Monday, November 30, 2015

Playlist: November 2015

I'll admit that I felt a little weird creating a holiday themed playlist this month. I mean, we literally just celebrated Thanksgiving (though I know some stores have been decorated for Christmas for at least 3 weeks or longer).

I was originally going to save this playlist to post next month before Christmas, but changed my mind when I realized that it might be nice to have this playlist available throughout the month of December. 

But this isn't just any holiday playlist. It's a playlist featuring some of my favorite bands and artists (so, sorry, no Mariah Carey or anything like that!) performing both classic Christmas songs and other winter/holiday related songs. I know it may not be everyone's thing, but I'm hoping it will put me in the holiday spirit. (And I'll probably need that extra holiday cheer as I attempt to make it through the next few weeks at work before heading off to spend the holiday with my family in West Virginia. It's always rough when you know a vacation is coming up!)

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Hopefully others will get something out of this as well, though. You never know ... You might discover a new seasonal favorite!

And, because it wasn't available on Spotify, here's one more:

That Death Cab cover of "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" is probably my favorite Christmas song, so I obviously couldn't leave it off the playlist completely!

What are some of your less traditional holiday music favorites?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Tasty Tuesday: Thai Drunken Noodles with Chicken

I have a confession to make: I haven't been feeling very inspired in the kitchen lately.

I usually think searching for new recipes to try, coming up with ways to tweak each recipe, and actually putting them together is really fun. But lately? It's felt more like a chore.

I have a feeling this has something to do with the fact that we spent several glorious days away from home, eating out for every single meal. We got used to the ease and convenience of having someone else prepare all of our food, and it was really hard to get back into a normal dinner routine. Seriously ... We've had Chinese takeout, Qdoba, and a couple of frozen meals in the nearly two weeks we've been back. We've had a few other things as well, but pretty much everything we've made at home has been incredibly simple and not what I'd consider "blogworthy" (think pasta and jarred sauce or eggs and hash browns).

So I started searching through the pictures in my phone to see if there were any recipes I'd made in the past that I'd never bothered to post. And that's when I saw it: Thai Drunken Noodles.

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I made this recipe for the first time a really long time ago, and it was one of my earliest kitchen triumphs. It's not complicated, but it's packed with great flavor. It's also pretty versatile: you can easily substitute another protein (shrimp, tofu, beef, etc.) or add more (or different!) veggies. Additionally, it's a great substitute if you're craving Thai but don't feel like heading out for dinner (or paying for takeout).

Thai Drunken Noodles with Chicken

Adapted from a recipe on A Taste of Thai.

Ingredient List:
  • 8 oz. wide rice noodles
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 cloves garlic (or, if you're lazy like me, the equivalent of jarred, pre-minced garlic)
  • 1 large white onion, diced
  • 2 large tomatoes, diced
  • 1 large red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 large green bell pepper, diced
  • 2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced into thin strips (I used 2 chicken breasts, but they were very thick.)
  • 1 lime
  • 1/4 cup garlic chili pepper sauce (I used Lee Kum Kee sauce. Also, please note that this amount of sauce will make the meal pretty spicy. If you're not a huge fan of really spicy food, start with a small amount of garlic chili pepper sauce. You can always add more if it doesn't have enough kick.)
  • 1/3 cup low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce (I used A Taste of Thai sauce.)
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed


1.  Soak the rice noodles according to the directions for stir fry. The recommended soak time on my package of noodles was 25-30 minutes, so make sure you allow some time for this step.

2.  Heat the sesame oil in a medium skillet. Add the chicken strips and cook until slightly browned, making sure no pink remains.

3.  Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic, and cook until fragrant (about 30 seconds).

4.  Add the diced onions, tomatoes, red bell pepper, and green bell pepper to the garlic, and cook until the vegetables begin to soften (about 3-5 minutes).

5.  Add the cooked chicken to the vegetables, stirring to combine. Allow the meat and vegetables to cook together for about 1-2 minutes.

6.  Add the garlic chili pepper sauce, soy sauce, fish sauce, and brown sugar. Squeeze in the juice from the lime, and stir several times to thoroughly combine.

7.  Drain the rice noodles, and add them to the skillet with the chicken, vegetables, and sauce. Stir several times to ensure the noodles are evenly coated. Allow the noodles to cook until they are firm but tender (al dente).

I realize that my Thai cooking will probably never be completely authentic and we'll never stop going to our favorite Thai restaurants, but at least this can (mostly) satisfy our cravings if we're trying to save some extra cash by limiting our dinners out.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Mind Dump Monday: So, About Last Week ...

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Have you ever had those days (or weeks or even months) where you just couldn't get motivated to write? You had things you wanted to say, random thoughts floating through your head searching for the perfect place to be released, and found inspiration in numerous places ... And still, every time you found a few quiet moments to sit down and write, you couldn't focus. You couldn't put those ideas into coherent sentences.

So you just didn't write.

That was me last week. 

I wanted to share pictures and thoughts about my recent trip to New Mexico, but I also couldn't get motivated to sift through the hundreds of pictures we took between my phone, Eric's phone, and our camera.

I wanted to share an old recipe that I realized I'd never bothered to post on this blog. I also wanted to update my recipe index, but, again ... No motivation. 

I wanted to actually work on some creative writing again. I've been feeling really inspired lately, and yet I have nothing to show for it. I need to stop procrastinating and just work on shit.

I wanted to find a way to express my thoughts on the things going on in the world, and the often disgusting ways in which people responded. (So disgusting, in fact, that I had to remove myself from Facebook for a while because I just couldn't deal with the hateful and bigoted comments I was seeing much too often. It really opened my eyes to the true character of many people I went to school with.) The overwhelming emotion I felt each time I attempted to put my thoughts into words prevented me from writing anything worth reading.

This week I wanted to start off with a great post, something thoughtful and interesting. And then I realized that until I got rid of the thoughts cluttering my mind, I'd have a hard time writing about the things I want to write about. 

I may make Mind Dump Monday a semi-regular thing. I don't know if I'll do it every week, but there's something to be said about throwing a bunch of the shit running through your mind out there. Sometimes these thoughts may turn into more detailed posts ... Sometimes they won't.

I always enjoy the random thoughts posts by my favorite bloggers. Steph has a great Thursday Thoughts series, Erin has been sharing her Humpday Confessions every Wednesday, and each Friday Jana discusses things going on in her life as well as sharing fun things from the internet in her This Week In ... series (just to name a few). 

So, while this may not be a weekly series, I definitely think some interesting conversations can be generated by these types of posts. Or, if nothing else, it can serve to cleanse my mind and help me focus on what I'd like to say in my next post.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

From the Bookshelf: Recently Read - November 2015 Edition

We made it back from New Mexico around 1:00 a.m. this morning, and I'm still feeling kind of out of it. (Thankfully I took the day off from work to recover!) I haven't been as productive as I'd hoped, but I did manage to finish my "book reports" (Eric's term, not mine) so I could join Steph and Jana for my favorite link-up!

Life According to Steph
I'll be responding to comments and catching up on my blog reading as I have time (though joining this link-up means I'll have even more great blogs to check out and comment on!). For now, though, I'll leave you with my thoughts on the books I've read since the last link-up.

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Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin - 349 pages

Completed on 10/18/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

About a month ago, I wrote that I had started this book but was having difficulty really getting into it. I, of course, was incredibly disappointed. I mean, this is exactly my kind of book, so I felt like I should love it. (Not to mention the fact that I was on the waiting list at the library for at least 3 months before I finally had it in my possession!)

But as I continued reading, it (thankfully!) got much better.

Black-Eyed Susans is the story of Tessa Cartwright, who, at only 16 years old, was found barely alive with a dead young girl and a bunch of human bones in a remote Texas field. She becomes known in the media as the only surviving "Black-Eyed Susan," so named for the carpet of flowers spread across that shared grave. Although she remembers nothing about what happened to her, she is urged to testify, putting a man on death row.

Now, almost 20 years later, she is the single mother of a teen girl trying to live a relatively normal life. However, after someone plants a patch of black-eyed Susans beneath her bedroom window, old memories are brought to the surface and she begins to wonder if the right man is in prison or if her monster is still out there, watching.

The story is chopped into 3 sections, the first shifting between Tessa's present day life and her life after she was discovered in that shared grave, with a significant focus on her sessions with a psychiatrist. In the second section, readers are once again placed in both Tessa's present and her past, though the chapters from her past deal mostly with the trial. In the final section, everything finally comes together, with Heaberlin once again blending the past and present to make sense of what has happened.

There's no doubt in my mind that Julia Heaberlin is a great writer, but she definitely focuses on tiny details. Although I really appreciate that (it definitely forces me to really pay attention and think about what's on the page in front of me!), I think this is what prevented me from loving the book from the very beginning. Since the chapters are short, I was squeezing in a few chapters at a time during my lunch break at work, before my yoga classes, etc. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but it definitely made it more difficult for me to keep all the tiny details straight in my mind. I found myself flipping back through the book multiple times in an effort to figure out when (or if) the author had mentioned something previously and what it could possibly mean. That was obviously my own issue, though.

I loved that Heaberlin clearly put a lot of effort into researching this novel. It made things seem much more realistic, especially when things didn't always fit perfectly into place with little to no effort. That's one of my major complaints about a lot of psychological thrillers/crime thrillers, so it was refreshing to read something like this.

I had two theories about who the "Black-Eyed Susan Killer" was about halfway through the book. My first theory proved to be incorrect, but my second guess was right. Without giving any spoilers, I will say that I was a little disappointed that Heaberlin chose to make this person the killer. It almost seemed a little too "perfect." (A shame, since nothing else in the book came together quite so perfectly.) I think if she'd taken the story in the direction I thought it was heading, it might have been a little creepier. That being said, I didn't hate the way things came together in the end ... I just thought it could have been a little better.

Overall, I enjoyed Black-Eyed Susans. I thought it was well-written (almost haunting and dreamlike) and well-researched. And, although it took me a while to really get into it, once I did, I had a hard time putting it down. I didn't love the way she ended things, but at least it made sense. I really hate when authors try to come up with a big twist that leaves you scratching your head and thinking, "What just happened here? This makes absolutely no sense based on everything else in this book." I just thought things were tied together almost a little too perfectly.

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The Stranger by Harlan Coben - 386 pages

Completed on 10/23/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

I rarely give books only 1 star on Goodreads because I can usually find at least one redeeming quality. That being said, I just really didn't like anything about The Stranger, and, after spending about a week slogging through this book, I felt completely justified giving it a 1 star rating.

In The Stranger, Adam Price, an attorney living in a fairly affluent suburban New Jersey town, learns a shocking secret about his wife after he is approached by a mysterious man simply known as "the stranger." When he confronts his wife, she doesn't deny that this is true. She does, however, ask him for some more time before she explains everything.

And then she vanishes, her last communication a text telling Adam that she just needs a few days away and requesting that he not try to contact her. When she fails to respond to him or to their two young sons, he becomes desperate to find her, wondering if maybe there is more to the story than her original secret.

I initially picked this book up because the premise sounded at least somewhat intriguing and it had a lot of high ratings and good reviews on my local library's website. Apparently Harlan Coben is a popular author with several novels that debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. I'd never heard of him before, but I assumed the book would at least be decent based on everything I'd seen on my library's website.

Honestly, I guess I can see why people like authors like Coben. The writing is very simplistic, so you don't have to really think to get through the book. And while I really have no problem with easy reads, I was at least expecting something a little better than what he delivered. The writing seemed sloppy, kind of like what you might expect a high schooler (or even a middle schooler) to throw together if they didn't give a shit about a creative writing assignment. It was pretty bad.

In addition to the sloppy writing, The Stranger was just ... Boring. It's supposed to be a fast-paced thriller, but I found myself reading ahead only to see what kind of nonsense he'd throw in next. The secret was revealed at the very beginning of the book (on page 2 or 3, if I remember correctly), so there was really no buildup. And, while the secret involved the wife doing something pretty shitty in order to deceive her husband, it wasn't the kind of secret that would keep me glued to the novel, desperate to learn more.

I haven't read a thriller that I disliked this much in a long time. Do yourself a favor and avoid this one.

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Everybody Rise by Stephanie Clifford - 371 pages

Completed on 10/31/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

I wasn't really sure what to expect when I started reading Everybody Rise. Based on the information given in the Goodreads summary, I thought it might be like a slightly more grown-up version of Gossip Girl (embarrassingly enough, I loved that show).

In some ways it was. Evelyn Beegan is a woman in her mid-twenties who has just started working at an up-and-coming social media website, People Like Us. People Like Us targets the elite members of society, and as their Director of Membership, Evelyn is expected to step into the world of the privileged, convincing socialites and other wealthy, influential New Yorkers to join their social network.

As she continues to spend time with these people, however, Evelyn increasingly loses sight of who she is. She spends time and money she doesn't have in order to fit in and "be somebody," and concocts lie after lie in order to wedge herself in further.

When her father, a class-action lawyer, is indicted for bribery, Evelyn becomes desperate to keep her family drama at bay as she struggles to maintain her lifestyle. As things begin to spiral out of control, Evelyn must determine how far she's willing to go in order to be part of this world.

Although I enjoyed some parts of the novel, many sections seemed to just drag on and on. I understand that Stephanie Clifford was trying to give readers an inside look at the world of Manhattan's elite, but I really couldn't care less about sailing or rowing or the history of Adirondack camps or any number of other things discussed in painful detail. I'm sure some people may find those things fascinating, but I don't.

Additionally, the characters were mostly incredibly unlikable. I usually don't have a problem reading books featuring horrible people, but about halfway through this book, I actually found myself hoping that Evelyn would fall from grace. She's somewhat likable at the beginning of the novel, as a slightly socially awkward young woman hoping to simply fit in. But as she begins to insert herself into the lives of the privileged, she becomes a huge bitch, alienating her former friends and treating the majority of the people she comes in contact with like shit. I honestly haven't hated a main character this much in a long time.

I gave Everybody Rise 2 stars on Goodreads. Like I said, it had some enjoyable (and funny!) parts, but it mostly didn't work for me. Clifford had an interesting idea, but the story moved at an almost glacial pace and the main character was terrible.

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Girl Defective by Simmone Howell - 301 pages

Completed on 11/04/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

First, a big thank you to Erin for recommending this wonderful book! As many of you know, I'm completely obsessed with music ... So a novel featuring a main character who lives with her family above the record shop her father owns (and who, like me, loves music more than most things) was exactly the type of thing I knew I'd enjoy.

And Girl Defective didn't disappoint. The novel follows the events of a single summer in the life of Skylark Martin, a somewhat socially awkward teenage girl. She spends most of her time at school, in her dad's record shop, and taking care of her younger brother, Gully. She often finds escape in her favorite music, as well as with her beautiful, mysterious older friend, Nancy.

As the summer rolls on, Sky's world begins to change. Her father hires Luke, an attractive boy with a somewhat tragic past, to work in the shop. Nancy begins spending most of her time with a local musician, leaving Sky feeling lonelier than ever. Sky's absent mother begins making decisions that will impact the rest of her family in a major way. And those are just a few of the things that make it a summer that will change everything.

Girl Defective is an easy read, but it's not a book I'd call light and fluffy. Howell's story has the perfect combination of sad and funny elements, and reminded me of the crazy rollercoaster of emotions all teenagers are forced to endure at some point. It's a lovely book about family and friendship, first loves and finding your place in the world. I think the summary on the inside flap sums it up perfectly: "It's about summer and weirdness and mystery and music. And it's about life and death and grief and romance. All the good stuff."

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Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes by Jules Moulin - 278 pages

Completed on 11/08/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

Like Everybody Rise, this isn't the type of book I usually go for. However, unlike Everybody Rise, Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes was actually enjoyable.

Ally Hughes is a professor at Brown University, struggling to balance her work life with her personal life as a single mother. In an effort to make her life a little simpler, she closes herself off to the possibility of romance ... Until she hires former student Jake Bean to do some work around the house. The chemistry between them is undeniable, and soon she finds herself swept up in a whirlwind of sex and excitement.

Unfortunately, Ally just can't let her guard down and the two part ways. Ten years later, Jake reappears in her life ... On the arm of her beautiful 20 year old daughter.

I'll admit that much of the book was completely unbelievable. If I'd been looking for a realistic read, I would have been very disappointed. However, since I knew going in that this would be a light, fun read, I wasn't expecting to be completely blown away. This is the type of book that's perfect if you just want to relax and escape from your life for a few hours. I chose to read it during my time in New Mexico, and it was the ideal vacation book.

There are some things I'd like to say about this book that I really can't say without including spoilers. I will, however, say this: I really dislike when characters say they've completely fallen in love with one another when they've only known each other a short time. Yes, Ally had Jake in her classes for 3 years, but she taught huge classes ... She admits near the beginning of the book that she has so many students that she usually can't put names with faces (and that includes Jake). And yes, I know this is supposed to be a fun escape from reality (and it was) ... But it did make the story a little less enjoyable for me.

Overall, though, it was a nice way to pass the time. It wasn't the best book I've ever read, but it was a nice change from my usual darker choices (especially since I've now moved on to a pretty disturbing and depressing novel!). If you're looking for a fun, lighthearted book (or if you're just a huge fan of chick-lit), Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes is a great choice.

"TL;DR" Summary:

Black-Eyed Susans is an interesting (if slightly unsettling) read. If you're a fan of crime thrillers/psychological thrillers, you'll probably enjoy this book. I found it a little hard to get into at first, but it eventually picked up. I'd recommend reading more than just a few chapters at a time, though, because Julia Heaberlin sprinkles small (yet often important) details throughout and it can be hard to keep track of them if you're only reading 20-40 pages a day. I didn't hate the ending, but I felt it took away from some of the other, more realistic elements in the story. The ending, along with my inability to immediately get into the story, prevented me from giving it a higher rating on Goodreads, but it still earned a solid 3 stars.

The Stranger is one of the worst books I've read this year. The writing was bland and sloppy, and the plot just kept getting more and more absurd. It falls under the "thriller" genre, but there is honestly nothing thrilling about it. I basically just finished it because I have a hard time quitting books (and because I wanted to see just how ridiculous the story would get). Although I rarely give 1 star ratings on Goodreads, I had no problem assigning a single star to The Stranger.

Everybody Rise was just an okay read. It had its high points, but it felt like it took forever for the story to really take off.  Stephanie Clifford focused on mundane details of high society instead of making an effort to move the plot forward or make readers care about Evelyn, the main character. Evelyn was actually one of the worst parts of the book ... I don't think I've hated a main character this much in a long time. Although it still managed to earn a 2 star rating from me, I wouldn't recommend it.

Girl Defective is a wonderful story about family and friendship, first loves and finding your place in the world. (And, for a music lover like myself, it's an added bonus that the main character is a total music junkie!) After suffering through a couple of terrible books, I was happy to settle in with something I really enjoyed. It was a great way to kick off the Semi-Charmed Winter 2015 Book Challenge (earning me 10 points), and a great way to wrap up my own personal 50 book challenge for the year. I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads, and definitely recommend it!

Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes is a fun, fluffy book perfect for fans of chick-lit. I'm not a huge fan of this genre, but I still found it enjoyable. I chose it for one of the Semi-Charmed Winter 2015 Book Challenge categories (and earned 20 points by finishing it!), but I probably would have eventually picked it up anyway since Jana recommended it in an earlier link-up. It earned a 3 star rating from me on Goodreads, and I'd recommend it to anyone looking for a quick, lighthearted read.

Although I didn't read a ton of really amazing books this time around, I'm happy to say that I've completed 2 books for the Semi-Charmed Winter 2015 Book Challenge and I've read a total of 51 books so far this year! I've set a 50 book goal for myself for years, but this is the first time I've actually hit that goal! And, thanks to this link-up (and my obsession with Goodreads!), I'll have plenty of books on my "To Read" list to hit an even higher goal next year! (Okay, I know that was a lot of exclamation points, but I'm really excited about this!)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Tasty Tuesday: Autumn Pasta with Sausage and Sage Brown Butter Sauce

Last week I shared a recipe that wasn't very seasonally appropriate. This week I'm doing the complete opposite.

The meal I'm posting today just screams autumn. It features chicken apple sausage cooked in apple cider as well as a delicious sage brown butter sauce. If these flavors don't make you think of fall, I don't know what will. (Besides pumpkin, of course.)

It's not just seasonally appropriate, though ... It's also delicious. And while it may not help you keep those holiday pounds at bay, it's worth the splurge.

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Unfortunately, it's not a meal that photographs well. I mean, it's basically a plate of brown stuff. But that brown stuff? So good.

One last thing before I post the recipe. Despite the terrible picture, I'm actually really proud of this meal. I used a sage brown butter sauce recipe as sort of a guideline, but I came up with the idea of cooking an apple sausage in apple cider to incorporate additional fall flavors into the recipe. A lot of the things I post here are recipes I've simply tweaked a bit, so I feel really excited when I can share something I put a little more thought into!

Autumn Pasta with Sausage and Sage Brown Butter Sauce

Adapted from a recipe on Fork Knife Swoon.

Ingredient List:
  • 1 box spaghetti noodles (I used a 13.25 oz. box of whole wheat noodles, which didn't really help with the whole "brown stuff on a plate" thing. You could really use whatever type of noodle you prefer, though.)
  • 2 links chicken apple sausage, casings removed and crumbled (I know for sure that you can find this type of sausage at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, but you can probably find it at other grocery stores as well.)
  • 1 tbsp apple cider
  • 10 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 tsp fresh sage, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 garlic cloves (or, if you're lazy like me, the equivalent of jarred, pre-minced garlic)
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • Shredded Parmesan cheese for serving (optional)


1.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. 

2.  Add the crumbled chicken apple sausage and apple cider to a medium skillet. Cook over medium high heat until the sausage is completely browned and no liquid remains. Once the sausage is fully cooked, turn the heat down to low to keep the meat warm while the rest of the sauce is being made.

3.  Melt the butter in a separate large skillet over medium heat.

4.  While the butter is melting, add the spaghetti to the boiling water, cook according to package directions until al dente, and drain.

5.  When the butter completely melts and begins to foam, begin whisking. Add the sage, thyme, nutmeg, and garlic, whisking continuously. The butter should begin to bubble and turn golden brown after about 5-8 minutes of cooking. 

6.  Once the butter begins to brown, remove the skillet from the heat. Whisk for another minute or two, then pour the drained noodles into the skillet and toss with the sauce.

7.  Add the chicken apple sausage and season with the sea salt and black pepper, tossing a few more times to combine. Top with shredded Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Like I said, this isn't the healthiest recipe in the world. But it is tasty, and a great way to incorporate some of the best flavors of fall in one delicious dish!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Don't You Know That I Love You ...

Today I'm celebrating two years of marriage with this guy:

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Although we've only been married for a short time, we've been together for nearly 8.5 years.

I had a lot of ideas about how I wanted to celebrate our anniversary on my blog, but I finally decided to share some of our time together through pictures. I mean, who doesn't love a post filled with pictures? (I apologize in advance for the shitty quality of some of these. An iPhone selfie in a poorly lit room isn't exactly a recipe for a stunning photo.)

I'll also share some stories along the way. (And I'll probably get kind of sappy at some points. Just go with it!)

I guess I'll start from the beginning. And if you've never read the post about how we met, you should ... It's actually a pretty cool story!

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Here we are in China. We weren't "official" at this point, though I'm sure you can see that we were already pretty comfortable with one another. We spent nearly every moment together on that trip, and, by the end, what could easily have just been a summer fling had blossomed into something real.

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This was taken on his first trip to visit me after returning from China. I was still living in West Virginia (which is where I'm from originally), and I remember being so nervous that things would be different or awkward between us when I picked him up from the airport even though only a few weeks had passed since I'd last seen him. We talked on the phone all the time, but it was hard to know if things would still be the same once we were both actually in the same place again.

I didn't need to worry. Everything felt exactly the same (maybe even better!). I had an amazing time showing him around my hometown and the town I was living in at the time, introducing him to my friends and family (I'm still so thankful he was able to meet both of my grandparents before they passed away), and taking him out for Indian food for the first time. The picture above shows his reaction to my "intolerable" lamb vindaloo. (He still doesn't like his food too spicy, but he's a huge fan of the more mild Indian dishes.)

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We've always both loved traveling (I mean, you don't meet in China if you hate traveling!). After we'd been together for about 4 months, Eric flew back to West Virginia and we drove up to Philadelphia for a long weekend. We stayed in an an awesome bed and breakfast, and spent a lot of time exploring the city. I'd been there before, but it was his first time. Philadelphia will always hold a special place in my heart because it was the first place we traveled together as boyfriend and girlfriend.

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After we'd been together for a little over a year, I got a job in Wisconsin. This picture was taken at The House on the Rock during one of his visits. (This was actually a pretty cool place. If you're ever in Wisconsin, I recommend checking it out if you have the time.) Please ignore how terrible my hair looks in this picture ... I swear I didn't have a mullet! (This was just the result of a somewhat unfortunate angle coupled with an inability to properly style my hair.)

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In September 2009, after only living in Wisconsin a little over a year, I took a huge risk and moved to Omaha to be with Eric. I didn't move until I had a job lined up, of course, but I was still terrified. What if things didn't work out? 

Honestly, it was a difficult transition for us both. We were used to a long distance relationship, and going from living apart to living in the same city requires some adjustment. (It didn't help that we were also working completely different schedules at the time.) Eventually we figured it out, though.

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By March 2011, we'd figured things out enough to make yet another major move in our relationship: moving in together. This is one of the earliest pictures I have of us in our apartment (that we still live in, by the way). 

Neither of us had ever lived with a significant other (unless you count cohabitating for several weeks on vacation, but I don't), so it was a little scary for both of us. However, we both agreed that we wouldn't want to get married without living together first ... So it was obviously the next logical step.

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After living together for a little over a year, he proposed in November 2012. This picture was taken the night we got engaged. I don't think I've ever shared that story on the blog, but I'm sure I will eventually.

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Almost exactly one year later, we were getting married. I haven't shared a ton of details about our wedding (with the exception of my post about the song we chose for our first dance), so maybe I will at some point. Right now I'll say that wedding planning was one of the most stressful things I've ever done (and we even had a wedding coordinator to help with the majority of it!), but it was all worth it in the end. I don't think I've ever felt happier than I did on my wedding day. 

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A year after that, we were taking our late honeymoon/one year anniversary trip. The trip included stops in NYC, Amsterdam, Brussels/Bruges, and Paris. This was one of our favorite trips to date!

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We've been through a lot since we first met in May 2007. 

Since then we've experienced 3 continents, 6 countries, and 15 states together. (Well, 15 including our current getaway to New Mexico!) 

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We've dealt with deaths of grandparents, job transitions, and major moves. 

We've been to numerous weddings, sporting events, and concerts. 

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We've argued over stupid things and major things, always choosing to take the time to work things out. 

We've laughed and created ridiculous inside jokes that include (but are not limited to) a ridiculous obsession with turkeys:

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Since the moment we first agreed to "officially" become boyfriend and girlfriend on a hot, sticky day in China in June 2007, we started building a life together. 

And on this date two years ago, we committed ourselves to forever.

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Things haven't always been perfect, but I can't think of anyone I'd rather spend the rest of my life with. Happy anniversary, Eric!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Challenges and Christmas Shopping: My November Goals

I'm not going to lie ... I'm already completely checked out. I scheduled this post in advance since Eric and I are already enjoying our first full day exploring New Mexico. (I'm planning to share some photos throughout the trip on Instagram, so you can follow along there if you want to check in and see what we're up to!)

Since I'm obviously not that into setting goals this month (because, let's be honest, I probably won't do a great job sticking with them!), I'm going to keep things simple.

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My November 2015 Goals:

1.  Read at least 5 books for the Semi-Charmed Winter 2015 Book Challenge. I think this is totally doable, especially since I have several days off work this month. I picked up a few of the books from my list at the library prior to leaving for our trip, so I'm definitely planning to get some reading done while we're out of town. I'd love to be one of the first to finish (though that probably won't happen since I just don't read as fast as some people)!

2.  Finish the Fall Film Challenge with at least 10 total movies watched. This means I'd only have to watch 3 more movies from my list this month, which, again, I think is totally doable. I'm obviously not going to finish all 25 movies, but I'd at least like to get through 10.

3.  Finish at least 50% of my Christmas shopping. I've been terrible about waiting until the last minute to do my Christmas shopping the last couple of years, and I'd love to avoid the last minute crunch this year. I don't even have that many people to buy for (especially since we're trying a new Secret Santa sort of thing with Eric's family this year), so it (hopefully!) shouldn't be that difficult.

And that's it. I'm not going to make any healthy eating/fitness goals this month. Between Thanksgiving and New Mexico, I can pretty much guarantee those things won't be top priorities. I'm also not going to make any major blog-related goals this month because I know I won't be able to keep up with it as much as I'd like while I'm away. I promise I'll reply to any comments/emails as soon as I can, though!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Monthly Goals: October Results

Remember when I said that October was going to be the month I lit a fire under my ass when it came to my goals? Well ... That didn't happen.

I came very close to completing pretty much every goal I made last month, but, for whatever reason, I seemed to fall short with most of them. I did manage to complete some of them, but it wasn't an amazing month for me overall.

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To recap, my goals for October were:

1.  Get back into a regular workout routine.

2.  Go the entire month without buying any Starbucks Doubleshots at work.

3.  Post at least 3 times every week.

4.  Find and join more link-ups.

5.  Continue attempting to keep up with reading and commenting on other blogs.

6.  Earn at least my first Swagbucks goal every day.

7.  Watch at least 5 more movies for the Fall Film Challenge.

8.  Avoid putting any additional books on hold at the library until I finish at least half of the books I've already checked out.

And the results:

1.  I'd like to give myself a pass here, but I don't know if I really deserve one. While I've been making an effort to work out at least 3 times each week, I didn't really stick to any sort of schedule and found myself skipping my classes at the gym more and more frequently in favor of staying home and working out to a video. Yes, I was still being active, but I feel like I push myself a little more when I'm participating in a class ... So sometimes it just felt a little half-assed. I don't have high hopes for getting back into a regular routine this month either since we'll be enjoying our time in New Mexico (and, for us, "enjoying" includes eating and drinking a lot). December is probably out too since we'll be flying back to stay with my mom for Christmas. January it is!

2.  I thought I was going to make it through the month without a Doubleshot. I made it through 3 weeks straight ... And then on the 22nd, I managed to oversleep a bit, forcing me to leave the house without coffee. Anyone who knows me in real life could tell you that dealing with me in the morning before I've had any coffee is both terrible and slightly dangerous. I'm the grumpiest bitch ever, my brain feels fuzzy and unfocused, and I just generally have difficulty functioning like an actual human being. Needless to say, I was forced to buy a Doubleshot at work to make up for my lack of morning coffee at home. On the upside, that's the only time I caved.

3.  I'm going to give myself a pass on this one. Although I don't think I actually posted consistently each week, I posted a total of 12 times in October. And, since there were 4 full weeks in October, that averages out to 3 times per week. I actually like math when I can use it to make things work in my favor!

4.  Pass! Technically I only got involved in one additional link-up, but I'm happy with that. (And yes, it's another book link-up/challenge. I love books, okay?) I'll probably try to get involved with a few more as time goes on, but right now I'm enjoying connecting with other book lovers.

5.  Pass! I still don't have a set schedule for this, but I managed to keep up with my blog reading/commenting a little better in October. I've also been keeping up with responding to comments on my own blog/answering emails a little better, which is also important! The next couple of months will be kind of crazy with the holidays and our upcoming trips, so I'm sure I won't be able to be quite as quick with my responses and comments ... But I'll definitely make these things a priority when I'm not as busy!

6.  I should have gotten a pass on this, but a glitch caused me to miss out on my goal one day. Swagbucks credited me for the survey I completed, but they couldn't backdate it. Whomp whomp. Despite the unfortunate glitch, I still managed to earn 6,583 SB last month (which is the equivalent of $65.83). Not too bad for just answering a few questions and clicking through a few videos!

7.  I only watched 3 movies for the Fall Film Challenge last month, so I obviously don't get a pass on this one. Eric and I usually make an effort to watch at least one scary movie on Halloween, so I did technically watch 4 movies last month ... But only 3 were for the challenge. (If you're interested, we watched Rosemary's Baby on Halloween. I'd actually never seen it before. It was pretty creepy, but some parts were a little too over-the-top for me. I eventually want to read the book as well.)

8.  I'm going to give myself a pass on this one. I finished about half of the books I had at home, but I did put a few more on hold before the month was over in preparation for the Semi-Charmed Winter 2015 Book Challenge. I also returned a couple of books I didn't read the last time I went to the library. I hate doing that, but I'd prefer to (mostly) focus on the challenge for now ... I can always pick them up again at some point in the future.

Obviously not the greatest month for me in terms of achieving my goals, but I still feel like I did an okay job (especially considering the number of goals I set). I'm not going to go crazy with goal setting for November since I'll be pretty busy between New Mexico, celebrating my 2 year wedding anniversary, and Thanksgiving ... But I'll be back tomorrow with a short list of things I'd like to accomplish this month.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Tasty Tuesday: Cilantro Lime Salmon

Sometimes I try to cook things that are seasonally appropriate, like the Tortellini Soup I featured last week or the Pumpkin Pecan French Toast I posted last October. Other times, like today, I just share a recipe because I think it's good.

This salmon meal may be more spring/summer than fall/winter, but it's definitely worth trying ... Especially if you're looking for a quick, healthy weeknight dinner. I made this last week and it almost made up for the fact that I also had Taco Bell for dinner. Twice. (Their new online ordering system just makes it too damn easy.) At least I worked out a few times ... Right?

I'll try not to focus on my terrible eating habits right now, though. (That's another post for another time.) Instead, I'm going to focus on this delicious salmon dish.

Cilantro Lime Salmon

Cilantro Lime Salmon

Adapted ever so slightly from a recipe on Closet Cooking.

Ingredient List:
  • 2 salmon fillets
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped (I often rely on jarred, pre-minced garlic, but I feel like a simple sauce like this really benefits from fresh garlic.)
  • 1 lime
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, roughly chopped (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper


1.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

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

3.  Blend the olive oil, cilantro, garlic, jalapeño pepper (if you opt to use one), and the juice from the lime together in a food processor or blender until smooth.

4.  Place the salmon fillets on the baking sheet and season with the sea salt and black pepper.

5.  Spread the cilantro lime sauce over each fillet.

6.  Bake the fish for 10-15 minutes, or until it flakes easily with a fork. (I left my salmon in the oven for 13 minutes, and it was the perfect buttery, melt-in-your-mouth texture.)

As you can see, this is an incredibly simple meal. I love that it requires very little time and effort, yet tastes amazing. This recipe also allows for some adjustment to the spice level since you can opt to include jalapeño pepper or leave it out completely. (I've made this both ways, and I prefer it with the jalapeño, while Eric prefers it without.)

I served this fish over a bed of long grain white rice with a side of mixed vegetables. This was easily the healthiest (and most effortless!) meal I made at home last week.