Monday, July 1, 2013

5 Best Beach Reads

Coach and I are celebrating our 7th anniversary today.  We are not fancy people- neither of us require expensive gifts or gourmet dinners and hip and fashionable restaurants.  It's just not our thing.  Don't get me wrong- I'm not turning down a pair of Tory Burch riding boots or fine jewelry if it's offered and neither of us will turn away a fantastic meal, but if given the choice we'd really just like to have fun and be outside.

So we celebrated marriage with a bike ride, some body surfing, a nap on the beach, some reading,  and an evening sitting at a local hangout listening to beach music and laughing.  Mostly  we laughed at our righteous body-surfing collision and my inability to catch a good wave.

Let's just say that until you have faced 200+ pounds of Coach hurtling toward you with all the power of the Good Lord and the sea behind him, you haven't really lived.  And if you're not careful, you won't live long.  Thankfully I will survive to see another day but I did have to take to my towel for a bit while my sand wounds oozed.  It was a good time to pick up a book.  

So I thought I'd let you in on what I'm reading this week.

1.  Ladies' Night

This one is about a blogger done very wrong by her husband.  And since I like bloggers and husbands it seemed like a good choice.  Except for all the cuckolding.  That's never fun.  But there is a sweet revenge scene early in the novel and then the protagonist ends up in divorce recovery with 3 other women.  Clearly, hilarity will ensue.  Mary Kay Andrews has been one of my very favorite beach authors since I read Hissy Fit: A Novel.  

2.  The Last Original Wife: A Novel

And speaking of favorite authors to read on the beach, Dorothea Benton Frank is an absolute must for me when we get back to the Lowcountry.  Leslie is the last of the first wives in her husband's group of friends.  All the others have gotten new, younger wives.  Which means that Leslie is basically a dead wife walking.

So she takes matters in her own hands and goes to get her life back before she loses it to Wes.  As Amazon says, "Told in the alternating voices of Les and Wes, The Last Original Wife is classic Dorothea Benton Frank: an intoxicating tale of family, friendship, self-discovery, and love, that is as salty as a Lowcountry breeze and as invigorating as a dip in Carolina waters on a sizzling summer day." 

She knows the Lowcountry, she knows women, and she knows how to time a really good story.  If you've never read any of her work you're going to want to read Plantation (Lowcountry Tales).

3.  Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns

Well.  Do we even need to talk about this?  If you didn't read the first book you surely saw the movie.  Fashion, society, New York, and the cut-throat world of magazine publishing.  I'd hate every minute of it in reality, but I surely love the guilty pleasure of reading about it from the safety of my own beach towel.

4.  The Engagements

J. Courtney Sullivan was such a surprise for me.  I LOVED Maine (Vintage Contemporaries).  Sullivan's novels cover vast expanses of time.  This one covers 4 marriages and the history of the diamond engagement ring in America.

5.  Looking for Me

I read Saving CeeCee Honeycutt: A Novel and was absolutely stunned at how much I loved it.  

Naturally, I can't wait to read this one.  Hoffman is a character writer as well as a regional writer.  I haven't started this one yet, so I'll let Amazon do the describing.  They say that "Looking for Me brilliantly melds together themes of family, hope, loss, and a mature once-in-a-lifetime kind of love. The result is a tremendously moving story that is destined to make bestselling author Beth Hoffman a novelist to whom readers will return again and again as they have with Adriana Trigiani, Fannie Flagg, and Joshilyn Jackson."

Now, I've got to run and nurse my sand wounds from our day of body surfing.

See y'all!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

10 Favorite Fiction Reads: Summer 2013

So I got sidetracked by an impromptu bathroom makeover and a maiden voyage into Hot Yoga.

Y'all.  Y'ALL.

There was a Groupon for $39 and a rumor that Kimberly Williams-Paisley and Nicole Kidman were regulars at this particular studio.  My experience so far has proven that to be untrue.  However, there are a lot of mommas and a youngish man with a flowing head of hair and a penchant for practicing yoga in a speedo.  So, basically the same thing except not really at all.

Anyway, my duties as a taxi driver, food preparer, and yogi and a general attitude of laziness have kept me from getting this post finished.  But I've been reading.  Oh, have I been reading.

Today I have a list of fiction titles that I plan on reading in the next couple of weeks.  Tomorrow I'm going to post some recipes and snack foods that we've been living on since summer break started.  We're in beast mode here in the kitchen.  Lean and clean because in the words of Kaci, my yoga instructor, "a tight body is a light body."

1. Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler

I am reading this one right now.  It's been compared to The Help and To Kill a Mockingbird.  It was highly recommended by Jen Lancaster over on her blog.  I haven't finished yet, but I agree so far with her assessment.  The story is told from two different points of view.  It also alternates between present day and 1938.  The story is always in the contrast isn't it?  

Amazon says it is "a soaring debut interweaving the story of a heartbreaking, forbidden love in 1930's Kentucky with an unlikely modern-day friendship."

Do novels about cooking make you want to cook?  Remember when Julie and Julia came out in theaters?  Coach still doesn't like to talk about it, but suffice it to say we ended up with a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and a string of less-than-stellar forays into the world of Julia Child.

Here's hoping this book doesn't spark some sort of cooking frenzy.  But don't you just love a story that involves love AND food?  It sounds like a season of Cheers.  Except dignified.  And without beer.  Or Norm.  So, really not at all like Cheers.  

So, basically there's a restaurant, a restaurant owner, a group of regulars whose lives mix together to create a symphony of drama and food.  

Who can't get onboard with that?

I finished this one a couple of weeks ago.  If you haven't read Firefly Lane, you must do that before you read Fly Away.  

Fly Away is a sequel.  So.  

If you have already read Firefly Lane, then I don't need to tell you how good this is.  TullyandKate.  You know what that means.  Kristin Hannah does for the Northwest what Dorothea Benton Frank has done for the Low Country.  

It starts:
"Once, a long time ago, I walked down a night-darkened road called Firefly Lane, all alone, on the worst night of my life, and I found a kindred spirit. That was our beginning. More than thirty years ago. TullyandKate. You and me against the world. Best friends forever. But stories end, don’t they? You lose the people you love and you have to find a way to go on. . . ."

And listen.  It doesn't disappoint.  

The cover says "fans of Jennifer Weiner and Emily Giffin will strongly appreciate this rising star in women's fiction."  I think "strongly appreciate" is an oddly-worded phrase for a book cover, but I do love both Jennifer Weiner and Emily Giffin.  

from Amazon:
"An all-expense-paid week at a luxury villa in Jamaica—it’s the invitation of a lifetime for a group of old college friends. All four women are desperate not just for a reunion, but for an escape: Tina is drowning under the demands of mothering four young children. Allie is shattered by the news that a genetic illness runs in her family. Savannah is carrying the secret of her husband’s infidelity. And, finally, there’s Pauline, who spares no expense to throw her wealthy husband an unforgettable thirty-fifth birthday celebration, hoping it will gloss over the cracks already splitting apart their new marriage.

Languid hours on a private beach, gourmet dinners, and late nights of drinking kick off an idyllic week for the women and their husbands. But as a powerful hurricane bears down on the island, turmoil swirls inside the villa, forcing each of the women to reevaluate everything she knows about her friends—and herself."

Jamaica...old college friends...reunions...escapes...languid hours on a private beach...  What's not to like?  I feel like I might spend a few languid hours at a noisy neighborhood pool reading this one.

Another book about food and relationships.  Y'all, I swear I will not put weight on this summer.  If. It. Kills. Me.  But I am going to read about other people's culinary conflicts with wild abandon.

This one is about "friendship, fine dining, and learning life doesn't always turn out quite how we expect it to."

Yeah, no kidding.  If things turned out the way we expected them to I'd be living in the Blue Ridge Mountains practicing pediatric medicine while raising my blond twins.  

So far my experience has been that reality is usually so much better than expectation, so I feel like this will be an uplifting novel.

Okay, I don't even know how I heard about this one.  Southern Living maybe?  Or maybe People?  I'm very sophisticated in my periodical subscriptions.

All I know is there is a salt farm and a family's secrets and betrayals.  I feel like I can't really lose with this one.  And a friend told me one of the characters could be me.  She wouldn't tell me which one, so now I have to read it for obvious reasons. 

It's like when we took the girls to see Gone With the Wind and I was assuming the entire time that they would say that Melanie reminded them of me.  Instead they said that I acted just like Mammy.  Coach's response was that it could be worse, they could have said I was most like Scarlett.

Clearly, no one in my family understands Gone With the Wind or me. 

Can you really go wrong with a book that has a yellow dress on the cover?  I really don't think you can.  

Here's what I know.  There's a grandmother, vintage couture, and it takes place in North Carolina.  Seriously.  I don't think you can go wrong with this one.  Oh, and I'm pretty sure there will be some sort of romantic plot as well.

Hello, swimming pool?  I'm heading your way with a loaded Nook and a big floppy hat.

I have loved her since the Shopaholic novels.  Her stories are fun and the British turns of phrase make me smile.  British and Southerners are really the only two groups of people that are asked to talk on command just so others can hear the accent.  I wonder how Siri handles British accents because the Good Lord knows she doesn't understand Southern.  That's another day though.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say there is a wedding somewhere in this story.  Actually, from what I've read about the book the protagonist's boyfriend doesn't propose as quickly as she likes, but an old friend does.  Apparently she and said friend made a pact that they would marry if they were still single at 30.  They are 30 and very much unmarried.  So....

I feel like this will get complicated.  I also feel like I know exactly how it will end.  But I will love it anyway because of all the Brits and love and stuff.

I just realized that this is the third novel that includes eating in the title.  Have I told you all that I've given up carbs for the month of June?  The Lenten season was really stressful at our house and I didn't participate.  I'm making up for it now.  And, well, cellulite is a never-ending battle.  

So, while I'm not actually eating cupcakes and other food items right now, I have absolutely no problem reading about them.  

And yes, I realize I am probably the only person that hasn't read this novel.  I'm getting to it.  Sometimes it takes me a long time to board the train.

 Amazon says:

"The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings. Now eighteen and emancipated from the system with nowhere to go, Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But an unexpected encounter with a mysterious stranger has her questioning what’s been missing in her life. And when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness."

I'll be back tomorrow with regular Momsense and some recipes.  

See Y'all!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Summer Fun Reading: Part 1

Well, we've made it to summer.

We are officially liberated from uniforms, homework, and alarm clocks at our house.

So it's time for the annual summer reading list.

I don't plan to read another thing about healthcare, the IRS, Libya, Angelina Jolie's mastectomy, or Romeo & Juliet - they are dead to me.  (Sorry, teacher humor.)

I'm taking a break from all of it for a few weeks, so the world is just going to have to simmer down for a bit.

I do, however, have a long list of books I'm planning to read this summer and I plan to do most of that reading in a float in the pool or in a chair on my deck.

There are several. SEVERAL. So how about we just start with some non-fiction?

And Lordy there are some good ones.

1. A Little Salty to Cut the Sweet by Sophie Hudson

So, this one comes out today.  I've read Boo Mama, Sophie's blog, for a few years.  I've never met her in real life, but she gave me traffic information via Twitter once.  

Do you ever wonder about what the internet has done to your social skills?  I feel certain that I'd probably assume a level of familiarity with her that would be unhealthy and most likely terrifying because many of her stories sound so much like mine. Which is why I am planning to take my girl and sit at the pool all day today so that I can read it from cover to cover.

Anyway- I can promise you it will be worth every penny.  You can check out the book trailer, her blog, and all sorts of other things here:  Boo Mama

2.  The Tao of Martha by Jen Lancaster

Okay, so this one also comes out today as well.  As someone who spent so many years trying to emulate Martha Stewart, I feel like this will be sweet revenge for all of us who developed deep homemaking angst via Martha Stewart...or Pinterest.  I've read every word she's written for publication and her memoirs are always hilarious.  Always.

What Jen Lancaster isn't able to undo for us, Vicki certainly will.  As someone who has enjoyed a lifetime of fairytales and chick flicks it's necessary to read truth about life with people.  

It's hard.  Even when we're doing it right, or as right as we can.  I've always appreciated and loved Vicki's biblical and relatable way of writing.  

Since I end up in the emergency room more often than the spa, this book will probably be surgically attached to me the next time I'm in for stitches or a tetanus shot.  

Think I'm kidding?  Just last week I stepped on a roofing nail.  And I significantly bruised my knees and pride when a mole leapt out of a hole onto my foot causing me to trip over the garden hose and fall off of a landscaping timber.  (And yes, moles will leap out of the ground if you are watering and inadvertently fill their mole hole with water.)  

That was Thursday.

Anyway.  Let's move on.

Listen.  I'm not going to lie- the kids have instituted a tax on my swearing.  There is a jar- a Swear Jar.  They are planning a cruise with the profits.  It's not terrible- just an occasional "hell" or "d$#@" and maybe an "a@$."  But as Coach says regularly- I'm better than that.

I'm also in debt to the swear jar.  But I'm stopping cold turkey because nobody likes a potty mouth.  Unless it's Laurie Notaro.  I got kicked out of the bedroom when I read her last book because I laughed and woke up Coach.  

I'm serious.  Laurie Notaro is not.  And this time she's tackling Pinterest, tattoos, and craft-supply hoarding.  Her essay on Ambien is what got me tossed from the bedroom.  How's that for irony?  You'll laugh.  I promise.  

Just don't start swearing or the Momsense Police will show up with a Mason jar.

If you've never had a Mennonite cause you hysterical laughter Rhoda Janzen is your girl.  I loved Mennonite in a Little Black Dress but I'm Baptist- we're notoriously droll so maybe you won't appreciate it as much.  There's no way to know.    

It's not new; I just missed the launch because I was knee deep in teaching 15-year-olds to appreciate The Odyssey.  There isn't much time for leisure reading. 

The Amazon review begins, "When this overeducated professor starts dating the most unlikely of men - a weight-liftin', church-goin', truck-drivin' rocker named Mitch - she begins a surprising journey to faith and love."

They had me at "weight-liftin', church-goin', truck-drivin' rocker named Mitch" because HELLO - I met a weight-lifting, church-going, truck-driving Coach named Coach and also began a surprising journey.  So- I think we all know why I am going to love this.

But, for the rest of you- she's funny too.  And I want to write like her someday when I'm all grown-up and eloquent.

I've got a bunch more.  I've broken them into categories.  I'm in the middle of a fabulous novel right now, so I'll give you a few of the novels I've planned on reading on Wednesday.  And Friday, oh Friday- I'll be listing all my favorite chick-lit authors that are perfect for a beach trip. 

Until then I'm going to try to avoid the Swear Jar and the ER.

See Y'all!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Go Ahead and Jump

My girl wrote the essay below a few weeks ago.

Coach and I make a conscious effort to put our kids in situations that scare them.  Sound mean?  It's not intended to be.  It's intended for fun.

Because fear can be paralyzing, we try to do all we can to counter it and teach the kids to face fear head-on.

We take them cliff-jumping, and canoeing, and whitewater rafting, and mountain climbing so they learn that once you get past the fear of a situation you can enjoy the freedom of it.

Or, if you're me,  you can enjoy a trip to the emergency room. And that's okay, because sometimes you have to face the fear of needles. That's what they say anyway.

The cliff jumping is something we do every year mainly because it's fun, but it's also scary for the kids- they have to build their bravery every year to make themselves jump again.

Many times we've wondered if these adventures- the cliff jumping and whitewater rafting- are making a difference.   Because if we are going to keep things honest here, there are times the kids are less than enthused about leaving the pool and iPhones and friends behind to go "out in nature for the day" as V says like it's a plague.

But there is always laughter, and occasionally we crash a family reunion or get lost or find the world's best brownie and ice cream along the way.

A few weeks ago I received  an e-mail from AC's teacher telling me about an essay she wrote. AC tells it better than I can, so here you go:

When I was younger, I was always jealous of my brother. Not because he got a cell phone before me, or because he got to stay up later than me at night. I was jealous of my brother because he was never scared of the things he wanted to do. If any challenge in life came towards him, he could tackle it, no problem. I on the other hand, was not like that.

Once, when I was about seven years old, my family and I went hiking to this really big, six story high rock surrounded by miles of rock. To a seven year old, that's pretty high.

My brother one…two…three… jump! No problem. My older sister, one…to…three… jump! No problem. “Well, I don’t know. I don’t think I should.” I uncourageously said to my mom. So I sat, eating my peanut butter crackers, while my siblings continued to jump.

On the drive home, I thought about that day and what happened. I knew that mom mom said it was ok that I didn’t jump and that I could do it next time, but that wasn’t what I thought about. I was disappointed in myself.

Looking back on that day, I wish I had jumped.

Recently we went back to the rock, and I jumped.

But, I still regret not jumping that day because without jumping, I never knew what I was missing.

My story does not just apply to jumping of a rock. It can apply to daily life in every one. Two year olds to eighty year olds. We all have a little bit of courage inside of us, and sometimes we need that little something to get it out of us. Today, I encourage you, to jump off that rock into the great adventures that life can bring you. Just because of courage.

You know what I remember?

She jumped.

See y'all

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Es Mayo!

Listen, last night I made it home and decided that I couldn't do another thing.  Dinner was only going to happen if the dinner fairy came or if Coach cooked it for us.  It was just the two of us, so I figured that if I had to settle for some rice and a hunk of Velveeta Cheese that I'd just make peace with it.

I should have just gone with Velveeta.  I did manage to sear some steaks for us while he made the "side dish."  And by dish, I mean drink.

You may not know this, but Coach has been converted to a Crossfit Crazy which means he jumps on boxes, stands on his hands, and drinks coconut milk.

I would just like to point out for the record, that cultures that rely heavily on coconut milk are not naturally thin people which seems counterintuitive to me, but I don't like coconut.  Maybe I'm not giving it a fair shake.

Speaking of shakes.  That's what he made us, and by "he" I really mean me because he couldn't figure out how to work the food processor.  So he poured coconut milk all over  the kitchen and then I made the shake.  It was a concoction of berries, spinach, and coconut milk.

It tasted like coconut flavored gravel.  So he choked that down all by himself while bemoaning the cost of a Vitamix Blender.  He saw one on a YouTube video and asked if I knew where to get one.

Oh sure I do.  But I asked Coach if he was really going to spend $700 on a blender.  He said there was no way a blender costs $700 (says the man who flipped completely out when we paid $29 for khaki pants- and then he took them back because they were too expensive!).

I said, "Yes, there is a way.  The people who make the blender decided that $700 was the price, and that is how the blender came to cost $700."

He said, "I don't believe that."

And yet, it is still true.

All that to say, if I want to avoid liquid side dishes that involve any sort of coconut ingredient, I'm obviously going to have to make them myself.

And since it is May and it is sunny and warm and I'm all hopped up on spinach and coconut milk, we are having a Mexican Fiesta tonight.  And it will be healthy.  And there will be NO coconuts.

For my 24-Day Challenge friends- this is a go for you as well!

I"m making homemade salsa, guacamole, and a healthy version of chicken enchiladas; we'll also eat some spicy black beans and leftover wild rice salad.  I don't tell the family they're healthy though.  It is hands down, their absolute favorite meal.

If you want the recipes you can find them by clicking the links below.  And for those of you who are doing the 24-Day Challenge with us, these are all approved.  If you are cleansing, leave off the cheese!

Chicken Enchiladas
Spicy Black Beans

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


Sometimes in the middle of our lives we just look at each other and laugh.

And I think that as long as the laughter is there we will be okay.

Boston is weighing heavy on me.  I walked across the campus at my school today and saw the flag at half-mast and I couldn't breathe.  I had to sit down and concentrate just to make the breath come.  The involuntary became VERY voluntary.  I don't know why.

Maybe because there were people watching their loved ones finally accomplish a goal only to find themselves at the beginning of another grueling and unexpected race.  And why?  Who knows.  Random acts of violence and a misunderstanding of Grace and Mercy.

Life is hard.  Kids are hard.  Work is hard.  Marriage is hard.  A long time ago a teacher once told me that life wouldn't be so hard if we didn't always expect it to be so easy. It was a catchy platitude in 1989.

Today it was breath; the reminder that it can always be worse and it will very likely be better one day.  Life is cyclical- sometimes you see the sea and sunshine and sometimes you see the pavement and gravel.  Whatever the view, it's always better than darkness, and darkness is ALWAYS a choice.

Yet we still expect it to be easy.  And it never is.  And we are constantly amazed at the difficulty of breathing.

Except for a moment here or there, and that's when you laugh because you know that the moment of sweetness won't last forever.  The kids will grow up.  You'll get bad news at work.  The dog will get attacked.

It's always something.

And there you are.

In the middle of your life thankful to God that you can laugh, and that He delivered a person who totally gets your laughter.

Because, sometimes in the middle of the muck and the mire you just have to fling off the mess and laugh a while.

I'm thankful for Grace and Mercy today.  And always thankful for Coach; without him I'd be chest deep in my own mire.

See y'all.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Sippy-Cup Years: 3 Children's Books and a Series We Loved

It's weird that Kelly is doing a children's book post today because yesterday I found myself at my alma mater standing on the very same track watching my youngest child run the very same races that I used to run with the very same ponytail bobbing in the very same way as she made her way around the track.

Oh it gets weirder. I was standing with the very same girl that ran those races with me 25 years ago. She was watching her child run too. Turns out my dear old friend who had three children when we were all having children about 16 years ago had a run-in with the Lord and she and her husband have adopted two more little boys. Her children now range in age from 16-year-olds to 18-month-olds.

Not. Even. Kidding.

And y'all? She was dressed with both of her shoes, she had earrings, her nails were done, and all her children were present and accounted for. I call that a pretty good day.

Anyway, we talked about teaching toddlers manners and sippy cups and runny noses and books just yesterday. It was relevant, and terrifying.

The sippy cup years are hard years. A lot of shoe-tying, nose-wiping, pants-zipping, dirt-removing, bath-timing, chicken nugget-making years.

Sweet years, but man those years are HARD.

And as one is likely to do when you stay a tad too long on the island of nostalgia, I have ended up a blubbering, hot mess of nostalgia with a side of maybe-we-should-adopt-a-baby.

Because you know what I miss about the sippy cup years? Freshly bathed kids that smell like baby shampoo and warm jammies.

And storytime.

The books that were favorites of my kids were favorites of mine as well.

G loved this one

Tough Boris by Mem Fox

Oh, it looks like it would be very scary, but it's not.  It's about a pirate with a soft spot for his parrot.  There were tears shed on a couple of occasions, which is totally fine because that's the main lesson of the book.  It's okay to feel sad when sad things happen, especially when parrots are involved.

Both kids loved this one...

I Love You the Purplest by Barbara M. Joosse

Siblings wanting to know which one their mother loved best.  One she loves the reddest.  One she loves the bluest.  Together they are purple.  I have a blue kid and a red kid.  They know who they are, and together they make purple.  The pictures are beautiful, the language is lyrical, and the message is so good.

And AC loved this one...

A Snowman Named Just Bob by Mark Kimball Moulton

For us, this book knew no season.  We read it in the middle of July.  AC has lovingly been called "Bob" by our dearest friends since she was a toddler.  She thinks the book is about her.  Except she's not a snowman.  Or a boy.  Or named Bob.  She's almost 13, and she still loves this book.

As they got older (I started with G when he was 4) I read them two chapters a night from The Magic Treehouse series...

These are fantastic.  They incorporate history into really exciting adventures that a brother/sister duo take when they open books in their magic treehouse.  As an English teacher these are my favorites.  My kids knew all about King Arthur, Shakespeare, Pompeii, and so many foreign cultures all before they finished preschool.

They also learned to be really good story tellers.

There are so many more, and maybe I'll do a sippy-cup series where I go back through the things that worked and didn't when we were in living color.  Like the one time when G learned to say the "f" word, and not the milder of the two, after we took him to a football game.

See y'all!

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