Thursday, December 29, 2011

Maze Runner: A Book Report

Maybe I should just start a book blog because when I start reading a book or a series that I like, I can't help but talk about it. Everywhere.
Actually, it's one of the things that has created such a passionate love/hate relationship with me and reading. I have to be absolutely engrossed in a book to keep reading it most of the time. Either that or it just painfully drags along for months. When I am so into the book, though, it kind of takes over my life. It's all I think about. All I want to do. I stay up way too late at night so I can find out what happens in the next chapter and then am tired the next day for work. Often, I actually carry the book with me in case I can steal a few minutes to read. I'm guessing this is how crack addicts feel about their drug.
My current addiction is James Dashner's Maze Runner trilogy. Ever since being totally sucked in to The Hunger Games trilogy last year, I have found that young adult series are where it's at for me. The language and storyline are cleaner (as much as I love Philippa Gregory and historical fiction, sometimes they just throw extraneous sex scenes in there for the heck of it!) AND they have that page turner quality I remember from being a kid, reading R.L. Stine horrors; every chapter ends with a cliffhanger and you just. have. to. keep. reading!

and here's an Amazon link to this book 
your final Amazon link  

I grabbed The Maze Runner last Friday to keep me company while I waited for someone in court; I really just needed a paperback instead of the hardcover I had been reading. The first 40 pages didn't wow me but once I was able to sit down and give this my full attention and a larger chunk of time, I was hooked. I spent most of Christmas Eve not wrapping like I should have been but laying in bed, devouring this book. On Christmas morning, even though my Hubby got me the book I asked for, I was a little disappointed that it wasn't the next book in the series, which I hadn't known to ask for. It's similar to The Hunger Games in the dystopian society and the set up of trials the characters are exposed to but the setting and story are very different and it has lots of twists to keep it exciting.

The day after Christmas, I ran to the store to get the next installation. The setting for this one has changed from the first book but we get to follow a number of our favorite characters, while new ones are also introduced. I am still in the middle of this one but, like the first, it has twists and turns that keep me wanting to read. Similar to the second book in The Hunger Games, the second book has a different tone because the characters have greater insight into what is happening to them so the tone of the book is different, maybe darker. 

I don't even own The Death Cure yet. I don't trust myself to have it in the house while I am reading #2 because I know I would want to peak ahead. That's how much I want to know what's going to happen.

My point: Run out and buy these books. Read them quickly, as you will want to. Then let me know what you think about them. I need someone to talk with about my theories!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Oprah: The Ultimate Achievement

The Lost Girls, who write a blog about three friends traveling and a book about the same (here), posted a link to an article by Oprah today that I felt the need to pass along. It comes on the heels of me and a friend having a recent conversation about how recognition from Oprah has become a sign that you really made it for women of our generation. Whether you like her or not, there's some little part of you that wants to be unique enough, special enough, amazing enough, inspirational enough, innovative enough to be invited to be a guest on Oprah's couch. To have her proclaim to the world that you are just wonderful. Look what it did for all those authors?! And Dr.Phil. And Nate Berkus or whatever his last name is (the point is Target carries his line now and the only thing more universally great than Oprah may be Target).

Once, I actually tried to contact Oprah. This is such an embarrassing story because it's super dorky to think you have an Oprah worthy enough idea that you actually research how to contact her. Do you think all the super special people she had on contacted her or were they humbly sitting at home not even expecting her adoration? They would like you to believe the latter but we all know it takes some good PR to make yourself known to the most influential woman on television. (Let's not even delve into her leaving her show and starting her own network). So anyway, back to my budding friendship with Oprah.....I admit that I was one of the people who loved Oprah's book club. I may not have liked every book but it was a good guide and I read quite a few of them. Around the same time, shortly after college I got a job as a case manager at a homeless shelter that housed women and their children. I truly wanted to mix things up and bring some valuable groups and programming to the organization. Here is where I bring it full circle, guys: I decided to start a book group with the homeless women using Oprah's recommended books!! While a local bookseller was kind enough to donate some books and I was able to create a library, it was much harder to get a number of the same book so we could all read the same thing at the same time and then get together to talk about it. This is where Oprah comes in!! I reached out to "her people", I think via email or something which, at the time, was as good as it got. Here I am thinking, "Oprah is going to eat this up! Book club, homeless mothers!".........

I have to trail off because the reality is just too bleak. Not only did I never get invited to the couch but no one ever responded and even sent me any books for my book club. Sad, right? I know you feel a little heavier in your heart right now and I thank you for your sympathy.

My rejection aside, time has passed and I can accept that Oprah is a busy lady and "her people" probably didn't give her the memo or I would be writing a very different version of this story to be featured in this month's "O" magazine. Since I am confident in that knowledge and I still dream of Oprah starting her show again and somehow shining through in some area and being recognized with the greatest honor that can be bestowed upon someone, I can still enjoy the wisdom that Oprah emanates. And so I give to you The-Top-20-Things-Oprah-Knows-for-Sure. (#s4 and 8 are my favorites).

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


This is a sample of what it looks like to provide holiday gifts to 232 (the final count) families who have experienced domestic violence. Donors were amazing this year! My heart was extremely full as I got to see the look on people's faces when they received exactly what they had asked for. One woman who has been especially down the past few weeks actually jumped up and down when she learned she had enough money in gift cards to buy a pressure cooker:)
So I am really blessed to actually get two Christmases. This is one of those times when it is truly better to give than to receive.
My experience with all of this has left me with an overwhelming testimony of service and impressed upon me that it is one of the things I want to make sure any future child of mine learns. I am always so in awe of children who understand the value of putting others first sometimes and wowed by the parents who are able to instill that. Last week in the midst of all the holiday party planning, a mother brought her daughter, who helped to carry loads of bags of goodies that would be given to other children. Later in the week, while visiting my grandmother in the nursing home, a group of carolers from a local church came to sing and among them were two kids. One was probably too young to understand or choose, even, where he was but the other  may have an enduring memory of her parents making service to others a priority and the way it made her feel. Finally, I got a little emotional when the news actually reported a nice story: a little boy donating his "life savings" to buy Christmas gifts for his friends' family who had just lost everything when their mobile home burned down. When the community caught wind of his donation, others matched it and were able to provide a thousand dollars worth of items, including essentials, to this family.
I know there are a lot of holiday sentiment and well wishes being thrown around this week but service is something we can all do all year long. We all have unique strengths that were given to us to help fill in others voids. Use yours wisely.
And, in conclusion, just to lighten things up, I will use a quote from a reality tv show....remember who is writing here!! "Live a life of love and service."-Bob Forrest (Celebrity Rehab on VH1)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Stop creeping up on me like that!

Why are the holidays being so sneaky this year? Wasn't it just Halloween? How is it possible that Christmas is less than two weeks away??

Is it age that makes time seem to go by faster? Or is it the weather being warmer that has duped me? I have noticed from writing this blog, actually, that weather is kind of like a default excuse for me. Though I should certainly add that I have no idea how you do it, fair weather friends. If it's not bitterly cold outside, hopefully with some white stuff accumulated somewhere, how does Santa know where to find you?

Speaking of, I'm 96% certain that Santa drove by me in Natick, Massachusetts this morning. Along the famous marathon route, as a matter of fact. Although he was definitely not running. It's not the time of year for him to be focused on fitness. He and his fluffy white beard and joyous countenance drove by me in a Jeep Cherokee-like vehicle. It was so convincing that I even looked in my mirrors to catch a glimpse of the back of his car and he had Christmas stickers on his bumper! Could the North Pole just be an alibi location?

Anyway, my apologies for the abundance of question marks present in this post. In related holiday news, I finally put my tree up Saturday. There are even white lights on my stair banister. There's something very warm about Christmas lights that is both exciting and calming at the same time. It makes me want to drink hot chocolate, which I have yet to have this season. Dunkin Donuts is selling a mint hot chocolate this year and I'm waiting for a special occasion to indulge.

At lunch today, we were talking about why Christmas is the season of mint. I am not a huge mint flavor fan year round but in December, if you put crushed candy canes on something, it makes it 15 times more tasty and valuable. We even have some peppermint ice cream in the freezer, a most decadent treat. But unlike the delectable Cadbury mini eggs that are so precious because they can only be found around Easter and in limited supplies even then, we can get our hands on peppermint all the time so why is it so hyped up in December? I move that we incorporate it into celebrations all year long.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Today's recommendations

In line with my decision to deviate from my mold of themed blog posts, today I bring you a medley of my thoughts.
  • A coworker loaned me a copy of The Immortal life of HEnrietta LAcks. Although I just finished a book I had been sluggishly wading through for months and was really excited to start the newest release from Philippa Gregory about the War of the Roses, I had this one with me while I had to wait at the hair salon the other day and it sucked me in. Pretty much every other chapter is the more science focused information and some of that can be skimmed over a bit, in my opinion. It's interesting but I don't want to get bogged down in all the names and every little detail and new invention. The part I am loving is learning about who Henrietta Lacks was and about her family. Actually, I'm probably even more drawn to the broader racial points the book notes, especially they way races were still separated and people liked it that way, even during  my lifetime! I had a similar realization with The Help as I talked with an older woman who grew up in New England and said her experience of racial conflict in that time frame was very different than it was described in the book, which, of course, took place in the South. However, this book is not fiction. It just awes me to draw the parallels in the time frames being discussed of what was happening in the lives of my mother or my siblings or, like I said, even myself as the story moves into the 90's. It's truly almost hard to imagine that life could have been so different in two different places, not so far apart, within the same country. If you are interested, here is a link to Amazon to read more about the book.
  • Yesterday was one of those Dr. Suess days. A terrible, no good day. From feeling sick to finding lots of money missing from my bank account to my car needing to go into the shop and not being able to make it to work, I felt a bit doomed. However, like trials usually do, it helped me appreciate the things that worked well. I was so grateful for my community yesterday. Proud to be a townie!! To mend the money mystery, I talked to people at my local credit union who were super helpful and supportive. It was definitely one of those incidents that, had I been working with a more corporate, big name bank, I would have had a much harder time. Then in dealing with my sick car, I went to my local mechanic, who I adore. When I walk in, I feel like I'm at Cheers. Everyone knows me and I really trust them. How many people can say that about their mechanic? We worked out a deal to get the problem fixed on Monday when they would have a loaner car for me to use. As I drove away, the problem made itself known, loud and clear, that it was not interested in waiting until Monday. While they didn't have a car for me to use to get to work, the patriarch of the company got in his truck and drove me home. Talk about amazing service! And, as a side note, when I paid my bill with them this morning, I used a gift certificate I bought through my town's rotary auction. How's that for tying it all together with a shiny, locally made, red bow?
  • Fianlly, just because I don't think bullet points should be allowed to be used unless there are at least three items, I will conclude with kudos for the Muppets movie. I was not a huge Muppets person growing up, I admit. Sure, I knew about Miss Piggy and Kermit's romance but I couldn't name all the other characters. At one point during the movie I asked my husband where Oscar the Grouch was and he was close to shunning me as he told me I was confusing the Muppets with Sesame Street. Oops. All that being said, even a non-follower like me loved the movie. It had a surprising amount of humor that was beyond the kid level. The songs were a little too catchy, even. Ultimately, it was the kind of movie that just makes you smile. A lot. We left the theater and I kind of felt like I should skip to the car. Hubby definitely vetoed skipping but I think the inclination sums up the good feeling vibe the movie created. I recommend it!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Making December a little easier

I just haven't been in a blogging mood lately. Maybe it's because I've been working too much. Maybe it's the cold I have come down with. Maybe it's because I'm not interested, at the moment, in writing or talking about travel and/or home improvement matters. Maybe it's because as wonderful as the Christmas season is, December is a challenging month, emotionally, for a lot of people. Myself included as I recognize an anniversary of a loss in my life. And since that's kind of depressing stuff to read about, I have spared you that (at least until now, right?).
On a brighter note, one of my favorite things about December is a holiday party I get to be part of which provides gifts for almost 250 families who have experienced domestic violence. The week before the actual event is spent playing Santa as we sort through donations from people who have sponsored families or individuals, buying four gifts costing about $25 each for each person from their "wishlists". Sometimes the wishlists are heart wrenching as mothers ask for locks for their doors to feel safer or basics like socks and underwear for their children. Most of the time they are fun, as I get to help stuff bags filled with princess themed toys for three year old girls I have watched grow. All of the preparation culminates in a night where families come not just to pick up their gifts but to share a fancy meal, catch up with former housemates or group members, and get a visit from Santa, himself. I wanted to share a link in case you are interested in learning more about how the cycle of power and control impacts families or you would like to find out how to sponsor a family or even buy gift cards to support the effort: Holiday Gift Program.
In conclusion, I might stray from the stated topics a bit this month as I feel more inclined to talk about the books I want to read some great movie I watched but I hope you will hang in there with me:)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

There are many things I am thankful for

Did anyone recognize that line from a song I remember singing as a kid? It would go on to say "I'm thankful for the earth. I'm thankful for the sea. I'm thankful for my country and I'm thankful to be me." Or at least I think those are the words.

Speaking of singing, in church this week we sang some songs for Thanksgiving. My favorite weeks are the ones near holidays where we get to sing songs that I'm really familiar with.  I remembered singing those Thanksgiving songs in elementary school growing up but when I was singing the words in church, it occurred to me that my niece and nephew probably don't even know what these songs are because they would never fly in a school system these days. Part of me is amazed that they let me sing about God even back then and another big part of me is really sad for the kids today who don't get to learn these classic holiday songs.

A lot of blogs have focused on lists of things they are grateful for this month, being Thanksgiving themed and all. I totally wanted to copy them!! But I decided to wait and hold it all in for this week to really embrace the holiday spirit. I adore Thanksgiving (yes, more than Christmas in some ways) but this year, partly because of  my vacation and partly because of the unseasonably warm weather (snowstorm aside) we have been experiencing, I feel a little unprepared for turkey day this week. So my hope is that focusing for a few days, at least, on the real roots of the celebration will bring me up to speed.

Each year in my journal on Thanksgiving I fill a page with things I am thankful for, large and small. I would like to follow that pattern and, in no particular order, list a bunch of things I am really grateful for:
lipgloss   my bishop   reality tv   my husband   my mother   Stella (my cat)   Pants (my kitten)   cereal   my VIP movie pass   a supportive work environment   a job in this economy   my ability to travel this past year   my new carpet and green paint   DVR   Plimoth Plantation   family traditions   the smell of Barnes and Nobles   time to read   nutella   Golden Girls   heat   fall foliage   raspberries   my car   pools to swim in during the winter   hiking trails   The Humane Society   friends   Target   a safe relationship   health insurance   my grant being funded   being part of a faith community

And thank YOU for reading this:) Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Color me green with envy

I'm pretty sure when I painted my bathroom bright yellow and fell knee deep in the can that I swore not to do my own painting again. Despite my vow, impulse got the better of me and while I was at Lowe's using my handy 10% off coupon for a new water heater, I picked up some Lime Green paint and my first drop cloth ever and went to town on the laundry room. Thank goodness for the drop cloth because this was also my first time paining in a room with carpeting. Carpeting that is less than a week old, I might add. 

The laundry room is a pretty small space in the basement with two drywall walls and one cement wall. The fourth "wall" is the under the stairs storage, corner with the to-be-replaced water heater, kitty litter, etc. so it barely bears mentioning. Because the space is small and because the room is entirely my zone as I do the laundry, scoop the litter and keep my food storage shelved in there, too, I got to do whatever I wanted with it. And I have always dreamed of bright lime green walls somewhere in my life. This was a great color for this space because the bottom of the drywall had some water stains from the pipe bursting and this color covered those perfectly. This was also a room for this color because it has a lot of flavor and I don't think a larger/4 walled room could handle all its goodness.

So the laundry room might currently be my favorite space in the house. Inspired by the outpouring of personality on the walls, I also tossed up some Michael Jackson posters and a couple Counting Crows and Michael Franti concert flyers. Oh, and a somewhat controversial picture I took at Woodstock '99 that amuses me. And a road sign of my name that a friend "found" for me in high school. It's pretty much wonderful!!! And it's a welcome relief to have the food storage newly organized and back on shelves, as opposed to living on my dining room table like it has been for the last two months while the basement has been in flux. 

I hope you are not pea green with envy...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Settling in and Questions for you

Now that I am going to be settled in at home for the next few months, I hope to finally catch the blog up with fun pictures and tales from my trips this year.
There are also some exciting changes on the home front, as we finally got our new carpet installed in the basement on Monday, after two months with one third of our home unusable. It will be great to get furniture out of the garage and into the new space (and to get my car into the garage again, finally!! really stunk to have to clean snow off my car last month; I'm out of practice since the car lived inside most of last year).
Currently, I also have high hopes of doing some painting. This week's new home based challenge is choosing a new water heater and who will install it. Not decorative, I know, but it's the reality of being a home owner and it does offer some interesting tax rebate opportunities as we become more energy efficient. Does anyone have experience with purchasing water heaters out there? Does an energy efficient heater = shorter showers because we will run out of hot water faster? And I'm debating hiring a plumber vs using Lowe's for istallation. The plumber was very nice but almost $400 more expensive. Lowe's has a couple of cons on the list but plenty of pros, as well.
And finally, I am also interested in merging my travel life into my home life. How do I aim to do this? I'm going to hang a hammock!!!!! It's so symbolic to me of relaxation (and I helped the hammock man in Costa Rica weave part of one, which was really cool). Not being the most spatially inclined person, I am a bit overwhelmed by the finding of studs in a condo basement to secure my hooks into. And if I am unable to hang the hammock in the basement as I dreamed of, where else can a hammock live inside? PS, Hubby told me to hang it in the garage. Really?? Am I really going to hang next to my car in the freezing cold reading a book? Now you probably understand why I take girl trips:)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I went missing again

I went missing again. Sorry. This time it was because I ran off to Costa Rica. But more on that later....
This was officially my last trip of 2011. It has been a great travel year. At first, traveling a lot this year was about doing the things I couldn't do once I started a family. A last hurrah, if you will. But it ended up planting a seed of learning about different ways to balance life. How to reduce stress but not run away. How to relax and be active at the same time. How to appreciate other cultures while recognizing my own. And, most of all, how to be grateful for the life I have created for myself at home. 

Monday, October 31, 2011

No Halloween??

Some local towns are canceling trick or treating tonight! I heard one city that is going to postpone it until Thursday. But, excuse me, Thursday is November 3, not October 31.
As it is, we are not doing it up for Halloween like we normally do. It's truly my favorite holiday. When else do you get to scare children and eat candy in the name of celebration and it's socially acceptable? At my parents house, we usually decorate to the hilt. Growing up, we even had a coffin we put on the front lawn. There are strobe lights and grave stones and Harvey, a dress form with a stuffed body, cape and mask, who scares my father for at least a full week while he stands in the front  hallway, waiting to be put away in the attic again. (It's also really fun to call and order pizza and have Harvey in the hallway behind you when you answer the door). Alas, with snow on the ground it would be really hard to rake leaves into body shaped piles and to stick the gravestones into the dirt. And without power, the Halloween sounds CD can't play. So it will be a mellow night for kids in that neighborhood if they do get to go out to collect candy.
I just have some feelings about postponing it. On one hand, most of the younger kids won't know or care if it's today or three days from now that they get to don their outfits and pig out. On the other hand, it's just not right to do it on a night that isn't legit. What do you guys think? To trick or treat or not to trick or treat?

Saturday, October 29, 2011


I was going to name the post "Snotober" but realized it would read more like the word snot than the word snow. Good save.
They weren't kidding about this snow. I'm glad I put my ice scraper/brush back in my car before going to work tonight because I certainly needed to clear off my car before I could drive. Actually, by the time I was done cleaning one side, the other side was already snowy again. And the wind! Oh my did it like whipping wet snow and sharp coldness at my face!
So after driving only major roads home so I could have the safest travels possible, I am happily hunkered down on the couch. I think my favorite thing about bad weather is that it forces us all to slow down. Church as already been canceled for tomorrow. This is great on two levels: 1. I adore that my church cancels like school. Getting that call is like seeing your town's name on the news for school closings. It's not that going is so awful; it's just the waking up. This brings me to #2. I get to sleep in tomorrow. All my friends in warm locales can't brag about that, now can they? :)
Pictures to be taken in daylight.....

Friday, October 28, 2011

Snow in October

Really not ok


Do you ever have days when you are just vacant? I'm sure you do. We all do. I'm having one of those hard-to-focus, want-to-to-nothing kinds of days. Actually, I wouldn't mind napping. Or watching a movie. Or even reading. But as far as accomplishing things, today would not be my day.

Maybe it's because it's not even Halloween and it snowed last night and they are predicting a Nor'easter for tomorrow night when I should be dressing up and going to a party. It's generally shocking when it snows a dusting before Thanksgiving but this....this is just ridiculous weather. It's extra silly that just two weekends ago we broke records for being in the 80's. I didn't realize until I started blogging just how much I talk about the weather but there's no denying that what you see outside your window impacts your state of mind.

Or maybe it's because we had a big work event last night and I didn't get home until like 11:30. I usually go to bed between 12:30-1:00 so it's not that being up that late was a problem. But part of the reason I go to bed so late is because when I get home, which is still typically later like 9ish, I need a little time to just unwind. For me that most often means I need to watch some tv and zone out a bit. So when you get home at 11:30 and still need time to zone, it gets late fast.

I'm also working a little part time job on the side now. It would be embarrassing if it wasn't so much fun. Even though it's only 1-2 nights a week, it makes my weeks feel even more full. Now every night of the week has an assignment. One night for the gym, one for the pt job, one for date night, one working at my ft job and the weekends are more variable. It's increasingly challenging to find the balance between work time, time with hubby, time with friends and family and time just for me. Add the basics like cleaning, grocery shopping and laundry to the mix. Now sprinkle in some much needed exercise and trying to attend church services. And, of course, keeping up with all the reality tv shows I need to stay grounded. And occasionally reading. Or writing this blog.

Now with all of this, when life throws a legit curve ball and offers up something into the universe that genuinely warrants my stress levels increasing, it's kind of like walking through a white carpeted room with a glass of tropical punch Kool Aid at a fast clip.

So, I guess a vacant day is warranted. And I assume you will understand why the blog doesn't always get the love it deserves. Or why sometimes I stray from my topics of focus. Or why this post has almost no complete sentences. I am not thinking in complete sentences today. Cheers to the weekend!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Etsy Mania and a Collage Wall

I love Etsy. I am frequently shocked that more people don't know about it when I mention it. Basically, it's a website that is filled with individual "stores" but all the items are hand made crafts. There is a huge variety available and the range of talent out there is astounding! This would be a great place to both plug a friend and give an example: One of my friends I have trained for triathlons with creates gorgeous jewelry and sells it on Etsy at
In the throws of one of my Etsy binges, I decided to take a cue from my favorite home design blog, Young House Love, and assemble a collage wall.
As you can see, on my wall I included some prints and other items from Etsy, featured below, as well as some funky patterns in the same color scheme to frame personal pictures. There's a shout out to each of the cats up there because if other people can put baby pictures of their kids on a wall, why can't I put baby pictures of my cats up? I also found a picture from one of my favorite performers, Michael Franti, on facebook and ordered through Kodak Gallery. One of my favorite additions is a set of mini silver frames that has pictures of my hubby as a kid, representing different holidays: him in a pumpkin patch, him in a pilgrim hat, him dressed as a wise man=precious! And finally, I tossed in a few couple shots, one printed in black and white and one in color. Combined, this wall feels both personal and artistic in a fun presentation.

See the Sassy Side Table hanging out in the corner?????? For my collage wall, I stuck with a mostly black and white or silver frame theme. Because the accent color in the room is such a bright color, turquoise, I didn't want to overwhelm the wall with too much color, too. You see splashes of the accent color along with the patterned black and white frames. However, collage walls are a great way to infuse color into an otherwise neutral room, too. Just choose photos, cd jackets, fabric, and other items that have big pops of color to liven things up.

This print comes from I love this quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, a New Englander who, in my mind, was thinking of my favorite beachy spots in Maine when he came up with this gem.

This clock hails from The shop owner uses plates to create clocks and a lot of funky colors and patterns.

I actually snagged this at a flea market in Vermont a few years ago for $5. People don't think of it often but most couples portrayed whether in art or even on greeting cards are the same race. Being married to someone with a different skin tone makes it hard to find visual representations of our coupledom. I liked this piece of art because the couple are racially ambiguous; I mean neither of us are yellow and orange so it all works out!

Finally, this piece is actually another $5 find. I got this at the Christmas Tree Shoppe and it's a wood canvas. The room has a sub theme of birds and trees or birds IN trees so this fell in line with that.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

To Cruise or Not to Cruise?

I read a number of other blogs and often stumble on things other people have written that, instead of putting my own spin on it, I feel compelled to share with my blog in their original form. I have shied away from doing this much in the past but because I can't really say why, I am going to begin passing along the gems that either I really relate to or ones that make me think differently.

Today I read a blog by George Hobica, founder of
In it, he talks about the benefits of cruising. I have cruised four times, including my most recent trip from Boston to Bermuda. While cruising is not for everyone, I think there are a lot of misconceptions out there about cruising and more people might try it if they understood more. Last night I met with some women from church who were asking my mother, a first time cruiser, about her experience and was surprised that it wasn't widely known what a great value cruising is; you can often find fares under $500 for a week, which includes food, lodging, and entertainment. Many people fear the motion of the boat but I assure you that you are rarely aware of any rocking. Finally, this article makes a good distinction: the cruise industry has created some specialization so you can choose the cruise line that suites your personality or interests in a more predictable way than you can select just-the-right airline for you or just-the-right hotel for you.

Check out  this post. Have you ever cruised? Would you consider it? What holds you back?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A day in Times Square

Rockefeller Center skating rink
Times Square

Sing with me now, "On Broadway....."

While Boston is only a few hours away from NYC, getting there and especially parking there can feel overwhelming to me so I must admit that I am not as familiar with my neighboring metropolis as I should be. The nice thing about it's proximity, though, is that bus trips abound! For my mother's birthday, I bought us tickets to join a bus trip leaving from a local school that was part of their continuing education offerings. Along with the transportation, there was a guide on the bus who specialized in Broadway shows and told us what was showing, what the shows were about, what people were saying about them, and how to score cheap tickets. When the bus unloads, you hurry to the ticket booth in the middle of Times Square and get discounted tickets for whatever shows still have seats. We went and saw an amazing production of Mary Poppins in a gorgeous theater.

I had to take a picture of this lady because she was just too much. Check out her outfit.

Admittedly, I still miss Michael Jackson pretty much every day and am a sucker for people who honor him. This guy was a great simulation of the Thriller days.

That's the ball that drops on New Year's Eve. It changes colors every few seconds.

Even if you don't buy tickets for Madame Toussard's (how do you spell that anyway??) wax museum, you can pose with a few of the figures that are in the lobby. Do you think The Rock is really that much bigger than me????

It's pretty awesome that even the streets in New York City are famous.

Monday, October 17, 2011

What's more domestic than making apple pie?

Nothing says "I'm domestic" more than preparing apple pie from scratch. It conjures up every image of a 50's house wife wearing an apron with perfectly curled hair in a suburban subdivision that I can think of. In reality, I would run away from fitting into such an image and have a severe lack of domestic intuition but I'm trying to become more "at home" in the kitchen and when I have a success, I am quite proud of myself.
Lucky for me, a woman from church volunteered to be my apple-pie-making-coach. She is an expert in my book, having grown up with a fruit farming father and a pie making mother, so I really couldn't ask for a more ideal leader. I had never even cored an apple so my coach truly had her work cut out for her!
The pictures ended up out of order but I will walk you through it......
STEP 7: Bake. We made a second pie more of the Dutch Apple persuasion for Hubby's enjoyment. I took it home, tossed it in the oven for about an hour and we both had a late night apple delight before the first episode of the new season of The Walking Dead. Amazing show, and, if I do say so myself, AMAZING PIE!!!!! Hubby really liked it and he's picky so I was extra proud. And I thought it was pretty scrumptious, too. Or maybe I could just taste all the heart I put into it:)

STEP 5: Sugar and butter!!!

STEP 4: Pie crust rolled out and placed in pie tin, apples and crust meet for the first time.I was ridiculously awful at using the rolling pin on the crust. I did, however, use my rolling pin like a foam roller on my hamstrings on Friday night and it was really helpful:)

STEP 3: Cut your apples. Again, having never even cored an apple, I felt a bit arthritic at the end of peeling about four of them. Thank goodness for the help or I might have thrown in the towel at this point.

STEP 1: Wash your apples

STEP 2: Dough. We used a "miracle dough" recipe that included vinegar and I was told this was extra hearty and forgiving. Putting the Crisco in was pretty revolting but 1 3/4 cups spread over 5 pie crusts eases the pain a little, I guess.

STEP 6: Pie crust on top, fluting on edges (tougher than it looks) and knife hole decor on top and viola!! I actually bagged this one to stick in the freezer. How much apple pie can a family of two really consume at once?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011 shall hear my wrath

I feel a little bad being so negative but, as a consumer, I care about other people's experiences with services and, therefore, feel like I have to share my experience with
In the Spring of 2009, I used their services to book a single night in the DC area. We went to visit some friends who were house sitting for family there and stayed with them for a few days. The final night, we needed a hotel so we could be closer to the airport and catch our flight. Long story short, when we got to the hotel, they didn't have our reservation. After a long day of train rides and frustration to get there, the last thing I was in the mood for was 2 hours in a hotel lobby. I had to spend a long time on the phone with multiple customer service reps to get things cleared up. They offered me a measly peace offering but it was just not enough to balance the trouble they had caused. I was able to talk them up to something that felt like a better reimbursement.
They sent me out a voucher for "hotel bucks" for a future stay. I didn't realize it had an expiration date but, luckily, I found it before it expired. I called customer service and asked if they could extend it or apply it toward a hotel I was booking the following month. At that time, I received some excellent customer service by a woman named Fatima. If she is out there or if anyone else linked with reads this and somehow in the very large company knows this employee, I want her/them to know that she is exceptional, in the true sense of the word; she is an exception to the rest of the experience I have had with the company. She made the phone call and the process easy and a pleasant experience.
The new voucher was set to arrive within 4-5 weeks. Fast forward 3 months and my patience has run out. So I called to see what the hold up was all about. The first woman I spoke to was at least capable. She understood my dilemma and was communicating with the appropriate department on my behalf. She put me on hold and I waited. And waited. And then, after 15 minutes or so invested in this process, the phone disconnected me! They had my number, as I had just reiterated it to them, so they could have called me back but they didn't. I called them back and got a new customer service rep. Thank goodness I don't know her name or I would publicly rally for her to never be employed working with people again. She could not grasp what I was explaining AT ALL. She kept referring to my reservation number, even though I kept telling her it wasn't about a reservation and that I had a "case id number" instead. She referenced my most recent hotel booking with them even though I made it clear this had zero to do with that. Finally, at my wit's end, I asked if I could just speak with a manager so I could get this resolved once and for all. She was not very pleased about that but grudgingly put me on hold. For 23 minutes of silence. Literally 23 minutes. Who knows how much longer it might have gone on because after 23 minutes, I had another commitment I had to attend to. The whole process took nearly an hour and I still have no resolution. Actually, I have to call again today!
It's extremely unjust and poor service if the olive branch they extended I fought for to make up for mistake #1 turns into mistake #2 and when I call to remedy that, results in mistakes #3 and #4! No one should have to spend this kind of time fixing someone else's problem (and I fix problems for a living!).
Oh, and in the midst of all this it became clear that the hotel bucks, should they ever be figured out, actually won't cover the hotel stay I booked through them explicitly to use them up. There's some distinction about prepaid rooms. Point being, I am going to have to use them again to redeem the reimbursement they owe me.
This is ludicrous in my book. I have had positive experiences with Travelocity and will keep my business there and, while I don't recommend any particular travel assistance site for you, I do caution you that if you have a problem with, it will be a headache to get it resolved. Good luck and good day.

Iceland: Off the Beaten Path

We had the unique opportunity while in Iceland to actually connect with a friend of a friend who lives there. Overall, my experience was that the people of Iceland were extremely welcoming and glad to have you visit their stunning country. This guy, though, went above and beyond. He visited our hotel before we even arrived and left us a note along with local treats (which we appreciated even more once we realized how much food and drinks cost there!). Then, he offered to pick us up on our final day in the city and drive us to the airport, stopping to show us some less seen sights along the way. It was so gracious but also an amazing opportunity to see the Iceland that the tours don't show you: the raw natural landscape, hidden gems and daily life of it's citizens unfolding.

There are geysers or hot spring activity spots along the more touristy routes, as well, but it's very cool that they are actually everywhere! These pictures are just from a spot along the side of the road in the middle of nowhere.

Outdoor swimming is actually one of the most popular recreational activities in this cold spot. Pretty much every community has a local pool that is fed with the geothermal, naturally heated waters. Going to these spots is an absolute MUST DO on your trip to Iceland. They are shockingly cheap to access, as well. I liked this one because of it's elaborate slide, of course.

I thought it was adorable that our guide brought us to this beach; it is a hotspot for them because it is their only white sand beach! While this is the norm for most of us, black volcanic sand is the norm for them so this is a rare beauty that he wanted to show off.

Monday, October 10, 2011

the best souvenir? traveling with a friend and liking her more at the end

I am really lucky because I have a lot of longtime friends who still live close to me. I am also very lucky that my husband is so flexible about me traveling with friends. One more area of luck? I have a full handful of friends that I have traveled with in the past and come back liking them even more!

There are plenty of articles out there about choosing your traveling companions wisely and I could not agree more. On one of  my recent trips, tension mounted consistently with one member of the travel posse and things literally came to blows. The rest of felt like we had to keep her safe as she drank a lot and wandered off on her own. That's not the kind of environment you ask for time off from work for! I have also had the experience of going away with someone and needing a good amount of space from them thereafter. Let's face it: some friends are great to meet for dinner but you couldn't spend a week with them.

Nothing brings out your friends flaws and annoying habits quicker than a week in confined quarters. Or, frankly, your own flaws and habits that other people have to deal with. Traveling helps you to learn about yourself but you also have to have some degree of insight about yourself before traveling with others. With one of my friends, we had a pre-travel meeting and talked about our fears of being together in a foreign country for two weeks. It helped us open the lines of communication to make a plan for how we would deal with certain situations if they came up. Most of the fears never came to fruition but it was a helpful and rather enlightening conversation, which I would recommend to others who are planning to head off on a journey together.

Despite the bad experiences, I have had  many more positive ones. That was actually the point of this post! One of the girls I went to Spain with has been my friend since nursery school (amazing, right?). We haven't always been priorities in one anothers lives but we have been connected for that long and as life has evolved, we have grown closer and closer. Prior to Spain, we had only done a brief road trip and weekends away together so there was a lot to be determined during two weeks far away from home and unable to escape one another. It ended up being a great experience that only strengthened our friendship. We already have tickets to Costa Rica for November together! And we email almost daily (and while that isn't much different than before we traveled together, it's a huge testament to our appreciation for one another afterwards!).

So don't worry if you will run out of things to talk about; you won't. While all of the bad traits are amplified, so are all of the great traits. I think traveling with your friends is one of the healthiest, most fun things you can do for yourself and all of your relationships. Bon Voyage!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Beautiful Bermuda

This is Jobsom's Cove. If you go to Bermuda and want to go to the southern beaches, famous for their pink sand, I highly recommend this spot. The rest of the beaches had crazy waves and super strong undertow; I was running for my life, clutching my bathing suit bottoms, more than once at Horseshoe Bay, the most popular beach in that region. Jobsom's Cove, however, has this cropping of rocks that create a calm swimming hole. (It's easily accessible by public bus, too, although you should hold on tight if you ride the bus. And don't expect friendly service)

Many of the beaches felt like a scene out of the opening of Grease, where Sandy and Danny were on the beach frolicking.

This was our ship, the Norwegian Dawn. I will have a whole separate post about my thoughts comparing and contrasting NCL to Carnival but the sneak peak morale of the story is that one is clearly superior to the other. I think you might be surprised by the answer...

What would a post about a cruise be without showcasing one of the towel animals the cabin steward leaves while you eat dinner? Cruises boast lots of perks and cheesy additives but towels folded into shapes and given eyes are a topic of conversation every time!

This guy is rocking the Bermuda look: All the guys wear their Bermuda shorts with hiked up socks. I don't get it. Doesn't that negate the purpose of the shorts??

I love the colorful architecture, although this shot is from Hamilton, the capitol city. I have to say that I was not wowed by this city. If I had to do it again, I would skip Hamilton altogether and instead head to the more historic St. George and/or the Crystal Caves.

I took a whole series of photographs of the sun setting. This is the last one where the sun is still visible. It's really overwhelming in the most positive sense of the word, to be on the vast open water and see nature at it's finest.

Home Sweet Home!

The sign from landing in Boston was going to be the last photo but I thought I should personalize this one. This is officially the first photo of myself on this blog. This is me and my mom, on her first trip out of the country. It kind of felt like roles were reversed as I was so happy to see her joy at experiencing everything for the first time. Our group of 8 all agreed that no one on the ship had a better time than my mother:)