Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Song I'm Digging This Week

Because it's the Christmas season:

"It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" - Sara Groves

Monday, December 12, 2011


I am completely obsessed with Zooey Deschanel's new show "The New Girl." Who isn't? I'm pretty sure every girl in America has a little nerdy girl-crush on Zooey, and we all would love to look like her.

I look absolutely nothing like Zooey, but I'm taking the plunge this weekend and getting this haircut:

Yikes! I know. There's a whole bunch of bangs going on here, but I'm going to be brave and try it out. My hair isn't as long as hers yet, but I figure that since it's past my shoulders, it should be ok.

We'll see. Now I just have to find those cute glasses that she wears on the show, master "Eye of the Tiger" on handbells, and I can pretend I'm as cute and quirky as Jess Day.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Ok. So it's been so long since I've posted anything at all that I'm pretty sure that it's quite possible that absolutely no one will read this post.

But I'm back! I'm starting on my New Year's resolutions early, and one of them is to update this blog waaaay more often. As in, you know - more than once a year. Seriously, my goal is to post at least four to five times a week. Even if nobody reads it, it's good for me to keep flexing my writing muscles.

Some pretty big changes have occurred since I was last here:

1. I am 1.6 pounds away from having lost 50 pounds since June! Yes. It's a big, big deal for me.

2. For the first time, I've met my 52 books in a year goal! I'll be posting a reading recap post before New Year's.

3. I'm going to be an aunt! My amazing little sister, Holly Jo, and her husband, Alex, are expecting a baby in June. I'm super psyched.

I'm really excited about this Christmas and everything coming up in 2012. It's going to be good, friends.

It's going to be good.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


picture found here

I know I haven’t posted anything of any substance in a really long time. I’ve done some random posts about music, design, blah blah blah, but nothing more.

The reason?

I simply can’t think of anything to write about.

That’s just the hard truth. I’ve sat in front of my computer for several nights trying to come up with something to write about that is even slightly interesting, and…nada.

It’s not that nothing exciting is going on in my life – there is.

It’s not that anything terribly awful has occurred – it hasn’t.

I’ve just got an extreme case of writer’s block.

Agggh. I need a burst of inspiration.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Song I'm Digging This Week

I make a wish on a star at night - the brightest star that's in the sky - only to have realized that it was just a satellite...

"Monte" - Zee Avi

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Song I'm Digging This Week

Gotta see things for what they are at the time...

Last week was, for want of a better phrase, not good. At all. I got some disappointing news at work which left me feeling pretty down.

But this is a new week. And I'm choosing to see things in a different light.

And this is going to be my theme song.

"Open Arms" - Gary Go

Monday, August 15, 2011

sleeping nook

I wish I was curled up in this bed right now. Reading. Or napping. Or both.

spotted here

Thursday, August 11, 2011

I want candy.

"Sometimes I think that the one thing I love most about being an adult is the right to buy candy whenever and wherever I want." - Ryan Gosling

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Song I'm Digging This Week

I want to let you take hold of this sinking ship and lead me home...

I'm in a mellow, sad-ish mood today.

This fits the bill.

"I'm Not What You Need" - Joe Purdy

Monday, August 8, 2011


This makes me so sad. Haven't we all felt like this at some point, about someone, and wished we had something to look at to remind us that it really, truly did happen?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Song I'm Digging This Week

I'm running to Your arms, I'm running to Your arms...

This song has been bouncing around in my head all weekend. I love the mental image of just collapsing in Jesus' arms and letting everything go. He is the ultimate Comforter, and this song lifts me up every time I hear it.

"Forever Reign" - Kristian Stanfill

Monday, August 1, 2011


Can we all just take a moment to look at the perfection of this living room (spotted here) and die a little inside from pure eye joy?

Yes. Eye joy.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Keanu Reeves and his immense talent

Nick (11-year-old guitar student): "I saw the best movie of my life yesterday, Miss Amanda."

Me: "Oh? What was it?"

Nick: "'The Matrix.' I know it's super old, but it's so, so good."

I think I was like 19 when "The Matrix" was in theaters. Am I really that old? Really?

Yep. I am. This must be how my parents felt when I "discovered" The Beatles in high school.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Song I'm Digging This Week

This thing between my lungs is making me so tired...

For some reason, this song makes me feel like I'm in a "Dawson's Creek" episode. You know, the one where they were all confused about life and love and were using unbelievably long monologues and huge words to explain exactly how confused they were.

What's that you say? That was every episode?


"Stars" - Barcelona

Monday, July 25, 2011

Like a horse and carriage...

I'm not getting married any time soon (nowhere near it, actually), but if/when I do - I want these for our Happy Day pictures:

spotted here

Monday, July 4, 2011

Ah, summer...

Happy 4th of July!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Book #13: Unfamiliar Fishes

Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell

So I think I have finally read every Sarah Vowell book I can get my hands on. This, her newest publication, focuses on the history of how Hawaii became part of the United States.

Every time I think about Hawaii, I think about beautiful beaches, surfers, friendly women with lots of flowers, pineapples, Israel "IZ" Kamakawiwo'ole's version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," and hammocks swaying in the breeze. The pretty side of Hawaii. The happy side.

Vowell's book speaks about the uglier side that most Americans don't want to think about - the way that we forced the Hawaiian queen to step down from her throne so we could take over, how the missionaries who brought the Hawaiian natives the gospel also brought American diseases which wiped out entire colonies, and most importantly, the fact that most native Hawaiians, to this day, resent being referred to as "Americans."

I was born in 1980, so I've always thought of Hawaii as being part of the U.S., but it hasn't been that way for very long - just since 1959. My mom was 9 years old, and my dad was 12. Dad said he remembers receiving new textbooks with updated maps of the United States when he was in 8th grade. Fascinating.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Song I'm Digging This Week

It is good to come together, in our friendship to remember all the reasons hope is in our hearts...

I turned 31 on Monday. While my 30th birthday felt significant (and really weird), this year's birthday was just fun. I took the day off work and spent the morning drinking coffee, reading, and watching tv. For dinner, I met my parents, sister and brother-in-law, and Kam and Ashleigh for some seafood (and a completely entertaining waiter). Every gift I received was totally unexpected and given with such great thought. I felt so loved and special.

Sara Groves has an uncanny knack for capturing a moment and an emotion, and this song captures Monday night for me.

31 is going to be a blast. I can already tell.

"Joy Is In Our Hearts" - Sara Groves

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Book #12: The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

My mom bought this book for me after reading it herself, and even though it's technically a young adult book (and I usually shrink away from those books in horror - I will never, ever read a Twilight book, no matter how "Edward looks at Bella!"), it was so, so good.

Nobody Owens (nicknamed "Bod") literally lives in a graveyard with his ghostly adoptive parents. His actual family was killed by the mysterious Jack of All Trades when he was a toddler, and he is now under the protection of the residents of the magical graveyard. Unfortunately, Jack hasn't forgotten the kid that got away, and he's still looking for him.

It's spooky, and frankly, a little too spooky for kids, in my opinion. But it's so well written and the plot moves along at a never-boring pace. I can't wait to read some more of Gaiman's work.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

My Prison Tats

I've written about this a few times, but I have two tattoos.

This one:
(not as faded as the sunlight hitting it makes it look)

and this one:

(no matter what angle I shoot from, my wrist always manages to look ginormous)

Most people are surprised that I had the guts to go under the needle twice, but let me tell you - back in the day (as in the winter of 2004), I was totally rebellious, my friends. I even had a nose ring. This did not go down too well with my mom (strangely, my minister father was totally cool with it).

I got my treble clef for my 25th birthday, and my wrist tattoo for my 30th.

I like them. My best friend, Ashleigh, doesn't. And that's totally ok with me because hey, we are two different people (even if most of the time we respond to the name "Mandashleigh"). I know tattoos aren't for everybody.

Which is why I could kick for myself for the way I responded to the horrified question of "Is that a tattoo on your wrist?!" from a forty-ish, blazered dad of one of my church kids on Sunday.

"Um...yes. It is."

Blank stare at me. So I stare blankly back.

"And...'Write.'? What does it mean?"

"It's...you know, a reminder to myself...to be creative. Because...I like to write." So, so lame. I mean, yes, that's the reason I got it, but I feel like writing is a part of my identity and this tattoo is supposed to be indicative of that passion. Just like the treble clef on my toe. Inexplicably, this man is making me so uncomfortable that I'm fighting the urge to shove my wrist in my armpit, a la Mary Catherine Gallagher, just to get him to quit gawking at me. It isn't helping that his 12-year-old daughter is listening intently to our conversation.

"Hm," he says. That's it. "Hm." And in just that little non-word reply, judgment came raining down on me. I felt myself get red and I said "You know. I got it in my younger, wilder years." We both fake laughed and I moved on.

Ok. First thing - younger, wilder years? Try last July.

Secondly - why in the world did this dad make me feel guilty about something I really don't feel guilty about? Why did I feel the need to all but apologize to this guy who has never ever before spoken to me until yesterday?

I have no idea. Well, I have a little idea, but I don't like the conclusion it brings me to. I'm trying so hard to not be "That Amanda."

So I have two tattoos. Yep. Two. And I didn't get either of them when I was drunk, 18, in prison, or trying to impress a guy. And guess what, Judgey Judgersons?

I like them.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Song I'm Digging This Week

"Although my dream was overdue, your love made it well worth waiting for someone like you..."

Everybody needs a little Dean Martin sometimes, don't you think?

"Everybody Loves Somebody" - Dean Martin

Monday, May 23, 2011

Another One Bites the Dust

John Krasinski got married last year. I grieved. I really did. Not that I actually thought we would ever meet, but one never knows, right? I mean, I could have conceivably ended up in the same restaurant/at the same concert/at his window in black clothes and binoculars at some point, right?

Emily Blunt beat me to him. Well played, Ms. Blunt. Well played.

So now, apparently, Donald Miller also has a girlfriend.

And now my next-to-last last celebrity backup husband is taken.

I say next-to-last, since Ryan Reynolds has recently been returned to us. The dream is still alive.

Unless Sandra Bullock gets there first. Darn her and her likability!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Book #11: Take the Cannoli: Stories from the New World

Take the Cannoli: Stories from the New World by Sarah Vowell

Every time I read one of Sarah Vowell's books, I am always struck by the same thought:

"Someone in a church has hurt her badly."

Take the Cannoli, her first published book, is in turns hilarious, poignant, and thought-provoking, just like her other books. She relates stories about her family, her travels, her thoughts on government and American history, books and music - all with a deadpan humor that makes me laugh out loud. But underneath it all, there's a tinge of bitterness about all things religious. Well, not really a "tinge." More like a running theme.

Vowell talks at length about being raised in a pentecostal church and how she has subsequently abandoned all things do with faith and religion, and considers herself an atheist. It just saddens me. It makes me want to go and have a cup of coffee with her and find out what that's really all about.

And also talk a lot about all three "Godfather" movies. I think she would agree with me that the third one was just a travesty.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Flash

photo found here

Do you ever have that feeling that magic is happening just out of your reach? Like you can almost touch it, you can almost see it, but just not quite?

One of my very favorite books growing up was Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery (as much as I loved Anne, I always preferred Emily and I share her overuse of italics). She called this feeling - this moment you almost see around the curtain to another place - as "The Flash."

As a ten-year-old reading this book for the first time, I got goosebumps. That had happened to me! I would get The Flash when I heard certain songs or even just specific strains of music. I would get it when I read a particularly wonderful book. I would get it when saw something beautiful - a photo, a house, a person. I couldn't explain what exactly triggered the feeling, but I knew when it was happening.

I still get The Flash.

One of the most memorable flashes was when I first saw "The Holiday" (yep, the Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz gem). I went with my best friends Ashleigh and Kam, and when it was over I turned to them and said "Oh....oh!" I couldn't explain exactly why I was so moved, but I was. I then went on to see that movie eight times in the theater. I know. Yes. Eight times. Something about the movie transfixed me, made me want to be something else. Something/someone more myself. Each time I watch Kate Winslet give her speech about loneliness and yearning to Jack Black, I tear up. Still.

I remember going home after the sixth or seventh viewing of the movie and letting my dog Lucy out. I stood in the freezing January night, looking up at the crystal clear night sky and the stars and thinking "There is more out there. There is so much more out there!"

This isn't to say that I haven't always believed that there is more - I have. I believe in God and Heaven and unseen things all around me. And there is something intrinsic inside of me, and I think it's inside of everyone, that craves this connection to magic. And I think the magic is different for everyone.

I read this passage in The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis today, and of course, he says it so much more eloquently (he always does):

"There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven; but more often I find myself wondering whether, in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else. You may have noticed that the books you really love are bound together by a secret thread. You know very well what is the common quality that makes you love them, though you cannot put it into words: but most of your friends do not see it at all, and often wonder why, liking this, you should also like that. Again, you have stood before some landscape, which seems to embody what you have been looking for all your life; and then turned to the friend at your side who appears to be seeing what you saw - but at the first words a gulf yawns between you, and you realize that this landscape means something totally different to him, that he is pursuing an alien vision and cares nothing for the ineffable suggestion by which you are transported. Even in your hobbies, has there not always been some secret attraction which the others are curiously ignorant of - something, not to be identified with, but always on the verge of breaking through, the smell of cut wood in the workshop or the clap-clap of water against the boat's side?"

Do any of you ever get The Flash?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Song I'm Digging This Week

My dad's favorite singer/songwriter in the whole wide world is Gordon Lightfoot. In fact, we actually got backstage passes and met him at a concert in 2009. I think my dad could have died happy as we left to go home.

Eva Cassidy's version of his song is so achingly beautiful that it makes me want to get better at guitar so I could play it.

(sorry for the weird images in this YouTube video - it's the only version I could find)

"Early Morning Rain" - Eva Cassidy

Monday, May 16, 2011

Skipping spring

So I've been a little bitter about how hot it is outside right now. We actually reached over 90 degrees last week, and my office at work feels like a sauna. Ever since the catastrophic tornado-induced power outages of a few weeks ago, we've all been trying to conserve energy and air conditioning is a low priority - rightly so. But I'm pretty sure Alabama has skipped spring altogether and gone straight into mid-July misery.

But this picture (spotted
here) of magical coral pink hydrangeas (that's actually what they're called!) made me a feel a little bit better. I do love summer flowers.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Disaster Relief

This past week, my lovely state of Alabama experienced one of the deadliest outbreaks of tornadoes in history. I was so unbelievably blessed to have been spared damage, but countless people as close as a mile away from me have been left utterly devastated. My heart is extremely heavy today, and just to have power and Internet connection while others have nothing makes me feel guilty and helpless.

We're still in dire need of volunteers to help us clean and start the rebuilding process, as well as donations of money and supplies. If you would like to help, please visit here - anything you can spare will be greatly appreciated.

I will not be posting anything else this week, but I do ask that you continue to remember our communities in prayer.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Song I'm Digging This Week

"Running away won't change anything - it only puts it off.
Stand on the spot - work out where you are and take it all from there."

I've loved The Swell Season since I became obsessed with their amazing, had-me-speechless movie "Once" a few years ago.

It also impresses me that even though this duo broke up as romantic partners (still kills me! I think they were so perfect together), they were able to stay together as a band and channel all that breakup heartache into gorgeous music.

"The Verb" - The Swell Season

Monday, April 25, 2011


I want this:

available here

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Book #10: Permission to Speak Freely

Permission to Speak Freely by Anne Jackson

I heard Anne Jackson speak about this book at the Catalyst Conference in Atlanta last year, and I was intrigued by the title and thought behind it.

This book began with one question that Jackson asked on her blog:

"What's the one thing you feel like you can't say at church?"

The response was overwhelming. Confessions started pouring in - affairs, disbelief, addictions, jealousy, resentment, bitterness, depression, anger, and a myriad of other struggles that church members felt they couldn't address in their places of worship without judgment.

Jackson is unbelievably candid in this book. She speaks frankly about her past addiction to pornography and struggles with disillusionment because of past events.

While I couldn't identify with all her confessions, I so related to her feelings of bitterness at church congregations for their treatment of her family. Just like Jackson, my father is a minister, and my family has been on the receiving end of a lot of unfair treatment due to my dad's job. Preacher's children are supposed to just turn the other cheek while some people feel comfortable saying whatever they want about their dad, mom, family, etc. It's tough. It's so, so tempting to want to just walk away from church altogether at times.

I admire Jackon's tenacity and honesty. It's refereshing, and something we could use way more of in Christian circles.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Song I'm Digging This Week

Peter Pan is my favorite fairytale. My dad read the entire book to my little sister and me when we were small, and the magic stuck with me. The first sentence of the book still gives me excited goosebumps:

All children, except one, grow up.

While the movie "Finding Neverland" was oh, so sad, I loved every minute of it. And the soundtrack is a gem, too.

"Neverland (Minor Piano Variation)" - Jan A.P. Kaczmarek (from the "Finding Neverland" soundtrack)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Self Realization #8

If you pronounce the number "six" as "sex" (as in "it costs about sex hundred dollars"), I am not going to like you.

Say it out loud. Trust me. It's annoying.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Song I'm Digging This Week

"That's no way to live - all tangled up like balls of string..."

I've had a depressing week so far - boy trouble mixed with job frustration. I'm in desperate need of like-minded music.

This song suits my mood perfectly. Pass the Kleenex, please.

"A Light on a Hill" - Margot and the Nuclear So & So's

Monday, April 11, 2011

I'd like to needlepoint this on a pillow...and give it to someone I don't like.

She's the sort of woman who lives for others - you can always tell the others by their hunted expression.

- C.S. Lewis, from The Screwtape Letters

And we all know at least one woman like that, don't we? Of course, if I gave the pillow to the woman I'm thinking about, I'd have to substitute "You're" for "She's."

You know. To really drive my sarcasm and passive-aggressiveness home.

And she couldn't really get mad, because c'mon - it's a C.S. Lewis quote, for Pete's sake.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Book #9: The Woman in Black

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

This was one of the books that Amazon recommends after you've ordered other books in the same genre. Normally I don't pay much attention, but the title grabbed my interest. Reviewers consistently said it was a great "classic" ghost story. I love classic ghost stories. One reviewer said "if you liked the film 'The Others,' then you will love this book."

Sold. I love "The Others."

It was a really quick read - just an hour or so - but oooh, it's chill-inspiring. The main character, Arthur Kipps, is sent to a remote English town to settle the will of a reclusive woman who lived in a house practically in the middle of a marsh. At the woman's funeral, he sees an emaciated woman dressed in black sitting in the back of the church. He sees her again at the graveside service, and initially feels sorry for her, since she looks so pitiful.

That doesn't last long.

I don't want to give away the plot, but I got satisfactory shivers throughout the story. Evidently, there's a new movie version coming out this year with Daniel Radcliffe (of "Harry Potter" fame) playing Arthur Kipps. From the movie stills I found on Google, it looks pretty good. And when did Harry Potter get so British-ly handsome?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Self Realization #7

I do not like hearing people swallow.

Please swallow on the other side of the room.

Thank you.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Song I'm Digging This Week

"There's just a time when we must all let go of the breath that we hold..."

It stormed all afternoon yesterday. Gilbert and I snuggled in bed, listening to the rain and some Maria Taylor, and generally enjoying being melancholy.

And nobody does good melancholy like Maria Taylor.

"Xanax" - Maria Taylor

Monday, April 4, 2011

Fancy Feast

I have been searching in vain for stylish food and water dishes for Gilbert, but I've had absolutely no luck. All I seem to come across are standard ceramic bowls plastered with fish skeletons. So not my style.

So I when I saw this picture
here, I did a little happy dance. This idea has never occurred to me - it's so quaint and adorable! Gilbert is about to get way more refined and hoity-toity.

And just because, here's my favorite picture of Gilbert. Yep. He's a precious baby.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Book #8: The Confession

The Confession by John Grisham

I hadn't read a John Grisham book in years (my fiction tastes have changed since high school), but my mom let me borrow this book over Christmas, and I'm all about free books.

It's an interesting plot - three days before convicted murderer Donte Drumm is sentenced to be executed, the actual murderer arrives at a Lutheran minister's office and confesses to the crime. He tells the minister that he has an inoperable tumor in his brain and will be dead in less than a year, so he feels he should confess.

The rest of the book is a frustrating, slow (soooo slow!) paced "race" to get the right people to listen to the right people in order to stop the execution.

I didn't enjoy this book one bit. There isn't any moment where the reader can breathe and relax a little bit - everything is tedious and tension filled. It's also such a blatant platform against the death penalty that no matter which side of the fence you may fall on with that whole thing, you begin to resent Grisham's soapbox speeches thinly disguised as plot.

And my biggest problem with this book? It has the worst ending ever. Ever. I won't ruin it for you, but I was left filled with rage by the last page.

I'm pretty sure I'd made the right decision in avoiding John Grisham novels altogether.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Love Disappointed

I am not good with criticism. I never have been.

I have gotten in more trouble with friends and family about my defensive behavior than anything else (well, that and my completely transparent facial expressions - I have an insanely hard time keeping a "neutral face"). For some weird reason, I seem to perceive any kind of semi-negative opinion as some huge judgment. My hackles immediately go up and I either respond in a snappy "oh no, you DID-n't!" way or I shut up and get paranoid around the person who made the comment.

What's worse, I can literally block out the nice comments that others have made about me and zone in on the one not-so-nice one. Isn't it amazing how we always remember the negative things others have said to us rather than the kind things? I still remember the one time my seventh grade history teacher spoke harshly to me because I was talking in class. I was mortified. And if I ever run into her again, all I'll be able to think is "You yelled at me once."

Stupid, I know, but I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in this. I've tried to work on this character flaw as I've gotten older, and sometimes I succeed. And a lot of times, I completely fail.

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about Jesus as the person that He was when He was on Earth.

What was it about Him (besides the whole being God's Son come down to Earth to rescue lost mankind) that made people love Him so fiercely when He was among them and dedicate their whole lives to Him even after He had physically gone? I tend to forget that even though they were His disciples, those disciples were first and foremost His friends. They traveled together. They ate together. They talked about their lives, their fears, their concerns. Jesus listened to those fears and concerns, and He shared His own with them. I mean, sheesh - they let Him wash their feet. I'm just saying - you've got to be friends with someone to let them touch your nasty sandal-wearing-dust-ridden feet and not be totally mortified.

The thing is - they LIKED Him.

And Jesus wasn't one of those always easy-going friends, either. He wasn't afraid to call folks out on their faults. He straight-up told Peter when he was being a moron (several times), got exasperated and said so when the disciples couldn't stay awake with Him, told the woman at the well that um, nope...you've had five "husbands," and asked Martha to calm down when she went into psycho cleaning mode.

I read those portions of Scripture and think "would I have smarty pants-ed a reply back to Jesus?" I can't say for certain, but I don't think so.

I don't think so because I don't think that people back then are so different from me. And not one of His friends returned His constructive criticism with insulted rage (or at least the Bible doesn't record it that way). They actually listened to Him. They agreed with Him. They changed.

Why? I think it's because He loved them, and they knew it. They knew it deep in their bones. His reprimands didn't come from a place of bitter annoyance and comeuppance. He knew they were better than their behavior. He made his friends want to be better. They didn't want to disappoint Him, so they tried to please Him.

Of course, that's not to say that Jesus never got angry - He did. He threw some tables across a room in the temple. He even called Peter "Satan" once. If that's not anger, I don't know what is. And Peter, the King of All Hotheads, didn't blow a fuse, slamming doors on his way out. Because he knew that Jesus' anger was pure and justified, and he couldn't argue with that.

There's an Eagles song that says "Anger is just love disappointed." I think that's such a beautiful illustration of righteous indignation, and of the kind of anger that Jesus occasionally demonstrated. He showed us the right way to be angry with those we love.

I'm going to try and bottle up these thoughts in my head for the next time a well-meaning friend tries to point me towards a better version of myself.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Song I'm Digging This Week

This comes from one of my all-time favorite soundtracks to one of my all-time favorite movies (and books), "Pride & Prejudice."

Mr. Darcy walking through the mist? "I love...I love...I love you"? Intense rain moments? Yes, please.

He can bewitch me any time.

"Arrival at Netherfield" - "Pride & Prejudice" soundtrack

Monday, March 28, 2011

Photo Nostalgia

Something about this photo (spotted here) reminds me of the house my Grandma Iva had when I was really little. I think it's the lighting. Whatever it is, I like it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Book #7: The House of Lost Souls

The House of Lost Souls by F.G. Cottam

Ohhhh, this is my favorite kind of fiction - ghosts, romance, sinister flapper-esque settings, dark and stormy nights, and British characters.

The story reminded me a lot of another of my favorite books, The Shining - mainly because the story revolves around the fictional Fischer House, an abandoned house from the 20's (very reminiscent of The Overlook Hotel), that is just inherently evil. Anyone who encounters it either dies in a horrific accident or is left literally haunted by ghosts from their past. The main character, Paul, is the only one of the house's victims to escape with his life somewhat intact, although he is wracked with guilt and nightmares of his time there. Years later, someone in the house wants him back, and a tragedy forces him to go back to the one place he swore he would never return.

My only gripe with this book was with what I feel was a hurried ending. The story built to a fantastic climax, and Cottam had a great opportunity to really zing! the reader with a great twist, but didn't. It was satisfactory, but a little bit of a letdown.

But all in all, I really liked this. I was reading it in between piano lessons and got so lost in the story that when my next student showed up, I jumped out of my skin. And in my opinion, that's a sure sign of a good ghost story.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Sure, it's a dead language, but I agree.

a mocha from Urban Standard, an adorable coffee shop in Birmingham that I went to with my friend Bridgett a few weeks ago

"Sine coffea nihil sum."

Without coffee, I am nothing.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Book #6: Hipster Christianity

Hipster Christianity by Brett McCracken

This was fascinating - McCracken explores the "cool" movement that is sweeping through churches in North America (and sometimes out of it). He spent a good amount of time in research traveling to all kinds of hip churches (Mars Hill, various Greek and Latin-named structures) and interviewing emergent-ish pastors (Rob Bell, Mark Driscoll, etc.) and writers and asking them all about what place "cool" has in modern Christianity.

I have to say - part of this book made me want to be a hipster. Living in Alabama, I think it's safe to say my community and church suffer from a bit of a dearth when it comes to cool thinking. You would be hard pressed to find any skinny jeans or neat beards in our congregation. I don't want a neat beard myself, but I sometimes get an eensy bit tired of seeing only blue haired old ladies and men in suspenders who aren't wearing them in ironic appreciation. I think it would be refreshing to hear a Sufjan Stevens song in sanctuary worship.

But the last part of the book deals with the notion that we as a culture have become obsessed with cool, and Christianity doesn't cater to culture's obsessions. Christ points us towards truth and grace in a straightforward and bold way, and He isn't concerned with whether or not I'm wearing the right skinny scarf or have an appropriately indie song playing in my car when I speak to Him.

Definite food for thought.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Song I'm Digging This Week

"I'm Not Who I Was" - Brandon Heath

I know this song has been out for a few years, but it's been on a pretty constant rotation in my apartment. I'm really identifying with the lyrics this week.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

My apologies...

...for my blog absence.

I'm sure that all eight of you who actually read this blog have been nervously wringing your hands and thinking "Where, oh where, is Amanda right now? Whyyyyyyyyyyyy?" (Please, please recognize the extreme sarcasm there.)

The truth is, I've not been doing too well in most areas of my life. I've been in a funk - a huge, what-am-I-doing-with-my-life-is-this-how-it's-always-going-to-be? funk.

I've found myself looking at fresh-faced kids and teenagers with jealousy because they have their whole lives in front of them - for the most part, none of them have made life-altering missteps and mistakes. (The real low point was when I started weeping while watching Will Smith's daughter, Willow, perform "Whip My Hair" on the Oprah show.)

I've been reminiscing about things I wish I'd done differently - high school decisions, college roads not taken, etc.

Basically - I've been having a little bit of an Amanda Pity Party - an APP, if you will.

I took off from work yesterday and did a lot of soul searching. I turned off my email. I didn't check Facebook. I sat in a chair in my living room and thought and prayed. I sat in silence. And I realized that the way I've been going about my life - regretful, bitter, panicked, and sad on the inside while most likely annoyingly upbeat on the outside - is simply not working.

Feeling bad about things that happened ten years ago does nothing to improve the here and now. Calling my best friend to complain and talk about trying to do something different with my life while actually doing absolutely nothing just makes me feel worse.

Enough. I've had enough. For the first time in a really long time, I had a long, honest conversation with God. It wasn't all pretty. There was some shouting and some tears. But there was also peace when it was over. I woke up calmer and happier than I've felt in a really long time.

I know this isn't going to be an overnight change. I have a lot of habits and integral personality traits that are going to take some time to overcome. But I have a plan. It's pretty simple. I'm just going to try. And for now, trying is huge for me.

So I hope you all bear with me. Don't worry - all my posts aren't going to become tributes to my existential crises. I'll still be plenty shallow at times, I'm sure.

But I'm tired of the fake Amanda. She isn't real. She's a product of apathy and fear. She's a movie character with no basis in reality. I have no more time for this pretend version.

I want to meet the real Amanda. I want you all to meet the real Amanda, too. She's so, so much more likable. I promise.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Self Realization #6

I've quit even trying to pretend that I don't completely love "The Vampire Diaries."

Yes, it's geared towards high schoolers.

But I don't care.

Plus, I read all the books in middle school, back in the early 90's, waaaaay before the whole "Twilight" insanity.

So there.

Song I'm Digging This Week

"Marrow" - St. Vincent

I love how spooky this video is. It's very "Firestarter"-ish, don't you think?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Book #5: Decision Points

Decision Points by George W. Bush

I know. It is not cool to actually like or respect George W. Bush.

But I do.

I'm not saying I agree with every decision he made as President, and I'm not saying I think he's the best President in history, but I think that on the whole, America has treated him with complete disrespect. And I just genuinely like the guy. His candor in this book is totally refreshing.

It also says a lot to me that he in no way badmouths President Obama.

Take note, America. That's how we're supposed to treat our Presidents, whether we agree with them or not.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Song I'm Digging This Week

"California" - Copeland

I miss the way you sing...

Monday, February 7, 2011

Stripey Sheets

I need these sheets in my life:

I just do.

(spotted on West Elm)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

To: My Favorite Mexican Restaurant

Dear Favorite Mexican Restaurant,

I visited your establishment this afternoon for lunch, and I want to make two observations. One could be perceived as a criticism, but please don't take it badly and suddenly be "out" of guacamole the next time I come in.

1. I'm completely impressed by your uber fast service. Really, I am. But when I order my chicken chimichanga and it arrives approximately 30 seconds later, it always startles me and frankly, it takes away from my chips and salsa lovin' time. I need my alone time with the chips and salsa. It's important to both of us. I'm thinking at least seven minutes in heaven.

2. I was sitting a table over from one of the most obnoxious orderers ever. He was all "Como se...dice...'plate'?" this and "me necisito el burrito" this. I think his name was Calvin. I would like to commend the waiter, Diego, on his astounding patience with Calvin. I even tried to engage him in some "can you believe that guy?" eye rolls as he walked by my table, but he didn't take the bait. Bueno, Diego. Bueno.

As always,
Your faithful customer,

P.S. I'll be back next week.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The King's Speech

My friend Lea Anne and I went to see "The King's Speech" last Friday, and it was just completely enchanting. I was looking up pictures of the real life King George VI (not as good looking as Colin Firth, but really - who is?) and Lionel Logue (much cuter than Geoffrey Rush - sorry, Geoffrey), when I came across this picture of the real Lionel Logue with his wife when they were first married circa 1906:

Could that be any more perfect?

I don't think so.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Song I'm Digging This Week

I've loved Azure Ray since they first appeared on "Felicity" with their song "Displaced." 1/2 of Azure Ray, Maria Taylor, has also been a staple on my iPod since she went solo. I was so pumped when they reunited last year and released a new CD. This is one of my favorite tracks:

"Shouldn't Have Loved" - Azure Ray

Monday, January 31, 2011

Book #4: The Wordy Shipmates

The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell

It's not often that one can say that a book written by an atheist about 17th century Puritans was spiritually inspirational, but I'm saying it about this book.

Vowell focuses her trademark deadpan humor on the Puritans who founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony in this offering, mainly centering on the Bay's founder and governor, John Winthrop (writer of "A Model of Christian Charity"). She also discusses Roger Williams (who was too religious for even the Puritans, which is pretty impressive, in my opinion), the deplorable Pequot War, and Anne Hutchinson (one of the first true religious feminists). It all completely fascinated me.

And the spiritual inspiration? I realized just how much I have to be thankful for. I know I take my religious freedom for granted. The fact that I can even blog about questions, fears, and disagreements is a beautiful thing. Anne Hutchinson tried to voice some of her opinions and ended up banished from her town and was eventually murdered by rampaging Indians for her trouble.

I was also struck by how much the Puritans got right - their work ethic, their support of each other (if you agreed with the prevailing opinion, that is), their love for Christ - as much I was horrified by what they got wrong - misreading important Bible truths, their stunning racism (horrendous treatment of Native Americans), and the scary authority the church wielded over its congregation. It made me grateful for those people who didn't let fear of the church shut them up when they knew in their hearts that the church's behavior was wrong.

More than anything, this book made me breathe a sigh of relief that I'm an American in 2011 rather than 1636.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Song I'm Digging This Week

"Addicted to Love" - Florence + The Machine

Um, I'm pretty addicted to Florence + The Machine, too. And I've always liked this song in a guilty pleasure sort of way.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I love everything about this kitchen.

spotted here

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Unwanted Guests

Last night during Akiyah's piano lesson, she got the hiccups. I suddenly leaned towards her and yelled "BOO!"

She jumped and giggled and I said "See? I scared 'em out of you!"

She paused thoughtfully and then hiccuped again. "Nope," she shook her head, "they still moved in."

I think Akiyah should write her own book.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Food for Thought

I've been really convicted lately about honesty and transparency. And the guy who started me thinking about it all posted this question on his blog over the weekend:

What I'm wondering is how honest do you want people to be? If your pastor is steaming mad one night, venting to his wife about what some jerk at the church said, do you want him to tweet about it? Do you want to know? And if you don't, is it because that wouldn't be wise, or because you want to think your pastor is somebody he isn't?

It's the last question that got me. Do we censor our honest thoughts and reactions because we just want to appear holy (or at least holier than the person who just made us angry)? Are we giving people a true representation of ourselves?

I think that a filter is necessary in some situations - if we didn't restrain ourselves during critical moments, our testimonies could be ruined with one thoughtless sentence.

But sometimes, are we and the people we admire in our churches and lives practicing a fake turn-the-other-cheek mentality, a false version of who we really are, of who God made us to be? And if we are, are we doing almost as much damage to the testimony that God wants us to live out as we would by speaking out of turn?

Yep. More tension.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Song I'm Digging This Week

"All the Wild Horses" - Ray LaMontagne

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Loner, Loser, Complicated Wreck

My sophomore year in college, one of my roommates showed up at our apartment in the wee hours of the morning, wearing the same thing she'd worn when she went out on her second date with who we'd all dubbed Cute Soccer Guy. I was making coffee in the kitchen and preparing to cram for a Music History exam, and she plopped down on the stool at our kitchen bar and asked me to pour her a cup. As I did, she sighed "I can't believe I slept with that guy!"

Whoa. Rewind. What? You did what?! I must have looked as incredulous as I felt, because she shrugged defensively and said "Sorry I'm not a prude, Amanda."

Ok. While a good part of me was pretty horrified that she'd had sex with a guy after date numero dos, another part of me (a bigger part of me than I'd like to admit) was totally and completely jealous.

I have always been a good girl. Not a saint, but a good girl. I didn't have a boyfriend in high school, just a crazy unrequited crush. I dated in college and while my roommate would probably disagree, I wasn't a prude, but I was still well-behaved. Aside from one regretful night, I didn't participate in underage drinking. This sort of behavior has continued into adulthood. I did go through a slightly rebellious period in which I pierced my nose and I have two tattoos, but for the most part - pretty non-shocking life.

I don't know why, but most of the time, if I admit it to myself, I tend to equate good with boring. I do. I can't help it. I remember having a conversation with my friend Bridgett about a friend of ours who was always in trouble, always in tumultuous relationships, always making the wrong decisions, etc., and after we felt we'd done our due diligence in tut-tutting about this friend, I looked at Bridgett and admitted "Oh my gosh, but wouldn't it be fun to at least have some regrets?"

As I was driving to work this morning, I heard an advertisement on a radio station asking "Are you a fun, single girl between the ages of 23 to 32?" Yep. I am, as a matter of fact. "Do you live in the New York Tri-State area?" No, but I could, couldn't I? "Do you have an exciting dating and love life?" Ugh. And I'm out. No. I don't.

But here's my question: does that make me boring? Does the fact that I'm not sleeping around and gabbing about it the next morning with my equally promiscuous friends make me a prude? Would I bore people to tears on a radio show?

I wish I could be at peace with my pretty innocent background. I know I should be thankful I don't have these past mistakes looming behind me all the time, and really, I am. Most of the time. But sometimes I feel like I missed out on some part of life. This post isn't about resolving these feelings and ending with a cliche religious admonition. This is just how I feel in my life today.

My sister sent me a Valentine's card once after I had suffered a pretty major rejection from a jerk, and she had written on the inside "Someday, Manda....someday some guy will want you only for your body." I laughed and kept the card, but seriously, that's pretty much what I want.

I'd like to come in late at night, collapse onto a couch, and say out loud to no one in particular "I can't believe I made out with that guy on our second date."

Sigh. Even my imagination is tame.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Book #3: The Partly Cloudy Patriot

The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell

I read Assassination Vacation a few years ago, and loved it. Vowell's morbid sense of humor speaks to me. And really, who isn't fascinated by historical assassinations? What? Not many people? Just me? Never mind, then.

I enjoyed this series of politically-themed essays as well, although I was a tad put off by her sarcastic vitriol aimed at all things Republican. However, this book was written in December of 2001, in the wake of 9/11, so I think some opinions were slightly cloudy, no pun intended.

I think Sarah Vowell is basically Jon Stewart in female form. With a squeakier personality.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Book #2: unChristian

unChristian by David Kinnaman & Gabe Lyons

This book was hard to read on two levels:

1. It's by the Barna Group, so there are a lot of statistical tables and charts to get through. Lots of scientific researchy language, too, so it's not something you can breeze through. I found myself reading paragraphs once or twice to make sure I understood what I was reading. A few times I found myself making grocery lists in my head or wondering if I should make a hair appointment while I was reading.

2. It's true. And it's unflattering. Some Christians have managed to make a pretty bad name for ourselves in today's culture. Just ask Ann Rice. I'm ashamed to say that I identified with and resemble some of the less-than-stellar accusations leveled at Christians by non-Christians.

I mentioned this in a post from last week, but the main point I took away from this book is that to be a Christian means to live in constant tension with the world. Reaching others in a non-pious and judgmental way is a juggling act on all levels. It's hard knowing what is too far and what isn't far enough, but it's something that we have to accept as our way of life when we decide to follow Christ.

But it's worth it in the end. And that's what I want my life to convey.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Icy pavement, callous men

I took this picture of my car (the Beetle on the right) from inside my apartment on Monday morning. Sorry about the screen, but it was too freezing to venture outside. Especially when I don't have any boots.

This week North Alabama experienced what my friend Jason is calling Snowpocalypse 2011. I woke up Monday morning to around nine inches of snow outside my apartment.

Alabama is not used to snow. Any snow. Especially not nine inches. Our town has been virtually incapacitated. My place of work was officially closed on Monday and Tuesday, and even though our offices are "open" today, almost everyone has taken a vacation day rather than deal with the still icy roads. Kids haven't been to school since Friday.

The allure of the snow is starting to wear off for most people. We're ready for the thaw.

My parents are from Michigan, and they are still, after 22 years of living in the South, amazed by the milk and bread hysteria that accompanies each snowflake. When I began driving, my dad instructed me on how to drive in ice and snow. No braking! Steer into the slide if it starts! Be calm.

So by yesterday, I was completely sick of the food I had in my apartment. I wanted something hot and not made by me. So I ventured out. To Chili's.

It was a little slushy, but not too bad. However, when I got out of my car at Chili's, I realized that in order to actually get in the door, I had to pick my way across an enormous icy patch. I was wearing sneakers, but my traction wasn't that great. And I am the Queen of the Fall. I spent most of my high school career as a Giant Bruise.

I felt like an 85-year-old gymnast trying to balance beam across that ice. Halfway across, a man came out the door and headed my way. I thought "Wow! This guy is going to take my hand and help me out. Thank you, Mr. Stranger."

But he just looked at me (sort of disdainfully, I might add), passed right by my flailing body in his snow boots, and hopped in his huge four-wheel-drive truck.

What? Ok. I am all for being an independent woman, but what happened to chivalry, guys? I still think that guys should open doors for women, pull out their chair, call my mom Mrs. Alana if they don't know her really well, and hold my hand to help me across patches of ice so I don't get a contusion on my tookis. This man obviously doesn't agree with me.

I made it into Chili's and told them they should sprinkle some salt on the ice outside so they won't have to deal with lawsuits from people with less balance. Next time, I'm bringing skis.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Common Grace

"God cares not only about redeeming souls but also about restoring His creation. He calls us to be agents not only of His saving grace but also of His common grace. Our job is not only to build up the church but also to build a society to the glory of God. As agents of God's common grace, we are called to help sustain and renew His creation, to uphold the created institutions of family and society, to pursue science and scholarship, to create works of art and beauty, and to heal and help those suffering from the results of the Fall."

- from How Now Shall We Live? by Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Ok. So I'm going to try and be really, really honest with this post today. Not that I'm a blog liar, but I do feel like I hold back a little bit when I'm writing, because I'm afraid that certain people who might read my blog and actually know me in real life (all four of you) might be offended if I lay all my cards on the table. And I don't think that's a bad thing. I read some blogs and think "Yikes! They're going to regret putting that down in the near future." After all, our blogs are not our diaries, though some people treat them like they are. Some things should be saved in our heads and hearts and not uttered.

But I've been thinking about this all week. A while ago, I'm not sure when, Donald Miller wrote a post that was a bit inflammatory for some folks. He talked about how the church can sometimes stifle creativity. My first thought when I read his post was "Easy there, Don." Criticizing the church does not win fans. But then I read it again. And I think I agree with him.

The thing is, the church isn't bad and we shouldn't go out to intentionally offend fellow church members in the name of creativity. There are some people who do that. I can't stand that kind of behavior - the whole "I think I'm going to cuss in a song because I'm a radical Christian" (Derek Webb - I'm speaking to you) or "I can't call myself a Christian, because that is so 2000 and late. I have to find another title." That stuff irritates me to no end. It's navel gazing and it's annoying.

I'm talking about the fact that we hesitate to be real people because we're afraid of criticism from our church. We don't speak honestly about anything. We don't talk or write about sex and alcohol because good Christians aren't supposed to struggle with those things. We pretend we don't know all the words to that Lady Gaga song on the radio because she was scantily clad in the video, and that surely means we're a step away from hell. We don't admit that we're unhappy in our secure jobs, and we certainly don't pursue that other career that we daydream about while we're at our secure jobs.

I'm reading a book right now that speaks of the fact that being a Christian means living in constant tension. There's always going to be a struggle between being in the world, but not of the world. How transparent can we be without being stumbling blocks? If we're not transparent enough, that can be a stumbling block, too.

I've been having a lot of conversations with my best friend about this gnawing feeling that we both have that we just want more. Of what? I don't know. God. Life. Honesty. Love. Creativity. Knowledge. Something. We're both 30, and dealing with frustration because we feel we're meant for more. To quote Switchfoot, "we were made to live for so much more," and I'm feeling that this year more than ever.

I don't think God wants me to use my faith as an excuse for not being what He wants me to be. Could I make some church enemies by being creatively honest? Maybe. Probably. But should it stop me? Does it make me selfish to try? That's the question. That's the struggle. That's the tension.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Viva Las Elvis

Today is Elvis's birthday.

About five years ago, Ashleigh and I spontaneously decided to take the day off from our jobs and drive to Memphis to visit Elvis's famous house, Graceland. Neither Ashleigh or I were especially obsessed with Elvis, but we decided that Graceland is something that everybody should visit once.

By the time we left the 70's-tastic mansion, we were both a little bit enamored with Elvis. Ok, maybe a lot. I mean, check out that picture, folks. Elvis was H-O-T. I even bought a magnet of the picture above to put on my fridge. And even if his style of music isn't your cup of tea, the man was immensely talented, and it's such a shame that his life was cut so short.

I think I'll be tuning my Sirius radio to the all Elvis station today in tribute. I might even do a little hip shaking. Who knows?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

40 Before 40

I read a lot of blogs. I read blogs about fashion, families, interior design, and even one about everything to do with the color turquoise. When it comes to blogs about writing, however, my two favorite ones are Jon Acuff's and Donald Miller's (I still think that we are destined to be together. Not in a "Fatal Attraction" way, but in an every Meg Ryan comedy from the 90's type way).

Unfortunately, both of these blogs have given me slightly different advice for the new year. Jon Acuff blogged about he and his wife creating a "40 Before 40" list of everything they wanted to do before they turned 40. They even helped their kids come up with "10 Before 10" lists. Ultra cute. I thought it was a great idea, so I came up with my own.

I was all set to share my list when I read Donald Miller's post this week about how sharing your resolutions with others might be a bad idea, since you could lose some of the motivation in achieving the goals yourself.

Conundrum. Do I share my 40 Before 40 list? Or do I keep it to myself for years, like the fact that I sort of still believed in Santa Claus until I was 12 and my dad had to literally tell me the truth?

So here's my compromise:

I'm going to share some of my list. Some goals and resolutions I think are good to share, because the encouragement you receive from friends and family can keep you on track. However, some of my goals are seriously personal - stuff that was hard to even put down on paper, because admitting that I need/want them is admitting that I might not get them. And I do not do well with failure.

When I wrote this list, I wrote everything down fast, not censoring myself as I listed things that popped into my head. This is how I like to write, anyway - I think if you're too careful, you end up sounding like a bad Martha Stewart impression. So, please note that this list is in no way indicative of the level of importance I give to these goals. It's just how they came out of my head.

So here goes:

1. Publish a book the successful way.

7. Pay off all debt.

9. Get a dog.

10. Find one sport that I'm good at. Just one. Even if it's only ping pong.

13. Spend more time studying Scripture, and read the Bible all the way through in a year. Also spend more time in prayer and stillness.

14. Learn French.

15. Have super long, Victoria's Secret-esque hair - just once.

16. Visit my friend Maiken in Denmark.

17. Live overseas for at least a few months.

18. Kiss someone who is not from America or who has sexy tattoos or a sexy beard. Or all three.

19. Wear skinny jeans and rock them.

20. Figure out how to successfully wear a scarf so as to not look like I think I live in NYC and not Alabama.

21. Meet Donald Miller as a fellow writer and not a crazed fan. (If we end up making out, even better.)

22. Have one really flattering picture taken of myself.

23. Spend two weeks in Ireland, Paris, and Italy.

24. Be less selfish with my time, and give some of it to others without conditions or expectations.

25. Spend more quality time with my sister.

26. Spend Christmas/New Year's in London with Kam and Ashleigh.

27. Become a bicycle riding person, complete with a cute bike basket.

28. Go an entire month without eating out.

29. Wear shorts. In public.

30. Have in-depth conversations with my parents and get to know them not just as my parents, but as friends.

31. Perfect the smoky eye look.

32. Make a non store-bought cake, a la Julia Childs.

34. Buy furniture I love.

35. Own a Dyson vacuum.

36. Buy a house.

39. Give family and friends amazing, expensive gifts, because I can.

40. Finally accomplish my goal of reading 52+ books in a year.

So there it is. Well, most of it. The few things I left out are goals that, maybe once I've accomplished them, I can share. But for now...I'm keeping them close to the vest.

Do you have a 40 Before 40? Or a 30 before 30? I'd love to hear some of your list, too!

Book #1: The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise

The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart

So I didn't quite make my 52 book goal for 2010. I made it to 36. But it's a new year, and I'm determined to meet (maybe exceed) that goal this year.

My sister Holly Jo and I went to London for the first time in 2007, and we visited the Tower of London and took the Beefeater's Tour. We both agreed that it was one of our favorite London moments. We were fascinated by the stories about the different prisoners, daring escapes, tragic executions, and overall haunted atmosphere.

This book tells the story of the Beefeaters (or Yeoman) and staff members who guard and live in the Tower of London full-time. To say that this book is charming is an understatement. Stuart's characters whisked me into their quaint and quirky world.

There's Balthazar and Hebe Jones, who are reeling from the sudden loss of their 12-year-old son, and who also own the world's oldest tortoise, Mrs. Cook.

There's Valerie Jennings, the pleasantly plump employee of the London Underground's Lost and Found Department, who falls head over heels for a tattooed ticketmaster named Arthur Catnip.

There's Reverend Septimus Drew, who while secretly pining for the barista of the Tower's pub, Ruby Dore, also moonlights as an author of erotic novels "with strong morals, which allows readers to 'fill in the chinks.'"

And lots more.

While I was reading the book, I could literally see the different towers and buildings in my mind's eye. In fact, in this book, Reverend Septimus Drew lives in the tower-house with the blue door. Holly Jo took a picture of that door while we were there, and I have it in a frame in my bedroom right now.

I dare say this book made me wish that I lived in the Tower of London. With a turtle. Yep.