December 31, 2014

top 10 reviews of 2014

Things have been pretty quiet here on the blog lately. They've been quiet on my book review blog, as well. Though I didn't plan to do so, I've basically been taking a blogging break, and it's been really nice. I'll have some new content for this blog soon, but in the meantime, I'd love to have you join me at Christian Chick's Thoughts to check out which of my book reviews were most popular in 2014. The results certainly surprised me! See the post here.

December 19, 2014

five friday favorites #10: weeks of dec. 12 & 19, 2014

Last week was nuts. Nuts, I tell you! So I didn't get a Five Friday Favorites posted. This means you get TEN favorites this week. Aren't you excited?!? I'm linking up at A Little Bit of Everything and Housewife Glamour, as usual.

1. Fire TV Stick
Amazon introduced its Fire TV Stick a few weeks ago at the special price of $19 for Prime members. I couldn't pass it up--and I'm glad I didn't! I've been doing my streaming through my blu-ray player, and, more often than not, it either glitches mid-stream or refuses to connect to the network. But the Fire TV Stick has none of those problems! It works like a charm and easily moves from one TV to another. Plus, I can stream all of my Amazon music through it.
This screen makes me very happy!
It does make a funny buzzing noise every once in a while, but other people have had the same problems and have posted easy work arounds. I think it's $19 well spent!

2. Christmas Choral Concerts
While I think it's okay, I'm normally not a huge fan of choral music. When I have a choice about what music I listen to or concerts I go to, I would never choose to listen to a choir ... except at Christmas! There's just something special about Christmas music performed by a choir.

For the past six years (and one other year before that), my Decembers were so consumed by Singing Christmas Tree performances that I didn't really have time to enjoy other Christmas concerts. But this year, since I'm not in the Tree, I'm taking the time to truly enjoy the season. So far, I ...

Watched the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas special (with special guest Alfie Boe!). It reminded me of the Christmas specials we used to watch with my grandparents in Kansas when we'd visit for Christmas. Here's one of the songs from the concert--it's not a Christmas song, but it is one of my absolute favorites.

Attended my mom's Lone Tree Singers concert.

Sat in the audience of the Singing Christmas Tree for the first time in eight years.

Sang in the Festival of Lessons & Carols at Nebraska Christian. The video is pretty terrible, but the audio is good. My mom sings a solo at 30:30. (You can't see her, but you can hear her!)

And the fun will continue on Sunday, when we attend the candlelight service at my sister's church in Omaha. 'Tis the season!

3. Camera Lens Coffee Mug
Today was our last day of school this semester. (Hallelujah, Amen!) One of my yearbook students gave me this travel mug. Isn't it fantastic?

4. The Wishing Season
Ever since I read The Convenient Groom six or seven years ago, I've been a fan of Denise Hunter's writing. Though not every one of her books has gone onto my you-absolutely-must-read-this-book list, I've liked all of her books and loved most of them. (If you're looking for a place to jump in with Hunter, I'd recommend The Convenient Groom or Dancing with Fireflies [review], with Seaside Letters and A Cowboy's Touch [review] right behind.)

Now, there's another Hunter book to add to your TBR pile: The Wishing Season. I got this book for review through NetGalley, which isn't my preference for my favorite authors' books, simply because I like to keep some books on my bookshelf! But I wasn't offered a print copy for review, I've blown all my disposable income on Christmas presents, and I didn't want to wait until January to read this book, so I went ahead and requested it. I'm so glad I did!

I started reading The Wishing Season after work one night, and I finished it the next day. It was so, so good! Maybe not quite on the same level as The Convenient Groom and Dancing with Fireflies, but close. Very close. You can easily pick up this book without having read the others in the series, so why not make it a Christmas gift for yourself or for the romance lover in your life?

5. Middle Names
I'm not one of those pet owners who gives their pets their last name. Isis, Hammond, and Skaara Ritta? No thanks. (If you do that, more power to you ... I just think it's a little weird.) My cats are just Isis, Hammond, and Skaara. Period.

Until now.

Isis has been particularly naughty recently. It probably started out innocently enough on her part, but she now knows how to work the system. A couple weeks ago, she was sitting on top of a bookshelf, and she decided to try to pull down the garland (see picture below). In an effort to distract her, I pulled out the laser pointer my aunt gifted the cats with a while back. She went nuts for it. Problem solved, I thought. Nope. You can probably guess where this is going ... Now every time she wants to chase the laser, she hops up on the bookshelf and tries to pull down the garland.
Anyway, sometime between the first time she pulled the garland down and Monday night, I began calling her "Isis Marie" when I was especially frustrated. I have no idea why. But I do like the sound of it, so I decided to give the boys middle names, too. Skaara Samuel and Hammond Alexander. Like "Marie," they have no special meaning; I just like the sound.

Isis Marie. Skaara Samuel. Hammond Alexander.

Just don't throw Ritta onto the end!

6. Gina Rodriguez's Golden Globe Nomination
A few weeks ago, I told you that The Flash was my favorite new show of the season. While I still completely adore the show and Barry Allen, another show has topped The Flash: Jane the Virgin. Now, before you run out and start binge watching, let me warn you that Jane is definitely an adult show. Not adult a la Sons of Anarchy or Game of Thrones with lots of language, violence, sex, and/or nudity, but adult as in please don't watch this show with your kids.

The setup is completely ludicrous: Jane is a 20-something Latina living in Miami with her (rather promiscuous) mom and grandma. As a child, she saw the damage her mother's lifestyle caused--plus she was pressured by her grandmother--and she made a commitment to remain a virgin until marriage. When Jane goes in for her yearly pap, her distraught-because-of-her-partner's-infidelity substitute gynecologist artificially inseminates Jane instead of the woman in the next room, making Jane a pregnant virgin.

Throw in a fantastic narrator, Jane's telenovela star father, the super hot baby daddy, and twists worthy of, well, a telenovela, and you've got such a fun hour of TV. On the CW, of all places. (I now watch four CW shows: Jane, The Flash, Arrow, and Hart of Dixie. That's more shows than I watch on any other network. Crazy, huh?)

Anyway, the Golden Globe nominations were announced last week, and, shock of all shocks, Gina Rodriguez (Jane) was nominated! Shows that I love very rarely get any awards love, so this is great. It's a well deserved nomination, and I hope this will be enough to keep the show on the air for another season!

7. Serial parody from Funny or Die
So you know that I've been a bit obsessed with Serial recently. The first season ended yesterday, and I guess I'm as satisfied as possible, considering we still don't know if Adnan is guilty or innocent. (My theory is that he didn't kill Hae but was at least somewhat involved. Of course, I can't prove anything.) Anyway, Funny or Die released a Serial parody video right before the last episode, and it is spot on. (There is some harsh language.) If you're a Serial fan, you'll get a kick out of it!

8. Lemon Poppyseed Breakfast Cookies
I've recently started a new diet called Trim Healthy Mama. You may have heard of it--it's pretty popular right now. The basic concept is that you shouldn't eat carbs and fats in the same meal, and when you do eat carbs, they should be from low glycemic foods. I've only been doing this since Monday, so I don't really have any results yet--except that after feeling terrible the first three days, I'm not crashing mid-afternoon anymore. I'm sure I'll talk about this more in the future.

All week, I had steel cut oats for breakfast--I make them in the crockpot overnight, and they're good, but by this morning, I was pretty sick of them. So I went in search of another quick on-plan breakfast, and I found these breakfast cookies on All Day I Dream About Food. I did adapt the recipe a bit, using 3 tablespoons Truvia in place of the 1/2 cup of Swerve, leaving out the Stevia because I don't have any, and adding an extra tablespoon of lemon juice, as I like my lemon items to be very lemony. Also, I didn't add the glaze. They aren't incredibly sweet, but they scream LEMON!

They are amazingly delicious! They taste like poppyseed muffins. Yummy! My picture isn't nearly as amazing as the ones on Carolyn's site, but it'll give you an idea:

9. Ulta Gift Bag
Ulta had an amazing sale on Butter London nail polish on Cyber Monday. Since Butter London is my new favorite brand, I couldn't resist indulging. Not only was the nail polish half price, but they were offering a gift bag full of samples for anyone who bought $60 worth of products. But here's the kicker--your items just had to be worth $60--you didn't have to actually pay $60 to get the gift bag. Let me tell you, this gift bag was better than any ipsy bag I ever got, except for maybe the first one. Everything pictured below, except for the nail polish, was free. So far, I've used the Purity face wash (works really well but smells awful) and the Big Sexy Hair blow dry volumizing gel. That, I'm in love with. I'm pretty sure I'll be purchasing it once my sample runs out--it definitely adds body to my thin hair!

10. Nashville
I know that Nashville has been a Friday Favorite before, but it's even more fitting now than it was then--I am completely obsessed. I just started Season 2, and I have to say, if Deacon & Rayna aren't part of the showrunners' end game, I may throw a fit. And don't even get me started on Juliette. I swear, I go from loathing to liking her so often it's making my head spin. Just when I think she's making strides, she goes and does something incredibly stupid ... and to hear my friend Joanna tell it, that's going to go on for quite a while! Nashville is so, so soapy--and I love it! (Also, one of my soap favorites, Jonathan Jackson from General Hospital--I talked about him here--has a major role as aspiring singer Avery. I absolutely hated him at first, and I hated that I hated him, since I loved him on GH. But lately, he's been growing on me, and Joanna assures me that I will eventually love him!)

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 an 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 5, 2014

five friday favorites #9: week of dec. 5, 2014

"Beware of December 5th!"

If you know what book that quote comes from, I will be forever grateful! Back when I was in junior high or early high school, I spent the night with my cousin, and we read this story that was in an old volume of Reader's Digest Condensed Books. The story had something to do with a woman who escaped from an abusive relationship and met a seemingly wonderful man who turned out to be evil. Or something. I think there was a toy train involved somehow. But I am positive that she received a note that said, "Beware of December 5th." I've been trying to figure out the name of the book for years to no avail.

Anyway, it's December 5th, and this is my 9th Friday Favorites! It's been an interesting week here in Husker Nation ...

1. The Hiring of Mike Riley
On Sunday, Nebraska Football Coach Bo Pelini was fired. I wasn't one of the many Bo haters in the state, and I thought the firing of a coach who won at least nine games in every season as head coach was a bit ludicrous.

Yesterday morning, I was in a meeting when someone got a text. "Nebraska hired Mike Riley," he said. So, we all immediately whipped out our smart phones to find out who on earth Mike Riley is. (In Nebraska, football news is worthy of interrupting a meeting.)

At first, I thought hiring him was crazy. The man has a worse record than Pelini, and Pelini's inability to take the team to the next level was cited as a reason for his firing. Then I started reading articles about Riley. He seems like a genuinely nice guy, he laughs with refs, and he did a decent job at a school that doesn't have nearly the level of football resources that Nebraska does.

I'm feeling optimistic.

2. Nashville
About two years ago, my friend Joanna started talking about this show called Nashville. I didn't know anything about it except that it starred Mrs. Taylor and the cheerleader and it was all about country music--and one of the actors was the goofy Chip from Whose Line Is It Anyway.

I started watching Nashville about a week ago--I'm not even sure why--and I absolutely love it! It's still hard for me to wrap my brain around seeing Chip (who now goes by Charles) in a serious role. I mean, this guy?

And he is absolutely my favorite part of Nashville!

3. Shawn & Cory Reunite
Boy Meets World was one of my favorite shows in high school. When I heard about Girl Meets World, I was giddy. Then I actually watched an episode and realized that it was absolutely, most definitely geared toward pre-teen girls, and I basically lost interest ... until I saw this:

I have no idea if the episode will be great or a train wreck, but you can bet I'll be watching! The episode airs tonight at 7 on the Disney Channel.

4. This Cat
Sorry, I couldn't figure out how to embed it, but trust me, it's worth the click. Go here.

5. A Weekend with No Commitments
This has been an incredibly long week, capped off by an absolutely insane work day today. So my last Friday Favorite for this week is the fact that I'm now home, and I don't have to go anywhere until church on Sunday. I'm going to savor this weekend--speech Saturdays will be here before I know it!

What things are you enjoying this week? Be sure to check out the other favorites in the linkups at A Little Bit of Everything and Housewife Glamour, too!

November 28, 2014

five friday favorites #8: week of nov. 28, 2014

Happy Black Friday! Once again, I'm shopping from the comfort of my home, which isn't a Friday Favorite, but it could be ... until I get my credit card statement, of course.

1. Serial
About a month ago, my sister told me that I should be listening to Serial, this new podcast offshoot of This American Life. Last Friday night, I finally got around to listening to the first episode. Around noon on Saturday, I finished up episode 9, which is as far as the podcast goes so far. I am obsessed. 

Serial is the story of Adnan Syed, who was convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend in 1999. Host Sarah Koenig unpacks the story little by little each week, and each week, my opinion of Adnan's guilt or innocence shifts a bit.

Serial is a huge hit, and if you're not listening yet, you definitely should be.

2. Slate's Serial Spoiler Specials 
Serial wasn't new this week because of Thanksgiving, so I went in search of something to fill the Serial void ... and I found this. Each week, following the release of the latest Serial episode, Slate puts out a podcast about the episode. Generally, they stick solely to what has been revealed on Serial, but this week, they put out a special "extra spoilery" edition where they talk about some of the extra information and theories you can find online. Soooooo interesting! At one point (and this is about to get just a tad spoilery for you who aren't listening to Serial yet), they put out this alternate theory about who could have killed Hae that made perfect sense ... until it hit me that Jay knew where the car was parked, so this other theory doesn't work for that reason. I feel like I could discuss Serial for hours, so I love that Slate is bringing me a discussion podcast.

3. Decorating for Christmas
I used to be one of those people who didn't decorate until after Thanksgiving. Not so anymore. I spent most of last Saturday decorating my house--while listening to Serial. (Normally, I watch a Christmas movie or listen to Christmas music, not listen to a podcast about murder. But in this case, I think it was a good change!)
I decided to display my Christmas dishes this year because I normally forget about them and don't use them at all during the season. So far, it's been working!

Of course, if you have animals in the house, decorating is a bit risky. For example, this is what happened last year:
So far this year, Isis has been wreaking the most havoc, though Skaara is the only one to actually climb into the tree (that I know of ...), and nothing has been broken yet. Hopefully, everything will survive!

4. Time with Family
Thanksgiving is often a great time to see family. Blendy came home early Wednesday morning, and we were able to spend a lot of time together. I introduced her to Serial, she hung out with my cats, we decorated Mom's Christmas tree (while watching D2: The Mighty Ducks, thus continuing my streak of decorating with entertainment that's decidedly un-Christmasy), and we watched tons of Food Network.
Isis is never happier than when Blendy is home.

Tonight, we had Ritta Thanksgiving, and everyone except Val & Greg made it. (They're the only ones not currently living in the state.) I had so much fun! Of course, it reiterated just how terrible of a Dutch Blitz player I am, but I had loads of fun in the losing :-)

My brother and sister-in-law arrived at my parents' house a couple hours prior to Ritta Thanksgiving, and somehow, Andrew and I ended up playing a ridiculous game with a ball and tennis racket. It reminded me of the games we would make up at my grandma's house when we were kids. And basically, we're lucky we didn't break anything ...
This video doesn't show too much, but I tossed the ball to him, and he tried to smack me with it. And it was a blast.

5. Standing Desk
A couple months ago, I read an article about how bad it is to sit at a desk for eight hours a day. For quite some time, I'd been having lower back pain that radiated into the back of my left leg, so I decided to give standing a shot. I rigged up my desk like this:
It wasn't pretty, but it worked. The last time I had leg pain like I previously described was sometime during the first week of standing, so standing is definitely worth it. I decided that I would keep standing for the foreseeable future. Then about a week ago, my boss told me to go ahead and order myself a real standing desk. Once it came, I had to assemble it ... which wasn't a problem, as assembling furniture is one of my favorite things to do!
Then our computer guy helped me get everything moved and situated just like I wanted it. I still have to clean out my old desk, and we need to figure out where to put the things I had in my desk drawers, but basically, it's good to go. I'm so happy to have this desk!

What things are you enjoying this week? Be sure to check out the other favorites in the linkups at A Little Bit of Everything and Housewife Glamour, too!

November 24, 2014

movie mondays: christmas movies to stream

A couple weeks ago, I talked about all the Hallmark Christmas movies you can watch.

But what if you don't have the Hallmark Channel?

You could always rely on your massive collection of Christmas movies.

Wait, that's just me?

Well, then, that's where Netflix and Hulu come in. Chances are, you have a subscription to at least one of them--and if you don't, you should definitely check out Hulu, as some films are streamable on your computer without a Hulu Plus subscription. (Unfortunately, Amazon Prime doesn't offer much in the way of quality Christmas movies--though I know your definition of "quality" may differ from mine!) The choices range from classics to sappy romance to kids' movies and everything in between, but I'm going to focus on (what else?) sappy romance. Below are some of my favorites:

Love at the Christmas Table starring Danica McKellar, Lea Thompson, Scott Patterson
This one was just on Lifetime the other night, so I watched it again. It all takes place on Christmas Eve throughout the years and focuses on two kids who grow up together and slowly fall in love. As far as Christmas movies go, it's one of the more realistic ones. Watch on Hulu.

Holiday Engagement starring Bonnie Somerville, Jordan Bridges, Shelly Long
This one is a bit more on the ridiculous side, but I do enjoy it! Plus, it's technically a Thanksgiving  movie, so it should satisfy my sister who's always complaining that Thanksgiving never gets its due. Hillary's boyfriend Jason dumps her just before Thanksgiving, when he's supposed to finally meet her family, so she hires David to pose as Jason through the long weekend at her parents' house. Of course, sparks fly. Bridges is playing essentially the same character as he did in the Tori Spelling gem Family Plan--an actor hired to play a desperate woman's significant other--but that repetition doesn't bother me in the least. He's definitely good at the role! Watch on Netflix, Hulu.

The 12 Dates of Christmas starring Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Amy Smart
I've written about this one before. So cute ... especially if you love Mark-Paul! It's basically Groundhog Day on Christmas Eve. Watch on Netflix.

A Christmas Kiss starring Brendan Fehr, Laura Breckenridge
Is A Christmas Kiss ultimately ridiculous? Yes! But it's also so enjoyable. Aspiring interior designer Wendy meets the man of her dreams in an elevator. The only problem? He's her horrible boss Priscilla's boyfriend. The whole thing stretches credulity--why would Adam be with someone as dreadful as Priscilla in the first place, and how could he be so dense as to not recognize Wendy?--but it's always entertaining. Also, look for The Lizzie Bennet Diaries' Jane (Laura Spencer) in a supporting role. Watch on Netflix.

Holiday in Handcuffs starring Melissa Joan Hart, Mario Lopez
While we're talking ridiculous yet enjoyable (and continuing with the Saved by the Bell theme) ... Trudy's boyfriend breaks up with her right before Christmas (sound familiar?), so, out of desperation, she kidnaps a handsome man who comes into the diner she works at. In real life, this woman would be going to jail. On ABC Family, the two fall in love. Watch on Netflix.

A Princess for Christmas starring Katie McGrath, Sam Heughan, Roger Moore
This is one of the few recent Hallmark offerings that is available to stream. When I first watched A Princess for Christmas several years ago, I thought it was incredibly lame. But then I caught it again on Hallmark the other day, and I thought it completely adorable. Plus, it stars Sam Heughan, who I know many women have come to love on Outlander. Watch on Hulu.

Have I missed any? What Christmas movies do you like to stream?

November 21, 2014

five friday favorites #7: week of nov. 21, 2014

Look at me, posting my Five Friday Favorites on Friday! This is progress, people! Today, I'm linking up at Housewife Glamour and A Little Bit of Everything.

1. Michael W. Smith's Christmas Music
There is so much Christmas music out there, and I love listening to a variety, but I'd really be happy with just three things: Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You," Amy Grant's Home For Christmas, and all the Michael W. Smith Christmas music I can get my hands on. I even created a Spotify playlist for myself that's just MWS Christmas music, and I've been listening to it on repeat at the office. (I know, I know--it's not even Thanksgiving yet. But I held out a whole 17 days longer than I did last year, and I waited until after our first snow. I think we can officially be in the Christmas season now.)

This year, MWS has a new Christmas album out, and, as you'd expect, it's absolutely fantastic! You can listen to The Spirit of Christmas free on Spotify, but I'd definitely recommend buying it. It's so great! Here's the trailer to give you a taste:

2. Chatbooks
Have you heard of Chatbooks? I hadn't until I saw a post about them on Michelle Money's Instagram. (Why, yes, I do follow several Bachelor/ette people on Instagram!) Chatbooks takes your Instagram photos and prints them in 60-page books for $6 each (free shipping). I just got my first shipment in the mail, and I'm in love!

3. Cat Collars
Not very glamorous, I know, but these are definitely a favorite this week. Let me explain ...

When my cats were outdoor cats, I kept collars on them all the time. And they ditched them all the time, so I spent a small fortune in cheap cat collars. Since we moved, each cat has been in the same collar the whole time. I wasn't too concerned about the collars, though, because they're indoor cats. Then, just over a week ago, Isis decided to jailbreak. Fortunately, my friend noticed her outside, and I was able to get her back in with no problem. But now that she's had a taste of the outdoors again, I'm afraid she'll keep trying to get out. (If you know Isis at all, you know this a strong possibility.)

I decided the cats needed to have ID tags ... and then I found these on Amazon. A collar with name and phone number embroidered on it is genius! These collars also came with free tags, so I went ahead and got them, too. The collars came earlier this week, and I'm thrilled with them. Here's hoping no one will ever need to use the collar info to contact me, but it gives me peace of mind to know that my cats are "marked."

4. The West Wing
Earlier this year, I marathoned The West Wing in two months. (I talked about it here.) It easily ranks in my Top 5 shows of all time. The other night, I was looking for something to watch while making dinner, and, for some reason, The West Wing came to mind. I put on the pilot episode, and now I'm once again hooked. Josh, Donna, CJ, Charlie, Leo, Danny ... these are like long-lost friends! If you've never watched The West Wing, you really must. I watched it on Amazon Prime, but it's sadly not available there anymore. If you have Netflix, though, you're in luck. This show is most definitely worth your time.

5. Tonight Show Videos
Normally, I read on my lunch break. But not this week. This week, I've become rather obsessed with Jimmy Fallon's celebrity games on The Tonight Show. There are so many funny videos, but this one made me laugh so hard I cried:

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 an 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."

November 15, 2014

five friday favorites #6: week of nov. 14, 2014

It's hard to believe I've been doing these Friday Favorites for six weeks now! (Thanks for the suggestion, Val.) Some weeks the list practically writes itself (like last week), and other times I really struggle to come up with five favorites (like this week). But I will prevail--even if I have to post on Saturday again! Once again, I'm linking up at Housewife Glamour, and this week, I'm also linking up at A Little Bit of Everything.

1. This Guy
He adores me, and I adore him. In fact, he's sleeping on my lap as I type this.

2. Reading Excellent Books
As you know, I read all.the.time. I enjoy most things I read, but sometimes I come across books that I just can't get enough of. This happened to me twice this week. First, it happened with Julie Lessman's new release, Surprised by Love. I read the entire 400-page novel Sunday afternoon and evening. I absolutely could not put it down! It's book three in her "Heart of San Francisco" series, and, while I felt a little off-kilter at first since I hadn't read the first two books, I quickly adapted. This book will most likely make my "Top 10 Books of 2014" list. You can see my review here.

The second "can't put this down" book was a novella in the Where Treetops Glisten anthology: "I'll Be Home for Christmas" by Sarah Sundin. Sundin has been one of my favorite authors for several years now, with each book of hers that I've read appearing on my year-end Top 10 list. This novella is just as good as any of her books, and now I'm really wishing I didn't have to wait until next August to read her next novel! My review of all three novellas in the book is here.

3. Hot Drinks
We have this problem in my office: the heater doesn't keep up. I work in a very old building, and the boiler went out last year. Instead of replacing the boiler (we don't know how long we'll still be using my building), the administration decided to put in a heating system. The problem? The heat comes through the vents the air conditioner uses ... in the ceiling. So the air just kind of hangs out near the ceiling, and we're left freezing several feet below. We tried a myriad of things to keep warm:
My coworker Daurice hung this blanket over the student mailboxes to help with the draft, as the hallway is no longer heated. It makes a huge difference!

We wore blankets, scarves, and gloves throughout the day and brought in space heaters for our feet.

My coworker Steph came to my office for a meeting and closed the door. What a difference! This wasn't my favorite solution, as I don't like being shut off from everyone else, but it definitely made the rest of the work day more comfortable.

Then it was my genius father to the rescue! He had the brilliant idea of taking the diffusers off the vents so the heat would shoot directly down into the room. (This is a shot up into the air vent.) We still need the blankets for our laps and the space heaters for our feet, but overall, the office is now bearable.

My favorite way of coping with the cold is by drinking hot drinks! We went through so much hot water in the office this week because we were all constantly getting something hot to drink. I drink a lot of hot tea, but sometimes you need something with a little more substance. Enter Alton Brown's hot cocoa! This stuff is fantastic--it has a deep chocolate flavor and isn't too sweet. And one cup lasts me a long time--with coffee and tea, I drink really fast, but, for whatever reason, I just sip this hot cocoa. If I need a bigger caffeine kick, I just sprinkle in some instant coffee, which we have in spades in the office.

4. The Nine Lives of Christmas
I talked about this a little bit in my latest Movie Mondays post, but it deserves some expounding upon. Before I watched it, I was skeptical because sometimes animal movies don't come off so well. (For example, the completely dreadful My Boyfriends' Dogs, another Hallmark original.) I think this one succeeded because the cats were a part of the story but not the focus. Also, the writing is a step above most Hallmark fare. Veterinary student Marilee (Kimberly Sustad) is completely likeable, and fireman Zach (Brandon Routh) may be a little dense when it comes to love, but he is absolutely adorable. Gregory Harrison has a supporting role as the wise fire chief. (Harrison starred in one of my other favorite Christmas movies, A Christmas Romance. I reviewed it here.)
This photo makes me laugh because these two were never together in these outfits in the film ...
but they do make a striking pair! (Photo from the Hallmark Channel.)
I've now watched The Nine Lives of Christmas twice (it was on Hallmark again last night), and I think it's safe to say it's my favorite Hallmark Christmas movie. Period. Unfortunately, the demand for the DVD seems to be higher than what Walmart (who is the only retailer selling it) anticipated. I preordered my copy on Monday, and on Wednesday, I got a message stating it was unavailable, and they didn't know when it would be back in stock. Boo!
Seriously, can you look at this photo without smiling?
The scene it's from is completely adorable, too. (Photo from the Hallmark Channel.)

5. Misfit Shine
I can't believe the Misfit Shine hasn't been one of my Five Friday Favorites yet--quite the oversight on my part! I purchased this activity/sleep monitor (like a cheaper Fitbit) in July through a Kindle Special Offer. If you have a Kindle Fire and don't have special offers enabled, you're missing out. Every so often, Amazon will offer a deeply discounted item that's only available for purchase through a Fire for a limited time. Most of these items aren't ones I'm interested in, but every so often, a gem comes through--like the Misfit Shine. I love that it tracks my steps, but even more than that, I love that it tracks my sleep. It took years, but I've finally realized how important a good night's sleep is for me. It may sound crazy, but now that I'm actually tracking my sleep, I'm more inclined to go to bed at a decent time. This thing is worth every penny I paid for it!

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 an 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."

November 10, 2014

movie mondays: countdown to christmas

"It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!"

OK, not really. Not yet. Unless, of course, you're the Hallmark Channel.

For Hallmark Channel, the Christmas season began October 31. Yes, on Halloween. This surprised me, as Hallmark has the Good Witch movie franchise (and upcoming series), and Halloween would seem like the perfect time for a marathon. Not that I'm complaining ...

Hallmark runs their Christmas movies all day, every day (except for weekday morning episodes of their Home & Family talk show). I suppose this is nice for insomniacs. In fact, my dad told me the other day that each time he got up in the night, he turned on the TV just to see which movie was playing. (My dad shares my intense love for Hallmark movies. My mom does not.)

With the plethora of Christmas movies on Hallmark, how do you know which ones are great, and which ones are a waste of time? Well, I'll tell you, of course! Just keep in mind that one man's trash is another man's treasure. This was never more evident to me than Saturday, when I was talking with a friend about the movies we'd watched so far. She loved Angels Sing, starring Harry Connick, Jr., and I thought it was incredibly boring. She and her mom thought One Starry Christmas was pretty cheesy, and I thought it was cute. To each his own, I guess!

The links below go to the trailers so you can check out the films for yourself.

Movies to make a point to watch
Seek these out on Hallmark's schedule. If they're available on DVD, buy them--they're that good!
Snow Bride--This was my unexpected favorite film of Hallmark's 2013 Christmas season. Unfortunately, it's not on DVD, but you can easily find the whole thing on YouTube.
The Christmas Card--This is one of the first Christmas movies I ever got on DVD. It's pretty realistic ... for a Christmas movie!
Matchmaker Santa--I love everything about this movie, right up until the last 60 seconds. It just ... ends. Ending aside, it's a great movie that, unfortunately, isn't on DVD.
The Nine Lives of Christmas--This one just premiered over the weekend, and it's already one of my favorites. Super cute, and it doesn't hurt that it features two adorable cats. You can find it exclusively at Walmart tomorrow. (Yes, my copy is preordered.)
Trading Christmas--Its concept is similar to The Holiday, but I love it anyway! (It's also very similar to Hallmark's Finding Christmas, but this one is so, so, so much better.)
The Christmas Ornament--My 2nd favorite of Hallmark's 2013 originals. It's really sweet. It just came out on DVD, and it's currently on my Amazon wish list.

Movies to watch if you come across them
These are very enjoyable. I probably wouldn't buy them unless I found them for less than $5, but they're good.
Mrs. Miracle
Call Me Mrs. Miracle
One Starry Christmas
A Very Merry Mix-Up
Holiday Engagement
All I Want for Christmas
Hitched for the Holidays
Let It Snow
The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Movies to avoid
I really didn't like these at all ... I'd recommend doing something different with your time.
A Bride for Christmas
Angels Sing
Catch a Christmas Star
Finding Christmas
Lucky Christmas
A Cookie Cutter Christmas
The Christmas Spirit

This is not an exhaustive list, so if you have any other Hallmark Christmas movies you're wondering about, just ask me in the comments! Chances are, I've seen them :-)

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."

November 8, 2014

five friday favorites #5: week of nov. 7, 2014

Housewife Glamour
So I'm doing my Five Friday Favorites on Saturday ... again. It's been a super busy week with work and family things keeping me from blogging. But I did, finally, find time to get this posted!

1. Going to the Nebraska-Purdue game
My aunt had tickets to last Saturday's Nebraska-Purdue game, and, after my cousin turned her down (crazy kid), she invited me! Of course, I said yes. I don't get to go to games very often (the last game I went to was Nebraska's surprise comeback win over Ohio State in 2011), and every time I go, it's special.

We had so much fun! My brother and sister-in-law live in Lincoln, so Andrew let us park at their house, and then he chauffeured us to and from the game, which was so much better than dealing with parking. We got to the stadium plenty early, so we had lots of time to visit before the game. The game itself was, well ... let's just say it's a good thing we were playing Purdue instead of next week's opponent Wisconsin! The defense looked good, but the offense couldn't seem to make anything happen. The final score was 35-14, but it felt a lot closer than that. But all in all, it was a fantastic day!
Clockwise from top middle: 1. Aunt Eddra and me. (This was before the sun went behind west stadium--we were in north--and we started to freeze.) 2. The band--called "The Pride of All Nebraska" for some reason. 3. Army parachute jumpers parachuted into the stadium right before the game. (Here's an article about it.) 4. A kickoff and the sea of red. 5. People started leaving at the beginning of the 4th quarter. We were completely smashed together until then, so when the people in front of us left, I had to document the fact that I could finally stretch out. The guy you can see is former Husker and two-time Olympic medalist Curt Tomasevicz. There was a guy in the row behind us who was very excited to see him.

2. The Mid-Term Elections
Politics is something I rarely discuss--either online or in real life. While I'm not a "straight down the line" Republican, and I don't believe either party is the answer to America's problems, I definitely identify more with Republican ideology.

Honestly, I don't pay a ton of attention except during election season, and on election night, I'm glued to the TV. Then I go back to not paying much attention until the next election cycle. (Should I pay more attention? Unquestionably.)

I watched FOX News all night, basically because the major networks weren't covering election results until 9 p.m., and MSNBC raises my blood pressure to unsafe levels. Throughout the night, they interviewed several would-be presidential candidates, and I learned something: you can tell which politicians are mulling a run at higher office by the way they put forth their agenda instead of answering the questions asked by the network talking heads. Rand Paul was the worst about this. I don't think he answered a single question asked of him! The three politicians who impressed me most were Kentucky Senator-and-probable-majority-leader Mitch McConnell (This surprised me a ton. I really liked his victory speech.), Ohio governor John Kasich (Yes, I did just have to look up his name. He came across as very intelligent and likeable.), and Texas Senator Ted Cruz (If I had to choose the next president based solely on Tuesday night's interviews, he'd unquestionably get my vote.). Keep in mind that I know virtually nothing about these men save what I saw on Tuesday night, and I do research the candidates before I actually cast a ballot :-)

I enjoyed more than the actual results on Tuesday night (though I liked those a lot). I loved the FOX News coverage. I've always really liked Brit Hume, and I enjoyed listening to the others on the panel, too. It was my first exposure to Megyn Kelly, other than seeing her as a punch line on Huffington Post and other liberal-leaning sites. No doubt she's smart ... but she can also be a bit dense at times. Or maybe she's just bad at banter. Either way, I can see how she could be an easy punching bag. But perhaps my favorite part was when Kelly went back to the "Decision Desk" to talk to the men in charge of making the projections of winners. Kelly's commentary got a bit tiresome, but the men she talked to? Give them their own show! (Or maybe they have one ... how would I know?) Here's a link to part of the conversation.

Some of you may disagree with pretty much everything I just said. That's fine. But I refuse to get into any type of political debate on my blog. Let's be friends and keep it civil, no matter our political leanings.

3. Waking up before my alarm
Getting up in the morning is so, so, so difficult for me. Part of it, I've just learned, is that I have very low cortisol levels in the morning, so that's on my list of things to discuss with my endocrinologist in December. Anyway, the time change definitely worked in my favor, at least at first. On both Sunday and Monday mornings, I woke up a couple minutes before my 6:30 alarm went off--and on Monday, I actually got out of bed right away! I wasn't bursting with energy or anything, but getting up was definitely easier than normal. Same thing on Tuesday. Then Tuesday night happened, and I simply could not force myself to stop watching the election coverage. Add in a couple more late nights, and I'd say my body is now fully adapted to Standard Time. Sadly.

4. Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
My mom carved a jack-o-lantern for her Awana lesson last week, and I asked her to save the seeds for me. I remembered how she always used to roast the seeds whenever we had a pumpkin around, and I wanted to try my hand at it. So last weekend, I did--and it was a smashing success! I used this recipe from Food Network. Too bad the seeds only lasted a couple days ...

5. The Return of Eyal Lavine
Who is Eyal Lavine? Only my favorite part of Covert Affairs--high praise for a guest star. (I have some serious love for this show, even though some call it a poor man's Alias.)

Though I love the show overall, I did not enjoy Covert Affairs' summer run. They (SPOILER ALERT) killed the "big bad" at the end of season four, leaving a giant "bad guy" hole. Plus, the long-awaited Annie/Auggie romance fizzled rather than sizzled. They are currently broken up, and I don't care if they ever get back together. But you know who Piper Perabo (Annie) has insane chemistry with? Oded Fehr, who plays former (?) Mossad operative Eyal Lavine. Put Annie and Eyal in a scene together, and you can practically see sparks flying off the screen. So when the promo below aired following the summer season finale, well, I may have pumped my fist and shouted, "Eyal!"

I haven't even seen Eyal's return yet--the fall premiere was Thursday night, and I had a work event--but I think I can still count Eyal's return as one of my favorite things of the week. (Besides, maybe it will be a disappointing return ... but Eyal will remain one of my favorites, of that I have no doubt!)

What do you think of my picks? Let me know in the comments, and then be sure to check out some of the other favorites in the link up.

October 31, 2014

five friday favorites #4: week of oct. 31, 2014

Housewife Glamour
IT'S FRIDAY!!! Can you tell I'm excited? This week has felt particularly long for some reason, and I'm super ready for the weekend. I'm also excited to see all the trick-or-treaters who will come to my door this evening, and I'm super excited about something that's happening tomorrow, which I'm sure will make next week's Friday Favorites (so be sure to come back ...).

Below are some of the things I've enjoyed this week:

1. Official Raging Heat Webmercial
I've been a fan of Castle since the beginning ... and this might be my favorite thing they've ever done! Had me in stitches during Monday night's episode, and, well, I'm giggling again just thinking about it!

2. Crockpot Potato Soup
This is quite possibly the best--and easiest to make--potato soup ever. I didn't think to take any pictures while I was making it, except for this one:

I had bacon in the oven to make bacon crumbles to use as a garnish, and Skaara really wanted some. He sat like that for about 10 minutes before giving up.

Anyway, this soup is fantastic! I made a few modifications--I didn't have an onion, so I used flakes; I didn't have cream or half and half, so I used whole milk; I left out the chives; and I threw in some leftover gouda (a previous Friday Favorite!) with the sharp cheddar. It's absolutely delicious! It's a good thing I was taking it to a meeting, or I would have been tempted to eat three or four bowls--it's that good!
I had the leftovers for lunch today. Mmm-mmm good!

3. Butter London Nail Polish
I'm usually pretty cheap when it comes to nail polish. $3.50 Avon sale? Sold. I tend to balk at anything over $7. But I recently got a free full-sized Butter London polish as a gift with another purchase, and I. Am. In. Love.

Shay Shull, one of my favorite bloggers (and the sister of Bachelor Sean Lowe), swears by Butter London, so I knew it would be good. I just wasn't sure if it was worth the normal $15 price tag. It absolutely is.

I have been wearing this polish for one week, without a top coat, and it still looks great! With a top coat, my Avon polishes last maybe a week, but with lots of chipping. (FYI, this color is Ladybird.)

4. My Cat Babies
So they could be a favorite every week (as you well know if you've been reading my blog or following me on social media for any length of time), but I've especially enjoyed them in this last week. It all started when Hammond jumped up on my lap and fell asleep while I was blogging last Saturday morning:
Every evening this week, I've ended up with all three cats asleep on my lap. Maybe they're looking for warmth, as I keep it pretty cold in my house ... I'm cheap :-)

5. "This Is Reality" Podcast
You may remember The Bachelor's Jason Mesnick as "The Most Hated Man in America" (which is complete bunk, by the way). I, along with millions, thought he was total scum for dumping Melissa on national TV and then asking runner-up Molly for another chance.

Jason & Molly kind of faded off my radar screen until I heard they had started a podcast where they talked all things Bachelor. It's so fantastic! They give lots of insider information and talk about their experiences on the show. And now? I think they're totally awesome.

Their most recent episode, which I listened to this week, talks about the Australian Bachelor, who is now being called "The Most Hated Man in Australia" ... for "pulling a Mesnick." (I always thought "pulling a Mesnick" was sobbing over a balcony rail, but apparently the term can also be used when you dump your fiancee for an ex.)

If you're even remotely interested in the Bachelor/ette world, I highly recommend you check them out. You can listen to all of their episodes here or through a podcasting app (I use Podbay).

What are your favorites this week? Be sure to hop over to the linkup and check out other people's favorites, too!

October 28, 2014

agonizing over reviews

You probably know that a large portion of my blogging is reviewing books. (I do that over at Christian Chick's Thoughts.) Most of the time, it's pretty easy. Time consuming, but easy. Even when I come across a book I don't love, I can usually find something redemptive about it and can focus on that while still being honest about what I didn't like.

But tonight, I'm struggling.

I just finished a book that, in all honesty, I hated. I only read beyond the first 20 pages because I'd agreed to review it.

Let's take a glance at my notes, shall we?
commas! where they shouldn't be and not where they should be
misplaced modifiers
Gag me! Too sappy!
25 year old male skipping over to his mentor? Evokes a different image than intended.
too flowery
Of course, I was a little kinder in my review. I'm not even going to tell you what book it is, though if you jump over to my book review blog, you can probably figure it out.

Sometimes it's hard to be both honest and kind, but I'm really trying.

I wrote this prior to writing the review of the book, but I wanted to hold off on publishing this post until after that particular book tour was over on the off chance the book's author would visit Christian Chick's Thoughts to see the review and then follow the link over to this blog. (I'm guessing he did read my review, but I doubt he got any farther than that.) You know, the whole spirit of kindness. 

The problem? I think the review ultimately was a lot heavier on honesty than kindness. I know there's a balance to be struck, but I don't think, at least in this case, I did it successfully.

October 25, 2014

five friday favorites #3: week of oct. 24, 2014

Housewife Glamour
Welcome to another Friday Favorites ... on Saturday! My book review schedule was a bit crazy this week, so I didn't have time to work on this until today. Once again, I'm linking up with Heather at Housewife Glamour.

1. Spotify's "Ultimate Covers" playlist
I've recently been listening to a lot of Spotify at work--mostly movie scores with some music from my youth thrown in for good measure (dcTalk, anyone?). But yesterday I discovered an absolutely fantastic playlist: Ultimate Covers. Most of these covers are acoustic, and a few are inappropriate for work, so you've gotta stay on top of things. But it's such a soothing way to spend your day--especially when you've been fighting with the html on your company website for hours and you just want to throw something!

2. Walks with my mom
My mom and I have recently been walking the Dark Island Trail, this trail just outside of town that crosses the Platte River. We've seen lots of deer, a few owls, an eagle, and a heron ... as well as beautiful fall colors! The pictures below are ones my sister took on a recent walk, as she's home for fall break this weekend!!!

3. Friends who give me GF stuff
I have two friends who used to be gluten free and don't need to be anymore, and they've both given me gf goodies! Earlier this week, Steph brought in a sack of stuff. My favorite? The Pamela's Bread Mix. I made a loaf of bread, and, to someone who hasn't had bread since Memorial Day (except for some horrible hamburger buns that tasted more like cardboard than bread), it was fantastic! I made toast, grilled cheese, and used the last two slices for pumpkin French toast this morning. I think there's a Pamela's purchase in my future ...

4. Listerine Healthy White

Listen, I'm not really into teeth whitening. I mean, I know my teeth aren't nearly as white as they could be, but I could never justify the purchase of a quality teeth whitening product. Then I saw a commercial for Listerine Healthy White, and I thought, "Why not?" The package claims you'll see results in five days, and I really have. I adore online shopping, but this is one product you should get at Walmart or your local drug store, as it's much cheaper there than online. Plus, you can get a coupon from Listerine's website--I wish I would have thought to check there before I bought mine!

5. Pill Organizer
So this one isn't too glamorous, but it's probably my favorite thing this week. After I finally saw an endocrinologist for my Hashimoto's, I started taking a new thyroid med in addition to Synthroid. It's helping tremendously, but I also have to take it first thing in the morning at the same time every day. Since I get up at 6:30 on weekdays, I leave my alarm set on the weekends, too, and then I go back to sleep after taking the pill. Except sometimes, in my grogged state, I don't actually take it after slapping the alarm ... and when I wake up, I'm not sure if I've taken it or not. After having this happen a couple times, I decided to bite the bullet and get a pill organizer ... even though I've always seen pill organizers as something for old people. Then I found this one. It's attractive (for a pill organizer), and I like that it's seven individual pill holders that fit in a stand. Right before I go to bed, I pull the next day's out and set it right by my water. And in the morning, I can easily tell if I've taken my pill or not. Win!

What are you enjoying this week?

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."

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