Books I Read in 2013: The Good and The Bad

One of the 101 Goals in 1001 Days I really stuck to during the challenge was reading more.  I used to read all the time when I was younger and somehow got away from it when mandatory reading for school came into the picture.  I thought I’d share my favorites of the books I read in 2013 in case any of you are looking for recommendations!

Favorite Books Read in 2013Must Reads:

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us {My Rating: 5 of 5} – This is not a diet or health book, but more of an in depth history of our food and how the products we all know came into being and developed throughout the years.  It also explains a lot about food science, why products taste and look the way they do, why they are advertised the way they are, and more.  No judgement is passed on the companies or the food items they produce, but cold hard facts are presented which will make you think twice before buying another processed “food” item.  By far my favorite book of the year.

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar {My Rating: 5 of 5} – This book is sort of like a more intense version of Chicken Soup for the Soul.  It’s a collection of the best letters written to “Dear Sugar,” an anonymous advice columnist later revealed to be Cheryl Strayed, and her responses to those letters.  Both the questions and advice given are so raw and honest that they will likely change the way you feel about your own life.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette {My Rating: 5 of 5} – Written in the form of compiled emails, official documents, doctor’s bills, magazine articles, and more from the perspective of a daughter searching for her mother, this book made me laugh out loud on many occasions and kept my interest throughout.  I think I read it in about three sittings, which is quite unusual for me.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson {My Rating: 5 of 5} – I had read and loved every John Green book thus far, and this was no exception.   It is a cute story about two boys with the same name who wind up meeting each other, finding love, and putting on a musical.  It’s funny and heartwarming and honest at the same time.  The chapters alternate between the perspectives of each of the two Will Grayson’s, as does the novel itself, as John Green alternates writing every other chapter with David Levithan.

Recommended:

Paper Towns {My Rating: 5 of 5} – Another John Green book.  Surprise, surprise.  Hopefully he comes out with another in 2014 or I’m out of luck.  It’s funny and mysterious and is such a great coming of age young adult novel.  I wish he had written these books when I was a teenager.  This is a much easier read than The Fault in Our Stars and won’t leave you sobbing through the chapters.  Recommended.

I Wear the Black Hat {My Rating: 4 of 5} – Chuck Klosterman is ridiculously great at writing about pop culture in ways that no one else can.  In his newest book, he questions the modern understanding of villainy and philosophizes about why human reactions to these villains are so varied and unpredictable.  This book would receive 5 stars from me if I was a bit older, as  some of the pop culture references were before my time.

Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls {My Rating: 4 of 5} – We listened to the audio book for this which is voiced by David Sedaris himself  on our road trip this summer.  It’s hilarious and touching and perfect for road trips or commutes since each chapter/segment is a collection of short personal essays.

The Kite Runner {My Rating: 4 of 5} – An awesome book, but not for the faint of heart.  I have not yet seen the movie, but I plan to see that and read his other books at some point.

The Great Gatsby {My Rating: 4 of 5} – A classic, of course, and a great quick read just before the Leonardo DiCaprio movie came out.

Not Taco Bell Material {My Rating: 4 of 5} – A great book for any Adam Carolla fan.  Many of the stories have been discussed throughout his radio shows and podcast episodes, but there are some new gems and it’s a much more organized history of his life.

The Firm {My Rating: 4 of 5} – I had never read a John Grisham book and the mister recommended that I read one.  It was definitely a captivating thriller and a good intro to John Grisham.  It’s not my favorite genre, but it was an enjoyable read, so that’s saying something!

Skippable:

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail {My Rating: 3 of 5} – I read this because I loved Tiny Beautiful Things so much.  It was definitely an interesting true story, and made me cry a few times, but overall I felt no sympathy for the author.  Essentially, she was just a very ill-prepared and immature woman dangerously hiking alone on the Pacific Crest Trail.

The Bell Jar {My Rating: 3 of 5} – Yes, it’s a classic, but I simply did not find much joy in reading it.  It’s a depressing book and one that many can relate to, but I felt sort of nonchalant about whatever came Esther’s way.

Dad is Fat {My Rating: 3 of 5} – Love, love, love Jim Gaffigan.  He is definitely my favorite comedian.  The problem with the book is that it features almost exclusively jokes from his stand up routines, which I already know quite well and prefer to see him deliver on stage rather than read it.  Others who haven’t seen his stand up may enjoy this more, especially if they have kids.  I’d recommend checking out Mr. Universe or Beyond the Pale, two of my favorite of his standup specials, instead.  Your abs will get a good workout.

Eleanor & Park {My Rating: 2 of 5} – In my opinion, this was the most overrated book of the year!  It topped many “best book” lists and caught my eye enough times in the bookstore for me to pick up my own copy.  I was so overwhelmingly disappointed with it, though.  I didn’t really care what happened to any of the characters and didn’t find their actions to be at all realistic.  This is the only book I actually regret reading from this year.

If you have any favorite book recommendations to add, feel free to let me know in the comments!

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DIY Plumbing Pipe Console Table

Why, hello there!  Long time no blog.  Things have been a bit busier around here as of late and I haven’t done as many projects around the house.  For one, I started a Master’s program, which has taken up quite a bit of my after work computer time.  I can only stand looking at a computer screen for so many hours a day!  I’ve also been enjoying the nicer Michigan weather lately by running and reading outside more and doing landscaping around the house.  We’ve made some great progress on that front and I’m excited to share more about that soon.  Although I’ve neglected it for a while, I still love this blog and want to make it a point to update it whenever I have something worthwhile to share.

Today, I want to share my latest project, a DIY console table for our entry made of a few items from the hardware store!  I had been planning to build something like this for a while and the version I loved the most was the one I found on Besotted Blog.

You may need to customize the dimensions to suit your space, but here is my shopping list and general instructions…

From Home Depot I picked up:

  • (16) 3/4″ pipe flanges
  • (1) 2″x12″x10′ wood board (cut into thirds at HD)
  • (8) 16″ lengths of 3/4″ black plumbing pipe (cut to length and threaded at HD)
  • (1) box of black drywall screws (length needs to be less than the thickness of your boards and head needs to fit into the holes of the pipe flanges)

Items I already had on hand:

  • Sandpaper
  • Minwax Dark Walnut Stain
  • Minwax Polyurethane
  • Black spray paint
  • Some rags for the stain
  • Paintbrush for the poly
  • Electric drill

The process was easy.  I wiped down all the pipes since they had oil on them from being cut and threaded at the store.  I gave the flanges and the pipes a few coats of black spray paint.  I sanded the boards and did a coat of stain and poly on each of them.  After letting them all dry thoroughly, I screwed them all together.  Make sure you screw the flange onto the pipe and then attach it to the board; you will not be able to screw a threaded pipe into two already mounted and stationary flanges at the same time!

Here is the finished product with some very rough styling:

This stuff was all stolen from around the house, so they’ll need to go back in their places.  I’d love to get a larger piece of art, a lamp, and some more accessories. I think I may put my sister’s work of art, which currently hangs over our mantle, above my new shelves.

kalah blue curtains fireplace art

This project was so easy.  I love the vintage industrial feel of it, and the price was only around $85… cheaper than IKEA, really.  I’d love to see your version if you try it!

Posted in Decor, DIY, Tutorials | 5 Comments

Big Lebowski Themed Surprise 30th Birthday Party

The mister turned 30 this week and I really wanted to do something special for him, so we threw him a party the weekend before his birthday based on his favorite movie, The Big Lebowski!  I had way too much fun planning it.  Seriously, give me a good theme party to plan, and I am a happy camper.  My partner in crime Krysten helped me out immensely {as per usual} and I couldn’t have been more thrilled with how it turned out!

We had so much delicious food thanks to many generous friends offering to bring things to go along with the theme!  The Lebowski art on the wall was printed from the internet.  Links to most of them can be found on this Pinterest board.  My sister hung them all pretty!  The bowling pins I found at an antique show… 6 for $10!

For dinner, we had “Chinaman Chili” in the crock pots, both meat and vegetarian, homemade cornbread, and” Shomer Shabbos Slaw.”  Many thanks to Matt for the chili and cornbread!

We had “Green Toenail Pigs in a Blanket” thanks to Kysten… {The toenails are almond slivers dyed with green food coloring and the blood is red food coloring.}

“Pacifist Pita Chips” and hummus…

And of course, snacks were placed around the house in Folgers cans in memory of Donny.

For dessert, there were “White Russian Cupcakes” with coffee flavored frosting thanks to Krysten.  I made little cupcake pins to mimic the pin girl headdresses in the dream scene.  Also, some adorable bowling ball and pin lemon cookies thanks to Teresa!

The Stranger’s drink of choice, Sarsparilla {root beer}, was served in a bowling bag cooler.  Fixings were also available for The Dude’s favorite drink, the White Russian.


I found a great Big Lebowski Monopoly game board which I had printed at Costco and laminated for fun table decor.  Oriental rugs were also printed off and laminated for coasters around the house.

There was Wii bowling {with customized Mii’s of the Dude, Walter, Donny, and the Jesus}!  We did, in fact, Wii “roll on Shabbos.”

In true Lebowskifest style, I invited guests to dress up as characters from the movie.  Here are the Dudes… That rug really ties the room together.

The Strangers…

Walter Sobchak…

Maude Lebowski and a Pin Girl…

{For those wondering, my Maude Lebowski costume consisted of a gold dress from Asos and a viking helmet and coconut bra from Amazon.  I sprayed the bra gold, drew on bowling ball finger holes with a sharpie, and used fishing line to tie it on instead of twine.}

And all the costumed folks together!

Thanks to all of our friends who joined in the celebration!  I was blown away by the costume participation and everyone’s willingness to help with food and setup since it had to be kept a secret.  What a fun theme party!

If you throw your own Lebowski Party, I’d love to see!

Posted in Parties | 7 Comments

What I’m Reading

I’ve been on a major reading kick this summer.  There’s something awesome about sitting outside on the patio in the evenings devouring a good book!  Here are the books I’ve read thus far…

The Fountainhead is now one of my favorite books of all time. It was written long ago (1943) but is still so relevant in today’s society.  Each of the main characters is so well-developed, and it’s not hard to determine which people in your own life are, for instance, of the Keating or Roark variety.  It’s probably the longest book I’ve read (sad, I know), coming in at around 750 pages, but it was so worth it.  It’s inspiring without even trying to be. Read this book; you will not be sorry!

Straight Man is a funny tale about a college professor’s mid-life crisis. It touches on love, health, academia, and more and it had me laughing out loud in some parts. I’d like to read some of Russo’s other books; this one was good, but I didn’t necessarily feel a great connection to it. (Perhaps I couldn’t get into it because I had just finished The Fountainhead, which I loved so much.)

The Fault in Our Stars is about a couple of kids with cancer. I did not know this when I started reading it; the mister said he had heard it was good, so I decided to try it out. It was a very good story, but I do not do well with sad stories. I may or may not have been sobbing at certain points. Knowing what I do now, I still would have read it, but I would have timed it so that I wasn’t finishing it up on our camping trip!

Gone Girl is a thriller about a marriage gone terribly wrong.  It was captivating throughout and I couldn’t put it down.  I liked that it was very dark and had realistic suspense, and I didn’t have to suspend my disbelief to build a good story.  (I feel that many thrillers and mysteries throw a curve ball out of left field that no one could expect or believe to explain things, which is so obnoxious.)  Overall, I thought the ending could have been better. I felt like it was a letdown at the end of a really good story.

These last four books complete goal #32 on my list of reading 10 books.  (Not gonna lie, I did not think I’d finish that goal…)  I’m glad I’ve rediscovered the love of reading I had when I was young!

What have you been reading lately? I’m looking for some recommendations!

Posted in Books | 1 Comment

Life Lately

It has been a crazy month! Thought I’d give a quick update on the happenings…

We went to see Florence + the Machine at the Fox Theatre in downtown Detroit on July 31.  She’s been on my list of people to see live for years and she was AMAZING!

We went downtown to go to Eastern Market again with our friend Krysten; little did we know that it was closed on Sundays!  Instead, we wandered around the city and had lunch at Campus Martius.

My aunt texted me a photo of a girl she saw on TV at the Tiger’s game asking if it was me.  The resemblance is uncanny.  I think she may have found my Doppelganger!

My sister and I went out for a morning filled with sparkling ciders, sugar scrubs, and mani/pedi’s thanks to a Travelzoo local deal.  We weren’t super pleased with the place, and wouldn’t return, but it was nice for the half off price and we got some quality girl time!

I’ve been eating a vegetarian diet for about a month now.  So far, so good. {I did cheat once for sushi, though!}  I plan to stick with it for a while longer.  I can’t say that I’ll never eat meat again, but I at least want to try to minimize my meat consumption for the long term.  For example, who knew that Morningstar sausage patties are just as delicious as regular sausage?  And who knew that my favorite Thai food dish, red curry from Khom Fai, would taste just as good with tofu as with chicken.  Here was a delicious salad I threw together… chickpeas, cucumber, tomato, and feta!

I dropped in at IKEA to get a replacement frame for one that Eddie broke, and fell in love with these pillows.  The $10 covers are a heavy kilim-like weight and are removable for washing.  The $6 pillow inserts feel high quality like down feathers.  I’m loving them!

My cousin married his sweetheart this past weekend and we had a nice time celebrating with friends and family.

Hope you’ve been enjoying the end of summer as well!

Posted in Around Town, Life | 1 Comment

Updated Desk Nook

I finally got around to updating the awkward nook we have in the great room next to the stairs.  You may recall that it looked like this before:

I loved my campaign desk, but my kalah blue chair would not fit and it was visually heavy for the small nook.  I moved the desk to the guest room and the LOVE print back to the bedroom above my campaign chest.  Here’s what the space looks like today:

I used a white lacquer parson’s desk and the space feels much more open.  It’s the “Student Desk” from Overstock.com, which is almost identical to the West Elm Parson’s Desk {except it’s over $200 less!}  The coral pouf is from the Privet House line at Target.  They were originally $80, but they were on clearance in store for $12!  I couldn’t pass up that deal.  I actually bought a second to put next to the wingback chair in the great room.

My sister is a fantastic artist and has gifted me various pieces of art over the years.  I finally have a place to display them!  The frames are IKEA Ribba frames and the faux deer head is from Z Gallerie thanks to my fantastic brother-in-law!

Here is a closer view of the gallery wall and artwork.  The large drawing is obviously our baby and the smaller piece is of the Public Market Center in Seattle.

I absolutely love this nook now.  It’s a great place to work on my Etsy orders, blog, and even work from home occasionally.  Eddie loves that he can lay under this desk; he couldn’t with the last one!  Total cost was $13 for the frames, $12 for the pouf, and $130 for the desk {I used a 10% off coupon code}.  I already had the chair and the deer head was gifted.  Not too shabby!

Posted in Before and After, Decor, House Tour | Leave a comment

Creative Photo Book Uses {and Free Photo Book Deals!}

From time to time, free photo book deals pop up around the web and I like to take advantage of them as often as possible.  Today I’d like to share some creative photo book ideas beyond just documenting everyday life.  {Also, at the time of writing this post, there are two free Shutterfly photo book deals you can take advantage of! Read on to find out how.}

1.  Vacation Book

Narrow down those hundreds of vacation photos from your last trip to your favorites and create a book that will help those memories last forever.  Add descriptions of when and where you visited as well as any memories you want to capture.  This is actually what I plan to do with my two free books; I’ve just been waiting for a deal! 

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2.  Cookbook

Take some photos when you make your favorite family recipes and add the ingredients list and instructions to the book with the text box features.  You’ll end up with your own personalized family recipe book {which is also great for gift giving!}

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3.  Art Portfolio

If you have children, this would be a great way to hold on to some of their art for the future without worrying about them standing the test of time.  Simply scan the artwork onto a computer and add the images to a photo book.  Add the date to remember the age they created the masterpiece!

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4.  Children’s Book

Another great idea for children is to create a personalized book for them to read at storytime.  Have them draw pictures to accompany their favorite bedtime story, and add your story captions to the pictures in the photo book.  {If they are old enough, they could write and illustrate their own story.}  Or, help them learn their ABC’s with a custom alphabet book.  Use family pictures to illustrate each letter, one per page; for example, D for the family dog or G for Grandma Sally.

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5.  Guestbook

A photo book makes a more affordable and more personal guestbook for any occasion.  Center a favorite picture on each page, leaving a large white border around it for guests to sign.  This works great for weddings as well as other parties.  My friend Krysten utilized this idea for her grandpa’s baseball themed surprise 80th birthday party.

And now for the smokin’ hot deals! There are two offers for free 20 page 8×8 hardcover photobooks from Shutterfly. You will just need to pay shipping which is about $7-$8. The original value of the books are $29.99! I was able to add both codes to my account for a total of two free books!  Click on one or both of the following links and it will take you to the free book offers:

Offer 1: Baby Center

Offer 2: Anderson Cooper

I hope I’ve given you some inspiration to think outside of the box when it comes to these photo book deals.  Happy crafting!

Posted in Deals, Gifts | 2 Comments