What I Read, Summer 2014: part two

Here we go: the other half of my reading list over summer!

Everything Leads to YouEverything Leads to You, by Nina LaCour

Although I did recently suggest that I was putting a hold on my YA fiction reading, I seem to have inadvertently re-engaged with the genre. Everything Leads to You is the story of Emi, a high school senior who is working to find a place for herself in the film industry. Here’s the thing- the premise of this character is awful. This is an alleged 18 year old, who is offered her brother’s apartment for the summer, with an outstanding job in the film industry, doing set design, on the dime of her college professor parents? Unlikely, and that’s irritating. Once you can get past the unrealistic characters (pretend they are in their mid to late twenties, and it’s fine) I actually loved this story! There is a scavenger hunt of sorts, and it’s a romance without being romantic. Bonus points for being a pretty quick read. I absolutely, wholeheartedly recommend this to others, with the understanding that the character circumstances are ridiculous.

The One and OnlyThe One and Only, by Emily Giffin

I assume that everyone knows what they are getting into with Emily Giffin novels- Wikipedia accurately describes her as an author of the genre “commonly categorized as chick lit”. The One and Only is a tiny departure from her usual romantic comedy, though- Shea is a thirty something who has worked in journalism in a football-obsessed Texas town her entire life. As she starts to consider pursuing something outside of her comfort zone, Shae simultaneously begins to engage in a romance with her best friend’s widowed dad. Yep, it’s totally weird and a little cringe-worthy, but I was actually happy to read some light literature that had characters that diverged a bit from the usual. I don’t know that I would go out of my way to suggest this book to anyone else, but if asked, I wouldn’t give it a negative review.

Red Hook RoadRed Hook Road, by Ayelet Waldman

Red Hook Road was a great, great read- it’s one of those books that, when I finished, I was truly satisfied that I spent the time to read it. Red Hook Road starts with the tragic death of a newlywed couple, but chronicles the unlikely relationships that continue to develop between the two families after the accident, romantic and otherwise. I can’t even go into various plot details, but I will say that the characters are so well developed, and the relationships and conflict between them is really well written- I can’t recommend this book more highly, and am certain that you won’t regret reading it.

Fallen SkiesFallen Skies, by Philippa Gregory

I’d like to preface this by saying that Philippa Gregory is my guilty pleasure read- I seek out any and all of her work and consume it within days of learning of its availability. Just so you are aware of my bias J Anyway, Fallen Skies is the story of Lily, a chorus girl in post WWI England, whose mother dies and, in the traumatic days after that death, agrees to marry a decorated but troubled war veteran. Gregory is usually pretty wordy in her descriptions, and this novel is no exception- I regularly skipped paragraphs at a time of descriptions of people and settings. The characters are interesting, though, and I found myself developing feelings towards them; I think actively liking and disliking fictional characters is a sign of good writing, and that was evident here. About two thirds of the way through the book I thought I was going to be left very disappointed, but a plot twist closer to the end left me pretty satisfied with the story, as a whole. So, take this review for what you will- I love the author and I enjoyed reading the story. It’s long enough, without being a superb novel, that I wouldn’t likely proactively recommend this too other.

Sea CreaturesSea Creatures, by Susanna Daniel

Sea Creatures is an interesting story- it’s told from the perfective of Georgia, who is married to a successful scientist who has a pretty intense sleep disorder (necessitating a cuff, when he finally does sleep) and their son, who has regressed and refuses to speak any more. At the onset of the book, the family has just moved from their hometown due to a sleep related incident that is clarified later in the story, and tensions about the future are a bit high. Georgia takes the side job as the assistant to a widow-ish man with a house on the ocean, and brings her son along. Interesting things ensue, and we learn more about characters background, and then more interesting things happen, and then the ending is satisfying. This novel is not an award winner, sure, but I enjoyed reading it and think that it would probably be a good candidate for the ladies in my bookclub, if that’s any indication of its quality.

So! That’s most of everything that I managed to read over the summer. I’ve already started to amass quite the list for fall reading, but always love to get recommendations! So- what are you reading, or what have you read, that you’d like to recommend?

Taco Tuesday: Fajita Quesadillas

For whatever reason, I was completely obsessed with fajitas when I was younger. My family was not the type to actually go to Mexican restaurants, though, so I was obsessed with Applebees and Chili’s fajitas- the sizzling cast iron pan that I always touched, even though I was warned not to; the plates full of lettuce and pico and gross sour cream, that I never touched; the stacks of flour tortillas that I sometimes ate plain. And, only God knows why, but childhood me loved my fajitas with a light drizzle of A1 steak sauce, to overpower all other flavors. What can I say? I was a foodie from the start.

Fajita Quesadillas 2

Anyway, that story is apropos of nothing, except to say that fajitas (in any incarnation) bring back fond memories of my childhood. It was pretty dreary this weekend, and I was craving something familiar for lunch, and these Fajita Quesadillas were a perfect solution. They come together really quickly (grill steak, cook peppers, assemble fajitas) and are less labor intensive than the multiple-plate fajitas of my youth. Start to finish, this meal took about 30 minutes and, with the addition of some chips and salsa, were the perfect comfort food to combat this drizzly, Midwestern fall weather!

Fajita QuesadillasFajita Quesadillas

-          About ¾ pound steak, about ¾  inch thick
-          1 red pepper
-          1 yellow pepper
-          1 small onion (purple or yellow or white, whatever you have)
-          Steak seasoning (I rarely use spice mixes, but I really love McCormick’s steak seasoning)
-          2 tsp worchestire sauce
-          Olive oil
-          4 10 inch flour tortillas
-          1 cup shredded cheese
-          Salsa, sour cream, etc.

Prepare the steak: Preheat a grill, or cast iron grill pan. Lightly drizzle the steak in olive oil, and rub all over. Season liberally with steak seasoning, or salt and pepper. Grill steak for about 4 minutes on each side, without disturbing. Set the steak on a plate to rest while you do the veggies. When you are ready to assemble the quesadillas, slice the steak thinly across the grain.

Prepare the veggies: Wash the peppers, then halve and remove the membrane and seeds. Julienne the peppers and onions to roughly the same size. Heat a pan (I like cast iron, but you can also use non-stick) to high heat, and add a bit of olive oil. Add the peppers and onions and saute for about three or four minutes, until they have some color but aren’t burnt. Season with steak seasoning, and add the worchestire, and cook for another minute. Remove the peppers to another bowl, and wipe out the pan.

Assemble the quesadillas: turn the pan to medium heat, and spray with cooking oil. Lay one tortilla down in the pan, and spread with about ¼ cup of cheese. Evenly arrange half of the peppers, and half of the sliced steak. Top with another ¼ cup of cheese, and another tortilla. Use a flat spatula to press down on the quesadilla, to increase the contact with heat. Once the first tortilla is lightly browned, and the cheese has softened, carefully flip the quesadilla to brown and melt the other side. (The entire trick of quesadillas is making sure the cheese is melted before you flip- otherwise, you run the risk of everything falling out as you turn it.) After the other side is done, remove the quesadilla and let sit for a minute before slicing into quarters. Repeat with the rest of the ingredients, and serve the tortillas with salsa, sour cream, guacamole, or any toppings you prefer.

Boo Baskets

Friends! Life lately has been nuts- tons of travel, lots of cooking, growing our business, promotions at my real job, networking and development conferences, and statistics….oh, my stats class this semester. Suffice it to say, there hasn’t been a ton of down time recently and I’ve pretty much failed at celebrating autumn (save for my massive apple consumption).

Boo baskets 2

One thing I really love to do each fall, that I absolutely would not let slip by the wayside, is Boo Baskets. I was in a job a few years ago that was pretty miserable- the work was menial and our boss was less than stellar. What made it totally bearable, though, is the fact that I worked with a pretty amazing group of people, and we excelled in boosting our own moral. One of the things that we did was Boo Baskets- every year, someone would secretly put a Halloween treat basket on a desk with a cute poem attached, and your instructions were to pay it forward to another co-worker or two. I loved, loved, loved getting these baskets, because it was always a bit of a surprise to see one pop up, and we were always sure to include everyone.

Boo basketsNow that I’m in a new job, I’ve kept this tradition going for two years. I’m about two weeks late (I like to start at the beginning of the month) but this morning I stopped by the grocery for some supplies- I use a mix of Halloween candy and some other fun things, like cookie cutters, mini candles, and fun toys. I packed everything into trick-or-treat buckets, printed out my poem (there are several that can be found here that are sweet), and set these in front of a few offices of new staff members. I’m hoping they follow the instructions and keep this going, but even if they don’t, at least I surprised a few people this holiday!

What about you all- does anyone else do a fun Halloween celebration? I know the winter holidays are the most regularly celebrated, but I’ll take any seasonal fun I can get!

Streusel Topped Banana Bread

Now, I’ve mentioned before my struggle with bananas before- we regularly buy more than we actually want to eat in a week. Then, as they start to attract fruit flies, I insist to Evan that we need to save them (on the counter, not in the freezer!) because I am absolutely going to make banana bread in the next few hours. And then the bananas stay on the counter for another week until I finally concede and throw them away when Evan’s not around, because the last half a dozen times I’ve tried to make banana bread, the inside refuses to change from liquid to solid, even as the exterior starts to gain a nice char.

Struesel Topped Banana Bread3Whew.

All of that to say- I’ve conquered banana bread. Yes, my friends, this weekend I mashed the leftover naners even before Evan questioned the need for them to remain in the fruit bowl, and then I made them into not one, but TWO gorgeous and fully cooked loaves of quick bread. Like a boss.Struesel Topped Banana Bread

In the interest of full disclosure, I feel compelled to let you know that I used a variation on the recipe that my mom has always successfully used, and was just finally patient enough to problem solve for a minute- and that is how my bread became successful. First, I addressed the undercooked center by making a batch and a half of batter, and splitting it over two loaf pans- that cut down the amount of batter to bake. Then, I lowered the temp on the oven by 25 degrees and gave the loaves about 15 extra minutes to cook through. Finally, since the batter looked a little thin in the loaf pans, I made a quick streusel topping to bulk things up. The result- a very easy quick bread that turned out perfectly!

Struesel Topped Banana Bread2Streusel Topped Banana Bread

-          2 eggs
-          1 ½ cup sugar
-          1 ½ stick butter, softened
-          1 tsp vanilla
-          3 bananas, mashed
-          ½ cup sour cream
-          3 cups flour
-          ½ tsp salt
-          1 tsp baking soda
-          ½ tbsp baking powder
-          ½ tbsp. cinnamon
-          ½ cup chopped walnuts, totally optional
-          ½ stick of butter, melted
-          1 tsp cinnamon
-          ¾ cup powdered sugar
-          ¾ cup flour

Mix the batter: Mix together the eggs, sugar, butter and vanilla- I used a wooden spoon, but you could also use a mixer if you’d like. Add in the bananas and sour cream, and mix until fully combined. Stir in the flour, salt, soda, powder and cinnamon (and optional nuts!), just until everything is incorporated- no need to over mix here!

Make the topping: use a fork to mix together the melted butter, cinnamon, powdered sugar and flour. Now, it may seem like it’s not coming together- when you get to that point, get rid of the fork and start to press the mixture together with your fingers. It should really get to a nice pebbly texture with most of the dry ingredients will mixed in. If that doesn’t happen after two or three minutes, add a tablespoon of milk and continue to work it into crumbs.

Bake the bread: spray two loaf pans, or butter and flour them. Split the batter equally, and top each with half of the crumb topping. Place in a 325 degree oven, and start checking the loaves at 45 minutes. The center should be firm, not wobbly, and a knife inserted into the center should come out clean. If the loaves aren’t done at 45 minutes, return them to the oven and continue to check every three or so minutes. When the read is done, remove from the oven, let sit in the pan for about five minutes, then invert onto a cooling rack. If you’re anything like me, you’ll immediately slice off an end, slather in butter, and try to eat it with your mouth open, since it’s lava hot. Enjoy!

 

What I Read: Summer 2014, part one

It’s time, once again, for a recap of everything I read last season. Summer is a great time for me, in terms of reading, because I love, love, love to spend time in my hammock swing with a book and a glass of lemonade. I didn’t get to read quite as much as usual this fall, due to constantly needing to study for Economics. I did manage a little over a dozen books, though, and I’ll share those with you over the course of the next three What I Read posts. Let me know in the comments if you read anything interesting over the summer- I’m always looking for titles to add to my wait list!
Moneyball
Moneyball, Michael Lewis
Full disclosure: Moneyball was the assigned reading for my grad program over the summer. In the event that you haven’t seen the movie, here’s a brief synopsis: Billy Beane was the manager of the Oakland A’s, and had no money to draft the players that everyone else wanted to draft. So he brought in a statistician who worked out some algorithms to measure the effectiveness of a player and how they contributed to a win, and suggested that recruiters were focusing on the wrong things when chosing who to draft. Beane builds a successful team and everyone is left scratching their heads. Although I care very little for baseball and even less for their statistics, I was able to take away the lesson of measuring the wrong data for the task at hand. At the end of this book, I was left thinking about how we can choose the right data to get at the information we want; for example, using test scores as a measure of teacher performance is ridiculous- all those results show is how well a student performs on a given test. What other metrics could be used to measure the success of an instructor? I can’t give Moneyball a five star endorsement for its entertainment value, but it’s not the worst thing I’ve been assigned to read for a class- and has provided plenty of fodder for small talk and party conversation!
The CircleThe Circle, by Dave Eggers
I’ll start by saying that I am a person that loves the book 1984, and I’ve read it more than a dozen times- I think theories on dystopian societies are great and terrifying to read. The Circle is 2014′s answer to 1984- it’s the story of Mae, a post-graduate young professional who takes a job at The Circle, an employer that could easily be Facebook or Google or Yahoo. Citizens increasingly lose/give up access to privacy, and The Circle endorses slogans like SECRETS ARE LIES and PRIVACY IS THEFT. Mae and her peers (internal to the company and, eventually, including society in general) are encouraged to share their every opinion and thought, with the reward an expansion of their perceived levels of influence. Pretty much, The Circle outlines one possible future for the world if technology and social networks continue to permeate into every single aspect of life. The lesson that is taught regarding loss of freedom and ease of persuasion is compelling, if nothing else. I highly recommend this book.
Goodnight JuneGoodnight June, by Sarah Jio
This novel is a bit more lighthearted than the previous one, but I also really enjoyed it! Goodnight June is the story of a successful young woman who leaves her fast moving career in banking when she inherits a children’s bookstore from her late aunt. The plot drags a tiny bit at times, and wraps up with a twist that seems a bit out of place, sure. Even with those concerns, this is a lovely story with characters that I enjoyed reading about, and which kept my interest. It’s not a work of genius, okay, but it was a great book to read on vacation, much better than my usual vapid chic lit choices.
This is Where I Leave YouThis is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
This is Where I Leave You is a family drama, set during the shiva period the family observes after the death of the father. Between the overly sexual mother, childhood drama resurfacing between the brothers, a sister in law who is having difficulty conceiving, an older girlfriend brought home by a younger brother, and everyone staying in one house, there’s a good deal going on. My problem with the book is that, even though there’s a ton going on, none of it is very interesting/surprising/intriguing. The writing was pretty solid, but I just thought it was…boring. Every time I see a trailer for the movie I’m disappointed- the actors are interesting, I just don’t think it will be any more exciting on screen than it was in the book. So, overall, I don’t regret reading it, but I also wouldn’t recommend This is Where I Leave You with any enthusiasm.
The Marriage PlotThe Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides
This book was chosen for my book club over the summer and, although I turned out to be the only one reading it, I recommended it very strongly to the rest of the group! The thing about The Marriage Plot is that the basic premise is very tired (the wealthy protagonist graduates college with a degree in literature and follows around a man whom she thinks is quite brilliant but is actually mentally unstable and emotionally abusive) and Eugenides is excessive in his descriptions and the entire section on literary criticism was nearly unreadable- in fact, the book is actually annoying, and a struggle to read. Even with all of that, I was actually quite captivated by The Marriage Plot, and found it hard to put down. So take from that what you will- if you can put in some time in the beginning to get into the story, I think it might be one that you’ll be happy that you read. Not a ringing endorsement, but an accurate reflection of my experience.

Taco Stuffed Baked Potatoes

As the weather starts getting a bit chillier, and as my wardrobe starts filling out with sweaters and boots, I grow much more inclined to make heartier foods instead of the salads and veggie meals I’ve been into for the past few months. After all, fall is a season for soups, and chilis, and pot pies….not breezy summer food like tacos!
Taco Stuffed Baked Potatoes 2
This week’s edition of Taco Tuesday is a reflection of the season. We’re past the time of cherry salsas, or roasted pepper sauces. Today, my friends, is a day for some super hearty Taco Stuffed Baked Potatoes. Baked potatoes are a great dinner option- baking them is very hands off, they’re substantial enough to be a meal, and they’re endlessly customizable to meet everyone’s dietary needs.
Taco Stuffed Baked Potatoes 3
Baking potatoes is pretty straight forward, but I’ll walk you through my method for achieving perfectly tender potatoes. Then I make a simple, spicy taco meat mixture (no premade taco seasoning here!) and top with all the toppings you love on tacos. The potatoes bake for an hour, but the meat and sides come together in less than 30 minutes, leaving plenty of time to throw in a load of laundry, or catch up on the last episode of Parks and Rec (I can’t stop binge watching the new season on Netflix) or walk the dog. Then it’s easy to chop up your potato, load it up, and enjoy a warmer, more fall appropriate version of the tacos we’ve loved all summer long.
Taco Stuffed Baked Potatoes
- 4 Idaho white potatoes
- olive oil
- kosher salt
- 1 lb ground beef (or ground turkey or chicken, if you’re so inclined)
- 1/4 cup onion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 2 tbsp. chili powder
- 1 tsp cumin
- a dash of cayenne or smoke chipotle powder, or a spoonful of sriracha- really, whatever meets your preferred level of spiciness!
- 1 8 oz can of tomato sauce
- cheese, green or red onions, cilantro, sour cream, avocados, or other taco toppings
Bake your potatoes: Heat the over to 425. Wash each potato, then pierce several times with a fork (this will allow steam to escape the potato skin, and is absolutely necessary when cooking whole potatoes). Either spray or drizzle oil on potato skin, then liberally sprinkle with kosher salt. Wrap each potato in foil and bake for at least an hour. I sometimes leave them in for an hour and a half or a bit longer, only because I get distracted; the foil keeps them from burning. They’re done when a fork can easily pierce the skin and flesh, and they give a bit when squeezed lightly.
Make taco meat: Cook the meat over medium heat until browned, or about five to seven minutes. Add the onion and garlic and cook for another two or so minutes, until they start to become translucent. Stir in the spices and cook for a minute before adding the tomato sauce. Once the tomato sauce is heated through and thickens (about two more minutes) the mixture is ready.
Assemble the potatoes: Cut each potato length wise. If you want a picturesque potato, you an push the ends of the potato towards the center, and the potato will should spread open. If you want maximum surface area for taco coverage, just slice the potato in half and flatten a bit with a fork. Either way, cover the potato in the taco mixture and toppings, and enjoy a heart tex mex dinner!

Insanely Simple Applesauce

Guys! This past weekend I managed to acquire about fifteen pounds of apples. Honeycrisp apples, to be specific, which are inarguably far superior to all other apple varieties. Needless to say, I was thrilled! And then I turned into a complete grandma and made a boatload of apple sauce.
Applesauce 2
I turned into my grandma, actually- my desire to make applesauce resulted in very pleasant conversation where she told me everything she knows about sauce making. Spoiler alert: it’s very simple. I remember when we were very little, it was always a treat to come to Grandma’s house when she was making applesauce, or even had some in the fridge. There was one memorable experience where there was no sauce to be had, so my brother and I ransacked their freezer to see if any was in there….fortunately, there was :)
#soBlessed Family

My grandma’s pretty awesome.

Anyway, once I had my sights set on making applesauce, my initial instinct was to search Pinterest. Like anything else, there are many blog posts dedicated to applesauce making. What I kept finding, though, were posts about how difficult it was, and time consuming, and tricks to make it easier. The thing is, I really recalled my early childhood applesauce  experiences as insanely easy, and very low stress. I thought I might have been putting a too rosy glow on it, so for confirmation’s sake, I gave Edna a call.
Applesauce 3
Here’s what Grandma K had to say: she cuts the apples into about eight pieces, mixes them with some water, cinnamon, and sugar if your health permits, and then cooks them until they’re done. Then she strains them through a colander (and she asked if people still have colanders these days). She also likes to leave the skin on, for some color. After some discussion, she agreed that it would probably be okay to put the sauce in a blender, rather than straining, so that we could keep as much fiber as possible. And there you have it.
Applesauce 4
Friends, this sauce recipe was a) insanely delicious and b) unexpectedly simple. I truly followed the instructions above, measuring and adjusting ingredients to taste. The entire process took slightly less than an hour, start to finish, and I ended up with five single serving mason jars to take to work, two cups of sauce for the fridge, and two for the freezer. Evan got home from the fire station while I was at work, and immediately called to find out if he was allowed to try it, and he’s been raving about it ever since. If you’ve ever considered making applesauce, I really encourage you to give it a try! It’s fast, easy, and remarkably rewarding!
Applesauce 5
Grandma’s Applesauce
- 12 apples, give or take
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp sugar
- pinch of sugar
- water, between 1 and 2 cups
Start by washing the apples, then cutting them into quarters and coring them; cut each quarter in half, and throw them in a soup pot. Once all of the apples are ready, turn the heat to medium and stir in the sugar and spices, and about 1/2 cup of water.
(A note about the water: it really depends on the water content of the apples you’re using, and where you are in the cooking process. I like to keep my sauce pretty watery, so it doesn’t burn, and also because I like a thinner sauce. Just keep an eye on your apples, and add water when you think it needs it. In the worst case, you add too much water and need to cook it down for longer- not a problem!)
Anyway, put a lid on the apples and let them cook, stirring every few minutes. Depending on what apples you’re working with, it should only take about a half an hour for them to start to break down. Once the apples are pretty mushy with few solid chunks, you can turn off the heat. At this point, my grandma would suggest that you push the pulp through a colander. I chose to not to strain out the peels and, instead, transferred everything to a blender and pulsed until my applesauce was the right consistency. I added a little more water to keep things pretty thing and viola! Applesauce. Warm or cold, the result is awesome :)

September Subscription Box Reviews: Birchbox, Ipsy and Sample Society

So I know that we’re a week into October, but I still wanted to give reviews for last month’s beauty boxes. I was pretty satisfied over all, and I’m struggling to choose which box to drop. Check out my reviews and chime in below- which box is your favorite, or which would you cancel?

Birchbox September 2014Birchbox

Monthly delivery for $10/month

Includes 4-5 beauty and lifestyle samples

This month my box included Temptu Highlighter, Caudalie Vinoperfect Radiance Serum, Yu-be Moisturizing Skin Cream, Ofra Universal Eyebrow Pencil, and Liz Earle Cleanse & Polish™ Hot Cloth Cleanser Starter Kit. The sample I was able to choose this month was the Liz Earle Cleanse kit, and I’m really looking forward to using it- people have given it rave reviews, and I’m interested to see it if lives up to the hype! Everything else in this box is a little lackluster…and look at that highlighter sample! Between this one and the Bare Minerals sample a few months back, it’s crazy how tiny these samples are getting! Oh, and a follow up from last month- the body wash is amazing, and I may end up getting the full size, I liked it that much! We’ll see if any of this months samples turn out to be surprise hits :)

Ipsy September 2014Ipsy

Monthly delivery for $10/month

Includes 4-5 full sized or deluxe sample products, plus a makeup bag

This month my box included Crown Brush Infinity Shadow/Crease Duet Brush, Hikari Lipstick, Briogeo Don’t Despair, Repair!™ Deep Conditioning Mask, LeeAnni Eco 3-in-1 Revolution Light, Pacifica 7 Free Nail Polish and the studded cosmetics bag pictured here. Ipsy kind of nailed it this month- I don’t love the lipstick, okay, but I love getting new makeup brushes, and this duet brush is so handy! I think the 3-in-1 is pretty standard moisturizer, but I love the hair mask, and the full sized Pacifical 7 Free nail polish is the perfect fall color! Over all, I’m very satisfied. Also, following up on last month- the Dr BRandt primer is actually tinted and very matte and provides great coverage! And I didn’t think the mascara was going to be very remarkable, but it does great things in pumping up my last volume. So, as it turns out, I’m pretty happy with ipsy lately.

Sample Society September 2014Allure Sample Society

Monthly Delivery for $15/month

Includes 4-5 Full sized and deluxe beauty and makeup samples

This month I received a Alterna Caviar Repair RX Re-Texturizing Protein Cream Deluxe Sample, LORAC POREfection Mattifying Face Primer Deluxe Sample, Givenchy Fragrance Dahlia Divin Fragrance Sample, Restorsea Revitalizing Eye Cream Full Size, Tarte Brazilliance Maracuja Self Tanning Face Towelettes. First, let me say that the Restorsea eye cream was the big draw for the box this month, valued at over $80. Well, my sample arrived with the lip of the glass jar shattered, so there was glass dust in the cream. I emailed customer service who initially offered a $4 credit (where did that value even come from?) but a second request resulted in a replacement box, and I really appreciated their customer service. With that being said, I actually haven’t used the eye cream, since I’m still working my way through a tube of ROC retinol cream, but I’m looking forward to seeing if it lives up to the fuss. What I am loving, though, is the Alterna Caviar hair repair- it’s amazing! I’m a person that showers before bed and, if I rub a little bit of this cream in my wet hair, I woke up with the most gorgeous defined waves, soft but full of body. It’s a miracle! I’ve also tried to Tarte tanning towelettes, and love them- I’m a super pale person, so I love getting a little bit of color. These were easy to use, and I could lay off the bronzer for a week. Success!
Although I keep telling myself that I need to drop at least one subscription, I keep getting items from each box that makes keeping the sub worth it…at least I’ve all but stopped buying beauty products, now. Anyone else having a similar dilemma?

Rewiring the Pineapple Lamp

One day, not so long ago, I was wandering around a thrift store, which is something that I never, ever do- I’m just not one of those fabulous people who locate secret treasure because, frankly, I don’t have the patience to sift through things for hours on end. But I had some time between calling in my Chinese takeout order and actually picking it up, so I ended up in a thrift store. I was the type of hungry when you’re very easily influenced, so when the clerk told me that lamps were an extra 50% off that day, I immediately gravitated to the lamp section. Ten minutes later I walked out the door, $4 poorer but richer by one brass pineapple lamp with a terrible yellow cord.

Rewiring Pumpkin Lamp 10 After I finished eating, I realized how hideous the lamp was (and surprisingly heavy!) but I still kind of liked the pineapple shaped base. The lamp wasn’t functional, however, so if I wanted to use it as anything other than an interesting piece of art, I knew that a trip to the hardware store was in order. I was a bit intimidated at the idea of rewiring my lamp, but was very pleasantly surprised at how easy it is! Here’s what I did:

Rewiring Pumpkin Lamp 1First, I unplugged the lamp and gathered some supplies. I got a new cord (clear, 12 feet) and a three-way socket (I like the lighting options) from the hardware store. I also grabbed some gold spray paint, because that brass was a bit much for me. Since my lamp didn’t come with a shade, I picked up a new one at Target. Then, I assembled my tools (screw driver and pliers) and got to work.

Rewiring Pumpkin Lamp 2

Then I disassembled my lamp. There’s a convenient ‘press’ marker on the shell- when you press there, it’s easy to remove the shell from the socket.

Rewiring Pumpkin Lamp 3With the shell off, you can simply slide the socket out of the base. The wires are attached by the screws on the socket- turn the screws to the left, and the wires should release.

Rewiring Pumpkin Lamp 4Once the wires were detached from the socket, all I had to do was pull the old yellow wires out through the whole in the back. This is when I spray painted my base, so I didn’t have to worry about protecting the wires or the socket. Then I used a razor blade to remove the felt circle on the bottom, so that I could feed the new (clear) wires back through the neck of the lamp.

Rewiring Pumpkin Lamp 5 I fed the wire through the neck of the lamp and the socket cap, and then tightened the screw on the neck so the socket cap was secured to the lamp. I tied the two wires in an underwriters knot, as instructed by the directions that came with the new socket.

Rewiring Pumpkin Lamp6 Next, I used my pliers to strip a bit of the insulation from each wire, and bent each into a partial circle. I looped the wires around each screw on the socket, per the included instructions, and then tightened each screw down to secure the wires.

Rewiring Pumpkin Lamp 7I twisted the wires into the base and covered the socket with the shell, pressing the shell firmly into place. Just like that, I had a lamp!

Rewiring Pumpkin Lamp 8 I added the lamp shade, screwed in the bulb and plugged it in. Full disclosure- the first time I tried to turn the lamp on, it didn’t work and I was heartbroken. I was sure that I had made an error with the electrical portion! Fortunately, though, I was able to diagnose the problem as a faulty bulb- I next bulb I put it in worked perfectly. So now we have this kind of awesome lamp, and I feel like an electrical ninja- success!Rewiring Pumpkin Lamp 9

Friday Five: Bucket List Review and Setting Autumn Goals

Welp, friends- it’s October. That means that it’s time to evaluate my Summer Bucket List-ish, and establish some Autumn Goals. First, let’s see how things shook out for summer:

  1. Eat fresh, seasonal food: Yes! My tacos are always inspired by seasonal protein the produce, and I’m especially proud of the Chipotle Cherry Salsa that I made! I also used those cherries in my Almond Ice Cream. We also did some delish Roasted Veggie Quesadillas, a Summer Chopped Salad, Grilled Pizzas, Pico and Gauc, Bourbon Peach Pie Ice Cream, Stuffed Poblano Peppers, and Hatch Chili Tomatilla Salsa. Pretty much, we killed it in the fresh food department.
  2. Do something creative: huh. You know, this goal was less successful. I bet I did creative things- I mean, I photographed my sweet niece a lot, right? And I went to a Wine and Canvas event, so there’s that. Yesterday’s gallery wall counts as creative, too, I think. So, yeah, I did a few creative things…perhaps not as much as I may have planned, though.
  3. Keep moving: Hey, remember when I did a month of yoga, and then wrote about how much I love the blog/website/youtube channel Yoga With Adriene? Yep- that was pretty much it. At the end of July I rolled up my yoga mat and called it a day. I still walk Howie, but I’m going to mark this one as having room for improvement.
  4. Home improvement: this one is actually a fail. The gallery wall, okay, and we actually did a ton of work on the landscaping. But I really thought we would renovate the master bath- I even made a project management schedule. Then I realized that it would be a lot of work and require some serious funds. Since we were short on both time and money…this one got the pause button. BUT! I have a plan for resurfacing our fireplace, finishing our powder room, doing a light dining room update, and then maybe thinking about the master bath. So- stay tuned.
  5. Date my husband: win! We didn’t do any of the creative date ideas we planned, but I’m feeling pretty satisfied in this department.

I feel pretty okay about that- I wish we had been more productive with our house, and that I had kept on the yoga train, but overall I had such an amazing summer! Reviewing those goals and some other things that are going on, I was able to make a list of things I hope to do this fall- check it out!

Friday Five Autumn Goals

  1. Get moving! I’m thinking another yoga challenge is in order, and I’m hoping to fit in two 5ks before December. Hopefully these things motivate me to be a little more active this quarter!
  2. Relax- fall starts a really crazy time. Right now I’m taking eight credit hours for my master’s, on top of a new promotion at work that has me a little frazzled. Add that to all of the impending holiday activities, and things are bound to stay a little frantic. This fall, then, I hoping to make my down time a priority- relaxing with wine, a good book, my husband, or just a nap. No matter how I do it, I need to build in some time to chill out.
  3. Have more friendship- this can be so hard for us! Between my evening classes, and Evan’s work schedule, and all of the other various obligations that come up, we end up putting our friendships last in the list of things. This fall, I really want to increase the time that we spend with friends, even if that means shifting a few things around. After all, if not now, when?
  4. Home renovations- the bathroom, yes, but you can also read the list of things that are on my mind above. We had such great plans for our space when Evan and I bought this house three years ago (I can’t believe it’s been that long already!). I think it’s important that we get back on track with our plans to create a space that we really love, and that works for us. Otherwise, we’re going to be five years into this thing and wonder what happened.
  5. Our shop- Evan and I opened a tiny little etsy shop to sell the month-by-month onesies that we usually gift to people, but we’d love to expand it! Right now we have plans to add some pacifier leashes, burp cloths, and muslin swaddling blankets. We’ve also worked on wedding handlerchiefs and some monogrammed shorts, and I’d love to get a better source for those items so we can include them as well. Aside from product development, we also need to work on our record keeping and marketing…so, overall business development goals.

Whew- those are some lofty goals for the next three months! Just so I feel better, tell me what types of things you all are looking to take on?