Charlotte, the female CEO you left behind in the Amazon

Quick Lit February

Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg.  4 out of 5 stars.  I know this book got a lot of negative publicity when it first came out, but I think everyone in the professional/business world — women and men – should read this book.  We all know that there are tons of women graduating from law, business, and medical schools, but hardly any women CEOs — this book talks about the reasons why.  It inspired me to take more control of my career moving forward.

Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White.  (Spoiler alert.)  3 out of 5 stars. This was the latest read-aloud chapter book that we finished with my son, and I have to say… I didn’t like it as much as I remembered.  I also remember being really sad at the end, but my son didn’t seem to upset by Charlotte’s death. Maybe because our dog was on death’s door about a month ago so we’ve been talking about death a lot?  (Our dog has made a miraculous recovery.  The equivalent of your 90 yr old grandma breaking her hip and being able to walk again.)

The Girl You Left Behind, JoJo Moyes.  3 out of 5 stars.  I liked this book, but I do NOT recommend the audiobook.  The French accents at the beginning drove me crazy.  I actually almost quit listening to it, and then the second storyline started, and I decided to stick it out.  The book is the dual storylines of a French woman during WWI occupied France, and an English woman in modern-day London who owned a painting of the French woman, and fights to keep it when her relatives claimed it had been stolen in the war.  Good love story and legal drama.

State of Wonder, Ann Patchett.  4 out of 5 stars.  If you like Ann Patchett, you’ve got to read this.  It’s my favorite book from her since Bel Canto.  (I still like Bel Canto better, but this is a close second.)  A pharmaceutical research scientist heads deep into the Amazon to check on the progress of her company’s most promising new fertility treatment (and the eccentric doctor heading up the research) as well as find out the truth about the mysterious death of her colleague who had previously been sent there with the same mission.  If you enjoy stories that get into issues of medical ethics – this is a must read.

Whatcha readin’ lately?  I need a new novel…

Life According to Steph
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Reading School Dropout

It’s been quite a while since I wrote about what I’ve been reading, and here’s why:  Not all my reading choices have hit the mark lately, and I’ve abandoned as many books as I’ve started.  Ain’t nobody got time to read a bad book.  (Okay… “bad” isn’t fair.  Not right for me right now.)

Abandoned:

  • Eleanor & Park (audiobook) – I know so many people love this book, but it just drove me crazy.  I thought the Eleanor character was interesting, but I didn’t buy Park being as insecure as he was portrayed in this story.  Call me a curmudgeon, but the pure teenager-y nonsense of this book just bugged me.
  • The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (audiobook) – I love mysteries but this one just wasn’t for me.  I have to blame the audiobook narrator as much as the story… super annoying, grating voice.
  • Pastrix – recommended to me by so many people, but I don’t have a painful church experience in my past, and I’m probably more like the straight-laced “church lady” than the tattooed folks that the author calls “her people.” It sounds like she’s doing an awesome thing, though, don’t get me wrong.  It just didn’t speak to me.

Here are the books that I DID finish in the past month or so.

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Parnassus on Wheels (audiobook) – a short, sweet book about a traveling bookseller that almost every booklover will enjoy.

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The Mapping of Love and Death (audiobook) – Quite possibly my favorite Maisie Dobbs mystery since the original!  The past few books in the series have been good, but I really liked the mystery part of this one, and the story arc of Maisie’s personal life is finally taking a positive turn.

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Little House in the Big Woods – I loved the Little House books as a kid, and now I live 15 minutes away from the farm where Laura Ingalls Wilder lived as an adult and wrote the books.  I thought this would be a great place to start for read-aloud chapter books with my almost-5-year-old, but I was a little worried it might be too girly.  Boy was I wrong!  Wild animals, horses, hunting, and maple-syrup-making are very exciting to little boys.  And I’d forgotten how each chapter is almost its own little stand-alone short story, perfect for reading over several days.

What books have you abandoned lately? 

In other news, I’m now on Goodreads (mostly to help me keep track of what I’m reading) — are you?  Let’s be friends.  =)

Life According to Steph

 

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Reading while Driving #bookchat

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Reading while driving is the best!  No, not like that guy!  Listening to audiobooks, of course.  I love to read, but it’s hard to find the time with little kids always demanding your attention, so a wonderful side-effect of my long commute time has been a re-immersion into the world of books.  I’ve been listening to quite a few books on CD to pass the time during my new commute.  Here is a brief description of each one from my library’s website, and my thoughts.

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The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

After their daughter Maribel suffers a near-fatal accident, the Riveras leave Mexico and come to America. But upon settling at Redwood Apartments, a two-story cinderblock complex just off a highway in Delaware, they discover that Maribel’s recovery-the piece of the American Dream on which they’ve pinned all their hopes-will not be easy. Every task seems to confront them with language, racial, and cultural obstacles. At Redwood also lives Mayor Toro, a high school sophomore whose family arrived from Panama fifteen years ago. Mayor sees in Maribel something others do not: that beyond her lovely face, and beneath the damage she’s sustained, is a gentle, funny, and wise spirit. But as the two grow closer, violence casts a shadow over all their futures in America. Peopled with deeply sympathetic characters, this poignant yet unsentimental tale of young love tells a riveting story of unflinching honesty and humanity that offers a resonant new definition of what it means to be an American.

In one way, this story so mundane, just the everyday lives of people and their normal struggles with school, work, relationships. But if you’ve never thought about what it’s like to be an immigrant in the US, this book will give you a very intimate look into that world. Each chapter is written from a different character’s perspective, and I loved that the recording used an ensemble cast to represent all the different voices of the story.  Read it and expand your world.

 

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The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern, narrated by Jim Dale

Waging a fierce competition for which they have trained since childhood, circus magicians Celia and Marco unexpectedly fall in love with each other and share a fantastical romance that manifests in fateful ways.

My thoughts — All the narrators I’ve heard so far have been excellent, but Jim Dale is in a category all his own.  How can I describe his voice?  I think listening to him say “chocolate” might actually be better than eating chocolate.  Amazing.

This book was so fun to listen to. The author created an amazing magical world that I became totally immersed in while reading. I was disappointed in the ending though — it was as if the author got so focused on writing about the setting that she forgot to come up with a resolution for the main plot line that was as well done as the rest of the book. Worth the read – I think Harry Potter fans would especially enjoy it.

 

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Life after Life by Kate Atkinson

What if you could live again and again, until you got it right? On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born to an English banker and his wife. She dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in a variety of ways.

My thoughts — I abandoned about halfway through — listening to the main character die over and over again was just too depressing. I also found it really predictable — I correctly guessed twice how she would die next, and I am really not good at that sort of thing. Two thumbs down.

 

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Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier

At the age of twelve, under the Wind moon, Will is given a horse, a key, and a map, and sent alone into the Indian Nation to run a trading post as a bound boy. It is during this time that he grows into a man, learning, as he does, of the raw power it takes to create a life, to find a home. In a card game with a white Indian named Featherstone, Will wins a mysterious girl named Claire. As Will’s destiny intertwines with the fate of the Cherokee Indians, including a Cherokee Chief named Bear, he learns how to fight and survive in the face of both nature and men, and eventually, under the Corn Tassel Moon, Will begins the fight against Washington City to preserve the Cherokee’s homeland and culture. And he will come to know the truth behind his belief that only desire trumps time.

This book is the perfect antidote to too many British novels and narrators in a row! I love historical fiction and Charles Frazier does it very well (remember Cold Mountain?). Highly recommend, especially if you’re interested in Native Americans, the Trail of Tears, or the Civil War time period.

Linking up with Jana, Steph and Anne.

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Picture books for picky eaters

picture books for picky eaters

My reading so far this summer has been a little disappointing, but thanks to our local library’s summer reading program, my 4-year-old son has been really excited to visit the library and pick out new books.  Normally he gravitates towards books that I don’t always enjoy reading (another early reader about Superman, really?) but he found some great ones recently — and several that were on the theme of food and picky eaters.  I know that’s a common issue for kids this age, and these books have a really fun take on the topic.

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Put it on the list! by Kristen Darbyshire.  A funny picture book about what happens when you run out of essentials like milk, cheese and syrup. #pancakeswithketchup

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How Martha Saved Her Parents from Green Beans by David LaRochelle. Would Martha still refuse to eat her green beans, even if it were the only way to save her parents from the Mean Green Bean kidnappers? I loved the silly concept and drawings in this book. #mustachioedgreenbeans

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A Few Bites by Cybèle Young.  In this elaborately illustrated book, an older sister spins fanciful tales of dinosaur rampages fueled by broccoli and aliens fueling up with orange power sticks (carrots) to convince her little brother to eat his meal. #evensistersgetfrustratedwithpickyeaters

If you’re looking for more great book recommendations for the 3-6 yr old crowd, check out The Deliberate Reader’s Early Readers category.  I regularly check out library books for my son based her her recommendations, and she hasn’t steered us wrong yet.

Isn’t the summer reading program the best? What are you (or your kids) reading this summer?
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A girly reading month

Found by Micha Boyett. This memoir documents Boyett’s transformation from an earnest teen believing that she needed to earn God’s love by saving the world, to a weary-but-wiser young mother learning to love her “ordinary” life. She uses the Benedictine hours of prayer to structure the story and inform the deep understanding that no life is ordinary.

The Nesting Place by Myquillyn Smith.  Home decorating is not one of my strong suits, but Smith’s tagline “it doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful” really resonates with me. I love how she focuses on using what you have and letting your personality shine through to make your home a welcoming place for your family and friends. #imallaboutthequirky

Wonder Women by Kate Harris (from the Barna Frames series) addresses the same issues as Found, but throws statistics at the issue where Found uses poetry. The statistics do nothing to clarify the issue (Yep, moms are both stressed and happy. We’re weird like that.) and the privileged viewpoint that the narrative portion of the book is written from seems unhelpful at best (“sometimes God just provides… I happened to run into our old part-time nanny and she was available!”). I liked the author’s suggestion that we abandon “balance” and instead seek “coherence” from all the disparate parts of our lives. But reading this book didn’t help me figure out how to do that. I guess I should have known what to expect from the book’s tagline: “You don’t have to do it all. You really don’t.” Gee thanks, that’s real helpful. (Disclosure: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own.)

If you’re looking for a recommendation for your next book, I’d highly recommend looking at the other posts linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy‘s Twitterature.  I have gotten some really great suggestions (and found some wonderful blogs) from this group.  I know I’ll be checking it out to make my summer reading list.  What’s on yours?

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Books for Mom about Being Mom

books for mom about being mom <-- great recs for your favorite mom-of-littles for Mother's Day

Photo Credit: ~PhotograTree~ via Compfight cc

I read pretty slowly these days (a full time job and two kids can do that to you) but I still love to read, and I thought I’d share some of the books I’ve been reading lately.  As I started to make this list, I realized that even though there are all different kinds of books on this list, they all center on a common theme — motherhood.  I guess it’s no surprise that that’s what’s on my brain lately.  Here we go with some quick twitter-style reviews.  (Please forgive my silly hashtags.  It’s a sickness.)  I hope you find something in here that sounds interesting to you!

Your Four Year Old: Wild and Wonderful by Ames & Ilg.  At this point in my parenting career, I don’t want a book to tell me what to do, I just want to know what to expect.  This short but info-packed volume (part of a series that runs from Your 1 Yr Old to Your 10-14 Yr Old) does just that. #all4yearoldsareweirdbutfun #notjustmine

Glitter and Glue by Kelly Corrigan.  There’s nothing like being thrust into a mothering role to make you appreciate your own mom.  In her carefree early 20s, Corrigan suddenly found herself channeling her no-nonsense mom (the “glue” of the family) while nannying for a motherless family in Australia so she could afford the globe-trotting adventures she had planned when she left home. #perfectmothersdaypresent (Trigger warning: moms with cancer.)

The Blue Jay’s Dance by Louise Erdrich.  Yes, it’s another memoir about a first year of motherhood, but this book is so much more – essays on nature, history, and how to be a writer in the midst of mothering  needy babies and challenging teens all intertwine in this #hardtodescribebutsogood book.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion.  Okay, this one isn’t about motherhood at all, but this quirky romantic comedy is a fun, quick read.  It’s my most recommended book right now.  #SilverLiningsPlaybookmeetsBigBangTheory

Linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Twitterature.

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Book review: Whatever You Grow Up to Be, by Karen Kingsbury

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Whatever You Grow Up to Be is a Christian children’s book (ages 3-5) that is about all the possibilities that a young boy’s future holds.  (There is companion book geared towards girls.)  The story follows a boy’s life from a child to an adult, talking about how he could grow up to be whatever his interest is at that particular age (firefighter, football player, musician, etc.) and how he can be a godly man in many different ways.

The illustrations are very colorful and lively, and my almost-4-year-old son particularly enjoyed seeing the family pets on each page, which bring a little extra humor to the drawings.  I liked that one of the “if that’s what you grow up to be” scenarios was being a dad, since that’s my son’s current answer when I ask him what he wants to be when he grows up.  (Then he slightly revised his answer to be a “poppa dentist.”  Poppa is what he calls my dad…and then I died of cute.)

Based on the title, I was hoping for something exploring some more unique professions, not just a standard little kid playing firefighter –> teen playing football –> college kid majoring in business.  Interestingly, the last page of the book has some wonderful illustrations of men in all different kinds of interesting professions — chef, astronaut, farmer etc. — so I wonder if that angle was considered at some point during the writing or editing of the book.  I would have also liked to see some diversity in the people illustrated in this book.

Overall, I give it 3 out of 5 stars.  My son has asked to read it more than once, but he mostly loves the illustrations.  This book seems to be written mostly for the parent reading the story to appreciate, rather than for the child listening to it.  For example, the story ends with the mom in the story (now a grandma) helping her son’s baby take his first steps.  I think that’s a little overly sentimental for most 4 year olds to appreciate.

Hey FTC!  BookLook Bloggers sent me this book for free to review.  This is what I think about it.

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Books on my nightstand, February 2014

twitterature Feb 2014

Have you been reading any good books lately? I feel like I have tons of books I want to read, but almost no time to actually read them. (I blame the Olympics!)  I did manage to get a few books read before the torch was lit, though.  Here are my short (but slightly longer than 140 characters) reviews for Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Twitterature link-up.  (If you love to read, this is the BEST place to get great suggestions for books to read.)

Stitches by Anne Lamott. A book of short stories that explores how you can continue to have faith during tragedy, personal or collective. (I think this book was a response to the Newtown elementary school shootings.) “Remnants” was my favorite essay — I loved the imagery of sewing together pieces of old fabric into a new creation as a metaphor for how we pick up the pieces after going through challenges or changes in our lives.

Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coehlo. This was a book club pick that I really struggled to get through. It’s a fictional version of the author’s own experience of being institutionalized as a young man, and his view that unhappiness in the world is caused by trying to conform to the expectations of others. In a mental institution, everyone already thinks you’re crazy, so there are no expectations and people can discover what truly makes them happy. Too philosophical (and just plain weird) for me.

10 Lessons to Transform Your Marriage by John Gottman. Hopefully you don’t need all ten lessons in here, which range from “We Can’t Move Past Your Affair” to “We Only Have Time for the Kids Now.”  There is probably something in here for every couple, and several chapters you can skip, which makes this a quick, helpful read for anyone who wants to improve their marriage. The chapter entitled “I Shouldn’t Have to Nag” really resonated with me.

And for something a little different this month, I also wanted to write about the book that I received in the We {Heart} Books book exchange. I signed up for this exchange in January, and I was paired with Jessica of Life in the White House. We each filled out a questionnaire about the type of books we like, as well as some books on our wish list. I included The Blue Jay’s Dance on my wish list, which another new blog-friend, Rudri, had recently recommended to me and Jessica surprised me with it!  She said she hadn’t heard of the book until she saw it on my wishlist…and since she very rarely splurges on a new book for herself (and figured I was probably the same), she decided to treat me to something on my wish list!  Wasn’t that thoughtful of her?  I am really looking forward to reading it.

And last but not least… here’s a shameless plug for you to enter the giveaway that I’m running for some great Wildtree spices and a bread mix.  (And you can read all about the freezer meal workshop I attended, too!  Giveaway runs until 2/18.)

What’s a book you love that most people haven’t read?

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“Survival Mode” Meal Plan, January 26-February 1

Breakfast for dinner... Mmm...

Breakfast for dinner… Mmm…

I’m going to be solo parenting this week, so here is my loose plan for some very easy meals that I can either pull out of the freezer, prep ahead or make quickly while entertaining a 3 yr old and holding a baby.  (Note to self: move the Ergo carrier into the kitchen for easy access!)

  • Tacos! So easy, especially if I chop the veggies ahead of time. Plus, Dragons Love Tacos, dontcha know?
  • dragonsBreakfast for dinner — scrambled eggs w/ veggies and pancakes (although after reading this excellent article, What I Make for Dinner When I Don’t Feel Like Making Dinner, maybe I’ll make french toast instead?)
  • Italian chicken (freezer meal), garlic rice, and roasted vegetables
  • Order pizza… the easiest dinner of all!

I’m also following the old “It Takes a Village” adage and letting friends invite us over for dinner a couple of times.  I get a break from cooking, our kids have fun playing together and we get to visit!  Wins all around.  (I loved this article that talks about how the “village” advice applies just as much to taking care of yourself as it does to taking care of kids.  I struggle to ask for help, but I’m never sorry when I do!)

What are your go-to meals when you’re in survival mode?

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Rocking out to Morning Edition, travels through Spain, and having an Army Ranger as a mentor

Today I’m exchanging questions with Jen of Laugh Often, Live Much for the Ask Away Friday link-up.  Jen is a first grade teacher and she blogs about her family, teaching, and a little bit of everything else in her life.  She wrote some great questions for me!

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1. Since 2014 is just getting off the ground, what is one of your hopes for the year that lies ahead?

I hope that 2014 brings happiness and peace to my family.  Bringing a new baby into the house, even an easy-going one like Sam, can shake things up a bit.  And I’m hopeful that 2014 may be the year when my husband finishes seminary (or gets really close?) and can finally *just* be a husband, father, and pastor.  For me personally, I am always hopeful that I can become a more patient, loving person.

2. What is the best book you read in 2013 and why did it earn a spot on your “Best of…” list?

That’s a tough one!  I read a lot of good books in 2013.  This really was the Year of the Mystery for me, so I think I’m going to have to give the honor to Maisie Dobbs, since it reignited my love of reading mystery novels, it’s the first book in a nice long series that I’ve really enjoyed, and I find myself recommending it a lot!

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3. If you could go on an all-expenses paid trip to anywhere in the US, where and why?

I would go to Phoenix to visit my friend Kelli and escape our horribly cold winter weather!  I hear Arizona is lovely this time of year.  And I want to see some cacti, of course!  (They are nothing short of magical and otherworldly to this midwestern girl!)

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4. How about anywhere in the world and why?

I would like to take my husband on a tour of my favorite places in Spain.  I spent a year studying in Pamplona, Spain when I was a junior in college, and I would love to revisit some of the favorite places I visited, especially if I could manage to take in some of the festivals that I missed.  We’d fly into Barcelona and spend a few days enjoying the Mediterreanean weather, walking on Las Ramblas, and taking in the Gaudi architecture.  Then we’d head south to Valencia to eat some of the most amazing oranges in the world and the Las Fallas festival (which conveniently takes place the night before my birthday!)  Of course I’d have to eat some paella while I was there.  Then I’d head south again to Sevilla for the Feria de Abril and watch lots of flamenco dancing.

Photo Credit: marcp_dmoz via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: marcp_dmoz via Compfight cc

5. Tell us about one of your mentors.

Hmm… this question is making me think perhaps I need to seek out more mentors in my life.  Someone who I learned a lot from was my former boss from when I worked at the Airport.  He was unlike anyone I’d ever met — in the course of his life, he had worked as a cowboy, a bartender, an Army Ranger in Vietnam, and then worked his way up through the ranks from an airport firefighter to an airport director.  He was about 6-foot-5 and around 60 years old when I worked for him.  On the surface, he was a pretty gruff dude.  He easily could have thrown his weight around and gotten his way through intimidation, but he was actually a really thoughtful person who took time to consider all the different facets of an issue and tried to do the right thing that would benefit everyone, whenever possible.  I always really admired that about him, and tried to follow that philosophy in my work (and life!) as well.

6. What is your hobby of choice, why, and how did you get into it?

I’ve dabbled in a lot of crafty hobbies, but my true love is knitting.  I took it up along with half the female population of America in the early 2000s (anyone remember Stitch-n-Bitch?), but I stuck with it long enough to get pretty good at it, then I just kept trying to knit new things and try new techniques.  I love knitting because it can be really relaxing or really challenging, and it produces something that is really practical (especially in polar vortex years!)  I’m so very happy that I was crazy about knitting wool socks a few years ago… my sock drawer is very well stocked.  Here are some things that I’ve made… these were all gifts for a single Christmas if you can believe it!  (Clearly — before I had children.  My knitting time is much more limited these days.)

7. How do you feel about hot dogs?

Normally I never eat them (blech blech blech), EXCEPT when they’re cooked outside over a campfire.  Somehow that makes them okay.  With lots of mustard.  Never ketchup.

8. So far, what as been your favorite age, and why?

I’m feeling pretty good about the age I’m at right now, but I really loved my late 20s.  I was  an awkward teenager but I feel like I finally came into my own around 25 or so.  I got back into running, my husband and I had moved to a town we really enjoyed, we had enough disposable income to have fun and travel a little bit, and no kids yet, so we could do stuff like go to happy hours after work, concerts, etc. without having to deal with all the babysitter logistics.

9. What music station/style is usually playing in your car, and how loud is it?

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Oh man, you’re really making me reveal my true nerdiness here… most of the time my car radio is set to the NPR station so I can listen to Morning Edition or All Things Considered during my drive to work and back.  When I get too depressed by the news, I flip over to the Top 40 station for a dose of cheesy pop/dance music.  Crank it up!

10 What are five staples on your grocery list every week (or month)?

Milk, fruit, eggs, bell peppers, and cheese.  (When in doubt, I can always make an omelette for dinner, I guess?)

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Thanks to Jen for these great questions — I hope you enjoyed learning all these random facts about me.  Head over to her place if you want to read her answers to my questions!  And now I have a question for you — which would you rather attend, a festival of flamenco dancing, or a festival where they light huge paper-mache statues on fire?  (Yes, this is a real thing.  Check it out!)

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Linking up with Real Housewife of Caroline County and Bold Fab Mom.

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