Friday Five: Lily’s Birthdays

Every Friday I’ll indulge my order-crazed brain in a list of randomness. Welcome to my Friday Fives.

Whew, what a week! While you guys were reading about trash and books on the blog, I was in Tulsa surprising my niece for her SIXTH birthday and finally meeting my new nephew, Lincoln. Pretty sneaky, huh? It was a whirlwind trip and you know I’ve got pictures to share…but this week became one big catch-up. A blog post is on the ol’ to-do list for tomorrow, though!

I’ve written a few times about Lily, the special little girl who made me an Aunt. I’m pretty obsessed with her and since her birthday falls close to Christmas I’ve never had the chance to attend one of her parties. Since I’ll be writing about Party #6 tomorrow, let’s Bill-n-Ted it to review the last five birthdays…a perfect Friday Five, if you ask me. Time machines at the ready!

Five : Mary Poppins Party

Lily Year 5a

Four : Shark/Aquarium Party

Lily Year 4

Three : Wonder Pets Party

Lily Year 3a

Two : Zoo Party

Lily Year 2

One : Ladybug Party

Lily Year 1

*sniff* They grow up so fast!

 

 

Shelf Life: Winter 2013-14

Surprise! You are not reading a Friday Five today! Remember how I wanted to compile a post every three months detailing the books I had been reading? I figured it deserved its own title. Welcome to My Shelf Life.

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Books are such a huge part of my world. There is not one day that goes by without me reading—sometimes it’s for hours, other times it’s only 10 minutes before I fall asleep. Either way, I wanted my reading habit to have a stronger presence on my blog; I even created a new tab at the top of the page for easy access and a way for me to remember what I’ve been reading and what’s on my to-read list. If you click on the tab, you’ll be able to see everything I read separated into my three-month spans and you can click on any individual post to see what I had to say about each book, if anything.

These last few months have been full of reading. I think I might have set a new record—certainly an improvement compared to my FOUR books of summer. Granted, there was a pretty big move going on, but still. My first Utah winter saw 14 (well, more like 13.6) books pass my bedside table. As the world turned white outside, I sought refuge in these stories—a way to escape when all you want to do is stay in, and stay warm.

Speaking of staying warm, this is what it looks like here most mornings. Foggy, snowy, freezing. The morning “mists” make everything look like pipe cleaners.

Foggy Morning 1

Foggy Morning 2

Brrrrr! Anyway, back to the books! Here are the titles I’ve devoured since October:

14. Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, Jennifer Chiaverini

Like I mentioned in my Fall Reading post, Jennifer Chiaverini wrote a very popular series about quilters in Pennsylvania that I really loved. She’s most recently trying her hand at these larger historical fictions, which is great, but I think she likes showing off how much history she knows rather than focusing on her characters and story line.

13. The Fault in Our Stars, John Green

This book has been all the rage, with good reason. It was the Runner-Up in Entertainment Weekly’s search for The Best YA Novel of All Time and will see its name on the big screen later this year. If you’re not familiar with the plot: Two teenagers fall in love at a Cancer Support Group. It is one of the most touching books I’ve read in a while.

12. Sonoma Rose, Jennifer Chiaverini

Ahh, Jennifer Chiaverini back at her finest. This was one of her Elm Creek Series novels I hadn’t read and I’m so glad I did.

11. Divergent, Veronica Roth

Like Fault, the Divergent Trilogy has received a lot of press—mostly for its comparisons to The Hunger Games series. The waiting list at the library was long and now I know why. This was an awesome story—strong female characters, teenagers in a futuristic world that’s in danger. Yes, it all sounds very Hunger Games-ish, but I genuinely loved it.

10. The Spymistress, Jennifer Chiaverini

Here’s my 0.6 of the count. I rarely ever…EVER…stop reading a book, much less when I’m already two-thirds of the way through it. But this was Jennifer at her worst. The storyline was so slow, the history mumbo jumbo was exhausting. I hemmed and hawed about trying to get through it and finally one night I just slammed it shut, said “life’s too short” to Joe, and went to bed. I don’t regret that decision, despite having only about 100 pages to go.

9. On Writing Well, William Zinsser

The process of writing is fascinating to me (and probably only me) and this was an interesting read on recommended steps, questions to ask yourself, how to have a sharp editing eye. In creating this blog, I wanted an outlet where I could write without thinking or too many revisions, but there are lots of times when Zinsser’s advice will come in handy.

8. The Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

She’s baaaaaack! I’m just going to pretend her Casual Vacancy never happened, because this. was. fabulous. The Harry Potter books had a certain amount of suspense to them, but this was very much an adult thriller. I like never knowing who is good and bad until you reach the end. It was exciting, but I’m happier that I don’t have to swear off Rowling for life.

7. We are Water, Wally Lamb

The Summer of ’98 was an important one for two reasons. First, I met one of my closest BFFs, Jessica, at band camp. Secondly, we both read Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone. It was a defining moment in our shared love of literature and despite the hype, I hadn’t picked up a Wally Lamb novel since. I love his style and highly-developed characters. This novel, told from several points of view, had a few chapters that made me uncomfortable, but for the most part I really enjoyed it.

6. I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced, Nujood Ali

I love receiving reading suggestions from friends and family. I trust you guys to tell me what’s up, to give me the scoop and to not lead me astray. My dad mailed me a few books last month and this was one of them. I hadn’t heard of it, but was curious. Then, one freezing night, I drew a warm bath, grabbed this book….and one hour and some very pruned toes later…I finished it. Such a quick read, but a fascinating tale of a child bride and how she fought her husband, her culture and her past. A highly recommend a side of bubbles with this story.

5. We Were There, Allen Childs

You know I’ve read a lot about the Kennedy assassination, but this one was completely in a league of its own. It’s written by the doctors who were in Parkland Hospital’s ER and Trauma Room 1 on that fateful day. The doctors who called the President’s death and who later attended Lee Harvey Oswald. Some things I found extra interesting: A young Latino couple arrived at the ER shortly after JFK—the woman in labor. Secret Service hijacked their car and used it to transport LBJ back to Air Force One. Never knew that. I also never knew that all of the doctors attending to JFK called his neck wound an exit wound, confirming the conspiracy of a second shooter from that infamous grassy knoll. A lot of medical terminology I didn’t understand, but this was still a great read.

4. Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell

The Malcolm Gladwell bandwagon is a large one and this was my first foray into his non-fiction empire. His stories of success defy most of our thoughts on the subject—that people are not just lucky. That talent and hard work will not always confirm accomplishment. It’s about opportunity and seizing the right ones. His examples include: Bill Gates, Canadian Hockey Teams, Chinese Math Geniuses and The Beatles. At this point in my reading, I started emailing myself quotes to remember, so I’ll leave you with this one: “To build a better world we need to replace the patchwork of lucky breaks and arbitrary advantages that today determine success…with a society that provides opportunities for all. The world could be so much richer that the world we have settled for.”

3. A Devil to Play, Jasper Rees

This book is a must for the horn community and somehow my mom picked up on this before I did! This Rees fellow is a British journalist who played the horn in high school. During a mid-life crisis, he decides he’s going to brush off the attic dust and practice again with a performance at the British Horn Society’s festival concert as a goal. His piece of choice? Mozart’s Third Horn Concerto—music dear to my heart ever since I played it at my Peabody audition. Some of the historical sections reminded me of studying for my orals, but I love the anecdotes from horn players around the world. People we know, people who have taught both me and Joe. It was also nice to be reminded that the horn playing community is one that’s kind and welcoming. And damn funny.

2, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg

You’ll notice that I try to read a good mix of fiction and non-fiction, but this has got to be my most controversial pick in a long time. Ms. Sandberg is the COO of Facebook, she’s worked at Google, she’s worked in DC in high government positions. Girlfriend has gotten around the corporate ladder, which she would love for you to re-think as a jungle gym. I never would classify myself as a feminist, but she claims being one is anyone who wants equality. I found myself enjoying some sections and hating others, even telling Joe at one point that reading her words was starting to fill me with rage. But, there were some truths in it…about women in the workplace and their ability to have their cake (job) and eat it too (family). Truths about how our culture raises daughters v. sons. She questions why women feel pressure to mute their accomplishments. Why we sacrifice being liked for being successful. Here’s a quote I, again, emailed myself: “We all want the same thing (whether we go to work, or we work at home): To feel comfortable with our choices and to feel validated by those around us.” #truth   If you’re a woman, a mom, a daughter, a man, a boss, an employee–I’d still recommend this book. You’ll learn *something,* even if you’re mad doing it.

1. Insurgent, Veronica Roth

And, finally, just under the gun! This is the second book in the Divergent Trilogy and it’s just as good, if not better than, the first. In fact, I reread the last chapter three times Monday night just to make sure I got everything. Pretty intense and I can’t wait to finish out the trilogy soon without waiting for the library, thanks to Bryan and Robbi playing Santa.

As much as I have loved spending these cold months with a book in hand, I don’t plan on reading this much over the next three months. I hope to dedicate most of my time to some other projects and get outside as the world around me thaws. But, you know I’ve always got a list going of books I want to read. Here are a few now in the queue:

Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival – Jennifer Chiaverini (I *will* stop reading if this is a repeat of Spymistress!)
In Defense of Food – Michael Pollan
The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt (a library waiting list nightmare, but I’m patient)
A Feast for Crows – George R. R. Martin
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy (…..I will, I swear)
Allegiant – Veronica Roth
Happier at Home – Gretchen Rubin

# trash

This blog contains both the everything and the nothing in my life. There are days where I’ve written about the people and moments that change me forever. And then there are days like today, where I’m going to write about …. trash.

Specifically, kitchen trash.

I was going to group this into a post about things I’ve learned during my first Utah winter, but it wasn’t fair to this culinary epiphany. It deserves a call to action all its own.

But, first, some background:

1. I’ve always had minimal counter space in my kitchens. In one apartment in particular, no counter space at all!

2. I love to clean as I go when cooking. This is usually because I don’t have a lot of room for messes.

3. When I clean as I go, I’m constantly tipping the top of the trash to discard items, which then requires me to rinse/wash my hands and get back to the cooking. I’m not a total germaphobe, but I’m also not going to touch the trash can and then keep preparing food like nothing happened. And if you do, don’t tell me.

This is where things started to get tricky. Because when the outside temperatures are in the single digits, or lower, each night. And the air inside my house is so dry. It wreaks havoc on my hands. They become desert wastelands with cracks around the nails. I even have lotion next to every sink so I can lock in whatever moisture I can get. But, basically, I needed to stop washing them so much. Can you see my dilemma now?

I don’t know why it took me so long to figure this out, but what I needed was something I have watched Rachael Ray do on her cooking shows for years. …use a trash bowl.  And I had the perfect bowl — one from a hand-me-down Tupperware set my aunt gave me when I went to college. It’s the only bowl left standing from the set and I’ve been holding on for sentimental reasons. (shocker.) When I was little, she would make homemade popcorn for our movie nights and this is the bowl she’d put it in. Yes, it’s a bowl. Yes, I’m crazy. Moving on…

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Now, this puppy sits on my counter for everything I make. All food trash goes in (usually with a paper towel in the bottom for easy removal) with NO trips to the actual trash can. Then, when I’m finished, I take the bowl outside to our big trash and dump it by tugging on the paper towel. And THEN I wash my hands…once, instead of 10+ times. Bonus: No smelly food trash in the house. Ever. Can you hear that chorus of angels?

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This might sound stupid, but it’s changed my life. One of my favorite bloggers even wrote about the importance of a trash bowl in her Baking 101 post. You can even BUY Rachael Ray’s branded trash bowls. Say whaa? Don’t do that. Everyone has a bowl around — one they don’t use, one that perhaps holds sentimental value. Put it to good use! Save the hands! Viva la trash! Try it today.

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And, yes, there is usually chopped garlic and shredded cheese on our cutting boards. Ah, the life of a vegetarian.

Friday Five: Binge TV

Every Friday I’ll indulge my order-crazed brain in a list of randomness. Welcome to my Friday Fives.

Joe and I can be pretty different in terms of hobbies—I like reading, he likes sports. I like cooking/baking, he likes sports. You get the idea. But one thing we absolutely love to do is watch TV together. And, I mean, watch A LOT of TV together.

To binge: a short period devoted to indulging in an activity to excess.

“TV bingeing” is a relatively new term, prompted by Netflix, Hulu, and the availability of TV seasons on DVD. And it’s exactly what it sounds like…watching a lot of one show at once. Gone are the days of wondering what will happen week to week. It’s high-volume consumption and perfectly fits the mantra of our generation and that of Veruca Salt: We want it now.

Minus the screaming and hair pulling.

This behavior is how we got into Lost (catching up on three seasons before ever watching it live) and how we watched all of Arrested Development. It’s a way to unwind and escape. It’s a way to share. It’s just fun for us and usually involves jammies, snacks, blankets and piling on the couch with Bells. Win. Win. Win. Win. Double win.

Binge watching is usually best—and easiest—when a show is completely over. You run the risk of spoilers from the outside world, but it’s nice to know that you can watch all the way through and never worry about when the next season is coming, or having to wait at all to see what happens next. My brother raised an interesting point last night—“Is some of the fun in these shows the waiting, the discussing, the anticipation?” ….maybe. But I guess I’m a little impatient. If you don’t have to, why wait?

Our latest binge adventure has been Breaking Bad. This drama from AMC ended last year and we’ve managed to not hear or read any spoilers. Quite an incredible feat, since it generated so much hype and discussion. Here’s a watered-down version of the plot: A brilliant high-school chemistry teacher, who has a 16-year-old son with cerebral palsy and an oops-we’re-pregnant wife, is diagnosed with lung cancer. In order to provide for the family he’s about to leave behind, he starts to cook meth with a former student. This ain’t no Waltons. … although, his name is Walt. We’re on Season Four (of five) now and enjoy catching an episode here and there during our busy weeks and doing the actually bingeing on the weekends. This show is a lot like Dexter, where you find yourself cheering on, almost championing, a total monster. It puts you in a weird place. But, since I’m from the meth capitol of the country (yeah, Oklahoma!), there’s no place like home.

Here are a few shows on our binge-watching shortlist:

5. NBC Comedies

There are so many shows whose bandwagons I ignored and now regret: 30 Rock, The Office, Parks and Recreation…I’m constantly reminded (mostly by my bro) about how awesome these shows were/are. I’ve only seen one episode of The Office. I watched it at the gym while I was full out running on the treadmill. I started laughing so hard I tripped and fell off. (For those who watch the show: it was the episode where the company Christmas party turned into an intervention.)

4. Seinfeld (Entertainment Weekly’s #3 choice)

I know the characters. I know the jokes. But I don’t know the show. I think I was too young for the Seinfeld craze, but I think I’d appreciate it more now anyway.

3. The Sopranos (EW’s No. 5)

I’ve wanted to watch this show for a very long time, but my interest surged after the sudden death of its star, James Gandolfini, last year. Joe and I…specialize?…in binge watching really heavy dramas, usually with violence. I guess we’re not happy TV people. So, by those standards, this fits our bill perfectly. After serial killers (Dexter) and drug lords (Breaking Bad), the Mafia might just be a welcome respite from the madness.

2. Friday Night Lights (EW’s No. 48)

When the people I love share the books and TV shows they love, I listen. Both my brother and Bobbie have told me this show is amazing. I fully intend to check it out. Small town high-school football in Texas? I understand that culture completely. And any excuse to drool over Connie Britton’s hair for five seasons is a good one.

1. The Wire (EW’s No. 1)

This has long been regarded by critics and…basically anyone in the entertainment industry…as the best show ever on TV. Joe and I have been champin’ at the bit to watch it and—guess what?—Santa, in the form of my sister and bro-in-law, delivered. This is our next bingey adventure, once we finish Breaking Bad. From what I’ve heard, it’s based on a real Baltimore cop, so maybe we’ll be rewarded with a few glimpses of Peabody or other favorite areas from when I was a Bal’mor resident.

Runners-Up: Mad Men (EW’s No. 9), Deadwood, The West Wing, The Shield (seasons 3-7 left), Six Feet Under

# YA madness (bracket challenge)

We are about a week and a half away from my next reading roundup—where you can see what’s been living on my bedside table over the last three months, other than water cups and crumpled kleenex. There are some titles I’m really excited to share with you, but for now I want to talk about YA Lit. “Young Adult” is a misnomer in a way; books labeled as such shouldn’t be feared or judged by adults. This is where some of the best writing is taking place and where many of my favorite novels are categorized. YA is a dominating, defining category where authors are taking great risks, in story lines and in characters. And those risks are being greatly rewarded. Harry Potter? Hunger Games? Divergent? The Fault in Our Stars? All YA-tagged, all adult loved. And box-office loved as well.

Entertainment Weekly, my pop-culture dictionary, recently held a weekly bracket challenge to find The Best Young Adult Novel of All Time. Starting with 64 titles, they slowly whittled it down to one over the course of a month with some helpful online voting. I was sooo on board with this, voting every week but the first. There were some really surprising results for me. Click here to better see the full, completed bracket.

YA Book Full Bracket

Here’s a background note from EW’s book editor on how they set up the challenge:

“Coming up with a roster for the contest wasn’t easy—in fact, the first list I drew up had almost 300 titles on it. Though I oversaw it, literally everyone on the EW edit staff contributed ideas. There are a couple of things to keep in mind about it before you start voting. One, when we’re talking about a series, like Harry Potter, then the series itself is the entry—otherwise the list would get too cluttered with multiple titles from the YA’s most outstanding series. And two, some of these books were not technically written as YA novels, but we’ve included them because their primary audience is YA. In our defense, books like The Catcher in the Rye and To Kill A Mockingbird were written long before the YA designation even existed (though they would have, without a doubt, been published as YA today). A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was published as YA in England, but not here. And so on—you get the drift.” 

I decided to take the blank bracket and complete it myself. Since I missed the first round, my first impression of the full spread was “god, I haven’t read so many of these!” And then my second reaction was a close “what’s up with the West?” (The bottom left part of the bracket normally reserved for the West in the NCAA’s March Madness Bracket Challenge.) Either I’m not as well-read as I originally thought, or someone wanted to stack the deck in Twilight’s favor. I mean, it basically got a very free ride to the Final Four. Lots of other books on the list deserve that spot: Hunger Games and To Kill a Mockingbird, especially. I feel dirty.

On realizing I had read so few in the first round, I had to set up some parameters: I can only vote on those books I’ve actually read (those I haven’t I highlighted in orange) — OR — if a book is a favorite of a fellow book-lover that can vouch for its quality (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) — OR — if I really liked the movie (Hugo, The Perks of Being a Wallflower). Because Books are always > their Movies. With those rules in mind, here’s my complete bracket:

Marci's YA Bracket

There were some painfully hard match-ups. These were the worst:

To Kill a Mockingbird v. Flowers for Algernon – Winner: Flowers for Algernon

Flowers won because it was really one of the first “grown-up” books I read as a child and I have loved it ever since. It showed me a promising future beyond V.C. Andrews, R.L. Stein and Christopher Pike. It felt like my first piece of true literature—and I was hooked. It’s always had a place on my bookshelf.

Divergent Trilogy v. The Fault in Our Stars – Winner: The Fault in Our Stars 

The Divergent Trilogy is innovative, thoughtful and well-written, but I’m not finished with it yet. Fault won because it was powerful, it was touching, it was real, it was beautiful. A must read for sure.

The Book Thief v. The Hunger Games – Winner: The Book Thief

Man, I loved Hunger Games, but it will take an act of nature (see below) to take out be more touching than Book Thief.

Harry Potter Series v. The Book Thief – Winner: Harry Potter

The Book Thief is one of my favorite books of all time, but in the end it came down to sheer volume. Seven wonderful, adventure-filled books that spurred a reading revolution? I love it. J.K. Rowling has had such an incredible impact on pop-culture and YA literature. There’s a reason she’s richer than the queen: These books are pure magic. As much as I loved them on my own, I have loved sharing the enthusiasm with my friends and family more. I give you Exhibit A HP:

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For those interested in The Book Thief, my advice is to please–PLEASE— read it before seeing the recent movie version. The reviews haven’t been great and I know there’s no way anyone could capture the beauty of the story that will play out in your head. My BFF Bobbie read the book first and lent me her copy. As I was sitting on a plane reading a very emotional scene I started to cry and looked down and noticed that wilted spots marked the bottom of the page–evidence of Bobbie’s own tears. It still gives me chills to think about it.

Want to fill out your own bracket? Click here for a blank version and let me know what novel finds its way to the center. Are there books in orange I should really read? Anyone else shocked that the Lord of the Rings Trilogy or the Narnia Series didn’t make the cut? Are those not YA??? Fill me in on your thoughts!

Friday Five: A very veggie anniversary

Six years ago this month I became vegetarian. In some ways it feels like much longer, others like yesterday. “Six years without a hamburger?!?!” Happy Anniversary to Me!

I wasn’t interested in saying sayonara to meat.  It wasn’t a resolution for the new year. It wasn’t even something on my radar. I had been back from China for around eight months at that point and had actually just worked meat BACK into my diet after staying at arm’s length from most while in the clutches of the East. That’s another post…

But then a Christmas joke turned into a very big reality.

That December I was gifted a cookbook because of its funny name—Skinny Bitch in the Kitch. It garnered laughs and we moved on. It wasn’t until I started looking through it for inspiration that I realized it was a follow-up, a recipe-laden sequel to their book Skinny Bitch. I was intrigued, so I found it at my local library and dug in. Not realizing until then that it was a book about the vegan lifestyle.

It documented in gory detail the ways of the slaughterhouse, what caffeine does to your body, the addictive chemicals found in cheese (a chapter I pretty much skimmed…some changes will never happen). It wasn’t written in any sort of academic way. I didn’t feel like I was being preached to by some diet fanatic. It just felt like two girlfriends telling me what was up in—at times—some very crude language. You gotta respect that.

So, I took the bait and gave myself two weeks to try it. I’ve discussed the change briefly before, but it really was big enough of a difference for me to keep going. And now, six years later, here we are. It’s not a diet. It’s not a fad. It’s not because I love animals—though I do and don’t judge anyone for making the change because of it. This is my life now. And I absolutely love it.

I think I was always destined to live this way. I’ve never once liked steak. As a child I was convinced that chicken tasted like shampoo. (Seriously, it’s a thing.) And I tearfully declared most meats to be “gnawy” to me. I hated…HATED…chewing on meat. In fact I spent many nights sitting pouting at the dinner table after everyone had cleared away, my parents insisting I eat a few more bites of meat. I always felt like this scene, roughly around the 2:15 mark to the end:

“That ain’t the last bite.”

I wanted them all to be last bites.

People always ask what I miss, what I crave. So I thought it would be fun to, what else, make a list. If I did go back…if only for a day, without consequence, cramps or caloric overload …here’s what might be on the menu:

5. Seafood

Garlic shrimp, Lobster bisque and Sea Scallops, oh my! Stop it. This is just wrong. My love of seafood finds its origins in a deeper-rooted love of butter. Actually, I think that’s all it is. I don’t ever crave seafood, but I do crave it smothered in garlic and butter. I crave it stewed in butter and cream with tomatoes. I love that you can eat lobster with a side of drawn butter and feel no shame as you dunk away. Maybe it’s a good thing I’m not eating seafood anymore! My arteries are nodding in agreement.

4. Pepperoni or Canadian Bacon Pizza

Don’t get me wrong, I’m fine with a good cheese pizza. Roasted vegetables and feta on a crispy crust? I’m there. But there’s just something really satisfying about a greasy slice of pepperoni pizza. It’s the flavor factor – no vegetable or cheese topping can compare to the salty tang of processed meat. It’s just a fact.

3. Fast Food

The only time I regret being a vegetarian is on road trips. And after recently being on a bus for 17 hours each way to California and driving cross country this summer, I can assure you my stance hasn’t changed. It’s just impossible to eat well on the road. It’s Subway or fries. That’s it. I can’t even tell you the amount of Subway I ate while driving to Utah. Enough to make me never want to go back. But if I were eating meat, I’d hit up Arbys: The only fast food establishment I ever had any type of craving for post-switch. Good thing they have good fries…you know, for when I’m on the road.

2. Bacon

Unlike most vegetarians, I’m not a bacon hater. I was always a big fan of pork’s greatest offering. And sometimes I just miss the salty crunch of it all. A little pyramid of chopped bacon on my risotto sounds pretty good. A slab or two on my Jimmy Johns sandwich sounds equally yummy. But here’s what I don’t miss: flabby, flaccid bacon strips. Got that mental picture yet? It’s how they like to eat their bacon in China and it grossed me out. The epitome of gnawy meat! Joe once told a waitress just to burn the bacon on his hamburger. “Burn it. BURN. it.” he told them, pointing to the barely-cooked slabs on top. It was the only way they’d understand. And it still wasn’t crisp enough.

1. Roast

Let’s be honest – full disclosure here – it’s the gravy I miss. My family’s roast recipe is dee-licious and its hours of cooking time guaranteed it to be the least gnawy meat on the planet. That time also ensured a creamy gravy to develop that’s so mouthwatering perfect, my cousin and I used to fill a teacup with it (each!) for meat and potato dunking. Maybe she still does it. I know I would.

See? I don’t really miss any type of meat. I miss the convenience. I miss the salt and butter and crunch. I miss the gravy. Oooh, do I miss the gravy.

Vegetarianism isn’t for everyone—I’m always very clear on that, but I do think anyone can cut back or go meatless once in a while. Or read Skinny Bitch and decide for yourself. Give it two weeks and we’ll talk again in six years.

# Bella’s Birthday

Today’s a big day in our house! Our little fur-baby turned N-I-N-E! All day I’ve felt like the typical parent, walking around shaking my head and wondering how time flew so quickly. Most of the photos I take with cameras, phones or otherwise are of my dog, so it should come to no surprise that on her birthday I took hundreds of photos. I’m not kidding. I’ve managed to cull through them so I could share my favorites, but let’s be honest…they’re all my favorites.

Before I suffocate you with cuteness, I’ll take you back to the day I got Bella. It was July 2005. I had just returned from spending a summer in Italy, falling in love with Joe. Earlier that summer I had just finished my first year of my master’s and it was a very. very. hard. year. Bella (a name I picked in Italy before ever knowing what she’d look like) was a gift from my Dad, knowing that I needed the distraction and unconditional love a puppy was guaranteed to provide. He took me, my sister and brother out to pick the puppy of my dreams. I had three to choose from:

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That white and black one almost stole my heart, but Bella came up to me and licked my cheek–which is odd, since she’s not a licker–and the rest, as they say, is history. We’ve been making out every since. Here’s evidence of our humble beginnings:

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I should have known they’d be a match made in heaven. They still nap together all the time.

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Fast forward to today: We started the party early by allowing Bella to participate in one of her favorite activities: sharing an apple with us. (She just goes crazy on the core, we don’t actually go back and forth taking bites…although that does sound precious.) This was last night and I don’t normally do much black and white photography, but it seemed to fit these photos best:

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Who could say ‘no’ to this face? Spoiler alert: Not me. Ever.

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Bella’s known for demolishing her toys into carcasses, so instead of getting a new toy whose entrails we’d be picking up within 20 minutes, Joe and I decided to give Bella the ultimate experience gift. See, unlike her Mama and Daddy, Bella loves the snow. I mean, girlfriend LOVES to play in some crazy deep snow. We decided to take to her a baseball park near our house and let her go crazy. And since I was the one holding the camera, it meant Joe had to go crazy too. Nothing a few layers couldn’t help with, though. She meant business before he even put her down.

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Most of these pictures do their own talking…

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Sure, go ahead and put your entire head in the snow. That’s fine.

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Her joy. Her love of life. Her excitement. I want it.

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These next photos are for my Aunt Pam and Memaw, who will appreciate her shakin’ what she’s got:

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But, the best is this one…

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because if you zoom in….

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Ha! Not your best look, baby.

After our snowcapades, we give her birthday ice cream in the form of some Frosty Paws.

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Didn’t take her too long to figure out it was for her…

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That tongue is about to make several appearances…

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We even let her eat at the table. Before you *tsk tsk* me, I assure you my great-grandmother, lover of all dogs and original owner of the table, would have approved.

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And then I teased her by taking it away and she went all Puss-in-Boots on me.

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When it was all said and done, she had ice cream-covered chops. A true sign of puppy bliss.

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Here’s to you, Bella — for nine wonderful years, for your infinite love, for your sweet snuggles, for everything. You make me such a better person. Happy birthday!

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Friday Five: 2014 Resolutions

Every Friday I’ll indulge my order-crazed brain in a list of randomness. Welcome to my Friday Fives.

It’s a new year! Anyone smell the promise of 2014? I do. In true Falvey fashion, we rang in the New Year at home, eating some of our favorite foods and trying out some new recipes.

Since we weren’t home to have a traditional Christmas meal, Joe requested Dr. Pepper roast beef. He loves this recipe and it couldn’t be easier since it cooks in the Crock-Pot. I opted for Indian take-out. Don’t laugh. It’s not exactly holiday fare, or traditional in any sense, but it’s a food I love that Joe would never want, so we were each happy.

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I made a New Year’s ball of baked brie. With all of the other food we hardly made a dent, but it’s still one of my favorites and leftovers make a killer grilled cheese sandwich.

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We also tried this recipe for soft pumpkin cookies. They were sooooo good. I didn’t make the butter frosting, opting instead for a glaze made with powdered sugar and a little maple syrup. We’re not big frosting/icing people, so it was perfect. Joe’s been eating these things like crazy ever since they were cool enough to touch.

Soft Pumpkin Cookies

By the way, this was my first photo of the new year. My God, I love my dog.

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Like I mentioned in last week’s Friday Five, 2013 was a good one for me in terms of resolutions. And now that the dark shadow of Diet Coke is finally out of my picture, I had to think hard about where I wanted 2014 to see some change. 2013 will be hard to beat, but here are some of my goals for the coming twelve months. Hopefully putting them out on the interwebs for all to see will keep me on track! Here goes nothin’.

5. Momentum

In the words of my brother (circa 2004), this one is a bit “weak sauce,” but I really loved my resolutions last year and I’d like nothing more to be like Barefoot Contessa and turn the volume up on those goals. Let’s take them to the next level. Here’s a refresher:

Writing/Blogging: Well, here we are. I’m going to keep on keepin’ on. Thanks for being a part of such a fun project and reading about all of the nothing and everything in my life.

Books: I’m still a month away on my next reading post, but I’ve been a book-eating machine the last few months. So, this is pretty easy. I just want to keep reading. It makes me so happy. Maybe read more classics? I will read Anna Karenina this year. I will. Please keep me honest. I’m always up for suggestions, too. Send me the names of your favorite books and authors!

Cooking: Thanks to Pinterest, we’ve tried more new recipes in the last year than ever before. In fact, I just made a new “Tried and True” board to keep track of all of our new favorite eats. And thanks to the FIVE new cookbooks I received for Christmas, I have more than enough to keep me busy. Some things I’d like to focus on: conquering high-altitude baking (I need some serious brownie help!), learn how to make pastry cream and perfect scones, and be okay with halving every baking recipe I try. It’s just math. There’s no reason for us to have 36 warm cookies on the counter. Well, there is, but it’s not a valid one.

Photography: This is a huge passion of mine that has been cloaked in fear. Fear of failure, which is really hard to admit, but so very true. I feel like I’ve made a good leap lately, but I want to keep learning, keep practicing and start having the cajones to do something with it. I have some sessions in the works with new friends here, so we’ll see where it goes.

Gym: If I told you I now go to the gym six days a week, would you believe me? It’s true. I’m really trying to get my butt in gear, but the greatest take-away has been the stronger I get, the less my back hurts. That’s reason enough to keep running. Just call me Forrest.

4. Good Better Housekeeping

Here’s a new one. I do not make a very good housewife, at least in the keeping-house sense. I can have an awesome dinner on the table on time. I can make my bed every day. I can find a lost item in no time. I could vacuum in pearls and high heels…if I ever wore high heels (I don’t) or vacuumed (not often enough). Donna Reed, you ruined this for us gals. I want to be better at keeping things clean and taking time (at least) once a week to vacuum, dust and pick up each room. I’m betting my allergies will thank me in spades for this one.

3. Be More Girly

This is just silly, but I’d like to learn how to fix my hair other than leaving it in a curly mess or straightening it with a flat iron. There are some cute, fancy-looking ‘dos on Pinterest that have me wishing for some variety. This resolution has the greatest chance of not happening. Feel free to give me gentle reminders to get my Barbie on.

2. Give Back

I’m not Mormon, but that doesn’t mean I have to be an outcast in my community. I want to invest in our new home. I want to find a job that will be fulfilling for me, good for my resume and will allow me to meet new people. (NOT. EASY. in this small town) I’d like to volunteer my time at the local animal shelter, if I can work up the nerve to not take home every pup in the joint. I don’t really have this one mapped out, but the feelings are there in my heart.

1. Dream Big

Not to be a tease, but there is a big project in the works that I’m not ready to unveil (SOON, promise!). I’m tired of just dreaming about things I want to do. I’m ready to act. I’m ready to not be scared. I’m ready to fail and get back up. No more fear, okay 2014? No. More. Fear.

This is pretty vulnerable for me. I’m changing already.

Here’s to a happy, healthy, productive 2014.

# 2013 Poinsettia Bowl

Welcome to the day after Christmas, aka Game Day!

Even though the game wasn’t until that evening, the band had to load up around 2:30 to head to Qualcomm Stadium—home of the San Diego Chargers.

Upon arrival, the band unpacked and did a quick warm up around the bus area. The band was scheduled to perform at several tailgating events, hence the need to be there so early.

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The first stop was at the official USU/USU alumni tailgate. The band was joined by the cheer and dance squads and the area was packed with Aggie fans. The President of the University gave a speech, thanking Joe and the band—which was nice, and we even met up with these fans, whose shirts got them past the gate.

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The next two tailgate stops were for a VIP dinner/party and another party honoring the Make-A-Wish Foundation. That one was my favorite, seeing all these little kids jumping and clapping with the band. So sweet.

After those performances, we only had a few minutes before needing to be in the stadium for their pre-game performance, so they stopped for a quick break and I was able to snap this photo of the Aggie Band’s fearless leaders.

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My job was to film their pre-game and halftime performances, so I don’t have any actual photos of those, but I did take this one of my perch in the press box area. I think Joe will eventually post the videos to the Aggie Band’s Facebook page, if you’re interested in seeing them.

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Back in the stands, I found a seat across from the band, where I sat with 7-8 guys who coach middle school football leagues together. They were hilarious and managed to get ESPN’s crew to film us waving and yelling for USU. They grilled me on Utah weather, Utah sports (uh…), USU’s football season record (uh…..), and we even had a few minutes to hang with the USU mascot, Big Blue.

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This is my “game face.” It’ll come back throughout the night.

The band had free reign to play in the stands, and the crowd really got into their stand tunes. What’s funny is that we saw a little bit of the game’s replay on ESPN2 that night and there must have been one piccolo player standing close to one of the broadcast mics, because some of the music sounds like a concerto for piccolo and pep band. Hilarious! (What’s not hilarious? Joe having to stand on that ladder for the entire game. Made my lower back hurt just watching him.)

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There was a fireworks show after the bands performed at halftime and the second half of the game was full of lots of music, lots of screaming and a pretty awesome victory for USU. *insert game face here*

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Probably one of the most memorable events of the night came when one of the percussionists noticed her band hat was stolen in the stands. There were a lot of drunk people near her in the aisle at the end of the game, so we knew someone must have thought it was funny to swipe it. We ended up running into the thief in the parking lot….completely drunk and stumbling around. While trying to convince me and Sam that her nephew was in the band, Joe walked up behind her and grabbed the hat out of her hand. Luckily she was too intoxicated to do anything crazy, other than tell Joe he was a few choice words. No harm done, to us or the hat.

We hung out for a while at the hotel after the game, before needing to repack our suitcases and get a little sleep before climbing back on that bus in the morning. Not a bad way to spend 48 hours in SoCal, or Christmas, for that matter.

# Our Cali Christmas

*WARNING* Long Post Ahead!

You would think that spending Christmas on the sunny shores of California might leave you rested and in a peaceful state of mind. *errr* Wrong. Turns out, taking 50 kids by bus and coordinating every moment of the stay is a little stressful. Well, it was for Joe at least. I had sympathy stress for him and have been helping the recovery process with lots of food and sleep since our return. Which is why I’m just now getting to this post…food, sleep and binge-watching The Shield.

I’ll write about the game itself in another post, but for now I’ll give you the high- and low-lights of the trip.

*HIGH: Getting to thaw out in warm temperatures for a few days
*LOW: Spending 17 hours on a bus (one way!) with kids who only wanted to watch animated movies
*HIGH: Getting to spend Christmas with Joe, my Mom and Mike at a beautiful hotel on Mission Beach
*LOW: Leaving Bella in Utah
*HIGH: Wearing shorts the day after Christmas
*LOW: Wearing snow pants when we returned to Utah
*HIGH: Winning the Poinsettia Bowl
*HIGH: Did I mention it was warm in San Diego??

Now for more specifics…we left early on Christmas Eve on a massive bus bound for San Diego’s Mission Beach. As boring a time-suck as the bus ride was, I’m glad I got to tag along for free and not pay for a plane ticket. Worked out pretty well. I don’t remember much of the bus ride down, except that it felt like forever and when I finally crashed for the night I felt like I was still rocking on the bus. Kinda like being on a boat for a long time. Sea legs? I guess I had Bus Butt.

I woke up early on Christmas morning to catch my friends and family on Skype and Facetime. I got to see little Abby showing off the table and chairs Santa brought her, along with some awesome open-mouth virtual kisses. Love this family!

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Then I got a fashion show from Lily: a Thunder jersey to wear to the game with her Daddy, a “beautiful” coat from Santa and matching Christmas jammies with little bro, Linc. They are the CUTEST!

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My last Skype session was with my Dad, Janet, Rach and the soon-to-be-married Bryan and Robbi, where I finally got to see the bling. Don’t mind my crazy brother. Robbi, are you sure you’re up for a lifetime of this?!

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After Skyping, I was finally successful at waking up Joe (no easy feat) and we said hello to these guys!

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We were beyond excited and grateful that my Mom and Mike came to California to spend Christmas with us and help cheer on the Aggies. I ended up having a lot of free time while the band was rehearsing, so it worked out perfectly for some quality time by the ocean and with San Diego’s finest animals. We fit right in.

On Christmas morning, the band split up between Sea World and the Zoo. And since Joe and I are officially boycotting all things Sea World, to the Zoo it was! Luckily, my Dad and Janet had gifted me a new “purse camera” for Christmas, so I didn’t end up hauling my big camera on the trip. It was a lifesaver and I loved having a small, reliable camera again. *Thank you guys!* And it takes pretty awesome photos, to boot.

The Zoo was all decked out for their Jungle Bells – it’s a gorgeous place anyway, but they really went all out decorating it for the holidays.

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What’s funny is on the way to California, Joe asked me if seeing palm trees made me think of “home,” as in Miami. I didn’t realize how much they did until we were surrounded by them at the Zoo. I guess I miss my coastal living just a little bit, although snow-covered mountains are just as wonderful in their own frigid way.

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My mom and Mike met us there and our friend Sam, who works with the marching band’s battery (percussion) line, joined us for a romp around the park. Here’s Sam as we were about to take off on our Skyfari Ride.

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Which, as you can see, is pretty high up there, but it gives you amazing views of the park. I was just a little freaked out being up there. A little. Maybe just enough to not take a lot of photos.

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The Skyfari takes you all the way to the back of the park, which was perfect since that’s where the Arctic animals lived and they were numero uno on Joe’s priority list. Especially these guys:

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I think it was at this point that Sam was rethinking joining us for the day. Beware: I make people take stupid photos. Joe knows this, and that’s why he’s not smiling. …poor Sam.

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I couldn’t get over how sprawling the Zoo was. I had visited as a little girl, but I didn’t remember anything. Just look at how beautiful the walkways are and how convenient those moving sidewalks are when your lower back is screaming for mercy. Yeah…sitting on a bus for 17 hours one day and hauling ass all over San Diego the next isn’t the wisest thing I’ve ever done.

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Enough yapping. Here are some of my favorite animals of the day:

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This is a horrible photo of a tiger, but he was literally pacing against the glass and a swarm of people were watching. It was actually a little freaky, like he was agitated and wanted to kill one of us…or all of us. I’m mostly posting so you can appreciate the size of those paws. Good Lord. They are the size of my head.

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The flamingos ended up being one of my favorite exhibits. They were so pretty and we could get so close to them. Check out the baby!

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They look like a painting!

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It also was a good stopping point for bathrooms, so I took a lot of pics and managed to get in one. A rare sighting, this Marci.

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After the flamingos, I loved the koalas and elephants. I don’t think I’d ever seen an elephant with such enormous tusks!

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And check out this baby giraffe! What was awesome is that they also had a four-day-old giraffe who wasn’t making an appearance that day, but he was even smaller than this guy. Such incredible animals! You can see him and his Mama behind my Mom and Mike.

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The rest of our Christmas day was spent either rehearsing and eating with the band (Joe) or relaxing and eating an incredible Italian dinner downtown (me). With sunny weather and so much romping around, it didn’t really feel like Christmas Day, but it was a wonderful one nonetheless.

The next day was GAME DAY and Joe had an early start with another rehearsal at the stadium, meetings with ESPN and a lunch meeting with the Bowl representative he’d been working alongside for weeks. With a few hours free, my Mom, Mike and I headed a few miles north to La Jolla. (Pronounced La HOY-yuh, for those that wish to not embarrass themselves like I tend to do.)

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This place was ah-mazing. It reminded me so much of Miami Beach. But with Sea Lions!

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We spent some time walking the coast before grabbing another awesome Italian meal. And before you knew it, it was time to head back to the hotel to meet Joe and the band and head out to the game.