Minaj
3. Problem by Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea
4. Maps by Maroon 5
5. Chandelier by Sia
6. Love Runs Out by One Republic

1. Moms, Stop Scaring Non-Moms by Syndal -- I 100% agree with everything Syndal said in this piece.  As a woman thinking about starting a family sometime in the future, I find it disconcerting how people try to terrify non-parents out of having children.  I have a co-worker who constantly tells me to not have children because it's hard.  (Then again, this same co-worker told me not to get married too, so I take this advice to mean nothing...)  Of course it's hard, but it has to be worth it, right?

2. This is Marriage by Bonnie -- I love reading Bonnie's blog.  This post about marriage is spot on.

3. Six Years and $72,000 Later... by Jodi -- I consider Jodi to be one of my blog BFFs.  She was diagnosed with MS six years ago in her 20s.  Instead of collapsing and feeling sorry for herself, she's taken her diagnosis and become a force of nature in the community.  She constantly has fundraisers and challenges and DOES something to make her own life and the lives of others with the disease better.  What an inspiration.

4. The Thing About Gratitude by Rachel -- I also love reading Rachel's posts because of her willingness to share what God has put on her heart and her honesty.  This post is a great challenge for us all.

1. Trader Joe's Organic Banana Chips -- SO GOOD!  They really satisfy my sweet tooth without being a cupcake or a doughnut...

2. OPI Nail Polish in DS Extravagance-- I haven't worn any other color on my nails this month.

3. Essential Oils-- We jumped on the essential oil train this month, and I'm loving it!  There's so much to learn, and I feel like I'll never know all there is to know.  But so far, they're fantastic.

1. Blowing Rock-- This Saturday, we're taking our annual trip to the NC mountains and stopping off at an apple festival first.  I can't wait!

2. Cooler Temperatures-- I do not do hot weather.  If it's over 80 degrees, it's too hot.  I'm so excited for October and the 50s and 60s that will hopefully come with it!

3. Crabtree Valley Mall-- In a few weeks, Donny and my dad are going to a beer festival in Durham, so my mom and I are going to go to my favorite mall in Raleigh while they're there.  It's also the only place in NC where there's a Lush store!