Book Recommendation: Looking for Alaska by John Green

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No, this book is not about someone with really poor geography skills. Looking for Alaska by John Green is a harrowing coming of age story that centrals around Alaska Young, a beautiful, emotionally troubled teen.

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The story begins when the narrator, a boy called Pudge (Miles Halter), decides to discover his “Great Perhaps” (from the last words of Francois Rabelais) and leave his normal high school to go to a prestigious boarding school in Alabama. Though Culver Creek is not at all as extravagant as he had expected, he does end up grasping that elusive Great Perhaps when he becomes close friends with Alaska (the girl for whom he also has incorrigible feelings), his boisterous roommate The Colonel, a boy called Takumi, and a girl named Lara. And when a tragedy hits their friend group, they don’t let it destroy them, but rather grow even closer because of it.

I’ve got to say, I’m rather impressed by John Green. The first book I read by him was The Fault in Our Stars, which was really good, but – I felt – a little flat in terms of characters. The themes were rich and thought-provoking, but it seemed like all the characters had the same brain stuffed in different bodies. Looking for Alaska, on the other hand, does not have this problem. All the characters are elaborately unique: The Colonel, a short, poor boy with a huge brain and an even huger heart, Miles Halter, a timid boy who never had friends until getting to boarding school, Alaska Young, a girl so troubled by her past that she’s let herself become entangled in a sticky web of suffering, and even the secondary characters are full of life.

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“I was gawky and she was gorgeous and I was hopelessly boring and she was endlessly fascinating. So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was hurricane.”

What is really fascinating about this book is that everything and everyone in it is brutally honest – there is no sugarcoating. These kids aren’t the image of perfection – they make a plethora of mistakes, including but not limited to drinking, smoking, and hooking up (“But there was so much to do: cigarettes to smoke, sex to have, swings to swing on. I’ll have more time for reading when I’m old and boring.”) – and they know that what they are doing isn’t necessarily on the straight and narrow. Nevertheless, their knowing rebellion is refreshing, and I found myself rooting for them in spite of it all. Furthermore, with their honesty in regard to their own actions also comes an honesty in their way of looking at the world – they are not blinded by what others of their age, perhaps, are.

“What is an ‘instant’ death anyway? How long is an instant? Is it one second? Ten? The pain of those seconds must have been awful as her heart burst and her lungs collapsed and there was no air and no blood to her brain and only raw panic. What the hell is instant? Nothing is instant. Instant rice takes five minutes, instant pudding an hour. I doubt that an instant of blinding pain feels particularly instantaneous.”

This novel delves into some really deep issues about life, death, love, and friendship. If you feel like a quick read with some profound themes, I definitely suggest this one.

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“Alaska finished her cigarette and flicked it into the river.

‘Why do you smoke so damn fast?’ I asked.

She looked at me and smiled widely, and such a wide smile on her narrow face might have looked goofy were it not for the unimpeachably elegant green in her eyes. She smiled with all the delight of a kid on Christmas morning and said, ‘Y’all smoke to enjoy it. I smoke to die.”

Making Candles at Home

I am so obsessed with candles omgeeeee. Especially when it gets to this time of year. Sometimes all I feel like doing is burying my nose into a frosted cupcake candle and literally doing nothing else. My husband gets exasperated every time we walk by the candle section in Wal-Mart because we inevitably linger there for fifteen to twenty minutes so I can smell all the new flavors.

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So last time we were wasting our lives away in the Wal-Mart candle section, I had a lightbulb moment – DIY candles!

It is so easy! And cheap! And you can use the prettiest dish you want! Make your way over to Wal-Mart and get these things:

  • Parrafin wax (find it by the baking section)
  • Twisted cotton twine (hardware section)
  • Essential oils (candle section)
  • A pretty dish if you don’t have one at home.

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One pound of paraffin wax will make two to three candles of the size I made. It cost about $2.50, I believe. The essential oils cost $0.98 a piece, so that’s a steal! Cotton twine is inexpensive as well, so when I say this is a cheap DIY, it’s true.

I decided to choose Warm Sugar Cookie and Cinnamon scent for my essential oil. I mixed them, because I wanted a really sweet, delicious, fall smelling scent. You can choose any number of scents to mix, but make sure your scents are complimentary or your candle will be ruined!

So here’s how to do it.

First, cut a length of twine longer than the height of your container. Tape it to the bottom of your container with duct tape. If you are using a clear jar, use clear tape. Pull the string so it is tight and straight, and place it between two paint brushes or pencils, taping those together tightly. Now your container is ready.

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Next, prepare a double boiler. Find a heat proof bowl (one you don’t mind getting full of wax) and a pot on which the bowl will sit. Fill the pot about half way with water. Put the water on heat and boil. While the water heats up, break your wax into smaller pieces so it melts evenly.

Place your wax in the heatproof bowl and set on top of boiling water. Heat the wax until it reaches 120 degrees or is completely melted.

Take your wax off the heat and add your oils. I used about half a bottle of each of my scents. Mix in gently.

Carefully pour your wax into the container with the wick. Let the wax cool for 24 hours before burning.

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And there you have it! Candle made at home! Mine turned out fantastically and smells absolutely delicious. I also really love the container I used because I feel like it has a distinctive Halloween vibe.

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I hope you enjoy!

Acorn Squash Chestnut Soup

The first time I ever had a squash soup was on a cruise with my family when I was in high school. It was some sort of pumpkin soup, curried maybe, and it changed my life. I don’t know why I had always shied away from squash until then; probably because my parents were not necessarily quiet when it came to their dislike of the vegetables.

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Let me tell you a story about spaghetti squash. The only time I ever had it as a child was when my mom decided to make an experimental halloween recipe she found in a recipe book. This recipe was called Cat Puke, I kid you not. I don’t know if it was the name of the dish or what was actually inside it (all I remember was cheese), but NO ONE in my family enjoyed that meal. In fact, it may have even made some of us gag. Since that alarming experience, no one in my family touched a spaghetti squash, or any other type of squash for that matter, for many many years.

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It wasn’t until I got to college that I realized how sad that is. I love squash now. I have made a plethora of delicious recipes with spaghetti squash (none of them called Cat Puke), and I can’t think of a better meal than a hearty squash soup.

Acorn Squash is extremely versatile, but I especially love it as soup because it has a subtle nutty flavor.

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This soup is perfect for a cool, autumn day.

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Roasted Acorn Squash Chestnut Soup

INGREDIENTS:

1 large acorn squash
1 granny smith apple
1 carrot
3 stalks of celery
1 onion
2 tbsp olive oil
3 cups water
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup chestnuts (I used the kind in a bag, pre roasted)
1/2 cup milk

METHOD:

1.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cut the squash in half and clean out seeds (save them for roasting and topping the soup with!). Spray with oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast in oven until soft. Let cool.

2. While squash is cooking, prepare the other vegetables. Chop onion, celery, and carrot, and sauté in 3 tablespoons of olive oil until translucent. Chop apple and add to mixture. When acorn squash is cool enough, scrap it out of skin and into vegetable mixture. Add roasted chestnuts. Add water and bring to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, turn heat down and let simmer for 30 minutes. Add spices  and salt and pepper.

3. Once soup has simmered for thirty minutes, process in a food processor or blender until smooth. Add milk.

4. Top with acorn squash seeds and fresh oregano.

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The Holidays Are Coming! Start Thinking About Gifts Early

I know it seems a little early to start thinking about Christmas and decorating and gifts and what not, but honestly, Christmas will be here before we know it. With that said, I am super excited to introduce my holiday line of decor, gift sets, and Christmas tree ornaments.

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I started making all these winter/Christmas themed things like a month ago. Sooooo here’s a dirty secret – I’ve been listening to Christmas music since mid-September. But, dude, it’s okay because it is hard not to be merry and bright, thusly making cheerful ornaments, when Vince Guaraldi Trio’s Charlie Brown Christmas is on in the background.

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Maybe you’re not ready to start thinking about Christmas yet, but I implore you! Don’t leave it until too late! So many people (and I’m guilty of this myself) get trapped into thinking, “Ohhh I have plenty of time!” and then miss out on some really fun items. If you’re interested in buying decor and gifts online this year, remember to plan well ahead so that your items will be shipped to you in time.

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If you like my ornaments and decor, please visit my shop for even more options!

 

DIY Leaf Gift Tags…The Best Way to Immortalize Fall

Do you ever go outside during fall and just wish you could save each and every one of those perfect, yellow leaves fluttering down from the trees? Obviously, this is impractical. But I’ve discovered a great way of immortalizing at least a few.

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Making gift tags out of leaves is actually incredibly easy. And it just finishes off a package so perfectly.

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I actually thought of the idea in pondering how to make my autumn-inspired items in my Etsy shop really special when someone opens up their package. What better way of doing that than with a real piece of fall?

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So here’s what you need:

  1. Some pretty leaves from your backyard. Make sure they are relatively freshly fallen otherwise they will be too crumbly to hole punch.
  2. Gloss varnish. I used DuraClean, but you can use any brand. Varnish can be purchased at Walmart or Hobby Lobby.
  3. A paintbrush for brushing on the varnish.
  4. Waterproof pens. The pens I used are actually Pentel Gel Rollers for fabric. Obviously, you don’t have to use a fabric pen, but I swear by Pentel, so those were my pens of choice. I know that they are truly waterproof.
  5. Twine.
  6. A hole puncher.

And that’s it! Let’s get started.

First off, write your messages on the leaves like so. They can be whatever you want!

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After letting the ink dry for a few minutes, paint your leaves with varnish. You will only need a few drops per leaf, and make sure you varnish both sides entirely.

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I used my twine as a drying rack. Make sure your leaves are completely dried before attempting to punch a hole in them.

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Punch your holes and voila! Leaf gift tag.

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Hope you enjoy!

Cranberry Nutmeg Smoothie

I don’t know if you remember this, but Smoothie King used to have a cranberry smoothie called Cranberry Supreme that rocked. I discovered it during my stent as smoothie maker in high school, and I was forever changed toward smoothies. Cranberry smoothies are the bomb. Unfortunately, Smoothie King did away with Cranberry Supreme because the only people who ever ordered it were old people. Like there is something wrong with being old and eating a lot of cranberries.

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Cranberries are quite the powerful little berry. Did you know they are considered a superfood? They’ve got a plethora of vitamins and antioxidants, and they can help prevent cardiovascular disease and urinary tract infections. If they’re that good for you, I’ll risk looking like an old geyser for drinking a cranberry smoothie any day.

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This particular cranberry smoothie of mine is made with dried cranberries, which do contain a bit of sugar, so you’ve got to be careful about eating too many of them. I also added some spices because this time of year requires things like cinnamon and nutmeg. It sort of captures the season.

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Cranberry Nutmeg Smoothie

INGREDIENTS:

1 frozen banana
1 cup milk
3 tbsp greek yogurt
1 tbsp dried cranberries
3 ice cubes
dash of cinnamon
dash of cardamon
2 dashes of nutmeg
pinch of salt
agave nectar to taste

METHOD:

Place all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth. Enjoy!

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The Wonderful Wildlife of Wyoming

So far, one of the best things about living in Wyoming is the abundance of wildlife I get to see on a daily basis. Deer and turkeys are almost as common in Dayton as humans, I swear, but I often find myself wishing a moose would wander into my backyard as well (though they say mama moose are the most dangerous animals in the Bighorns). This moose Grant and I saw after a day of hiking in the Bighorns doesn’t look very mean, though!

Here is a sampling of the wildlife that frequent the foothills of the Bighorns:

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There are lots of different types of deer in Wyoming, but I think my favorite are the mule deer. They are fluffier than normal deer, and much less skittish. You come across a whitetail and it immediately scurries off; a mule deer, on the other hand, just stares, unfazed by the notice of humans. We’ve seen them in busy neighborhoods during the middle of the day, just meandering around, eating bushes and stuff.

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Marmots are big rodents but they are very cute. They kind of look like beavers except without the large flat tail. We saw this one at Mount Rushmore, but they lurk in the mountains by our house too.

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A fantastic flock of wild turkeys has moved into my backyard. My husband calls them nosy, because they like to see what we are doing when we go out there, doing yard work and what not. They make the funniest noises too, and sometimes the deer hang out with them. The horses like to mess with them as well.

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Evidently, a mother moose will do anything to protect her baby. Everyone always says that moose out here can be more dangerous than black bears, even, because moose are not afraid of measly humans, where black bears have more of a timid disposition naturally.

DSCN6021DSCN5794This black bear was in a nature preserve – doesn’t it just look so cuddly and nice? I imagine black bears in the wild aren’t quite so chill, but I would still love to see one.

I wish I had a picture of a pronghorn deer, but I’ve never been quite close enough to get a good shot. Those are weird looking animals, and they are everywhere out here.

Hope you enjoyed this sampling of Wyoming wildlife! I know I always do. :)