READ THIS! {Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close}

Happy Leap Day my lovely readers! This February, our READ THIS! book of the month was Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close:

Amazon describes the novel as this:

"Jonathan Safran Foer emerged as one of the most original writers of his generation with his best-selling debut novel, Everything Is Illuminated. Now, with humor, tenderness, and awe, he confronts the traumas of our recent history. 

Nine-year-old Oskar Schell has embarked on an urgent, secret mission that will take him through the five boroughs of New York. His goal is to find the lock that matches a mysterious key that belonged to his father, who died in the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11. This seemingly impossible task will bring Oskar into contact with survivors of all sorts on an exhilarating, affecting, often hilarious, and ultimately healing journey."

In spite of the negative reviews that Extremely Close and Incredibly Loud garnered, I think Foer's storytelling capability is brilliantly displayed in this novel. Foer has a very distinct style, running lines of dialogue together with nothing to differentiate between speakers except for closed parantheses, and it is easy to see how a reader could get bogged down by these seemingly run on sessions of dialogue. Through this, however, comes a story about a young boy finding himself through a journey to search for answers after his father dies in the attacks on September 11. The book opens and ends with pieces from September 11, but most of the novel is really about Oscar navigating through a world previously unknown to him.

It isn't said in the book, but I think that one could classify Oscar's behavior as having autistic characteristics. He's incredibly bright and has an ability to focus extremely intently at certain times, among other things. With Oscar, Foer has created a character that gives you hope, inspires you never stop learning and reminds you that life is not about the destination, but the journey that we take to get there. This novel made me laugh, it made me cry and I could barely put it down. An emotional subject, but one that is worth exploring for the reward that comes with taking in this great story.

Did you enjoy it? Do you want to be best friends with Oscar Schell as much as I do? Did you appreciate the backstory on his grandparents, or could you have done without it? I'd love to here your thoughts on this novel!

And now, I'd like to introduce you to March's READ THIS! book, The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht.

This novel, the winner of the 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction and a New York Times Bestseller, is described by Amazon as this:

"In a Balkan country mending from war, Natalia, a young doctor, is compelled to unravel the mysterious circumstances surrounding her beloved grandfather’s recent death. Searching for clues, she turns to his worn copy of The Jungle Book and the stories he told her of his encounters over the years with “the deathless man.” But most extraordinary of all is the story her grandfather never told her—the legend of the tiger’s wife."

I am so excited to sink into this story and follow along with Natalia as the explores the mystery of her grandfather's death and the story of the tiger's wife. Will you read along with me? I hope so! And if you're reading along, please grab a button for your blog from the sidebar!

The Official Home Tour: Master Bedroom

In January, I shared the layout of our apartment and the details of our move-in with you here. And a couple weeks ago, I showed you some updates we made to our entryway (here and here) to make it less boring. Today, I'm going to start sharing pictures of our bedroom, closet and bathroom space. One of the benefits to moving into a structured apartment community is having a completely blank slate to start with, and so with only a white and beige color scheme to start with, we've been able to have a lot of fun making the space more personal.

Here was the blank slate that we started with (all pictures taken during move-in):

During the move-in, as the room slowly started to fill, this is what we had to work with:

Some bedroom things
Josh and his Dad put our new bed together! We ordered it from and love it!
Oh yea, things were getting messy...
And just a day later, we finally had a less chaotic place to sleep:

Mismatched nightstands and still a mess, but at least we have a place to sleep!
Completely blank walls...
Clearly there was still a lot of putting away to do.
And this is what happens when you don't have towel hooks yet.
Over the next couple of weeks, I'm going to share the updated pictures, along with some amazing DIY projects. We've since upgraded the nightstands (they're still different, but at least they're the same color), added art to the walls (you've seen some here already) and organized the closet! In addition to this, our bathroom may be my favorite and the most complete room in our apartment - I cannot wait to show you the design scheme we chose!

PS. Tomorrow, I'll be wrapping up this month's READ THIS! novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and announcing the READ THIS! novel for March. Here's a hint: It is a mystery surrounding a granddaughter and the death of her grandfather and it promises not to disappoint!

84th Annual Academy Awards {Re-cap}

Is it really over? Tell me that I don't have to wait another 366 days for my favorite night of fashion, awards, and beautiful speeches to make you cry. Oh? That's just me? Well that's okay. As I mentioned here that's why Josh is the only one I'll watch the Oscars with. And it's a good thing he loves me so much, because he put up with watching the Oscars from about 3:30 in the afternoon until the Awards officially ended at 11:45 - and that's a lot of awards show television to put up with.

Although this was not my year prediction-wise (The Artist? How did I mis-read this situation?), I did predict a few good ones (Actress/Director/SupportingActress) and I tied with Josh in our mini-Oscars challenge. Our favorite speech of the night was, without any doubt, Octavia Spencer's after she won her much deserved Oscar for The Help. A phenomenal film - one that probably should have won for Best Picture - The Help would not have been what it was without Octavia Spencer's wonderful portrayal of Minnie. Spencer wore a beautiful gown (and made it on my best dressed list below!) and gave a speech that brought many tears to my eyes.

Our favorite other moments of the night? This question is too easy. It is a tie between two presenting duos, Ben Stiller and Emma Stone and Robert Downey, Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow. Billy Crystal was funny, other presenters were good, some were just okay - but the Ben/Emma duo and the Robert/Gwyneth duo made both Josh and I laugh out loud.

"I tested it - plural titles are out this year." Haha, brilliant! And speaking of brilliant, last night's fashion was stellar. Here are the 5 women that I think truly wowed on the red carpet...

5. Emma Stone

4. Viola Davis

3. Gwyneth Paltrow

2. Octavia Spencer

1. Penelope Cruz

Really, all of the dresses were gorgeous. In fact, most of this year's Academy Awards were stunning and well-done. The only moments of the night that I would have changed would be when Sasha Baron Cohen decided act like a fool and pour bisquick all over Ryan Seacrest (really just a bit absurd) and Angelina Jolie presenting (that dress? that leg? that pose?). Otherwise, I really do think that the Academy presented a wonderful show this year.

Josh and I had a fantastic weekend all around - took pictures with Nash at our local Petco on Saturday and enjoyed brunch out on Sunday - and I got the chance to work on a ton of projects that I cannot wait to share with you in the upcoming weeks! I hope you all have a wonderful Monday and that you're not struggling to stay awake too much! Anyone else want to petition the Academy to start the awards at least an hour earlier? Yea, me too! Happy Monday!

Sunday Drive {Gorgeous Greys}

Good Morning and Happy Sunday! Today, I'm kicking off a new series called Sunday Drive. When I was younger, my mother and father used to load my brother and I into the car on Sunday afternoons and drive into different neighborhoods to look at some beautiful houses. From breathtaking "McMansions" to stunning country homes, I developed my love of decor during these drives. I am definitely looking forward to taking Sunday drives with my own family one day.

For the first edition of Sunday Drive, I am paying homage to my childhood home and focusing on one of my favorite exterior paint colors - grey. Here are my favorite homes of the week:

                                                                           Source: via Sara on Pinterest

                                                                                Source: via Sara on Pinterest

                                                                        Source: via Sara on Pinterest

                                                                            Source: via Sara on Pinterest

                                                                           Source: via Sara on Pinterest

                                                              Source: via Sara on Pinterest

While I love the darker grey, I do really love all of these houses - but I think that my favorite is this last one. Which house is your favorite?

Have a lovely Sunday and enjoy the rest of your weekend!

84th Annual Academy Awards {Predictions}

So, you may or may not have noticed it in my organization post the other day, but I actually put the 84th Annual Academy Awards into my planner. And I am not embarassed to admit that I absolutely love Oscar Night. This may sound cheesy to you, but to me, the Academy Awards represent class and style, along with all of the magic that comes with old fashioned Hollywood. To me, the Academy Awards are an evening filled with magic and the ever important lesson that anything is possible and that your dreams can come true.

I completely understand if you don't feel the same way, as most people don't, which is why I like to watch the Academy Awards with no judgment or mockery. I tend to cry at all of the speeches, ruthlessly pick apart those less than stellar thank-yous (seriously, if you haven't thanked your mother/father/husband/wife/kids - I'm probably muttering at the TV) and have learned over the years that this type of behavior sort of scares people and so, I will only be watching the awards with Josh.

When I was younger, it was the one night of the year that my mother let my brother and I stay up as late as we wanted (except for that year Whoopie Goldberg hosted and she threatened to turn it off halfway through) and it was ingrained in us at a very young age how special the Oscars are. And so, I am incredibly excited for this weekend, as I legitimately look forward to it all year long, and I have already got my predictions ready. I make these predictions based on personal knowledge and I do not go looking to any other sources when making my predictions. I do not make my predictions based on what movies I hope will win, but what movies I believe that the Academy will choose.

And so, without further ado, here are my predictions for the 84th Annual Academy Awards...

Best Picture: The Descendants
Actor in a Leading Role: George Clooney
Actress in a Leading Role: Meryl Streep
Actor in a Supporting Role: Christopher Plummer
Actress in a Supporting Role: Octavia Spencer
Animated Feature Film: Rango
Cinematography: The Artist
Art Direction: The Artist
Costume Design: Hugo
Directing: Michael Hazanavicius (for The Artist)
Documentary Feature: Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
Documentary Short: Saving Face
Film Editing: The Artist
Foreign Language Film: A Separation
Makeup: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Music (Original Score): Hugo
Music (Original Song): Man or Mupper (from the Muppets)
Short Film (Animated): The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
Short Film (Live Action): Tuba Atlantic
Sound Editing: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Sound Mixing: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Visual Effects: Hugo
Writing (Adapted Screenplay): Hugo
Writing (Original Screenplay): The Artist

Other than last year (when my predictions were less than stellar), I have a generally good track record and I'm looking forward to the annual "contest" with my family. But, I'm not just excited about the Oscars this weekend, Josh and I have a whole host of other things going on. From DIY projects (after an amazing trip to IKEA and Michael's last night) to taking puppy pictures at our local Petco - it's going to be a fun-filled weekend.

While you're hanging out this weekend, here are a few of my recently favorite things for you to check out:

A fantastic weekend recipe for Parmesan Chive Risotto in the crock pot

This amazing penny wall

Maddie the Coonhound where you can see Maddie on things (found by  A Cup of Jo)

J. Crew's bright belts to help get me ready for Spring

And, last but not least, Carolyn at Homework chose my DIY: Organic Lip Balm as a feature from her link party! I am so honored and so excited! Please head over and show her some love if you have a moment!

Hope you all have a wonderful weekend! I will see you on Monday with an Oscar's re-cap and the start to another amazing week!

Recipe: Jamaican Jerk Rub

For almost a year, I've been carrying a recipe for a meat rub in my notebook that I jotted down on a post-it note and stuck into the back of the notebook. I completely forgot about it until I happened to be leafing through the notebook and came upon the recipe. My first thought? This would be perfect for a weeknight dinner. And so, I give to you, a quick and easy recipe for Jamaican Jerk Rub.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure where I jotted this down from... If you know, I'd love if you would tell me.
Most of the spices included in this recipe are ones that you likely already have on hand:

1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste

To make this rub, I grabbed a bowl and mixed all of the spices in together. First, I put in the brown sugar ...

... then the garlic powder ...

... then the ground ginger ...

... and the ground allspice ...

... then the nutmeg ...

... and the cayenne pepper ...

... and finally, a couple pinches of salt and pepper to taste.

Then, mix it all together! After brushing some olive oil onto your pork chops, generously coat both sides with your rub. Saute over medium high heat in a pan for about 4-5 minutes per side (depending on thickness) and serve over your choice of side - we chose Chicken and Broccoli RiceSides! It was absolutely delicious!

Do you have a favorite rub to prepare? Not a pork chops fan? This can be easily made with turkey or chicken breasts and would also work well with a mild fish! I hope you all have a wonderful Thursday!

Organization Fever

This may seem a bit strange, since it is only February 22nd, but I've been feeling like I should be doing some Spring cleaning. Maybe it's because this Winter has sort of been a dud? Or because the weather is already getting nicer? Or maybe it's because I looked at a calendar the other day and discovered that Daylight Savings is on March 11th this year? Whatever it is that's making me feel this way, I'm loving it. It finally got me in gear to go through the very large pile of magazines that has accumulated in the past 6 months, clean out the kitchen pantry and finally get a 2012 calendar (hey, I was only 51 days late!).

Everything is in pencil because it's constantly changing!
I've always kept a calendar for my personal schedule - I find that it's a great way to keep track of apppointments and make sure that Josh and I don't forget things - but I find more and more that I have plenty of other things to keep track of. Case and point? This blog. And so, I needed a shiny new planner for 2012. I meant to take care of this back in December (of 2011), but then life sort of got in the way. I've been using Google calendars to keep track of life, but there's just something about a physical planner that I love. And so, enter my new planner:

This past weekend, I hopped over to my local OfficeMax and scoured the aisles for about 15 minutes before deciding that this planner was perfect for me. It gives me space to track important monthly dates, and space for day-to-day planning. Before this, I was keeping my menu planning, blog post planning and lists all over the place. But now? Ah... Now, it's all organized.

This is a shot of this week - with dinner, errands, and a short shopping list all included! This planner matches my needs and - BONUS! - I absolutely love the color. 

Next task up? De-cluttering some of our pantry. We really don't have a lot of pantry space in the kitchen and so we have to make the best with what we have. After doing some general de-cluttering of our shelves, it occurred to me that a lot of the clutter was coming from baking products that I only use when I'm... well... baking. They were taking up almost an entire shelf and, even worse, were seeming impossible to corral. Enter Bed Bath & Beyond. For less than $3, I grabbed a small clear bin and voila! - instant clutter removal!

Now, whenever I need icing or chocolate chips or some food coloring, I don't have to jump up on the counter or scream Josh's name to come and help me. Instead, I can simply reach up and grab the container. Easy, simple, organized - I love it.

My final pre-Spring de-cluttering project took a little bit more time. You see, I have a confession to make. My name is Sara and I hoard magazines. It's true, I do. And it's terrible! I get magazines, I flag pages for projects, I admire the pretty pictures, I make note of the recipes - and then I toss the magazine into my magazine bin. I used to put the magazines into magazine holders, but um... they started overflowing and so into the bin they went! First, I started with this huge stack of magazines:

Then, I divided them into piles by type and went through each of them. Ones where I already had things flagged got moved into a spend more time looking pile, ones without anything flagged got a quick look through - maybe a quick tear out if I noticed something interesting - and then got tossed into the recycling bag.

After going through the pile of more flagged magazines, I ripped out pages from some, kept some and recycled the rest! Not having this overflowing bin of magazines now makes me feel a lot better!

Blurry pictures and all, I'm so excited to be starting my Spring de-cluttering now! And I am more than enjoying today's 50+ degree weather! Have any of you been starting to clean up for Spring? I cannot wait to be able to open windows and let in the fresh air that Spring has to offer!

DIY: Organic Lip Balm

I'm not sure about you, but if you're anything like me, you are always trying to remember where you put your lip balm. Whether it's Chapstick, Blistex, or Labello - your lip balm seems to always be missing. And on top of that, lip balm isn't exactly inexpensive - so every time you have to replace your previously lost tube, you're shelling out money for another one. So, what if, instead of buying lip balm after lip balm, you just made your own? I took some "pinspiration" from here and here, and created my own lip balm. For less than $10, I made 7 containers of lip balm that I can carry with me everywhere.

In order to make these, I needed shea butter, coconut oil and beeswax. I already had both the shea butter (Whole Foods) and coconut oil (Trader Joe's), but both can be easily ordered online at Amazon for about $5 each. I also purchased the beeswax from Amazon and for $2.49, I got 5 1-oz. bars. That's enough to make this lip balm 4 MORE TIMES. I couldn't believe how inexpensive it was!

Then, I created a pseudo double boiler in order to melt my ingredients together.

After allowing the water to come to a boil, then reducing it to a simmer, I added 1 oz. beeswax ...

... then 3 tbsp. shea butter ... (Note: This stuff is messy. Have extra soap ready for clean up.)

... and finally, I added 2 tbsp. coconut oil and let them all melt together.

While I let the ingredients melt, I prepared the containers I purchased on Amazon for only $4.06.

I quickly realized that my beeswax was taking a little while to melt and I removed the bar and chopped it into smaller pieces and then placed it back into my double boiler to continue to melt. You'll notice that everything else melted rather quickly.

Finally, to add just a hint of color to my lip balm, I grabbed an old lipstick, cut it in half, and tossed it into the melting mix. I was afraid to go darker than this color, but the color really doesn't make a huge difference and next time, I think I'll go darker.

Once everything was melted, I turned off my makeshift double boiler and slowly poured the lip balm into each of the seven containers I set out on my counter. I used a spouted measuring cup and was pouring into a widemouth container - but if you have a smaller container or are using something without a spout, you could easily use an eye dropper to get the balm into your containers.

I let this sit for about 30 minutes, before placing the containers into the fridge overnight.

The next morning, I took it out and it was ready for use!

I now have these little containers everywhere I need them - my desk at work, my purse, sitting on my nightstand, stashed in the tray on our coffee table - and since this made 7 containers full, I have a few left for when I start to run out. Which probably won't be for a long, long time. If you'd prefer something that has a scent to it, you can definitely add an essential oil - like peppermint - into the mix. These are great to make for yourself and would also work well as gifts! You could easily add labels to the tops (or bottoms) of each container too!

I absolutely love this lip balm - it's organic, feels smooth and, best of all, keeps my lips from being chapped. I hope that you all have a beautiful Tuesday and that you're enjoying your week! Here's to healthy lips!

PS. I'm linking up to link parties at House of Grace, A Bowl Full of Lemons, HomeworkSugar Bee Crafts and Project Queen!

And, PPS. I'm also linking up to parties at DIY by Design, Creations by Kara, Clean and Scentsible, Handy Man Crafty Woman, Seven Thirty Three, and The Thrifty Home!
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