Tuesday, December 31, 2013

It's Been a Year

Well here we are on the cusp of the passing of yet another year.  Out of all of the years of my life, this is the year that I will be most happy to see coming to an end.

It's been an incredibly tough year. It's been a year of challenges.  A year of frustration.  A year of heart break.  I've cried in more places - both public and private - than I have any other year, and the year has certainly held more sorrow than joy.  It's been a year that has exhausted me.

But I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that the year has contained some good things.  I passed the CFA exam.  I hosted one of my best friends for a girls weekend in Charlotte, and traveled to many wonderful places.  I got a promotion at work in the spring.  I made new friends and strengthened existing friendships.  I co-hosted another successful Julia Child Night.

But I look back at who I was in the early days of the 2013 before I knew that the year would hold an unwanted move, a break-up, a stress fracture, a lack of running, and the diagnosis of a chronic disease, among other difficult things - and that person is unrecognizable to me. I know she's buried somewhere underneath all of the layers of sadness and defeat that I have accumulated over the past year, but she feels a little bit lost to me right now.

But I see glimpses of the person I used to be when I am away from Charlotte, and those glimpses are encouraging.  They tell me that previous, better version of myself is not completely lost.  And at least I know how to get back to the person I was before the move.  I know that the way I feel right now is situational and when I get back to the Midwest, the clouds that have been hanging over me for the past year will be gone.  I will get that spring in my step back, smiles will come more easily, and the number of days that contain tears will dwindle.

Recently someone asked me if I would make a different decision if I could go back and do it all over again.  And as much as I'd like to say I would, I know that I couldn't.  I won't bore you all with the circumstances that required me to make this unwanted move to Charlotte, but trust me when I say if I could have avoided it, I would have.  But I couldn't, so here I am, picking up the pieces from a year of challenges and hoping to cobble back together a life I am proud of in 2014.

So here's hoping that 2014 contains more joy than sorrow.  More smiles than tears.  More laughter than anguish.  And more than anything, I hope that 2014 includes the closing of the chapter of my time in Charlotte - and the start of a new chapter back in the Midwest.

Tonight, I will quietly usher out 2013 (and honestly give it a metaphorical middle finger), but I will welcome, with joy, a New Year.

I wish everyone a very safe and Happy New Year!

Monday, December 30, 2013

5 Best Books of 2013

I'm back from my week at home.  I'll tell you more about it later this week, but suffice it to say that I had a wonderful time!

Back to the post topic at hand...  I read a lot in 2013!  As of today, I have read 79 books which is by far the most books I have read in a year.  Between all the flights I took and the extra alone time in a new city, I had a lot of time to read. And luckily, I read some really great books.  Here are my top 5 picks from 2013, in no particular order!

And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini - If you haven't read something by Hosseini, I highly recommend that you do.  His writing is beautiful and his books are always such page-turners for me.  And The Mountains Echoed was a little different than his other books as there were several story lines that were all inter-connected.  It got off to a bit of a slow and confusing start for me initially but I am glad I stuck with it as it was truly a wonderful book.  It was one of those books that I was sad to see end as I just really loved the characters.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova - This has been on my TBR list for years and I finally got around to reading it this year.  It was such a great book.  It's told from the perspective of Alice, a Harvard professor who develops early-onset Alzheimer's over the course of the book.  This book was especially impactful for me as Phil's dad had Alzheimer's so it was especially heart breaking to read about this, knowing his dad was suffering from this disease.
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes - I loved this book.  It's about a heavy subject as the main character is a care taker for a quadriplegic.  Despite the heavy topic, the author did a great job of introducing humor along the way and I actually laughed out loud occasionally, which doesn't happen very often when I am reading.  This book is a tear jerker, so have some Kleenexes on hand.
The Little Way of Ruthie Leming by Rod Dreher - My aunt/God-mom is a retired English teacher so every time I see her, I ask her about her latest and greatest reads. She recommended this book when I saw her at Julia Child Night so I downloaded it onto my nook for my Paris trip.  I ended up starting and finishing this book on my flight back to Charlotte.  It was so, so good.  It falls under the memoir category as the author writes about the life of his younger sister. But there are other elements in the book such as the decision to live far from family to pursue your career, and whether it's worth the sacrifices (which obviously hit home for me).  Warning:  it's another tear jerker.  I started crying when I got to a really sad part of the book and could not stop!  Which was a little embarrassing since I was in such a public place but oh well!

Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum - My best of list wouldn't be complete without a WWII book!  I have owned this one for years but finally got around to reading it for my online book club.  It was such a great book.  There is a modern-day story as the main character, Trudy, researches her family's past and it's potential tie to a Nazi soldier, and then the book flashed back to the time of WWII.  I especially loved that it was partially set in Minnesota as it's always fun to read books that are set in a city you know and love.

What were your best reads of 2013?

Friday, December 20, 2013

Home For the Holidays

This is an especially happy Friday for me as today I fly home for Christmas.  I have been blessed to spend every Christmas with my family, but this year I appreciate the fact that I'll be able to celebrate with them more than ever.

I am looking forward to 5 blissful days with my family at my parents' lake home.  Yes, Minnesota is cold but there is no place I'd rather be.  In no particular order, I'm looking forward to hugs from my nephews, board games in the evenings, face-to-face conversations with my parents, siblings, and their spouses, Scrabble matches with my grandma, delicious home-cooked food, playing cribbage with my dad, quiet afternoons spent by the fireplace reading, and homemade ice cream. 

My goal for this trip home is to live in the present as much as possible.  I don't want the fact that I will have to return to Charlotte on the 26th to weigh me down.  To help me live in the present as much as possible, I have asked my family if we could please not talk about my life here in Charlotte.  I know that may sound dramatic to ask them to avoid talking about a large part of my life, but I know I will get sad and depressed if I have to talk about how much I don't like it here and how anxious I am that I won't find an opportunity in the Midwest in 2014, so I'd rather just not discuss it at all, or as little as possible.  I will deal with my reality when I fly home on the 26th (and will likely be a puddle of tears), but while I am home, I want to just put it out of my mind and enjoy my time in Minnesota. 

I will be taking next week off from blogging so that I can focus on enjoying my time at home.  I'll be back to blogging during the final week of the year, though, with a list of my best books of 2013 so stay tuned for that!

For those of you who celebrate Christmas, I hope it's a joyful one!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

More Love Letters: 12 Days of Love Letter Writing

For the 3rd year in a row, I am participating in the More Love Letters 12 Days of Love Letter Writing campaign.  In case you aren't familiar with this organization, it receives letters requests from people from all walks of life who are struggling a bit and could use a little extra love in the form of a letter.  Then volunteers, such as myself, craft a letter to provide support, encouragement, and a tangible sign that there are people out there - even complete strangers - who care. 

This year, I wrote a letter to Lois.  Here is the love letter request from Lois' daughter:

This request comes to us from Lois’ loving daughter. She writes: “My mom, age 88, and dad, 92, have been married for over 67 years. Mom has been the sole caregiver for my dad since he suffered a debilitating stroke 14 years ago. She has been totally devoted to caring for him. Three weeks ago she had to have knee replacement surgery and for the first time in 67 years they are separated until she recovers. They are both having such a hard time being apart. She is in a rehabilitation center and working so hard at her physical therapy so that she'll be able to come home and care for him once again. Unfortunately, due to her age her recovery is not going as well as she'd hoped. She could really use some love letters and encouragement.” Let’s put pen to paper and lift Lois’ spirits today!

I wrote my letter near the glow of one of my favorite candles.

 If you are interested in participating, you can send your letter here.  The deadline is tomorrow!

Lois' Bundle
c/o Darla A.
2445 Kips Korner Rd.
Norco, Ca. 92860

Have you participated in a love letter campaign before?  Have you ever been on the receiving end of an unexpected letter that provided encouragement and support?  I certainly have in the last year and those letters and notes really brightened my day.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

TLC Book Tours Review: The Supreme Macaroni Company

The Supreme Macaroni Company synopsis from Goodreads:

For over a hundred years, the Angelini Shoe Company in Greenwich Village has relied on the leather produced by Vechiarelli & Son in Tuscany. This historic business partnership provides the twist of fate for Valentine Roncalli, the school teacher turned shoemaker, to fall in love with Gianluca Vechiarelli, a tanner with a complex past . . . and a secret.

A piece of surprising news is revealed at The Feast of the Seven Fishes when Valentine and Gianluca join her extended family on a fateful Christmas Eve. Now faced with life altering choices, Valentine remembers the wise words that inspired her in the early days of her beloved Angelini Shoe Company: "A person who can build a pair of shoes can do just about anything." The proud, passionate Valentine is going to fight for everything she wants and savor all she deserves-the bitter and the sweetness of life itself.

Romantic and poignant, told with humor and warmth, and bursting with a cast of endearing characters, The Supreme Macaroni Company is a sumptuous feast of delights: a portrait of a woman and the man she loves, her passion for craftsmanship, and the sacrifices it takes to build and sustain a family business while keeping love and laughter at the center of everything.

My Review:

The Supreme Macaroni Company by Adriana Trigiani is the 3rd book in Trigiani's "Valentine" series which you maybe wouldn't realize if you picked this book up because it's the first book that doesn't use Valentine's name in the title.  Nora introduced me to Trigiani years ago and it has been fun to read her books over the years.  They tend to be fairly light reads, but have enough depth to keep them from really falling into the "chick lit" category, although some of them dip their toe into that category. 

In The Supreme Macaroni Company, the main character has just gotten engaged on Christmas Eve to her Italian boyfriend.  This final book in the series follows the ups and downs of her relationship to an older man with a bit of a past.  Valentine is in her mid-30s and is a bit stubborn and unwilling to compromise at times, so there is plenty of conflict in the book and at times you wonder how this couple will make it.  While Trigiani's books tend to be light reads, there are some sad elements to this book.  

Overall, I enjoyed the book.  I feel like Valentine could have maybe grown more as a character over the course of the series, but I will say that she grew quite a bit in this group.  I am glad I read this final story as it completed a story that I had read over the course of several years.  Lastly, I will say that Trigiani did a good job of weaving in details from past books so it made it easy to follow if it had been awhile since you had read the other books.

Have you read anything by Trigiani?

I received a complimentary copy of this book from TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review, and the opinions are my own.

Friday, December 13, 2013

A Year Ago

Happy Friday, everyone!  We made it through another week.  Woo hoo.  I fly to NYC today and fly home for Christmas a week from today so have lots of good things to pull me through the month of December.

I don't know what it is about this time of year, but it seems to bring out a sense of nostalgia.  We think back on holiday seasons from our childhood.  We keep traditions alive that we've established with our family and friends.  There is a sense of anticipation for the celebration of another holiday, but my feelings during this season are closely tied to Christmases past.

Lately I've spent a lot of time thinking about what was happening in my life a year ago.  And to be quite honest, looking back is apt to bring tears to my eyes.  And not happy tears.  I think about how a year ago I was living in a city I love, working for a boss I trusted. I had ample friends at work and people on my team that I trusted.  I loved the condo where I was living and had plenty of room to host friends and family.  I had been dating Phil for 2 months.  I was excited to celebrate our first Christmas together and we attended his Christmas party together a year ago tomorrow.  

Flash forward a year, and it's all changed.  I live in Charlotte now.  I work with a new team where I feel like an outsider.  I have this smaller apartment that I don't particularly like, in a complex that I am not pleased with due to things like the fact that I've had my door banged on by drunks at 3 in the morning or have had to file a noise complaint due to the ridiculous level of noise on weekend nights. 

I want to go back in time to the life I had a year ago.  I want to be at a place where I can say, for the most part, that I really love my life.  I'm approaching the one year anniversary of finding about my move to Charlotte and while some think I should be encouraged by the fact that over 8 months have passed since I moved here, all I feel is discouraged.  I know where I want to end up in 2014, but I don't see a path that will lead me there.  My head spins with details such as the expense of flying back for interviews, my non-compete clause and how that will impact my ability to negotiate a job offer, lease breaking fees, and how I will ensure I don't have a gap in insurance as going without insurance is no longer an option thanks to my $2,000/month RA drug. 

This is supposed to be the most happy time of the year, and I feel like most around me are so excited for the holiday season.  And don't get me wrong, I am excited to return home to celebrate Christmas with my family.  I just wish I could chase away these feels of sadness and stress that are hanging over me and won't seem to go away. 

I'm hoping that I can shove these feelings to the side and truly enjoy my trip home next week, but it's easier said than done.  I'm hoping that once I can start to actively look for jobs, I'll feel more in control and optimistic about the path my life will take in 2014.  But right now 2014 is so full of uncertainty.  And that is very hard for me. 

So this is where I am at right now.  I'm sad and sick of Charlotte and oh so ready for this chapter of my life to be behind me.  I know I posted a wish list last week but all I want for Christmas is a job back in the Midwest and a timeline for when I can return home, which is something that Santa, nor anyone else, can provide.  I'm trying to believe that it will all work out, but it's hard. 

But here's hoping that a year from now, I am preparing to celebrate Christmas back in the Midwest and can look back on this holiday season and say that my Charlotte experience is firmly in the past.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Three Things Thursday

Happy Thursday - can it just be Friday already?  It's been a busy week  but this week just can't go fast enough for me.  I'm so excited for Friday afternoon to roll around so I can fly to NYC for the weekend!  It's good to have things to look forward to!

Here are 3 things that are on my mind today.

1.  I really, really hate the Charlotte airport.  I have an informed opinion about it because I clearly fly very often.  The fact that there is no onsite parking DRIVES ME CRAZY (they tore down the ramps and are rebuilding them but have been working on this for over a year).  Landing in Charlotte is frustrating because I have come to realize that it's always going to involve waiting, which is the last thing a person wants to do at the end of a long day.  I will either have to wait for a cab for up to 30+ minutes at times.  Or I will have to wait for the shuttle to take me to the lot where my car is parked.  Or, like yesterday, I will take a shuttle to a valet lot and wait for them to pull my car around.  Let me tell you, waiting 30+ minutes at the end of a long day is really crappy and makes me the crabbiest person ever.  I am going to go ahead and say that Charlotte's airport is my least favorite airport.  Ever.  End rant.

2.  I have been done with my Christmas shopping for about a week now!  This is definitely the earliest I have ever been done.  It's also the first time I've done 100% of my shopping online.  I really dislike shopping malls so being about to complete my shopping without going to one is a fabulous thing!  I fly home a week from tomorrow and CAN NOT WAIT.   

3.  I didn't do any holiday shopping at a mall, however, I did have to go to a shopping mall last weekend to return my brown boots that I had purchased this fall as the head of a screw started to poke through the heel of one of the shoe which was VERY painful.  This happened while I was in Paris, which was frustrating.  I bought heel inserts to make them more tolerable to wear but it was not ideal.  So now I have no fall boots and am wondering if it's even worth buying any this year...  Part of me wants to invest in a nice pair, another part of me thinks that money should go in the 'get the heck out of Charlotte' relocation savings fund. 

What's on your mind today?  Do you do most of your holiday shopping in stores or online?

Monday, December 9, 2013

France Booktours Review: The Consolation of the Forest & a Giveaway


A meditation on escaping the chaos of modern life and rediscovering the luxury of solitude.

Winner of the Prix M├ędicis for non-fiction, THE CONSOLATIONS OF THE FOREST is a Thoreau-esque quest to find solace, taken to the extreme. No stranger to inhospitable places, Sylvain Tesson exiles himself to a wooden cabin on Siberia’s Lake Baikal—a full day’s hike from any “neighbor”— with his thoughts, books, a couple of dogs, and many bottles of vodka for company. Writing from February to July, he shares his deep appreciation for the harsh but beautiful land, the resilient men and women who populate it, and the bizarre and tragic history that has given Siberia an almost mythological place in the imagination.

Rich with observation, introspection, and the good humor necessary to laugh at his own folly, Tesson’s memoir is about the ultimate freedom of owning your own time. Only in the hands of a gifted storyteller can an experiment in isolation become an exceptional adventure accessible to all.  By recording his impressions in the face of silence, his struggles in a hostile environment, his hopes, doubts, and moments of pure joy in communion with nature, Tesson makes a decidedly out-of-the-ordinary experience relatable to the reader who may be struggling with hir or her own search for peace and balance in life. The awe and joy are contagious, and one comes away with the comforting knowledge that “as long as there is a cabin deep in the woods, nothing is completely lost.”

My thoughts:

When France Booktours contacted me and asked me if I would be interested in reviewing this book, I couldn't resist as I was totally intrigued.  While I do a lot of things on my own - like more to a new city, travel, and visit places like Paris, I can't imagine doing something like going to a remote area of Russia for 6 months - alone.

Consolation of the Forest reads a bit like a diary of Tesson's experience living in the harsh conditions of Siberia.  He clearly has a lot of time for reading and reflection, and he shares many of these thoughts in his book.  I think one thing that is interesting is that you walk away from reading this book feeling like it wasn't this sad, lonely experience and instead was an experience that brought him peace and clarity.  He inserts humor throughout the book, and I found myself nodding along to some of his introspective thoughts, such as "Solitude is a country inhabited by the remembrance of others; thinking of them is a comfort in their absence."

Author bio: 

Sylvain Tesson is a writer, journalist, and celebrated traveler. He has been exploring Central Asia—on foot, bicycle, and horse—since 1997. A best-seller in his native France, he is published all over the world—and now in the United States.


I actually have an opportunity to giveaway a copy of this book to a reader in the US or Canada.  To be considered for the giveaway, please leave a comment telling me what's the longest amount of time you have spent alone.  I think for me, the longest time I have spent alone was my trip to Paris for my 30th birthday as I was gone for about 8 days.

Friday, December 6, 2013

5 Things Friday

Well, I survived my first week back from vacation!  I dove right back into work on Tuesday so that forced me to get over the jet lag pretty quickly.  I think I am *mostly* back on EST, but I do get REALLY tired in the late afternoon so hopefully that subsides soon.

I thought I'd close out the week with a 5 Things Friday post.

1.  The next 2 weeks are going to be super chaotic for me.  I have work trips to Denver and Houston, a fun weekend trip to NYC to help celebrate Alli's birthday, and then I fly home on the 20th for Christmas.  I will barely be around the next 2 weeks but this is of course a good thing!  I am super excited for my NYC trip and trip home for Christmas!!!

2.  It's going to be 70F here today.  It's probably about 5F degrees back home.  I am not envious of the bitterly cold temps, but I am homesick for snow and real winter weather (don't hate me for saying that).  I am just not the kind of person who can appreciate warm temps in December.  When January rolls around, I will appreciate them.  But right now this warm weather makes it hard for me to get in the Christmas spirit. 

3.  Speaking of Christmas, I don't have a tree this year (or any Christmas decorations) since I knew I wouldn't have room for it in my tiny apartment.  I am not around much so it's not a huge deal, but I do miss seeing the glow of my Christmas tree in my apartment.  I love seeing the photos everyone else is posting of their trees, though!

4.  I am gone a lot this month, but then after that I have very little planned.  2014 is so very up in the air for me so I don't feel like I can or should plan much so that I can have the flexibility to fly back for interviews if need be.  I have about 1 trip planned/month for January-March, but that is way less than I was gone this fall. Which makes me feel anxious as that is A LOT of time to spend in Charlotte.  I am really hoping that I travel a lot for work to make this tolerable because I just really don't think I can handle all that time in Charlotte.  Clearly my feelings for this city have not improved at all.  Sorry I'm not sorry, this city is not a good fit for me.

5.  On a positive note, I am doing a day trip to Boone tomorrow with my local friend Lori.  It's a cute town that is located in the Blue Ridge Mountain area.  Lori went to college there so I know she will be a fantastic tour guide.  I am looking forward to having a whole day to catch up with her as we haven't seen each other since September!

What's on your mind today?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Christmas Wish List 2013

Well it may not look a lot like Christmas around these parts what with the 70 degree temps we're having this week (which is about 20C) but Christmas is definitely around the corner!  I always like to see what is on others' wish lists, so I thought I'd share the items on mine!

I would love noise cancelling earphones like these.  I like that they are smaller than the huge Bose ones, but still apparently work well according to my prior boss.  I take so many flights a year (about 70 this year!!), so I could really use something to block out the noise around me.

My parents got me a comfy pair of moccasin-style slippers last year.  I wear them so often that I have worn through the lining and am in need of a new pair!

I do a lot of cooking so would love a spoonrest, like this cute one from Anthropologie!

I make Mexican food quite a bit since it's very GF friendly, so would like a tortilla warmer as corn tortillas break really easily if you don't warm them up before filling them.

My aunt has both volumes of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which we use to plan our menu for Julia Child Night.  I think it's time for me to have my own copy!

And of course, this Starbucks-loving girl is always happy to receive gift cards to fund my latte addiction!

What items are on your wish list this year?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Music, Books, Miles, and Looks of November

Oh hey December!  Can I just say how happy I am that it's the last month of the year?  I CAN NOT WAIT to say good bye to 2013.   Anyways, I am back from Paris and am diving right back into reality, so here is a recap of my month of November.  Oh and if you are curious about what I was up to in Paris, I posted daily recaps over on my France blog - long story short, it was an AMAZING trip!


Say Anything by Tristan Prettyman - I was introduced to this song by a compilation CD that a local radio station releases each fall.  It's a sad song, but is relatable for anyone who has gone through a tough break-up.


It was another really strong reading month for me.  I took some long flights this month and was on vacation the last 4 days, so that really amped up my reading for the month.  I finished 10 books, listed below.  The best book I read this month was definitely "Paris Was the Place." My least favorite was probably The Burgess Boys.

Paris Was the Place by Susan Conley - 5 stars
Why Can't I Be You by Allie Larkin - 3 stars
Mastering the Art of French Eating by Ann Mah - 3 stars
Shelter Me by Juliette Fay - 4 stars
The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout - 3 stars
Chocolat by Joanne Harris - 3 stars
Tapestry of Fortunes by Elizabeth Berg - 3 stars
Just One Day by Gayle Forman - 3 stars
The Lost Wife by Alison Richman - 4 stars
Annie Freeman's Fabulous Traveling Funeral by Kris Radish  - 3 stars


Still no running, still no outlook on when I can run again.  When I saw my rheumatologist last, she wouldn't give me a time frame on my return.  So yah.  But I am still biking and using the elliptical.  It's not replacement for running, but is better than nothing!


This was a better month for liking what I wore than last month.

Outfit #1 is something I have worn because but is one of my favorite looks.  I love that mustard color!

Outfit #2 is a new dress that I bought when I was shopping with my mom in October.  I love that it has sleeves as I tend to freeze in the office!!

Outfit #3 is a new dress I bought with a 50% off coupon at Banana Republic.  I wore it to my friend Julianne's holiday party but dressed it down by pairing it with boots.  I like the jewel neckline as I don't have to think about accessorizing, which is something I am terrible at (jewelry is just not my thing!).