Sunday, October 30, 2011

Softly and Tenderly.

I read "The Sweet By and By" last year, and I don't remember being especially impressed with it. It felt too heavy to me. So I wasn't sure what to expect when I got my hands on the sequel (in what is going to be a trilogy).

The details of the first one were a little foggy in my mind, but I remembered the major plot and details came back to me as I read the sequel. I would think that anyone could pick up this book and be just fine without having read SBAB first.

I enjoyed "Softly and Tenderly" so much more than the first book. It is heavy as well, dealing with issues almost as big as those in the first book. It touches on things like adultery, illegitimate children, anxiety, deception, addiction, and death. Sometimes I felt like things couldn't get much worse for poor Jade- she was hit with so much in this book! Speaking of Jade, she seemed more likable than I remembered from the previous book (though I could have done without the Dustin thing).

The faith element of this series is much more understated than in most Christian fiction. It's subtle but comes out when it needs to, which I think is nice. And while I do love definite happy endings, it was refreshing to have an ending that is hopeful but not wrapped up perfectly (there is one more book coming, after all).

I think my favorite part of this book was Beryl. I remember not really liking her character in the first book. I just loved her in this one, though, and her relationship with Jade. I loved how Jade was able to look beyond the not-so-good aspects of her past relationship with her mother and come to appreciate Beryl and what she had done in her life.

Overall, a pretty enjoyable book. I usually stick with historical fiction, so contemporary Christian fiction always feels a little strange to me. But "Softly and Tenderly" is real and heartwarming, and in my opinion, a big improvement over the previous book in the series. I definitely look forward to reading the conclusion!

{I received this book free from Booksneeze. In exchange, I'm required to write only an honest review, not necessarily a positive one.}

Until next time,

Florida Keys {Day 3: The $3,500 Deer and the Best Pizza in the Known Universe}

On Tuesday, our first full day in the Keys, it was cloudy and crazy windy all day, but it didn't rain a drop until late in the afternoon. So we were able to get out and go some places that morning.

Some of the water had soaked in around the hotel.

This was my mother's most favorite part of our whole vacation. *note sarcasm here*

The Seven Mile Bridge.

Marmee doesn't like bridges or water.

{Also, please excuse the fact that some of these pictures might be blurry, include windshield wipers, have a glare, etc. A lot of them were taken through the windows while we were driving.}

The Seven Mile Bridge connects part of Marathon to the Lower Keys. The above picture shows us driving on the new bridge, which was constructed in the late 70s/early 80s. To the right, and in the below picture, you can see the original bridge.

This is part of the awesome history in the Keys. Henry Flagler, a billionaire oil and railroad tycoon, was responsible for building the first railroad through the Keys (amongst a ton of other things). I'll talk more about this later. But this original bridge (below) was built between 1909 and 1912. It was the railroad- can you imagine? Riding a train on this narrow bridge over the water? And it's still standing. In the 1930s, it was converted to a two-lane highway, which is almost even scarier than the idea of it being a railroad, once you see how narrow it is.

This is Pigeon Key, which I'll talk about in the post of our last day in the Keys. Because we went there. :) And it was ridiculously awesome.

So on Tuesday morning we got up and went riding through Marathon, across the Seven Mile Bridge, and into Big Pine Key and No Name Key. These islands were still really flooded- a lot of the roads were covered in water.

There is a type of deer found only in the Florida Keys. They're called Key deer (bet you never would have guessed that one! :). They're like the deer that are so plentiful here in Virginia, except they're a lot smaller. Key deer are like miniature versions of our deer.

Here are a couple of Key deer hanging out in someone's backyard. In the only part of the yard that wasn't flooded.

Key deer are endangered. So the people down there take their deer very seriously. When you get to the National Key Deer Refuge, you start seeing a lot of signs like these.

If you hit and kill a Key deer, there's a $3,500 fine {according to our trolley guide in Key West}. Isn't that crazy?? We drove very slowly.

There are also signs saying: SPEED KILLS KEY DEER. Yes, in capital letters like that. There's even a sign (which I didn't get a picture of) telling how many deer have been killed that year by cars. I think in 2010, it was 108. In 2011, it was 105 so far {that didn't sound like an awful lot to me, but it is, because they estimate there are only between 300 and 700 Key deer in existence}. Apparently they're trying to beat last year's record.

 I think the people who live on this street are doing their part in beating that record.

Another difference between these deer and our deer is that Key deer aren't scared of humans. They walk around like they own the place. They are not spastic, running and jumping out from the edge of the road. They stroll along very casually.

This cute deer appears to be eating a banana. But he's not. It's a yellow leaf, okay?

{Off topic, but my family had a very serious discussion on the drive down the interstate about banana peels. My mom had eaten a banana and wanted to throw the peeling out in the woods on the side of the road. It is biodegradable, after all. But we convinced her that if she through out that peeling, someone, somehow, would slip up and fall on it. Mostly likely an elderly person. She waited and found a trash can at our next stop.}

Last time we were in the Keys, we stumbled upon this little pizza place while driving around. We wanted to eat there again this time, and we remembered generally where it was. We were riding along looking for it, and my dad was saying, "Now, are we going to be able to find this place again?" About that time, there it was. No Name Pub.

This is a quirky pub and pizza place that's sitting amongst houses and little backroads. It's really impossible to give someone directions for how to get there. You just have to find it.

It's a dark little place lit by the few windows and neon lights, where the tables and chairs are wood and they give you Styrofoam plates to eat your pizza off of. They advertise as having the best pizza in the known universe. It is really good.

Oh, and the walls and ceiling are covered in tens of thousands of dollar bills marked with drawings, doodles, people's names, and hometowns.

My brother contributed the dollar to represent our family, and we all signed it.

He is constantly draping his arm around me for pictures: he does this because it drives me crazy. So this is his I-know-this-makes-her-mad smirk, and my if-he-doesn't-move-his-arm-I'm-going-to-slug-him smirk.

Then we stopped at the Blue Hole. It's an old rock quarry that is now filled with fresh water- it's the only fresh water "lake" in the Keys {there is virtually no fresh water in the Keys. All of the fresh water has to be sent in from the mainland}.

The trees are brown and charred because a controlled burn got out of control. It actually looked really pretty though- like fall, sort of.

The Blue Hole has all sorts of animals living nearby, including alligators. Unfortunately, all we saw were birds, fish, and turtles.

The next two vacation posts are my favorite days and full of pictures.

Coming up: Days 4 and 5, or The Day It Stormed and Finally, Sun! (Key West).

Previous posts: Day 1, and Day 2.

Until next time,

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Apparently I'm very weak-willed when it comes to Christmas. And Christmas music.

I have this rule that I won't start listening to Christmas music until November 1st. I always try to do that because you can have too much of a good thing, and I don't want to be tired of Christmas tunes before December 25th even gets here. :)

Last year I held off until the second week in November.

This year I failed. I bought the Michael Buble Christmas album on Tuesday and listened to it yesterday. Technically, my mom convinced me to put it in while I was dusting (I was in a cleaning mood, which is a rare occurrence). She practically twisted my arm until I gave in! *cough*

So there's no going back now. My She & Him Christmas album will be here tomorrow and I'm going to bring out my other holidays CDs as well. I can't help myself.

{P.S. Even though it feels wrong to listen to Christmas music before my annual viewing of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!, I don't feel so guilty when I remind myself that Christmas is less than 2 months away! How on earth did that happen? By the way, I love the Michael Buble CD.}

I'm also weak-willed when it comes to chocolate. And this week I discovered Nutella. Oh my goodness, how did I not know about this stuff before?

But it's bad, because now there is a legitimate way to eat chocolate for breakfast. So I've decided that I can use Nutella for dessert only.

{Who knew that chocolate on multi grain bread would be so amazing?}

Until next time,

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Florida Keys {Day 2: Continental Inn & Sunset Park}

Sunday was a beautiful day. But Monday morning, as we left Cape Canaveral and started heading south, the rain started. My dad and brother had to buy trash bags and duck tape and tape up all of our luggage so it wouldn't get wet in the back of the truck. {They said the cashier asked them who made them mad. I guess it did look a little suspicious. :)}

You probably already know this, but I thought I'd throw it in just in case you didn't. :) A little background information so some of the things I mention in my vacation posts will make sense! The Keys are a group of islands that extend past the southernmost point of Florida. The Keys are so close to the equator that the weather is tropical and warm for most of the year.

The foundation of the islands is pretty much a coral reef. The reef is all around the islands, so there are no real waves, like you think about at the beach, because the reef stops them. And because waves are what bring in sand and create beaches, most of the traditional-looking beaches in the Keys are man made. The water is a beautiful, clear aqua color, not at all like the murky NC and SC beaches I was used to.

The Keys are famous for snorkeling, diving, fishing, and relaxing. The whole atmosphere of the islands is supposed to be laid back and easy going. The Keys are also full of history, which I love. :)

There are five main Keys or groups of Keys. Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine Key (and lots of surrounding islands), and Key West.

There will be a pop quiz at the end of class. :)

We finally arrived at our hotel at Marathon on Monday afternoon. Marathon is a wonderful place to stay! It's right in the middle of the Keys, so you're not awfully far from Key West or Key Largo. Plus it's more of a homey, family-oriented place than some of the others.

We stay at a hotel called the Continental Inn, in Key Colony Beach, Marathon. We found this place the first time we went to the Keys, back in 2007 or 2008. We found it online and weren't sure what to expect. But it was so lovely that I can't imagine staying anywhere else! There are a lot of one-bedroom condos, and only two two-bedroom ones. We stay in a two-bedroom one so that we're not cramped up. :)

Here's a little glimpse of what would be our home for a week:

There are two bedrooms like this.

With a little deck/balcony.

Our living area. I spend many hours in the evening reading on that couch. :)

Dining area.

The kitchen. My family loves to eat- can you tell? We had just been on a grocery run, but we bought a lot of food from home, too.

This is our beach at the hotel. There is a sandy area for sitting, and tiki huts with grills and picnic tables. And just beyond those round light things is a sea wall, and steps leading down to the ocean. Sometimes the water comes up to the bottom of the stairs, and sometimes you have a narrow sandy stretch.

Cloudy, stormy skies. You won't believe the difference between this and the end of the week. :)

See, this is the wall, as seen while standing on the actual beach in the water.

This is my brother pretending he's on Survivor.

This is the pool. The hotel is in a u-shape, and the pool is in the middle. I'm not quite sure why anyone wants to use it with the gorgeous ocean so close!

The rain stopped in the afternoon in enough time for us to get some pictures and go out to a local place for supper {the Cracked Conch Cafe- good food but a little expensive, and the lady working there was not very friendly, to be honest}.

About this time, we really started to realize just how much rain they had gotten over the past few days. This was our parking lot:

It was useless to wear any kind of shoes, except maybe rubber boots (which we left at home) or flip flops. And sometimes it just made more sense to go barefoot when we were just going to be around the hotel and nearby park.

The birds liked it, anyway.

This is Sunset Park, and it's right near our hotel. Obviously, it's a beautiful place to watch the sunset over the water. They have weddings here- the last time we were here, we saw people leaving from one. There are benches and a little dock and it's just a neat place. Even when it's underwater.

This gives you a faint idea of how beautiful the water can be. Blue and clear like pool water.

Sunset Park from the dock.

Coming up: Day 3, or The $3,500 Deer and the Best Pizza in the Known Universe!

Previous posts: Day 1.

Until next time,