Thursday, May 27, 2010

Book Review: The Help

In a nutshell: GO READ THIS BOOK!!!!!!  



This was an amazing read.  I couldn't put it down.  I sacrificed sleep to read.  I would wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it.  I would get excited for my lunch at work, not so I could eat but so I could read.

Yeah, it was that good.

I don't want to give too much away but here's a brief and basic book blurb (say that three times fast).  This book is about black maids in Jackson Mississippi in the early 1960's, right on the cusp of the Civil Rights Movement.  It really follows three women: two maids Aibeleen and Minny and recent college grad, white "Miss Skeeter."  

Not only was the plot really interesting and intriguing, but the book had such a wonderful message about life and love and what's really the difference between people regardless of race and gender.

That's really all I want to tell you about it, I really don't want to give anything away.  Go to Barnes & Noble and buy it.  Or go to your local library and borrow it.  Or find a friend who read it and loved it and borrow their copy.

Like now....go get going!  READ IT!  You'll love it!  I promise!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Book Review: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

 A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and I have a long and torrid history.  It was one of my mom's favorite books.  When I was 12 or 13, my mom recommended a few times that I read it.  I don't know why I wasn't interested (I was either going through a phase where I rejected nearly everything my mother suggested or I had recently discovered Harry Potter), but the reason doesn't really matter, I didn't want to read it.  

My mom must have mentioned something to my aunt, who is, for lack of a better word, a book pusher.  She's the type of aunt who gets it stuck in her head that you need to read one thing or another and will.not.stop.talking.about.it until you've read it.  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, unfortunately, fell under this category (I also never read the Chronicles of Narnia and almost didn't read Harry Potter for the very same reason).  She's recommended this book to me in just about every card she's sent me in the approximately ten years since this whole fiasco started (which is a lot, my family practically keeps Hallmark in business).  I think she thinks she's being funny, when in reality she has turned me off to more books than she's encouraged me to actually read.


That's why I threatened my family with death when I decided to finally read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.  My aunt was and is not to know that I finally decided to pick up and read this book.  I don't even want to know what sort of an outcome that would have.  


Anyways, it was good.  I enjoyed it.  You know how sometimes you hear tons and tons of things about how great a book/movie/tv show/restaurant is and so you read it/watch it/eat there and its almost never as good as you thought?  Well that kind of happened to me with this book.  I enjoyed it, I really did.  But I didn't think it was one of the greatest books I've ever read, which is how it was always described to me by my mom and aunt.


If you haven't read it (or heard about it incessantly for the better part of your formative years) A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a coming-of-age story about Francie Nolan, a third generation American.  The book follows her childhood and adolescence in turn of the century Brooklyn (where else?) and shows the trials and tribulations of living in poverty at the time.

I recommend it.  I'm not sure its something I'd rant and rave about for years on end until someone's willpower collapsed and they caved, but I would recommend it to a friend.  I wish I'd read it earlier and had told my aunt and mom to mind their own beeswax.

Music Monday: Night Moves

When I started this blog, I had this idea that every Monday I'd post something about a song or artist that I was currently enjoying.   

Well we all know how good I am about updating this....so here it is two months later and not one Music Monday post.


Since there's no time like the present, here goes:

The song that I have been love, love, loving recently is Bob Seger's "Night Moves."  Its an oldie but a goodie.  It really is, I promise.

I love songs that tell a story.  I love songs that could be poems (enter my love affair with a certain Mr. Springsteen).


"Night Moves" tells the story of a casual summer fling between two teens/kids in their early 20's.  I love this song.

It makes me want to drive around on a hot summer night with the windows down, wind in my hair, radio loud enough to hear over the air rushing through the car.  It makes me want to act as young as I am and as irresponsible and carefree as I'm not.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Weekly Weigh In

I've been skipping this post for the past few weeks.

When I went away to Charleston I gained two pounds and I was kind of disappointed in myself and I was kind of embarrassed to .  I had had a great plan to surviving the trip, but I found myself straying from it while I was away.  In hindsight, I realized that 2 pounds is the least I've ever gained after being away for a few days.   

After a few more weeks of hovering around the same number, I climbed on the scale last week.  I was down THREE POUNDS!!!!!  I never lose three pounds!  I was ecstatic!  That brought me to 21 total pounds lost - right where I had been before I started letting the weight creep back on, before I used my last semester of college as an excuse to celebrate every day with anything I wanted to eat.  I was thrilled!

After my stunning success, I was pretty sure I was either going to gain or maintain last night at weigh in.  I mean, three pounds in one week is a lot at this point in the game.  I've gone three months and not lost three pounds (no, I'm not kidding).  I expected the gain and prepared for it.  I made my peace with my impending gain: I knew I had done a good job following Weight Watchers food-wise and I was getting in tons of exercise, but still, our bodies sometimes have to take a minute after a big loss to catch its breath.


I headed to weigh in last night not expecting anything.  I stepped into the social hall of the church where my meeting is held and stripped down to my athletic shorts and a tank top.  Off came my flip flops as is my pre-weigh-in routine.  I stepped on the scale and waited for Susan, my sweet Weight Watchers receptionist, to quickly and quietly say "Well, you're up just a little bit this week, is everything ok?"  


Instead I stepped on the scale, braced myself, and stood in disbelief as Susan looked up at me and nodded with a smile on her face as she said, "Looks like somebody had a great week!"  I was down another 1.6! I've had plenty of unexpected gains, but never and unexpected loss!!!


I'm now down 22.6 pounds!!!!  


For the first time in a long time, I'm actually pretty happy with my "weight loss journey," as we like to call it in the biz.  I'm exercising a lot which I like for a few reasons - mostly because it makes me feel good and more confident, but I also really like how if I work out I have a little (and I mean just a little) wiggle room in what I eat.  Like its ok that I had a margarita last week instead of a lite beer when I went out for dinner, I knew I'd burn those extra calories off spinning the next day.  

And having a margarita once in a while makes me very, very happy!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Amazon's Epic Fail

Like everyone else, every once in a while I get these "Amazon Recommends" emails from amazon.com.  

I usually enjoy them - they keep me posted on new DVD releases, what's new in the world of political science books, and offer me deals on literature.  

Today something went horribly wrong.

When I opened my recommendations "just for me" this is what I saw:



I do not sleep out doors.  I do not camp.  I do not know why this was recommended "just for me."  But it did make me laugh - targeted marketing gone horribly wrong.


But if you camp, check out Amazon...I hear they're having some great deals.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Call Me Irresponsible

Well, more like, call me hypocritical.  Let me explain.

I am not a morning person.  

This is a truth universally known to just about all people who have come across me either before 9 AM and/or before I've had at least one cup of coffee.

Its hereditary.  Soon after my mom became and RN she moved back home to live with my grandparents for a little while to save some money.  She had gotten a job in a hospital by my grandparents' and so she moved out of her Greenwich Village apartment and back onto Long Island.  Since she was working the night shift she would, as the story goes, come home after a long night and sleep.  And sleep.  And sleep.  For ten, twelve, fourteen hours at a clip.  My grandfather would always tell us that after a twelve hours had gone by and he hadn't heard her so much as turn over in her sleep, he'd get nervous and would check on my semi-comatose mother to make sure she was still breathing.


That is my DNA.  My brother and I are both super sleepers.  My brother can sleep until noon without even thinking twice about it.  


I used to be that way.  Now its a different story.  Since graduating I've been working for a large defense contracting company.  And, as a whole, its been a great experience.  Decent pay, low living expenses, resume building, network developing, its all good.  Except for one thing.  I have to be at work before 8.  But if I get to work at 8, I have to stay until 5, which I no likey because it makes my evenings more hectic than I'd like.  So most days I carpool with my dad and get in by 7.  Which means I get off at 4 and am usually home by 4:45 which gives me tons of time to get to the gym where I sweat to the oldies, eat dinner, and indulge in my TV addiction.


So even though getting off at 4 is good, waking up at 5:15 is not.  Way not.  And let me tell you, 5:15 comes early in the morning.  Most of the time, my mornings pass by in a fog.  I'm not usually firing on all cylinders until at least 8:30.  Its a sad fact of corporate America.  I don't think I'll ever "get used" to these hours as long as I live because every morning is still a struggle.  My body is literally physically fighting me from becoming the morning person that I probably need to be.


Most mornings I sit in the passenger's seat of my dad Honda Accord, fighting to keep my eyes open.  Everyday we drive by car after car where the driver is talking on the phone.  I don't really have a huge problem with the fact that they're on the phone, my problem is that they are on the phone before 7 o'clock in the morning.  


Let me tell you what happens if someone calls me before 7 am, even if I am already up: I turn off my phone and have to restrain myself from throwing it with all of my might right out the window.


Every morning I see them, gabbing away about God only knows what.  But usually they look relatively happy, or at least not devastatingly unhappy, ruling out the only acceptable reason to be on the phone at that hour, matters of life and death.  I mean, really, what else can't wait until 9?


Well this morning, I became one of those people that I despise so much.  I've been taking this Zumba class at the Y for the past month or so.  And the instructor is really good.  So good, that you need to call the day before to reserve your spot.  And you better call early.  I learned that one last week when I called at 8:30 in the morning and my class was already full.  

This week I remembered.  And I called.  And it was 6:48.  Then I got in touch with my friends to remind them to call and save their spots (yest I texted, but no I was not moving).  And a little piece of my soul died.  It really did.  Because now apparently the only reasons for me to be on the phone before 9 AM, before I've had any coffee, before I've fully gotten the sleep out of my eyes is life, death, and zumba. 

Caution: Blogathon Ahead

Even though lots has been going on, I've really been neglecting my poor little blog lately.

But that's all about to change.  I'm going to *try* to catch this little puppy up!

Monday, May 10, 2010

She's my baby

I realized today that I haven't blogged about two of the most important members of my family - my dog, Ginger and my cat, Annabelle.  

My family adopted them just about four years ago.  The cat we'd had while I was growing up, Vixey, had just passed away.  I  was heartbroken but my parents knew it was time to open our hearts and our home to not only another cat but also a dog, the first one I had ever had.

After weeks of searching, my parents found Ginger at a local rescue center, Hope for Life.  At a year and a half she had already had a litter of puppies and a bad case of heart worm.  What she really needed was a warm and loving home.  Which is just what we gave her.  (I'll talk more about Ginger later)

While going out every weekend to visit Miss Ginger, I fell in love with a little kitten at the Hope for Life Center.  A few weeks later I brought home my little Smelly Belly.

Annabelle is a sassy cat.  She's got attitude and doesn't take any crap from anyone - not even Ginger (even though the dog is three times her size).  She's funny and quirky and I love her.  I always have the feeling that if she could talk she'd curse like a sailor and have a thick Brooklyn accent.

I'm not really jealous of her lifestyle (sleeping 20 hours a day is even too much for me), but I am pretty jealous of just how peaceful she is when she naps.


Check out these pictures I got of her over the weekend while she conked out on my bed for a few hours:








I wish I could nap like that!




That's right...she's sticking her tongue out.




Stretch it out.....




How cute is that?!?




Uh, oh...I think I woke her up!




Nap's over!  She's probably cursing me out right now.  It was worth it to share just how cute she is to all of cyber space!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Zoom, Zoom, Zumba!

A few weeks ago my pal Ginny asked me if I wanted to take a Zumba class with her.  As anyone who knows me can tell you, I've been trying to lose a few pounds for forever; so I decided - why not?  

Zumba is a cardio work-out that is based on Latin dances like the rumba, samba, and mambo.  You pretty much get to dance for an hour.  There's a lot of movement some reminiscent of high school soccer/football practice, some more elegant and lady-like, and a lot of booty shakin'.  When done correctly, you look coordinated, confident, and kinda sexy (at least as sexy as you can look as you are pouring sweat).  Its cardio dance class at its finest.


So here's the deal.  I am not a dancer.  I never have been.  And I never will be.  Uncoordinated and ungraceful, a day is a success if I manage to not trip over my own feet or walk into an inanimate object.  When I was three my parents, like so many other parents, decided that it was time for me to take ballet lessons.  After signing me up, buying me a leotard, some ballet slippers, and a snazzy bag to carry all of my gear they dropped me off at my first class.  My memories of that class are hazy at best, but I remember lots of running around on my tiptoes and pretending to be a prima donna.  Even though this totally sounds like the sort of thing I would have LOVED at three, I didn't.  I hated it (apparently there was another Andrea in the class who was not as well-behaved as I was, when her mom would yell at her, I would cry because I thought this strange woman was yelling at me).  I think I made it 6 weeks.  I certainly did NOT make it to the recital.


I decided to give ballet another shot when I got to college.  "Short Courses" were offered through the University and covered everything from Beginner's Ballet to Wine and Beer Tasting.  I excitedly signed up for Beginner's Ballet - for $40 I got 8 classes that was supposed to cover all of the basics of ballet.  Even though I didn't buy a leotard, I did buy ballet slippers.  I was so excited.  I got to my first class a little early.  All of the other girls in my class had on nice dance clothes.  I got a little nervous.  The first thing we did was go around the circle to introduce ourselves, just the basics: name, year, dance experience.  Slowly we make it around the circle.  Girl after girl states her name, year, and dance experience - three years, four years, seven years, ten years.  Then its my turn.  I slowly mutter, "My name is Andrea, I'm a first year, and (rightly believing my short lived experience at 3 didn't count) I've had not dance experience."  The teacher assures me that this is fine since we'll all be working on the basics.  It wasn't.  Did you know you can be really bad at plieing?  Which is for all intents and purposes graceful squatting?  I stuck it out for a couple of weeks but once we started leaping (and I subsequently started regularly falling on my ass) my embarrassment got the best of me and I dropped out.  Again.  No recital for me.


I decided that was it for me and dance.


Then I tried Zumba.


The class I've been going to with Ginny is really popular (you have to call the day before to reserve your spot) and held in the gym at the YMCA.  Which I like because gym = no mirrors.  No mirrors = me not able to see how ridiculous I look while Zumbaing.  Ginny's fun and not judgmental, so even if she is laughing at me, I know its never mean.  We stand in the back where hardly anyone can see us (which is ideal since I think that I look like a cross between Foghorn Leghorn and a Leprechaun while doing Zumba).  So even though I am almost positive that I look like an idiot, there is a little part of me that thinks that I look just as beautiful and graceful as all of the Zumba-aholics.   


Last night's class was especially fun.  While I really liked the fact that I burned a butt ton of calories, I really really love the fact that we did Beyonce's "Single Ladies" dance.  In case you live under a rock (like my dad apparently does, he had absolutely no idea what I was talking about) the little confident part of my brain thinks that I looked like Beyonce in this video:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XDTibf0qIzw&NR=1


But I'm pretty sure that I look more like Andy Samberg in this one:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LBC7pilGoPc

Monday, May 3, 2010

Book Review: Pride and Prejudice

Once upon a time I was 14 or 15 and, apparently, dumb.  Always reading, adolescent Andrea decided that several years ago that one day was the day to tackle Jane Austen.  And where do you start when  you decide to tackle Jane Austen?  With Pride and Prejudice of course.


Well, let me tell you.  Adolescent Andrea was not ready for Pride and Prejudice.  Not even close.  I didn't like it.  I thought the sentences were long and confusing.  I felt like nothing happened in the book and I didn't get whatever was happening between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy.  

But there was hope for me yet! The first time I read it I left all of these dopey comments in the margin about how "wonderfully romantic" (I know - I'm rolling my eyes too) parts of the book were (I guess I'd thought that I would re-read it some day and think that adolescent Andrea was a wonderfully astute individual - wrong-o).


A couple of weeks ago I had just finished a book and was looking for something else to read.  My paperback copy of Pride and Prejudice caught my eye and I decided to give it another shot.  I am so glad that I did!


My entire opinion of the book changed...it was a complete 180.  I discovered that it really is a beautiful love story.  And its funny (who knew, people in the 1800's liked to laugh too)!  The characterization is rich and well-rounded.  The book is a little slower than I usually read, but its not slow in a bad way.  Its a delicate, delicious slowness.  The slowly developing plot allows us to get to know the characters.  Austen wants us to get to know her characters, after all she spends a lot of time developing them and their relationships, making them real and tangible human beings.  

I think everyone knows the basic story of Pride and Prejudice.  Its been adapted to film a bunch of times including one a few years ago starring Kiera Knightly as Elizabeth.  Usually I think Kiera Knightly looks more than a lot like a mummified corpse, but I think she's actually pretty as Miss Bennett.




 

Personally, my favorite adaptation is You've Got Mail.  Modern, with a little twist.  And Meg Ryan's hair was so cute!



Sure the sentences are still long, but this time they weren't so complicated.  Being an English major will open your eyes to literature of world - good, bad, life changing, and absolutely incredibly boring.  Nothing will make you appreciate a "long" 10-12 line Austen sentence quite like a three page Woolfe sentence.  For real.



For anyone who hasn't taken a college level English class they go something like this: sign up for class that covers a huge amount of literature (19th Century Poetry and Prose for example), read, read, read, talk, talk, talk, professor talks more, gets behind on syllabus, still encouraged to read with syllabus even though you won't be talking about it for another week or so, stuffed gets crammed in/pushed out, novels presented at the end,  so Austen gets rushed through in 2 classes right before the final.  Sounds like fun, right?  Sounds like extra fun when you think that this is going on simultaneously in ALL of your classes, right?

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I don't think Austen had enough of a place in my college syllabus and I don't think I read her with an open mind before.  Maybe I wouldn't have been so vehemently anti-Austen if I hadn't read it in the only English class I ever took that I actually hated.  Maybe I would have liked it if we had had some more time to read it.  Maybe I would have liked it if I actually had some time to actually read the friggin book.  It wasn't fair ( poor Jane, I hope she forgives me)!  

I went into Austen with some pre-conceived notions of how she should be, rather than accepting her at face value.  I never think its a good idea to start reading a book for the first time with a lot of ideas of how it should be.  Its almost always a bad idea.  But I've done it.  A lot.  And, in this case, its kept me away from a wonderful author for a long time.  


So if there is a book on your shelf that you've been avoiding, give it a shot (or another shot) - you might be pleasantly surprised.  And if that book is Pride and Prejudice, I know it won't disappoint!

Weekend Things

I wish the week went by as fast as the weekend does!  Even though I was off for three days, this weekend FLEW by! 
Here are a couple of highlights from the weekend:

Friday afternoon my mom and I went to see J-Lo's new movie The Back-Up Plan.  I liked it.  It was cute and not quite your typical chick flick.  And J-Lo is gorgeous.  I want her hair style in this movie.  And her clothes.  And her butt. 




Friday afternoon I also went and got a pedicure with my buddy Laura.  It was a late birthday present for her.  My toes are now a lovely coral color - also one that I cannot remember the name of!  Here's hoping I'll be able to find it again!

Friday night (gosh I was busy on Friday!) I went out with my BFF Meredith and her hubby Garrett.  They are currently on a quest to eat their way through Ghent.  This is a quest that I fully support, especially if they continue to invite me to help them out!  Ghent is a really cute, historic, artsy, trendy neighborhood in Norfolk:



 We ate at this place Cogan's Pizza - which has both good pizza and good beer!  


Saturday I missed the Kentucky Derby.  Fail.  One day, I will go to the Derby and I will wear a hat that looks something like this:


  
And it will look fantastic.  I look wonderful in hats - I have hattitude, if you will.  What can I say?  Its a gift.

 

On Sunday I decided to get some sun.  I decided to go to the pool at the YMCA.  As I was putting on my bathing suit from last year, I realized that I desperately needed a new suit - the bottoms of my old ones were literally FALLING DOWN!!!!!!  Its one thing if your pants are a little big, its entirely another when its your bathing suit!  I had to change just so I wasn't mooning the entire Great Bridge/Hickory YMCA.  VICTORY!


Later, I went to the stores with my mom.  I bought ANOTHER pair of shoes.  I think I have a problem.  I can't decide if its just shoe-aholic-ness or shop-aholic-ness.  


And I KNOW I have a problem when it comes to frozen yogurt.  The newest place, The Skinny Dip is to die for.  I may or may not have eaten there at least 4 times since it opened 10 days ago.


And that was my crazy weekend.  Food, spa treatments, movies, friends, beer, and pizza.  What else could a girl ask for?