Sunday, March 27, 2016

Currently I'm ...

I've been trying to make an effort to post more often, but lately I haven't had the time. Or, if I do have time, I'm more interested in doing something else (mostly hanging out with Eric or reading) or just too exhausted to form coherent sentences.

I wasn't really in the mood to post today (I really don't like posting on weekends for some reason), but I figured I had the extra time and energy ... So, why not?

Since I didn't sit down with a specific topic in mind this evening, I decided to just go the super easy route and do a "currently" post. I'm hoping this will put me back into a blogging frame of mind because I tend to work harder to make time for blogging if I'm feeling inspired to write.

But anyway, here's what I'm up to right now:

Currently I'm:

Reading: Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney. This is one of the last books I need to complete for Book Challenge by Erin 4.0. I still have two more to go. I was hoping to finish the challenge by the end of this month, but it's already the 27th and one of the books I have left is over 500 pages long ... So maybe that won't happen. Oh well. It's not like I can't complete it by the end of April! I'm planning to read This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper next.

Listening To: A lot of Tori Amos.

Especially this:

And this:

Side note: It's the 20 year anniversary of Tori's Boys for Pele album. 20 years. It's hard to believe that that many years have passed since the late(ish) '90s. This also makes me feel old. (Though, to be fair, I was still only 11 years old and in 6th grade in 1996. But still ... 20 years?)

Wishing: I could find my motivation. I haven't felt like doing much of anything lately, and it's starting to annoy me. I keep putting things off and then wonder why my "To Do" list is suddenly a mile long.

Spending: Much more than I probably should. I wanted to be more frugal this year, and managed to do a great job cutting back in January and February. Then March rolled around and suddenly I decided it was necessary to eat out and get snacks and/or Doubleshots at work multiple times each week. I didn't buy any other frivolous items, but that doesn't make up for spending a bunch of money on crap. Not to mention the fact that I'm clearly not making healthy choices when I do this. Whomp whomp.

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Trying: To get back on track. I've been horrible with meal planning (which, of course, leads to eating out randomly throughout the week), horrible with blogging stuff, and horrible with motivating myself to work out. I don't like to beat myself down or anything, but putting this stuff on my blog makes me feel like I should get it together. After all, I don't want to come back a month later and feel like nothing has changed.

Thinking: That I want to learn how to do more with my hair and makeup. I've been tempted to try some new hair products and makeup (bought using a gift card, of course), but I feel like I'll just end up looking like this:
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Or, even worse:

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I'm just not very skilled when it comes to that stuff. (And yes, I watch YouTube tutorials sometimes and still can't seem to figure it out!)

Craving: Chocolate and potato chips. I've completely given in to both of these cravings on a regular basis this month, and yet I still feel like I need them. I ate at least half a bag of salt and vinegar chips while I was typing this post. Haha.

Loving: These videos that have made me laugh like crazy over the last couple of weeks:

That one is a little long, but totally worth watching (if you haven't seen it already).

And the video below? Well, let's just say I wouldn't be exaggerating if I told you that Eric and I watched this video at least 15 times in a row the other night. We've become obsessed with this kid's "forceful serenading" (and the voice change about halfway through). Haha.

Planning: To try a bunch of new recipes in the upcoming weeks. I got really excited when I was putting together a grocery list yesterday. (Further proof that I'm old? Or maybe just easily excited? Haha.) I can't wait to see how they turn out. Hopefully they're all amazing so I'll have plenty of new recipes to share!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Tasty Tuesday: Cool and Creamy Spinach Dip

Lately I just haven't been feeling very inspired in the kitchen. I've tried a few new recipes this month, but, for the most part, I've been sticking with old favorites. (And, if I'm being completely honest, I've also been relying on eating out and convenience foods a lot lately. That's what happens when you spend a weekend visiting family in Kansas City and then have the apartment to yourself for a week while your husband is out of town. Or at least that's what happens with me.)

I thought about skipping a Tasty Tuesday post altogether this week because I really didn't have anything to share. But then I started thinking about the fact that I have a small archive of old recipes and pictures that I've never gotten around to posting here.

This spinach dip is one of those recipes.

I've made this dip countless times (though I unfortunately haven't bothered to photograph it more than once, as you can probably tell by the less than stellar picture in this post). If I need to bring something in to feed a group at work, this is my go-to recipe. I'm posting the original recipe measurements here, but I typically double (or sometimes even triple) this recipe if I know I'm feeding a crowd. Trust me ... This goes fast!

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Cool and Creamy Spinach Dip

A recipe from Cassie Craves.

Ingredient List:
  • 1 10 oz. package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese (The original recipe calls for less, but I'm usually a little more generous with the cheese since everyone I serve this to seems to think more cheese equals a better dip. I don't disagree.)
  • 1 packet dry vegetable soup mix (I usually either use Knorr or Mrs. Grass. The Mrs. Grass brand comes in a box with two packets, so it's very convenient if I'm doubling the recipe.)


1.  Mix all of the ingredients together in a medium bowl. I usually stir the dip quite a few times to make sure everything is as evenly distributed as possible.

2.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. (I always make this the night before I plan to serve it.)

And that's it. This is literally one of the easiest recipes I've ever made, and it's absolutely delicious.

I usually serve this with tortilla chips (as you can see from the picture), but I'm sure it would also be good with fresh vegetables, potato chips, or bread.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Seasonal Goals: Spring 2016

Life According to Steph
Steph and Sara have decided to do a seasonal goals link-up. And, even though I'm more of a monthly goals kind of person (and will continue to post my monthly goals and results), I've decided to join in. Since today marks the first day of spring, it seemed appropriate that I share my goals for the season on this date.

The thing about monthly goals is that sometimes I intentionally leave things off because I know there's absolutely no way I'll be able to complete everything I want to do in 30-31 days. Some projects just take a little longer (at least for me).

So for the purposes of this link-up, I've decided to focus on a few of my more time consuming goals over the next three months. (And if you're wondering, I'm giving myself March 20-June 20 to complete these goals ... So exactly three months.) These are some of the things I've considered adding to my monthly goals but wasn't confident I would have the time and/or energy to get all of it done in such a short amount of time.

Spring 2016 Goals

1. Purge and reorganize my closet (including shoes, underwear, etc.).

Last year I donated a bunch of clothing I never wear to Goodwill, but, for whatever reason, I still hung on to some things that were in the "Maybe I'll Wear This Again One Day" pile. This year I need to be ruthless. I have so much shit in my closet, and I can honestly say that there are many items that I probably haven't worn in the last two years. They're just taking up space and they need to go.

2. Buy a few new things to update my spring/summer wardrobe.

I've been trying to be a little more frugal this year, though I've definitely spent a little more than normal this month (whomp whomp). I do try to buy a few new clothing items every fall/winter and spring/summer, though. If I'm being perfectly honest, I don't love spring and summer clothing ... So about 75% (at least) of my clothes are more fall/winter appropriate. In the spring and summer I usually just wear t-shirts and jeans (or maybe shorts if it's really hot) and call it good. And, while there's nothing wrong with that (at least in my opinion), sometimes I feel like I have nothing to wear if I want to go out for a nicer dinner or just simply feel like wearing something a little nicer than a band t-shirt and skinny jeans. (And that's my typical outfit because I own a lot of band/concert t-shirts.) I don't want to go crazy with spending, but I'd like to pick up a few cute things over the next three months.

3. Pay off 25% of the remaining balance on my auto loan.

After doing the math, I realized it wouldn't be too hard to do more than that. However, I'm going to be a little more conservative here and say 25%. If I can pay more, great. But if I need or want to use extra money for something else, I don't want to feel like I can't just because I've committed myself to paying off the majority of my car loan.

4. Finalize planning and booking our 3 year wedding anniversary trip for November.

Eric and I already have a location in mind, but the prices keep fluctuating quite a bit (it might be a difference of $200-$500 depending on the day) and we want to make sure we're getting the best deal. Because of the ever changing prices, we've both been a little hesitant to buy and more willing to wait it out a bit ... But I don't want to wait too much longer. This is one of those goals that would probably happen regardless of whether I post it here, but posting it gives me added incentive to pull the trigger when the price drops again.

5. Spend more time outside.

This probably seems like a silly goal to some people, but whatever. I don't think I take advantage of nice weather often enough, and spring is one of the best times to enjoy being outside. In Omaha it can get ridiculously hot and humid in the summer, and all I want to do on those days is seek air conditioned shelter. But in spring the weather is usually pretty mild ... Or at least mild enough that I can go for a walk/jog without sweating my ass off and feeling like I might die. This goal doesn't have to be strictly about exercise, though. It could be something as simple as sitting on the balcony of my apartment to read, going to a (mostly) outdoor place for the day (like an outdoor shopping center or the zoo), or opting to dine outside at a restaurant on a nice evening. I basically just need to spend more time enjoying the nice weather.

6. Plan Eric's birthday dinner.

Eric's birthday is June 13, so I have plenty of time for this. I'm kind of a planning weirdo, though, and like to spend a lot of time reading reviews and looking over menus before choosing a restaurant. We really don't do much for birthdays besides a nice meal out, so I want to make sure the place I pick is awesome.

7. Go to the eye doctor.

This is probably another kind of silly goal, but this is something I keep putting off. I don't even know why ... I mean, going to the eye doctor isn't pleasant, but it's not awful. I need to go pretty soon, though, because I know I'm overdue for my annual exam and I need to order some more contacts. I'd also like to get some new glasses. I've had my current glasses for an embarrassingly long time, and even though I only wear them around the house and they're fine for that, I'd like to get a cute new pair with my current prescription that I wouldn't mind wearing in public. And it might be nice to give my eyes a break from contacts now and then.

8. Update my recipe index on the blog.

I've been tempted to put this on my monthly goals list each month since the beginning of the year, but I haven't because I honestly didn't know if I'd get around to it. It's not that time consuming, but it does take a little extra time and effort, and most days I just haven't felt like doing it. I'm so far behind with updating it, though, that I honestly can't even remember the last time I did it. And, while it's obviously not the end of the world, I'd like to get it up to date. I mean, why even have the recipe index at all if I'm not going to update it regularly?

9. Update the look of my blog.

This is something I've been toying with for a while. I don't want to spend a ton of money on it right now, but I've also grown tired of my current template. I've had this design for about a year now (I think), so it's probably time to switch things up. I've been checking out different blog designers on a semi-regular basis and have a list of several I really like, but I need to narrow the list down to a top three or so and then go from there. Also, if anyone reading this has had any really positive (or really negative) experiences with a specific blog designer, please tell me about it. If I decide to splurge a bit and go the more custom route (as opposed to just buying a premade template like I did before), I definitely want to make sure the person I'm working with will do a good job!

10. Read at least 4 books I own (not rereads).

I think I've mentioned before that I'm trying to avoid buying new books until I finish all of the books I've previously purchased. And, while I'd like to stick with that, I've been getting an overwhelming urge to buy a bunch of books lately. (Especially since a few of the books I really want to read aren't available at my library.) I have a couple of gift cards I could use for this purpose (Amazon and Barnes & Noble), so I wouldn't be spending any of my own money (or very little of my own money, anyway) ... But I still feel like I should stick with my original plan. So, as a sort of compromise, I've decided that if I can read at least 4 of these previously unread books, I can buy some new ones. That seems both reasonable and doable ... Well, as long as I don't keep getting distracted by all of the awesome books my library does have!

Looking back at this list, it seems like a lot. I have three whole months to complete everything, though, and I think that, realistically, it can be done.

Obviously I'm more excited about some things than others (I don't enjoy purging and reorganizing my closet, for example, but I'm looking forward to planning and booking my anniversary trip), but these are all things that I would like to accomplish in the near future.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Tasty Tuesday: Chicken and Pasta in a Lemony White Wine Feta Garlic Cream Sauce

I always feel kind of silly posting recipes with ridiculously long names like this one. I mean, yes, I probably could have shortened it, but I wanted to showcase all of the main ingredients ... So ridiculously long name it is.

If you've been reading my blog for a while (or even if you've just looked through some of my previous Tasty Tuesday posts), you probably know that pasta is one of my favorite things to make and eat. Add a creamy sauce and it's pretty much guaranteed that it will be one of my absolute favorite meals.

When I came up with this recipe, I was craving pasta with a rich garlic cream sauce. And, while a simple garlic cream sauce is delicious, I really wanted to make something a little different. I've been on a feta kick lately, so we happened to have some in our fridge. We also always keep some white wine for cooking on hand, so, in an effort to use items we already had in our kitchen (well, mostly ... I had to buy a lemon), this recipe was born.
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This is the kind of decadent pasta dish that I can't allow myself to make all the time. (Not if I would like to avoid gaining 50+ pounds!) But I think it's important to splurge sometimes, and this is the kind of dinner I want when I'm going to splurge.

One thing to note before I share the recipe: the recipe as written makes a lot. I usually make extra when I cook because I rely on leftovers for dinner on our busiest nights. I will say, though, that this meal wasn't quite as good heated up. It wasn't bad or anything, but it definitely tastes best on the day it's made.

Chicken and Pasta in a Lemony White Wine Feta Garlic Cream Sauce

A Divulge and Indulge original recipe.

Ingredient List:
  • 2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (I used 3 fairly large breasts.)
  • 1 box short pasta (I used Garofalo organic gemelli from Costco.)
  • 3 tbsp butter, divided (I used unsalted butter.)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 3 cloves garlic (or, if you're lazy like me, the equivalent of jarred, pre-minced garlic)
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1 lemon
  • 1/2 tsp Mrs. Dash Italian Medley
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper


1.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to package directions, drain, and set aside.

2.  Melt 2 tbsp butter over medium heat in a large skillet. 

3.  Combine the Mrs. Dash Italian Medley, sea salt, and black pepper in a small bowl. Rub the spice mixture over the chicken breasts.

4.  Once the butter has melted, add the chicken to the skillet, cooking until lightly browned on all sides and no pink remains. After the chicken is fully cooked, remove it to a plate and cut it into smaller chunks or strips if desired. (As you can see from the picture, I cut mine into chunks. I like cutting my meat into smaller pieces in meals like this because I like to have both chicken and pasta in almost every bite.)

5.  Melt the remaining 1 tbsp butter in a small saucepan over medium heat.

6.  Add the olive oil and garlic to the melted butter, cooking until the garlic is fragrant (about 30 seconds to 1 minute).

7.  Whisk in the flour to create a roux. You'll want to whisk the mixture constantly for about 1 1/2 minutes to avoid lumps.

8.  Gradually whisk in the heavy cream until no lumps remain.

9.  Reduce the heat to medium low. Whisk in the white wine and juice from the lemon, and continue whisking the sauce until it thickens and bubbles. (This should take about 5-8 minutes.)

10.  Remove the sauce from the heat. Stir in the crumbled feta cheese until it has mostly melted. Add additional seasoning to taste if desired. (I just added a little black pepper.)

11.  Add the chicken back into the large skillet, then add the drained pasta. Pour the sauce over the pasta and meat, then toss several times to coat evenly.

I loved that I could taste each of the main flavors in the sauce. Sometimes I'll make something and it will mostly taste of one or two of the main ingredients, but this sauce definitely allowed all of the flavors to come through. And if you're not a fan of feta or white wine or lemon, you can easily switch up the ingredients to make it your own.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Recently Read: In-Depth Reviews - March 2016 Edition

As you've probably noticed by now, I've been sharing more in-depth reviews of the books I discuss in my Show Us Your Books! posts the Sunday following the link-up. (If you haven't read my shorter reviews of these books and would prefer to do that, you can find them here.)

I know not everyone loves reading lengthy reviews. I also know I can be long winded when it comes to talking about things I really enjoy (like books and music, for example). That's why I save these posts for the weekend.

If this isn't your thing, skip it and come back on another day. If, however, you want to know a little more about why I did/didn't like a book, this post will give you that information.

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Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson - 278 pages

Completed on 02/13/2016
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Wintergirls was a difficult book for me. I don't mean that it was a difficult read in the way that, say, Anna Karenina was difficult. It was difficult because it spoke so openly and honestly about what it means to struggle with a mental disorder and what it feels like to be completely out of control of your life and your actions.

In the case of Wintergirls, the mental disorders were anorexia (in the case of the main character, Lia) and bulimia (in the case of her best friend, Cassie). Lia also had to deal with some other major issues, including self-mutilation and depression ... And her best friend's death.

Lia and Cassie grew up together, and as they began developing new, more mature bodies, they began to fear gaining weight. As they discover ways to lose weight, they find themselves almost competing to be thinnest. The girls eventually have a falling out, and the last time Lia hears from Cassie is the night she dies ... The night Lia refused to answer even though Cassie called her thirty-three times.

The story is told in an interesting, almost poetic way, as Laurie Halse Anderson weaves together moments from Lia's past and present that have led her to walk the dangerous line between the living and the dead. Haunted by her memories of Cassie (and by Cassie herself), she must decide how much she's really willing to lose.

This was one of the more realistic books I've read when it comes to mental disorders. Anderson very accurately describes what it's like to have obsessive and disordered thinking (two things I unfortunately have firsthand experience with), and how difficult it can be to recognize when others are trying to help when you've followed that downward spiral so deep inside yourself that you can no longer see out.

That being said, it was definitely a very tough book to get through. It's an extremely sad and unsettling story of a girl struggling with her issues because she doesn't know how to do anything else. It's not that she wants to feel these awful things about herself or deny herself the simple pleasure of a cupcake or never experience a life outside of her own head ... She's just felt this way for so long that she no longer knows how to live any other way.

I really loved this book, and wavered between a 4 and 5 star rating. I settled on 4 stars because while it was very good and made me feel so many things (I definitely cried at the end!), I wished Anderson had gotten just a bit deeper into Lia's character. I felt like I didn't know that much about her as a person other than she was the child of divorced parents, she used to take ballet, she was once best friends with Cassie, and she was anorexic and depressed.

It kind of feels weird to say that because readers are given such an intimate look into her mind, yet she somehow felt incomplete. And maybe that was the point ... Maybe she was supposed to seem like she wasn't much more than the mental disorders overwhelming her. But I would have liked to know a little more about her.

Despite this one flaw, I thought the book was amazing. And, even though I still felt like I didn't know much about Lia as a person by the end of the book, I still cared about her.

I would definitely recommend this book, however, I'd do so with some hesitation. If you've dealt with any of the issues discussed in this novel (whether firsthand or with a friend or family member), this may be a really difficult read. It's definitely not the kind of book you want to go into with absolutely no knowledge of what it's about. But, as difficult as it was for me to get through certain sections of Wintergirls, I'm so glad I read it. I'm sure it will stick with me for a long time.

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg - 293 pages

Completed on 02/16/2016
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Wow. I don't even know where to begin with this book.

Although I anticipated really liking this book (I mean, Jana and Erin both highly recommended it, so I knew it had to be great!), I didn't expect to feel completely gutted (yet strangely hopeful) by the end. I also didn't expect to dissolve into a hot mess of tears that made Eric tentatively ask, "Um, are you okay?" as I finished the last few pages.

When I read a book like Did You Ever Have a Family, I struggle with finding a way to adequately describe my thoughts. Basically I just want to say, "Read this now!" to everyone I know (and anyone who reads this, obviously).

Although their relationship has been strained for the past few years, June Reid and her daughter, Lolly, have been spending more time together as they prepare for Lolly's upcoming wedding. But on the night before the ceremony, June's entire world is shattered.

In an instant, June's home goes up in flames, taking the lives of her daughter, her daughter's fiance, her ex-husband, and her boyfriend, Luke. Feeling completely alone and directionless, June decides to leave her small Connecticut town and begins heading west.

Did You Ever Have a Family is told from multiple points of view, from major characters like June and Luke's mother, Lydia, to those who have a very limited view of things from the periphery, like the wedding caterer and the couple running an inn on the Pacific coast. Although there are many characters, I thought choosing to mix the "insider" points of view with those on the outside was an interesting way to tell the story.

My only real issue with this book was one of the subplots involving Lydia. I think that Bill Clegg was trying to show readers just how lonely she really was, especially after losing her son ... But I just didn't think it was overly effective because it was just so bizarre. (At least in my opinion.)

That being said, I still really loved this book. In fact, I would go as far as to say it was nearly flawless. The characters were rich and vibrant ... I felt like I was reading about real people, not fictional characters. The story was heartbreaking but also surprised me by adding an element of mystery, as readers don't discover what actually caused the fire until close to the end. I also really enjoyed Clegg's writing style, though I admittedly didn't love that he switched back and forth between first and third person quite a bit from chapter to chapter. (That's just something I generally don't like.)

This book broke me apart in so many ways. It's a story about grieving and secrets and guilt. Despite the darker subject matter, though, it's also a story filled with hope.

"And it might be you never know the part you played, what it meant to someone to watch you make your way each day. Maybe someone or something is watching us all make our way. I don't think we get to know why."

The Girl in 6E by A.R. Torre - 336 pages

Completed on 02/22/2016
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I'll start this by saying that, generally speaking, books with an "Erotica" label on Goodreads don't pique my interest. (The one exception was You by Caroline Kepnes, which I read and reviewed last year. I'm patiently waiting for the sequel, Hidden Bodies, to arrive on my holdshelf at the library!) I liked You because it was less about fucking (or romance, for that matter) and more about getting into the mind of a psychopath.

So when I first read the summary for The Girl in 6E, I thought it might be the right kind of "Erotica" for me.

Deanna Madden lives alone in an apartment, locking herself away from the world. She hasn't been outside in three years. But she isn't afraid of what's out in the world ... She's afraid of what she may do if she's around other people.

In an effort to forget her troubled past and avoid her murderous urges, Deanna escapes into an online world. Known as "Jessica Reilly" online, she pays her bills by working in the sex cam industry. Men (and sometimes women) make their requests, and she brings their fantasies to life.

Occasionally she comes across an especially perverted client, but not until she begins chatting with "Ralph" does she feel truly afraid. Ralph is seemingly obsessed with very young girls, and, after talking with him several times, Deanna begins to fear that "Annie" isn't just his fantasy. And, if she is a real little girl in danger, Deanna must decide whether she's willing to take matters into her own hands ... And how far she's willing to go.

The Girl in 6E is one of the more interesting books I've read recently. While it didn't have the sort of emotional appeal that Wintergirls and Did You Ever Have a Family did, I was completely captivated by the story. The author obviously did quite a bit of research on the sex cam industry, and I appreciated that I was able to see inside a world I probably never would have otherwise.

There were a few things I really didn't like, though.

My first major issue with this book was something that bothers me about a lot of books and movies. In fact, I'd say it's probably the number one reason why I don't typically go for entertainment that falls under the "Romance" category. I'll try to avoid spoilers and keep it a little vague, but the whole "I just met you but I'm so completely into you/might be in love with you and will do pretty much anything for you" thing always annoys the shit out of me. Not only did that situation pop up in this book, it also felt really out of place.

My other major issue with The Girl in 6E was that I felt like there were too many inconsistencies when it came to Deanna's character. Was she really an evil murderer or was she just a confused young woman with a lot of issues? It was never completely clear. I think that the author was attempting to create a complex character, but unfortunately it sometimes just came off as a little awkward and unbelievable.

Overall, though, I really enjoyed the story and rated it 4 stars on Goodreads. This isn't the kind of book that will stick with you forever or change your life, but it will definitely keep you entertained! (And I already have the second book in this trilogy checked out from the library, so obviously I wasn't quite ready to leave Deanna and her story behind.)

Missing Pieces by Heather Gudenkauf - 284 pages

Completed on 03/04/2016
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A couple of Heather Gudenkauf's other books, The Weight of Silence and These Things Hidden, have been on my "To Read" list for a while (along with this book). After reading Steph's review of Missing Pieces, I decided to move it to the top of my list. I was in the mood for a good thriller, and this seemed like it would fit the bill.

Unfortunately, Missing Pieces fell flat for me.

Sarah Quinlan's husband, Jack, has a very troubled past. His mother was murdered in their home when he was just a teenager, and, after disappearing, his father became the prime suspect. Eager to cut ties with his hometown and the terrible memories that linger there, Jack moved away as soon as he could and never looked back. But when his aunt is hospitalized after an accident, Jack feels compelled to go back to Penny Gate, Iowa to be with his family.

As Sarah learns more about her husband's family and past, more and more questions arise. Digging deeper into the mysteries surrounding his mother's murder and his aunt's accident, Sarah begins to wonder how well she really knows the man she married.

I'll admit that sometimes I struggle with suspending my disbelief while reading books or watching movies, but so many of the things that happened in this book made me shake my head and think, "What the fuck is this author thinking?" Many of the character's actions were completely unbelievable, and I also found it strange that Sarah knew so little about her husband of 20 years. I mean, he was described as a fairly quiet man who wasn't very open about his past ... But still. I probably could have believed that she was discovering all of these things about his life before her (and reacting the way she did) if they'd only known each other and been married a very short time. But 20 years? No. I don't buy it.

I also didn't really like Sarah (or any of the characters, really). It's not that the characters were simply unlikable (I actually don't mind reading books with unlikable characters) ... It's just that none of them seemed particularly well developed, and I honestly didn't care much about any of them.

And, since I was hoping this book would keep me turning the pages, I was annoyed that I was able to pick out the killer so quickly. I kept hoping that maybe the author would go in another direction (she certainly tried to plant several seeds of doubt throughout the book!), but no ... It was exactly who I thought it would be. In fact, I was so disappointed by this that I tossed the book down as soon as it was revealed and said, "I fucking knew it!"

I didn't know why this person did it, though, so of course I had to read on. Unfortunately, the reason was, in my opinion, a little silly. I understand that this character was supposed to be a little unhinged anyway, but I still had a hard time buying the motive.

I think one of the most disappointing things about this book was the fact that it started off strong and then seemed to drag on. The writing wasn't really bad or anything, but Gudenkauf failed to captivate me. It took me almost two weeks to finish this book because I never felt compelled to pick it up. That's an insane amount of time for a book that's under 300 pages!

I'm not completely giving up on Heather Gudenkauf, though. I'll probably read at least one more of her books. I think Missing Pieces had an interesting plot, but the underdeveloped characters, their unbelievable behaviors and reactions, and the less than thrilling presentation kept me from really enjoying the story. This book definitely falls under the "just okay" category for me, and for that reason I gave it 2 stars on Goodreads.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

From the Bookshelf: Recently Read - March 2016 Edition

I was hoping to have this post up much earlier today, but obviously that didn't happen. I usually try to write my reviews immediately after I finish reading a book, but I've really been slacking lately in the blogging department ... So that didn't happen either.

And, if I'm being honest here, I slacked quite a bit in the reading department last month as well. I've only finished 4 books since the last Show Us Your Books! link-up with Steph and Jana (for comparison, I read and reviewed 7 books last month). Oh well ... At least the majority of the books I'm reviewing today were really good!

So let's get to it, shall we?

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Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson - 278 pages - 4 stars

Lia and Cassie were best friends, impossibly thin girls each struggling with her own personal demons. For Cassie, it was bulimia and the desire to be the best at everything. For Lia, it was anorexia, self-mutilation, and depression.

The girls eventually have a falling out, and the last time Lia hears from Cassie is the night she dies ... The night Lia refused to answer even though Cassie called her thirty-three times. Now haunted by her memories of Cassie (and by Cassie herself), Lia must decide how much she's really willing to lose.

Laurie Halse Anderson did an excellent job really getting into the mind of a teenage girl suffering from obsessive and disordered thinking. This is probably one of the most realistic books I've read when it comes to mental disorders.

Because of this, it was a very difficult book for me to get through. Although I thought it was fantastic, I recommend it with hesitation. If you've dealt with any of the issues discussed in this novel (whether firsthand or with a friend or family member), this may be a really tough book.  The story is both sad and unsettling, and it's definitely not the sort of book to pick up if you're looking for a fun, light read.

If the plot intrigues you, though, I say read it. It's well worth the time. The writing style is unique and almost lyrical, and the story is not one I'll soon forget.

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg - 293 pages - 5 stars

In a single moment, June Reid loses her entire family. As she watches helplessly from the yard, her home is engulfed in flames, ending the lives of her daughter, Lolly, her daughter's fiance, her ex-husband, and her boyfriend, Luke. Feeling she can't bear to stay in her small Connecticut town after the tragedy, June begins aimlessly driving across the country.

Did You Ever Have a Family is a story about grieving and secrets and guilt. But it's also a story filled with hope.

This is the kind of book that I find difficult to review because I loved it so much. It's so much easier to write about all of the things that are "wrong" with a book than it is to explain why it touched me so deeply. Tears were streaming down my face as I finished the last page, and I felt completely gutted ... Yet I also felt strangely hopeful.

I'll share more of my thoughts on this book on Sunday when I post my more in-depth reviews. For now I'll just say that this book was amazing and beautiful. If you only read one of the books I'm reviewing today, please read this one. But don't just take my word for it ... I know that both Jana and Erin also gave it 5 stars on Goodreads!

The Girl in 6E by A.R. Torre - 336 pages - 4 stars

Deanna Madden (a.k.a. "Jessica Reilly") is a reclusive young woman who makes a living working in the sex cam industry. She hasn't been outside in years, choosing to lock herself away in her apartment rather than risk giving in to her dark, murderous urges. Creating a very simple set of rules for herself, she's managed to avoid killing for three years. But rules were meant to be broken.

The Girl in 6E definitely falls under the "WTF did I just read?" category. There are a lot of explicit sexual situations (but, oddly enough, no actual sex). There's a bloodthirsty main character with a dark, tragic past. There's also a subplot involving a pedophile (and that alone is generally enough to give most people a "WTF did I just read?" feeling).

Although I had a couple of issues with the story (I'll discuss those in more detail in Sunday's post), I really liked the book overall. The story was fascinating (I definitely felt like I learned a lot about the sex cam industry!), and I stayed up late reading at least a couple of nights because I was so captivated by the story.

I don't think this is the right book for everyone, but I found it very entertaining. I'm looking forward to reading the other two books in this series (and I actually already have the second book checked out from the library)!

Missing Pieces by Heather Gudenkauf - 284 pages - 2 stars

Sarah Quinlan's husband, Jack, has always kept her mostly in the dark about his troubled past. However, when his aunt is hospitalized after an accident, he cannot avoid his hometown and the terrible memories that linger there any longer. Soon after arriving in Penny Gate, Iowa, Sarah begins to learn more about her husband's family and past ... And finds herself wondering if she really knows him at all.

I had really high hopes for this book after Steph gave it 4 stars and said she read it in a single night. Unfortunately, it just didn't work for me.

I'll be discussing my thoughts on this book in a little more detail in Sunday's post, but for now I'll say that it just couldn't hold my attention. I love thrillers and I love stories about family secrets ... But I didn't love this book.

It wasn't the worst book I've ever read (not by far!), but, for me, it was truly "just okay." I had to force myself to pick it up each time I had time to read, and I even went two or three days without picking it up at all. It took me well over a week to finish it, which is kind of insane for me. (Well, it's insane when the book is under 300 pages!) I didn't hate it, but I really didn't care enough about the story or the characters to ever feel captivated by Missing Pieces.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

February 2016 Goals and Results

I kicked ass with most of my goals and workouts in January. In February? Not so much.

Today I'm linking up with Kristen and Gretchen and sharing my goals and results for last month.

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When months like February happen, I hate posting my goals and results. I mean, obviously I'm human and shit happens ... But it still sucks.

My biggest issue in February was getting sick. Eric got sick, and, despite my best efforts, I managed to catch whatever awful thing he had. I feel like neither of us get sick often, but when we do, it completely wipes us out. We were both sick for about two weeks. 

I did try to do a few lighter yoga workouts during that time (as well as work toward some of my other goals), but I just really wasn't feeling it. All I wanted to do was sleep. 

Hopefully March will be a much more productive month for me! For now, though, here are my goals and results for February:

February 2016 Goals and Results

1. Don't buy any snacks or Doubleshots at work.

FAIL. I was seriously so close to achieving this, but I had to cave one day late in the month and buy a Doubleshot because I woke up too late to have coffee at home. I would have filled my travel mug, but the lid broke a couple of years ago and I never bothered to replace it. I prefer to have coffee before I get on the road anyway, so it didn't seem necessary to buy a new one. I feel like I need caffeine to function properly/avoid getting a headache (not a good thing, I know), so I opted for a Doubleshot. Other than that, though, I stayed away from the snacks and sugary coffee drinks last month.

2. Read 5 books.

FAIL. I actually can't believe I failed this one. Five books in a month is pretty average for me, so I thought this would be one of my easiest goals for the month. But, like I said at the beginning of this post, I was sick for about half the month and I spent a lot more time sleeping than reading.

3. Continue exercising 5 days each week.

FAIL. While this was mostly due to being sick for two weeks at the beginning of the month, I also kind of let myself slip toward the end as well. It was like, "Well, I already failed this goal so it doesn't really matter." I know that's a terrible way to think, but I got pretty busy the last week of the month and I guess I felt like I needed to somehow justify not making time for even a 20 minute workout. Whatever. Moving on.

4. Try 3 new recipes.

PASS. Like last month, I tried 4 new recipes. I've already posted the Vegetarian Spinach, Artichoke, and Feta Breakfast Casserole, the Crockpot Chicken Fajita Soup, and the Buffalo Chicken Potato Nachos with Avocado Ranch Sour Cream, and I'm planning to post the fourth new recipe next week.

5. Go completely vegetarian (all meals) once each week.

PASS. This was actually a pretty easy change to make, and it's something I'm planning to stick with in the upcoming months. I may eventually try to go completely vegetarian twice a week (or maybe even more), but once a week is good for now.

6. Post 2-3 times each week on my blog.

FAIL. I started off pretty strong, but the last couple of weeks of the month got really busy. (So if I haven't been as active with responding to comments or leaving comments on other blogs lately, that's why.) I didn't have the extra time to devote to writing and editing blog posts, so I just posted once a week and called it good. I'd prefer to post at least twice a week, though, so this is something I'll continue to work on.

7. Finish New Mexico trip recaps on my blog.

FAIL. I think this one is an obvious fail since there were clearly no new posts about our trip. I'm not sure why I didn't do this (other than maybe lack of motivation while I was sick and lack of time later in the month), but I really need to get it together and finish recapping that trip. I mean, we went to New Mexico in November. I probably should have finished those posts a long time ago.

As you can see, it wasn't a complete bust ... But it wasn't exactly a great month either.

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I decided last month that I would start posting my monthly workout totals in an effort to stay motivated and accountable. Obviously that didn't work so well in February, but I'm still going to share the workouts I did do and hope that maybe it will motivate me to push myself a little harder this month. (Though I did manage to lose another 2 pounds last month even without hardcore workouts, so that's something!)

Again, I know this stuff is boring for some people. I kind of feel like my workout summary is especially boring because I never share what types of videos I did (though, to be fair, I never write that down so I don't remember by the time I'm ready to post it here). If you're the kind of person who doesn't care to read about someone else's workouts, feel free to skip this part of the post.

February 2016 Workouts

Week 02/01 - 02/08:

02/02: Yoga video (30 minutes)
02/03: Yoga video (35 minutes)
02/05: Yoga video (30 minutes)
02/08: Yoga video (60 minutes)

Total Time: 155 minutes (2 hours, 35 minutes)

Week 02/09 - 02/16:

02/09: Yoga video (30 minutes)
02/14: Yoga video (40 minutes)
02/15: Yoga class (60 minutes)
02/16: Walking/light jogging - treadmill (60 minutes; 3.79 miles)

Total Time: 190 minutes (3 hours, 10 minutes)

Week 02/17 - 02/24:

02/17: BodyPump class (60 minutes)
02/19: Yoga video (45 minutes)
02/21: Yoga video (30 minutes)
02/22: Yoga class (60 minutes)

Total Time: 195 minutes (3 hours, 15 minutes)

Week 02/25 - 02/29:

02/25: Yoga video (30 minutes)
02/26: Yoga video (60 minutes)
02/29: Yoga video (30 minutes)

Total Time: 120 minutes (2 hours)

I don't think this was horrible by any means, but I only did strength training once and cardio once. Once in an entire month.

I like to try to do one day of strength training, one day of cardio, and three days of yoga each week, but I'd really be fine with any combination of those things. Yoga can definitely be really challenging (and I usually work up a sweat unless I've specifically chosen something "lighter" for relaxing), but I like to try to vary my workouts (at least a little).

This month I've already been favoring yoga a little more, but I'm going to try to incorporate some cardio and/or strength training back into my workouts. (And yes, I realize that I'm technically strength training when I'm doing yoga, but I'm talking about using weights in a class like BodyPump.) Hopefully I can get back into that habit!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Tasty Tuesday: Buffalo Chicken Potato Nachos with Avocado Ranch Sour Cream

Although Eric and I have mostly been trying to make healthier food choices, we said "fuck it" multiple times during the month of February. Since we were both sick, we felt justified in making things with heavy cream (like these Red Garlic Mashed Potatoes and this One Pot Tortellini with Italian Sausage in a Tomato Cream Sauce). We also made brownies (twice) and just seemed to eat more "bad" food in general.

Today's recipe is a perfect example of what I mean when I say we've been eating more "bad" food.

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I'm a huge fan of buffalo chicken, and I've been craving it a lot for the past couple of months. I've also been seeing a lot of potato nacho recipes floating around on Pinterest and various blogs, so I spent some time trying to figure out the best way to combine a basic potato nacho recipe with buffalo chicken.

I'm not going to lie: this recipe isn't perfect. Eric thinks that maybe next time we should try grilling the chicken and dicing it up. The shredded chicken from the crockpot was really juicy, which was nice ... However, it retained a little more moisture from the chicken broth it was cooked in than we would have liked, and the result was a slightly thinner buffalo sauce and potatoes that lost some of their crunch after the chicken had been sitting on top for a while.

That being said, the overall result was very good. (Obviously good enough to post here!) The flavor was almost exactly what I had imagined when I first started figuring out how I could make these nachos. This kind of recipe is also very versatile, so it would be pretty easy to switch up the meat (or method of cooking the meat), toppings, and flavors. Eric and I both really loved these nachos (we seriously ate the entire pan that you'll see pictured below in one sitting!), and this is the kind of thing I'd want to make if we were going to have a small group of people over. (It's not really enough to feed a large group unless you doubled or tripled the recipe. Or maybe we just eat a lot. Haha.)

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One final thing before I share this recipe: these nachos were spicy. I was honestly surprised that Eric liked them so much because even I thought they were pretty spicy, and my spicy food tolerance is much higher than Eric's. I'm posting this recipe exactly as I made it, but I'd highly recommend using less hot sauce and/or omitting the jalapeños if you (or someone you'd be making these for) don't love super spicy foods.

Buffalo Chicken Potato Nachos with Avocado Ranch Sour Cream

Adapted from a recipe on Real House Moms.

Ingredient List:
  • 2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (I used 2 large breasts.)
  • 7-10 small to medium red skin potatoes (I used 7 or 8, and that was more than enough for us. You can also use 1 large or 2 smaller russet potatoes if you're not a huge fan of the red skin potatoes.)
  • 1 1/4 cups shredded cheese (I used a cheddar jack blend.)
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 cup hot sauce (I used Frank's Red Hot.)
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 packet dry ranch dressing mix
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 tsp garlic salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper (plus additional to taste)
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Olive oil (I didn't measure how much I used, but I just tossed the potatoes in a little olive oil, sea salt, and black pepper before the initial cook time, so use the amount you feel is best based on the amount of potatoes you're using.)
  • Toppings (optional): diced green onions, sliced pickled jalapeño peppers, fresh diced tomatoes, extra cheese, extra avocado, etc.


1.  If you're cooking your chicken in the crockpot, spray the inside of the crockpot with cooking spray. Add the chicken breasts, garlic salt, 1 tsp black pepper, and enough liquid (I used chicken broth, but you could also use water) to cover the meat. 

2.  Cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 3 hours. When the chicken has finished cooking, shred it with two forks and remove it to a medium bowl. (You can also grill or pan fry your chicken and dice it into small chunks, or you could shred a rotisserie chicken. I'll probably try grilling my chicken next time.)

3.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

4.  Slice the potatoes into medium thick slices (between 2.5-3.5 mm thick). I used a mandolin to do this, and, while it's not absolutely necessary, it's a great tool to get slices of consistent size/thickness. It's also so much easier and faster than trying to slice small potatoes with a knife. (At least in my opinion!) This is also how I know the actual thickness of the slices ... If I'd just been eyeballing it, I wouldn't know that they were between 2.5-3.5 mm!

5.  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray. (I actually had to use a total of three baking sheets for this recipe because there were so many potato slices.) 

6.  Toss the potato slices in a little olive oil, sea salt, and black pepper, then arrange the potatoes on the baking sheet(s) in a single layer.

7.  Bake the potatoes for 10 minutes, then flip the potatoes and bake for an additional 5-10 minutes. (The total cook time will depend on how thin the potatoes are. I baked mine for the full 20 minutes, but I checked on them after 15 to make sure I didn't overcook them.)

8.  Coat a baking dish with cooking spray, and pile the potatoes together in the dish. Cover with the shredded cheese and diced red bell peppers, and return them to the oven to bake for an additional 5-6 minutes (or until the cheese has melted and the peppers have softened slightly).

9.  While the potatoes are baking for the final time, melt the unsalted butter in a microwave safe bowl. Add the hot sauce to the butter, and mix thoroughly.

10.  Pour the buffalo sauce over the chicken in a medium bowl. Toss several times to coat the chicken thoroughly.

11.  Add the avocado, sour cream, and dry ranch dressing mix to a food processor and blend until everything is completely mixed.

12.  When the potatoes have finished baking, remove the baking dish from the oven and set aside. Top the potatoes with the buffalo chicken, a generous dollop of the avocado ranch sour cream, and any additional toppings you would like to use (as you can see from the pictures, we used diced green onions and sliced pickled jalapeño peppers).

I know this seems like a lot of steps, but it's really not a difficult recipe. And, honestly, the cleanup was the one thing that took the most time. Everything else goes pretty quickly, especially after the chicken is cooked and the potatoes are sliced. (And the mandolin made slicing the potatoes feel ridiculously easy and quick.)

I don't know how well this reheats since we ate that entire pan in one sitting (I should probably be a little more embarrassed of this fact, but I'm not). I assume that since we had some slight issues with the chicken retaining a little too much moisture from the crockpot, the leftovers may have been a little soggy.

If you don't think you can eat this much in one sitting, you may want to cut down the recipe or use a different cooking method for the chicken. You could also try not adding any toppings (including the meat) to the potatoes until the potatoes have been placed on your plate, and then store the leftover potatoes and leftover toppings in separate containers.