Thursday, April 30, 2015

We Have a Patio!

Yep, that is right. 10 months after moving into our home, we finally have an outdoor living space in the backyard. Right now, it is only stone and a hand-me-down grill from a furniture..but that will come. I am just super excited it is all finished and it happened SO quickly. Xteriors Pavers started yesterday at 10:00am and as of 7:00pm today, they were finished. Amazing!!! Now for some pictures...

I love that they made the wall behind the grill slightly higher than a normal sitting wall to give the grill an anchor.

We are most likely going to add a few lounge-y chairs with a fire pit, as well as a dining table to this space.

The chair may go live in the trashcan soon...
And now my favorite picture of the whole process....

Warren supervised the entire patio installation process from the various windows downstairs. He is Lord Protector of the House.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Book Review: Where They Found Her

I LOVED Reconstructing Amelia, so when I found out Kimberly McCreight had recently published a new book, Where They Found Her, I was super excited about reading it. When it was delivered on Friday, I immediately delved into the twisty story and did not stop reading until it was finalized.

image courtesy of Goodreads
The setting of Where They Found Her is Ridgedale, New Jersey, a small college town. Molly Sanderson and her husband are recent transplants with Justin's new teaching position in the English department and Molly branching out as a reporter for the local newspaper. She is still grieving the loss of their second child, a stillborn daughter. Filling in for another reporter, Molly is called out to report on a body that has been discovered near a bridge, adjacent to the college.When she learns that the body is that of a newborn baby girl, she must not only face her continued grief over her loss, but also report the story to the best of her ability.

Where They Found Her is narrated by three women: Molly, Barbara, the mother of one of Molly's daughter's classmates, and Sandy, a teenager whose drug addicted mother has gone missing. Intermingled are flashbacks from other characters, Molly's new reports on the case, and transcripts from Molly's therapy sessions following the death of her baby. There are a TON of characters thrown at the reader in a very short time, along with numerous details, so it almost seems necessary to keep notes in order to keep track of all the characters, how they are related, and how each piece fits into the puzzle. Characters who do not, at first, appear to be part of the overall picture end up playing vital roles as the story unfolds. Little snippets are dropped and it is ultimately up to the reader to put all the parts together. It, at times, was a bit confusing.

While I really enjoyed the story (evidently, since I finished it in less than a day), I think the biggest issue was that there were just so many different stories in the novel that McCreight was trying to have come together. At times, it felt a little forced. Overall, I give Where They Found Her a 7.5 out of 10, but trust me when I say that should not stop you from reading the novel. It is still very captivating. :)

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Easy Spring Wreath

Last week, David was gone on a work trip, so I made it my personal mission to spring-ify the house...mainly because Abby from Just a Girl and Her Blog had just participated in a spring home challenge and it inspired me. One thing on my to-do list was to make a super easy wreath for our front door. 

After a quick trip to Jo-Ann Fabric, I was ready to go.

Materials Needed:

  • 12 inch foam wreath form
  • natural colored twine
  • silk flowers
  • ribbon
  • glue gun

Start off by putting a little bit of hot glue on the wreath form and begin wrapping the twine around the form. As you wrap the twine, make sure each rotation is as close to the previous as possible to fully cover the foam. Every few inches, add a drop of glue to better hold the twine.

I decided to cover the foam twice to add a little more coverage and dimension, so after I made it around one full time, I just kept going.

After one full rotation of coverage

Halfway through second rotation of coverage

After the second coverage, I glued off the end and started in on the flowers. I was not sure how many flowers I would need, so I bought six white and six yellow. I started with a white flower head and just added additional flowers until I felt like it was enough. Of the twelve, I used eight. You could use less or more; that is completely up to you. NOTE: Depending on the size of your flowers, you may need to adjust the amount of glue you use. I did not want my flowers to be flimsy or risk falling off when the wind blew, so I used about a dime-sized amount of glue on each one.

Once my flowers were glued on, the only thing left was to add the ribbon, which would serve as the hanger. In total, I used about 16 inches of the ribbon.

This was a super easy wreath to make and only took one and a half episodes of Sex and the City to make (my new background noise since I have already run through all ten seasons of Friends on Netflix). My fingers hurt a little at the end due to wrapping the twine, but the final product was worth it. :)

the wreath could maybe be a little bigger, but oh well

Monday, April 13, 2015

Spring Break Recap

This past week, the county I teach in was on spring break and trust me when I say that teachers love spring break just as much as students do. David was on a work trip, so I was home with the kitty all week. Originally, I had big plans to lesson plan for the fourth quarter (lame, I know), but that did not happen until Sunday night. Oops. Instead, I did some things around the house...and read. Here is a run down:

Organized the Kitchen

We have a pretty good amount of cabinet space in our kitchen, but we did not have any organization with our pots and pans. They were all awkwardly stacked and it was always super noisy to move them around when cooking. David's parents have a pot rack that hangs over their kitchen island and we really like how accessible everything is, but with our kitchen floor plan, that would not work. However, I found a pot rack from Amazon that we both really liked, so my parents got it for me for my birthday. After hanging it, I have decided I love it.

Our pans are all in one place and so easy to grab (without making a ton of noise). I plan on ordering some more hooks, so we can add some of our smaller pots to the rack. I really like that there is a small bookshelf on top. Originally, I was planning on putting my cookbooks there, but the shelf is not deep enough. However, it is perfect for a basket of tea towels (all from Belle & Union via Southern Weddings--I have an obsession and they are so useful!) and my recipe box (from Rifle Paper Co.). 

With the pans hanging on the wall, I bought an adjustable tray and lid organizer. Once it is delivered, I am going to install it in one of our lower cabinets to continue the trend of an organized kitchen.

Planted Some Things
I really want a raised garden bed so I can plant veggies and herbs in my backyard; however, I have difficulty keeping things alive. I guess I have a black thumb. So, rather than invest the money in a larger bed with tons of plants that might not live, I decided to make this spring/summer my trial run with smaller containers. If things go well, I will do the raised bed next spring. What started with just a few pots and containers sort of exploded though... 

strawberries, cherry tomatoes, zucchini squash, bell peppers (seed pod and plant), patio/container tomatoes, Roma tomatoes, basil (seed pod and plant)

I originally only planted a strawberry plant, but then the "Easter Bunny" gave me Miracle-Gro Gro-ables seed pods in my Easter basket for basil and bell peppers. I wanted to compare which would grow better, the seed pod or a seedling, so I planted the seed pods, as well as a seedling of both. With that, I thought I was done, but then I stumbled across tomato and zucchini plants on a run--a neighbor had over purchased and was giving away her extra plants in her driveway. My five pots then turned into nine. Oh well. Fingers crossed everything grows, and lives...

Updated the Porch
Our front porch is currently our only outdoor space and while we have some rocking chairs out there, it is pretty blah. So, I added some pillows to the chairs and a small table, which brightened things up a bit. I also added from potted flowers and changed out the garden flag in honor of Opening Day--Go Red Sox! 

My favorite update on the porch, though, is our door wreath. It is springy and cheery without being overly bright and in-your-face. While it potentially needs to be a little bigger, I think it works well for the time being. A how-to for the wreath will be on the blog later this week. :)


I am teaching The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald to my 11th graders this quarter, so I re-read that (and watched the movie). But in addition to my "school" reading, I read some books for fun:

  1. The Girl Who Came Home: A Novel of the Titanic by Hazel Gaynor (post here)
  2. The Secrets of Midwives by Sally Hepworth (post here)
  3. The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff
My 9th graders think it is weird that I read so much, so they asked me to keep track of how many books I read in the week we were off. Not sure if they will be impressed or sickened.

Overall, it was pretty enjoyable spring break. :)

Friday, April 10, 2015

Book Review: The Secrets of Midwives

On a rainy, gross day, snuggling up with a book and a sleepy kitty is pretty great. What makes it even better is when the book is so well-written, it captures your attention early on and holds it until the very end. That is the case with The Secrets of Midwives by Sally Hepworth. 

image courtesy of
Hepworth's in-depth research offers an intriguing view into the world of midwifery, something I know absolutely nothing about, and covers a period of sixty years. Beyond the midwifery, and at the heart of the novel, are well-developed characters: three women from three generations who explore the mother-daughter relationship.

The chapters alternate from the first person point of view of grandmother Floss, to mother Grace, to daughter Neva, all three of whom are midwives. This structure, while not unique, works well to build the tension as the characters share their individual secrets and issues with the reader, but not with one another. Grace tends to be the least likable of the three; she is overly opinionated and slightly offensive with her intense hatred of doctors and hospitals. While Neva is easier to care about, it is Floss, a retired midwife, who is the most interesting of the three women. Her story transports the reader back in time to England, where she rides a bicycle to make house calls and deliver babies, before she comes across the Atlantic with her newborn daughter and settles in Rhode Island.

Floss carries a secret that she fears with destroy her relationship with Grace and Neva; however, she wonders if continuing to hide her secrets is perhaps more harmful than actually sharing them. Grace's secrets are of a totally different nature, but could have serious consequences if they are revealed. Neva is reticent, single, and pregnant. She hides her pregnancy for as long as possible, refusing to name the father of her child.

A strong thread throughout the novel examines marriage and adoption, as well as the concept of what makes a family a family, something that I feel resonated very strongly with me as a newly married woman balancing my new family (David and Warren, the cat) with that of my "old" family (my parents and sister). Hepworth not only examines multiple relationships in the novel, but she also moves flawlessly from one character's voice to another.

The Secrets of Midwives starts a bit slow, but the momentum begins to pick up by page thirty. This introduction is necessary, though, in order for Hepworth to establish the groundwork to create the story. Overall, it was a quick read and the characters were extremely well-written: fully fleshed out with their thoughts, feelings, and emotions brought into the story. I give The Secrets of Midwives an 9 out of 10.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Book Review: The Girl Who Came Home

Like most elementary-aged girls in the 90s, I became fascinated with the Titanic when James Cameron's film was released. I remember going to see the movie with my dad (and feeling really uncomfortable sitting next to him during the sex scene) and finding the story so beautiful--while also hating Rose because she let Jack die. More importantly, though, after watching the movie, I wanted to learn everything I could about the Titanic. I read books, watched documentaries, re-watched Titanic a million times, and even played a board game where, if I remember correctly, the premise was to see if you would live or die. Needless to say, when I saw The Girl Who Came Home: A Novel of the Titanic by Hazel Gaynor at Books-a-Million last weekend, I had to buy it.

image courtesy of
Like many novels that have been published recently, The Girl Who Came Home is told in alternating viewpoints, switching back and forth between Maggie Murphy, a seventeen year old girl who is traveling on the Titanic with her aunt and twelve others from her village in Ireland in 1912, and Grace Butler, Maggie's great-granddaughter and a budding journalist in Chicago in 1982. Grace, having just lost her father in a tragic car accident and with it, her love of journalism, appears to be in a life slump, that is until Maggie opens up to her about her experience on the Titanic. 

Maggie relives her life changing tragedy for her great-granddaughter, telling her of the young steward who saved her life, the girls she traveled with from her Irish village, and her experiences with the social class differences aboard the ship. All the while, Maggie tells Grace of how often her mind turned to Seamus, the young man from back home whom she was desperately in love with, and how deeply she cared for him. By reliving the past, Maggie is able to learn to let go, while, in turn, Grace learns how to hold on to the things she cares about.

While much of The Girl Who Came Home contained stories (a man who snuck onto one of the lifeboats disguised as a woman) and imagery (the little boy spinning a top on one of the decks of the ship) that I was already aware of, and, coincidentally enough, James Cameron showed in his film, Gaynor provided me with a story I was unfamiliar with. The characters and village in the novel, while fictional, are all based on real people and a real village near Killala in County Mayo in Ireland. "The Addergoole Fourteen" were a group of men and woman from there who sailed on the Titanic. Only three survived. Even though the characters in the novel are fictitious, their stories are riveting nonetheless.

The details that Gaynor provides are what gives the story depth, though. She richly details the aesthetics of the ship and how those on board behaved during the voyage. Also, sprinkled throughout the novel are telegrams sent and received by those on board the Titanic, as well as letters between the characters to further the plot. The book tended to be a little slow moving at times, but even so, the ending was unexpected; I did not think there were going to be any surprises, but I was very happy for the last reveal. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the story and there were times that I wanted to reach into the pages and rescue the people from the freezing waters of the Atlantic. I could physically feel Maggie's longing for Seamus, as well as her devastation of that horrible night. I give The Girl Who Came Home an 8.5 out of 10 and recommend it for anyone who is interested in this moment in history, with an appreciation for romance.

Monday, April 6, 2015

60 Before 30

Saturday was my birthday and now that I am 27, I feel...older. This is the first birthday where I truly feel like I am older and more adult. Maybe it is because my students spent all last week making me feel old (I had to explain what Total Request Live was and we had an in-depth discussion about the merits of the Spice Girls) and while feeling older is not a bad thing at all, I am now realizing that I am no longer in my mid-twenties. Nope, 27 counts as late-twenties and I can actually see 30 on the horizon.

I have been thinking about this birthday for awhile. On New Year's Day, while the husband was working in the home office, I sat and reflected on 2014 (Got married! Bought a house! Started a new job!) and what I wanted to accomplish in 2015. I have never really been one for goals, but I was inspired by Emily on Em for Marvelous who regularly blogs about her monthly and yearly goals. I like the thoughtful deliberation that goes into creating the goals and I feel like she is really holding herself accountable by putting them out there for the world to see. Last year, when she turned 27, she created a list of the 60 things she wanted to accomplish by the time she turned 30. I LOVED that idea and I was actually really happy to see that we had some of the same goals. Her post stuck with me and on New Year's Day of this year, I began crafting my own list. I did not actually have all 60 things until the last week or so, but I found myself checking a few things off here and there over the last four months and I felt so great about that (it is not cheating and I did not replace the few things I completed). A lot of my goals are home-related, but I think that just goes along with the point I am at in my life. 

State Date: January 1, 2015
End Date: April 4, 2018
Items Completed: 11
  1. Cultivate a strawberry or raspberry bush
  2. Grow a small cutting garden with roses, hydrangeas, or peonies
  3. Start a small vegetable and herb garden in the backyard
  4. Order an heirloom quality wedding album for our home completed January 2015
  5. Celebrate our one year anniversary completed June 2015
  6. ...and our two year!
  7. ...and our three year!
  8. Expand our family
  9. Host a themed party
  10. Make our front porch comfortable and inviting
  11. Renovate the backyard so it is a great place to gather--this includes adding a deck or patio completed April 2015, post here
  12. Go to a flea market--and buy something
  13. Make a will
  14. Transfer car title from parents
  15. Create a drop zone or mudroom area near the garage door completed January 2015, post here
  16. Add curtains to the family room and dining room
  17. Paint the downstairs (kitchen, family room, and dining room) completed August 2015
  18. Install a backsplash in the kitchen
  19. Add some sort of organizational system to the kitchen that holds the pots and pans to make things easier to find and more accessible completed April 2015
  20. Paint our bedroom
  21. Hang the gallery wall over the sofa in the family room completed January 2015, post here
  22. Buy a headboard/frame for our bedroom completed March 2015, post here
  23. Learn to French braid
  24. Make a quilt
  25. Crochet or knit a blanket
  26. Get in shape and to my goal weight
  27. Save money
  28. Pay off credit card
  29. Visit three new cities  in progress...San Diego in October 2015
  30. Make at least one friend in the neighborhood completed August 2015
  31. Join or start a book club
  32. Install a rain barrel
  33. Attend a Broadway show with David
  34. See more of New England--beyond just Boston
  35. Start a blog completed February 2015, post here
  36. Begin creating yearly family "yearbooks" to capture our lives together
  37. Wake up earlier (regularly at 8am or before) and establish a consistent morning routine that energizes me
  38. Send someone flowers out of the blue
  39. Learn some photography skills beyond just "point and shoot"
  40. Organize the books in our home library
  41. Begin working towards (or even complete!) an endorsement to my teaching license in administration, library and media studies, or reading
  42. Get certified to teach AP English Language and Composition completed July 2015
  43. Make a presentation in an English-based, educational setting
  44. Visit Aunt Babe in Wisconsin
  45. Go to a Patriots game in Foxborough with David
  46. Gather and display frame family photos from both sides of the family (parents and grandparents)
  47. Host either Christmas or Thanksgiving with both sides of the family--or at least both sets of parents
  48. Go to Europe with David--or at least begin planning the trip
  49. Donate/sell old clothes and shoes I no longer wear
  50. Take a new-to-me class, such as an exercise class, cooking class, art class, etc.
  51. Learn how to ski-- or at least attempt it
  52. Learn how to drive stick shift
  53. Take a sister-only weekend trip somewhere with Rachel 
  54. Go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando
  55. Join and semi-regularly attend church
  56. Plan a fun surprise date for David
  57. Get my pearls and wedding ring insured
  58. Go back to Phoenix and hike Camelback Mountain
  59. Visit Colonial Williamsburg at Christmastime
  60. Make homemade jam
While I may not be able to complete all 60 items on my list, I am really looking forward to trying. :)

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Happy Birthday to Me!

Today is my 27th birthday, and as someone who loves birthdays and always makes a huge deal out of them, I think everyone should celebrate! I plan on spending all day with my wonderful husband, who is lovingly going to indulge my obsession with books by taking me to a used bookstore before we go out for some sushi. Gosh, I love that man!

I will be back on Monday with a special goals post. :)

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Book Review: The Secret Life of Violet Grant

Beatriz Williams can do no wrong. I am officially convinced of that. I just finished reading The Secret Life of Violet Grant (why it took me so long, I have no idea), and it was wonderful. I was previously introduced to Williams' writing when I read A Hundred Summers last summer while on our honeymoon and I thought it was beautiful, so when The Secret Life of Violet Grant came up as a suggested read on Amazon last week, I wasted no time in purchasing it.

image courtesy of
Vivian Schuyler was born wealthy, but is trying to make it on her own as a journalist, and is living in New York City in 1964 when a mysterious suitcase comes into her possession. The suitcase, at one point, belonged to Vivian's great-aunt Violet, a woman even more daring and independent than Vivian, who left her family behind to study physics in England in 1911 before disappearing. This suitcase potentially holds the key to her disappearance. Alternating between narrators, Violet's story is revealed; although, for decades, her family has managed to keep it under wraps, which adds a bit of mystery.

Secrets that have been long tucked away are revealed as Vivian tries to locate her great-aunt. While Vivian has hopes of writing a story about Violet and finally achieving her dream of becoming a full-fledged journalist, she is also curious about her mysterious disappearance and the accusation that Violet is an adulterer who murdered her famous physicist husband.

As we read Violet's narration, we see that Violet's marriage was not a happy one: her husband is extremely controlling and manipulative, and he does not value his wife in any way beyond being an attractive, younger woman on his arm. We also learn that Violet's scientific work, as well as the people she spent time with while working, somehow played a part in her disappearance. 

Williams is able to recreate the era in which Violet lived and while I was reading, I was able to imagine Europe in the early 1900s. The twists in the story kept me guessing and I found myself caught up in both Violet and Vivian's stories. Williams' work is quickly making her one of my must-read authors and I give The Secret Life of Violet Grant a 9 out of 10.

Addendum: With spring break next week, I just ordered Overseas, which was published in 2012, to have something exciting to read while lounging around the house in my pjs (I live an exciting life) and I cannot wait until Williams' next book, Tiny Little Thing, is released on June 23rd!