Monday, July 15, 2019

Summer 2019 Roadtrip - Gulf Shores/Fort Morgan

This summer has officially proven to me that spontaneous trips are the best trips.  We had been lounging in the pool the week before we left, when the need to be at the beach struck. Discussing schedules, I realized that I only had four days left this summer with no plans - luckily everyone else's schedules aligned with those four days. We struggled in finding a place to stay in the Gulf Shores area so last minute, and had all but given up when a 4-person VRBO magically appeared - obviously as a sign confirming our need for sun and sand. The weather looked good and the "book now" button was clicked in record time. Unfortunately, only a few days later, we saw a hurricane was predicted for the area. The day before departure we still weren't sure we would be able to go because of weather (and also this flesh-eating bacteria business!) Thankfully the morning of it looked as though the worst of the storm would miss us, and we knew that even if it rained all weekend, we could still have fun.

Day 1: Thursday, July 11, 2019

We left at 6AM for our trip to Fort Morgan, Alabama. Never before has a nine hour drive gone so fast!! Time flies when you're having fun! Apparently it also flies when you have Cookie Monster giving you directions while jamming to 90s country...As soon as we got to Gulf Shores, we stopped for food and snacks (priorities!).  You know how you're not suppose to go grocery shopping when you're hungry? Oops. Somehow we managed to squeeze all of our supplies in with us and our luggage into my little Corolla.

Beach Day 1
The second we got to our condo, we put on our suits and headed to the beach - unpacking could wait, as according to all of the weather apps, this could be our only opportunity to experience the beach with the sun in the sky. (Spoiler: it wasn't!) On our way there, we met the security guard, Earl. Our introductions provided him with fake names (because safety first!), and he was quite smitten with "Allie." 😝 He gave us directions on getting to the beach.  We sat in the sand and chatted, letting the waves wash over us...or sometimes wash us away!

Since we were on the outskirts of Hurricane Barry, the waves and wind were insane. There were riptide warnings posted everywhere, unsurprisingly. As soon as one wave headed back out to sea, another one was rushing in. It was easy to see why it was advised for people to be wary of going into the gulf.  The waves were able to carry us away, I can't imagine having children near that. Standing in the dry sand also provided a fun opportunity to get pelted with sand particles that felt like a bunch of tiny missiles - the wind, y'all!

I had gotten out of the sand to attempt to rinse off, when I saw something move. "Crab!" I yelled, causing the rest of them to look where I was pointing, scream, and fight the incoming waves to get up and away from the crustacean. The palm sized ghost crab scattered away, gliding sideways along the sand, as we laughed about how unexpectedly hilarious the situation had just been. It was the first of many ghost crabs we would see over the course of the weekend.

Eventually we headed back towards the condo, rinsed the sand off with a hose, and slipped into the pool on site. We had an indoor/outdoor pool and hot tub. Side note here - we stayed at the Dunes Condos, which we would all recommend for grown up gatherings. There isn't a lot for children to do in the area, but the beach is much less packed than the Gulf Shores beaches. From our room we could see the beach from the balcony, and the bay on the opposite side of the peninsula from our doorway.

Karaoke Ready!

For dinner we popped in a pizza from the store and got ready for the evening.  We had been told by a friend that Tacky Jack's had karaoke at 9, and we love our karaoke! It was only a 0.2 mile walk from the condo (again, great location for adults looking to escape the chaos of children!) Our song choices for the night were "How Do You Like Me Now" by Toby Keith, and "Two  Piña Coladas" by Garth Brooks, inspired by our 90s country carpool karaoke on the drive down. No one booed us, and the guy in charge of karaoke decorated us with boas, so I think that means we rocked it. After a late night, and fun conversation, we wandered back to the condo for leftover pizza and laughs before bed.

Hiding out from the rain

Day 2: Friday, July 12, 2019

We all slept in this morning and enjoyed donuts and coffee (not me!) for breakfast.  The sun was out, which we weren't expecting, so we wandered down to the beach to take a stroll.  On our way down to the beach, it started to downpour! We ran to the nearest beach house and hid under the carport until it tapered off. 

Luckily it didn't take long, and we sauntered up and down the beach for an hour.  It was crazy to see the damage from the wind the night before.  The steel beams from beach canopies were bent and mangled, and there was plenty of other debris scattered about the sand.  The wind was wild, but all of the sand was wet, so we didn't get attacked by it like yesterday.

We came back to the condo and got ready to go into town for lunch.  We went to ACME Oyster House, where I promised I would TRY an oyster.  I ordered fish and fries, but I did try one of Angel's oysters. It was actually pretty good, but don't tell her I said that. 

We stopped back at the store for a few more supplies before heading back to the condo.  The sun was still out, so we changed into our suits and went back down to the beach.  We sat in the water for awhile, but the waves were still so crazy from the hurricane to the west of us. We could be sitting in the sand having conversation one second, and the next thing we knew a two foot wave would pick us up and carry us ashore.

We were promised that an awesome band would be playing tonight at Tacky Jack's, so after showering and getting ready, we hung out for awhile before heading back down the road. As we walked in, we were greeted by people who remembered us from the night before.  We met some others from Tennessee as well, and had a great time. Before we knew it, it was after midnight and we were heading back to our condo for more pizza. We sat on the balcony for awhile, cracking up over the fun we'd had so far, and creating more memories. Do you ever start laughing and feel like you can't stop?? Because that is 100% what this weekend felt like. The walks back from Tacky Jack's and our evening balcony chats were my favorite. 💗

Day 3: Saturday, July 13, 2019

As I woke up, everyone else was still in bed, so I went out on the balcony to listen to music and watch the waves. We came into the weekend expecting rain the whole time, but thus far we had barely experienced any! It was raining HARD this morning though, coming down almost completely sideways. I watched the palm trees trying their hardest to stand their ground, but when the rain began to drench the balcony, I went back inside. Normally stormy weather would ruin a vacation, but since we had already gotten more sun than we expected, the weather made sitting inside together even more cozy.

We hung around the condo for awhile, chatting and deciding what to do for the day. Two years ago it would have driven me crazy to plan a trip such short notice and have no actual itinerary. The Gretchen of today LOVED this.  Because the trip was a spur of the moment decision, we had no schedule to stick to, which meant we could fly by the seat of our pants and do what we wanted when we wanted, which meant that today we were getting milkshakes for lunch!

We headed back into Gulf Shores, about a 20-30 minute drive, to go to The Yard Milkshake Bar.  A small shake was more than enough to fill all of us! There were a billion choices, and we each picked different ones.  I had the unicorn - I love cotton candy ice cream!!

After "lunch," we drove back to the condo.  Stuffed to the max with our sugary treats and exhausted from our late night before, we each snuggled into our own comfy spots to nap/read/listen to music for a couple hours. Our trip was meant to be relaxing, so we made sure to get some R&R!!

We had packed plenty of games just in case we were stuck inside all weekend due to weather, so after our solo chill time, we figured we should play one. Mary brought Mexican Train Dominoes - it was so fun!!

The time came to decide our goal for the night - either go back to Tacky Jack's or hang out at the condo and play games. Since we had a long drive ahead of us the next day, and we were already in "chill" mode, we decided on staying in. It was nearing sunset, so we wandered back down to the beach for one last walk.  We were extra excited about this one, because we knew the ghost crabs would be out! (Okay, maybe we all weren't excited about the ghost crabs, but I certainly was!!) We took off down the beach in the opposite direction that our walks had been so far.  On the return, we spotted ghost crabs EVERYWHERE! We had to move in slow motion to get pictures of them, otherwise they would scurry off into their holes. Luckily there were so many of them that we had a lot of opportunity!!

Can you spot the ghost crab?

Following our beach walk we went back up to our floor and pulled out What Do You Meme? It was the first time they had played, and we were rolling in laughter!! (If you've never played, its like Cards Against Humanities except with memes and captions). What a perfect ending to an already incredible weekend.

Day 4: Sunday, July 14, 2019

None of us were thrilled about this trip coming to a close. I'm usually ready to be home in my own bed by the end of the trip, but something about this summer has been different. I love home, but I love adventuring with friends even more. For me, home is people, more than it is a place, and since my Tennessee people were with me, home was at the beach!

We slowly got packed up and loaded up the car before heading into Gulf Shores for breakfast.  Of course this day happened to be sunny!! Mary had been to a cute little diner in the area before, so we decided to go there.  Hazel's Nook was exactly what you expect when you go to a breakfast diner in Alabama. The food was good and it the atmosphere had a very southern feel to it.

After eating, we begrudgingly got back in the car for the long drive home.

Girls' trips are the best, y'all. My heart is so full.

Monday, July 1, 2019

#gretchensbooks2019 - June

Whoop! Met my reading goal for the year! Thinking I may bump it up to 100....Loving this summer reading time!! Also I got a little rant-y about one of these...sorry in advance!!

*This post contains affiliate links, which means when you purchase something through that link, you're helping support this blog at no additional cost to you!*

(Summaries are from Amazon, but all reviews are my own!)

50. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult (4/5 ★)

Sterling is an ordinary New Hampshire town where nothing ever happens--until the day its complacency is shattered by a school shooting. Josie Cormier, the daughter of the judge sitting on the case, should be the state's best witness, but she can't remember what happened before her very own eyes--or can she? As the trial progresses, fault lines between the high school and the adult community begin to show--destroying the closest of friendships and families. Nineteen Minutes asks what it means to be different in our society, who has the right to judge someone else, and whether anyone is ever really who they seem to be.

I listened to this book via audiobook at the same time I was reading a nonfiction book about the Parkland school shooting and its aftermath (great way to start off my summer reading, I know) so it sometimes threw me off switching between fiction/non-fiction on the same topic. I don't usually care for Jodi Picoult books, but I keep reading them in hopes I'll finally find some that I like - and this was one of them. I know its a touchy subject, but I think Picoult did a fantastic job with it. The biggest flaw was, like all of her books, it was too long; there was too many unneeded details that took away from the story rather than contribute to it.

51. Parkland by Dave Cullen (5/5 ★)

Nineteen years ago, Dave Cullen was among the first to arrive at Columbine High, even before most of the SWAT teams went in. While writing his acclaimed account of the tragedy, he suffered two bouts of secondary PTSD. He covered all the later tragedies from a distance, working with a cadre of experts cultivated from academia and the FBI, but swore he would never return to the scene of a ghastly crime.
But in March 2018, Cullen went to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School because something radically different was happening. In nearly twenty years witnessing the mass shootings epidemic escalate, he was stunned and awed by the courage, anger, and conviction of the high school’s students. Refusing to allow adults and the media to shape their story, these remarkable adolescents took control, using their grief as a catalyst for change, transforming tragedy into a movement of astonishing hope that has galvanized a nation.
Cullen unfolds the story of Parkland through the voices of key participants whose diverse personalities and outlooks comprise every facet of the movement. Instead of taking us into the minds of the killer, he takes us into the hearts of the Douglas students as they cope with the common concerns of high school students everywhere—awaiting college acceptance letters, studying for mid-term exams, competing against their athletic rivals, putting together the yearbook, staging the musical Spring Awakening, enjoying prom and graduation—while moving forward from a horrific event that has altered them forever.
Deeply researched and beautifully told, Parkland is an in-depth examination of this pivotal moment in American culture—and an up-close portrait that reveals what these extraordinary young people are like as kids. As it celebrates the passion of these astonishing students who are making history, this spellbinding book is an inspiring call to action for lasting change.

I read Cullen's Columbine last summer and really enjoyed it (as much as you can enjoy a book documenting a tragedy), so when I saw he was writing about the aftermath of Parkland, I knew I had to read it.  I purposely don't read these books during the school year, because they evoke too much emotion. I knew the living victims of the Parkland shooting began a movement, fighting for the safety of school, but I hadn't realized the extent of their work. Cullen is a journalist, so his books are informative, but they're not political. I definitely recommend this one, and Columbine  as well. 

52. A Touch of Defiance by Gary Ponzo (4/5 ★)

An anti-government party called the Civil Resistance Movement is growing in popularity as tension mounts between police and civilians. The head of the CRM, Leo Frazier, has his own racist agenda which is unknown to his followers.
FBI Agent Nick Bracco and team must track down Frazier and his group of zealots before the MLK Day rally becomes ground zero for a terrorist attack. As usual, Nick turns to his Mafia-connected cousin Tommy to help search these extremists in places the FBI couldn’t navigate.
This is the fifth book the the Nick Bracco series, and from what I remember, it was just as good as the first.  I began this series when I had a Kindle Unlimited subscription 4.5 years ago in Costa Rica. They were so good, and pretty quick reads, but they were no longer free after the forth one, and I'm cheap and won't pay for digital books, only physical copies. These books are only published as Kindle books, but luckily I had won a digital copy of book 5 from Goodreads! The thrillers aren't your typical, domestic problems type thrillers, but are focused around the FBI and the situations they deal with. Reading the series in order isn't necessary, but it will give you a better understanding of the characters. I definitely recommend these books!

53. One for the Money by Janet Evanovich (4/5 ★)

Meet Stephanie Plum, a bounty hunter with attitude. In Stephanie’s opinion, toxic waste, rabid drivers, armed schizophrenics, and August heat, humidity, and hydrocarbons are all part of the great adventure of living in Jersey.

She’s a product of the “burg,” a blue-collar pocket of Trenton where houses are attached and narrow, cars are American, windows are clean, and (God forbid you should be late) dinner is served at six.
Out of work and out of money, Stephanie blackmails her bail-bondsman cousin Vinnie into giving her a try as an apprehension agent. Stephanie knows zilch about the job requirements, but she figures her new pal, el-primo bounty hunter Ranger, can teach her what it takes to catch a crook. Her first assignment: nail Joe Morelli, a former vice cop on the run from a charge of murder one. Morelli’s the inamorato who charmed Stephanie out of her virginity at age sixteen. There’s still powerful chemistry between them, so the chase should be interesting…and could also be extremely dangerous.

This book was chosen for our next book club book, and I'm so glad it was! I brought it with me to read at CMA Fest, as I always arrived a couple hours before doors opened so I could get prime parking. At least eight different people stopped me at some point during the day to tell me how much they loved her books and ask if I had read them before. It was HILARIOUS! I couldn't stop laughing out loud.  I thought for sure the people around me thought I was crazy, but then it seemed like I was the only one who had never read Evanovich's books, and that everyone around me understood exactly why I was cracking up. As I write this, I've got the next three books checked out from the library to read! My favorite character so far is the grandma.  She doesn't appear often, but when she does, she has me rolling!

54. Teacher Man by Frank McCourt (3/5 ★)

Here at last is McCourt's long-awaited book about how his thirty-year teaching career shaped his second act as a writer. Teacher Man is also an urgent tribute to teachers everywhere. In bold and spirited prose featuring his irreverent wit and compelling honesty, McCourt records the trials, triumphs and surprises he faced in the classroom. Teacher Man shows McCourt developing his unparalleled ability to tell a great story as, five days a week, five periods per day, he worked to gain the attention and respect of unruly, hormonally charged or indifferent adolescents.

Since I loved, loved, loved McCourt's first memoir, Angela's Ashes, earlier this year, my friend loaned me this book to read.  This is the third installment in his trio of memoirs, and I will be reading the middle one just as soon as I get myself back to the library to pick it up. I didn't love it as much as the first book, but I enjoy his writing style. He is oddly humorous in a way most authors, or even people in general, aren't. His life reflections are enjoyable, and as a teacher myself, definitely relatable. 

55. Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis  (3.5/5 ★)

In Girl, Stop Apologizing, #1 New York Times bestselling author and founder of a multimillion-dollar media company, Rachel Hollis sounds a wake-up call. She knows that many women have been taught to define themselves in light of other people—whether as wife, mother, daughter, or employee—instead of learning how to own who they are and what they want. With a challenge to women everywhere to stop talking themselves out of their dreams, Hollis identifies the excuses to let go of, the behaviors to adopt, and the skills to acquire on the path to growth, confidence, and believing in yourself.

Unpopular opinion, but I did not care much for Hollis's first book, Girl, Wash Your Face. I like to think that I'm a pretty fair person, so I wanted to give her second book a chance. I definitely liked this one better, but still was nowhere near my favorite in this genre. I feel like I had some pretty relatable moments with this one that I didn't with her first. I'm trying to remember what they were, but I returned this book to the library a couple weeks ago and completely forgot to write my reflection before doing so...

56. All Your Perfects by Colleen Hoover (3/5 ★)

Quinn and Graham’s perfect love is threatened by their imperfect marriage. The memories, mistakes, and secrets that they have built up over the years are now tearing them apart. The one thing that could save them might also be the very thing that pushes their marriage beyond the point of repair.

All Your Perfects is a profound novel about a damaged couple whose potential future hinges on promises made in the past. This is a heartbreaking page-turner that asks: Can a resounding love with a perfect beginning survive a lifetime between two imperfect people?

Another Hoover book to add to the list! This one was pretty good, though not my favorite.  I half listened to this on audiobook and didn't care for the performer, she was kind of bland.  Without spoiling too much, I did appreciate the unpredictable ending of this one. I was sure I knew what would happen, but I was proved wrong which was a nice change of pace! I loved how it switched between the "now" of the story, and the "then," so you could see where they're at and where they started, all while trying to figure out how they got there. Honestly there is nothing that I can say for this book that I haven't said for every other Hoover book that I've read this year - they're all good, quick reads!

57. What She Knew by Gilly MacMillan (2.5/5 ★)

In a heartbeat, everything changes…
Rachel Jenner is walking in a Bristol park with her eight-year-old son, Ben, when he asks if he can run ahead. It’s an ordinary request on an ordinary Sunday afternoon, and Rachel has no reason to worry—until Ben vanishes.  
Police are called, search parties go out, and Rachel, already insecure after her recent divorce, feels herself coming undone. As hours and then days pass without a sign of Ben, everyone who knew him is called into question, from Rachel’s newly married ex-husband to her mother-of-the-year sister. Inevitably, media attention focuses on Rachel too, and the public’s attitude toward her begins to shift from sympathy to suspicion.
As she desperately pieces together the threadbare clues, Rachel realizes that nothing is quite as she imagined it to be, not even her own judgment. And the greatest dangers may lie not in the anonymous strangers of every parent’s nightmares, but behind the familiar smiles of those she trusts the most.
Where is Ben? The clock is ticking...

I had read a book by her previously, and while it was okay, it wasn't great.  But again, I believe in second chances.  Honestly, I wasn't super impressed with this one either. It was unrealistic, unrelatable, and the lead to the perpetrator was anticlimactic. Maybe I just wasn't focused enough, I don't know.  If anyone else has read this one, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

58. Educated by Tara Westover (1.5/5 ★)

Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Her family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent. When another brother got himself into college, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

I checked this one out from the library three times before I actually had time to sit down and read it. The topic sounded good, but the pages were big and the font size was small and to be honest, it seemed like a pretty daunting summer read, so I continued to put it off. A couple weekends ago I went to one of my kiddos dance recitals, and as we all know, if I’m not early, I’m late, so I arrived with plenty of time to spare, plopped down in prime-time seating, and cracked open Educated

Alright, wildly unpopular opinion. I did not like this book. Don’t get me wrong, she was an engaging writer (which is the ONLY reason this book didn't get a zero rating), but the content was severely lacking. If I were to write a description for this book it would be “Girl has semi-abusive childhood and semi-radical parenting but uses privilege and opportunity to escape it. Now has a classroom education, but that's about it.”

I had a hard time getting into it, but once I’d passed 100 pages I was hooked. However...I didn’t love it like I expected to. Something felt off the whole time. A disclaimer, I’m coming at this read from a completely privileged perspective. I don’t come from a family that has problems. We don’t have a black sheep, and no one has ever done anything that would make me question their sanity, morals, etc. They’re just all good, well-rounded people. So maybe it’s not fair of me to judge her, but regardless, these are my (very rambled) thoughts.

First off, once grown, Westover was given the opportunity to study on another continent, where she complained about her family, but kept. Going. Back. I get it, they're family, its hard to let go of, yada yada yada, but my point here is that she still has years of therapy left before she really processes her childhood and early adulthood. Honestly, I think she should have processed it all before she wrote the book. If she re-wrote this twenty years from now, I think it would be a totally different (much better) memoir. 

She calls herself educated, but being educated is so much more than knowing facts and events. Yes, she overcame a lot. She got degrees from prestigious universities despite lacking a proper childhood education, which is incredible. But there is a difference between being smart and being educated. There is a difference between knowing things, and understanding things. She has conquered the classroom, but has yet to understand the world. 

Her story wasn’t unique. Okay so she came from nothing and wound up in these exclusive universities. But did she come from nothing? Yes, there was abuse, I'm NOT downplaying that. There are so, so many kids who go through just as much, if not more abuse on a daily basis. That doesn't mean that what she went through doesn't matter just because others had it worse, I know, but it also doesn't make this the huge over-coming horrendous obstacles story that it was marketed as. (Okay, I feel like I sound like a horrible person saying all this. Let me seriously emphasize, abuse is abuse, no matter how much or how bad, etc. Absolutely no abuse is okay and one person's story is not better than another because they went through more, but to me this story wasn't unique I guess is what I'm getting at. So many people overcome terrible childhoods, but I can't find what makes hers anymore worth reading about than someone else's, if that makes sense.)

Yes, her parents were radical. But she also had support. From grandparents, community members, other family members. She says they were all off the grid, but she worked and engaged in the (normal) community around her. They somehow had enough money always, even though she acts like they didn’t. They always had a home, food, clothing, expensive work equipment. One day she's a young adult that has 60 dollars to her name, the next she has an apparently ginormous grant for and expensive school and can fly off to Italy or back to the states at the drop of a hat. So many inconsistencies!!

The footnotes stated that she called upon others for their memories, but the story still felt very one-sided. She admits herself that her memories would change to fit whatever narrative she needed them to, so how much of what she wrote is actually accurate to reality?? She’s angry, and has every right to be, but I feel like that impacted the writing and recollections in a drastic and negative way (which goes back to the thing about needing more therapy and process time before writing this). I get it, it’s a memoir, hence why it is her memories, but it should still be factual, and the “facts” felt inconsistent. I know memories change over time, but I hard a hard time finding hers credible. It was not an inspiring story. It was more of an “I’m angry and want to get my side of the story out in the world” story. She was bitter and rightly so, but I don’t think that’s a good place to write a memoir from.

There was no conclusion to this. There was no this-is-what-I’ve-learned-and-now-I’m-here-in-a-better-place-because-of-it lesson. It was a published family feud which left me highly disappointed.

59. This Is Me by Chrissy Metz (4/5 ★)

In This is Me, Chrissy Metz shares her story with a raw honesty that will leave readers both surprised but also inspired. Infused with the same authenticity she brings to her starring role, Chrissy’s This is Me is so much more than your standard Hollywood memoir or collection of personal essays. She embraces the spirit of Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes, and shares how she has applied the lessons she learned fromboth setbacks and successes. A born entertainer, Chrissy finds light in even her darkest moments, and leaves the reader feeling they are spending time with a friend who gets it.
Chrissy Metz grew up in a large family, one that always seemed to be moving, and growing. Her father disappeared one day, leaving her mother to work a series of menial jobs and his children to learn to live with the threat of hunger and the electricity being cut off. When her mother remarried, Chrissy hoped for “normal” but instead experienced a form of mental pain that seemed crafted just for her. The boys who showed her attention did so with strings attached as well, and Chrissy accepted it, because for her, love always came with conditions.
When she set out for Los Angeles, it was the first time she had been away from her family and from Florida. And for years, she got barely an audition. So how does a woman with the deck stacked against her radiate such love, beauty and joy? This too is at the heart of This is Me.  
I really loved this book! I met Chrissy at CMA fest this year, after which a friend saw the photo I posted with her and told me she had written a memoir! Of course I hopped right on checking it out from the library AND reserving it on audiobook as she is the performer. Prior to reading this, I knew nothing about Chrissy other than her role on This is Us.
I was reading the reviews for this book, as I do, and I found one of the biggest complaints was that this book was called a memoir, but it wasn’t memoir-y enough, or it was listed as self-help, but it wasn’t self-help-y enough. People were mad that I wasn’t classified as one way or another!! News flash, y’all, it doesn’t have to be!

60. Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult (5/5 ★)

Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?

Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy’s counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other’s trust, and come to see that what they’ve been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong.

I have yet to LOVE a Jodi Picoult book, but this one is definitely at the top of the list.  It was the second Picoult book that I read this book, the other which was at the top as well. I think that she does a great job working with difficult topics, and really shares realistic perspectives in a fictional story. Also, this is being made into a movie! (As of now it is in development, according to IMDB, so the release date is not yet available). This was the first Picoult book that I can honestly say I loved, and wasn't even annoyed with its length. Every bit of the story was completely necessary.

61. Two for the Dough by Janet Evanovich (4/5 ★)

Now Stephanie's back, armed with attitude -- not to mention stun guns, defense sprays, killer flashlights, and her trusty .38, Stephanie is after a new bail jumper, Kenny Mancuso, a boy from Trenton's burg. He's fresh out of the army, suspiciously wealthy, and he's just shot his best friend.

With her bounty hunter pal Ranger stepping in occasionally to advise her, Stephanie staggers kneedeep in corpses and caskets as she traipses through back streets, dark alleys, and funeral parlors.

And nobody knows funeral parlors better than Stephanie's irrepressible Grandma Mazur, a lady whose favorite pastime is grabbing a front-row seat at a neighborhood wake. So Stephanie uses Grandma as a cover to follow leads, but loses control when Grandma warms to the action, packing a cool pistol. Much to the family's chagrin, Stephanie and Granny may soon have the elusive Kenny in their sights.
Fast-talking, slow-handed vice cop Joe Morelli joins in the case, since the prey happens to be his young cousin. And if the assignment calls for an automobile stakeout for two with the woman who puts his libido in overdrive, Morelli's not one to object.

Low on expertise but learning fast, high on resilience, and despite the help she gets from friends and relatives, Stephanie eventually must face the danger alone when embalmed body parts begin to arrive on her doorstep and she's targeted for a nasty death by the most loathsome adversary she's ever encountered. Another case like this and she'll be a real pro.

I reserved this on audiobook and checked out a print copy from the library.  I had heard the narration was good so I wanted to give it a go, but when I compared it to the print copy, it wasn't the same!! Because of FOMO, I returned the audiobook and just read it in print. As I write this review, I'm currently reading the fourth book in the series, and from what I can tell, there isn't anything I can say for one book that I can't say for the rest. Because of that, I will continue to add the books to my "read" list, but won't add additional review unless they warrant it!

62. Three to Get Deadly by Janet Evanovich (3.5/5 ★)

In Three to Get Deadly, a "saintly" old candy store owner is on the lam---and bounty hunter extraordinaire Stephanie Plum is on the case. As the body count rises, Stephanie finds herself dealing with dead drug dealers and slippery fugitives on the chase of her life. And with the help of eccentric friends and family, Steph must see to it that this case doesn't end up being her last. . . .

As with any series, the story line is all kind of the same. But this series has been great for summer. Super easy, quick reads that don't leave you exhausted once you've finished them!

Reading Challenge: 62/50 books read in 2019

You can find previous book reviews here! As also, feel free to drop any recommendations!

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Summer 2019 Roadtrip - South/Southwest USA

I said I would be better about writing this summer, so here I am with the first non-book related post in quite some time. I've always journaled when I traveled, ever since I knew how to write, and 20 years later it is no different.

My first real destination for summer roadtrip #1 was Tucson, Arizona, but I was in no real hurry to get there.  This is the first time I haven't strategically planned out a trip with every detail. I booked my hotel for the first night two nights before I left and the only things I had planned was to make it to Tucson at some point, pick Sophie up at the Albuquerque airport on the 30th, and be in Amarillo for Darcy's wedding on the first. The rest of the trip was purely based upon what I felt like doing at any given moment, and because of that, I think this is one of the best road trips I have taken.

For the first 25 1/2 years of my life I was an over-the-top, Type A personality, down-to-the-minute planner. I finally learned that my plans mean darn near nothing because things can change at the drop of a hat with no warning, and this is by far, the best lesson life has ever taught me. This play-it-by-ear trip was the perfect ending to the first year of my life that I just threw caution to the wind and took whatever life threw at me as it came (all good things thankfully, its been a great year!!) Anyway, without further ado...

Sunday, May 26, 2019
Day 1: Middle Tennessee -> Dallas, Texas

My destination for day one was to ideally get to Dallas, Texas.  It was the only big city close to the halfway point between middle Tennessee and Tucson. Dallas was less than a ten hour drive, so I knew I would have plenty of time to stop and wander whenever I felt like.

My first stops were in Jackson, TN - only a 2 hour drive from home. I stopped to see the Statue of Liberty carved into a tree (Statue of Liber-tree!), Rockabilly Park (next to Rockabilly Hall of Fame which unfortunately was not open at 7:30 AM), an actual treehouse, and a road sign with my name on it. Its impossibly to find things with my name on it, so it was part of my 101 list for this year to find a street sign displaying it!


Next stop two hours later was Memphis, where I wandered the University of Memphis, saw the Bass Pro Shop pyramid, and explored Mud Island Park.


A couple hours from Memphis, I stopped in Little Rock, Arkansas.  I think the only thing I've done in Arkansas before was get an Icee from Burger King as a kid! The coolest thing I saw in Little Rock was the Old Mill Park.  There is an old mill (hence the name) and some cool bridges that look like they're made entirely of wood, but are actually completely cement, detailed to look like wood.

There was a girl there a few years my senior who stopped me to ask where I got my sandals because she liked them.  I throw this tidbit of info in here because if you know me, you know I had on my Adidas slides, and if you know that is what I was wearing, its probably because you've given me flak for wearing them everywhere all the time. THEY GO WITH EVERYTHING - CLEARLY ITS NOT JUST ME!!!


Also in Little Rock was a wall of mosaic storybook murals.

Stopping every two hours seemed to be my trend, so about two hours after stopping in Little Rock, I stopped again at the Arkansas/Texas border in Texarkana, which would be my last stop before hitting the outskirts of Dallas. I only stopped because standing directly on the state line is just something I guess I do (see Bristol TN/VA).

Finally, what I've been waiting for for the last 4 years - In-N-Out Burger! I plugged the destination into my GPS before I left Little Rock so I could find where the closest one was. The burger was just as good as I remember, though my fries seemed like they had been sitting there for awhile. Luckily, the burger was enough to fill me!

I got to downtown Dallas at about 6:30PM, so I had a couple hours to wander before the sun set. My goal was to find the three Selena murals and one taco mural I had saved in my Google Maps app. I definitely went into a few sketchy looking neighborhoods (sorry, mom). I also stumbled across a Prince mural next to one of them in an area that was blocked off for constructions...oops. #MinnesotaPride Then, I got lost getting to my hotel (for like the 22nd time this day) but directions have never been my strong suit. *shrugs*


Monday, May 27, 2019
Day 2: Dallas, Texas -> Tucson, Arizona

Monday was an early morning with less time for stopping and less to do anyway.  I had a 13 hour drive to make through the dry, dusty landscape of TX/NM/AZ, and the few places I wanted to stop were closed for Memorial Day anyway. My first stop was Abilene, a few hours from Dallas.  I got out to stretch my legs at the Dr. Seuss Park.  Dr. Seuss has no connection to Abilene, but the town has storybook characters spread about its downtown, and they just happened to throw in a Dr. Seuss themed park.


A couple hours past Abilene I stopped to see a replica of Stonehenge at the University of Texas - Permian Basin and grab an early lunch.

I've read enough travel blogs to know that there is a lot of debate between which is better - In-N-Out or Whataburger, so I wanted to see for myself. The burger at Whataburger was really good, but not better than In-N-Out! The fries were better, but to be honest, neither burger joint had great fries. A burger at both is enough to fill me, so the fry issue didn't really matter.  I got everything at both places as it is listed on the menu (meaning I didn't do animal style or anything extra) so it would be a fair comparison.

After lunch my goal was just to drive - only stopping once for gas and too many times for a potty break. This was a two Monster day, so I was very over-caffeinated. I wouldn't want to live in it, but I loved the landscape as I drove through southern New Mexico and Arizona.  I packed my passport just in case I accidentally ended up in Mexico.  I know that is an extraordinarily difficult thing to do, but if anyone can accidentally end up in a foreign country because they took the wrong turn, it would certainly be me.  I also kept contemplating crossing into Mexico because I was so close.  I have zero desire to go there, other than to be able to scratch it off of my map, but I figured traveling alone into Mexico was probably not my best idea.


Eventually I made it to Tucson around 6:30 PM - thank goodness for the two hour time change, I needed the extra hours! I stopped at a Wendy's for a Frosty for dinner (perks of a adulthood), and wouldn't you know it, I stumbled upon a Hawaii license plate! Growing up, my parents had a goal to take my brothers and I to all 48 continental states before I (as the oldest) graduated high school.  We flew to Florida once, but otherwise it was all road tripping! It was tradition to play the license plate game, and since they were few and far between, anytime we saw a Hawaii license plate, my dad would buy us ice cream.  It just happened to be fate that I saw one as I pulled into Wendy's for the Frosty I was going to get regardless!

Tuesday, May 28, 2019
Day 3: Tucson, Arizona

A day without (too much) driving! It was nice to finally take my time in getting up for the first time since summer break began.  We went to In-N-Out for lunch because it was National Burger Day. Funny, dumb blonde story - (I can own it) - we were leaving In-N-Out going to Becca's car, and I wasn't paying a lot of attention.  We got to a vehicle that was the same color/style as hers, and I opened the passenger door to get in, only to find someone sitting there, with someone else in the driver's seat.  I had opened the wrong car door. Teacher-on-Summer-Break brain at its finest, my friends. After lunch, we went and checked out the Pima Air & Space Museum. It was neat to see all the planes, but it was very limited in the "space" department.

Of course I had to track down Tucson's Selena and Prince murals, during which time we located a few others as well. For dinner, Becca and I went to Maico Restaurant Mexican Food, because in addition to being National Burger Day, it was also TACO TUESDAY!

Wednesday, May 29, 2019
Day 4: Tucson, Arizona

Started the day off with another lazy morning, then made the drive out to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum where we spent a few hours wandering the desert observing animals and admiring the cacti (or maybe that one was just me). We found birds building their nest, and got to see an employee feeding fish to an otter- it was World Otter Day!

As we were leaving, we spotted a rattlesnake on the sidewalk in front of us.  Luckily, a museum worker came by shortly after, and we informed her of the snake. Her words were, "there is a protocol for this." After which, she promptly turned around and walked away. Not wanting anyone else to stumble upon it, we decided to wait until the worker got back and warn anyone else who came near.  Sure enough, a group of older folks came up the trail behind as, and when I told them what was going on, the old man walked right on over to it. Becca told him to stop, because hello, rattlers are quick and we had a baby with us, but he kept getting closer to it, because he wanted to take a picture with it and "back in [his] day, [they] would have just picked them up by the tail!" (this is why we can't have nice things...)  Luckily the worker came back at that point, and we left before the old man did something stupid.

Becca has lived in Arizona for the majority of her life, and just the day prior I had asked her if she had ever seen a live rattlesnake in real life in the wild, and not in captivity.  She had told me she hadn't, so I guess I jinxed us. After seeing the rattler, I asked her if she had ever see a million dollars sitting in her kitchen.  She responded no to this as well, but unfortunately a million dollars did not appear in her kitchen.

Becca, Sean, and Bee took me out to an Italian restaurant called Oregano's for dinner. The cheesy garlic bread was to die for (read: covered in an excessive but totally necessary amount of garlic) and my baked ziti was tasty too!

Becca, Bee, and I

Thursday, May 30, 2019
Day 5: Tucson, Arizona -> Albuquerque, New Mexico -> Santa Fe, New Mexico

Another early morning, because I had to be to Albuquerque before 2PM and it was a six hour drive, plus I lost an hour. Totally worth it though, because I got to pick Sophie up from the airport! I met Sophie when we were both student teaching in Costa Rica, and she was flying in from Kansas to road trip with me to Amarillo for our friend Darcy's (another CR friend) wedding! The great thing about Sophie and I traveling together, is that we're so much alike.  We had zero plans for the next two days and just went wherever the road took us, which on this day, was to Sante Fe. Our first stop was Bumble Bee's Baja Grill for tacos, of course. 

Sante Fe was much smaller than either of us expected - roughly 80,000 people, but was 100% what you would expect New Mexico to look like. Homes and business alike were adobe architecture, and you honestly couldn't tell which building was a house and which was a business.  After eating, we booked a hotel, relaxed for a little while, and then took the shuttle down to the historical plaza where we wandered the shops and had a late dinner - Sophie breakfast for dinner, and caramel apple pecan pie for me because I'm a certified grown up and I can do what I want. We froze our tails off waiting for the shuttle back, and when we checked the weather, we understood why - it was 56 degrees! We couldn't believe it was that cold at the end of May! Back at the hotel we ended up turning the heat on because it dropped to 48 degrees that night - BRR! To be fair, the altitude of Santa Fe is roughly 7000 feet, and we were just trying to be happy that neither of us was experiencing altitude sickness.

Friday, May 31, 2019
Day 6: Santa Fe, New Mexico -> Roswell, New Mexico -> Amarillo, Texas

If you're wondering what is in New Mexico, the answer is junk, junk, and more junk.  With nothing on the agenda for the day, we decided to head to Roswell, New Mexico - the location of the most famous (albeit debunked) UFO claim.  It was a three hour trip, during which we saw a lot of empty fields, cows, and falling apart "towns."  Whenever we had service, we were constantly googling New Mexico facts, at which time we learned that we had been to the five largest New Mexican cities during this trip, and that the population of New Mexico is only 2 million, which explained a lot!! I would hate to break down in the middle of New Mexico, because it would take FOREVER for someone to get to you.

Roswell was interesting.  There were green aliens everywhere, though other than a UFO-themed McDonalds, there was no alien-themed restaurant.  They really missed the mark. Roswell is the 6th most populated town in New Mexico, falling just short of 50,000 people. We stopped by the visitors center, then toured the International UFO Museum and Research Center before getting lunch at Big D's Downtown Dive

I got a West Coast Taco (pita + crispy shrimp, asian slaw, chipotle dressing, pico) and garlic fries. We wandered around looking for t-shirts, but finding none that we liked, and with nothing else to do, we decided to head to Amarillo a day early.

The three hour drive through more of New Mexico resulted in even more nothingness and falling-apart-buildings.  It was so obvious when we hit the Texas border, because even though it was still country, it was obviously inhabited. We stopped at Cadillac Ranch on our way into Amarillo, then headed to the much anticipated Torchy's Tacos for dinner.  I came across Torchy's on a Facebook article and had saved it for whenever I was in Texas.  Torchy's is a small chain that started out of a trailer in Austin, and is limited to the TX/OK/AK region at the moment, though I see they're working on expanding into Colorado. We booked out hotel for the next two nights,  then binged on crappy TV - aka 90-day Fiance - because crappy TV is also one of our travel traditions.

Cadillac Ranch

Saturday, June 1, 2019
Day 7: Amarillo, Texas

Our goal for the day was to find t-shirts then chill by the pool until Darcy's wedding.  It is tradition that on all of our trips we get matching t-shirts. Who would have thunk that in the state more obsessed with itself than any other we would have such a struggle finding t-shirts! It took us all morning, and seven different store visits to find some, after which we grabbed some Chinese food to-go and spent the noon hour shoveling teriyaji chicken into our faces from Chop Chop, and bingeing on Forensic Files. Eventually we made our way out to the pool for a couple hours before having to get ready.

It was a sunny, 80+ degree day when we Ubered down to the wedding venue, but boy did that change quickly! Just after the bride and groom arrived, it downpoured and didn't ever seem to stop. By the time we caught a ride back to our hotel at the end of the night with our new friends (when I became the kind of person who just chats up strangers and becomes BFFs in five minutes of meeting them I don't know), roads were flooded and the interstates were at a standstill because of it. Our new friends informed us that it never rained like this in Texas, and that we needed to let them know the next time we were in town because Sophie and I are a blast! 😋

Sunday, June 2, 2019
Day 8: Amarillo, Texas -> Topeka, Kansas

Sunday was not an adventurous day, as we had to make the 8 hour drive to Kansas.  Since it wasn't too long of a drive, we were able to take our time getting up in the morning and packing, which worked out well after Saturday's late night. When we got to Kansas, Sophie took me to her favorite restaurant, where I had my first tamale pie! It was delicious!

Monday, June 3, 2019
Day 9: Topeka, Kansas -> HOME

Sophie had to go back to work today, and I had to get back home before nightfall because I had my name on the list for a free Maren Morris concert in Nash. I stopped at the halfway point, St. Louis, to stretch and refuel, and made it back with enough time to shower and head down to Nashville for what turned out to be an incredible show!

This was such a great trip. I loved getting to do most of the traveling on my own, but also getting to spend time with my faraway friends. I honestly didn't realize that it was abnormal, to travel on my own, until people were consistently telling me I was crazy, brave, etc. I'll be honest, it has zero to do with bravery, (but maybe a little to do with craziness) - for the most part it is purely selfish. If I travel on my own, I get to do what I want, when I want.  No stopping if I don't want to, stopping to do random things that most people would be bored with, etc. I got all the me-time that my introverted self needed, but also got to hang out with my friends that I don't see very often! It was great having Sophie with me for a few days of my travel because she travels like I do - with no plans and up for anything!


ONE - If you're roadtripping, download the app "Roadside Attractions." You can unlock one region in the US for free, but can open up the whole United States map for like $3. You can search specific areas for random roadside attractions, or can check it out with a map. This is how I find the random things to stop and stretch my legs out at!

My Google Maps
TWO - The Google Maps app allows you to saves destinations on it.  Whenever I find something or somewhere that I want to visit, I save it onto my Google Maps - both US and abroad.  This makes spur of the moment decisions super easy, and I almost never have to work to find somewhere to eat when traveling because my map is full of places!