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BBC: ‘The Bucket List’.

Hey there! It’s about 11 on Tuesday night, and while I normally would be tucked in bed by now, I’ll admit I’ve got some nerves keeping me awake. In the morning, I’m heading to a dermatologist to have my skin examined for signs of cancer.

Right before I went on vacation, I was putting on my daily dose of lip liner when I noticed a tiny, dark brown freckle. I’ve got other freckles along my lip line, but I think this one is new and it looks darker than others. So, I made an appointment.

While a huge part of me thinks it’s nothing, I can’t ignore it. I’m almost embarrassed to say this appointment will be my first time getting a full “body scan” for any questionable signs. I figured this was as good a time as any to get a baseline, and maybe even a little education on what to look for. No one in my family has ever had skin cancer – in fact, my dad was the first person to have any kind of cancer – but I know that even those statistics can’t keep everyone safe.

Whatever happens, I’ll report back!

On that same note, Blanche’s Book Club read “The Bucket List” by Georgia Clark! Here’s the official description from Amazon:

Twenty-five-old Lacey Whitman is blindsided when she’s diagnosed with the BRCA1 gene mutation: the “breast cancer” gene. Her high hereditary risk forces a decision: increased surveillance or the more radical step of a preventative double mastectomy. Lacey doesn’t want to lose her breasts. For one, she’s juggling two career paths; her work with the prestigious New York trend forecaster Hoffman House, and her role on the founding team of a sustainable fashion app with friend/mentor, Vivian Chang. Secondly, small-town Lacey’s not so in touch with her sexuality: she doesn’t want to sacrifice her breasts before she’s had the chance to give them their hey-day. To help her make her choice, she (and her friends) creates a “boob bucket list”: everything she wants do with and for her boobs before a possible surgery.

This kicks off a year of sensual exploration and sexual entertainment for the quick-witted Lacey Whitman. The Bucket List cleverly and compassionately explores Lacey’s relationship to her body and her future. Both are things Lacey thought she could control through hard work and sacrifice. But the future, it turns out, is more complicated than she could ever imagine.

I read Georgia Clark’s “The Regulars” and I loved it, so I was really excited for this one. I will admit that part of me was super paranoid while reading this book – I kept wondering if I had the BRCA1 gene mutation.

But the other part of me just couldn’t help but get lost in Lacey’s world – there was high fashion, designers, hot guys, (dare I say it) saucy sex scenes, and some genuine romance sprinkled in. There was also friendship and some bits of – what felt like real life – it was a great balance. There was so much detail, I feel like this would make a great movie, and it could even be a series of books!

I’m recommending this book to anyone who wants to live life to the fullest, and to anyone who enjoys reading about life-changing events, although I would say that if you’re sensitive about breast cancer, this book may contain triggers.

The next book Blanche’s Book Club will be reading is “Ghosted” by Rosie Walsh. Wish me luck!

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What a stuffed llama taught me about self-care.

Labor Day weekend, I went to the outlet mall to catch some highly-anticipated sales. After almost shopping ’til I dropped, I stopped by a store I’ve recently come to love: Five Below. It’s a place you have to be in the mood to look, but everything is $5 or below.

I’ve bought some pretty cool things there in the last few months including a set of 20 fine-tip markers (for journaling), a bluetooth speaker, and a felt board. Okay, and some candy.

That night, I was looking for things to take with me on the beach vacation. During my browsing, I came across a giant metal bin of small plush llamas. Some were gray and some were caramel, and they all had little blankets stitched on their backs. They were so cute, and after picking one up, I discovered it was soft, too.

Over the last year and a half, I’ve been trying really hard to declutter my apartment – donating boxes of old clothes to Goodwill and selling random junk on eBay. I’ve been making progress and it’s helping.

I went on this decluttering spree after listening to a slew of podcasts on minimalism, convinced that I don’t need things to make me happy. And while true, there’s plenty of things that I don’t need, I’ve also learned that indeed, some things DO make me happy. My apartment is full of memorabilia, whether its framed magazine covers of my favorite artists, or scrapbooks full of ticketstubs, those are things I won’t ever give away.

I’ll never be someone who only has a bed in her apartment or stops buying people gifts – I’ll make my effort to declutter, and perhaps focus more on buying consumables or experiences, but that’s probably about it.

As I stood there at the bin of llamas, I found myself in the midst of a self-care crisis. Ever since my dad passed away, I’ve made an effort to do ONLY things that served me – even if it meant it may not be the best decision.

For example, I stopped forcing myself to go to a dance class just to burn calories. Yes, sometimes I feel good after working out, but honestly, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes, I just want to go home and cuddle with kitty Blanche after work and that’s not something I’m going to deny myself.

When I went through my weird food phase – I told myself I would just eat whatever sounded good, even if it meant only eating fried cheese curds from Culver’s for dinner. During times of stress or grief, we must be kind to ourselves.

Earlier this year, I went through this same conversation when I was debating buying a cat stroller. Would people think I’m a loser? Would I look silly walking around my neighborhood with this stroller? And then I decided I didn’t care. If a simple $40 purchase made me laugh even once, and I wasn’t hurting anyone, then do it. And I did, and I’ve had many, many laughs while strolling Blanche around the neighborhood.

So, there I was, trying to talk myself out of buying this $5 llama, because I’m 33 and I shouldn’t be buying stuffed animals.

In the last year or so, stores have embraced mermaids and unicorns, and llamas, too – it is my personal belief that the world, in general, is in such turmoil, that we’ve turned to imaginative, glittery beings to distract us from all things grey and bleak.

My dad loved animals – especially farm animals – and goats and llamas made him laugh. I’ve stopped myself from buying many llama trinkets, from drink coozies, journals, t-shirts, and a phone case, there’s cute “no drama llama” stuff everywhere. Even one of my freelance clients had photos of a lama trek for me to edit, and I found myself getting a good chuckle.

And so, I decided to treat myself to a stuffed llama. Why not? No one had to know about it, and if it makes me smile, then what’s a small little toy going to hurt? I picked out a grey one, with a teal and pink blanket on its back, and magenta feet and ears. After much thought, I named her Laverne.

After a few weeks with Laverne, she’s become a good cuddle buddy. I know stuffed animals are often meant for kids, but when I thought about it, my dad brought a tiny squirrel beanie baby with him to the hospital. He liked having something to hold in his hand.

After surgery, he couldn’t have the beanie baby – everything in his ICU room had to be approved – so his girlfriend knotted a hospital washcloth for him to clutch. My dad was later admitted to a different facility, where I was told he pestered his roommate by tossing the squirrel over to his side of the room (very much something my dad would do).

Every year, my mom and I buy Christmas gifts for seniors in a nursing home who have no one to buy them presents. One of the most coveted items is a stuffed animal, and my mom and I spend countless hours trying to find animals that are just the right size for hugging and made of soft fur. I suppose a stuffed animal can provide comfort to just about anyone.

So, even though my appetite has picked up and I’m slowly getting back into my dance and yoga classes, I’m happy I bought Laverne. If that makes me a little weird, well, it wouldn’t be the only thing.

If it’s going to make you happy, and won’t cause harm, I say go for it.

BBC: ‘All We Ever Wanted’.

I got back to Austin yesterday afternoon, took a quick nap, and headed to teach my first blog class of the semester! It was a busy day, but I always enjoy meeting new students. I have today and tomorrow off work, so I slept in this morning and am just getting things moving. It’s supposed to rain this afternoon and I think most of tomorrow, so I might be getting things done indoors… I do have two books to read before Sunday…

Speaking of reading, Blanche’s Book Club plowed through the latest pick, “All We Ever Wanted” by Emily Giffin. Here is the book’s description from Amazon:

Nina Browning is living the good life after marrying into Nashville’s elite. More recently, her husband made a fortune selling his tech business, and their adored son has been accepted to Princeton.

Yet sometimes the middle-class small-town girl in Nina wonders if she’s strayed from the person she once was.

Tom Volpe is a single dad working multiple jobs while struggling to raise his headstrong daughter, Lyla. His road has been lonely, long, and hard, but he finally starts to relax after Lyla earns a scholarship to Windsor Academy, Nashville’s most prestigious private school.

Amid so much wealth and privilege, Lyla doesn’t always fit in—and her overprotective father doesn’t help—but in most ways, she’s a typical teenaged girl, happy and thriving.

Then, one photograph, snapped in a drunken moment at a party, changes everything. As the image spreads like wildfire, the Windsor community is instantly polarized, buzzing with controversy and assigning blame.

At the heart of the lies and scandal, Tom, Nina, and Lyla are forced together—all questioning their closest relationships, asking themselves who they really are, and searching for the courage to live a life of true meaning.

This book was on my Summer Reading List, mostly because I liked that it was set in Nashville and it seemed like it had something to do with social media.

As the book description says, the family is well off, and something happens that tarnishes their picture-perfect life and just might ruin things for their son. In an interesting way (and without giving anything away) this book touches on racism, classism, and sexual harassment/assault but still remains easy to read, and fitting with the author’s usual style.

Emily Giffin has written dozens of books, and they’re rightfully popular (and I’m just now realizing I haven’t ready many of hers).

I’m recommending this book to anyone who loves social media (especially if you’ve made a mistake on it), if you love romance novels with a twist, and of course if you enjoy Emily Giffin’s books!

The next book Blanche’s Book Club will be reading is “The Bucket List” by Georgia Clark (also from my Summer Reading List). Follow me on Instagram @OrangeJulius7 and get live updates as I read this one – especially today and/or tomorrow.

Pensacola: My favorite places.

Sweet Pensacola!

I got to Pensacola, Florida on Saturday afternoon for some serious fun and relaxation in one of my favorite vacation spots! While packing for this trip, I realized that I’ve managed to vacation in Pensacola dozens of times over the years – it’s small, there’s enough to do if you’re looking for it, but it’s perfectly acceptable to be on your own time.

And the sand is white and cushy. It’s fantastic. So, I’ve rounded up all the places I always have to go to when I come to Pensacola – I’ve had so many memories here with my family and many friends, and I’m sure there’ll be many more memories in years to come.

Peg Leg Pete’s

Peg Leg Pete’s is off the main drag, near Margaritaville, and it’s the kind of restaurant you’ll likely see in any beach town. It’s made of wood, decorated with license plates, and it’s got way too many choices of fried seafood. Order the oysters rockafeller, get a beer, and head downstairs for live music.

Flounder’s

Flounder’s is across the street from all of the hotels on the beach, and I always sit outside because you get to stick your toes right in the sand. It’s got ocean decor out the wazoo and they serve frozen drinks in souvenir cups.

Crabs, We Got ‘Em

This place is damn near magical! A friend of mine suggested it during a vacation many years ago, and we went there for brunch and they have live music, it’s right on the beach, and they serve these cornbread muffins with honey – so good! If you’re feeling frisky, order a Crap Trap! Gone fishing? This place will cook your catch at your request and serve up all the appropriate sides.

Native Cafe

Native Cafe is a hole-in-the-wall where the surfers hang out after the tide rolls out. It’s simple, artsy, and they’ve got pancakes the size of your head. If you’re around in October, order the pumpkin pancakes. Otherwise, go for the blueberry.

Hemmingway’s

A restaurant honoring Hemmingway himself, this is a little more upscale than the places I’ve mentioned above. It looks like an upscale beach house and has great indoor and outdoor seating. You must order a mojito – they’ve got all different flavors – and they are fantastic.

The Boardwalk & Alvin’s Island

I know Alvin’s Island is… everywhere, but I absolutely love hitting it up. I love scouring through all of the tacky beach souvenirs for as long as possible – I have many a Pensacola item, and it never gets old! The boardwalk is small, but it’s got some cute shops and makes for a nice stroll, post-Hemmingway’s.

Lazy Days

Okay, so Lazy Days is not a place, but it’s the cabana company that apparently only hires young, great-looking dudes that are kind and here to serve (for a small fee and tip, of course). I love spending my days lounging on the beach, reading and watching the waves, and it feels super luxurious to have someone adjust my umbrella every few hours so I don’t get burned.

I love discovering new places, but there’s something really comforting about returning to a place year after year. I love rolling into town and seeing the Pensacola Beach sign, and setting up shop every morning on the beach for a day of relaxation. There’s really not much planning that goes into a vacation like this one, and it’s also not too expensive. Whenever I leave, I always feel recharged – and that’s the best kind of vacation there is!

For my dad.

My dad and me.

As many of you know, my dad passed away on February 3. This has been the most trying time of my life – and although I haven’t felt comfortable enough to share much about my dad, I’m really thankful I have this outlet, and people who read it and can related to the story of my life.

Truthfully, the story of my dad’s death isn’t unlike many others – he was blessed to be surrounded by family as he took his last breath, and every single one of us got the chance to tell him goodbye. And that is something I will be forever grateful for.

There was also a lot of emotional, family drama – and that is what makes this loss so tough for me – on top of it being my dad.

My dad wasn’t someone who ever wanted a big show, so we paid our respects to him at a small chapel in Ringgold, Georgia, a week after he died. There were friends and family there to share stories and pictures of him, and even during that short time, I learned a lot about the person my dad was and the time he spent on earth.

Even though it was a special day and I’m grateful to have been able to be there with my family, I knew I wanted to honor my dad in my own way when I felt the time was right. I wanted to honor him by doing something he loves: fishing.

So, this morning, my lifelong best friend and I rose before the sun and met Pensacola’s best fisherman, Captain Kenny Way at the marina. With beer and a go get ’em attitude, we set sail.

Or, Captain Kenny started the boat and we were OFF!

We caught bait first, then moved on to snapper (red and black). We caught around 15 snapper. And then we used one of the snapper as bait to catch a 7-foot bull shark! You can see the video on my Instagram stories @Orangejulius7 


I’d informed the Captain ahead of time that I wanted to take a few moments to toast to my dad, and it was my honor to write something that I felt captured my dad’s spirit, but also offered some closure to myself, and hopefully to my friend, and maybe even Captain Kenny.

I brought along a few coins to toss into the ocean, and some fresh flower petals to sprinkle on the water – a signal to other boaters that we’d honored a life well-lived. Here’s what I wrote:

When I was little, I had a blue Mickey Mouse tackle box. It came with all the appropriate tackle for a skilled fisherwoman – for which I was not. Regardless, I had the matching fishing pole, and my favorite piece, was a Mickey Mouse bobber. It was designed to look like an inner tube, with Mickey Mouse sitting in it, his big yellow shoes flopping over one side. 
 
My dad was very much a skilled fisherman, and we went fishing many times – I have him to thank for catching the most fish nearly every time I venture out, even if I’m the only female in sight. But there’s two fishing trips that stick out in my mind:
 
The first was a very early morning trip. Early mornings are a necessarily evil when fishing, and my dad took that very seriously. On this particular morning, we had a bit of a drive – heading from our family home in Columbus, Indiana to a lake near Camp Atterbury. My dad had already planned our stops – because that’s the kind of man he was, a planner (sometimes to a fault) and he liked the journey just as much as the destination – donuts and coffee for breakfast, then a later stop on the side of the road to pick up live bait: worms that came packed in black dirt. 
 
Once we got to the lake, the sun was barely rising. I was sleepy, still, and too young for coffee. But it may as well been noon for my dad – we unpacked on the sandy bank, and he threaded my first worm, and reminded me how to properly cast my line – the Mickey bobber flying through the air, landing with a splash on  top of the water. 
 
“Now, when Mickey goes under, reel it in fast,” he said. 
 
So, I stood still and quiet, wondering if any blue gill were seeing the bait, while my dad doctored his line. There we stood, side by side, waiting for something big. The air was crisp and the water was so still, it looked like clean glass. I didn’t know it then, but it was likely the first time of many that I’d get swept away in an Indiana sunrise. It was all so peaceful. 
 
So peaceful in fact, that my eyes glazed over, and then next thing I knew, Mickey was going under and my dad was shouting – “Reel it in, Holly! You’ve got one!” I tried to pull and get my line back in, but it was too late, and I felt so awful that I hadn’t been paying attention. 
 
But thinking back on this moment now, it’s a perfect picture of my dad and I – he, focused and driven, no matter the circumstances, and me – willing to participate, but distracted by the scenery. 
 
When I was in college, my dad invited me to celebrate the holidays in a cabin nestled in the mountains on the Tennessee/Georgia border. It was a small mountain town – one that seemed like it was made for locals, but was likely all tourists. The cabin had a large porch that overlooked a small creek, and a few fishing poles we could borrow. 
 
My dad was determined to fish in this creek, so he bought a can of corn for bait – trout often mistake them for salmon eggs. We baited our hooks and my dad instructed me to cast upstream, so the line would move downstream with the current. I did as I was told, and we quickly discovered a major problem – trees really close to the riverbank. 
 
If I remember correctly, we didn’t even come close to catching a single fish, simply because our lines kept getting caught in the winter barren trees. My dad untagled every line I cast – yet another thing about my dad – he cleaned up a lot of messes for me. He’s stood up for me numerous times – when no one else would – and he introduced to me to the cureall of every breakup: watching “Swingers”. 
 
Since my dad’s passing, I’ve spent countless hours thinking about his life and legacy; what his life meant, what his death means, and how I’ll ever find closure in the numerous questions I have about our relationship. Through memories shared with me, those of my own, and personal items willed to me, I’ve gathered a few new tidbits about the man that he was and the life he lived. 
 
Despite all of my questions though, I know that my dad believed that every person has a story. He believed this to be so true, in fact, that he worked as a reporter (focusing on sports) for many, many years in order to share those stories. It was a job not many would do, in a time when there was no internet, interviews happened face-to-face, and tape recorders were rare. My dad wrote his pieces on a typewriter, after taking notes on a yellow legal pad. He was a beautiful writer, spicy, willing to tell the ugly truth (even at a conservative paper), and he did it for very little pay. 
 
My dad was a fan of the underdog – he was critical of the star players, overrated coaches, and wanted to get the real story from the bench warmers. He loved making people laugh, and perhaps his ability to converse with just about anyone, made it easier for him to share stories – whether in print or with locals at The Olympia. 
 
He was fascinated with the unknown – he had a curiosity for just about anything, and would obsessively throw himself into his latest interest. He was brave, sharp, and he did things his way (and only his way).
 
I have absolutely no doubt that witnessing all of this has very much shaped the person I am today – and will forever be. But I also know that I have to continue to craft my story, too. During these last six months, I’ve realized a lot about myself, including the fact that the unknown can be… terrifying. But it can also be rather exciting, once you embrace it. 
 
Today, I want us to take something familiar – physically speaking, these Presidential coins willed to me – and toss them into the unknown – the depths of the gulf. Consider it a way to throw your comforts, your faith, your purpose, into the great unknown: the future. Send with it a wish for yourself, a wish to keep crafting your story – whether to share, to keep, no matter if the result is picturesque or candid, planned or impromptu. Some stories are well-planned, but some simply happen…
 
It’s impossible for us to immerse ourselves into the unknown without love. My dad loved many things – fishing trips to Bull Shoals Arkansas with his dad and brothers, small towns, Red Vines, chess, Natalie Merchant, rescue cats, and reciting movie lines, among many other things. He loved people, too, and I feel really lucky that “I love you” was one of the last things he said to me, and I to him. 
 
I’m offering these petals as a symbol of love and peace. 
 
Finally, let’s toast: To family, friends, and finding comfort in the unknown. May the ones we’ve lost watch over us from their heaven – for my dad, I hope its on a lake, filled with delicious bass. 

BBC: ‘Dopesick’.

Hey there! I’m heading to the beach tomorrow, and I have noticed a very strong pattern in myself over the last few years. Whenever I’m getting ready for a trip, the days (and usually the entire week) before I leave is completely INSANE.

That’s the thing when you work freelance, have a digital job, and manage a blog – you have to do ALL the work that was originally going to be done while you’re sitting on the beach! So, this week I’ve basically been doing double the work, telling all (11!) of my freelance clients that I’m heading out of town and cramming in last-minute projects, and writing blogs to publish next week while I’m laying in the sand.

Don’t get me wrong – no complaints here – it just seems like no matter how much I prep, part of me is always running around like a chicken with its head cut off.

Amidst all of the craziness this week, I had books to read as they were due back at the library. I had no problem getting through this latest one quickly, so let’s hop to it. I’m talking about “Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America” by Beth Macy.

In this masterful work, Beth Macy takes us into the epicenter of America’s twenty-plus year struggle with opioid addiction. From distressed small communities in Central Appalachia to wealthy suburbs; from disparate cities to once-idyllic farm towns; it’s a heartbreaking trajectory that illustrates how this national crisis has persisted for so long and become so firmly entrenched.

Beginning with a single dealer who lands in a small Virginia town and sets about turning high school football stars into heroin overdose statistics, Macy endeavors to answer a grieving mother’s question-why her only son died-and comes away with a harrowing story of greed and need. From the introduction of OxyContin in 1996, Macy parses how America embraced a medical culture where overtreatment with painkillers became the norm. In some of the same distressed communities featured in her bestselling book Factory Man, the unemployed use painkillers both to numb the pain of joblessness and pay their bills, while privileged teens trade pills in cul-de-sacs, and even high school standouts fall prey to prostitution, jail, and death.
 
Through unsparing, yet deeply human portraits of the families and first responders struggling to ameliorate this epidemic, each facet of the crisis comes into focus. In these politically fragmented times, Beth Macy shows, astonishingly, that the only thing that unites Americans across geographic and class lines is opioid drug abuse. But in a country unable to provide basic healthcare for all, Macy still finds reason to hope-and signs of the spirit and tenacity necessary in those facing addiction to build a better future for themselves and their families.

This book was outstanding! I’ve read many addiction memoirs, so I was really looking forward to seeing things from a more holistic view, and this book DELIVERED. Macy’s reporting is flawless, and I cannot imagine how long it took her to research, conduct interviews, and then cull everything down into this book.

The book is told through the stories of families who’ve lost a loved one from opioids. There’s information from every angle, from addicts, dealers, doctors, drug companies, and pharmacies… and frankly, the whole thing was quite creepy. It made me scared to trust prescription meds – although I’m already skeptical and rarely even take Tylenol.

It’s interesting, because there’s definitely fault on doctors and drug companies, but I also feel a certain way about how we (society) have responded to opioid addicts. This book made me want to judge less and learn how to administer narcan.

I’m recommending this book to anyone who’s interested in the opioid crisis in our country, but also to anyone who’s known an addict, and for anyone who loves reading true crime and investigative pieces. This is a must read!

The next book Blanche’s Book Club will be reading is “All We Ever Wanted” by Emily Giffin. Have a great weekend!

Bathing suits + body image.

Cute suit!

I remember the first boy/girl pool party I went to. I was in 8th grade, it was the summer of 1998, and I wore a navy blue two-piece from Limited Too. It was a halter top that had turquoise piping and the bottoms were little shorts.

I don’t remember being particularly nervous or worried about my appearance – I’ve always had an average body type, and have never stressed too much about what I eat (especially as a kid).

The first time I remember being aware of my looks was in high school. I was on the dance team and rumors rippled through our squad that the traditional uniform included a cropped top.

The rumors were true. It was a royal blue long-sleeved mock turtleneck leotard cropped top – fitted, with sparkles. There was a matching mini skirt, but we mostly wore black “dance pants” – the shiny black flair pant with a v-cut at the waist.

I spent many a night at home, watching TV while doing reps on an ab roller. I am certain I did likely hundreds of reps – but I was also 14 – and carving out a few abs wasn’t an issue then, especially on top of our grueling practices each week.

I didn’t gain weight until college – I lived up to the “freshman 15”, if not 20 pounds or higher. Many of my favorite clothing items no longer fit, and I felt disgusting. But I also felt low, and eating felt good.

While I got things a little under control over the years – I didn’t really understand the whole picture until after graduating from college. My first reality check was when I decided to do a “detox” – it was a 14-day plan designed to reset the body by cutting out caffeine, alcohol, processed foods, red meat, and excess salt and sugar.

I started looking at food labels and quickly realized that everything I’d been eating was terrible for me. I made my own brown rice, beans, and grilled chicken. By day 3, I was having a “healing crisis” – properly withdrawing from my daily cycle of caffeine and alcohol. It wasn’t unlike me to drink coffee from the time I woke up until lunch, then have a diet coke, and then back on the coffee until I went home, where I would drink wine.

The thought of this makes me cringe.

After the detox, I felt much better and I changed my eating habits. Soon, I joined a boxing gym, and had a strict diet – I was in the best shape of my life. Over the years, I’ve done the Paleo diet (I went strong for 3 months), low-carb, vegetarian, and vegan.

I quit the boxing gym when I moved to Austin (even though there is a franchise near my apartment) and joined a dance studio. The dancing classes aren’t as rigorous a workout as the boxing was, so I know my body has softened.

And over these last few years, I’ve developed a little bit of low self-confidence about the way my body looks. In general, I feel okay each day and I like how most of my clothes fit (it has taken me years to get rid of clothes that don’t make me feel good).

But… swimsuit shopping? Ugh. As a kid, I remember going swimsuit shopping with my mom – and she hated it – but I never understood why. Now I do.

It’s less about my body and more about what’s available to women with curves. Last summer, I realized it was official: I could no longer get by with cheap string bikinis. So, I threw all of mine away.

Last year’s suit!

And thus, the search for the perfect bathing suit began.

I quickly realized that I needed to search for suits in size large or XL, even though I am not those sizes. I’m typically a small/medium, a 4/6. But I guess if you have a C bra size, you’re a large.

I also came to see that the suits offered in “my size” were mostly just plain black and/or looked like they were for women much older than me – brandishing skirts or ruffles – I didn’t want that.

I eventually found a 1-piece at Old Navy that I liked. It had everything on my mental checklist: underwire, adjustable straps, fun pattern. It was $35 and it was the only suit I bought (and owned) last summer (here’s a similar one).

This year though, I was determined to build up my swimsuit wardrobe. I wanted at least one suit that was “luxury” – I was tired of buying cheap suits that wouldn’t last and didn’t fit that great. I also needed additional suits for my upcoming beach trip.

The Aerie Tie Back One Piece!

At first, I looked through all of the suits I liked on my favorite fashion bloggers on Instagram. Giant mistake. While their suits were cute, nearly all of them were made for women that were stick-thin, with no breasts.

These suits had no lining (what? This should not even be allowed), no cups, no underwire, and often no coverage on the butt. Great!

I ended up at American Eagle, a place where I feel like I should not be shopping, but they’ve done me well. I discovered that, not only do they not use traditional models, they also feature actual customers on their site.

This sounds simple, but it’s actually amazing when you’re shopping for a suit – I could see how the suit would look on a body similar to mine, and there were even comments that included women’s height and weight, and this was just amazing!

I ordered two suits online, one basic (a solid one in olive green that was voted as a best-seller) and one sexy, more risque one. I debated on this one, worried it might be too much skin for me, and then I thought, “No, I’m 33, and I shouldn’t be ashamed of my body, my cellulite” and just bought it. Also, and my larger-chested readers will understand, but when you have bigger breasts, nearly everything looks “sexy” – it could be a crew neck, hell, a turtle neck, and people are going to find your body distracting. Yes, that’s me rolling my eyes!

The Aerie Plunge One Piece!

Anyway… Would I go running down the beach in it? No. But it’s definitely cute and I’ll be perfectly fine wearing it while lounging in my cabana.

When the suits arrived at my apartment, I was nervous to try them on. But alas! The basic one fit perfect – it was smoothing in the front, and even though it didn’t have an underwire, it was supportive. The back is completely adjustable with a lace up, which looks neat, too. If this suit were offered in brighter colors, I would buy more.

The other suit (the Aerie Plunge One Piece) fit as I suspected – it was skimpier than my usual attire, but hey, it was cute – light pink and navy in thick stripes. I thought it would be cute with denim shorts.

With two new suits, I was feeling good. But there was still that “luxury” suit I wanted. I lucked out and got the American Eagle suits for around $30 each.

Becca Crochet Deep V One Piece

I was eyeing two suits at Nordstrom, but the universe quickly decided for me when one sold out! The other one – a mauve crochet lace one-piece by Becca that was sheer in all the appropriate places – was still pretty expensive, but if I wore it for a few summers, it would be fine. But then… it went on sale, 50% off, and I got it for $70.

I’d seen many pictures of different-sized women wearing it, and it was flattering on all shapes and sizes. I’m happy to say that it looked great on. The color would look much better with a dark bronze glow (for which I have been applying sunless tanner), but hey, all the more reason to lounge in the sun (slathered in SPF, of course).

I got myself a swimsuit coverup – this was another thing I cleaned out of my closet. I noticed that all of my “swimsuit coverups” were actually just old sundresses that I wore to tailgates in college. Cute then, not now. So, I treated myself to an ACTUAL swimsuit coverup, from Old Navy. I picked the pattern hoping it would match my beach tote and a few various sandals.

My swimsuit coverup from Old Navy!

I don’t know if I’ll ever be satisfied with the way my body looks – it’s much too easy to see other women that look different and I sometimes wish I were thinner or more toned (aren’t we all guilty of this sometimes?) – but I’m slowly learning to appreciate my body for all its done for me.

After all, a different body type doesn’t necessarily mean better – we are all made different, and our bodies react differently to all sorts of things.

I am more concentrated on eating healthy to stay alive and well, and also doing exercises that help my mind and my mental health. If my body tones in that process, great.

Regardless, I know I’ll be comfortable in my bathing suits, either by myself at the pool with a book, or surrounded by my friends at the beach who aren’t judging me or what I’m wearing.

Cheers to having fun in the sun, no matter what type of body you have and what suit you’ve got to wear!

BBC: 2018 Beach Reading Guide!

So, perhaps I’m a little late in creating Blanche’s Book Club’s Beach Reading Guide, but I’m heading to the beach on Saturday, and juuuust in case there’s anyone out there that hasn’t ended their summer yet, I thought I’d round up some quality beach reads for your vacation tote.

I’ve spoken, or written, about many times some of the best moments of my life. One of those moments was in Pensacola, Florida, sitting in a lounge chair on the beach with all of my toes stuck in the white sand, sipping on a beer while reading a Nicholas Sparks’ novel. I will never forget it

A beach read is different than a “summer read” for me – it’s got to be fitting for a vacation… a complete getaway. And it’s got to be something without a complicated plot, because I am very much a beach boozer. So here goes…

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

Here is the official description from Amazon:

Debut author Sally Thorne bursts on the scene with a hilarious and sexy workplace comedy all about that thin, fine line between hate and love.

Nemesis (n.) 1) An opponent or rival whom a person cannot best or overcome.

                       2) A person’s undoing

                       3) Joshua Templeman

Lucy Hutton and Joshua Templeman hate each other. Not dislike. Not begrudgingly tolerate. Hate. And they have no problem displaying their feelings through a series of ritualistic passive aggressive maneuvers as they sit across from each other, executive assistants to co-CEOs of a publishing company. Lucy can’t understand Joshua’s joyless, uptight, meticulous approach to his job. Joshua is clearly baffled by Lucy’s overly bright clothes, quirkiness, and Pollyanna attitude.

Now up for the same promotion, their battle of wills has come to a head and Lucy refuses to back down when their latest game could cost her her dream job…But the tension between Lucy and Joshua has also reached its boiling point, and Lucy is discovering that maybe she doesn’t hate Joshua. And maybe, he doesn’t hate her either. Or maybe this is just another game.

I love an office scandal! Sounds lighthearted but interesting enough for a beach read, and I’m excited to see what else Thorne writes in the future.

SERIES: To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

Thanks to Netflix, I’ve heard so much about this book series, and I want to read it SO bad! Here’s the books (listed in order) in the series and their descriptions:

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

What if all the crushes you ever had found out how you felt about them…all at once?

Sixteen-year-old Lara Jean Song keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. They aren’t love letters that anyone else wrote for her; these are ones she’s written. One for every boy she’s ever loved—five in all. When she writes, she pours out her heart and soul and says all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only. Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly, Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control.

P.S. I Still Love You

Given the way love turned her heart in the New York Times bestselling To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, which School Library Journal called a “lovely, lighthearted romance,” it’s no surprise that Laura Jean still has letters to write.

Lara Jean didn’t expect to really fall for Peter.

She and Peter were just pretending. Except suddenly they weren’t. Now Lara Jean is more confused than ever.

When another boy from her past returns to her life, Lara Jean’s feelings for him return too. Can a girl be in love with two boys at once?

In this charming and heartfelt sequel to the New York Times bestseller To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, we see first love through the eyes of the unforgettable Lara Jean. Love is never easy, but maybe that’s part of what makes it so amazing.

Always and Forever

Lara Jean’s letter-writing days aren’t over in this surprise follow-up to the bestselling To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and P.S. I Still Love You.

Lara Jean is having the best senior year a girl could ever hope for. She is head over heels in love with her boyfriend, Peter; her dad’s finally getting remarried to their next door neighbor, Ms. Rothschild; and Margot’s coming home for the summer just in time for the wedding.

But change is looming on the horizon. And while Lara Jean is having fun and keeping busy helping plan her father’s wedding, she can’t ignore the big life decisions she has to make. Most pressingly, where she wants to go to college and what that means for her relationship with Peter. She watched her sister Margot go through these growing pains. Now Lara Jean’s the one who’ll be graduating high school and leaving for college and leaving her family—and possibly the boy she loves—behind.

When your heart and your head are saying two different things, which one should you listen to?

…Don’t these books sound delightful? I feel like I could read these all in one sitting… with a nice crisp wine spritzer!

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I’ve read one of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s books before and it was SO good! I was relieved to see that she’s published several, and it looks like this one will be just as riveting as her others. Here’s the official description from Amazon:

In this entrancing novel “that speaks to the Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor in us all” (Kirkus Reviews), a legendary film actress reflects on her relentless rise to the top and the risks she took, the loves she lost, and the long-held secrets the public could never imagine.

Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ‘80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

“Heartbreaking, yet beautiful” (Jamie Blynn, Us Weekly), The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is “Tinseltown drama at its finest” (Redbook): a mesmerizing journey through the splendor of old Hollywood into the harsh realities of the present day as two women struggle with what it means—and what it costs—to face the truth.

Nantucket Series by Elin Hilderbrand

I read somewhere that Elin Hilderbrand is the Queen of Summer Reading, so there’s no way I can craft a list of beach reads without including her on it! I’ve read two of her books so far (she has so many) and look forward to reading many more. Here are the books in the Nantucket series (listed in order) with their descriptions from Amazon:

A Summer Affair

Claire has a problem with setting limits. All her life she has taken on every responsibility, assumed every burden, granted every request. Claire wants it all–and in the eyes of her friends, she has it: a devoted husband, four beautiful children, even a successful career as an artist. So when she agrees to chair the committe for Nantucket’s social event of the year, she knows she can handle it. Claire can handle anything.

But when planning the gala propels her into the orbit of billionaire Lock Dixon, unexpected sparks begin to fly. Lock insists on working closely with Claire–often over a bottle of wine–and before long she can’t ignore the subtle touches and lingering looks. To her surprise, she can’t ignore how they make her feel, either. Claire finds the gala, her life, and herself spinning out of control.

A Summer Affair captures the love, loss, and limbo of an illicit romance and unchecked passion as it takes us on a brave and breathless journey into the heart of one modern woman.

The Castaways

Greg and Tess MacAvoy are one of four prominent Nantucket couples who count each other as best friends. As pillars of their close-knit community, the MacAvoys, Kapenashes, Drakes, and Wheelers are important to their friends and neighbors, and especially to each other. But just before the beginning of another idyllic summer, Greg and Tess are killed when their boat capsizes during an anniversary sail. As the warm weather approaches and the island mourns their loss, nothing can prepare the MacAvoy’s closest friends for what will be revealed.

The Perfect Couple

It’s Nantucket wedding season, also known as summer-the sight of a bride racing down Main Street is as common as the sun setting at Madaket Beach. The Otis-Winbury wedding promises to be an event to remember: the groom’s wealthy parents have spared no expense to host a lavish ceremony at their oceanfront estate.

But it’s going to be memorable for all the wrong reasons after tragedy strikes: a body is discovered in Nantucket Harbor just hours before the ceremony-and everyone in the wedding party is suddenly a suspect. As Chief of Police Ed Kapenash interviews the bride, the groom, the groom’s famous mystery-novelist mother, and even a member of his own family, he discovers that every wedding is a minefield-and no couple is perfect. Featuring beloved characters from The Castaways, Beautiful Day, and A Summer Affair, The Perfect Couple proves once again that Elin Hilderbrand is the queen of the summer beach read.

Mystic Summer by Hannah McKinnon

This is the first time I’ve heard of Hannah McKinnon, but she seems like an author I would really enjoy. Here’s the description for “Mystic Summer” from Amazon:

A chance run-in with a college boyfriend puts a young woman’s picture-perfect life in perspective in this warm-hearted and lyrical novel—from the author of The Lake Season.

Since finishing graduate school, Maggie Griffin has worked hard to build an enviable life in Boston. She’s an elementary school teacher in a tony Boston suburb, a devoted sister, and a loving aunt. With her childhood best friend’s wedding quickly approaching and her own relationship blossoming, this is the summer she has been waiting for.

But when Maggie’s career is suddenly in jeopardy, her life begins to unravel. Stricken, Maggie returns home to seaside Mystic, Connecticut, where she expects to find comfort in family and familiarity. Instead, she runs into Cameron Wilder, a young man from her past who has also returned home, and whose life has taken a turn that puts Maggie’s city struggles in harsh perspective. When tragedy strikes for Cameron, Maggie is faced with big decisions as she weighs what matters most and strives to stay true to the person she’s become.

Set against the gorgeous backdrop of a New England summer when past and present collide, Mystic Summer is a gorgeous novel about looking back, moving forward, and the beauty that blooms when fate intervenes.

McKinnon has also written “The Lake Season” and “The Summer House” – and both of these would make great beach reads, too!

There you have it; my beach picks for this year! Did you read any that would make good beach books? Let me know in the comments!

Beach vacation beauty

Yesterday, everyone said goodbye to summer, but… summer is a state of mind, right? I’m heading to the beach on Saturday, so I’m spending a good chunk of my spare time this week prepping and packing for a sandy getaway.

I’ve mentioned it before, but I don’t go to the beach without my makeup bag. In fact, I like bringing new makeup to try on vacation – I usually bring fun stuff that I wouldn’t wear to work (although that’s up for debate).

When I go to the beach, I like to wear makeup that’s light, has a natural look, and has an SPF.

During days on the beach, I don’t wear a full-blown look, but instead I usually wear a tinted sunscreen for the face and I just got some mineral powder that has SPF 45 by Peter Thomas Roth.

At night, that’s when I pull out all the fixins for a beachy-bronze look, and this year, I put together one that’s mostly using Bare Minerals products topped with a cream blush and strobing cream. Below are all of the products I’m packing and tips for achieving the look:

Dawn Patrol Classic Primer by COOLA (SPF 30)

Nothing wakes up our skin like the crisp dawn air and cool water of an early morning surf. Keep that fresh-faced feeling and look all day with our latest innovation, Dawn Patrol SPF 30 Classic Makeup Primer. Our silky-smooth formula provides a multitasking base for radiant skin and flawless makeup application. A proprietary blend of Honeysuckle, White Lily and Iris Stem Cells instantly enhances overall skin quality, while our signature Plant Protection and broad spectrum SPF 30 shields and protects skin from damaging UV rays. Can be used alone or before foundation for flawless skin protection with the perfect photo finish!

This is a clear gel primer that leaves a matte finish – If you’ve never tried COOLA’s products, this is a good place to start.

BareMinerals Matte Foundation (SPF 15)

I have been using BareMinerals for a few years now and I love their Mineral Foundation combined with the Illuminating Mineral Veil. I was really excited when they came out with a matte version of their foundation and I love the way it looks on the skin.

I use the shade “Fairly Light”.

BareMinerals Bare Radiance

I got this in a set that had blush in it as well. Here’s the official product description: A nude look is always classic. And we all could use some extra glow. This lustrous amber sheen is multitalented – you can wear it over or under your bareMinerals, or mix it right in. You can even put it on your lips and eyes. Wherever it goes, it brings out your natural brilliance before you even say a word.

For me, a little goes a long way, but I use it under my cheek bones for a light contour and along my hairline.

MILK Lip + Cheek in Perk

I used to never wear liquid blush, bronzer, or highlighter, but I have so many samples of the stuff I had to break sometime. And I’m glad I did, because it looks so pretty! I got this one by Milk in my Birchbox and I love the coral color: Perk.

Get creamy cheek and lip color in a single stroke. Easy-to-apply, Lip + Cheek Stick provides buildable, blendable blush and lip color with Milk Makeup’s Milk Melt Technology for instant and seamless absorption. Mango butter, and avocado oil intensify its richness—just layer on for bolder color.

MAC Strobe Cream

You can use this highlighting cream just about anywhere on the face, but for my beachy look, I dabbed it on my cheekbones, bridge of the nose and cupid’s bow.

Quick Pro Portables (Sculpt & Glow) by Pur

Although these little travel palettes are for contouring and highlighting, I used them for my eye shadow in this look. Over the last year, I’ve stopped looking at makeup for what it is – you can use shimmery eye shadow as a highlighter or vis versa.

Skinny Liquid Eyeliner (black) by Eyeko

I love a liquid eyeliner and this one makes it easy to get a perfect straight line. I only used this on the top lip for this look.

Always Sharp Waterproof Kohl Liner by Smashbox

I’ve been using a tiny brush and colorful eye shadow on my lower lash-line for a fun look. I found the perfect teal eyeliner – “Cabana” – for my beach look and it goes on so smooth.

Revlon Colorstay Brow Mousse

This stuff is like mascara for the brows… I use it in dark brown.

Total Tease Waterproof Hydrofuge Mascara by Covergirl

Sei Bella Perfecting Lip Pencil

My favorite nude lip pencil – I love it so much I have several of them to keep everywhere I go.

NYX Velvet Matte Lipstick

Even though this has a perfect matte finish, it’s creamy and almost moisturizing. I am using “Beach Casual” for this look, and it’s my go-to nude lip combo.

Makeover Essentials Shimmer Powder Brush (Bronze)

I love using this on my collarbone and shoulders, because it’s a shimmery bronze that makes me look tan and accentuates my bone structure – i.e. skinny in a brush!

Sunscreen Setting Spray SPF 30 by COOLA

Another layer of SPF for me, please! I love to set my makeup with this, especially on days when lunch at the beach is happening.

And there it is, my beach bronze look, complete with layers of SPF! What are some of your go-to products for vacations?

BBC: ‘An American Marriage’.

Happy Labor Day! It’s gloomy here in Austin, so I don’t feel a BIT guilty for planning a day indoors – I’ve got blogs to write and some freelance to do… and I need to make some jewelry for my Etsy store – so, cya summer. Just kidding, that won’t happen until… October?

I skipped over to the library on Saturday to pickup some reserves (two from my summer reading list) and I realized that I definitely have 3 books due back by Friday, soo… #libraryproblems

So, let’s get to Blanche’s Book Club’s latest read: “An American Marriage” by Tayari Jones. Here is the official description from Amazon:

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.
 
This stirring love story is a profoundly insightful look into the hearts and minds of three people who are at once bound and separated by forces beyond their control. An American Marriage is a masterpiece of storytelling, an intimate look deep into the souls of people who must reckon with the past while moving forward—with hope and pain—into the future.

This book was an Oprah Book Club selection and was also one of President Obama’s summer reads!

I was sort of wondering where this book was going to go, given that the description reveals a lot… but there’s plenty of twists and turns. I found myself gasping in shock throughout a majority of the first half.

A good chunk of the book is letters back and forth from prison, which are interesting to read – and a unique idea from the author.

This was a good book – uplifting? No. But I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys Southern literature, and/or to anyone who has an interest in black culture.

The next book Blanche’s Book Club will be reading is “Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America” by Beth Macy.

I hope you all enjoy your Monday off (at least, I hope you have it off)!

What I’ve learned from John McCain.

AP Photo: John McCain pre-politics flying fighter planes over Vietnam.

As we head into the holiday weekend, I wanted to write a bit on John McCain. I will admit, if you asked me even a year ago my thoughts on Senator McCain, I would have rolled my eyes.

I probably don’t have to say it, but I’m a die-hard liberal. I don’t agree with McCain’s politics, and even members of his family make me cringe. But in the last week, I’ve heard, read, and watched several things that have made me think differently about the late senator.

And my short conclusion is: he’s a fucking badass.

Let me explain. Yes, I knew McCain was a prisoner of war before he entered service as a senator. But even just learning more about that experience makes me wonder just how he even survived in time in prison!

I witnessed the back-and-forth between McCain and Trump, and naturally, I was disgusted, and curious as to how someone could hear such awful things about themselves and not fire back with every word in the book.

But McCain is getting the last word – even in death.

On Tuesday, I watched the HBO documentary, “John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls”.

If you haven’t watched it – you must! It beautifully discusses his life through interviews with him, his family, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and former Presidents Barak Obama and George W. Bush, among many others.

You can see firsthand his life on the campaign trail – both as he ran to be the republican nominee against Bush in 2000, and as the nominee running against Obama in 2008. Both are very telling of his character.

It’s funny… the 2008 campaign was the first one that I really was into – it wasn’t my first time voting, but it was my first time watching all of the debates and news coverage surrounding it.

At the time, I was dating a fratastic republican, and we constantly got into (mild) arguments over the campaign – he loved McCain and Governor Sarah Palin. I was, obviously, not a fan.

But after knowing what I know now about McCain, he probably would have made a great President. The timing just wasn’t right.

Photo from The Hollywood Reporter

When the McCain family announced that John would no longer be receiving treatment for his brain cancer, I was sad. But I also know that quality of life is important, and I felt a bit of happiness for him that he was able to live a full year from his diagnosis, and he used that time to not only stand up for the people of Arizona, but to also focus on the end of his life, and say his goodbyes to the ones he loved most.

As many of you know, my dad was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer late last year. It wasn’t the same kind McCain had, but he also had surgery to remove a mass behind his eye.

I was with my dad the day after his surgery, and although he was recovering well – I fully admire McCain and his ability to fly to D.C. and cast his vote against Trump’s healthcare plan just a day after his surgery.

I am fully in awe of anyone that gets to die on their own terms. From what I’ve learned of McCain, he lived on his own terms, too. And that is something I admire with my entire heart. He wasn’t afraid to go against the grain, as long as he felt it was right. He was honest, even during a time when many politicians are not.

Sadly, McCain passed away just a few days after he stopped treatment, and shortly after, his family released his final letter to America.

I’ve had experiences, adventures, friendships, enough for 10 satisfying lives, and I am so thankful.

– John McCain

The letter took a slight jab at Trump, encouraging the American people to forge on, even though we aren’t getting what we deserve right now (there is a similar jab in the documentary).

A few days ago, I saw this headline: “McCain’s Choice of Russian Dissent as Pallbearer is Final Dig at Putin, Trump.”

Wow! Even in death, this guy is sticking it to Trump, and keeping it classy.

And then yesterday, I saw this: “Sarah Palin isn’t Invited to John McCain’s Memorial Services” – I’m speechless.

I didn’t know this, but the article says that earlier this year, McCain said that choosing Palin as his running mate was one of the mistakes he made.

Since Wednesday, I have been watching McCain’s services, and although they are sad to see, I have great respect for everything he’s done for our country, and I’m inspired by the full life that he lived.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve added several of McCain’s books to my reading list. If you’re interested, here are all of them:

With that, I’ve learned so much about McCain this week – better late than never, right? – but I’m confident that his legacy will live on and continue to inspire others.

“In the end, it matters less that you can fight. What you fight for is the real test.”

– John McCain

BBC: ‘The President is Missing’.

Hey there! Last week, my boss instructed me to pick a day to work from home this week because I’ve been “doing too much” – so, today is my day!

I am always so jealous of anyone who has a job that lets them regularly work from home (even if it’s just one day a week) or work a flex schedule, because you can get so much done! Some days, my office is busy and can be distracting, but at home I feel like I can get so much done – but I do have to deal with Blanche!

I mean even right now, it’s 7:15 and I’ve already started a load of laundry and am catching up on the season finale of “Very Cavallari”. Work doesn’t technically start until 9! It’s amazing.
Anyway, Blanche’s Book Club has got a new read under its belt that we’ve got to share with you: “The President is Missing” by James Patterson and Bill Clinton. Here is the description from Amazon:

The President Is Missing confronts a threat so huge that it jeopardizes not just Pennsylvania Avenue and Wall Street, but all of America. Uncertainty and fear grip the nation. There are whispers of cyberterror and espionage and a traitor in the Cabinet. Even the President himself becomes a suspect, and then he disappears from public view . . .

Set over the course of three days, The President Is Missing sheds a stunning light upon the inner workings and vulnerabilities of our nation. Filled with information that only a former Commander-in-Chief could know, this is the most authentic, terrifying novel to come along in many years.

I am 99% certain this was my first James Patterson book, if not, only my second and obviously the first wasn’t very memorable. The “James Patterson Reader” is a certain type of person – and that person DEVOURS his books, and well, he churns them out.

And I’m not judging here – I’m just fully admitting that I’m not entirely sure James Patterson is for me and I read this book because of Bill Clinton. There. I said it.

The plot in this book moves very quickly (and is easy to read) and honestly, it would make for a great movie. It’s very visual and suspenseful. I will say, though, that even though much of the plot COULD happen, there’s several things in the plot that absolutely would never happen.

I’m completely fine with suspending reality, I’m just saying!

If you’re a James Patterson fan, of course, you should read this. But if you’ve never dipped your toe into the Patterson pond, then read it if you’re into political thrillers, and possibly if you’re interested in cyber terror and data security.

The next book Blanche’s Book Club will read is, “An American Marriage” by Tayari Jones (which was recently revealed as one of President Obama’s summer reads, and was also an Oprah Book Club pick).

You can get real-time updates of the book on my Instagram Stories @OrangeJulius7 – also, keep your eyes open this week, because I may or may not be planning a jewelry giveaway… Happy Tuesday!

What am I hungry for?

I wish that looked good.

I wish I could say this post was a giant metaphor – something about me searching for my purpose in life, but no. I’m actually talking about being hungry, and food.

The past few days, I’ve been feeling a little weird. My hunger is the same, but literally NOTHING sounds good to eat. In fact, the thought of eating nearly disgusts me to the point that I’ve had to force myself to eat because I am so hungry.

At first, I thought that maybe I was sick of eating vegan food. I’ve been eating mostly vegan for more than two years now, and well, it’s a lot of beans and veggies, and sometimes it’s difficult to mix up the flavors.

But I have always been one to do what I want, and that includes eating what I want. I eat vegan because it helps me sleep, not because I particularly enjoy making difficult food choices.

My hunger wasn’t leading me in any direction – so I kept telling myself that I’d eat no matter what – whether it was fast food junk, takeout, or even just sitting in front of a giant bowl of cereal. I was desperate.

But nothing – not even spicy chicken ramen from Whole Foods – sounded good.

So, there were a few meals I skipped and just suffered through the hunger pains.

Why was this happening? I consider myself a foodie – I love to cook! I love to try new things! I’m always eating at new restaurants!

But the thought of all food was grossing me out. I tossed nearly everything in my fridge. Then, when it came time to make a grocery list, I had no idea what to write because NOTHING sounded good. I sifted through hundreds of recipes – on Pinterest, on Instagram, and in cookbooks – and everything sounded gross.

My list consisted of “salad fixins”. I ended up getting spring mix, grape tomatoes, bananas, and coffee.

I headed over to Whole Foods to see if there was anything on their salad bar that looked good. I got 4 pieces of popcorn chicken and a small spoonful of pasta, which I forced myself to eat.

My mom asked me if I’d been hypnotized to be disgusted by food – it was a theory that I had not considered, but no, at least, not that I knew of.

Although I have been feeling a little chunky lately, I’m not so concerned about my physical appearance that I would stop eating. I love food much more than other people’s opinions.

I do know that it’s hot as hell and Sunday marked the 47th consecutive day that Austin has reached at least 100 degrees out. So maybe that’s it.

Each week, I go on a “food adventure” – a dorky way of saying that I go to a restaurant I’ve never been to, simply because Austin has sooooo many places and I’m determined to eat at as many of them as possible.

I’d planned to go on my weekly adventure on Sunday, but I wasn’t sure anything would sound good. But when I woke up around 4am with my stomach hurting with hunger, something fresh sounded good.

So I went to Blenders and Bowls on Sunday morning for my first ever acai bowl – this one had bananas, local honey, raisins, and cacao nibs on top – and it was good enough to eat.

I haven’t eaten much since then – a mini dairy-free ice cream sandwich last night. I brought a banana to work today and I packed one of those “salad rolls” from Whole Foods for lunch.

It’s certainly something that’s never happened to me before, and I’m sure it’s just a phase – I’m hoping it’s a short-lived one, because I sure did look insane going up and down every single aisle of Whole Foods multiple times, looking at food and then trying not to be sick.

And just to stop this rumor before it starts, no, I am not pregnant. I’m nearly positive that involves physical contact with a man, and that’s not one of my current hobbies.

I haven’t changed up any medication, either. I’ve increased my coffee intake and that’s about it. Maybe I should just eat all my meals at Blenders and Bowls, for freshness-sake?

BBC: ‘Leah on the Offbeat’.

Hey there! I am going to jump right into the subject matter today because I waited SO long to get this book in my grubby little paws. Today, I’m talking about “Leah on the Offbeat” by Becky Albertalli. As soon as I read “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda“, I put myself on the library waiting list for the sequel, and well, here we are.

Here is the book’s official description from Amazon:

In this sequel to the acclaimed Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda—now a major motion picture, Love, Simon—we follow Simon’s BFF Leah as she grapples with changing friendships, first love, and senior year angst.

When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat—but real life isn’t always so rhythmic.

She’s an anomaly in her friend group: the only child of a young, single mom, and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends—not even her openly gay BFF, Simon.

So Leah really doesn’t know what to do when her rock-solid friend group starts to fracture in unexpected ways. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high.

It’s hard for Leah to strike the right note while the people she loves are fighting—especially when she realizes she might love one of them more than she ever intended.

So… you might have already guessed it, but this book isn’t really about drumming. It’s about high school and all of the twists and turns it brings – especially when you toss love in there.

The characters in this book are in high school, but they are preparing to head to college, so it definitely brought me back to that time in my life. I still remember very vividly my first college visit, and also attending my first frat party while still in high school (complete with lemonade + raspberry vodka – yuuuuck).

Anyway, although the characters in this book are familiar (from reading “Simon), getting to know Leah’s character was fun – she had a different train of thought that is refreshingly funny.

I also really admire Albertalli’s ability to bring to light the experiences of characters who aren’t heterosexual. I don’t know if this was her mission in writing these books, but it’s a nice change, and I’m sure high school students appreciate reading about someone who has experiences more similar to theirs.

I’m recommending this book to anyone who’s read (and liked) “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda”, and also to fans of YA novels, and/or to anyone looking to relive (temporarily) the high school experience.

The next book Blanche’s Book Club will be reading is “The President is Missing” by James Patterson and Bill Clinton.

Embracing the ‘YOLO’ Attitude.

Make every moment count.

I’ve written a little bit (or maybe a lot) about living your dreams, reaching for your goals, and in general, living life to its fullest. I have always felt a sense of urgency in my life and, although I’m not entirely sure the reasoning for it, I have felt it even more since my dad’s passing at the beginning of this year.

When I got the news that my dad needed surgery, of course there was a chance he wouldn’t make it. I immediately started questioning if he lived the life he dreamed he would. In the six months since his death, I’m learning more about my dad’s life, the adventures he took, and the obstacles he conquered.

I’m still not ready to get into details about my dad, but I know today that we all have a life to live and a story to create. And it’s up to us to make things happen.

Last summer, I was visiting some high school friends near my hometown of Columbus, Indiana. Since I was a kid, I wanted to escape Indiana – I’ve always felt there was something bigger in the world for me.

While I will likely never move back to Indiana, I’ve come to appreciate it for what is it, and I can see why so many of my classmates have stayed. Truthfully, I don’t think it matters so much where you live, but what you do there. It’s what you make of it.

Anyway, on this visit last summer, I was having lunch with a guy who was low-key trying to school me on why I needed to come back to Indiana. It became apparent very quickly that he was never planning to leave Indiana, and actually wouldn’t be open to moving anywhere else for any reason. Since I’ve known him, he hasn’t even traveled outside of the Midwest for a vacation.

I get it, traveling isn’t everyone’s thing. But there’s a whole WORLD out there waiting to be discovered! There’s so many different cultures and lifestyles – even moving from Baton Rouge to Austin, I’ve learned so much about the way people live and how cities flow. It’s fascinating to me.

I’ve never had a full-fledged Bucket List – I knew I wanted to fly to a city I’ve never been and see a concert (which I did earlier this year, and you can read about it here). Other than that, I just hear about things or places and think, “Oh, that’d be cool…”

But lately, I have been taking action on these types of things with such force that I almost feel reckless. I’m such an OCD planner (so much so that it often gets on my nerves), that booking flights and trips without much thought is against my grain. Buuuut I’m doing it – I’ve booked a trip to New York City later this year (I’ve never been!) and have also booked a flight to London for Spring 2019 (my first time overseas).

I told my best friend about my London flight just minutes after I booked it, and she booked a similar flight that same day to meet me there. THAT IS WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT! It was then I realized that you don’t often meet people who are DOING things; who are willing to throw themselves into a life that’s dedicated to actually living, instead of just waiting around.

I know so many people who say, “Oh, I’d love to do that” or, “I’ve always wanted to go there,” but what are they doing to actually make it happen? Likely nothing.

While I am still learning and growing, here’s a few tips I’ve been living by to help me live every day to its fullest:

  • Be proactive

I believe in fate and destiny, but I also know that we have to take opportunities when they’re presented to us. And perhaps those “presentations” won’t be glaring or on a silver platter – you still have to go after them.

  • Create your own opportunities

After I graduated college, I struggled with understanding what my 9-5 life would look like. I got really stuck in what’s “normal” and I definitely was not creating opportunities for myself. But I quickly saw what that looks like: wasting away at a desk job. I vowed that I would never succumb to it and I haven’t. Yes, I do have a desk job, but I have 6 (currently) gigs on the side + my blogging class… plus this blog and my Etsy shop. I’ve always got things going on!

  • Set goals… and take action

You know I’m really big on setting goals – I’ve found it’s the best way to visualize and communicate what you want, and then make a fitting plan for action. What will it take to accomplish that goal?

  • Always keep learning

This is HUGE. No matter if we’re talking about your career, a hobby, or just life lessons – complacency should NOT be an option. If you don’t keep learning, things will never change.

  • Try new things

This goes hand-in-hand with “always keep learning” – try new things! It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant, maybe it’s just a new menu item at your favorite restaurant. But if you don’t try new things, how will you know what you like and don’t like?

  • Never settle

Don’t make it about what you think you should be doing, who you think you should be dating, etc. – you do what’s best for you and keep raising the bar.

  • Live in the moment/be present

I know the future sometimes bogs me down, or even thinking about the past, I am practicing more and more to be present and focus on what’s happening now. It makes things a little less hectic, and it stops me from getting in my own way (I am my own worst enemy sometimes).

When I talk about embracing the YOLO lifestyle and attitude, I’m not just talking about travel or wild adventures. It could just be trying a new restaurant down the road or taking a class you’ve always wanted to take. Here’s a few other examples:

A colleague of mine lives in Brooklyn and was featured in a popular home style publication for all of the cool art and eclectic pieces she had in her home. She told all of these stories about how she spent years searching for these pieces, sometimes schlepping them across the city! She reminded me that even if you live in an apartment or a temporary home, don’t wait to fill it with things (or memories) you love! Especially if the journey leaves you with great stories.

A friend of mine who is a mom makes a big deal about her sons’ birthdays – she throws Pinterest-worthy parties and saves the custom cake-topper from each year for her boys to remember. She even gets festive over smaller events, like Shark Week! I love how she makes every day special; she has been one to remind me that every day we live is a holiday.

Several years ago, my best friend and I met in Las Vegas for the first time. We both admitted we were strapped on cash, and, in a place that’s rather costly, we learned how to have fun on a DIME. We found the cheapest (and most filling) buffets for meals and at night, we bought Four Lokos (RIP sweet nectar) and sipped on them while walking the strip and going into all of the casinos (even dipping our toes into some of the fancy pools). We went back to Vegas last year with a little more money, and while we had fun, our first trip remains to be one of my best memories. We had fun, we got to see the city, and it opened up so many opportunities because we learned that we could go anywhere, no matter what kind of money we had.

A fashion/lifestyle blogger I follow just moved to San Fransisco, and from her Instagram Stories, it looks like her and her husband are on a mission to explore the city every weekend – I love it! They go to farmer’s markets, rent scooters, and try new restaurants. It’s simple, but it’s a great reminder that fun gems can be right around the corner!

I have made it a goal to try a new restaurant each week (I’ve been documenting them on my Instagram @Orangejulius7) and have also been taking new yoga classes as part of my YOLO adventures.

I know every day may not be wild and crazy, but it’s the small things that count, too, right? I’d love to know what things you do to make every day special – YOLO!