And the winner is...
...the fun and fabulous Ms. Mari Richards, our only entrant! Frankly, I'm glad this lady won because she's studying library science at the University of Michigan, so I know she loves books and her review will be honest and awesome. Stay tuned for it - I'll keep you posted.
Mari, as long as you're at the same address as you were when we sent you guys the wedding invitation, I'll mail it there. Text me if you've moved ;)
Free Book Giveaway - YOU could win!
Curious about my review of "The Divorce Papers"? Want a FREE copy to read and decide for yourself?
Here's your chance: I'm giving away a brand-new hardback copy to one lucky reader...with one caveat. If you're the chosen recipient, I want to feature YOUR review of the book on the blog! Not everyone has the same taste in literature, and I'd like to offer a second opinion to all my fellow bookworms out there.
So here's how it's gonna go:
1. You want the book? Leave me a message in the comments section of this post by 8:00 p.m. Sunday, June 29th. Be sure to include your name - I have a lot of talents, but I'm not psychic.
2. Invite your friends to enter! Maybe if they win they'll let you borrow the book after they finish it.
3. I'll choose the winner in a random drawing (sorry, bribery won't work) and announce it Monday morning, June 30th.
4. If you're the winner, you have until July 1st to send me your address using the contact page. Unfortunately I will not ship internationally. Sorry :(
5. If you're the lucky winner, read the book once you receive it and write up a solid, 2-3 paragraph review for me to post on the blog (all credit going to you, of course!). I'll then post it for the world to see!
If you have any questions, you can leave those in the comments section as well (just make sure to make it clear you DO want to be entered into the drawing in addition to your question!)
May the odds be ever in your favor! Bonne chance!
Everything but the...
You guessed it - this quick, easy, Monday-night meal got its name because you can pretty much put anything into it, except maybe the kitchen sink. B and I made this on a whim for our parents the Wednesday night before we got married. They were all in town, and we wanted to cook for them, but my lovely dear picky mama makes cooking difficult sometimes (Sorry - I really do love you, Mom!!).
Stir-fry seemed the easiest, most customizable meal we could possibly find for feeding a varied and picky crowd. The first time we used chicken, and we added green beans, zucchini, baby corn, water chestnuts, peanuts, mushrooms, broccoli, and red pepper - maybe. That entire week was one giant blur, so I don't exactly remember. What I do remember is that our parents wolfed it down, and we were wildly, pleasantly surprised at how good and easy it was - and what good leftovers it made.
The true beauty of this recipe is that you can modify it to include whatever you've got on hand - no extra trips to the grocery store for that one forgotten ingredient. This time we used pork, and added onion, zucchini, snow peas, shredded carrots, shredded broccoli slaw, mushrooms, baby corn, water chestnuts, and cashews.
Sub in and out ingredients depending on your family's tastes or what you've got in the kitchen. There really is no wrong way to do this. I know people say that all the time about recipes, but this time it's really true. Make it as exotic as you like, or simply use it as an excuse to clean out the fridge: the choice is yours. Kitchen sink optional.
Kitchen Sink Stir Fry
Protein: Chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, scallops, tofu
Veggies: Broccoli, green beans, zucchini, bok choy, onions, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, baby corn, carrots, red peppers, green peppers, mushrooms, snow peas, sugar snap peas, lemongrass, pineapple,
Extras: peanuts, cashews, sliced almonds, chow mein noodles
Sauces: Trader Joe's General Tso's sauce, Trader Joe's Sweet Thai Chili sauce, soy sauce, red pepper paste, hoisin sauce
Starches: brown rice, white rice, lo mein noodles, rice noodles
Chop. Dump. Saute with sauce.
Serve over desired starch (if you even desire starch. We usually do).
Enjoy again for lunch the next day - I promise, it really is THAT GOOD left over after the sauce has had a chance to really soak into the veggies and meat.
One might think that, given my newlywed status, if I had my pick of books to read and review, I wouldn't choose one about divorce, and if I did, they'd probably be more than a little concerned for the fate of the fledgling Stevenson family.
Have no fear, sweet readers. Married life is so joyous for us, and my literary life is, too. I had seen "The Divorce Papers" on this list of to-read books for summer 2014, so when I saw it on a list of offered books to review, I jumped.
Maybe I should have looked closer before I leaped. Unfortunately, I had a really hard time connecting to the characters in this book, and for me, that is the kiss of death for a novel. The plot has to be interesting, but when I read and re-read a book over and over and over again, it's not because of the plot - it's because of the characters. Because they feel like friends and I want to "visit" them again. This is why I love book series, but I digress.
This book isn't written in the traditional narrative style. Instead, it's told through letters, emails, legal documents, etc. It is my personal experience that you either love or hate this style. I personally love it (usually). It's just like Meg Cabot's The Boy Next Door and Boy Meets Girl, and Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones' Diary. The difference is, I feel like I know and love those characters, like they could be my friends if they were real. Both Fielding and Cabot do an amazing job of using casual, honest dialogue and humor to create a fun read that you read quickly because you WANT to.
This book plodded. I've had to force myself to sit down and read it. The main character, Sophie, seems a little flat. Her emails to her supposed best friend seem overly formal, even for a lawyer. It's as though the author wrote the dialogue how she thought characters in books were supposed to speak, not how people actually speak in real life.
I also struggled with the million different legal briefs. As someone with NO background in law aside from one Media Law course for journalism school, it was incredibly tedious to read through SO MANY briefs and complaints and summons and all the different types of legal documents. I could see putting them in sporadically to lend a little seriousness, but this seemed overboard and at times downright boring.
In the to-read list mentioned above, this book was listed as a great to-read beach book. If I was reading this book on a beach in the sun, with a margarita in hand, it would only expedite my naptime. This might be a good read for lawyers, but for an average person looking for a light summer read, this kind of missed the mark. It's not a terrible book, just a little misleading. Perhaps the cover should look less chick-lit and more like a serious literary/legal novel.
I give this 2.5 stars out of 5. It's not the worst book I've ever read by far, but I don't know that I would read it again. Instead of friends, these characters seem more like acquaintances you pretend you don't see when you run into them at the grocery store.
Disclaimer: I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.
Help Us Strut!
We've just ratcheted things up a notch in the Stevenson Family Get-Healthy Endeavor. We signed up for a race. To run. And in true, cruel-parent fashion, we've roped the kid into it...the fur-kid, that is.
But that's okay this time, because in the Mutt Strut to benefit the Greenville Humane Society, fur-kids (well, dogs) are encouraged. And let's be honest here - Luna's a better runner than either B or me, anyway.
Let's put aside for the moment the fact that I generally only run when something's chasing me and that I have serious doubts about my ability to run two miles, much less in August in South Carolina. Let's focus on the "Mutt" part of this. This race, as I said, benefits the Greenville Humane Society...and it's no secret we have a HUGE soft spot for them. The facility is beautiful and always clean, but that's not why we love GHS. We love them because they take such good care of the animals while they wait for their fur-ever parents.
GHS is the largest 100% no-kill shelter in South AND North Carolina, as I very recently discovered. They frequently rescue pets from other shelters who might be euthanized, and they deserve major props for that. Unfortunately, they're a not-for-profit entity and do not receive funds from the city, state, or national animal welfare groups. This race, like so many of their other events (and they have lots!), is about more than just the fun. It's a way for them to raise money be able to take on more sweet furballs and to take their time to find them loving, permanent homes.
Below are some stats on what it might have cost them to take in our sweet Luna and house her until we came to get her:
If you have a soft spot in your heart for four-legged friends or you're just looking to do a little good this summer, consider sponsoring us using this link (just type in one of our names). Greenville Humane Society is 501(c)3 non-profit organization, so all donations are tax-deductible. Look at this furry face - how can you resist helping her, or others like her?
After all, love is a four-LEGGED word.
Better late than never
Some friends and family whom I only see a few times a year frequently apologize when they give me my birthday present in, oh say, September (my birthday is in February). There is no need for this - it's fun to receive late presents! I'm not expecting it then.
Pure Silk Moisturizing Shave Cream
This was an interesting product for me to review because I never use shave cream. Ever. It is too awkward and messy and I'm usually in too big of a hurry. The last time I used shave cream was when I started shaving at about 11. Nineteen years later...
The first thing that really struck me was how thick the foam was. It was really thick, like the shaving cream B uses on his face. I liked that because it didn't run down my leg the minute two drops of water splashed on it. It stayed on nicely while I was shaving. I also really liked the light, not-too-strong raspberry scent - very fresh and clean without being sickening.
As for the shave itself, it did about the same job as I usually do without shaving cream (ie, not a closer or smoother shave), but it was very soothing and I didn't have any nicks or scratches, which are common when you're as accident prone as me.
The verdict: This will never be an every day product for me simply because of the extra time involved (I'm not what you'd call a morning person), but I definitely like it and would keep it around for weekend dates or special events...like a wedding. If you don't have a shave cream you love, definitely give this one a try.
EcoTools Pure Complexion Sponge
I was a little scared by this when I first got it out of my VowVoxBox because it was very, very hard. I couldn't imagine possibly this to wash my face...or any part of my body except maybe my heels. However, I was pleased to learn it softened immensely upon getting it wet. This sponge is handmade with Konjac vegetable fibers and is supposed to provide a deeper clean.
I used it as part of my regular shower routine with my Vasanti Detox face cleanser. I really enjoyed the texture of it - it's a great uber-gentle exfoliation without drying out my sensitive skin. It felt like it cleansed my face better than just using my fingers, which is always a good thing. Who wants to be dirty?
The verdict: This one is a keeper. It's super-easy to use and I like the slight, natural exfoliation it gave to my skin. Win.
Tide to Go pen
What can I say about this that hasn't already been said? It is the klutzy girl's best friend, and heaven knows I'm the queen of the klutzy girls. If there is something to spill, dribble, drop, or dump on myself, rest assured I'll do it. Wearing a white dress to dinner is just asking for a lap full of spaghetti sauce; wearing a cream-colored skirt to work virtually assures a coffee stain. You get the idea.
These pens are great because they give you on-the-spot treatment for your mishaps. It would just be too easy to spill on yourself at home, where there's detergent and a washing machine. No, when I spill it's usually out somewhere. I love knowing I have this handy to keep from permanently staining my clothes. I also love how it's a very gentle formula - it has not once harmed any of my clothes by using it, and that's really important to me.
The verdict: Seeing as how I already had one of these floating around my purse and another in the bathroom cabinet at home before I even received my VowVoxBox, I definitely keep these on hand and will continue to do so. Thanks for the extra! Now, if only Tide could create a product to keep this klutzy girl from tripping over her own feet, running into walls, and falling off her bike...
Sally Hansen Complete Salon Manicure
The first thing I noticed about this nail polish was not its claims for a complete salon manicure, but instead its color. They called it "Barracuda." I call it "Carolina Blue," the color of my alma mater and also the color my bridesmaids wore in my wedding. I'm sure the color they sent was randomly picked, but really, it felt heaven-sent from the beginning. Influenster and Sally Hansen picked the right Tar Heel.
Unfortunately, that's where the love affair ended. Maybe it's because this is a matte color (versus something sparkly), but it looked very streaky. I had a hard time making the coverage look full and even. I thought the tapered brush shape might help in smoothing the color evenly, but it didn't seem to be any different than my regular nail polishes. A second coat helped a little, but not a ton. Also, after two days of wearing it on my toes, it's already started to chip, and in my experience polish on toes lasts longer. This nail polish what I was most excited about when I received my VowVoxBox, but it turned out to be the product I was most disappointed in. Ah, such is life.
The verdict: A nice try, but formula-wise I think I'll be sticking with my Julep and Essie polishes. As for the color, go Heels!
Olay Regenerist Luminous Tone Perfecting Cream
My initial reaction to this is, "I love the scent!" It reminds me of something - maybe my mother? My grandmother(s)? I can't pinpoint it exactly, but I like it. You wouldn't think that's such a big deal, but frankly, if I'm going to be putting something on my face it better be something that smells good.
I've been using it for nearly a week, and I can't really tell any difference in the luminosity of my face. However, I can't really tell a difference using most products - so long as I cleanse and moisturize my face daily, it tends to look the same (hormonal flare-ups aside). I can't imagine there is ANY cream out there that would deliver a truly flawless complexion or show drastic results. Pretty sure that's what Photoshop is for.
The verdict: I like it and I'll continue to use this sample jar, but I don't know if I would go out of my way to purchase this on its own.
Riley and Gray
This was the hardest to review, because I just don't need a wedding website right now (or ever again, God willing). I was also immediately predisposed to dislike this because it costs money. Call me a practical wedding planner - there are plenty of things I was willing to spend money on for our wedding, but a wedding website wasn't one of them. Riley and Gray costs $35 for a monthly payment or $240 for a year - given my eight-month engagement, I would've spent $280. If my brother and his fiancee had used this from the beginning of their engagement, in December of 2011 (they're getting married in October), they would have spent a whopping $720 - for a wedding website. That is good money that could be spent on a beautiful dress...or booze! Keep it in perspective, people.
However, I will say that one of the nice features is that it has mobile and tablet versions, which is good for brides on the go. The layouts and graphic designs are pretty, and my graphic designer bestie would certainly bless them, but I don't think they're worth the cost. I also am not a fan of the website RSVP feature. Call me old-fashioned, but I like my card stock invitations and reply cards sent through the good ol' USPS. These websites are pretty if you just have a ton of money you're dying to waste on your wedding, but for the average, cost-conscious bride, this seems overkill.
The verdict: Maybe it's just because I don't actually need a wedding website anymore, or maybe it's because I'm a strict budgeter, but I wasn't thrilled by this. My www.mywedding.com site was just fine for our purposes.
Southern Living Well
The older I get, the more I miss my Mimi...and her garden. She and Grandaddy grew everything: watermelons, cantaloupes, honeydew melons, strawberries, corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, and probably 15 more things I can't even remember at the moment. But though my childhood memories are a little fuzzy, I'm pretty damn sure they grew okra. What is the epitome of a southern vegetable if not okra?
Also, what screams "summer" more than fried okra? My mom makes amazing fried squash and fried okra, but frying isn't healthy...and it's a pain in the butt, to boot. So when I found this recipe, I nearly cartwheeled: BAKED OKRA!
Frankly, B and I don't even notice that it's baked. It just doesn't cross our mind because this okra is still extremely crispy and crunchy. That's the key to good fried/baked okra - it HAS to be crisp.This stuff delivers.
It's also extremely easy. Take a gallon Ziploc bag and turn it inside out. Use an olive oil spritzer to coat it generously, but lightly. If you don't have an olive oil spritzer, leave the bag as it should be, and drizzle a tiny bit of olive oil inside and rub it to coat the bag.
Turn the plastic bag back the correct way, and dump in a 16-ounce bag of frozen okra. I add in about a tablespoon of Cajun seasoning and about a teaspoon of garlic salt. The original recipe calls for a teaspoon of Cajun seasoning and 1/2 teaspoon of garlic salt, but B and I like spice. You can add/remove spices to suit your tastes.
Once you've got your okra and all your spices in the bag, seal it and mix it around until the spices are evenly coating the okra. Let "marinate" for 10 minutes.
After the 10 minutes are up, add one cup of cornmeal to the bag. Seal the bag again and mix up the cornmeal so that it's evenly coated. Let THAT sit for 10 minutes.
Take the okra and cornmeal mixture and dump it into a colander. Shake over a sink until all the excess cornmeal has been removed. Dump the okra into a lightly oiled foil-lined pan.
Bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, flip the okra (as best you can), and return to the oven for another 15-20 minutes. It really depends on your oven, so watch it carefully for the second round of baking.
Once the okra is browned/crisped to your satisfaction, remove from the oven. Try to let it cool for the sake of your mouth, and then devour. We served it with black-eyed peas and pork chops with Virginia Gentlemen Bourbon Chipotle Hot Sauce for a perfect southern meal.
Some may say it's sacrilegious to take a classic like fried okra and bake it instead. And yeah, nothing in this world can touch my mother's fried okra. But the fun of cooking, in my opinion, is taking recipes and making them your own. It's taking classic recipes and finding ways to improve upon them. Cooking is a fluid art - it's not carved in stone. And if I can find a recipe to make an old family favorite into an easy (and healthy!) weeknight dish, you better believe I'm going to do it.
Pretty sure my Mimi would be proud.
1 16-ounce bag frozen okra
1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 cup cornmeal
Preheat oven to 425. Turn a gallon Ziploc back inside out and spray with olive oil.
Turn back the correct way and pour in okra. Add spices and mix to combine. Let sit for 10 minutes.
Add cornmeal, mix to combine, and let sit for an additional 10 minutes.
Pour on a lightly greased foil-lined baking sheet (preferably one with high edges).
Bake for 20 minutes.
Flip okra, and bake for an additional 15-20 minutes.
Enjoy, and revel in your southern-ness.
Several years ago, my boss's wife recommended a book to me. Because THIS is my to-read list, it's taken a while to work my way through it to that book, but I finally bought it on Amazon and set about the serious business of reading it. And now I know.
Now I know:
Because I am an introvert, that's why. And you might be, too. Not only are we completely, 100% normal, we are necessary. For anyone that struggles with being a "quiet" person in a society that rewards those who talk the loudest (not necessarily the smartest), pick up Susan Cain's book, "Quiet" and give it a go. It's a fascinating study of what introverts contribute to society, and how that society has unfortunately shifted to extroversion. ANYone who is interested in psychology will find this a good read. However, for me, it read like a psychological evaluation of myself that I didn't even know I needed.
Below are some of Cain's quotes that I found incredibly enlightening and inspiring (her take on religion had never crossed my mind, but the entire time I read the religion section, I was thinking, "OMG YES"):
" 'I worry that there are people who are put in positions of authority because they're good talkers, but they don't have good ideas,' he said. 'It's so easy to confuse schmoozing ability with talent. Someone seems like a good presenter, easy to get along with, and those traits are rewarded. Well, why is that? They're valuable traits, but we put too much of a premium on presenting and not enough on substance and critical thinking.' " - page 52
On introverts and religion:
" ' The evangelical culture ties together faithfulness with extroversion,' McHugh explained. 'The emphasis is on community, on participating in more and more programs and events, on meeting more and more people. It's a constant tension for many introverts that they're not living that out. And in a religious world, there's more at stake when you feel that tension. It doesn't feel like, "I'm not doing as well as I'd like." It feels like "God isn't pleased with me." ' " - page 66
"Events like this don't give me the sense of oneness others seem to enjoy; it's always been private occasions that make me feel connected to the joys and sorrows of the world, often in the form of communication with writers and musicians I'll never meet in person. Proust called these moments of unity between writer and reader 'that fruitful miracle of a communication in the midst of solitude.' His use of religious language was surely no accident." - page 69
On introverts and careers:
In regards to the 2008 financial crisis: " 'People with certain personality types got control of capital and institutions and power,' Curry told me. 'And people who are congenitally more cautious and introverted and statistical in their thinking became discredited and pushed aside.' " - page 164
"If you leave them to their own devices, the introverts tend to sit around wondering about things, imagining things, recalling events from their past, and making plans for the future. The extroverts are more likely to focus on what's happening around them. It's as if extroverts are seeing 'What is' while their introverted peers are asking 'What if?' " - page 168
"It's not always so easy, it turns out, to identify your core personal projects. And it can be especially tough for introverts, who have spent so much of their lives conforming to extroverted norms that by the time they choose a career, or a calling, it feels perfectly normal to ignore their own preferences. They may be uncomfortable in law school or nursing school or in the marketing department, but no more so than they were back in middle school or summer camp." - page 217
On introverts and friendship:
" 'I could literally go years without having any friends except for my wife and kids,' he says. 'Look at you and me. You're one of my best friends, and how many times do we actually talk - when you call me! I don't like socializing...So notwithstanding whatever you might see in my public persona, I am an introvert.' " - page 211
"It can be hard for extroverts to understand how badly introverts need to recharge at the end of a busy day. We all empathize with a sleep-deprived mate who comes home from work too tired to talk, but it's harder to grasp that social overstimulation can be just as exhausting." - page 228
"The introverts assigned to the cooperative game rated all players - not just their competitors, but also their teammates - more positively than the introverts who played the competitive game. The extroverts did just the opposite: they rated all players more positively when they played the competitive version of the game. These findings suggest something very important: introverts like people they meet in friendly contexts; extroverts prefer those they compete with." - page 231
Introverts and children:
"We tend to forget that there's nothing sacrosanct about learning in large group classrooms, and that we organize students this way not because it's the best way to learn but because it's cost-efficient...If your child prefers to work autonomously and socialize one-on-one, there's nothing wrong with her; she just happens not to fit the prevailing model. The purpose of school should be to prepare kids for the rest of their lives, but too often what kids need to be prepared for is surviving the school day itself." - page 253, and CAN I GET AN AMEN?!
Read this book. And the next time you're thinking of hiring the gregarious job candidate versus the thoughtful one, or you're drawn to the guy/girl who's the life of the party versus the quiet listener, or when you're trying to push your teenage daughter to go out after a football game when she'd rather be at home with a book (Mom, I'm looking at you!), stop a minute. Think of what those introverts could bring to you and to society in general.
You know, JK Rowling is a famous introvert. Now, stop and try, just for a minute, to imagine the world without Harry Potter. I know you don't want to (I don't, either. I can't EVEN. THE HORROR). But just try.
Horrifying, isn't it? That should be motivation enough: nurture your introverts. Empower them. Introverts unite!
...alone. When we feel like it. And only for about 30 minutes. Then let's all just go home :)
When the hubby's away...
...the wife will...go to Taco Casa.
See, some women go out with their girlfriends and get crazy when their men go out of town. This woman isn't one of them. I'm more excited about NOT having the TV on, cuddling with my pup, and of course, having Taco Casa for dinner.
So, in the event YOUR husband travels for work frequently, here is a handy-dandy how-to guide for feeding yourself. Critical consideration here: you're gonna have to live in Greenville, SC, for this.
First, you get in your car (having a silver CR-V is optional).
Then, you drive to Taco Casa and you park.
Warning: you are in Greenville City Limits, so no picture-taking until the car is safely turned off!Beware the "no distracted driving" cell phone ban.
Enter Taco Casa. Look at the menu and make your decision. Make sure you didn't leave your cash at home, because that's ALL they accept!
Strange kid is optional.
Receive your food goodness. Take it back home. Behold the wonder in your plain white bag.
Plate your dinner (or not!), eat and enjoy!
This time I got a combo burrito, a bean tostada, rice and frijoles. It's not fancy, but it's delicious and it's fun. It's cheap and it's easy. It is the best "hubby's out of town" meal possible. Now, if only they sold margaritas...
Happy Monday and happy June, sweet readers!