Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A credit crisis story

This could have also been titled "The time Amber thought she would not be able to finish her last two semesters of grad school."

This post has been sitting in my drafts list for well over a week. It is embarrassing to post, but what happened was a tremendous lesson for me and I feel the need to share it with others.

Here goes...

Tiny 18 year old Amber, a freshman at Iowa State University was beginning her first year in college and, like many other students, she did not have a job that first semester. For the first time in four years, a job was not a good idea while getting acclimated to college life.

She still needed money though!

What did she do, along with many other freshman, sophomores, juniors, seniors and beyond? She got a credit card, of course. Oh, and not just any credit card. It was a shiny red ISU card with the mascot on the front annnnnd, get this, it came with a FREE T-shirt! What a steal, right?!

What was the interest rate, you ask?


I don't know.

Yep, I still do not know. That card is long gone by now and I am still unaware of the rate on that card, and I think I am better off not knowing, because I'm pretty sure that $100 leather jacket I bought (and yes, I bought a leather coat. It was 2001, ooookay!) actually cost more like $150 after interest.

I did not do the best with managing money during my college years and directly after it. So bad in fact, that I swore off credit cards for FIVE years to pay them down and I actually followed through with that. I am so glad I did that, because during those five years I developed a very good habit. I do not absentmindedly use credit cards anymore.

It was a great lesson learned.

In the past month I have learned another lesson. Another extremely important lesson. Check your credit report. No, I mean REALLY check it. For years, I would log in once, maybe twice a year. Check my credit score. Feel pleased that it was good, call it a day and move on.

Well, that bit me in the butt HARD.

While in DC earlier this month, I got a phone call from the financial aid office at my university. I didn't call them back for awhile, because I figured I just forgot to sign something. I looked at my University account online and everything seemed normal, so I went on with vacation. While trekking through Virginia (ok, not trekking - maybe just sweating?) I got the sudden urge, or need, to call them back in between our destinations. The guy that answered calmly told me my loans have been denied.

I think my blood ran cold and I whispered, "whaaat?" He said he did not know why, but gave me a number to call to find out. I was pretty speechless at this point and on the verge of faahh-reaking out.

I immediately call the number and the loan agency tells me there is something in collections on my credit report. I immediately start arguing! Collections??! That is absurd! I have not received a letter! I have not received a phone call! I have not received ANYTHING and I immediately go into defense mode and searching for answers. My first and last name is extremely common, there are THIRTEEN other people at my university with my name for crying out loud, so the only logical answer was that I was being mixed up with someone else.

When we get home (well, back to Becky's apartment in Virginia), I immediately pull up my credit report and.... lo and behold, there IS something in collections. A cable bill from the end of 2006. Here is that "D'oh!" moment.

Sigh. Who. Does. That?! I actually have a very logical explanation. Read on...

So, what was I doing in 2006 you ask?? Well, I was moving from Kansas City back to Des Moines, where I lived with my parents for a bit, working for the CLL in my hometown before I made the cross country move to Myrtle Beach. Three different addresses within six months. Three different states. A cross country move. It. Was. Hectic.

That is my excuse.

Credit bureaus do not give a shit though. I mean, why would they? It is pretty black and white. I cannot say I blame them.

What gets me is the collection agency had my parents address (which they still reside at) and my current phone number (which hasn't changed in over a decade). My parent have not received a letter in six years, and I have not received any phone calls.

I did not argue though. I quickly took care of the account. Athough in TWO MONTHS it would have dropped off my credit, but that thought makes me feel guilty. This is MY bill and I need to pay it. So, I paid it. Then contacted the loan agency. They said I could file an appeal. Which, I did.

Then... the appeal officer I was assigned (who was phenomenal) said there is ANOTHER account in collections.

Are you thinking WTF? yet?! Because, I was! I am combing my report and there is NOTHING else negative. Where is she getting this?? She told me they only use Equifax, and I was looking at TransUnion and Experian.

Good lord.

Fine, so I log in, get my Experian report and lo and behold they do have an account listed in collections, but it is FALSE. That account is NOT in collections. That account was closed in 2009 and was never in collections!

By this point I am cussing, pissed off, scared, trying to think of contingency plans if I cannot attend school this semester (thank god I can always sub!). Then realized, that would be giving up! I'm not giving up. If worse comes to worse I could get a co-signer for my loans. But.... I don't need a co-signer. I just needed to do the legwork to get this off my credit.

I am kicking myself. Kicking myself HARD. Why didn't I check this? Why didn't I know that this was on my report tarnishing my credit history? Credit history that I had worked so hard to make better! It seems so silly. It IS silly! Who gets on and just looks at their score and goes about their merry day? Apparently I do.

It is what it is and I cannot change my actions, I can however make them better in the future and I have learned a valuable lesson. I will go through my credit report each year with a fine toothed comb and carefully analyze everything. Mistakes can and do happen. Mistakes that can cost you a better interest rate or in my case, your student loans.

This story does have a happy ending though. My appeal was approved and everything is back on track for my last two semesters of grad school. At this time next year I should be a fully licensed teacher with my own classroom. Everything is as it should be, I did not need a co-signer and I will not be set a year behind because of a cable bill in 2006 that I forgot about. Thank goodness.

Classes started yesterday and I love my schedule (for the most part) and am so excited to be back on campus and seeing familiar faces. I am sure I will post about the classes I am taking later this week!

Do you check your report regularly? Have you ever had a mistake on your credit report?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Marathon Weekend

Last week I blogged about the importance of balance on the weekends, right? Well, this weekend was quite the opposite. It turned into a marathon very quickly, and I was determined to do everything so I could avoid the classic guilt feeling of blowing something off just because I was tired. 

Here is how my weekend went:

Friday - 

I didn't work this day, although I usually do. I didn't plan for the day off, it just somehow sort of happened. My sister (who is also my roommate) and I had plans to go Costco, Target, Petco and Trader Joe shopping. This time together has somehow turned into bonding time and I really look forward to it!! I also wanted to stop by and check out a bicycle that I found on Craigslist.

 {Lexi at Petco for her 2nd birthday}

I ended up buying the bike for $50 and... I am in love! I have named her Kermie for her lovely green color and we have already done 7 miles together (until her front tube decided to pop and finding one the right size for this 1970s vintage Schwinn is proving to be difficult).

{Isn't she adorable?!}

That evening my closest girlfriends and I all got together to celebrate Angie's birthday (which was August 1st!) and go to the fair for a night of junky fair food and a couple of beers. I had a corndog (that had about an inch of breading on it!), corn on the cob (that was so delish, I am still thinking about it) and three 5 oz beers at the Craft Beer Tent. I was stuuuuuffed!

We all left the fair at a decent time and I was really happy to be home in bed by 11pm.

Saturday - 

My sister and I got up around 7:30 to go to the Farmer's Market with Lexi (it was her birthday on Friday!). The Farmer's Market is another bonding activity and we both love the same things there - especially the pupusas! I ate an entire spinach pupusa to myself and I did not feel bad about it AT ALL.

{Photos do not do this incredible dish justice. It is delicious!}

{My favorite Saturday morning activity; the Downtown Farmer's Market. I love that we go early too. We beat the 20,000 people that visit weekly}

After the market we went our separate ways. She went back home and I hit up my favorite trail in Des Moines to get in my 6 mile long run this week. I had a great run and I even beat my 3 mile time. I forced myself to run the entire first 3 miles and not stop to walk, which is something I normally do. I finished 3 miles in 31:25 and I was so proud of that! I was hoping for under 30 minutes, and I have a feeling my race pace would be under 30 minutes. I'm doing a 5k later this fall, so we'll see!!

After the run, I had to work for a couple hours with a lady that goes bowling. She called me all upset because she didn't have staff or anyone to take her on Saturday. I didn't have the heart to say no so I squeezed it in (even though I really shouldn't have!)

Then... I went home and got ready for the fair again! Yes, I know! A friend invited me to see a horse show with him and I just couldn't say no! We ended up walking around the fair for almost 6 hours and had such a good time!!


On Sunday I had to work again from 12-4, but first I had to get up early to drive to the south side to sign off on some meds I passed but forgot to initial. Not marking your initials equals a med error, and med errors are bad. Considering I just got a med error a couple weeks ago, I didn't want another one, so I made the trek out there (about 30 miles from my apartment). After that I spent 4 hours for a couple of great ladies, then it was off the fair again (lol) to see Boyz 2 Men on one of the free stages. I was seriously considering skipping this and just staying home, but I knew I would regret it. I had a great time and the concert was PACKED and we all had a great time reminiscing over these lovey dovey songs that were so "meaningful" to our 12 year old selves! Ha!

{Boyz 2 Men! The boys are now men...}

Although, after three days of eating fried fair food, I feel like a giant corndog and just overall gross. Yesterday I got in 3 miles and made it to Body Pump (which kicked my ass), which helped a little. Hopefully a few more days of exercise and packing in the fruits and veggies gets me back to normal.

How was your weekend? Is the state fair a big deal where you live?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Book Club Friday

The weeks are flyyyyyying and I'm a little sad to see them go. The end of summer always seems to fly by and I hate that!

Well, I'm linking up with Heather again for Book Club Friday and this week I am talking about a very popular mystery these days. Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn has been on all the to read lists of 2012 and most of the people in my "reader" circles have either read it or have plans to read it.

I don't read a lot of mysteries, but I do enjoy them every once in awhile. As soon as I start reading one, I am trying to figure out the end as soon as possible. Does everybody do that? I had so many theories with this book and they were all WRONG.

Here is the summary from Goodreads:

Marriage can be a real killer.
   One of the most critically acclaimed suspense writers of our time, New York Times bestseller Gillian Flynn takes that statement to its darkest place in this unputdownable masterpiece about a marriage gone terribly, terribly wrong. The Chicago Tribune proclaimed that her work “draws you in and keeps you reading with the force of a pure but nasty addiction.” Gone Girl’s toxic mix of sharp-edged wit and deliciously chilling prose creates a nerve-fraying thriller that confounds you at every turn.
   On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy's diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?
   As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?
   With her razor-sharp writing and trademark psychological insight, Gillian Flynn delivers a fast-paced, devilishly dark, and ingeniously plotted thriller that confirms her status as one of the hottest writers around.

This book started extremely slow for me. There was hardly any excitement at the beginning (which was almost 200 pages!) and the story was just not drawing me in. I stuck with it though, and after the first third of the book things blew up and I could not put it down! I was finished within 24 hours and absolutely loved it. I don't usually give books that start this slow 5 stars, but I still did for this one!!! 

If you want a good mystery, definitely pick this one up!! 

Are you a fan of mysteries? What is your favorite mystery book or mystery series?  

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Conversations on the job...

As most of you know, when I'm not substitute teaching or working on my grad degree I am working in residential counseling with adults that have various forms of intellectual disabilities (formerly known as MR). Many, many, many MANY times I have the best, most hilarious conversations with the clients.

Example... This was last night.

Male client: "Have you ever heard of bj's?"

Me: "Ummm...." with confused look...

Him: "You know, Billy Joe's Picture Show?" (a local karaoke bar)

Me: "I don't think you should call it that."

Omg. I was dying laughing. I needed that laugh!

Washington D.C. - Days 3, 4 and 5

Day 3 - otherwise known as D.C. Day of Awesome

On day 3 Becky and I got an early start and left her apartment around 7:30. Up first (after coffee, of course) was a walking tour of the monuments in D.C.

I have to admit, I really really really looking forward to this part of the trip! I've seen these monuments on tv my entire life, so to finally see them in person? That was pretty magical! We saw the Washington Monument, the World War II Memorial, Abraham Lincoln Memorial and the Korean War Memorial. I was extremely disappointed that there was construction being done on the Reflection Pool so there was not water in the pool, but I know I will be back someday and will see it full of water!

{Iowa's column! Short, just for me! ;)}

{Becky and I with the WWII Memorial in the background}

{Abraham Lincoln Memorial}

{Looking down those famous steps, to the Reflecting Pool and the Washington Memorial. What a famous view!}

After the monument walk (where we sweated our tail off and I'm positive we walked at least a few miles!) we headed over to the National Museum of American History. I was really looking forward to this museum!! There were so many awesome exhibits and it is so hard to choose a favorite. I went in thinking naturally the First Ladies dresses would be my favorite, and I did love it, but the Star Spangled Banner exhibit, which featured the original American flag that was flying when Francis Scott Key wrote the lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner. I mean... how can you... words are just lost! It was so amazing to see this in person. It gave me goosebumps!

{We couldn't take pictures inside, but this picture sums it up perfectly! Source}

 {In one of the United States Presidents exhibits - I think I'm dressed for a speech... no?}

We also saw a great exhibit on Slavery, specifically at Thomas Jefferson's estate, Monticello. Outside of this exhibit we even saw an interactive enactment of the sit ins from the Civil War - it was so cool!

Before all of the museum fun though, Becky and I met up with Mandy! She saw most of the exhibits with us and we had the best, long, leisurely lunch in the museum's cafeteria. I'll Mandy tell you about this wonderful lunch though, because she does such a good job here!

Just as Mandy was meeting up with us though, I had a brief hassle to take care of with my bank... I bank with Bank of the West and have been with them for years. In fact, I have not had any other bank. We've been with them since they were about 5 different names! Well, on Friday, I went to pay for gas at the pump and my card was denied. I freaked a little and called the bank to make sure nothing was wrong. Everything was fine, but the woman did put a note on my account that I was traveling and would be back in the Midwest on Monday. Completely unnecessary considering I was traveling domestically, but I thought, whatever, extra precautions are nice. Well, this woman accidentally CLOSED my card. The next day it was declined at Starbucks and that is when I knew something was really wrong. There is no way my bank card could be declined (unless someone got my numbers and wiped out my account). Of course it's 7:30 am on the East Coast, but on the West Coast it was only 4:30! I had to wait until it was 9am their time to get in touch with a live person! So, long story short, Mandy walks up (meeting me for the second time in her LIFE face to face) and I am on the verge of the ugly cry because I cannot access my checking account.

{I'm pretty sure this was right before I started crying my eyes out and tried being mean and demanding to Bank of the West. Becky and I called this photo, "What Tired Looks Like." We were pretty exhausted by this point, but Mandy perked us up when she arrived!}

Luckily, I got in touch with someone higher up, who rushed me a new card and opened my account long enough to get to an ATM and withdraw enough cash to get me home. It all worked out in the end, but phew! What an ordeal and I cannot believe that happened.

So, after that, we all had some lunch, enjoyed a few more exhibits, checked out the gift shop and then we were on our way to the Holocaust Museum for 2:30 tour time.

I specifically recommended seeing this, and I was shocked that Becky had never been. After going through it, I have the utmost respect for her family's decision though. As a child they said she wasn't old enough, and she knew as an adult that it would be a hard couple of hours. I think I was being a little naive in my wanting to see this museum, and I'm honestly not really sure what I expected, but I'm glad I saw it. I'm not ignorant of what really happened, but at the same time, we are all just a little ignorant, because wrapping your mind around the actual events is horrifying and close to impossible.

Nothing was sugar coated in this museum and the information really was horrifying and heartbreaking. At the beginning of the tour everyone is assigned a real person, and by the end you find out the story of what happened to that person.

I definitely recommend this museum for anyone visiting Washington D.C., but I strongly urge you not to bring your children. Let the information slowly be introduced... it is a lot to take in.

{A few more pictures before saying goodbye}

After leaving the Holocaust Museum, we had to say goodbye to Mandy, and Becky and I headed up to relax a little bit and spend some time at home. I am so glad we did this, we really needed this time to relax!! We watched Bourne movies, painted our nails, ate lots of yummy Thai food and drank some wine. It was fantastic!

Day 4 - Relaxation Day

Becky had plans to attend a yoga class at 9am and I was really excited to join her! I have done a little yoga, but I haven't done a class since I was an undergrad at ISU. After reading about how good yoga is for runners, I had been meaning to give it more of a chance but just haven't made it happen!

I thought this yoga class was a little hard, but it was just hard enough to intrigue me and make me want to do more. I could not believe how much I was sweating (partially due to the fan not being on. Ha!) and when I looked down at my chest I could not believe I was dripping with sweat. I wasn't even really aware! When we left, I felt so good. I knew I had sweated out a ton of toxins and that always feels amazing.

After yoga we stopped at the farmers market so Becky could get some produce for the week. I helped her pick out some corn! How fitting! ;)

We ran a few more errands, got some groceries and then headed back to Becky's to have some lunch with her husband, Ben before he went in to work. I believe this is the day we finished the third Bourne movie too. It was such a relaxing and good day. I'm so grateful that Becky put some downtime into the itinerary. Smart woman! I tend to try to do too much and go go go... having someone make me slow down and anticipate exhaustion before it happens was just what I needed!

Day 5 - Departure Day :( 

Departure day always sucks. That looming moment where you will have to say goodbye is like a rain cloud over your head. I hate it. Luckily, we had one of my favorite activities left to do before heading to the airport... a used bookstore! Did you think I would go on vacation and not come home with some new books? Haha, you're silly. Becky introduced me to the most organized used bookstore I have ever seen and I found some great books! This was a perfect activity to brighten the day.

After leaving the bookstore, we were off to the airport and we said our goodbyes.

I had such a great time in Virginia and Washington D.C.! Becky was the ultimate host and I am still so grateful to her and her husband for having me for the weekend. Hopefully someday I will get the chance to return the favor and I will get to show her around Iowa! We don't have monuments, but we do have the biggest State Fair and .... bacon wrapped corndogs (pssst, Ben! That's for you! ha!)

Do you tend to stay really busy on vacation or do you schedule in down time?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Weekend recap

Don’t you just love weekends that are that perfect balance of busy and relaxation? I know I do. I need some time to myself to just chill.

On Friday I worked til 2pm, went out for a run with Lexi (who pooped out after mile 2 and wouldn’t move for 20 minutes) then got ready to meet up with a friend for dinner, drinks and a movie. We had crab legs (wearing fashionable “I Like Crabs” bibs!) and we saw The Bourne Legacy. Last weekend Becky and I watched all three of the Bourne movies, and I think she has created a monster! I’m hoping to read the first book soon. I liked the fourth movie! Despite a new main character and a new author writing under Robert Ludlum, I thought it was very well done! My date hated the ending, but up until that point, he liked it as well! All I know is I love these movies now, and all three of the dvds are going on my Christmas list!

 {Lexi is okay in this picture. Some have commented that she doesn't look well... and I have to agree, but I promise you, she is alive and kickin' today.}

Saturday I got up early and headed to the downtown farmer’s market with Zeke and my friend Ang. I haven’t been to the downtown market in ages for one reason or another, so I was really looking forward to a spinach pupusa and hopefully some good produce. I got my pupusa (and shared with Zeke!) and some summer squash and a Downtown Farmer’s Market reusable tote bag. I had been eyeing these totes for quite a while, but didn’t want to pay the $20 they were charging for them. Last week the market was caught in the rain and a few of them had water stains (that are barely visible!) so they cut prices 50%. I didn’t think twice and finally bought one. I’m starting the transition from plastic bags to using all reusable bags, hopefully this helps!

After the market Zeke and I headed to Grey’s for a lap around the lake, and then it was home for an afternoon of relaxing before heading out again for a bachelorette party. I ended up taking a quick nap and I’m really glad I did.

My friend Anna is getting married in about a month and her bachelorette party was Saturday night. We started at her house and then made our way downtown for dinner at a Dos Rios, a local Mexican restaurant. I had a really good time, but I was trying hard not to drink too much. For one, I wanted to be able to drive home and two, my body is not reacting to alcohol and hangovers very well anymore. I am basically out of commission for the entire day following, and I just don’t find that to be worth it anymore. Overall though, I had a great time and cannot wait to celebrate with her next month when she ties the knot!

 {The bride is on the left - her motto of the night? Light and breezy, light and breezy (as she slaps you in the face with a brown dildo. Ha!}

Sunday was The Ultimate Lazy Day. I spent the entire day in my pajamas and it felt amazing. I started watching the first season of Felicity on Netflix and got through six episodes, I read a little bit of Gone Girl (which, I am struggling to get into) and took another nap. That evening I was scheduled to do an overnight for work, but other than that, I took it really easy and just relaxed. Felt amazing!

What the highlight of your weekend?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Book Club Friday!

It’s Friiiiiiday! My week flew by and I can hardly believe Friday is already here. I returned home from vacation on Monday night and jumped right into the work week, still working a schedule of 40 hours (never mind that 8 of those hours was sleeping…) and that definitely contributed to an accelerated week.

This weekend I have some fun stuff planned. A bachelorette party (woot, woot!), Saturday farmers market, wrapping up my last summer class and then some other odds and ends around the apartment.

But, first it’s not the weekend without a proper Book Club Friday! This week I am linking up with Heather again and I am talking about two books that I read this week. Where We Belong by Emily Giffin and The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst.

Where We Belong is Emily Giffin’s fifth novel and this one did not disappoint! I have met very few people that dislike Emily’s novels, so if you’re a fan of Something Borrowed and the sequel, Something Blue, this book is right up your alley.

From Goodreads:

The author of five blockbuster novels, Emily Giffin, delivers an unforgettable story of two women, the families that make them who they are, and the longing, loyalty and love that binds them together

Marian Caldwell is a thirty-six year old television producer, living her dream in New York City. With a fulfilling career and satisfying relationship, she has convinced everyone, including herself, that her life is just as she wants it to be. But one night, Marian answers a knock on the door . . . only to find Kirby Rose, an eighteen-year-old girl with a key to a past that Marian thought she had sealed off forever. From the moment Kirby appears on her doorstep, Marian’s perfectly constructed world—and her very identity—will be shaken to its core, resurrecting ghosts and memories of a passionate young love affair that threaten everything that has come to define her.

For the precocious and determined Kirby, the encounter will spur a process of discovery that ushers her across the threshold of adulthood, forcing her to re-evaluate her family and future in a wise and bittersweet light. As the two women embark on a journey to find the one thing missing in their lives, each will come to recognize that where we belong is often where we least expect to find ourselves—a place that we may have willed ourselves to forget, but that the heart remembers forever.
I bought this book the day it came out. Emily Giffin is one of those authors that I will absolutely splurge on her hardcover new releases. Considering I try to keep my monthly book budget at or around $25, dropping $20 for one book is a pretty big deal. I cannot resist her books though. I love ‘em! This one I started to devour almost immediately, and then I realized that I should probably slow down and savor it a bit more, so I put it down to start One Breath Away (gasp! I know, right??). Then, I completely fell in love with One Breath Away and there I was torn between what to read! How often does that happen?? Hardly ever.

The second book I am talking about is The Dogs of Babel, which is a book I picked up at a used bookstore while on the East Coast visiting Becky. I can get out of hand in used bookstores (somehow the term “used” affords me a free pass to buy whatever I want) so I put myself on a budget of $20 and this gem was available for only $4.50.

Becky and I were browsing the classics, where I was looking for Jack Kerouac’s On The Road (which I can never seem to find a sweet used copy) when she asked if I had read The Dogs of Babel. I looked at her blankly and said I had never heard of it.  She promptly marched off to contemporary fiction where she found the book for a such a steal, I could not say no when she demanded I buy it and read it. After finishing Where You Belong on the plane and trying to decided what to read next, Becky once again suggested this book. I decided, why not, and then picked it up. Three days later I had finished it…

From Goodreads

Paul Iverson's life changes in an instant. He returns home one day to find that his wife, Lexy, has died under strange circumstances. The only witness was their dog, Lorelei, whose anguished barking brought help to the scene - but too late. In the days and weeks that follow, Paul begins to notice strange "clues" in their home: books rearranged on their shelves, a mysterious phone call, and other suggestions that nothing about Lexy's last afternoon was quite what it seemed. Reeling from grief, Paul is determined to decipher this evidence and unlock the mystery of her death. But he can't do it alone; he needs Lorelei's help. A linguist by training, Paul embarks on an impossible endeavor: a series of experiments designed to teach Lorelei to communicate what she knows. Perhaps behind her wise and earnest eyes lies the key to what really happened to the woman he loved. As Paul's investigation leads him in unexpected and even perilous directions, he revisits the pivotal moments of his life with Lexy, the brilliant, enigmatic woman whose sparkling passion for life and dark, troubled past he embraced equally.

This book was such an original, engaging and sometimes strange read - I loved it.

I’m still planning on posting recaps of days 2 and 3 of my East Coast adventure – so be on the lookout for them!

Hope you all have a wonderful weekend! 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Washington DC Trip - Days 1 & 2

How can one get to the age of 30 and have never visited the nation's capital? I'm not sure, but that was me up until this past weekend. In high school we had the opportunity, but for one reason or another, I did not take it and go on that trip.

Earlier this year, during the January meet up in Chicago, Becky and I started brainstorming dates for a big visit to Virginia and Washington D.C. I knew I just had to make that trip happen and now I can hardly believe it is over!

Day 1

I booked my flight out of Kansas City, because it was about $100 cheaper and I could combine some family time with the trip. On Wednesday, I headed down to KC and stayed the night with some family, Thursday morning we got up and I caught my 1pm flight into Reagan National Airport.

Due to arriving at 4:30 and right before the rush hour, I was able to witness some of the DC traffic. I did not mind though, because the views were incredible. Driving down I-95 I got a full view of the Pentagon in person and many other sites, I could even see the Washington Monument in the distance and I am pretty sure I squealed out loud. ;)

Frequently during this trip I was struck with the enormity of the history in this area and how amazing it is to see it in person. I was in awe of what it would be like to grow up in an area like this and have so much access to such rich history.

That night we had dinner made my the most wonderful hosts, Becky and her husband Ben, and then we ran a few errands (including Target and Wegmans (wine!)) and then it was time for dinner. Brewing in the crockpot was a delicious beef dish served over noodles, and it was so good! I could not stop myself from taking a second serving. I only regret not taking a photo!

{Becky in her new Anthro apron - I think it suits her perfectly!}

That evening, I believe, is when we started our Jason Bourne movie marathon. Becky is a huge fan of the series of movies (and, coughMatt Damoncough). When she found out that I had not seen the series, she quickly added that to the itinerary. I did not mind one bit, because hello! Matt Damon is some seriously yummy eye candy.

Day 2

The next day we got up at a reasonable time and, after stopping for the first of many Starbucks trips, we headed to George Washington's estate, Mount Vernon in Alexandria, VA. I honestly was not really sure what to expect. I have never toured a president's home and this was the very FIRST president's home! I felt honored, if that was even possible.

{Me just hanging out with George, Martha and the kids! Excuse my closed eyes - I swear I do that for 50% of the photos I am in. I still love this picture though.}

His home was simply stunning and I have to admit the back porch with the breathtaking views of the Potomac River were my favorite part. I've always loved water and would love to live close to the water again someday so, George, I agree, "No estate in America is more pleasantly situated than this." ~George Washington

{These green chairs are lined up along the back porch and facing the Potomac. The views were stunning}

{One of the many pictures I took, while sitting in those green chairs}

{Posing in front of the estate, right before taking the tour}

After leaving Mount Vernon, we headed just a couple minutes away to the Pope Leighy house, which is a home designed and built by Frank Lloyd Wright. This home is only 1200 sq ft., but it is amazing what he did with that space. He did not believe in the extra clutter that we all keep in our homes and he made a home that was affordable and comfortable to live in. It was so beautiful and only further cemented my fascination with this architect's work!

{Me, standing in front of the house}

{A little dark, but a view of the back of the house}

After these outings, we headed back to Becky's for a little downtime before getting ready to head to Wolf Trap for the Idina Menzel concert and to meet Mandy with her step sister and brother in law! I have corresponded with Mandy for awhile now through blogging and Twitter so I was really excited to finally meet her face to face! She is just like she is online and we had such a lovely time at the concert. Today, in Mandy's post she suggested that if you have the chance to see Idina in concert, go! And, I have to say, I completely agree with her! The concert was awesome and Idina Menzel is hilarious! She's from Staten Island, so her sense of humor is definitely that confident, "I do what I want" East Coast humor, that I am beginning to admire and adore.

 {Mandy, me, and Becky waiting for the concert to begin.}

I also cannot end this day without talking about the Wolf Trap amphitheater. I adore outdoor concerts and have several venues that are my favorite places to see performing arts. Kansas City's Starlight Theater? Bonner Spring, Kansas' Verizon Wireless (formerly known as Sandstone) or Des Moines' own Simon Estes amphitheater just to name a few, but Wolf Trap was amazing! I loved every second of it and it may have stolen the top spot for concert venues.

{The view from our seats on the lawn. The night was perfect for an outdoor concert!}

The only downside of that venue was the parking. Getting out was horrid and the traffic was insane. We made it fun though! Despite being beyond exhausted, we laughed about the terrible drivers and their assertiveness. In the Midwest, we have our fair share of drivers that think they own the road, but I am pretty sure everyone on the East Coast believes they own the road! This night I saw someone flip us off for the first time while visiting, and I believe Becky got a good laugh at my exclaiming, "Ohmygod, he just flipped you off!!" I cannot remember exactly what he flipped us off for, but I know it wasn't for much, because if we had deserved it, I know I wouldn't have been that surprised!

This is getting long, so I will end here, but this was just days 1 & 2, I seriously have so much more to recap! Watch for my recap of the rest of the trip!

Did you go to Washington D.C. when you were young? If not, have you been as an adult? I think a young Amber would not have appreciated the overwhelming amount of history as much as today's Amber does. I wish I had gone when I was a kid, but I know that having gone at an older age, I know more about the history and can appreciate it on a much deeper level.

Monday, August 6, 2012

On leaving...

As I'm sitting in the airport about to leave the East Coast, I cannot help but marvel at the fact that I have met so many wonderful people through blogging.

This will be short, as I am boarding the plane in less than an hour and I want to eat before I board, but I wanted to post something to today. 

I started this blog in 2008, right after I moved back to Iowa from South Carolina, right after I left a job that I absolutely was head over heels for, but could not stomach being so far away from home for anymore.

Because of this blog, I have met so many people that have helped me through so many transitions in my twenties and I could not be more grateful for their friendship.

Growing up I kept a journal off and on, but I was completely oblivious to the online blogging world until I got back from this adventure living in the South. Sometimes I think about how wonderful it would have been to have a blog during that time in my life, because I literally knew NOBODY when I moved there and at times, it was very hard.

I did not really start meeting bloggers until 2011 when I met Lisa at a Jodi Picoult book signing in Minneapolis. Although, the first blogger I truly met was in 2009 when I met Lesli (also for a JP signing), but for a long time I did not meet another blogger in person. Lesli is still the first blogger I met IRL, and our friendship blows me away, because I think of her as a big sister and she is one of the first people I go to when I need someone to calm down and give good life advice. Since meeting Lisa in 2011, I have met so many others (lots local!) and I just love it!

The opportunities that I would not have had otherwise leave me feeling so grateful and they are such a testament to the wonderful blogging community. I am extremely protective of this community, and for those that do not understand it... I have no words.

As I leave DC, after seeing Becky for the second time in my life, after she graciously opened up her home to me and showed me around her hometown home city in Virginia as well as the nation's capital, I am left with a lump in my throat and the threat of tears because I feel so lucky and so blessed to have such wonderful people in my life. 

I am so grateful and know that I am blessed.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Book Club Friday

I had always heard of Heather Gudenkauf, and I knew she was an author from Iowa, but I just could never seem to get around to picking up her books! One day when browsing the books at Costco, I noticed her newest release, One Breath Away. I'm not supposed to be buying books, but my sister convinced me I should buy it, and that I have been working hard so I deserve it (enabler!), so I did.

I am so glad I did! I haven't even finished this book, and it is all I can think about. It is simply captivating!

The book covers one day in a small fictional Iowa town called Broken Branch. There is a shooter in the school and the book is told through the perspective of six different people.

Holly, a mother who is thousands of miles away from her children that are in the school. Augie, Holly's daughter who is actually in the school. Mrs. Oliver, a veteran third grade teacher that holds herself up to incredibly high standards. Meg, a local police officer, who also has a child that attends the school. Then, Will, a local farmer and Holly's father who he has been watching over Holly's two children while their mother is away.

This book is captivating and terrifying all at the same time. What would be going through your mind if someone entered your building with a gun and the intent to shoot? Many have said that this book is too difficult to read right now after what happened in Aurora, Colorado. I agree, but these are situations that we have to think about and be prepared for. These days we're not just doing fire drills and tornado drills. We're doing violence drills, too. This book is about what happens when a community comes together, or what doesn't happen.

On Monday I had the opportunity to hear Heather speak at a local library, and it was so much fun. She is a really interesting person and her story is so inspiring! She is a high school teacher in Mason City, Iowa and she has been writing pretty much her entire life. Her career as a writer and her road to publishing is pretty similar to other authors with lots of "no thanks" at the beginning, but it is inspiring that she kept trying. She talked a lot about what that was like and what it takes to get published. It sounds like she got really lucky, but I hate saying that, because her writing really is good. I love how she is weaving the characters together and telling the story from multiple time periods so seamlessly. At the signing she did talk a lot about what it was like to get so many rejections and she passed around her rejection letters. It was really interesting to see those and imagine what that would be like.

Her first book, The Weight of Silence was a big hit and I know many, many people love that book. It has been on my list as one to read, but I think now, after hearing her speak and loving One Breath Away so far, I will have to get to The Weight of Silence sooner!

Today I am linking up with Heather at Blonde Undercover Blonde for Book Club Friday.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Twiddle dum, there's no comparison

From the time I was in middle school and first heard the song 'Just A Girl', I was completely obsessed with No Doubt. I can remember watching their music videos over and over and over. I wanted to be just like Gwen Stefani. I wanted her blonde hair, red lips and those amazing abs. Plus, she's just plain awesome. Such an inspiring, talented lady. 

The first single from No Doubt's new album

The band has not released an album since 2001 with Rock Steady, and although I do like Gwen Stefani's solo work, I am so excited to see what the band has up their sleeve. They have been a band since 1986 and have the most amazing history together. It is truly a wonder that they are still such good friends and still working together.

The new album, Push and Shove comes out September 25th and you can better believe I will be buying it and devouring it immediately! If people still waited in line to buy cds at the music store, I would be there.

Hopefully I can catch them live too, because I have never seen them. It should be a crime to love a band so much, but have never seen them live! It's happening this time when they go on tour!

Who/what is your all time favorite singer/band? Who was your favorite when you were younger?  

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Books 'n Bars v15

Fifteen months later and Books 'n Bars is still going strong!

For July we chose to read The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky and we met at a new bar and restaurant called Louie's Wine Dive. I was really pleased with this month's turnout and despite several last minute cancellations, we had 11 people in attendance.

One of my favorite parts of book club is meeting new people as well as bringing people together. I have met several friends of friends of friends that I have truly enjoyed getting to know and chatting about books and life with!

Starting in August I have decided to change things up and choose the books a little differently. Instead of throwing several book suggestions out and then voting on one, we are going to take turns choosing a book. So, yesterday I assigned everyone that was interested in suggesting a title a number. Using random.org a number was drawn and that person chose the book. It worked out really well, and I can't wait to see if this method continues to work.

For August we are reading The History of Love by Nicole Krauss and the bar or restaurant is TBD. We're thinking Django downtown though (we all agreed a place with good food is a must. Food > alcohol. Ha.)

I am so excited this is still going strong and I truly look forward to meeting with everyone each month! Cannot wait for our August meeting.

If you are local, we are meeting on Wednesday, August 29th at 6pm. Here is the link for the event.