Independence Day!

29 July 2015

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I figured I better sneak in a post about how we spend Independence Day before the entire month got away from us! We usually end up with quite a crowd around the pool on July 4th, but so many of our favorites were traveling, that it ended up being a very low key day. The kids all wore stars and stripes and we spend almost every second of our day swimming, eating and playing dominoes.

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He's not fat, he's just full of •FREEDOM• ❤️��❤️��❤️��❤️BEACH 298 BEACH 299

The forecast was a little iffy for the evening and we debated a picnic at Morgan Creek (like last year) right up until we left the driveway. The kids ultimately decided for dinner and dessert and we grabbed a quick red, white & blue photo op in the driveway before we left. 

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We opted for a selfie since Ella was struggling to manage the big camera.

So, I pretty much adore this guy. #tazandbellysummer2015

As usual, Ella's favorite part is to snap a photo when you aren't paying attention! I can't tell you how many images of myself in mid sentence or reaching for the camera that she's managed to capture.

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It never did much more than sprinkle, so after dinner we DID ride out to the winery to catch the fireworks and, as usual, they were beautiful!! If you are local and haven't tried the holiday celebration at Morgan Creek, I highly recommend it.

The only thing that didn't go quite as planned was our meal that day. Josh thought it would be a great idea to cook meat and veggies in an aluminum foil packet on the grill while everyone else's burgers and hot dogs were cooking. Fueled by our successful Memorial Day grill-fest, we were expecting nothing less than perfection.

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Here is what we did...

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That's smoked gouda, by the way. DELICIOUS.

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Why do we have no "after" picture, you ask? Well, we cooked these on the grill. Placed on the top rack, we were hoping to smoke them a bit and keep from over-cooking them since they weren't on any direct heat. In reality, the chicken was more like charcoal when we removed them from the grill. It was either raw chicken or overcooked chicken. The veggies and cheese survived, but it wasn't nearly as filling and topped with smoked gouda tasted way too "smoked". I'm guessing this would have worked much better in the oven where they could've heated a little more evenly, so we'll try these again. 

Have you made pockets like this on the grill before? Any suggestions for our next attempt? Labor Day is coming fast and we've got to figure out something else fun to cook on the grill!

#collaboreads: Eleanor & Park

27 July 2015

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It's time again to link up with the always fabulous Amber and Rachel to share an book review. They introduced us to #collaboreads in May and today is the day we get to link up and share the books we read in July! The concept is simple - there are only five steps:
  1. Visit their blogs and see the prompt for each month's link up.
  2. Go choose a book.
  3. READ {you get 30 whole days}.
  4. Write a review to link up with Amber & Rachel.
  5. Do it all over again next month!
The criteria for July was to read a book with the character's name in the title and just like last month's review, I chose a book that I purchased almost a year ago and never got around to reading. Since I read Landline by Rainbow Rowell earlier in the summer, I was hoping to find Eleanor & Park just as magical.

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From Amazon:

Bono met his wife in high school, Park says.
So did Jerry Lee Lewis, Eleanor answers
I'm not kidding, he says.
You should be, she says, we're 16.
What about Romeo and Juliet?
Shallow, confused, then dead.
I love you, Park says.
Wherefore art thou, Eleanor answers.
I'm not kidding, he says.
You should be.

Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits -- 
smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. 
When Eleanor meets Park, you'll remember your own first love -- and just how hard it pulled you under.

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Park is half-Korean, sixteen with no driver's license, introverted and unassuming. He has the perfect "Leave it to Beaver" family and a bus seat all to himself. Eleanor is overweight (at least she thinks so), quirky, a very eccentric dresser and has been separated from her dysfunctional family for the last year. Did I mention she needs a place to sit on the bus? They seem to have nothing at all in common when they find themselves sharing that seat, but after stolen glances and a few shared playlists, they find themselves in a secret relationship.

High school romance? Check. Speak to each other in song lyrics? Check. Opposites attract? Check. 

RIVETING.
I love, love, LOVED the writing style. I found that to be true with Landline, but even more so in E&P. I love books that go back and forth between characters' perspectives since they afford the reader so much more insight into both the story and the characters' emotions and motivations. Each chapter went back and forth between Eleanor & Park, sometimes multiple times, as they described the scenes from their respective points of view.

My other favorite part? The slightly ambiguous ending. I know some people aren't a fan of open-ended novels, but I kind of adore them. I won't spoil your reading by giving you any details on how this thing between Eleanor & Park wraps up, but the final chapter had me grinning from ear to ear AND tearing up. How is that even possible?

ELEMENTS.
The characters were described so well that I could picture them in my head from the beginning and then would find myself surprised to read something descriptive about them chapters later only to realize I was completely wrong in my assumptions.

In the beginning, both Eleanor & Park come off a little abrasive as we get to hear their inner dialogue and they form opinions about one another based upon their limited interaction. As they began to shed their insecurities and share simple details about their lives with one other, I fell hard. For both of them. With every turn of the page, I found Park even more endearing and my sympathy for Eleanor grew in leaps and bounds.

It isn't just the main characters you will fall in love with either. You will feel all the feelings for Eleanor's siblings and all the rage for her stepfather. You will adore Park's grandparents and you will grin through every word his mother says. Eleanor's new friends, DeNice and Beebi, will be YOUR new best friends. This book takes the cake on character development.

I've heard it said that sometimes YA novels give characters a voice that doesn't jibe with what we know about typical high-school aged kids. Characters in books are oftentimes far more altruistic than their real-life counterparts and the main characters fall into that category here. Yes, there is typical teenage angst and all the BIG FEELINGS that they don't quite know how to handle, but at the same time these two are so smart and savvy and they had such deep feelings for each other. As a quirky artist (in combat boots and a plaid skirt), who fell head over heels for the high-school quarterback (in his preppy button down shirt) and married him six years later, I could really relate to how much they felt for each other and how little they cared for what everyone else had to say. Sure, I'm 35 now and could be cynical if I wanted, but I remember being seventeen and having no one take me seriously.

ASSOCIATE.
While I actually prefer Rainbow Rowell's writing style to that of John Green, it should surprise no one that I've chosen yet another YA, coming of age, boy-meets-girl saga for this month's read. It's hard not to associate it with other stories in this genre, especially when I keep reading them back to back! Like Paper Towns, E&P starts with boy loves girl / girl isn't so sure of boy and ends after an epic road trip, although the circumstances of both are decidedly different.

DESIGN.
Since I read last month's Collaboreads selection on the Kindle, I really wanted to get my hands on a paper book this time. Even though I had already purchased and downloaded it, I shelled out another eighteen books for the hard-back copy and I'm so glad I did. It's a shelf-er. I love the cover illustration (this seems to be something Rowell's camp does really well) --the characters are perfectly depicted and that earbud cord as an ampersand? Perfection.

STARS.
Amazon gave it 4.5 stars and if we're being honest, I'm going to have to go with a solid 5. I know I should give myself a little room there because no book is perfect, but I just can't do it. I read this book in two sittings -- Friday night at the nail salon and Saturday afternoon in a lawn chair by the pool. I have no idea if the girl even used the right color polish or if my kids had fun at the pool on Saturday (I kid. Maybe. Thanks, dad!). I love a book that I can get lost in and this one was the perfect way to spend a weekend!

QUOTES.
"I just want to break that song into pieces," she said, "and love them all to death." p59

Eleanor was right: She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn't supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something. p165

"You look like you," he said. "You with the volume turned up." p216

He loved how much they [his parents] loved each other. It was the thing he thought about when he woke up scared in the middle of the night. Not that they loved him -- they were his parents, they had to love him. That they loved each other. They didn't have to do that. p301

You think that holding someone hard will bring them closer. You think that you can hold them so hard that you'll still feel them, embossed on you, when you pull away. p311

My People

24 July 2015

I had something completely different to share with you today, but then my sister sent me the album with our beach pictures last night and I just couldn't resist shifting things around a bit. Because she's an amazing photographer and because she's my sister, I have no shortage of beautiful photographs of my children's lives, BUT, this might be my favorite photo session of all time. It helps that we were happy as can be in our favorite place ever. 

Since we do beach pictures every year and I absolutely do not want them to be those khaki pants + white shirt quintessential beach sessions, we decided to try something different this year. There is a nature trail on a boardwalk, just over the bayou from our favorite ice cream shop. The lighting was perfect and there wasn't a soul around. Our only concern was whether Pizza Hut would have our car towed while we were posing! Talking about how we would talk our way out of that certainly kept a smile on everyone's face.

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That's my new favorite photo of me and the hubs. I always feel ridiculous taking these kinds of pictures, but I stand corrected. It looks absolutely effortless and completely captures how I feel about him. He's a keeper.


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And that fuzzy hair on Sophie's head, back lit by the sinking sun. Gah, I just want to eat her up.

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Thank you, K. You were my best friend BEFORE I saw these pictures, but I might have to buy you a crown now! xoxoxo

How We Camp

22 July 2015

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I feel like a get an eye roll every time I talk about "camping". It seems there is a spectrum for camping and our summer vacations fall somewhere in the middle. Those of you who backpack or go on primitive camping adventures think that we may as well be staying in a four star hotel. And for those of you who are accustomed to condo life and a jetted tub, our idea of roughing it probably sounds detestable. No matter where you fall on the spectrum, I'm guessing it's hard for you to imagine exactly how it all goes down. I thought I'd share some details about what we take with us, how we pack our camper and how I keep us as organized as possible when we travel.

Let me tell you that I grew up camping in a tent. We had a box fan and an air mattress, but everything else we carried got to stay in the car! Having 32 feet of storage in our home on the road feels like a luxury compared to that! 

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On the outside of the trailer, we have an 18 foot awning. In a perfect world, it would stay open for the entire stay, but our favorite campsite is on the water and sometimes the wind from Lake Shelby and summer storms mean we have to roll it down. Fortunately, this year I mastered opening and closing it by myself, so it could be open as often and for as long as I like. The only downside to that is having to rehang my lights. This year, I bought string lights with Edison bulbs (similar) and I adore them. I used binder clips to hang them on our awning which made them easy to take down and put up. 

Growing up, we always packed our clothes in laundry baskets. Since they stayed in the trunk of my mom's car, it was an easy way to transport them, everyone's things were separated and they were more easier to look through than suitcases. Similarly, we pack clothes in Rubbermaid tubs and keep them under the trailer right near the front door. Josh and I each have our own and the girls share a larger tub a little farther down. They are water tight (and being under the awning helps) and keep everything organized and out of the way. I find that trying to dig through drawers and cabinets while someone is sleeping never quite works and this way we have more storage space inside for other things.

Most of the underneath storage compartments hold things we need for making camp (think hosepipes, extension cords and tools), but we do store bubbles, sidewalk chalk and beach toys in the compartment all the way to the right. Bicycles, beach chairs, wagons and any other outdoor toys are corralled near the hitch, between the trailer and Josh's truck. It stays parked for most of the week unless we're trekking to the beach.

The smartest thing I did this year was to invest in the white, metal cart sitting near the door. It could be used for so many things (we used it in November as kitchen island and extra serving space when my parents camped with us), but this summer I parked it outside to organize beach and pool bags, our cooler, extra water bottles and art supplies.

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Here is a different angle of our campsite. You can see that Josh hung my clothesline between two trees at the back of our site. I have a small bag with plastic clothespins and we hang bath towels and rags here to dry. Sometimes t shirts or bathing suits find their way here, but I have a few other places to dry as we make our way through camp.

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Another necessity outside? A comfy rug. We used to have an outdoor carpet that we rolled up and stored in the trailer, but it held water and never seemed clean. This polypropylene one works so much better. Sand and water drain properly and it was easy to sweep or shake, when necessary.

The campground provides a wooden picnic table and although most everyone else seems to enjoy theirs further from their front door, I like mine right underneath the awning. We eat outside and the girls love a big place to stretch out with board games and coloring books. After a day at the beach or pool, it also doubles nicely as a towel drying rack.

Once thing I'm determined to work on for next summer is shoe storage! For the most part, we leave shoes outside to keep the floors inside from getting too grubby. We have a small mat right inside the door where everyone leaves a pair of flip flops when coming or going, but most of the shoes accumulate right outside the door! I'm thinking of taking a rubber bucket next time to keep all of our shoes in one place. I can't tell you how many times I tripped over this pile!

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Once inside, our room is on the right. It has sliding doors if we want some privacy, but most of the time we leave it open to the rest of the trailer (click here for a full tour of our trailer). Not only do we sleep here, but there is a closet for hang up clothes and overhead cabinets where we keep all of our extra linens. You know those giant blue bags from IKEA? Yeah, we keep a good stash of those in the cabinet, too. They are perfect for hauling laundry and keeping things corralled in the car and trailer during travel.

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I sleep on the side of the bed with the little table. Here I keep a stash of books, my laptop and iPad, a reading lamp and phone chargers. Josh doesn't have an electrical outlet on his side of the bed, so we have a mini surge protector here and run a short extension cord to his side of the bed.

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In our little kitchen, we store plenty of paper products (plates, bowls, napkins, paper towels, ziploc baggies, trashbags and grocery sacks). We also have silverware and serving pieces, a coffee pot, crockpot, iron and cleaning supplies. While we use the microwave and sink frequently, our stove has never been fired up. I keep a solid surface stove cover on top and use that area as an extra bit of counter space for drying dishes or making lunches.

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Although we have a tub / shower combo in our little bathroom, I never use it for the intended purpose. I think my mom bathed Sophie there all summer last year, but I find it easier to have them walk with us to the bathhouse across the street. Instead, I use the shower stall for storage! We each have a basket or bucket with our bathroom supplies and it's big enough to add pajamas and a bath towel. Each person is responsible for their own basket (making sure it's fully stocked and getting it to and from the bathhouse) and they live in the tub when not in use.

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In addition to using the shower curtain rod as an extra towel rack, I hung a second rod across the bathroom width-wise and use this closet organizer for extra towels, hair bows and other supplies. On the back of the bathroom door we have a coat rack for winter camping, that we use to hang grocery totes and laundry baskets during the summer. They can get in the way when they are full, but it keeps the kids from squirreling laundry away in their beds.

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Each of the girls has two bunks on their side of the back room. Ella's are twin-sized and Sophie's are slightly smaller. They both sleep on the bottom bunk and use the top bunk to store all of their things or sometimes to hang out and play games. I've considered taking the top mattresses out and adding a few sets of plastic drawers, but I'm always worried someone extra will need a bed!

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Also, on the top bunk, I keep two small laundry baskets for the girls. While it's easy to keep their nicer clothes and extra shoes outside in a bin, little girls need access to swimsuits, pajamas and undies more frequently than we do and I got tired of making extra trips. These baskets contain all of those things, along with a few sets of soft, play clothes that they can get to without any help.

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Now, since we aren't just a walk away from the beach or just above the pool, I thought I'd share how I keep our supplies organized for those outings, too. I've tried every beach bag known to man and this year's was my favorite. I picked up this Donna Dixon bag and matching cosmetic case at TJMaxx (similar) a few weeks before we left. It's machine washable, has interior pockets and the rope handles are soft and comfortable to carry.

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I keep it loaded with books & magazines, hats, sunblock, a beach sheet, my camera and two beach towels per person. It's like Mary Poppins' carpet bag -- it holds everything and then some!

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In the cosmetic case, I keep sunglasses, cash for ice cream treats, chapstick, hair ties and pain reliever. You never know when you'll need those things and I hate having to dig for things in the bottom of my bag. I also zipped my phone inside while we were in the water to protect against water, sand and grubby hands!

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I have also been on the hunt for a new cooler for this summer. We have a huge one that we used to keep stocked with drinks outside, before we had a full-size fridge in the trailer. We don't need it anymore and it's way too big and bulky for the beach. I picked up this insulated bag instead and it is the PERFECT size to carry back and forth.

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It comes with nylon handles or in a market-basket frame and both are roomy and easy to carry! Keep an eye out at your local TJMaxx because I picked this one up for less than twenty bones and there were several colors and patterns!

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My last piece of advice comes in the form of beach gear. Our campsite is less than a mile from our favorite beach, but it is definitely NOT within walking distance when you factor in the amount of stuff you need to keep a family of four comfortable in the sun. We have this canvas folding cart and use it to hold our cooler, beach bag, beach chairs, collapsible trashcan, beach mats, toys and shoes. Seriously, it holds everything and I can pull it myself. We can sit it in the back of Josh's truck, completely packed, and make the drive back and forth. We carry a light-weight, 10x10 tailgate tent to provide us with some shade and a few umbrellas if the kids want to hang out closer to shore.

Day 167/365: I'm feeling a bit like a rockstar this morning. Josh has conference calls, so I just packed up ALL THE THINGS and trekked a million miles to the beach with my three people. By myself. All beach, all day. #weheartgulfshores #tazandbellycamp #g

I know that camping isn't for everyone, but I think it agrees with us just perfectly. In fact, we might be headed south again in a few weeks to bid farewell to summer and say hello to our next year of school!

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