July Round-up

I absolutely cannot believe today is July 31st! I started my blog at the beginning of the month, and I figured like just about everything else I start, I’d grow tired of it. As the month has gone on I’ve grown even more addicted to it though. I love finding new blogs, I love thinking about how my blog can grown all on it’s own. In my first month on wordpress I’ve gotten 32 comments, 43 followers, and 360 views. I’ve also written sixteen posts, SIXTEEN. I am beyond proud of my commitment to this blog. It’s not about the views or the followers but there is just something nice about knowing people are reading the things you have to say.

As a way of letting people know what I’ve been up to who maybe haven’t gone back and checked out my other posts, and as a way in the future for people to easily check out summaries of past blog posts, I am doing a monthly round-up. I’ll categorize everything for you and link it to the original post, that way if you’re interested, you’ll be able to check them out!

Oh, and before we get to that. I wouldn’t be true to myself if I didn’t share this tid-bit with all of my readers. July 31st, next to December 31st, is my favorite 31st of the year. Want to know why? Today is Harry Potter’s Birthday!! ūüôā Enjoy the round-up below, and let me know what you think of “The Coffee Darling” in a comment to this post.

Beauty
Essie’s Cute As A Button

Book Reviews
Garden of Stones: A Book Review
The Art Forger: A Book Review
The Expats, by Chris Pavone: A Book Review

Daily or Weekly Challenges
Facebook: My Love Affair with The Beast
Sugar Spice and Everything Nice
Back to School
Weekly Photo Challenge: Masterpiece

Life
The Coffee Darling
Mornings
The Great Tootsie Pop Mystery
I’m on Bloglovin’
20 Something Rut
I’m on Vacation

Recipes
Easy Stuffed Shells
Adventures in Jam Making

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Adventures in Jam Making

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This past weekend a friend and I set out to make jam. It was such a fun process that I thought I’d share. We ended up making 24 total; 9 peach and 15 raspberry- we did two batches of the raspberry.

The process is pretty simple. For the peaches you peel and finely chop them until you have 4 cups. I can’t remember exactly how many peaches this took- maybe 10. For the raspberry jam you just use a potato masher to “mash” them until you have four cups- it will take around 30oz of raspberries. If you are making the peach jam, you will need to add a quarter cup lemon juice at this point and mix it in so that the jam doesn’t turn brown. This step isn’t necessary for the raspberry.

Once your fruit is ready, you combine it with the correct amount of sugar per your recipe. For the peach we needed 7 1/2 cups and for the raspberry we needed 6 1/2 cups. (Don’t short yourself on the sugar!)

Now go ahead and put the sugar and fruit mixture on the stove and bring it to a rolling boil (this might take a while- I recommend having a friend to chat with!) Make sure to stir it constantly to make sure nothing burns. Once you reach a rolling boil, add 1 packet pectin, this is what allows the jam to “thicken” or “set”. Bring the mixture back to a rolling boil and let it cook one more minute.

At this point you will transfer your jam to your 8oz mason jars, I would use a funnel. Make sure you fill them very close to the rim (about 1/8th inch should remain). Before you put the lids on clean the rim of all residue. Take a lid out of hot water (I should have mentioned that you will need to keep your lids in hot water) and put it on top of your jar, and then screw on the metal ring,

Once your jars are filled, turn them up side down for 5 minutes (we did 7 to be sure)- this is what will seal the jars. After 5 minutes flip the jars back over and do not touch them until they have cooled a bit. After about half an hour or forty five minutes press the center of the jar lid- they should only pop once (if at all) and you shouldn’t be able click the lid repeatedly. If you can they didn’t seal- if that’s the case, you can either seal them another way (there are big pots and pressure cooker methods, but I am not versed in those) or freeze them.

This is just the process we used- you can use pretty much any fruit, just look up the specific recipe. Methods vary a bit, especially when it comes to sealing, but I thought it would be a fun idea for anyone looking for a fun way to spend an afternoon with a girlfriend or their mom.

Thanks for reading!

The Expats, by Chris Pavone: A Book Review

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I apologize that this is the 2nd book review in a week. I can tell you going forward you probably won’t see two grouped so close together. However, last week we were on vacation and so I was able to start and finish two books.

The Expats is Chris Pavone’s debut novel. The story is told from Kate Moore’s perspective. The story starts out with Kate and her husband Dexter in the kitchen. They live in Washington, D.C. and are what I refer to as the “working poor”. Dexter tells Kate that he has been offered the job opportunity of a life-time, but they are going to need to move to Luxembourg. Kate who is ready to step away from her current job, which is kept under wraps until considerably later in the story, says Okay. With that Kate and Dexter pack up all of their DC belongings, and their two children, to move across the Ocean to Europe.

When they get to Europe Kate realizes that her husband’s job is entailing more work than he lead her to believe and she ends up befriending another Expat wife, Julia. As Kate and Julia begin to become friends Kate notices some odd behavior from Julia and eventually comes to learn that Julia is actually an undercover agent for the FBI. More than that, they are after her husband! I won’t reveal more of the plot than that. That should be enough to let you know whether you want to read it or not.

When I first finished this book I gave it a four star review on Goodreads. After I sat with it a bit more, I decided that this is definitely a three star novel (which is actually about what is ranking on Amazon and Goodreads). I liked that the plot was something original. I don’t read very many spy novels, so this was a new concept to me. I liked the general story line. I found the characters relatable, and human feeling (not like some contrived person). However, I didn’t like how Pavone paced the story. The story alternates from telling a story of Kate’s past (five or so years previous to the story’s beginning), to the “present day”, and about 18 months into the “future”. By the end of the book the “present day” and “future” have aligned. Either way, I wasn’t a big fan of that structure. I also didn’t always appreciate the detail that Pavone wrote into the story. I felt like sometimes his plot was overly complex, edging on confusing. At other times though, it felt like he didn’t feel like “really” explaining how something happened, so he just glazed over it completely.

Overall I think this book was written very well. The author used appropriate vocabulary (some times I get upset when authors never use ‘big’ or ‘unique’ words). I think the overall story line was unique, and I liked the story overall. I just think maybe the book could have used another round of editing. Or maybe, more than that, the book should have been sent out to a test audience for their feedback. Reading some of the other reviews I get the feeling that the same things are bothering everyone, so if Pavone had used a test audience he may have been able to adjust the story to appeal to the audience more.

What are your thoughts? Are you interested in this book? Have you already ready it? Do you have any other spy novel recommendations? I would love to hear them!

Back to School

I have always loved back to school. I was never the child who stamped their feet and screamed at the prospect of returning to those brick buildings and green lawns. I loved every August when my mom would take us to Target or Walmart and we would load up on binders, notebook paper, hi-lighters, new pencils and pens. I would always come home from the store and sit in front of the TV and organize my back-pack for that first day of school.

I’ll admit it, I’m a romatic. I love the smell of new school supplies, the prospect of new friends and new memories, and learning. I genuinely love learning. I love campuses. I love the brick buildings, manicured lawns, the beautiful towers, the people, the community, the sense of comradery among people who are all working towards something.

Today’s Daily Promp asked if you could go back to school to learn one thing, what would it be? My answer, everything. There are so many different things i’d love to learn about. There are so many interesting careers that I could love doing.

History– History classes have always been one class that I could sit through and find myself writing down every word out of the teachers mouth. I love learning about the times gone by. The lives of ancient kings, the scandals of the monarchs. I would love to have the knowledge to work in a museum or be able to retell the fascinating stories to a new generation.

Writing– I’ll admit, writing is in some ways, a raw talent. It can be crafted, but at the core some people are “born writers” and others are not. I’d love to learn the art of journalism, and find myself ensconsed in a quiet corner of a cafe working on some article for the Washington Post or the New York Times.

Editing– I love books. I love that feeling you get when you can go to a book-store on a rainy afternoon or cool autumn evening and find yourself lost in the shelves for hours. One of the best problems in the world is when you have to ask yourself, “Which one of these great stories is coming home with me?” While it is the author with the true talent, a good editor can make or break a book. I want to be the person who looks through hundreds of books, taking a diamond, and polishing it until it shines.

Psychology– Technically this one is cheating, I took several psychology classes when I was an undergraduate. I was a psychology minor for a few semesters, but when I switched to the business track I left my minor unfinished. Something I find myself wondering often is, why is someone acting the way they are? Sure, they might be acting badly, but why? I always like to try and figure out what it is that makes someone act that way. I find that once you’ve been able to pin-point that, you can forgive them for their unpleasent behaviors, and learn how to work better with them. I’d love to learn more about psychology, so I can figure it out more, and share the knowledge with others. I think if more people understood why some people act the way they do, a great portion of societies ‘dramas’ could be avoided.

Politics– I’ll admit, I tend to be politically apethetic. Not because I don’t care, but because a lot of it seems like petty arguments. Sometimes when I see politicians on TV all I can think of are two kids sitting in the backseat arguing, while Mom is up front screaming ,”Don’t make me come back there!” That being said, I’d love to know more. I’d love to know how my government works, and how it works in comparison to other countries. Where do we fit in, in the big picture.

I know there are more things I’d love to learn about, but for now I’m going to wrap this up. What would you go back to school for? Check out the original post here.

Sugar, Spice, and Everything Nice

This weeks writing challenge is to write a recipe for yourself.  Check it out here for more of an explanation. Just a warning, this recipe is not for the faint of heart.

What You’ll Need

Foundation
-1 Cup Silliness
-1/2 Cup Pink Flower (yes, flower)
-2 Puppy Dog Snuggles (preferably 1 boy, 1 girl)
-1 Freshly Lit Candle
-1 Fuzzy Blanket (may substitute 2 pillows)
-3 Sugar Cookies
Seasonings
-2 heaping tablespoons Crazy
-3 fluid ounces Sadness & Remorse
-2 shakes Blissful Ignorance
-1 teaspoon Judgement
-1/2 teaspoon Cheerfulness (to sweeten)
-4 cups pink glitter
-An iPad with Netflix streaming capability

To Prepare:

While it has never been¬†proven to effect the outcome of the recipe, it is highly recommended that the first step in preparing this recipe is to set up the iPad and immediately begin streaming “How I Met Your Mother” or “Scrubs” reruns- it soothes the ingredients.

In large pink mixing bowl combine the 1 cup silliness, 1/2 cup pink flower, 2 puppy dog snuggles, 1 freshly lit candle, and 3 sugar cookies. Immediately make your decision about whether you will be using 1 fuzzy blanket or 2 pillows. This is important, if you need to substitute 2 pillows for the fuzzy blanket, begin reassuring the ingredients that everything will be okay. If the ingredients are not properly warned and consoled about the substitution the entire recipe will fall to pieces. Once the other ingredients are prepared, add either the fuzzy blanket or the two pillows (although it is highly recommended you stick to the fuzzy blanket).

In a separate bowl dump in the two heaping tablespoons of Crazy, which should be immediately followed by the Sadness and Remorse. Make sure to really mix these ingredients together so that they are evenly distributed throughout the whole recipe. Once mixed, add in the Blissful Ignorance and Judgement. At this point you should taste for flavor. You’ll likely find this too sour, in which case, add in the Cheerfulness to sweeten it up.

Begin to fold the seasonings into the foundational ingredients. Work slowly, you want to make sure that every bite will have a little bit of everything. Once everything has been combined top with the 4 cups pink glitter. You may find it’s still not quite enough, so just add more, there really can’t ever be too much.

To serve

This dish is best served on a silver platter, with a grande (not tall, not venti, and certainly not treinta) coffee from Starbucks. Enjoy with your favorite book!

The Art Forger: A Book Review

ImageLately I’ve been trying to expand my horizons. I’ve been trying to get out of my normal routine of reading. The last book review I did was Garden of Stones, which also is outside by box, so it might be hard to believe but i’m traditionally a chick lit type of gal. Anyway, I really enjoyed this book. On my way home from yoga tonight I found myself thinking about it again, in preparation for this review, and there is honestly nothing I would have changed about the story.

The Art Forger, written by BA Shapiro, is written about the 1990 robbery of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, in which 13 works of Art worth more than $500 million dollars were stolen. This part of the story is true. The robbery was a real FBI investigation and to this day remains unsolved.

When the story starts we meet the main character Claire. She is an artist in her late 20’s who lives in Boston, black marked because of a past transgression. Claire makes her living by reproducing (copying) art work of the already famous. These pieces are sold on a fictional “reproduction.com” as very high quality copies. When she isn’t working on the art work for “Repro” she is crafting her own.

One day a ghost from the past, Aiden Markel, comes to Claire, and asks if she is willing to, “make a deal with the Devil.” Aiden asks Claire to forge a Degas painting that was stolen during the unsolved 1990 heist at the Elizabeth Stewart Gardner museum. In payment for her work she will receive a large sum of money and the opportunity of a life-time. An opportunity to finally be viewed on the world market as an actual artist.¬†As Claire works to create the forgery, curiosity lingers in her mind about whether the painting in front of her is in fact an original at all. Is she copying a copy? As Claire looks into the past she discovers that perhaps things aren’t as cut and dry as she once assumed.

The story is written to tell two stories. One of the present, in which Claire is working on the Degas forgery, and one in the past, explaining how she ended up where she is at the beginning of the story. The author does a great job at slowly allowing the reader to gain new information, never revealing so much that you might start to ‘figure things out’ too soon. This story was so compelling, and I found myself quickly flipping through the pages dying to find out how it all ended.

I highly recommend this book. At first when I found it in the book store, I thought it was a one off- a random book that no one had noticed before. However, I have spotted this book on a few lists as a ‘must read’ this summer. Beat your friends to this book, be the first to read it. It is great and easy read that will have you dying to find out more. I would definitely give this book a five star rating!

Let me know what you think. Have you read this book? Do you think you’ll pick it up? Have you read any books with a similar plot line that you enjoyed? How about a little helpful criticism, how can I improve my book reviews? Is there a structure that might be better?

Vacation

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Taken from the Duck boardwalk on the sound.

I apologize for no new posts this week- I’m in the Outer Banks of North Carolina pretending to relax. (: I read a fantastic book while I was down here, and will hopefully have that review up as soon as we get home. Please leave any post requests in the comments!

Essie’s Cute As A Button

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I used to be a big nail polish collector. When I say I own well over 50 polishes- I am not kidding. I probably own more than 30 from Essie alone!

This past Sunday I decided to pamper myself a bit and give myself a manicure for the first time in a couple months. The color I selected was actually the first color I ever purchased from Essie, and one if the first colors in my collection. It is Essie’s “Cute As A Button.”

I believe originally this shade was limited edition, but I’ve seen in it Walgreens and Target several times over the last few years. If you’re not in a hurry though, and you happen to have an Amazon prime membership- that’s normally the cheapest place to purchase from.

The color is described as persimmon, which I think is very accurate. It really is that pretty shade of pinkish orange. I feel like this color pulls from what’s around it. Sometimes it leans more coral, and other times it leans more pink.

I am not one to discriminate on colors based on season, but this color really screams spring and summer to me. The picture above was taken this morning- FIVE days- after painting my nails. I pay part of the standup of the color on Essie having a great formula- but I think the other part of it is that I used an amazing topcoat- Seche Vite. I know that it is a bit of a controversial polish, but if you do your research and feel comfortable I definitely think the results are great!

What are your favorite polish colors? Do you have a favorite brand? Let me know!

20 Something Rut

I have no idea what to do with myself. I am emotionally, physically, and mentally restless. In 2011 I graduated from college. I finished in four years, with 151 credits. You could say I didn’t exactly “live it up” during my undergraduate years. I started my full time job, where I spend three months of the year working 55+ hour weeks, 2 weeks later.

I passed my state licensing exam (which normally takes people about 18 months to two years) in 11 months, 3 of which I spent working 55+ hours.

I got married to the love of my life two months later.

Approximately 10 days after standing next to me and watching me say I do, I lost my best friend forever. She isn’t physically gone, but some incredibly outlandish events transpired- and now there is no way we could ever really go back to the way things were before.

Here I am today, at the age of 24, with no idea what I want from life. The only friends I actively have are people who I work with. And while I cherish those friendships, most of those people are a few years ahead of me, with families of their own. And there’s always that unspoken filter with friends you work with.

I see girls my age with adorable little infants. I envy them. Before my husband and I can have kids we should go to genetic counseling since I have a genetic condition. A big part of me wants to just heave faith and pray I’ll have a healthy baby. The other part of me is a rule follower to the core and knows I can’t. That added step of having to be tested is making me wait. I know raising a family is hard work, and mentally and emotionally demanding. But I’m also not sure at 24 if I’m ready to hear, there’s a 90% chance my child could inherit my condition.

The cliche advice would be to travel, see the world. Take on wonderful hobbies. Learn who you are. The problem with that advice is I am tired when I finish all my responsibilities of the day. Working, taking the dogs on walks, preparing dinner, and exercising. At the end of the day there are only about 2 hours left to take as my own.

And I’m lonely. I miss having a friend for everything. A friend who could share in my journeys in life. Someone to text or call on the spur of the minute to go to Target. Yes, I do have a husband- but sometimes you just need a girlfriend.

What about you? Are any of you in the 20something rut? Anyone else tired of these lives jam-packed with the things you should be doing? What did you do to get past it.