Sunday, September 29, 2013

Book Review: South of Broad

Though we are much alike (I'd like to say in all the best ways), I never thought that my father and I would have the same taste in books. That opinion changed when he passed off a couple of Pat Conroy novels to me at our last family gathering. I'd never read Pat Conroy before, but because of the gentle urging of my father and the promise of sharing in something that he had enjoyed, I decided to open South of Broad and at least read the intro on the plane ride home.

Two pages in, I was immediately hooked. I didn't know where the story was going to take me but I didn't care. Pat Conroy's style of writing is so beautiful, so elegant that I clung to every word. Each sentence in South of Broad is so cleverly crafted and descriptive that I found myself marveling at his writing genius.

South of Broad takes us through the story of Leo King, a charming yet troubled southern boy that has a deep love for his hometown of Charleston, South Carolina. Because Charleston is one of my favorite places in this world, I enjoyed Conroy's constant praise of the city's magnificent architecture and deep-rooted history. But what I really loved was how different and well-developed he made each of the characters in this novel.

Leo is the ugly younger sibling to a beautiful, smart, kind, and loving brother Steve. When tragedy takes Steve away from the family, Leo and his parents crumble. The loss of Steve weakens the family bond and sends Leo spiraling downward. We meet Leo at the age of 17, just as he is starting to build his life out of the messy hand he was dealt.

As Leo starts to build a life of happiness and normalcy, his stars are crossed with a group of teens his age that are too attempting to start over. He first meets Niles and Starla Whitehead, two orphans from the hills of North Carolina. On their first encounter, Niles and Starla are wearing orange jumpsuits with the word "Orphan" stitched across the back and are both handcuffed to a chair to ward off their attempts of running away. The orphan siblings have had a rough go at life; as they grow we watch how this turns one into a strong, good person and destroys any chance of happiness for the other. After meeting Niles and Starla, Leo is instructed by his parents to greet the new neighbors across the street. Walking up to their house with a plateful of cookies in his hand, Leo is dumbstruck by the beauty of his neighborhood's newest set of twins. Trevor and Sheba Poe are gregarious, dramatic, and painfully attractive. Their beauty is only disrupted by the horrible life that they, too, have led. After living a childhood so corrupt that they constructed an entire life out of make-believe, Sheba and Trevor are imaginative to the likes of nothing Charleston has ever seen before. Their characters take the city, and at times the reader, by surprise often. When Leo leaves the twins he goes on to meet his parents at the club for lunch. Upon arriving to the club Leo sees that his parents are dining with two of Charleston's most aristocratic families. The children of these families, Molly and Chad, have been kicked out of their private schools for being caught with cocaine. They, along with Chad's sister Fraser, must now transfer to Leo's school, of which Leo's mother is the principal. The elite attitude of these teenagers is palpable, and though they grow into likeable characters, their class always comes first. After all of these encounters, Leo goes on to meet Coach Jefferson--his high school's first black coach. Coach Jefferson has recruited Leo to be to co-captain of the football team with his son, Ike. The start of the relationship between white Leo and black Ike in the 1960s is rough. The friendship that evolves between the two men, though, is inspiring and life-long.

Leo is the core that brings all of the aforementioned characters together and the glue that keeps them friends for life. The dynamic of friendship between each character is so singular and intricate that they skirt the line of fiction and fact. Conroy constructs his characters in such a way that I felt as if they could walk out of the pages and be real. And, I wanted them to be. I loved each person in this book so much that I paced myself in reading the 500+ pages so that I could hold on to everyone and their story a little bit longer.

South of Broad is not only a brilliant tale of friendship and love in every form but a strong reflection of human character in tough times. In addition to the regular wear and tear of heart break, the characters of this novel live through the era of the Civil Rights Movement in the south, the AIDS epidemic of the 80s in San Francisco, a devastating hurricane, and the deaths and murder of people close to home. Through it all, though, they had each other, and that's where the beauty lies. In the words of Helen Keller, "alone we can do so little; together we can do so much."

When I finished South of Broad, I hugged the book to my chest and expressed silent gratitude to my father for bringing this great story into my life. In mourning the end of my time with these characters, I'll give myself time to reflect on all of the wonderful people in my own story and all of the experiences that we've shared. Once I feel that I've given that sufficient time, I'll move on to the second Conroy novel my father gave me. You better bet that you'll be hearing from me on that one, too.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Ham and Potato Soup

It’s officially my favorite cooking season! To celebrate the first day of fall, I whipped up a batch of this ham and potato soup. If you’re looking for something delicious, comforting, and fairly quick to prepare, give this soup a try!

4 cups peeled and diced potatoes
1/2 cup diced celery
1 finely chopped yellow onion (about 1 cup)
1 cup diced cook ham
3/4 cups water
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
½ tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
2 cups milk
5 tbsp butter
5 tbsp all-purpose flour

Combine potatoes, celery, onion, ham, water, and chicken broth in a stockpot over high heat. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium. Cook over medium heat until potatoes are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the salt and pepper.
In a separate saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in flour and cook until thick, about 1 minute (whisk constantly during this time). Slowly stir in milk. Continue stirring so lumps do not form for about 5 minutes, or until mixture thickens.
Stir the milk mixture into the stockpot and cook soup until heated through. Serve immediately.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Why I Recommend Marriage Prep to Everyone: Part II - Alice + Warren

(If you’re new to this three-part series, click here for part I)

Alice + Warren
The underlying and continuous theme of our 9 months of marriage preparation was communication. Garrett and I have always put an emphasis on open communication, which is what I believe has strengthened our relationship to what it is today. What Pre-Cana and a little bit of maturity taught us, though, was how to communicate.

Our methods of communication vastly improved through taking the Foccus Pre-Marriage Inventory test, meeting frequently with our priest, getting together on multiple occasions with a long-time married couple within the church, and attending weekend-long seminars. What I am going to primarily talk about in this post is the Foccus test, how it connected us with a sweet elderly couple, and how they introduced a simple practice into our relationship that has improved our daily lives.

Through answering a series of questions, the Foccus test brings forth how you and your future spouse value certain topics in life such as faith, communication, family, cohabitation, finances, careers, sexuality, friendships and more. It fuels discussions centered on those important topics while offering communication and conflict resolution skills, all designed to strengthen your relationship in both the short- and long-term.

A lot of Catholic churches will have you review your Foccus tests in depth with your priest. Our church, however, has you discuss your answers with a long-time married couple (which I thought was a much better approach. After all, how well can one counsel marriage if that person has never, in fact, been married?).

The husband and wife that we were scheduled to meet with were named Warren and Alice. They had been married for 55 years and had copious amounts of children and grandchildren. They were the first to admit that their marriage had endured its fair share of ups and downs and were there to listen and offer gentle guidance on resolving conflicts that Garrett and I had. At the end of each meeting (we met with them three times), they asked us to work on one or two new techniques in the time between our next gathering and report on how they worked. One of Alice’s suggested techniques, which I’ll talk about in a moment, is something that I still practice today.

Allow me to give you a bit of a background first.

Garrett has an unbelievable capability to zone out. If he’s playing a game, reading something, watching TV, or merely deep in thought, the whole world disappears around him. Sometimes, you can scream and shout and cry to get his attention, and he won’t answer you. Other times, he’ll reply and hold a full conversation, which he’ll immediately forget having. I would grow upset at his unresponsiveness or forgotten commitments; in turn Garrett would become angered by his crazy fiancĂ©e’s antics of screaming at him or “putting words into his mouth”. Needless to say, the combination of yelling and forgotten discussions became a frequent frustration in our relationship.

For this frustration, Alice had a simple cure.

“Why don’t you try to engage him with physical contact?” she asked sweetly. “Try tapping him on the shoulder or squeezing his arm and saying, ‘Garrett, I need to ask you something’. Wait for him to pause what he is doing, make eye contact, and let you know that you have his full attention.”

This. Was. Genius.

How had I never come up with that before? It wasn’t that Garrett wanted to zone me out; it just happened. It wasn’t that I wanted to scream and shout; it just happened. So why, after years of behaving in ways that neither of us wanted to, did we not try and change what was happening?

Because we didn’t realize it, that’s why. Often, you get so wrapped up in routine that you come to expect and accept things to happen in a certain way. Which is exactly what was occurring in our relationship: in our routine and overall happiness with each other, we failed to be mindful of how certain interactions affected our relationship. And that is where it helped to have a third set of eyes—in this case, Alice’s.

So now, almost two years later, I am still tapping Garrett on the arm to register his attention before speaking. He stops what he is doing, turns to me and says, “I’m listening.” There is no shouting, there are no hurt feelings, there is no frustration. With the simple gesture of making physical contact before speaking, our relationship has improved vastly.

That’s my example of how Pre-Cana (and Alice) taught us how to communicate better. Had we not taken the time to sit and realize our frustrations and been in the presence of somebody capable of offering good advice, it is possible that we may still be communicating in our broken way. And though that broken communication only happened for at most 60 seconds a day, eradicating it from our relationship is one of the best things that we have done for each other. Now, we use that 60 seconds a day to laugh, hug, or…wait for it…have engaged, meaningful conversation.  For the amount of time that I’m planning on spending with Garrett as my husband (which is for the rest of my life, in case you were wondering), we’ve just traded about twenty five thousand and five hundred minutes of frustration for twenty five thousand and five hundred minutes of happiness. How would you trade your time?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Liebster Award! Connecting Bloggers

A Day in the Life has been nominated for the Liebster Award by my fellow blogger friend Denise of Fueled By Vegetables. I'm so grateful for the nomination--nothing makes me happier than having readers out there!
Here are the rules:

After being nominated, each nominee must:
  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself
  3. Answer the 11 questions the blogger that nominated you has created for you
  4. Nominate 11 new bloggers
  5. Post 11 questions for your nominees to answer (Sofia is allowing us to use her questions instead of creating new ones, thank you!)
  6. Let all the bloggers know that they have been nominated; but you cannot nominate the blogger that nominated you.

Here it goes!

11 Random Facts:

1.  I’m a real life ginger.
2.  I met my husband when I was seventeen. Crazy, right? (We tied the knot last July, when I was 23.)

3.  I have 33 aunts and uncles and somewhere around 60 cousins. Can you say Irish Catholic?

4.  I’ve lived in 4 states—Connecticut, Rhode Island, Michigan, and Arizona—and am planning to add a fifth to that list soon.
5.  I love to cook, but still consider myself a newbie. I’m learning how to tweak and master recipes and then attempting to redo them in a healthier, cleaner way.
6.  One of my mottos is “dress for the role you want to play in life.” I’m a lover of all things fashion, though my personal style is always evolving. Above all things, I’d call my style feminine.
7.  I’m the youngest of three daughters. And the favorite ;-)
8.  I am obsessed with BBC/PBS movies and television series. Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Downton Abbey, Mr. Selfridge, Call the Midwife…the list goes on and on.
9.  I love to read. To me, there are few better pleasures in life than reading a good book.
10.  I’m obsessed with my yellow lab, Mollie. And a little sensitive to the fact that she’s getting old.
11.  I laugh too loud, and often. Some days, I may laugh more than I actually speak.

11 Questions:

1. What’s your favorite thing to wear? My forest green skinnies, moccasins, and a tucked-in top.
2.What’s your favorite holiday? Thanksgiving! Any day that involves people over-indulging themselves with food ranks high in my book.

3. What’s your guilty pleasure? Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Yeah, you read that right. I’ve got all of the seasons on DVD.
4. Veggies or fruits?  Yes and yes!

5. If you could pack a suitcase to anywhere right now, what would you pack and where would you go?  I’ve been dying to travel to Cinque Terre, so that’s where I’d go. I’d pack my husband, a good book, and fabulous outfits.
6. Have you ever lived in another country? Where and for how long?  Not yet!

7. What are your 5 must-have foods? Pizza, pasta, bananas, Goldfish crackers, and anything in a tortilla (have I mentioned that I’m a fat kid at heart yet?)
8. What is one of your biggest regrets?  I live without regrets. Outward and onward!

9. What do you want your legacy to be?  Once I actually finish something, I’d love to be known as a wonderful novelist.
10. What is your dream job?  Being a (successful) novelist and writer! Anything that allows me to live creatively and travel.

11. Would you rather live on the beach or in the mountains?  The beach. I need the ocean.

Here are my nominees:
A 20-Something's Journey of Travel and Soul Searching

Naked on a Roller Coaster

Modern Gentleman

A Southerner in San Francisco

Ashley DaCruz Photography


Freckles Chick

Sew Many Ways

My Life, Laughs & Love

Natalie Probst

Vintage Revivals

…start reading!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Wedding Reception Picture Display

This easy DIY picture display will personalize a casual wedding reception in a fun and affordable way. All you need is a roll of twine, wooden clothes pins, and pictures. Scroll down for pointers.


Feature pictures of the bride and groom in various phases of their lives
Try to have equal amounts of photographs for the bride as you do the groom
Remember, it's their day--avoid embarrassing snapshots!
Include family members and friends in some of the photos (especially of those attending the wedding)


Thursday, September 5, 2013

DIY "Just Married!" Banner

A while back, my sister emailed me with a few pictures of banners/crafts to look out for that would add personal and fun touches to her wedding. I always love me some Etsy, but wanted to try a few things on my own. I started with a small project: a banner.

Just Married!

Making this "Just Married!" banner was incredibly easy and inexpensive. The whole project cost about $11.50 and took roughly an hour to complete.

To create it, I used the free printable letters from the Shanty 2 Chic blog. Doing this was super simple--all you have to do is click on the link, open up each letter, and print. No downloads or difficult steps necessary.

I grabbed a packet of colorful printer paper at Michael's. The packet consisted of different bright shades of polka-dotted and gingham paper and cost about $6.

After printing out each letter on a different sheet of paper, I cut around the black triangular border. Again, straightforward and simple.

From there, I used a single hole punch (about $1.50 at Michael's) to put holes in the top corners of each letter. Once punched, I strung twine ($4) through the holes and....voila! The sign was completed.


I absolutely loved the way it looked hung up against this red toolshed at her farm reception!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Pennsylvania Farm Wedding

This summer open and closed with my sister’s two weddings. Yes, that’s right: one sister, one husband, two weddings. The first was their dream, a destination wedding in Belize over Memorial Day Weekend. The second wedding fulfilled their wish of having all family and friends involved and was held in Pennsylvania over Labor Day Weekend. The Pennsylvania wedding also gave Lizzie and Kevin the chance to get married in a Catholic church, something that was too difficult a process in Belize.

Bags were packed, flights boarded, and road trips started to bring family and friends together for the wedding this past weekend in Somerset, Pennsylvania. I landed in Pittsburgh Thursday evening, met up with my father, and continued on to our hotel, The Georgian Inn.

The best part about Lizzie and Kevin having two weddings was that it brought us all together twice in a matter of months. With all of us stretched out across the country, we don’t get to see one another as much as we like. We all welcomed the opportunity to meet again so soon.

The reception was held at Kevin’s family farm, a property that has belonged to them for generations. It offered the best setting—the bright red barn, sparkling pond topped with geese and the lush green fields filled with chickens, turkeys, a miniature donkey, and sheep were absolutely picturesque.



Hydrangea-filled mason jars, burlap runners over white linens, hay bale seating areas, wine barrel cocktail tables, and more came together to create the perfect farm wedding reception. And, oh. Did I mention the bluegrass band? They were the icing on the cake.


Although I got much enjoyment from stomping my feet to the bluegrass band, hugging Ava the mini donkey, stealing extra cookies from the dessert table, and playing an ongoing game of horse shoes, nothing came close to the pure, simple joy of being with family. 

It was so wonderful to reconnect with my Uncle Aidan’s family from Ireland, whom I haven’t seen in about six years (and! Hearing the music that they performed at Lizzie and Kevin’s wedding ceremony was my favorite part of the whole day). I enjoyed getting to spend time with Garrett’s parents, brother, and my soon-to-be sister-in-law—it’d been too long since seeing the latter. It was nice to chat with the uncles and aunts that are spread out all over the country but came to be together for this special occasion. I loved spending time with my Michigan and New York cousins, laughing and gasping over stories, some remembered and some forgotten. I liked getting to meet Kevin’s extended family, to see the roots that he has sprouted from.  It was great to have my parents around, to again feel the comfort of being someone’s child after living life in the adult world. I loved being able to squeeze my nieces and nephew whenever the whim hit me.  I delighted in giggling with my sisters all day long. 

In the words of Maya Angelou, “I sustain myself with the love of family.” And so, Lizzie and Kevin, since you’ve proved to be so good in bringing family and friends together, I ask you this: 

When is wedding number three?