I’m a reader. Sadly last year was one of the first where I didn’t hit a minimum of 50 books read. (I blame 3 jobs, 2 major illnesses, and a running program) I did end up reading a lot of very long books (an average of 500 pages each) so I was pleased about that and I did end up reading some really great books. I wanted to share my top 5 books for 2012 and hear if you have any recommendations for 2013.
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson
Jenny Lawson aka The Bloggess is one of my favorite bloggers. She’s funny and beloved by the internet and she uses all that charm and love to accomplish some awesome things like the traveling red dress and a Christmas miracle. Her Beyonce story is still one of the funniest things I’ve read (and it’s in the book). I wondered to myself if I really cared enough about some stranger on the internet to read a memoir and I wasn’t sure even as I picked up the book. I just wanted to read some funny things like on the website. When I read the book, I found I liked Jenny IRL (okay, in book form) even better than her internet form. Jenny has battled a lot in her life but her humor, honesty, and taxidermic lifestyle really made this book into a fun read.
The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley
I have a weakness for historical fiction. This doesn’t involve a ton of “famous” people in history but it does partially include figures like James I. If you love Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series this book is partially set right in the middle of that. If you’re more into the fiction part of historical fiction this book has a love triangle or two, a gorgeous setting, friendship, and the writing of a book. I loved this one and plan to devour some of Susanna Kearsley’s other novels.
The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney
The Mockingbirds might be classified as a young adult book or maybe new adult but it’s a snappy book that really emphasizes empowering young women. It’s set at a boarding school, it involves secret societies, family relationships, and a bunch of strong women. There’s also a dark plot it follows involving rape but it’s not a story about rape. I first read about this one on Forever Young Adult and they did not leave me astray. If you’re wondering about the title, it does and it doesn’t refer to Harper Lee’s classic. You’ll have to read it to see what I mean.
Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
This book is a tough one. Dave Eggers immersed himself in Abdulrahman Zeitoun’s life while writing this book and it’s packed with so much emotion that it is often hard to read. The book is set in and around Hurricane Katrina and Zeitoun’s time in the storm and in the world of the unknown. I still have tears come to my eyes when I remember parts of what he saw in New Orleans. That being said, Zeitoun has been in trouble with the law lately too. I can’t tell if this changes how I feel about the book. The text and suspense of a book that plots out a time I lived through is still haunting. Without reading the book you might not understand how hard it is to reconcile the Zeitoun of the book with the one in the news, or how easy it is to understand all at the same time. If you want a gritty read that will make you ask “why?” about everything, this is the book that will do it.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Another young adult book but I refuse to apologize for loving this one. The best parts involve love, passion, mystery, and friendship. This book starts off right away talking about cancer but refusing to be a cancer book. I’m a cancer survivor and I was hesitant to start this tear-jerker worrying that it would bring back hard times for me but it was so uplifting. I started it right after I wrote my resolutions post and it was so fitting. This is a book on how to live your life and how to let go of your fears. I’m sure everyone and their mother have recommended this book to you and if you still haven’t read it, you need to take this as your final nudge.
I’m finishing my second book for the year right now and I’d love to plot out a reading list so I can stay on track. I’ve added a Goodreads widget to my sidebar on the right so you can follow along with my reading. Share your 2012 favorites and your 2013 goals in the comments!
My new year did not start off quite as planned. I spent New Year’s Eve at work, then at a lovely gathering at a friend’s house. By the time I made it home from her house I had a fever and chills. I managed to get some awful cold (though thankfully not the flu) but I’m still recovering. I’ve got some medicine helping me fight this thing now but I don’t think I’ve had this many illnesses in years. I hope it’s just a fluke!
When I get sick, I always like soup. This soup I’m featuring today is so much better than the Ramen I tend to grab from the store. This is a copycat recipe you can find almost anywhere based on the Chicken and Gnocchi Soup at Olive Garden. I’m not a huge Olive Garden fan (blasphemy in my Midwest city) but I do like to make a big pot of this at home. It has so much goodness in one pot: chicken, fresh veggies, gnocchi, garlic, and cheese.
- 4 Tablespoons butter
- 2 minced garlic cloves
- 1 cup onion, finely diced
- 4 Tablespoons flour
- 1 quart half and half
- 1 pound potato gnocchi
- 1 cup carrots, finely diced
- 1 cup chicken breasts, cooked and diced
- 1-14 ounce can chicken broth
- 1 cup fresh spinach, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon parsley
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheeses
- Heat the butter in a dutch oven over medium heat. When melted, saute the garlic and onion until the onion is translucent.
- Add the flour and stir until the flour has browned and a roux is formed. Let it cook another minute, then add the half and half stirring until fully incorporated.
- Let the cream mix thicken while you boil the gnocchi in a separate pot. Strain the gnocchi after it is fully cooked and set aside as you prepare the rest of the soup.
- Once your cream mixture is warmed and has thickened, add in your carrots and chicken. Slowly stir in the chicken broth. Let the soup thicken again and add the gnocchi, spinach, and parsley.
- Serve your soup hot and topped with some fresh pepper or fresh grated Parmesan cheese.
Last year, each month I posted a to-do list for 2012 from Get Organized Now. I still love them and highly recommend checking them out. This year I want to swap out how I plan my household to-do lists. I want to give each room in my house equal amounts of love and opportunities for improvement. Each month I plan to write out 5 ways to improve each room in the 28/30/31 days.
For this month, I’m starting with the kitchen. This is the most complete room in my house and only needs some finishing touches. Here are 5 things I want to tackle:
1. Paint the ceiling
I repainted the room but some paint hit the ceiling. A good new coat should make the room look more complete.
2. Seal the grout
When I did all my tile I had to let the grout rest before sealing it. I think 6 months is plenty.
3. Clean out the fridge
Time to check those expiration dates and use up some condiments with some creative recipes.
4. Create a dog station
My dog Nova has a little corner of the room with a dog bowl but I think something that says she has her own little spot would be more than welcome
5. Un-Christmas the Kitchen
I still haven’t taken down my Christmas decorations from my ladder bookcase. In fact, the whole room has little touches of Christmas all around. It’s time to pack it all up and give my bookcase a new look.
What room of your house will get updated first in 2013?
I’m not the kind of person who makes New Year’s resolutions. I’m the kind of person who wakes up in the morning with an idea, spends hours planning the idea out, and then jumps into it before I can change my mind. I know not everyone gets that kind of an itch like I do so I get the appeal of a new year to be used as a clean slate or a fresh start. If that’s your plan, then go for it. If you sort of expect that in 6 weeks you’ll have already given up, then maybe there’s a different way.
On my 26th birthday I decided it was time for me to try to be healthier. I’m a cancer survivor and I’d finally reached that critical 5-year point most survivors look to as proof they just might make it. I don’t even think I’d realized I’d been holding my breath until I finally let it out. I didn’t want my goal to be losing weight (though like many people I welcomed the possibility) but rather I wanted measurable proof that I was healthier. I’d seen my body become so weak once, my lungs strained when I walked, my bones hurt under my skin, and I felt afraid to move on with my life. It was time for me to take action.
I got a Wii and a Wii Fit and some fitness games and started building up strength. It wasn’t easy. I also took up running and made it into an activity my whole family could enjoy. I ran a 5K on Thanksgiving morning this year. Then 2 weekends later I ran another one 2 minutes faster than my last. Even better, when I went to my regular oncologist visit I saw real proof I was getting healthier–my blood oxygen levels were at their best since I had started chemo almost 6 years earlier. There it was again, letting out another breath I didn’t realize I’d been holding.
I went on a long trip this year. The kind of trip I never thought I’d take. One day I just took the plunge and realized if I lived my whole life waiting for some sign that I’d be waiting a long time. Part of living through each day as a cancer survivor is the uncertainty. It’s hard to plan a trip 6 months down the road when you think in the back of your head you might not be okay in 6 months. But being alive is about taking risks, living in the moment, and enjoying what you see. Spending every day dreaming “next year will be different” was preventing me from living, truly living. I knew I had to get back to being me again and I couldn’t wait for that elusive date in the future when it just might happen.
My whole year this year was a year of accomplishing the dreams I’d put on hold. I hadn’t held a steady job since graduating college. I’ve known for a while that holding temporary jobs was a way for me to be available to leave a job in case I got sick again but at some point I’d apparently decided I wasn’t going to put my life on hold like that again. I took a job that isn’t just a job but a place where I can grow a career. Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of safeguards I’ve put in place should something happen to my health. I just try to live my life knowing there’s a lot of possibility in my future, especially if I put my mind to it.
Source: thefirstgradeparade.blogspot.com via Tobi on Pinterest
For me, holding back on a goal until January 1st of the next year rolls around is putting your life on hold. It’s saying you don’t believe in yourself yet but refuse to make any preparations to get yourself in a place you can succeed. If you keep making the same goals year after year are you really reaching your potential? If you plan to set a big resolution, maybe resolve to be more open to possibility. When you get those little nudges of inspiration, be willing to listen and take some big steps forward. I’ve had some set backs in those moments but I’ve also seen and done things I’d never trade.
You’ve probably seen these glitter ornaments all around but naturally I had to have a go at it. These were surprisingly easy. You’ll need two funnels, mop and glow (I used an off-brand), clear ornaments, and some fine glitter.
I poured about a half tablespoon of the mop and glow into the ornament via the funnel, then I placed my thumb over the top and gently swirled the cleaner around. Make sure to get it coating the entire inside of the ornament. Don’t shake it, that will make bubbles. Use your second funnel to pour in about a tablespoon of the glitter. Now you can place your thumb over the top and shake it till the glitter coats every last inch. Pour your extra glitter out to reuse on more ornaments or another project.
I hope you all have a Merry Christmas this year. I’ll take tomorrow off to spend with my family and hopefully I’ll have some fun things to share later this week. Happy Holidays everyone!Pin It
Do people still give watches for Christmas? I hope they do. I love watches and I hate seeing cell phones pop out every time someone needs to know what time it is. Plus, watches are such a classic for accessorizing.
My own watch was looking a little big on me lately. I like my watch to have a little bangle effect to it but it was starting to knock into my keyboard and my desk way too often. That’s where this handy watchband link remover comes in.
About a decade ago I used to work with watches and jewelry so I have a certain affinity towards them. This item here is the best tool for removing links from standard watchbands. You can’t use it for a screw-on band or for a stretchy band but it works perfect for one like mine and most on the market. The best reason to do it yourself is convenience. For under $3 you can always change your size should you gain/lose weight or just want a better fit and you don’t have to wait in those long after-Christmas lines. This isn’t a sales pitch, this is just how I use my own tool.
First up, you need to find the pins. They shouldn’t be too hard to locate as they’re on the edge of each watch link. Check both the left and right sides of the link and find the skinnier point for the link (hint- it should not have a line down the center) and that’s the side you want facing the ABC end of your link remover.
Put the pin facing the ABC side and line the pin up with your little screwdriver tool. Now screw in very gently until the pin pops right out. Set this pin aside, you’ll need it later. Now repeat this step on the opposite end of the link you are removing. The link and the second pin should fall out. You’ll want to keep that pin and link in case you need to resize in the future.
Now, time to reach for that first pin you set aside. You’re going to use the top compartment on your tool to hold the watchband on its side. Make sure that skinny side from before is facing down. Now push your pin in, skinny-side first, and give it a firm push until it clicks in place. Then you’re done!
You may want to remove links from above and below the watch face for balance and you’ll just repeat this process if that’s the case. If you’re still not convinced, the watchband link remover is also one of those perfectly priced items that will qualify you for free super saver shipping on Amazon if you’re just under that $25 mark. Don’t forget- the free shipping cutoff for Amazon is tomorrow, Tuesday 12/18/2012!Pin It
It’s time again for another cookie recipe. This one happens to have just 5 ingredients thanks to starting with a cake mix.
These chocolate fudge crinkles are a new recipe in my house but they went over so well I wanted to share them. I used a Betty Crocker chocolate fudge cake mix but I think this would go over great with the other cake mix flavors like strawberry or even yellow cake mix for a gooey butter-like cookie.
The secret to these cookies is to make them quite big before rolling them in powdered sugar. Don’t be tempted to make a ton of cookies since these get the best rise and crinkled effect if you just make 1 cookie sheet of cookies from this recipe. The double rolling in powdered sugar also makes sure the final cookie gets the maximum color contrast for that snow-dusted cookie effect. These cookies are very rich so make sure to eat them with some milk!
- 1 box chocolate fudge cake mix
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 2 Tablespoons water
- 2 large eggs
- 3/4 cup powdered sugar
- Stir together the cake mix, oil, water and eggs until it forms a very thick dough. Chill in fridge for 20 minutes to an hour.
- Remove dough from fridge and quickly scoop into 1-inch balls. After shaping each ball, roll it in powdered sugar and let it rest on a cookie sheet.
- Once all the balls have been shaped, roll each ball in powdered sugar for a second time.
- Bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. The centers of the cookies should be slightly gooey. Cool for 5 minutes on the pan before removing to a wire rack until completely cooled.
Today’s ornament is a really simple one that adds some texture to a Christmas tree. I found some gold paper on clearance at Michael’s while I was picking up the clear glass ornaments. When I got it home I decided to cut it into quarter inch strips with my paper cutter.
Once you get the strips cut (I used a dozen per ornament) wrap them one at a time around a pen or in my case, a chopstick. I would wrap them tight at an angle and then let go for the effect you see in the photo above. Have some variety in how tight you wrap or at what angle. The goal is to have a bunch of little ribbons made of paper. Then just gently slide each strand into your ornament one at a time.
When they’re all in, give the ornament a little shake just so they all jumble together. Here it is on my tree with my marbleized ornament in the background. See how well they coordinate with the gold color in each of them? This is a great filler ornament to pick up some colors and make for a matching tree.Pin It
This past weekend I tried a bit to get into the Christmas spirit. Christmas can be a hard holiday for me. I feel like if I don’t get something done then I’ve let people down and if I do get it done it’s often to the sacrifice of my own happiness. Awesome, right? I’m sure I’m not alone but it’s a constant struggle for me to find some balance.
This weekend was spent trying to find that sweet spot. I went with my mom down to Cherokee Street in St. Louis. If you’ve never been, it’s a walkable street with brick historic homes and storefronts. Many shops are filled with antiques or crafts. If you visit, you’ll notice the amazing food in this area too. It’s sort of the Mexican food capital of St. Louis. Today was also what is known as the Cookie Spree where every shop on the street that is participating has a cookie tray inside. Can you say way too stuffed?
I ate lunch at a place called Neveria La Vallesana. Very good burritos there. I also did a ton of window shopping. If you want some fun places to shop, The Purple Cow, Retro 101/Cherry Bomb Vintage, and St. Louis Curio Shoppe are your stops. If you want something practical, check out China Finders, Lady Jane’s, Haffner’s Antiques, or Hammond’s Books.
My two favorite shops of the day both heavily featured antiques. Elder’s Ltd had 3 stories of some of the most beautiful antique/mid-century furniture at reasonable prices. It’s a shame I wasn’t looking for that this time but I’ll definitely be back. My other favorite was the place I got my big purchase of the day, Bella. I’m not sure my dog is impressed but I’ve got high hopes for turning this tea cart from Bella’s into a bar cart. There was a 20% off sale going on today and they gave me a great deal and I can’t wait to get to work on this beautiful piece.
Oh and notice my blue dining room rug in the background? It got moved to the living room this week. I don’t know why, I just decided to mix it up. I might end up with a new rug in the dining room and it’ll work with this new bar cart look. I’m just trying to decide if I want to stick with blue as my accent in the dining room of if I’d rather go with a bolder color. Stay tuned for updates one day on that front.
The dining room did get a bit of a new look minus the rug being taken away. We put up our Christmas tree! It may not look like much, being a $16.99 purchase from back in 2005 but it means something. The year my husband bought it was his first in a new apartment back when he was still just my boyfriend. I was really sick that winter and had just gotten some bad news that I’d need more treatment so I am pretty sure he bought that cheap little tree to cheer me up at a time where money was tight.
I think that’s the important way for me to find some balance this season. Just stop and take a step back and remember all the little reasons to try hard this season. I don’t have to do everything right or everything perfect but I should try to do it with love and care and let the pieces fall where they may.
We’re down to the last Get Organized Now calendar of the year. Next year I’ll have new way to tackle household projects. For now, here’s the last few tasks to try to get in before the year’s end.
Source: Hello, Cuteness
November was a busy month for me. I’ve successfully transitioned into my new job, I ran a 5K, I started on my fireplace and I managed to survive Thanksgiving. In December I’ve got one last 5K, some shopping to do (don’t we all!?), and I want to make a bigger dent in that fireplace. Plus I’ve got these items I want to get in too:
- December 9: Shop local. Window shopping is okay, just make sure to do it with those you care about.
- December 11: Start planning your Christmas menu and turn it into a Christmas grocery list.
- December 18: Clean out the fridge. Eat all those leftovers and wipe down those shelves. Make sure you have plenty of space for all that food.
- December 19: Write down what tasks need to be done before Christmas (like charging batteries or cleaning) and assign each task a day. Remember to embrace the fine art of delegation and don’t do it all yourself.
- December 25: Enjoy your Christmas celebrations!
- December 28: Find a place for all your new items. This is a great time to decide if you need to keep an older item you upgraded. Start prepping for your 2013 donations by rounding up all the excess.
- December 31: Imagine what you want out of the next year. Don’t just make resolutions, make a plan that you can stick to.