35-for-35: Honeymoon Hotel by Hester Browne

My first book of my challenge is the newest novel by one of my favorite authors, Hester Browne. Her brand of British chick lit just works for me in a way that others don’t. I had to wait through two cycles of interlibrary loan before I got my hands on a copy, but it was worth the wait.

Our heroine, Rosie, is an events coordinator at a boutique London hotel, with loads of old Hollywood glamour and stories. It’s still a family-run place, which leads to issues when one of the owner’s vagabond sons arrives back on the scene after time in America. Rosie’s the best at what she does and she thrives on the chaos and perfection that weddings bring out in people. Her boyfriend’s a bit of a d-bag, but they rarely see each other due to their schedule, so it’s totally fine if they try to buy their own place, right?

As a type A, perfectionist, who loves to organize things down to the last detail, I loved Rosie and admired her goal of giving every bride she works with the perfect wedding she always dreamed of. I totally got her resentment of Joe, the owner’s son, who shows up with his talk of “the universe” and flash mobs instead black-and-white elegance. He doesn’t grow on me as fast as he does for Rosie, however. Also wished that Rosie had wised up by about Dominic, her d-bag restaurant reviewer boyfriend, who just never seems like the catch she thinks he is, much sooner than she did, but I guess that wouldn’t have given Joe a chance to shine by comparison. I definitely got a kick out of her wishing on medivac heliocopters, so he does have his moments.

Rosie’s right, someone should write a screenplay about their story, including his final speech, and fill it with lovely British actors. I almost missed the epilogue, which is filled with rich details of what happens next, which I appreciated because I wasn’t quite ready to let these characters go at the end. Fingers crossed for a sequel or a follow up in another book!

35-for-35 Begins Now (Okay, Wednesday)

With my birthday approaching on Wednesday, I’ve been thinking about my NEXT birthday, which is a bit of a milestone. And while that milestone could be a downer, I’ve decided to make it a challenge instead. I had originally thought about making a list of thirty-five things to do (like this one), but it turns out, I’m just not that creative on short notice. So, I’m challenging myself to complete the following before my next birthday:

1. Read 35 Books
Every calendar year, I try to read 50 books and I’ve failed miserably every year since I’ve been keeping track. So in 2014, I decided to try for 25 books, and I think I might actually get there. In 2015, I’m planning to up this to 30. So, I think this is a pretty doable goal, while still being a challenge.

2. Visit 35 New Cities
I was inspired by this post to expand my horizons with travel in the next year. My upcoming road trip to Oregon should help knock off a few spots, but I hope this will get me out of my comfort zone without breaking the bank.

3. Make 35 New Recipes
I know, I know! I’m afraid of my oven and I haven’t turned my stove on since I moved in, but I do have a slow cooker and a microwave. Between the cookbooks my mom has given me and Pinterest, I feel like I can add some variety to my diet without getting too crazy.

I’ll be documenting my progress on these challenges here on the blog as a way to stay motivated and accountable. Here we go!

A Win for the Giants!

Last night, George and I attended “Social Media” night at AT&T Park and it was fabulous! This year’s giveaway was suggested by the fans on Twitter (like last year), including yours truly, and was inspired by this:
Buster Hugs!My new #BusterHugs t-shirt features the Romo/Buster hug after winning the 2012 World Series. Personally, I would have gone with the 2013 Tim Lincecum no-hitter Buster hug, but really, all Buster hugs are awesome.

Also awesome? THE GIANTS ACTUALLY WON! Tim Lincecum pitched a fantastic game! There was a moment when Timmy loaded the bases in the 4th with no outs. AND HE PITCHED OUT OF IT! That’s when I knew we had a chance to win. Hunter Pence was also amazing, getting hits and making fabulous catches in left field. Too bad Akemi missed it because he was clearly showing off. :) It was my first win of the season (in three games), so I’m happy to finally see them do well when I’m at the stadium. I hope this trend continues, even when I’m not there.

Of course, today I’m home sick and feeling so wretched because I can’t have two good days in a row, now can I? Fingers crossed that I get back to my old self quickly as Mom and Dad are coming to town tomorrow and I’m ready to have fun!

Multiple Transactions for Maximum Savings

For the last three years, I’ve been couponing on and off, saving a few dollars here and there, but never really building a stockpile the way my favorite coupon blogs always seem to. As a single person, I’ve never been very good at figuring out how much of any given product I need to last the sale cycle. I went a little nuts with Pantene deals in the summer of 2011, and I still haven’t used all the shampoo and conditioner I bought. I usually end up running out of something and then looking for a deal at one of the three drug stores or Target. Saving 20% is nothing to sneeze at in my opinion, but I’m always jealous of those shoppers who can save 60-70%.

Last weekend, I decided to take a look at what Southern Savers had for deals with CVS. They had sent me a coupon for 25% off everything, and I didn’t want it to go to waste. I like shopping on the weekends because I can take advantage of two weeks’ worth of sales in two days.

6.21.14 HaulOn Saturday, I decided to stock up on face sunscreen (in advance of the July 4th weekend), body wash and hand soap. I used coupons for each of them plus the 25% off coupon from CVS. I knew it would be the most out-of-pocket I’d spend over the weekend, but the CVS ExtraCare Bucks (ECBs) would be worth it.

Total Value: $41.65
Coupon / Store Savings: $17.11
Total Spent: $24.54
Percent Saved: 41%

ECBs Earned: $11

On Sunday, I decided to split up my shopping list into three transactions. I’ve never been one to monopolize a cashier’s time to do multiple transaction in a single visit, but I realized that I could maximize my savings if I took the high value ECBs and rolled them into the next transaction. As I ran my errands that day, I visited three different CVS stores, each time rolling my savings.

6.22.14 OneThe first stop was to take advantage of a great razor/shave gel deal. Additionally, I have gotten a coupon from Carefree in the mail for a free box of their pads. It’s not my brand, but I rarely turn down a free product. Plus, Carefree was part of the Skintimate/Schick ECB deal I was working on, so it was the perfect time to use that coupon.

Total Value: $26.36
Coupon / Store Savings: $11.99
ECBs Used: $11.00
Total Spent: $3.37
Percent Saved: 87%

ECBs Earned: $10.00

6.22.14 TwoI had been clipping the numerous sunscreen coupons I found for the last month, knowing that a good sunscreen deal was on the horizon. Coppertone was on sale and had an ExtraCare Buck deal attached as well. Living in San Francisco, I don’t use sunscreen a lot, but it’s always good to have on hand for those rare sunny days.

Total Value: $22.48
Coupon / Store Savings: $9.00
ECBs Used: $10.00
Total Spent: $3.48
Percent Saved: 85%

ECBs Earned: $7.00

6.22.14 ThreeMy last transaction of the day took advantage of sales due to the Gas Card Deal that CVS likes to run in the summer. I’ve never spent the $50 required, but items on sale is items on sale. I realized I also needed to get more dish soap, but I didn’t have a coupon for it. Even still, I spent a minimum amount, thanks to my previous planning.

Total Value: $20.73
Store / Coupon Savings: $11.66
ECBs Used: $7.00
Total Spent: $2.07
Percent Saved: 90%

6.21.14-6.22.14 HaulTotal Value: $111.22
Coupon / Store Savings: $49.76
ECBs Used: $28.00
Total Spent: $33.46
Percent Saved: 69.92%

So in four transactions over two days, I got over $100 worth of products and only spent about $30, saving about 70%. These results aren’t typical, but I had to brag to show it IS possible to get those big savings while still buying for just one person and only get things you really need.

A Heart Transplant for Green Lightning (or The Writing on the Wall)

Green Lightning (otherwise known as my ’97 Saturn) gave me a fright yesterday when he wouldn’t turn on. Ever since I returned from the holidays, the car had not wanted to turn on properly, but would eventually turn over. Yesterday morning, however, he sputtered and sputtered, but would not come alive. Given the age of the car, I was quite nervous that this was the end of our journey together. I made calls to auto service shops and crossed my fingers that the damage would be minimal enough to get me through another couple of months.

Luck was on my side today because when AAA came to pick up my car to take it to the shop, the driver correctly diagnosed that I simply need a new battery. The sputtering was simply the car trying to do its best with the limited power and this evening, he was reduced to just a click. Twenty minutes later, the Mobile Battery Unit arrived to change out my battery right in my parking spot and I’ve got a car that starts again! Phew!

However, given the age of my precious vehicle, it seems that it won’t be long until Green Lightning goes to the Car Heaven and I have to find a replacement. I suppose seventeen and a half years isn’t too bad for an American car! I won’t be eulogizing the car yet (as I don’t think MY heart could take it right now), but for all those who have known and loved him, it is time to prepare to say goodbye to my little engine that could!

The End of an Era

The Chevy’s at Stonestown is gone.

(Actually, it may have been gone for a while as I seldom go to the mall next to campus and rarely go across the front of the mall when I do stop by. Nonetheless, there’s a Chipotle and a new sushi restaurant COMING SOON in its place).

Don’t get me wrong; if I never ate at Chevy’s again for my whole life, I’d be very happy. But that Chevy’s location is inextricably linked many of my favorite college memories and it’s very odd to think of it not existing any longer. It hasn’t been THAT long since I left college, right?

My first semester at State, I didn’t really make any friends, only going to classes and back home to study. The second semester, I was forced out of my shell by a fateful trip to Sacramento, where I made two of the best friends I’ve ever had (and still have to this day). After that, gatherings outside of class to studying and chat became more commonplace and Chevy’s was a prime location, given its proximity to school.

Christmas at Embarcadero Center

Christmas at Embarcadero Center

My last year in college, it was the site of many Political Science Student Association fundraisers, proving the even PoliSci nerds can throw back a pitcher or six of margaritas with the best of them. It was always great fun to hang out with our profs, as well as my fellow students, plotting our eventual takeover of the department and university. Of course, getting a grande strawberry margarita in me meant all bets were off. I’ll never forget the look on Prof C’s face when I told him his article was “totally boring,” before realizing I had said it out loud. Luckily, he found it charming instead of insulting. In fact, it was such a mainstay in our diet, that our end of semester celebration that fall was held at Chevy’s – but the one at Embarcadero Center, just to switch things up a bit!

Chevy’s was where I decided to take my first grad-level class, while still in undergrad. Margarita Mondays got me through the first time I had to present in said class. It was where Prof C starting laying the ground work for me to go to grad school, following in his footsteps. It was where I celebrated with my friends that after seven years and four universities, I was finally going to graduate college. And it was where I found a touchstone after graduation, when I felt a little lost in the big “adult” world, attending another PSSA fundraiser for the next class of PoliSci nerds.

Thanks for the memories, Chevy’s! It wouldn’t have been college without you!

Last Day of College EVER

Last Day of College EVER

Run 10K: A New Challenge

Almost five months after I ran my first organized race and swore I’d never run anything again, I’m back to training.

It started with a tweet from the Bay Bridge that the her new span will Labor Day weekend to people instead of cars. There are plans for a walk, a bike ride and two races, a 10k and a half marathon. I’d been looking at the Run 10k app for a while and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to break it out. I don’t think I’ll ever be a runner, but this will be a once-in-a-lifetime chance. While I could settle for a leisurely stroll across the new bridge span, I thought this would be a great chance to challenge myself and make history at the same time.

Yesterday was an absolutely gorgeous day, so I knew I had to take advantage of it. One of the hardest parts of training last year was having enough good weather days on days when I had the time to run. The app recommends that if you’ve already completed their Run 5K app that you start on Week Five. Well, I’m no overachiever in this area, so I was quite happy to start with Week One, Day One. I figured the easy pace would give me a confidence boost if nothing else. I was half right.

The first week is 30 seconds of running and four and half minutes of walking. I was barely getting into my stride when the man in my ear would say “Walk now.” As it was a gorgeous day in February, there were plenty of other runners on my trail and it was very difficult to quell my competitive side and let them run past me. By the middle of my playlist, I decided to go ahead and run the entirety of Neil Jackson’s Gonna Have to Change. It got a little run toward the end, but I finally felt like I was getting somewhere.

I finished Day One rather easily, tacking an extra minute of running on at the end, so the cooldown would feel worth it. Another two days of that should be fairly easy to accomplish and I don’t feel the pressure to get the training done in a particular timeframe for fear I’ll lose my progress. There are 29 weeks between now and the opening of the Bridge, so I feel no need to rush through this process. I know I can get there and I know that if I need to repeat a week or lose a week due to travel or illness, I’ll still be ready.

And it wouldn’t be a run if I didn’t make a playlist. This is essentially the same as my last week of Run 5K, with the addition of Neil Jackson and rearranging a few things. It was a bit too long, but I made it work.

A Trip to Giants FanFest

Though I’ve been a Giants fan since 2005, I’ve never attended FanFest before. My dear friend, Jen, has attended the Chicago White Sox equivalent, SoxFest, since I’ve known her and raved about it every year. I know that Giants FanFest is run differently and this year I finally got up the courage to go. My lovely friend, George, a FanFest veteran, agreed to go with me and be my guide. It was everything and nothing that I wanted it to be, but I had a great day and I know I’ll be more prepared the next time I go.
Together We're Champions

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Music: Initial Impressions of Neil Jackson’s debut album, “The Little Things”

There’s a quote from my favorite movie, Playing By Heart, that goes “Talking about love is like dancing about architecture.” I feel the same way when it comes to writing about music. I’m not a professional critic, but I am a singer and I know what I like. And I like Neil Jackson (and not just because he’s hot and British).

The Little Things (Album Cover)This morning, I was running late, but the bus was running even later, so I ended up walking 30 blocks, most of it uphill, to get to work. This is after I blow-dried my hair and spent some time I actually trying to put together an outfit. I got to work, sweaty with windblown hair, but in a surprisingly good mood because I’d used the walk to listen to “The Little Things.”

I’ve followed Neil’s music for about a year now, back when he was just posting videos of him singing and playing his guitar in a little room on YouTube. (I guess that makes me a Hipster Neil Jackson Fan? Ha!) Because this was my introduction to him as a musician, I think he sounds best when you can hear his fingers, plucking the guitar strings as he croons the lyrics. His voice is smooth and rich, a soothing balm on my soul.

1. Holding a Candle
This was the first single (and video) from the album, but I think it’s the biggest outlier from his usual style. It’s more produced than any of the other tracks and even his accent fades when he sings. I enjoy the lyrics and melody, but I don’t think it’s indicative of the rest of the album.

2. Drive
The lyrics on this one weren’t my favorite, but I’ll listen to it over and over again for the lead guitar line. The faint bongo drums in the background give this a California feel, and I can easily imagine driving down PCH in the sunshine.

3. I’ll Be Your Home
As Neil tweeted about his experience recording the album, I was most curious about how the songs I was familiar with from YouTube would sound when properly recorded and mixed. The addition of a piano to the guitar helps balance the vocal effects, making it feel more produced. The last 30 seconds where everything drops out, except the piano, is exceptionally beautiful.

4. Hear in Time
It’s hard to keep the grin off my face as I listen to this little ditty. The pickin’ guitar and the rhythmic clapping just make me happy. It’s damn catchy and I know I’ll have this one in my head for a while now.

5. Save Me Tonight
Sad, whispery Neil with a guitar may be my favorite version of him. I really like the way the orchestra sneaks in gradually as the song goes along. There are moments when it overwhelms his subtle vocals, but the melodies are so pretty that I don’t really mind.

6. Gonna Have to Change
And we’re back to peppy and catchy, which just makes me smile (as does the surprise falsetto before the chorus). Again, this feels very California (shout out to the 405!) and I see the video taking place on the beach with lots of laughing, Frisbee and frolicking in the waves. His vocals feel very American, almost country, especially the little laugh at the end.

7. The Little Things
Neil’s British accent is back in full force on this track, which is fantastic. The guitar lines are even better than the YouTube version and his vocals are smoother, drawing you into the story of his Manic Pixie Dream Girl. I could have done without some of the other filler instruments, but that’s probably because I’m used to the stripped down version.

8. Got Your Own Shoes
I had to laugh at Neil’s use of “groovy” in the chorus (don’t worry, I had a similar reaction when Matt Morrison used “demagogue” in one of his songs), but then it gets sad, and I felt a little bad. It’s not my favorite track, as it has a lot going on, vocally and instrumentally. I’d be curious to hear the story behind this one.

9. Falling in Love
This is my new favorite song! It’s got a great jazzy piano/snare drum backing to Neil’s whispery vocal, evoking visions of dancing in a smokey club in a slinky black dress with a beautiful man. The trumpet solo in the bridge is unexpected, but it fits with the theme, even if it is a bit louder than the mood previously set.

10. When the World Was New
I absolutely adore the guitar line in this song and I love that Neil kept this one so simple, just acoustic guitar and his vocals. It’s the truest to the YouTube version, and yet the quality is just SO much better.

11. Rocket to Mars
This is the second single off the album and the video will be released next week. It seems much more indicative of Neil’s style, while incorporating the orchestra. And it only seems appropriate that the album end with a sweet guitar line.

I was already a fan, but the album has lived up to my expectations in almost every way (still needs “All That I Am!”). I’m hoping that there will be a live tour or at least a few shows in California because this music begs to be heard live. In the meantime, the digital download of Neil’s album is on sale at his website for $8.00 ($1.99 less than Amazon and iTunes), making it a great deal while putting a few more pence in Neil’s pocket.

Music: In Which I Am a Neil Jackson Fangirl

It’s no secret that I love me some Neil Jackson. I mean, seriously, have you seen him? When I first started to follow him on Twitter earlier this year, he linked to his YouTube account of him playing guitar and singing. I admit I had a little trepidation when I first clicked over to watch, not knowing what to expect. But it turns out he’s AWESOME, just a guy and his guitar, singing right to my heart. (You may remember my flailing here.)

Since then, Neil has recorded his first album, The Little Things, which comes out February 4th. You can hear a preview of each of the songs on Amazon (but you should buy it from his website).

Last week, the first single, “Holding a Candle” came out with a video:

The video also features Chelsea Hobbs (aka Emily from Make It or Break It), which was fabulous to see. I’ll admit I was a little squicked to see them together as the couple, since the last time I saw them on screen together, she was playing MUCH younger and he was playing her coach. But she’s ridiculously adorable and it’s easy to see why Video!Neil would be in the love with her. The lip-sync at the beginning of the video is off (and a bit distracting), but by the time, he gets to the chorus, it’s back together. The video storyline reminded me a lot of Easton Corbin’s “Lovin’ You is Fun”, with the guy singing about the pretty girl he loves, but this is clearly more grown-up. I also LOVED the improvised shot of Neil backlit in the rain.

I’m disappointed that my favorite song, “All That I Am,” isn’t on this album, but I’ve been promised it will be on the next one. That said, I’ve already listened to “Holding a Candle” enough times now that I can sing along, so clearly, it’s fantastic as well! Is it February yet?!