Big Little Lies: A Book Review

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty is without a doubt one of my favorite books of the summer!  Madeline, Celeste, and Jane are an unlikely trio of friends and who are about to face a considerable turning point in each of their lives.  While battling their own inner demons, they are waging war of another kind on snarky kindergarten moms.

Big Little Lies

It is the first day of kindergarten at the public school in the charming little seaside town of Pirriwee near Sydney, Australia.  Madeline and Celeste have been good friends for quite some time.  When Madeline takes a fall in her fancy new high heels on her way to school, Jane comes to her rescue and becomes Madeline’s personal hero.  When Jane’s son is accused of assaulting another child on the first day of kindergarten, it is Madeline and Celeste who come to her rescue.  The three, despite their many differences become close friends who would do anything to protect their children.

Celeste is a mother of twin boys and is wealthy beyond belief and carrying around a dark secret.  Madeline is a middle-class suburban mom of three who is trying her best to maintain a blended family.  And Jane, who can’t seem to stay in one place for long, is a very young, very shy single mother of an only child who has a secret of her own.

The story leads up to the school’s annual trivia night.  Throughout the book, we are given snippets of investigative interviews which leads us to believe that a major turn of events will take place on trivia night.   When the big night finally arrives, each of these three women discover that the truth can, indeed, set you free.

I loved the friendship that these three ladies shared.  Liane Moriarty develops the most genuine characters that are so incredibly relatable.  I found myself wanting to be friends with these ladies.  If you are looking for a fun book with plenty of plot twists, then Big Little Lies is sure to please!

More great books by Liane Moriarty

Friday Favorites and Foo Fighters Recap: 8/28/2015

Well, this week has flown by!  It has left us all exhausted and in need of a restful weekend!  We are all overly tired because we just took Grace to her first real concert last night.  She’s seen plenty of live musical performances in the past, but nothing could quite prepare her for her first rock concert!  After Grace got off the bus yesterday, we loaded up the family truckster and made our way back to our old stomping grounds to see Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters.

Ready for Foo Fighters

It was a first for all of us.  While Doug and I are well-seasoned Pearl Jammers, we have never seen Foo Fighters live.  It was a great show and Grace said this morning and I quote, “I LOVED IT!”  It was a memorable show given that lead singer Dave Grohl performed from his throne while recovering from a broken leg sustained earlier in the summer at a European concert.  Even without leaving his throne, Grohl commands the stage and brings serious energy to the crowd.

Grohl on his throne

You may be curious to know why seemingly good, upstanding parents would take their nine year old to a Foo Fighters concert.  Since Grace was very little, she has always listened to and enjoyed our music.  Of course, we had our fair share of kids music around, too.  I can recall a time, perhaps not so fondly, when Grace was about 18 months old that we spent listening to a Fisher Price Little People’s version of “If you’re happy and you know it” on repeat whenever we got into the car.  This went on for at least 6 weeks and included a 14 hour round trip car ride to Tennessee and back.  I feel we paid our musical dues as parents a long time ago.

We started listening to Foo Fighters around the time Grace was 4 or 5 and she loved them, even more so than her mommy and daddy’s beloved Pearl Jam.  So when we realized the Foos were making a stop near us, we felt like it was an opportunity that we couldn’t miss.  After all, our favorite bands of our youth aren’t getting any younger (heck, neither are we) and you never know if this could be their last tour.  That’s why Doug and I take every opportunity we can to see Pearl Jam when they are touring within driving distance of us.

So how exactly does one prepare to take their nine year old to a rock concert?  When we initially asked Grace if she wanted to go, we prefaced it with several warnings.  It’s on a school night and you WILL be going to school the next day.  We will be up late and we will NOT be leaving the concert early because we are tired.  And lastly, it WILL be loud.  After lots of questions that we attempted to answer the best we could, she eagerly agreed to go with us.  If she hadn’t wanted to, we likely would have gone without her and asked one of the grandparents to stay the night with her at home.

As a mom, it is my duty to predict and to be prepared for every possible scenario, so I came armed with a purse that resembled a suitcase by the end of the night.  I packed both earplugs AND a noise canceling headset since neither alone seemed to provide enough ear protection.  I packed her rarely used inhaler, just in case it got smokey.  And finally, I smuggled in a snack for my ever hungry child who seems to have a bottomless pit for a stomach.  I know the way to heart and her stomach apparently.

Be prepared!

She wore both the earplugs and headset through the entire show.  Doug and I each donned our own set of earplugs, as well.  You will note her new swag, which resulted in taking off the shirt she was wearing and tossing it into my saddle bag purse. Isn’t she the best?

The best!

I was lucky enough to be able to capture one of the many sweet moments that I saw her share with her daddy during the concert.  Even though it is dark and grainy, you can feel their love for each other and see how much they are enjoying the show.  She stood on her seat for much of the concert and took breaks when she was tired.  I feel lucky to have shared this memory together as a family.  Hopefully, it is an experience that she will remember for a lifetime!

They have my heart

New on the blog this week:

I reviewed two books this weeks.  Code Name Verity is the beautiful and profound story young two friends working for the Woman’s Airforce Auxiliary during WWII.  Indiana author Sarah Layden writes a sad tale of a young twenty-something attempting to crawl her way out of a pit of despair in Trip Through Your Wires.

What I’m reading this week:  

We did a lot of tidying up over the weekend, which left me free to do some reading this week!  I just finished up And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, which was a library ebook that had come up on a hold.  Then I breezed through The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion in about a day.  Now I’m reading one of Grace’s middle reader books The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke.

What’s cooking in the kitchen:

I made up a batch of Grace’s favorite ham salad to pack in lunches this week.  I had never made, nor had Grace ever tried ham salad up until this past spring.  When we were sent home with loads of ham leftover from Easter, I decided to give it a try.  I loosely followed this recipe by Paula Deen.  I use my own homemade mayo and a combo of both dill and sweet pickles that I chop into a relish.  It was a surprise to me that Grace would love it so much, but she is thrilled when I make it for her lunch!  Do your kids like ham salad?  Have they ever tried it?  It seems like such a throwback!  At least there’s no jello involved in this recipe

Links to Love: 

I just watched this beautiful and poignant video from CBC Radio’s Wiretap.  I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me tear up just a little.  WireTap: How to Age Gracefully

Well, I think that’s all for this Friday’s Favorites.  Hope you have a great weekend and I’ll see you back here next week!

Code Name Verity: Book Review

There are times when you go through all the feels with a book.  You may start out confused.  The confusion may go away, but you still are not enjoying yourself at all.  You really want to stop reading, but those 4+ star reviews keep cheering you on.  Then you begin to understand.  You see the book for its true nature.  And then it’s over and you feel like you’ve read something that is both too beautiful and profound to put into words.  But because it’s kinda my job here on this page, I’m going to give it a try with  Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.

Code Name Verity

This is the story of a friendship developed over the course of WWII in Nazi-occupied France.  A plane, piloted by Maddie, makes an emergency crash landing in a vacant field.  But not before her passenger and best friend Julie ejects herself from the plane.  Julie finds herself captured by Nazi interrogators.  Accused of being a spy, her captors torture her into giving a written account  of her life as a military field translator.

The entire first half of the book is pieced together from Julie’s transcripts that she wrote for her captors while under duress.  We get snippets of Maddie as a pilot–her training and a few of the adventures she had.  Of course, much of the story revolves around the two young women’s lives as members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force.

Reading Julie’s rambling transcripts was maddening to me.  Upon reaching the second half of the book, I was delighted to read Maddie’s side of the story.  Yet, I couldn’t understand how both pieces of this story would fit together to form such a highly rated young adult novel.  Yes, you read that correctly.  This is a young adult novel.  It’s one that I could see as assigned reading in a high school history class.  It’s also one that I probably would not have forced myself to finish in high school.  As an adult, however, I’m so glad I chose to finish it.

Code Name Verity is a piece of historical fiction that emphasizes the often untold role that women played in WWII.  It is a complex novel that The New York Times declared, “A fiendishly plotted mind game of a novel, the kind you have to read twice.”  I would agree with this description.  It is a complex plot, especially given that it is geared toward the YA crowd.  Yet, teens and adults alike will treasure the friendship between Julie and Maddie.  It is a tale of spies, mystery, and suspense.  However, it’s overall greater theme is of friendship and the often heartbreaking choices that these women are forced to make to protect each other.  It’s a story of love and vindication.   It’s a triumph of humanity amidst great tragedy.  It’s a beautiful and profound story of two friends unlike any that I have ever read.

More historical fiction for young adults

   

Trip Through Your Wires: A Book Review

Twenty-eight year old Carey Halpern should be in the prime of her life.  Late twenties, single with no children, she should be living it up, right?  However, life isn’t so easy for Carey, who is in between jobs, living with her parents, and struggling to crawl out a pit of despair.  Trip Through Your Wires by Indiana author Sarah Layden takes us on a difficult and mysterious journey through Carey’s past in order to help her come to terms with the murder of someone she loved.

Trip Through Your Wires

Carey Halpern seems like the average college student.  She is home for the summer and hanging out at the mall with her old high school girlfriend when she spots Ben tossing pizzas in the air at a pizza shop in the food court.  Ben is also a college student, spending the summer at home in between semesters at a study abroad program in Guanajuato, Mexico.  Rather than introduce herself, Carey takes a different and much more dramatic approach when she decides to enroll in the same study abroad program.  When Carey arrives in Mexico, she finds herself face to face with Ben, who has no reason to believe that they should know each other.  Carey decides to keep her motives to herself and pursues Ben with such intensity that she loses all sight of her immersive education.

Fast forward several years to a Mexican restaurant in her hometown of Indianapolis.  Carey is at her own parting lunch, as her temporary secretarial position has ended.  While eating, Carey sees a brief news segment that new features details of Ben’s mysterious murder, which took place during their fateful year abroad.  As this new information emerges, Carey is forced to reexamine her past in order to move beyond her dismal presence.

I enjoy reading and supporting local authors.  That is one of the things that attracted me to Trip Through Your Wires while visiting Books N’ Brews in Indianapolis a few months ago.  Also, as a high school student, I visited Mexico for a short time as part of an exchange program.  I looked forward to a chance to revisit my experience, if only through the pages of this book.

In what seems to be a common theme among many leading female characters in today’s popular fiction, I found myself struggling to empathize with Carey.  I wanted so badly for her to wake up and see her situation for what it was–a fabrication of a dream that she attempted to create for herself.  Instead, her situation turned into a nightmare that she allows to swallow several years of her life.  Though it was gripping read, I found myself emotionally detached from the characters.  With nothing more than a thread of hope for Carey to overcome, it was little to cling to in a story with rife with seedy characters.

Books with compelling looks into the past

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman

The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens

Did Tidying Up Change My Life?

In last week’s Friday Favorites, I shared that I was reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo.  I will admit, I did not enjoy this book one bit.  However, I was determined to rid my house of clutter and soldiered on to finish this book.

The life changing magic of tidying up

After a summer of what felt like neglecting my house, I set my mind to putting my living space in order.  You see, as I get older, I find more value in simple things.  I had heard a lot of chatter about this book, so I was intrigued to what all the excitement was about.

I strive for simplicity in my life–to be a no fuss, no muss kinda gal.  About a year ago, I watched a documentary on “tiny houses.”  There are a few television series about tiny houses now, and I always stop to watch when they are on.  I am fascinated by the idea of living with so little.  When you live with so little, you must truly value everything you have.

At this point, you may be wondering why I didn’t enjoy this book.  Honestly, it was nothing against Marie Kondo, her writing style, or the content of the book.  It was the process of decluttering and organizing that made reading this book feel so overwhelming.  I was absolutely dreading it.  Though I often classify myself as a procrastinator, this was a job that I just wanted to get over with as quickly as possible.

I set aside this week to focus on tidying my home, loosely following the principles laid out in Kondo’s book.  Kondo calls her system of decluttering and organizing the KonMarie Method.  To briefly summarize this method, Kondo insists that you surround yourself only with objects that bring you joy.  Clutter and excess can weigh a person down, preventing a them from filling their true purpose in life.  In simple terms, while cleaning, carefully consider each object.  If does not spark immediate joy, then throw it out.  She goes on in detail about the process of discarding items, how to tidy your spaces, and how to store items that you treasure.

Find Joy in the Journey

Kondo is from Japan and mostly describes her interactions with Japanese clients.  There are some cultural differences that can be noted while reading this book.  However, the most interesting difference I found was in Kondo’s own personality.  She encourages readers to speak to their objects, to thank them for their service, and to wish them well in their new life.  She states that each day, when she arrives home after work, she greets her home aloud and then proceeds to talk to each of the objects she puts away for the evening.  While this custom of personifying her objects may seem a bit eccentric, the overall idea is to treat your possessions with a sense of gratitude.  In other words, look upon your items with a grateful heart and acknowledge the purpose they have served in your life.

This was a valuable lesson for me when I was tidying.  I no longer felt the need to keep something that I didn’t use or wear because, according to the KonMarie Method, its purpose has already been served.  The article of clothing that I bought and didn’t wear?  It brought me joy when I purchased it, so it has served its purpose.  That gift from Christmas that I never got around to using?  It brought joy to the giver, so its purpose has been served.  This philosophy freed me of the doubt and guilt that usually nag at me when I contemplate throwing something out.  I’m sending most of my unwanted items to the thrift store, so they will live on to bring someone else joy.

How I tidied my space

Kondo has a very specific set of steps for discarding and tidying, which she recommends following to ensure success and to prevent rebound.  Being stubborn as I am, of course I didn’t follow her step by step approach exactly.  After all, we are all different.  Just as we all have different learning styles, we also have different ways in which we implement what we learn.  Kondo recommends sorting by categories, rather than room.  For example, if you are sorting clothes, you are to gather all of your clothes and put them into one large pile.  That includes coats, hats, and gloves from your entryway closet and off-season clothes stored in a spare room, rather than cleaning each space separately.  I didn’t follow this recommendation.  While I did focus just on clothing, the idea of throwing all of my clothes into one large pile would have been completely overwhelming to me.  Instead, I went drawer by drawer in my dresser, emptying each and sorting them into keep and donate piles.  When all of my drawers were organized, I moved on to my closet.  Again, I focused just on one area of my closet at a time: first jeans, then activewear, blouses, dresses, shoes, sweaters, and finally accessories.  I then moved on to our hall closet and sorted through all of my outwear.  This is the method that I felt would best work for me.

Again, she recommends sorting by category rather than by room.  However, I found that by tackling one room daily, I was able to efficiently plan and carry out my week of tidying.  On Monday, I cleaned my master bedroom and closet.  On Tuesday, I tidied my bathroom and nightstand and sorted through my jewelry.  Wednesday, I cleaned my spare room, which mainly consisted of sorting through a cedar chest full of craft materials and mementos.  Today was dedicated to my kitchen space.  I considered cleaning my kitchen earlier in the week, since that is one my main living spaces.  Realizing that I would probably have food to discard, I thought that waiting until trash day would be a better choice.  I cleaned out my pantry, spice cabinet, fridge and freezer, a buffet, and 2 junk drawers.  As I type, I’m realizing there are a few other areas that I could work on  in my kitchen, but they will still be there tomorrow.  I spent around 2 to 3 hours in each of these spaces.  This gave me time to enjoy my sense of accomplishment, but also allowed me time to run errands and do other chores around the house.

I am thrilled with my progress so far!  I feel like I have accomplished the majority of what I set out to do.  I may talk Doug and Grace into spending a few hours tidying up the basement this weekend.  The garage is another area that I would like to tackle.

What I learned from tidying

  • Find what method works best for you.  Tidying one room at a time worked for me.  You are more likely to stick to a plan if you believe in it.
  • Work at your own pace.  Determine how much you want to accomplish and create a plan to make it happen.  I found tidying to be quite addicting.  You will feel lighter and freer of your possessions.  You will want to continue.
  • Do not buy clothes from an online store or boutique that you cannot return.  Chances are there is a reason that item is still on the clearance rack.  If no one else liked it, you probably won’t either.
  • When considering new purchases, ask yourself if you truly love it.  Will it bring you joy?
  • When purging, take all items to your car immediately.  I did a pretty large purge of clothes earlier in the spring.  I had 5 kitchen sized trashbags full of clothes, shoes, and accessories to get rid of.  They sat on the floor of my closet for probably 6 weeks before Doug finally got tired of climbing over them everyday and took them to Goodwill for me.  If it is in your car, you will be much more likely to make that trip to donate them.
  • Tidying isn’t cleaning.  Tidying is decluttering and organizing.  If you come to my house, I can guarantee you that I have swept and mopped the floors for you.  I will probably have remembered to scrubbed the toilets and clean the counters.  But you will likely still find dust bunnies under my couch and crumbs in my kitchen and I’m okay with that.  I don’t strive for perfection, I strive for sanity.

Did tidying up change my life as Marie Kondo claims?

Well, in the longterm, that has yet to be determined.  But for the time being, I do feel as though my life has been changed.  I was feeling the weight of my unwanted possessions pulling me down.  It has changed the way I view my possessions.  If it isn’t bringing me joy, it is time to part ways.  Poor Doug has been on his best behavior, fearing that if he doesn’t bring me joy that I will kick him to the curb, as well.  There is no chance of that happening.  He and Grace bring me all the joy I could ever need.  I feel as though tidying has freed up that nagging sense of obligation to all of my possessions.  I own them, they no longer own me.

Tidying promotes a sense of contentment with your surroundings and with your life.  I can feel it in my life already.  So, tell me, have you read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing?  Did it change your life?

Call Me Lizzy book review

It’s been far too long since I have written a book review!  I read Call Me Lizzy by Mary T. Wilkinson a few weeks ago while we were in Pittsburgh.  This is a quick middle reader book.  While this book may seem like a short, easy read, it delves deep into matters of bullying, faith, and family.

Call Me Lizzy book review

 

Before I begin, I should note that the author asked me to review this book.  However, all opinions expressed in this review are my own.  Lizzy is a ten year old girl living in Indianapolis in 1966.  At the beginning of the story, Lizzy lives with her mom and her dad.  Her young parents have a tumultuous relationship, fueled by immaturity and alcohol.  Lizzy spends a great deal of time with her paternal grandparents who love her fiercely, despite some of their own eccentricities.  Lizzy tags along with her grandparents to the American Legion, where they spend a great deal of their time playing bingo and socializing.  When her parents decide to divorce, a judge determines that Lizz would be best off living with her grandparents in Tennessee, whom she has never met.

When Lizzy arrives in Tennessee, her world is turned upside down.  She meets her grandparents and very large extended family, all of who are extremely religious.  Lizzy had never been to church in Indiana, and her grandparent’s church is unlike anything she has ever heard of.  The women and girls grow their hair long, wear dresses to their ankles, and heavy black stockings.  Her grandfather is the preacher of their little country church, where weeklong revivals are a yearly tradition.

As different as her new life is on her grandparent’s farm, Lizzy manages to fit in and adapt to her surroundings.  Lizzy enrolls in school and dons her new church’s uniform of long dresses and stockings.  She becomes fast friends with one of her cousins, who is in the same grade as Lizzy at school.  Together they endure the harassment doled out by a local bully.

As the story progresses, Lizzy’s faith is challenged time and again.  Through all of her heartaches, Lizzy comes to realize that with faith and family there is no obstacle too great to overcome.

While the story takes place over the course of just one year, I feel that it qualifies as a coming of age story.  Lizzy experiences so many changes in a short period time that force her to grow and adapt.  When we leave Lizzy at the end of the novel, there is a real sense that she is older and wiser.  Though this book can be enjoyed at any age, I would recommend it for middle readers in grades 5-8.

You may also enjoy:

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Moon Over Manifest

 

Friday Favorites 8/14/15

I’m going to try to keep today’s Friday Favorites short and sweet.  Grace started 4th grade on Wednesday, so we tried to squeeze in every last bit of fun we could on Monday and Tuesday.  With Back to School Night and helping out with the kindergarten parent breakfast, it made for a busy week.  I feel like I’m still playing catch up from vacation.

Green BEAN Delivery saved the day yet again!  I had a bin full of fresh produce and some local meat from the Smoking Goose  delivered right to my front door, helping make lunch packing a little easier.  I don’t order from Green BEAN every week.  In fact, I often cancel my bins because my fridge is too stocked up from grocery runs, but it is always there when I need it.  I started with Green BEAN when we were living in Fishers and have been a customer since shortly after they opened.  I love the convenience of shopping from my computer and believe it or not, I think it probably saves me money, not to mention time.  If I were to go to an actual grocery store, I’d be tempted to pick up things that we don’t need and end up with a good $30 more in my cart.  This is especially true if Grace or Doug are shopping with me.  I’m sure you can relate!

I also made up a quick batch of crispy chicken that we devoured two nights this week.  I originally started out making Nom Nom Paleo’s Cracklin’ Chicken.  It’s a fantastic recipe that turns your chicken into something reminiscent of fried chicken.  It’s so good.  But it didn’t earn the term cracklin’ for nothing.  It sizzles and crackles and splatters oil all over my stove, making clean up kind of a pain.  And if you cook in only one pan, you have to cook it in batches.  She also removes the chicken from the bone, which is not an easy task. Instead, I leave the chicken on the bone.  It kind of makes for a nice handle to just pick it up and eat off your plate.  No fork necessary!

To make the cooking process easier, I drizzle oil all over the bone-in thighs, and generously salt and pepper.  I then pop them into the oven, skin side up, at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.  I finish them off under the broiler for about 5 minutes or until the skin is nice and crispy.  Be sure to keep a close eye on them so they don’t burn!  When they are ready the skin will be golden and crisp.  This method is still delicious, but requires far less babysitting and very little clean up.  This is a recipe that we all love and it really does satisfy a good fried chicken craving!

What I’m reading now

I downloaded and started reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo on my Kindle earlier this week.

the life-changing magic

It’s a short book, but I have to admit that it hasn’t been all that quick of a read for me.  I think it is because I’m finding this method of organization to be so daunting.  It isn’t just a room-by-room solution.  It is a whole house overhaul, that she all but guarantees will forever change your life.  So, I’ve been reading it in snippets here and there because I’m not sure that I’m up for a whole house commitment right now.  I’d really just love to organize my pantry, fridge, freezers, and see to it that my ever-growing donation pile actually makes its way to Goodwill.  I’ll keep you posted on my progress!  I’d love to know if you’ve read this book and implemented the KonMarie method of purging and organizing.  If so, leave me a note in the comments to let me know how it has changed your life!

Thanks for joining me here for Friday Favorites!  I hope you have a great weekend!

 

Three and a half days in Pittsburgh

As I mentioned in last week’s Friday Favorites, we recently took a family trip to Pittsburgh!  Traveling with kids can be challenging, but Grace is now at an age where family trips are starting to feel more like vacations.  Planning a few adventures specifically designed to entertain the kids might earn you at least one or two “less child-oriented” excursions on your trip.  We spent about 3 and 1/2 days in Pittsburgh, and while the majority of our time was spent entertaining Grace, I did manage to sneak in something specifically for me!

Three and a half days in Pittsburgh

We started out at The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.  This was a great little museum and it was of no cost to us!  Because we are members of Science Central here in Fort Wayne, we were able to use our reciprocal ASTC travel passport for free admission to the museum.

The Children's Museum of Pittsburgh

I was immediately smitten with the museum’s Make Shop, which was a fabulous hands-on studio focusing on STEAM activities.  That’s science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics, in case you were wondering.  Grace immediately headed to the circuit table.  She has some snap circuits at home that have been a huge hit, so she was completely drawn to all the different gadgets she could create at this table.  I think Doug had fun helping her, too!  There were other opportunities for sewing, building, and tinkering right there in the Make Shop.  They even have a grown-ups night out every few months.  Unfortunately, I don’t think Doug is willing to make the 5 hour drive there for a date night.

The Children's Museum of Pittsburgh

The Children’s Museum also had a great water play area upstairs.  There was also a large interactive exhibit of optical illusions.  The museum’s Garage Workshopoffered a hands-on approach to making things go.  We were also lucky to find the Eric Carle exhibit, which is currently there for a limited time.  It isn’t a large museum, but it does everything really well, making it a great family destination!

After a great morning at the Children’s Museum, we went to the movies to watch Pixels.  Despite critical reviews, we all really liked this movie.  Doug and I both agreed that it was one of Adam Sandler’s better movies that he has made in recent years.  We also finished up some back to school clothes shopping for Grace at a nearby mall.

The next day, we went swimming at the hotel pool and then were off to visit the Carnegie Science Center.  Again, we used our reciprocal museum membership and paid nothing to visit!  We’ve visited numerous museums and have saved hundreds of dollars on admission this way.  I would encourage you to see if there are any of the 350 participating museums in your area!

The Carnegie Science Center was perhaps not one of our favorite science museums that we have visited, but we had a nice time and there were many hands-on activities to keep us busy for a few hours. I think my favorite part was the railroad and miniature display that depicted historical Pennsylvania and spanned the length of a very large room.  It was the most intricate and detailed train display that I have ever seen!

Carnegie Science Center train exhibit

Grace also had fun bouncing around the Sports Works facility that was also included in our admission.  It is in a separate building that is adjacent to the science center.

After the science museum, we took a tram up Mount Washington to take in the stunning aerial views of Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh from Mount Washington

Worn Out Pages in Pittsburgh

The following morning, we took a long and winding trek through the Appalachian mountains to get to Frank Llloyd Wright’s Falling Water and Kentuck Knob.  This excursion was the “less child-oriented” part of the trip.  It was more of a “bucket list” activity for me.  We toured both houses and explored the grounds.  The views from Kentuck Knob were incredible!  I think it was a unique experience for all of us and I’m really glad we included it in our plans.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Kentuck Knob

Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water

After visiting the Frank Lloyd Wright homes, Doug was happy to drive out of the mountains!  Let’s just say that he’s not a big fan of curves and inclines.  We all survived the drive and headed back towards Pittsburgh.  We stopped for supper at Burgatory, which is a chain of burger restaurants throughout Pennsylvania.  It was probably one of our favorite meals of the trip!  To wrap up our day, we stopped by Dave & Busters after supper for some arcade fun!

On the last morning of our trip, we decided to hit off the National Aviary.   Of course, Pittsburgh has a nice zoo and aquarium, but we opted for something different and I’m glad we did!  As a bird lover, I was fascinated by the National Aviary, but it was also entertaining for the whole family.  The aviary has several exhibits that house many species of birds.  Most of the exhibits are designed to allow guests to get up close and personal with these graceful creatures.  Though we purchased general admission tickets, there were several add on options available for live bird shows and animal encounters.

The National Aviary in Pittsburgh

After leaving the Aviary, we decided to venture over just a few blocks to visit a RoadsideAmerica.com featured attraction before heading out of town.  Since I was inspired to wander Indiana, I was curious to see if we could find any roadside oddities around Pittsburgh.  To my surprise, there were many but we chose to visit the one and only Randyland!  Randyland has been dubbed Pittsburgh’s most colorful landmark and it is a feast for the eyes!

Randyland

Randyland is a public art display created by artist Randy Gilson.  We had the pleasure of speaking with Randy while we visited his bright and eccentric backyard gardens.  Randy explained to us how he transformed vacant lots into blooming gardens and the dilapidated buildings into pieces of art, sparking a neighborhood revival.  If you are fan of art and color, then I believe that Randyland is worth a drive-by at the very least.  If you have a few minutes, park your car and wander around the backyard garden to take in all of the vivid imagery that Randyland has to offer.

With the exception of hitting off a used bookstore, I think we checked off every box on our Pittsburgh t0-do list!  It was a great little family vacation and one that I would recommend if you are within driving distance.

Friday Favorites 8/7/15

It has been a super busy week around here!  We left for Pittsburgh on Friday and spent 4 fun-filled days there.  We got home on my birthday and I spent the next few days catching up on laundry and groceries.

We had a great time in Pittsburgh.  I hope to write up another post about what we did but, in the meantime, here’s a sneak preview…

Pittsburgh

I also read a few books while we were away.  I’ll get around to reviewing them soon!

Books I read on vacation

When Doug and I were on a date in Indianapolis a few weeks ago, we stumbled into Urban Styles Furniture and Gypsy Market.  If you ever get a chance to stop in, I would highly recommend it.  This store has the most unique and eclectic home furnishings.  It is so much fun to stroll through.  While I was there, I saw these awesome book letters and fell in love with them!  At more than $25 apiece, they were a little out of my thrifty budget.  Well, my sweet guy surprised me bought some from Etsy for my birthday!  He had to open his own Etsy account and everything.  He’s the best!  And don’t you just love my book letters?

Book letters

Does anyone else have a garden this year?  I have to admit, I really neglected mine earlier this summer.  With all of the rain, it kind of just got put to the back of my mind, so my herbs and lettuces suffered.  But I am finally getting some cucumbers!  And I might get lucky and get a few zucchinis.

Garden cucumbers

Grace mentioned that she would like to make pickles, so I knew exactly what I was going to do with all of those cucumbers.   She also mentioned that her great-grandma used to make pickles, so I asked my mother-in-law for the recipe.  While I waited for the recipe to come in the mail, I found another quick and easy recipe for microwave bread and butter pickles.  The ingredients are very similar to my husband’s grandma’s recipe.    I didn’t have mustard seed or celery seed, but instead used ground mustard and celery salt.  I also used less than half the sugar, because one cup is a whole lotta sugar for what ended up being just about a pint of pickles.  They were really tasty and again, very simple to make!

Microwave bread and butter pickles

School starts next Wednesday and we have packed our schedule full until then.  And I already have a “to-do” list for myself!  It’s getting pretty long and mainly consists of cleaning.  So, tell me, do you have a list of tasks you want to accomplish once school starts?

 

35 things I learned before I turned 35

Today is my birthday!  I turn 35 today and in honor of this momentous occasion, I would like to share with you 35 things I have learned before today, in no particular order.  A few may seem silly, and a few of these lessons have been learned in times of sadness, but all of them are genuine.

35 thinks I learned before I turned 35

About Friends

1.  Treasure your friendsNo matter how near or far your friends may be, keep them close to your heart.  Meeting up with an old friend feels like a sunny day that warms my soul.

2.  Making new friends is hard:  But it is important to keep trying.

About Love

3.  Love Deeply:  Love your family.  Answer their phone calls and text messages.  Go visit.  Let them know how much they mean to you.  You never know when you will be seeing them for the last time.

4.  Allow yourself to be loved:  Know that you are worthy of love.  Let that love fill you up.

Given to fly

About Self-Care

5. Take care of yourself:  Take a break.  Take time for yourself so you can recharge and be the best version of yourself.

6.  Find your passion:  What do you love?  Find your and make time to embrace it.  Enjoy a hobby or two.  If you can make a career out of it, even better.

7.  Dress in a way that makes you feel good about yourself:  Whether it’s business suits or yoga pants, dress in a way that you most feel comfortable.  When you look in the mirror, you should love the way you look and feel.

8.  Enjoy your alone time without guilt:  Go shopping, go see a movie, or just enjoy reading a book at a coffee shop.  Soak in the peace and quiet and you will find yourself to be a better parent and spouse when you return to your family.

About marriage

9.  Find a common interest with your spouse:  Whether it is music, sports, hiking, or fishing, find an activity that you and your spouse can enjoy together.

10.  Make time for just the two of you:  Find a reliable babysitter or call on the grandparents to watch the kids for the night so you and your spouse can have some time to yourselves.  Even if your date ends in a trip to the grocery store, as ours often does, you will still have each other’s undivided attention if only for a short time.

PJ20

About cooking

11.  Learn to cook:  Anyone can follow a simple recipe.  Have a few go-to meals that are quick and easy that everyone enjoys.

12.  Always set an oven timer:  Sometimes my ego gets the best of me and I think, “Nah, I don’t need to set timer.  I’ll remember.”  The flaming taco shells beg to differ.

About raising children

13.  Talk with your children:  Talk about the tough stuff.  The things that make you feel most uncomfortable are the exact things you should be talking about.  Listen to them.  Have a conversation about values.  If you don’t teach them values, someone else will, whether you like it or not.   Talk to them now so that they know you will be there for them later.

14.  Play with your kids:  As much as it may pain you to sit down and play with dolls or Legos, remember that your children are only young once.  One day you will look back and wish you had played more.

15.  Be silly:  Sometimes silly saves the day.  When times are tough, sometimes all you need is a playful attitude and a good laugh.  And it’s okay to be silly in public, too.

16.  Say you are sorry:  Set a good example for your children and admit when you are wrong.  Tell them you are sorry and that you love them no matter what.

17.  Let your kids dress themselves:  Let them dress in a way that makes them feel good about themselves.  If it inspires self-confidence, then what you think really doesn’t matter.  Tell them they are beautiful.

Let kids dress themselves

About health and wellness

18.  Find a doctor you can trust:  Look for a doctor who has philosophies similar to your own.  Keep looking until you find a doctor that you are willing to put all of your faith into.

19.  Find an activity that nourishes your soul:  Whether it’s running, biking, swimming, yoga, or strength training.  Find your zen.

20.  You are only given one body:  Take care of it.

About life 

21.  Be kind to everyone you meet:  As Atticus Finch said, “You never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.”

22.  Be generous:  Give.  Give of your heart.  Give your time.  Give your money.  Give all that you can.  

23.  Be smart enough to know when you are being taken advantage of:  A kind and generous heart is also one that is easily taken advantage of.  Know that it is okay to say no.

24.  Sing out loud:  Turn up the music and sing your heart out, especially when you are in the car with your spouse and kids.  And especially if the music is really awful.  It’s so much more fun that way.

25.  Dance:  Dance for your children.  It goes back to that being silly thing.  Who cares what you look like when you dance anyway?

26.  Cherish the little things: Be grateful for even the smallest gestures, like a child reaching for your hand for one day they will no longer want to hold your hand.

27.  Let go:  Life is too short for grudges.

28.  It’s okay to quit:  And it’s okay to let your child quit.  If it doesn’t bring you pleasure or joy, then it is time to move on.  It’s okay to close one chapter and begin a new one.

29.  Go against the grain:  Some of the best decisions that I’ve made for myself and my family have been those that go against norms.  Taking a different path does not mean it’s the wrong path, especially when the destination is the same.

30.  See the world:  Even if it just outside your doorway.  Be adventurous.  Travel and see new destinations.  Share these experiences with your spouse and children.

The bean

 

About nature

31.  Appreciate the beauty of the world around you:  Watch the sunset.  Glimpse the gorgeous hues of a sunrise, even if it is just while letting the dog out at the crack of dawn.  Walk barefoot in your yard.  Listen to the birds sing.

32.  Be kind to animals:  Love your pets as family.  Give them special treats and extra love because their time here is short.  Beyond that, appreciate the role that all animals play in this delicate ecosystem.  Take in their grace and beauty, but let them live in nature.

Grace and Sam

About books and reading

33.  Read to your kids:  Read “Otto Goes to the Beach” over and over until your 18 month old can read it by themselves. Do silly voices.  Read “just one more.”  Read all of the books, good or bad.  It is one of the best gifts you can give to your child.

34.  Life is too short for bad books:  Again, it is okay to quit.  Put the book down, walk away, and pick up another.  Just because someone else loved it does not mean that you have to struggle to finish something you don’t enjoy.  

35.  Read what you love:  And don’t let anyone make you feel bad about it.  Romance, young adult, science fiction, or fantasy.  Who cares.  Just read.  

Once you learn to read

This post was inspired by “35 things I’ve learned in 35 years” by one of my favorite bloggers Modern Mrs. Darcy.