Friday Confessions

A few confessions for this Friday….

* It grosses me out when people post pictures of their bare feet on IG or other social media platforms. I’m sure your nail polish and nail art is lovely but I don’t need to see your feet. Thanks but no thanks.

* I haven’t journaled a single page since my mom passed away. Not sure when that will change.

* Sometimes I wish that I could be more like my brother: carefree, living a slightly alternative lifestyle and being better at not giving a damn what other people think.

* I don’t like pies made with fruit. (The funny thing is that I could eat apple pies and etc. since the fruit has been cooked which makes me not allergic to the fruit anymore…but I don’t like it at all!)

* I yell at my Tupperware when it refuses to stack, stay on its shelf and generally misbehaves.

* Putting away clean dishes and laundry are my least favorite chores around the house. Love that their clean, hate putting them in their rightful spot so more often than not, they sit there…. for a few days…

* I don’t understand the point of Twitter anymore. I read most of the tweets and realize I don’t care at all about what people are saying. Does this make me old?

What, if anything, would you like to confess to today?

 

HGTV Wannabe

Late last week I stumbled upon a really old listing for our house online. We’re talking pictures where there was wallpaper on every single inch of our walls, gold and brass light fixtures hung from the ceilings and the furniture looked like it was straight out of a Miami Vice episode.

I sent the pictures to Knight and we had a good laugh and also marveled at how far we’ve come since we moved in a little over two years ago. We’ve done a lot to make the place ours:

* Painted nearly ever inch of the house
* New light fixtures everywhere
* Updated the blinds: no more pink hanging things or old plastic ones
* Changed out one bathroom vanity
* Took out a sliding shower door in the guest bath & replaced with an awesome shower rod that expands your perceived amount of room when in the shower
* New mirrors in all the bathrooms
* New faucets in all bathrooms and the kitchen
* New ceiling fans throughout the house
* Changed up the look of our master bathroom by adding bead board all the way around
* Added a built-in headboard to our master bedroom
* New curtains (the previous owner was kind enough to leave hers but they were not our taste)
* Updated landscaping and new landscaping
* And most recently, some new windows (thanks to my father who gifted them to us)

We may or may not watch too much HGTV in our house but we love these projects and updates.

I then started thinking about how we were able to pull all of this off because we are on a budget and don’t go spending willy nillie (even if I sometimes want to!):

* Knight is king of finding deals on websites like Brad’s Deals, Woot, and other similar sites. We scored our bathroom faucets (super cool ones that you touch turn to them on and off, rather than using the handle!) on Woot paying over half-off for each one. He’s had other equally awesome finds and deals over the last few years.
* We watch the circulars and our emails for places like Home Depot, Lowe’s and Menard’s, save all of our gift cards, and when the time is right, we go and grab another something on our house-to-do-list.
* When it comes to decor and design, I’m a huge fan of Home Goods, a nearby second hand decor store that has amazing things for great prices, and Target.
* We do all the work ourselves; I’m blessed that Knight is really into DIY and does it all correct so no issues! That’s saved us a ton on labor & installation. Unfortunately that won’t be the case with our upcoming bathroom reno.

We are left now with only the big projects: redoing our kitchen (top to bottom), refinishing our wood floors, updating the master bath and guest bath (thanks to the leak, the master bath is getting a partial reno starting in October), new doors and trim (we have lovely 1980s wood doors, no 6-panel ones) and the remaining 17 windows. Then there are other things like a new a/c unit, getting our driveway repaved and fixing some landscaping in our backyard.

What’s your favorite DIY project at your dwelling? How do you prioritize which home updates/remodeling to do? Any other websites or tips/tricks on how you save money on home improvement projects that you care to pass along? 

Review: Chaperoning Paris

chap parisChaperoning Paris by Victoria Pinder is a quick, engrossing read about Gigi (I love that name, always have) who is in charge of chaperoning a trip to Paris for her students, winds up having to ask her ex-boyfriend, from high school, to help chaperon the boys in her class. Next thing you know, Gigi is walking down memory lane, falling hopelessly (and helplessly) in love with her former flame, Sean and wondering if maybe, just maybe there’s a happy ending somewhere in there for her.

Full of characters that you’ll love (Gigi, Cary, Sean) and those you’ll grow to loathe (Gigi’s mom, for instance) this is a fast-paced read that will have you turning the pages. It’s a mostly lighthearted read that’s perfect for your upcoming trip or just to escape from the daily grind.

About the novel:

Gigi Dumont never forgot how she walked away from the only man she ever loved. 

She’s a teacher who has led her students to the finals of an international French competition to be help in Paris. The night before the trip, the principal tries to cancel the trip before he, in turn, loses his job to her high school boyfriend, Sean Collins. 

Sean Collins has survived cancer, a divorce, and Gigi having aborted their child back in high school. He assumed he’d hate her, if they ever crossed paths again. But he discovers she’s exactly what he wants. 

When Gigi and Sean are stuck together for a week in Paris, Gigi feels she has lost all her control. How can she survive her attraction to Sean? The man’s sexier now than he was back in the day, and once upon a time, he’d had her heart. She finds herself falling for him, even knowing forever is impossible.

 

Enter for a chance to win a $10 Amazon Gift Card and a Chaperoning Paris inspired key chain!

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I was provided an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Early Decision

Early Decision: A Novel transported me back to my junior and senior year in high school when I was focused on my grades, extra-curricular activities and working on my personal essay format (yes, we did focus on personal essays in high school. A LOT), all in the name of picking a college and getting into the “one,” that I wanted. Granted, my days were much different than the students in this book as I had next to no interest in the Ivy league schools, preferring instead universities that were four to six hours drive time from my parents. Early Decision PB

In this novel, Lacy Crawford takes you on the journey of five students as they navigate the college application process, their overbearing parents, trying to make their voice heard, and in one case, struggling against all odds to get into her dream school, a place she rightfully deserves to be. In the center of these students is Anne, their college application guru and adviser, helping not just with personal essays but helping the students to realize who they really are. Of course Anne’s personal life is a bit of a mess: her cheating boyfriend lives on the West Coast while she’s in Chicago; her parents aren’t fans of her line of work; her only and best friend is her dog Mitchell and suddenly her apartment building is not a fan of her dog and she doesn’t always agree with the parents she encounters.

There were a few parts of the book that moved a little slower than I would have liked/expected but overall this was a good read, earning 3.5 out of 5 stars from me.

A little about this book from Barnes & Noble:

A delightful and salacious novel about the frightful world of high school, SATs, the college essay, and the Common Application—and how getting in is getting in the way of growing up

Anne Arlington is twenty-seven, single, and in demand: she is the independent “college whisperer” whose name is passed from parent to parent like a winning lottery ticket, the only tutor who can make a difference with the Ivy League.

Early Decision follows one application season and the five students Anne guides to their fates: Hunter, the athletic boy who never quite hits his potential, a kind, heavily defended kid who drives his mother mad; Sadie, an heiress who is perfectly controlled but at the expense of her own heart; William, whose intelligence permits him to dodge his father’s cruel conservatism but can’t solve the problem of loneliness; Alexis, a blazing overachiever whose midwestern parents have never heard of a tiger mom; and Cristina, who could write her ticket out of her enormous, failing high school, if only she knew how.

What was your college application process like? Did you have your sights set on a certain college or location? 

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Exercise, Books, Being

* 31 workouts in August: I’m pleased to say that I’m sitting at 26 workouts as of today with only five more to complete by this Sunday. I’ve really enjoyed this challenge as it’s pushed me to work out harder and longer. I have worked out 5 to 6 days a week and added more workouts to my day so I’ve been seeing on average a minimum of 45 minutes of exercise each time. I’m happy to report that I can see differences in my upper body and more tone in my legs. My goal is to keep this up in future months. Thanks to Lisa for the idea and Stephany for the motivation and daily accountability texts that we’ve been sharing.

* Reading 60 books in 2014: I’m at 40 books for the year thanks in part to the massive number of romance novels I’ve read this year. There have been some excellent books in there, too. My most recent favorite is the Quilter’s Apprentice by Jennifer Chiaverini; there are other books in the series so I’m excited to read more of them in the coming months. Books have been my go-to this year when I need to escape or a dose of silly and in some cases, serious.

* Surviving: Many times other bloggers ask what my goal is for the year/month. While it may sound dramatic, my answer is often surviving. I got through and enjoyed the summer with the girls with minimal tears (on everyone’s part), only wanted to call my mom approximately 10,000 times with a question about this or that, but I learned to channel my inner-mom, as in what she would tell me to do. Apart from that, sometimes it’s all about getting through. There have been longer periods in between my grief spells which I’m thankful for but when the grief hits me like a wave it’s much more intense than before and lasts a few funk-filled days. There’s still the daily emptiness and inevitable reminder of my mom being gone, but I’m getting through day by day. I’ve been pouring myself into being a good wife, friend, sister, baking more, reading and exercising (see above!), and savoring as many moments as I can each and every day. I’m thankful it’s getting easier but I can honestly say I’m dreading my upcoming birthday and then all of November/December. The only way out is through, right?

Do you have any short or long term goals that you’re working on? How do you fit in workouts and reading during your week?

Review: 2 AM at the Cat’s Pajamas

2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajama’s by Marie-Helene Bertino is a gem of a book. Shortly after I received tcats pjshe book to review from TLC Book Tours, I saw the book featured as a “must read pick,” by the staff at my local Barnes & Noble. They weren’t wrong!

About this novel:

Madeleine Altimari is a smart-mouthed, rebellious nine-year-old who also happens to be an aspiring jazz singer. Still mourning the recent death of her mother, and caring for her grief-stricken father, she doesn’t realize that on the eve of Christmas Eve she is about to have the most extraordinary day—and night—of her life. After bravely facing down mean-spirited classmates and rejection at school, Madeleine doggedly searches for Philadelphia’s legendary jazz club The Cat’s Pajamas, where she’s determined to make her on-stage debut. On the same day, her fifth grade teacher Sarina Greene, who’s just moved back to Philly after a divorce, is nervously looking forward to a dinner party that will reunite her with an old high school crush, afraid to hope that sparks might fly again. And across town at The Cat’s Pajamas, club owner Lorca discovers that his beloved haunt may have to close forever, unless someone can find a way to quickly raise the $30,000 that would save it.
 
As these three lost souls search for love, music and hope on the snow-covered streets of Philadelphia, together they will discover life’s endless possibilities over the course of one magical night. A vivacious, charming and moving debut, 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas will capture your heart and have you laughing out loud.

There were parts of the book that were hard for me (the recent death of Madeleine’s mother, the grief-stricken father as it’s hits the nail on the head for me) to read and get through, but I was able to push on and forward through the those tough parts. I loved that Madeleine is a nine-year old with a goal: to be a jazz singer. Enjoyed the unlikely cast of characters that come together at the club, the Cat’s Pajamas, their stories, hopes and dreams weaving together, apart, together again and maybe apart once again. The book is at once bittersweet, poignant and will have you rooting for Miss Greene and her love interest, for the club to stay open and for Madeleine to find hope and her voice.

Giveaway opportunity: US & Canadian residents have a chance to win a copy of this book. Simply leave a comment letting me know what your dream as a nine-year-old was. All comments must be left by Friday, August 29th.

The Yum Files: Smoked Cookies

I love to bake, to create, to try new things in the kitchen; it’s one of my sources of joy. When I had a smoked chocolate chip cookie for the first time at Sugarfiresmoked cookie, I turned to Knight and told him that we must make them ourselves.

You see, at Christmas my parents gifted Knight a Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker so that he could start smoking his own meats. It’s been a dream of Knight’s for sometime and let me tell you, the delectable goodness that has come out of that smoker? Just mouth watering. We’re talking racks or ribs, brisket, turkey legs and this past week, Chocolate chip cookies. Yup, cookies. On a smoker.

HOLY. YUM.

The cookie comes out better than when you make it in the oven: a crisp cookie edge with a chewy, ooey-gooey center.

I posted a picture of my cookie on IG and several people asked for the recipe and details on how to do it. Truthfully, it’s rather simple!

  • Use your favorite chocolate chip (or peanut butter, sugar cookie, oatmeal raisin) recipe for the dough.
  • Heat your smoker to 325 degrees. If you don’t have a smoker an electric or gas grill will work well, too. If you’re using a smoker you can use your preferred flavor of wood chips/charcoal combination
  • For best results I recommend chilling your dough for at least an hour; let it sit for 5-10 minutes before you scoop 2 tablespoons onto grilling aluminium foil (so far we have had great success with Reynolds Wrap Grilling Aluminium Foil). Tip: be sure to measure how wide your smoker/grilll space is before so that your foil fits!
  • Place the aluminum foil with cookie dough onto the smoker or grill; close the cover for five minutes. Check to see if the cookie edges are browning all the way around. If not, continue to smoke/grill and check every 90 seconds or so (ours took about 8 minutes long in total). You can opt to close the cover or not after the first 5 minutes; depends on how much smoke flavor you want in your cookie.
  • Put on your oven mitts, grab the foil by the edges, and remove from the heat. Let cool for a few minutes so that you don’t burn your mouth, though I realize the temptation to eat them right away is tough!

Have you ever had a smoked chocolate chip cookie? Let me know if you try out this new way to bake a cookie and what you think! We can’t wait to make them again next time we have people over for dinner. 

 

Review: The Perfect Boyfriend

perfect boyfriend

The Perfect Boyfriend, by Renee Novelle, is the second novel in the Boyfriend Book Series, featuring Reagan and Ian as they work out the kinks in their relationship, overcome obstacles in their own (personal) lives, and figure out how to make their love work despite their long-distance relationship status. Coming in at just over 150 pages, this book is perfect for an afternoon by the pool, a lazy afternoon on the couch, or a great book to take on your next trip.

While I did not read the first book I was able to pick up on most of the story without any difficulty. The characters are likeable and in staying true to the New Adult romance genre, you’ll be rooting for Reagan and Ian as the story unfolds.

About this book:

As their friendship blossoms quickly into a steamy romance, Reagan and Ian have to learn to navigate their shifting relationship…and everything that entails. But their newfound bliss doesn’t come without a few unexpected challenges.

In the midst of realizing just how sweet the romance can be between them, and all the benefits of their new dynamic, Reagan is informed that her ideal situation has changed. Not only will she need to begin taking on more classes to speed up her graduation date, but she’ll also have to start looking for a job to supplement her fading income. Meanwhile, Ian has chosen to pull out of school once his father is diagnosed with a terminal illness in order to help manage the family business and spend time with him while he still can. But he wrestles with the guilt of leaving Reagan behind, and the pressure of his new responsibilities.

As the two meet their new challenges head-on, they’ll be forced to discover whether or not they’re as compatible as lovers as they were as friends. With their focus pulled in so many directions, will they have what it takes to keep a long distance relationship alive? Can Ian prove that he’s still be the perfect boyfriend, or will they fold to statistics under the growing tensions of their lives? Throw in some manipulative exes, a new boss with an inflated ego, and a co-worker from hell and the two have a recipe for either a fairy tale ending, or a complete disaster.

The Perfect Boyfriend is a New Adult Romance about trust, love, and discovering the true depths of personal strength.

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** I received an advanced reader copy of this book in exchange for honest review.**

Sometimes

Sometimes…

… it is necessary to take a guilt-free three hour nap on a Sunday afternoon.

… I find myself in a reading rut. So many books I want to read but yet when I pick them up none of them are what I’m looking for. Moments like that I wish my mom could hand me her latest favorite book; she always knew what I needed to read.

… you eat a smoked chocolate chip cookie at the latest popular restaurant and decide you have to buy several more to take home because, YUM.

… I no longer care that our house is in a bit of disarray: two holes in our ceiling, a hole in the side of our bathtub, furniture rearranged. Embrace the messiness, I say!

… ironing can wait in favor of a long walk with the hubs and dog.

… I stay up too late watching Scandal because binge watching this TV show is one of my favorite things.

… the house is way too quiet without the kidlets around.

… I’m reminded that I have the best neighbors, especially the ones that bring us a homemade pina colada “just because.”

… having conversations about TV show characters as if they were real is absolutely ok.

… I glance up at the hubs while he’s engrossed in work or reading and realize how lucky I am.

… I wish that I were still in school. I miss back-to-school time: new binders, notebooks, pens, pencils, the promise of a new year, new things to learn.

What’s on your “sometimes,” list today? 

 

Review: The New Men

New-Men-ECov-199x300The New Men by Jon Enfield is a raw, honest story about Tony Grams and his quest to find success in America. Grams goes to work for Henry Ford as one of the investigators: men sent into the homes of employees of the Ford Motor Company to be sure the employees are sober, dedicated, and thrifty. Throughout the novel Grams must decide what is more important to him: his job or his family, his morals & values or money. Set during a unique period in United States history, this novel gives a new perspective and look at the car boom, and examines the human element in a different way.

About The New Men, via Barnes & Noble:

Tony Grams comes to America at the start of the twentieth century, set on becoming a new man. Driven to leave poverty behind, he lands a job at the Ford Motor Company that puts him at the center of a daring social and economic experiment.

The new century and the new auto industry are bursting with promise, and everyone wants Henry Ford’s Model T. But Ford needs men to make it. Better men. New men. Men tough enough and focused enough to handle the ever-bigger, ever-faster assembly line. Ford offers to double the standard wage for men who will be thrifty, sober, and dedicated… and who will let Ford investigators into their homes to confirm it.

Tony has just become one of those investigators. America and Ford have helped him build a new life, so at first he’s eager to get to work. But world war, labor strife, and racial tension pit his increasingly powerful employer against its increasingly desperate enemies.

As Tony and his family come under threat from all sides and he faces losing everything he’s built, he must struggle with his conscience and his weaknesses to protect the people he loves.

Enfield writes a compelling story, with honest characters who aren’t afraid to examine their flaws and make tough decisions. It’s hard to write historical fiction book that hits the mark of intrigue and accuracy, but Enfield pulls it off. This isn’t a book I’d normally pick up on my own, but I found it pleasantly surprising.

Giveaway: United States and Canadian residents are welcome to leave a comment to enter to win a copy of this book! Let me know what your favorite historical fiction book is by this Friday, August 15th to enter.

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Disclosure: TLC Book Tours provided me with a copy of this book for the purposes of this review. All opinions are my own and I was not otherwise compensated for my review.