Everyday Life and Menu Plan 8.22.16

What a fun week it's been! I received my trial of Book of The Month Club and decided to utilize the adorable wine koozie that came this month by making frosé. (FYI, I chose Dark Matter by Blake Crouch, which is already AWESOME.)  

I used this recipe and just skipped the Aperol. DELICIOUS. Also, if you use this link and code REFER50, you can get a three month subscription for 50% off! (And maybe score me an extra book!)

As the first day of school looms close, we're squeezing in every last bit of summer we can. Lots of time at the pool and beach...
time with friends...
and rock wall time...
I capped off the weekend cheering on amazing Oiselle athlete Kate Grace, who made it to the final of the women's 800 and ran it in under TWO MINUTES - a FOUR MINUTE per mile pace, if that helps put it in perspective. This blog post from Sarah, who was in Rio cheering Kate on, is perfection. It was great to cheer her on among teammates at the Oiselle store - especially ones that I've know for years and happened to be in town from Chicago!
Hopefully I can bring the fun this week, too... 
Also, last week's Chicken Lettuce Wraps recipe from Chrissy Tiegen's Cravings cookbook was DELICIOUS and we'll definitely add it to the rotation. As always, I'm linking up with Org Junkie and Mommy Run Fast- be sure to check out all the great weekly menus! 


Denver and Beaver Creek Getaway

Oh, man. Trying to sum up an amazing trip like this is very, very, hard. Suffice it to say, these are (and will always be) my people, and my family. Yes, this girls weekend kicked off with a few hours spent with my ridiculously awesome nieces, nephew, sister in law and my big brother.
My face is slightly puffy from crying, because we hadn't seen each other in a very, very, long time. Also, I was operating on about four hours of sleep. My flight was at 6:30, and the security lines at SeaTac are notoriously awful (we waited for over an hour for our San Diego trip), so I set my alarm for 3:30AM to get parked and shuttled over to the airport on time.  Oof!

After spending quality time with my brother and his family, I headed back to the airport to await the other two gals flying in from Chicago and for our Denver girl to pick us up. And we didn't stop talking for three whole days.
Seriously, you'd think I'd crash early after so little sleep the night before. Nope. Stayed up talking until 2AM. Again, oof! 
This tasty Five Spice Old Fashioned kept me going. Linger in Denver is a seriously yummy restaurant.
On Friday we headed out towards Beaver Creek, with a stop in Vail for lunch at Mountain Standard.
And we had a fabulous time checking out all of the shops, our favorite (which also had an outpost in Beaver Creek) was a lovely boutique called Frinje. We probably spent an hour in there trying on clothes, sunglasses and jewelry. But the only jewelry I went home with was this AMAZING kitty ring that I gave to my daughter, though I may borrow it from time to time...
It was unseasonably chilly and rainy (which was fine by this Seattle girl), but still beautiful. Vail reminded me of our local little mountain getaway in Leavenworth (where I was last summer, actually), but on STEROIDS. 
Now that I think about it, a lot of things about the Denver and surrounding area reminded me of home: the mountains, the microbreweries, the hiking, lots of active-lifestyle folks, marijuana stores... Anyway! Once we got checked in at the fantastic Park Hyatt in Beaver Creek, I headed straight to bed for a power nap while the rest of the group hit the hot tubs. I woke up to my friends informing me that they were treating me to a belated birthday dinner! First we hit up Revolution for some complimentary apps (fresh tortillas with different dipping sauces - YUM.) and cocktails. 
The 'Up in Smoke' was delicious: marinated and grilled pineapple infused cachaca with lime. Then we had amazing Mai Tais at our dinner destination: Hooked
You guys. This dinner was an experience we won't forget! Even my one friend who is not all that into fish took one for the team and had fun with it. We did the 'you call it' option where you decide on the type of fish you want to eat and they choose one fish that can feed your entire party and it's prepared in as many ways as possible. 
For us, that was a 3 1/2 pound fish prepared SEVEN different ways, including sashimi, nigiri, a roll, ceviche, a filet and two ways (chimichurri and a ponzu like sauce) on the bone. DUDE. Plus we'd eaten TWO appetizers, an amazing fried shrimp and a poke trio. So full, but so happy!
The next day we walked off some of our huge meal with a little hike behind the resort. It was then that I realized, oh yeah - altitude. Like Bend, but worse! 
But it wasn't too strenuous of a hike and it provided some lovely views as well as evidence of the sun returning in full force.
So after a margarita lunch at the Coyote Cafe (their exclusive 'Old Soul' margarita was super tasty), we had pool time! I should take this moment to say that the Park Hyatt thinks of everything and was just a lovely place to stay. I guess you get what you pay for! The waiter at the pool came by asking if we'd like complimentary otter pops, there were toys and goggles available for use and everyone was just so very friendly.
There was also an art show going on the weekend we were there, which was awesome and now I want one of these crazy expensive lounge chairs that were for sale for my backyard...
The last night we ate tapas at Metropolitan and ended the evening with 'black and blue' Manhattans (containing smashed blueberries and blackberries), s'mores and my first game of Cards Against Humanity at the bar in our hotel. 
Now I get it! And I want to play more! We closed out the bar and got to see the bride from the wedding taking place on the property saunter in, so that's always a fun time. Surprisingly, we all felt pretty good the next day and were able to go for another hike before hitting the showers and the road to the airport.
Aspens really are beautiful and I learned that a grove of them is the largest living organism on the planet. So cool!
Saying goodbye is really hard, but even when we go years without getting together, I know we are just as close as ever. I love you guys. Let's not wait three years for our next shenanigans, though, ok?


Everyday Life and Menu Plan 8.15.16

Oh, heyyyy! It's been awhile since I shared ye olde menu planning! Seeing as how I was out of town for a few days two weeks ago, I didn't have much to share in the way of meals - well, other than all the oversharing I've already done via Instagram from our trip, beginning with the most amazing Old Fashioned I've ever tasted...

(Yes, I will probably do a photo dump post soon...) Then I was just too tired to do much planning the following week. Now that I'm back in the saddle, back to near daily trips to the Y...
and daily washing of pool/beach towels...

I finally cracked open the Chrissy Tiegen cookbook (that was in last month's library haul) and will try one of her recipes, as well as a few other new ones this week.
As always, I'm linking up with Org Junkie and Mommy Run Fast- be sure to check out all the great weekly menus!


All the Ugly and Wonderful Things (a NetGalley Review)

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (August 9, 2016)
Description from the publisher:
A beautiful and provocative love story between two unlikely people and the hard-won relationship that elevates them above the Midwestern meth lab backdrop of their lives.

As the daughter of a drug dealer, Wavy knows not to trust people, not even her own parents. It's safer to keep her mouth shut and stay out of sight. Struggling to raise her little brother, Donal, eight-year-old Wavy is the only responsible adult around. Obsessed with the constellations, she finds peace in the starry night sky above the fields behind her house, until one night her star gazing causes an accident. After witnessing his motorcycle wreck, she forms an unusual friendship with one of her father's thugs, Kellen, a tattooed ex-con with a heart of gold.

By the time Wavy is a teenager, her relationship with Kellen is the only tender thing in a brutal world of addicts and debauchery. When tragedy rips Wavy's family apart, a well-meaning aunt steps in, and what is beautiful to Wavy looks ugly under the scrutiny of the outside world. A powerful novel you won’t soon forget, Bryn Greenwood's All the Ugly and Wonderful Things challenges all we know and believe about love.a

Hooooo boy. I hemmed and hawed for a LONG TIME thinking about how to talk about this novel. It is extremely inflammatory material (pedophilia). Perhaps on purpose to garner attention. But the writing, character development and story REALLY drew me in - and, yes, also shocked the hell out of me. Wavy is a character that I won't soon forget. Her terrible and highly dramatic 'what-will-happen-next' life, and how it shaped her, felt so very real. It grabbed me from the beginning and never let go. 

Essentially, it's about an 8 year old girl and a young man that form an amazing bond under unimaginable circumstances. How that bond evolves over time is simultaneously heartwarming and harrowing. Greenwood expertly gives a full 360 degree view of their lives from their viewpoint, as well as the viewpoint of every unique supporting character. It was so very easy to find the empathy for each, as well as a better understanding of Wavy - from her innocent cousins, her teachers, her college roommate (one of my favorite characters) to her very protective aunt. We are given the events through everyone's eyes and are permitted to make our own judgments. 

However unsettling Wavy and Kellen's relationship became, I still found myself rooting for them. A majorly effed up, yet riveting, beauty and the beast narrative. I can completely understand those that give this book a big fat NOPE. I mean, I have a very young daughter of my own. I get it. But, I think it is a worthwhile read either way. If only to reinforce the point that nothing in this world is black and white, and that we cannot begin to understand someone else's life unless we have lived it.

I also found this Goodreads interview with Bryn Greenwood to be very interesting and informative.


Books I Read in July

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante 
This had been on my to-be-read list for awhile now. I have been intensely curious about the Neopolitan novels, given their popularity and the mystery that surrounds the anonymous author. It took me awhile to finally give it a go because nothing in the description really grabbed me - a sweeping story of two women's friendship. But what happens?? The book sort of lives up to my expectations, wherein everything AND nothing happens. It is an excruciatingly detailed story of a girl named Elena's childhood and her friendship/rivalry with Lena. It hits all the right emotions of youth and that weird best friend obsession girls can have. There are plenty of dramatic moments, but no real compelling drama throughout. I am a plot driven kind of reader. Although it was sweeping, immersive, and brought to life a time and place wonderfully, it just didn't engage me. 

Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid 
I'm glad I chose this book as my first by this author, one of her more popular titles, for a summer read. It has a great hook, with Hannah (our heroine) returning to her hometown after breaking off an affair with a married man and reuniting with her first love. Shortly after the characters are established, we see how things play out in two different realities: if she went home with the high school sweetheart that first night she lands home, or tries to take things slow and goes back home with her girlfriend. The alternate reality is not a new gimmick, usually a sci-fi trope, and many have compared this novel to the film Sliding Doors. But Reid creates excellent tension, even if it's somewhat predictable. I also loved the well fleshed out supporting cast of characters. This was a fun and still thought provoking read. I am definitely going to make my way through her other titles. 

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby
I feel like I've been out of the YA game for a few months, so I thought I should catch up on this year's Printz winner and it did not disappoint. It's one of those stories that's hard to describe, and you just have to experience for yourself. There is a small town (Bone Gap), a beautiful stranger who becomes part of the lives of the abandoned Quinn boys and inexplicably disappears. Is it foul play? Did she go back to whence she came? Is evil magic involved...? It's ephemeral, emotional and one of the most interesting takes on an unreliable narrator I've ever read. 

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
This was one of my most anticipated books of the summer, and I think my expectations were too high. It was certainly fast paced, with a GREAT story - very cinematic and easy to see how this is Hawley's forte (the creator of Fargo, the TV series). A poor artist gets to hitch a ride on a private jet with a bunch of bigwigs (who all have reasons to be murdered) and saves the only other survivor (a little boy) after it crashes at sea. However, in parts it read like a script and felt disjointed. There were a few scenes of dialogue that had me utterly confused and on the flip side, a number of overly trivial ramblings where I felt as if I was being hit over the head with too much information. One entire page was dedicated to the description of a character's time being on the high school football team, with nary a break for even a new paragraph. Just one big long word wall about how Texas football was their world. There were similar missives on art and it felt like a lot of rambling to make up for the cinematic dialogue. But these philosophical tangents seemed to weigh the already good story down. Just the way it unfolded, how it holds a mirror up to current events and how we perceive them still made it worthwhile reading. "...in the war between common sense and marketing genius, marketing is going to win out." Plus, given that the ousting of Roger Ailes at Fox 'news' most definitely happened after Hawley wrote this is rather eerie... 

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Speaking of timely reads... Yes, we all should be feminists and we should all read this, too. Or watch the TED Talk. I have yet to watch it, but I've watched her amazing TED Talk on the danger of a single story. It is also so very worthwhile. Sadly, those who seek her out and hear her brilliance are not necessarily those that SHOULD. Sigh.

Also, for anyone who does Book of the Month and has yet to decide on the August book: I am almost done with my NetGalley ARC of All the Ugly and Wonderful Things and would highly recommend it - with some caveats. It has lots of Language. and Strong. Sexual. Content. It may be downright icky for many people, but if you can deal (I can totally deal), this has been RIVETING material. I'll get the full review up soon!


Black Raspberry and Elderflower Pimm's Cup (plus Everyday Life and Menu Plan 7.25.16)

Last week was a pretty crazy week, especially in the evenings. Almost every night was a mad dash to eat dinner and then get out to a meeting or something for the kids. It was the perfect week to try out a Pimm's Cup, since I had heard that it gets better with age in the fridge and I could make a big batch ahead of time. I did not do a traditional recipe with cucumbers or lemon/lime soda because I didn't want it to go flat in the fridge and I lamented the fact that I had regular Pimm's at home when I saw a blackberry-elderflower version at the store last week. No matter! I can make my own, so I did - and you should, too! 
Black Raspberry and Elderflower Pimm's Cup
  • 2 oranges, sliced
  • 2 lemons, sliced
  • 1 cup sliced strawberries 
  • 2 cups Pimm's
  • 1/4 cup Chambord or other raspberry liqueur
  • 1/4 cup St. Germain or other elderflower liqueur
  • 4 cups lemonade (I just used bottled Simply Lemonade)
It does get EVEN BETTER after macerating for awhile. So try not to drink it all in one sitting, however tempting.

Thankfully the weekend was nice and relaxing, where our only commitment was to have a kid free dinner out at our favorite Mexican joint.
Mmmmm, fish tacos and margaritas on a warm summer night!

And we broke up the monotony of our near daily trips to the Y and pool with a rainy day trip to the local trampoline place that is outfitted with laser tag, followed by sleepovers.
I got the good end of the deal, taking the two very well behaved nine year old boys at my house and my friend got my six year old girl as well as TWO MORE, including her own. Four six year old girls for a sleepover! she should be sainted... Now we're gearing up for our first real hot and sunny week of summer, finally!
As always, I'm linking up with Org Junkie and Mommy Run Fast- be sure to check out all the great weekly menus!