What I’m Reading: October – December 2016

At the end of 2014, I decided that I really wanted to read more; so I set a goal to read 5 books. By the end of 2015 I was pleased to report that I exceeded my goal and read 8 books!

For 2016, Sean suggested that I set a goal to read 12 books. I told him there was simply no way. I didn’t think it was possible for me to find the time to complete a new book every single month. So I didn’t really set a goal other than to continue reading.

Well, I can’t even believe I’m typing this…

In total…in 2016…I read 24 books!!!

Here’s what I read over the past three months.

 

oneinamillionThe One-in-a-Million Boy

This one came on high recommendation from a blogger I follow. Sadly, I never understood how in the world she could love this book so much. I completely lost interest in The One-in-a-Million Boy about half way through and pretty much forced myself to finish it. The story seemed to drag on and on without much really happening and I never connected with the characters.

I also felt like the book jumped around too much and made the plot and characters extremely hard to follow. Each time I started a new chapter, I felt like I was starting the book for the very first time. It always seemed I was half way through the chapter before I could get my footing.

I did enjoy the unique theme of the world records and I thought the references to existing records was really interesting. I also enjoyed the clever way Monica Wood ended the book, but beyond that, I don’t have many positive things to say. If you’re considering reading The One-in-a-Million Boy in 2017, I would say skip it.

 

secretsofSecrets of a Charmed Life

I read this book in FOUR Days – the fastest I’ve ever read a book! I would say this was one of my favorite books of 2016.

The plot is fast paced and I really loved the characters. I’m sad to admit I was a lot like the main character at age 15 – bratty and selfish and a little too eager to take on the world.

The main characters (sisters) struggle their entire lives with decisions they make as children. That was particularly tough to read. But the good news is, the book does end on a happy note!

Susan Meissner has a lot to say about choices in Secrets of a Charmed Life and I really liked her central message. It was something I hadn’t thought a lot about, but I’m glad she brought it to life.

If you liked The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (which was also one of my favorite books of 2016 that you can read about in my What I’m Reading: April-June 2016 post), you will probably like Secrets of a Charmed Life. However, I would caution readers about reading these two books back-to-back or within a few weeks of each other. They are similar enough (both stories of sisters set in WWII) that you may feel like you are reading the same book twice.

 

tallgrassTallgrass

I read Tallgrass for Book Club. It was chosen as the October book because of the “part thriller” aspect. We were all a bit confused because this book is NOT by any stretch of the imagination a “thriller.”

Apparently all of Sandra Dallas’ books are set in Colorado and as a Colorado resident, I loved all of the references to towns, cities and attractions in our state. However, beyond that, there really isn’t anything special about the book.

The book has a To Kill a Mockingbird vibe, but with very poor writing, terrible editing and sub par characters, plot and theme.

I’m fairly confident I will forget all about this book by this time next year.

 

thewomanThe Woman in Cabin 10

Since Tallgrass created a thirst it couldn’t quench for a good thriller/mystery, I was excited to read The Woman in Cabin 10 even though I don’t typically reach for these types of books.

At first I had a lot of trouble connecting with the main character because I questioned her authenticity. Although she is British, she makes many references to things that are quintessential to American pop culture. However, I now realize that so many things in American pop culture (like the Kardashians) have become the world’s pop culture. So don’t let that be a hangup for you! The author is a legit Brit.

So moving on…most of the story is told through the voice of the main character. However, the author does throw in emails, chat room conversations and articles to help further the plot. I really enjoyed that! It definitely added some uniqueness and creativity to the book.

The plot is your typical “who done it” but on a cruise ship. Although I was never completely shocked by anything, it wasn’t one of those “I knew it the whole time” kind of situations either. I would say there is probably an equal amount of suspense and predictability, but it was enough to keep me reaching for the book.

Overall, I would say The Woman in Cabin 10 was a pretty fun way to spend an afternoon!

 

thetwofamilyThe Two-Family House

If the book Everything I Never Told You (that you can find in my What I’m Reading: July-September 2016 post) and the book Crossing to Safety (that you can find in my What I’m Reading: January-March 2016 post) had a baby, it would be The Two-Family House.

The plot centers around a big secret and even though you pretty much know the big secret from the very beginning (although most of the character don’t), the surprise of the novel comes in seeing how that secret directly and indirectly impacts each character and the choices they make as a result.

Sometimes I look at other families and think “how did things end up like that?” This book shows you. It takes you through every stage of the life of two families and you get to see the consequences of each decision made by the characters. You see redemption for some characters while the lives of others characters take a very negative turn.

The Two-Family House was a good reminder that although you may not be able to change your life circumstances, you can definitely choose the way you deal with them. And ultimately, the way you choose to deal with your circumstances determines the person you become.

The Two-Family House was a quick and interesting read that would make for a fantastic Book Club book…unlike Tallgrass, which was horrible! 🙂

 

holidaysonHolidays on Ice

I’ve intended to read this book for the past few years and this Christmas season I finally decided it was time.

What a disappointment!

The first story (SantaLand Diaries) made me laugh out loud at a few points, but after that, I couldn’t wait to finish the book. I feel like David Sedaris had one good short story and then wrote a bunch of crappy ones so that he could have a whole book. I recommend you get this book from the library, read SantaLand Diaries, and then return it. None of the other stories are worth your time. They aren’t funny, feel forced and some don’t even have anything to do with Christmas.

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Day 2 of Our 3-ish Days in Rome

If you missed it, you should definitely check out Day 1 of Our 3-ish Days in Rome before you read any further.

But assuming you’ve read all about Day 1 and how we ended up in Rome for our summer vacation, and once again, at the risk of sounding like a spoiled baby as I tell you all the things that didn’t go our way, I bring you Day 2 of our 3-ish days in Rome.

The Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica

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What we did:

Just like we did with the Colosseum, we booked our tour straight through the Vatican. Also because we learned our lesson on day 1 and knew things were taking significantly longer than seemed necessary, we left the hotel at 7:30am even though our tour didn’t start until 9:30am.

Thankfully we found the Vatican without any issue. In fact, we arrived before they even opened the doors to the public. To our surprise, we were inside and through security more than an hour before the start of our tour. But because there really isn’t much to see or do before you officially enter the museum, we had no choice but to sit around and wait.

Thankfully our tour was significantly better than at the Colosseum, although the group was about the same size and we still had to use headphones to hear our guide. I still wouldn’t give our tour rave reviews, but overall it was worth the cost.

The guide was a 70 year old woman who got in three separate altercations within the course of a 1.5 hour tour. In addition, along with another couple, we got separated from the group. Even though we were right in front of our guide when we walked into the wrong line, she didn’t even notice. We missed 3/4 of the tour through St. Peter’s Basilica as a result.

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Overall, we felt like we didn’t have as much appreciation for the whole Vatican experience as we would have if we were Catholic. A lot of the significance was lost on us. The most exciting moment for Sean was standing in St. Mark’s Square because, “That’s where CNN always shoots.” So that tells you how emotionally invested we were in the whole thing.

fullsizeoutput_213The Sistine Chapel was an odd experience. One minute you’re in the art gallery and the next minute you’re in a stairwell, and then BOOM you’re in the Sistine Chapel with “security guards” (read: “mall cops”) YELLING at everyone to be silent. Maybe it’s all the people or the yelling guards, but it definitely did not feel like a church.

So although our trip to the Vatican was not a spiritual or enlightening experience; we felt like it was a fun and interesting morning.

What I would tell a friend to do:

Just like with the Colosseum, even though it’s a complete zoo, if you’re in Rome you have to see the Vatican!

I would recommend the tour we chose depending on my “friend’s” circumstances. It’s totally possible to wander through on your own, but the experience is significantly enhanced by a guide.

If you really want a human tour guide but you don’t want to spend a ton of money, I would recommend booking through The Vatican. The process was really straightforward and although the tour guide was a bit nutty, the tour was decent. If The Vatican is the thing you’re most excited to see in Rome and you don’t mind spending a little extra money, I would recommend hunting Viator for a well reviewed tour company and booking through them.

If you’re fine with foregoing the human tour guide, purchase your entry ticket online ahead of time so that you don’t have to stand in the mob scene that is the ticket counter line and then use Rick Steves’ audio tour. We can’t say enough good things about his audio tours and bonus – they’re FREE! Looking back, we should have picked this option. Since we arrived when the doors opened, we could have been done with our audio tour before the crowds got really out of control. Instead, we wasted an hour waiting around for our tour to start.

Post Vatican

It was definitely time for some lunch! Since we read that food near the Vatican is 10 times more expensive then food just a few blocks away, we started walking.

Once we found a restaurant that looked good, we sat down, ordered, and pulled out our Lonely Planet map. After starring at it for no less than 30 minutes and still not being able to find our current location and asking our waiter (who couldn’t find our location either), a fellow tourist one table over handed us one of her extra maps.

That single act of kindness changed everything for us. Turns out the source of our constant frustration and confusion was NOT our inept ability to navigate. We simply had a crappy map!

Armed with our new map, we found our way back to the hotel without too much hassle, rested a little, and then set off for the Roman Forum.

The Roman Forum

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What we did:

The original plan was to see the Roman Forum the same day as the Colosseum because they are right next to each other. However, as you remember from my previous post, after our Colosseum tour, I couldn’t imagine walking one more step, so we had to postpone our trip to the Roman Forum, hoping we had time to circle back on Day 2. Luckily, we did!

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Before we left the United States, we had already planned to use Rick Steves’ audio tour for our trip to the Roman Forum. Even though I’ve already beefed up Rick Steves’ audio guides multiple times in my posts, the Roman Forum is where we used one of Rick’s audio guides for the first time. We immediately fell in love with it!

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A lot of tourists (and tour guides) complain about the Roman Forum. I will agree, it’s SUPER hot and there is ZERO shade. However, we found it to be one of our favorite things from our time in Rome. We were able to go at our own pace, and the audio guide made it really interesting. We learned a ton. Did you know the grave of Julius Caesar is there? Way cool!

What I would tell a friend to do:

Definitely take the time to see the Roman Forum; and definitely use Rick Steves’ audio tour. Oh, and DEFINITELY take plenty of water. The heat is brutal, but the experience is worth it.

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Food Tour

What we did:

This tour came on recommendation of a friend’s parents. I’m so glad we decided to splurge and take this tour! It was my absolute favorite thing in Rome! First of all, the tour group was small – less than 20 people. There was no need for headsets, and it felt more like a group of friends eating their way through Rome then a formal tour. We loved getting to know the other tourists in our group, who ranged in age from 20’s to 60’s and were from varying home countries.

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We learned that in Europe, becoming a tour guide requires a college degree and months of additional training. It’s a career, not a job. Our guide not only loved food, but was extremely passionate and knowledgeable about the geographic and structural history of Rome. This tour was so much more than pasta and gelato and after a few less than impressive tours, I was so appreciative of this experience!

fullsizeoutput_236For me, the most touching moment of the whole trip happened on this tour. We were standing in the Jewish Ghetto eating something fried and amazing while our guide told us to keep our eyes peeled for “stumbling stones.” You can read about them here. But they are basically cobble stone sized memorials to individuals who lost their lives in the Holocaust. The “stones” were created by a German artist and placed outside the homes of victims. Apparently you can find them all over Europe.

Sure enough, just one block away, there was a set of three “stones” just near the front door of an apartment that is still in use today.

What I would tell a friend to do:

TAKE THIS TOUR!

Day 2 Conclusions

Travel Lessons from Day 2:

  • The threat of being late stresses me out and waiting around upsets me even more. This is more of a personal realization then a travel tip for the general public. However, this realization will definitely serve the McGrath family well in the future. Because of these personality traits, I’m going to approach organized tours differently in the future. Unless the tour guide picks us up at the hotel, or I know exactly where the meeting place is located, we should probably opt for the self-guided route or audio tour when possible. It seems that when we can operate on our own timeline, we enjoy the experience so much more!
  • It’s not our fault we yell! Our experience with our verbally aggressive Vatican tour guide made us both stop and think that maybe all of my family’s yelling really is genetic! It’s a proven fact, Italian’s yell about EVERYTHING!
  • If your map is causing frustration, get a new map! A new map made all the difference in the world. Turns out, our Lonely Planet map totally sucked. Find a kiosk and get a map specifically designed for tourists. It will most like include everything you need to know.
  • Eating and meeting are the best parts of a vacation! Although the rising trend in vacation planning seems to be renting a house from Airbnb and making your own meals to save money; for us eating at local restaurants and meeting new people is always the highlight of our trip. Although it may not be the cheapest option, choosing our lodging and planning meals that allow for unique “eating” and “meeting” experiences will make for a much more enjoyable and memorable vacation.

Stitch Fix #4 – October 2016

Great news – I’ve officially found my stylist! I was so pleased with my 3rd fix that I emailed Customer Service and asked if Ann Blaire could become my permanent stylist. I’m SO glad I did because she KILLED it with Fix #4! Plus, check out her note. How sweet is she!

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As you may remember from my first, second or third fixes, I’m a quarterly (or seasonal) fix kind of girl. One per month is WAY too much for my closet and our budget. For my fall fix I spent some time going through my clothes to find out what I have and what I need, and then I asked Ann Blaire to send the following:

  • Colored and/or light wash skinny jeans
  • Elbow patches
  • A cold shoulder dress/top
  • A brown cardigan great for layering
  • Anything fall-ish that she thought I would love

So here’s what my gal Ann Blaire sent me…

Moda Luxe – Brooks Crossbody Bag – $58

Ok, so I’m not really a purse kind of girl. I probably have about 10 of them total, but really I just use one. It’s brown and I bought it for $15 at Old Navy about 3 years ago (somewhat similar). And to be honest, about 6 months ago I ditched the purse for a large Target wallet so now only carry a purse about once a week.

But all that being said…as soon as I pulled this purse out of the box, I HAD TO KEEP IT! I love that it’s crossbody! It makes it perfect for running around on weekends or for carrying while on vacation. Plus I own NOTHING in this color. It’s just perfect for fall. Plus, check out how cute the pattern is inside.

Status: Kept

 

Liverpool – Adele Skinny Jean – $88

fullsizeoutput_317Although I LOVE the color, I was a little nervous about these skinnies because of the brand. I have two other pairs of Liverpool pants (remember the black ones from my first Fix). Although both of my Liverpool pants look great when I first put them on, as the day goes on they start to sag.

Thankfully these Liverpool’s were much more structured (just like Ann Blaire said) and they stay put all day long.

The color is great for fall and even though they are a bit bold, (for me) they are surprisingly easy to pair. These pants are a little longer than I would have liked, but if the length really starts to irritate me, I can always get them hemmed.

Status: Kept

 

Market & Spruce – Cotulla Button Back Sweater – $58

I asked for elbow patches and I got them! Sadly, I just didn’t LOVE this sweater. The back is adorable, but the front is just kind of blah.

However, even though I wasn’t in love with it, I quickly came to realize this sweater is many SF enthusiasts’ fall unicorn. I do have a little regret about not keeping this because it was super soft and it probably would have been pretty versatile. However, because I didn’t LOVE it; I couldn’t justify spending the money to keep it.

Instead of sending it straight back, I posted it on the Stitch Fix B/S/T board and it sold in less than 10 minutes.

Status: Sold

 

BRIXON IVY – Lawley Cable Knit Open Cardigan – $68

Last year I saw a TON of cute outfits with brown cardigans that I wanted to try out for myself. The only problem was that I could never find the key ingredient – a brown cardigan. Instead of running the risk of another fruitless search this year, I decided to give my stylist a shot at finding one for me.

THANK YOU Ann Blaire! The one she sent was SO much better than anything I had even imagined.

Check out those pockets! So adorable! And if that wasn’t enough, the cable knit adds an extra element of interest. The sweater is also pretty thick, so it will be great in the winter too. Thin cardigans can only take you so far into fall here in Colorado.

Status: Kept

 

Hailee C – Morwen Button Up Top – $58

This was the only item in the box that I flat out didn’t like. The fit isn’t great for me. It feels a bit short. Plus, it doesn’t feel like a very high quality item. However, when I added up the price of the purse, jeans and cardigan, I found that with the 20% discount, it actually made more sense to keep everything. Although I REALLY wanted to add some plaid to my wardrobe, this shirt just wasn’t for me.

Apparently a lot of others feel the same way. Even though I have it listed for sale in several places online, I still haven’t managed to find a buyer.

Status: FOR SALE!

What I’m Reading: July-September 2016

10054335Rules of Civility

If the cover isn’t a dead giveaway, Rules of Civility is a Great Gatbsy-esk book set in the 1920’s. Every character is larger than life, so the whole book seemed a bit over the top to me. However, I really enjoyed reading it and would easily race through large sections in each sitting.

Despite all of their missteps and seemingly reckless lifestyles, I really enjoyed getting to know all of the characters. There isn’t much to say about the plot itself because the whole book is pretty much an intimate look into the life of a young woman and her circle of friends as they find their place in the world.

I know it seems weird, but I really enjoyed the Epilogue. Although it seemed like an after thought, it gave closure to a book that otherwise ended fairly abruptly. I wish the final chapter circled back to the scene in chapter one, instead of slapping in a “where are they now” type Epilogue.

However, overall, this was a great book to read while cursing through the Mediterranean!

 

51xzpo1-gl-_sx322_bo1204203200_The Stuff That Never Happened

I found this book on BookBub and was intrigued enough to purchase it. However, after reading it, I would not recommend it, even at a discount.

Reading The Stuff That Never Happened was like watching a marriage start on a bad path and continue further and further down. It’s pretty terrifying to see how quickly and easily a marriage can go from bad to worse, or even good to bad.

The author introduced a few characters to serve as voices of reason and guidance (friends, family members, a therapist, etc.) but sadly, there didn’t seem to be one ounce of good advice from any of them.

The ending was the most disturbing part of this book. The main characters apologize for their wrongdoing in the marriage and the author gives us an “all’s well that ends well” sort of ending. However, this new found marital foundation is based 100% on a lie. I know The Stuff That Never Happened is fiction, not a guide to marriage, but I couldn’t help but feel the author was using the characters and the story to promote a very selfish and unhealthy blueprint. In my opinion, the book ended with the couple adding one more lie to the fire, and yet the author’s tone is positive and upbeat.

If you feel like you just can’t die without reading this book, then PLEASE promise me you won’t apply any of it to your real life relationship!

 

the-coincidence-of-coconut-cake-9781501100710_hrThe Coincidence of Coconut Cake

This book got a lot of rave reviews, but honestly I’m not sure why. The Coincidence of Coconut Cake seemed more like a draft version of a story then a published book. Every aspect of it felt unfinished.

As far as the plot, it’s basically a You’ve Got Mail copycat but with a restaurant instead of a bookstore. There’s nothing unique, surprising, or interesting as far as plot goes.

The relationships in the book were pretty unrealistic, which made it nearly impossible to feel connected to the characters. The book starts with Lou and Delvin engaged, but there is never a believable connection between the two of them. The author is so concerned with making sure we know Delvin is the “bad guy” she forgets to actually convince us they are a couple. In the author’s portrayal of Lou and Al’s dating relationship (which is the majority of the book), you feel like you’re reading the same scene over and over again. The truth (that Al is the writer who ruined Lou’s restaurant) doesn’t come out until the very end of the book, and then is quickly resolved in the last two chapters. So basically you already know everything that will happen in chapters 1-25 just by reading the book summary on the back cover.

There are so many good books in the world, don’t waste your time on this one.

 

celeste_ng_-_everything_i_never_told_youEverything I Never Told You

Just because you loved The Lovely Bones doesn’t mean you will love Everything I Never Told You. Don’t let the summary fool you. The only thing these books have in common is the mysterious death of a girl. Everything I Never Told You is really the story of a family and the choices they make leading up to their daughter’s death.

Everything I Never Told You is a truly heartbreaking story. To me, the saddest part is that every tragic situation (and there are several) could have been avoided if the family members just talked about their fears, hopes, dreams and desires instead of keeping everything bottled inside.

Although there is a hopeful ending, most of the book is very sad. If you’re not a fan of sad stories, you should probably steer clear of this one.

However, if you can stand a sad story here and there, I would encourage you to give it a go. I am certain there are thousands of families out there just like the Lee’s. Their story challenged me to speak my feelings (no matter the perceived consequence) and encourage others to do the same.

 

41zc8idrpdl-_sy344_bo1204203200_The Real Thing: Lessons on Love and Life from a Wedding Reporter’s Notebook

After several months of sad and not so great books, The Real Thing was a breath of fresh air. It had been too long since a book was fun!

At times The Real Thing reads a little like a news article, but that’s to be expected of a reporter. Although it’s not a Christian book, I completely agreed with almost every bit of advice offered. It’s a real common sense approach to dating, engagement and marriage. I was happy to see that so far, Sean and I have followed a lot of the advice without even realizing it.

More importantly than the advice, it’s just a fun read! The stories and the couples are really intriguing. After day 1, Sean got tired of hearing me say, “Let me read this section to you.” There were just so many stories I really enjoyed that I couldn’t help but want to share them! No matter what stage of life you are in (single, dating, married, divorced, widowed) I would recommend this book to you.

 

aviators-wife-pb-225-shadowThe Aviator’s Wife

In September I joined a book club. The Aviator’s Wife was supposed to be the book for October. However, two days before I finished it, they decided to push it to January. So much for trying to get ahead.

The Aviator’s Wife is a pretty slow read. However, because I knew basically nothing about the Lindbergh’s (except for Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight) there were times when I found myself wanting to read a little further or stay up a little longer to find out what would happen next.

Because we will never really know the truth about certain aspects of the Lindbergh’s story, there is no way of really knowing if the author’s portrayal was biased or dangerously close to the truth; but let me say, it sure as heck felt biased! At every turn Charles is portrayed as evil and calculated and Anne is portrayed as the innocent victim, tricked and manipulated into going along with Charles’ plans. Although many of Anne’s actions are FAR from innocent, the author is always quick to void her of any responsibility for her actions. Still there are many lessons to be learned about marriage and relationships from the author’s portrayal of the Lindbergh’s.

Writing about actual people in a half fact/half fiction context is a dangerous game, and I think the author’s literary choices pushed the envelope a little too much for my taste. But if you’re a real big history nut or just LOVE the Lindbergh’s, go ahead and give this book a shot.

Day 1 of Our 3-ish Days in Rome

I’ve been surprised by the number of times I’ve been asked why two months after we returned from our trip to the Mediterranean, I still haven’t blogged about it.

The answer is pretty simple: We had a WONDERFUL time, but a lot of things didn’t go our way and even though I put more time into planning this vacation then I did our wedding, there is a lot I would have done differently.

I’ve been hesitant to write anything because I don’t want to sound like a spoiled baby. The Mr. and I feel so blessed! We experienced things we had only dreamed of – things that many of our friends and family members have never and may never see with their own eyes. We actually visited places Sean will teach on later in the year. That is amazing!

But the thing is, many moments were not kittens and rainbows, and it’s hard to talk about our trip without that coming through. 

So…Why Rome…in July?

Even though my porcelain skin would make you think otherwise, I am a legitimate, Italian American. In High School I even qualified for a Sons of Italy scholarship. My great-grandparents immigrated from Italy through Ellis Island, and to my knowledge, no one from my family had been back to Italy since.

My brothers and I have always been intrigued by this mysterious part of our heritage and for as long as I can remember, we’ve wanted to go to Italy. We dreamed of going back to Italy together, but I got tired of waiting for everyone to get their act together and make the trip a priority.

Last January I found a pretty good deal on a Mediterranean cruise in the middle of July (perfect for Sean’s teaching schedule) that peaked our interest. As an extra bonus, the cruise started and ended in Rome! Naturally we added a few days to our vacation so that we could site see before we boarded the boat.

So without further adieu (and at the risk of sounding like a spoiled baby), I bring you Day 1 of our 3-ish days in Rome.

Arrival

What we did:

Like many US flights to Europe, we flew overnight and arrived in Rome around 9:30am. On the recommendation of the Lonely Planet Travel Guide as well as Rick Steves, we used the AirPort Shuttle, which ended up being a complete disaster! Our hotel was approximately 30 minutes from the airport. I estimated we would be at our hotel by 11:00 at the latest, but thanks to AirPort Shuttle we didn’t arrive until 12:30….and we had a Colosseum tour at 1:30.

When we arrived at our hotel, I hadn’t eaten since the 6am, American Airlines economy-class breakfast. I was past the point of hangry and well into sick, and the first thing I did after check-in was puke in the bathroom of our hotel room. Then I washed my face, changed clothes, and we were off to find the Colosseum.

What I would tell a friend to do:

Spend the extra money, risk being ripped off and get a cab upon arrival.

The Colosseum

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What we did:

The Colosseum was supposed to be a 15 minute walk from our hotel, but streets in Rome aren’t marked that well, the route wasn’t very straightforward, I had just puked my guts up, and I was in full panic mode, so….it took us a bit longer than 15 minutes. But by some form of a miracle we made it to the Colosseum a few minutes before our tour was scheduled to begin.

If you’ve done any research whatsoever, you know that buying your tickets in advance allows you to “skip the line.” In reality, it works more like a Disney Fast Pass. You don’t have to stand in the SUPER long line, but you do have to stand in the “skip the line” line, which is still a line, and although it moves quickly, it’s not exactly short.

Then because we booked the (significantly cheaper) official Colosseum tour instead of one through a private company, once we made it through the “skip the line” line, we had to stand in a second line for a ticket counter where they exchange your tour confirmation for a sticker. We skipped this step. I’m actually still not sure how we were supposed to know this step existed. Instead, we showed up at our tour meeting point sticker-less.

Even though we had our confirmation print-outs, our guide refused to let us join the tour until we had the sticker, but because we were already inside the Colosseum there was no way for us to exit, join the line at the ticket counter, and come back in. So with the half-hearted help of another tour guide and after missing the first 10 minutes of our tour, we finally had our sticker and could join the group.

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There were about 50 people in our tour group and we were given headsets so we could hear our guide. Her English wasn’t that great and the tour didn’t cover very many sections of the Colosseum. Sean and I both agreed – our tour was a complete waste!

In short, we simply weren’t prepared for how chaotic a visit to the Colosseum can be! Every inch of space is packed with hot, sweaty and frustrated people all trying their darnedest to enjoy the moment and not pass out  – a lot like Disney World.

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What I would tell a friend to do:

Even though it’s a complete zoo, if you’re in Rome you have to see the Colosseum! Be sure to eat before you go, bring lots of water (or at least a bottle that can be refilled at the fountains inside), be prepared to be blessed with an opportunity (or 10) to practice patience, and give yourself plenty of time.

Even though I wouldn’t recommend the tour we chose, I REALLY wouldn’t recommend walking through the Colosseum without some kind of tour. You simply won’t get anything out of it and you will have no earthly clue what you’re looking at.

If you feel like you just HAVE to have a human tour guide, strike up a deal with one of the MANY private tour guides standing out front and negotiate your way to a good deal on a private tour.

If you’re fine with foregoing the human tour guide, purchase your entry ticket online ahead of time so that you can get in the “skip the line” line and then use Rick Steves’ audio tour. We can’t say enough good things about his audio tours and bonus – they’re FREE! I wish we would have done this!

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Post Colosseum

After we left the Colosseum, food was my #1 priority.

RECAP: It was approximately 3:00 and I had not eaten since the American Airlines economy-class breakfast served around 6am. That’s 9 hours folks!!!

After “lunch” I knew I had hit my limit and I simply could not go on. So we went back to the hotel and we both crashed.

Around 7pm I woke up feeling like a new person, ready to take on the city again. After a good 30 minutes of coaxing Sean out of bed, we set off to see the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps.

The Trevi Fountain

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What we did:

Armed with our map from the Lonely Planet Guide Book, we set off in search of the Trevi Fountain. When we exited the Metro we spotted another couple with the same destination in mind, but they were using their smart phone to find it. We decided to join forces with them, but after 45 minutes of wandering with no fountain in sight, we set off on our own.

Around 9pm we FINALLY found the Trevi Fountain! To our complete horror, the entire area surrounding the fountain was PACKED with people. I wish I had taken a photo of the crowds. I found this one online which is a pretty accurate representation of our experience, except it was 9pm and not the middle of the day.

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I heard later on there was some kind of photo shoot that drew the large crowds, but blocks away streets were equally as packed so I’m not sure the photo shoot had all that much do to with the crowds.

After 30 minutes of feeling like we were at a concert pushing through gobs of people to get to the stage, we snapped a few photos, gave up on the idea of getting close enough to toss a coin in the fountain, and set off for the Spanish Steps.

img_1578What I would tell a friend to do:

Don’t be scared to ask strangers for directions and if it feels like you’re going the wrong way, reassess sooner rather than later. Also, mentally prepare yourself for large crowds at major sites no matter the time of day or night.

The Spanish Steps

What we did:

Even though it should have only been a 10 minute walk, it took us significantly longer to find the Spanish Steps. We blamed it on the fact that navigation has become a lost skill. We later found out we had a terrible map.

When we finally found the Spanish Steps, we discovered we could not climb them or even get that close to them. I thought maybe they closed them down at night, but after some further research I found out they’re actually closed 24/7 for renovation. So we stared at the steps from behind this see-through, makeshift wall and then headed back to the hotel.

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Sean was border-line outraged that we walked all that way to see some steps. I kept trying to tell him they are a big deal, but my reasoning fell flat. I’m still not really sure why the Spanish Steps are a big deal. I should probably look into that. Either way, we can now say we saw the Spanish Steps.

What I would tell a friend to do:

Find out how the renovation project is going. A few weeks after we returned home I read that during the day you can take an alternate route to the top of the stairs. So if that’s the case, then make sure you go during the day. Definitely make an effort to go so that you can say you saw them, but don’t expect much from the whole Spanish Steps experience.

Day 1 Consclusions

Travel Lessons from Day 1:

  • The transportation process from the airport to the hotel sets the tone for the trip. Spend the money to make it as seamless and stress free as possible. Vacations are supposed to be fun. Spend the money to make sure it starts on a good note.
  • Avoid pre-scheduled tours on day 1 of your vacation. If your schedule absolutely forces you to book an organized tour on day 1, schedule it for late in the day. This ensures you have PLENTY of time to take a nap, shower, eat, find an ATM and get acquainted with your surroundings before you absolutely have to be somewhere. Even if we had picked the 3:30 Colosseum tour instead of the 1:30 Colosseum tour, it would have made a world of difference.
  • Ask for directions as soon as you feel lost. There is no reason to wander for 45+ minutes when the streets are packed with people who are happy to help you out.
  • If you’re in a touristy area, expect crowds ALL THE TIME! No matter what time it is, just expect you will have to face the crowds. If you accept it ahead of time, it’s easier to handle.
  • If your map is causing frustration, get a new map! A little bit of a spoiler here, but on Day 2 of our 3-ish days in Rome, a stranger gave us a new map and it made all the difference in the world. Turns out, our Lonely Planet map totally sucked. Find a kiosk and get a map specifically designed for tourists. It will most like include everything you need to know.
  • Give yourself PLENTY of time for EVERYTHING! On Day 1 everything took 3 times longer than it should have – no exaggeration! As we spent more time in the city it got better, but if you try to pack your first day with sites and activities, you will probably end up very frustrated and disappointed.

What I’m Reading: April-June 2016

If you missed it, you can check out what I read at the beginning of 2016 here.

I didn’t read nearly as much in April, May and June as I did in January, February and March, but in April I did something I had never done before – I abandoned a book. I got about 1/2 way through B.J. Novak’s book One More Thing and I decided I couldn’t take one more page.

My previous theory was that you have to read the bad books to make you appreciate the good ones. All of my reader friends (who were much more avid readers than me) totally disagreed. Their opinion is that there are so many great books out there, there is no reason to waste your time reading a bad one. I decided to take a chance on their methodologies. It was hard…but I survived. Does it get easier to abandon books after you do it a few times? Please say yes!

So now on to what I actually FINISHED reading…

 

Station_Eleven_CoverStation Eleven

Last Christmas Sean wanted to buy me a new book as one of my gifts. One of my avid reader friends recommended Station Eleven but the bookstore was out so Sean went with Orphan Train instead. When Sean told me the premise of Station Eleven I was intrigued so I made a mental note to circle back to it.

I’m glad I did! I usually don’t connect with dark, post apocalyptic novels, but I liked this one. I’m sure it will be made into a movie. The author does such a great job of skipping through decades of time and through the stories of multiple characters, that I got over the setting and tone quickly. I loved watching the character’s stories come together.

The thing I didn’t love was the ending. The book just kind of stops. It’s quite possible the author was leaving the option open for a second book, but I hate when authors end the first book poorly for the sake of a sequel.

Despite the ending (or lack thereof), I would recommend Station Eleven. It’s unique and makes you really consider what the world would be like if a flu outbreak like the one in the book really did happen. I think our new reality wouldn’t be too far off from the one the author describes.

 

51sQMLOSuaL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgEight Hundred Grapes

BookBub introduced me to Eight Hundred Grapes when the Kindle version went on sale for $1.99. I thought Eight Hundred Grapes was my first introduction to Chicklit, but an avid reader friend (who believes in abandoning bad books) told me it’s not Chicklit. Even though no one can seem to determine the book’s genre, I loved the book!

Other reviews seem mixed on whether the story and characters stay at surface level, or if there are deeper messages. I lean toward the second. Although the plot circles around the missteps of a young, engaged couple, the book is much more about family dynamics. Why is it no matter how old we are, when we’re with our family, we are 10 years old again? Like last fall when I completely lost my sh** and started screaming at my brother in the checkout line at Kohls. So to all the other people who reviewed this book and said the characters were too crazy to be realistic, I guess you are just a better person than me.

 

515p3OrN1KL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_The Nightingale

Friends, let me introduce you to The Nightingale, the first book that ever made me cry. There really should be a warning label on this one so you don’t end up like me – crying uncontrollably in the break room at work. The last chapter was so brutal I had to stop multiple times because my eyes were so teary that I couldn’t see the words on the page (or screen in my case). So that goes to show just how much the story and the characters sucked me in.

I was invested from page one. In fact, I read the first 100 pages in one sitting…which is also rare for me. I just can’t say enough about how engaging the story is.

The giant downfall of this book in my opinion is the literary style (or lack thereof). The words and phrases chosen by the author seemed like they were written for a child’s book. I realize this makes me sound like a literary snob. Trust me, I’m not, you’ve seen my reading list.

Still, even with that downfall, I would highly recommend the book because the plot is just so darn engaging. I can’t give it high enough praise. It kept me on my toes every step of the way.

 

511fHAqYd-L._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Four Season in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World

It was one extreme to the next reading Four Seasons in Rome after The Nightingale. Like I said, the story of The Nightingale was AMAZING, but the writing style was dreadful. Four Seasons in Rome was the complete opposite – the writing style (like everything Anthony Doerr writes) blew me away, but the story was a complete snooze fest.

So to sum up, this book taught me that I’m incredibly shallow. I value a good story much more than a good writer. Sad day.

But back to Four Seasons in Rome. I (like pretty much everyone else) read Four Seasons in Rome because I fell in love with All the Light We Cannot See. Oh, and if you’ve been hanging out on here long, you know the Mr. and I are GOING TO ROME in a week! It seemed like this would be a slam dunk, pre-trip book to not only feed my excitement (read “obsession”) for the trip, but maybe reveal some of Rome’s hidden gems that we needed to add to our itinerary.

I think it’s important for you to know WHY I picked up the book because that may have a lot to do with why I didn’t really like it. I wanted to, but I didn’t. Basically I was just bored. Oh so bored! Maybe if I had kids and maybe if I had already been to Rome I would feel differently, but I don’t and I haven’t and I’m a shallow reader, so there you go.

Stitch Fix #3 – June 2016

IMG_1478When it comes to Stitch Fix, I’m a quarterly girl. That’s why you don’t see a box review every month. I get a box each season and for me (and our finances), that’s enough.

In case you’re curious, here’s what I kept form my first and second fixes. Last month I also experimented with Golden Tote.

But back to my first love…Stitch Fix.

For my third fix, I was pretty specific. I asked my stylist for clothes for our up-coming trip to the Mediterranean. What??? You didn’t know we were going on a Mediterranean cruise??? You should check out this post and this post.

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So now to the good stuff…what was in my THIRD box?

Dear John – Finnegan Roll Cuff Chino Short – $58

When I peaked at my shipment (yes, I’m one of THOSE people) I was a little thrown by these shorts. They looked like they were pale pink. But once I actually saw them in person I realized they were bright pink and white striped.

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Bottom line, both me (and hubs) surprisingly LOVED them. Oh, and they fit like a dream – perfect length and very comfy.

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However, I just don’t need another pair of shorts right now. I really only need 2 or 3 pairs for my current lifestyle, and I’m close to triple that number. Also, you may (or may not) be surprised to learn that I won’t be wearing shorts that often on our vacation. Even though it will be HOT, apparently they don’t really do shorts in Europe. So there’s that.

Status: Returned

 

Market & Spruce – Sam Hi-Lo Short Sleeve Tee – $44

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Ok, so I know what you’re thinking because I thought it too. $44 for a grey t-shirt!?!?! You have GOT to be kidding me Stitch Fix!!! Well, spoiler alert: I KEPT it! I know, I know, I know! Who have I become? Well, I’ll tell you – someone with the most versatile, comfortable shirt in the whole world, that’s who!

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Ok, so before you get all judgy, I did a little research via a Stitch Fix buy/sell/trade Facebook group…yeah, I’m a part of one of those. Just stop with the judgy eyes already.

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So, here’s the deal, in the world of Stitch Fix, this shirt is ALL THE RAGE! Everyone wants it and those who start the “$44 for a t-shirt??” post are verbally slashed to the point of death and then shunned. So I was quietly skeptical. Then I tried it on. Of course I loved it, and then somehow I just decided to bite the bullet and pay the astronomical price.

BEST. DECISION. EVER. I have ZERO regrets! I have already worn this more times then I can count. It goes with basically everything and it’s so easy to dress up or down. Dear Sam Hi-Lo Tee, I’m a believer!

Status: Kept

 

Skies are Blue – Keagan Knit Dress – $68

When we peaked (and I say “we” because I took screenshots on my phone of all the items and texted them to Sean and basically forced him to engage in dialog about them) we were positive this dress was a keeper! Love at first sight!

Then I tried it on, and we were both like, “hmm…”

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So here’s the thing, it’s SUPER soft, love the pattern, colors, and cutout in the back. BUT the dress was too short and too tight on my mid section. I was tugging at it all through the photo shoot and at the same time trying to convince myself I really did love it. I even tried it on with the big, floppy vacation hat I told you about.

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Although this dress could pass as a vacation dress, it would be of no other use because it’s a smidge too short for work. I just couldn’t justify it, and I didn’t really enjoy wearing it.

Status: Returned

 

Papermoon – Sheydon Trim Detail Blouse – $44

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Not much to say about this blouse. It was just kind of meh. You know? Nothing special. Didn’t hate it, but didn’t love it. Plus, I just bought a navy blouse that is very similar. So really no need for this one.

Status: Returned

 

Pixley – Annette Printed Tulip Hem Maxi Skirt – $58

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When I peeked, I wasn’t crazy about the pattern of this skirt and I was unsure about the cut. When I tried it on I was certain I didn’t like the pattern but I LOVED the cut. Check out a close up of this pattern, doesn’t it look like a woman screaming?

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Still, I almost kept it just because at the time it was the closest thing to perfect I had found for our day at the Vatican. If you don’t know, the Vatican has some pretty strict rules. Your knees and shoulders have to be covered, which for females is challenging to do without looking like a Season 1 Duggar, fundamentalist Mormon, or a fashionista who is 5 minutes away from heat stroke.

In the end, I’m glad I passed on the screaming woman skirt, because I did find the perfect Vatican dress a few weeks later at TJ Maxx – for half the price of course. Keep your eye out for a glimpse of that dress in a future post.

This skirt taught me to embrace the tulip hem, and to not settle for good when you have over a month left to find great.

Status: Returned

 

So there you go, my third box.

Even though I only kept one thing, I was really happy! This was by FAR the most personalized box I’ve received yet.

Also, if you’re considering signing up for Stitch Fix, I would LOVE it if you used my referral link! If you do, I get $25 off my next order!