Monday, December 7, 2015

The Staycation Makeover

I'll be honest, I've never liked the idea of a staycation before. My time off is sacred, so why would I spend my time bumming around my own dumb house? But with not a lot of money and zero planning on our side, I was pretty worried that we were going to have a lame week off.  Now, I do know how to appreciate the calmer side of life, and enjoy the fine art of relaxing. BUT I also know that without plans, I'll fritter away the free time that I have and then berate myself for it later. So how to make a staycation fun?
  1. Step up. Stop thinking of all the stuff that will make this not work. Shut up and think about how cool this can be.
  2. Plan it. Create a list of things that you can feasibly do within a day's drive. Zoos, aquariums, hikes, National parks, museums, historic places, theaters, wineries, breweries, theme parks, classes, etc. Create a list of things you'd like to accomplish for yourself that you don't normally get time to do - write, try that new restaurant, read that book, do some art, etc. Build in time to chill - go to the pool, the beach, take a nap. Do not play Candy Crush. Unplug for a bit. And don't forget to
  4. Do it. This is the important part. 

How it went: 

With very little planning - I'm pretty sure we decided the first Monday of our week off- we made  it happen.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Decorating Fever

I've been hit hard with decorating fever. After looking for houses with my husband in earnest for a few months, and then having to put the entire operation on hold, I decided that the best thing to do was buck up, and make the most of the space I have.

And oh, how I've researched. I'm not the kind of person who considers herself a trendsetter, or someone people look to for style. I will never write a style blog about what I'm wearing, how to wear things, or how to decorate or organize your house. I absolutely will be one of those people who frequents those blogs with the passion of a cat chasing a laser beam. And Pinterest. Dear God. So many late nights spend cuddling with my laptop in the corner of the couch -

Pin, pin, pin. 
Pin, pin, pin.
"Whoa, such a cool idea..."
Pin, pin, pin.

[5 hours later]

Husband: "So you're coming to bed? It's 3 in the morning."

It's a sickness.

And recently, I've been finding some really great books that have led me to some really great blogs, so I will share them with you so that you can cut out all the racket and skip to the good stuff. You are welcome!

  • Design*Sponge at Home - Grace Bonney
    • Amazing examples of cool homes
    • DIY stuff at the back
  • Quick Changes: Fresh Looks for Every Room - House Beautiful
    • Breaks it up by different elements that have a big impact (mirrors, paint, etc)
  • Elements of Style - Erin Gates
    • Really funny voice and funny stories with great style
  • Think Small - House Beautiful
  • The Nesting Place
    • Really great voice - she’s a renter, makes you feel like that’s not bad
  • I Brake for Yard Sales - Lara Spencer

Monday, September 21, 2015

Book Review: The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows

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Book Review: 
The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows

Dial Press. June 2015. ISBN: 9780385342940


Twelve-year-old Willa is on the cusp of her teenage years and becomes determined to figure out things that her family won't tell her, especially concerning her dear Aunt Jottie and enigmatic father Felix. When Layla Beck, the daughter of a prominent senator, is sent to Willa's hometown in Macedonia, West Virginia to work on the Federal Writer's Project, Willa's world gets a little more interesting. As the summer passes, she learns about the secrets people keep, and the pasts that they bury in order to get by.


Saturday, August 22, 2015

Artists' Journal Workshop: Personal Favorite Supplies from Cathy Johnson

I am on hold for Cathy Johnson's Artist's Journal Workshop book at the library right now, so I looked more into and found this great page while I'm waiting. She lists all of her favorite supplies for painting and artistic journaling. I'm in love!

I have always liked the idea of using watercolors out and about, but haven't tinkered with the supplies much. Mostly, I get overwhelmed by the idea of getting all the supplies together, making sure I had everything, and then "setting out" to find the right place. By then, it's a big thing in my head, and the thought of going out and doing it sounds like a whole lot of work, and maybe it would be easier to stay in and take a nap? No more! (Well, not no more napping, naps are good, too.) With these little tools, it would be easy to keep supplies in my car, and use inspiration as it comes to me. Or throw them in a tote bag when I may have down time, and just go from there. True artistic journaling.

Seriously? Here she uses a recycled Altoids tin with little trays of color, a tiny spritzer with water, and a tiny pencil and pen. Genius! She stuffs some good watercolor paper into a notebook skin and she's good to go! TWO THINGS to carry that can fit in your purse.

This is a little more like me. I might need more colors than an Altoids box affords. Luckily, I have a little tray of paints from when I was very young that words perfectly for this.

And lastly:

A little spray bottle that she uses to wet the paints in her tins, to add texture, etc., and she has a nesting cup that fits on top, too!

Go to her website below for more great stuff, it's fantastic! And if you haven't checked out her book yet, find that, as well:

Find it here

Please see Cathy's post, here:

Artists' Journal Workshop: Personal Favorite Supplies: What Journaling Supplies Work for YOU? We all like to see what other artists enjoy using in their journals; I started our with jus...

Monday, August 3, 2015

"Dog Days of Summer" Library Display

Thought I'd bring out one of my displays of August past by showing you...

Relax in the Dog Days of Summer - August 2013

I really had fun with this one. It's very simple. I found an image of a dog laying in the grass like this and wanted to basically make a display out of it. I had a volunteer cut out my little grassy pieces and pick out the letters. I drew the dog because the picture I had couldn't be blown up without a lot of pixellation. Add in a ton of books of all ages featuring dogs - and Dog Days of Summer came to life.

See more displays like this here.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

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Book Review: 
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Scribner. May 2014. ISBN: 978-1476746586

I waited a long time in line for this book at the library. When I first put myself on the holds list, I was 213th in line, and with a little bit of patience (and a lot of copies in circulation!), it finally landed on my desk. Problem was, when I got it I really wasn't in the mood for a WWII historical novel that was over 500 pages long, and I had a bunch of other books to read as well. I let it sit on my desk, silently judging me for not passing it on to the next eager patron on the waiting list, and just before I was about to check it in and send it on its way, I had a sudden urge to give it the benefit of the doubt. I would prove that I wasn't interested! I would just read a few pages...and now here I am, writing this review.


This book follows the stories of two children before and during WWII and leads up to their ultimate convergence in the occupied French town of Saint-Malo. Spanning several years, the story is told from the alternating viewpoints of orphan Werner Pfenning, who grows up in the mining town of Zollverein in Germany, and a blind French girl named Marie-Laure, whose father works as a locksmith for the Natural History Museum in Paris. Werner lives in a children's home with his sister Jutta, and becomes especially good with radios. He gets the attention of the Third Reich, and is eventually recruited into a Hitler Youth school. Marie-Laure meanwhile, learns how to navigate without sight through Paris with the help of her father, who builds her a small replica of the city. She and her father eventually must flee Paris due to the occupation, and go to live with her great-uncle in Saint Malo, a tiny island off of the coast of France.


This book was beautiful in every aspect of the story - the characters, the plotting, the language, the detail. The language was especially incredible to me - all at once poignant, but not overwrought - leaving little images, or sounds, or textures, lingering in your head. The feel of being in Saint Malo smelling the sea air as a thousand snails crawl at your feet. The sense of dread as you wait in a truck beside Werner in a field full of sunflowers. It was easy to get hooked right away - Doerr's short chapters alternate voices, giving you a new perspective every few pages. This is great for short attention spans, and for short chunks of reading time (me on my lunch break, for example). Even as the story shifts from 1944 Saint Malo on the day that it is being barraged with bombs, to 1940 Paris as Marie-Laure and her father evacuate the city, Doerr's use of present tense makes everything feel crisp and of-the-moment.

It's a gorgeous story through and through, and those 531 pages were worth every word. Moreover, as does good literary fiction, it really reminds you that not everything is black and white, and makes you question what you would do under similar circumstances.

You'll like this book if you like:
  • great characterization
  • descriptive language
  • historical fiction
  • realism with no sugar coatings

And just for kicks, check out this video of author Anthony Doerr talking about All the Light We Cannot See!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Book Review: Absolute Beginners by S.J. Hooks

Absolute Beginners by S.J. Hooks
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Professor Stephen Worthington's structured routine gets a wrench thrown in it when unruly and outspoken Julia takes a seat in his English lit class. He starts seeing her against his better judgment, and it turns out that there is a lot that he can learn from her.


This book is like a light-hearted and sexy version of The Rosie Project. Stephen is a stuffy, over the top, and lonely young English professor who acts older than he really is. At first, he thinks his student Julia is obnoxious - she's crass, she dresses terribly, and she is disrespectful in his classroom, even if she is whip-smart. She ends up getting the better of him when she shows him that not being type-A isn't always a bad thing. 

What I really liked about this book was that even though I often thought that Stephen was over the top at times with his type-A personality, I liked Julia's character a lot. She was nonchalant, easygoing, and there were plenty of humorous exchanges between her and Stephen that carried that story for me. Moreover, the storyline actually carried it well enough so that even though it is definitely erotica, I didn't feel like the author was just trying to string me along from sex scene to sex scene. 

In addition, this is erotica that I think works for women. Julia shows Stephen what she likes in bed, which he appreciates since he's had such little experience.  I like the message of healthy sex and openness that this book espouses. Since Fifty Shades of Grey, the market's had a huge influx of similar erotica, with domineering but often jealous and controlling men that want to oversee every aspect of the leading woman's life. Not super healthy, but it definitely has a niche. This was a nice alternative for popular erotica, and the writing was pretty good too. 

I would definitely read the second installment of this series.

Thanks to Netgalley for providing me with a free advanced digital copy of this book in return for my honest review.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Book Review: How to Start a Fire by Lisa Lutz

Book Review: 
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How to Start a Fire by Lisa Lutz

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. May 2015. ISBN: 978-0544411633

Lisa Lutz sizzles with this story of friendship between an eccentric trio of women - dashing back and forth in time from their days in college and throughout their lifelong friendship, they are shaped by their ups and downs and their undeniable flaws, but you’ll root for them every step of the way. Her characters are all at once razor-sharp, witty, and compelling - each with a unique story and hilarious dialogue that will make this book hard to put down. Much funnier than the The Spellman Files for me, and a real winner as a summer read.


When quirky roommates Anna and Kate rescue George from her passed-out stupor on a neighboring lawn at a freshman-year party (in a stolen shopping cart, no less), they begin a life-long friendship that persists despite calamity, lies, and murder. With chapters jumping back and forth through time, it drives the narrative while you attempt to piece together how these characters came to be in their present states. How does Anna, the ringleader with slightly manic episodes, deal with her inner demons - find herself living with her parents after her once-successful career? How did she piss off everyone around her? Why is Kate, the steadfast eccentric, on a road trip with no destination? Who does George, the beautiful down-to-earth outdoorswoman, settle down with?

You'll like this book if you like:

  • character-driven plots
  • quirky characters
  • eccentric plots
  • ridiculousness
Thanks to Netgalley for providing me with a free advanced digital copy of this book in return for my honest review.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Book Review: At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen

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A Book Review of:

At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen

(Author of Water for Elephants and Ape House)


Philadelphia socialite Maddie Hyde is not keen on sailing overseas while World War II is raging and the journey across the Atlantic is dangerous. But when she and her husband Ellis are banished from his parents' house and cut off from their allowance after a debauched outburst at a party, they find themselves doing just that. Unable to enlist due to colorblindness, Ellis is ridiculed and shunned by his father and society. To work his way back into his father's good graces (and his pocketbook), Ellis, Maddie, and their friend Hank become determined to find proof of the Loch Ness Monster, which his father infamously photographed years earlier. When they get overseas, they see first-hand the toll that WWII has taken on the small town of Drumnadrochit, Scotland.  Maddie becomes immersed in the small town and the people who live there, and begins to learn that monsters come in many forms.


I really enjoyed Maddie's growth as a character, which was really the center of this story. She wasn't compelling to start - she was lost, a woman pushed around by her husband and his best friend, taking a back seat to their general amusement and whims. She really only starts to become the person that you want her to be when she is forced into spending time with herself in this strange place, and starts to recognize the hardships that the war is having on the town -- and that she could do more to help. This is where she really steps up and comes into her own. 

Gruen succeeds in many of the same ways that she succeeded in Water for Elephants - she does a great job of painting the historical aspects of the period into a story filled with a little magic (here in the form of superstition and folklore), compelling and often twisted characters that you can really love to hate, and an interesting place setting. You don't hear a lot about Scotland during WWII, and I really enjoyed this perspective the same way that I enjoyed riding along with the circus in Depression-era America.  Although the love angle isn't as well fleshed-out in At the Water's Edge as it was in Water for Elephants, it does still help propel the story along nicely. My only real suggestion? More Nessie! I really could have used more of the water-dwelling monster aspect. I'm kind of a sucker for that. 

Professional Reviews:
Check out Sara Gruen's interview with Publisher's Weekly here.

I received free access to a digital advanced copy of the book through Netgalley in return for an honest review.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Music Mix-up: 10 Cool Covers

Here's a few cool covers that are on my playlist right now that you might like to meet. Have covers that you can't get out of your head? Leave a comment!

1. Wicked Game - Lana Del Rey

I adore the original, but while I'm not always the biggest fan of Lana Del Rey, this Chris Issak song is definitely the perfect match for her sultry, haunting voice. 

2. Addicted to Love - Florence and the Machine

Not a lot to say, except that this is Florence and her Machine doing what they do best. I didn't care too much about this song until she came along.

3.  Strangers in the Night - Cake

A way to update Sinatra's classic with one of my favorite bands -- Cake gives this their signature feel and makes this track utterly smooth.

4. 99 Problems - Hugo

Hugo didn't keep much of the original except for the refrain, which really works in this blue-grassy sound. Definitely the best thing that came out of  the Colin Farrell remake of "Fright Night".

5. Heartless - Dia Frampton

I love it when folksy artists take on different genres - which is what Dia does really well here with Kanye's "Heartless". The Voice brought her out into the open, and thank goodness - this girl's a genius.

6. Toxic - Melanie Martinez

It takes a true artist to bring soul and emotion out of Britney Spear's gyrating hit "Toxic", so I take my bow off to you, Ms. Martinez.

7. All About That Bass (Jazz Style) - Postmodern Jukebox (feat. Kate Davis)

I'm obsessed with all of Postmodern Jukebox's songs (including Talk Dirty withYiddish rap and a cover of Iggy Azalea's Fancy in 1920s flapper-style). But for me, Kate Davis actually playing an upright bass for "All About that Bass" and singing at the same time makes this absolutely adorable, and this is a track I can actually see in my iTunes.

8. Mad World - Jasmine Thompson

So when she kept coming up on my Pandora stations, I got annoyed pretty fast with this breathy piano-accompanied voice that only ever did covers of other great songs. But this song totally sold me...oh, and also I changed my tune a bit when I discovered that she is actually a 14-year-old Brit. What the what? 

9. Skinny Love - Birdy

Her cover of Bon Iver's "Skinny Love" is well-known enough that I stuck it here at the bottom of list, even though I probably listen to this one the most. Here we have another prime example of a crazy-young artist (14 when this song made it big) that has way more talent than is fair for the rest of the world. Hogs. 

10. Stairway to Heaven - Rodrigo y Gabriela

This is a beautiful instrumental acoustic rendition of Led Zeppelin's classic. What amazes me most is how they can bring so much to a song with just two instruments. If you haven't checked out their other stuff before, you might need to now.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Resolutions: Thrive in 2-0-1-5

New year. New goals. New determination. 

So I have found that when I don't really invest my time in thinking about my resolutions, making them visible to me, etc., I am terrible at keeping them. So, to help keep me motivated, I've dressed up my resolutions and hung them where I'll see them every day, and I'm announcing them here so that I'm also more accountable. 

I've also got a monthly list that I'm using to stay on track and meet smaller goals along the way. If I realize there's no way I'll stay on track, I'll okay with changing the resolution so I don't sour on the whole thing.

Pare down and reorganize

I started this in December - and the feel of getting rid of all stuff I didn't need, and never used was LIBERATING. So I found this 30 Days of Decluttering list on Pinterest, and just modified it to suit my own needs and space. 
  • Get rid of 50 things by December
  • 30 Days of Decluttering List by April


A helpful reminder not to get lazy in the kitchen and fall into a rut. If I'm really good, maybe I'll even post them on my Sponge for Knowledge in the Kitchen blog. 
  • Try a new recipe once a month - Learn standard things if you don't already know (cook a roast, etc.) and try new recipes that are lower in calories and more nutritious so I can incorporate them into my repertoire.
  • One new on-the-go breakfast a month - I love on-the-go things! I need to make sure that I have stuff on hand to grab as I rush out the door - muffins, turnovers, more! 

Take a monthly trip

This is just a helpful reminder to keep me from staying stagnant. Some things I want to do: 
  • Renew passport!
  • Visit sister-in-law in Indiana
  • Go camping
  • Smithsonian museums and National Zoo
  • Ziplining and white water rafting on the New River
  • Visit cool cities/places: Niagara Falls, New Orleans, Memphis, Atlanta, Annapolis, NYC, etc. (Not all of these, obviously, but maybe

Be Healthy and Fit

Okay, so maybe most people have this on their list every year. But I've been doing a pretty good job this year so far since I got the MyFitnessPal and MapMyFitness apps. MyFitnessPal has been immensely helpful - I've been paying a lot more attention to how much I eat, snack, and drink in general, and I have lost 7lbs so far, and am almost at my 10 lbs. goal. That's also after falling off the wagon a few times, and through the holidays. Plus, 
  • Log food in MyFitnessPal at least 3x a week (complete an entire day)
  • Get a physical this year! (It's been way too long...)
  • Fitness: 2x a week exercise & walk 15 minutes 3x a week
  • Be able to do a pull up by the end of the year. I just want to know that if I'm hanging off a cliff from my fingertips, I'll be able to save myself. Could I do that now? No. Quit judging.

Be well: Mental Wellness

When I get over-stressed, I suck at things and am generally less animated, which feels very funny on me. These goals will help fix that, I think. 
  • Be able to meditate 15 minutes straight by the end of the year (without a guide)
  • Schedule weekly 1-hour date with myself
  • Sleep better (I'm embarrassed to say that my starting goal is to go to bed by midnight at least once a week, which has already proved challenging. I'm a night owl by heart, but sleep is healthy for my brains, so I will do this and maybe increase that to several days a week in a few months.)
  • Fill up 1 journal by December (This is a cross-goal with my writing section, see below)

Save More: Finances

If you're making your own money goals, I'd recommend putting amounts next to them as well - I did that, but just didn't post them here. 
  • Pay off one student loan in full by end of the year
  • Save for a down payment on a house (could it be this year?!)
  • Open a mutual fund
  • Add to IRA this year

Love: Marriage Goals

Gotta keep us on track, you know. We'll celebrate our five year anniversary this year! 
  • Be open and let things go (Measurable? Maybe not, but it is a good reminder)
  • Monthly love letters
  • Monthly date night 


More arts, please. Maybe I'll get around to posting pictures of them sometime? 
  • Schedule time & make space for creativity (my two greatest nemeses to my art)
  • Fill up one sketchpad (Woo! Zentangling, sketching, coloring, whatever.)
  • Do 3 oil paintings (Up from the one I do every 3 years).
  • Do 2 watercolors (Not my favorite medium, but fun as a refresher every once in a while)

Read & Write

My goals here aren't crazy, but they are solid and reachable enough that I can stick to them. 
  • Read 60 books. (Not extravagant, I know, but this is why I hope I reach it)
  • Read 10 short stories. 
  • Finish your novel! I will beat NaNoWriMo this year. 
  • Write a short story, a poem, and a song. 
  • Blog monthly. Again, not setting my sights too high, but my blogging goals have been tricky for me in the past. So with this post, I've got two in one month and I've doubled my expected productivity!
  • Finish one whole journal (again, a joint mental wellness and writing goal)

Saturday, January 3, 2015

2014: My Year in Books

Well, it's that time of year again. Goodreads has been especially useful in helping me track the books that I've read this year. I didn't read quite as many as last year, but considering most of them were bonafide adult books this year, it's not too shabby a list.

This was a year that I really went through some books that I didn't feel like finishing too - but don't judge too harshly. I have come to find that I have far and away too many books on my to-read list to bother with things that don't interest me, or just aren't my thing. I give most of them a fair shake, but if I've tried and it doesn't hook me, I'm okay with letting it go. This is something I haven't been great at thus far, but I'm getting to that point where I'm alright with it. I'll explain why in the short synopsis.

  1. Wonder by R.J. Palacio
    • Image from
    • Awesome - loved seeing different sides of the same story, the perspective in this really cinched it for me. 
  2. The Great Unexpected by Sharon Creech
    • Having loved Creech growing up, I was slightly disappointed. This was fine, but weird. Not in my typical love of weird. But weird.
  3. Insurgent by Veronica Roth
    • This was fine. Still wishing it was the Hunger Games...
  4. Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl
    • Great for young adult Jane Austen fans - fun and light reading. 
  5. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes 
    • First Jojo Moyes book and now I'm hooked. Great for fans who like moral dilemma in a British-Picoult kind of way, but a little more romance. Nothing gushy though, and I liked that. 
  6. The Last Letter from Your Lover by Jojo Moyes
    • Incredible love story spanning decades. Great sense of place. Obviously, I needed another of Moyes' right away.
  7. Allegiant by Veronica Roth
    • I am not allegiant to this series. Boring. Dull. Characters going totally against their character (here's to looking at you, Four). Also, Tris? I don't care. 
  8. Winger by Andrew Smith
    • Great for John Green fans - especially Looking for Alaska. Maybe a little too much, but still good for a boarding school book. 
  9. Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede
    • Alterate history of the west with DRAGONS and other magical beings. I was duped - this book turned out to be SO BORING and didn't do any of the cool things it could have done. None of my teens liked it for book club either. So disappointed - I loved her Enchanted Forest series growing up. 
  10. The Circle by Dave Eggers
    • Freaked me out that this is what our world is coming to, with Google and the Internet taking over our lives, and us just sheep letting it take all of our information. Still gives me chills.