Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Lake Day at Cliffs of the Neuse

Growing up, when we went to the beach, we were referring to the lake. Times have definitely changed and when our family goes to the beach, then we go to the beach :) But there is something very nostalgic and relaxing about floating in an inner tube on the glassy surface of a spring fed lake. My worries just melted away and we had the best time. I would definitely put Cliffs of the Neuse State Park high on our Best of North Carolina list.

Of course, there was also hiking. Our favorite outdoor activity has been very limited on the coast. We miss our Southern California mountains. It was so easy to hop in the car and hit up a multitude of trails on the weekend on the West Coast. Not only did it keep us in shape but it was a great way to clear our minds. There is nothing better than to stand on the highest point to put everything in perspective! Western North Carolina is more hiking terrain than the sandy flat coast. Thankfully Cliffs of the Neuse delivered on the hiking trails for us. Honestly we miss it so much!

The kids not so much. Two out of three love to complain majority of the trail. I hope one day they realize all the benefits getting out in nature provides, especially living a completely connected life. 

Surprise! There are bears here in North Carolina. Isn't that strange? I don't associate North Carolina with bears but rumor has it ;) I have yet to see one outside of the zoo or dead on the road (which broke my heart). We live in a forest, so you would think we would probably have a pretty good chance but we have never. The visitor center at Cliffs of the Neuse reassured us the rumor is true.

 Not Real! *insert eye rolling emoji*
This is what I call the Disney Kid syndrome which plagues many California kids.
Extroverted dramatic types *insert another eye roll*
They make life fun(ny) though.

If anyone comes to this blog post looking for more info on Cliffs of the Neuse State Park, here is a picture of the concession stand. They have a picnic area as well if you bring your own food. I would recommend it because the concession stand sells mostly frozen convenience food they will pop in the microwave for you.

And this is where they get the Cliffs part. One lonely bluff overlooking the Neuse River. 
We had to see the "Cliffs" for ourselves. I think the lake and hiking trails were a much bigger attraction for us. But, now we know what the cliffs look like when people mention it or we see the tourist signs on the roadside.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Dear Texas, You Rock!

If you've been around any Texan for about 5 minutes (or more like 3 minutes), you soon learn how highly they think of their state. Don't get me wrong, I love all my Texas friends. They truly are the kindest and most genuine people that I have every met. And a fun but strange fact, most of the blogs I read are also Texans. So, clearly I am drawn to their Southern hospitality :) When we started to think about retirement, Texas was always on the short list. The problem was Texas is not California. And I do love California.

However, the past 10 days has shown me and the whole world why Texans think they are the best and  why that is probably true! The way people and businesses have stepped up to help others has been no less than heroic. I don't remember ever seeing a hurricane hit city with people so willing to help and seemingly sacrifice for those in need. It's the epitome of what American should be about. All I can say is WOW. Thanks for being the example Texas!

And don't forget $5million dollars the store owner donated as well. My wonderful cousin lives in Austin and every day she updates me on the amazing things HEB store is doing to help hurricane victims. I've never been to HEB but apparently it's pretty great! 

I've watched countless videos of people helping. A mix of people like you and me and people you might think are above getting their hands dirty in flood waters. I watched an athletic team unload a semi trailer of donated goods into a gym. I thought isn't their coach having a fit over possibilities of injury or exhausting their muscles before a game. I mean we know how highly esteemed athletes are in America. And yet, the people who decide postponed the game so the players could help. I loved that!

The donations were amazing too. I hope the amount of money raised helps many people to rebuild. Although the dollar amount rises, there has been significant widespread devastation. Hurricane Harvey was unique.  The amount of rain that fell on the coast was unbelievable. I have faith the same giving and helping spirit will be seen in months to come.  

Although, we may not have decided this week where our forever home will be. Texas is more of a serious contender. Those people on the television are our kind of people. I think we could fit in :) Texans you have rocked life these past weeks. You deserve to brag a little :)

Monday, September 4, 2017

Back To School...Back To Normal

Officially starting our second week of school and this momma is loving life! There is a senior living in my house this year! A senior. I knew it was going to happen but holy geez...that went fast! I think once we hit seventh or eighth grade we were in the express lane of time. The weird thing about this year is feeling like there isn't enough time. Each day seems to hold so much importance. I'm not sure if it's the way I feel or if it actually does. 

In the last 7 days, she has taken the SAT, written her first scholarship essay, tried to narrow down the college list, dealt with school schedule changes, worked, schooled, homework-ed, extracurricular-ed, volunteered, and all the other made up words you can imagine. I'm like, slow down girl! Meanwhile, my 7th grader went to school, came home, and emptied my fridge. He wasn't cleaning it either :( The differences are vast! 

Back to school for the kids, also means back to work for me. I was able to sub once this week and enjoyed myself. Last year, I did a lot of random subbing at many different schools across the district. I realized that wasn't helping me professionally or mentally/emotionally. I was stressed a lot because I didn't know the school culture/environment. I also wasn't building working relationships or networking (which is pretty important for military spouses who move a lot). So, this year, I am concentrating more on working in the grade levels I enjoy and at a handful of schools. 

I'm looking forward to a good year. The kids seems happy and optimistic too. I hope you are feeling the same :)

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Friday, September 1, 2017

August Books

I promised myself to read lighter fiction this month. That is just what I did! Best reading decision. I've been in a bit of a reading slump. Summer is usually when I read all the books. Yet, I have averaged one or two books a month for the past several months. I read a lot of heavy material and I think my brain and heart were overwhelmed. So, I decided to take the pressure off myself and escape to a happier (reading) place.

Earlier this summer, Janssen at Everyday Reading, excitedly shared her reading and re-reading love of Jenny Han's To All The Boys I've Loved Before series. The last book in the series, Always and Forever Lara Jean, had just come out and Janssen was devouring the entire series (multiple times) over a couple week period. I completely trust this book blogger. She writes intelligent posts with beautiful pictures. She is a mother of 4. Roughly the same age as me. But young adult love story? Um, it's not really my thing. So I cataloged it in my brain as maybe someday in the distant future which means never. 

Then came August and I was feeling burnt out on all the heavy fiction I had been reading. For 7 full months, I had read books about racism, slavery, murder, immigration, on and on. While these are all worthwhile topics to explore, a person can only take so much. My brain was in need of a break. So, I tried to find something to fit my light and fluffy need and came up short. I revisited the Jenny Han series and decided to give it a try. Let me say, I was so impressed. I think the thing which most appealed to me was how my teen self related to the main character. She has this naivety about her and doesn't really fit into the mold of typical teenage girl. Then she is thrust into the dating scene and changes in her family. The reader watches her grow, mature, and solidify her values/beliefs. The author is very realistic. She does not paint a perfect picture of a teen character. Lara Jean is surrounded by bad decision makers and semi-rough characters. It might be a little shocking that an author is exposing teen readers to these ideas but boiled down It's real life.  I always appreciate an author who writes real life.

After I read book one, I went straight to my library for book #2 P.S. I Still Love You. It continues to follow Lara Jean's journey of growing and learning in her junior year of high school. 

Book #3 Always and Forever Lara Jean was a bit of a wait because my library didn't have a copy. I went with an online audiobook which had a fun narrator. Always a plus! I thought the story tied up nicely with some unexpected endings. The Lara Jean series definitely fit the bill for light reading and it wasn't nearly as angsty or annoying as I imagined. If anything, it was a throw back to earlier years :)

This month I signed up for Netgalley, a website that gives readers a chance to read advanced copies of soon to be published books. I love it! Here is why Netgalley works for me. #1- My local library is not awesome. Sad but true. Generally speaking, they buy only Book of The Month new releases and anything by mainstream authors (Danielle Steel, Jeffery Deaver, James Patterson, etc). That's it. I get it...the population is older, those books get a lot of press, they have a tiny budget. However, this means contemporary authors/series and diverse books (what I read) are not stocked. #2- I don't typically buy books from retail stores. Which means I have to wait until someone reads their brand new book, donates it to a thrift store/library sale, and I show up the day it is put on the shelf. You can see how often that happens :) Under these circumstances,  Netgalley is perfect for me because I get to read new books. I can't always get the next bestsellers (like Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere)  but there are plenty of great books to chose from.

Made In Manhattan by Amanda Stauffer was my first pick. This will be a debut novel catalogued under the Chick Lit or Escapist genre. If that is your thing, I think you might love it. The projected release date is currently January 2018. If the editor takes out the right stuff and adds more character development  for everyone, this book has the potential to be big. The main plot of Match In Manhattan is following Alison, the main character as she dates online matches over the course of a year. You read her (mis)adventures of 21st century dating while laughing over witty banter. I was thoroughly entertained from start to finish.

My last book in August was Broadcast by Liam Brown. I think this is going to get a lot of press. My money is on good press. Broadcast reminds me of the innovation of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline while still maintaining originality (if that makes sense). What I'm trying to say is it doesn't feel like a copycat. The premise is taking social media and blogging/vlogging to a new level.What does that mean for privacy or security? Who is benefiting from this information? I enjoyed the book. I thought it was really well written and flowed well. The book is set to be released September 15th. 

Now the fun begins as I think about September reading. I'm not quite sure what direction I'll go. Reading not-so-serious stuff seems to be working, so I might stick with that. Or maybe throw in one or two serious books.  Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng comes out September 12th which is at the top of my list. So many choices! Have you read anything great that you think I would love?

Linking up for all the book reviews your brain can process in one day with Jana, Stephanie, and Narci.

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Friday, August 25, 2017

The Sun. A Birthday. And Summer Ends.

This week was pretty cool. I'm dubbing it a week of celebrations. We celebrated a birthday. We (kind of) celebrated the sun. We "celebrated" getting ready for back to school. One is celebrating her last year of high school and one celebrating his first year of high school. I think we use the word celebrate loosely from their perspective. I do not :) I am literally celebrating these kids are FINALLY going back to school.

The week started off with a pretty big spectacular for everyone, didn't it? We did our own little make shift Eclipse party on the lawn. Which equated to ice cream and lawn chairs. We didn't have fancy glasses or travel long distances. We lucked out to be pretty close to the totality pathway. It did get fairly dim, similar to what it looks like an hour before dusk. And the temperature (aka Humidity) dropped quite a bit. I loved that!

Another reason the solar eclipse day was so special... the birthday boy. Nothing more cool than having the whole USA get excited about your day. We got excited about his day too. He got all his favorite things: food and money. We took him to the trampoline park to add to the celebration.

Midweek, we got all the school stuff to prepare for this year. Shoes, supplies, a new outfit, and a new backpack for the girl who always manages to break her backpack by December. If you have a good solid backpack brand to recommend PLEASE leave in the comments. I need an extra heavy duty one for sure!

Mid-week we had back to school night and a pool party. This was our 3rd pool party this summer, but our first that didn't get rained out. We had a clear skies and the perfect temperature to enjoy swimming.

I also took a morning to enjoy a walk on the beach solo. I have a house full of late sleepers, so I can be there and back before they are moving. Next week is going to be so very hard for them!

Opps, I forgot to mention what these pictures are all about. The sea turtle eggs are hatching all over the island and this is what it looks like when it's time. They protect them as much as they can from people and predators. They also make these long "runways" to the ocean for when they are ready to go. A nest had hatched the previous night which I was so sad to have missed. What a once in a lifetime thing to sea baby turtles make their way to the ocean!

I have all the love for this weekend because it's going to be sunshine and low humidity.
It's every Southerners dream!
 Cheers to the weekend!

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Monday, August 14, 2017

Brushing Up On History At Moore's Creek Battlefield

"Why was there a Revolutionary War battle in North Carolina?" I scrunched up my face as I asked my soon to be freshman. "Because it was one of the 13th colonies." What the heck?!? How did this information escape me. A prime example of if-you-don't-use-it-you-lose! I honestly thought the original colonies were all up in the New England area. Nope, the colonies extended all the way south to Georgia. For those of you who also didn't remember that... you're welcome!

After my faltering moment, I decided it's time to brush up on some American History pre-Civil War. So, I will be working on that! Until then, I am going to be checking out all these historic battlefields around us and not assuming they are Civil War battlefields. Because apparently, North Carolina is really old, so it's seen a fair share of wars. 

Moore's Creek National Battlefield is our closest battlefield in the Wilmington located 40 minutes east. This is the place where a key Revolutionary War battle was fought in North Carolina to end British authority over the colony and initiate NC's desire for independence from Britain. This was the first colony to do this #bigdeal or #traitors

No matter how you paint it, the battlefield is lovely and a paved 1 mile trail loops you around to see all the sites. It was a really nice outing and we (which really means I) learned something!

Here is the "famous" Moore's Creek bridge. Famous for what, you ask?
I don't know :( I'm still working on my history knowledge.
It's a really neat pathway through the swamp with all the trees canopying around. 

I've included the link HERE for more information on Moore's Creek National Battlefield.
It's definitely a great way to see history in a tangible way. I do love that for my kids (and myself too) about living in North Carolina. This is where America began so it's all very accessible on the East Coast. You just need to go see it :)

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Friday, August 11, 2017

Recipes I Love And You Might Too

Another dreary, rainy summer day here on the coast. Between all the storms and hurricanes, we can not escape grey clouds. I don't mind the rain but it sure does not feel like summer. Our grill is taking a much needed break while we have been enjoying all the comfort food that accompanies cozy weather. Today I'm sharing our favorites from our week of meals. These are all worth adding to your menu ASAP. I wouldn't steer you wrong!

Sometimes, I am in the mood to cook and other nights I am not. When I'm working I want recipes that are simple and on the table quickly. Homemade Cheeseburger Macaroni by Foodie Crush will be that dish.  I was a little hesitant after seeing ketchup in the ingredient list; however, it's not overpowering. This was a winner with the kids! And husband.

One Pot Lasagna by Jo Cooks is another quick favorite in our home. One dish meals are definitely easy and filling for my teens' tummies. I need meals to be both :) We didn't make One Pot Lasagna this week but it's a favorite I thought I should add. 

Lentil Chili by Little Broken is one of my favorites and not so much my kiddos favorite. I would call this a grownup meal :) It's nutritious and on the cheap side. Which who doesn't love a little break on the grocery bill? Lentil Chili takes about 40 minutes from start to finish. You can't do wrong. Plus, if you are into meat free nights, this fits the description.

Mexican Shredded Beef by Your Home Based Mom is in our weekly rotation and has been for months! We still argue who gets the leftovers. I make the shredded beef with a slow cooker and it is perfect every time. This recipe is so fool proof. If I don't have an ingredient or two, I never worry. I always brown the meat in hot oil before moving to the slow cooker. You shouldn't skip that step because it gives it that yummy crispiness. 

This next recipe is quite time consuming but so worth it. I made this for Sunday lunch/dinner. We do a double batch because it's necessary ;) We found Authentic Louisianna Red Beans and Rice on Allrecipes.com in the pre-Pinterest days. We have been loving it ever since! It really is the best recipe for authentic taste. 

And because there must always be dessert, there was a little Peanut Butter Cookie competition this week. Classic Peanut Butter Cookies by Sally's Baking Addiction versus Disneyland's Peanut Butter Cookies by Six Sister's Stuff. I sent these to work with Kyli to share with her co-workers and all the teenage voters unanimously chose....Disneyland's PB cookies. Of course they did :)

I admit I loved the Classic PB cookies more. Disneyland's cookies were much too sweet for me. I know these things are hard to decide for others, so you might need to taste test for yourself!

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