The State of Affairs: October 2013

In October, we...

---Got a dog

---Watched the town Homecoming Parade (I love small-town traditions!)

---Had a haircut (a drastic cut for A & M; not so drastic for me)

---Attended a costume-themed birthday party and a Harvest Festival at church...all on the same day!

---Took a field trip to the pumpkin patch with the MDO class

---Celebrated Halloween


Books read:  6
I am back on track and reading some great stuff lately!

Between You and Me---Okay, technically this was a DNF, but I wasted enough time on it that I'm counting it for the month.  This is by the same authors of The Nanny Diaries, which I liked when I read it years ago.  This one just bored me to death.

The Stranger You Know---Reviewed here.

An Abundance of Katherines---Another John Green book that was a winner for me.  This was probably my favorite of the month.  Colin, Hassan, and Lindsey are some of my current favorite YA characters.  If you like YA and consider yourself maybe a little nerdy, or like your characters that way, read this one.

Dead Ever After---This was the much-anticipated conclusion to the Sookie Stackhouse series.  A lot of readers positively hated the ending, but I found myself on the satisfied side.  Yes, there was a major missing element in that some of the core characters barely made appearances in the book.  I get that that was a huge disappointment to many readers.  But after all the drama of the previous twelve books, I could understand Sookie's weariness in this book.  I liked the focus on her thought process and what she might want for her future.  Although it felt rushed or thrown together oddly at times, I thought this was a solid conclusion.

Dead Girls Don't Lie---I was completely distracted by some formatting problems with the electronic version of this book (it was an advance copy, so hopefully they will fix the issues for the actual publication).  Still, I skimmed through to figure out what happened, and it wasn't a total letdown.  I'd consider this one alright, but forgettable, as YA mysteries go.

The Winter People---Jennifer McMahon can tell a creepy story, and this was no exception.  There was a heavy ghost/supernatural element, and it was a fitting read for the week leading up to Halloween.

I don't always write about what I'm listening to, mostly because I'm not cutting-edge in my music tastes at all.  Thanks to a work pal, I have some new stuff I've been enjoying lately.  The girls and I have rocking a mixture of The Civil Wars, Katy Perry, Kacey Musgraves, and Miley Cyrus (yeah, I know...but it's pretty good stuff).   It's nice to have a variety going on, and I love to hear A & M singing along with Katy Perry's "Roar".  We sound pretty awesome in the car.  : )

I was able to go with the girls on their pumpkin patch field trip, which was so interesting.  We all drove our children and met there, so no big "school bus adventure" yet.  But watching them interact with their friends during all the different activities...it was such an insight into their days.  I'm happy to report that Addison's very best friend (a rough and tough little boy) is every bit as crazy about her (and Mackenzie) as she is about him.  They immediately ran for each other on the playground, and he even asked a little girl to switch seats with him on the hayride so that he could sit between A & M.  (She didn't move and the girls didn't mind, but that was one of the funniest moments of the day for me!)

That picture in the top right corner of the collage up there is Mackenzie asleep in the buggy at the grocery store.  Believe it or not, that was an absolute first for us, her falling over asleep like that!  I have been fortunate to be able to do most of my major grocery shopping trips child-free, but last weekend they had to go with me.  Poor little M just couldn't take it anymore and was lulled to sleep in the front of the cart.  At least my fluffy jacket made a good pillow.

How was your October?



Looking through pictures from October, it seems it was the month of the dog.  A few months ago, we began visiting our local animal shelter.  We wanted to get A & M more accustomed to dogs, in hopes that we might bring one home one day.  We did bring a puppy home (on a trial basis) for the weekend back in the summer, but we quickly realized it wasn't going to work out.  Jeremy and I just weren't up for many, many daily trips outside that a potty-training puppy requires, plus the constant vigilance required to keep the girls' toys and other household items safe from small, sharp teeth. (An aside:  We are definitely "inside dog" people...our backyard is not fenced right now, plus we know that an outside dog would get very little attention in our home.  If we're going to have one, it lives inside with us.)

In early October, I saw a post on FB that the shelter needed a foster home for a couple of small dogs who were going to a rescue group up north.  The two dogs in question were both a couple of years old and housetrained, and it would only be for a week, since the rescue pickup was already scheduled.  It sounded like the perfect situation for us.  I went by the shelter and picked up this little guy to hang out with us for the week:

We are doggy foster parents! We get to love on this guy for a week til he goes to his new home. Isn't he cute?

He was fantastic.  Slightly older, calm, and he could not have cared less about the girls' toys.  He didn't even pick up food we dropped on the floor, and he refused the treats I bought!  (Okay, so maybe he was lacking a little in the personality department, but still, he was just what we needed to get the girls acclimated to an animal in the house.)  Buddy, as we called him, went on to the rescue group, where we heard he was very quickly adopted to a great family.

I kept watching the shelter site, knowing now that we wanted a slightly older, adult dog.  When I saw "Brenna", as her foster home had been calling her, I knew we had to check her out.  She is definitely older, estimated to be about seven, with quite a few gray hairs and a few missing teeth from lots of vigorous chewing over the years.  We heard one family's vet convinced them that she was too old to be adopted to a family with small children...apparently suggesting that she might not live very many more years?  We don't care; we loved her immediately.  We call her Sunny, and she is ours!

Meet Sunny! She's a little old and she has a few gray hairs--not exactly what we thought we were looking for in a pet--but we think she's pretty awesome.

A & M are thrilled to have a dog, but even more thrilled to have a dog that has not once jumped on them and pretty much just lays around, waiting for someone to scratch her belly.  She is developing an affinity for the million-plus small stuffed animals laying around the house, but the girls are doing well at putting them away, and weren't too upset over the first victim, a green grinch-type guy.  Sunny doesn't bark, sleeps by my side of the bed, loves to take car rides, and stays with us when she's outside without her leash.  We have definitely found our perfect match.



The Stranger You Know, by Andrea Kane

Sometime last year, I read The Line Between Here and Gone, which is one of three books in author Andrea Kane's Forensic Instincts series.  The books really stand alone, but all involve the Forensic Instincts team and their cases.  When I was asked about reviewing The Stranger You Know, the third book in the series, I quickly agreed.

The Stranger You Know centers on FI team leader Casey Woods.  A serial killer is targeting college-aged redheaded women, and taunting Casey with his kills.  He soon reveals that she is more than just an investigator who has happened to catch the offender's attention; she is his ultimate target.

Kane crafted a good story here, and I particularly enjoyed the glimpses into the victims' lives.  On the whole, though, I thought the characterizations were very lacking.  I read reviews from a few others who had never read the other FI books, and they didn't seem to feel a connection to the characters at all.  I don't remember feeling this way as much in The Line Between Here and Gone.  I also appreciated that the earlier book focused on outside characters, while The Stranger You Know is almost entirely focused on the Forensic Instincts team.  Those characters were just too stereotypical and underdeveloped to carry the story well, in my opinion. 

Stranger is a fast-paced novel, though, great for weekend reading.  The plot moves along well, and there were twists that I enjoyed, even if the were foreseeable.  As a person with a connection to law enforcement, I took major beef with Casey's actions toward the end (no spoilers; I will leave it at that).  There is a difference in being singularly focused on catching your criminal and being incredibly stupid, and Casey landed on the stupid side of that equation in this book (which is a shame, because I thought pretty highly of her in the previous book). 

If it sounds like I'm being negative, I'm really not.  Again, this is a good book to fly through in just a couple of days, because despite the character-based flaws, the plot will probably keep you sucked in.  The thriller element is not lacking at all, and you may even find yourself staying up past midnight to see if all your suspicions were correct.  I did.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via TLC Book Tours.  All thoughts and opinions expressed are entirely my own.  More reviews and the full tour post may be found here.


Life Lessons {Halloween edition}

Oh, hey there...it's been awhile, hasn't it? 

Despite my lack of enthusiasm for blogging lately, life is marching along and things are going quite well.  Like the rest of the Internet (well, the northern-hemisphere set of it anyway, I guess?), we are enjoying fall, pumpkins, and slightly cooler temperatures.  No pumpkin spice lattes here, though.  I do not share in the popular affinity for all things pumpkin-flavored.  Pumpkins are only for carving and decoration in my house.

Speaking of pumpkin carving, that's a fall activity that was a first for our family this year.  I realized Jeremy and I had never carved one together, and that the girls had really never even seen a real jack-o-lantern up close.  (We always do the pumpkin patch and have them around, but usually they just sit on the porch and look pretty.  One year we let the girls paint pumpkins, which was...messy.)

So, about two weeks ago, I picked up a good-sized pumpkin that looked about right for a smiling jack-o-lantern, and we got to work.  As we began the process, Jeremy proved to be quite clueless about the whole process, and admitted he didn't think he'd had a carved pumpkin, EVER.  I have not verified this fact with his mom yet, so we'll see what she says about that.  That husband of mine 'misremembers' things pretty often.

I drew out a simple face and J got to work with the kitchen knife.  No fancy carving tools here (and yes, it shows).  We ended up with a passable jack-o-lantern, not bad at all for our first try!  A & M were thrilled, of course, and had many questions about each step of the process.  They enjoyed digging their hands into the pumpkin guts and cheered when we lit the candle.

One thing I forgot (or 'misremembered', maybe?) about carving pumpkins?  It's best to wait until a couple of days before Halloween.  Our two-week-old pumpkin is currently collapsing into a pile of mold and ooze on the front porch railing.  Jack-o-lantern fail.

On top of that Halloween misstep, rain and thunderstorms are predicted for tomorrow night.  Our neighborhood is a prime spot for trick-or-treaters, so we have stayed home the last few years and enjoyed handing out candy to the crowds of kids that come by.  I gave the girls a choice of staying home and handing out candy or doing a little trick-or-treating of their own this year.  Of course they chose trick-or-treating, and have been rather excited about it.  I'm still not at all sure what we'll do since it's likely to be pouring rain, but I have begun preparing them for a bit of disappointment.

BatGirl is in the house!

At least their pink rain boots will match the Batgirl costumes!


The State of Affairs: September 2013

We have been dreaming of September for months and months, for one simple reason:  VACATION.  (Well, Jeremy has been dreaming of it for something like eight months, for another reason:  college football.  But I digress.)

This year's annual visit to Gulf Shores was every bit as fantastic as we hoped.  We had a solid week full of the beach, pool, naps, food (and more food), shopping, and just being together.  There was not one rain cloud in the sky during our entire vacation, and it was just about a picture-perfect trip.  I have lots of pictures to share, but none on this computer, so that will have to wait.

Vacation naps are the best
Beach naps are the best!

Other than our trip, September was relatively low-key.  Football season began, which means it's officially fall in the South, regardless of what the calendar or the thermometer says.  That makes me think of this passage from Rick Bragg's All Over but the Shoutin', that has resounded through my head for weeks now:
Before the hot, wet air even begins to give way to the odd cool breeze, before the oaks and maples have begun to turn even the slightest bit red and gold, football banishes summer and announces, with crashing cymbals and an earth-quaking "Roll Tide", that it is now, officially, fall.
 So yeah, fall has been here for awhile, even it is only just beginning to feel like it.

Long day, no nap #beachlife

Books read: 4
Pretty much all of these were read on our trip, at least in part.  I kind of had a little reading slump after that, but I'm back on a roll again now.

Perfect Match, by Kristan Higgins--A rather cute romance that was (sorry, bad pun intended) the perfect match for my first few days at the beach.  It's a series centered around a family of three sisters, apparently, but each can stand alone.  I won't be rushing out for the others, but I wouldn't necessarily turn them down, either.

The Moon and More, by Sarah Dessen--Ms. Dessen is almost always a win for me, and I was looking forward to reading this, her latest book.  Unfortunately, it did NOT have the Dessen magic for me.  The small-town coastal setting was near perfect, as always, but something was missing.  I also pretty actively disliked the main character and thought she made some pretty boneheaded decisions.  Not liking this book made me a little sad, but I will hope for better with Dessen's next venture.

And When She Was Good, by Laura Lippman--This book, on the other hand, I LOVED.  The main character is a professional escort who has built a fairly successful business, not usually the kind of character I would find absolutely charming, but I confess that I did.  I appreciated that she was never characterized as someone we should be pitying...though she'd been through a lot, she was shown as a woman who did whatever it took to survive.  I loved it; you should totally read this one.

When Will There be Good News?, by Kate Atkinson--I had this book sitting in a TBR pile for quite some time, and I nearly quit on it during a particularly slow part.  Kate Atkinson is an outstanding writer, though, so I stuck it out and was rewarded with a much-improved second half.  Fantastic characters.

I celebrated 15 lbs lost!   I ran more miles than ever before in any previous September, I can guarantee that. 

Addison & Mackenzie are really enjoying the 4-year-old class at MDO.  I can see much more of a preschool-type focus this year.  Their class is working on writing skills, and both the girls have come so far since late August.  A & M are constantly talking about something new they have learned or heard at school (mostly good things, but a few less-than-desirable behaviors...newsflash:  4-year-olds can be gross).  They have never been happier to go to school, and I'm so thankful for that, especially this last year before "real" school begins.

And now, all of a sudden, it's October.  Pumpkins, fall mums, Halloween...like every other person on the internet, I love it all. 

Happy Fall, y'all!


The Slimdown: An Update

Day 1: done. #BiggestBloggingLoser (with black socks for you, @_sbdub_ )

Since I started Weight Watchers and the Biggest Blogging Loser back in June, I have lost fifteen pounds.  My ultimate goal weight, which seemed so far away just three months ago, is well within reach.  I am five pounds above that goal weight, and I'll be honest, it feels pretty darn good.

I try not to get too caught up in the actual number on the scale--although it definitely needed to be smaller than what it was and I am liking where it's headed--or the size in my clothes, which is better too, of course.  Instead, I try to focus on the way my clothes fit and how I am feeling.  I am at the same weight I was when I settled out from having the girls (130 lbs.), about ten pounds less than I weighed when I got pregnant.  But this time, because I have done it through eating right and exercising, and because I'm not two months out from birthing twins, my stomach is much flatter, I am smaller all over, and I just feel a lot (A LOT) happier with the way I look.

My backside is still incredibly flat (a lifelong problem for which there seems to be no exercise or solution), my chest is still quite large (I'm more okay with this one, most of the time), my hips are still narrow, I still have little to no definable waist, and though it is several noticeable inches smaller, I will never bare my stomach to anyone outside my immediate family (thanks for the stretch marks, kids!)...but overall, I am very satisfied these days.  My legs are stronger and more muscular than ever before, I can run a mile without stopping and without feeling like I am going to die, and my pants fit perfectly.  That is, the NEW pants I bought when I couldn't wear the old ones fit perfectly--the old pairs are gone, gone, gone.

I'll have to get a full-body picture soon...this is the best I could do for now!

As most of us have realized over the years, there is no secret formula or quick and easy way to manage our weight.  That holds true here--there is no magic exercise that helped me shed the pounds, and I certainly didn't do it with a super-special smoothie mix.  (Smoothies generally make me want to throw up.  I will never, EVER be able to drink a smoothie or a shake and call it a meal...I'm just not wired that way.)

Before getting serious about my weight back in June, I had already implemented a lot of changes in the way our family eats.  I felt pretty good about most of the things we were eating.  Upon starting Weight Watchers, I realized that the important change for me would be the amount I was eating.  On the Weight Watchers plan, I started paying a lot more attention to the little things that can add up during the day--creamer in my coffee (which counted for at least 1 of my daily points--I became very stingy very quickly and cut out the creamer as a non-necessity.  Who knew I could learn to like black coffee?), afternoon squares of chocolate, cheese added to a salad, the handful of crackers or single cookie I would grab when fixing a snack for the girls, etc.  All those things were negating a lot of the good I was doing with a balanced meal and an evening run.

For most of the summer, I followed Weight Watchers very strictly.  I measured everything to get used to portion sizes, I added up the total points in recipes, and I ate the heck out of all the delicious summer fruits and vegetables (most of which are "free"--zero points).  I also stuck to a legitimate exercise plan for the first time in my life.  I have been pretty consistent for the last several months, on a schedule of running at least 2-3 times a week and doing a mix of different yoga programs at least twice a week.  Seriously, this is the longest I have stuck with planned exercise, EVER.

Once I got the hang of eating less (and not starving, which was somewhat of a surprise to me!), the combination of fewer calories and exercise began to have an effect.  The scale moved, and more importantly, I could feel my body changing.  It was a great feeling, and an inspiring one...the changes just made me want to push harder.

Months later, I'm still here, and still pushing.  I have eased up on a few things--I haven't actually tracked my daily points in a couple of weeks, but I know the value of most foods I eat on a daily basis.  If I go outside the norm, I count again to be sure I'm not getting too far off track.  My portions have changed drastically, and my snacking is under control.  I might have an evening snack, if I really feel like I need it, and popcorn night with my girls is still non-negotiable (though I limit myself to only a small handful of their M&Ms).  We typically eat out at least twice on the weekends, and for at least one of those meals, I pretty much order whatever I want.  And it usually includes ranch dressing, which is still my absolute favorite.  But the other 90% of the time, I'm on track, and that balance has worked well for me.

Above all, I think the best thing Weight Watchers has taught me is to listen to my body.  Adjusting my portion sizes showed me that it takes a lot less to fill me up than I previously thought.  And if I eat the right things for my body, I will stay fuller much longer than I often expect.  I try to recognize when I am full, and I am working on training myself not to eat when I'm not hungry.  Novel concept, I know.  But those snacks and extras that were hindering me before weren't happening because I was hungry; they were just something I did out of habit. 

The challenge now is to stick with these new habits, both the eating habits and the exercise habits.  For me, it's the combination that works best.  I am happier than I was three months ago...not just because I'm down a couple of pants sizes, but because I feel better all around.  I have more confidence and way more energy.  I am super pleased with where I am right now, and my goal is to still be this positive three months, six months, a year from now. 

Mission:  Almost Accomplished.


The State of Affairs: August 2013

It was a struggle to remember much of what happened in August.  I know we were busy at times, but it was a lot of little things--meetings here and there, finishing up grades from my summer class and getting prepared for fall, getting the girls ready to go back to school--the usual everyday life stuff.

Jeremy and I took an overnight trip to Atlanta to celebrate our anniversary.  We went to two Braves games and stayed in a swanky Buckhead hotel.  When we arrived back at our hotel around midnight on Saturday night, there were fire trucks everywhere and all the guests were outside (many in pajamas--ha!).  Apparently, there was some sort of small electrical fire in the lobby, so of course we all had to be out while they cleared the entire 30-ish story building.  The fire alarms went off two or three more times in the night, as they worked on resetting the system.  Obviously, it was not the most restful night ever.  I was just very glad we didn't have the girls with us to deal with during the middle-of-the-night fiascoes.  The hotel more than made up for our troubles by refunding our entire stay, not charging for valet parking, and giving us an outstanding buffet breakfast the next morning (which they normally charge $19/person for).  So really, it turned out to be a very inexpensive trip to ATL, and I will definitely try the swanky hotel again.

The girls headed back to preschool in late August, for their last year there.  (Sniff, sniff.)  They are excited to be the "big kids" at school, and seem to be having a fantastic year so far.

First day of MDO...the last "first day" there!

Books read:  3 (ish)
It was a depressingly slow month, book-wise.  I had to spend a lot of free time grading final assignments and working on my fall courses. I am determined to make up for it in September.

My Life Next Door--Pretty good YA fiction.  The main character's mother is just a plain horrible person, which was almost downplayed a little bit in the book, but this was a great late-summer read.

The Panopticon--Reviewed here.

All Over But the Shoutin'--This is a memoir by Rick Bragg, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist who grew up within an hour or two of where I live.  I have been meaning to read this for years, and finally got to it this summer.  I am so glad I did!  It's an immensely readable memoir, full of stories about Bragg's upbringing in rural Alabama at about the same time my mom was growing up just a few towns over.  Really, really good book!

Coming up in September:  VACATION!!  We are all more than ready for a week away.  Also, football and the return of our favorite tv shows.  September is one of my favorites.

How was your August?