Friday, October 30, 2015

Must Read

If You Only Knew by Kristan Higgins

This latest installment from Kristan Higgins was a departure from her normal format of girl with dog finds love in a beautiful, small New England town.  This time, she focused on the lives of and relationship between two sisters.  Despite being a slightly modified approach, the storytelling is still fantastic and heartwarming.

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

If there was one celebrity I feel could be my best friend, it would be Mindy Kaling.  Her chapter on sorority life at Dartmouth was delightfully perfect and familiar!  This book of life essays is an easy and fun read!

The Pocket Wife by Susan Crawford

After having been very disappointed by the overly hyped Gone Girl and Girl on a Train, I was glad to finally find a well written story.  Similar to Girl on a Train, this mystery showcases a main character with issues that lead her to forget if she witnessed or committed a crime - the murder of her neighbor. How awful it must feel to think and have others think that you did it, but not be able to know for sure!

Lazy Weekend

Furiously Happy by Jenny Larson

Jenny Lawson's first book, Let's Pretend This Never Happened, is one of my all-time favorite humor books.  She has a hilarious, sharp, and sarcastic sense of humor that takes an ordinary life story and transforms it into an extraordinarily wonderful adventure in laughter.  This new book focuses on her daily struggles with mental illness - depression, anxiety, etc. - and succeeds in highlighting those challenges with a positive and humorous spin.  

I Was Here by Gayle Forman

Gayle Forman has great storytelling skills, but I moved I Was Here to the Lazy Weekend category because the primary focus of the story centers around dealing with the immediate after effects of a childhood friend's suicide. Not exactly a lighthearted story premise, and definitely not for every reader.

After You by Jojo Moyes

I love Jojo Moyes stories, including one of her more controversial books, Me Before You, that covers a man's decision to pursue assisted suicide in lieu of continuing to survive in his post-accident, quadriplegic state.  After You is the sequel to Me Before You, and it follows Louisa's life the year after the point in time that ended the first book, tying up loose ends.  I won't give too much away though.  I wish I could put this book in the Must Read category, but again the topic of suicide doesn't suit everyone.

Posted on Friday, October 30, 2015 by Julie

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Sunday, October 25, 2015

This weekend, my friend and I made the 2 hour drive up to Gettysburg National Battlefield.  I've been to Gettysburg several times before, and no matter how many tours I take, I find all the details of the famous Civil War battle to be overwhelming.  Despite my inability to link together troop movement facts and officer names, I still love to visit and honor America's history.  This time, rather than driving the sacred land in my car or on a bus, I opted to see it as those who may have been there July 1-3, 1863 may have seen it - on horseback.  There are a few companies that offer guided horse tours, and we went with Confederate Trails.  Our group of horse riders was led by an experienced horse guide in front and a second at the end of the line, with the history guide transmitting from the middle of the pack to our individual ear pieces.

The fall leaves in Pennsylvania were a little past peak color, but still had rich yellows and reds clinging onto the branches.  With this backdrop plus the perfect fall weather, the only discomforts I had on the two hour ride were the aches and pains of riding in a saddle when I haven't done it in 25 years!  I was definitely not walking normal when I got off that horse, and thankfully the kinks worked themselves out quickly.

The tour starts in the McMillan Woods Youth Campground.  The trail is an out and back journey that covers Seminary Ridge, Pickett's Charge, the Peach Orchard, and the Wheat Field to name a few locations. There wasn't time, at our walking pace, to get to Devil's Den or the base of Little Round Top.

The turnaround point was at a historic barn that still has the hole in its brick gable where a cannon ball entered!  Overall, being on horseback gave us access to parts of the battlefield I had not seen up close, and I would highly recommend this tour option because it made me appreciate the history even more as I managed my annoying issues being on a saddle. Here are some more photos from our history on horseback adventure...

Posted on Sunday, October 25, 2015 by Julie

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Sunday, October 18, 2015

I know! It has been a couple of weeks since my last post, which may be one of the longest breaks I have taken from writing since I started this site 4 years ago.  After a very busy summer, I needed time to just be present, read some books, binge watch a new TV show, and tackle my to-do list.  But, now I'm back!  And what better way to start building up my energy for another busy autumn and winter than with a yummy dessert with the two fall flavor staples: pumpkin and apple.

This recipe was inspired by Center Cut Cook.  By using the boxed cake mix for a Spice Cake, it cuts down on the steps and ingredients, ideal for me because I was baking two different things this afternoon and had kids helping in the kitchen.  With the addition of the pumpkin and juicy granny smith apples, the cakes were super moist - perhaps due to their small size.  They turned out great in the bundt form, but the extra batter I put into muffin liners were actually too moist in the end.  So, stick with a large or small bundt.  For the large bundt recipe instructions, use the link to Center Cut Cook above to get baking times and suggestions.

For reference, here is a sample of a mini bundt cake pan.  I got mine on sale at the Williams Sonoma Factory Outlet store.

Pumpkin Apple Mini Bundt Cakes


  • 1 granny smith apple, peeled and sliced very thin on a mandolin then cut into small pieces
  • Ground cinnamon
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • Light brown sugar
  • 1 box Spice Cake Mix
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 eggs 
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 15 oz. can 100% pumpkin purée (not pumpkin pie mix)
  • 4 oz cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2-3 Tablespoons milk

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Use a non-stick cooking spray to thoroughly grease a mini bundt cake pan.
  3. Pour a small amount of melted butter into each bundt cavity, just enough to flood the top of the form.
  4. Sprinkle a small amount of brown sugar over the butter.
  5. Add about 1/2 Tablespoon of the very thin pieces of apple to the butter and sugar.
  6. Lightly dust/sprinkle the apples with cinnamon.
  7. Mix together the cake mix, water, eggs, vegetable oil, and pumpkin in an electric mixer, on low speed to combine than on medium-high speed for about 2 minutes.
  8. Spoon the batter on top of the apples so that it is just below the lip of the bundt cavity.
  9. Bake for 20 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
  10. Allow the bundts to cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes before turning them over onto a wire rack to finish cooling.
  11. For the cream cheese glaze, beat the cream cheese with an electric mixer until fluffy. 
  12. Add the vanilla, confectioners sugar and 1 Tbsp of the milk.  Beat on medium-high, adding more milk to get your consistency preference.
  13. Drizzle the cream cheese glaze on the mini bundts.
  14. Serve (with ice cream!)

Posted on Sunday, October 18, 2015 by Julie

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