Friday, August 14, 2015

Beach Bums

"Let that igloo cooler mark your piece of paradise" - Rascal Flatts

Summer is quickly passing by - and what a fun summer it's been!  Since I kindof stepped away from blogging to enjoy relaxing, I thought I would do a little catch up. In mid June, my family all met up in Florida at the beach! Well, everyone came except my brother who was in summer school and was supposed to be able to come but then there were changes in class dates, test dates, professor, etc -- poor guy had to stay home and we missed him.  Not quite a family vacation without him!!

We headed to one of my FAVORITE places -- the beaches of 30A which is a 2 lane highway that runs along a strip between Destin and Panama City.  This area is more cute little beach towns, local restaurants, cute shops and less big condo buildings and put put golf parks! If you are southern, you have probably been to this slice of heaven - and if you are not southern, you might want to look it up and consider it for your next vacation. The beaches are white fine sand with lovely emerald water. It's very family friendly - and if you stay in a little beach town/community, you can walk everywhere!

We stayed in the Seacrest community- which is right next to Rosemary Beach, so we got to enjoy the benefits of both little communities!

The past winter was a rough one - and I so desperately needed to get away, stick my toes in the sand, dive into a book, enjoy a great cocktail and get some sun - with some of my favorite people. Dave and I were so counting down for weeks.  We are used to spending portions of our summers in Florida (and sadly, Maryland beaches just don't compare!) so we were so eager to get back! You would have thought we were planning a trip to Hawaii of Mexico with our level of excitement! Nope, "just" Florida!!

I love the way my family does the beach -- we eat in most nights. We come back to the house mid-day to have a casual lunch. We wear casual clothes and rarely put on makeup.  We sip cocktails and play board games (although none were played this year??) and watch movies and just relax. There is no pressure to try local restaurants or get gussied up! We just relax! 

I miss Florida beaches. Dave and I have talks about when we will move back south - and I must admit, 2 big pulls (right behind family and friends) is to be closer to beaches and college football (and hunting and fishing, for Dave) These two things are so much a part of me - and I feel a bit more myself when I am there.

When we left, I told Dave that I was sad because I am a better version of myself at the beach! It's true! I love to travel - but when touring cities and countries, I stay incredibly busy. However, travelling to the beach forces me to slow down, take walks, enjoy conversations, laugh and relax.  It's an excuse to not be overly planned, organized - a chance to just be!

Here are some pictures from our time in Florida. I usually got up with my nephew, Gil, and we went on a walk.  A couple mornings, I took Jack for "chocat donies"  We usually split our days between the pool and the beach and enjoyed lovely homemade meals in the evening!  Such happy moments!

we are "in this" together

Entertaining the nephew - by letting him bury me....

Love this pool!

our little slice of paradise for the week......

this kid can put away some donuts and some ice cream (his two fav. foods!)

Morning Walks with Gilbo!

Everyone's favorite children's doctor - always being a goofball!

Love me some sweet gil and his mama!

On his way to the beach for the very first time!

We are "close"

Pool Time with Mom!

Jack loved castle building more than the ocean (my uncle builds AMAZING castles -- maybe Jack will follow in his footsteps???)

Oh to be young and thin enough to willingly have a bikini picture taken and posted on social media....

With my dad....

I was fortunate enough to get to have ice cream with this college friend followed by dinner with some law school friends.

That's just a little peek into our first summer vacation (our second vacay happens to be in early September, so a fall vacation I guess?)  We alternate family vacations each year - so next time, we will take time go out of town with Dave's family and we are so excited for that getaway.  When we go home to Mississippi, we have extended family and friends to see, plus often times, our parents or siblings still have work to do! Or, we are home for an event or holiday which is always busy! So, vacations away with just our immediate family mean a lot of time together, no obligations or distractions!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Summer Reading List: July Book Reviews

Whoaaa, I really need to update my blog. It's been a month since my last post. I promise a full update on life soon! I guess blogging idleness is the sign of a good, happy, busy summer right? And it has been FULL-- full of visitors, friends, family, trips and lots of rest. Part of rest has included reading - I tackled several books off my list this month and am ready to offer reviews. 

Same disclosure as last time - If you read one of these books and hate it, remember that I am not a literary critic or an English teacher. I just like what I like, so take my opinions with a grain of salt. Your cup of tea might be different than mine!

You can check out last month's reviews here.

July Readings and Reviews

Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dove
Rating: 4.5 stars

This was not even a book on my summer reading list. It was my July book club book, so I had to make a little detour from my list and I am so glad I did. I loved this book and had not heard of it, so I probably would not have read it if not for the fact that it was required of me. The book is set in Sonoma County at a family winery when all of the family is in town for the harvest party and a family wedding.  From the beginning, the reader is aware that each of the family members has his or her own struggle, with some of the conflicts and hurts within the family. This is a tight close knit family that is trudging through loss, change, hurts and disappointment with each other. Even more, they are at a crossroads where they have to let go of part of their past in order to move into the future. None of the characters are "bad guys" per se, so you find yourself rooting for each one, flaws and all. I really wanted to see healing, opportunity, hope and love come to each character.

What I loved about this book is that I (and probably many of you) could easily relate to this fictional family.  I, too, come from a close knit, in-your-business, type of family. A family filled with traditions - sure, these traditions aren't "harvest parties" but football games and tailgates, holidays, cookouts, etc. A family with its own share of hurts, both within and outside of the family walls. So, I could easily identify with the characters - the ones hurt by their family, the ones who did the hurting, the ones who were hurt out in the world and came home for comfort, the ones who were scared of change, etc. 

The book wasn't perfect, but it was very enjoyable and actually hopeful - but not in a cheesy fairy tale kind of way.  It doesn't have a "perfect" ending, but instead it has a real ending.

Eight Twenty Eight by Larissa and Ian Murphy
Rating: 4.5 stars

I love this sweet couple. I mean, how can you not? These two were seriously dating with Ian saving up for a ring when a tragic accident placed him in a coma (and then traumatic recovery) and derailed their future plans. Despite a brain injury, they decided to keep dating and eventually, go ahead and move forward towards their goal of marriage - and their marriage looks far different than they had planned.  How incredible to commit to "for better or for worse" even without the marriage covenant binding you!  She is totally sacrificial in her love of him and he is totally trusting - two areas I could definitely improve on.

My one complaint is that the book does seem to jump around a bit - and sometimes I had a hard time keeping up with the timeline. But, the Murphys are not professional authors, just two amazing people sharing their story. Also, there were parts of the story I wanted to know more about - for example, I wanted to know more about when and how he woke up from his coma and what that was like. However, it's not my story to tell - and she told their story so tenderly and honestly, obviously sharing what she saw as the most important moments in their journey and Ian's continued recovery.

For those who read this  book, you will fall in love with them both and you will cheer for them and cry with them and hope right alongside them.  You can follow their blog here.

Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz
Rating: 4 stars

This book is a short easy read and quite entertaining! I found it to be a great little metro/lunch break read as I could easily ready a couple chapters in a short amount of time.  The author is a world renowned chef and cookbook author who fulfilled his lifelong dream of moving to Paris after his partner unexpectedly died.  Some said he was running away, but he saw it as one chapter ending (sadly) and using the ending as a chance to take another opportunity.  He tells about the good, bad and ugly of French living - how the French cut in line constantly, how everything takes longer, how sales people aren't always helpful- but he also tells about the great people, great food, wonderful little shops with expert sales people and all the charm of this city. After all, every culture has its pros and cons.

The book also includes some of the author's recipes and a list of his favorite restaurants in Paris.  I hope to make use of both!

The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris by Jenny Colgan
 Rating: 3.5 stars

I ended up liking this book, but I must admit, it started out slowly (for me, at least)  But, to be fair, I was reading a few books at once and some of them flowed quickly so this may have sounded slow by comparisons.

The main thing I loved about this book was that it was set in Paris - and at a chocolate shop. Paris, chocolate - what's not to love? The book focuses on two English women - Claire who is in her late 50s, a divorcee, mom of 2 and cancer patient, but spent a glorious summer in Paris 4 decades prior - as a nanny. She fell in love with Paris and a chocolate shop owner - and has always remembered that summer as her happiest of days. The second woman, Anna, is 30 years old, in need of a life change and a former student of Claire's. With Claire's prodding, Anna leaves for Paris to work in the same chocolate shop owner. Finally, with Anna's help, Claire makes one final trip to Paris, a city where she found love and a different version of life forty years prior.

What I liked about this book is that there were second chances at life and love, reconciliation, forgiveness, deep friendship between women 25+ years apart and also, a realization in all the blessings life provided along the way.  After all, life isn't always romantic summer flings in Paris, but it can still be filled with family, commitment, happy moments.

The book is not life changing, but it is a happy little piece of chick lit set in one of the world's most romantic cities.

The Girl on a Train by Paula Hawkins
Rating: 5 stars

Oh, I loved this book. I could not put it down!! It is not my typical type of book as kind of dark, but it is a page turner and keeps you guessing (and I was quite proud of myself for solving the mystery before the murderer was revealed)

The book's main character, Rachel, is not really very likable. She is a depressed unhealthy drunk woman who rides the London commuter train that passes her former house (where her ex, his new wife and their baby still live).   The train also passes a house with what she imagines to be a happy couple. She watches them on their patio and has created a happy life for them in her head.  However, when the woman in the couple goes missing, Rachel places herself into the investigation, providing insights and also realizing that people aren't always who you imagine them to be.  Also, throughout the book, you slowly start to like Rachel a bit more as you realize some of the reasons she is the way that she is.

I can't say too much about this book without giving away critical information, but if you want a page turner that you can't put down, this is your book.  Many have called it the next Gone Girl!

Undone: A Story of Making Peace With an Unexpected Life by Michelle Cushatt
Rating: 3 stars

I didn't like this book as much as I thought I would - but the good news is, that by the end of the book, I liked it a lot more than I did in the beginning.  I think my frustrations were because I imagined the book to be a Christian Living self-help type of book (is it pathetic to say self-help?) with advice and scripture on how to handle life's unexpected troubles.  I just came off a very hard 6 months and I wanted some encouragement on living with unexpected life turns.

However, the book tended to be more about the author's journey - with occasional advice mixed it.  Her writing was vulnerable and expressive, but to me, it read more like a memoir of a rough few years in her life instead of an encouragement book for others. I did enjoy the book because I became involved in her life story, rooting for God to show up in big ways amidst some really hard troubles (cancer, wayward children, sick family members, foster kids, etc) and truthfully, even without instruction spelled out in clear black and white, I did gain encouragement from her story. However, I would have preferred a little bit more clarity - here's how to get through life's detours, here is encouragement for when life feels undone.

So, not a bad book, but not quite what I had hoped for.

What I have read/still have left to read: 
***You can read my original list and thoughts here.

Book Club Books 
1. The Stranger by Harlan Coben
2. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan (and *possibly* the sequel, China Rich Girlfriend)
ADDITION: Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave (my July book)

Home and Marriage
3. The 7 principles for making Marriage Work by Dr. John Gottman
4. Eight Twenty Eight by Larissa and Ian Murphy
5. A Beautiful Mess Happy Handmade Home by Elsie Larson and Emma Chapman

Southern Fiction
6. Natchez Burning by Greg Iles
7. The Right Thing by Amy Conner
8. My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

French Reads
9. Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz
10. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
11. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
12. A Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable
13. The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris by Jenny Colgan 
ACCIDENTAL ADDITION: Paris Hangover by Kirsten Lobe

General Fiction
14. The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
15. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
16. The Girl on a Train by Paula Hawkins
17. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
18. Paper Towns by John Green
19. The Life Intended by Kristen Harmel
20. Blue Bistro by Elin Hilderbrand

Religious Reads
21. Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Quireshi
22. Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist
23. Undone: A Story of Making Peace With an Unexpected Life

24. The Fringe Hours by Jessica N. Turner
25. 11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative by Dr. Paul Kengor

Looking forward to several new books this month. I have already started on "All the Light We Cannot See" to fully get in the France mood before our trip. Anyone else read anything great lately?