Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Two Nights Stuck in Chicago, a Bunch of Cancelled Flights, and a Rental Car: A True Story of Travel Hell

As several of you may have seen via Instagram, Eric and I had a pretty hellish trip home.

We actually had some trouble on the way to West Virginia as well, but, even though we lost an entire day, it still wasn't as bad as our trip home. (We found out we wouldn't be able to get a flight in due to multiple delays and cancellations while we were still in Omaha. We were able to get placed on another flight out the next afternoon, and then we just went home. Not an ideal start to the trip, but not the end of the world.)

The way back, though? Oh my God. Awful doesn't even begin to describe it!
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Our first flight was delayed, and we knew there was absolutely no way we'd make our connection. We worked with someone at the ticket counter, and we somehow managed to get the last two available seats on the last flight from Chicago to Omaha that night.

We thought we were so lucky ... Until our flight to Chicago kept getting delayed. After about 5 hours of waiting for an aircraft, we finally boarded and set off for Chicago. Unfortunately, we would no longer be able to make our later flight to Omaha, so we had to get placed on yet another flight early the next afternoon.

We were obviously not too happy with the situation, but there wasn't anything we could do. We just decided to suck it up and sleep in the airport that night. (I can now say I've slept in an airport 3 times in my life, and it's just as horrible as it sounds.) We didn't get much sleep that night, but we were kind of like "Whatever!" at that point ... We just wanted to get home.
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Our first flight out was delayed several times and then cancelled, but we managed to get seats on another flight a little later that afternoon. At that point we weren't too optimistic.

It's a good thing we weren't really expecting to get out of Chicago because they cancelled every single flight going out on Monday due to weather.
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We obviously weren't going to rough it in the airport for yet another night, so we managed to get a pretty inexpensive (yet nice!) hotel in the immediate area with a free shuttle to and from the airport. (I also obviously had to take a picture of the sink in our bathroom because I thought it was really cool. I know, I know ... I'm a dork.)
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Before leaving the airport, we secured seats on the first available flight the next day. That flight didn't leave until 8:00 p.m. and it was a flight to Lincoln ... So obviously not ideal at all. (If you're not familiar with my area, the Lincoln airport is about an hour from the Omaha airport. Our checked luggage had supposedly made it to Omaha, so we needed to go to that airport to pick it up and to get Eric's car.)

We rented a car, and thankfully Hertz worked with us and got us the best possible deal. (Apparently getting a rental car for a one way trip can cost up to $150 from some rental companies. Seriously ... We were quoted $150 from one place at the Lincoln airport and we were like, "Are you serious?" They were.)
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We drove to the Omaha airport, returned the car, (thankfully!) found and claimed our luggage (I guess it had been sitting there for a couple of days), and went to Eric's car. After he scraped off the snow and ice that had accumulated while we were away, we paid our parking fee and finally set off for home.

Words can't even begin to describe how ecstatic we both were to get home. I've never been so happy to take a shower in my own bathroom and sleep in my own bed.
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I didn't go to bed until 1:30 a.m. (and I had to work at 7:00 a.m. this morning), but at least neither of us had to miss yet another day of work.

We've had issues with travel before, but never like this. I wish I'd gotten a better picture, but here is a shot of part of the line for United customer service in O'Hare:
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The line extended well beyond that point in both directions. I couldn't even see the end or the beginning. We managed to avoid that line entirely by dealing with gate agents and booking our own hotel, but man ... It was insane.

The one bright point in all of this (besides getting to spend time with my family and friends, of course!) was our experience in the United Club lounge. One of my friends had a couple of passes that were going to expire at the end of this year, and since she wasn't going to take any trips to use them, she mailed them to me to use.

We kept putting it off because our flights kept changing so often that we felt like we needed to be near the gates at all times in order to get booked on something else as quickly as possible. (I have no idea how we managed to avoid going on standby!)

By the end of the trip, we were in full on "fuck it" mode, so we spent our last few hours in O'Hare hanging out, eating complimentary snacks and drinking complimentary beer and wine.
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While it didn't change our shitty travel experience, it made things a little better.

I'll probably write a little more about our time in West Virginia at some point (that part of the trip was great!), but I just had to share this story now. When we were leaving the Omaha airport last night I turned to Eric and said, "Well, at least I have something to post on my blog!" (Not that I didn't have a few other end of the year posts in mind. Those will have to come a little later, I guess!)

Monday, December 21, 2015

Mind Dump Monday: Christmas Travels and Other Random Stuff

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I can't believe that in just a few short hours, I'll be on my way to West Virginia to spend Christmas with my family. This is the first time I've been back for Christmas since 2008!

Things I'm looking forward to about this trip include: seeing my family and friends (obviously), meeting my friend's new baby for the first time, seeing the Christmas decorations I grew up with (though I'm sure there are some new additions), slightly warmer weather (and no crazy Nebraska winds!), and my mom's potato casserole at Christmas dinner.

Since I'll be away, I probably won't be quite as quick to respond to comments or other emails this week. (Not that I'm really that quick with responses most of the time anyway.)

I've been an incredibly lazy blogger lately. I wanted to have plenty of posts scheduled for this upcoming week (including another New Mexico recap), and I don't. I'm taking my computer with me, but I don't know how much time I'll have for blogging (or if I'll even feel like posting anything while I'm away). I took my computer to New Mexico and didn't open it once, so we'll see if this trip is any different.

I didn't even share my November goal results because I didn't complete any of them, and I didn't bother making December goals because I knew I couldn't make myself stick to any specific goals this month. I usually like making and completing goals, but I just haven't been feeling it the last couple of months.

I've not only been lazy with my own blog, I've also been falling behind on reading other blogs I follow. I've tried several times to get caught up, but then I get busy with/distracted by other shit and fall behind again. I know it's not a huge deal, but I like reading blogs and I like commenting.

I'm actually really looking forward to the start of the new year. I get that I don't have to wait until January 1 to get my shit together, but let's be honest here ... I'm clearly not going to get into a healthy eating/exercise routine while I'm traveling. I'm also not going to be keeping any sort of schedule. It's just too hard to do that while I'm away from home.

I thought about making this post more interesting with pictures and/or GIFs, but I decided that was too much work. (Again, lazy blogger here.) I mostly just needed to take a minute to type some of my random thoughts out before I hop on a plane and head halfway across the country to visit my family.

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

New Mexico (The Two Year Anniversary Trip): Part Two - Stuff We Did

I planned to share another post about my New Mexico trip last week, but time just got away from me. This last weekend was also insanely busy with in-law family stuff, but I managed to find a little time on Sunday night to answer emails I'd let pile up for too long, take care of some laundry that I'd also allowed to pile up for too long, and work on a couple of blog posts for this week. Unfortunately, I didn't quite get this post finished in time to publish it on Monday. Oh well. Wednesday's just as good.
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As the title indicates, my post today is all about the stuff we did while we were away ... With one exception. I'm going to save our hot air balloon ride for another post (mostly because we took a bunch of pictures that I want to share, and I didn't want to put that many pictures in one post).

One of our first stops on the trip was a local winery. There are actually quite a few wineries in the Corrales/Albuquerque area, and, even though we did a little research before we left, we weren't sure which one we should visit.

The owners of The Chocolate Turtle (I talk about how awesome our stay was here, if you missed my first recap) told us about Casa Rodeña, and after checking out some pictures, we were sold. (And, to make it even more appealing, they gave us a voucher for a free wine tasting for two!)
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We'd never visited a winery before, and I'm so glad this was our first experience! The bartender was very knowledgeable and very nice. We like drinking wine, but we're definitely not wine connoisseurs. We asked our bartender a lot of questions, and he was really great about answering them. 

We were able to try all of the wines that Casa Rodeña offers during our tasting. I generally prefer white wine, but the reds were actually pretty good as well (for the most part, anyway). 
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After our tasting, Eric and I decided to order a glass of wine each and enjoy the beautiful scenery in the back of the tasting room. 
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We also left with 4 bottles of wine. (Though, to be fair, two were for us and two were gifts.) I was really glad we decided to drive ... It definitely made it much easier to cart them home!

Old Town Albuquerque was another stop during our first day in town. It's a cute little area mostly filled with unique shops. I definitely wished we'd budgeted more money for this trip when I visited some of the shops because they had some fantastic jewelry and home decor for sale!
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There was also an adorable little church in the center of Old Town, so of course we had to get a few pictures:
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Our last stop in Old Town (and the first of several museums we visited) was the American International Rattlesnake Museum. Unlike my friend's husband who actually breeds snakes, I'm not a huge snake lover. I don't hate them (though I definitely wouldn't want to find a wild snake hanging out in my apartment!), but I'm not obsessed with them. However, since Eric and I are pretty nerdy, we thought it would be an interesting place to check out. And it was only $5 per person to get in, so it was cheap entertainment.

If you hate snakes, you might want to skip over the next few pictures.
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I loved this last guy. His face reminds me of a crotchety old man.

We took a lot more, but I know most people reading this probably don't want to look at a bunch of snakes.

Before we left for our trip, we weren't sure if we were going to drive to Santa Fe and/or Roswell while we were in the area. Roswell was about 3 hours or so away, and Santa Fe was only about an hour. 

On the drive down, we decided we didn't want to spend a huge chunk of our time away in the car, so we opted not to go to Roswell. We still weren't sure about Santa Fe, but everyone we spoke to at the B&B and in the shops (everyone was incredibly friendly and wanted to know all about us and where we were from) asked if we were going to Santa Fe during our time in New Mexico. After probably the third or fourth person asked, Eric said, "Well, I guess we're going to have to go to Santa Fe since everyone keeps talking about it!
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I'm so glad we took the time to drive there. As you can see from the picture above, it was absolutely beautiful. 

Santa Fe also had a ton of art galleries and museums, so we spent a lot of time checking those out. I couldn't tell you the names of the art galleries ... We just walked into the ones that caught our eye. As for the museums, we visited the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum and the New Mexico History Museum. We didn't take many pictures in any of these places (mostly because many of them didn't allow pictures), but here are a couple:
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Above is the exterior of the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum.
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I wish we could have taken pictures in the special pinhole photography exhibit at the New Mexico History Museum because it was my favorite thing. The photos were surreal and haunting and disturbing, and it was amazing to think that these images were created from something so low tech. 

We did, however, take some random pictures of the scenery (and ourselves), so I'll share a few of those:
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Santa Fe was a really cool place. Like I said, it was definitely worth the extra drive time!

The last thing I want to talk about in this post is our visit to the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History. Eric and I both felt like we didn't spend enough time there because there was just so much to read and see. 
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I'm not a huge history buff, but this museum was really interesting and I felt like I learned a lot. There was a ton of information about the Manhattan Project, the Cold War, nuclear medicine ... The list could go on and on. And, I'm not going to lie, I teared up while I was reading about and looking at pictures from the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Horrifying stuff.

Anyway, I don't want to end on such a sad note, so instead I'll share a couple more pictures and then call it a day.
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I know this was a really long recap, so if you made it to the end, I think you're awesome (and thanks for reading!)! If not ... That's okay too. I know I can ramble on and on sometimes!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Tasty Tuesday: Gooey White Chocolate Fluffernutter Cake Bars

Are you sick of holiday treats yet? If the answer is yes, you may just want to come back tomorrow. (But really ... Would anyone answer yes to that question?)

If, however, you're still on a baking kick, I highly recommend giving today's recipe a try.

If you've been reading my blog for any amount of time, you've probably noticed I don't post a lot of dessert recipes. It's not that I don't like sweets (trust me, I like them way too much!). I'm just not much of a baker.

In fact, one of my 2015 New Year's resolutions was to bake more often this year. I really want to get more comfortable with baking, and the only way to do that is to force myself to do it on at least a semi-regular basis.

I'll be sharing how I did overall on my goals for the year in another post, but I'll tell you right now that I failed that one miserably.

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I found this recipe after spending a ridiculously long time on Pinterest. My mother-in-law and her sisters host a cookie exchange every December, and every December I find myself in a panic, desperately searching for the perfect delicious cookie/dessert bar/fudge recipe.

Everyone in Eric's family knows I love cooking but hate baking, but I still feel pressured to bring something awesome. Unfortunately, a lot of really awesome baked goods seem to require a little more skill than I have.

So when I found these Gooey White Chocolate Fluffernutter Cake Bars, I was thrilled. They didn't require a ton of ingredients, the instructions were simple, and I knew no one else would be bringing anything like this. Perfect!

In hindsight, I will say that these probably aren't the best thing to bring to a cookie exchange. While they taste amazing, they are definitely sticky and gooey ... So they're not exactly the easiest thing to pick out of a container and place into one of your own.

These are a better option if you're planning to make a dessert for a group at your home (I got 20 bars out of this recipe) or if you're taking a dessert to a sit down meal elsewhere. They're so gooey that I actually prefer to eat them with a fork. So just keep this in mind if you think you want to try these bars!

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Gooey White Chocolate Fluffernutter Cake Bars

A recipe from The Domestic Rebel.

Ingredient List:
  • 1 box yellow cake mix
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 7 oz. jar marshmallow creme
  • 2/3 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 12 oz. package white chocolate chips


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Line a 13x9 inch pan with aluminum foil, extending the foil over the edges of the pan. Spray the foil with cooking spray and set aside.

3. Combine the cake mix, egg, and oil to form a soft dough. I used my KitchenAid stand mixer for this (mostly because I rarely use it, and I liked having a reason to bust it out), but you could easily mix this together in a large bowl by hand.

4. Press the dough evenly into the pan and set aside.

5. Mix the marshmallow creme, peanut butter, and sweetened condensed milk in a medium bowl until thoroughly combined. (This will be very thick.) Pour the mixture over the dough in the pan, spreading it as evenly as possible.

6. Pour the white chocolate chips evenly across the top of the marshmallow/peanut butter mixture. (I didn't use the entire bag, but it was close.)

7. Bake the bars for about 23-25 minutes, or until the edges are set and the top begins to turn golden brown. I baked mine for the full 25 minutes, but I'd recommend starting low and adding time. You definitely don't want to bake them too long because you'll want the interior to remain gooey.

8. Allow the bars to cool completely before cutting into squares. I'd suggest allowing them to cool to room temperature, then placing them in the fridge for a few hours before cutting. I made a couple of batches, but I only put the second batch in the fridge before cutting them. The second batch turned out much better ... The first batch tasted good, but even after allowing them to sit out at room temperature for several hours, they were still extremely gooey and basically fell apart when I tried to cut them. I managed to salvage a few bars from the first batch, but we mostly had to keep these for ourselves since they were such a hot mess. Don't make this mistake!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

From the Bookshelf: Recently Read - December 2015 Edition

It's that time again ... Time to link up with Steph and Jana to talk about all of the wonderful (and not so wonderful) books I've read since the last Show Us Your Books! link-up. This is my favorite time of the month because I love sharing my reviews and checking out what other bloggers have been reading. (And, of course, adding a million books to my neverending "To Read" list!)

I'm not going to waste a lot of time with an introduction because, let's be honest, you're probably only here to see if there are any books you should add to your "To Read" list. So I'll get right to it! (And please feel free to skip to my TL;DR section at the end if you're not in the mood to read lengthy reviews.)

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Orphan #8 by Kim van Alkemade - 376 pages

Completed on 11/14/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

I don't read a lot of historical fiction because, to be honest, it's not really my thing. However, when I read the summary for Orphan #8, I was intrigued enough to pick it up at the library. And I'm really glad I did.

Orphan #8 is the story of Rachel Rabinowitz, who, at the tender age of 4, loses her parents to a tragic and horrifying act of violence. Rachel and her brother, Sam, are separated, and she is sent to live in a Jewish orphanage where Dr. Mildred Solomon is conducting medical experiments on the children.

As "material" for Dr. Solomon's research, Rachel is subjected to X-ray treatments that cause her to permanently lose all of her hair. As she grows older, she's transferred to another orphanage and reunited with her brother. However, her appearance makes her a target for harassment and cruelty from the other children. Sam does what he can to protect her, as does his friend Vic and Naomi, the only true friend Rachel manages to make at the orphanage ... But unfortunately it's not always enough.

Years later, Rachel is working as a nurse at Manhattan's Old Hebrews Home. Despite the horrors of her youth, she has managed to mostly push the past aside and move on with her life ... Until she's brought face-to-face with Dr. Solomon, now old, fragile, and dying of cancer.

As more information about the experiments she endured surfaces, Rachel becomes obsessed with making Dr. Solomon acknowledge (and pay for) the things she did. Eventually Rachel realizes that she must decide between forgiveness and revenge.

At the end of the novel, there's a section in which the author discusses her inspiration for the book. Much of the novel was based (at least loosely) on actual events, and several of the characters and situations were drawn from her own family's history and experiences. I loved this added insight, and I felt it made the book even more powerful.

However, I wouldn't go as far as to call the novel perfect. There were sections that were incredibly boring, which was kind of shocking. (I mean, seriously ... How can you possibly make a book like this boring?)

Additionally, while I tend to enjoy novels that flip between past and present, I hate when authors decide to switch between first and third person. In Orphan #8, the sections set in the present (which, in this case, is 1954) are written in first person, while the sections detailing Rachel's past are written in third person. I don't necessarily find it confusing ... Just sort of annoying.

My other major complaint about the book was the fact that shit was just continually dumped on poor Rachel. I understand that her life was never going to be all sunshine and roses, but my God ... I wanted to grab the author by the shoulders, shake her, and say, "Okay, enough is enough!" I just hate when characters (especially female characters) are treated as "easy targets" for terrible treatment.

One unexpected thing I really appreciated about the book was the fact that Rachel was a lesbian. I feel like this aspect of the story has gotten the most mixed reviews on Goodreads, and, while I agree that the story would have been perfectly good without any romantic elements sprinkled in, I think it provided an interesting (and upsetting) look into the struggles of being gay during a time when this was viewed as "unnatural." (Unfortunately, many still struggle with some of the things Rachel did. However, at least everyone is now free to marry the person they love!)

Overall, I really enjoyed the novel and gave it 4 stars on Goodreads. Orphan #8 isn't a book I'd recommend to everyone, though. There are some rather disturbing sections, and more than a few heartbreaking moments. It's definitely not for the faint of heart. For me, though, it was an interesting look into a horrifying history I didn't even know existed.

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The Man From Primrose Lane by James Renner - 365 pages

Completed on 11/22/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

The Man From Primrose Lane is a complete mindfuck. There's really no other way to describe it.

As many others on Goodreads have said, it's nearly impossible to review this novel without spoilers. I'm going to do my best, but I'm going to say right now that I'll be sharing something that some people might consider a spoiler ... So just keep that in mind. (The only reason I'm okay with sharing this is because I knew about it before I even picked up the book, and it didn't hinder my enjoyment of the story in any way.)

A reclusive elderly man, known simply as the Man from Primrose Lane, is found brutally murdered in his home. Four years later, David Neff, a successful true crime writer, is visited by his publisher and introduced to the mystery surrounding this strange man. His publisher is hoping for a new book ... David, while intrigued, is simply looking for a distraction from the crushing sadness he's felt since his wife, Elizabeth, committed suicide.

What follows is a story that is beyond weird. (And I mean that in the best possible way.) One minute you think you're reading a crime thriller/mystery novel ... And then suddenly everything shifts and you probably look something like this:

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(Or maybe that was just me.)

Most of the time when I read a book that makes me exclaim, "What the fuck?!?" multiple times, it's not a good thing. Somehow, though, James Renner managed to take all of these insane ideas and twist them into a captivating story.

I loved that Renner mentioned some of my favorite musicians (Tori Amos, The Decemberists, and Neutral Milk Hotel) in the book. I almost didn't mention this in my review because I knew most people would see that and think, "So what?" Well, there's a reason I decided to include it. (And here's where the spoilerish stuff comes in, so feel free to skip this part!) As I was reading, I wondered if maybe the author was inspired by some of this music as he was writing. The lines "And will she remember me 50 years later/I wished I could save her in some sort of time machine" from Neutral Milk Hotel's "Oh Comely" kept running through my mind as Renner began to detail David's powerful obsessions. Maybe I'll come out of my shell and actually ask him about that on Goodreads since he's answered reader questions in the past. We'll see.

The Man From Primrose Lane is one of those books that I want everyone I know to read so I can discuss it with them. I will say, though, that this (like many of the books I read) isn't a book for everyone. It's dark and disturbing and there were some sections that literally made my skin crawl. But, if that sounds like your kind of thing, I'd definitely recommend this one.

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Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica - 371 pages

Completed on 11/29/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

I think I'm going to have to face facts and say that I'm just not a Mary Kubica fan.

I read The Good Girl earlier this year, and was severely disappointed. However, because it was her debut novel, I decided to cut her some slack. After all, no one's perfect and sometimes it takes authors a little while to develop their voice.

And, while I thought Kubica did a much better job this time around in terms of making each character's voice distinct, I thought the story was kind of boring and still found the writing to be kind of bland and sloppy.

And, if that wasn't enough, there were numerous times when I thought, "Why didn't the editor catch this mistake?" I'm sorry, but when you spell a character's name a certain way, you should continue to spell it that way each and every time the character is mentioned. You should especially keep the spelling consistent if the name is mentioned several times within two pages. This happened with at least two characters, and it definitely wasn't the only error I caught. (Trust me, there were a lot!) I mean, come on.

But back to the actual story.

Heidi works at a nonprofit in Chicago, and is constantly overwhelmed by her desire to help others. So when she sees a young girl standing in the rain on the train platform, holding an infant in her arms, she can't get the image out of her mind. She assumes the girl is homeless, and becomes determined to find a way to help her.

She decides to bring the girl, Willow, and her child into her home in an effort to help her get back on her feet. Her husband, Chris, and preteen daughter, Zoe, are both annoyed and concerned ... How much does Heidi actually know about this strange girl? Could she be dangerous?

As in The Good Girl, Kubica alternates her chapters between three points of view: Heidi, Chris, and Willow. Through Willow's chapters, readers slowly learn about the dark secrets she's hiding and the chain of events that led her to be homeless on the streets of Chicago.

I really wanted to like this book, but I really didn't. I only bothered to give it 2 stars on Goodreads because I was glad to see that Kubica has gotten better at creating different voices for her characters. For me, that was the only redeeming quality. (So, basically, if this was my first Kubica novel, it would have earned only 1 star.)

I know that a lot of people really liked The Good Girl, and Pretty Baby has also gotten its share of rave reviews, but I'd say skip this one.

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The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood - 306 pages

Completed on 12/05/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

I didn't know much about this book before I picked it up from the library. I usually read through book summaries and reviews on Goodreads (or at least on other blogs) before I add them to my "To Read" list, but in this case I was mostly just interested because it was a new Margaret Atwood novel.

I've mentioned before that The Handmaid's Tale is one of my favorite classic novels. I also really enjoyed The Year of the Flood (though not as much as I loved Oryx and Crake, which I'd count as one of my all-time favorite novels). So, of course, I was expecting The Heart Goes Last to become a new favorite.

Unfortunately, it didn't live up to my expectations.

Stan and Charmaine are a married couple struggling to make ends meet after a massive economic collapse. After they both lose their jobs, they're forced to live in their car. Charmaine finds casual work as a bartender, but the little money she makes is quickly spent on food and gas.

After hearing about the Positron Project in the town of Consilience, the couple wonders if this might be a way out of their current situation. It seems like the perfect place: no one is unemployed and everyone has a comfortable home to live in. The catch? On alternating months, the residents must live and work in the Positron prison system. The other six months of the year they are free to live and work as civilians.

In the beginning, this seems like a small price to pay. However, once Charmaine begins having an affair with the man who lives in their house during the months she and Stan are in prison, things become much more complicated ... And much more dangerous.

I don't even know where to begin with the things I disliked about this novel.

The main characters were really annoying, especially Charmaine. I think she could have been a really complex character, given the fact that she initially seemed so timid and wholesome only to give in to the darker parts of herself when she begins having an affair. However, she was mostly written as a ditzy blonde with very few (if any) "deep" thoughts. And, while I don't think it's necessary to swear excessively (or at all, really), I was beyond annoyed each time Charmaine said something like, "Darn it to heck!" This was probably made even worse by the fact that her husband, Stan, dropped an f-bomb every couple of sentences. I'm sure it was done to highlight their differences (or something), but, to channel Stan here, it was really fucking ridiculous.

And the affair ... Oh God. I don't mind books with an affair as a central plot point, but if the author is going to go that route, at least make it believable. I'm sure there are hundreds of ways in which two people can become entangled in an illicit affair, but in this book, Charmaine and Max simply ran into each other when she stayed late at the house to prepare it for their "Alternates" (the couple living there while Charmaine and Stan were in prison). They said maybe 5 sentences to one another before Max basically lunged at her and began kissing her and running his hands under her clothing. And then our "sweet, wholesome" Charmaine was just like, "Ummm ... Okay, sure. Yeah, let's hook up." (She didn't say that exactly, of course, but that's essentially what happened. It was beyond bizarre.)

I'm not the kind of person who believes you need to be in love in order to have sex with someone, so it wasn't that. It was just that there was no build-up. I feel like most one night stands have more of a build-up than this sorry excuse for an affair, which basically amounted to the two of them meeting up in abandoned houses once a month during the changeover days, talking dirty to each other, and fucking on dirty floors amidst bugs, dust, and graffiti splattered walls. Classy.

It also seemed as though Atwood really wanted to create the craziest scenarios possible throughout the novel, but it always wound up feeling silly. There was no real tension (even when things seemed to be going in a dangerous direction), and, unlike the world she created for the MadAddam trilogy (which felt incredibly real and terrifying to me when I read both Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood), the Positron/Consilience world just seemed really fake. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement.

I could probably go on about the things I didn't like about this book, but I won't. I did give it 2 stars on Goodreads, but only because I couldn't bring myself to rate a Margaret Atwood novel any lower. (Pathetic, I know.) The reviews on Goodreads seem pretty split on this one, so read it if you think you'll like it. I just personally wouldn't recommend wasting your time.

"TL;DR" Summary:

Orphan #8 is a powerful (and unsettling) historical fiction novel the focuses on the life of Rachel Rabinowitz, a Jewish orphan subjected to medical research during her time in the Infant Home. Years later, Rachel, now a nurse, is brought face-to-face with the doctor who conducted the experiments. As she realizes the power she now has over the dying doctor, Rachel must choose between forgiveness and revenge. While I gave this book 4 stars on Goodreads, it's probably not for everyone. It can be pretty disturbing (and heartbreaking) at times, but I really enjoyed it.

The Man From Primrose Lane will fuck with your head and make you think, "What did I just read?!?" long after you've finished the last page. Part crime thriller/mystery, part science fiction/fantasy (with a few other things mixed in), this is a captivating book with major themes of murder, obsession, and fate. I really enjoyed it, and I'm glad the Semi-Charmed Winter 2015 Book Challenge forced me to bump it up on my "To Read" list! (I'm also glad it earned me 15 points for the challenge!) I almost gave it 5 stars on Goodreads but I wound up giving it 4 instead because there was one section that bored me so much that I struggled to make it through. Overall, though, it was a fantastic and interesting read. I really hope my summary inspires someone else to read it because I need to discuss this mindfuck of a novel with someone! That being said, it can be very dark and very disturbing at times, so keep that in mind if you think it's something you'd want to pick up.

Pretty Baby really didn't do it for me. It's listed as a psychological thriller, but it lacked any tension or excitement. I honestly had a really hard time getting through it. In addition to the bland writing and uninteresting story, the novel had an alarming number of glaring spelling and grammatical errors. I know that some people aren't bothered by this sort of thing, but it annoys the shit out of me. This novel managed to get a 2 star rating from me on Goodreads, but the only redeeming quality was the fact that the author did a better job of creating unique voices for her characters this time around. (That was one of my major complaints about her debut novel.) I know this book has gotten a decent amount of 4 and 5 star ratings on Goodreads, but I honestly felt like it was a waste of my time.

The Heart Goes Last was such a disappointment for me. I've really enjoyed every Margaret Atwood novel I've ever read ... Except this one. I found the main characters annoying, and the overall story just wasn't that great. There were so many over-the-top, ridiculous scenarios that it almost read like a satire or dark comedy. The only problem? It really wasn't funny. It was just ... Bizarre. There's no other word for it. In fact, I only gave the book 2 stars on Goodreads because I found it hard to rate an Atwood novel any lower. I could barely force myself to finish this one, and I was honestly relieved when I finally reached the last page.

Although I only read a couple of really good books this time around, I've read some amazing novels in 2015. I'm looking forward to sharing my top picks of the year when the bonus Show Us Your Books! link-up rolls around later this month! Now I just have to narrow my list ...

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Tasty Tuesday: Turkey BBQ Ranch Rice Bowls

I feel like I probably should have shared this recipe last week since it's a great way to use up leftover Thanksgiving turkey, but I already had my Vegan Chana Masala post ready to go so I decided to push this one back a week. The good news? This would be just as delicious with shredded chicken.

I know a lot of people love making turkey sandwiches with their Thanksgiving leftovers, but I've never been much of a sandwich person. I don't hate sandwiches or anything ... I just typically prefer other types of meals.

So when Eric's mom sent us home with some leftover Thanksgiving turkey, I wanted to come up with a simple but delicious way to use it without resorting to sandwiches. After searching our kitchen for random ingredients I could toss in with some turkey to make a filling and tasty meal, I came up with this very simple rice bowl.

I love rice bowls (some of my other favorites include this Chicken Veggie Avocado Rice Bowl and this One Pot Turkey Kielbasa Dirty Rice), so it's probably not too surprising that "rice bowl" was the first thing that popped in my head when I was trying to figure out what to do with my leftover turkey. (It probably also helps that we always have plenty of rice on hand!)

Even though this isn't much of a recipe (I mean, it really doesn't get much easier than this), I'm proud of it. I always feel really accomplished when I come up with something on my own (even if it's super simple), and I feel even more accomplished if I can come up with something on the fly using only random ingredients already lying around my kitchen. (Okay, I feel like a fucking rockstar when I do that, but that's a little embarrassing to admit.)

Anyway, this isn't the most beautiful or interesting meal I've ever put together ... But it's delicious. And simple. And cheap (especially if you already have these ingredients on hand). Clearly all of those things make this dish a winner.

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Turkey BBQ Ranch Rice Bowls

A Divulge and Indulge original recipe.

Ingredient List:
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked turkey (or chicken, if you prefer that), shredded or cut into chunks
  • 1/2 of a large yellow onion, sliced into long, thick strips
  • 1 tsp garlic salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1/3 cup BBQ sauce
  • 1/3 cup ranch dressing
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese (I used a cheddar Jack blend.)
  • 1 cup cooked rice, for serving


1.  Heat olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat.

2.  Add the sliced onions to the oil and cook for about 5-7 minutes, or until completely softened. (You'll want to stir the onions occasionally to prevent them from getting overcooked on one side.)

3.  Season the onions with the garlic salt and black pepper, then reduce heat to low.

4.  Stir in the cooked turkey (or chicken), BBQ sauce, and ranch dressing. (I chose to use a 1:1 ratio of the sauces, but if you'd prefer one flavor to stand out a bit more, you can adjust the amounts you use accordingly.) Stir the mixture several times to thoroughly combine, and allow to warm over low heat for about 3-5 minutes, or until completely warmed through.

5.  Top with shredded cheese, cover, and remove the skillet from heat. Let it sit until the cheese has melted, then serve over rice.

Like I said, this is really easy and it uses a lot of ingredients that most people probably have in their kitchen anyway. As written, this made enough for two fairly large bowls. It could easily be doubled (or tripled!) if you need to serve more people, though. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Fall Film Challenge Update: Final Movie Reviews + How I Did Overall

I am ridiculously late in posting my final results from the fall film challenge, but I guess that's not too surprising given the fact that it took me nearly a month to get my first New Mexico recap written and posted.

I love blogging, but lately I just haven't felt like sitting down to work on it as much. This happens to me from time to time, especially when I've got a lot of things going on in my everyday life (like tons of holiday parties and upcoming travel, for example).

But anyway, I figured it was better late than never. As usual, I've asked Eric to weigh in with his thoughts as well. I was hoping to get through a few more, but we only managed to squeeze in 2 more movies since my last update.

I haven't decided for sure if I'll try this again next year, but the competitive part of me really wants to. I'd like to get through more of my list next time, though that probably won't be too difficult since I completely sucked with this challenge this year!

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1.  One Day - Watched 11/22/2015

My Thoughts: I wasn't sure if I'd like this because romantic movies aren't really my thing. I'm not a completely cold hearted bitch, I just prefer my movies to be dark, scary, disturbing, or sad (or some combination of those things). Luckily for me, One Day fell into the "sad" category. I will say that parts of the movie sort of dragged on, Anne Hathaway's British accent annoyed me at times, and I wanted to punch Dexter (one of the main characters) in the face multiple times. However, while I didn't love the movie, I thought it was one of the better romantic movies I've seen recently. Everything didn't always just fall perfectly into place, and the ending made me sob like a baby. I'm glad I gave it a chance.

Eric's Thoughts: I think it's an interesting idea for a movie. It didn't play out like I thought it would, but it's hard to say more about this without spoilers. It was fun to see how the characters grew over time, and how their growth either affected their relationship or was a result of it. That sort of portrayal of time passing made it easier to see how they had changed since we were given a glimpse into who they were and who they were becoming each year around the same time.

Kristen's Rating: 3/5 stars - Liked it.

Eric's Rating: 3/5 stars - Liked it.

2.  Lolita (1997) - Watched 11/30/2015

My Thoughts: Lolita is one of my favorite novels of all time, so I was really excited to see how it would be portrayed on the screen. Thankfully, I wasn't disappointed. It's been years since I last read the book, but as I watched the film, bits and pieces came back to me in vivid detail. Jeremy Irons is wonderful as Humbert Humbert. I don't think they could have cast a better actor for that role. Similarly, Dominique Swain does an amazing job bringing the title character to life. (I was even more impressed when I read that this was her first film role. Seriously ... She is Lolita.) One of the reasons I loved the book so much was because it made me feel so many strong emotions, and this film affected me in the same way. It's repulsive and heartbreaking, and, as with the novel, I thought about this for days after I saw it. It's probably not for everyone, but I loved it.

Eric's Thoughts: Since it's told from his point of view, Lolita is portrayed as being complicit in their relationship, and I wondered if she actually was or not. And, whether she was or not, that kind of narrative puts you in the mind of a person like that, whether it be a pedophile or even a stalker ... Someone who may think something is going on between themselves and another person even though there's really nothing there.

Kristen's Rating: 5/5 stars - Loved it.

Eric's Rating: 2/5 stars - Didn't like it. (He said it was really a 2.5 because he didn't dislike it, but he didn't really like it either. I made him choose either 2 or 3 stars, though, and he told me to go with 2. Obviously we had very different feelings about this one!)

Finally, I'm going to share my final list of movies watched for this challenge. I'm kind of bummed that I didn't even get to 10, but that's okay. Maybe next time! (And hey, 9 is pretty damn close!)

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1.  A Movie Set In New York City: Side Effects - 09/12
2.  A Movie Featuring A Child As The Main Character: Lolita (1997) - 11/30
3.  A Movie Starring Harrison Ford: Paranoia - 09/07
4.  A Love Story: One Day - 11/22
5.  A Movie About Something Miraculous: 127 Hours - 09/29
6.  A Movie Starring An Actor/Actress With Your First Name: Bridesmaids - 10/21
7.  A Film Mentioned On Time Magazine's List The Top Ten Newspaper Movies: Zodiac - 09/18
8.  A Movie With A Score Of 90% Or Greater On Rotten Tomatoes: It Follows - 10/02
9.  A Movie With Subtitles: The Hunt - 10/10

Friday, December 4, 2015

New Mexico (The Two Year Anniversary Trip): Part One - Our Bed and Breakfast Experience

I'm finally going to get started with the New Mexico vacation recaps. It only took me almost a month to get around to it ... No big deal.

I love reading vacation recaps on other blogs, but I kind of hate writing my own. While it's fun to relive the fun and interesting things we did (and while I love sharing this stuff on my blog!), it can be kind of a pain to sort through hundreds of photos in order to find a few that will help me tell the story. 

I'm also completely relying on my memory (which is probably not the best thing sometimes!) because I failed to write anything down while we were away. I brought a notebook, writing utensils, and my laptop along and wrote exactly 0 words. Fail.

Anyway, I originally thought I'd be able to cram everything into one post. After thinking about all of the things we did and looking through all of the pictures, though, I decided to break it up. It just felt more manageable that way.

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Today's post is going to focus on our experience at our bed and breakfast. We had such an amazing time there that I felt like it deserved its own post. (And please note: this is not a sponsored post. Eric and I just genuinely loved The Chocolate Turtle, so I wanted to spend some time talking about it.)

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The Chocolate Turtle is in Corrales, New Mexico, which is a small town/village just outside Albuquerque. The location is perfect: the area is quiet but still close to a lot of restaurants and shopping. And this is the view from the backyard:

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See? Perfect.

The owners, Keith and Denise, are the exact type of people who should be running a B&B. They're friendly, full of useful (and interesting!) information about the area, and they make delicious breakfasts each and every morning. It honestly felt more like staying with friends or family members than staying in a hotel.

Every day they served freshly baked cookies, and also kept an assortment of free candy, soda, coffee, and tea available to guests throughout the day. On busier days we didn't take advantage of it, but we spent our entire Sunday afternoon at the B&B (Eric watched football while I read) and it was really nice to have drinks and snacks right there (especially since it didn't cost $5.00 or something ridiculous for a can of soda like it would if we utilized a hotel minibar). In addition, they left a couple of chocolate turtle candies in our room each day when they cleaned. That was always a nice thing to come back to!

And the breakfasts ... Oh my God. They were phenomenal. I'll just let the pictures speak for themselves.

Morning 1:

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Cheesy egg bake with green chiles and fresh rosemary from the garden. (Not pictured: biscuits with red chile raspberry jam, fresh fruit, and sausage.)

Morning 2:

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Orange crusted French toast. (Not pictured: fresh fruit.)

Morning 3:

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Crustless mushroom and broccoli quiche, sausage, and homemade blueberry scones. (Not pictured: fresh fruit.) I just need to take a minute here to say that I don't even like mushrooms, and I thought this quiche was delicious. And those scones?  So amazing and buttery and perfect. I think I ate at least three of them.

Morning 4:

 photo ChocolateTurtleBreakfastDay4_zpsdjuwdgh7.jpg
Huevos rancheros with a homemade red chile sauce, sausage, and fresh fruit. Keith was so accommodating that morning! We didn't get back from our hot air balloon ride until about half an hour after breakfast had been served, but he told us he'd make plates for us if we were willing to wait about 20 minutes. This was worth the wait!

Morning 5:

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Hashbrown and egg scramble with fresh salsa, bacon, and chocolate filled buns.

The tables were set beautifully each morning as well, with unique dishes and table accessories. I loved all the extra little touches! The picture below shows my favorite table setup:

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Don't worry, I'll be devoting another post to some of our other meals. We had some really awesome food while we were gone!

The food and owners weren't the only amazing things about The Chocolate Turtle, though. The rooms were clean and decently sized, and each room had its own bathroom (an absolute must for us if we're going to stay in a B&B!). 

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We opted for the Quail Room when we made our reservations, mostly because of the adorable little guy you can see in the picture below:

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They actually moved the stuffed quail around the room each day when they cleaned, so it was kind of fun to search for him each day.

The bathroom was stocked with the essentials, including face towels specifically labeled for makeup removal. (I thought that was a nice touch, especially since I wear black eyeliner and black eyebrow pencil and generally like to avoid getting that shit all over nice towels.)

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The owners also had two pets, a dog named Zorro and a parrot named Rico. I didn't get any pictures of Rico because he wasn't out as often as Zorro, but I got a picture of Zorro on our lazy Sunday afternoon when he was hanging out with us in the common area:

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He was such a sweetheart!

I don't think we could have asked for a more beautiful or comfortable place to stay. (And it was very affordable, which is also a must for us when we're traveling!) We honestly didn't want to leave!

I would highly recommend staying here if you're planning a trip to the Albuquerque area. In fact, Eric and I have already discussed maybe trying to get our families together (even if it's just our parents and us) and renting out the place for another vacation. (There are only 4 rooms, so that wouldn't be too difficult to do, especially if any of our other family members came along.) I don't know when that will happen (or if it will happen), but I think it would be a really nice getaway for everyone.