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?


The Panopticon, by Jenni Fagan

I must admit, it took me forever to get around to starting this book.  I am not sure why I kept putting it off, either.  I have been in a general reading slump for the last few weeks, which is particularly distressing because I've read some great things this summer.  Lately, when everything is finally done for the evening and I can sit down to read for awhile, I just feel so completely wiped out that I can't even face concentrating on any book, no matter how good it might be.  Thankfully, I feel like the slump is lifting and I have a few things I'm excited to get started on.  Plus, we have a week at the beach quickly approaching, where I am hoping for plenty of quality reading time in the sun!

When I did finally get started on The Panopticon, I was surprised at how quickly I became interested in the story.  I had heard it was dark and gritty, and somewhat violent, and I think I was sort of prepared to not like it so much. It didn't take long to become invested in the story, however, and I found myself quite attached to Anais by the end of the second chapter.  I was so consumed by the story that I even quickly began to read over the Scottish dialect without having to think about it for too long.  (Unfamiliar dialect can really detract from a story sometimes, when I am constantly having to stop and figure out what's really being said.  That was not so much the case here, after a few pages.)

Anais Hendricks, nearly sixteen, has been in the foster care system for her entire life.  When we meet her in this story, she is on her way to the Panopticon, a home for chronic young offenders, after being accused of assaulting a policewoman.  We are quickly given a brief insight into the difficult life Anais has lived, being shuffled around in the system, with very few people who ever looked out for her best interests.

Anais is as tough as she is pitiable, and she quickly forms a bond with some of the other kids at her latest "home".  The other kids come from a variety of backgrounds, many as harsh and depressing as Anais's.  They all have their own stories, each as compelling as the next.  (Okay, I'll admit it, Isla's was the one that got to me the most; oh, how I just want to love that girl!)  At its heart, The Panopticon is the story of these children of the system, most particularly Anais, but the others as well, and how they keep fighting in a world that just wants to discard them. 

There was a surprisingly happy twist at the end of this book, one I'm not sure I can completely trust.  (After all, much of the story is told from Anais's drug-addled point of view and we know she makes up elaborate stories about her past.)  But you know what?  I'm going with it--I am choosing to believe she got that happy ending and that Anais is living just as simply and happily as she always dreamed she might. (I loved the ending, honestly.)

I should note, as have many others, that this book is not for the faint of heart.  There is no shortage of violence, terrible language, drug use, and sex...but it's all part of the institutional setting of the story.  Even though it was distressing and a bit hard to read at times, I am grateful to this book for putting me back in the mood to curl up and read at the end of the day!

I received a copy of this book for review via TLC Book Tours and the publisher.  All opinions expressed are entirely my own.  For more reviews, check out the full tour post.


Lucky Seven

Last week, Jeremy and I celebrated seven years of marriage.  I can't help but think how very young we were seven years ago, and even more so eleven years ago when we started dating.  We have been through so much together--though, thankfully not nearly as much as some people we know--and we have done a lot of growing up together.

Just look at us!  We were babies.  This picture was taken on our first Christmas together, in 2002.
When we married, neither of us knew much about keeping a house, beyond the very basics, and the meals cooked in our kitchen were few and far between.  We managed to keep ourselves clothed, clean, and fed, but it felt like a struggle at times.  I contrast that to now, when we work as a decent team to keep our household going.  We manage to get dinner on the table every night, and not only take care of ourselves, but of two little people as well.  (We still have some things to work on in the housekeeping department...it seems this may very well be a lifelong struggle of ours!)  When I have to be away from home, I have absolutely no doubt that Jeremy will keep things running and take excellent care of the girls without batting an eye (and vice versa, of course).  That fact alone tells me how far we have come. 

And one from this year, for comparison.
Seven years feels like a long time...you know, "seven-year itch" and all that jazz.  But really, I feel more settled, more complete, more satisfied than ever.  I think J and I consistently act more and more like a team, a united front, and I love that I have such a fantastic partner to experience this life with me.

I love that instead of a fancy vacation and expensive gifts, we took a short anniversary trip to Atlanta and took in two Braves games.  We keep it simple around here, and that's the way we are both happiest.  I love the life, the family, and the home that we have built, that we continue to build, and I look forward to so many more good things to come in our future.

Happy anniversary, my love!  You're my best good buddy, and I'm still thankful you're mine. 


Hungry, by Darlene Barnes

I don't read a lot of memoirs, but if more were written like this book, I would gladly become a devoted fan of the genre.  I loved Hungry because I loved Darlene Barnes's writing.  Her voice made the book for me.  She is funny, straightforward, and very relatable.  She's someone I would totally want for a friend, but I'd be careful to stay on her good side!

Hungry: What Eighty Ravenous Guys Taught Me About Life, Love and the Power of Good Food is the story of the author's experiences as a cook for the Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity at the University of Washington in Seattle.  After relocating to Seattle with her husband, Barnes is eager for a career of her own in the food industry, and she takes on a job that most "serious food professionals" would never consider.  The job with Alpha Sigma Phi brings unexpected challenges, as well as unexpected rewards.

Having been in a sorority in college, and having married a fraternity boy, I could relate to many of Darlene's struggles, as well as her stories.  One of the things I appreciated most about this book is that she presented a fair picture of Greek life as I experienced it.  Yes, there are parties and pranks, and there is privilege and competition, both in and among organizations.  But there are also real, true relationships being forged, friendships and connections that can last a lifetime.  Darlene did a great job of portraying all that here, even if it wasn't the focus of the book.  Her "guys" were familiar to me--they were just like many of my own college friends--and Alpha Sig reminded me a lot of my husband's fraternity. 

As for the food part of the book, I found it fascinating as well.  Barnes was a believer in "real food" from local sources, long before such things were trendy.  Naturally, she faced an uphill battle, both from fraternity boys happy to live on Easy Mac and from her traditional food distributors who couldn't seem to understand why she cared so much about where the chicken originated.  I loved Darlene's no-bull attitude and admired the way she took charge of the fraternity kitchen as well as the boys who sought her out for guidance.  The humorous and poignant stories are the heart of Hungry, but the discussion of food is woven seamlessly throughout the narrative, along with recipes at the end of each chapter.

I enjoyed every bit of this book, from cover to cover.  Whether you're interested in the foodie aspect or the behind-the-scenes look at life in a fraternity (from a female point of view, nonetheless!), there's a lot to love about Hungry

Want to read Hungry: What Eighty Ravenous Guys Taught Me About Life, Love, and the Power of Good Food?  

Leave a comment on this post to be entered to win a copy for yourself!  If you want, tell me if you were a part of the Greek system in college.
(Giveaway is open to U.S./Canada residents only.  The giveaway will close on Monday, August 12, at 10:00 p.m.  Please leave a contact email if I don't already have yours.)

I received a copy of this book for review via TLC Book Tours and the publisher.  All opinions expressed are entirely my own.  For more reviews, check out the full tour post.


The State of Affairs: June & July 2013

A double recap, thanks to my blogging slump...let's see if I can remember what happened all the way back in June.

---I had a birthday; I'm not too old to have forgotten that!  I turned 31 and celebrated with a dinner at one of my favorite restaurants (Bonefish Grill) with family and friends.  As an added bonus, my actual birthday fell on a state holiday, so I got the day off.  The girls spent the night with our cousin Lindsey again (and stayed up waaaayyyy past their bedtime!) so that I could have a day to sleep in.  Addison helped Jeremy pick out my present, including a coffee mug that says "My Mom is My BFF".  It's pretty much my new favorite thing.  (On second thought, I think the mug was from Mother's Day, but I'm leaving it in here because it really is one of my favorite things.  I don't want to forget that she picked it out for me.)

---Jeremy officially moved to a new division in June, meaning he works normal daytime hours (for the most part)!  This is literally the first time in more than six years that we have been on the same schedule.  It is SO nice having him home in the evenings, to play with the girls while I cook supper, to trade off baths, etc., and just to be here and be able to enjoy the evening with us.  I hope I don't ever take it for granted.  Yes, we both mourn the loss of our 'alone time' occasionally, but we are adjusting well, I think. 

---J had a class in Nashville in late June.  It's rare that he gets to attend one by himself (i.e. without sharing a hotel room with a coworker), so I tagged along and we made a trip of it.  We shopped and ate and binge-watched episodes of Revenge in the hotel room.  While J was in class, I ran on the hotel's treadmill (I RAN ON VACATION!  That should equal an extra five lbs. lost right there.) and lounged by the pool with a book.  On Wednesday, my mom and aunt brought A & M up to stay the rest of the week with us.  The girls were pumped about staying in a hotel, which they have only done a few times.  We swam, ate, walked around, and visited the Frist Center for Visual Arts.  (I highly recommend that place if you find yourself in downtown Nashville--it's free for kids and has a great hands-on art section on the top floor.)  It was a fun, fun week, and a nice getaway in the middle of summer.

Art museum fun with my little painters

Legends' Corner #Nashville

---We had a very low-key 4th of July.  It rained steadily for most of that long weekend, but we made the most of it.  The girls spent two nights with Jeremy's parents, so he and I enjoyed a couple of date nights.  (It seems like A & M spent a lot of nights away from us, but it wasn't all that much.  It does tend to happen a little more often when they aren't in school!)

---A & M attended Vacation Bible School at our church, and loved it, of course.  

---We went to a wedding, and everyone bragged on how well-behaved the girls were (I will never get tired of hearing that!).  They were so interested in every detail of the ceremony.  

---J and I went whitewater rafting with a group of friends from church.  I'll admit, I was not too excited during the week leading up to the trip, but I ended up having a blast.  I haven't been rafting in about 15 years, but I might be willing to repeat it again next year.  

---J and I rounded out July with a Braves game with two of our good friends.  They are Cardinals fans, but the Braves pulled it out to win the series, so Jeremy and I were the happy fans on the drive home!  : )

Books Read in June:  4
The Perks of Being a Wallflower--I have heard so much about this book over the years, and then....it sucked.  Maybe I missed something; maybe it was just me, but I really did not like it at all.  (Am I alone?)

Will Grayson, Will Grayson--This was the perfect book to read after Perks.  It restored my faith in smart, unpretentious YA.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks--More smart YA.  I have heard a lot about this one, too, and I was a little afraid I wouldn't like it (there is a lot about prank wars, etc. that are not always my cup of tea).  I was greatly relieved to find that I liked it a lot, actually.   

The Exiles--Not a bad book; especially since I read most of it by the pool in Nashville.  Reviewed here.  

Books Read in July:  5
A Little Salty to Cut the Sweet--This is Sophie Hudson's debut book, full of stories about faith, family, and life in the South.  Sophie writes her book like she writes her blog, with much humor and heart, and I enjoyed her book quite a bit.

The Last Winter of Dani Lancing--Well, there had to be a dud in here somewhere, and this one was it.  Intriguing premise, but the author just didn't quite pull it off.  I kept reading to find out the solution to the mystery, which was rather disappointing as well.

Looking for Me--A little slow, but a nice, enjoyable story.  I'm a sucker for a Charleston setting.  I was afraid the ending was going to be unresolved (which I HATE), but it was done in a way that I thought worked out nicely.

Hungry--I have a review of this one coming early next week, but this was by far my favorite nonfiction read of the year (admittedly, I haven't read many, but still....).  Very good!

Me Before You--It seems like everyone is reading this lately, and for good reason.  I stayed up until 4 a.m. to finish it, then went to bed with swollen eyes and a stuffy nose from all the tears.  (Despite the tears, I do recommend it!)

I'm down about 9 lbs. since beginning Weight Watchers in early June.  I am exercising regularly, thanks in large part to J being home at night.  I try to run at least three times a week and do yoga or some other type of light workout at least twice a week.  I need to get another link removed from my watch because it's now big enough to twist around my wrist...so things are going pretty well!

J and I saw The Heat on one of our date nights, and oh my goodness, I have not laughed that hard in a long time.  Lots of language, but so hilarious.

I have been painting a dresser for the girls' room for about three weeks now.  It is the largest piece of furniture I've painted so far, and I'm rather pleased at how it has turned out. I still have to put a clear coat on top and get some new knobs, but the end is near.  I'll share a picture when I'm finished. 


Oh, look! An actual post!

Hello, long-lost blog friends!  In an effort to get myself somewhat back in the blogging habit, how about some quick takes for an update on our lives?
  • I have spent a lot of time lately thinking about this blog and what I want it to be.  I have debated whether or not I really want to continue writing.  I decided that I do want to keep it up, but I'm not sure in what capacity.  There are only so many "we're great; the girls are happy; life is good" posts I can write before I bore even myself.  I definitely want to continue writing about and reviewing books, but beyond that, I'm just not sure.  Still some thinking to do, obviously.
  • On that note, yes, we are all doing just fine these days.  We have mostly adjusted to J being home in the evenings.  The novelty has not worn off yet.  (I get to cook real, full meals to share with another adult, a fact that really does thrill me!)  We have been busy with summertime adventures, activities with church and friends, and just life in general.  
  • Since I wrote about starting Weight Watchers, I have lost almost 10 lbs.  Even more than that, I have managed to figure out and stick to an actual exercise plan, and I am truly enjoying it.  A couple of pairs of pants already don't fit, and a couple more are getting loose...good thing I wear mostly dresses in the summer.  I want to wait another month or two (and hopefully be closer to my goal weight) before splurging on new clothes.
  • As I said, we have been pretty busy with general summer fun, including a few short trips here and there, but we are all beginning to count the days until our beach vacation in early September.  (Less than six weeks away!)  We are staying a full week this time, and Addison is thrilled about that fact.  She keeps holding up seven fingers, telling anyone who will listen that we are staying at the beach "a whole seven days!"  Her enthusiasm is definitely contagious.  
  • We are considering adding a new member to our family (NOT A BABY!!)--a dog.  Our local animal shelter is being fantastic enough to let us bring a little guy home for a trial run of sorts this weekend.  We'll see if we are ready to handle this new addition...it should be an interesting weekend!  I will certainly report back on that matter.  : )
  • I have been reading SO many good things lately; I can't wait to share some of my favorites.  Inspiration to blog again soon, right? 
How are things with y'all?  I miss my blog friends!!


The Exiles, by Allison Lynn {Review & Giveaway}

Well, hello there!  I didn't intend to disappear from the old blog like I did, but I've been enjoying a pretty busy summer and writing moved to the backburner for awhile. 

One thing I haven't been skimping on lately?  Reading.  I have read lots of good books this summer (and at least one terrible one, but that's not what you want to hear about, right?).

While on vacation/Jeremy's work trip in Nashville a couple of weeks ago, I read Allison Lynn's new book The Exiles.  It was a great vacation read, weighty enough but not overly depressing. 

Set in the early- to mid-2000s, The Exiles is the story of a couple struggling to have it all.  Nate and Emily have come to terms with the fact that they can no longer keep up with the demands of their extravagant New York City lifestyle.  Nate is offered a respectable job in Rhode Island, and the couple, along with their ten-month-old son make the decision to relocate.  The book details their move-in weekend, which turns somewhat disastrous when the Jeep containing many of their belongings is stolen.  As Nate and Emily tough it out in their new situation, they face some hard truths about their lives and the secrets they've kept from one another.

While I basically did not like Nate or Emily very much, I did feel a bit of pity for them at times.  Yes, they are in desperate need of a kick in the pants, and someone should tell them to grow up and take responsibility for their lives and the family they created.  No, I cannot imagine the pressure to "keep up with the Joneses" they felt among their NYC social group.  I guess I felt sorry for them because they don't seem know how very good the world can be beyond that group they struggle to fit into (and then feel a bit of shame over leaving).

Most of all, though?  While reading The Exiles, I felt really, really grateful that Jeremy and I have never really felt that we had anything to prove.  We don't feel pressure to have prestigious careers or to have the best of everything.  We are happy with our simple, comfortable lifestyle and we are content with what we have (for the most part--I'm not saying I wouldn't like to have a slightly bigger house or a pool in the backyard...but we all have a wishlist of some sort, right?).  Nate and Emily managed to redeem themselves a little by the end of the book, but their story really did make me appreciate my life, and the family I have, more than ever.

Thanks to the publisher, I am able to offer a copy of The Exiles to one reader!  To enter, just leave a comment on this post.  The giveaway will end at 10:00 p.m. on Sunday, July 21, and is open to U.S./Canada residents only.

I received a copy of this book for review via TLC Book Tours and the publisher.  All opinions expressed are entirely my own.  For more reviews, check out the full tour post.


Seriously, this time

Growing up, I was one of those skinny kids that never gave a second thought to what I was eating.  I loved my vegetables, but from a young age I learned to like them best the southern way--fried okra, fried squash, and mashed potatoes being at the top of the list.  For most of my life, right up until the last six or seven years, it was no big deal.  I could eat all my favorite things without worry.  Even more than that, I could take exercise (in the form of sports or walking, usually...nothing too strenuous!) or leave it, without a difference in my body or weight.

When Jeremy and I met in 2002, I was at one of the lower points of my college weight, just under 100 lbs.  (Yes, I spent most of high school and some of my college years being just plain skinny.)  While that weight is under where I need, or want, to be, it is far past time for the pounds that have crept on over the years to GO.

As I have aged and my metabolism has slowed, my habits--or lack thereof--have caught up with me.  My weight has settled between 140-145 lbs (yep, just putting it out there!)...which seems to be where I stay without working to do anything about it.  I was at this point when I got pregnant with the girls, then dropped down to about 128 after they were born.  Obviously, over the last four years I didn't change much and it added up again.

So what to do about it?  I am finally at the point where I am really, really ready to change my habits and take control of my weight and my health.

My eating habits are already so much better than they used to be, and they continue to improve.  I am still running on a fairly regular basis, with plans to continue that and finally get to a regular three times a week schedule.  Now it's time to put the two together...and I have a plan.

Some friends at work and I started the Weight Watchers plan in the last week.  (I confess:  we are cheating and not signing up for the actual program.  All of them except me have done it before, so we have the guidelines and food values we need, just not the monthly fee.)  I have also joined an online group, the Biggest Blogging Loser, coordinated by the fabulous Jennie.  It's just an encouragement/competition sort of thing, with each of us doing our own method.

Having never tried the Weight Watchers program, I was pretty excited to start.  It has gone well so far (admittedly, it's only been a few days...but I'm on track to lose at least four pounds this week!), and it feels very manageable.  I make my choices and technically eat whatever I want, as long as I fit the points in to my daily allowance.  I realize just how much mindless snacking I was doing, and I'm learning to let myself be hungry for mealtime, instead of shoving tortilla chips in my face while I'm cooking because I feel like I'm starving.  I managed to eat out over the weekend and enjoyed my meals, while still making pretty good choices overall.

The key to my progress so far seems to be the combination of the diet changes with my running.  Instead of the 170 calories I burn on my evening run cancelling out the brownie I ate in the afternoon, it's coming off my much more reasonable daily intake.  And it's actually making a difference!  Who would have thought?  Seeing progress is a huge motivator for me, so I hope I can keep up the enthusiasm.  Then, by the time I meet my goal weight (around 125, I think), the idea is that my habits will have changed enough that I no longer feel like I'm "dieting".  This will just be how I eat and how I exercise, forever and ever, amen.  (We've all heard the "it's not a diet, it's a lifestyle" spill, which I know is true.)

One more thing that's making all this feel much more manageable...  As of this week, Jeremy is home in the evenings!!  Yes, for the first time in our nearly seven-year marriage, he is now working normal daytime hours, at least most of the time.  It couldn't have happened at a better time, as it's just been in the last few weeks that it has gotten absolutely too hot to run after work.  And the idea of me getting up before work to exercise is just laughable.  Give me 9:00 at night over 6:00 in the morning anytime.  Not only can I make the workout happen, I can actually cook a meal for someone besides myself.  The girls are good to eat most of the things we do, but sometimes it's just so much easier to throw down a bowl of cereal and call it dinner.  I am just thrilled in general to have him home at night, in case you can't tell.  (We'll see if that holds true after a few weeks of losing my evening alone time and having to share the remote....)

So there's what's going on around here.  Lots of salads, skinny ranch, and grilled chicken, basically!  But it will all be worth it, I am confident.

What's going on with you this week??


The State of Affairs: May 2013

How on earth can it possibly be JUNE already?  It seems like May absolutely flew by, but looking back at everything we did during the month, I shouldn't be all that surprised that it passed so quickly.

A sampling of the things we did this month:

  • Jeremy and I went to Nashville with friends and ran the 5k Foam Fest.

  • I went to a work meeting in Prattville and spent the night in a hotel room ALL TO MYSELF.  It was pretty glorious.  Plus, I got to eat at a few different restaurants with two work buddies.  It was a nice little getaway for the middle of the week.

  • Jeremy, my sister, and I went to our first Braves game of the year.
Gotta throw the husband in for good measure #lovehimtoo

We take a lot of selfies when we're together #sisters #loveher

  • We surprised the girls with a trip to see Disney on Ice.  They LOVED it.  It helped that it was the princess-themed show, so they were familiar with most of the stories.  We let them wear their princess dresses, which added a touch of fancy to the occasion.
A surprise trip to Disney on Ice!
  • After Disney on Ice, we went to dinner to celebrate Jeremy's birthday.  We ate at one of our favorite restaurants, but it felt a little more special because we actually remembered to make a reservation this time.  (Making dinner reservations is something we have done only very rarely, so it still makes me feel all grown up and stuff!)

  • At the end of the month, J and I surprised the girls (again!) with a return trip to our favorite amusement park.  We told them that morning that we were going somewhere fun, but told them no more than that.  They were surprisingly okay with our keeping it a secret and didn't really ask for many details.  When we pulled in the parking lot and asked if they knew where we were, Mackenzie said, "No, but I see a fair over there that looks like fun!"  Ha!
It's a beautiful day at Lake Winnie!

These three love the Tilt a Whirl. None for me, thanks!

We had an absolutely fantastic day once again, and my little daredevils were up for any ride we let them get on, including the ferris wheel, the sky lift, and the tilt-a-whirl (!!).  They may be little roller-coaster fans like their daddy...this mama will happily watch from the ground, thankyouverymuch.

  • Finally, we wrapped up the month with the year's first trip to Huntsville's Thursday evening Farmer's Market.  There is music, food, lots of people, and of course, free samples.  Win!
Fun at the Greene Street Market this evening

Books Read:  3.5

I finished the second half of A Dual Inheritance from April.  Excellent book!  Reviewed here. 

The Silver Star--This one is by Jeannette Walls, who I've heard wrote a fantastic memoir.  This was fiction, but with somewhat of a dark undertone.

 Eleanor & Park--Oh, you guys...please read this book.  I loved it; every single stinkin' word.

Flora--All the action was concentrated in the last 15% of the book.  The rest was pretty slow at times.  

A & M had their four-year doctor visit at the beginning of May.  All is well with my petite little girls (both were 29 lbs. and 37 1/2 inches tall).  They had to get four shots each, which was pretty miserable.  Addison cried for her sister before she even took her own turn.  As soon as she was done, Mackenzie declared, through her tears, "I am NEVER doing that again!"  Luckily, she doesn't have to for a very long time. 

When J and I were in Nashville, the girls spent their first night with someone other than grandparents.  They stayed the night with our cousin Lindsey and had a blast.  Lindsey has a waterbed, which A & M have long thought is the coolest thing ever, and they finally got the chance to sleep in it...along with the two dogs (poor Lindsey nearly smothered with all that body heat!).  They all stayed up far too late watching movies, then slept until 10:30 the next morning!

Jeremy turned 31 on May 22, and my sister was home for a nice long visit before heading to Tampa for the summer.  All in all, May was a pretty great month.


He's Gone, by Deb Caletti

"The Sunday morning starts like any other, aside from the slight hangover. Dani Keller wakes up on her Seattle houseboat, a headache building behind her eyes from the wine she drank at a party the night before. But on this particular Sunday morning, she’s surprised to see that her husband, Ian, is not home. As the hours pass, Dani fills her day with small things. But still, Ian does not return. Irritation shifts to worry, worry slides almost imperceptibly into panic. And then, like a relentless blackness, the terrible realization hits Dani: He’s gone."  (From the book description)

He's Gone is, I believe, the first adult fiction book from Deb Caletti, who has previously published several YA titles.  She made a good jump here, and this novel didn't have any leftover YA elements at all.  What I mean is, Caletti captured the tone and spirit of her adult characters just as well as she does in her teenage characters in the YA books I've read.  This isn't a "good first attempt at adult literary fiction", it's just a good adult literary fiction novel, period.

That's not to say I didn't have my qualms with this book.  It felt very slow-moving at times, which was also a complaint I had with another book I read by this author.  But at the same time, I don't think the plot and the mystery are really the central elements of this story when all is said and done.  It's a very character-driven, introspective book, mainly focused on Dani and her thought process as she struggles to uncover and understand what happened to her husband. 

Dani and Ian's story, their adulterous beginnings and less-than-picture-perfect relationship, is revealed to the reader in bits at a time, through flashbacks as Dani processes her current situation.  She reflects on their history and the psychology of their relationship to try to piece together what might have happened to Ian--did he leave her as he left his first wife?  Did he choose to just disappear without a trace?  Was there a side to him she knew nothing about?  Or was he a victim, did something horrible actually happen to him?  I found Dani's thought process--her fears, worries, and insecurities--pretty fascinating.  He's Gone definitely doesn't make light of the issues that linger in a relationship with such tumultuous beginnings. 

And the answer to the mystery?  Well, I wasn't blown away, but again, I'm not sure that was meant to be the real focus of the book anyway. 

Give this book a chance when you're ready to dig into something a little more 


I received a copy of this book for review via TLC Book Tours and the publisher.  All opinions expressed are entirely my own.  For more reviews, check out the full tour post.


New Recipes, Part 2

Apparently I have slacked off on trying new recipes since the beginning of the year.  It's been a busy few weeks, but I am picking up the pace on cooking again.  I am still sure that I have cooked more at home and more from scratch this year than at any other time in my life.  I am learning more about what fresh foods we will use most often, and more and more often, I have most of the items on hand that I need to make a new recipe.  My kitchen finally feels fully stocked, ingredient-wise.

I expect the cooking to pick up in full force again soon, particularly because some work friends and I are starting Weight Watchers next week.  I'm a little nervous (mostly that I will completely and utterly fail at this endeavor), but I am also feeling super encouraged by my friend Kelly, who has just lost nearly 30 pounds.  (You're looking fabulous, my friend!)

Anyway, here are some more new recipes I've tried this year (with only the Pinterest pictures because I'm a terrible blogger):

  • These oven fajitas from Budget Bytes are my absolute favorite right now, and the latest in a string of successful recipes from her blog.  The fajitas are super easy, and I have even used frozen chicken and they turned out just as well.  These are also excellent left over, meaning I make extra to have for lunch during the week. 
  • I got hooked on whole wheat egg noodles for awhile there, and I created a Butter Garlic Shrimp Pasta, adapted from this recipe.  I used the same basic ingredients, but left out the peas and only topped mine with Parmesan.  I added shrimp and threw on some steamed stir-fry vegetables.  This one was a definite hit with both Jeremy and me.  (Hey, it turns out I did take a picture of this one!)
  •  Taco Pasta was pretty good, just a little on the spicy side.  Jeremy agreed, so we may likely try it again sometime.  We are all taco fans here, so it may just need a little tweaking.
  •  I went through a crazy pancake/waffle phase about a month or two ago, and I seriously could not get them off my mind.  When I came across a recipe for Sour Cream Pancakes from the Pioneer Woman, I knew I had to try them.  They are definitely quite different from regular pancakes, but not in a bad way at all.  We finished the batch easily, and I kept the recipe bookmarked.  These won't be my standby pancakes, but definitely worth a repeat.  They are super easy!
  •  Finally, in an effort to satisfy my cravings (not pregnant, I feel the need to specify, just hungry!), I made these waffles from Everyday Reading.  It's a great basic waffle recipe that will definitely be a keeper in our house.  I've actually made them three times in the last month or so, and we all love them.  The best part?  The recipe makes enough for me to stick a couple of waffles in the freezer for later.  Always a plus.
  • While I have been having a love affair with waffles, Addison & Mackenzie have become a little obsessed with pita pizzas (and apples, which they are eating basically twice a day, but that's a whole other story).  I love how quick and easy it is to throw these together, and they're relatively healthy, too.  Take a pita round (we use whole wheat), drizzle on a bit of olive oil and garlic powder and bake in the oven for a few minutes to let the oil sink in.  Top with pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, and veggies of choice and bake (on a pizza stone if you have one, it makes the crust just a little crispy) at 450 degrees until all the cheese is melted and toasty.  Delicious and simple...the best combination! 
What are you eating these days??
(I hate to do it, but I am going to turn on comment verification for awhile.  I've been getting a TON of spam lately, so I'm willing to try it.  Sorry for the inconvenience; please don't stop commenting!)


Why I Dress My Twins Alike (Most of the Time)

Back when I was pregnant with the girls, I was often asked if I planned to dress them alike.  I think my standard response in those days was, "I think we'll just dress them in whatever we can grab!"  Oh, how true that was at times.  

I did start to notice, though, that if we were going out I liked to dress the girls alike, or at least in coordinating outfits.  I looooved the little cotton rompers that come in packs of two or three.  I could throw one on each baby and have them similarly dressed but not exactly matched.  We got so many clothes as gifts, we had a ton of matching outfits.  People find it hard to resist buying doubles of cute little baby clothes, it seems.  Most of the girls' nicer outfits came in a pair, either because it was gifted or I purchased them myself.  So, from an early age, they have been dressed alike most of the time for church or other "nice clothes" functions.

10 months!

The 'dressing alike' trend continued and increased when the girls reached the toddler/preschool years.  During the last couple of years, A & M have probably been dressed alike more often than not.  I don't think too hard about it, and neither do they--so hopefully I'm not having too much of an effect on their delicate little psyches here.  When I occasionally ask if they want to wear the same thing or something different, there's about a 50% chance they'll choose the same thing anyway.  Most days, they really just don't seem to care.  M requires a 'twirly dress' nearly every day, but beyond that, neither of them is too very picky.

I will let you in on my big motivator for dressing them alike:  it's easier.  Do I think they're cute as pie in matching outfits?  Sure!  But I think they're cute as pie no matter what they're wearing.  When I'm pulling out clothes for the day (or pajamas for the night), it's just SO much simpler to grab two of the same outfits rather than fussing over who is going to wear which one.  I do still often buy coordinating outfits--the same outfit in different colors, for example--but it's basically the same principle.  M wears the purple and A wears the pink.  (The colors are their choices....I didn't have a whole lot to do with that one!)

Beautiful day for a walk at Bridge Street...until it started raining on us!

Yes, even the pajamas usually match.  I don't want to hear fussing at bedtime either.  And I reason that if they're wearing the same thing, one shouldn't be cold while the other is burning up.  See?  Simplified!

Proud to be four!

Dressing the girls alike also keeps things simpler in my mind.  Naturally, the girls have certain clothes that are favorites of mine.  Occasionally I will run across an outfit that I just absolutely love and I know I have to buy it for them.  Of course I have to get two, right?  I can't buy Addison an outfit I love and Mackenzie an outfit that I think is just okay.  (I realize no one but me would know that I didn't just love both outfits, but it makes sense in my head, okay?  Just a little neurotic around here.)  If it comes in two colors I like, or if there are two different-but-equally-cute options, I am likely to choose those.  But if not, a duplicate set is added to the cart. 

Getting dressed for church on Sunday morning?  No need to spend time picking out two outfits that are equally cute/equally loved by mom/on the same level of dressiness...just throw a matching set of dresses on and be done.  Simplified again!

I have begun to question if we are maybe reaching the age that it's time to stop dressing them alike so often.  Even if they don't care about the clothes they are wearing and whether they match or not, maybe I need to start making more of an effort in this area.  Surely I can spare an extra few minutes to pick out two outfits versus one in duplicate. 

I'm not saying it's going to happen overnight, and I'm sure there will still be plenty of times when I can't resist buying two of the same outfit.  But at least maybe the girls can start wearing them on different days...

Do you still dress your twins alike (or did you ever)?  What do you think is the "cutoff age" for dressing alike on a regular basis? 


Wednesday Quick Takes

I feel like everything I want to talk about lately can be summed up in a few short sentences.  (That is most definitely an indication of how my mind is working these days!)  So, how about some middle-of-the week bullet points?

  • My spring semester is finally finished and officially closed out.  Now I'm starting the hard part of getting ready for summer...with an entirely new textbook.  The next several weeks could get a little stressful, but I'm trying to keep in mind that the stress now will only make fall that much easier.
  • We are really beginning to feel the late spring/summer attitudes taking over.  Trips are being planned, activities scheduled, and we are all dreaming of the beach.  Unfortunately, our beach vacation isn't until September again (although it's worth the wait because that is the absolute best time to go, in our humble opinions!).  For a few minutes earlier this week, I thought we might be able to sneak away for a last-minute trip next week, but we couldn't swing it this time.  So we will wait until September and plan lots of other fun in the meantime.  I, for one, can't WAIT to return to my most favorite amusement park ever one weekend soon!
  •  Jeremy has a work trip in Nashville next month and I am tagging along for a few days.  I am thinking of bringing the girls up for last part of the week (after I've had a couple of glorious days and nights of doing nothing at all).  Suggestions for fun kid things in Nashville?  
  • My sister and I saw The Great Gatsby Sunday night.  That was my Mother's Day request, and it was an excellent one.  I may repeat that idea next year.  : )  LJ and I thought the movie was pretty fantastic.  I am not usually a big fan of Leonardo DiCaprio, but he was perfect as Gatsby.  And I think maybe he's looking better with age?  Why do so many men have that luxury?  I am a big fan of Carey Mulligan, and I enjoyed her portrayal of Daisy.  I have read the book twice, but it's been years, so I had forgotten a lot of the plot.  I did catch one of my favorite quotes at the end:  "They were careless people, Tom and Daisy--They smashed up things and people and then retreated back into their money...."  I recommend the movie...and reading the book first, of course!
  • On a long day at home a few weeks ago, I started showing the girls how to cross their eyes.  Addison picked it up pretty quickly and has been freaking Jeremy out with her "trick" ever since (he can't stand to watch anyone do it!).  Mackenzie couldn't quite do it, but she'd try and try, opening her eyes as wide as they'd go, and making me crack up every time.  This past week, she finally got the hang of it, and spent most of dinner the other night making J groan.  Isn't she classy?

My silly M! #latergram

Happy Wednesday!
How is your week going so far?


A Dual Inheritance, by Joanna Hershon: Review & Giveaway

Before I read A Dual Inheritance, I had never heard of dual inheritance theory.  Apparently, it's a real thing, defined by Wikipedia as "a theory developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s to explain how human behavior is a product of two different and interacting evolutionary processes: genetic evolution and cultural evolution."

Although the dual inheritance theory is mentioned at the beginning of the book, I didn't really think of it much while I was reading.  It is more in retrospect that I see exactly how Hershon wove the concept into the story.  I do think it's a perfect title...plus, it just sounds nice:  A Dual Inheritance

This book totally captivated me from the very beginning.  It's what I like to call an epic story--there's not one huge thing that happens, it's not even necessarily plot-driven.  This is a very character-driven book, and it covers decades, continents, and generations with its characters. 

Ed and Hugh meet one night during their senior year at Harvard, beginning the most unlikely of friendships.  Ed is a slightly hard-edged Jewish student, attending Harvard on scholarship.  He has big dreams and big plans and is determined to make a better life for himself.  Hugh, on the other hand, is from an "old money" family, a member of the envied Boston elite.  Despite all his advantages, Hugh is restless and reluctant to follow the path set out for him.  A Dual Inheritance is the story of these two men, the stages of their friendship (budding, thriving, and then non-existent), and the unexpected effects they have on one another and the lives they each choose to build.

I can't say enough how much I truly enjoyed this book.  From the characterizations to the changing landscapes, to the depiction of the relationships, I thought it was all just fantastically well done.  I recommend reading this one over a long weekend when you can let yourself be truly engrossed in the story...trust me, you won't want to put it down!


The publisher, Ballantine Books, has offered a copy of this book to one reader.  To enter, just leave a comment on this post and tell me the last book you really loved.  Be sure to leave an email address if I don't already have yours, so that I will have a way to contact the winner.  At the publisher's request, this giveaway is open to U.S. residents only.  

The giveaway will be open through Sunday, May 19, 2013 at 9:00 p.m. central time. 

I received a copy of this book for review via TLC Book Tours and the publisher.  All opinions expressed are entirely my own.  For more reviews, check out the full tour post.


We Did It! A 5k Foam Fest Recap

Remember a few weeks ago when I pondered how crazy I must have been to sign up for a muddy, wet, and messy 5k, for FUN?  Turns out, I was indeed pretty crazy.

When we signed up, none of us had any worries about the weather on May 4.  I mean, we live in the South, May is practically summertime, right?  My biggest concern was that it might be too hot for me at our 12:30 race time.

As the weekend approached, I kept hearing about a massive cold front that would be moving into our area.  By midweek I was obsessively checking the weather every day.  The prediction hovered between 55-60 degrees, with lots of rain.  Okay, not ideal for being soaking wet and muddy, but we remained pretty optimistic.

Until about Friday afternoon.

That's around the time it sank in that yes, it was probably going to be pretty cold, and raining on top of that.  Now we all know why the race organizers make it very clear that there will be no refunds.

When this was our view all the way to Nashville, I was pretty worried:

Still, we powered on.  What else could we do?  I think at this point we were all just thinking, "This will suck, but let's get through it and then we'll go out and have a good time tonight."  At least, I know that's what Jeremy and I were thinking!

When we arrived at the race site (where, I must mention, we had received an email reminding us that parking would be in a field...and they would have tractors on hand to pull out any vehicles that got stuck in the mud.  Comforting, right?), it had blessedly stopped raining for the most part, but it was a cool 49 degrees.  Yep, at this point, we were all pretty convinced it was going to suck.  A lot.

We look ready, though, don't we??

Once our heat began, I think we were all pleasantly surprised to find it wasn't quite as awful as we feared.  There was very little running to be done, at least for our group.  The mud was just SO ridiculous that we were sliding all over the place.  It was hard to walk and stay upright, much less do much running.  (Which was okay with me, I will admit!)  

There were a couple of obstacles in the beginning--a moon bounce filled with foam and water, for instance--then a looooong stretch with nothing but muddy trails.  And the hills...there were so many hills.  At one point I remember my friend Kelly saying something along the lines of, "This hill has to go down sometime, right?!"  

A little over halfway through, we began to encounter more obstacles--5 ft. walls, then a set of 8 ft. walls (which I turned out to be good at...who knew?), an inter tube crawl across part of lake, wading through a huge mud hole, a lily pad run (on top of the water--that was pretty neat!), a gigantic cargo net climb, two enormous blow-up slip-n-slides, and even an electric mud crawl.  Yes, with real electricity running through the ropes we were crawling under, as we found out the hard way!  Surprisingly enough, there was only one significant injury in our group...Jeremy twisted his ankle when he turned around to see our reaction to the electricity.  (He finished the race limping, but he's doing okay.  Just swollen now.)

Finally, just over an hour after we started, our group finished together.

No, we didn't lose one...Shane was so cold he went ahead to change and warm up the car.  (My legs are red because they were FROZEN, in case you're wondering.)

I checked the temperature when we left, and it was around 46 degrees.  We were soaking wet, muddy, tired, and freezing.  But still, I felt pretty triumphant.  I completed every obstacle on the course (except the electric mud crawl, which I skipped out of halfway through--I don't do electricity, thanks!).  We all stuck together, helping one another up when we fell and encouraging each other through the tough parts.  It was, dare I say, actually a lot of fun.  I never want to be that cold again in my life, but I am definitely glad I did it. 

I might even go so far as to say I'd like to do it again next year....as long as the temperature is above 60 degrees!