Monday, June 26, 2017

That Time We Went on Vacation with Cindy

Have you ever tried to plan a family vacation around two different custody schedules, business trips, a summer class, and football practice?  It likely requires a phD and definitely deserves a medal!

Plan A was to beach it the first week of June.  Then in January - January! - my ex requested to have the kids the first two weeks of June.  We do a first come/ first served with out summertime schedule and he asked first.  Scratch the first week of June.

Plan B came about in early February.  Mark's college roommate had two extra tickets to see Jimmy Buffet at Wrigley Field in July.  We could stay with them a couple nights, go to the concert, go to Great America, visit the Indiana Dunes.  Perfect, right?  Until his ex but the kibosh on that one.  Another no-go.

Enter Plan C.  We'd still go north, still stay with the college roomie, still visit Great America and the Indiana Dunes.  We'd just do it a week later.  Then we got the Boy's football schedule -- practices that week -- and Mark ended up with a business trip scheduled for the same week.  Ahhhhhh.  Back to the drawing boardAgain.

Finally we settled on the beach for the third week in June.  We booked super last minute so had to get what we could as far as a condo went.  I could only get something for three nights - arriving Monday, leaving Thursday - but we figured we'd play it by ear and get a hotel for Thursday and Friday nights.

The best laid plans.  The best laid plans.

That, my friends, is how we ended up vacationing during a tropical storm. 

More to come tomorrow.  (Spoiler alert: it wasn't the vacation we envisioned but we actually had a blast!)

Monday, June 19, 2017

Summer Reading List: Hannah and Chamberlin

I read two books last week.  One was awesome.  The other, a total dud.

For whatever reason, I had in my head that Kristin Hannah was an author of the Mary Kay Andrews or Nancy Thayer variety.  Meaning, a couple of huge hits, some so-so books, and a whole lot of misses and try hard.  I read her book Distant Shores a few years ago and it was just okay.  For the life of me, I could've sworn I started another book of hers that I just couldn't finish.  For that reason, I'd been hesitant to pick up anything else from her.  Well, I was wrong.  So, so wrong.  I finished Firefly Lane last week and it's the front runner for a favorite summer read!

Firefly Lane tells us the story of Tully Hart and Kate Mularky, best friends since the age of 14 when Tully moved across the street from the Mularky's on Firefly Lane.  The story follows their lives through several decades.  Middle school, high school, college, career, marriage, children: it covers everything.  A betrayal causes a rift in their friendship and tragedy brings them back together once and for all.

I really, really liked this book.  It felt a lot like Summer Sisters (one of my favorites ever!) with a dash of the movie Up Close and Personal -- in fact, there are several references to Jessica Savitch, whose life Up Close is loosely based upon.  There are a lot of pop culture and historical references through out the book, something I really appreciated.  "Hey, I remember that too!"  I'm a big fan of that sort of thing in books, rather than an author pretending that the characters were just plunked into some town in Ohio where absolutely nothing happened that wasn't fabricated entirely for the novel. 

I did find the character of Tully to be over the top selfish and kind of a bitch.  I appreciate, though, how Hannah made her characters multi-dimensional.  Tully claws her way to the top of the broadcasting world but still feels as though she's missed out on something.  Kate devotes her entire life to her children and finds that she's lost herself in the process.  All very much real life and I appreciate that Hannah struck a cord with both sides of that balance.

The book was thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyable -- and made me want to pursue a career in news in the 1980's! -- but it was also a little long.  It could've easily been a good hundred pages shorter just by removing some unnecessary details and plot lines.  The betrayal that the back cover of the book warns you about doesn't happen until well after the mid-point of the book.  And while it was somewhat anticlimactic, I was very relieved by what it wasn't. (That's all I can say without giving away anything!)  I hated the ending but you're supposed to hate the ending.

There were important details left out in the conclusion of the novel but Hannah has a follow-up, Fly Away, that I'm assuming will tie up loose ends.  It's already in my thrift books cart!  All in all, this is definitely one to pick up and add to your reading list.  It was warm, touching, and lovely. 

Now let's talk about a book that wasn't that great.

I picked up The Beach Quilt by Holly Chamberlin because it was in the clearance bin at Barnes and Noble and because it had "Beach" in the title.  I'm honestly disappointed I paid as much as $6 for it.  It was awful.

The Beach Quilt tells the story of Sarah Bauer, a 16-year-old girl growing up in a beach town in Maine.  She's a good student, quiet and pensive, and never any trouble.  So, of course, she ends up pregnant and no one can believe it.  The book tells not just Sarah's story but that of her mother and sister, best friend and best friend's mother.  The back cover of the book tells of the quilt the women all work together on in and you think it will be something much more poignant than it actually was.

I was about 50 pages in when I just could not do it anymore.  It was so boring and so contrived and none of the characters were all that likeable.  I actually planned on shelving it but skipped ahead to the final chapter.  I realized there was a twist that actually made me want to soldier through the book.  And I did.  And guess what?  The twist was awful . . . just bad, bad, so very bad.  Not well written and one of those things was just like BAM!  It happened!  Now I'll devote another ten pages to this story and wrap it up all sloppy.

The plot for this book was actually decent but it was executed terribly.  I had to check the copyright date more than once to make sure the book was written in 2014 and not 1954 due to the way teen pregnancy was portrayed.  The "secrets" certain characters hold are way too easy to figure out.  The dialogue is entirely unrealistic and I had a feeling the author had never been around 16-year-old girls EVER.  There was also a weird cat - and weird relationship between Sarah's relationship with the cat - that was just . . . weird

Obviously, I was not a fan of this book at all.  And, as a result, I doubt I'll pick up any more of Holly Chamberlin's novels.  It was that painful to try to get through.  Pass on this one!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Foodie Friday: South of Beale

Last Thursday night, The Girl and I headed downtown where we met Mark and a coworker of his at South of Beale for dinner. It was my first visit to SOB but I doubt it will be my last!

We started things off with a round of appetizers: fried avocado and chicken and waffles.  The fried avocado was delish because, hello, avocado.  I've had way better chicken and waffles though.  The waffles were a little dry and I guess I just expected more from the chicken.

For our entrees, I chose the duck patty melt for something a little different.  It ended up being REALLY good!  A duck meat patty smothered in gouda cheese with caramelized onions.  Mark chose the shrimp and grits and his meal was even better than mine!  The cheese grits were some of the best I've ever tasted ever.  We only had approximately five or six bites left and just couldn't finish but we took those few bites home with us!  Ha!  They don't have a children's menu so we ordered the pizza for the Girl.  It sounded seriously yum -- topped with tomatoes, roasted garlic, and basil.  But, you know, she's a kid so we ordered it with only the cheese.  It had no red sauce so she wasn't a fan.  I think it would be delicious with all the toppings.  For dessert, we split a brownie and it was pretty much heavenly.

We had zero humidity that night so we enjoyed sitting on the patio and it was lovely.  Our service was decent. I've had better service downtown but I've also had much, much worse.

We will definitely be back.  Mostly because I must try their smoked gouda mac and cheese!