December 31, 2013

best books of 2013: top 10

It's that time again: time to pick my favorite books of the year. (And this year, I'm actually posting before the new year—if only by two hours. That's quite the improvement over my 2011 and 2012 lists!) If my Pinterest board is to be believed, then I read 87 books in 2013 (and I'm not sure that I remembered to pin each book I read). Out of those 87, I enjoyed the vast majority, so narrowing my list of favorites down to 10 was quite difficult—so difficult that I'll be publishing a list of honorable mention books later this week. Below are the books that I settled on as my favorite 10 reads of 2013.

10. Barefoot Summer by Denise Hunter (my review)

Barefoot Summer is a fantastic opening to Hunter's Chapel Springs series. Madison and Beckett's chemistry practically leaps off the page, and the conclusion is heartwarming and satisfying. I can't wait for book two's release this spring!
9. Anomaly by Krista McGee (my review)

Anomaly stunned me. I expected to enjoy it (it's YA/sci-fi, so how could I not?), but I didn't anticipate the way McGee would so completely suck me into her world. The book ends with a delightful twist, and I can't wait to read the second book in the trilogy!

8. Duchess by Susan May Warren (my review)

The final book in Warren's Daughters of Fortune trilogy, Duchess is also the best. For whatever reason, it really resonated with me—and I especially connected with main character Rosie. Here's a snippet of my review: "Really, Rosie could be any of us. No, we don't all have bombshell looks or the attitude to go with it, but we do all have regrets and hurts that motivate our actions, and without surrendering to Christ and trusting that He loves us, we could gain the whole world and still be searching for meaning and wholeness. The spiritual lessons found in this book (and the rest of the series) are profound, yet not at all 'preachy.'"

7. Shattered by Dani Pettrey (my review)

Shattered is the second book in Pettrey's Alaskan Courage series. It focuses on Piper and Landon, two of my favorite characters from the first book in the series. Packed with mystery and romance, Shattered was easily my favorite romantic suspense novel of the year.

6. Moon Over Edisto by Beth Webb Hart (my review)

Of all the books on this list, Moon Over Edisto is the least overtly "Christian" and the most literary. (It is put out by a Christian publisher, but the faith aspect takes a backseat. And I think that's totally fine.) It's the only novel that I read this year that I thought my sister, who tends toward literary snobbery, would enjoy—and so I promptly bought her a copy as soon as I finished reading mine. Moon Over Edisto is a beautifully-written novel about family, and it ended far too soon for my liking.

5. The Tutor's Daughter by Julie Klassen (my review)

If you love Jane Austen, you'll love Julie Klassen. I've read several of her books so far, and each one is better than the last. The Tutor's Daughter is pure delight. Here's a bit of what I had to say in my review: "As I read, I couldn't help but feel that I was reading a Jane Austen novel. Or, more accurately, that I was watching a film adaptation of a Jane Austen novel, as Klassen has a way with words that put a very clear picture into my head as I read. The plot evokes memories of Northanger AbbeyEmma,Pride & Prejudice, and even Jane Eyre while still remaining unique." Klassen's next book, The Dancing Master, is currently sitting on my to be read shelf—I can't wait to pick it up!

4. A Noble Groom by Jody Hedlund (my review)

I loved everything about A Noble Groom...especially the hero, Carl. In my review, I said that "Carl gives Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy a run for his money. While Carl is by no means perfect, he is wonderful (and a lot less uppity than that Darcy fellow)." And that cover? It may be my favorite book cover of the year!
3. On Distant Shores by Sarah Sundin (my review)

Fun fact: Sarah Sundin is the only author to have a book appear on my "best of" list each year that I've made one: With Every Letter was number four on my 2012 list, and Blue Skies Tomorrow was my pick for my favorite book of 2011.

On Distant Shores continues Sundin's streak of excellent World War II fiction. I love that while her books are full of romance, they contain so much more. On Distant Shores highlights the struggles pharmacists faced in the Army, and Sundin wrote about it so realistically that I wanted to call my senator to demand fair treatment for them! I'm eagerly awaiting Sundin's next novel.

2. Invisible by Ginny Yttrup (my review)

Ginny Yttrup was a new-to-me author, and she totally blew me away with this novel. Invisible focuses on three women, each of whom is hiding in some way. As they connect with each other, they work through emotional and physical trauma and learn about the God who loves them infinitely. Invisible is completely captivating, and when I finished reading it, I just had to sit there and let it sink in. I loved it.

1. Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay (my review)

Dear Mr. Knightley, Katherine Reay's debut novel, is so unique and fun! I don't think I can say it better than I did in my review: "Honestly, I picked up Dear Mr. Knightley expecting a simple romance, but this book turned out to be so much more—throughout the course of the novel, Sam found her voice, her place in the world. And, yes, she found love—in many forms. One of the most touching aspects of the novel was not the romance (though it was sweet) but the love Sam found in family.

Dear Mr. Knightley is a novel that will grab you at the first page and not let go until you've finished the last. Run to your nearest bookstore (or, more realistically, click on over to the website of your favorite bookseller) and get your hands on a copy of this book. You won't regret it!"

I almost wish I hadn't read Dear Mr. Knightley yet—because that would mean I could experience it again for the first time! For a limited time, it's only $2.99 for Kindle (check the price before you buy)—you really need to read this book!

There you have it: my top 10 reads of 2013. Check back at the end of the week for my honorable mention books. Happy New Year!

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

December 7, 2013

a december of living dangerously

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my cats getting in the Christmas tree. Soon after, I came home to this:

At that point, I was certain that I wouldn't decorate my tree. But then I remembered the angel.

My mom's cousin made this angel ornament for me when I was young, and ever since, I've believed it should go at the top of the tree. (My sister disagreed with me, and one year, we had probably our most epic fight ever about which angel should be the tree topper. I can't remember how we resolved it. But for as long as I've had my own tree, this angel has been on top.)

Once I had the angel out, I decided to put the ribbon on the tree ... and then something came over me, and I decided to decorate the whole tree!

I did put unbreakable ornaments at the bottom, and it's a good thing. Within 30 seconds of seeing the decorated tree for the first time, Hammond had pulled an ornament off.

Isis's favorite part of the tree is the nativity scene. This is the set we used when I was a child, so it has sentimental value even though most of the pieces aren't pretty. It's also pretty indestructible, which is a plus when you have cats around who enjoy chewing on things! Isis has taken a special liking to the shepherd (the one next to her nose). She's been known to pick it up and cart it around in her mouth.

I may be crazy ... but after nearly a week of having a decorated tree, we only have one ornament fatality (one of the glitter balls) and no injuries. Here's hoping we make it through the rest of the Christmas season unscathed!

November 22, 2013

my cats love christmas...

...Surely that's why they're climbing the tree, right? They just want to get in the Christmas spirit?

Hammond climbed the tree so quietly that I didn't know he was there until I walked by and saw this face looking out at me. He has a bell on his collar—how was he able to turn himself into stealth cat?

And then it's monkey-see, monkey-do. If Hammond can climb the tree, then Skaara can, too!

This is precisely why the ornaments will most likely stay in boxes this year.

November 16, 2013

mid-november holiday thoughts

I used to be one of those people who couldn't stand hearing Christmas music before Black Friday. I was of the opinion (as I'm sure some of you are) that Christmas music should be reserved for the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I even blogged about it way back in 2007.

All that changed this year. In the week leading up to Halloween I was dying to listen to Christmas music ... so on November 1 I pulled out my Christmas music. Or at least I tried to. I know exactly where all of my Christmas cds were in my old house. But here? I can't find them anywhere! Fortunately, I'd copied all of my favorite albums into my iTunes, so I have them digitally...but I'd still really like to find my cds!

So here's why I think I was so anxious for Christmas music: The Hallmark Channel. The Hallmark Channel has always been my favorite destination for Christmas movies, but when I was cableless, I had to content myself with whatever Hallmark movies I could find to stream online or to buy (cheaply) on DVD. If you've been reading my blog recently, you know I now have cable and a DVR. (Yippee!!!) And this year, Hallmark decided that the Christmas season began on November 1. I'm not sure if they've done this in past years, but this year, they're running Christmas movies nearly 24/7. And they promoted this "Countdown to Christmas" all through October, so by the time November rolled around, I was more than ready to watch Christmas movies and listen to Christmas music!

Hallmark is premiering 12 new holiday movies this season, and I've watched all of them so far. (I say "holiday" movies because The Thanksgiving House is, obviously, about Thanksgiving. It stars Nebraska boy Justin Bruening and is a decent, if not enthralling, flick.) My favorite by far is the one I thought looked the cheesiest: Snow Bride. The title alone is ridiculous. But it's so much fun! Here's the promo video:


Is it the world's greatest film? Of course not! But it's certainly a lot of fun to watch ... and it doesn't hurt that Jordan Belfi is so attractive. (OK, it's probably the character "Ben" that I'm attracted to ...) If you missed it when it aired, you'll have ample opportunity to watch it before Christmas. Its next airing is next Thursday at 10/9 central, and I'm sure it will air multiple times after that.

While I've been enjoying listening to Christmas music at the office and watching Christmas movies at night, I must admit that I'm getting a little Christmased out. I even deleted several movies from my DVR without watching them. Perhaps once I get my decorations up, I'll feel more Christmasy ... but that's going to have to wait a while as I try to figure out how I can possibly have a Christmas tree with three crazy cats in the house!

Are you "doing" Christmas yet? Any advice for keeping my cats out of my Christmas tree?


October 19, 2013

no surprises here

These are my Amazon Quick Picks over the last two days. I think they've got a pretty good read on me, don't you?



Also, these movies remind me that the Christmas movie season is just around the corner. Yippee! The Hallmark Channel will begin showing Christmas movies on November 1. Two months of Christmas movies ... I can't wait!

October 18, 2013

celebrate my drive--help my school win $25,000 or $100,000

Much of my life has revolved around Nebraska Christian Schools. First, I was an NC student (grades K-12!). I even lived on campus for six years during elementary school, as my parents were the boys' dorm parents. Then, after graduating from college, I got a job at NC as the superintendent's secretary. Nine years later, I'm still at Nebraska Christian, though my role has changed many times! Nebraska Christian is a special place to me, and I hope that if God blesses me with children, they will be able to attend NC, as well.

As a small Christian school in a farming community, Nebraska Christian's finances are often tight. One area where we seem to be perpetually "behind" is technology. Sure, things are better than they were when I was in high school, but if you saw our computer lab, you'd probably laugh. Or cry.

That's where State Farm's Celebrate My Drive comes in. This program, which promotes safe driving, is also a competition between schools. We are competing with schools with student bodies of 750 or fewer, and the schools with the most safe driving commitments from October 18-26 will win a $25,000 or $100,000 grant. If we're the top school in our division, we would also win a concert with Kelly Clarkson! If we get one of the grants, most of the money will go to updating the technology on campus ... which we desperately need!

Here's how you can help: Each day from today through October 26, go to http://celebratemydrive.com/RegisterStudent.aspx and commit to safe driving. You'll enter your email address and birth date first. When it asks you for the state, select Nebraska, then select Community Member, and enter Central City for the city. Then it will pull up a box where you can click Nebraska Christian Schools. You'll take a two question quiz and then check a box to commit to safe driving. That's it! All it takes is one minute of your time. (Well, I'm actually asking for nine minutes of your time, as I'd like you to vote each day!) Please vote!

Update: I just learned you can vote through Facebook, and it's a lot easier to find Nebraska Christian that way! Just click here and enter the requested information, typing "Nebraska Christian" in the school name blank.

October 13, 2013

girls' weekend!

My mom and I just got back from a weekend in Omaha with Blendy. It was unexpected and fantastic! I thought I'd tell our story through pictures ...

We're excited to see Blendy!!!

As soon as we got to Omaha, we headed to Chick-fil-A. It had been way too long since I'd had their delicious chicken!

Then we headed off to the Omaha Symphony. We were given free tickets to see Play!, a video game symphony (the unexpected reason for our trip). I'm not a gamer, so I figured I wouldn't know much of the music. I figured right.

Here's what I learned: most video game music (at least the music played by the symphony) sounds like it was composed by Hans Zimmer. Also, whoever wrote the narration seemingly tried to write it using only cliches. By the end, we could barely contain our giggles! 

As the performance ended, I did find myself feeling a little cheated. This picture from the program, while not promising anything, certainly seemed to imply that the Mario theme would be part of the performance. But Mario was nowhere to be found ... and now I have an incredible urge to play some Super Mario!

Dad got us a hotel room so we wouldn't have to drive home late. We stayed at the Comfort Suites, and, though they were in the middle of a major renovation, the rooms were nice. Sadly, though, the breakfast left a lot to be desired.

One of the highlights of our trip was being able to attend Blendy's church this morning. It's very small, and the people are so nice and welcoming. I think she'll really thrive there. Then we headed to Cracker Barrel for lunch. Our server, Alex, was one of the best ever! If you're ever at the Council Bluffs Cracker Barrel, look for Alex—he'll give you the greatest service! I also had perhaps the best fried chicken of my life. It's the Sunday special—two boneless breaded and fried chicken breasts. I could only eat one, so now I have lunch for tomorrow!

Following a rather extended trip to Walmart, we took Blendy back to the dorm and headed home. What a fabulous weekend! (And the icing on the cake? My cats, who were left alone inside for more than 24 hours, didn't destroy anything or relieve themselves anywhere but the litter box!)

September 30, 2013

why i don't miss netflix

When I wrote about dumping Netflix a few months ago, I closed with the following:
As of right now, I think I'll come back to Netflix someday. But maybe I'll discover that I don't miss it much at all.
Well, I was right ... about the second sentence. I don't miss Netflix, not one bit. Here's why: for the first time in my life, I'm experiencing the wonder that is the DVR.

When I moved, I intended to just move my internet service (through CenturyLink) with me. I hadn't paid for TV since I lived with a friend in Grand Island from 2005-2006, so I planned to move my antenna that picked up five stations (on a good day) with me, as well.

That all changed when I called CenturyLink to request a transfer of services and try to negotiate a better rate. I went through the appropriate menu options and waited. And waited. And waited. After 20 minutes without reaching a live person, I hung up and dialed CenturyLink's main competitor in my town: USA Communications. In less than a minute, I was speaking with a customer service rep, and I learned that, for approximately what I was paying for internet through CenturyLink, I could get internet, cable, and a DVR. These prices are the introductory 6-month prices, and the rep urged me to call back when those rates are close to expiring—she said they are nearly always running retention specials for their current customers. Sold!

When I called CenturyLink to cancel—thus pushing different automated menu options—I was on the line with a customer service rep in less than two minutes. So apparently you're much more important to the company if you're wanting to leave than if you're calling for any other reason. I get it, but it's still frustrating.

My introduction to the wonderful DVR commenced the next week, and I quickly fell in love.

What I love most about the DVR is it allows me to watch TV on my schedule. (Yes, the VCR I had hooked up to my parents' cable TV did this too, but the DVR is simpler and doesn't require tapes.) Rarely do I stay up late watching something—I can always record it! And if I have two shows on during the same timeslot? I can either record one and watch the other live, or I can record both and watch them later. This saved me last Tuesday, when NCIS (a show you know I'm obsessed with!) and Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. premiered at the same time, and I had a meeting at work. With the VCR, I would have had to choose the more important of the two (and NCIS would have won with no question), but thanks to the DVR, I could watch both!

Side note: The NCIS premiere was as great as I'd hoped it would be, and I can't wait for part two of Ziva's goodbye tomorrow night. S.H.I.E.L.D. was okay—I enjoyed the witty Whedon-esque dialog, but the plot didn't enthrall me. I still have it set as a series recording on my DVR, but I'm not sure if I'll keep watching.

The DVR is not essential—neither is cable, for that matter—but I'm certainly enjoying it! I realize that I've done this backwards—most people dump cable in favor of Netflix, not the other way around. But I didn't really dump Netflix for cable—the cable was just a happy, unexpected development. Seriously, though, with all of my expanded basic cable, DVR'd Hallmark and Lifetime movies, and Amazon Prime offerings, who has time to miss Netflix?

My current DVR'd programs. In between the girly movies and Lifetime movies-of-the-week, I do go for some culture. See? Henry IV!

September 2, 2013

35 before 35: #17

#17: Get a house cat

After going nearly two years without being able to cross one of my 35 before 35 off the list, I accomplished two in two days: buy a house and get a house cat. Well, technically, I got three house cats.

In July of last year, I got three cats: Isis, Hammond, and Skaara. Per my lease, they had to live outside. When I decided to buy a house, one of the things I was most excited about was the prospect of having my cats in the house. They almost didn't all make it, though ...

The night before I moved, I came home from my parents' house and saw Isis lying by the door. Initially, I was thrilled to see her. For the last few weeks, she had been spending only minimal time at home, and I was afraid she'd be off on one of her adventures when it was time to move. But she didn't get up to greet me, which I found odd, and when I got closer, I saw a pool of blood beside her. I called my mom, who came right away, and we tried to determine where the blood was coming from. We couldn't find it, and the bleeding seemed to have stopped, but she was very lethargic.

A few minutes later, she was bleeding again. By this time, it was after 8 p.m. on Friday night, and I didn't know what to do. We ended up cutting up one of my old sleep shirts to make bandages of sorts—we wrapped the strips around her middle (we still weren't sure where the blood was coming from) and tied them. Each time I checked on her, there was more blood, and she seemed more out of it. Her ears, nose, and paw pads were also getting cold.

I spent a lot of time with her that night, though I didn't know what to do for her other than lightly stroke her back. When I went to bed, I told her goodbye—I truly believed she would be dead by morning.

The morning of the move, I got up early, and the first thing I did was check on Isis. She was still breathing, though she didn't even lift her head when I approached. She had unwound the makeshift bandages in the night, and she was no longer bleeding. Blendy helped me move the other cats (Hammond, Skaara, and Sam the stray—a cat who had adopted us) to the new house. Then when my mom came over, she helped me move Isis. We put all the cats into the spare bedroom while we moved my things. Throughout the day, people would go check on the cats ... and each time someone went in, Isis seemed a little stronger! By that evening, she was moving around and even eating a little. And by the next day, you couldn't even tell she'd been at death's door!

The crazy thing is that Isis's brush with death seemed to give her a new personality. Before, she didn't like me very much and hardly ever let me pet her. Now, one of her favorite things is to perch on my side when I'm laying on the couch. She also makes it her personal mission to make everyone who walks through my door like her. It's bizarre.

It's been a month now, and everyone is healthy and happy. Well, everyone except Sam the stray. I never intended for her to be a house cat, so I put her outside (in the fenced-in backyard) after a couple days. She disappeared almost immediately, and she's been spotted at my old house. But Isis, Skaara, and Hammond? They couldn't be happier. And neither could I.

This is, without a doubt, their favorite place to be. Hammond, Skaara, and Isis.
Hammond and Skaara. These brothers love each other!
Now that Isis has decided she likes loves people, she has decided that people should love her equally. Whether you're a cat person or not, she will do her darndest to make you like her. This often involves trying to rub her face against yours. 
Sometimes, glimpses of the old feisty Isis do emerge. In this photo, she's attacking the pins that hold the shelf in place. Shortly after I took this photo, she knocked over a glass candleholder, which shattered all over the floor. Needless to say, all the breakables have been removed from the bookshelves!
So here's our best guess of what happened to Isis. I had some evil neighbor boys—and I do mean evil. They had threatened to kill my cats in the past (while screaming obscenities at me) ... and they can't be more than 10 years old! On moving day, when Mom and I were describing Isis's wound, my uncles said it sounded like she'd been shot with a pellet gun. We later found a scab on her left side. And then we felt a bump on her right side—a bump that feels suspiciously like a pellet. The prime suspects are those boys. I'm very thankful that we never have to see them again!

August 12, 2013

35 before 35: #15

#15: Buy a house

I've already written quite a bit about buying a house (here and here), so basically what's left is to show you the pictures! I moved in one week ago with the help of my parents, Blendy, two uncles, an aunt, and a cousin. They were an absolutely amazing moving crew; we started at 8 a.m., and by 4:30 p.m., I was all moved in, and my old house was completely cleaned.

Most people who post pictures of their new houses either post before the move-in or after all their stuff is put away. I moved the day after closing, and I didn't think to take any pictures before the move. With school beginning this week, it may be a while before I have everything put away and organized. So here's my house ... in all its messy glory!

The house from the front. You can't tell because of the angle on the photo, but the house faces the street corner. I've always liked things that were slightly askew!
The living room from the front door. What you can't tell is the ceiling is slanted, which makes the room seem HUGE. I love it!
The living room facing the front door.
The kitchen from the living room.
The kitchen from the family room.
My bedroom.
The family room. This used to be a garage that the former owners converted. It will eventually be where the cats live, but for now, it's storage.
The bathroom.
The spare bedroom. This is the only room that needs work—I'm going to paint it! For now, this is where the cats live when I'm gone.
The back yard. I love that it's completely fenced in. And the shed is pretty nice.

And there you have it—my house! I'm so excited to have it!

August 1, 2013

it wasn't supposed to be like this

When I was a kid, I learned my parents were 24 when they got married. That sounded positively ancient. Surely I'd get married much sooner than that!

I am currently mere days away from my 32nd birthday. And I'm still single.

I had always imagined that by this point in my life, I'd have a husband, two or three kids, and be a stay-at-home mom. For whatever reason, God has put me on a different path. Most of the time, I'm okay with this—I'm actually glad I didn't marry young, as I've done a lot of growing up in the 14 years since I graduated from high school. I enjoy the freedom I have as a single woman; I don't really have to consider anyone else when deciding on purchases, entertainment, meals, or travel. I can do whatever I want on the weekend. I only have to worry about getting myself ready in the morning, so I can sleep until the last possible second.

Overall, my life is good.

Tomorrow, I'll sign the documents to officially purchase my first house. I've heard that moving is one of the five most stressful things in life, and I've never before believed it, but I sure do now! There is so much more stress involved with finding and purchasing a house than there is with renting. And don't even get me started on the loan approval process! (It's enough to give someone a heart condition. No kidding.)

And I wish I had someone to walk by my side, helping me make decisions and sharing the stress.

My parents have been fantastic, checking out houses and going furniture shopping with me, giving advice when I ask for it, and helping me pack. My loan officer has been incredibly patient, reassuring me when the approval process took longer than I thought it should and answering all of my "I have no idea what I'm doing!" questions. My friends have been behind me, cheering me on and praying for wisdom and sanity. My sister Steph has been a great sounding board, always bringing me back to reality. (Also, she mowed my lawn for me tonight so I wouldn't have to take a break from packing to do it. She's pretty awesome.)

But, as wonderful as these people are, they aren't "in it" with me. 

So I want to take a moment to acknowledge something that I usually don't: singleness is hard. It's not my ideal life, but it is my current life. And while journeying through life without a partner is difficult, I shouldn't use it as an excuse for letting my life stagnate.

That's why I took an accounting class this summer (and learned I most certainly should not become an accountant).

That's why I joined a book club through my church, even though meeting new people is difficult for me.

And that's why I'm buying a house.

July 20, 2013

nothing to make much ado about

Last month, Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing finally reached theaters. Of course, it didn't reach any theaters near me ... indy movies never come to Central City, and rarely do they play in Grand Island. But my sisters were as excited about this movie as I was, so we decided to see it in Chicago while Blendy and I were visiting Val in Indiana.

I went into the movie fully expecting to love it and anticipating that I'd want to rush out and buy it the instant it hits DVD. Well, that's not exactly what happened ...

You'd think that, as both a Shakespeare fan and a Whedon fan, I'd love this film. But I ended up feeling rather ambivalent about it. It was fine, but it certainly wasn't anything special. In fact, I was so bored during a few segments that I nearly fell asleep.

I'm all about modern-day adaptations of classic tales, but in this case, I didn't think the update really worked. For one thing, while it was a bit humorous at first to hear Shakespeare's words come out of the mouth of someone who was talking on a cell phone, I soon just found it distracting and even absurd. I didn't really buy Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker in their roles as Benedick and Beatrice—I know they were a beloved pair on Angel (which I never watched), but I didn't really think they had much chemistry. And the film is fairly dark—it doesn't carry the light, happy tone I expected. (When I voiced that last objection to Blendy, she said, "Of course it's dark. It's Whedon!" Which is true ... but it's also a Shakespeare comedy!)

That said, the film did do some things right. The scenes where Beatrice and Benedick hear about the other's supposed love for them were hilarious, full of great physical comedy. I enjoyed Fran Kranz as Claudio (Topher!), Reed Diamond as Don Pedro, and Clark Gregg as Leonato. But the best part, hands down, was Nathan Fillion as Dogberry. He completely knocked it out of the park! When I first heard that was his role, I was disappointed—in the Kenneth Branagh version, I always found Dogberry's scenes downright painful. Michael Keaton's Dogberry was gross, unkempt, and probably insane. Fillion's Dogberry was an idiot, but a hilarious one. (Go here to watch a clip.)

As we watched the film, I couldn't help but compare it to Kenneth Branagh's version, and I ended up concluding that the Branagh version is superior in every way except for the portrayal of Dogberry. I even preferred Keanu Reeves's sneering Don John!

All in all, I'm glad we were able to see the movie, but I don't think it's one I'll be adding to my collection.

Have you ever been disappointed by a movie you'd greatly anticipated?

June 30, 2013

my (current) favorite things, june 2013 edition

This post has been a long time in the making. I've been thinking about it since before school got out, but then I had yearbook deadlines, book review deadlines, the excitement of searching for and buying a house, and an obsession with Covert Affairs that kept me from blogging. But finally, here we go—my current favorite things!
  • Vaseline Spray and Go Moisturizer: I have just about the driest legs on the planet. I also can be incredibly lazy when it comes to moisturizing my skin. So the instant I saw the commercial for Vaseline's new spray lotion, I knew I needed to try it. It is absolutely fantastic! It does everything the commercial claims ... and it seriously takes like 10 seconds. Even I can handle that!
  • ipsy: ipsy is one of those $10 monthly subscription boxes that's been popping up over the past couple of years. I went back and forth between ipsy and Birchbox, but I ended up choosing ipsy because most of the bloggers who compared the two favored ipsy. It's so fun to get beauty products in the mail! My first ipsy glam bag came in May, and I am currently using or have already used up four of the five items. The June glam bag wasn't so much "me" as the May bag was, and so far I've only used the Cailyn eyeliner. I'm going to stick with ipsy through the summer and then reevaluate. (I'm working on a post that talks about my items, but for now these pictures will have to suffice.) If you're interested in trying ipsy, you can sign up here.
My May glam bag.
My June glam bag. I got an extra item (the Baublebar bracelet) for referring people to the service.
  • NCIS: Back when I had cable (almost three years ago now), I watched NCIS fairly frequently. Then I moved, and I no longer had TV. NCIS is one of the shows I didn't bother to keep up with online. Then in February, I came down with the flu, and I spent a week on my parents' couch. USA runs NCIS marathons several times a week, and I started watching them. Suddenly, I was completely hooked. Blendy and I are taking an accounting class together this summer (a decision I seriously regret...), and we decided to reward ourselves after completing our assignments by watching NCIS episodes. I picked up several seasons on sale on Amazon, so we started with the pilot, and we're working our way through. Currently, we're in season two. Honestly, the promise of more NCIS is just about the only thing motivating me to do my homework. (On a side note, I've often wondered if I missed my calling and should have gone into accounting. The answer to that question is an unequivocal NO!) 
  • Covert Affairs: Not since Dawson's Creek have I been so entirely addicted to a TV show. I watched the first three seasons of Covert Affairs in about three weeks, and I'm now eagerly anticipating Season 4, which premieres next month. (And I'm ever so thankful that my parents now have cable, which will enable me to watch the show as it airs!) Blendy calls Covert Affairs "Alias lite," and I suppose it is. (Lead Piper Perabo even bears a striking resemblance to Jennifer Garner.) But it's also a whole lot of fun. Christopher Gorham as blind CIA operative Auggie is adorable as usual, and if you didn't know he could see, you'd swear he was blind. Then you have the fabulous Peter Gallagher (Sandy Cohen from The O.C. and Peter on my favorite movie of all time, While You Were Sleeping) as CIA bigwig Arthur Campbell, a great love triangle, and intriguing story lines ... basically, you end up with a show that may not be as mind-bendingly awesome as Alias, but it sure is fun to watch! If you have Amazon Prime, you can stream the first three seasons free. Check out the pilot here.
  • Xtra Bacon: Sometime during the last season of The Bachelor, I stumbled across a hilarious podcast that recaps/mocks the show. That podcast is part of the Xtra Bacon Network, a group of pop culture podcasts and blogs. If you're a fan of The Bachelor/ette, I highly recommend you check out Knox & Jamie's hilarious commentary. They even mentioned one of my tweets (at 15:45) in this episode!
  • Steel Cut Oats: I have always thought I hated hot oatmeal. Then several months ago, I stayed overnight with my aunt, and she made steel cut oats for breakfast. Oh. My. Goodness. They were so good! I've started making them about three times each week—I just throw 1/4 cup of steel cut oats and 1-1/2 cups water in my little crockpot right before I go to bed, and it's ready in the morning. With a little brown sugar and cinnamon, it's fantastic ... and it keeps me full throughout the morning.
  • That Guy ... Who Was in That Thing: When I decided to dump Netflix, this was the only item in my queue that I knew I wanted to watch before my subscription ran out. It's a documentary about character actors, and it features lots of people I recognized, including Timothy Omundson (Lassiter on Psych), Gregory Itzin (Henry Wilcox on my new fav Covert Affairs), Xander Berkeley (Percy on Nikita), and Bruce Davison (he's been in a million things, including X-Men and X2, but I'll always remember him as the teacher in The Wave, an ABC Afterschool Special that we watched in my college speech class). I really enjoyed it! You can watch it here.
Are any of my favorites your favorites? Now that I've finished Covert Affairs, do you have a show I should binge-watch? What are some of your favorite things that I should check out? Let me know in the comments!

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

June 14, 2013

dumping netflix

I joined Netflix in the summer of 2007. At the time, streaming video was fairly new, and members could stream 1 hour of video for each dollar they paid per month (or something like that). There wasn't much available to stream then, but Netflix soon began devoting large amounts of money to acquiring streaming content.

When Netflix announced its price hike in 2011, I ditched the DVDs and selected a streaming plan. And I remained happy with Netflix.

I'm still happy with Netflix ... but as of July 7, I will no longer be a subscriber. Why? Well, the answer is twofold. First of all, I'm buying a house, so I'm trying to save all the money I can. Netflix is far from being a necessity. Secondly, I also have Amazon Prime (which I get at a reduced price through Amazon Student). Prime includes free two-day shipping and free streaming of select movies and television shows. Amazon's selection has improved vastly in the last year, and now that Amazon Instant Videos can (finally!) be streamed through the Wii, I've been watching more Prime videos than ever. Prime doesn't have as many movies or TV seasons as Netflix, but there's more than enough to keep me occupied. In fact, I'm currently watching two shows that aren't available on Netflix: Covert Affairs and 7th Heaven. Couple that with the fact that I only watched three of the last 100 things streamed on my account, and I have to conclude that my money would be better spent elsewhere. (Multiple family members use my account ... and apparently they use it a whole lot more than I do!)

Of course, as I've been sitting here typing, I've been thinking about the myriad of items in my queue. Felicity isn't on Amazon Prime. Neither is Nikita. Or The Artist, which I've been intending to watch for the past year. And that's the key—I have 330 items in my queue, but how many of them will I actually watch? Maybe 5 or 10 percent? Just last night, I queued up an episode of Felicity, thinking that if I ever wanted to finish the series, I should do it now. I watched about two seconds before switching to Covert Affairs through Prime. I honestly can't think of one thing that I would be bummed about missing if my subscription ended tomorrow instead of three weeks from now.

As of right now, I think I'll come back to Netflix someday. But maybe I'll discover that I don't miss it much at all.

June 13, 2013

buying a house

About six years ago, my aunt told me I should buy a house. She said it was a good investment and I was at a point in my life where I should be thinking about such things.

I ignored her completely.

To be honest, I really never considered buying a house before because it seemed like to do so would be admitting defeat. Admitting that I truly might never get married. Admitting that I might stay in Central City for the rest of my life.

But here's the thing: I like living in Central City. I enjoy my job. Yeah, it took me awhile to get to this point, but in recent years, any time I've thought about moving away, it's because someone else suggested that I should—really, I'm very happy here. And it's time I embraced that. Besides, buying a house somewhere doesn't mean you'll live there forever.

As for the singleness issue, I'm well aware that I may have said sayonara to my one chance at marriage last year. But maybe I didn't. Maybe the man who will make me feel what Abbie feels when she sees Nate is still out there. Why would I think that my buying a house would prevent him from showing up? That's just ludicrous.

So I'm taking the plunge. I'm buying a house. And now that I'm doing it, all my previous hesitations seem completely ridiculous.

It's really amazing how it has all worked out, and I'm still a little bewildered by it all. God definitely orchestrated this. As one of my Bible study friends said last night, isn't it crazy that, while I had no clue, God knew that during this week, while I was crazy-busy with VBS, He would bring me a house?

Here's how it happened: A little less than a month ago, a coworker asked me if I was interested in buying a house. She and her husband had purchased a house in Central City for her and their girls to live in while they attended Nebraska Christian. The girls graduated this year, so they are looking to sell the house. I went to check it out, and I liked it, but I didn't love it. But looking at that house made me realize that I really did want to own a home, so I kept looking.

I looked at a second house two weeks later. This one looked amazing on paper, but the basement was a complete deal breaker. It reminded me of my great-grandparents' basement. It was damp, it smelled musty, and it just looked ... unpleasant. I liked the upstairs, loved the backyard, and hated the basement.

After that, I wasn't sure where to look. I thought about checking out the first house again. And then one day last week, my dad told me I should look at a house that he had just noticed. I looked it up online on Thursday and decided it had definite potential. Friday afternoon, I called the realtor, and he said I could look at it Friday evening. I took Blendy and Dad with me, and we all liked it. Well, Blendy and Dad liked it; I fell in love the instant I stepped inside! I looked at the house again on Monday, this time taking my mom along as well. As we walked through the house, I couldn't help but talk about how my things would fit into the house. I spoke with a loan officer from a local bank on Tuesday afternoon and then made an official offer on the house. Tuesday night, I dreamed that the sellers decided they didn't like me and wouldn't sell it to me no matter how much I offered. (This was such a realistic dream that I woke up believing I'd lost the house.) On Wednesday morning, I learned my offer had been accepted! Now the only thing left is to get the loan ... so I spent a couple hours yesterday filling out the application and a couple hours today locating all the documents the loan officer requested.

This house is perfect for me! Two bedrooms, one bathroom (recently remodeled), remodeled kitchen, living room, family room, fenced in backyard. The only thing I don't love about it is the lack of a garage—the garage was converted into the family room. I'm very excited to have a dishwasher again, and I'm looking forward to letting my cats be in the house.

And I will be especially happy to say goodbye to the dog next door, who recently did this to my welcome mat:
Is it okay to say you hate an animal? 'Cause I certainly don't have any positive feelings for that dog!

No pictures yet, but I promise to post some after I get moved in. It's looking like we'll close in early August.

May 30, 2013

quitting aspartame

About six weeks ago, I quit aspartame. Cold turkey. I'd been hearing bad things about aspartame for a long time, and, regardless of the truth behind all the dire warnings, I knew that consuming so much aspartame couldn't be good for me.

When I was a senior in high school, I spent a month on the Atkins diet. I was miserable, and I ended up dreaming of potatoes before I decided to run far away from the diet ... but one thing from the diet that stuck was the switch I made from regular to diet pop. But where I'd been drinking maybe three or four regular sodas per week, when it came to the diet pop, it was a free for all. It wasn't unusual for me to drink two or three cans per day. In college, I had pop with every meal except breakfast. I regularly drank two cans per day at work. And any time I went out to eat, I'd have four, five, or even six glasses of pop.

I'm honestly not sure how I made the decision to quite aspartame ... I just did it. The first week was torture. I knew I'd be giving up my beloved Diet Coke, but I had no idea how prevalent aspartame is. All of my gum? Gone. My water enhancers (Mio, Crystal Light)? Gone. I spent about a week longing for what I could no longer have. Plus, there were the physical symptoms. I had some of the worst headaches I've ever had in my life during that week. And three days after I quit, I had scary physical symptoms—heart palpitations, shakiness, and extreme fatigue.

It hasn't been all sunshine and rainbows since that week, but all my withdrawal symptoms are gone, and I'm proud of myself for making this change!

It's important to note that I haven't quit all artificial sweeteners—that would be practically impossible, though I know it would be good for me—but my use of sweeteners is dramatically less. I found a gum (Dentyne Fire) that doesn't use aspartame as a sweetener. And I bought a SodaStream. It uses artificial sweeteners in most of its syrups, but no aspartame or high fructose corn syrup. My pop consumption has dropped to about 12 ounces per day—not ideal, but much better than before. I now read labels on practically all food and drink before I buy it—fortunately, everything containing aspartame must be labeled with the following warning: "Phenylketonurics: Contains Phenylalanine," which saves me from reading through insanely long ingredient lists.

This is definitely a lifestyle change for me, but it's so worth it! I feel healthier, and I've even dropped a couple pounds even though I haven't changed my exercise habits. I know I have a long way to go before I'm truly living a healthy lifestyle (and if you know how to magically make me like fruits and vegetables, please let me know!), but I'm proud of myself for taking this first step.

April 17, 2013

look what i got!

As a book blogger, I get a lot of books in the mail. (Duh.) You might think that getting packages in the mail becomes old hat—that the thrill of seeing a package outside my door would diminish. You would be wrong. Each time I pull into my driveway and glimpse a package by the door, my heart leaps in anticipation!

Today, I saw three packages. The first two were books I've been looking forward to reading, as I've really enjoyed other books by these authors.

But the third package? The third package contained a book I've been greatly anticipating for nearly a year!

Do you see what that says? "Book Gift from Becky Wade." In February, I received a direct message from Becky Wade on Twitter. She said that as a thank you for my support of her book My Stubborn Heart (which I named my top book of 2012), she'd like to send me an influencer copy of her next book. Of course, I said yes! So while I won't be on an official tour for this book, I'll still be reviewing it ... and hopefully soon.

Trust me, it took just about all the willpower I possess to keep from devouring the book as soon as I took it out of the envelope. But I have three other books that have to be reviewed by next week, so Undeniably Yours will have to wait ... for now. As I sit here at my dining room table, I can practically hear the book calling to me from the living room bookshelf—something tells me I'll be reading it sooner rather than later. And when I do, I'll be sure to tell you all about it.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received the aforementioned books free for review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

April 16, 2013

chew spry gum and watch a great movie!

I went to the dentist yesterday. It was a pretty normal experience, as far as preventative care visits go. My dentist always gives the same spiel about eating foods that are good for your teeth, staying away from sugary drinks, etc. And he normally says to chew gum that contains xylitol because it can actually help your teeth. Well, he changed it up a bit yesterday, recommending (and giving me samples of) a specific gum which contains no sweeteners other than xylitol: Spry.

Immediately, I recognized the name, but it took me a while to figure out why. Then it hit me—My Girlfriend's Boyfriend! It's a movie I fell in love with a few years ago, and my post about it is actually my #1 viewed post of all time. (You can see it here.) Spry gum has a supporting role in the film—the main character's brother is the spokesman for Spry. I always thought the gum was made up for the movie, but I guess not!

See the clip about Spry, which is one of my favorite sequences in the film:
Now that you've seen the clip, go ahead and watch the whole movie. It's so cute and clean! Oh, and—if you can find it—buy some Spry to go with the movie!

April 10, 2013

snow day in april? yes, please!

We've been having some weird weather here in Nebraska recently. I mean, Nebraska weather is always a bit spastic, but the last few days have really been wild. On Monday, our high was near 70 ... and then things fell apart. Monday night into Tuesday morning, we had severe thunderstorms. My town didn't get hit nearly as hard as some other towns in the area ... but still, we had high winds, hail, and lots of rain. (Yay, rain!) Then Tuesday the temp steadily dropped, the winds were strong, and it rained, sleeted, and hailed. Eventually, there was a bit of snow, but the biggest issue was the layer of ice that covered everything.

Last night, I got the "late start" call. And this morning, 15 minutes before my alarm was set to go off, I got the "school is canceled" call! Roomie and I were both thrilled to have the day off! (She's student teaching at another area school, and her school was canceled, too.)

I had so much work I could have been doing ... but I didn't bring any of it home with me because I honestly thought we'd have school today. It only takes five minutes to drive to work, so I could have gone to pick some stuff up, but really, did I want to go through the effort of showering, drying my hair, and scraping off my car? Nope! So I decided to declare today a "me" day ... and let tomorrow worry about itself.

So today I spent my day

  • baking bread. I used this recipe, which I found on Pinterest. It tastes great ... but the loaves look nothing like the pictures on the website!
  • washing dishes. Becasue I baked bread.
  • rescuing my cats from the dog next door. Don't ask me how I feel about that dog. It's not pretty.
  • catching up on NCIS, Hart of Dixie, and New Girl. Plus an episode of The OC thrown in for good measure.
  • reading Siri Mitchell's Unrivaled. I had mixed feelings about it—look for the review tomorrow.
  • chatting with Blendy. (Maybe if I link to her enough times, it'll shame her into actually updating her blog ...)
  • napping. I never nap ... but I did today!
  • watching Cool Runnings with the roomie. I kept telling myself I wouldn't cry at the end, but I did. I swear, I'm turning into my mother!
All in all, it was a fabulous, unexpected, much-needed day off! 

April 6, 2013

recipe: easy chicken pizza


Last week, I promised you the recipe for my chicken pizza. It's pretty straightforward ... any of you could have "invented" this recipe, too. It's also incredibly quick to make—from the time you turn on the oven until you pull the pizza out, you're looking at 20-25 minutes. It's perfect for those nights when you're looking for a fast, easy supper.


Easy Chicken Pizza

1 thin pizza crust (I use Golden Home's Ultra Crispy & Ultra Thin crust. It comes in a 3-pack for $2.99 at Hy-Vee.)
1/3-1/2 cup pizza sauce
1 can (13 oz.) chicken
4 oz. mozzarella cheese
Garlic powder
Italian seasoning
Fresh ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

Spread pizza sauce on crust, stopping about 1/4 inch from the edge. Drain chicken and crumble over crust. Top with cheese. Sprinkle on garlic powder, Italian seasoning, and pepper to taste. Drizzle olive oil over the top. Bake according to crust package directions. Enjoy!

Some helpful hints:
  • Place a pan on the bottom rack of your oven to catch any pizza drips. Trust me—I learned this the hard way!
  • You can use any combination of cheeses that you want, and you can certainly use more or less than I do! I like to put a handful of grated asiago on top of the mozzarella. Cheddar or parmesan would also be good.
  • You can mince two cloves of garlic to use in place of the garlic powder ... I've done it both ways, and it's way easier to go for the powder!
  • The crust I buy comes in a 3-pack. The package says you can freeze the crusts for up to a month—just be aware that frozen crusts don't crisp up as well as fresh ones.
  • Don't make this when you're the only one eating unless you have a lot of willpower! I have a hard time not eating the whole pizza by myself ... it's just that good!  

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