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Purple Fig Club: Cold Mountain

I can't believe we're closing in on the last book of 2016. Crazy how a whole year flies by!

It felt fitting to read this one as the weather turns a bit cooler, even if not to the extent of being snowy & bleak. For anyone who's still reading, let's jump into the discussion!

I couldn't have chosen a better quote from this book for the top image! Haha! This whole book felt quite exhausting to me. Which I don't mean in the sense of being terrible, but in the weariness of the landscape and the difficulty of the lives led there and, yes, sometimes in the reading about it.

Could life be any harder than it was for the characters in this book? The amount of work required to live off the land. The war. The violence.

While there is a beauty to the things Ada learns as Ruby teaches her, and to the things Inman discusses with the strangers he meets along his travels, there is also incredible hardship.

My favorite quote from the book by far was this one, to describe how hardship must be dealt with:

And it was pointless, he said, to think how those years could have been put to better use, for he could hardly have put them to worse. There was no recovering them now. You could grieve endlessly for the loss of time and the damage done therein. For the dead, and for your own lost self. But what the wisdom of the ages says is that we do well not to grieve on and on. And those old ones knew a thing or two and had some truth to tell, Inman said, for you can grieve your heart out and in the end you are still where you are. All your grief hasn't changed a thing. What you have lost will not be returned to you. It will always be lost. You're left with only your scars to mark the void. All you can choose to do is go on or not. But if you go on, it's knowing you carry your scars with you.

It's what Inman says to Ada when they at least find each other near the end of the book. He's speaking about all the tragedies they've faced, from his time in the war to her losing her father. And tragically, these words end up being like a guidebook to her, in dealing with losing him shortly thereafter.

The book is surely true to real life. Sometimes it's not a happy ending. You can make all the plans you want, but ultimately it's not up to you. And no matter what happens, you need to keep moving forward.

Not a joyful message, but a true one.

What did you think of the story? I feel like I found it worth reading but that between the heavy dose of narrative versus dialogue and the overall solemn tone to the book, I'm not sure I can say I enjoyed it. If that makes sense. A bit too heavy to apply that word to it. But I'm not sorry I read it. 


December 2016 Book Reminder

Whaaaat?! How is it almost December? I know I probably feel this way every year, but somehow it seems like it really flew by more quickly than ever before. Thanksgiving is next week, for goodness' sake!

Well, for those of us who are left to finish out the year, here is your final book of 2016. I'm excited for it!


Synopsis: Raised in a once-peaceful area of Pakistan transformed by terrorism, Malala was taught to stand up for what she believes. So she fought for her right to be educated. And on October 9, 2012, she nearly lost her life for teh cause: She was shot point-blank while riding the bus on her way home from school. No one expected her to survive. Now she is an international symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest- ever Nobel Peace Prize nominee. In this Young Readers Edition of her bestselling memoir, which includes excessive photos and material, we hear firsthand the remarkable story of a girl who knew from a young age that she wanted to change the world-and did.


Purple Fig Club: Boys in the Trees

Another month, another book! Apologies for getting this up late. Things have been pretty busy lately and I just didn't find the mental energy to put this together until now.

I hope everyone had a pleasant October! Happy belated Halloween!

So, I didn't know what to think going into this book. The amount of information I could have given you about Carly Simon wouldn't have been enough for you to identify her by. I didn't even remember she was the one who sings "You're So Vain." 

I had no idea her father was the Simon in Simon & Schuster. I had no idea they knew so many famous people, from inventors to athletes to artists ... it sounds like a crazy childhood!

It makes me wonder a little less about her seeming inability to figure out what she wanted from men. 

Yet, even though I can't relate to much at all about her life, I really enjoyed her writing style. I sometimes saved random selections of text (since I'm reading on a Kindle) just because I liked the way she explained something. For example:

"My nose wasn't the only way I disappointed him. After two daughters, he'd been counting on a son, a male successor to be named Carl. When I was born, he and Mommy simply added a y to the word, like an accusing chromosome: Carly."

The writing is sheer brilliance. And not just for the sake of being fancy. You can feel the way she bore the guilt and anger of not being who and what she felt her father wanted or expected. What a burden!

Another key point that stuck out to me was her stutter. For whatever reason she developed it, it's amazing that in singing, it just went away. What a freedom that must have felt. And how many performers nowadays are afraid to go on stage? It feels like the vast majority of what we get now are people who just want to be seen and known. I feel like there used to be more people who simply had something of value to say and the people who knew it forced them to say it so people could hear.

Or maybe I'm just feeling poetic and nostalgic. (Not that I was alive back then, but still! I grew up listening to a lot of 60s music, so I understand the vibe.)

Anyway, I want to thank you, mom, for suggesting this book. I had zero expectations and a little uncertainty going in, but I discovered what I often do with memoirs ... every life is interesting and has purpose. And each person has private things that you just don't know about them, even if they're famous, until they choose to share.

I felt like I got to sit and listen to a famous musician share their story and it was worth hearing. What did you all think?


November 2016 Book Reminder

Sorry this is going up a couple days later than usual. I've taken the past week off work and have been enjoying being a tad lazy and just doing fun stuff. (Meaning, I haven't been on the computer much.)

But without further ado, here's your next book!


Synopsis: Based on local history & family stories passed down by Frazier’s great-great-grandfather, Cold Mountain is the tale of a wounded Confederate soldier, Inman, who walks away from the ravages of the war & back home to his prewar sweetheart, Ada. His odyssey thru the devastated landscape of the soon-to-be-defeated South interweaves with Ada’s struggle to revive her father’s farm, with the help of an intrepid young drifter named Ruby. As their long-separated lives begin to converge at the close of the war, Inman & Ada confront the vastly transformed world they’ve been delivered.


Purple Fig Club: Seven Men

I meant to publish this review post before I left for Detroit for work, but I got too busy with doing laundry and packing and all that fun stuff. So thankfully I remembered to today while I have a few minutes.

I hope everyone is well and happy and enjoying the approach of (hopefully) cooler weather!

So, no beating around the bush ... I really enjoyed this book! Maybe it's the Internet user in me, but it was right up my alley to consume a number of mini-bios together rather than reading one full biography. Not that I don't think each of the men in the book aren't worth exploring more (although we of course already read in detail about Bonhoeffer), but my brain enjoys skipping from topic to topic sometimes.

There wasn't a single person whose life story I didn't find very compelling and also touching. Despite the fact that Metaxas wrote this book as sort of a motivational read for young men, obviously anyone can take away good moral and life lessons from it.

Can you believe I actually didn't know (or at least didn't remember) that Chuck Colson was initially associated with Nixon & Watergate? I knew about his prison ministry and books, but I guess I forgot or didn't realize his more notorious beginnings.

I'd heard OF William Wilberforce, but I couldn't have told you a thing about him beforehand. Just another reason I enjoyed this book. History is important and it comes alive when you have strong figures who are made to feel real to you to learn about. The struggles they faced, the injustices they fought against ... it all feels more passionate and important when you can follow specific narratives rather than just have dates and treaty names spat at you.

I liked that there was a mix of lifestyles: political figures, an athlete, full-time ministers... it just goes to show that you can be used by God to do great things no matter what area of life you feel led into. And often, those areas can uniquely position you for what your purpose will be.

I felt very inspired by the tough decisions each man made. Would I go to prison if I could potentially get out of it? Would I subject myself to ridicule knowingly? I'd like to think so, but it's hard to say for sure until you're put into that position. 

What did you all think? Did any particular person stand out to you? Anyone you learned something about that you didn't know before?


October 2016 Book Reminder

It's almost officially fall, which means we're heading into my favorite time of year. I wake up every morning wishing for cooler weather and looking forward to some time off from work here and there. Plus, spices, fall produce, all the change is always welcome!

Without further ado, here's your quick book reminder for next month. Somehow I will make it through this year's remaining books!


Synopsis: Simon's memoir reveals her remarkable life, beginning with her storied childhood as the third daughter of Richard L. Simon, the co-founder of publishing giant Simon & Schuster, her musical debut as half of The Simon Sisters performing folk songs with her sister Lucy in Greenwich Village, to a meteoric solo career that would result in 13 top 40 hits, including the #1 song "You're So Vain." She was the first artist in history to win a Grammy Award, an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award, for her song "Let the River Run" from the movie Working Girl.


Purple Fig Club: The Count of Monte Cristo

I'm sorry this is up so late! Truly, August became an insanely busy month and I have to confess ... I didn't get anywhere close to finishing the book (hangs head). It's the first time I haven't finished a book club book and it wasn't due solely to length because I just had trouble finding days where I could read at all.

How did you all fare?

At least I can fall back on the fact that I have read this book before. It won't help me remember all the details I didn't get to yet this time around, but I do at least know the characters and generally how it progresses and concludes.

This is one of my favorite classic novels. (One of the reasons I really wanted to read it again!)

I remember being angry at the deception leading to Edmon Dantes' imprisonment and my fascination at how he escapes by nearly (accidentally) being drowned. Then the intricate planning, once he has the buried treasure, behind how he is going to exact revenge on those who ruined his life.

All I could think, after the book, was that even though there are some good deeds done, such as rescuing Morrel from bankruptcy, it struck me how veangeance overtook Dantes. 

It's not that he shouldn't feel angry at those who wronged him or that he shouldn't want to see some form of justice come to them, but I remember how it consumed him and it seemed to me like he remained in prison long after he had physically escaped because he couldn't forgive and get back to life.

On a lighter note, I'll admit that when younger me read this, I also fascinated by the idea of finding immense wealth and becoming mysterious and powerful. Not necessarily for the sake of revenge, but just because it was cool to find out where Dantes was going with each revenge story as it unraveled. Kind of like reading a detective case.

Well, like I said, I can't go as in-depth as I would like, which is sad, because this book deserves some robust discussion! But I just had so much going on last month that the time caught up to me.

What thoughts did you have?


September 2016 Book Reminder

I am so far behind on The Count of Monte Cristo right now, it's not even funny! Thank goodness I've at least read it before. I've just been so busy lately, I'm not making the progress I expected to. Hopefully you all are having a better time of it than me.

But we're not quite at deadline yet, so let's not worry about it too much. Instead, I wanted to put up the reminder of what book we have coming up for September!


Synopsis: Written in a beautiful and engaging style, Seven Men addresses what it means (or should mean) to be a man today, at a time when media and popular culture present images of masculinity that are not the picture presented in Scripture and historic civil life. What does it take to be a true exemplar as a father, brother, husband, leader, coach, counselor, change agent, and wise man? What does it mean to stand for honesty, courage, and charity, especially at times when the culture and the world run counter to those values?

Each of the seven biographies represents the life of a man who experienced the struggles and challenges to be strong in the face of forces and circumstances that would have destroyed the resolve of lesser men.


Purple Fig Club: The Boys in the Boat

I may be biased in my opinion since I picked this month's book, but I really loved it! I don't remember how I came across it at the end of last year when I was looking for reading options for our club, but I'm so glad I did.

I would never have thought I would've been so interested to read a book about college boys learning to row as a crew team, but the people that the story follows, the historical setting and yes, even the details about what rowing entails and what it physically does to a person, all made it a fascinating read. I hope you all enjoyed it too if you were able to get to it!

At first, I thought the historical setting would be the most interesting factor and it definitely was one crux of the story, but amazingly, I got even more lost in the back stories of the young men, particularly the main character Joe Rantz. The time they grew up in where the economy was suffering and they had basically nothing. In his case, not even family to rely on.

It amazes me how his future, at least in his eyes, hung on the thin thread of making this rowing team. I don't know anyone today who worked as hard as Rantz did to make money in between semesters and to become good enough to be chosen for the varsity, and finally, Olympic rowing team.

Another thing that grabbed me was the physicality of rowing. The insane demands it makes on a human body. And how rowing isn't just about the right set of skills, but also a cohesive team of people who can work in sync and trust each other. It gives me a lot more knowledge and respect for the sport!

One point of interest for me, as I mentioned to Sarah Beth when we got together for dinner, was that Hugh Laurie's father was one of the British Olympic rowers. I found that fascinating, as I had no idea, and I really like Laurie as an actor!

Likewise, I found it heartwarming that Joe & Joyce were high school sweethearts and stayed together until their last days. It was an incredibly beautiful love story.

By the time the book got to the part where they were actually rowing for the gold medal, I couldn't see how they were actually going to do it, even though the whole synopsis of the book is that they do. Haha!

Windblown lane, sick stroke, bad start ... I mean, did they even have a chance? It was utterly inspiring to me how they pulled through together in spite of everything. Just incredible!

I could go on and on about the book, but I'd rather leave some room for you all to add your thoughts and so I'll leave you with one of my favorite excerpts:

"But what Joe didn't yet know--what he wouldn't, in fact, fully realize until much later, when he and the other boys were becoming old men--was that every boy in the boat felt exactly the same that summer. Every one of them believed he was simply lucky to be rowing in the boat, that he didn't really measure up to the obvious greatness of the other boys, and that he might fail the others at any moment. Every one of them was fiercely determined not to let that happen."

I just find that so overwhelmingly beautiful. Not just because it reveals their humble natures, but also a life truth: that we often compare ourselves to others and find ourselves lacking, but many times, the people we are comparing ourselves to feel the reverse. It's both a lesson not to compare yourself to anyone else and also a perfect image of good boys who wanted to work hard, support their friends and do their best in everything.


August 2016 Book Reminder

Well, there's no doubt we're in the middle of the hottest part of the year, but it's still bizarre that I'm posting up the book reminder for August already. My, how the time flies! As I write this, I'm excited because Sarah Beth is actually in town and I will get to see her in just a couple of days! Woohoo!!

I hope the summer is going by smoothly for all of you! And we're slowly approaching a very important time of the year... can anyone guess?  ;)

Well, without further ado ... although I think we all already know what our next book is ... here you go!


Synopsis: Thrown in prison for a crime he has not committed, Edmond Dantès is confined to the grim fortress of If. There he learns of a great hoard of treasure hidden on the Isle of Monte Cristo and he becomes determined not only to escape, but also to unearth the treasure and use it to plot the destruction of the three men responsible for his incarceration. 


Yoga Inversions

Well, I just finished a month-long yoga inversion challenge and figured it would be fun to post some of the more interesting poses I worked on. Most of these are not perfect, obviously, since I've never done them before and I need more flexibility to achieve a number of them. But I'm proud of all of my results because I worked hard!

I hope you're not tired of seeing my yoga pictures yet because I have a ton. Lol! 

I don't know where to start really because I don't want to bother with putting them in chronological order. It would take too long to figure that out. So I guess I'll begin with headstands, move on to handstands and then finish with arm balances.

This first one actually was one of the earlier poses and I look crazy, but only because I forgot to close my eyes. Your face pretty much always looks crazy straight on when your eyes are open. Haha! This one was super hard because everything is pulled in so tightly.

This next one was one of my first ever headstands away from the wall. The idea here was to twist the hips so it's not perfectly straight up and down. It's a little hard to tell, but I did try to rotate my legs to one side.

This one is actually not too hard. You need a little core strength to lift up the leg, but I got it pretty quickly.

By comparison, this was was VERY HARD! So, as you can imagine, going into a headstand is scary because you don't want to fall over backward. But with your hands positioned so tightly in the middle like this, you add in a side-to-side wobble as well...not to mention the leg positioning. I attempted this one MANY times before getting it done and I was wiped out!

This next one was tricky because I am not yet flexible enough to fold my legs into a lotus position without using my hands. So I leaned back against the wall and balanced on my head and one hand while I got the legs in and then repositioned. LOL! One day, I will do this pose the proper way.

So, the one below wasn't part of my challenge, but I saw it online and thought it looked pretty cool. I didn't execute it as perfectly as the photo I saw it in, but I still think it looks interesting.

Last headstand has an alternate arm position. This one looks crazy, but I actually didn't have any trouble with it. You just have to stay calm and breathe slowly so as not to freak out at the idea of it. (That's the key to a lot of yoga actually.) Haha! It's called a hollowback position, for obvious reasons.

Okay, moving on to handstands... I'm only posting two of these. For one thing, we didn't do that many and for another, the pictures don't look different enough for me to want to inundate you with them. I'm still not very good at balancing in handstands. I need a LOT more practice!

This first one was to practice tucking one leg. Eventually I'd like to be able to tuck both without losing my balance.

And the second one is just putting the legs in eagle position. I definitely used the wall to assist me here! (I think it's important that you know these pictures may look good, but none of this is easy for me and I still use props and walls to get some of these poses done.)

And now on to arm balances. To be honest, this inversion base used to be the most difficult one for me. I found the whole positioning awkward. But now that I've practiced these a lot more, I'm getting better at them and I actually think handstands are going to be my biggest challenge in the end.

The first one here is tucked legs, which makes balancing very difficult. And the added hurdle here was doing it with crossed arms.

So this one wasn't too bad overall, but I had to do it a few times to figure out the distance from the wall (I started much closer and worked my way out). It was fun though, aside from being hard to breathe in. I'm trying to be less scared of backbends as I work on them more and this wasn't a very deep one.

Technically, this one and the last one have my head on the floor, but I'm still including them in arm balances. The one below actually was supposed to have my head off the floor and looking toward my foot, but there was NO way I could do that yet. And, also technically, I was supposed to walk my leg in until I could grab my foot with my hands. Also not happening yet. I definitely modified this and it was still crazy hard!

Last up in arm balances is a scorpion pose on forearms. The full pose requires you to touch your feet to your head, but my spine is not quite ready for that! I was just proud I practiced this away from a wall and got it done! This was always one of those insane-looking poses that I never imagined I would try myself, so I feel pretty pleased with it.

And now, I realize I actually forgot a category, so I'll put the last few photos here. There are all kinds of other "stands" you can do. So, below, are a few examples.

The first is a shoulderstand. This was one of the earlier poses. Not too tricky. Legs in lotus, roll backward onto shoulders. 

Next up is a chinstand. It looks nuts, but after a few tries to figure out how to balance in it, I actually didn't think it was that bad. It's always a good day when you try something new and crazy only to realize you can do it!

And lastly, the actual last pose from the challenge. Scorpion again, but this time in a chinstand. I started off on the couch and sort of melted into it, but after some practice, I was able to lift away and up. Super proud of this effort! And the fact that Molly wandered over to cuten up my photo didn't hurt.

I hope you all enjoyed seeing some of these. I certainly had fun doing them. Each day, week, month, I'm trying to learn more and get better! You never know what you can do until you try. wink


Purple Fig Club: Along the Infinite Sea

Oh my goodness! I barely finished this month's book in time. Initially, I just took too long finishing a personal book at the end of May that bled over into this month, but then I was trying to borrow a digital version of Along the Infinite Sea so I didn't have to buy it and I had to wait for a "copy" to become available, so I started another personal book. Of course, halfway into my own book, the club book became available, but I didn't want to read both at the same time ... conundrums!

Haha! So, anyway, I pushed through and just finished it in time to get a review post up at about the customary one-week-before-the-end-of-the-month mark. Whew!

Hopefully you all have had a chance to finish it as well, but if not, you have a few days longer than I do before the end of the month gets here.

So, what did I think of this book? Hmm ... having just finished the last page minutes ago, I haven't really digested it entirely, but I did enjoy it overall.

It was definitely a romantic story, though perhaps not one I can relate to on a personal level. It was most certainly a portrait of how messy life can be and of course the time and setting added to the struggles of the characters. I do like how no one ended up truly a villain, which is often how life is: circumstances that sometimes fall into gray areas. 

Or perhaps, as I see being the case with Johann, we do things that are wrong, but then we finally come to realize we've been wrong and work hard to redeem ourselves. He was someone I could relate to. Someone who had a difficult time in life with his wife dying young ... a man who wanted to do the right thing, but perhaps out of fear or a sense of duty, took longer that he might have wished to realize he needed to make a drastic change in his behavior.

I'm not sure how I felt about Annabelle. She drew me in as someone interesting to watch and she was very decisive and strong-willed, and clearly wanted to do what was right. She was also dealt a series of unfortunate circumstances and tried to make the best of them, so I certainly felt for her. But since I don't agree with some of her life choices, I also didn't closely relate to her as a person. Someone I could be friends with perhaps, but not someone I saw myself in.

And with Stefan, he was a well-crafted romantic interest: handsome, madly in love with Annabelle, beleaguered as a Jew during Hitler's rise to power ... someone who you can feel sorry for, root for and find compelling in the way he was faithful to Annabelle no matter what happened to him.

I was madly curious, right up until the end, about why Stefan and Annabelle had not spent their lives together, especially once we learned that they escaped Germany. It was again a noble decision on his part to stay and try to help his Jewish brothers and sisters instead of going to live the life he'd wanted all along. It makes their final reunion very sweet.

Aside from the main story, though, I also enjoyed reading about Pepper. I realize this is a series and I'm probably missing a larger picture around the Schuyler sisters, but I found her entertainingly acidic and sassy, while still being a nice person. She was a good foil to throw into the mix, but perhaps I'm missing why her part of the story was included at all (which is obviously not to say that I didn't like it). I just mean that Annabelle's story could have been told without it. But I believe the series is about the Schuylers, so perhaps I'm missing the tie-in.

At any rate, aside from the copious, copious sex scenes (which, look, I get it and sex is a part of life, but my goodness people! Did they do anything but...?), I found the story terribly romantic and tragic and ultimately satisfying. It was wrapped up more neatly than perhaps feels realistic, considering that both Johann and Stefan get Annabelle in the end, but it was still happy, so I didn't really mind.

I thought it was definitely a quick and good summer type of read! What were your thoughts on this one? 


July 2016 Book Reminder

Well, we made it to the throes of summer, everyone! And with it, a book about boats. Somehow that seems fitting, right?

I hope everyone is doing well now that we’re halfway through the year. (Wait, whaaaat? How did that happen?!) Well, anyway, let’s make the second half just as awesome!


Synopsis: Daniel James Brown’s robust book tells the story of the University of Washington’s 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal, a team that transformed the sport and grabbed the attention of millions of Americans. The sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the boys defeated elite rivals first from eastern and British universities and finally the German crew rowing for Adolf Hitler in the Olympic games in Berlin, 1936.


Yoga Practice

Look! I finally found a few minutes to blog about something! Woohoo!!!

Apologies to my mom who has seen just about every one of these photos before (had to brag to someone!), but since I haven’t talked about it here yet, I really wanted to record my thoughts and images so I can look back later in one place and track my progress. Plus, I'm just really proud of how hard I've been working and can't hold it in!

Long story short, last month I decided to join a couple of yoga challenges on Instagram. Having never done it before, the idea confused me when an online friend recommended one to me, so I’ll explain what I’ve learned. Generally, one or more yoga teachers will put together a month-long calendar of yoga poses, often with a theme, and you can follow their accounts to view and get a tutorial on how to do each daily pose, and then you post a photo of you doing it and tag it with the challenge name so that the hosts and other participants can see it.

There are lots of these going on all the time, so you often have your pick of challenges each month. Last month, I did one called May I Begin Yoga, which takes you through a lot of the foundational poses (Downward Dog, Plank, etc.) and I also did one way beyond my current skill level that was teaching hip openers. (I did a lot of modifications! I'm not quite to Leg Behind Head stage yet. LOL)

I have many current goals, including increasing flexibility in my hips, back, shoulders, etc. so I’m doing more yoga and also just started a morning & evening stretching program for June. And plus, it’s really just fun to set goals for things you either definitely can’t do yet or have never tried before and see what you can work up to!

I’ve joined another couple of yoga challenges for June, one of which is only 10 days long and another of which focuses on inversions (handstand, headstand, etc.). Yikes! Should be interesting… but my new motto is nothing ventured, nothing gained. wink

Anyway, needless to say, I’ve collected a LOT of photos of me doing yoga (thank you, Adam!) and I thought it would be fun to share some of the more interesting ones to look at. Plus, it’ll be nice to look at this down the road when, hopefully, I’ve improved on many of these.

So without further ado…

This was the first day that I ever successfully did a headstand (April 16). This version, called tripod because of the positioning of your head and hands, is the easiest to balance in, in my opinion. But still looks just as cool as the harder ones!

I also tried one out with a different leg balance for fun. (Molly kept rubbing against the side of my head while I was doing this, for an added difficulty level.)

Next up is a variation of wheel pose with one leg. Super hard, but I’ve found that the better your form is (straighter arms being key), the easier the weight of the leg comes off the ground.

This one (Warrior II) is not a difficult pose, per se, but I thought Adam’s framing of the shot that morning was perfection!

This next one is similar to Warrior II but with an arm bind. It's called Interlock. I’ve definitely gotten better at this one as I work on flexibility. A couple years ago, I used to not be able to do this one on one side and now I can do both. Yay! I mean, I'll never be perfectly symmetrical, but it's nice to increase flexibility in my tighter shoulder.

(Side note: I'm also trying to learn the Sanskrit names for these as I go along. The more times I see them, the easier it becomes. This one for example is Virabhadrasana II. Easy, right?)

So, this pose was part of my hip flexibility challenge last month. Harder than it looks actually if you have tight hips and shoulders, but I thought it turned out pretty neat. It’s a combination of a half lotus (the left foot on right hip) and bound boat (arm behind back is the bind and leg out is boat).

Crane pose! I’m actually pretty good at this arm balance, although there are always tweaks to make in yoga. I want to work on my knee placement and arm straightening.

Another area I want to improve on, but which scares me the most (more than inversions, surprisingly ... falling on your face becomes less scary after you do it a few dozen times ... you didn't read that, mom) is spinal flexibility and backbends. They're just so intense and I feel inside out when I'm doing some of them. My current "ultimate" goal would be King Pigeon. Click to see. I can do up to step 7 here, but that's about it!

This camel pose is one I should practice more. The longer you stay there and breathe, the more you open up. I really should work on my back more than I do, but I can only balance so many goals at once!

This one I just did for fun because I’d never done it before, but I'd seen photos of it and thought it would be cool to try. It’s called Eight-Angle Pose and don’t ask me which 8! Lol (Wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips?)

A few more inversions for you now…

This is a Tripod Egg, which is basically the starting position before going into a full Tripod Headstand. I had some fun and did this at MegaCon last weekend for a more festive background.

Okay. This next one is not proper form. But I pushed myself to try this over and over and over because it is so hard! I actually started in a headstand and then lifted up to this forearm balance (with copious use of the wall). The idea was to do a half lotus with the legs, which technically I am doing, but I am obviously not straight here. Still, this is my first forearm balance EVER and I was so proud I didn’t give up! (May 14)

This, likewise, was my first handstand (May 18)… again with a wall assist. But I’ve learned baby steps is the only way sometimes! I ended up using some grippy gloves here because my hands were getting sweaty. Lol! The legs are in Bound Angle position, which you can also do while seated for a hip stretch.

And last, finally! For my new inversion challenge this month, yesterday's Day 1 posture was Downward Dog at the wall. So incredibly difficult with the amount of weight on the arms!

Adam had to keep telling me to bring my legs down so they’d be parallel. They felt totally straight to me at the time and they were like two feet too high! Haha. Weird how your mind doesn't always knows what your body is doing. That's why practice and photos help so much!

And as I walked them down, it got heavier ... and heavier... Yikes! Definitely a toughie.

Okay, that's it! Maybe I’ll post more of these in future if you find them cool to look at. I’m working hard to challenge myself and get stronger, more flexible and more balanced. It’s fun! If you're on Instagram and want to follow my fitness account, it's piit_princess_liz

Don't ask. Lol. It has to do with the name of the HIIT exercise program I do. 

Happy Thursday, everyone!


Purple Fig Club: Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good

Well, May just blew up my life! Lol. Suddenly, everything is super busy all the time, which you may have guessed from my lack of posting lately. Sorry about that!

Work is busy. Life is busy. The grass grows a foot every five days... Haha! Somehow I will keep up with it all, but I’m hoping that will include more content here soon. I still want to chat with you all, if only I can find the time to write about things…

Anyway, on to the book review!

I have to confess that I’m only 80% done with the book at the time I’m writing this, but I didn’t want to post this any later since I’m not sure when I’ll finish. Which is crazy, considering I normally read two books per month and I’m barely going to finish this one! But like I said, life’s been incredibly full lately.

My only real critique of the book is not even the book’s fault. I found it slightly challenging at times to latch on to the setting, the characters and their relationships to one another. Of course that’s only because this is a later book in a series and I haven’t read the others.

Otherwise, I’ve found the read to be very enjoyable. Every person in the story feels like a real person, which isn’t always a given. I feel like I’ve really gotten to know each of them and that if the author was pressed, she could write a whole story about each of them because they’re so fleshed out in her mind.

And the humor is great too! It’s such an accurate portrait of life, whether you live in a small town or not, whether you’re retired or not, whether you have similar problems or not.

People getting into each other’s business. People helping each other. People making mistakes. People struggling through hard times.

I can see how someone might label the story “boring” because it is mainly just a walk through the eyes of this retired priest without any crazy culmination of events or sensational blowups. But truly, isn’t this what most of our lives are like? A series of events, some good, some bad, and everyone walking through it all. I think it’s sort of genius actually.

How did you all like it?

(Also, since I've apparently totally lost my ability to remember things, count this as your June book reminder! We're on to Along the Infinite Sea next!)


Purple Fig Club: Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims

Happy Earth Day, everyone! I hope your day on our beautiful planet is a great one. I’m hoping for some rain today myself. They keep forecasting it the last couple of weeks and then we really don’t get any at our house and I love a good rainstorm, so it’s been disappointing. Fingers crossed!

Believe it or not, it’s time once again to review a book. This one was definitely a quick read, which I was grateful for since, in just a few months, we have (dum dum dummmm!) The Count of Monte Cristo in all its enormity. Prepare yourselves. But back to the book at hand…

So I had a love-hate relationship with this book. Which sounds like a strong reaction to a relatively straightforward book. Lol. But it’s the best way I can describe it.

I didn’t know what the style of the story was going into it, so it threw me for a loop a few times. The idea of Rush Revere time-traveling to help historical events come alive for kids is not a bad idea in theory. I just didn’t anticipate a magical talking horse, for example. I had anticipated the writing being a lot more “straight” than it was, but ultimately it was definitely geared toward a younger audience, so I can see why all the extra fantastical elements were added in.

As an adult reading this, it felt a little cliché at times. The substitute teacher gloms onto the two misfits in the class who actually turn out to be good, smart kids when given the chance. Yada yada yada. However…

If I were a kid reading this, I would likely have related to those characters the most, so I also can’t slam it as a concept. Plus, I do get that trying convince a great student to care about learning is preaching to the choir, so I was ultimately okay with it.

The bottom line is that I think that the elements I would normally criticize were mainly due to the fact that it was too far below my reading level for me to connect to personally. But that doesn’t mean I can negate the book as a whole simply because I’m not in elementary school anymore.

I do wish it hadn’t gotten political (insofar as the few discussions around capitalism vs. communism), but it’s Rush Limbaugh for goodness sake! I don’t know what I was thinking. wink

Anyway, I think this turned out to be a book with good teaching value for children, but maybe not complex enough for me to dive into as an adult. What did you think?


April 2016 Book Reminder

I hope all of you are enjoying the beginnings of spring and some beautiful, long days! I'm loving life myself and chugging steadily along in my 25-book goal for the year. I'm also halfway through round 2 of my fitness program, so that feels good too! And taxes are all done, so there's lots to be thankful for right now.

Believe it or not, we're already midway to March (!), so it's time to remind everyone what book to try to get a hold of in the next couple of weeks if you haven't already. Tip: If you read on the Kindle, this one may be available to borrow from your local library since I've already checked for myself. Free books are the best!


Synopsis: After five hectic years of retirement from Lord's Chapel, Father Tim Kavanagh returns with his wife, Cynthia, from a so-called pleasure trip to the land of his Irish ancestors. While glad to be at home in Mitford, something is definitely missing: a pulpit. But when he's offered one, he decides he doesn't want it. Maybe he's lost his passion.


March Visual Food Diary: Week 4

I made it through week 4 of taking food pictures. It’s a miracle! You don’t know how many times I started munching, ate half of or entirely finished a meal before realizing I hadn’t photographed it. LOL. Or maybe you did since some of my photos are copy/pastes of previous times I ate a KIND bar or stock photos from a restaurant website or simply pictures of half-eaten food.

Oh well. It’s not like it’s a natural thing to take pictures of everything you eat, so I don’t feel bad I didn’t do a perfect job. But I am glad I’m all done because now I can eat with abandon!

This also means that I finished my 28-day PIIT fitness challenge! Woohoo!!! As a reward, I’m buying myself a new set of workout clothes (whenever I have time to go look) and making my triple layer lemon cake (from the baking project a few years back). Andee & her husband are coming over on Saturday, so it gives me an extra excuse to make such a big dessert because they’ll help me eat it and take some of the leftovers home.

I did well again this week. I did eat one extra dessert, but it was just a Cadbury egg and totally on purpose because I only get them once a year and it was my little pre-Easter treat. So yay for eating a well-balanced diet!

Oh right, a few last things...

Every March, the comic book store Adam & I frequent does their own version of March Madness with a different coupon each day. It's our tradition to make sure we go on the Wednesday that they do trivia because the more questions you answer right, the more stamps you get on your card (leading to money off purchases). And it was also our tradition to eat at Tijuana Flats after going to the store. We hadn't been together in so long (Adam mostly just picks up our comics on Fridays when he goes to judge/play HeroClix every week now that we read a lot more digital comics, etc.) that I really missed my chicken tostadas & beer, so it was extremely satisfying to place that order! LOL 

Next, I did totally splurge on pizza on Saturday night, but in my defense, even though it wasn’t the healthiest choice, I was STARVING from my intensive workout and I didn’t feel stuffed after, so I think I just need the extra calories.

And lastly, we went to a late-morning brunch on Easter Sunday at Cask & Larder (my favorite!) and had the most amazing babka & beignet combo to start, then I had a tamale with carnitas, a sunny-side-up egg, salsa verde, pickled onions, pepitas, a crumbly cheese (queso fresco?) & microgreens on top. I don’t know if it looks appetizing in the picture since I’d eaten most of it, haha, but it was one of the best things I’ve EVER eaten. I’m tempted to go back soon and order it a second time!

Anyway, these are the last of my food pics. Hurrah!

Day 22: Tuesday

Day 23: Wednesday

Day 24: Thursday

Day 25: Friday

Day 26: Saturday

Day 27: Sunday

Day 28: Monday

I'm really proud of this last day in particular. I think I ate pretty darn healthy. I'm excited to eat my lunch the next few days! I went to the trouble (& expense) of going to Whole Foods for Wild Alaskan Salmon (versus the farmed kind they sell at Publix) and decided to make something that screamed Spring! So it's salmon over spring mix with asparagus and peas, and that middle section is quinoa mixed with smashed avocado and lime juice. So good!


Purple Fig Club: Don’t Swallow Your Gum!

This month's book was not deep or thoughtful, by any means, and it wasn't supposed to be. I just thought it might be fun to learn which "truths" we grew up believing were actually based on false information or no information at all!

It was funny while I was reading it too because my Kindle told me I was about halfway through the book and suddenly is was over. There was such a long bibliography and glossary section that it was the whole second half of the book. Crazy! 

I read a few of the debunked myths to Adam and it was hilarious. He still refuses to believe some of them aren't true, much like the authors said might happen. So now we have important issues to fight over! (Lol. Just kidding!)

For example, one he still thinks is true is colored mucus indicating an infection. He bases it on years upon years of sinus infections and the fact that, as the book also states, doctors even believe it and tell you, their patient, that it's true. Right? Wrong? Circumstantial? You decide!

I found some sections of the book more interesting than others. One section I got kind of bored in was the one on children. Not because I don't have kids, but because I had never heard of most of those myths to begin with, so I wasn't as invested in reading about them. Do you not get told about these things unless you have a kid and people want to scare you? If so, that seems insensitive.

Putting breast milk in their ears to treat or prevent infection? What? Never heard of it.

There were a few though that I definitely believed or at least wavered on, like dogs having cleaner mouths than humans and not letting someone go to sleep if they have a concussion ... oh, and whether or not urine helps relieve jellyfish stings. It was really interesting reading the reasons behind why a lot of myths became so widely believed and also why they're not reliable if you look at the science.

One of the craziest was that military study showing that most of your heat leaves through your head based on sending guys out into sub-freezing temperatures all bundled up, but with no hats. Nuts!!

What else...? Oh, it was nice to have it confirmed that you can't get the flu from a flu shot and that underarm antiperspirant doesn't cause breast cancer. Weird the way those rumors get started, right?

I also got a big laugh about the 5-second rule. That whole part about the worst offender being balogna on tile just caught me as hilarious. I don't know why. I just pictured a scientist in a lab coat standing there and throwing meat at the floor, hearing it slap to the ground, checking his watch for the time and then picking it up to test the bacteria on it. Ah, science!

So, fellow readers!

Which myths did you believe before reading about their sandy foundations? Do you still believe any of them even though you've been told why they're scientifically not true? If so, please share why. I find it fascinating!


March Visual Food Diary: Week 3

I did it, you guys! Back to only two desserts for this past week. And I actually had only one alcoholic beverage, so it was a stellar week all around. I did end up eating some "junk" food because we went out with people over the weekend, including to the Winter Park Art Festival, but hey, you've gotta enjoy life, right?

Other than that, I've stayed on track and as of this morning, I just completed the first workout of week 4 of my challenge. So, all in all, March has been a solid month for me in fitness!

I'm happy to say that I have only one week left of this! Not the exercising. The taking pictures of food. LOL. It's so much work to remember to take the pictures, then compile and post them. I'll be happy to have that time and mental energy back. But still, it's been interesting to take a look at my diet this way. And it has encouraged me to make good choices, so there's that too. 

If I did this for a whole year (I won't), it would actually be fun to see the change in meal choices over the seasons. I've been trying to mostly stick to a winter to spring transition fruit- & veggie-wise. There have been a few fudges here and there because of a craving, but I try pretty hard to eat what's fresh. Not only is it cheaper, but those things taste the best if you eat them at their peak. I'm getting pretty excited for rhubarb, corn, cherries, peas, etc.

I need the switch soon because I've definitely tired of potatoes, Brussels sprouts and squash for a few months! I think maybe this weekend, I'll roast up an artichoke. Mmmm...

(Also, wow, glancing down at these image compilations, I realize I have a few typos in there. But at this point, whatever. I don't feel like going back to fix them. Sometimes laziness is a time saver!)

Day 15: Tuesday

Day 16: Wednesday

Day 17: Thursday

Day 18: Friday

Day 19: Saturday

Day 20: Sunday

Day 21: Monday

These last two cookies count for this week, not the previous one, so my two desserts from last week were the Weight Watchers snack ice cream bar and 2 cookies. Go willpower!


Important Yogurt Research

Haha! I do hope you appreciate the tongue-in-check of this entry title. The funny thing is, I don't typically eat much, if any, yogurt. But I was in Whole Foods last weekend looking for something specific and ended up looking at EVERYTHING, as I am wont to do.

Which led to me buying things I normally wouldn't. Which explains why I'm not allowed to go to fancy grocery stores on the regular. Still, I think you'll find that my splurge provides you with some extremely useful information that will change the way you eat yogurt ... or something.

I really didn't grab like one of every kind of yogurt in order to do a comprehensive report on what's available in your local dairy section today. I just thought, after bringing them home, that it might be fun to report back. So here's my summary of 3 new brands I tried.


This yogurt is Icelandic-style skyr. (pronounced “skeer”) Skyr is comparable to Greek yogurt but slightly milder in flavor. It’s a high-protein strained yogurt with a lower sugar content than most American-style yogurts.

The first flavor I tried: Mixed Berries & Acai. Stats: 110 calories, 14g protein, 11g sugar

Super creamy, like a soft cheese-level thickness
Ingredients: Milk from grass-fed, non-GMO cows and no artificial anything, including preservatives
Recyclable carton

It has the same slight drying effect on my tongue that dry wines do
Not the sweetest (obviously since it’s low sugar, but still, it’s an adjustment)

Kite Hill

This is a line of almond milk yogurts. Good for those of us who occasionally get gurgly tummies after eating dairy (me).

The flavor I tried: Peach. Stats: 180 calories, 5g protein, 15g sugar

Ingredients: Made from almonds, not dairy; no preservatives or artificial colorings
Very peachy flavor, with some fruit pieces in it
Recyclable carton

A little higher sugar content, though obviously the trade-off is an amazing flavor
Separates a little and more like traditional yogurt consistency, meaning I had to stir it a bit before eating.

SO Delicious

I bought a small tub of cultured coconut milk (yogurt made from coconut milk) to try out in smoothies because it’s non-dairy and might sit easier in my stomach. While I was getting it, I noticed they also sold individual-sized flavored coconut-milk yogurts.

The flavor I tried: Blueberry. Stats: 130 calories, 1g protein, 18g sugar

Good blueberry flavor with blueberries in it
Non-dairy, plant-based
Vitamins, minerals & fiber

Somewhat high in sugar (comparable to traditional Yoplait)
Slightly different texture (vaguely grainy, not noticeable after the first bite); had to stir, like with the almond milk yogurt


Which one would I recommend?

I think it depends on your yogurt goals. Lol. Obviously if you want to reduce your dairy for whatever reasons, the almond milk & coconut milk yogurts are good options.

I lean toward the almond milk for what I enjoyed putting in my mouth more (though I could also have just been in more of a peach mood). It’s also the lower sugar of the two non-dairy ones I tried.

However, I can’t count out what the coconut milk yogurt offers nutritionally. At first blush, it seems to have the least return for the number of calories. But…

While you’re getting around 10-20% of your daily calcium from the Greek yogurt and a small amount of Vitamin A from the almond milk yogurt (in my peach, it was 4%), the coconut milk yogurt (at least the one I ate) offers 35% calcium, 2% iron, 30% Vitamin D & 30% Vitamin B12. AND 2g of fiber, which the other two didn’t offer at all. Not bad!

So it does provide you, by far, with the highest quantity of vitamins & minerals.

For me, oddly, I think my personal winner is Siggi’s. I say oddly because I was hoping to like the non-dairy options the best. Although I should emphasize that Siggi’s is made from non-GMO, grass-fed cow milk, so it’s still a step up from most mainstream brands.

Sure, it gives me a little bit of dry mouth feeling, but I think I’d get used to it pretty quickly and it didn’t make my stomach hurt even though it’s dairy. And, for my yogurt goals, texture is almost everything and this was luxuriously thick.

One reason I don’t eat much yogurt … even though I know the bacteria is really good for you … is the high sugar, but the other reason is (and please forgive me for associating it in this way) it reminds me of … mucus.

Which makes the ultra-thick, low-sugar Siggi’s Greek yogurt very appealing to me. Add that to the low-calorie, high-protein content and I think it’s my winner overall.

Now, I haven’t eaten much of the more widely-distributed brands of Greek yogurt for comparison: Fage, Oikos, Chobani, etc., so I don’t know how they compare against Siggi's. Chobani seems to be the only one of those three that boasts non-GMO, no hormones, etc. etc. on their website, so I’m thinking that would be an easier-to-find brand than Siggi’s that might compare nutritionally. I’ll have to check it out next time I’m at Publix or Winn-Dixie.

Because that’s the one other drawback. I do NOT live close to Whole Foods (or much of anything else). LOL.

Nutritional winner: SO Delicious coconut milk yogurt
Best non-dairy taste: Kite Hill almond milk yogurt
Best texture & lowest sugar: Siggi’s Greek yogurt

Bonus info: I have also been sampling a non-dairy creamer this week from Califia Farms. It’s almond milk creamer. There is some added sugar because we picked a flavored variety, but otherwise, it's very healthfully sourced.

I was drinking half & half before, so the calories are pretty similar (15 per Tbsp. for this cream; 20 per Tbsp. for half & half).

It’s thick and delicious. I’m really enjoying it! You can see all the details below. The only downside is that it lasts only 10 days in the fridge, so I'd have to make a weekly trip out to Whole Foods (unless maybe Fresh Market carries it), but it might be worth it for the times when I want a little flavor in my coffee! I do still love just plain half & half though.


April 2016 Book Reminder

What??? It's almost Easter?! Okay, Adam kept complaining that the year was going by too fast and I told him he was crazy, but now I don't know. Suddenly, the fact that it's almost April and taxes and getting hot like summer is making it all feel way too fast! Just me?

On the other hand, I'm doing really well in the reading department so far this year. I think I've finished 8 books already, which is way beyond what I accomplished last year. Still ... most of our early books haven't been that bulky. Wait until we hit Count of Monte Cristo. Then, I'll probably only read that one book the entire month! Lol.


Synopsis: Nationally syndicated radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh has long wanted to make American history come to life for the children of his listeners, so he created the character of a fearless middle-school history teacher named Rush Revere, who travels back in time and experiences American history as it happens, in adventures with exceptional Americans. In this book, he is transported back to the deck of the Mayflower.


March Visual Food Diary: Week 2

So, here’s week 2 of the March visual food diary. I feel pretty good about it overall. I still have some tweaks I need to make, but let’s dive into that slowly…

I got in lots of healthy foods. Even my bread is Ezekiel whole grain, which has no preservatives or flour. I could probably try for more veggies here and there, but overall, I’m happy with this week.

And that avocado toast below may not look like much, but I stole a recipe idea from a restaurant we ate at while in New York and it is amazing! The avocado is just mashed with a few squirts of lime juice. But I sprinkled it with citrus cumin salt (the citrus is lemon zest) and it makes it taste like magic. Sooooo goooood!!!!

My only nitpick for this week is the 4 desserts. However, I also don’t feel teeeerrible about it and here’s why…

The main reason for my 2-drink, 2-dessert rule for 2016 is to limit my sugar intake, not because I’m worried about weight gain (hard to do when you exercise every day). I just want my calories to come from mostly nutritious foods. And despite what the recent pictures show, I do actually stick to that guideline most weeks.

Each week is different though, so the math can’t be perfect. For one thing, we had company twice, so there were small desserts in there that I wouldn’t have on a normal basis. And honestly, the vanilla pound cake and the snack Weight Watchers ice creams are all pretty tiny. (Those snack-size ice cream bars are 80 & 90 calories each, depending on which flavor you grab.)

(In case it’s confusing, the 4 desserts I’m counting are from Sunday, 3/6 through Saturday, 3/12 because that’s what I consider a normal week. However, picture-wise, those are spread out between post #1 and this one because I’m doing these pictures according to “March  weeks” and the month started on a Tuesday … if that makes sense … so the posts run Tues-Mon.)


The only dessert I feel kind of guilty about was the Saturday ice cream bars because I wasn’t intending to have dessert that day, but my metabolism is so stinking high right now from my workouts … and that fish taco dinner was probably sub-500 calories … I was still sooo hungry! And I have one unbreakable rule: If I’m hungry, I eat. So, it is what it is. *shrug*

But that gets to my original comment of needing to tweak my diet. I’m used to eating lighter meals/smaller portions, but now that I’m exercising a lot, I need to make them a little bigger. Not unhealthy, just larger. Because I don’t want to finish dinner still feeling hungry on a daily basis and then turn to dessert to fill up.

Well, this week, one of our meals is spaghetti and meatballs, as you'll see in the final pictures from today, and we almost never eat pasta, so I’m thinking that’ll definitely fill me up. I’ll get this calories-in to calories-out adjustment down eventually!

Day 8: Tuesday

Day 9: Wednesday

Day 10: Thursday

Day11: Friday

Day 12: Saturday

Day 13: Sunday

Day 14: Monday

Doing well so far this week! One glass of wine and no dessert so far. Yay!!!


March Visual Food Diary: Week 1

“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.” ~ Julia Child

Good food is one of my favorite things in life, whether I cook it myself, enjoy it at a friend’s house or treat myself to dinner out. I truly enjoy the bright colors, smells and of course, tastes, of fresh foods.

In an earlier blog post, I breezed over the fact that I’m doing a 28-day workout challenge. It’s via the same trainer I’ve been following since November (Cassey Ho of Pop Pilates), but for the month of March, rather than doing her normal calendar workouts, she released a special $39 program. (I specify the cost because all of her normal workout videos are free.)

It’s called PIIT28. If you’re familiar with the concept of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), it’s her version: Pilates Intense Interval Training.

The format is to do 4 rounds, each made up of 7 moves. You do each move for 45 seconds, rest for 15 and so on until you finish round 1. Then you repeat 3 times. So, if you follow that math, the whole workout is under 30 minutes … but it’s intense.

It alternates cardio with Pilates. So you might do 45 seconds of lunges, rest 15, then 45 seconds of criss-cross crunches, for example. It keeps your heart rate up, but also requires strength. Day 1 focused on abs. Day 2 on legs. So on and so forth, meaning it’s not the same workout every day.

I really enjoy it! It’s a challenge, but it’s fun too. But it also makes me hungry like the wolf every day!

So, in keeping with this March workout challenge, I thought it would be personally fun to also track my diet through photos. And just to be clear, I never mean “diet” as in eating less or differently to lose weight. I don’t do that. I just try to eat reasonable quantities of mostly healthy foods. Whenever I say “diet,” I always mean, “my habit of eating.”

Now, it’s a bit of work to remember to take pictures of everything you eat and drink before diving in, so this will not be a long-term thing for me (and I definitely had to “borrow” some stock images from Panera’s website when I forgot a few times. Lol). But I’ll say this: so far, it’s been an extremely effective way of motivating myself to eat healthy foods since I have to look at the pictures later!

I was just going to post the full month’s visual food diary at the end of March, but as I thought about it, that seemed like an excessively long blog post, so I’m going to do one weekly instead.

If you’re not interested, which is totally legitimate, don’t feel like you have to look through it. I just wanted it recorded somewhere for myself and, if you are interested and see any food that looks good, I’m happy to share recipes!

Some of this will be a little boring regardless because I tend to buy groceries for the week and repeat lunches, snacks and such. Can’t cook a new dish for every meal, right?!

Also, I have a personal restriction to 2 drinks (alcohol) and 2 desserts per week. Somehow I managed to get in my 2 desserts last Tues & Thurs and this week’s right away on Sun & Mon. Since March started on a Tuesday, my first “week” shows 4 desserts. Yikes! Lol. Hopefully I’ll be able to refrain from any more this week. We’ll see how I do…

Day 1: Tuesday


Day 2: Wednesday

Day 3: Thursday

Day 4: Friday

Day 5: Saturday

Today we spent the day at Andee's house, so these are our "hangout day" foods. I think we did pretty well!

Day 6: Sunday

Day 7: Monday

And that's week 1! Overall, aside from somehow cramming two weeks' worth of desserts into 7 days (though I don't feel too badly about that 80-calorie Weight Watchers ice cream bar ... we didn't realize they were snack size. LOL), I stuck to my goal of eating mostly fresh, whole foods and staying within my non-water and sugar limits. 

Also, a side note: Since I started my new fitness routine in November, I have lost some weight. However, my goal currently is not to lose weight, but to simply be in great shape and build muscle (which I definitely have). So if it looks like I'm eating a lot on some days, I am! I'm finding that if I want to keep doing the exercise that I love on a daily basis, I have to eat more. My personal goal is to make those foods mostly healthy and not just throw in random processed snacks to fill in the gaps. Hence making roasted chickpeas and such from time to time.

Okay then, until next week's food!


The Pretty Little Things

Hi, friends! I hope you enjoyed your extra day this year (even if it did give us one more Monday) – Happy belated Leap Day!

And now we are, crazy enough, into March already and there are so many good things happening. The weather is beautiful. I’m doing a fun 28-day workout challenge. My plants are blooming … and that’s mainly what this entry is about because I took a few nice pictures this morning that I want to share.

Every year, 2 of my 3 orchids start blooming during the winter. I think they’re totally confused, like Bizarro Orchids, but I don’t know how to tell them it’s December when they get going.

The real downside of it is that one of those two orchids grows delicate mini flowers and almost always has half of them die off before they get past the bud stage because I forget to bring it in when it's below-50 degree weather. One year, I will learn!

Still, it does end up giving me at least a few flowers, so it isn’t a total loss. The reason I forget to bring it in when it's even mildly cold is because my other mixed-up orchid is super hardy, so it withstands pretty much everything. Two flowers so far!

And then, in the other corner of my back porch are a few of my many succulents. Succulents are the best. They like hot. They like cold. They can’t be killed. You hardly have to water them. They’re amazing colors. I have 8 different varieties right now and am considering adding more. Lol.

Looks at this one guy! Flower stalk after flower stalk. One has already bloomed and died. One is currently blooming. And it’s growing 3 more!

Yes, these pink flowers are attached to that one in the blue pot (which is the close-up above). The jade next to him and the flapjack behind are also pretty neat. I'll have to take some better photos of the big flapjack plant sometime. He's got gorgeous leaves which have slowly developed red tips over time.

Plants are just amazing the way they perk me up. I’ve started trying to remember each week to pick up flowers from the grocery store for my desk.  There’s something about living things and their vibrancy that keeps me cheery.

These have been here 11 days now and are still going strong!

Happy (almost) spring, everyone!


Purple Fig Club: Let’s Take the Long Way Home

If you’re reading this blog post, hopefully that means you’ve finished book 2! It was certainly a sad one (to state the obvious) but also not very long, which helped.

I think this is the sort of story that everyone can get something out of or understand in a general sense, but unless you’ve experienced loss of a loved one, it will likely not hit home in the same way. I’m curious to hear what you all thought of it since we all come from different experiences.

I felt like this was a very simple story in a way (not emotionally), but easy to grasp and blow through pretty quickly. I read it in 3 days, myself.

The first thought I had was about the closeness and support of the two girlfriends in the story that made me think that I need to spend more time with mine. You never know what life will bring and it’s always good to have that support network. Thank God for friends.

One of the things I could most closely relate to was Gail and Caroline’s desire to compete with themselves and each other, but in a kind-hearted way. I am definitely a competitive person and have tried to tone down that zeal over the years! But I found myself wishing I could get out there and go rowing with them. Lol. I enjoy that sort of companionship where you encourage each other to be/do better.

The “main event” was of course very difficult to get through. Hospitals. Saying goodbye. The silence afterward. Similar of course to when Clementine also dies later in the book. And believe me, I, of all people understand the significance of losing a pet. I may not have a dog, but I would (will) completely fall apart when one of my cats goes. I already lost it when our ferret Arthur died and we only had him a few years. At any rate, this is a double whammy for Gail.

I appreciated her honesty about never being certain about what happens when we die and how she almost didn’t want to decide what she believed because it was kind of a balm not to. I’m always curious how other people view death and cope with it without a system of faith to fall back on.

No matter what, I don’t think any of us quite know what to do in the face of death because you expect the people around you to always be there, even if you know better.

And you certainly don’t expect them to go before they’re old. One of my favorite quotes from the book was, “’The real hell of this,’ he told her, ‘is that you’re going to get through it.’” Because isn’t that the hardest part? Still being around when someone else leaves.

I know it’s like THE sappiest song ever, but weren’t The Carpenters just exactly right?

“Why does my heart go on beating? Why do these eyes of mine cry? Don’t they know it’s the end of the world? It ended when you said goodbye.”

Wow, mom, way to depress us!! (Just kidding, I appreciate all book choices and emotions.)

Well, that’s about all the analysis I had. What were your thoughts?


Our New York Vacation

First I went to the Big Easy and now the Big Apple. It's good to be back in Little Apopka though. With Adam having injured his foot just one week before our vacation, I'm surprised we got around to as much as we did, but I'm grateful we had such a wonderful time!

It was hard not to share every single picture we took here, but I tried to pare them down so as not to completely inundate you. Honestly, I'm surprised we got as many photos as we did because it was so unutterably cold at times that I just couldn't bring myself to de-glove. Fortunately, I used my gloves with the touchscreen capability one day and Adam also brought his nice camera, so we were able to get some on at least a couple days that didn't leave us with frostbite. Lol.

I guess we'll just go chronologically. If you follow me on Instagram (starlingsings), you may have seen a few of these already, but I'll post a lot more here than I did there. Plus, these are mainly the unfiltered versions, for whatever that's worth.

On the first day, which was last Friday (the day we flew in), we walked down to Times Square after lunch.

And then made our way a little farther to Grand Central Terminal. First shot is of the outside and then, rather than post a bunch of pictures, I figured I'd share the time lapse video Adam took of the inside. I mostly like watching the couple near the front at the beginning of the video and also the people going up and down the stairs.

I'm so glad we didn't end up here on our next to last day in the city because a pipe burst and they lost power. Yikes!

On day 2, we purchased metro cards and took our first Subway ride! 

I have to say, I did start figuring out the subway lines and how to use the transit option in our iPhone maps app after a couple days, but it's still sometimes confusing! Plus, with the weather being as cold as it was, my goal was always to figure out EXACTLY where the subway entrance was that we needed and then where EXACTLY the place we were going was from there. Because the last thing I could handle was exiting the subway in single-digit temperatures and pulling my hand out of my glove while standing still in the biting wind to figure out directions.

And that's the thing ... it wasn't just cold. I'm pretty good with cold. I'm actually better with seasonal cold than I am with low A/C settings indoors. I don't know why. It's just the way it is.

What killed me was the wind. Holy cow! It's one thing to be in like 14-degree weather. It's another to be almost pushed over with arctic-feeling gusts. It was nuts!

Our first stop on Saturday was Midtown Comics. Yay, geeks! (If you look closely, you can see both Adam & me in this picture.)

As soon as you open the door, these are the stairs you see going up in to the store...

Fun, right?

After milling around for a while (and returning to acceptable body temperatures), we then made our way to the Flatiron District to see one of the buildings Adam was looking forward to:

Pretty awesome! And, although you can't tell in this photo, this moment was my worst, most coldest (yes, most coldest), most desperate I-have-to-get-out-of-this-wind-right-now-or-I-might-actually-die moment of the whole trip. I felt badly about it because I wanted to spend more time looking at the Flatiron building and taking pictures, especially for Adam, but it was kind of a fight or flight situation. I'm not sure I'm even joking although it sounds hyperbolic now. Lol

Oh, which reminds me. One thing I learned about cold weather. You need a puffer jacket. I love my coat and it did right by me on this trip, but if I go into winter temperatures like this again, I will be investing in new outerwear.

So, to save our lives, we ducked into Marimekko (I love you but can't afford you!) and then the Lego store.

And btw, the boots I bought for this trip (I think this is the only photo you can see them in) were a-maz-ing. I would not have survived without them.

It was at this point in the trip that we finally bought me a hat (who knew they were so crucial?!) and I made Adam buy a coffee from a place named Grumpy's. Apt! (J/K) But I love the logo.

On Sunday, I woke up to this:

So we took a bit of a slow morning to let things warm up a little. And then we decided that today would be the day we would go get a slice of NY pizza (one of my goals). I chose a place at random because it had good reviews and looked to be in Little Italy.

On the way, we passed by Radio City Music Hall.

I risked my fingers to get a good shot and then we continued on to lunch! It was only after we'd been seated and I read about the restaurant on Wikipedia that I realized I had inadvertently picked the offical oldest pizzeria in the entire country. Serendipitous! The place is Lombardi's, in case you're ever in NYC and want to try it out.

You can definitely tell from the photo that this pizza was one of the best things I've ever put in my mouth. I can taste it again just looking at this pictures and it's making me very sad that the possibility of getting another one is over 1,000 miles from me right now. Sigh...

All right, snap out of it!

After lunch, we walked through the rest of Little Italy and on down into Chinatown, which was also fun to look at. Then we wandered over close enough to snap a few shots of the Brooklyn Bridge.

(And yes, all further photos of me will contain this hat.)

Sunday night (Valentines!) was the day we had purchased Les Miserables tickets and that was totally worth the investment! So good!!! Plus, I had an extremely proud night because I figured out the subway line to take, which exit to use, where the theater was exactly and how to get back. Seamless!

Monday was our big day. We had pushed back a few things we wanted to do over the weekend because it was just way too cold and windy, so Monday was our last good chance to see some of our big ticket items. On our way to the first one, Adam took this cute shot of a Valentines souvenir.

Oh, also! I forgot (and also didn't take any pictures), but we achieved one of my other (food) goals, and got NY bagels for breakfast. They were just so absolutely incredible, I can't even compare them to another bagel I've eaten. My cream cheese was cheddar & bacon! Whaaaat?! So good!!!

And then ... we wandered past Herald Square and on to the Empire State Building! (We took a ton of pictures from the observation deck. It was so pretty.)

You can see the spire of the Chrysler building near the center of this photo.

And here, the Statue of Liberty!

From there, we hopped on another train and went all the way to the bottom of the island to Battery Park to see the Statue of Liberty up close. And I know it's totally invisible in this picture, but it was snowing! Yay, Adam got his first snow day in life!!!

See? I don't lie...

I'll be honest. I had originally wanted to ferry out and to the whole Ellis and Governors islands thing, but with Adam's bum foot (he was such a trooper!) and the blustery weather, we just decided it wasn't meant to be. So I unfortunately don't have a better picture for you, but it was still so awesome to see the statue so close.

Last stop of the day was to see Central Park and, more specifically, the Guggenheim Museum (which directly faces the middle of the park). Definitely one of the things Adam was interested in seeing. Frank Lloyd Wright! I just realized though that I didn't get him to send meany of the pictures we took of it, so you can just see it here.

And then we wandered Central Park. Romance!

The last day we were there was rainy, so we just chilled in our room a bit before heading to the airport. So to end on a high note, I'll leave you with these shots of snow! (We made snowballs from what had collected in some of the public benches and threw them at each other. Fun!!)


March 2016 Book Reminder

Look at me being all smart! I scheduled this book reminder post before leaving for New York so I wouldn't forget and be late again. (Sometimes I'm clever.)

I hope the next book is a good one. I thought it might be a light and entertaining read about the various myths we've been taught over the years about our bodies. I wonder what I sitll currently believe that isn't true. Hopefully at least a few things because that'll be fun to talk about. Happy reading and stay warm!

Also, happy belated Valentine's Day and current Presidents Day! Hope you are having a snuggly long weekend with people you love.


Synopsis: People have more access to medical information than ever before, and yet we still believe "facts" about our bodies and health that are just plain wrong. DON'T SWALLOW YOUR GUM! takes on these myths and misconceptions, and exposes the truth behind some of those weird and worrisome things we think about our bodies. 


Welcome to New York

Well, Adam and take off (I would say bright too, but it won't be!) early tomorrow for New York City! Not only is it our first vacation in forever, it's also ... if you can believe it ... the first time the two of us have left the state of Florida together on a trip is just the two of us. We've traveled before, but mainly for family and work events. This is our first official out-of-state, say goodbye to work, live it up like you're kids again vacation!


And yes, we chose to go to New York in the dead of winter and yes, it was totally on purpose. Fingers crossed that Adam gets to see his first snow! (Either way, it will be cold. The forecasted low for Saturday is 3. THREE!)

We're going to do lots of touristy goofy things and hopefully take lots of touristy goofy pictures. Neither one of us has ever been before, so we're both looking forward to seeing all the famous buildings, parks and historical sites that we can fit into 5 days.

Adam unfortunately hurt his foot last weekend, but it's slowly getting better. He says with the padded insert that we bought that he should be able to get around okay, but we'll definitely be more limited than we initially thought. If anything though, that'll help us take it slowly and enjoy it. Maybe we'll even stumble upon some places we wouldn't have found it we had scheduled ourselves more strictly.

Here's to adventure! See you all when we get back!


Don’t Worry, It’s All Natural

As you may have picked up over time reading my blog or just knowing me, I find topics of health interesting: food, diet, fitness, etc. I've read about all kinds of diets (eating philosophies), diets (eating to lose weight), food politics, changing nutrition guidelines, fitness trends, food trends (both produced supermarket foods and even just online recipes), ... you name it, I find it intriguing and I've probably looked it up multiple times. Oddly, or perhaps as a logical result of all of this learning, I actually don't ascribe to almost anything anyone is selling.

Because of the way I was raised and the things I've learned over the years, through both reading and experience, I really just believe in all things in moderation. Always will.

Right now, I try to make my diet consist of mostly whole foods with some treats thrown in here and there (with the majority of my meals being homemade), lots of water and for exercise, running twice a week along with my new love of Pop Pilates. That's it! No eschewing of any food groups or calorie counting. No boutique gym or CrossFit obsession. No superfood nonsense or prohibiting foods they determine are bad for you this year (and later decide, no, they're perfectly fine) ... eggs, I'm looking at you.

It seems the healthiest way to live. And I don't just mean physically, but mentally. If you mostly eat naturally-occurring foods and try to stay active, you're probably going to be in pretty good health without obsessing over it. That's my philosophy anyway.

Anyway, that whole intro was just to say that right now, I'm reading this book:

I've read lots of extremely fascinating things already (and I'm only a third of the way through it) about how many food companies started out. Like how the two Kellogg brothers didn't get along so well. One of them came up with the idea of making a flaked wheat cereal in response to Americans eating WAY too much meat for breakfast that was causing digestive issues. The other brother eventually came along and decided to add some sugar to it. They actually went to court over it!

So, lots of fun facts about the history of packaged foods and drinks, for sure. If you have an interest in that sort of things or even an interest in seeing how companies rationalize selling foods that are increasingly being recognized as unhealthy, I'd recommend this book.

One of the things I've read about over the years is the use of (and legal battles over) wording on food packaging. For example, the use of the word "natural" has long been a point of contention between food companies and groups fighting for the public health interest. 

Which has long made me suspicious of any such claims on food items in the grocery store.

So when I came across this section in my book, I was like holy crap, that is a perfect example of how you cannot believe what you read on food labels.

The author led up to this excerpt by talking about how companies want to combat the image of selling pure sugar by saying that those items contain fruit. And this isn't just drinks, although that is the initial item mentioned. Apparently fruit juice concentrate is used in ALL kinds of products, from pastries to cereal and of course juices ... pretty much anything sweet. But what does it mean to say that there's real fruit in something? 

"Juice concentrate is made through an industrial process that is highly variable, including any or all of the following steps: peeling the fruit, thereby removing much of the beneficial fiber and vitamins; extracting the juice from the pulp, which loses even more of the fiber; removing the bitter compounds; adjusting the sweetness through varietal blending; and evaporating the water out of the juice.

At its extreme, the process results in what is known within the industry as 'stripped juice,' which is basically pure sugar, almost entirely devoid of the fiber, flavors, aromas, and or any of the other attributes we associate with real fruit. In other words, the concentrate is reduced to just another form of sugar, with no nutritional benefit over table sugar or high-fructose corn syrup."


I mean, okay, it's not that shocking that food companies practice this, but I never really researched these products that claim to have real fruit in them or to contain all natural ingredients. 

They're basically processing fruit to the point that what they've really done is extract the sugar molecules from it and then they market it to mom as being better for their kids than soda, which at that point, it definitely is not.

Crazytown! I had to share.


Food Fun

Some weeks life is just so busy that you don't have the energy for thinking outside the box for meals. By which I mean I often have weeks where everything needs to be cleaned, I have a doctor's appointment, we've made plans with multiple people, there are commitments to attend, etc. And then I don't have time (or even care) to find new recipes to try. I fall back to the tried and true things so I don't have to use my brain.

But then there are times where somehow I find the motivation, so I run with it. I tend to get bored of eating the same meals on a rotation, so when these periods of inspiration hit me, I try to bookmark new meals to try. And I've had a few new ones recently, so I thought I'd share some of the hits from January. Maybe there will even be something here that piques your interest.

I'll start with my lunches. Most of them have been vegetarian, but a couple have chicken. (I like to mix it up, but usually stay away from having red meat simply because I tend to eat the same lunch 4-5 days during the work week and that's a lot of red meat, especially if any of our dinners have it too.)

And this is all easy for me to remember because I've been keeping a food & exercise journal this year. I don't really need the accountability that I think a food journal is supposed to provide because I'm not trying to lose weight, but it does help me keep track of what sort of balance I'm hitting with fruits & veggies, desserts, etc. Plus, it's fun to see how I'm progressing in my workouts. Things I used to struggle with I'm now slowly getting better at. Anyway...

Week 1 was sort of a "whatever week" because I had it off of work still from the holidays, so I hadn't fallen back into an exact post-Christmas routine yet. But I did make some Peanut Butter Chicken Lettuce Wraps. I got the recipe from my online fitness trainer and the one change I made was to add chopped cilantro to it. It was pretty good! Recipe here.

Week 2 for lunch, I made this Middle Eastern-Spiced Squash and Bean Stew, which has been my favorite lunch this entire month! (I'm trying to figure out how soon I can make it again. LOL) And actually, 3 of the lunches I've made this month were from this blogger's site. I'm a little obsessed with it for the moment. Lots of whole foods and good flavors. This stew is a little bit of work, but incredibly flavorful! And warming for these cold days. I think if you're going to try any of these recipes, this is the one I'd most recommend. I did make a few changes, like using a dollop of Greek yogurt on top instead of whole milk yorgurt, omitting the mint (I don't really like it) and the toasted seeds (lazy). Haha. Obviously you can adjust to your liking as well, but the one thing you shouldn't tinker with is stirring in the lemon juice & zest at the very end. That totally makes this recipe!

Week 3 I made these Quinoa Cauliflower Patties. They certainly worked for me last week, but I don't know if I was blown away enough to make them again. 

Week 4 (this week), I'm having this salad. It's not the most filling since I'm stretching it over the whole week, so I'm having side dishes with it. Like yesterday, I chopped some pear chunks into a bowl of cottage cheese. I don't know what I'll do today, maybe the same. But I will say that even though yesterday morning as I was making this, I was wondering, "Am I really in the mood for salad?" that I ended up really liking the sweet potatoes paired with the apples and red onions, and the mustard-vinegar dressing is tasty too. So this one is one I'd make again for sure.

Next week, I'm going to steal an idea from Andee and make this soup because 1) it's warm, 2) it's slow cooked (Hallelujah!) and 3) it just looks like what I'm in the mood for.

Dinner-wise, I've mostly made recipes that weren't new to me this month, but two of the new ones I did make that stand out are:

1. These Fish Tacos with Cabbage Slaw because they were super easy and also more flavorful than I expected. However, in future, in place of the chili powder, I'd just use this blackening seasoning that we now use on everything. I love it because the flavor is complex without being too spicy. (These secondary tacos are also favorites of ours.)

2. Sweet and Sour Chicken because again, slow cooker!, and also sometimes you're in the mood for Chinese but don't want the billion calories that come with take-out. I did not use raw honey. I used either orange blossom or clover ... I don't remember which. And I made my go-to brown rice because it's easy and amazing and I love you Alton Brown.

Okay, must get back to work now, but I don't share as much food stuff as I used to, so I thought I'd take a few minutes to do it. I should really add a few recipes to my sidebar since I haven't updated that in forever because then they're easier to search and find later on. Maybe I'll work on that this week. I have at least one or two decent photos of a couple of the meals mentioned above. 

If you're looking for inspiration for a healthy, seasonal meal, I think almost all of these fit that bill (I'm not sure the sweet and sour chicken is exactly "winter"). If you end up trying any, and especially if you make any fun changes to the recipe that turn out well, let me know!

Oh, wait, wait! I know most of you probably don't do meal-replacement smoothies (and honestly I don't either 99.9% of the time), but I tried this post-workout smoothie for dinner last week and it was so delicious! Granted, you could always halve the recipe or split it with someone to keep the calories down and just have it for a treat instead of replacing a meal. And I know you're probably not looking for a smoothie recipe in January. Lol. But write this down somewhere if it sounds good because I promise you, it is!

(Modified from blogilates.com -- She uses coconut milk & coconut yogurt, but I don't have easy access to such fancy grocery items out here in Apopka, so I used substitutes):

PB & J Shake (about 470 calories)
Blend all:

1 C frozen strawberries
1 sliced, frozen banana (must be prepped ahead of time)
2 Tbsp. natural peanut butter (or regular)
1/2 C. plain yogurt
1 C. almond milk (or other milk type)


Purple Fig Club: The Remains of the Day

Wow, what a short yet heavy book to start the year with, am I right?! I made it a point to write up my thoughts immediately after I finished the last page of this book. I often that, while some books require time to fully digest (which this one may end up doing), I often get my most passionate opinions out if I just start writing out my thoughts immediately.

Do you find that to be true for you? At any rate, let’s take a look at the contents of this book and see what you all thought of it too. Happy first Purple Fig book of the year!

You could say that this book is about a number of different topics and you wouldn’t be wrong about any of them.

You could say it’s a look at the servant class at a time period where such employment was still widely practiced and how having work of this sort impacted the life and outlook of one man in particular.

You could describe it as a characterization of a man who became so caught up in the type of person he wanted to be, particularly at a professional level (but really his profession became his entire life) that he missed out on other opportunities. (Though his strict mannerisms make for some wonderfully dry humor now and again – his troubles with understanding banter, for example!)

And you could even, as I originally thought, consider this book to be a love story. Certainly the hints of it are enormously subtle. I’m not sure I can definitely state that I would have caught them if I hadn’t seen, or at least partially seen, the movie adaptation of it … because I certainly can’t unwatch it, so I’ll never know for certain if I would’ve caught on. (And honestly, I wouldn’t want to unwatch it – you can’t beat Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson!)

But at the heart of this story is a message that I think exists for everyone. I suppose I’d assert that it’s more potent the older you get. I feel it somewhat now and I’m certain I’ll feel it more strongly in the coming years as well.

I can’t possibly describe it more beautifully or precisely than is done in my two favorite passages from the book. So, if you have the patience, I’m going to transcribe them both here. One is just beyond the halfway point and the second is at nearly the last page.

And then, please share your thoughts!

“But what is the sense in forever speculating what might have happened had such and such a moment turned out differently? One could presumably drive oneself to distraction in this way. In any case, while it is all very well to talk of ‘turning points,’ one can surely only recognize such moments in retrospect. Naturally, when one looks back to such instances today, they may indeed take the appearance of being crucial, precious moments in one’s life; but of course, at the time, this was not the impression one had. Rather, it was as though one had available a never-ending number of days, months, years in which to sort out the vagaries of one’s relationship with Miss Kenton; an infinite number of further opportunities in which to remedy the effect of this or that misunderstanding. There was surely nothing to indicate at the time that such evidently small incidents would render whole dreams forever irredeemable.”

And if you’re still with me – one more!

“Perhaps, then, there is something to his advice that I should cease looking back so much, that I should adopt a more positive outlook and try to make the best of what remains of my day. After all, what can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished? The hard reality is, surely, that for the likes of you and I, there is little choice other than to leave our fate, ultimately, in the hands of those great gentlemen at the hub of this world who employ our services. What is the point in worrying oneself too much about what one could or could not have done to control the course one’s life took? Surely it is enough that the likes of you and I at least try to make our small contribution count for something true and worthy. And if some of us are prepared to sacrifice much in life in order to pursue such aspirations, surely that is in itself, whatever the outcome, cause for pride and contentment.”

My last comment before I turn it over to you all, now that it occurs to me, is that I don't see Mr. Stevens as without flaw. He's certainly prideful and insensitive on many occasions. But I still think that his story is a relatable one, even though none of us has ever been a butler in 1950s England, and perhaps his flaws are what keep him in our realm of understanding.


February 2016 Book Reminder

The first month of the new year and I'm already forgetting to put up the mid-month book reminder post! Lol. Not a good sign of things to come. Hopefully you're all making your way through the first book. I'm grateful that the first couple are sub-300 pages. Helps ease us into things.

Actually, I finished it within the first week and am currently rounding up the last third of book two in the Mary Russell series. I figure I liked the first book enough to read it twice and I should really get going on the series to see how it progresses, right? (Good so far!) I've set another goal of reading 25 books this year. I'm just not going to be as much of a stickler about whether they're re-reads or graphic novels and the like. Okay, here's your February book reminder...


Synposis: “It’s an old, old story: I had a friend and we shared everything, and then she died and so we shared that, too.” So begins this gorgeous memoir by Pulitzer Prize winner Gail Caldwell, a testament to the power of friendship, a story of how an extraordinary bond between two women can illuminate the loneliest, funniest, hardest moments in life, including the final and ultimate challenge.


A New Year

These thoughts may be a little belated, but now is when I've had the time to write about them, so now is when you get them! Happy 2016 to all of you, by the way! I hope the thought of a fresh new year fills you with as much of a sense of purpose and excitement as it does me.

Even if we don't fully complete any resolutions we may have made and even if we have tired or less "successful" days here and there, there's something about the idea of starting anew that is refreshing to the spirit. And there's certainly no harm in setting goals we hope to achieve because even if we don't get all the way there on some of them, we'll at least have made some fresh effort.

Truth be told, I've already had a couple of "bad" days and we're just a week into the new year.

Molly recently went through one of her phases where we can't tell if she has a UTI, but nearly every morning we wake up to find urine soaking into something. Sigh. So there's no doubt life will continue to throw you curveballs. Here's the little beast doing her best to look like she's never done any such thing:

Just a couple of nights ago, I was getting ready for bed when I noticed that, yet again, this thing that's happened to me off and on for at least the past few years was happening again. Sometimes when I'm on my feet a lot in the evenings, my toes get hot, red and swollen. It's never been a big deal or particularly consistent in its occurence, but I finally decided it has to be an actual "thing" and I went online to ask the Internet about it and promptly decided that I had erythromelalgia.

Now don't judge me too harshly. I have properly diagnosed multiple conditions in the past using my Googling skills. Is it my fault that in this particular case, when I searched my symptoms, basically every link that came up was for this rare genetic disease? I went to sleep feeling all kinds of depressed, but yesterday morning, I went back online to find a podiatrist. I've been needing to make an appointment anyway due to some pain in my arches (which are very high and have always giving me difficulty in shoe purchases and the like). But somewhere in the midst of my searching, I stumbled across a page about peripheral neuropathy, which is a much more common and less scary condition that also encompasses my symptoms. So, like, take a deep breath once in a while, okay? Especially if you're easily panicked like I am. LOL. (I have an appointment for next Friday.)

But the bottom line is you can't let it all get you down. Something I've been taking to heart over the past 6 months is the lesson that I need to be my own powerhouse. Not that those are the words of anyone but myself, but I just generally have realized that I need to motivate myself toward the things I want to accomplish because I'm the only one around who can decide what I want and who can set those goals.

Can I be cliche for a moment? Life is short. Do fun things! Set goals! Try new things! Travel once in a while! Be silly! Be expressive! Be honest! Be yourself!

On a note about things that ARE going right, I'm super excited about a fresh year of reading goals, Pop Pilates, getting my Invisaligns off at some point and so much more! 

I've already signed up for two 5Ks that should be fun. I have the annual Highland Games coming up in just over a week. By May it'll be time for Megacon again. Just so much to look forward to! I'm doing my best to stay positive and motivated. Heck, maybe that should've been one of my resolutions for the year. Because it is definitely hard sometimes.

I hope you're staying positive and motivated at the start of your new year too!


Purple Fig Club: 2016 Reading List

It's finally here! The book selections for the next year have been carefully chosen and are now assigned to their very own months. Feel free to bookmark this entry as a handy reminder, but know that I will continue to post mid-month reminders in plenty of time before you need to get ahold of the next book.

In 2016, it'll be a little different since Andee is more of observational participant (she's going back to school to prepare for a new career goal, so I'm sure she'll need the extra time!) Thank you to mom & Sarah Beth for agreeing to throw in an extra book to keep us going in the meantime. And now, without further ado (well, maybe a little ado), click through to see the list!

Side notes: I had to move a few books around from the original suggestions to make sure everything fit somewhere and also to try to keep the larger books in the summertime. The only major change I made was to adjust the October theme because none of us chose anything that fit! I know, I know, cheating. But it's my blog, so I can do what I want. LOL. Also, keep in mind that this reading order will not rotate through us in any particular order since the books were chosen differently this year, so for example, my mom has two back-to-back books in the fall. Just FYI.


Is it weird to start the year with a book by this title? I think this is a story, in part, of new love. (Hopefully I'm right!) Chosen for: New beginnings.

Synposis: In 1956, Stevens, a long-serving butler at Darlington Hall, decides to take a motoring trip through the West Country. The six-day excursion becomes a journey into the past of Stevens and England, a past that takes in fascism, two world wars, and an unrealised love between the butler and his housekeeper. Ishiguro's dazzling novel is a sad and humorous love story, a meditation on the condition of modern man, and an elegy for England at a time of acute change. 


(Obviously this memoir of frienship was) chosen for: Friendship

Synposis: “It’s an old, old story: I had a friend and we shared everything, and then she died and so we shared that, too.” So begins this gorgeous memoir by Pulitzer Prize winner Gail Caldwell, a testament to the power of friendship, a story of how an extraordinary bond between two women can illuminate the loneliest, funniest, hardest moments in life, including the final and ultimate challenge.


Chosen for: Health

Synposis: People have more access to medical information than ever before, and yet we still believe "facts" about our bodies and health that are just plain wrong. DON'T SWALLOW YOUR GUM! takes on these myths and misconceptions, and exposes the truth behind some of those weird and worrisome things we think about our bodies. 


Chosen for: Journey

Synposis: Nationally syndicated radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh has long wanted to make American history come to life for the children of his listeners, so he created the character of a fearless middle-school history teacher named Rush Revere, who travels back in time and experiences American history as it happens, in adventures with exceptional Americans. In this book, he is transported back to the deck of the Mayflower. 


Chosen for: Female writer

Synopsis: After five hectic years of retirement from Lord’s Chapel, Father Tim Kavanagh returns with his wife, Cynthia, from a so-called pleasure trip to the land of his Irish ancestors. While glad to be at home in Mitford, something is definitely missing: a pulpit. But when he’s offered one, he decides he doesn’t want it. Maybe he’s lost his passion.


Chosen for: Book in a series

Synopsis: Each of the three Schuyler sisters has her own world-class problems, but in the autumn of 1966, Pepper Schuyler's problems are in a class of their own. When Pepper fixes up a beautiful and rare vintage Mercedes and sells it at auction, she thinks she's finally found a way to take care of herself and the baby she carries, the result of an affair with a married, legendary politician. But the car's new owner turns out to have secrets of her own, and as the glamorous and mysterious Annabelle Dommerich takes pregnant Pepper under her wing, the startling provenance of this car comes to light: a Nazi husband, a Jewish lover, a flight from Europe, and a love so profound it transcends decades.


Chosen for: American author

Synopsis: Daniel James Brown’s robust book tells the story of the University of Washington’s 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal, a team that transformed the sport and grabbed the attention of millions of Americans. The sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the boys defeated elite rivals first from eastern and British universities and finally the German crew rowing for Adolf Hitler in the Olympic games in Berlin, 1936.


I think this book is possibly the one best fit to its category. Chosen for: Forgiveness, acceptance

Synopsis: Thrown in prison for a crime he has not committed, Edmond Dantès is confined to the grim fortress of If. There he learns of a great hoard of treasure hidden on the Isle of Monte Cristo and he becomes determined not only to escape, but also to unearth the treasure and use it to plot the destruction of the three men responsible for his incarceration. 


I truly enjoyed Bonhoeffer, so I'm really looking forwarrd to another one by this author! Chosen for: Strength

Synopsis: In "Seven Men," "New York Times" best-selling author Eric Metaxas presents seven exquisitely crafted short portraits of widely known--but not well understood--Christian men, each of whom uniquely showcases a commitment to live by certain virtues in the truth of the gospel.


Not to be confused with another book title The Boys in the Trees OR my previous choice: The Boys in the Boat. LOL. Chosen for: National carry a tune week.

Synopsis: Simon's memoir reveals her remarkable life, beginning with her storied childhood as the third daughter of Richard L. Simon, the co-founder of publishing giant Simon & Schuster, her musical debut as half of The Simon Sisters performing folk songs with her sister Lucy in Greenwich Village, to a meteoric solo career that would result in 13 top 40 hits, including the #1 song "You're So Vain." She was the first artist in history to win a Grammy Award, an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award, for her song "Let the River Run" from the movie Working Girl. The memoir recalls a childhood enriched by music and culture, but also one shrouded in secrets that would eventually tear her family apart.


Chosen for: War

Synopsis: Based on local history & family stories passed down by Frazier’s great-great-grandfather, Cold Mountain is the tale of a wounded Confederate soldier, Inman, who walks away from the ravages of the war & back home to his prewar sweetheart, Ada. His odyssey thru the devastated landscape of the soon-to-be-defeated South interweaves with Ada’s struggle to revive her father’s farm, with the help of an intrepid young drifter named Ruby. As their long-separated lives begin to converge at the close of the war, Inman & Ada confront the vastly transformed world they’ve been delivered.


Chosen for: Nobel prize winner

Synopsis: Malala Yousafzai was only ten years old when the Taliban took control of her region. They said music was a crime. They said women weren't allowed to go to the market. They said girls couldn't go to school. Raised in a once-peaceful area of Pakistan transformed by terrorism, Malala was taught to stand up for what she believes. So she fought for her right to be educated. And on October 9, 2012, she nearly lost her life for teh cause: She was shot point-blank while riding the bus on her way home from school. No one expected her to survive.

So, that's the list! Hopefully you're excited about the picks for next year. We start off relatively light and end relatively light (in page count, at least) with a bit of a commitment in the middle! Just read what you have time for and don't stress out about missing any you can't read. 

Also, if you have any difficulty finding these books or picking out the title and author names from the images, let me know!


Purple Fig Club: The Beekeeper’s Apprentice

I'm so thrilled to be able to say I made it through yet another year without missing a book or getting behind on my reviews! It's not always easy, but it's great feeling like I accomplished one of my goals for the year.

Another goal I accomplished this year was reading 25 new books! Fortunately, our club books fed 11 of those 25, so the two efforts overlapped a bit. I also read a lot of comic books and at least 4 books that were re-reads (which I didn't count), so all in all, 2015 has been the most reading I've done in a long time!

I don't think I'll increase that goal for next year. I have too many things to get done to be able to read more than I already do, but I think I'll aim for the same goal again. It's 2 books a month, plus one extra. I think I can manage that again.

Speaking of which, please let me know within the next week what your book choices are. That'll help give us a heads up in time for January. But now, on to The Beekeeper's Apprentice...

I probably said this in my reminder post for this month's book, but this book was a present from my friend Adinah who I believe has read this whole series. (Yes, there are more!) This started back in the 90s, I think, and man, I really want to read the rest of them! I was reminded just how good it is!

It's getting too late in the year and I'm too worn out as we head into Christmas to do many pull quotes, but this book has a lot of great lines. I'm impressed by the wit of the author in both writing the dialogue (which really does feel like Sherlock Holmes) and in coming up with mysteries that are captivating, exciting and challenging. I wasn't sure how a different writer would do taking on a beloved and established literary character like Holmes, but again, I think she nailed it.

I also initially wondered how I would like the concept of a teenage girl working hand in hand with the Great Detective, but honestly, Mary Russel is written both like a real person and also as a perfect match for him. Someone quick-witted, but also precocious enough to put him in his place where most other people wouldn't. I actually think the entire concept of this series is brilliant, the more I think about it.

And I like that in the process of giving Sherlock a new, young protege, that the author doesn't throw out or discount the value of Watson and what he brings to people like Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell, who occasionally, I think, just need a hug and a hot cocoa. Whether they want it or not.

I found each case fun, particularly the early one where Mary was still learning how to work cases and use deductive reasoning in a practical sense. And then the one where she rescues Jessica Simpson, although I found that one to be more suspenseful.

The final and most serious case, wherein they find out the identity of their long-time tormentor, is so well written that I felt the tension, the fatigue, the strain along with the characters as they parsed out how to defeat their enemy. I just love everything about this. It's a great mystery, it's light-hearted but also serious, it develops a complex but heartwarming friendship between two unlikely friends (oh, which reminds me that I loved the places where Sherlock felt more human and actually tries to comfort people in the story) ... all in all, it makes me want to be there with them in old London solving cases.

I hope all of you enjoyed it as much as I did both when I read it last year and again this month when I read it a second time for a refresher. I really felt like this would be one everyone could get into. Let me know in the comments below! (But don't be afraid to criticize anything just because I like the book. I want to hear all honest viewpoints!)

What other parts stood out to you that I forgot or didn't have space to mention? 


A New Kind of Pain

Hi, everyone! I hope you're well on your way to being ready for Christmas (less than 2 weeks!) and that your book list is starting to come together for 2016. 

I realize I haven't posted any fresh content in two weeks and honestly it's mostly because there hasn't been much of interest to report. I've been buying Christmas presents, planning the day-of meal, working and generally going about my usual business. But I do have one new thing, so I thought I'd share. I have a new workout routine!

I think the hardest part about exercising (besides finding the time some days) is boredom. Truth.

I can't remember how many times I thought it would be nice to have a personal trainer or invest in a series of DVDs ... something, anything to motivate me. I do enjoy running and I still do that a couple times a week. In fact, I'm signed up and ready for the 2016 Color Run 5K in January! But I like variety. Running is good cardio, but I also wanted to do something that involved strength and stretching to sort of round things out and tone up.

A couple of months ago, while surfing a random website, I came across a link to a site called Blogilates.com. That is where I discovered Pop PIlates. 

Pop PIlates is a very challenging style of exercise created by Cassey Ho and the best thing about it is that you can do it for free! She posts her workout videos to YouTube and you can pull up any you want to do at any time. Amazing! (And she is certified to teach.)

One caveat: she's very high energy and often rambles about her nail polish and other such girly things. However, I will say that I found that to be the case more in her earlier beginner videos than in her current ones, so it's gotten better and also, now that I'm more used to her personality and can appreciate the quality of the workouts, I mind it a lot less.

In mid-November, I started the Beginner 2.0 calendar (all you have to do is sign up for her newsletter and once a month she sends out the password to access the new calendar). You work out 6 days a week, then take an off day to really rest and recover. The beginner calendar truly does teach you the technique and ease you into the workout style. If you've never done pilates before, it's largely based around core exercises, but Cassey's videos range from high-intensity cardio to strength to stretching, so it really does capture the full range of what I was looking for.

As of this past Saturday, I officially switched over from the end of the beginner calendar to the current December workout calendar, so with Sunday being my off day, I've now done 3 days of the regular routine. 

Oh. My. Goodness. 

Once again I'm being challenged beyond my current capability (which is a good thing as long as I don't let myself get frustrated). The workouts are longer now, closer to an hour total. But I definitely feel like I'm getting more toned and more able. I can't always finish all of the reps, but I try my darndest! Abs! Legs! Butt! Arms! I'm working them all.

My favorite part about this program is that each day consists of 4-5 separate videos, so it's never the same thing you've done before. New videos, new combinations of videos ... no two days are the same. (My second favorite part is buying cute new workout clothes. Lol.) 

I'm not going to lie. These workouts aren't for everyone. But if you're looking for a challenge, you might give it a try. And you could always just do one video at a time rather than follow everything on the calendar if you the like the style of the program but don't want to kill yourself (apparently I do). I don't personally do her meal plan because my goal is just to work hard and eat the same healthy, well-portioned types of foods that I cook normally. I have at leaset reduced the number of desserts & drinks I allow myself per week to 2 each (besides my normal coffee & water). 

I didn't think to weigh myself before I started the whole thing, but in the last month, I've lost about 3 pounds. And I like to think that it's actually more if you think in terms of fat lost and muscle gained since muscle weighs more. But far more importantly than weight loss, I've found that the muscles I've built doing this have improved my running too. So, win-win!

Anyway, I've been really into this for the last month, so I just thought I'd share. And one of the best benefits? More energy throughout the day. I love it!


Purple Fig 2016 Book Selection

Okay, everyone, I’m going with the monthly theme idea for next year’s book picks, but to make the selections easier, I’m offering up to 3 options per month. All of them are based on actual special days (whether you’ve heard of them or not!) within the month in which they appear.

Remember, Andee is only a part-time member for 2016, so you’ll need to pick 4 months/books this time around. Feel free to throw in a book you’ve already read if it helps you. Each theme word is broad – as long as you can make a mental connection between a theme word and a book choice, I’m cool with it, and the genre is your call.

First come, first served! (But I’ll choose last to be fair since I know when this is posting. Plus, I have no idea what I’m going to pick this time around. Lol.)

My goal is to have the final list posted before Christmas. So please don’t take more than 2-3 weeks to brainstorm and then let me know your picks in the comments below. Don’t forget to note what month/theme you’re choosing with each book title, so I can get the reading order right.

Also, as much as it’s possible, my mom requested that any longer books be assigned to the summer months when she has more time to commit to them, so see what you can do if you have a particularly long book (400+ pages) that you want to read.


a) New beginnings
b) Science Fiction
c) Civil rights


a) Presidential biography (or White House adjacent)
b) Friendship
c) Love


a) Irish author, character or setting
b) Something “green” – growth (figurative or literal), conservation, flower names, etc.
c) Medicine/health


a) Water
b) Humor
c) Travel, a journey


a) Female writer or protagonist
b) Space/exploration
c) Mexican author, heritage, major character, setting


a) Book in a series
b) Beauty of life
c) Male author or protagonist


a) American author
b) Summer (a light beach read)
c) Western


a) Heroes
b) A book to relax with
c) Forgiveness, acceptance


a) Change
b) Strength
c) Comic book/graphic novel


a) Internet inspired (book by a blogger you like, effects of the Internet on our behavior, etc.)
b) Disaster/emergency
c) Horror


a) A favorite author (biography about them, a book by them you haven’t read yet, etc.)
b) War
c) Health/Wellness


a) Giving/sacrifice
b) Art (Artist biography, stolen artifact mystery, archeology, etc.)
c) Books by Nobel Prize-winning writers or books about Nobel Prize winners (not necessarily writers)

Post your choices below - preferably by December 20th!


Purple Fig Club: Outlander

I was about to start typing my usual, "Can you believe we're up to the last book of the year already..."? when I suddenly had this panic of, "Oh no! I never posted the December book reminder! ... or did I?" So I had to go and check and thankfully I had. Whew! Bad memory. Still, though, I can't believe we really are talking about the December book already. Though I do definitely feel like I've read a lot this year! In a good way.

Anyway, I know not everyone read this book, but that's true of almost any month, and I will never fail to write a discussion post! So here we go for those who did and/or those who are interested in my thoughts on it.

Oddly enough, I felt sort of torn about Outlander. There were things I really loved about it ...and a few things I didn't. Which I generally hate to admit about a book that someone I love picked, but in an effort to keep things honest, I'll admit it ... this once. (LOL)

From the outset, I wasn't entirely sold on reading a story set in historical Scotland ... and I'm Scottish! I was worried that it would be dry and tedious in places, but honestly, I'm happy to say that I was wrong.

Once I started to get a grasp of the characters and places, I realized it wasn't going to be plodding and over-detailed. I will admit I have absolutely no understanding or learning about Scottish history (well, cursory, maybe ... not literally none), but it was easy enough to follow along. And I really liked how the author used Claire to sort of roll my eyes for me when anyone droned on too long about genealogy or some such "boring" topic. Clever.

Another thing I really loved about the book was the adventure of living in a culture/time without all of the technology and medicine and relative safety that we enjoy today. The sword fighting! The leeches! The witch trial! The prison escape!

The thought of living wild and free like that is such a romantic one. Granted, the sane among us realize they also lived shorter lives for a reason! But I'll give the author that she totally understands the call of nature and the beauty of living simply. That was definitely a pull that the setting had for me. Plus, even though I've never been to Scotland, I can picture the gorgeous hills, the fog, the greenery. Very enticing.

Believe it or not, I also found it pretty interesting to read about what certain dried plants can do medicinally (Nerd!) as Claire was learning about them. Haha! I felt like having her be a healer was genius too. Gave her a perfect and natural role to help her acclimate to an otherworldly and jarring experience.

I felt like the relationships between some of the characters were well written. Like having crotchety ol' Murtagh also be loyal and humorous at times was surprising, but enjoyable. (And to this day, I have no idea how you pronounce that name and it makes me CRAZY. I mean, Laoghaire = Leer? My Gaelic must be rusty nonexistent. And also, I have to question using that many letters to make a one-syllable word. Lol. Though it does look pretty.)

I had really only one major gripe with the book: too much sex. Let me explain.

Whether or not I realized this book was primarily a romance (I did not) and whether or not I have a problem with sex (I don't), I just felt like there was too much in general. I totally buy into the need to express the intimacy and natural chemistry of the two protagonists to help you understand what sort of relationship they had. But...

...I came away from the book feeling like it was 30% sex and 70% adventure. I don't know if that's a fair ratio, but it was my feeling. I feel like every time they had sex, we read about it. Like, there weren't instances where you assume they had sex or it was implied without us "seeing" it, but in fact, if they had sex, we read about it. So that made it feel overdone to me.

Perhaps in future books, it gets toned down a little since they will have now been together for a little while. Only Andee knows! (And I admit, I was extra sensitive because all I could think was, "My mom is reading this!")

The other problem that the sex brought up for me (should I be typing "sex" so much? This blog entry is going to get a ton of spambot attention! Lol) ... is that some of it was too ... aggressive for my liking. I'll leave it at that. 

But I did of course get carried away in the whole "Woman fights off rapists without needing assistance from a man!" as much as I did "Man rushes in to save woman from frenzied mob!" Those aspects of the adventure swept me up, up and away for sure. 

All in all, I enjoyed the book, despite my protests. It definitely left me curious about whether there are other time travelers around, about what might happen when they get to Italy, if we'll ever hear from Frank again, whether Claire really does end up having a baby after she thought she couldn't ... lots of things. So, well done, Diana Gabaldon. You left lots of hanging threads that leaving me wondering what sort of sweater they turn into. Or something. Haha.

Any additional thoughts?


Owl Fest

This past Saturday, Adam and I made our way to the 10th Annual Fall Owl Fest at a raptor rehab place just a couple miles down the street from our house. Apparently we missed seeing signs for this last event year because pretty much any time you combine animals with nice weather with free, I'm in!

I did know the Avian Reconditioning Center was there because I drive past it all the time. I was just never sure when/if the public was welcome ... until now!

The Avian Reconditioning Center takes in wounded birds, whether that means they've received an injury that prevents release back into the wild, they fell out of the nest as a baby and aren't quite right in the head or someone took them in as a baby and they just don't know how to survive away from humans. They do it all. I do believe they also take in birds that can be rehabilitated and released, but it's nice to know that they'll keep birds for life, if necessary.

And that includes one of the most majestic birds of prey: the bald eagle.

I cannot express to you enough how large these birds are. The two bald eagles they have here are, by far, the largest-sized raptors on the property, at least by double. This guy could definitely pick up one of my cats and fly off with them. And yet it's crazy how light they are. Even the medium-sized owls there are only 3-4 pounds.

Next up, the owl I find to be one of the most beautiful: the European Barn Owl. Doesn't he just look so clean and wintry?

His cousin, the American Barn Owl, looks ... as Adam puts it ... like an old man. Lol. He was definitely napping while I grabbed this picture, so you can't see his eyes, but look at those speckled legs! 

Next up, we have the one I consider to be the cutest owl. I told Jasper she has a run for her money in terms of giant, dark eyes that cute their way into your soul ... a barred owl...

Look at that round head! Those big eyes! I love it.

And of course, they had everybody's favorite book-pusher, the Great Horned Owl.

Doesn't he just look so displeased with everyone? Lol. So awesome. Also, while I'm thinking of it, I thought it was interesting that even experts can't always tell if a bird is male or female. They sort of wait to see if they lay an egg. Crazy, right?! They did tell us the sexes and names of all of these birds, but I'll be darned if I remember even one of them.

One more of this guy...

Then we have a red-tailed hawk and let me tell you, we have these birds all over the place by our house. I think they particularly like the nature preserve across the street from us. I've been outside when a few of them are circling around screaming at each other (spring, maybe? for mating purposes?). And just a couple days ago, I wandered out in the morning and one was sitting on the basketball hoop in the park!

You can't see his tail here, of course, but when they're flying, it's the easiest way to identify them because it just lights up coppery in the sun.

Now, the next one was one of our favorites. He seemed to have tons of personality and was the one bird there that actually talked ... which he did constantly! In fact, the second picture below is my favorite one of him because it's how he looked 50% of the time. (Oh, I guess I should say that he's a red-shouldered hawk ... which I'd actually never heard of, but apparently they're also all over this area too. I guess I'll keep an ear out for their distinctive cry.)

Just a handful more now, if I haven't lost you. Hopefully you like birds too! This one below is a Peregrine Falcon and we actually got to see them fly him. He has a tracker on his back in case he flies off (which has happened before). 

They released him and used a lure to get him to circle and dive at it a few times before the owner let him have his reward. Those birds are FAST! They can go over a hundred miles an hour and apparently, just for funsies, someone somewhere tested one once where they took him up in a plane to a height he wouldn't normally fly to and had him dive. He hit over 200 mph!

The last hawk I have for you is a short-tailed hawk, which is pretty much true to its name. 

Next up, two kites. The first one is from South America and is a swallow-tailed kite. If you look down, you can kind of see his forked black tail. I see a lot of these guys. Bit of a rounded-headed/bodied bird than the hawks.

The other one is a Mississippi kite and he was leeeeetle. Pretty much pigeon-sized. So cute!

And I'll leave you with one other teensy raptor: an American Kestrel.

And that's it! Hope you liked seeing some of these cute and majestic birds. Also, if you didn't click it yet, I linked to the rehab center near the top of this post. If you're interested, they have some professional images of a few of these guys on their website too.

Now I just have to decide when I can go volunteer!


From SE to NW

I got back from Seattle last Wednesday and had to readjust back to EST after having just started to adapt to PST, so that was a little rough. I seem to be mostly on schedule now though, so I thought I'd compile some of my favorite pictures from the trip for you.

I have to say, it was pretty exciting finally seeing the Pacific Northwest and getting to experience a place that is now the farthest I've ever been from my house without leaving the U.S.

This week, I counted up the states I've now been to (not counting ones I've only driven through on the way to somewhere else or ones I've only seen from a distance or ones where I stopped for a connecting flight ... because to me, that's not the same as staying and exploring a little) and I'm up to 16!

Here's my full list: Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Maine, Lousiana, Iowa, Texas, Colorado, California, Arizona & Washington. 

Pretty cool, huh?! Maybe someday I'll hit the halfway mark. With my planned vacation with Adam to New York in a few months, I'll be able to add that one to the list!

But right now, let's back to Seattle. 

I'm going to put up the pictures in basically the same order I saw everything. This was all on the first day I arrived after I'd done what I needed to for work. It was about 50 degrees, grey & initially drizzly, but then the sun came out and it was absolutely gorgeous. I already posted a couple of the photos below on Instagram, but I loved them so much, I wanted to put them here too.

First up, I walked down to the Elliott Bay area (part of Puget Sound) and wandered along the docks. One of the first things I discovered was the Seattle Great Wheel. I took a number of shots of it, but it was only after I'd walked past it and turned around that I got this angle. Even without the filter, it's a great angle to have stumbled upon, but I love this tint.

You can see the grey morning clouds starting to peel away as the sun comes out for the afternoon. It. Was. Beautiful. One of my favorite aspects of this photo are all the colorful trees tucked along the waterline.

And speaking of those, I had to grab a few shots of the changing leaves...

Okay, so that last picture was slightly out of order of my walking tour, but I wanted to put the leafy pics together. Next up, after the red trees, I discovered the Seattle Aquarium, which I would love to go back and visit someday. I'm a sucker for anything involving animals. I get totally mesmerized watching jellyfish swim around.

As I reached the end of this stretch, I came upon the Olympic Sculpture Park, which I also took a lot of pictures of, but I'll just put up this one. 

Amazing, right? Hard to even tell it's not real except for the level of shine since the sun was hitting it. From here, I wandered up this street to the left until I finally came upon the Space Needle! I bought my ticket and then stopped to take this shot.

From the top, I took at least a dozen pictures out every side of the viewing deck. Here's one of my favorites (and by the way, I had to hold my phone out past the safety wires to get clean shots and if you know my fear of heights, just going up the elevator was a feat!)

I'm so glad the sun came out though. Most of their fall/winter season is grey, but the sun really helped my pictures come out beautifully.

This provides you look at the city of Seattle and the bay that I had been walking along. Somewhere in that mess of tall buildings is the hotel I stayed in. And lest you think I'm not dedicated to this sightseeing business, you should know that I didn't get another opportunity to explore the rest of the days I was there, so I spent 3 hours walking around. My dogs were BARKING by the time I got back. And also, you might be interested to know that some of the Seattle streets are so sharply elevated (you can see a small hint of that in the tree sculpture photo) that I wondered a few times if I had somehow hiked my way to San Francisco. The last 5 blocks or so back to my hotel were STEEP. I was legitimately huffing and puffing.

As I was leaving, I got this last shot of the Space Needle (and of course bought myself a souvenir tank top ... and I got Adam Space Needle coffee: rainy day blend. Lol.)

As I looped back around to my hotel, I purposely walked back about one block further east from the way I walked up to the Space Needle so that I would run smack into famous Pike Place. Home of fish-tossing, flowers, Starbucks and pretty much all kinds of shops.

For this last picture, I had to zoom in to really get what I wanted, so yes, it's slightly out of focus, but look at these colors!!! This is exactly how they looked in person. 

Needless to say, I was a little sad to come home to 80-degree weather again, but I'm also happy knowing that I don't have to go to the airport any more this year. Woohoo! Time to get ready for the holidays and try to fit in some time for relaxing too. Hope you enjoyed these!


December 2015 Book Reminder

I meant to put this up yesterday, but the days just get away from me sometimes! I'm really not prepared for all the fall/winter holidays to be on my doorstep already. Good grief, Charlie Brown!

In that sense, I do apologize that December's book is not a short one, but having read it before, I think you'll find it an enjoyable one. This book was recommended to me by my friend Adinah and it's the first in a series that I really want to get moving on. I've only read this first book so far, but I really enjoyed it. I thought it was a great imagining of Sherlock Holmes in his later years and any doubts I had at first quickly disappeared.

I think I will go ahead and try to read it again, if only so I can jog my memory in time for writing the post about it! (Sarah Beth should enjoy it especially since she shares (shared) a last name with the protagonist!)

The Beekeeper's Apprentice

Synposis: Long retired, Sherlock Holmes quietly pursues his study of honeybee behavior on the Sussex Downs. He never imagines he would encounter anyone whose intellect matched his own, much less an audacious teenage girl with a penchant for detection. Miss Mary Russell becomes Holmes' pupil and quickly hones her talent for deduction, disguises and danger. But when an elusive villain enters the picture, their partnership is put to a real test.


Purple Fig 2016?

Crazy enough, it's come around to the time of year again when we should all throw in our thoughts about doing the book club for another year. I'd love to hear your feedback about whether you're still liking the selection of books we generally end up with, if your schedule leaves you enough time to get through them each month and so on.

I'll be traveling for work again next week and then Thanksgiving will be upon us before you know it (along with my anniversary, Christmas and a million other things to keep me occupied, I'm sure!) So it would be great if we could discuss now because if we do move forward into 2016, that'll give us a month to mull over what books we want to select and then give me time to get the list posted sometime in December.

If you end up voting in favor of continuing the Purple Fig Club another year, please also let me know in the comments if you have any thoughts on a theme or other guidelines for next year's books. We don't have to have one, but I feel like it helps keep things diverse (although, honestly, I think our different personalities help with that too!).

Or if you've been liking the type of categories I throw out, we can do that again too.

Or maybe theme each month according to holidays or weather? So, like January might be a nonfiction book about MLK Jr. or new beginnings, February might be a romance (a good one, not Danielle Steel, obviously!) or presidential biography, March might be something by an Irish author, etc. Then each one of us would select our top 3 preferred months (first come, first served, I guess) and then you'd have to choose books that fit your months' themes.

Or each month could represent a different country and the book that month would have to be by an author native to that country.

I don't know. I just always keep the brain churning!

Anyway, let me know what you think, yay/nay, and if yay, whether you have a preference on how we select books. I have no ideas whatsoever lately about specific books to read, so I'll need the time to brainstorm!


From One Washington to the Next

As of yesterday, I've started on the last two work trips I have this year. Currently, I'm in Washington, DC (well, technically Arlington, but I flew into DC and it's like a few minutes from my hotel) and then next week, I'm flying to Washington state!

I'm far more excited about trip #2, except for the length of the flight. The show I'm at now is in the same hotel every year, so I've been here before and also this trip has not gone smoothly in any way. I'm hanging in there though.

This trip started with my airline posting one gate on the monitors, which I went to, and then suddenly deciding, "Oops! We meant this other gate." Which meant going all the way from Terminal A back through security for a second time and into Terminal B. Thanks, American. Awesome job. I love going through TSA twice and having to throw out the water bottle I just bought to have on the plane.

And then yesterday I got to the hotel only to find out that my freight carrier mixed up my booth shipment and it went to Las Vegas! Whee! 

So, good times all around. 

Today's been much better by comparison. Also, I've barely been outside, but there are still some pretty leaves on the trees out there and nice cool weather. Plus, I didn't realize it when I was here last year, but this hotel is connected to Crystal City underground, which is exactly what it sounds like. An underground ... mall, basically. Drugstore, coffee, food ... it's been really handy!

I'll be home by 9pm tomorrow, assuming no delays and then I get 3 days at home before I fly out again on Sunday. A quick turnaround for sure, but I'm excited because I've always wanted to see Seattle. Hopefully I'll get to do a little sightseeing after such a long flight.

Yesterday was Adam's birthday, so we have lots of fun stuff going on there too. We went out to dinner with his mom on Sunday night. I've left a trail of presents around the house, so he gets to open the one I guide him to for each day I'm gone. And this coming Saturday, Andee and Chris are coming over for more celebrations. I can't wait!

Anyway, I'll try to post some pictures of the upcoming festivities and travel for you all!


Purple Fig Club: How to Train Your Dragon

Purple Fig Ladies, do you realize we're about to close Year 3 of this book club?! I don't know if I've ever kept any personal projects going this long. I guess that's the power of reading and the awesomeness of all of us! Right? (I mean, what else could it be?)

Anyway, hopefully everyone had a chance to read this month's book. It was certainly a fast read, which I guess was your reprieve leading up to Outlander. Mwahahahahaha! Actually, I don't know why I'm laughing maniacally. It was Andee's pick.

Question 1: Is everyone clear on how to train your dragon?

Answer: It's pretty much the same way I train my cats, really, and just about as effective. (I feel like Cressida Cowell is definitely a cat owner. Just based on my own power of deduction.) 

So, the book was really adorable. I didn't pull quotes from it specifically, but I loved the artwork. Clearly it's a children's book, and moreso than I expected, but I find it fun to take a break from critical thinking once in a while and just have fun, so I really didn't mind. The concept of child Vikings learning to train their pet dragons is actually pretty cute. 

I have to admit, I found myself wondering when Hiccup's dragon Toothless would suddenly turn awesome. Like maybe he would end up growing at an exponential rate or breathe high-speed fireballs or turn invisible or something. By the end, the awesome thing he ended up doing was saving his master's life. So ... the joke's on me and my cold, cold heart looking for superficial awesomeness.

For shame, Liz. You're no better than Snotface Snotlout.

Seriously though, I thought the story dealt with important concepts for kids like bullies, family, adversity, self-worth and, most obviously, the flaw in books that consist of only one sentence.

Another thing I liked was that all of the different dragon qualities ended up having value in getting rid of the Seadragonus Giganticus Maximus. They needed Fireworm to taunt him (her best skills seemed to be obnoxiousness). They needed the more physical ones to help bomb the dragons with feathers. And they needed Toothless to behave very un-dragon-ly and perform a selfless act of heroism.


Same idea with Hiccup being able to speak Dragonese even though it was considered lame. He followed his interests and they ended up being very valuable to the rest of his community.

All in all, I had fun reading it and hopefully you all did too. Let me know in the comments!


All Things Fall

I won't say we've had our first cold day yet (cool though, definitely!), but I'm still pretty excited about the advent of Fall. There's something about this time of year that I think is the essence of how most Northerners feel about Spring. To me, the Florida Spring is nice, but too quickly bleeds into the heat and humidity you're stuck with all Summer too. But Fall...

In Fall, the dry air starts to push its way in, you feel excitement and hope about when you're going to get a cold day. The holidays are coming. All the motivation and energy that I almost didn't realize I was missing for the last six months just smacked me awake these past two weeks. I'm read to Get Things Done!

Obviously I got my first wall painted, as I posted. Even today, on a quick work break, Adam & I had an idea to rearrange the furniture in the guest bedroom and I'm thinking I really like it. I just ordered a new quilt for the bed too since the cats had a fatal ... let's say "mess" on the last comforter. R.I.P. duvet.

And this past weekend, I made my first wreath! 

Hopefully this blog entry doesn't feel too narcissistic to those of you to whom I already showed pictures of it. I just really wanted to get the event down in my "journal" for memory's sake (and of course to share with those of you who haven't seen it.)

As a precursor to my buying all of the wreath "ingredients," I ironically spat out to Adam that I just didn't think making wreaths was really my thing. And honestly, that's true. When I think of fake flowers or homemade projects, all I can conjure up in my mind are the hideous things I've seen at other people's houses (no one who reads this blog, I promise).

But as Adam pointed out, it's really just the taste level. You can do projects like this and have them turn out nice if you pick things that YOU like. So ... lesson learned.

Still, though, I didn't go to JoAnn with any expectation of getting into this. We needed one or two unrelated things and while we were there, I wanted to buy a fall wreath. We have a Christmas one, but I hate to put up December decor too early and skip getting to enjoy the glory of fall!

Unfortunately, I only didn't hate about two of them. So, with that strong praise, Adam nudged me into figuring out that I did indeed want to make a wreath, if only to end up with something I liked.

That left me with only a few qualms though ... I have no idea how you make a wreath.

But that didn't stop me!

I laid everything over the wreath as best I could to get an idea of where I wanted things (which is hard to do because the stems that these flowers come with are like 3 feet long) and I took a picture (Adam's idea -- genius!) that I could refer back to. Then, I went straight into layering things from bottom to top as I felt they should sit and started cutting, weaving, tying & hot gluing.

I'm really hoping things hold together okay so I get some years out of this wreath, but so far, so good! Some of the flowers aren't even fixed to the wreath base. They're just wedged between some of the sticks! (I don't think they're goin anywhere though.)

And I ended up with this.

I definitely edited down from my original idea, but I kept everything from being too symmetrical and I left off some of the pears and birds that I had picked up too. Maybe they'll make it into another project. I did leave one pear on though...

I decided off the bat I wanted to do nontraditional Fall colors. Mainly because a lot of the fake orange leaves on the market look really fake to me, although that's probably compounded by the fact that Florida trees don't turn colors for the most part, so orange leaves look out of place. *shrug* Who knows. It's just how I feel. Although I have seen some exceptions to the rule, for sure.

At any rate, I'm happy that I stuck with golds and purples. Based on the colors inside my house, apparently I'm in a gold, grey and purple phase!

From that first picture, you may also notice some materials that were not used in the wreath. They're for a secondary project. I have to go back to the store though and pick up a few more pieces before I can finish that one though, so maybe I'll post it separately once I get it done.

And lastly, this is entirely unrelated to wreaths, but perhaps still related to Fall...

I tried particularly hard this week to choose meals that use seasonal vegetables and I oddly find it very soothing to turn this rough, dirty potential...

...into this colorful and tasty food. Yum!

Happy Fall, everyone! Hope the happy vibe is getting to each of you too!


November 2015 Book Reminder

Prepare yourselves for this month's book -- it's a doozy! I'm thinking it'll probably be a quick read (well, not in the sense of finishing in a day, but in that I think it'll be engaging). Hopefully that's the case since I have two work trips this month, but maybe I'll find some solid reading time on my 6-hour flight to Seattle!

Let's hope the cool weather sets in soon. Today it feels breezy out, but definitely still warm. Come on, winter!


Synopsis: The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is just back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of Our Lord...1743.

Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life, and shatter her heart. For here James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire—and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.


My First Paint Project (in the new house)

I finally braved it! One of the walls in my house has recently been painted. It took 17 months to get here and it feels like a raving success! 

Which room did I paint? Or which wall, specifically? I painted an accent wall in our home office. Ever since we rearranged the office a while back, my desk faces out from one of the walls, so I decided to paint the one that is behind me while I'm working. Come see!

First, everything got carefully taped off.

Adam took a nice photo of me smiling for the camera, but first he snapped a shot of me hamming it up. I feel like it wouldn't be me unless I posted the hammy one.

Also, I neglected to mention it until now, but this was my project. So I wanted to do (and did) the whole thing myself. It was only one wall, so it wasn't as tiring as if I had done the whole room. And it left Adam free to do fun stuff like this...

I'm fast, right?! Anyway, here's the finished product with rug & desk moved back into place. I'm really liking it! Now to decide what to hang on it. I'll let you know what I decide within the next 17 months... LOL!


Amelia Island Retreat

Family & friends! I am so sorry to have neglected you these long weeks. I can't express how busy work and life have been lately. But to make up for it, I'm going to publish 3 posts in 3 days (even if one of them is just the book reminder for next month).

Let's catch up with each other a bit, okay? Okay! I think I may have mentioned I was going to Amelia Island for a show the third week of September (Yes? No?). I ended up taking off a day while I was there so I could drag Adam with me and do fun, vacation-y things. Here are the results!

I don't want to write between these photos because I think they speak for themselves. All I'll say is that the hotel was right on the beach, the weather was gorgeous, we did a little sight-seeing, including at Fort Clinch just below the Georgia border. And I got to do one of my bucket list items: ride a horse on the beach.

(Some of the horse riding pictures that both Adam & I are in may look a little jittery (and small since they're scaled-down panoramas). It's because our photographer was our guide and she was on horseback when she shot them. For me, it doesn't diminish the effect ... or the memory.)

Hope this brings you a sense of relaxation in the middle of what is probably a busy week for all of us.

Ahhhh ... I feel very serene now. Hopefully you enjoyed your vicarious vacation as well.


Purple Fig Club: Five Little Pigs

As I mentioned earlier this month, I recently finished reading It by Stephen King. I must say, coming off of that tome (1,100-1,400 pages depending on which edition you pick up), it was a delight to breeze through this 200-some page mystery by Agatha Christie.

I am not ashamed to admit is the first book of hers that I've read, although now that I've finished it, I'm not sure why it took me so long to try one. It was absolutely delightful. Easy enough to read, with subtle hints at the solution, and that wonderful air of British politeness that always makes me feel so cheery. I'm not alone in that, right? Anytime I read something English, I hear the accents in my head and feel like I must be a genius among geniuses.

Also, there's this board game that Adam and I have been playing off and on with Andee and her husband. I can't remember if I've mentioned it here before. It's called Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective and it's basically a set of 10 cases you can try to solve (so, limited play, but so much fun!). They give you a map of London, newspapers from the dates of the various cases, a phone directory and the like so you can try to figure out what happened by conducting your own investigation.

Reading this book in places made me feel like I was working on one of those cases, so I actually had lots of fun trying to keep track of everything and mull over whodunit!

Fun fact: The murder that this book centers on takes place in September -- so good on us placing it in this month! Funny coincidence.

The only thing I struggled over a bit was pronunciation. I know he's a famous character, but Hercule Poirot is not a name for the faint of heart. Herkyool? Herkyoolee? And also, Amyas. Amyass? Aymeas? Ahmaias? I hate it when I'm reading a book and in my head I get hung up every time something pops up that I'm not sure how to say.

But that's not a serious critique of the book, just an aside.

I was worried at first that I wouldn't be able to keep all of the characters straight, but I found that a few things helped:

1. I read 90% of the book in one day.

2. The chapters went from one person to the next in the same order each time. (Agatha Christie comes across almost obsessively orderly in her writing style, doesn't she? Not that I mind. A woman after my own heart.)

3. Each person had such a distinct personality, I caught on pretty quickly.

The most important question: Did you guess who the culprit was?

I mulled it over here and there as new evidence came to light. I guessed at Phillip Blake's interest in Caroline Crale before they spelled it out for us. I felt pretty sure we'd find Caroline innocent in the end, otherwise there wouldn't be much point to the book. I never really suspected the governess, the younger sister or Phillip.

Meredith held my interest at one point, though I would never have guessed he was interested in Elsa! That came out of left field for me.

In the end, I did suspect Elsa, even though she was supposedly in love with him because she's emotional and vindictive. I never entirely sussed out why she would have done it, but I was close.

Very entertaining! I love a book with interesting characters that is a breeze to read but forces me to use critical thinking.

Beyond that, I don't really have much else to dive into. How did you all fare in this mystery book?


I’m on Fire! No, literally…

Well, I burned the crap out of my left hand last night. And pretty much every time I (you, we, everyone?) get burned, it's my own dumb fault. I have this fantastic recipe for cooking brown rice in the oven. It requires no babysitting, it never sticks and it comes out incredibly fluffy every time.

Unfortunately, I left the square glass baking dish that I normally use to make it at Andee's house, so I tried cooking a batch in one of my oven-safe saucepans. Do you see where this is going?

I was down the hall doing something else when my timer went off, so Adam grabbed it out of the oven for me. 

About five minutes later, I walked back over to serve it onto our plates and my brain just totally forgot that that pot had ever been in the oven, especially since I hadn't just pulled it out of there myself and, yes, I grabbed the handle.

I mean, to be fair, you don't normally expect handles to be 300 degrees (or whatever it had cooled down to at that point), so I can't entirely blame myself for the error. At the same time, I obviously knew that it had been in the oven since I originally put it there, so I've felt like an idiot ever since.

I couldn't even release it right away because I had grabbed and turned in one motion (toward the counter our plates were sitting on), so I had to turn back to set it down (it was either that or let it hit the floor, which would have been disastrous in other ways).

I cannot describe how painful it was for about 7 hours last night.

It's mostly a first degree burn, but I do have a pair of blisters on my first and second fingers where the weight of the handle rested, so in at least those two spots, I think that would make it second-degree. 

I'm also slightly burned on my palm ... basically everywhere the handle of something would contact the grip of your hand. That also made it awkward to apply cold packs because of all the angles.

At any rate, I didn't get to sleep until the realm of 1:00 a.m. Thankfully, Adam has me bandaged up good today.

(Also, the rice turned out perfectly.)


October 2015 Book Reminder

I'm pretty excited about reading this next book actually. Other than Watership Down, we haven't read too many easy, light, fun books lately. Or maybe I just feel that way because some of the in-between books I'm reading this month are the opposite (Stephen King's It, anyone?). Also, my brother gifted me some Kindle money for my birthday, so you know that's getting used up with gusto!

Here's to wishing everyone some early fall weather, wherever you may be.

How to Train Your Dragon

Synopsis: Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III is a truly extraordinary Viking hero known throughout Vikingdom as "the Dragon Whisperer"...but it wasn't always so. Travel back to the days when the mighty warrior was just a boy, the quiet and thoughtful son of the Chief of the Hairy Hooligans. Can Hiccup capture a dragon and train it without being torn limb from limb? Join the adventure as the small boy finds a better way to train his dragon and become a hero!


The City of Friend-er-ly Love

It took me a little longer to get to this travel recap than the previous two, but what can I say? After three trips in one month, I was a bit tired. Thank goodness for the timing of Labor Day, am I right?!

But better late than never. My trip to Philadelphia was also fun and although I did less sightseeing, I did get to have dinner with Adinah, so in some ways, it was even more fun than the last two trips where I mostly wandered on my own. 

I don't have a ton of pictures and I'm absolutely the worst about taking pictures of people, so I totally missed that opportunity, but I at least have a few for you.

This first one I just grabbed from her car while we were stopped. I love the feel of northern cities. The architecture, the trees ... so gorgeous.

We went to dinner at a restaurant owned by a friend of a friend of hers and it was absolutely amazing! If you like Mediterranean food at all -- and I mean authentic Mediterranean -- this may not be the first stop you'd think of when visiting Pennsylvania, but you would be missing out.

Just take a look at the main page of their website and tell me your mouth isn't watering.

In Hebrew, if I remember correctly, the name of the restaurant -- Zagav -- means "gold." Fortunately for me, Adinah could tell me what all the menu items were if I wasn't sure (kibbeh, labneh, etc.). But honestly, even if you don't know, you'd still like it once it came to your table. So much color, amazing spices ... we only ate starting courses and desserts and I was stuffed!

Needless to say, I would not turn down their cookbook if someone handed it to me. Though I might be intimidated by the foreign ingredients, it would be totally worth trying!

Anyway, after dinner, we walked a couple of blocks over to the waterfront, which is along the Delaware River. Penn's Landing is a beautiful little spot -- great for walking along the water or just sitting and relaxing.

There were little food truck-style restaurants and hangout spots made from shipping containers along the docks, too. Very neat!

And as you can kind of get a glimpse of in the photo above, they have a couple of newer areas where they had strung hammocks and string lights all over the place. It was so adorable!

Adinah even convinced me to take a picture in the big chair, so I got my first real touristy shot of myself!

As we walked around, Adinah pointed out that across the river was Camden, NJ. I thought that was pretty neat. I mean, Florida is so separated from other states that the novelty of being somewhere that is so well-connected between other states was fun. Also, it's the closest I've ever been to New Jersey, so it was cool.

Bet you didn't know you were going to get to see TWO different cities in this blog post did you? I'm just that good.

Well, like I said, I didn't take a ton of pictures, but I did have a really nice time.

I'm mostly grateful now that I'm back that I don't have to get on another plane until November. Yay!!! Although that's not to say I don't have one more show to attend before then. I'm heading up to Amelia Island in 10 days, but at least I get to just drive there.

And since I am not actually attending that conference (just setting up the booth on the first day and tearing it down on the last), I got approval to take a day off while I'm there. So Adam's coming with me and we have some fun stuff planned -- I can't wait for my first and only real vacation this year! Even if it's only one day.

Though nothing can compare to the trip Andee and her family are on right now -- Scotland!!! So jealous. You better bring back a million pictures, Andee!


Purple Fig Club: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

It’s that time again – I hope everyone’s raring to talk about this month’s book because I personally thought it was an incredible true story.

I have to apologize in advance if this post is shorter or less impassioned/deep in any way than my other book reviews. I’ve been traveling so much that I wasn’t able to write it until today (normally I write it immediately after finishing each book so everything’s fresh in my mind) and I don't even have much time now. Hopefully you all have lots of thoughts regardless because I do have some tough questions!

First of all, it’s crazy that I made it this far through life and had never heard about the person who made so many scientific and medical breakthroughs possible. In my opinion, her name should be in all of the textbooks, at the least.

Her story is utterly fascinating. It was hard to read about all the pain that she and her family experienced during their lifetimes due to her cancer and the subsequent lack of communication from all parties involved with them.

It seems like it was a product of many things, but mainly the times. Without all the protections that we have today (and expected right to information), Henrietta and her family suffered from more uncertainty and worry than anyone should ever have to.

Truly, they should been enabled to feel only pride in what Henrietta helped make possible:

“I’ve tried to imagine how she’d feel knowing that her cells went up in the first space missions to see what would happen to human cells in zero gravity, or that they helped with some of the most important advances in medicine: the polio vaccine, chemotherapy, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization. I’m pretty sure that she—like most of us—would be shocked to hear that there are trillions more of her cells growing in laboratories now than there ever were in her body.”

I will not omit the fact that I cried several times during the book – over the causes of Deborah’s anger and fear, the lack of recognition their family received until much later and especially when Deborah passed away.

She seemed as incredible a woman as her mother, not wanting to hold onto hate, but continually trying again to trust people and understand the truth of what had happened and was still happening with her mother’s cells.

In equal parts, I enjoyed reading about the history of what happened to Henrietta’s immortal cells, why they continued to reproduce and grow, and also the story about her life and her family. Simply almost too incredible – it’s almost like reading science fiction, except you know that all of those events are true.

Discussion Questions:

1. What parts of this story stood out to you?

2. Had you ever heard about Henrietta Lacks or even the shorthand HeLa before reading this book?

3. Also (because I think it’s a really complex question), do you think that her family is owed something in return for her contribution? Health insurance? A large check? Broader recognition?

4. How do you feel about learning that you have no legal rights over the tissue that you leave behind in hospitals and doctor’s offices? (After giving birth, having a mole removed, etc.)



I am back home again, and boy, what a journey it was! So many delays ... I didn't pull into the garage until 2 a.m. this morning. Yuck! But I still wanted to get this trip recap up today because I need to put up the August book review tout suite, so hopefully my thoughts will be coherent. I'm surprised but not surprised that I slept until 9:40 this morning and might've gone longer except that Jasper decided to start scratching the door to make sure we didn't die. (I warned my boss I wouldn't be starting on time today.)

Anyway, you didn't come here to hear about how tired I am, right? You're here for the butter sculptures! So let's get to it!

The conference itself went really well from a work perspective. I may have talked about this here before, so I'll be brief. My company works a lot with Frank Abagnale, having him speak at events for us. (He's the person that the movie Catch Me If You Can is based on. He's amazing to listen to and has worked for the FBI now for about 40 years.)

We organized a dinner with him as the speaker and it went really well. Plus I snuck away with a signed copy of his book!

But you don't want to hear about the rest of my days spent in the exhibit hall, I'm sure, so let's get to the one thing that there is to do in Iowa: the state fair.

We went after 5pm, so it was only $6 to get in. Not bad at all. And despite how gloomy the next photo looks, the weather was actually incredibly enjoyable. There was a full day of rain the day before we went, so the temperature was 64! In August! I was in hog heaven (wacka wacka wacka ... wait till you see the rest of my pictures. *wink*)

One of the first things we did was walk through the livestock buildings. Which turned out to be a good choice because it did lightly rain for about 10 minutes, so it was perfect timing.

Dairy cows! (Watch where you step...)

Fluffy cows!

There were dairy cows, meat cows (yes, several animal groups were distinguished that way) -- and in every variety you could think of including Scottish Highland Cows -- sheep, horses, goats, llamas-yes-llamas, rabbits, pigs (no poultry anymore because of Avian Flu) and even this guy...

Based on a cursory antler count, that appears to be a 14-point elk and he was big! 

That's actually the one thing I regret about a handful of these photos. There really wasn't any way to show any of these animals to scale. But believe me when I tell you that I was at least 15 feet away from this guy because of the size of his pen and he still looks this big.

And speaking of big ... see the weight on this guy?

Again, way bigger than he looks. His head had to be 3 or 4 times the size of mine. He was the crowned Big Boar winner this year and if you click that link, you can see what sorts of things he eats and so on. Funny stuff.

By contrast, this guy was wee. I call him Wilbur.

Another thing I really enjoyed was looking at all of the horses. They had stalls with different breeds labeled, including a palomino, a quarter horse and this guy (I figure you don't want to see every single one):

Sadly, my entire goal in taking the next photo was to show you how big this horse was, but again, it's just impossible to tell. Some of the horses there were so incredibly tall. And, look, I know you don't measure a horse's height in feet, but since measuring in hands probably means very little to any of us, I'd guess some of them were around 7-8 feet tall.


We even slipped in to watch a free riding competition. We watched three different classes of horse/rider combinations compete before taking our leave. I took a photo of part of the Arabian lineup as they were waiting to be judged. They play live organ music to match the pace of the riding. So fun!

But, lest you think all I did was wander around taking pictures of animals (there was a calf born that very day!!), I did go see other things. 

And because I felt it was important for you to see it, here is a wall of corn.

And from there, I got in the line ... yes, there was a line ... to see the cow butter sculpture. Basically life-size, maybe a little smaller.

With bonus Mr. Monopoly.

There were also some really cool ice sculptures, but really, how can they even compare? I'm totally into all this kitsch. I absolutely eat up weird roadside attractions and country fairs. I can't tell you how stoked I was that two of my colleagues wanted to go too. I would've been incredibly sad to miss out!

And then of course, after looking at all of the animals, we went to go eat...

Did I feel a little weird about it? Yeeeeeesss? But I'm pretty sure if you live in Iowa it's illegal to be a vegetarian. Pretty much all I ate while I was there was BBQ and carbs. Diet time!

Speaking of dieting, we then got directions to the booth that sells fried desserts because, seriously, can you really attend the Iowa State Fair, skip the fried Oreos and leave fulfilled?

Okay, so I didn't get the fried Oreos.

But one of my coworkers got a fried Snickers bar, the other got the weirdest item (which I would've gotten if he didn't), which was fried cherry pie on a stick...! I ordered what I felt was the next weirdest -- a fried cupcake. And believe me when I tell you that underneath the batter, that cupcake was frosted and filled with icing. No joke.


I felt pretty good about myself afterward (no sarcasm).

On our way back to the car, I got a photo of the lighted rides because they just looked so pretty. Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn't tell you there was a tractor pull competition that day as well because why not?

And last but not least...

Wait ... how'd that get in there?


September 2015 Book Reminder

In the midst of my work travels this month, somehow I'm still managing to keep up with my reading. Let's hope that continues! And hopefully all of you are staying on top of things too (and enjoying the book choices as much as I've been).

I can't believe I'm typing the word "September" already -- somehow that sounds too late in the year to be coming up so soon. At least, maybe it'll start bringing some relief from this blazing, humid weather. I try every year not to get excited about cool weather too early so that I don't get disappointed by how hot it stays through the "fall" but I'm losing my resolve and starting to wish for it already.

Five Little Pigs

Synopsis: Beautiful Caroline Crale was convicted of poisoning her husband, but just like the nursery rhyme, there were five other “little pigs” who could have done it: Philip Blake (the stockbroker), who went to market; Meredith Blake (the amateur herbalist), who stayed at home; Elsa Greer (the three-time divorcée), who had her roast beef; Cecilia Williams (the devoted governess), who had none; and Angela Warren (the disfigured sister), who cried all the way home.

Sixteen years later, Caroline’s daughter is determined to prove her mother’s innocence, and Poirot just can’t get that nursery rhyme out of his mind. 


The Big Easy

I ended up getting to do and see WAY more in New Orleans than I anticipated. I'm not going to lie. I did end up ordering room service and working on two of the nights I was there. (It's hard to keep up with my day-to-day work when I'm at an exhibit hall booth all day.) But I wandered around the city twice on my own during the day and went out with a few people from my team one of the evenings.

So I have quite a lot of pictures for you! I think I took more than 50, all told, but I tried to pick my best here for a sampling of what I got to see this week. Enjoy!

Firstly, I have to tell you my departure story. I'll keep it short. Basically, I somehow got VERY confused about when I was supposed to leave the house (doing too many things at once). I ended up leaving the house at the time I had intended to already be at the airport. Uhhh ... whoops!!!

Obviously at that moment, hyperventilating doesn't help. You pretty much have to just get going and see what happens. Adam says he's never seen a face look so panicked, though! I have to admit, I sped just a liiiiittle bit more (10 over) than I ever do normally. And having TSA pre-check probably saved me some. But I had just enough time to buy and eat breakfast before they started boarding me, so thank goodness!

At any rate, when I finally did get checked into my hotel, they upgraded me to a room with a view since I had to wait a few hours. So, no thanks to anything but a little luck, I got some gorgeous pictures right from my hotel window. Hellllloooo, Mississippi River! (I also posted a nice shot of the Mississippi on Instagram, in case you don't follow me there and would like to see.)


Afternoon Panorama

Evening on Canal Street

My only complaint was that the hotel didn't have much soundproofing. I heard every ambulance, police car and boat horn at all hours. LOL. New Orleans is not a quiet town.

And speaking of not quiet, I took a walk down Bourbon once during the day by myself and once at night (with 4 male co-workers for protection). Fascinating but smelly and pretty much not for you unless you're planning to get drunk and do stupid things (so, not really for me.) But interesting to see at least once!

(Being me, I took pictures of the historical signs around town too, which I'm sure no one else pays any attention to.)

The road is way longer than I expected. It goes on for blocks and blocks. With lots of bars and ... you know... the regular types of shops you can find just anywhere...

I realized somewhere around here that I had wandered far enough up Bourbon Street that I was only two blocks west of Jackson Square, so I meandered in that direction next.

The outside of the square is surrounded by iron fencing where artists hang their wares and people stand on various corners playing brass instruments for tips. All of it covered by absolutely gigantic and gorgeous oak trees.


Inside the square, you find the reason for the name of it: a statue of President Andrew Jackson. I had to look it up, but I believe his statue is there because of his particpation in the War of 1812 and the Battle of New Orleans -- there's some history I don't remember the details of!

And a magnificent view of St. Louis Cathedral.

I also got a glimpse of a paddleboat across Decatur Street.

On Tuesday evening, my team and I wandered over to another company's sponsored event at the Napoleon House. Technically, the house belonged to Mayor Girod, but he at one point offered to let Napoleon live there during his exile. Napoleon died and never lived in the house, but it is still widely known by that name and is currently a restaurant.

See the fun sign shape hanging up there?Also, the house was built in 1797, which shows, I think.

I got a few shots inside of the stairs and then the courtyard to the right.

There are too many people and tables in the way to see it, but behind them, there was a pretty stone fountain against that brick wall.

This style of walking into a building via courtyard entryway before actually entering the inside was one of my favorite things about the New Orleans architectural style. You get a cool breeze and some nice light on your way in instead of just opening a door.

It was the same style at the restaurant we went to eafter leaving here, called The Gumbo Shop. I ordered a sampler platter and got to try authentic gumbo, jambalaya and crawfish etouffee. I've never eaten so many delicious things off of one plate and I was entirely stuffed to the gills! Totally worth it though.

Yesterday morning, I made a plan to get up early and walk to the famous Cafe du Monde, eat beignets and coffee, get some additional ones to go and then walk back to my hotel, check out and catch the airport shuttle.

It worked out perfectly! 

Incredible! Both the coffee and beignets were absolutely scrumptious! I'm so glad I made the decision to go. And I brought my to-go order home so Adam and Thomas could try them. I put the paper bag they came in inside a drawstring bag and then inside my laptop bag and somehow, by some miracle, I did make my plane smell like donuts! (They obviously weren't as hot and fluffy as when I ate them that morning, but they were still amazingly good. I was proud to bring a unique bit of New Orleans home for other people who didn't get to go.)

I will not, however, describe to you the amount of sweat I produced while gathering all of the above pictures. Hoo-whee! Louisiana is a muggy place, and that's coming from a Floridian!

Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed looking at my photos at least half as much as I enjoyed taking them. I feel very blessed to have a job where I get to see and do so many amazing things.

Oh, and not that this blog post needs to be longer, but I should mention that at the actual conference, we invited Elizabeth Smart to be the opening keynote speaker and then come by our booth and sign some copies of her book for people. I don't know if you remember her story of being kidnapped and held hostage in 2002, but it's an incredible one. And she now works through her foundation with various government groups to catch people involved in sex trade, particularly the trade of children. Absolutely amazing to get to meet her and hear her story.

And with that, I will wrap this up!


I’m a Rambling (Wo)man

I've hit my busiest time of the year, work-wise. Things have been pretty chaotic with the number of concurrent projects I have going on. Still, I remind myself that it's better to be busy than bored, and I at least have a wonderful, not-micro-managing boss who makes my life much easier.

I'm leaving on the first of three -- count them, three! -- trips that I have to take this month for tradeshows. I don't think I've really gone into them on the blog yet, so I thought I'd let you all know where I'm going to be before you know it!

Trip #1: New Orleans

I leave this Sunday for my first show of August and it is smack dab in the heart of New Orleans. I'm pretty excited about this because I think I have realistic expectations and won't be disappointed. For example, I expect everything to be poor, run-down and dirty. 

On the other hand, I'm still excited to see some of the distinctive buildings in the French Quarter, hear some jazz and experience the general vibe of the city.

That said, I won't be venturing out on my own much, particularly after dark, (this side note is for your peace of mind, mom) because I am fully aware of the high crime rate. Even so, I hope to experience it a little and not be entirely confined to my hotel, so if I get to take some pictures worth sharing, I'll post them when I get back!

Trip #2: Des Moines

Yes!! Exciting and idyllic Des Moines! Where everyone saves up to go on the vacation of a lifetime ... right? No? Wait a second. I think someone lied to me...

So yeah, I know most people aren't raring to go to the midwest for kicks, but the way I see it is: When and why would ever go to Des Moines otherwise? I don't know anyone there. There's not much to do there that's unique to the area. 

At least I'll get to see a city I would likely never see in my life otherwise. And maybe have a bit more of a picture in my head of what that part of the country looks like.

Trip #3: Philadelphia

I have to admit, this is the least exciting of the trips, but only for the sole reason that I've been there before. Once when I was little and got to see the Liberty Bell and once a few years back when I visited Adinah. (Which I'm hoping to do again on this trip...)

Which brings me to the one reason I'm looking forward to this trip -- hopefully I'll get to have dinner with Adinah while I'm there. It's been a while since I last saw her.

So there you have it. Three trips in four weeks. I can do it!! 


Purple Fig Club: The Road

This book came at exactly the right time for me – a quick and enjoyable read during a month where things have been rather hectic. Although, admittedly, a bleak winter day would have been a better setting for the tone of the story.

But while the book wasn’t necessarily cheery, I did think it was extremely well written and I enjoyed the journey the author took me on – because, thankfully, I didn’t literally have to take that journey. Let’s discuss!

I saw this movie around the time it came out. When was that? (Answer: 2009 – thank you, IMDb)

I didn’t remember many of the details, fortunately, but some of them came back as I read the book. I now vividly remember my terror at the moment they enter that house with the locked basement full of people waiting to be killed and distinctly recall yelling (in my head), “GET OUT! GET OUT NOW!!! FASTER, YOU IDIOTS!!! OH NO, THEY’RE GOING TO BE CAUGHT. I CAN’T WATCH THIS. RUN!!!!!!!”

Actually, now I kind of want to watch it again. Lol.


So, firstly, I want to save that I loooved the style of this book. The combination of the lack of chapters, the dialogue woven right into the narrative (and the perfunctory style of it) and the occasional interruptions that usually described feelings or memories – it was so beautifully written!

The non-stop trudge of the words meshes perfectly with the endless struggle of the father and son to continue down the road and survive. There is no stopping and resting. There is only pushing on. Genius.

I also like that you can’t tell for sure about any setting details. For example, we have no idea what caused this apocalypse. We don’t know precisely how long it’s been since that event (though there are clues to give us a general idea). We don’t know where in the world they are.

It really adds to the feel of this pervasiveness greyness: the bleak landscape, the lack of joy and hope, the physical struggle. There are no sharp edges, only blurred lines.

We don’t know the names of the lakes and towns. Heck, we don’t know the names of the man and the boy. It doesn’t matter anymore. All that matters is finding food and staying alive.

“Just remember that the things you put into your head are there forever, he said. You might want to think about that. You forget some things, don’t you? Yes. You forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget.”

It truly is a depressing picture of life, where it’s really hard to figure out why you want to continue to stay alive if all you face is hardship and stress. Yet I enjoyed reading the story for the experience of it – an imagining of a time when man returns to survival mode – a place most of us know nothing about.

The dual nature of the road is an interesting place to mull for a minute.

The father and son need it for directions, as a way to stay near civilization so they can scavenge and as a means to cart along their few possessions.

The road gangs use it to prey on just such people, so it is a place of life, but also a place of death. A necessary evil?

I like how the author constantly weaves that phrase “the road” into the story again and again. Because it is the one constant – the way, the means of survival, the point of crisis, the traitor, the savior, the hub, the historian, life, death. It’s fascinating.

The small moments here and there of the boy’s innocence – wanting to help everyone around him, asking whether there are any other good people left, praying a thank you to whoever left the bunker for them to find – are the real tear-jerker times. I think he can afford to think this way because his father can play the cynic and survivalist for him. It seems like an attitude that is inevitably fleeting in this environment, but is also possibly what has kept him and his father on the side of “the good guys” for this long.

“The boy sat staring at his plate. He seemed lost. The man was about to speak and when he said: Dear people, thank you for all this food and stuff. We know that you saved it for yourself and if you were here we wouldn’t eat it no matter how hungry we were and we’re sorry that you didn’t get to eat it and we hope that you’re safe in heaven with God.”

I was sad when the father dies at the end. I initially found it depressing that they held on for so long and then the boy was left on his own.

But I thought about it some more and I felt like it wasn’t as hopeless as it initially seemed. I can’t even recall how many times the boy asked his dad about “other good people out there” and “carrying the fire” and you know, deep down, that there are no good people left.

And yet the story ends with people who seem to want to help the boy so he’s not alone, so it’s possible that in the end, his father didn’t believe and passed on. But the son, who never stopped hoping, ended up finding the very type of people he was looking for all along.

That’s not to say the father was wrong and he got what he deserved. At all. It’s just an observation.

At any rate, I’m wondering what everyone else thought about the book. No specific questions this time, other than maybe talk about what parts stood out to you and what you thought the message was – is it a nihilistic rant? A story of hope? What did you take away? (I almost feel like the takeaway depends on the person – I could see people coming away from this book feeling completely the opposite.)


August 2015 Book Reminder

I am so freaking far behind on reading, you guys! Aahhh! I just don't have enough time anymore (see previous post). I have got to sit down and seriously commit a few hours to The Road, so I can get the discussion post up in time and start on my second July book. So much pressure! (Just kidding. Sort of.)

We head now into the best month of the year, ladies (aside from the heat & humidity ... I'm not responsible for that). And somehow, we also head into my second book choice of 2015. Not sure how that lined up, but good times!

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Synposis: Henrietta Lacks, as HeLa, is known to present-day scientists for her cells from cervical cancer. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells were taken without her knowledge and still live decades after her death. Cells descended from her may weigh more than 50M metric tons.

HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta Lacks was buried in an unmarked grave.

The journey starts in the “colored” ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s, her small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia — wooden slave quarters, faith healings, and voodoo. Today are stark white laboratories with freezers full of HeLa cells, East Baltimore children and grandchildren live in obscurity, see no profits, and feel violated. The dark history of experimentation on African Americans helped lead to the birth of bioethics, and legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of.


Office Work

I can't explain why, but this summer has been extremely busy. Have you found that to be true for you too? Just so much yard work, birthdays, holidays, work/work trips, cleaning and so on. This week especially, it's really hit both Adam and me that our lives are chaotic. It's kind of stressful.

So I'm glad we found time on Saturday to do a few nice things for ourselves. Mainly, since I can never focus on which house project I want to do next, we decided to work on only one room at a time, so that we can actually get something done. And what room do we spend the most time in day in and day out? Our home office, of course!

Now, if I were a smarter blogger, I would have taken before and after pictures, and I would probably also have the patience to complete a project before writing about it. But I'm not and I don't! Lol.

To be fair, I don't blog for a living, so it's always an afterthought, "Oh, hey! I could probably share some of what we did this weekend. That would be a good idea. Shoot! I didn't take 'before' photos. Oh well." That's basically my thought process. But I guess that's good. I'm not living for the Internet.

Also, I'm just not patient enough to finish it first. So what you get are pictures of the middle phase.

However, I did at least take the time to create two rough layouts of where the major items were and where they are now, to give you better perspective.



So now, instead of facing opposite walls, Adam has his own nook and I'm facing the middle of the room. The main advantage to this is that now I intend to hang some kind of organizer board behind me as well as shelves, so it should be easier to give the room a bit of design. It's a pretty blank slate right now.

We took the couch out. It's temporarily part of our living room set, but we'll be giving it a new home with either Adam's mom or Thomas probably. It was my couch when I lived on my own and it just doesn't fit in anymore.

Here are some photos...

Right angle view of desk:

Left angle view of desk (with my handy dandy shredder):

Also, I eventually want to replace my desk. It's totally serviceable, so there's no rush. I've had it for almost ... 9 years now? It's from Ikea. The great thing about it is that it weighs about 5 pounds (I'm not even sure that's an exaggeration), so it's easy to move when we need to. I could probably move it myself if it wasn't so unwieldy -- it's that light!

Of course, the bad thing about it is that it weighs 5 pounds, which means it's basically made of cardboard, paper and spit. So while there's nothing wrong with it and it's a great size, I'd like to end up with something a little more stylish. Plus, I have this idea that after I paint the wall behind my desk and get a cute rug to put under the area, I'll want to be able to see through the sides of the desk to enjoy more of a view of the design elements, which means 4 legs instead of paneled sides. But anyway, I digress.

What was I saying? Oh yes, I was getting to this point: Since the desk is not facing a wall anymore, the problem becomes, "What do you do with all the cords?" So, since I don't really care about my desk in terms of how it looks (in case we screwed up), I gave Adam the go-ahead to drill a hole in it. He then super glued this lovely plastic ring into it and voila! No cords running down the middle of the floor.

Also, while we were re-situating the layout of the room, we finally bought a new printer! It's a B&W laserjet with scanning capability, so now everything prints really fast and at long last I can print & scan from my work laptop!! (Long story.) Plus, we were able to get it off the floor by the doorway because Adam no longer has to have it connected by hardwire to his computer. Ta-da!

A view of our temporary printer area (we'd eventually like to create something else here ... maybe a printer/sitting area? I don't know. It'll probably stay this way for the time being ... and thanks to Molly for the photobomb):

Okay, I'll wrap this up. It may not be as interesting to you as it is to me. But I just have to say before I go that we finally hung our first picture in the house! It was literally almost 15 months to the day since we moved in. So we may not be fast, but at least we're ... deliberate?

And in case you haven't had the opportunity to see this picture in person, here's what it looks like. Yay!


Time to Straighten Up

As of this morning, I am officially on week 2 of my Invisalign treatment.

But, Liz, you might say ... you have a gorgeous smile already. Yes, yes (tongue in cheek). But the fact is, I actually have a few teeth that are starting to turn sideways, one in particular that is slowly sliding behind another tooth. So while things aren't bad now, they would continue to get worse, so this is sort of a nip-it-in-the-bud approach.

Also, since I'm doing this before things go downhill, it'll take less time for me to straighten everything up than if I waited and then I should be able to just maintain.

In addition to the tooth movement, I was also having a minor bite issue where, because of my shifting teeth, I wasn't getting good closure in one spot, which as you may guess, hampers eating somewhat.

At any rate, considering how much Invisaligns normally cost, even though it's expensive, I am getting a GOOD deal, after the discount my dentist was running, plus what my insurance will reimburse me.

The other good news is that I have only a 32-week plan. I was told it could be over a year, so 8 months is fantastic news!

This is how it works.

For 32 weeks, I wear Invisalign trays. Every 2 weeks, I switch out to the next set to continue moving my teeth in the appropriate direction. I get 3 sets (so, 6 weeks' worth) of trays at a time. Every 5 weeks, I check in with my ortho assistant so she can make sure everything is looking good and give me my next few sets of Invisaligns.

At the end of the program, I get a retainer. Which, from what she showed me, is not like the retainer I remember my friends having when I was younger. It really just looks like another set of Invisaligns, but it's a harder material. If I remember correctly, I'll wear it 24/7 for about a month and then it will just be a nighttime gig after that.

One thing I never realized until I did this myself is that you don't just pop in the plastic trays over your teeth. I also had little hard plastic dots glued to about 10 my teeth. Sort of the idea of how they glue brackets onto your teeth if you're getting traditional braces, but these are small and enamel-colored, and the trays slide over them.

They're basically anchors to help encourage certain teeth to move the way they're supposed to. So the look isn't entirely smooth, but still not very noticeable.

This is how my first week went.

Day 1: NOOOOO!!!! Why did I decide to this? This is the worst! I actually paid someone to make me lisp when I talk and coat my teeth in plastic (except for when I eat and brush) and make me self-conscious? Why would I do that? I think I'm dying... *sniffle*

Day 2: Ugghhh, my teeth are so sore. I don't want to eat anything. Eight months of this?! I can't stop thinking about the little ridge of plastic rubbing the inside of my upper lip. Why, God, why??

Day 3: Why did she tell me I would get really good at taking the trays out? I'm not ever going to be good at this. This is so frustrating! Do I really sound as weird when I talk to you as I do in my head?

Day 4: I think my teeth are hurting a little less. Maybe I'll survive. Maybe.

Day 5: Okay, I have Invisaligns. I'm not thrilled, but I'm getting used to the fact that this is my life now.

Day 6: Not so bad. I can probably manage this.

Day 7: One week done! Why did I think this was so horrible? It's not that big a deal.

Sort of like the 7 stages of grief. I imagine that on day 15, though, when I have to start the next set of trays, that I'll revert to Day 1 sentiments and sore teeth. LOL.

One other item of note. The good thing about Invisaligns, other than the fact that they're less noticeable than braces, is that since I can take them out, I have no restrictions on what types of food I can eat. Also, between occasionally having sore teeth and the fact that I'm supposed to wear them 22 hours a day, I really don't snack anymore. (Because technically, even though I can eat with them in, why would I want to? At least, that's how I feel.) So ... inadvertent weight loss program?

Anyway, just thought I'd share since it's a big thing I'm doing. Come March, my teeth better be perfect!


Purple Fig Club: Wuthering Heights

We are officially halfway through our third year of The Purple Fig book club, ladies! I don't know about you, but that's pretty exciting to me. Go Commitment! (Not usually my strong suit, FYI. I quit basically everything. LOL. But hey, at least that means I've tried things, right?)

This book has been on my mental to-read list for a long time. It's one of those classics that lots of people read in school, but somehow just never ended up on any class syllabus for me. It always sounded so British and angsty and full of longing ... and you know what? I think that description is pretty much dead on. Good job on the title, Emily Bronte!

If I had to summarize this book with one word, it would be: Obsession.

Which is interesting because, while I'm aware that there are darker novels from this writing period and not all of them come off with the lightness of a Jane Austin book, for example, I guess I never expected to read one where basically all of the main characters are essentially despicable.

Having read one book by each of the Bronte sisters now, I must say that they come across as very complex women. Truthfully, I know nothing about their backgrounds or upbringing, but they certainly had some passionate and unexpected ideas.

Do I capture the concept correctly...? Two people, having known each other since childhood, fall in love but don't end up together for what appear to be mainly societal and familial restraints on Catherine's side, and both end up miserable and therefore create misery for everyone else around them.

(I haven't read any literary discussions on this book so as not to taint my initial perceptions.) 

In a way, that predicament (of being told to behave in a way contrary to what you want) is so relatable and understandable, but at the same time, Catherine and Heathcliff act so wretchedly to everyone around them, that they remain unlikeable. It's a fantastic portrait of what happens when two people are kept apart simply for the sake of maintaining bloodlines. And then, following that, how people become damaged when they are wronged, and of course what havok that coveting, jealousy and anger will wreak in a person's soul over time.

I was familiar with the excerpt below, even before reading the book, and it powerfully relates the emotional tension and single-mindedness of the protagonists:

"If all else perish, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger."

In quiet moments, you feel for them -- when they are calm and honest with the person they're speaking to about the pain they are in. But in all other moments, when they are hateful and brutal to everyone within verbal, and sometimes physical, reach, it's hard to justify their behavior in spite of what they're going through. Honestly, it would take pages and pages to break down Catherine and Heathcliff (or hours and hours with lots of coffee and some cushy armchairs ... am I right? With some books, I really wish we were all sitting around discussing them in person!). 

I did inadvertently see one criticism online about the author's choice to have the housekeeper tell the story to Mr. Lockwood as events that happened in the past. I'll admit I didn't expect that approach when I first cracked the book open. I'm not sure I understand either why she didn't just tell the story as it happened. Let me think...

Well, for one thing, having an outside person observe the two main characters allows you to live vicariously through the person hearing the story -- in this case, the tenant of Thrushcross Grange. In that sense, since the story is being related to him, you do sort of live through it as if it was happening just then. It also gives you a sense of voyeurism, as if you were getting to discover the lives of people you don't know. More exciting and secretive than if you just wrote the story in the third person, I think.

Other than that, though, I fear I've been out of academia too long or am just currently too braindead to think of another solid reason. Any other ideas? Does this method bother you?

Did you find either Catherine or Heathcliff to be redeemable? Can you relate to them at all?

I palpably felt a sense of relief once I heard that Heathcliff had died and his tragic influence no longer shadowed everyone in his house. I'd like to say that it was also because he was finally at peace, but I don't think that would be a true statement. (Either that I felt happy for him or that I believe he found peace.)

Even before that, I felt some relief when Catherine the younger finally decided to make peace with Hareton. As if, she was possibly the only character who went through the grinder and found redemption. As if, despite all of the gloom brought on by their "parents," there was a light at the end of it all.

Last thought ... for now (lol) ... I've always loved the title of this book. I see now that it's the name of the home Heathcliff lived in, but it can't be denied that it evinces the entire mood of the place and the story. The wind, the storminess. The chaos, the loneliness. It's perfection to me.


July 2015 Book Reminder

I know I say stuff like this a lot, but I truly can't believe we're heading into the second half of the year already. What happened to 2015? On the other hand, there has been so much going on this year that I can understand why the time feels like it's flying. Between house projects, birthdays and holidays, work and other things, I don't ever have as much down time as I feel like I used to.

But I'm happy to say that our book club mostly doesn't contribute to the "noise." I really do find it calming and beneficial to get lost in a book for even 15 minutes on most days before I dive back into what I was doing. 

At any rate, I hope everyone is keeping up with the pace this year. I'm about 3/4 of the way through Wuthering Heights, which is good since I'm still keeping to my two-books-a-month reading goal. (Sometimes I don't know how!)

The next book sounds like a good summer read -- if not a light read, then at least an adventure story. (Actually, my expectation is that it will be rather dark.)

The Road

Synopsis: A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don’t know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food—and each other.


My Time in Music City

I've been back from Tennessee for a few days now and finally found some time to post a few of my pictures. I never get to see as much of a city as I want to when traveling for work simply because of the obvious -- no car and limited free time. But I still got to wander around a little and eat at some really neat places.

Also, in case you don't go back to older posts, I did just reply to everyone's comments on my trip announcement post just before this entry, but I was delayed because I'm having Disqus issues. It's stopped notifying me of comments over email, so I'm trying to get that fixed. Anyway, didn't want you to think I ignored you!

Oh, and one other thing -- you may not even notice, but somehow my phone was set to taking square photos  before I noticed after a while, so these pictures may be different sizes. I finally switched it back to "photo". Lol. Technology, am I right?

The first place worth mentioning is my hotel, though I didn't think to take any pictures of it. The reason it's worth talking about is because the building used to be a bank that was originally built in the '30s. So, the whole interior feels like a trip to the past because it's got gigantic ceilings with beautiful woodwork. And as you walk straight into it, there's a revolving door and a huge hall ahead of you where you can imagine all of the bank employee desks lined up in a row, like you've probably seen in movies.

Anyway, I thought it was pretty neat.

Next up is a restaurant we planned an event at on the first night of the conference. It's called Merchants and definitely feels older, but had amazing food. We actually took an elevator up to the floor where our event was being held. This is the building.

Nashville is kind of a wonderful mix of old and new. And if you haven't been there, the main area of downtown, Broadway, is a crazy Vegas-like atmosphere every night, with competing live music (mostly country, obviously) on every corner. They don't call it Music City for nothing!

I didn't get any nighttime shots, but you can see some of the vintage signage here, including the guitar sticking out a little further down the street.

A couple other neat buildings actually face each other just a few blocks from this photo. 

First, here's a small piece of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

The only chance I had to walk around and take pictures was the last morning I was there before I had to head to the airport, so the sun is a little harsh and also I was way too close to get a good shot of the whole building.

Truth be told, I'm sure you can find way better pictures of all of these landmark buildings online, if you're interested. 

Anyway, I didn't get to see it, but apparently during our conference, there was a big ceremony honoring Loretta Lynn and Jack White, who were getting stars on the Walk of Fame. One of my coworkers actually got pictures! I found the details in this story.

The building our conference was in was just to the right of this: Music City Center.

I cannot express to you enough how beautiful and enormous this building is! It's only been there for two years and you can't tell here, but the roof curves a couple of times and is supposed to imitate the shape of an acoustic guitar as you look down the street. Pretty awesome!

I ended up inadvertently finding the Nashville convention center while walking around and it is extremely dated and dinky by comparison, so I can see why they chose to hold the conference here.

I had a few other pictures, but nothing all that great. Like I said, it's hard to get to see everything on these trips.

One of my other issues is also that I always feel very awkward and touristy walking around by myself taking pictures. Maybe someday I'll be less self-conscious, but it hasn't happened yet. Lol! Oh, and also I was dripping sweat by the end of my outing, so there's that too.

Anyway, my next likely trip will be to New Orleans -- woohoo!!! So I will do my darndest to get some cool pictures from there! (Even though it will be August and still terrible weather.) Jazz! Seafood! Gulf coast! Let's do this.


Nashville, here I come!

Tomorrow, I'm heading to Tennessee for another work trip. I'm looking forward to it and hope I get to enjoy Nashville a little bit while I'm there. I'll at least be going with 2 other marketing people, which is nice, because I'll definitely have people I know already to chat with at the show.

It's one of the larger shows we do all year, so it'll be an interesting experience for me since most of my shows tend to be smaller. And for a change, I don't fly out until almost 6pm, so no waking up at 3:30am for me -- woohoo!!

The conference is being held in the relatively new Music City Center, which looks gorgeous!

My only minor gripe is that I have got to stop going places where they don't follow daylight savings time -- it's so confusing!

Last month, when I went to Phoenix, even though it's technically on Mountain Time, it was practically on Pacific Time because they don't observe Daylight Savings changes. 

And now, I found out just a few days ago that Nashville also is on standard time. Which means that, even though they are also Eastern, they are an hour behind the rest of us. 

Initially, I was just going to mock you Tennesseans, but I think I'm realizing now that it's not the whole state because other cities like Knoxville seem to be on the same time as me. If that's true, is that disorienting or what?!

If anything, I would like not to have to fall back and spring forward every year, but truly, I just wish everyone in the country did the same thing, whichever way we all choose to go because I cannot keep up with who participates and who doesn't. I'm glad my colleague gave me the heads up because I would have been so confused when I landed and my phone said an hour later than I expected.

Anyway, I'll be gone Tuesday afternoon until Friday evening, so I probably won't put up any worthwhile posts this week, but I'll try to take some pictures that I can share when I get back!


Purple Fig Club: Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker

Another book, another great character named Elizabeth! Lol. And also, another book I probably wouldn't have discovered myself, but ended up enjoying immensely. 

My goal to read 25 books this year continues apace! And that doesn't even count the fact that I'm re-reading the Mistborn trilogy aloud to Adam whenever we drive places. I figured I wouldn't count books that weren't entirely new to me, or comic books for that matter, otherwise my page count would be RIDICULOUS.

Technically, I didn't even fit our January book into my total for this year because I read it in December. I'm nothing, if not honest in my book reports.

Speaking of honest, let's talk about the Lincolns. (Good segue, right?)

It's hard to tell, with historical fiction, exactly how much of the story is based on corroborated facts and how much is embellished, so all I can is comment on the story itself. It does, as my mom brought up when I was in Miami a couple weeks ago, provide motivation to go read the original book by Mrs. Keckley and possibly also a biography on Mrs. Lincoln.

Assuming the majority of the conversations are based on historical facts and possibly a sense of Elizabeth's voice from her own book, I have many thoughts.

Firstly, that Elizabeth's story is an incredible one. A former slave who freed herself and her son, survived the death of her only child, built and ran her own business, and conversed with many of the prominent political figures of the Civil War time period, including one of the most well-known American presidents, is quite a life!

Hearing about the war, the Emancipation Proclamation and subsequent lingering prejudices from the perspective of a black woman was tough, but accurate. I felt that the author did well considering the likely opinions that a woman like Elizabeth would have at various junctures, such as the mention of Tad being encouraged in his education after displaying disinterest, while a young black boy might never be given such attention.

Secondly, I was overwhelmed with the amount of loss Mrs. Lincoln experienced over the course of her lifetime. I can't even remember how many of her close relatives died in the war, beyond which, I can't imagine not being able to publicly mourn them simply because they had not sided with the Union.

Then, the loss of almost her entire immediate family one after another -- three sons and her husband. It is no great shock that she emotionally spiraled the way she did. 

While she seemed opinionated, vocal and occasionally inappropriate, I just couldn't help feeling sorry for her. Of course, she did create some of her own problems, but it's hard to refute the fact that she suffered much and was not treated properly for a wife of a martyred president.

On a lighter note, some of the anecdotes about President Lincoln were highly entertaining. One of my favorite excerpts:

“Tad continued to improve, but two days later, Mr. Lincoln returned from Gettysburg with a fever, which soon turned into varioloid, a mild form of smallpox. He was quarantined in the White House for three weeks, but Mrs. Lincoln confided to Elizabeth that he was rather cheerful about it. Since he had been president, he had noted, people had been crowding about him, always asking him for something. ‘Now let the office-seekers come,’ he joked weakly from his sickbed, ‘for at last I have something I can give all of them.’”


It is unfortunate, however, that Elizabeth's book was received with such vitriol. It's hard to understand how anyone who actually read it could think that it was simply an attempt to gossip in return for a bit of personal fame. Which leads me to believe that a good number of her accusers did not read it in its entirety and many others were simply prejudiced against the idea of someone of her race sounding intelligent.

I'm grateful that we have the opportunity today to learn about her life and judge for ourselves.

Did you all enjoy the book? What parts stood out to you?


June 2015 Book Reminder

Hopefully, as the summer heat presses in on us for the foreseeable future, we'll all find time to stay cool indoors and read through the next few books. I'm wrapping up the last 100 pages of the May book myself and really enjoying it. I'm looking forward to discussing it with all of you!

In the meantime, here's a reminder of what we have coming up next. (I'm pretty excited to read it -- it's been on my list for a loooong time!)

Wuthering Heights

Synopsis: Wuthering Heights is a wild, passionate story of the intense and almost demonic love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, a foundling adopted by Catherine's father. After Mr Earnshaw's death, Heathcliff is bullied and humiliated by Catherine's brother Hindley and wrongly believing that his love for Catherine is not reciprocated, leaves Wuthering Heights, only to return years later as a wealthy and polished man. He proceeds to exact a terrible revenge for his former miseries. The action of the story is chaotic and unremittingly violent, but the accomplished handling of a complex structure, the evocative descriptions of the lonely moorland setting and the poetic grandeur of vision combine to make this unique novel a masterpiece of English literature.


We Built a Border

As new-ish homeowners, Adam and I have been trying to get little projects done here and there, but man, somebody should have told us how busy life can be and little time and energy you have most days! I thought we'd be further along by now, but I'm learning.

Anyway, we finally got to one item on our list this past Saturday and it feels good! We put in a border around the two main sections of landscaping on the front of the house. Come see!

First, I have to admit that we didn't plan this project particularly well. We decided on this specific endeavor at random on Saturday after breakfast because I wanted to get something done and decided on this on the spur of the moment, so we didn't get up early to beat the sun like we might have. We headed out, looked at a couple stores to see what our options were and finally decided on a border stone.

Now, I have to interrupt my story here to tell you the best part of this entire thing -- we got these stones for free! 

A few years ago, we signed up for a Visa rewards credit card as part of an attempt to build up our credit score by using the card to pay most of our bills each month. Since we pay off the card every month, we never carry a balance and therefore pay no interest. But in return for using the card, we'd built up quite a few points over the years. We finally cashed in for two Home Depot gift cards, which completely covered the cost of our garden border stones! And since we did all the labor ourselves, there was no cost there.

It took us two trips to get them all home (didn't want to overload the car weight-wise), so we didn't get start on actually laying them until after lunch. Um, possibly a mistake. Can you say HOT?!

At any rate, here is a closeup of the stones.

They've got a slight pink-gold tint, so not just a flat concrete grey, but not a dark brick color, which is exactly what we wanted. Also, these in particular have a nice interlocking design, so they're easy to arrange either straight or on a curve. And it's hard to see in the picture, but they actually slope up from front to back across the top, so it lets them appear a little lower on the grass side and a little higher on the mulch side, which helps keep in the mulch & moisture.

Adam and I took turns digging out a level space between the mulch and the grass and then carrying over and lining up the border stones, while making sure to step back occasionally and see how things were looking.

He's such a perfectionist that, had we not already exhausted ourselves and soaked our clothing through with sweat, he might have gone back out and adjusted a few places he didn't think were entirely even. Lol. (I think it looks impeccable!)

And now, a view of both the right- and left-hand borders...

Both sides of the house had their challenges, although the left side above is obviously the larger area and posed the difficulty of sloping down and then back up on that curved section. So we had to make sure the stones not only sloped down and up evenly, but also as they were turning. It was tricky, but looking at it now, I'm extremely proud of how smooth that line is!

It is back-breaking work, bending over for so long, hauling stones and the like ... particularly in 90-degree weather! Thank goodness for my lovely wide-brimmed gardening hat!

Because not only do you have to dig it out and then smooth and place the stones so they line up evenly on the tops, but you then have to go back and fill in some dirt around the base to stabilize them and replace the mulch you pushed out of the way at the start. Tiring!

And lastly, here's a before and after look -- not just at the border area, but also, if you look closely, you may be able to see the small area of trim at the top of our columns. In the initial shot of the house before we moved in, you can see that everything is one color. In the after, we've added the garden border, but also, we took time some months back to grab the pint-sized can of matched paint the builder left us and brush on the lighter cream color on that top trim area.

It's a small change, but we think it adds some additional definition to the house.

(It's also interesting to see how small all the plants were one year ago!)

Anyway, hopefully this sort of blog entry isn't boring for you all. I know it's exciting to me because we worked on on it and it's our house, but hopefully it's somewhat entertaining for the rest of you!


My Newest (Renewed) Endeavor

Sometimes when you're trying to do something hard, the best way to be successful is to tell other people about it. That somehow offers you silent motivation when you feel tempted to ease up or give up on what you're trying to accomplish. You all agree?

I've tried a lot of things over the years. Some efforts/hobbies ended up being temporary, others I still enjoy but don't always find time for (sewing, I mean you!), but I find that trying new things is almost never bad. The key for myself is not trying to do too much and not being discouraged to try in the first place. This newest goal may sound odd coming from someone who once baked a new dessert every week for a year, but...

...I'm attempting to drastically reduce my sugar intake.

Now, obviously I'm not a super unhealthy person to begin with, but let me tell you, so far this has been very hard! It's not like this is the first time I've attempted to do it and yet, here I am again, renewing my vows, so to speak.

I want to do this not only because sugar is in practically everything, but also because it's so secretly addicting and detrimental to health! As I sat on the couch with Adam last night watching TV, I kept arguing myself out of grabbing some nearby chocolate until it got to the point where I realized my brain was obsessing about it and I was feeling a little anxious and even fidgety! Like I was a 20-year smoker trying to talk myself out of a cigarette! If that's not evidence of sugar's addictive nature, I don't know what is.

At that moment when I noticed my behavior, I inwardly resolved that I would not give in. Because I've come to a place where I don't want to be imprisoned by my own lifetime habit of enjoying something sweet after dinner. And when I think about it that way -- as not letting sugar addiction win -- it's easier than if I just sit there wavering between whether it really matters if I have a sweet treat in the long run or not. (Answer? It does!)

At the beginning of 2014, Adam and I resolved to stop drinking soda ... and we did! Sixteen months later, we're still going strong.

But it bugs me how much refined sugar I still consume, especially when you think about how it does absolutely nothing for you except add pounds and disease to your body (and taste good ... I mean, let's be honest!).

Practically all drinks that aren't water, all refined carbohydrates and pretty much anything that comes in a jar, can, bag or box, all contain copious amounts of sugar. How can you even avoid it? I mean, no one can make everything from scratch and not be exhausted (or miss getting to eat out, for example).

But still, considering all the places sugar is found, it shouldn't be hard to at least reduce it a little right? I mean, I'm not scientifically determining my current sugar intake and mathematically calculating a goal intake. I think it's enough to take simple steps.

My current avenues of attack are:

1. Consuming mostly water. I still enjoy a morning coffee, but homemade, with just about a teaspoon of sugar & the perfect blend of half & half. (I will still enjoy a latte, cocktail or flavored drink, but way less ... as in, maybe twice a week.)

2. General portion control.

3. Reducing dessert to one splurge day a week, whatever day that ends up being.

4. Being more careful about snacks -- my recent snacks have consisted of almonds, ants on a log, PB & banana on toast (Ezekiel sprouted grain bread), carrots, etc. (While I can't avoid all sugar, I can avoid using large quantities. And I can also avoid all containers that say "low-fat" because what they really mean is "high-sugar." I truly believe that just having smaller amounts of the full-fat stuff is better for you!)

5. Watching processed carb intake. (Brown rice and oatmeal, here we come!)

I feel like the majority of the challenge is fighting my own brain. It keeps telling me, "No refined carbs? No chocolate? You're kiiiillllliiinnnggg me!!!!! I'll never feel full or happy again!!" But it's obviously not true. Sometimes I feel hungry even though I know I shouldn't be and I think it's just the habit of having that sugar that's making me feel like there should be someting more. 

I don't think it's realistic for me to say I'm not going to enjoy a friend's birthday cake or a frappucino during the Florida summer, but I don't want to be reliant and addicted. And any time I need encouragement, I'll come to you all. (And also re-watch "Fed Up" which is on Netflix and highly recommended!)

I started this on Sunday. Let's see how far I (and Adam) get! Almost done with Day 5...


Purple Fig Club: Watership Down

I think this may be the first book that every single one of us read so far this year, am I right?! If so, I feel highly successful. Haha! Just kidding ... I know it comes down more to busy schedules than book selections during any given month.

Still, I hope you all enjoyed reading a fantastical story about rabbit adventures. It's nice to occasionally take a break from deep and meaningful books and just get lost in an engaging tale of adventure, risk and reward.

This is one of the few books I've read from the library rather than my Kindle, so unfortunately, I did not jot down a lot of my favorite quotes. I truly just enjoyed lying on the floor with the book over my head and finding out what happened to Hazel and his group next, every time I picked it up.

I loved the made-up rabbit words that the author says he picked based on sound alone. Did you all have the same preface I did?

I thought it was fantastic. His explanation that the book isn't any type of allegory, but truly just a story he made up for his daughters that he finally published because they basically told him to put up or shutup (but in a much cuter fashion). In reality, he complained that some of the bedtime stories he read them weren't that great, so they said, "Well, if you can do better, then just do it already!" (I paraphrase.)

It really started things off in an endearing way for me. I felt like a kid again and that the author was reading me a bedtime story.

As things progressed, I really started to get attached to the individual rabbits and their unique personalities, and I especially liked how they kept folding new rabbits into their group, despite the circumstances that may have gone down between them previously.

I was a stress ball by the time they started to infltrate Efrafa. I really didn't want any of them to get killed! Thank goodness the author understood that and didn't take away any of our known and beloved band of brothers.

Anyway, like I said, I really have nothing deep to share here. I do feel like this is a book I would read again in the future as a way to relax and transport myself away on a lazy afternoon.

How did you all feel? Any favorite characters or scenes?


Phoenix, Arizona

Lately, my life has consisted of my yard being dug up so they can finally fix our drainage issue, Molly going to the vet for a possible UTI, and various other craziness. I can't even remember it all. But you don't want to hear about stressful things like that!

Instead, let me tell you about my unexpected work trip to Phoenix! I'm still there now. I don't fly home until tomorrow morning. But I just got a few pictures, so I thought I would share with everyone.

I didn't know until a week ago that I'd be coming here, so I had no real expectations for anything I might get to see or do. And honestly, this might be the least I've seen of any city I've gone to. This tradeshow is actually pretty darn short compared to most. Just an opening reception and then one day of exhibiting.

Yesterday was rough. My alarm went off at 3:15 ... AM ... lol. And even though Phoenix is Mountain Time (only 2 hours behind), they don't observe Daylight Savings Time, so it's really a 3-hour time difference. So I was up for almost 24 hours yesterday. 

The tradeoff is that I got to sleep WAY in. Or at least it felt to my body like I slept a lot more than usual.

Anyway, my show ended this afternoon, so I figured I'd at least walk the few blocks around my hotel. It's not exactly the scenic view of Arizona that you might picture in your head. I'd have to come back on vacation to be able to drive out to some of the hiking trails and such. But even though what I've been able to see isn't exactly satisfying for a 5-hour flight, I just can't be one of those people who's content to see only the inside of their hotel when in a new city.

There are lots of places I've gotten to go to for work that I may never have seen otherwise. I may as well take as much advantage of that as I can!

So, without further ado, my pictures.

I walked to the top of the parking garage next door to get a few shots of my surroundings. Just gives you an idea of what the city looks like.

This is one side of the convention center where I've spent the past two days...

I had to zoom in for you to be able to see anything from a photo, but the city is surrounded by beautiful mountains on all sides, so I had to try to get a few shots, even if they're a little blurry.

Some neat graffiti art. And spectacular dumpster, obviously.

Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks. 

And a gorgeous southwestern-style Catholic diocese.

Maybe not the beautiful rock formations I'd love to see, but not bad for just walking a few blocks around my hotel, right? I may try to get a few sunset shots as well, but we'll see how my feet feel. Lol.

Also, I ran into the same thing here that I noticed in Denver -- it's SUPER windy in the late afternoon/evening. I'm guessing that has something to do with the mountains. My hair was ALL over the place! So I looked touristy snapping pictures and also like Cousin It. 

It's beautiful weather too. High 80s the last two days and nice and dry. One step up from Florida, that's for sure.

Well, that's about it! Hope you enjoyed getting some of the sights of Phoenix.

I'll work on getting the Watership Down recap up in a few days once I'm back home, so keep an eye out for that too.


May 2015 Book Reminder

Wow, sorry it's been so long since I've posted anything. Things have been very busy lately. Maybe I'll find time to write an update on what's been going on with me before too long. I'll do my best!

In the meantime, here's your book reminder for next month. I hope everyone is liking Watership Down. Actually, I'm pretty sure that at least two of you have finished it already, which is awesome! I'm about 50 pages from the end myself. Such a fun story! I'm glad I picked it. Anyway, here is your May book...

May Book

Synopsis: In Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, novelist Jennifer Chiaverini presents a stunning account of the friendship that blossomed between Mary Todd Lincoln and her seamstress, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Keckley, a former slave who gained her professional reputation in Washington, D.C. by outfitting the city’s elite. Keckley made history by sewing for First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln within the White House, a trusted witness to many private moments between the President and his wife, two of the most compelling figures in American history.


Purple Fig Club: The Diary of Anais Nin

I hope everyone's keeping up with the reading -- is life crazy right now or is it just me? And it's only March! I wasn't sure if I was going to finish this book in time (or at all) for a little while there, but fortunately I pushed through and found some spare time.

This is the kind of book that you can't speed read either because of the writing style and the content ... and it's not short! Although I don't think any of us picked particularly short books this year. This is the year of the 400- to 500-page books! (Good luck to all of us.)

I'll be blunt.

Initially, for the first quarter of the book almost, I really didn't think I was going to like it. Some of the explicit content, plus the never-ending analysis of JUUUUUNE was killing me. (If I ever meet someone with that name, they'll probably be unfairly pre-judged because I'm so tired of "hearing" it.)

It's one thing to read a memoir or autobiography by someone you're familiar with. For me, jumping into a journal by someone whom I've only heard about vaguely was a little rough because I didn't already have an interest in her. It didn't help that, although I've heard of Henry Miller, I also don't think I've ever read anything by him or knew anything about his life. So, from the start, I had trouble caring about their repetitive conversations.


As things moved forward, I started to find more to enjoy. Anais' description of Otto Rank and his psychoanalysis was one of my favorite sections, and I also began to appreciate her internal observations and musings. I'm not sure I agree with all of her opinions (if you read a general overview of her later in life, she does seem to be a somewhat odd person, but then lots of artistic people are), but I still appreciated reading her perspectives.

It just goes to show that no matter how different someone else is from you, they still see some of the world in the same way. For example, I've had this thought before, both about books and TV/movies:

"'That's the danger of it, it prepares you to live, but at the same time, it exposes you to disappointments because it gives a heightened concept of living, it leaves out the dull or stagnant moments. You, in your books, also have a heightened rhythm, and a sequence of events so packed with excitement that I expected all your life to be delirious, intoxicated.' Literature is an exaggeration, a dramatization, and those who are nourished on it (as I was) are in great danger of trying to approximate an impossible rhythm."

It's the reason we enjoy stories -- they allows us to hear about specific events in a person's life (fictional or not) without any of the moments where they have to go to the bathroom or are totally bored and staring at a wall. But it also makes me feel at times like I lead a boring life; I don't get to skip my own still moments.

I also enjoyed this description of her thoughts when she first looked up Otto Rank in the library:

"When you know someone from his writings you think he will live forever. I considered Otto Rank a legend even after Henry visited him. He was a legendary character until I came across a list of his works in the Psychoanalytical Library and saw on the card, on the left-hand corner, the date of his birth, and on the right-hand corner, a blank left for the date of his death. This shocked me into awareness of his temporary presence. His life span was already over half spent, and I must talk to him now. He was not eternal. On the right-hand corner of a library card lay the inescapable proof of his inescapable fate."

Her analytical musings about her relationship to her father were also some of my favorite parts. The relationship of father to daughter, and especially in her case, with a father whose idea seemed better than the reality, was interesting to read about.

Then, the question of whether spending a lot of time with someone who is almost exactly the same as you is actually good for you or if it is better to let opposites attract in order to challenge yourself. Here are a series of quotes around that idea that I found interesting. The first about the idea of being around your twin and the latter two about being around your Double or, as she describes it, the person who is like the part of you that you don't want to be.

"Yet I wonder if it is good to ally similarities, one agreeing with the other, as twins might, so that this might give an illusion of balance, reassure us about our orientation, whether we should seek this by contrast with others, in extreme opposites as Henry is to me?"

"The Double, or the shadow, was often the self one did not want to live out, the twin, but in the sense of the dark self, and the self which one repudiated. If Don Quixote was a dreamer, why did he annex to himself his opposite, the good, earthy Sancho Panza...?"

"We love best those who are, or act for us, a self we do not wish to be or act out."

Well, I won't inundate you with quotes, but I found all of that worth stopping to think about. Sometimes I think I agree and other times, I don't. It's interesting to think about how our interactions with different types of people so powerfully shape who we are.

The only other fault I found with this book wasn't really the book's fault ... Apparently, the man Anais Nin was married to throughout the entire period of this volume did not want to be mentioned when it was published, so all excerpts referencing him were removed. This made for a large gap in the picture I formed of Nin -- the main one obviously being that she was married and did not live alone. Additionally, her multiple affairs (Henry Miller, Otto Rank) were not mentioned at all. The entry of her getting pregnant was abrupt and confusing.

What did you think? Did you find the writing style easy or difficult? Did she seem entirely foreign to you or did you find any similarities you could relate to?


The Gall of Those Wasps!

You may not get the pun of the title until you read this entry and I blame Adam for the (bad) influence. Don't hate me.

At any rate, being a homeowner provides constant challenges. From the house itself to the things in it to the yard, there is always something. This morning, Adam and I stepped outside in a new effort to take standing breaks every hour and he noticed little nodules all over the young oak tree in our front yard. We looked online for an answer to see if it was a disease or something else harmful.

What we learned is that they are called galls and are caused mainly by wasps laying eggs on leaves and branches. The wasps apparently inject some hormone into the plant causing it to grow over the eggs for protection. 

They're all over our tree and they mainly seem to be from last year because they are all empty or broken open and dried out. 

From what I read, although they are not pretty, they are mostly not harmful unless they become a huge infestation. (You should search oak tree galls and look at some of the images of them when they become a problem!)

Here's a picture of what one of ours looks like. It's in the center of the photo.

They can cause leaves and twigs to drop off earlier than they normally would in the season, but shouldn't kill the tree if they are sparse.

However, we obviously want to take care of the plants in our yard, so I read about ways to prevent or get rid of them. The main things seem to be removing them and disposing of the larvae in the trash (because just dropping them onto the ground may continue to provide habitat). And boy, are the wasps active around our house right now, so I'm not surprised.

The two other things you can do are to put a bird feeder in the tree since birds are natural predators and you can also spray a specific insecticide. 

We're going to start with trimming off the galls and hanging a feeder this weekend to see if that helps.

You learn something new every day! And after all, it's us against the bugs in the end. Lol.


April 2015 Book Reminder

I hope March isn't flying by as quickly for you all as it is for me. How is it halfway through already?! Good grief, Charlie Brown.

At least we can continue on with what I hope will be good reading with April's book. I've been wanting to read it forever, so I hope it doesn't let me (or any of you) down.

April Book:

Synopsis: A phenomenal worldwide bestseller for over thirty years, Richard Adams's Watership Down is a timeless classic and one of the most beloved novels of all time. Set in England's Downs, a once idyllic rural landscape, this stirring tale of adventure, courage and survival follows a band of very special creatures on their flight from the intrusion of man and the certain destruction of their home. Led by a stouthearted pair of friends, they journey forth from their native Sandleford Warren through the harrowing trials posed by predators and adversaries, to a mysterious promised land and a more perfect society.


Friday the 13th ... Again

So, thanks to what I assume must be an unusual coincidence, we got two Friday the 13th's back to back in February and March this year. (There will be another one in November!) Last month, it was a totally normal day (not that I'm superstitious and expected anything different.)

But today, it was apparently our turn to experience the full effect. We had a minor car accident first thing this morning before the sun was even up. Nobody'shurtdon'tworry! But still, now we have to deal with insurance and repairs ... blurggggg...

We went to the gym this morning, against our better judgment. Haha. (Actually, we are generally morning workout people because it helps to get it out of the way and it makes me feel more energetic at work ... except on the days we do strength training because my body is just not ready for that business at 6:00 a.m.)

But this week has been super hard, coming off my everlasting cold and then dealing with the time change. Sooooo tiiiiired...

So, we had skipped a couple of workouts this week and we figured the least we could do was walk the treadmill for a bit today. After the gym, we jaunted across the street to Panera to pick up breakfast before heading home. 

As we were sitting at the light, waiting to get our left-turn arrow, I noticed a car making a left turn into the plaza we were waiting to exit. As it did so, an SUV going straight apparently did not see it and hit it at full speed. The car spun around once or twice and made a stop by colliding into Adam's car.

It only jolted us a little bit, but there was nothing we could really have done to avoid it. There just wasn't time to reverse and there was a truck behind us also, so I'm not sure how much room we had.

At any rate...

It's not the end of the world. Very fortunately, nobody in any of the 3 cars involved was seriously injured. The smaller car had a younger, maybe high school- or college-aged girl who went into an immediate panic attack/hysteria over the shock of it, but thankfully, her car was struck on the rear passenger side, so she wasn't hurt ... although her car was definitely done. (She was going to work at the McDonald's we were sitting right next to, so she kept repeating how she didn't mean to do anything, she was just trying to go to work. I felt really bad for her.)

The SUV driver's airbags went off, so he had the wind knocked out of him and probably will have a bruise, but it could've been worse for both of them and thankfully wasn't.

To this moment, I couldn't even tell you whose fault it was. I'm not sure if she was running her turn light or not, and it also seems like the SUV driver should been paying attention and slowed down.

I kept watching her slowly turn toward us and his SUV keep barreling forward, wondering whether they were going to notice each other at some point. And then, as her car spun around toward us after the collision, I kept thinking, "That car is going to hit us." And then, of course, it did.

Fortunately, Adam's car is still drivable and he's already filed the claim online, so hopefully we'll get the body repairs taken care of without too much damage to our wallet.

I think the worst part of the whole thing (deep sarcasm here) was that after we finally got home an hour later and reheated my breakfast sandwich, I bit into it only to find out they gave me the wrong one. Paneeeerrrraaaaaa!!!!! *shakes fist*

Two more pictures for you.

Stay safe out there!



Oh goodness, guys (or ladies, as the case may be). I've been sick for a week now. I thought losing my voice in January was a pain, but this is a full-on cold. Plus, I was just in Georgia for four days for work. And if there's anything worse than being sick, it's traveling while sick. And if there's anything worse than traveling while sick, it's traveling while sick but having to be dressy and professional because you're surrounded by coworkers and bosses.

I am tired.

But I really didn't intend to write a blog post just to complain. (I mean, I fully intended to complain a little bit because I need sympathy when I'm ill, but not the entire time.)

I am THRILLED to have slept in my own bed last night. Me and hotel rooms don't get along for sleeping. I swear, I woke up this morning feeling like I must have been drugged because I went right out, didn't wake up once and couldn't believe it was morning when the alarm went off. Glorious.

Also, generally, my trip was good overall. Obviously it would've been better not to be sick, but it's always helpful to reconnect with people since I work remotely most of the time.

The trip was for our annual Marketing Summit, in which all of the marketing people in my department gather for a few days to share news from their areas of the business and we have guest speakers and eat lots of food. All in all, it's pretty fun and informative.

The days are long though. Breakfast starts at 8 a.m. and the team dinners usually go until 8 or 9 p.m., so it's back-to-back FULL days.

Needless to say, I'm super excited to be sitting at my own desk at home today where I can cough up a lung to my heart's content.

One of the most fun things we got to do was have dinner at this place in Alpharetta called Top Golf. It's set up like a driving range, with 3 levels, but also has an indoor bar and dining area. 

My company reserved a bunch of space for all of us and we split up into groups of 5 or 6 to eat food, drink beer and make embarrassing attempts at hitting golf balls into the colored targets on the course.

As you can see, it was pretty chilly and misty out, but they had all the heat lamps going over the sitting areas right behind where I'm standing in this picture, so it was comfy.

I debated whether I wanted to claim "sickness" and not participate, but I figured I wouldn't get another opportunity anytime soon to do something like this. And what's the worse that could happen? I swing and miss and look like a fool? (Definitely happened.) Would my colleagues like me less or make fun of me? (No, of course not.) So I decided to go for it.

And hey, I had never held a golf club before. I couldn't have told you what type of club to grab, which ones were the ladies' clubs or anything else helpful. But a couple people guided me and I actually did hit a few of the targets! (After whiffing the first couple swings.)

I didn't hit anything past the green target though -- I did okay, but to my disappointment, I didn't turn out to be a golf prodigy.

I make it look good though, right?


Purple Fig Club: In the Kingdom of Ice

Wow. I truly don't know where to begin with this book. The story was so incredible that I kept stopping to question whether I was correct in thinking it was a true story or if I had gotten confused and it was just a tale out of someone's fantastic imagination.

This book is anincredible historical event that I think most of us probably were never taught about. The prologue alone had me agog! 

I was initially concerned about getting through the whole thing in time because of the length, but I shouldn't have worried. I finished it in under two weeks because I couldn't put it down.

From the beginning, I was captured by the numerous scientific theories surrounding the makeup of the Arctic, the eccentric newspaper editor's antics and the interweaving of other historical highlights -- mainly the Centennial Exhibition. Edison! Bell! Grant! History is so much more captivating to me when the pieces are all twined together, so I can see how these famous people interacted.

Hearing about the books that were inspired by the world's fervor over exploring the North Pole was also very interesting (Frankenstein, Journey to the Center of the Earth, etc.)

I was incredibly impressed by the author's ability to do all of this research and then write such a cohesive narrative.

It really is hard to mention everything I found compelling about this story because it's so rich in detail!

I have to confess that because the author strung us along until the very end of the book before finally letting us know what happened to Captain George De Long's group (and because of the interspersed letters from Emma making me ever hopeful), it had built up so much inner turmoil in me that I welled up when I found out that they had all died.

After all they had suffered, for them to not make it home is just so crushing.

Though, by the same token, I'm shocked that so many of the men did make it home. Almost two years stuck drifting in the ice, illnesses, personal tensions, the boat sinking, dragging their equipment across the ice, boating in teams to Siberia through a storm, struggling to trek to safety ... it's just an absolutely unbelievable story. 

This quote, for me, was a great description of what so much time without sun would do to a person:

"The sun-starved crew relished this strenuous, mostly outdoor work, for during the long winter everyone had become "bleached to an unnatural pallor," said Melville, "like vegetables grown in the dark."

I'm not sure how anyone survived what they went through. It's one thing to hear about being stuck on a boat in the Arctic with 32 other people for almost two year -- it's entirely another to actually do it. Can you imagine how long a year must seem under those circumstances?

I found the German Nindemann's story particularly fascinating. Having survived one boat sinking, then living on an ice floe for 7 months after the Polaris grounded itself, to this fateful trip on the Jeanette. I don't know if the man was lucky or unlucky. And then later finding out that he outlived both his wife and son. Just incredible.

By the end, I found myself wanting to read George Melville's and Emma De Long's books as well.

At any rate, the level of detail included here, thanks to various journals, letters and newspapers really made the story come alive. Truly a major historical event that, whether you consider it a success or failure, is doubtless an adventure full of people worth remembering.

However, I do have one question. Did I miss it or did the author never directly state that Chipp's group on the whaleboat had died?

I mean, obviously that's what happened. But all I remember from the book is the map showing that the third boat never made it to land and the line where Melville stated that he intended to find out what happened to Chipp and his men, but I cannot remember reading that at some point he figured out that they must not have made it.

Is that the case? I kept waiting for that to be confirmed and feel like it wasn't, other than by logical assumption.

Regardless, I absolutely loved this book, despite the mixed emotions I felt at the end and I'm so thankful it made it on this year's book list. Thank you, Sarah Beth!

I don't have any discussion questions, so just let me know your thoughts and what parts stood out to you. I could seriously talk about this book for days!!


March 2015 Book Reminder

Happy belated Valentine's Day, everyone! I want you purple figgers to know that I love each of you and hope you are having a great week!

And, on a separate note, but since this is technically a book post, I always mean to say ... if you read any books on your own that you really enjoy this year, let me know! I'm always looking for good books to add to my reading list. Even if they don't make it onto our "official" list, I'd like to hear about them.

March Book:

Synopsis: This celebrated volume begins when Nin is about to publish her first book and ends when she leaves Paris for New York.


Happy Valentine’s Weekend!

I'm pretty stoked by this year's combination of Valentine's Day being on a Saturday and it also being a long weekend because of Presidents Day. Not that Valentine's Day is a huge event in my household, but any excuse to do something fun together is A-OK in my book.

This year, Adam and I are going to walk a birding trail that's part of Wekiwa and then come home and cook a delicious meal for two. I can't wait!

The only downside is that it's supposed to get pretty cold toward the weekend, so hopefully temperatures don't drop so far as to hamper our plans.

(And yes, we may be Floridians, but I'm talking about a high of 50, so don't laugh at my inability to handle winter. Lol. I think 40s & 50s are a little cool for anyone for an extended period of being outside ... right?)

But anyway, those are our plans for Saturday. Do you have any fun ones?

And then, in general, I'm so grateful for a 3-day weekend. I don't know if it's just me, but the beginning of this year has been extremely hectic.

Here in our house, we've been jumping between deliveries, repair people, pest control people, doctor appointments (I like to do my preventative care early in the year to coordinate with a small health insurance refund my employer coordinates), work in general, exercising, time with friends, chores ... it's just been a bit overwhelming.

I thought about planning one other get-together for this weekend, but then I realized -- if we're doing our Valentine's Day things on Saturday, I'll need a little time to get some cleaning and such done and I'll also still want some time to just rest! 

So I've banned myself from making further plans at this point. Stay strong, Liz! Just envision a nice long bubble bath with a good book.

I'm also in the process of a new sewing project, for the first time in a while, and there's always another project waiting for me in our new house, so I've got plenty to keep me occupied.

Speaking of which, maybe I'll post a little bit about some of these fun things as they get further along. Stay tuned!

Hopefully all of you are keeping busy, but not too busy, too. Happy Valentine's Weekend!



The Color Run 2015

I did The Color Run 5K for the second year in a row. I'm pretty sure I posted pictures in the Photos section of my blog, but I don't think I blogged about it for some reason. Or at least it didn't come up in my search. So I thought it might be fun to tell you about this year's event.

It was just this past Saturday and it was really fun -- plus, you get great pictures from such a "loud" event. Let's take a look!

This year, it was just Katie and me. Andee had a mud run on the same day, so she didn't make it. And the goal I set this year was to actually run the whole thing, so Adam chose not to participate. He's more of a sprint like the wind kind of guy, not so much long distance running. For kicks, this is one of the pics Andee sent me from her mud run:

That's her in the middle. Although my favorite part of this picture is that guy in the back. I've promised to do this race with her one year, so ... yeah. Lol.

Anyway, back to the Color Run.

Here's Katie and me, all clean and white to start the run.

And by the way, it was a brisk morning! About 50 degrees while we were waiting around for it to start.

But fortunately, it got warmer as the sun came up and more people crowded around. We did end up running the whole thing too, which we're both very proud of! Our color stations were pink, orange, blue, yellow and ... glitter.

Yeah, apparently their theme this year was "we shine" so there was a glitter station as well.

This was us right after finishing.

As you can see, we had a great time. Or maybe we were just giddy from the lack of oxygen. Either way.

They went all out for the run this year. We got medals, water, Kind bars and even fireworks to commemorate the event. It was a little less extravagant last year. But that just made it more fun!

Also, they have a stage going from start to finish, with music blasting and swag being thrown. Every half hour as people finish the race, they do a color throw, which means everyone gets little baggies full of the dyed cornstarch and all at once, you throw your color into the air. So, beyond the 4 colors that you got dowsed with during the 5K, you get some additional colors on you afterward -- the ones I noticed were green, white and purple.

Here are some full body shots for you.

I feel badly that Katie's has so much glare on it, but I didn't notice it at the time and there's only so much you can Photoshop out.

You'll notice I'm especially blue in the face. The blue station guys were a little ... overzealous. I left that station spitting out blue and seeing a film of blue for a minute or so until I cleared it out. Not that it hurt or anything, but I definitely couldn't see for a few moments. (FYI, in case you're curious, getting the color dust in your mouth pretty much tastes like eating flour. Lol.)

Last year I wore sunglasses, which helped, but we also walked. I didn't want to wear them while running, so I guess I paid the price. 

After I showered at home, I used a Q-tip and the one that went in my left ear definitely came out blue. Also, I'll admit to blue boogers that day. It just happens. No biggie.

As we were leaving, they started sending up fireworks that burst into different colors. I took a few shots.

So that was pretty much that. Perfect weather, perfect company, perfect fun. We're discussing also signing up for the Color Rave in April, which is a nighttime 5K where you wear glow rings, etc. I'll let you know if we end up doing that.

Oh, but I have to tell you that Katie and I have both continued to find glitter on ourselves and our surroundings, even after showering. That stuff does not wash out easily! (The color, on the other hand, comes right off with soap and water.) 

I'll leave you with one nice closeup Adam got of me after I got home. 


Almond Milk Coffee Creamer

I wanted to try something new in my coffee. Don't expect it to have the same consistency as regular dairy coffee creamer (despite the name) since there's no milkfat in this. But it does add a nice nutty flavor to your morning brew if you want to change things up.

From kitchentreaty.com


  • 1 cup raw almonds
  • water (9 1/2 cups total)
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp. maple syrup
  • pinch of salt


Place 1 cup of raw almonds in a container with an airtight lid (mason jar, tupperware, etc.). Cover with 2 cups of water, then seal and let soak for 48 hours. Important: Change out the water every 12 hours. (So, 3 water changes after the initial 12-hour soak.)

At the end of 48 hours, drain off the soaking water and rinse the almonds in a sieve. Put the almonds in a food processor or blender with 1 1/2 cups of water. Puree about 30 seconds or until the almonds are blended and mixture is white.

Place a nut milk bag inside a medium-sized bowl. Pour the mixture into the nut milk bag (cheesecloth will also do a decent job) and then squeeze out as much liquid as you can.

Note: If you prefer, you can dry out the remaining almond meal and use it for baking, in place of breadcrumbs, etc.

Stir in the vanilla extract, maple syrup and salt. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for one week.

This recipe made just under 2 cups for me. Increase the quantities if you'd like a larger batch.

For pretty pictures of this process, see the original blogger's recipe page here.


Posole (soup)

If you're into meals that require only 5 main ingredients (and you don't mind a little spice), this is a quick & tasty option! You can switch out the seasoning and hominy to change the flavor profile.

From myrecipes.com.


  • 1 lb. pork tenderloin, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 tsp. salt-free Southwest chipotle seasoning blend
  • 1 (15.5-oz) can of white hominy, undrained
  • 1 (14.5-oz) can of Mexican-style stewed tomatoes, undrained
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • (Plus 1 cup of water and cooking oil)


Sprinke pork evenly with seasoning blend (we like to put the meat in a tupperware, add the seasoning and shake to coat).

Heat a small amount of your preferred cooking oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add pork and cook about 4 minutes or until browned. Stir in hominy, tomatoes and water, and bring to a boil. From here, cover and reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in the cilantro.

This quantity serves 4 and myrecipes.com reports that it is 233 calories.


Purple Fig Club: Everything I Never Told You

Yay, first book of 2015!!! 

In light of all the bad things going on in the world, sometimes it's most enjoyable to get lost in a good book for a few hours. And this book was definitely an interesting exploration of human relationships, among other things.

I was so excited to read it because I was already planning to and then my mom picked it for one of her books. Score!


It’s fascinating (and maybe a little scary) to consider how much parents shape their children’s lives. The way they treat them, the things they teach, the path they recommend, the freedom they allow,. The way their own experiences color their expectations for their kids.

Truly, it seems that family can be one of the hardest things. The terrible things you say to each other. The times you ignore each other because you get wrapped up in your own stuff. The impossible expectations you sometimes have for each other.

I loved this quote, which, if I'm remembering correctly, comes from the brain of Nath:

You could stop taking their phone calls, tear up their letters, pretend they'd never existed. Start over as a new person with a new life. Just a problem of geography, he thought, with the confidence of someone who had never yet tried to free himself of family.


At first, I assumed the title of the book applied solely to Lydia because she was the one who had died. But I slowly realized, although I didn’t state it to myself outright until the last few pages of the book, that it applies to everyone in the story.

James and Marilyn made a conscious decision never to dive into their pasts with each other, and it ended up dividing them because they lacked insight into each other’s struggles.

James worried he would forever be ostracized for looking foreign.

Marilyn felt she would never break free of her societal limitations because she was a woman.

Nath couldn’t talk to his family about what he really wanted because they had trouble accepting him for who he was. 

Hannah got lost in the mix and never got to really talk to anyone about anything until Lydia was gone and made a space for her. (Although it's interesting to note that Hannah was also the most observant and insightful person in the family.)

And, of course, Lydia, who transformed herself into "the perfect daughter" as a defense mechanism so that her mother wouldn't leave again, even if that meant never been honest with her.

One of the most heartbreaking moments for me was when Marilyn started going through Lydia's things after they knew she had died and slowly figured out that Lydia had never truly had a passion for science, but was showing interest to make her mother happy.

Lydia, five years old, standing on tiptoe to watch vinegar and baking soda foam in the sink. Lydia tugging a heavy book from the shelf, saying, Show me again, show me another. Lydia, touching the stethoscope, ever so gently, to her mother's heart. Tears blur Marilyn's sight. It had not been science that Lydia loved.

Ugh, that was so tough to read! It's beautiful in the sense that Marilyn realized how much her daughter loved her, but also wrenching in the discovery that she had been pushing her own agenda on Lydia, just as her mother had done to her.

We seem doomed at times to repeat the mistakes we swore not to, even if we have the best of intentions.


Possibly the saddest aspect of this story was the revelation that Lydia may not have truly meant to end her own life. She seemed to be making an important decision to take control and be the person she wanted to be, but never made it out of the lake. It was a little unclear to me during this part if we were supposed to understand that her death was an accident after all.

But in general, losing a child, a sibling ... truly, any family member, is devastating.

From James' thoughts:

What made something precious? Losing it and finding it. All those times he'd pretended to lose her. He sinks down on the carpet, dizzy with loss.

And possibly the hardest thing that people struggle with after losing a loved one -- the knowledge that all future experiences and special moments cannot be shared with the one who is gone. I believe this revelation comes from Nath:

So much will happen, he thinks, that I would want to tell you.

Discussion Questions:

1. Each character in the book was dealing with internal struggles, which occasionally caused them to lash out at each other. Do you think more harm was done by the harsh things they said to each other or the things they never talked about?

2. How does James' and Marilyn's obvious favoritism toward Lydia affect all three children?

3. What do you think is the purpose of the author in having Lydia make a resolution to change her relationship with her parents and then drown before she's able to do anything about it? Do you think that, if she'd made it out, she would have been able to change things?


February 2015 Book Reminder

2015 marches on! And so do we. Hopefully everyone's had a chance to start the January book and is making good progress. Since I finished it early, I've been on a tear reading through books of my own, including Brandon Sanderson's Firefight. Awesome!

It's good to be on a bit of a reading tear again. I love being productive and reading through a lot of my book list. And can I say how excited I am to read Sarah Beth's first choice of the year? Looks gripping!

February Book:

Synposis: In the late nineteenth century, people were obsessed by one of the last unmapped areas of the globe: the North Pole. No one knew what existed beyond the fortress of ice rimming the northern oceans, although theories abounded. The foremost cartographer in the world, a German named August Petermann, believed that warm currents sustained a verdant island at the top of the world. National glory would fall to whoever could plant his flag upon its shores.

James Gordon Bennett, the eccentric and stupendously wealthy owner of The New York Herald, had recently captured the world's attention by dispatching Stanley to Africa to find Dr. Livingstone. Now he was keen to re-create that sensation on an even more epic scale. So he funded an official U.S. naval expedition to reach the Pole, choosing as its captain a young officer named George Washington De Long, who had gained fame for a rescue operation off the coast of Greenland. De Long led a team of 32 men deep into uncharted Arctic waters, carrying the aspirations of a young country burning to become a world power. On July 8, 1879, the USS Jeannette set sail from San Francisco to cheering crowds in the grip of "Arctic Fever."

The ship sailed into uncharted seas, but soon was trapped in pack ice. Two years into the harrowing voyage, the hull was breached. Amid the rush of water and the shrieks of breaking wooden boards, the crew abandoned the ship. Less than an hour later, the Jeannette sank to the bottom,and the men found themselves marooned a thousand miles north of Siberia with only the barest supplies. Thus began their long march across the endless ice-a frozen hell in the most lonesome corner of the world. 


Serial Podcast

On occasion, I find something cool and then think I should share it with friends and family so they can enjoy it too. This one may not be news to anyone since it's been raved about for a few months now on various websites, but I want to share it anyway in case you missed it.

It's a new podcast supported by This American Life and Chicago Public Media, and it just wrapped up its first season in mid-December. Adam and I jumped on the bandwagon a little late, so we just listened to most of it back-to-back over the last two weeks rather than week-to-week as it was originally distributed.

Here is the introduction to the podcast, directly from the podcast website:

It's Baltimore, 1999. Hae Min Lee, a popular high-school senior, disappears after school one day. Six weeks later detectives arrest her classmate and ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, for her murder. He says he's innocent - though he can't exactly remember what he was doing on that January afternoon. But someone can. A classmate at Woodlawn High School says she knows where Adnan was. The trouble is, she’s nowhere to be found.

What an intriguing first episode, right?

The host, Sarah Koenig, investigates this story step by step over 12 podcast episodes. Her use of recorded interviews makes it really come to life.

I don't want to tell you too much about it in case you do end up listening to it, but keep in mind if you do that the goal of this podcast is not to solve a murder, but about looking into a case that seemed to have a lot of holes to see if any new evidence can be uncovered that will help clarify what happened to the victim.

One aspect that made me feel particularly connected to it was the fact that the people involved are the same age as me. They were high school seniors in 1999, which means they're in their early 30s today.

We enjoyed listening to the unraveling of the story so much that we're planning to donate toward a season 2.

If you're interested, you can use your standard podcast app on your iPhone or iPad (or android, I'm sure, though I'm not familiar with them) and just search "Serial."

If you enjoy shows like Dateline, Cold Case Files, Forensic Files or so many others in this genre, I feel pretty confident that you'll like this podcast. That's it -- just sharing something that entertained both Adam and me recently, and that really made us think!


The Sanderson Redeye

Hi, everyone! I know I went off the grid over the holidays, but hopefully you all did too because you were busy with fun family things. This week I've been meaning to post a couple of things, including prepping some advance book reminder posts, etc., but believe it or not, when you take time off work, things tend to be super busy when you start back up.

Still, I have a fun story to tell you from my day yesterday (and technically part of today), so hopefully you're still checking back here occasionally to make sure I'm still alive!

On Tuesday, I saw in my Twitter feed that Brandon Sanderon was going to be doing a book signing on Thursday! Brandon Sanderson just so happens to have written some of my favorite fantasy novels and series. And I think both Mom & Andee have at least read his Mistborn trilogy. I'm currently forcing Andee to read another of his books (although, to be fair, I told her I'd read Outlander in exchange, before she was kind enough to put it on this year's reading list to give me more time).

Anyway, Sanderson completed Robert Jordan's epic Wheel of Time series after Jordan passed away and he's also written copious other books -- some series, some one-offs. He just had a new book come out this Monday, which is part of a series I'm reading called The Reckoners. (Truly, it's my goal to read all of his stuff at some point. He's that awesome.)

And on top of coming out with new books all the time (which don't seem to suffer, considering how many he publishes -- the man is tireless), he also teaches a university writing class and co-produces a podcast on writing. 

Anyway, I'm getting off track...

The signing was at Books & Books in Coral Gables last night from 8-10p.m. Darn, it was in Miami, not Orlando, right? However, I also saw him say on Twitter more than once that he is rarely in Florida and that people bug him a lot to come to Florida, so here he comes and we better all show up.

Before I could put any real thought into it, Adam blurts out with, "You wanna go?! If you want to go, I'll take you."

I can't tell you whether I would've seriously considered actually going until Adam got all giddy and said he would totally drive me down there if I wanted to go ... but I'm guessing I wouldn't have. (This is why it's great to be married to someone who is still a small child in some ways -- contagiously excitable and always looking for adventure.) Anyway, I said "maybe" and didn't decide for sure until Wednesday night.

I erred on the side of adventure. (As Sanderson would say, sometime you just have to do it because it's awesome.)

Side note: Sorry, mom, that I didn't tell you I was coming down to Miami. Honestly, I knew there wouldn't be time to meet up with you and I didn't want you to feel pressured to drive out anywhere mid-week. We're still going to try to come down for your concert in May!

So I got permission from my boss to sign off early yesterday and at about 3:00 p.m., we set out. With traffic and all, we managed to get there about 20 minutes before the start of the event. 

I bought a couple of hardback books to get signed (sadly, I've bought the majority of his works on my Kindle so I didn't have a lot to bring with me) and we settled into our chairs. 

The event was great! He told some stories about himself, talked about writing in general as if we were one of his classes, did Q&A (with prizes!) and even did a reading from a rough draft of something he's currently working on. Then I got to go up and get my books personalized! And...

One of the books still available (because apparently a lot sold before we got there) was the third and final book in the Mistborn series (hardcover), so I got that one signed first. Please ignore my tired and baggy eyes from this morning...

In case you can't read it, it says, "For Liz, There's always another secret!" Which is a reference from the book. So cool!!! I'm almost more excited about this now that my brain is functional again than I was last night driving back up.

At the point you see me in that picture with Sanderson, it's about 9:45, we've driven all the way from Orlando, we're really warm (beause that little room was hot!) and we haven't eaten dinner. Our first move upon getting out of the bookstore was to find some food!

Oh, one last thing! When I was getting my books signed, I mentioned that we had driven down from Orlando because we heard he didn't come to Florida often and he said the last time he was in Florida was after he finished book 13 of the Wheel of Time series, which was 3 or 4 years ago. It made me really glad we were able to make this trip. Also, for my sob story about the long drive to see him, he gave me one of the pop-up action figures he was using as prizes, so bonus score!

(These. I got the one on the right.)

We made it back home just after 2:00 a.m., which ... all things considered, was respectable travel time.

Can't say I'm entirely conscious today, but who cares?!


Purple Fig Club: Caleb’s Crossing

Wow, I know I keep making statements like this, but I just can't believe we're wrapping up two years of this book club already!

Also, I don't quite know how, but I finished Caleb's Crossing in 3 days! Chalk it up to calmer work days as the year winds down, I guess. Definitely left me with more energy than usual. Plus, maybe I'll admit that I was also motivated to read one or two other books between now and January. Anyway, I'm posting this one a little early in case you want to get to it before the craziness of the Christmas holiday. But be warned, there are SPOILERS if you haven't finished it.

So, my thoughts on the book.

I enjoyed it overall. I didn't know about Caleb & Joel in a historical sense, that these were the first two Native Americans to have attended Harvard.

(Although, you should never rely on my knowledge of anything historical, as I both A) have a terrible memory and B) couldn't have told you that Harvard even existed in the 1600s. So there's that.)

The first thing I have to admit is that the writing style was a little distracting for me. I can't necessarily fault the writer for using words and phrases that were probably common in the English language at that time. But since I'm so unfamiliar with this version of English (as compared to, say, the way they spoke in the Victorian Era, which I'm really familiar with since I read a lot of books from that time), it felt forced, even though perhaps it wasn't.

Does that makes sense?

I'm basically saying that the author may have gotten it totally right, for all I know, but that it was a little awkward for me, as a reader.

Anyway, I did find myself drawn into certain parts of the story, such as when young Bethia was learning from Caleb -- his language, how to forage, how to walk softly and so on.

I also enjoyed hearing about the way her house was kept, how they farmed and all of that. I like understanding how food was acquired, what having a job looked like at other times in history and things of that nature. Which means I also found her indenture(...ment?) interesting to read about. 

Of course, one engaging thread throughout the story was her challenge being a woman in a time when women couldn't go to school, speak in church or make a lot of their own decisions. That frustration was definitely understandable, although of course we have a lot more opportunities as women now.

I did think it was an interesting choice to create a missionary's daughter to be the protagonist of the story, in order to tell about Caleb's life from an outside perspective instead of through him directly.

I suppose, for one thing, it's easier (and more acceptable) to create in-depth detail around an entirely fictional person rather than to make up more than necessary about a person who actually lived. I appreciated that decision. 

Okay, so now two criticisms (one very minor, one slightly more important):

1. The name "Makepeace" totally confused me for the first 50 pages or so. I couldn't decide for sure if he was an adopted Native American or a flesh and blood caucasian brother to Bethia. It makes me wonder if names like this were common at that time. And to be honest, I actually found more than one name distracting (including the name of Bethia & Samuel's son later on).

2. I wonder why the author never developed the romantic interest between Bethia and Caleb any further. Let me preface that statement by saying that I think Bethia ended up marrying who I would have expected her to, had she really existed. I didn't expect her to marry Caleb, given the time period. However, each seemed interested in the other beyond friendship and Bethia finally realizes this for herself, but as soon as that realization occurs, we jump ahead to her as an old, dying woman who married Samuel decades before. It was a bit jarring for me. Did any of you have the same experience? (Adding to that, we didn't get to see her relationship grow with Samuel to a satisfying extent, although I understand she wasn't the reason this book was written. But I'm just saying, if Caleb was interested in her, it would've seemed natural to find out his reaction when Bethia became engaged to someone else. Just saying.)

Still, I did appreciate the honest portrayal of Bethia's doubts and struggles in her faith. The way Caleb's ideas and questions would sometimes throw her and she would seek out how to answer him next time they met. That felt realistic.

I also have to admit that I cried when Joel and then Caleb died at the end.

The more so because those aspects of the story are actually true. To think that, whatever their lives actually did consist of (outside of this fictional rendering), they were obviously smart young men with ambition. To find out that one did not even live to receive his diploma and the other died too soon after graduating to make use of all that he learned is incredibly crushing.

I can see why the author was inspired to write about them.

Okay, well, I guess I really didn't pull a lot of quotes from this one to share and I'm not sure what questions I want to ask specifically, so hopefully you all can just provide feedback on my thoughts and let me know what parts stood out to you in the comments.

And in case I don't get another opportunity to say it: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to each of you!


January 2015 Book Reminder

Sorry! Already getting behind for the new year. This post should've gone up on Monday, but it slipped my mind. In case you need something to read over the Christmas & New Year's holiday, you could always start in on our first book of 2015.

Me? I've been slowly making my way through a collection of stories by H.P. Lovecraft. Everyone reads horror stories during Christmastime, right?

January Book:

(Man, "January" starts to look really weird after you type it a few times.)

Synopsis: Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet . . . So begins this debut novel about a mixed-race family living in 1970s Ohio and the tragedy that will either be their undoing or their salvation. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee; their middle daughter, a girl who inherited her mother’s bright blue eyes and her father’s jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue—in Marilyn’s case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James’s case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the center of every party.

When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together tumbles into chaos, forcing them to confront the long-kept secrets that have been slowly pulling them apart.


Ever-present Daylight

I don't do as much blogging as I used to, but I was mulling over something this morning that I've mulled over many times before. I've probably written something along these lines in the months or years past, but I wanted to do a little active thinking (i.e., type thoughts as they occur to me) and see if any of you feel similarly ... or not.

So today's entry is really kind of an opinion column. The topic is spoilers, social interaction and knowledge.

The thing that got me thinking was an online news story about how AMC recently angered fans. Apparently, directly following the airing of the midseason finale of The Walking Dead (this past Sunday night), they tweeted a photo with a caption that basically ruined the entire episode for anyone who hadn't watched it.

I won't be more specific here on the off chance I could spoil anything for anyone, but basically AMC didn't take into account that the episode still had not aired on the west coast and, therefore, lots of people saw the information before they saw the episode.

AMC did apologize on Facebook:

We heard your feedback to last night’s post, and we’re sorry. With zero negative intent, we jumped the gun and put up a spoiler. Please know we’re going to work to ensure that, in the future, possible spoilers by official AMC social feeds are killed before they can infect, certainly before the West Coast (U.S.) broadcast of The Walking Dead. As always, thank you for watching, and keep the comments coming. We appreciate all of your support. ‪#‎RIPSpoiler

However, in my opinion, AMC also did not take into consideration the fact that huge numbers of people no longer watch live TV in the first place. In my experience, most people either record shows on DVR or - myself included - no longer have cable at all. Which means we cannot watch shows until 24 hours after they air.

And of course, once you see the spoiler, the damage is done.

So it got me thinking, because Adam and I are both on Twitter and we follow various people who have posted spoilers of some nature or other, prompting us to unfollow or mute them.

We do watch The Walking Dead and, due to the immense popularity of that particular show, it is fairly common to see people tweet things like, "Holy crap, Carol! Wow!!! #twd."

Now, that doesn't tell me whether Carol does something awesome in this episode, whether she dies, or anything specific. But now I'm going to worry about it the whole time and focus my attention on what's happening with Carol rather than just watching the episode. So, whatever does happen to Carol is going to be a little less shocking because I'm waiting for it.

It drives me crazy.

I don't want to know most things about most things before I know them firshand. You know?

This probably happens far more in the world of geekdom than other areas because, man, people get crazy about these genres!

Still, I can't remember when people started becoming obsessed about who gets cast in Some Movie that won't come to theaters for several years, for example, but I really don't think it was always this way.

Not that that particular example is all that irksome to me. I'm just pointing out that I used to find out about a movie, as well as who was appearing in it, when the trailer started to air a few months before the movie opened. It almost never happens that way anymore.

Now I can find out about movies up to five years in advance. I know who's cast in the lead roles. I know the name of the director. I know the basic plot for the movie. I can view pictures from the set. I can watch 4 different trailers for it. I can also view those trailers much farther in advance than before, thanks to the Internet.

I never knew ANY of that 5-10 years ago. I probably could've known some of it had I cared to -- I'm not saying the information wasn't there -- but now, it's almost hard not to know some of these things, even if I'm not specifically trying to find them out.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I truly feel like we (Humanity? Americans?) have lost the ability to appreciate the element of surprise.

It feels similar to the trend of undervaluing introverts ... this loss of ability to value waiting. (Digression: I'm dying to read this book -- Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking.)

To me, anticipation is usually the best part of anything. Looking forward to something is what allows the excitement to build.

Sometimes the actual thing doesn't end up being nearly as wonderful as the feeling you had while waiting for it to happen. The joy of living in that space where you have to wait for something is extremely underrated. 

How can you ever feel the true impact of shock or joy in any type of story if you already have an inkling about it ahead of time?

If someone ruined The Sixth Sense for you before you watched it, there's no way that The Big Reveal impacted you anywhere close to the way it would have if you went into it blindly.

That's a fact.

By the way, if you haven't seen this example of impatient TV viewing, it's hilarious:

Anyway, while I can't change humankind, I maintain my belief that we've lost something in this new culture of having to know everything, to know it right away, to blurt it out to others as soon as we know it and to be constantly looking for more information about the next thing. It's exhausting, for one thing. And a really bad habit we've developed.

I myself am guilty to some extent, but mostly I rail against it on my tiny soapbox.

I'm reminded of that quote from The Circle: "We are not meant to know everything."

Amen, Dave Eggers. Amen.


2015 Purple Fig Book List

Everyone has thrown in their book ideas and we are getting set for 2015! Hopefully everyone is getting to Caleb's Crossing in the midst of the holiday craziness (I plan to start it today).

Here is the full list for next year - please provide feedback! Since you are just seeing my books for the first time, let me know if you've already read any of them. I have some backups, so don't feel bad saying so if you have. (April, August, December)

I've ordered these pretty randomly, so you're welcome to suggest changes. For example, you may prefer to have your "already-read" book at a certain time of year and I don't know in all of your cases which book that is (or which time of year you'd want it to fall in).

Andee - please let me know if this is the correct journal collection of Anais Nin's writings. I just guessed, so if it's wrong, I want to correct it before we get to that month.

I feel like we've got an interesting mix!



Female Author



Amazon Top 100 of 2014



Journals/Letters Collected



On My List Forever



American Writer



19th Century












Book Made into a Movie



Historical Fiction



First of a Series


Purple Fig Club: Dandelion Wine

I hate to push down the 2015 book selection post already, but it's time to discuss Dandelion Wine, so just know that we can continue the conversation about book choices in the previous post. I'll still be reading comments there!

But for now, we travel back in time and visit a small rural town where summer and childhood go hand in hand and make lots of wonderful memories. Join me, won't you?

My previous knowledge of Ray Bradbury's writings began and ended with Fahrenheit 451. Now, having read Dandelion Wine, I'm interested in reading the rest of his Green Town books (of which I think there are 3 more?).

The writing skill of this author is one I'm jealous of ... his ability to make you laugh, to feel like you're really seeing everything that's happening, to feel like it could be happening to you, even if your memories of childhood are different. A deep sense of nostalgia. If nothing else, it made me wish I were living Douglas' childhood right now. Such a wholesome and fresh perspective!

I loved all the people and stories in this book, from the old man who was a time machine to the young man & old woman who were in love but born at the wrong times for anything to ever happen between them. The locally traveling junkman who cured Douglas of his illness. The grandparents. All of them were so full of character.

Ice cream and porches on hot nights. Old arcade machines that cost a penny.

But my absolute favorite story from Douglas' summer of 1928 was one of the earliest in the book: the sneakers.

If I didn't think you'd kill me for making you re-read 5-10 minutes' worth of the book, I'd paste the entire excerpt here. But I won't do that. Suffice it to say that I read the entire bit aloud to Adam because I was enjoying it so much.

It was just the perfect distillation of a 12-year-old boy that I've ever read.

'Dad!' He blurted it out. 'Back there in that window, those Cream-Sponge Para Litefoot Shoes ...' His father didn't even turn. 'Suppose you tell me why you need a new pair of sneakers. Can you do that?' 'Well ...' It was because they felt the way it feels every summer when you take off your shoes for the first time and run in the grass. They felt like it feels sticking your feet out of the hot covers in wintertime to let the cold wind from the open window blow on them suddenly and you let them stay out a long time until you pull them back under the covers again to feel them, like packed snow. The tennis shoes felt like it always feels the first time every year wading in the slow waters of the creek and seeing your feet below, half an inch further downstream, with refraction, than the real part of you above water. 'Dad,' said Douglas, 'it's hard to explain.'

And then the rest about him forcing the shoe salesman to try on the shoes in order to convince him to sell them to him is such a fantastic conversation. 

But in order to edit myself down a bit (because I could go on and on about all the parts I liked), I'll share a few of my favorite snippets with regard to a couple of Big Life Topics.


'It won't work,' Mr. Bentley continued, sipping his tea. 'No matter how hard you try to be what you once were, you can only be what you are here and now. Time hypnotizes. When you're nine, you think you've always been nine years old and will always be. When you're thirty, it seems you've always been balanced there on that bright rim of middle life. And then when you turn seventy, you are always and forever seventy. You're in the present, you're trapped in a young now or an old now, but there is no other now to be seen.'

Pain & Loss

Douglas raised the bottle of warm dandelion wine but did not set it on the shelf. He saw the other numbered bottles waiting there, one like another, in no way different, all bright, all regular, all self-contained. There's the day I found I was alive, he thought, and why isn't it brighter than the others? There's the day John Huff fell off the edge of the world, gone; why isn't it darker than the others?

I guess I just really enjoy books that hide wisdom within lightheartedness. It seems to be such an elusive skill, but I truly feel like Bradbury mastered it with this book. 

I'm somewhat apologetic over including more quotes than actual discussion points ... but I'm also not. Lol.

Because I'm going to end with one last quote, which felt like the entire metaphor behind the title:

'Boy,' said Tom, 'what a swell way to save June, July, and August. Real practical.' Grandfather looked up, considered this, and smiled. 'Better than putting things in the attic you never use again. This way, you get to live the summer over for a minute or two here or there along the way through the winter, and when the bottles are empty the summer's gone for good and no regrets and no sentimental trash lying about for you to stumble over forty years from now. Clean, smokeless, efficient, that's dandelion wine.'

Discussion Questions:

1. The ravine is described as wild, sometimes creeping further into the town, sometimes being pushed back by civilization. It's where the boys go to play, but it's also the place where the Lonely One was thought to prowl. What do you think it represents? Is it good, bad or neither? Etc.

2. Any thoughts on the topic of memory? It's said that children remember every little detail, but as we get older the days blur together. Yet the book is based on the author's memories as well. Does accuracy of memory matter?

3. Did the juxtaposition of the children to the older people spur any thoughts for you about how comparing one age to another helps you get a clearer understand of both ends of the spectrum?


Choose Your 2015 Books!

Here it is, everyone -- your chance to choose your books for 2015. After reading your responses and thoughts for next year, I've decided on a method to choose our books for each month. It's on a first come, first served basis, so don't delay!

I will hold off selecting my categories until at least one or two of you have a chance to look. Otherwise, that's probably cheating. Lol! Have at it! 

So, since I'm terrible at making decisions ... I didn't make one! We're doing both themes and also choosing one book you've already read (unless you want all new books -- definitely up to you when you're deciding, but here's your free pass to do so -- whether you need a month off or just really want to share something you loved).

Below I've listed out the categories I came up with. Obviously some books will fall under multiple ones, so just choose the best fit. As you'll see, there are more than 12 categories to choose from. I don't want anyone to feel stuck with the "leftovers" so even if you see this post last, you'll still have options.

What I'd like is for you to each choose 3 from the list and let me know in the comments which ones you're taking. Once they're taken, nobody else can choose them. That way, I'm hoping we'll end up with a good variety of book types, even though some of the categories are generic on purpose.

Then, once you've selected books for your categories, post them here as well. (Or post everything at once if you already know which books you intend for your categories.)

Once people start posting their suggested books, please let us know if you've already read any of them. I'd rather not have a month where everyone has read the book already!

Sound good?

Without further delay, your choices are:

1. American Writer (tales from the good ol' U.S. of A.)

2. Female Author (because women are awesome)

3. Science Fiction/Fantasy (not just for geeks!)

4. The First of a Series (so you all get sucked in -- mwahahahaha!)

5. A Book Made into a Movie (but the book was better, of course)

6. Biography/Autobiography (every life is interesting)

7. Nonfiction (Science, History, etc. ... please don't choose Math)

8. Mystery/Crime (because mind puzzles are the best)

9. A Book from the Amazon Top 100 of 2014 (since it was just released)

10. Dystopian/Post-apocalyptic (zombies rule)

11. Never Got around to Reading, but it's Been on My List Forever (so I can cross it off finally!)

12. Horror (who needs sleep anyway?)

13. Historical Fiction (because sometimes you just want to read a good story in a specific setting)

14. Journals/Letters Collected (a little voyeurism never hurt anyone)

15. Poetry (there once was a man from...)

16. Foreign/Translated Author (you'd miss out if you only read stuff by English speakers)

17. 19th Century (new isn't always better)

18. Adventure (don't we all want to live vicariously once in a while?)

19. Coming of Age (growing up may be awkward, but it happens to everyone)

20. Bonus Category (if it doesn't fit into one of the above, suggest your own!)

Go nuts!

**UPDATE: Also, I apologize, but somehow I forgot to post the December book reminder! However, I don't want to bury this post before we make some more progress on our 2015 list, so I'll just put the reminder here. Sorry for the forgetfulness!

Synopsis: Once again, Geraldine Brooks takes a remarkable shard of history and brings it to vivid life. In 1665, a young man from Martha's Vineyard became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. Upon this slender factual scaffold, Brooks has created a luminous tale of love and faith, magic and adventure.

The narrator of Caleb's Crossing is Bethia Mayfield, growing up in the tiny settlement of Great Harbor amid a small band of pioneers and Puritans. Restless and curious, she yearns after an education that is closed to her by her sex. As often as she can, she slips away to explore the island's glistening beaches and observe its native Wampanoag inhabitants. At twelve, she encounters Caleb, the young son of a chieftain, and the two forge a tentative secret friendship that draws each into the alien world of the other. Bethia's minister father tries to convert the Wampanoag, awakening the wrath of the tribe's shaman, against whose magic he must test his own beliefs. One of his projects becomes the education of Caleb, and a year later, Caleb is in Cambridge, studying Latin and Greek among the colonial elite. There, Bethia finds herself reluctantly indentured as a housekeeper and can closely observe Caleb's crossing of cultures.


Purple Fig Club 2015

It was very nice to hear from all of you ladies that you would like to do another round of books next year! I'm pretty excited about it too, both because it keeps me in touch with all of you and because I've gotten to read a number of books over the last two years that I might otherwise not have that were truly enjoyable.

I wanted to put up an entry solely dedicated to thoughts around next year's reading. I know it's only November, but if you're as busy as I am, Christmas will be here before you know it, so it can't hurt to start thinking about it now. 

I've kind of enjoyed the randomness of switching between nonfiction, classics and modern fiction, so I don't know if I want to come up with any too-specific categories for 2015. However, I can't help but entertain other ideas...

Thought #1:

What do you think of picking 2 new books each and maybe 1 other book that you've already read that you think the rest of us would enjoy? My thinking around that is that it would give each of us a chance to either re-read a book we've been wanting to get back to or just take that month off to get a bit of a break during the busy year.

Thought #2:

I don't want to be too restrictive, but it might be fun to have a theme (books from a certain decade/century, books that were awesome before they made movies out of them, books by only English writers, etc.). Any theme could be interesting ... if you can think of a fun one, please volunteer it.

I don't know. We don't have to do any of these, per se. We could stick to the way we've been doing it ... just trying to think outside the box to keep things lively.

Let me know your thoughts!


Two Men Walk into a Bar…

Just kidding, but I really do have a story for you that reads a bit like a joke in places. It's one of those things that isn't funny when it's happening, but becomes a great story to tell later. I guess later is now.

Hope you enjoy!

I had to go to DC this week (Monday through Wednesday) for what I believe is the last tradeshow I'm attending this year (yay!).

On my flight up, I was seat 8F on my plane, but they stuck me in the last zone to board, so I ended up being forced to check my bag and then wait to pick it up when I got there.

So of course I was again disappointed when I was in the same seat coming back and again ... last zone.

(Honestly, how do they decide these things? I can pretty much guarantee you that half the people boarding in the last group aren't going to find any overhead storage space in these fee-laden days of air travel. Adam thinks they have monkeys throw darts at boarding passes to determine the zones.)


I actually got to the airport pretty early, so I grabbed something to eat and then went over to sit at my gate. A little while into the wait, I suddenly hear commotion to my left and look over to see a huge group of people all holding their phones up like paparazzi to take pictures and video.

Apparently a pickup outside caught fire. Which then set off the building sprinklers on the outside, so there was water just gushing down the windows for about 30 minutes. I ended up getting a photo myself later on...

I have no idea what started the fire, but it was the first delay that I encountered. And I say first because it wasn't the last...

Shortly after this commotion began, I realized I should go use the bathroom in case they started boarding soon, so by the time I got back, of course my seat was gone. I was standing around waiting to hear when we would finally be able to board when this loud foreign family decided to get all up in my space (Eastern European?).

They were talking and laughing loudly, swaying around, bumping me multiple times, playing games where they kicked at each other's feet ... I can't even make this stuff up. Eventually, I had given so many annoyed looks to no effect that I stomped over to another area.

Thirty minutes later, they started boarding those needing assistance, so at least we were underway.

Almost immediately, they call two last names. Someone else's and mine.

My first reaction was, "Oh great, what's wrong now. Did they give my seat away?"

My second reaction was, "Holy crap, he pronounced my name correctly. Did I hear that right? No one EVER pronounces my last name correctly."

So I walk up to the counter and I thought I misheard him at first, but in fact, he said he needed me to go ahead and board. I'm thinking, "Wow ... I have no idea what's going on, but it's my lucky day. I will definitely get to keep my bag with me!"

Well, the short version of the next part is that the person in front of me had multiple sclerosis and was traveling with his caregiver. So I had to wait a few minutes for them to help him into the skinny wheelchair that can fit down the airplane aisle to his seat. Only, once he gets there, he throws up.

Initially the caregiver was worried he was having a seizure, but it turns out he just drank too much Bloody Mary at the bar before boarding.

So here I am stuck standing in the front of the plane, waiting for them to clean him up, get paramedics on board to check him out, wait for the paramedics to help him off the plane so they could do a more complete assessment, and then wait for the clean-up crew to sterilize his area.

Finally, they tell us we can start moving toward our seats. This is where I come to find out that the reason they had me and the woman sitting next to me board early was because there was a disabled man sitting in the aisle of our row. The unfortunate part was that they had already seated him, so it sorted of defeated the purpose.

Bottom line is that he had only one leg and couldn't get up without assistance.

So both the woman with the middle seat assignment and I had to climb over him in that tiny space to get to our seats.


Let's just say I REALLY had to pee by the time we landed.

Also, the kicker was that when they started drink service for the flight, the one-legged man (who was extremely nice) ordered a V8. And let me tell you ... nothing makes you feel more queasy than the smell of a V8 after breathing in Bloody Mary vomit for 15 minutes.

On that note, look how pretty!


Purple Fig Club: The Book Thief

And the year winds down further, which means we have only two books left to read! It's almost that time again to decide if you're up for another year of the book club. I, for one, have been enjoying it, even though it's a lot of work to create all of these blog posts, for many reasons: it keeps me in touch with all of you, it presents me with amazing books I wouldn't normally have read or even known about, and it keeps me reading!

So, feel free to start letting me know if you're in for another year or if it's become too much of a commitment (I have thick skin, so be honest) and then we can move forward from there. But for now, let's talk about another wonderful book (hopefully you thought so too): The Book Thief.

So, once again, I'm going to do my darndest to share some of my thoughts while not stealing anyone's thunder or saying everything there is to be said (although, in the case of this book, I think it would be hard to do). I think I'll discuss by theme.


There are so many interesting characters in this book and not a single one is wasted. 

Frau Holtzapfel has a harsh exterior, but really just misses interacting with others while her sons are at war. When Liesel comes to read to her, she comes back to life a little. Ilsa Hermann is a devastated mother who can barely pick herself up after the death of her son and slowly adopts Liesel by letting her come in and steal her books, and in turn she lets Liesel begin to heal her.

Rosa, the adoptive mother who verbally berates everyone, but truly cares for them as well. Hans, the adoptive father, who is kind to a fault and teaches Liesel many valuable lessons. Max, the escaping Jew, who becomes a part of their family and Liesel's older brother -- who paints pictures on the wall and writes stories for her to help her understand who he is and how he sees the world.

Rudy, the best friend who faces struggles of his own but is always there to support Liesel.

This book was so rich in people that I wonder how the author was able to create not just one or two, but countless fascinating people who all had something important to teach us.

And, last thought under this category, the last page of the book leaves us with a perfect statement for how evil and how beautiful people can be, and we get it from the mouth of Death:

"I am haunted by humans."


As with many things that happened before we were born, it's often hard to think about 1930s-1940s Germany as anything other than World War II and the facts we learned in history class, but that picture doesn't begin to dive into all of the stories being lived out at that time.

Beyond the war and the bombs and the holocaust, there were lots of individual stories -- and I love this portrait of a child just starting to grow up at this tumultuous time. A person who didn't just go through this lengthy event, but whose whole life was shaped by it.

The beginnings, in which Rudy and Liesel do lots of silly and stupid things, including ice over the road in order to steal food from a boy on a bicycle. I almost died laughing during this story (while also feeling horrified, of course). In the middle of Nazi Germany, kids are still kids.

I will forever picture Rudy as the boy who painted himself black and ran around as fast as his legs would carry him, proclaiming that he was Jesse Owens.

And then, as they begin to get older, and become more aware of the things going on around them, we get to see them react to the horrors of this time, the many repercussions of Hitler's actions trickling down and causing suffering.

They begin to realize how much is wrong with the world they are living in.

One of my favorite moments was after Hans let Liesel try champagne with him while at one of his painting jobs. Both a childish and very mature (and touching) reaction:

"In the basement, when she wrote about her life, Liesel vowed that she would never drink champagne again, for it would never taste as good as it did on that warm afternoon in July."


Lastly, Death.

I hope this doesn't sound too morbid, but I loved the concept of using the personification of Death to tell this story for two reasons.

Firstly, because he is a presence that is able to see anything that happens and therefore has knowledge that a human narrator would not possess. 

Secondly, because he is able to provide fascinating insight on the situations he is telling us about. His statement about how young men in war think they are running at each other, but really, they are running toward Death struck me powerfully.

His care and concern over the souls he transports away at the moment of dying was an interesting picture as well. Not Death as the dark one who comes to ruin people's lives, but Death as the being whose job it is to witness the end of each life, without taking any joy in it.

"Believe me when I tell you that I picked up each soul that day as if it were newly born. I even kissed a few weary, poisoned cheeks. I listened to their last gasping cries. Their vanishing words. I watched their love visions and freed them from their fear."

For a book about a girl who grows up in Nazi Germany, I don't think the author could have chosen a more perfect narrator.

And, on the subject of death, I will admit that I ugly-cried during the last 30 minutes of reading. Has anyone seen the movie? I'm not sure I can bring myself to watch it. (I still haven't been able to make myself watch The Fault in Our Stars, by the way.)

Discussion Questions

1. What were some of your favorite moments in this book?

2. Beside the main character, which one person stood out to you and why?

3. There is an ongoing theme about the power of words -- words were what brought Hitler to power, words from a small girl that returned joy to a suffering Jew, words that seemed so helpless when Liesel needed them the most. Do you agree that words alter the course of lives? And what thoughts do you take with you after reading the words in this book?


November 2014 Book Reminder

Hey, book lovers! We're done, done and onto the next one. We're knocking out these books left and right (go us!) And it is already time to talk about the next one.

Soon, we'll need to begin voting on whether we'll have a 2015 edition of the Purple Fig Club. Can you believe we're already finishing up two years' worth of book club?! I, for one, cannot, despite how much time we've all devoted to reading and talking about what we've read. Time flies, I guess! Let's see what our next one is...

November 2014 book:

Synopsis: Dandelion Wine is a 1957 semi-autobiographical novel by Ray Bradbury, taking place in the summer of 1928 in the fictional town of Green Town, Illinois — a pseudonym for Bradbury's childhood home of Waukegan, Illinois. The novel developed from the short story "Dandelion Wine" which appeared in the June 1953 issue of Gourmet magazine.

The title refers to a wine made with dandelion petals and other ingredients, commonly citrus fruit. In the story, dandelion wine, as made by the protagonist's grandfather, serves as a metaphor for packing all of the joys of summer into a single bottle.

The main character of the story is Douglas Spaulding, a 12-year-old boy loosely patterned after Bradbury. Most of the book is focused upon the routines of small-town America, and the simple joys of yesteryear.


Apopka Fall

While I could sit here and complain yet again about how I really wish we had more distinct seasons here in Florida, I'm feeling like putting a positive spin on it. True northern winters brings woes that I don't have to deal with, so the grass is always greener, yada, yada, yada... or, the snow is always whiter? I don't know.

So even though it's not as cool as I would like, I'm thrilled that we've started having less rain (my poor grass and landscaping is gasping for air!) and I'm letting the anticipation of cooler and dryer weather grow to a fever pitch, which will make it that much more exciting when it truly arrives. We had one fluke day recently, which was incredible, but I'm holding out for more than just an anomaly.

Plus, I have some absolutely gorgeous views right now.

Granted, the land in the photos below will eventually be homes, but I'm going to enjoy the heck out of the greenery while I can. Check out this field of weeds across the street that catches the sun in an almost breathtaking way. I've been looking at these for weeks now and finally threw some flip-flops on with my pajama pants this morning and strolled out there, determined to finally get the pictures I've been meaning to.

I love how this "throwaway" flora is so wild and colorful. I don't think we give enough credit to uncultivated growth most times.

Were I a better photographer, these would be infinitely more awesome, but for using my iPhone to take pictures into the sun, I think these turned out magnificently.

I have a feeling that if I attempted to take these photos again earlier in the morning or possibly at the end of the day, they might come out even better, without the sun directly in my face (and the camera's). So maybe I'll try again!

Since these pictures have to be shrunk down to fit this blog page (which we're hoping to redesign at some point to allow more flexibility), I thought I'd leave you with one at full size. This is photo #2 from above, just cropped a bit.

It's all a bit blurry because of the wind bouncing them around, but look at that color!


Friday Roundup

Sorry I've been so busy lately and haven't been posting much. I thought I'd do a Friday roundup of what's up with me lately. Maybe give us something to chat about.

Hope all of you are excited about the fact that it's October already! I'm pretty psyched myself because, believe it or not, we actually have a cold front coming through this weekend. Maybe this winter will make up for the last one. I'm pumped to be waking up to below 60 degrees Sunday morning! 

New phone

So I waited a good 3+ years before upgrading to a new cell phone and now it's like going from the Cretaceous Era to the Space Age. I moved from an iPhone 4S to a 6 Plus.

I was a little concerned about the size and, while yes, I am still getting to used to how much bigger it is than my previous phone, I am also LOVING the nice big screen view.

By the way, "going from the Cretaceous Era to the Space Age" is also my plan for my car. My current one is more than 10 years old now, so by the time I get a new one, I plan to be all, "Holy cow! The windows go down when you press a button now? Whaaaaat?!?!?!?!" It's going to be epic.


So last week ... was it last week? Let me check the calendar real quick ... ummm ... yes! Last week, I went to Atlanta for another tradeshow for work. I feel like I'm traveling so much this late summer-fall season that I can't keep track of when I'm there and when I'm here. 

Fortunately, they're all pretty short trips, usually about 3 days total. My next one is a month from now and it'll be in Arlington, VA, so I'm hoping for cool weather and pretty leaves! And then I think that'll be it for a long while. Yay for staying home!

Don't get me wrong ... I love traveling to new places ... but I also hate going through the airport every 2 weeks. You understand.


This morning, I mixed up a batch of these. They are hands down, no questions asked, the best chocolate chip cookies you will ever eat. (If you decide to bake them sometime, though, I recommend cutting the amount of chocolate in half.)

I brought them to my hair stylist one time and he just died exclaiming over them. I figured it's been a couple years, so since I have a hair appointment tomorrow, I'm going to bake them up fresh tomorrow morning for him (plus, Adam & I get the extras)!

Reading (& Viewing)

I'm more than halfway through The Book Thief now and am really loving the characters and the narration style. Like I said, I didn't specifically intend to go from one book set in Nazi Germany to another, but somehow these are still totally different books, and both amazing in their own ways.

Also, I'm getting through lots of comics, which is nice. Oh! Speaking of which, if you're at all interested in Batman-related stuff, the new show on Fox - Gotham - is incredible (and only 2 episodes in). It revolves around a young Jim Gordon, but also features a lot of Batman favorites - young Catwoman, Bruce Wayne, Penguin, The Riddler and more. Great casting. A fun way to spend an hour!

Well, that's about it. Don't want to dive too far into the minutiae of my life and bore you. I'm hoping to get back into some sewing projects this fall, so I'll share those with you as they progress. 

Have a wonderful, relaxing, beautiful weekend!

Copyright 2004-2020 Elizabeth Shiver