My Summer Reading List

 

 

Summer Reads 2014

Today is the first day of summer break. Finally. It felt like this day would never come, especially those days when every single child had some sort of “special” issue. Besides my plans for soaking up some sun, getting my workout on, and catching up on all my favorite blogs, I’ve been waiting for this day to really dig into my summer reading list.

Am I the only person who misses those summer reading lists teachers would hand out the last day of school? Probably. Now I get to make them for my students so I’m a summer reading list expert. Therefore it was no big deal for me to compile a short list of books that I hope to devour while I’m sitting on the beach while sitting on the beach.

1. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt: I’ve been a big Donna Tartt fan ever since I read The Secret History and The Little Friend. I was very excited when she published The Goldfinch and have been waiting until school is over so I can give her work the attention it deserves.

“Theo Decker, a 13-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his longing for his mother, he clings to the one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.”

2. The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan: One of my favorite evening past times is to stroll through Barnes and Noble looking for new reads. I saw this book and was intrigued. I knew I had to read it after reading the inspiring story of the author Marina Keegan, a Yale graduate who died in a car accident whose essays and stories made her an internet sensation.

“Marina Keegan’s star was on the rise when she graduated magna cum laude from Yale in May 2012. She had a play that was to be produced at the New York International Fringe Festival and a job waiting for her at the New Yorker. Tragically, five days after graduation, Marina died in a car crash. As her family, friends, and classmates, deep in grief, joined to create a memorial service for Marina, her unforgettable last essay for the Yale Daily News, “The Opposite of Loneliness,” went viral, receiving more than 1.4 million hits. She had struck a chord.”

3. Insurgent by Veronica Roth: Yes, I read Divergent in a day or two and yes, I saw the movie when it came out. But this dystopian series did not draw me in the way The Hunger Games did so I’ve put off reading the second book in Roth’s Divergent series. However I can see Insurgent being the perfect beach read and I’ll probably tack on Allegiant before the summer is over.

” One choice can transform you—or it can destroy you. But every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves—and herself—while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.Tris’s initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with her chosen faction; instead, the day ended with unspeakable horrors. War now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable—and even more powerful. Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by doing so.”

4. All the Summer Girls by Meg Donohue: This book has been sitting on my Nook for some time now. It hooked me with the fact that it’s about a group of girls who spent their summers down the Jersey Shore. Reading about a summer down the Shore while sitting on the beach down the Shore? Sounds like a no brainer to me.

“Kate Harrington finds out she’s pregnant minutes after her fiancé dumps her. Vanessa Warren loves being a stay-at-home mom, but she can’t stop thinking about her college ex. Dani Lowenstein might be living the writer’s life in San Francisco, but she can’t hold down a job, and her taste for drugs and alcohol is becoming more pressing than fun. The three women, childhood friends who have drifted from their Philadelphia private-school roots, decide to reunite for Fourth of July weekend at Dani’s father’s beach house in Avalon, New Jersey, like they did as girls. Vanessa and Dani want to support Kate with a fun, forget-about-him girls’ weekend, but none of the women can escape the growing tension in the friendship or the specter of Kate’s twin brother, Colin, who died eight years before on a similar Avalon summer weekend.”

5. Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan: J. Courtney Sullivan is another author who captured my attention and whose books I love reading. I picked up a copy of Maine at a rummage sale and have saved it on the self until summer time. There’s something about reading a book about summer during the summer that puts a smile on my face.

“Three generations of women converge on the family beach house in this wickedly funny, emotionally resonant story of love and dysfunction from the author of Commencement. By turns uproarious and achingly sad, Maine reveals the sibling rivalry, alcoholism, social climbing, and Catholic guilt at the center of one family, along with the abiding, often irrational love that keeps them coming back, every summer, to the family house and to each other.”

 

After writing this post I’m ready to pack my bag full of books and head to the beach! Of course I hope to read more than five books this summer so I’m looking for suggestions. What are you reading this summer?

My Home: The Living Room

The number of times I promised a home tour on this blog is probably ridiculously high and the actual times I delivered on those promises was dismally zero. Well, that’s not entirely true: I shared our tiny closet-like kitchen last summer and our colorful patio when we dandied it up for the Spring. The reason for the hold up has been my own insecurities; Pinterest and lifestyle blogs are a high standard to meet. In addition I have taken a long time to “get it right”, which to me means making it a cozy place where Nick and I feel at home. So I’ve been slowly gathering pieces here and there, a lot of it inspiration in my mind and online, before I fussed with my own space. This Spring was the perfect time for fussing because I’ve finally chosen a color scheme for each room, bought inexpensive but quality accessories, and am not on the job hunt/too crazy stressed to think about pillows and couch covers. Now on to sharing our living room.

buttons and blossoms living room tour

buttons and blossoms living room tour

buttons and blossoms living room tour

buttons and blossoms living room tour

buttons and blossoms living room tour

Nick and I probably spend the most time sitting in our living room, mostly because we have no choice unless we want to hang in our bedroom. When we first moved in I was dead-set on having white couches. I love white; it’s clean, streamlined, modern without being contemporary, and easy to build a cohesive design around. Unfortunately after living with the white couch for over a year, I was tired of it. With our white walls it kind of melted away and it was ridiculously hard to keep clean. So a few months ago Nick and I headed to Ikea to find another, more suitable cover. We settled on the beige and, while I’m almost 100 percent anti-beige, this beige is just perfect for our living room. The other lower couch has a canvas cover and the two couches look great together.

I think the most important element for our living room was adding some accessories to really make it feel like home. I reworked a few pillows with coordinating pillow covers from Ikea and West Elm. Nick is not a throw pillow fan but even he can’t deny how nice and grown-up those people make our couches look, right? I’m not a fan of the overly stylized coffee table. I’ll confess that it gets its fair share of use as a desk and sometimes dining room table. The terrarium from West Elm is the perfect solution. Soon it will be filled with plants rather than one awkward candle once I get my act together and get down to the nursery. Now the gallery wall makes me smile every time I walk in the door and see it. There are so many meaningful prints on there, including the canvas filled with some very important song lyrics, and most celebrate our love for Nick’s hometown.

buttons and blossoms living room tour

buttons and blossoms living room tour

buttons and blossoms living room tour

buttons and blossoms living room tour

buttons and blossoms living room tour

buttons and blossoms living room tour

When we were shopping for a TV stand, we looked at all sorts of options from big to small. On one of the many weekend trips to Ikea, I was suddenly struck by the perfection of the Kallax bookshelf as our new TV stand. Turned on its side this shelving unit is the perfect size for a TV stand and provides excellent extra storage in a one bedroom apartment. I fluctuated on the color for only a moment before settling on the glossy grey. The baskets are also from Ikea and I kept a few cubby holes empty to style them up.

The wicker chair is a holdover from when we got our dining room table. We had a plan for our table which included the cutest matching table and chairs from none other than Ikea (naturally) until it went out of stock two days before our move. We could have waited until it came back in stock but that would have been too logical. Instead we bought a really nice dining room table designed by Better Homes and Gardens at Walmart of all places and then looked for some cheap chairs to put around it. The wicker chairs were okay but I now happily have found cafe chairs and relegated the wicker chairs to other areas in our apartment.

The best feeling is coming home from a long day at work and opening up the door to a home you are proud of. Nick and I love sinking in the couch to watch some of our favorite shows just us two or filling it up with friends and family. Seriously, I’m not sure if we can leave here because it took me about a year and a half to do one room. What will happen when we have an actual house???

Slow Down a Moment

The days are growing longer and the weather is slowly growing warmer. We’re well into the year now as March is just rushing by and I can’t help but look around and wonder where I’m headed. I’m as guilty as the next person for rushing ahead and always thinking about the next step. On Tuesday I am already planning my weekend and by Friday I’m thinking of Sunday night. Yet this evening the thought that I will never be in this moment again popped into my mind and I forced myself to recognize the moment and savor it for all its worth.

That moment I wanted to savor is my life right now, as is, unfinished roads and all. As a non-married lady living with her boyfriend, I get the requisite “When are you getting engaged/married?” questions often enough. Tonight I thought about how I do want to get to that next “milestone” in life yet there’s something about being here right now. Cozy in our first place together, the tiny cramped kitchen that doesn’t vent the smoke from the stove top, I am secure in the knowledge that I am loved and there is very little I want more than that and to work hard at my job. Our place isn’t perfect and I must admit it probably isn’t the tidiest. But it’s our first and you never get to experience the first again.

Even as I want to rush ahead and make this crazy guy mine for life, there is something so sweet to me about this moment. I cook him dinner and we eat together and share our day. No children to divide our attention, no big bills to worry us, just us two in our place getting to know one another even better. As I stood in my tiny kitchen the feeling felt so sweet and light and happy I just wanted to breathe it in.

That rush, rush, find out what’s next feeling may never leave but I’m thankful for those moments when I remember to slow it down. Because when I stop, look, and realize how very perfect this time is, I feel whole.

How to Survive a Snow Day

trees snow february

I don’t usually (ever) write how-to posts because I don’t think there’s anything I’m really an expert on…until now. With the winter weather that is rocking the Northeast this year I believe I have officially become a snow day expert. With three snow days and counting under my belt I have a great deal of experience on cabin fever, essential food products that will keep you fatter and happier than the snowflakes outside, and the places to avoid right before the storm. Now that I’ve sold you on my credentials, please find my five best tips below.

snow day breakfast

1. Buy or make something special for breakfast. To me a snow day is a holiday, plain and simple, and in my family that means a special breakfast. On school holidays my mom used to make us something special for breakfast or take us out for breakfast and my childhood was better for it. I’ve carried that tradition with me and now try to buy ingredients for a special breakfast if I think we’ll have a snow day. Usually it will be cinnamon rolls from Pillsbury but if I have time I like to make something like these delicious sugar donut muffins. Who doesn’t want to start their snow day off right?

2. Have a go-to warm beverage. Nothing is cozier than watching the snow fall with a warm cup of something in your hands. I love tea and I know it’s a snow day when I can make a cup of Earl Grey in my Anthropologie mug. Pure heaven. It’s also helpful when you come inside from digging out your car and want to warm up quick. Make sure that it’s a warm beverage you can make at home because there is no way you can get to Starbucks for some fancy soy latte, unless you live in a city, and then I’m really jealous of you.

warm beverage

3. Make sure you have clean and cute lounge wear. And by lounge wear I mean leggings. Leggings are the perfect snow day pant because they are insanely comfortable and they tuck into your boots when someone drags you away from tv watching laziness and makes you go outside to dig out. I don’t ever wear leggings outside of my home unless I know I will be staying in the car because I live by the rule that leggings are not pants. So it feels luxuriously lazy to live in leggings for one day. I pair that with something over-sized on top and, while you wouldn’t call me the most fashionable, I would argue that I am the most comfortable.

4. Invest in some new DVDs or books or Netflix. When you are stuck in the house all day you need something to do. On a normal day I am a highly productive human being but on a snow day my productivity level dips to zero. So instead of pretending like I am going to do something useful I give into my impulses and watch tons of tv and read for hours. I haven’t yet invested in Netflix because I don’t have time to watch normal tv as it is but this winter is making me strongly consider getting account. Instead Nick and I have invested in lots of tv on DVD like Breaking Bad and Downton Abbey and my Nook is fully charged with books from a recent and rare Nook book sale. Keeps me somewhat insane and watching pointless tv all day almost makes it feel like a vacation.

boots in snow

5. Get some boots, make that snow boots. Boots are a good investment for two reasons: first you’re going to get tired from being inside all day and feel like you need to get outside before you start to climb the walls and second you will eventually need to trudge to your car or work in the snow or more likely slush. While you may think your regular boots will cut it, they probably won’t. Mixed in with the snow is going to be sand and salt and weird snow melting chemicals and that will ruin your shoes. Lucky for you, there are tons of cute snow boots out there so if you’re ridiculous and always want to look put together like me then you have nothing to fear.

Right now it seems like there’s no end in sight when it comes to this winter and becoming a snow day expert is probably the most depressing moment of my life. At least I’ve caught up on all my tv shows though! Hope you’re enjoying sunnier and warmer days than me!

Who Says You Can’t Go Home

I never believed that I would be approaching my late twenties and living in New Jersey. But here I am, butt planted firmly on the couch, couch planted firmly in an apartment, apartment planted firmly in Central New Jersey. And I believe this behind will be here for awhile as I am finally done racing ahead trying to find my home.
 
Growing up, I always believed that New Jersey was my childhood home, not my forever state. I can’t explain why I felt this way; maybe it was because I grew up halfway between Philadelphia and New York City and always dreamed of life in the big city. When I went away to college, I wasn’t happy down in Virginia but I still didn’t believe that I’d end up back in my home state. The job applying process meant applications anywhere and everywhere that looked good: maybe Georgia or Colorado or Arizona or maybe I’d make it to NYC finally.
 
Four years after graduation, I’m making my life in New Jersey. I’m even writing flattering blog posts about it. But it wasn’t until this Fall that I had a revelation. I was pulling out of the school parking lot, the trees were on fire in orange and red, and I looked at the little houses in the neighborhood across the way. That’s when I realized that I am actually happy here. The beauty of the Fall trees, the calming lull of the ocean at its shores, even the highways that spill into a vein of beautiful back roads make me happy to call this state home, finally, home.
 
There is something to be said about building a calm and happy life in the suburbs. There are still times that I wish I had worked and pursued the big city life harder or wonder what it would be like to live in a place that I don’t know like the back of my hand. But then I realize how calm and happy I am to be in a place I love surrounded by people I love. I think I’m going to give myself a break and embrace this little home I’ve built.

It’s the Greatest Time of Year

Despite the best attempts of work, bad drivers, and crazy people, I still love this time of year. While it may seem like the short few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas bring out the craziest of crazies, I still get so excited for even the most mundane of things that seems Christmas-y. Like flipping the lights on my Christmas tree when I get home from work. It is depressingly dark by 4:30 right now but voila! We have lights on a tree and everything is alright in the world. What I especially love about Christmas season is the traditions, big or small I carry on year after year. Growing up has changed these traditions over the year but I love that now Nick and I have traditions of our own that make this the greatest time of year.

christmas tree

1. The first of my most cherished traditions is trimming the tree. I love everything about decorating the tree, from hauling the boxes out of storage and unwrapping those precious memories to struggling to reach those high up branches so the tree looks “balanced.” I get to decorate two trees this year: mine and my Mom’s. When I used to work with the elderly, I would decorate the entire facility along with my co-worker. One year I think I tackled seven trees! I joke but am in fact serious that one day I expect to get that invitation to trim a White House Christmas tree. I am very patient. While I love a “curated” and “themed” tree because they just look pretty, the best kind of tree has those cherished family ornaments. Nick and I collect ornaments from everywhere we go on vacation and get at least one new ornament to celebrate every Christmas. One day our tree will be one crazy, beautiful, memorable mess!

christmas in Philly

2. Celebrating Christmas city style has always been one of the greatest advantages of living in New Jersey. Growing up my family would always head to new York to visit Macy’s Santa land, check out all the department store windows, and see the tree at Rockefeller Plaza. Now Nick and I do it a little differently by heading into our favorite city, Philadelphia, to all the holiday spots. We spend the day traipsing through the city from Love Park’s Christmas Village to the tree at Liberty One and everywhere in between. This year we even went to the Franklin Flea, a new indoor holiday flea market on Market Street. I got some great presents, lots of delicious treats like a blue velvet cupcake, and some vintage Christmas decorations. There’s something magical about those city streets to me. Maybe it’s the way the lights reflect off the icy pavement or the coziness of ducking into a warm restaurant after running around the blustery streets. Whatever it is, the city has a special place in my Christmas traditions.

franklin flea

blue velvet cupcake

3. I will never get over holiday lights. Tuck me into the car and drive me through the craziest, tackiest Jersey neighborhoods for a whole evening and you’ve just made my day. Since meeting Nick, we’ve really stepped it up by visiting a holiday light show that you drive through in your car over several acres of farmland. The tackier the better I always say and pair it with some Christmas tunes for holiday perfection.

I narrowed it down for your reading pleasure to just three of the things I love about this time of year. But to be honest, I do a million little things before December 25th that make this time special. That’s why I will say this is the greatest time of the year; for the memories, traditions, and that very special Christmas feeling.

christmas love

Cooking and Candlelight on a Saturday Night

Last Saturday I was crazily praying for two chickens to thaw at lightning speed and for a set of elegant matching dishes. That’s because Nick and I offered to host our first holiday dinner party for my friends along with their spouses and boyfriends. After seeing it splashed across the internet, I have thrown out the term “friendsgiving” in favor of calling this a “holiday party” but it’s the same idea. It was a potluck but I got a little overexcited and bought two chickens to roast, used my mom’s cranberry sauce recipe courtesy of classic Martha Stewart, and panicked when someone cancelled and whipped up an apple pie with a homemade crust. Didn’t you know I get kind of crazy when it comes to party planning?

My favorite part of the party, besides giggling with my best girl friends, was planning my table. I want to blame it on Pinterest but I grew up with a party-planning Mom who held the most amazing parties. I couldn’t wait to have my own place and start hosting my own parties. When I started planning out how I wanted to set my table, I knew I had to work with what I had. That’s where the multi-colored plates come in. They are Fiesta ware from my mom’s collection that she passed on to me, plus a few of my everyday green dishes. I love color and I don’t care if they are really more summer-y than Christmas/Thanksgiving; they make my table pop! I also pieced together my cloth napkins from various sets I inherited from Mom. The best part of my table was the centerpiece. There’s something so romantic and winter-y about using candlelight. I had some flameless pillar candles and bought some birch log tea candle holders from Terrain last weekend. Thank you also to the Dollar store from their cheap and easy decor solutions like the glass candle holders. The greatest thing was the LED “stargazer” string of lights that I found at Terrain, which I ran down the center of the table.

Once everyone was seated around the table, the candles were lit, and those chickens were finally cooked, I just felt so happy and peaceful. Some of the best people were gathered around my table, laughing, sharing, and eating good. I don’t think there can be anything better in life. And if it wasn’t just such a tiny bit stressful to host a party, I’d be having another today!

thanksgiving table

candlelight cluster

thanksgiving table

thanksgiving table

thanksgiving table

best friends