Mar 26, 2012

Review: Utah Authors

By some strange turn of events, it seems like most of the time I read a book I LOVE, when I read the author bio, he or she ends up being from Utah. Or was raised in Utah. Or went to school in Utah. Is it my Utah blood connecting to their Utah blood in some strange cosmic, not nearly as weird as Jolie and Thornton, kind of way? Or are Utahns just completely rockin' the literary world? Whatever it is, I do have to say that some of my favorite authors are from Utah.

Here are some Utah authors everyone should read:

Jessica Day George
I had the opportunity to hear Jessica Day George speak at Books for Young Readers in 2009 (I think). She's very funny, and very sweet. I did an e-mail interview with her for a class (found here), and was really impressed with her first agreeing to do so and second apologizing that it took so long to get back! With that out of the way, Jessica has written 7 books (I haven't read her latest yet), all in the YA fiction category.

The dragon books start with her debut novel, Dragon Slippers. It was meant to be a stand alone but her agent convinced her to write the two sequels, Dragon Flight and Dragon Spear. While I think the first is by far the best, the other two are much better than other author's best.

Then there is Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, a retelling of the Nordic fairytale "East of the Sun, West of the Moon." I love this book. It's probably tied for my favorite book by George.

Princess at the Midnight Ball is the other one of my favorites. This is, by far, the best retelling of the "Twelve Dancing Princess" I have ever read. There is a sequel called Princess of Glass and she is writing a third. And since there are 12 princesses, she could probably go one for a while. These are definitely books that I own and reread.

Shannon Hale
I feel that Shannon Hale is a pretty well known Utah author. One of her adult novels, Austenland, is being released as a movie this year. It's sequel, Midnight in Austenland, just came out early this year. I liked it, but I liked the first better. My mom like the sequel better, so it's just a matter of opinion.

Goose Girl was her first book. I really like this book. She turned it into a series called the Books of Bayern. I haven't read all of them, but those I have read are good, just not good like Goose Girl.

One of her books was a Newberry Honor book! Princess Academy is sort of a Cinderella retelling. Great book. I don't think I know of anyone who has read it who hasn't liked it.

She's also written two graphic novels with her husband, Rapunzel's Revenge and Calamity Jack.

Brodi Ashton
This is a new author I just discovered. Her debut novel came out this year and it called Everneath. This seems like a typical paranormal romance from the blurb and I was hesitant to read it, but I want to support local authors and all that, so I did. There is a lot that I like about what Ashton did with this book. The premise doesn't include anything about vampires or werewolves, for one. It's more mythology, and I like mythology. Also, the supernatural doesn't get the girl. Thank you, Ms. Ashton! Finally, a girl with some sense in her brain! Also, the characters change and grow over the course of the book instead of remaining the same. And, probably the biggest thing, was that this could be a stand alone novel, or it could be the beginning of the series. It's totally open! But at the same time, it's got an ending I feel good about. This is how it should be.

I read this in one day.

Here is a list of other Utah authors I have read: Ally Condie (Matched), Bree Despain (The Dark Divine), Emily Wing Smith (Back When You Were Easier to Love), Kristen Chandler (Wolves, Boys, and Other Things that Might Kill Me), Ann Dee Ellis (This is What I Did--I took a creative writing class from Ann Dee. She's awesome.), Lisa Mangum (The Hourglass Door--I worked with Lisa at Deseret Book. She's also awesome.), James Dashner (The Maze Runner--I haven't actually read this book yet, but everyone seems to like it), Brandon Mull (Fablehaven), Mette Ivie Harrison (The Princess and the Hound--not my favorite book, but a lot of people really like it), Carol Lynch Williams (The Chosen One), Brandon Sanderson (Mistborn and Alactraz versus the Evil Librarians--wasn't able to make it through Mistborn, but I love Alcatraz.), Melissa Lemon (Cinder and Ella), Heather Dixon (Entwined).

So, wherever you live, find some local authors and you might just discover a new, under appreciated favorite. Happy reading!

Mar 12, 2012

Shopping Trips!

Starting on Thursday of last week, I've gone on a bit of a shopping binge. I have a friend at work who has just started a fashion blog (check it out here!) and the first H&M in Utah opened a few months ago, so we decided to go after work and she could help me be more fashionable.

I was so excited about this trip! I love getting new clothes and I'm also very excited to go through my closet and get rid of clothes. (I was going to do that this weekend, but circumstances changed and that will now be happening next month.) I still have clothes I got as a sophomore in high school! It's just time to get rid of things that don't fit anymore (I'm no longer the size 2 I was in high school), or that are worn out, or just not in fashion anymore. Anyway, I ended up spending a little bit more money than I planned on, but I'm super excited about what I've bought!

Here's a little run down on my shopping adventures (I was going to put up pictures, but that seemed that so much work, and I don't really want to try to figure out how to do one of those fun little squares with the numbers and all that. Sorry.):

Thursday after work Melissa and I went to Fashion Place mall, starting in H&M. She went around with me, talking about quality of fabrics (I have no idea about this--seriously, I really don't know what makes fabric good or not), etc. Then I tried on the clothes, got her opinion on them. I got this great little black dress (well, as LBD as you can get as a Mormon) that has this cross draping on it. I'm a fan! I don't really feel like I have much I want to hide, but it accents all the things I want to accent! Fabulous! I also got a black pencil skirt (which I have been wanting forever!), a button up blouse, and a blazer. The blazer was the most expensive item. The dress was only $25!!

From H&M we just wandered the rest of the mall, and ended up at DownEast Basics. They had a little location that was having a warehouse sale. I was able to buy a Maxi dress and a cute skirt for about $27--together! (I obviously love getting things on sale.)

Saturday I went to Payless Shoes because I had a 50% off coupon. (Yes, you read that right, 50% off. It was awesome.) I ended up buying two pairs of flats and two pairs of those little footie socks you wear with ballet flats for another $27. That's less than one of the pairs of shoes, if I were buying without the coupon. And they are super cute.

Then I went to Target where I bought the my first pair of American skinny jeans. (I bought a pair from Primark in London. That was almost 4 years ago and I still wear them. I have never been able to find a pair that was as comfortable in the states.) This is something Melissa convinced me to try.

I'm a little ashamed at how much I spent at Kohl's, but rest assured I did not pay full price for anything. (I mean, no one should pay full price for anything from Kohl's. It's really not worth it.) I love the color coral and it just happens to looking great on me, so I bought a coral shirt, a black shirt, and a purple printed shirt. Also, a pair of fishnet tights, because I've always wanted one.

I'm really excited to start incorporating my new clothes into my wardrobe and getting ride of some of the things that are in it. And hopefully these things will last me for at least a year, considering I am done visiting clothing store for awhile. Bookstores, on the other hand, might need a visit. :)

Mar 11, 2012

Sunday Special: Staying Focused

This last week I took a break from work to meet up with a friend on Temple Square.

As I was waiting for her to come, I stood staring into the reflecting pool, thinking how beautiful it was to see the temple reflected on the water.

Just as I was thinking this, a gust of wind came by, disturbing the water and obscuring the reflection. My response was sadness! I couldn't see the temple anymore! Just the tile on the bottom and the light reflecting on the ripples of water.

But then I changed my focus, and I could just make out the outline of the temple beneath the waves and ripples created by the wind. And if I kept my focus, I could continue to see it, no matter how the wind blew.

And I started thinking (in my deep thoughts that I sometimes start to delve into when left to my own devices) that this is so indicative of life. As long as I keep my focus on the temple--the place I want to be able to be worthy to go to--the waves and ripples of life can't keep me from seeing my end goal. They don't disappear, or stop, but they don't hide my goal from me anymore. But if I focus on the ripples of life, my goal disappears and is hid and it takes effort to find the focus again.

Mar 10, 2012

Vocal Point Live

I love live music. I love feeling the energy from the audience around me. I love how the music seems to get into your soul until your heart beats along with it. I love the stinging hands from clapping too much, I love my cheeks hurting from smiling too much. It's so fun!

The only problem is, I don't go to live concerts very often. Mostly it's the money issue, but it's also that if I'm going to go and spend that money, I want to be uplifted, not brought down. I want to have a good time. That's why Vocal Point's concert was amazing!

I don't think I have had so much fun since I went to see Josh Groban last August. (And y'all know I love me some Josh!) Though, you can't really compare they two. They truly are separate but equal. (I mean, one's Josh Groban, and the other is an a capella group. You can't compare a solo vocalist with a group of 9 nine guys, no matter how amazing they both are.) The energy was perfect, and I felt that it was such a good mix of fun, exciting songs, and slower, moving songs. I'm not one of those people that keep track of set lists, but here is another blog that gives the complete VP set list for this concert.

I really enjoyed the entire experience. As for favorite parts (now that I've had time to come off the adrenaline high and process the entire experience): "Dare You to Move" (great arrangement. I cried.), Tanner's percussionist solo, Robert's bass Elmo, and 12 Days of Christmas (I don't usually condone Christmas music before Thanksgiving and after New Year's, but this was so funny, I made an exception). Mom enjoyed "Savior, Redeemer of My Soul." Neil liked "No Not Much." Dad's favorite was also "Savior" and "You Really Got Me" (because it's the Kinks).

What I really enjoyed was that this was something I could go to with my parents and we could all have a good time. I'm proud that the members of Vocal Point know that they don't have to compromise their standards in order to appeal to the masses. They are very good entertainers and I wish I hadn't been so lame when I was at BYU and had taken advantage of more plays and concerts.

Mar 9, 2012

Conversation on an Elevator

I get on the elevator this morning with a man. The thing about working at the CHL is that people make conversation with you; doesn't matter if they know you or not. This most frequently happens in the elevator.

Man: Your shoes are beautiful by the way.

Me: (looking down at my awesome red heels) Thanks!

Man: I noticed them as you were walking in and I thought "those are great shoes!"

Me: (laughing slightly) Yeah, they are.

Man: (just before getting off the elevator) A girl's got to rock her shoes!

Me: It's true!

What a great way to start my day! Not only was I wearing a new dress that made me look awesome (I had my first H&M shopping trip yesterday and it was great!), but it's always nice to get complimented on something--especially your shoes!

Mar 3, 2012

Week 8: Last One!

Well, the Experiment is over. Here are a few things I've learned:

*coming up with side dishes is hard
*planning a weekly menu is hard
*cooking every night after work has it's ups and downs but it certainly possible
*making a new recipe can be fun
*cleaning up afterwards isn't too bad, as long as you cleaned up as you went and don't wait to start clean up afterward
*crock pots are awesome
*coming up with ridiculous nicknames for my father takes creativity
*to re-appreciate my mom for everything she has done for, does do for me, and will ever do for me
*sometimes, all you need are some tunes, a knife in your hand, and something delicious to make, to make a work day better.

I'm pretty sure my mom is going to recruit me to make dinner more often now, which is totally fine. And please, feel free to use these 8-week of menus in your own family--I've already done the planning for you, all you have to do is shop and cook!

We had another breakfast at the request of Doodle-Daddy. French toast was on the menu, along with country style hash browns, link sausages, and fruit.

I love soup. Especially when it's cold outside. Today we had 5-Can Soup, a favorite and easy recipe. With it we had bread and butter, and an apple.

5-Can Soup
1 lb hamburger, cooked
1 can green beans, DO NOT DRAIN
1 can corn, DO NOT DRAIN
1 can vegetable soup + 1 can water
1 can tomato (or minestrone) soup + 1 can water
1 can chili

Put everything in a big pot and heat through. When I was at school I just used whatever soups/vegetables I happened to have (that would work in the soup) and sometimes instead of a 1 lb of hamburger I would use tortellini. You can also make this into taco soup by adding taco seasoning to it and eating with cheese, sour cream, and chips.

On this night, we had something Daddy-O wanted: Pasta al Forno. It's similar to baked ziti, but much easier to make. This is a recipe we got from a woman in one of our wards way back when. We had "good" bread and salad with it.

Pasta al Forno
1 bag rigatoni (or other pasta)
1 jar spaghetti sauce
mozzarella cheese
cheddar cheese
white sauce (you can find out my opinion on white sauces here)
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp flour
1 cup milk
salt and pepper
Make a roux with the flour and butter, add milk and salt and pepper. Stir until thick.

Cook pasta. Layer in casserole dish: pasta, white sauce, spaghetti sauce, cheeses, and repeat. Cook for 30 minutes at 350.

Wednesday and Thursday
Because this week contained Parent/Teacher Conferences for my parents' schools, I didn't have to cook for these two days. Wednesday night I spent in my mom's library. She had sneaked me a sandwich, chips, salad, and a cookie from their staff dinner. Thursday I had leftover pasta al forno from Tuesday.

Crock pot day! I made one of my family's favorite dishes. This is a casserole we grew up on, but have just recently started cooking in a crock pot. Crunchy Rice. It has a real name, but nobody cares to remember it (except me because I looked it up once and wrote it down. It was "Chicken Supreme." Crunchy Rice sounds better.). This name came from the rice around the outer edge of the casserole that gets all crispy--our favorite part! With it we had steamed broccoli.

Crunchy Rice
5 to 6 chicken breasts
1 1/2 cups uncooked rice
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 can cream of celery soup
1 can water
2/3 cup milk
1/2 package dry onion soup

Spray 9x13 dish (or crock pot). Mix soups with milk, water, and rice; put in dish/crock pot. Lay chicken on top and sprinkle onion soup on top of that. Cover and cook in oven for 3 to 3 1/2 hours at 300, or in crock pot on high for 3-5 hours or low for 8 hrs.

Last day! You may have noticed that I didn't make a new recipe this week, and today's isn't one either. That is because I decided that the three new recipes I made last week make up for this week's lack of one. And I can do that because I made up the rules. Anyway, for today's dinner, we are having meat loaf, cooked carrots, and Pasta Roni parmesan angel hair. I love meat loaf; I know it always gets a bad rap, but I love it. I love the first day with ketchup smothered on it, and I love it as a sandwich for leftovers. It's just so good.

Meat Loaf
2 lb ground beef
1 egg
1 cup crumbs (these can be bread crumbs, corn flake crumbs, or oatmeal. I have used all three.)
1/2 cup milk
salt and pepper
finely chopped onion (I used a small-ish onion and it came to a little over a cup)
2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
2-4 tbsp ketchup

Put everything in a bowl and get in there with your hands. Seriously. Just dig right in. Mush it between your fingers. It's the best way to mix it evenly. Bake in bread pan for 1 1/2 hours or in a 9x9 for 1 hour at 350.

You Never Know What You'll End Up With

So, one of my favorite clothing websites, ModCloth, was doing a "grab bag" for $15 last week. Basically, this means that you pay a flat rate of $15 dollars, give them your size, and they send you something. You have no idea what you're going to get, which is part of the fun. Anyway, I decided to try it out. Just to see.

This is what I ended up with:

Which, is basically awful. I mean, maybe if I were 15 years old, and still a size 2. Maybe. But the thing is, this really isn't me at all. I pulled it on over my t-shirt and jeans (not the best way to try something, but I knew just looking at it that it wasn't for me) and laughed. I felt like I was wearing a costume.

Well, now I know to stick with the jewelry grab bags.

However, there is some really nice details on this dress. The lace for example:

I love it.

And there is also a lot of netting (tulle, I think):

Seriously, a LOT. About 8 layers. EIGHT layers! That's crazy.

At the moment I'm planning on putting this is my craft box (a box that doesn't get much use because I'm not really the crafty type) to take apart later. The netting I can use to lengthen a skirt/dress that is a little too short. The lace would be great to use on a vintage style dress (I'm actually looking at patterns, which is weird because I'm not a great seamstress. And by that I mean, I don't sew.).

It was fun, and the 'rents and I had a good laugh over it. Once we got Dad to understand that I did not order this dress on purpose.