What I’m Into

What I’m Into: October 2018

This month has been especially busy for us, but mostly full of nice things. We did some traveling and had a friend come for a visit. We don’t have much of anything planned for November at the moment, and I’m actually looking forward to a few weeks of a normal routine. I admit that as obnoxious as it is when people post about how wonderful fall is, they have a point and now that I am living somewhere without a fall, I am definitely missing it. People here have started to dress like it’s fall, but it’s still in the low 80’s every day. It does get into the 70’s in the mornings and evenings which does feel like a nice change, but it’s hardly cause for sweaters and coats.

What I’m Reading

I read 11 books this month. Sadly, I am still about 20 books behind on my goal for the year. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I will be pretty impressed if I can pull this off. All of the books I read this month are pictured below, but I will just mention a few standouts.

36301023My Plain Jane by Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows, and Brodi Ashton. I had been waiting for this book ever since I read the trio’s first book,  My Lady Jane, last year. In this re-telling of Jane Eyre, Jane is not a fictional character created by Charlotte Bronte, but instead is a real life friend of hers whose Charlotte uses as the inspiration for her classic novel. Only this Jane can see dead people. It is every bit as silly and delightful as My Lady Jane and I definitely recommend you listen to the audiobook.

 

 

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer. This book has been out for a long time and 10847I can’t believe I only just got around to it since it is about one of my secret fascinations – fundamentalist polygamist cults. The thing that stood out to me in listening to this compelling account of the history of fundamentalist Mormonism was how similar so much of the language is to what you would hear in a mainstream American evangelical church. For example, I can’t tell you how many times in my life I heard someone say, “I prayed about it and I felt the Lord leading me to do x, y, z.” Many of the stories in this book have that same language, but, you know, the thing the Lord is leading them to do is marry 13 year olds or slay the infidels. So there’s that. Seriously though, this book is fascinating and done in Krakauer’s typical thorough and engaging style.

34128219La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust) by Philip Pullman. It was great fun to dive back into Pullman’s world and to get more of the back story on Lyra, the heroine of the His Dark Materials trilogy. Pullman’s storytelling was every bit as compelling in this book as it is in the original trilogy, though I do have to dock it a few points because I felt the last third of the book dragged on for too long.

 

 

35270717Unthinkable: What the World’s Most Extraordinary Brains Can Teach Us About Our Own by Helen Thomson. This book was fascinating. I’m not a scientist, so I appreciated how accessible this was for an unscientific audience. Thomson traveled the world meeting with people with rare psychological disorders and talking about those disorders both as they experienced them and in terms of what doctors and researchers had learned about the brain by studying the brains of these unique individuals. Her subjects include a man who believed he was dead for 3 years, a woman who constantly hears music that isn’t there, and a man who believes he turns into a tiger. In my opinion, Thomson was able to write about these people as real humans instead of distilling them down to their condition.

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang. This debut novel has gotten rave reviews with good 35068705reason. If you are looking for a fantasy novel you won’t be disappointed by, look no further. Rin is a poor, dark-skinned war orphan with no prospects, but after receiving the highest score in the Empire on the entrance exam for the empire’s top Academies, she earns a spot at Sinegard, the most elite military academy. There she learns the art of war and discovers her own unique gift in shamanism, widely believed to be a dead art. When war breaks out, Rin learns the true cost of her gift and what it might take to save her people. I will say, there is a lot of descriptive violence and brutality on the page in this book, but it’s fantastic. And it’s the first in a series so there will be more to come!

What I’m Watching

We are trying to catch up on the current seasons of Better Call Saul and The Good Place. Meanwhile, I have been on an Elementary kick. I’ve seen random episodes of the show off and on over the years, but never really followed it, so now I am taking advantage of Netflix and watching old episodes.

We also went to see A Star is Born. There was much weeping. That really got me in the feels. And also, I already knew Lady Gaga was wildly talented, and I think she is so interesting, but her acting in this was top notch. And of course…Bradley Cooper. Just…sigh. When we left the theater I was blinking back my tears and said to Jonathan, “We will never speak of this again.” It’s beyond my emotional capacity to handle how many feelings this movie gave me. Go see it, everyone. But then don’t talk to me about it. Because I just can’t.

What I’m Writing

While I was out having adventures a lot this month, I didn’t do quite as good a job of documenting them. But I did write about our day trip to Macau and told some fun stories about odd things I’ve eaten recently and some funny ESL moments with my students. Please follow me on Keep Roaming On for more of my day-to-day adventures and stories from my travels. I have a ton of things half-written, but I guess I have been struggling with follow through this month.

What’s On My Mind

This is a new section of the monthly post and it’s basically a place for me to word vomit some things that have been filling my thoughts lately and haven’t made their way out in the form of a blog post.

  1. The amount of hatred in the world, but particularly in the US right now is terrifying and heartbreaking. My heart is heavy for the many victims of injustice and violence who are suffering right now. Lord, have mercy.
  2. It’s hard to make new friends as an adult. Like seriously hard. But it makes me really appreciate the close friends I have who have continued to make the effort to be friends even though I’m the one who decided to pick up and move across the world.
  3. When we were in the Philippines mid-October, the shops were playing Christmas music. This felt wrong on so many levels. Rocking out to “All I Want for Christmas is You” while sipping mojitos on an island beach was…incongruous to say the least. And then yesterday (October 31st) the stores in the area where I work started putting out their Christmas lights. And I thought the US was bad about starting Christmas too early…
  4. One of our cats back in the US has been missing for several weeks. I try not to think about it too much because it makes me so sad, and there’s nothing I can do about it. I know this is not on the scale of anti-semitism and cancer, but on tough days it feels like the actual worst.
  5. Speaking of cancer, my cousin’s double mastectomy went well and they believe they got it all, but she will have to undergo a round of chemo just to be safe. She is a strong and beautiful woman who is already using her story to help other people. I’m kind of in awe of her.
  6. Having to meet your friends’ babies over FaceTime is both an amazing marvel of technology and also somewhat devastating. You cannot get that new baby smell or the feel their little fuzzy bodies through a phone screen. But thank goodness there’s a way for us to actually see each other live. We take it for granted, but if I had been living in Hong Kong even like 15 years ago this would have been impossible.

What I’ve Been Up To

On October 10th, my bestie had her first baby, a truly gorgeous little girl with hair to die for. (Yes, this is a different baby than the one that was born last month). Natalie Loren, you are loved all the way across the world!

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I’m dead. Completely dead. 

On October 14th, we flew to Cebu, Philippines where we stayed for 4 nights in a hotel with the biggest bed I have ever seen. It was literally five Lily-lengths wide. I know because I counted. It was amazing. We had some very chilled beach time and also went out to Kawasan Falls and to the top of Osmeña Peak. It was like being in The Jungle Book.

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We stayed for four nights and then flew back to Hong Kong where my lifelong friend Rachel met us the very next day. She had been working in Bangkok and flew up for a few days before heading back to the US. So we spent 3 days playing.

Last weekend I had to go to Macau again to activate my new visa, but because Jonathan and I were both tired and didn’t really want to spend the money on another trip to Macau, I went by myself. I rode the ferry over, walked through immigration and into the ferry terminal, then went up the escalator and walked back through immigration the other direction and got on the next ferry back to Hong Kong. The whole thing took a few hours, but I was in Macau all of 10 minutes. The government, man.

So that’s me. I feel like we haven’t chatted in forever. What’s been going on with you guys? Read anything great recently? Or just want to commiserate on the sorry state of the world? Leave a comment or send me a message. I’m still here.

 

 

 

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What I’m Into: September 2018 Edition

This month has been full of somewhat dramatic events in my personal life. Obviously, I moved across the world in August, so much of September involved getting settled into a routine here in Hong Kong, getting used to a new job, and exploring our new home. I’ve been writing a lot about our experiences here over on my new travel/expat living website: Keep Roaming On. I’ve even started a YouTube channel where I’m dabbling with vlogging some of our adventures. If you are interested in reading/watching, please follow me in those places!

What I’m Reading

In spite of all of these other ventures, I’ve still found a good bit of time to read between the typhoon days and during my daily commute. Actually, I think it may be an all-time record for me. I read 14 books in September.

One of my go-to genres for easy reading is the domestic/psychological thriller. I admit that I am often unimpressed with these books, but for whatever reason I keep picking them up. Most books in this genre rely upon a twist of some sort, and I often find the twist either not twisty at all or implausible, which leaves me with a “meh” reaction. But I enjoy how fast-paced they are, and I like trying to figure out what’s really going on. Since I read so many books this month, I’m only going to comment on the ones I particularly liked…spoiler alert, most of the thrillers didn’t make it.

32075853Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal. This was the surprise standout for me this month. I’m not even sure what made me pick it up, but this book was bomb. Erotic stories don’t do much for me (I just can’t take “sexy” descriptions seriously), but the erotic stories in this book are simply a device to talk about so much more. A group of Punjabi widows sign up for a writing class. Their teacher, a young British/Punjabi woman, thinks she will be helping these women to write the stories of their lives, but she is unprepared for the stories they truly want to tell. This is a book about a tight knit immigrant community, about female friendships, and about women who have lived their whole lives without power or agency finding ways to gain those things while still holding onto the traditions and values of their community.

36344555All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin. I’ve loved Emily Giffin for years, but I didn’t enjoy her last book (before this one), so I was pleasantly surprised by All We Ever Wanted. While Giffin’s previous books have all had some sort of romance at their core, this one didn’t. I think Giffin’s decision to steer away from that helped her showcase her skills as a storyteller and the strength of her characterizations. This book handles serious issues like how to raise teenagers (particularly sons) in the midst of rape culture and some of the less obvious ways that privilege asserts itself. It’s not a perfect book, but I found it very engaging and I liked it.

27161845-1Here’s to Us by Elin Hilderbrand. Elin Hilderbrand is a new discovery/obsession of mine. I had never picked up her books before because I thought they would all be very chick-lit-y. Actually, the books I’ve read so far combine two of my favorite genres – rich white people problems and stories that look at how multiple members of a family or a community experience one event. This book tells the story of the aftermath of celebrity chef Deacon Thorpe’s sudden death as his three ex-wives and his children come together to say goodbye. To be honest, not that much happens in this book, but what I enjoyed about it was the different characters’ perspectives, interactions, and motivations. And…Nantucket.

 

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Calypso by David Sedaris. David Sedaris is strange and sometimes dark, but undeniably hilarious. This was one of my favorites of his essay collections. I highly recommend listening to it on audio since he reads it himself and his delivery adds a lot to the text.

 

 

 

34189556The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen. This thriller was a rare case where I was surprised by the initial twist AND I thought it worked. Admittedly, I didn’t enjoy the parts of the book that came after the twist as much as the first portion, but it still rates as above average compared to other psychological/domestic thrillers I’ve read recently. It’s the story of a young woman preparing to marry a too-good-to-be-true man while being stalked by his ex-wife. (Or is it?)

 

I also read:

What I’m Watching

Jonathan and I have been watching Better Call Saul, which is a spin-off from one of Jonathan’s favorite shows, Breaking Bad. I’ve never watched a single episode of Breaking Bad, but thankfully it doesn’t really matter for understanding this show. It’s a drama, but it’s the perfect blend of serious and comic and from what I understand, nowhere near as dark as Breaking Bad.

Thanks to my sister-in-law, I also discovered the series Marcella on Netflix. As another British detective show, it filled the hole left by Broadchurch. However, there are only two seasons at this point so now I am back to needing more shows like this.

Jonathan and I went to see Crazy Rich Asians in the theater. It was a unique experience to watch this in Hong Kong since it has an all-Asian cast and is set in this part of the world. I loved it. The books are even better. But I still loved it. We also went to see the latest Mission Impossible movie which was all action all the time and a lot of fun.

What I’m Writing

Most of my writing has been over on Keep Roaming On, where I’ve done posts about the typhoon, some fun weekly posts with observations about daily life here, and posts about hiking in Hong Kong, as well as a few posts about our experiences in Ireland earlier this summer. I also wrote an update here on this blog about my mental health since moving to Hong Kong.

What I’ve Been Up To

I have had lots of daily life adventures getting used to a new city, but it’s also been a month with a lot of ups and downs.

At the beginning of the month, we did an incredibly strenuous, but also beautiful hike up Lion Rock. I thought I was going to die, but it was worth it. Except for the part where we saw the monkeys. Because those things will rip your face off.

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We experienced our first typhoon which also happened to be the strongest recorded typhoon to hit Hong Kong. It was equivalent to a Category 5 Hurricane in the Atlantic and it was awe-inspiring and terrifying. We are so thankful to have been safe and sound and that our home did not suffer any damage.

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Typhoon damage outside of our apartment

A few days later, one of my closest friends back in the US had a beautiful baby girl…in her front hallway, 5 minutes after the firemen arrived. Sweet baby girl was in a big hurry to make her entrance, arriving just an hour and a half after my friend first thought, “I think we’re going to have a baby today.”

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Emmaline Alma Kroll

Then I learned that my beautiful, healthy 35-year-old cousin had been diagnosed with breast cancer after a routine check-up. After a whirlwind of tests, she had a double mastectomy earlier this week. They are still waiting to decide if she will need follow-up chemo, but all seems to have gone well. Through the whole thing, she has been so brave and strong, immediately wanting to share her story with others to encourage them to be proactive about their own health.

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Last weekend we had to leave the country on a visa run, so we took the one-hour ferry ride over to Macau and spent the day wandering around this strange and interesting city where the signs are in Portuguese and Cantonese and the shimmering casinos are just a few streets over from historical church ruins.

It was also Mid-Autumn Festival, a major holiday in the Chinese calendar celebrated with lanterns and moon cakes, so we went down to a lantern display on Hong Kong Island to join the celebrations.

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This month was full of emotional ups and downs for me as I experienced the danger of the typhoon, the joy of baby Emmaline’s safe arrival and the sadness of not being there to meet her, the shock and the sadness over my cousin’s cancer, and the wonder of exploring a new place.  It’s been a month chock-full of life in all of it’s splendor and all of it’s brutality, and I’ve come to the end of it grateful for the grace and provision I have seen in my life and the lives of many I love this month.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I’m Into: January 2018

January always feels like a long month to me. Maybe it’s because we’re over the excitement of Christmas, but it’s still winter. Or maybe it’s because so many of us are trying so hard to make some changes and start fresh, and getting started on a new habit is always the hardest part. Regardless of why, I’m glad to be finished with January and moving towards spring, which comes early in the south. Here’s what January looked like for me.

What I’m Reading:

I read 9 books in January and got 2/3 of the way through two others, so I’m feeling good about hitting my reading goal of 125 in 2018, though I know it’s still early days. Follow me on Goodreads for updates.

 

The Spy by Paulo Coelho was actually my first Coelho book. It’s fairly short and tells the story of  Mata Hari, a woman who made her debut as a dancer in Paris in the early 1900’s and charmed her way into the upper eschelons of society where she was privy to secrets. She formed relationships with many powerful men and was eventually arrested in 1917 and accused of being a spy. This is a fictional account of the actual historical person.

Coincidentally, I also read The Alice Network this month which tells the story of two women, one of whom is also a spy during WWI and is part of a network of female spies. They actually reference Mata Hari in the book as another famous female spy. I’m very into drawing connections between things I read, watch, and experience in real life, so I really enjoyed it.  I liked this book quite a bit more than I expected to and found it to be a quick read even though it’s on the long side.

I read some fantastic nonfiction this month including, Born a Crime by Trevor Noah which uses his characteristic humor to share compelling stories of growing up as a biracial child (and therefore a child conceived illegally) under apartheid in South Africa. I listened to the audio version of One Day We’ll All be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul which is a book of humorous and poignant essays about a lot of different topics dealing with race, gender, and identity. I think listening to it was the way to go because you really get to hear the author’s sense of humor. Plus the short parts at the ends of each chapter that are read by “her father” are hilarious. I also read Kelly Corrigan’s new book, Tell Me More. I really love Kelly Corrigan. Her writing reminds me of Cheryl Strayed in some ways and I thought this book was great. Anne Lamott’s Hallelujah Anyway has some great nuggets woven in, but overall I don’t think it was one of her best.

I read Sara Gruen’s newest book, At the Water’s Edge and didn’t think it was anything special. It was like Water for Elephants except substitute the circus for Scotland and and the elephant to searching for the Loch Ness Monster.

The Unseen World, however was really interesting. I’m still not entirely sure what I thought about it, but it was intriguing on several levels. It tells the story of Ada Sibelius who is raised unconventionally by her father who is a brilliant scientist who keeps Ada isolated from the experiences that most other children have growing up. When her father begins to experience the early stages of dementia, Ada is forced to join the rest of the world for the first time. Meanwhile she tries to uncover her father’s secrets before they are lost forever inside of his mind. I can’t decide if I feel like this book had one too many twists or not, but overall I really liked it.

I also read Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin for my book club. It’s roughly based on the Monica Lewinsky scandal, but told entirely from the perspectives of females involved. It’s a multi-generational story of female voices that is meant to be an indictment of slut shame culture. I’m not sure if it succeeds in doing that, but it was a relatively fun and easy read.

What I’m Watching:

I finally starting watching The Crown after having it recommended to me over and over again. I’m halfway through Season 2 and I love it even though I pretty much hate Phillip. I am just one episode behind on This Is Us  and continue to think it is brilliant even though it always makes me cry. Jonathan and I have been watching The Good Place since it’s been back on. I am really impressed with the ways that show continues to be clever and creative and to take the story in new directions. I also binge-watched the first season of Riverdale which as scratched the itch I sometimes feel for Pretty Little Liars now that that’s over. The only problem is that I don’t have access to Season 2 yet so I have to wait for it to come to Netflix. Which I know is not a real problem, but still.

What I’m Writing:

I finally got back to my blog this month and posted a Favorite Books of 2017 post, my Year in Review post, my What I Plan to Read in 2018 post, and one of my favorite posts I’ve ever written, We Must Risk Delight: Or How to Combat the Devil One Tattoo at a Time.

What I’ve Been Doing:

My world is dominated by my many jobs (I run an international student program during the day, but also do a ton of after school tutoring and some freelance writing) Just after New Year’s, Jonathan left for 6 days to do some serious writing as he prepares to turn in his thesis. I have to admit, I didn’t mind having the house to myself for 6 days, though I was definitely glad to see him when he got back.

I got my new tattoo and we went to Charlotte to visit our dear friends and their (now 4 month old!) baby, Shepherd.  We also had a magical Snow Day off of school that week. It wasn’t magical because of the snow because we didn’t actually get any, even though places as close as an hour away got several inches. It was just magical because we got a surprise day off.

Shepherd

The following weekend, I took a group of 16 international students up to Asheville for the weekend. Most of them had never been and we enjoyed the artsy downtown area before heading up to a lodge on a lake that we had rented out. We went with my boss, my work wife (Rachel), and another teacher. It was such a great time. I wish I could share pictures of the kids, but I don’t feel comfortable sharing too much about my school or my students online. Just trust me when I say they are adorable.

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The other thing that dominated this month (and our lives in general) was conversations about what we will do when Jonathan graduates in May. There are a million questions with no good answers and this has frankly been a very stressful period of time. It sort of feels like hurtling towards a giant crater of unknown. My favorite.

What I’ve Been Loving:

Barre classes. Seriously. I never would have thought I would get into barre, because those classes are HARD and make me feel like I’m dying, but I keep going back. I started trying out barre back in September because my friend Meredith was getting certified to teach and have been going fairly consistently ever since. I try to get there 2-3 times a week. Every time, I don’t know why I put myself through the torture, but I also come out of it feeling like I worked really hard. This hasn’t necessarily translated into any great physical change since barre will do a lot more toning than it will overall fat burning, but I feel stronger and more graceful. I also mix it up by doing zumba about once a week, which I am terrible at, but really enjoy.

My bullet journal. Yes, it takes time to make it look like this. Time that could probably be better spent elsewhere. BUT it keeps me organized, helps me with the 3,000 things I have to do every day for different jobs and clients and friends and family members, and gives me a way to remember how I’ve spent my time. I also like that I can change up the layout every week if I want depending on what I have going on.

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My boots. If you know me in real life, you probably know that I am shoe girl. Like hardcore. I just love shoes. I’m not even going to try to defend it. This month I’ve particularly loved my boot collection. I think I wore a pair of boots every single day of January. I firmly believe there is a boot to fit every outfit and every occasion. Which is how I justify every new pair of boots I buy. And then there are boots like these, which are so extra, they are their own occasion.  But tell me, how can you have these on your feet and not feel happy?

Boots

My Letterfolk board. Jonathan surprised me with this as a birthday present. I admit, it can also be a bit of a time suck thinking of what to write and putting each of those little letters in place. But also…it’s fun! I usually post mine to Instagram. Like a cool kid.

If you want to read more posts like this, head over to Leigh Kramer’s blog and check out her link up. In the meantime, what have you loved this month? Anything recommendations for me?

 

What I’m Into: Jan – Feb 2017 Edition

Happy March! I don’t know where you live, but it was 83 degrees here on the last day of February, but it will get down to 32 overnight tonight. The world confuses me.

What I’m Reading

My reading for 2017 is off to a great start! I’ve read 31 books so far this year spanning genres like history, memoir, feminist essays, historical fiction, humor, food memoir, young adult fiction, Danish lifestyle, fantasy, contemporary fiction, magical realism, and literary mysteries. Don’t worry, I’ll only go into detail on a few.

Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl. This book had been on my reading list forever and when I finally read it this month I couldn’t believe I had put it off for so long. I already love food memoirs, but Reichl is a truly spectacular writer, weaving the stories of her life so vividly around specific recipes that Reichl, her family, and her friends felt like old friends.

Bream Gives Me Hiccups by Jesse Eisenberg.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. I know it’s early to say this, but I think this will prove to be one of the most important books I read I all year.

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin. This book was very “meh” to me, which surprised me because I’d heard good things about it and heard that the movie (of the same name) was very good. While this is a (probably typical) story of an Irish immigrant to Brooklyn post WWII, I found the main character to be very distant with very little emotion that I could connect to.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. This is another book that I have heard rave reviews about. I had a similar reaction to this as I did to Brooklyn. I think there were intentional reasons why the characters were a little distant (perhaps to avoid the sort of torture-porn, emotionally exploitative elements that can come with brutal periods of history) but I still had trouble connecting. I liked the inventive element of making the railroad an actual train.

The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well by Meik Wiking. Now I want to be Danish. Also the cover is just so pretty.

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead.

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West

Rich and Pretty by Rumaan Alam

The Secret History by Donna Tartt. My second Donna Tartt. Like The Goldfinch I thought this had merit, but was inexplicably long.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly. So, this book is based on such an interesting true story, and I can’t wait to see the movie, but I think the actual book was a little boring. It was oddly paced and jumped around from character to character which made it difficult to follow at some points. It felt like the author couldn’t find a good balance between technical information and human interest details. Nevertheless, a pretty cool story about some women I wish had been acknowledged and appreciated more during their lives.

Heartburn by Nora Ephron

You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein. I actually really loved these thoughtful essays from a writer most known for her comedy. (Except for the one about porn. In case you’re judging me).

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. I found this very interesting and insightful into the poor white, blue collar American communities that are some of the largest supporters of our current president.

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick (Listen to it on audio)

The Long Way Home by Louise Penny. Killing it, Louise.

The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close

The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang. Trying to fill the hole left by Crazy Rich Asians. Not quite there, but still had some of the fun elements that I love in Kevin Kwan’s books.

The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny. Just. Keeps. Getting. Better.

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

A Separation by Katie Kitamura

The Mothers by Brit Bennett

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. Probably the most atmospheric book I’ve read this year. I love when a book makes you feel transported.

The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro

Follow me on Goodreads for more of what I’m reading. And feel free to ask if you’re curious about any of the books I mentioned here!

What I’m Watching:

We finished watching the first season of The Good Place this month and I admit that I did not see the twist coming! At least not quite like that. We also watched the latest season of The Mindy Project which we had never finished. I am now halfway through season 5 of Scandal, an on-again, off-again show for me. Hubby and I watched a few movies together over the past few months, but the only one I can remember right now is The Family Fang which was weird, but I loved it. I am also current with Jane the Virgin (WTH by the way) and This is Us which I couldn’t possibly love more.

What I’m Eating:

I used an Amazon gift card I received for my birthday to buy a few new cookbooks to inspire me. So far, my greatest new discovery has been the Thai Beef Stew featured in Against All Grain: Meals Made Simple by Danielle Walker. We also make sweet potato fries at least once a week (like out of actual cut up sweet potatoes that we bake in the oven) which makes eating healthy more fun.

What I’ve Been Up To:

I feel a little spoiled by all the fun things we’ve been able to do so far this year. We rang in the new year in Costa Rica this year. We flew down to San Jose on December 31st in order to be there for my brother-in-law’s wedding on January 7. My amazing brother-in-law (who is one of my favorite people in the world) married a Costa Rican babe that he met while living in South Africa. Now that they are married they are preparing to move to Germany. Confused yet?

Anyway, this was probably the most exciting New Year’s Eve we’ve ever spent as we were picked up from the airport in San Jose and then taken to a New Year’s Eve party that was in full-swing at my new sister-in-law’s house. I don’t know how to explain this party except to say that Costa Rican families LOVE to dance and that drunk people shouldn’t be blindfolded and given sticks to swing at piñatas.

We spent the first week of 2017 in Costa Rica which means we basically peaked in the first week of the year. We visited a volcano and spent a few days at the beach and finished our week at Patrick and Sofia’s sweet and beautiful wedding. And then we had to go home to real life. Boo.

Theoretically, my life should have slowed down a bit starting in January, because I completed one part time job at the end of December, but in fact, January turned out to be one of the most challenging months this year. I had a few very unexpected professional disappointments followed by some high-stress situations (discussing my hopes for my contract next year with the headmaster, planning and executing Chinese New Year celebrations for the whole school). By the end of January I was ready to go on break again. Fortunately, my school had a Winter Break in early February and it just so happened to line up with a conference Jonathan was already planning to go to in Washington D.C. I got to tag along for a long weekend in DC where I got to hang out with Rachel, an old high school friend, and spend my days wandering through museums and historic sights.

In a completely random and unplanned coincidence, my parents ended up being in DC at the exact same time that I was, so I also got to spend a few hours with them. The night before we left to come back home, Jonathan and I joined Rachel and her friends at a Valentine’s ball at the Italian embassy where I got the chance to re-wear my dress from Patrick and Sofia’s wedding (which we all know never happens). It was a ball. (Get it? Get it?)

A few days after returning from this trip, I got to chaperone a group of high school sophomores from my school on a college tour to Wofford College where one of my best friends from growing up in Louisiana works in the admissions office. Having brilliant and talented friends doing there thing all over the wide world is pretty much the coolest. Especially when our paths intersect.

Hope your 2017 has started off with a bang. I’d love to hear what you’ve been up to!

What I’m Into: August & September 2016

For the first time since I started doing my monthly round-ups, I missed a month. All I have to say is, I work about 60 hours/week right now and while I genuinely love my job(s), I have almost no time and certainly no energy for anything that requires brain space. So there you have it.

What I’m Reading:

 

Kitchens of the Great Midwest. by J. Ryan Stradal. More of a set of linked short stories than a novel, each chapter centers around a particular recipe and cumulatively tell the story of Lena Torvald, a brilliant young chef, through the stories of those whose lives intersect with hers. Some characters/chapters I loved. Others I hated. The overall form was new and fun.

A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny. Chief Inspector Gamache #2. Small town murder in a charming Quebec town full of eccentric characters. Louise Penny’s strength is creating a world full of 3-dimensional characters. Admittedly, this is not what everyone is looking for when it comes to a mystery, but they lend themselves to interesting observations about human nature.

We Could Be Beautiful by Swan Huntley. I have a soft spot for rich-people-problem books, but this one was really awful. There was no character development or movement. Just blah.

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown. This book reminded me of All of Us and Everything which I read in July. Three eccentric adult sisters with a Shakespeare-loving father come to terms with themselves and with each other. Interestingly, this book is narrated in the first erson plural (“We”) and somehow still works.

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed. Cheryl Strayed’s collection of columns from her time writing the Dear Sugar advice column is a gem. Even if I don’t agree with all of her advice, it’s hard to deny that Strayed has a gift for speaking truth with tremendous empathy.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This difficult, beautiful book is something we all should read as we seek to understand the reality of the black experience in America

China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan. Pure delight. The sequel to the entirely wonderful Crazy Rich Asians picks up two years after the end of Crazy Rich Asians.

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney. People seem to have strong reactions to this book – either they love it or hate it. I loved it. This is a rich white people problem book that hits the right notes.

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh. Of all of the thrillers I read this summer, this one was my favorite although probably also the darkest and most violent.

I Remember Nothing by Nora Ephron. Nora Ephron’s funny little life reflections are a great distraction.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. I’ve heard a lot of negative feedback on this from fans of Gone Girl. I enjoyed it, but I had also figured out who was responsible for the crime fairly early on. I’m still enjoying the unreliable narrator trope even though it has (arguably) been overdone in recent releases.

The Expats by Chris Pavone. The set-up for this was so great, but it was lacking in execution. While this made me want to move to Europe ASAP, it was also very far-fetched and the timeline was somewhat confusing.

The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny. More small-town Quebec murders, though certainly the book where we learn the most about Chief Inspector Gamache.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven  by Chris Cleave. I really enjoyed this. Part WWII saga, part love triangle, this book encompassed my favorite things about WWII era literature and films with a bright dash of humor mixed with the somber realism.

The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin. Four-year-old Noah knows things he’s never been told and asks every night to go back to his “other Mommy” even though he lives with his birth mother. Is it possible that Noah is remembering a past life? This book was fascinating, although the pacing was a little odd to me because it seemed to climax about 75% of the way through and there was still another quarter of the book to go.

The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty. I adore Moriarty’s other books (though I haven’t read the most recent one), but this one wasn’t my favorite. I still enjoyed it, but compared to the others it felt a bit long and I connected less with the character. 

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. This book has wrecked me. Everyone should read it. It was difficult for me to make myself continue in some parts because of how upsetting some of this (true!) information is, but as a privileged middle-class white woman, it was something I needed to read.

The Girls by Emma Cline. I’m not exactly sure what drew me to this book besides the good reviews I’d seen and a slight fascination with cults, but in the end, this wasn’t my cup of tea. It was well-written, but I just didn’t really connect with the main character so I wasn’t especially sympathetic to her actions.

The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller. Light, fairly fluffy, easy read. I enjoyed it, but it won’t stick with me.

Follow me on Goodreads for more of what I’m reading.

What I’m Watching:

I’ve picked up Scandal again (I’m at the end of Season 4) and Jonathan and I have started watching our old stand-by’s, New Girl, and Brooklyn Nine Nine. We also started watching The Good Place, mostly because I love Kristen Bell and it has some delightful Pushing Up Daisies vibes.  I’m waiting for the perfect time to start This Is Us because I know I’m going to love it with all of my guts, but also that it is going to emotionally exhaust maybe. Maybe this week when Jonathan’s at night class and I’m home on my own.

What I’m Eating:

I’ve eaten terribly for most of the last two months just out of sheer busyness. But when I haven’t eaten terribly, it’s been because of Prep Dish. Prep Dish is a meal planning service that gives you four meals plus a salad, a breakfast, and a snack or dessert. It tells you exactly what groceries to buy and then tells you how to prep everything in one 2-3 hour session so that you have meals ready-to-go all week long. It’s still a bit of work up-front to grocery shop and prep, but it really does make life wonderful to know that your meals are already planned and ready to go. And most of the meals I’ve had have been great. The service costs $14/month and they give you a paleo option and a gluten free option. I figure I’ll at least do it for a couple of months and then maybe just start recycling old weeks. This is totally not sponsored by the way. Here’s what we ate last week:

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What I’ve Been Up To:

Besides working all the jobs, we’ve had some good times in August and September. I think. I mean, it’s honestly kind of tough to remember back that far. I do remember that we went to Charleston at the beginning of August. And then school started and both Jonathan and I started teaching.

I do remember that the weekend after Charleston we got to hang out with our very dear friends, Tim and Asharae and Tim’s brother Richard who was visiting with his wife Lindsay, a friend I hadn’t seen in years. And of course we got to see Brandon and Christy, our other close friends who live in Charlotte. Yay, friends!

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For Labor Day weekend, I went to Raleigh by myself and saw my bestie boo Christina and her husband Andy, my friends Mary and Justin and their doll-baby Evelyn, and went to a 1st birthday party for my friends Jerusha and Nathaniel’s daughter, Edith.

A few weekends ago, Brandon and Christy came down our way and we all went to the Greek Festival together where we mostly ate delicious Greek food and watched some entertaining Greek dancing.

At work, I hosted a tailgate event for our international students and their host families that went over pretty well. We also all participated in spirit week with dress up days like Pajama Day and Superhero Day. On Friday, the entire high school went bowling and I had a great time watching some of my students try bowling for the first time.  I really do love these kids. Which is fortunate since they are pretty much my whole world right now!

What I’m Into: July 2016 Edition

In July, I jumped full-swing into my new job, planned and cooked what felt like 1,000 meals that are Whole30 compliant (today is day 28!!!!), and drove all over the Carolinas trying to visit friends before summer ends. I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer to share this post.

What I’m Reading:

When my stress level is high (and when I have long solo drives and access to audiobooks) I escape into reading, and this month I read 12 books. I’ll mention all of the titles, but won’t go into much detail or this will get crazy-long.

All of Us and Everything by Bridget Asher. Quirky family drama about the eccentric Rockwell women. Funny and heartwarming. 3.75 Stars

Who Do You Love? By Jennifer Weiner. I like some of Jennifer Weiner’s books, but this one was a bit of a slog to me. Rachel Blum and Andy Landis meet when they are eight years old. Then they spend the next 30 years falling in and out of each other’s lives. 2 Stars.

No One Knows by J.T. Ellison. This thriller starts on the day that Aubrey Hamilton’s husband is declared dead, five years after he disappeared. But things may not be what they seem. Fast-paced summer read. 3 Stars

Furiously Happy: a Funny Book about Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson. Jenny Lawson writes comic essays about serious things. In this book, she tackles elements of life with mental illness. Her sense of humor is irreverent and isn’t for everyone, but some of the serious moments were really poignant. 3 Stars.

All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda. Another summer thriller about two girls who disappear from the same small town 10 years apart. The story is told backwards over a 15 day period. At first I thought this was gimmicky, but in the end I liked it. 3.5 Stars.

Love, Loss, and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi. Lakshmi writes (very well) about her life in India, as an immigrant in America, as a model in Europe, as the wife of Salman Rushdie, and as a judge on Top Chef. In each part of her life, food plays an important role. I actually loved this, especially for Lakshmi’s honesty, even when it portrayed her unflatteringly. The food writing was great and her experiences were fascinating. 4 Stars.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. Sweet story about a Chinese boy and a Japanese girl living in Seattle, Washington just as America enters WWII. Henry’s father hates the Japanese and forbids Henry to have anything to do with them, but Henry forms a strong bond with Keiko, the only other non-white person at his school. When she and her family are rounded up and moved to an internment camp, Henry vows to bring her home. 4.5 Stars.

Year of Yes: How to Dance it Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes. Rhimes, the creator of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away With Murder, writes about the year she challenged herself to say yes to all the things that scared her and embrace the opportunities that came her way. She writes just like Olivia Pope and Annaleise Keating speak, so that’s fun, especially on audio. 3.5 Stars.

The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood. This was great. 104-year-old Ona Vitkus is alone in the world until an 11-year-old boy scout is sent to help her out. Ona tells him about her life and he shares his encyclopedic knowledge of world records. One day, the boy stops showing up. In his place is his father, Quinn, there to fulfill his son’s obligation. Together, Ona and Quinn teach each other above love and regret. 5 Stars.

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler. Twenty-two year old Tess moves to New York City and becomes a waiter at a prestigious restaurant. She is exposed to the intoxicating world of the restaurant business as well as some of its darker character. So much cocaine. So many dysfunctional relationships. I wasn’t connected to the character but there was great atmosphere in the restaurant and food writing parts. 3 Stars.

Rising Strong by Brene’ Brown. The follow-up to Daring Greatly, this book explores the process of how we get up again once we’ve fallen on our faces and why vulnerability is still the way forward. Not necessarily a fun book, but an important one. 4 Stars.

Before We Visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. I loved this multi-generational story of three Indian women (and the other people whose lives intersect with theirs) whose stories of running from the mothers who can’t understand them, reveals how little we often know about what’s really going on in the lives of others. 4 Stars.

Currently Reading: Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal and A Fatal Grace (Chief Inspector Gamache #2) by Louise Penny. Follow me on Goodreads for more of what I’m reading.

What I’m Watching:

I binge-watched Season 2 of Jane the Virgin when it hit Netflix. I love this show so much. But I have no idea if I’m team Michael or team Rafael. It changes constantly.

What I’m Eating:

Jonathan and I are on day 28 of Whole30 which is no grains, no dairy, no sugars, no soy, no artificial flavors, additives, or preservatives. The good part of this is detoxing from 3 weeks of pasta and pizza and gelato (and many previous months of not eating as well as we could). The hard part is that it takes a lot of work and planning to eat three Whole30 compliant meals every day and it has more or less killed our social life because it is very hard to eat out or eat at a friend’s house. You have to read the label on everything you eat and it matters what oils things are cooked in, etc. We are beyond ready to be done. At this point I would say I will continue to eat this way more or less when cooking at home, but I don’t think I’ll ever do Whole30 again. It’s like living life in black and white.

I did find some really delicious new recipes though. My favorite has been this pan-seared mahi-mahi over coconut cauliflower rice with fresh mango salsa. Recipe here. Follow me on Pinterest for more of what I’m eating.

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What I’ve Been Up To:

Right after returning from our trip, I took the 4th of July weekend to fly down to Louisiana and visit my family, specifically my sister Anni who was about to leave to study abroad in Australia for the semester.

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We spent a significant amount of our time reading in her bed. Seesters.

The next weekend, Jonathan and I drove to Raleigh to visit my best friend from college, Christina, and her husband Andy who recently bought their first house. We also got to see our friends Nathaniel and Jerusha while we were there. We stayed with Andy and Christina overnight on Friday and while we were there, our mutual friend Asharae (who lived with Christina and me during college) went into labor in Charlotte. Asharae and her husband Tim had chosen not to find out their baby’s gender before the birth, so Christina and I were eagerly awaiting the news. The minute we heard they’d had a healthy baby boy, we raced out to buy tiny baby boy clothes for him.

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The next day, Jonathan and I were able to go to Charlotte to visit Asharae and Tim in the hospital and to meet tiny Beckett Elijah. My heart is so full for these sweet friends.

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Sweet Little Family

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Ecstatic Auntie and Uncle!

The following weekend I got to help throw a baby shower for Kelly, another dear friend of mine here in Columbia expecting a son in September. I Pinterest-ed a recipe for cake pops which turned out mostly well except that the candy melts I used for the coating kept turning out too thick, so the coating wouldn’t go on smoothly.

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How cute is Kelly?! And also that alligator towel.

I also got to spend an afternoon at the zoo with my friend Kristen and her boy, Callum. My favorite part was the gorillas who, like me, were totally over it.

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I took a solo overnight trip to Wilmington, NC where I got to see one of my best friends from home in Louisiana who lives in a charming house there with her handsome firefighter husband, their massive dog Grizz, and their new Dalmatian puppy, Koda. She is one of those friends that I can reconnect with immediately, even if it’s been months since we’ve talked. We tried to go to the beach, but it was too crowded, so instead we bopped around town and looked for secondhand bargains.

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Last week, Jonathan’s parents came to visit for a few days. It’s been near 100 degrees here every day all summer, so we are limited on how much activity we can do, but we enjoyed playing board games and talking.

This past weekend while Jonathan was working at the baseball park I took another short solo trip up to Stanfield, NC, the town outside of Charlotte where Asharae, Tim, and baby Beckett live.

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Beckett has epic hair.

My new job involves me finding host families for our international students, arranging their transportation and move-in, organizing a week-long orientation, and teaching ESL class once school begins on August 18th. Since my students start arriving this weekend, I know the month of August will be a crazy one, which is why I’ve made it a priority to see my friends over the past few weeks, even if it means traveling every weekend.

I’m still working on telling all of our travel adventures. Parts 1 and 2 are up already, but look for Part 3 about our time in Rome in the next few days!

What have you been into?

 

 

What I’m Into: June 2016 Edition

This June was probably one of the best months of my life. I started a new job, took my dream vacation to Athens, Italy, and Paris, read eight books, celebrated Jonathan’s birthday, and ate gelato almost every day. This may have been a record high. I am linking up with Leigh Kramer to share some of what I’ve been into this month.

What I’m Reading:

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. The first sentence of this book reads, “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” The book goes on to tell the story of a interracial family (Chinese father, American mother) in 1970’s Ohio, and the way the parents’ dreams play out in the lives of their children. It’s not a mystery, and in many ways it’s not even about Lydia’s death, but it was a fascinating look at family dynamics, the things that motivate us, and how our actions can have unintended consequences.

The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. A Gatsby-esque novel about one year in the life of Wall Street secretary and social-climber Katey Kontent in late 1930’s – early 1940’s New York. On the last night of 1937 Katey and her roommate Eve happen to meet the dazzling Tinker Grey, an encounter that changes both of their lives in ways they could never have predicted.

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom. I read this one with my book-club this month. When 7-year old Lavinia is orphaned during her Irish family’s journey to America, she is taken on as an indentured servant by the captain of the ship and taken to live on his tobacco plantation where she works with the slaves in the kitchen house. Although she is white, the slaves adopt her as their own and raise her, but as she grows older, she is drawn into the world of the big house where she walks a precarious line between her race, the slaves who have become her family, and her position in society. This book had an intriguing premise – a little different from your run-of-the-mill antebellum fiction, but it was undeniably heartbreaking.

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. Shout out to my friend Kim for recommending this one – this book is a pure fun summer read. When Nick Young, heir to one of the largest fortunes in Asia, brings his ABC (American-Born Chinese) girlfriend home to Singapore for a wedding, all hell breaks loose. Poor Rachel, who knew nothing about Nick’s family or financial situation, must navigate the gossip and games of the Chinese elite in Singapore society.

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica. This was a very fast read with a major twist at the ending that I still can’t decide my feelings on. When 25-year-old Mia Dennett goes missing, her mother assumes the worst, but a few months later she returns with no memory of where she’s been and insisting that her name is Chloe. The story is told from three alternating perspectives – Mrs. Dennett, the detective investigating the case, and the captor himself –and jumps back and forth in time to the time Mia is missing and the time after she’s returned home.

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris. Listened to this on audio. If you think David Sedaris is funny, you will like this. It’s very true to his other slightly strange humorous essays, mostly about his family.

Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor. No words. This is the final book in Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy and there is nothing I can say to express how amazing this whole trilogy is. It is considered YA fantasy, though I don’t find anything particularly YA about it except that the characters are young. Sort of. It is creative and intense and haunting and beautifully written and I can’t recommend the series highly enough.

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari. Even though I’m happily married and have been out of the dating game for 10 years, I found this book very interesting. Although Ansari is a comedian, this book is a well-researched sociology project about how modern technology has changed the way people navigate the world of dating, romance, and marriage.

Currently reading: Who Do You Love? by Jennifer Weiner, All of Us and Everything by Bridget Asher, and Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson.

For more of what I’m reading or what’s on my To Read least, follow me on Goodreads.

What I’m Watching:

I caught up on Pretty Little Liars, my guilty pleasure show, and FINALLY got to find out who “A” is. I also watched a few episodes of season 10 of Bones, a show I go back and forth on watching. Jonathan and I watched the new season of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt together and enjoyed it.

We didn’t watch that many movies because we were traveling, but I did watch Room on the airplane (upsetting, but interesting) and we went to see the new Now You See Me movie this week (didn’t like it as much as the first one). I’m hoping to see Finding Dory soon.

What I’ve Been Up To:

I started my new job on June 1st, but don’t have much to say about it at this point since I only worked for about a week before we left for Europe.

The bulk of June was spent on our amazing trip. We spent two days in Athens, 3.5 days in Rome, 5 days in Florence, 1 day in Venice, 1 day in Cinque Terre, and 3 days in Paris. It was spectacular. We celebrated our 6th wedding anniversary in Rome – we actually spent that day at the Vatican and were able to see the Sistine Chapel. As far as ways to spend your anniversary, this may be the best one we’ll ever have. 🙂

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We were beyond grateful to have this experience. It is something I’ve dreamed of since I was a young girl and it was surreal to see with my own eyes some of these places. We were able to go for 18 days including all the travel and we loved every minute. I want to do some individual posts to share my travel tips for those who are interested, but here are some photos of the highlights.

We also celebrated Jonathan’s birthday at home on the 30th. We had dinner with friends from his grad school program and I made banofie pie (banana toffee), something he discovered he loves years ago while doing study abroad in England.

Now that we are back and getting into our routine again, I am hoping that July moves a little more slowly. I’ve got a lot to figure out and get organized before school starts again and it feels like every time I blink another week has passed.

Hope your summer is off to a great start!