Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Book Review: The Darkest Corners

Let me introduce you to a page turner, The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas. My book club chose this read for our May gathering. I opened and finished it within four days. It has twists at every turn and keeps surprising you in the best ways. I've been itching for a book that makes you hungry to finish it,  you know the ones, and it just hit the spot.

The story takes place in Pennsylvania and is told from the perspective of Tessa, who brings in layers of family dynamics, brokenness, and courage that you connect with from the beginning. As you read you discover that she and her childhood best friend, Callie, testified as witnesses to a  murder as children and haven't spoken since. There is intrigue around whether or not their story was accurate, what actually happened to Callie's cousin, who was the victim, and a towns worth of gossip to keep you guessing at every corner.

Throughout the book, you are learning about family dynamics, secrets kept by friends, healing, and the lives that happen in small towns without the knowledge of others. I was on the edge of every page and gasped out loud at the end when all the layers had been removed and the full story presented itself.

I am eager to get to book club so we can devour every chapter. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!




What is on your summer reading list?

Looking for great reads? Join me as I share books on my shelf and what I am currently reading. Follow along on instagram, #ReadWithGrits.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

6 Months of Marriage

J and I reach 6 months of marriage and celebrated with a few date nights this past weekend. As we were watching the sunset one night, I asked what he had learned about marriage, me, or us within that time. What a great moment to pause, check-in, and see how this sweet marriage thing is going. Since that conversation, I've continued to reflect, aww, laugh, and feel real blessed to walk in marriage with J.

Some of my top reflections include things you'll totally laugh at, and hopefully be encouraged in (wherever you are in your own journey). Enjoy!

Acts of service are our lifelines to each other

I awoke the other morning to my crockpot on the counter. J had taken it down off of the high shelf we typically store it on, and I thought, I love this man. We keep our menu for the week displayed on a chalkboard (planner hearts) and he saw that I planned to use the crockpot that morning so he took the extra time to get it down for me, (a task I usually seek his help with). It was small and it was big, all at the same time. Gosh, it just feels quite nice to be considered, for my needs to be thought of and for those thoughts to be acted upon. Clearly, J and I both have Acts of Service as one of our top Love Languages and I'm so grateful for the way he serves me in that space. These small or big acts go a long way in the Fitzgerald home. 

I do really gross things. 

Several weeks into brushing our teeth together, J said to me, “Baby that is so gross!” Me, unaware of what was gross, proceeded to ask my husband what he meant. He informed me that is was beyond gross that I would rinse the sink out with my hand, as I brushed my teeth, (I’m obsessive about sink cleanliness) and would then proceed to rinse out the toothpaste from my mouth with the same hand. Clearly, he had been watching this rather gross habit of mine for weeks with pure disgust. My germophobe husband continued by telling me about all of the germs that lived in the sink and how I was putting them into my mouth under the goal of “cleaning” out the sink. You could say he had a point. And, I realized that I do kinda gross things, which I am now keenly aware of after sharing intimate living space with another person.

Honeymoon Teeth Brushing

Shared money and financial goals are key

When J and I were engaged we talked to other couples about how they managed their finances and gathered information to help inform us about how we would manage our own. We decided that we would share all of our accounts. To determine how our money would be spent, we created larger financial goals and broke them down into our monthly budget. Every few months, we review our spending to see where we are actually spending and if we are doing well at achieving our budget goals or determine where we need to make adjustments.

In full disclosure, I was nervous about shared budgeting. You know, little Miss Independence over here. Truthfully, I was more nervous about not sharing because I thought it would lead me to me vs. you in decisions or self-protecting. Both are defaults of mine, none of which are helpful. 

I wasn’t sure how I would feel or how we’d manage our different lenses regarding money, but I'd honestly say that this has been one of my favorite parts about marriage. It helped us set priorities for our family, establish long-term goals together, and have discussions prior to spending. We are on the same page when it comes to our spending, and that feels really good. It has provided freedom to give financially where others may need it and support one another in our individual and shared goals. There is great joy in knowing that your partner supports something that is important to you and helps create financial space for your passions and gifts to live. 

Bigger than all of our goals, it helps me (and I think J too) not feel too attached to those numbers in our accounts but to rather view them as gifts we are to steward well.

We should save fruit for the end of the week

I call J a food monster. Bless his heart, I don’t even know how he is so hungry but he sure is. In fairness, he works out a ton thus sustenance is needed. I have to watch myself around him because I should stop eating long before he does. This is not a matching system that will benefit this thirty something/have to work out harder just to maintain body I am in.

I took responsibility for meal planning in our home because I love cooking and testing new recipes. I also eagerly await his response on a new dishes because I seriously love cooking good food for people that they'll enjoy. It's the Southern in me. Seconds = it was good.

I have learned that I am super obsessive about all things in the kitchen, especially how things are organized and even how items are placed into the refrigerator. I'm not sure why. I just like it a certain way. We've also learned to ask before diving into leftovers, or using up something that may have been intended for a dish later in the week. 

And then there is the fruit. We both eat an insane amount of fruit. J will eat it all at the beginning of the week and I like to have a little each day to savor it all week long. So I "gently" give reminders about it lasting all week, and he's sweet so he lets me.



Well, that didn’t go as planned

In marriage counseling we heard a lot about communication. Part of me was like, how much could you have to possibly communicate about something, and then we got married. The answer would be over communicate, in detail, always. Any and all expectations. We have had plenty of moments where one of us had a plan or thoughts about how something would look or go and then it doesn't quite happen like that. Sometimes that leads to a laugh with a, "that's okay" and sometimes it leads to frustration/an argument. However our plans go or don't go, marriage has taught me a whole lot about grace for someone else, communication, and not being too attached to my plan.

It is way better than I expected

I have always been clear about wanting to be a mother. Hands down, no question. Marriage? Eh. I wasn't so sure it was really going to be for me. J wasn't so sure either. Kind of funny how we have been shown differently. Marriage has been and is way better than I expected it to be. My capacity to love J surprises me all the time. And, it is hard to describe, but the unification of two people, the commitment to no other option but choosing to love one another is a game changer. It provides freedom and intimacy in the sweetest ways. I look forward to the ways marriage will continue to surprise me.

This is the best slumber party I’ve ever had

People keep asking me how marriage is going or what I think about being married. My honest response is, it is the best slumber party I've ever had, and it's every day. On our wedding program we stated, "Welcome to our greatest adventure", and that is exactly what the first 6 months have been. The best of days and some hard days, but the greatest adventure with my favorite person.

Wedding dancing captured by our friend, Laura Foote

For the next 6

We are just starting, life will keep delivering stuff, and God will continue to be faithful. There is so much more to experience and I am like a kid on Christmas Eve, full of anticipation and excitement for what is in store for us.


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Host a Blind Wine Tasting Party

Last year, two of our colleagues and friends entered into a debate about whether or not the price of the wine determined its quality and tastiness. The conversation resulted in a blind wine tasting party that is now a Fitzgerald tradition. If you enjoy wine, at any price point, I highly encourage you to host your very own blind wine tasting party. You won't be disappointed with the results!

First step is to identify your guest list. This year, we intentionally brought together couples that we keep hoping to connect with but for some reason or another, our schedules do not seem to match up. J and I enjoy bringing together friends from different aspects of lives. It is both fun and an open space for us to truly walk in community with others.

Once you've determined your guest list, you can invite them to bring their favorite bottle of wine. We like to leave it up to guests to choose a white wine or a red wine, and award a prize for each category. You could have folks sign up if you'd like or even assign regions from around the world. There are lots of fun ways to personalize this aspect. Our guests this time around really loved red and we ended up not having a white wine in sight {fine by this red wine lover!}.

Part of my wine love involves the bites to eat that often accompany the sips. Our guests were also asked to bring an appetizer to share. Wine + small bites for dinner. My kind of party, for sure.

For my food contributions, I made a healthier buffalo chicken dip and a baked brie in phyllo cups with a walnut and craisin garnish.


As guests arrived, we invited them to choose a number to attach to their bottle of wine. I found this free printable here.


When the tasting began, each guest received a scorecard to rate the tasting. I like to give a few minutes in between tastings for chatting and preparing for the next sip. As we tasted each wine, we identified the number on the bottle but keep the secret of whose bottle it was and what type of wine it was. For us, it lead to a lot of fun guessing as to who brought it and what type it was.


We prefer to provide mini cups for the tastings and then toss them out each time. You could also provide guests with one glass and a dump bucket if you preferred that. I also recommend some palate cleansing snacks such as: crackers, goldfish, etc. for guests to munch on in between samples.

After all of our tastings were complete, we asked guests to vote for their favorite white wine and favorite red wine. In the case that all of your guests bring one type, liked ours did, have them vote for their top 2. As we announced the top selections, the bottles were revealed! After that, everyone was free to enjoy glasses of any wines they chose.

The winners of our categories took home gift certificates to the newly opened Mini Doughnut Factory, a personal favorite of ours {get the cotton candy one!}.

Of course, decorating for your party is also a fun aspect. Or at least it is for me. A few little pretty things go a long way.

For this party, I used a roll of brown butcher wrapping paper to create a table runner, picked up a fresh tulip plant, and used some thought provoking cocktail napkins to spur on conversation. {I pick up cocktail napkins all the time for this purpose and to be sure that I always have fun ones on hand.} You can use any embellishments you'd like to represent you and add a little fun for your guests.

Write down your own great ideas and invite your friends over for a lovely and lively night with good wine and even better company!

If you're curious about our winners from this year, the favorites were:

Cupcake Black Forest

Dreaming Tree Pinot Noir

Yellow Tail Cabernet Sauvignon

Cheers!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Weekend Staycation

J and I have been married for almost 4 months (I promise to write about that soon!). How has the time flown so quickly?

Since the new year started, we've been busy bees at work and in life, making the transition to marriage and living together. We decided at the beginning of the year to take a day off in March to give us a long weekend together to celebrate our datingversary and reconnect after what we anticipated would be a busy few months. Two days off, no tasks, no lists, and adventures. They were so fun. And, so good for this girl's heart.

If you are in the Tampa Bay area, there are some good finds I suggest. Wherever you are, take a weekend to enjoy your city and get out to explore!

Welcome to our staycation!

We ended work on Thursday and took off in our already packed car to head to the sweet downtown streets of Dunedin for their St. Patrick's Day festival. I've married an Irish man so I anticipate this always being a big holiday in our home. The streets were packed with fellow celebrators. We made our way down to the Downtown Dunedin Deli for a burger (definitely give this spot a try). I know, not very Irish, but the festival surprisingly lacked Irish food so we opted for J's next favorite thing.


We spent the night in Dunedin and dashed out early in the morning for a quick breakfast at the famous Kelly's. A yummy breakfast with lots of pours of coffee is just the perfect start to the day, right?


We spent the rest of the day tucked away at the beach. It was surprisingly chilly for a March day in Florida but when you have your sweetheart and the waves are crashing, what could be wrong. Both of us enjoyed our newest books and soaked up the afternoon. 

Of course, no visit to the beach would be complete without a long walk and lunch picnic. For lunch, we picked up Publix sandwiches/wraps and enjoyed them waterside at a little park J discovered. My husband really likes to ask fun hypothetical questions to get your mind going. Sometimes I don't want to play along, admittedly, but I was glad I did on this day because it led to some sweet life conversations that you just miss out on having in your everyday normal life.

While in Treasure Island, we had to visit our favorite ice cream shop, The Candy Kitchen. Their vanilla ice cream with peanut butter is just unreal. I added a twist this time and also had their mocha chocolate chip. Yep, it was a great choice!


As if this day couldn't get better, we accepted a last minute invite from two of our friends to enjoy pizza and wine at their home. Talk about a great day and wonderful evening. It was a big ole' heart full kind of day. And this is all just Friday!

Saturday morning brought grey skies, late sleeps, movie watching, and pumpkin protein pancakes. When the skies cleared a little, we chanced it and took our bikes out to ride all over Tampa Bay, stopping at city events happening and Irish bars. Our final stop led us back to the place we first began flirting/finally admitting we flirt at The Dubliner. We also had THE best beer ever here.

Let me introduce you to The Cotton Candy: Half Angry Orchard + Half Seadog Blueberry + Fresh Blueberries = the best beer.


Two days of much needed quality time mixed with rest for us both = a pretty great staycation for us.

I anticipate more of these will be in our future so please share any ideas you have done or have come across - we love exploring and new adventures!

{We also learned on Saturday that I need a comfier bike seat for longer rides, insert soreness.}

Happy Monday! I hope you found rest this weekend as well.

Friday, May 1, 2015

{Friday Gratitude}

Dear imperfections, I'm falling more in love with you all the time. You're the sweet spot in my heart. Dear red skirt, you make a girl twirl. Dear city group girls, curling up with all of you to discuss life is always a highlight of my week. Dear J, you're still my favorite. Dear grads, so glad that we could all share the last two years with you. Go be great professionals! Dear weekend, I'm coming for you and the mac and cheese that you hold.