Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Tasty Tuesday: Crockpot BBQ Chicken Chili Mac

I love crockpot meals. They're ridiculously simple and require minimal effort (always a plus in my book!), and they're particularly awesome during the hot summer months since a crockpot will never heat up your kitchen the way an oven will. So when I stumbled across an intriguing crockpot recipe on Pinterest, I knew I had to give it a try!

This recipe is really interesting because it combines barbeque and Tex-Mex flavors. The result is a delicious, flavorful dish that's basically a kicked up special edition version of classic comfort food.

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I don't think this picture does this meal justice. It may not be the prettiest dinner I've ever made, but it tastes amazing. I already have plans to make it again this week!

Crockpot BBQ Chicken Chili Mac

Adapted ever so slightly from a recipe on The Recipe Rebel.

Ingredient List:
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (I used very large pieces of chicken, so I'd suggest using at least 3 if your chicken breasts are kind of small.)
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 medium red onion, diced
  • 1 15 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 14.5 oz. cans diced tomatoes (I drained most of the juice, but left about 1/3 of the juice from one of the cans to be poured into the crockpot with the tomatoes.)
  • 2 4 oz. cans diced green chilies
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup BBQ sauce
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 3 cloves garlic (or, if you're lazy like me, the equivalent of jarred, pre-minced garlic)
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 box dry macaroni
  • Shredded cheese for serving (I used a cheddar Jack blend.)

1.  Spray the inside of the crockpot with cooking spray.

2.  Add the chicken, red bell pepper, red onion, black beans, tomatoes, green chilies, chicken broth, BBQ sauce, ketchup, garlic, sea salt, and black pepper to the crockpot. 

3.  Cook on high for 3-4 hours or low for 6-8 hours.

4.  When approximately 30 minutes of cook time remain, remove the chicken and place it on a plate or cutting board. Shred the chicken with 2 forks, then return it to the crockpot. Stir a few times to combine.

5.  Add the dry macaroni to the crockpot, turn the heat to high (if it's not on high already), and stir several times to ensure that the pasta is coated with the sauce. Check the pasta after about 15-20 minutes to make sure it has completely cooked through. (Side note: The original recipe suggests allowing the pasta to cook for 25-30 minutes, but my pasta ended up a little mushy. This still tasted amazing, but I wish I would have checked my pasta at around 15 or 20 minutes. This may have been due to the fact that I was cooking my meal on high from the start, but, based on my experience, I'd suggest checking your pasta after about 15-20 minutes. You can always cook it longer if you need to!)

6.  Once the pasta is cooked, dip the chili mac into bowls or plates and top with shredded cheese.

Like I said, my pasta was a little overcooked and mushy, but I think it was because I didn't check it soon enough (and maybe because I was cooking on high from the beginning). I still thought this was worthy of sharing on my blog, though, because the flavors were fantastic! I just need to be more aware of my pasta cook time the next time I make this.

I served this meal with a simple green salad. It's such a filling, protein packed meal that you really don't need a lot on the side.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Playlist: June 2015

I had a fun but busy weekend. Eric and I drove down to Kansas City to spend time with his older brother, his wife, and their kids. We hadn't seen them since December, so we thought it was probably time to visit.

I was going to post some pictures and write about our weekend today, but I'm honestly just kind of worn down and not in the mood to edit a bunch of images. It's also the end of the month (well, almost), and since I always post a playlist around this time, I wanted to make that the focus of today's post.

Summer always makes me think of concerts and music festivals. In June 2013 I went to Bonnaroo with a couple of my friends (the same girls I visited in Florida and have regular Skype dates with). I know that was 2 years ago (though that's hard to believe!), but I wanted to share a little about my experience at that music festival today since I decided this month's playlist theme should be "Bands at Bonnaroo 2013."

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If you're not familiar with Bonnaroo, it's an annual 4 day music festival held in Manchester, Tennessee. There are several stages, and an eclectic mix of musicians. For example, the year we went they had everyone from Paul McCartney to The National to Purity Ring to Wu-Tang Clan.

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If you can believe it, this was our home for several days. After making the 12+ hour drive to Tennessee, we immediately set up our tent (which was actually larger than this picture probably makes it look since 3 girls were able to at least semi-comfortably sleep in there for several nights). Please note the Porta-Potties in the background (a.k.a. our only bathroom during the festival).

The great thing about a festival like Bonnaroo is that there are tons of amazing artists to see. The bad thing about a festival like Bonnaroo is that the schedules are so packed (and conflicting!) that it's impossible to see every band you want to. We took in as many as we could, but we definitely missed some that we really wanted to see.

Although it was miserably hot most days, although we had to use disgusting Porta-Potties, although none of us showered for 5 long days (my hair was, no joke, like a fucking Brillo pad when I took it down from the braided bun it was in the entire time we were gone!), and although everything cost a small fortune, it was a really fun trip.

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I'm not an experienced camper (not at all), so it was a completely new challenge for me to live in a tent for several days. I'd also never been to any type of music festival like this before, so it was a really cool thing to do with friends who love music as much as I do. If you're as passionate about music as I am, I highly recommend making a trip to a music festival at least once in your life (whether it be Bonnaroo or something else). It's an experience unlike any other.

My playlist definitely doesn't include every band/artist present at the festival (that would be an insanely long playlist!), but it does include a few of my favorites. Hopefully you'll enjoy this taste of my music festival experience!

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Divulge and Indulge Guide to the Best Disturbing Films

When I was trying to decide what to write about today, I realized that I haven't written anything about movies since last October. I love talking with my friends about great movies we've seen, so it seems kind of crazy that I've gone this long without sharing any of the other movies I love on my blog.

As with my last movie post, I'm going to narrow my focus. Sure, I could list my favorite movies of all time, but I think it would be a pretty scattered list. That's not to say that I won't do that at some point ... Just not today.

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Image provided by Pexels and edited by me.
Today I'm going to be sharing some of my favorite disturbing films. I'm not talking about scary movies (some of my favorites in that category can be found by clicking the link in the first paragraph) ... I'm talking about movies that got inside me and touched a nerve. These are movies that I find myself thinking about often, whether I've seen them several times or only once.  

I know that these types of movies aren't for everyone. But I also know that there are a lot of people out there just like me who enjoy dark and disturbing entertainment ... People who want to feel something when they're watching a movie or reading a book (and who don't necessarily need those feelings to be warm and fuzzy). 

If this isn't your thing, that's cool. You can always come back another day when I'm discussing something that does interest you. If, however, you're looking for some recommendations for great (yet disturbing) films, you've come to the right place. (And please feel free to post your own recommendations in the comments!)

The Divulge and Indulge Guide to the Best Disturbing Films

1.  Pan's Labyrinth

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This is, by far, one of my favorite movies of all time. The plot centers around a young girl, Ofelia, who moves with her very pregnant mother to live with her sadistic new stepfather. She finds escape in a world of fairy tales and magic, with fantasy and reality blurring as she completes increasingly dangerous tasks in an effort to see her real father again. This is a very visually stunning film, but that's not all it has to offer. The acting and storyline suck you in and never let you go. It's a heartbreaking and often brutal film ... Once you've seen it, you won't forget it.

2.  Irreversible

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Let me begin by saying this is absolutely one of the most brutal, heartbreaking movies I've ever seen. This usually shows up on lists titled "Movies You Can Only Watch Once," and for good reason (though, if I'm being honest, I've seen it twice). There's a lot of controversy surrounding this film, mostly due to the very lengthy, very graphic rape scene, but there's more to it than that. As the title suggests, the film is told in reverse ... Viewers are greeted with a few shocking sequences, only to spend the rest of the movie learning more and more about these characters. It's an interesting and powerful look at violence and relationships and the lengths a person might go to in order to exact revenge.

3.  Lilya 4-Ever

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This movie will rip your heart out and stomp all over it. I've seen a few movies about human trafficking/the underground sex trade, and Lilya 4-Ever puts them all to shame. After her mother leaves for America, 16 year old Lilya is left to fend for herself. She spends most of her time with her only friend, Volodja, until she meets the older, sexy, exciting Andrej. Promising her a better life in Sweden, Lilya leaves everything she knows to be with him ... And finds herself trapped in a hellish nightmare she cannot escape. The acting is phenomenal, and the film is so realistic that your heart will literally break for these characters. I saw this one years ago, and I still think about it all the time.

4.  Bully

 photo Another Larry Clark spesh Bully 2001 features teenagers who murder one of their own._zpseisytsge.jpg

Love him or hate him, Larry Clark knows how to get inside the often fucked up minds of teens. I've mentioned this movie once before, but never really gave much of a description of the actual plot. Bully is based on the true story of a group of teenagers in Florida who plot to murder a mutual friend after his cruelties become more than they can take. I love this movie because it's gritty and, in my opinion, very realistic. As the story unfolds, you can believe that these kids really can't see any other way out.

5.  Requiem for a Dream

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No list of disturbing movies would be complete without Requiem for a Dream. I know that some people really don't like this movie, but I think it's great. Viewers watch as 4 people's lives spiral out of control after becoming hopelessly addicted to drugs. It's never pretty, and often painful to watch ... This is a movie that will make you think long after it's over. I've seen this movie many times, and it never fails to make me cry.

6.  We Need to Talk About Kevin

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I usually don't watch a movie before I read the book, but in this case I did. (The book is sitting on my bookshelf at home just waiting to be read ... I'm sure I'll get to it eventually!) This movie chilled me to the bone because it took some of my worst fears about potentially becoming a mother and made them into a horrific reality. Could a mother love a son like Kevin, with his increasingly violent tendencies? That's the question this movie seeks to answer. This is a brilliant film that will stick with you for a long time.

7.  Bad Education

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This film explores the effects of childhood sexual abuse on two friends as they cross paths again later in life. It's kind of difficult to discuss more of the plot without throwing in too many spoilers, but it's an intense movie with some great performances (especially from Gael Garcia Bernal, pictured above).

8.  Hard Candy

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This is one of those movies I watched on a whim only to be pleasantly surprised. This is the story of a young girl who spends a lot of her time chatting with a much older man online. After making plans to meet in person at a coffee shop, she decides to go back to his apartment with him. At first it seems as though she's in danger, but we soon realize that she can more than hold her own. Hard Candy takes viewers on a wild ride, and by the end the line between good and evil becomes more and more blurred.

9.  Kids

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As with Requiem for a Dream, no list of disturbing movies would be complete without Kids. This is another look at the dark side of teenage life from none other than Larry Clark, and it deals with some serious shit (including the spread of HIV). At the end of this movie, my reaction was simply, "Whoa." If you like dark and disturbing entertainment and haven't seen this movie, you need to watch it immediately!

10.  L.I.E.

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When I started watching this movie, I had no idea what to expect. I tend to like Paul Dano's movies, so I was interested to see how some of his very early work would be. L.I.E. did not disappoint. This film deals with a lot of difficult subjects, but in a very realistic way. This is not a movie that will make you feel good about life, but it will definitely make you think.

I could probably list several more, but these were the ones that immediately came to mind as I sat down to write this post.

And finally, my little disclaimer: I realize that I didn't give a lot of details about some of these movies, so I'd suggest looking them up on IMDB if you're intrigued but unsure if the subject matter will be too much. I get that not everyone can (or wants to!) handle such disturbing material, so I always recommend doing your own research to determine if it's right for you.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Tasty Tuesday: Crispy Baked Honey Garlic Chicken

Since I posted my preliminary reading list for the Literary Ladies Summer Book Challenge on Sunday, I decided to skip out on posting yesterday. I had a couple of ideas for posts, but I just felt kind of "meh" about them. I always think it's best to just not post anything when I feel like that because I know that anything I write will just come off as very "blah."

That's not to say that I think every post I write is amazing and worthy of sharing 1,000,000 times on every social media outlet available. (Though, you know, if you want to share my posts I won't hate it!) It's just that I feel much better about my blog's content when I actually care about what I'm writing. If I'm not feeling a particular topic at the time I sit down to write, it will probably show. And I'd like to avoid that as much as possible.

Anyway, since today is Tuesday and around here that means it's time to talk about cooking and food (two of my favorite things!), I decided I'm passionate enough about those topics to show up with a post.

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Eric and I both love to order Chinese takeout. Some people might find that a little funny, considering how we met, but really what's not to love? It's cheap, delicious, and filling.

Unfortunately, it can also be really unhealthy. So when I found a recipe for a baked version of Honey Garlic Chicken, I was immediately interested in trying it.

If you've read many of my previous Tasty Tuesday posts, you've probably noticed that I don't always go the super healthy route. We don't eat really unhealthy shit all the time or anything, but I'm not going to avoid making a recipe just because it uses a significant amount of heavy cream or fatty meat (like chorizo) or oil for frying.

However, there are definitely times when I want to satisfy a craving without going overboard with the fat and calories. And while this isn't the absolute healthiest meal you can make, it's much better for you than the fried version you'd get from your local Chinese restaurant. Sure, it's not quite as easy as picking up the phone and ordering takeout, but it's simple and quick enough for a weeknight meal.

Crispy Baked Honey Garlic Chicken

Adapted ever so slightly from a recipe on Damn Delicious.

Ingredient List (Chicken):
  • 2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
Instructions (Chicken):

1.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2.  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, spray it with cooking spray, and set it aside.

3.  Season the chicken with the sea salt and black pepper. 

4.  Beat the eggs in a small bowl. In a separate small bowl, add the Panko breadcrumbs.

5.  Working in batches, dip the chicken into the eggs and then dredge it in the Panko, pressing to coat as evenly as possible.

6.  Place the chicken on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until golden brown and crisp (about 15-20 minutes).

Ingredient List (Honey Garlic Sauce):
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 4 cloves garlic (or, if you're lazy like me, the equivalent of jarred, pre-minced garlic)
  • 2 tbsp low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp Sriracha
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 green onions, diced
Instructions (Honey Garlic Sauce):

1.  While the chicken is baking, combine the honey, garlic, soy sauce, and Sriracha in a medium saucepan over medium high heat.

2.  In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch and water. Pour this mixture into the the saucepan, stirring until thickened. (This should only take a couple of minutes.)

3. After the chicken has finished baking, drizzle the sauce over the chicken and garnish with the green onions.

As you can see from the picture, I served this meal over rice. We also had a side of steamed broccoli, but that obviously didn't make it into my "pretty" blog photo.

One thing to note: I didn't feel like this recipe made enough sauce. I posted the recipe exactly as I made it, but I think I'll probably double the sauce recipe next time. If you're like me and like to slather on the sauce, you might want to do the same.

Finally, I want to say that the recipe for the chicken would be perfect if you're looking for a simple, healthier version of chicken nuggets. The honey garlic sauce is delicious, but if you're not a fan of that sort of thing, you could also just make the chicken and serve it with another type of sauce (or with no sauce at all if you like your chicken plain).

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Literary Ladies Summer Book Challenge

I know that today is Father's Day. I don't really celebrate this day (other than with my father-in-law), so I won't be sharing any related stories or pictures. One day I might discuss the reason why I don't celebrate Father's Day, but that's another post for another time.

Today I'm going to be talking about something that actually makes me happy: reading.

I'm starting my first ever "official" reading challenge. I say "official" because it's not a self-imposed, generic "I want to read x amount of books in x amount of time" kind of challenge. This is a challenge I discovered while reading Kristen's blog. (Can't go wrong with another Kristen who loves reading, traveling, and yoga!)

I won't recap all of the rules because they can be found here. I will, however, be posting my preliminary reading list today and linking up!


1.  A YA Book

I don't read a lot of YA fiction. I just don't. I didn't even read a lot of YA fiction when I was a young adult. (Side note: I said something along those lines to a friend at work the other day and he said, "You're still technically a young adult." I was like, "Dude, who are we kidding here? We're in our 30s. We're not old, but we're not that young anymore!")

That being said, there are a few YA books on my "To Read" list ... So it wasn't too difficult to come up with something for this category.

My pick: Identical by Ellen Hopkins

2.  A Book By A Non-U.S. Author

I was really debating which book I should choose for this one. Several of my choices for this challenge fall into multiple categories, but I wanted to make sure I was able to get through some of the books I'd already placed on hold at the library. My pick for this category is a novel I'm currently waiting for (I'm number 21 on the waitlist right now, so hopefully I'll get it soon!), and one I've wanted to read for a while.

My pick: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

3.  A Book That Was Recommended By Another Blogger

I really really wanted to choose The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay for this one. It was recommended by both Kristen and Steph in the recent Show Us Your Books! link-up, and it sounded like the perfect book for me. Unfortunately, they don't have it at the Omaha Public Library. I'm planning to request that they order a copy (along with a few other books that are high on my "To Read" list!), but I refuse to buy any more books until I read everything I have on my shelves at home. (A few of these books were purchased at least 3 or 4 years ago, so I don't think I'm being unreasonable.)

I've added several books to my "To Read" list since I got involved with that link-up, though, so it wasn't difficult to find something else for this category ... I just really wanted to read The Sea of Tranquility.

My pick: Last Train to Babylon by Charlee Fam (also recommended by Steph in this post)

4.  A Book That Has Been On My "To Read" List For A Year Or More

For this category, I should have chosen one of the aforementioned books that I've owned for several years but never read. That would be the smart thing to do. In reality, I was like, "Oh, I have this new library card so I'll just get something there."

The book I picked for this category has been on my "To Read" list for at least 3 or 4 years. I really hope it lives up to my expectations!

My pick: White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

5.  A Book With A Kickass Female Character

This was a difficult category for me because I actively avoid reviews with spoilers when I'm searching for new books to add to my "To Read" list. Without spoilers, though, sometimes it's hard to determine whether a character will be awesome (or even likable). So I decided to just base my choice on the title and the little knowledge I have of the book, and pick something I actually really wanted to read anyway. Hopefully the main character is as kickass as I imagine she'll be!

My pick: The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

6.  A Book That Is (Or Will Be) A Movie Or TV Show

There are quite a few books that would fall into this category on my "To Read" list, so I went with one that has been on the list for many years. (I seriously don't even know how long ... Probably at least 5 years.) I don't know a ton about the story because I get the impression that this is one of those "the less you know beforehand the better" kinds of books, and I've definitely avoided the movie because I wanted to read the novel first. I'll probably watch the movie at some point after finishing the book, though, to see how they compare.

My pick: Under the Skin by Michel Faber

7.  A Book Written By A Comedian Or Celebrity (Or A Memoir)

I decided to go the memoir route here, mostly because I already had one on hold at the library. I don't typically read much nonfiction, but I was in the mood for something a little different ... So I decided to look around the online library catalog for a memoir I might enjoy. This was before Kristen posted the rules for this summer reading challenge. When I saw this category, I was so glad I'd already chosen something that would fit perfectly!

My pick: Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson

8.  A Book With A One Word Title

My pick for this category came from another of Steph's recommendations (which can be found in this post). Everything about it sounded like something I would love. I'm such a fan of dark, fucked up books and movies ... I had to add it to my "To Read" list!

My pick: You by Caroline Kepnes

9.  A Suspenseful Book (Mystery, Thriller, Etc.)

You'd think that since I love this type of book, this would be the easiest category for me. It wasn't. My problem is that I want to read all the books, so narrowing it down to one was ridiculously hard. (I did mention in a previous post that I can be pretty indecisive!) I picked up a large stack of books from the library yesterday, so I wanted to choose something from that group. The problem is that several of them could easily fall into this category.

I decided to go with the one I think (and hope!) will scare me the most. I'm one of those weird people who gets a thrill from being scared, and I'm hoping this book will do for me what The Good and Happy Child did a few years ago. (Don't pay attention to the incredibly mixed reviews. I highly recommend that one. It gave me nightmares, and that's saying a lot!)

My pick: The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper

10.  A Book About Summer, With Summer In The Title, Or In Any Way Related To Summer

I couldn't figure out what to choose for this category, and almost gave up in favor of substituting a Literary Ladies Book Club pick. But then I randomly stumbled across a book written by Herman Koch (of The Dinner fame, which I reviewed here) with the word "summer" in the title. I really enjoyed The Dinner, so hopefully Koch can deliver another great novel!

My pick: Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch

I also noticed that Kristen chose Big Little Lies and You, so I'll be looking forward to reading her thoughts on those books. It's always interesting to see how different people react to the same books (which is one reason why book clubs are so popular, I'm sure).

I started The Demonologist today, but I doubt I'll zip through these as quickly as some of the other people participating in the challenge. Even if I don't win a prize, that's okay ... I think it will be fun regardless!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

A Few Things You Probably Didn't Know About Me ...

I've shared a lot of personal posts since starting this blog in April 2014. I've "confessed" a few things, shared some of my blogging fears (as well as described the ways in which I sometimes suck as a blogger!), and talked about how my husband and I first met. A couple of months ago I also wrote a post filled with random facts about me.

It's safe to say that I love personal posts. They can be challenging to write (especially when the question of "How much should I share?" keeps popping into my head!), but I enjoy sharing pieces of myself and my life on this blog.

I also enjoy reading these types of posts on other blogs, so when I saw that Helene was hosting a link-up this week with the theme "You Probably Don't Know ..." I was beyond excited. I'm looking forward to reading what others choose to share and getting to know some new bloggers through this link-up!

Helene in Between

You probably don't know that when I watch Gilmore Girls now, I still relate most to Rory despite being closer in age to Lorelei. I grew up watching that show (Rory was actually just a year behind me in school), so I was going through (or had just gone through, in some cases) a lot of the same things she was. I also just have more in common with her in general. I too am passionate about reading and writing, I was also an overachieving student, and I was a serial monogamist who wasn't that great at casual dating. (I never slept with a married ex-boyfriend, though.)

You probably don't know that I don't know how to sew. I can't even mend a hole in a sock or sew a button back on a sweater. Sometimes I feel like I should at least try to learn (I mean, it's probably not that difficult), but I really just have no desire to do so.

You probably don't know that sometimes I feel bad about writing bad book reviews. I'm in awe of anyone who has the discipline to finish a novel, and I'm even more in awe of those with the courage to put themselves out there, securing a literary agent and shopping their book around until a publisher picks it up. I haven't been able to do that, so who am I to put down someone else's work? (Though, on the other hand, a bad book is a bad book ... You don't have to be a writer to recognize that.)

You probably don't know that I know a lot of random facts about serial killers. I should probably note that my senior Honors thesis in college focused on the psychology of serial killers, and that involved a considerable amount of research. That was 9 years ago, though (God, I'm old!), and I can still spout off a lot of useless information on this topic. It's just something that interests me (and apparently lots of other people as well, given the popularity of shows like Dexter and Criminal Minds).

You probably don't know that I have a lot of trouble making decisions. And I'm not just talking about life changing decisions (like determining if I'll ever be ready to procreate, for example). This extends to deciding on which restaurant we should go to, what time I should meet up with someone, which book I should read next, which picture I should use in a blog post, etc. It's ridiculous.

You probably don't know that I love seeing my favorite bands and artists live. Okay, you probably do know that if you've looked at some of my music related posts, but you may not know that I love concerts so much that I talked Eric into going to Montreal with me in December 2010 (yes, we went to Canada in the winter!) to see Alexisonfire in concert because they weren't doing a U.S. tour. Totally worth it!

You probably don't know that I often wonder if anyone I know in real life has stumbled across my blog. I've been working on Divulge and Indulge for over a year now and I still haven't told many people in my life about it. But it's not really that difficult to find things online, so I wonder if they've discovered it on their own, and, if so, what they think (and if they'd ever tell me that they found it).

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Tasty Tuesday: Herb Butter Rice

Okay, I know what you're thinking ... The picture accompanying this post looks eerily similar to the picture used in last week's Tasty Tuesday post. (And you're right.)

But I haven't lost my mind. I'm not posting the same recipe 2 weeks in a row. This week I'm actually posting about the rice you see under the fish.

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This rice was actually what I would call "a happy accident." I've never claimed to be great at coming up with creative side dishes for my meals ... In fact, I typically serve most dinners with a side salad, Steamfresh vegetables, and/or plain rice. But that gets boring.

When I made the Mediterranean Tilapia, I initially planned to just serve it with plain basmati rice. After some thought, I decided I wanted more flavor so I added some chicken broth to the rice. That didn't seem like enough, though, so I started adding a few more things to the pot. The result was a simple side dish that added just enough extra flavor to perfectly complement the fish.

Herb Butter Rice

A Divulge and Indulge original recipe.

Ingredient List:
  • 2 cups dry white basmati rice
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tbsp low fat margarine or butter (I used low fat margarine to try to cut some calories.)
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp garlic salt
  • 2 tsp Mrs. Dash Original blend
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp dried rosemary

1.  Add all the ingredients to a large pot.

2.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cover.

3.  Allow the rice to simmer for about 15-20 minutes (or according to the instructions on the package of rice you're using, as many will differ).

4.  Remove the lid and fluff the rice with a fork or spoon. 

A word of warning: this does make a lot of rice (enough for 2-3 meals, depending on how much you eat and how many people you're feeding). It reheats nicely, but if leftover rice isn't your thing, I'd suggest cutting the recipe in half. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

New Restaurant 4/12 in 2015: Spezia

Eric turned 33 on Saturday, and we spent much of the weekend celebrating.

We always celebrate our birthdays, anniversary, and New Year's Eve with special meals. We don't always go to super fancy restaurants for these occasions, but we definitely go all out: plenty of drinks and food (including an appetizer and a dessert to share). 

Last year we started a new birthday tradition. We secretly plan the meals out for each other, making reservations at a place we've never tried. It's always a gamble since we have to rely on Yelp reviews and menus posted online, but so far we've managed to be pleasantly surprised.

Our meal on Saturday night was no exception. Spezia came up regularly when I've searched Yelp for Italian, seafood, or steak restaurants in the area over the years, but, for whatever reason, we'd never tried it. When I was planning Eric's birthday dinner, I decided to give the menu a closer look ... And I knew we had to go there.

The menu was filled with many of our favorite types of entrées: lamb, seafood, steak, pasta, and duck (to name a few). Add to that their extensive wine list, delicious sounding appetizers and desserts, and romantic ambience, and I was sold. While the dimly lit restaurant didn't lend to wonderful pictures, I was able to at least get decent photos of each part of our delicious meal.

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Our drinks: Prosecco for me and a Kentucky Mule (made with bourbon) for Eric.  We each had 2 because they were so good!

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We started our meal off with the crab artichoke dip.  The crab flavor was rich and amazing, and the wood grilled bread added just the right amount of smoky flavor.

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Since we were both starving (and since they had several delicious sounding dressing options!), we decided to add salads to our meal.  Eric had the Spezia salad with kalamata olives and a balsamic vinaigrette and I had a house salad with gorgonzola crumbles and creamy gorgonzola dressing.

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The rolls weren't what I would typically expect to receive at an Italian restaurant, but they were soft on the inside with a nice crusty exterior and the olive oil/balsamic vinegar/Parmesan cheese dipping sauce was pretty tasty.

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Eric's meal was the lamb sirloin (juicy, tender, and perfectly cooked, I might add!), served with mashed potatoes, a wood grilled Portobello, and roasted vegetables.

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I had the Limoncello scallops (a seasonal special), which were succulent with a great blend of tangy lemon and smoky wood grilled flavors.  The scallops were served with a side of pasta in an Alfredo sauce and roasted vegetables.

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The perfect way to end the meal: a rich, creamy tiramisu.  It was divine!

Overall, we both had a nice experience at Spezia. There were a few things that I didn't love about it, though: service was kind of slow (they were busy but not so busy as to keep our waitress occupied for such long stretches of time), I wanted more veggies with my meal, and I felt they were a bit heavy handed with their sauces (especially the Alfredo, which, to be honest, tasted like it came from a jar).  I'm not against using jarred sauces (I do it often if I'm short on time or motivation!), but I expect a homemade sauce if I'm at a restaurant.

On the plus side, the crab and artichoke dip was phenomenal, the creamy gorgonzola dressing was worth every sinful calorie,the lamb and scallops were cooked perfectly, and the tiramisu was heavenly. I also wish I'd taken some pictures of the interior of the restaurant because it had the perfect "date night" atmosphere.

Since there were so many things on the menu that we both wanted to try, I'm sure we'll be back in the future. I'll probably try ordering an entrée with a side of risotto or potatoes, though, to avoid being overwhelmed with pasta sauce!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

From the Bookshelf: Recently Read - June 2015 Edition

Since my post for last month's Show Us Your Books! link-up was kind of pathetic (seriously, only 2 books?), I knew I really wanted to push myself to read more this time around. (It also didn't hurt that May's personal challenge focused on reading.)

I think my new library card also helped me get through more books than usual. I know I can always renew them, but having a deadline (even a flexible one) forced me to spend more time reading and less time watching random shit on Netflix. I still don't know why it took me so long to get one!

Anyway, on to the good stuff ... Here are my reviews of the books I've read most recently:

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Before We Met by Lucie Whitehouse - 276 pages

Completed on 05/14/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

Before We Met focuses on Hannah, an independent British woman in her 30s living and working in New York. After she meets Mark (a fellow Brit) through mutual friends, she suddenly finds herself in a whirlwind relationship culminating in a marriage and move to London. When Mark fails to return from a business trip, Hannah finds herself growing increasingly paranoid when she realizes none of his colleagues know about the trip. Her fears deepen when she finds her bank account has been emptied. How well does she actually know the man she married?

I was initially drawn to this book because I really liked the basic idea. As someone who didn't meet her husband at a very young age or in any of the more traditional ways (school, work, etc.), the fact that we didn't have a lot of shared experiences until we were in our early 20s is actually something I think about often.

That's not to say that I think there's anything sinister about Eric ... There definitely isn't. But it is interesting to consider that I will never truly know who he was before we met. (And, obviously, the same goes for him.) We don't hide our pasts or anything, but people change over time. I'm not the same person I was at 12 or 16 or 20 and neither is he.

I always find it fascinating to hear stories and see pictures from Eric's younger years. But the thing is, I know I'll never really know the person he was then. Lucie Whitehouse took that feeling and twisted it into something more chilling in this novel.

The problem is that I thought I would like Before We Met more than I did. It was okay, but I think it could have been so much better. The writing wasn't spectacular (not awful, but definitely not great), and the plot twists were mostly just "meh" for me. I also figured most of it out before the final reveal, so it fell flat for me.

This is a decent book if you're looking for mindless entertainment. It probably won't wow you and you probably won't be thinking about it after it's over, but it's not terrible if you just want a pretty basic mystery/thriller to relax with.

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The Vanishing by Wendy Webb - 286 pages

Completed on 05/19/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

Books like The Vanishing make me so happy that I took the time to get a library card because I didn't have to waste any money on them. It was fucking awful. In fact, the only reason I bothered to finish it was because I'm challenging myself to not only read 50 books this year, but also to complete every book I start.

I'm not a huge fan of gothic literature/horror, but I really liked Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca when I read it years ago and thought The Vanishing might have some similar elements. And it did ... In the absolute worst way possible. I felt like I was reading watered down shitty fan fiction. Yes, the characters and situations were different, but it seemed like Wendy Webb took some of the elements that made Rebecca so interesting and churned out a very bland story.

At the start of the novel, Julia Bishop's life is turned upside down. Her husband recently committed suicide to escape punishment after conning many people (including some of their closest friends) out of their life savings. She has become a recluse in her Chicago home in an effort to shut out relentless reporters. One day a strange man, Adrian Sinclair, appears at her doorstep, offering her a way out of her current situation. Feeling as though she has no other options, she agrees to leave her life behind and start anew in a sprawling mansion (known as Havenwood) in the woods of Minnesota as the caretaker for Mr. Sinclair's aging mother. As soon as she arrives, she begins experiencing strange things ... Whispered voices, ghostly figures wandering the rooms, and paintings springing to life before her eyes. And the longer Julia stays in Havenwood, the more she wonders why she was brought there in the first place.

While I didn't expect this book to be amazing, I was hoping for a few thrills ... I mean, it is a ghost story. Instead, I got something so boring that I only finished it quickly in order to move on to the next book (and because I started reading it on the plane during my trip to Florida, so I didn't have anything else to distract me). The Vanishing was terrible from start to finish. Don't waste your time on this one.   

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An Untamed State by Roxane Gay - 367 pages

Completed on 05/23/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

I really enjoyed An Untamed State, though I wouldn't say I loved it. The book opens with a bang, as Mireille, the daughter of one of Haiti's richest men, is abducted in broad daylight. Roxane Gay feeds her readers details from Mireille's life (focusing mainly on her relationship with her husband) throughout the novel, alternating between her privileged past and the horrors she experiences as she's held captive.

It's an incredibly dark and brutal book, and I found myself cringing as I read some of the descriptions of the abuse and humiliations Mireille was forced to endure. It's definitely not a book for everyone, as there are some fairly graphic scenes of rape and torture. (So don't say I didn't warn you!)

Ultimately, though, An Untamed State is about a woman who does what she needs to in order to survive. It's about a woman who, after being broken in unimaginable ways, must try to mend herself in order to find her way back to the person she once was.

The novel was very good, but the often awkward dialogue and childish behavior from Mireille was enough to keep me from loving it. One of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to books is when an author makes his/her characters speak and/or behave in a really unnatural way ... It just completely takes me out of the story. That was really my only complaint about this book, but it was enough for me to rate it 4 stars instead of 5 on Goodreads.

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The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly - 323 pages

Completed on 05/26/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

I really loved this book. I wasn't expecting to enjoy it as much as I did, but I found myself wanting nothing more than to pick it up again every time I put it down. I finished it in 2 days (which is pretty amazing for me!).

The Poison Tree, like so many of the books I tend to enjoy, alternates between past and present. Karen, a college student in London with a bright future, spends an unforgettable summer with free spirited Biba and her overprotective brother, Rex, in their crumbling mansion. Karen feels lucky to have been accepted into their lives, and eventually finds herself falling in love with Rex. Unfortunately, that happiness can't last forever ... And as the summer draws to a close, a tragedy changes their lives forever.

10 years later, Karen and her 9 year old daughter, Alice, are picking Rex up from prison. Although she should be ecstatic to have her family reunited, Karen is increasingly paranoid that someone is threatening to tear down the life she has spent years building ... And she'll do anything to protect them.

This novel reminded me in some ways of the movie The Dreamers (which I love, by the way). There are a lot of differences, but the idea of an outsider being taken into the strange and dreamy world of a young brother and sister living on their own was still there. It may not be the most realistic story, but it succeeded in sucking me in and delivered a satisfying ending ... And that's really all that matters.

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The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld - 233 pages

Completed on 05/31/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

This novel is unlike anything I've ever read. It's heartbreaking and beautiful and tragic and horrifying. I don't know how she did it, but Rene Denfeld managed to make the bleakest place seem, well, enchanted.

The novel is narrated by a nameless, mute death row inmate.  I will note that his identity is revealed at the end, and I had a sneaking suspicion I knew who it was fairly early on (and I was right). He seems to see and know everything that goes on in the prison: the corruption, the sadness, the brutality. He lives in a world of books and fantasy in an effort to forget the monsters living all around him (as well as the monsters that reside within).

The Enchanted also features several other characters who are never named (not even in the end), including the lady, the fallen priest, and the warden. There is kindness and sadness in each of them, and the narrator watches and listens to them, hoping that maybe one day they can move past their personal tragedies to find true happiness.

There is so much that can be said about this novel, and I feel like I'm not doing it justice with this brief review. It's not a book that will make you feel good about life, but it will make you feel something. I'll be thinking about this one for a long time.

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The Longings of Wayward Girls by Karen Brown - 311 pages

Completed on 06/07/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

The Longings of Wayward Girls, like The Poison Tree, alternates between the past and present. The story begins in the summer of 1979, when Sadie is an imaginative 12 year old girl clinging to her childhood. She spends her days playing with her best friend, Betty, and trying to figure out exactly how she feels about her mother, a dramatic, beautiful woman who is unlike any of the other mothers in her neighborhood.

When Sadie and Betty grow bored with their usual games, they decide to play a prank on Francie, an annoying girl who always tries to insert herself where she isn't wanted. They tell her a boy named Hezekiah has been leaving them letters under a rock, and, intrigued, Francie begins to leave her own letters for him. Sadie and Betty continue creating a fictional world for Hezekiah, encouraging Francie to share more and more personal information. "He" finally asks her to meet up with him ... And then she disappears.

24 years later, Sadie is married with 2 children of her own. She has recently suffered a miscarriage, and begins to withdraw from her family. After randomly running into Ray, the older boy that inspired Hezekiah, Sadie is drawn back into the strange world of the summer that changed everything for her.

I wanted to like this book much more than I actually did. I thought the plot was interesting, and I loved that it brought to life the idea that sometimes "harmless" childhood pranks can actually cause significant damage. Unfortunately, Karen Brown's execution left something to be desired.

This was a case of characters constantly making bad decisions. With fiction, I try to suspend my disbelief as I'm reading in order to fully immerse myself in the story ... However, when every character does and says completely unbelievable things, I start to lose interest.

The Longings of Wayward Girls had its high points, and I wanted to keep reading to see how things would unfold. It also had its very low points: it dragged in some places, made me wonder how so many people in one town could possibly be so stupid and/or crazy, and a few of the things that happened seemed to have no relevance to the rest of the plot.

Overall, though, I liked the book. It wasn't great, but it definitely wasn't bad. Like Before We Met, I think it's worth a read if you found the summary intriguing ... It's just not a must read.

I know that's a lot of books (and a lot of lengthy reviews!), so if your eyes are glazing over and you're scrolling down thinking, "TL;DR," here's a quick summary:

Before We Met and The Longings of Wayward Girls were just okay and maybe worth a read if you think the plots sound at all intriguing.

An Untamed State was really good and worth reading, but it wasn't without its faults. It's also pretty brutal, so you may want to skim over my review if you're unsure about it.

The Poison Tree and The Enchanted were my favorites out of this bunch. I'd say The Poison Tree might appeal to a more mainstream audience, while The Enchanted is much more unique and may not be everyone's cup of tea.

The Vanishing sucked. Don't bother adding this to your reading list.

I'm sure I'll be adding to my own reading list once I read through all of the Show Us Your Books! posts. I love this link-up because I always find at least a few books to check out!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Tasty Tuesday: Mediterranean Tilapia

I didn't know what to call this particular dish. The feta cheese and olive oil gave it some Greek flavor, but I didn't think it seemed like something that should be classified as Greek. And since I'm pretty sure it's not a traditional Greek dish, I decided to just call it "Mediterranean Tilapia."

Regardless of what you call it, this meal is delicious. I made it twice the week before I left for my conference! And, if you know me, you'll know that's kind of crazy ... I usually won't make anything for dinner more than once a week (unless it's leftovers, of course).

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Flaky fish, fresh vegetables, and salty feta combine to make a flavorful, healthy meal.

I found inspiration for this recipe when I was searching Pinterest for creative ways to use tilapia. We'd just purchased a bunch of tilapia and salmon from Costco, and I didn't want to keep making the same thing over and over. We have a few favorite fish recipes, but I felt like I should be trying some new things. And after I made this and realized just how great it was, I was really glad I decided to branch out!

Mediterranean Tilapia

Adapted from a recipe on Just A Pinch Recipes.

Ingredient List:
  • 2 tilapia fillets
  • 2 cups fresh spinach leaves 
  • 12 grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1 tsp capers
  • 3 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 3 tsp black pepper, divided
  • 2 tsp garlic salt
  • 2 tsp Mrs. Dash Original blend
  • 1 tsp dried parsley
  • 1 tsp sea salt

1.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2.  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and coat with cooking spray.

3.  Mix 2 tbsp of the olive oil, 2 tsp of the black pepper, garlic salt, Mrs. Dash Original blend, and dried parsley in a small bowl.

4.  Rub the olive oil and spice mix on both sides of each fillet.

5.  Bake the fish for 15-20 minutes, or until it flakes easily with a fork. 

6.  While the fish is baking, add the remaining olive oil to a medium pan and turn the heat to medium.

7.  Add the spinach leaves to the pan and cook until wilted. (This should only take 3-5 minutes if your pan is already heated when you throw in the spinach.)

8.  Stir in the grape tomatoes, feta cheese, and capers. Add the sea salt and remaining black pepper, mixing thoroughly. Cook through until cheese is slightly melty (this should only take 1-2 minutes), and serve this mixture on top of the fish.

I love that this meal is simple, healthy, delicious, and quick. It's something I can easily throw together on a busy weeknight, and, for me, that's really important! I served this with a simple green salad and some herb butter rice (that recipe will be coming soon!).

Monday, June 8, 2015

The First Week in June: Philadelphia and a Wedding

As I've mentioned several times in recent posts, I spent some time in Philadelphia last week. And although I spent the majority of my time in a hotel conference room, I did manage to make some time in the evenings to explore the city.

I know I wrote this post about living in the moment and stepping away from picture taking and social media just a week ago, but I couldn't help myself. I had to act like a tourist and take a ton of pictures while I was gone. The last time I was in Philadelphia was November 2007 ... I'd forgotten how beautiful it is!

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Proof that I can be a total tourist (and that I never know how to stand in pictures!):

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I know I already posted this one on Instagram, but it's my favorite from the week.

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And, of course, I couldn't do a photo recap of my trip without including some pictures of my favorite meals. Both sushi pictures and the seaweed salad were from the same dinner. It was all you can eat sushi, and I definitely ate until I couldn't eat any more! (I made a friend at the conference, and we shared the sushi. I may be able to eat a lot, but there's no way I could have eaten that entire platter by myself!) The top right picture is a spicy chicken flatbread covered in Sriracha and peanut sauce that I got at a little restaurant just down the street from my hotel. Below that is a bowl of 5 cheese macaroni and cheese with duck confit that I got from the restaurant in my hotel on a night when it was raining way too hard to venture out.

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On Saturday Eric and I went to my friend Ann's wedding. It was a beautiful ceremony and reception, and she looked stunning! I didn't take many pictures while we were there because I feel like the pictures I've taken in the past at weddings always turn out horribly. Eric and I took a couple of selfies at our table after we'd had a few cocktails and stuffed ourselves with dinner and dessert ... And those are the only pictures I took. I'm only going to post one of them, though.

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Sunday was filled with blogging, Netflix, reading, and errands. I also managed to squeeze in some time at the gym (I did cardio for the first time in months and it felt great!). Overall, it was a very relaxing day and the perfect end to the week.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Getting Back on Track: My June Goals

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Image provided by Pexels and edited by me.

In yesterday's post I promised to share my goals for the month today. I initially wasn't going to stick with a theme since I wasn't sure I could come up with something clever every month, but then I realized that I already kind of had a basic theme in mind for June. We'll see what happens as time goes on.

This month my goals are all about getting back on track. I've steadily been slipping when it comes to my yearly goals (as I mentioned earlier this week), and I really want to make some positive changes this month.

My June 2015 Goals:

1.  Get back into a regular exercise routine. I was doing really well for a while, but several changes in my schedule made it more and more difficult to get to the gym on a regular basis. I'd like to work out at least 4 times each week with at least 1 day of cardio and/or strength training. If I can do more than 1 day of either of those, great, but I plan to spend the other 3 days in yoga classes. Yoga is my favorite form of exercise, and I'm much more likely to drag myself to the gym if I'm doing something I genuinely love.

2.  Use MyFitnessPal regularly. I love this app and I think it's incredibly useful, but if I don't track my calories and exercise for even one day, I stop using it for weeks (or months). I want to make some healthy changes, and this is such a great tool to help me stay on track. I just need to stop forgetting to log my shit!

3.  Post on my blog at least 3-4 times per week. When it comes to blogging, I'm all over the place. Some weeks I post several times, some weeks I post once, and some weeks I don't even bother posting anything at all. I do get pretty busy from time to time, but I'd really like to spend more time working on my blog. I really enjoy writing and sharing in this space, so I should make more of an effort to do it consistently.

4.  Get my recipe index up to date. I haven't updated it in a few weeks, and the longer I wait, the more work it will be.

Since I was out of town Monday through Friday and busy all day yesterday, my month of June will start today. I mean, until today I didn't use MyFitnessPal, I didn't exercise (except for walking around Philadelphia and airports, of course), and I didn't work on my recipe index. I did manage to get several posts up this week, but that was only because I actually planned ahead.

I'm the kind of person who needs some sort of schedule and order in her life, so I'm really excited to get back into a routine. Hopefully it will be a productive and healthy June!