A Year of Books


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

It’s coming to the end of the year and I’m proud to say I made my goal of reading 12 books this year! The plan is to continue this goal next year, but to step it up to 15 books. Remember that Book Outlet haul I did? Yeah, I really need to make a dent in that and I may or may not have requested more books for Christmas…

I’ve broken down the list of books I’ve read this past year, starting from most to least favorite. Titles with * symbol indicates that it was a book club selection.

  1. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
    This book was hands down my favorite read of the year and has definitely made it onto the list of my favorite books of all time. The story is captivating and original — about a nomadic group of actors who travel around putting on Shakespearean plays, but the story is so much more than that. It follows a cast of characters trying to survive after the collapse of modern civilization and how they try to hold onto the past while moving towards the future. There are so many layers to this book, but it all somehow seems to fit beautifully together. I can’t say enough good things about this book.
  2. Landline by Rainbow Rowell
    Landline ended up being an absolute surprise hit. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Rainbow Rowell and her writing, but had never picked anything up from her. I liked how the book is straightforward and easy to read, but at the same time Rainbow Rowell has a way of describing everyday life in a poetic and relatable way. This book was simply a joy to read.
  3. Vicious by V.E. Schwab
    This book was fun. I am a huge fan of stories that include magic or characters with extra ordinary abilities and this book hit the nail on the head. V.E. Schwab creates a great framework for one’s own imagination to fill in the blanks. I could imagine every scene clearly, like a movie in my head.
  4. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  5. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
  6. The Girl On the Train by Paula Hawkins*
  7. The Martian by Andy Weir
  8. The Good Girl by Mary Kubica
  9. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion*
  10. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty*
  11. Yes Please by Amy Poehler
  12. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  13. Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham
  14. Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo*
  15. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
  16. White Teeth by Zadie Smith*
    Confession: I didn't finish this book. I got about half-way through and honestly had to drag myself throughout it the whole time. I felt like there wasn't much of a storyline or that much was happening and I couldn't connect with any of the characters. It's hard for me to finish a book when I don't care what happens to anyone.

MY THOUGHTS ON | starting a book club


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

My desire to start a book club stemmed from my goal to read 12 books this year. I’ve had this goal before and failed miserably, but this year I decided I was going to follow through.

I’ve never been apart of a book club, let alone ran one so I didn’t know what to expect. I invited all the girls at my office to join and surprisingly, everyone was interested!

I started by sending out a survey email requesting book suggestions and asking what everyones availability was for meeting times. I received some great feedback and the book club was off and running.

Reading Between the Wines (our official book club name) started with the book The Girl On the Train and a month later we met, potluck style, after work.

The first discussion was a little awkward because it was the first time most of us had participated in a book club and no one wanted to be the first to say anything, but after a few guided questions (or perhaps it was the wine?) people started to open up. This discussion ended up being the most successful so far in terms of the number of people who participated (10).

Since then I’ve come to realize a few things:
  • Be prepared: have discussion questions ready before each meeting. I found some great websites by doing a simple Google search and was able to put together a list of topics to get the conversation started/flowing.
  • Keep expectations realistic: there are a select few who consistently participate, but that’s okay. As long as there is one other person I can share my thoughts with I’d call that a success.
  • Be flexible: after the first few books the participation level was low and so I sent out another survey asking people what their thoughts were on how the book club was run and someone suggested that the timeline be changed from four to six weeks. This allowed people more time to read and to get their hands on the book, especially those who were checking books out from their local library.
  • The book club isn’t an excuse to fail: the book club is a catalyst for what I want to achieve and ultimately I need to be responsible for whether I succeed or fail in reaching my goal.
If you’re curious, here are the books we’ve read so far:

P.S. I will be doing check-in on all the books I've read so far this year in a future post.

HAUL | bookoutlet.com


Saturday, August 8, 2015

I recently discovered bookoutlet.com and let's just say that I went a little crazy with the book buying. Some of the books are for book club (post coming soon, promise) and others I picked initially based on cover design and then plot summary.

I'm really happy so far with my experience with Book Outlet. I didn't spend more than $6 per book and as far as shipping goes, I received the books within seven days and in good condition. The cost for shipping is $3.99 for the first two books and $0.50 for each additional book in the U.S.

In the future I will be checking bookoutlet.com before Amazon, which is where I normally purchase my books because even with my Prime membership, I found some of the books I wanted on Book Outlet for less (including shipping costs).

Here are the books I purchased:
Note: the links above aren't necessarily the only option on the website. Some of the books come in hardcover, softcover, and scratch and dent (costs less) so I recommend searching the website for whichever version you prefer.

EAT | New Bohemia


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

This past weekend Kyle (the boyfriend and yes, he finally gets a name) and I went to New Bohemia, a locally owned and operated American craft beer hall. It was Kyle's second time there, my first, and definitely not our last.

We went to the Golden Valley location (they have another restaurant on Hennepin, in North East Minneapolis), which is in a old strip mall. I've driven past there before and didn't think much of it, but walking in I was pleasantly surprised by how nice it looked.

The space is open and the tables are set up family-style with large wooden picnic tables set up throughout the main room so if sitting next to strangers isn't your thing you might want to try checking them out during non-peak hours or taking your food to go. Kyle and I got there around 5 p.m. on Saturday and we pretty much had our pick of seating; we decided on a table outdoors since it was nice out.

As for the food, they specialize in sausages, but have other items on their menu like Strawberry Spinach Salad and Pretzel Bowl Soup, and of course they have a large selection of beer.

I ordered the Smoked Duck and Cilantro Sausage topped with caramelized onions and a mushroom sauté (pictured above) and Kyle ordered the Smoked Elk with the same toppings (you get two free toppings with each sausage). I thought the sausage was really tasty, especially when I added one of the mustard sauces the restaurant had sitting at the table. There were five sauces sitting on the table that we could choose from including a mango curry ketchup.

We also ordered two sides including the Belgian-style Fries with Hot Bacon Dressing and the Apple Jicama Slaw. The Hot Bacon Dressing was good. I mean really good. There were 10 other dipping sauces to choose from (you get one free one), but the bacon dressing sounded interesting and you can't go wrong with bacon, right?

The Apple Jicama slaw was okay. I wanted to like it more than I did. It just a bit too sweet for my taste so I probably won't order it again, but it did add a nice, light balance to an otherwise heavy meal.

As I mentioned above, I'm definitely going back to New Bohemia. The food was good and the prices were decent ($6 – $8 a sausage). Also, I like that there is a location in Golden Valley so that I don't have to drive downtown and pay for parking, which is always a plus!



Sunday, May 31, 2015

I'm back from my trip to New Orleans! Well, technically I got back a couple weeks ago, but I've just recently got around to sorting through my photos. Here's how my trip went:

The main reason for my trip was actually to attend a wedding and it was probably the most beautiful wedding I've ever attended. The event took place at Southern Oaks Plantation, which is a gorgeous space, both inside and out. I snapped some photos of the front of the building (the couple was married on the steps, in front of the door) while everyone was inside celebrating. Unfortunately I didn't get really good shots of the inside, but it was a nice space that felt intimate without being small. In the backyard there is a pool and a barn with a couple white horses.

Of course we had to visit Café du Monde since it's such an iconic part of New Orleans and none of us had ever had a beignet before. We stood in line for probably around 45 minutes and I'm glad I got to try it, but I don't think I'd do it again. I really liked the texture of the beignet, but the overall flavor was fairly plain. The powdered sugar did add a slight sweetness, but mostly it made eating the beignet incredibly messy.

Our hotel was right by the French Quarter so we walked around Jackson Square quite a bit. It was fun to see all the different artists and the pieces they had created.
We checked out the St. Louis Catherdral, which is a beautiful building. I'm not religious, but I do find cathedrals and other places of worship interesting.
For breakfast one morning we went to The Original Pierre Maspero's. I had the Two Eggs Breakfast that came with grits, which is now a new favorite food, and the boyfriend had the Louisiana Lost Bread, which is described as: Artisan bread soaked in sweet custard and grilled, topped with maple syrup, powdered sugar, fresh fruit and whipped cream (pictured above). That was really good.

The day before we left New Orleans we went to The National WWII Museum, which also turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the trip. We started off with the Beyond All Boundries movie (narrated by Tom Hanks), which is shown in the museum and is a good way to get background information on the war. It's a 4D movie, which means you get more of an experience. For example, when we saw and heard gunfire our seats would shake. There was another part where a soldier was writing home to a loved one and talking about Christmas, which at that point it started to snow. Yes, snow in the theater. It was awesome. I highly recommend this museum. The attention to detail and the visual execution of everything was just very impressive.

Our last meal in New Orleans was at Domenica and not only was our food absolutely delicious, but the service was great as well. The restaurant was a couple blocks from our hotel and we didn't know much about the place, but we got lucky. Seating had opened up (usually they're pretty booked) and we showed up just in time to catch happy hour prices (half-off pizza).

We ordered a Smoked Pork (mozzarella, red onion, Anaheim chili, salsa verde) and Clam (oregano, Calabrese pepper, garlic, olive oil) pizza. For dessert we ordered the Banana Zuppa Inglese and OMG was this amazing.

As far as where we stayed, most of our trip was spent at the Crowne Plaza, which is located on Canal and Bourbon Street. We stayed there because we got the group wedding rate. The location is great in terms of being right in the French Quarter and within walking distance of so much, but Bourbon Street reeks of urine and so did our hotel bathroom. The smell just never went away. Also, there was a consistent number of people just standing outside the hotel entrance making noise or trying to make money by street performing.

From a first glance the hotel looks nice, especially the lobby. Our actual room was smaller than we thought it was going to be, which was fine since we didn't plan to be in our rooms all day. The first morning we woke up to the sound of hammers. It turns out our window looked out onto a roof where they were doing construction. We could also hear people talking in the hallway or trying to get into their rooms, which wouldn't be so bad if they weren't drunk and couldn't figure out how to use a key card. The bed was comfortable, the sheets terrible; they felt like plastic and on our last day we discovered something unsavory on the mattress cover...

On our last night we stayed at a Hampton Inn & Suites, located just blocks away from the Crowne Plaza, but boy did it make all the difference. The area was a lot quieter since the hotel was mostly surrounded by local businesses and restaurants. The room itself was massive and clean. The bed was comfortable and the sheets were fluffy. It's a suite so you do get a fridge and microwave. Also, they serve complimentary hot breakfast, which includes make-your-own waffles, eggs, oatmeal, and more. I'd definitely stay here again if I ever find myself in New Orleans again.

Most of the things I talked about above are highlights, but there was also a lot I didn't like about the city. Honestly, I was in a culture shock most of the time. I didn't realize how much drinking there was or how many homeless people there were.

I'm sure there are beautiful parts of the city that I didn't really get to experience. I would have liked to have seen the city through the eyes of a local, but for the most part we did very touristy things. Overall I'm glad that I got a chance to visit New Orleans, but I don't have plans to go back anytime soon.

I'm Bad


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

I can’t believe my last update was in 2013. Seriously, where has the time gone?

Here’s a small update on the last couple of years:
  • Remember that short sale the boyfriend and I were waiting on? We got it! We moved in October 2013 and have been fairly happy with it. I say fairly because we love the space, but we’re sharing walls. I’m sure some of you feel my pain.
  • On the career front I’m still working at the same company, but the company itself has grown quite a bit — more people and a nicer, brighter space. The best part of this change is getting to meet and work with some awesome people.
  • I have taken on significantly less freelance work, but have maintained the same client for the last couple of years. I haven’t decided whether or not I will look for additional clients; having nights and weekends free is really nice.

I’m sure there are many more events and moments that I’m forgetting, but let’s just move on to what has been going on as of late.
  • I’ve made a goal to read 12 books this year…sound familiar? Well, I’ve actually made some significant progress on this. I even started a book club at work! I’ll do a separate post on this topic.
  • I’ve been working on rebranding this blog. The name will stay the same, but I’m aiming for a more cohesive look and feel. However, progress has been slow.
  • Something I have coming up and am looking forward to is a trip to New Orleans. I’m going for a wedding, but have plenty of days to explore. I’m hoping to take plenty of photos, but mostly I plan on eating. A lot.

I think that’s pretty much it. Hopefully my next post isn’t in two years!

REVIEW | Gingerhop


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Back in July the boyfriend and I hit up Gingerhop, an "East Meets North East" restaurant located at 201 East Hennepin Avenue for the very first time.

Source: Gingerhop

Right when you enter, you get a nice view of the bar area. We opted to sit in the restaurant section, which is just to the right of the entrance. The place wasn't busy at all since it was 2:30 p.m. on a Sunday (our favorite time to eat out). The busiest part of the restaurant was actually outside, where they have some tables set up.

We each ordered a drink, I got the mojito and Kyle got the Left Hand Milk Stout. I definitely recommend the mojito, it was really refreshing and clean. Kyle enjoyed the Milk Stout as well (it's now one of his go to beers).

As for food, we started with the Fresh Spring Rolls, which are filled with rice noodles, lettuce, carrots, mint, and basil. It came with a peanut sauce and they did not skip on the peanuts, which I love. I just wish the dipping sauce was a little less sweet and a lot spicier.

For my main dish I ordered the Banh Mi Sandwich which includes Fischer Farms pork loin brined and roasted in five spices, then shaved thin on a French baguette, with pâté, pickled daikon, carrots, cucumber, cilantro, jalapeño, and garlic aioli. This was also good. Not great, but good.

I do like that you get three options to choose from for a side —  sweet potato fries, wonton chips, or a side salad. Kyle and I both opted for sweet potato fries. The fries were a nice texture, but flavor-wise there was nothing special about them. The ketchup though...that was amazing. I know, I know. Ketchup, you ask? Yes. The ketchup made the fries. It's probably just a ketchup and Sriracha mixture, but I love it when restaurants put a twist on something classic.

Kyle ordered the Bruce Lee Burger, a Black Angus beef patty, swiss cheese, pulled pork, bacon, pickles and dijon mustard. This was awesome, but then again with a name like the Bruce Lee Burger you kind of expect it to be.

I think I was underwhelmed with my food choices because I chose items that I've eaten dozens of times before at other places. I will admit that I'm pretty spoiled when it comes to great Asian food because I grew up on it. I know what the real thing tastes like so I'm always comparing and contrasting. Also, I noticed that when it comes to Asian restaurants in my area, a lot of them cater to Minnesota tastes, which means less spicy and sometimes less seasoning.

Overall we both really liked the Gingerhop. The service was great and the food was good (and so are the prices). We will definitely be going there again soon!

UPDATE | July & August


Thursday, September 5, 2013

It's September! Say, what?!

Did anyone else think that the summer just flew by? Here in Minnesota we already got a taste of fall weather, well fall temperatures anyway. I won't lie, I kind of loved it, but whoa did it come out of nowhere.

I've been thinking about blogging lately, but work has been crazy. I've been putting in 12+ hour days and finally got some vacation time last week, which I spent mostly playing Candy Crush. It's bad. I'm addicted.

Besides my game addiction, here's what I've been up to these last couple months:
  • Enjoying some much needed girl time, which consisted of trying out Pinterest recipes, admiring the gorgeous kitchen we got to cook in, lots of laughter and catching up on life (a post coming soonish).
  • I picked up some freelance work via Facebook, of all places. Someone I had attended college with was looking for a graphic designer to redesign her company's business cards and I got the gig. I completed the project within a couple of weeks and got paid right away. I wish all my freelance jobs went that smoothly!
  • I said goodbye to my half-sister at her graduation party. She's off to study nursing at a college up north in Duluth, Minnesota.
  • The Great Minnesota Sweat Together... I mean Get Together, but seriously though it was bad. I only lasted a couple hours in the heat and then I was done. It was way too hot to eat and definitely too hot to be around thousands of people. Maybe next year. Or maybe not.
  • My boyfriend and I have been sitting on pins and needles waiting to hear back from the bank about a short sale offer we put in on a townhouse back in April or May. We won't get a final answer until September 20. Wish us luck!
That's pretty much the highlights of the past couple months. Once things start to slow down at work I might actually start blogging again. It's just tough to stare at a computer screen for most of my waking hours. 

REVIEW | Sonora Grill


Sunday, July 14, 2013

The boyfriend and I went to the Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis the other weekend for lunch and although there are quite a few different restaurants to choose from, we ended up choosing one we were already familiar with — the Sonora Grill.

We first fell in love with the Sonora Grill at the Minnesota State Fair, where they were one of the featured restaurants at the Midtown Global Market food stand in the International Bazaar. Specializing in Spanish and South American cuisine, this restaurant seriously knocks it out of the park every time.

I had the special — Chuck Roll Beef Caramelo with a side of Eggplant Fries. I thought all the food was delicious, but hands down the best thing were the fries; they were the biggest reason we choose the Sonora Grill over all the other restaurants because seriously, they are just that amazing!

My boyfriend had the Pork Guajillo Caramelo with Eggplant Fries and he thoroughly enjoyed his meal as well.

If you're in the Minneapolis area, hungry and looking for something a little different, you should definitely check out the Sonora Grill and the Midtown Global Market.

REVIEW | Conversation Pieces


Monday, July 1, 2013

Here's the thing, Pinterest can be an awesome place to gather inspiration but it can also be a very dangerous place...for one's bank account. Well, my bank account since I apparently have no self-control when it comes to shopping.

It all started with this top:

The bright pop of pink caught my eye and I clicked on the image just to see what the price was and much to my surprise it was listed at only $21! I ended up not actually purchasing this piece as I found some other pieces that I liked a little bit more.

Source: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4
  1. Perfect Shirt, Moonlit Pool
    Price: $29
  2. Grab A Paddle Pocket Tee, Heather Gray
    Price: $24
  3. Looking Smart Ankle Pants
    Price: $39
  4. Understatement Bracelet
    Price: $16
    Note: I actually bought the Understatement Necklace, but I couldn't find it on their website so the item must have sold out. The necklace looks identical to the bracelet except for the closure detail and of course it's bigger/longer.
Conversation Pieces is an online boutique that sells indie, mod and vintage inspired clothing accessories (made in the United States) at what I would consider reasonable prices. Let me break down the major points:
  • Website: The website is very easy to use and navigate. I like that there aren't a ton of items on their website, like Forever21, which makes searching the entire website very convenient.
  • Pricing: Most clothing items are around the $30 mark and not much on their website goes above $100.
  • Sizing: I found all the pieces fit true to the measurements listed next to each item. For the pieces I purchased, I would compare the sizing to Forever 21. I usually purchase shirts in a size medium no matter where I shop and found that worked out well here. However, I always recommend reading customer reviews whenever possible.
  • Shipping: I ordered my items on the weekend so of course that means waiting a little longer, but shipping was fast (a few days) once the weekday hit. An email confirmation does get sent when you place your order and when it gets shipped. I also have to note the beautiful way the packages are wrapped — with lace and a lollipop!
  • Quality: All the clothing items I ordered (pictured above) were good quality. It's not J. Crew quality, but for what I paid for each item I think the price is right. I really love the shirts. The materials are super soft and comfortable to wear.
  • Washing: I've only washed the striped, Grab A Paddle Pocket Tee, and it did shrink. This was completely my fault though as I did not read the care directions. I never do. Oops! The shirt contains rayon which is probably why it's so comfortable and why it shrunk.
  • Online presence: I'm adding this category simply because I like what the company has done with their Facebook page, blog and email newsletters. Each of those things gets updated regularly or daily with new store items and the owner's life happenings. If you "Like" their Facebook page you even get to go along with the owner on her buying trips and your input will help to stock the store!
If I had to say anything negative about them it would be that I wished they carried shoes. I'm curious to see what kind of styles they would carry since I like everything else they carry and I have a difficult time finding shoes I like.

Overall I love this online boutique. The prices are great and so are the clothes. If you're like me and tend to gravitate towards simpler pieces with unique details (like the Perfect Shirt, #1), I think Conversation Pieces is a good place to look. They carry a lot of basics and what I'd call "no-fuss style".

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