Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Colleen vs. Starbucks, Round One

In so many ways, I am just like Elly.  Elly's thoughts and fears are my own. Elly's experiences so often mirror my own, only they are greatly exaggerated, as is Elly.   One thing that I share with Elly without exaggeration is our mutual love for hot chocolate.

I'm not a coffee drinker. I can handle coffee ice cream and that's about it.  Therefore, when I visit coffee shops - which is a lot since that's primarily where I work - I'm all about the hot chocolate.  Caribou's hot chocolate is perfect every time.

 Not only do they make theirs absolutely delicious with a choice of chocolates (white: NO THANKS EVER, milk: yes please, or dark: if I'm feeling like a caffeine jolt), but they always taste the same: yummy. Warm and yummy.  I vastly prefer Caribou, but Caribou unfortunately has not invaded Colorado in the same way that Starbucks has.

Sadly, Starbucks hot chocolate is not like this.  Their hot chocolate never tastes the same.

Sometimes it's delicious.
Sometimes it's just okay.
Sometimes it's like the barista just steamed some milk and poured it in a cup.
Sometimes it tastes like a cocoa bean that was set on fire and left to die.
Sometimes it's so bitter, it's like licking a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips.
Sometimes it tastes more like a hot vanilla instead of a hot chocolate.
Sometimes they put caramel in it, just because they want to see me spit it over the steering wheel.

It can be all these things, but the main thing it that it can never ever taste the same as the last time I had it.

Today was the last straw. LittleM and I left for Advent service about an hour before we needed to, so I had some time to kill. I meandered my way over to church, and yay! I had time for a Starbucks run through and a gift-card to pay for it!  I got my hot chocolate and went on my merry way. The truth about parenting is that it's totally wonderful and a blessing but sometimes just sipping something warm is like a little minute for yourself where you go "Ah, there you are. You're aren't just someone who wipes poop all day."

When we got to church, I finally took a sip and about spit it out. It was worse than all the previous incarnations of the drink. The entire thing tasted burned. The chocolate was bitter. I think it was made with water and not milk. It was hot, bittersweet water. Thanks Starbucks!

I had Ryan taste it just to be sure, and he was like "Take it back! This is ridiculous." And so I did.  Armed with my best "Can I talk to the manager" face (channeling Kate Goseling!), I marched into the Starbucks and politely asked to talk to a supervisor.

I did, and she was super nice. I was polite but thorough.

Me: "I just went through the drive-thru here and this hot chocolate is absolutely terrible. I get hot chocolates all the time at Starbucks and to be honest, they never taste the same. They are anywhere from good to terrible and I just don't understand. When I get one at Caribou, they are always good and always taste exactly the same. They use steamed milk, just like you guys. Could you maybe tell me how specifically to order this drink so that's its not terrible half the time?"

Her: "Well, it depends on the barista."

Me: "Okay, but I'm guessing that if I get a eggnog latte, it's made the same every time, so why is the hot chocolate so hard to get right?"

Her: "We've always had a problem with the hot chocolates. It's something we are aware of."

Me: "Why isn't there like a standard way of making it?"

Her: "Again, it just depends on the barista and how they are feeling that day. They probably forget to add vanilla to it. Or they burn the milk. Or forget the number of chocolate squirts."

Me: (Trying not to laugh because she legit just said chocolate squirts.)

Her: "How about I make you a new one and you tell me if you like it."

Me: "Okay."

*I wait. Enter 80's montage music and me checking Instagram and looking at mugs with hot air balloons on them.*

I take a sip. "Yeah, that's pretty good."

Her: "Okay, so when you go through the drive-thru, make sure you tell them to add a shot of vanilla, mix it well and then add extra mocha pumps. Sometimes they just forget and then it's nasty, I totally agree."

Me: "I still don't understand why the drink can't just be made the same way every time. Why should I have to tell your workers how to make this??"

Her: "I don't know. It's frustrating. Here's some free drink coupons."

So, that was round one. I'm going to give them a couple of more chances (After all, I have free drink coupons now!), but after that if it's not shaping up, I'm done.

I know you are wondering: Colleen, why did you pick to blog about such a fascinating encounter?

My answer is Elly understands.

(For the record, the best hot chocolate I've ever had is at the BookBar Downtown.)

Friday, December 12, 2014

Goodbye to a Home

When we moved out of our townhome into our first house,  I felt no sadness- only excitement at buying our first home.  I had no real emotional connection to the townhome, in fact when I think back on it, all I can think is "Did we really live there? We didn't, right? That's weird that we lived there."    This house is different. This house has SO many memories, every room, every hallway. It's steeped in them.

When we bought this house it was a train-wreck. We bought it as a foreclosure, and the previous owners had trashed the house and not done any repairs for the entire time they lived there.  The floors were dark green tile from Loki's Dungeon. The kitchen had three levels of wallpaper - three! - including one that was brick that gave me short-lived spasms of joy before I realized that it was indeed just another layer of wallpaper.  The bathroom was nasty. The entire interior of the top level had been painted terra cotta, making the entire place dark and gloomy. The carpet was gross. The deck was falling apart. The front of the house had dead grass - barely weeds, really- and the entire front of the house was covered with a mass of spider bushes that we coined "The Rape Bushes" as they were perfect for waiting for someone, grabbing them and taking them into the house. 

Those were the first things to go. Then we added new floor and painted every single wall. My Dad helped us redo the bathroom, bathtub, walls and sink. The entire thing is new.

(PS: Ryan threw up on that shower curtain and now it's Karen's tablecloth. It's been washed.)

We added ceiling fans, new lights and pictures to the wall.  We redid the kitchen, something that I would recommend hiring someone to do if you ever have the chance because it took FOREVER.

Thanks to Ryans our hard work, our kitchen ended up being perfect. (And look at this cutie patotie in it!)

Our rooms were constantly changing. The guest room became a nursery (which sat empty for years, not empty now, hooray!).  My office became the guest room, and the man cave became the guest room, and then became the office.  I arranged and rearranged the furniture. I know every creak and crack of this house, from the way the furnace sounds like someone breaking into the garage to which spot in the nursery creaks the loudest. (It's the one I step on when LittleM is sleeping.)

More important than bricks and drywall though, are the memories we've made in this house:  our first home together.  Here are some of them:

Friends! We've made lots of memories with friends in this house and though I would love to post them all, I can't, otherwise this blog would be crazy long.


Hey, remember when I had a florist and all my friends worked for me? I did that all from this house. The garage was full of flowers and the consultation room full of brides. This was the perfect house for Oakes Fields, and I will forever be grateful for what that business did for our family (Enabled me to write, paid for most of our adoption, empowered me to work for myself.)

Parties: We've had so many parties in this house.
Halloween parties: (For the record, those themes have been: TV characters, movie characters, famous dead people, heroes and villains.)

Swap parties:

Wedding Showers:

Baptism Celebrations:

Cookie Exchanges:

And much more. We even had an Oakes-Con here!

This was the house when we got Moxie, such a little puppy who could cause so much terror. Still, she really was the cutest puppy ever and this was a great house for that little hellion.

We have celebrated so many holidays in this house. I'm not sure I'll ever find a house that showcases our amazing Christmas tree as well as this one, with it's gorgeous bay window.

 We've had so many visitors to this house from out-of-town who have graced us with their presence, their friendship and their love. It's been a good house to have guests in.

Even if we do force them to play board games.

All these memories are so beautiful to me - I  will treasure them up in my heart like morsels of gratitude for this house. It has sheltered us, warmed us, held us when we felt like just giving up on our dream of being a larger family.  It was a safe place.

But we shouldn't have doubted. God had one more surprise in store for us in this house....

We brought our son home here. This is the only home he has ever known.  Every breath and cry has been had in within these walls, these walls that had seen so much desire and felt so much grace and redemption at his arrival.  These walls have heard my desperate cries to be a mother and my laughs of delight when God finally blessed us with the gift of a child, the coolest child EVER.

 And what a wonderful home it has been for him. My best and most important memory of this house will be that this was the house where we finally became a family of three.

As we pack up our home, I have so many feelings about leaving.  I'm excited about our new home and ready to leave this one behind. I could write another blog about what I won't miss, but that seems sort of cruel to our little blue dollhouse.  I'll miss the way I can watch a snowstorm from our front window, or how we can see fireworks from the roof. I'll miss our weird neighbor who walks cats on a leash. I'll miss seeing the pear tree bloom pink in the spring, the pear tree that we planted when we moved in.  

But the good news is, everything that really matters is coming with me.

Thank you little blue house. 
You've done perfectly.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Marshmallows and Manuscripts with Author Paul Hoppe


 It's the time of year when you pop open the cabinet, reach for the Swiss Miss Dark Chocolate mix, fill your mug with marshmallows and happily settle in with a book. (Currently I'm reading Still Alice, our book club book.)  Therefore, it seemed like the perfect time to do an edition of Marshmallows and Manuscripts, this time with Author Paul Hoppe, who is the author of more than seven novels, and is also an illustrator.  I've read The Curse of the Van Gogh, and I loved it. This man knows his thrillers and his art. Enjoy!

Paul, tell us about your most recent novel. Why should a reader pick it off the shelf? (Or download it, as is probably the case.)
1-Thriller, about the greatest art heist in history…gone horribly wrong (if you like thrillers).
2- Reads very fast. As a former Hollywood screenwriter pacing is crucial. Perfect for a plane ride.
3- Great cover!

At what point in your life did you know you wanted to be a writer, and at what point in your life did you actually become a writer?
Originally, I wrote movie/music reviews for my college newspaper as a way to get free tickets. It didn’t occur to me to take it seriously until I met a writer named Jesse Kornbluth, who encouraged me to get serious about it.  On a dare from a friend I wrote a screenplay, which sucked. My third attempt landed me a deal with Disney pictures.

What is your favorite quote about writing?  What is the weirdest thing anyone has ever said to you about your books?
Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.
- William Faulkner

Weirdest Thing: “Is that you on the cover?”

How did you end up publishing the way you did? 
I published a YA title, Travis And Freddy’s Adventures in Vegas, through Penguin/Dutton. I felt completely lost inside the behemoth that is Penguin. So I decided to investigate the smaller, independent publishing houses. After extensive research I decided on Spark Press. They offered the best team, and smartest strategies for my book, which is the first in a series of art thrillers.

There's a famous quote by George R.R. Martin. that says, "A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one."  When a reader picks up your book, what life will they be living?
Number 101 Gentleman Thief

 What three books have inspired your writing the most and why?
Twain (anything). Pure genius.
King Lear  Bill Shakespeare Crazy crazy characters.
The Fools in Town Are On Our Side   Ross Thomas

At what point in your books did you connect with a character on a deeper level? Where did it take that character?
When Tyler Sears (book’s hero) decides to take his brother fishing. For me it’s the most gut wrenching part of the book.

What were the logistical and emotional challenges in writing your book (s)?
Time. A writer is ALWAYS late to the finish line.

Your book is made into a movie. What do the opening credits look like?
As a former screenwriter I hope it would say:
Screenplay: Paul Hoppe
Based on the novel, The Curse Of Van Gogh. Paul Hoppe

If you could claim any other book as your own, what book would it be?
Beautiful Ruins
The Gold Finch

When distraction is calling, how do you stick to your writing process? What does that look like?
Writing is 90% procrastination 10% sheer panic. I live in panic.

Where can readers find out more about you? (Social Media Links)
Facebook Author Page:
Twitter: @paulhoppeauthor

 Thank you Paul!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

50 Shades of Greige

Definitely one of my favorite things about moving is picking paint colors.  When we first moved into the house we are in now, it was my first chance to pick paint colors. I was timid, and while I picked some brighter colors, I had some restrictions. I also was swayed by names. I will never make that mistake again (cough, cough, Lavender Sparkle).

The last few weeks I've been wasting a lot of time on Pinterest narrowing down paint colors for the new home.  If everything goes according to the legal signed documents that are now filed, ( though never say never, that's what we learned last time, the hard way, the worst way), we should take possession of our new home on December 29th.    We are so excited, making grand plans for rooms that will probably never come to fruition.

One thing that is for certain though, is paint. We will be painting before we move in.  The rooms for sure that will be painted before we move in are LittleM's room (currently a mint with peach accents), and our room (currently a rose pink).  If we have enough painters (friends?), we might just be able to knock out the entryway and living room as well.

And now...for the paint colors.  You can find all my pins and the blogs that inspired me on this Pinterest board.

Our new home is a tri-level, with a open entryway/ formal living room that segues naturally into the kitchen and then down another level to an entertainment room. (A fancy way of saying the room you watch Game of Thrones in.)

PS - I wish these pictures were of my actual house. Downgrade the amazingness of these pictures by like 100 percent, and then you can imagine our little house with these colors.

For the main entryway and formal living room (and also dining room), we will be using Sherwin Williams Perfect Greige.


I love this perfect mix of grey and beige.  I could seriously paint every single room in my house grey. It's a problem. My bedroom might not be 50 Shades of Grey, but my house definitely could be.  This color is perfect, since it's more of a neutral than the cool grey that I like, but it still encompasses the color that I love to work with. (And matches the furniture we don't own yet.)  This color will carry up into the hallways as well.  I am not looking forward to buying 900 gallons of it.

For the entertainment room, which carries off of the room above, I am going to use  Sherwin Williams Kilim Beige.  It's warmer than the Perfect Greige, but it will go really well with it.  The entertainment room has gorgeous Wainscoting, which we will be painting white. It will really set off this pretty beige. It's neutral, nothing exciting, but the room is small and tight, and it's perfect for cozying up. We will also have black accents in that room, and I think the color of this paint lends itself well to blacks and espressos.  (As far as I know, white TV's are still not a thing.)

The kitchen I'm not sure about yet - probably we will just use the Perfect Greige in that room as well (901 gallons), but we will have to see more when we move in just how that looks. The kitchen has pretty cherry cabinets and I could see a number of colors looking good. There just isn't a lot to paint - there is a backsplash already in place and a huge opening from the kitchen to the formal living room and the entertainment room, so it seems like using one of the other colors would be best.

LittleM's room: this will be the first room we paint.  I debated a long time about what paint colors to use here, but it came down to that I wanted a color that would transition with him as he ages. Right now, it looks good with a lot of baby and toddler decor. Later, it needs to match Star Wars stuff, since I know and love my husband and we all know that's coming.  Also, it should look good with little boy bedding, like dark hunter greens and navy.  I ended up settling on Sherwin Williams North Star.

It's just the right mix of blue and grey. I think I am most excited about this color.

 For our bedroom, we did just decide to paint it grey. Again.  It's very calming and we just love having a grey bedroom!  The paint color we agreed on is Benjamin Moore Revere Pewter. It's cooler and sharper than the grey we have now, which will be a nice change. We also have wainscoting in the bedroom, so that will be a NICE pop of color, especially once I add a ridiculously bright bedspread.

I am also VERY intrigued by these black doors. Could we pull that off?

Speaking of, guess what color I will be painting OUR front door? 

Hale Navy! (Did you guess? Probably not.)

The exterior of our home is a subtle olive green, and I think the navy will just pop that door right out.

Last of all, the guest bedroom and MY office - I have my own room! It's going to be amazing!  This is super boring, but I am actually very curious if I can do two shades of white. I would love to get some crazy bright accents and a fun bedspread up in there. I was very inspired by this picture:

We even have a black iron bedframe, so it's possible! Also, since that is my office, that's where I will be writing most of the time.  I find that I work well in white areas - it wakes me up, makes me feel like I'm at an office and not sitting in my pajamas.

I think I am leaning towards Swiss Coffee and White Chocolate, probably because they sound like desserts, but also because I just love their hues. Who says all white paints have to be the same?

Those are all the paint colors I have for now.   The two bathrooms will be where I will be more experimental with my paint colors.  I'm thinking of mints, reds, corals even - I'm losing my mind even thinking about it!  Does anyone else have any favorite paint colors to recommend?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A Myriad of Good Things

Thanksgiving was blessedly low-key this year. LittleM rocked his daddy-inspired sweater and tie, leading Ryan to exclaim many times: "I wish I had HIS outfit on!"  He did look pretty classic, like the kind of man that knows how to order a Scotch.


I made an incredible Pinterest recipe for green bean casserole that turned out delicious, but only reinforced my assessment that I will never ever be able to make bacon. It's a skill I will never possess, and I had to throw away an entire pan of bacon because it was all covered with cooked parchment paper and tasted like licking a shampoo bottle. Martha Stewart, your unclear directions were not appreciated.   I knew I should have just texted Katie.

We've been really struggling lately with an overload of busyness in our family.  Ryan and I have both felt stretched too-thin the last month as we prepare to move - between parenting, jobs, church and social commitments, it has been nutso month, and I couldn't be more glad to bid November goodbye. It was the month we sold and bought a house, traveled, worked and made some VERY big decisions for our family. This picture sums up our life in November, me napping with a baby on my chest, dressed in my work uniform, terrible hair and God-only-knows what he has in his hands, but it looks like a choking hazard, just saying.

December by comparison is going to be a walk-in-the-park. Not really, it's going to be crazy, but crazy in that good Christmas way, not the bad crazy. I'm okay with lots of parties, sparkly lights, Advent services, Christmas cookies and reasons to get dressed up.

Last week, LittleM and I ventured out to the Flatirons Mall, which has the BEST playarea for kids. It is an area to be conquered, as you can see by LittleM's defiant stance.


 I've tried the Cherry Creek one and can I just say - NEVER AGAIN. It was absolutely bananas. The Flatirons one is just the right size for him, without the panic of a stampede of youngsters wearing tiny J.Jill outfits.  I grabbed some pictures at the playarea - this one is my favorite, because it reminds me "Where The Wild Things Are". Rawwwrrr...

LittleM is doing this new thing where he goes up to kids and knocks on their head, similar to how we've taught him to knock on doors. I think he is trying to say hello, but it's still NOT GREAT. I never thought my kid would be THAT kid, the kid rapping his knuckles against some baby's head.  I am all over that, but I'm sure my face is beet red when I swoop him up with a litany of apologies.  At least one of the moms said to me, "It's okay, he's so young, he doesn't know what he's doing", and that made me feel better, but I also feel mortified.  The good news is that he only raps on the heads of boys - little girls he greets with a hug. That's good...right?  Right?  We have a toddler. It's weird and awesome.

After the playarea, we shopped around getting some Christmas presents for the husband and the sister. Then I came home and found a little Christmas present for myself on my doorstep - three Doterra oils!!

Peppermint, Lavender and Lemon, the "Physicians Trio" from Sarah. I've always been pretty interested in homeopathic drugs, and I see stuff about the oils everywhere (And by everywhere, I mean Pinterest and Facebook.)  I was so excited to try them - and they came just in time since the entire family came down with a nasty sinus infection at the same time when we got back from Nebraska. I put the oil everywhere - I made Ryan rub some on his sore throat, I put drops in LittleM's humidifier, dotted my pillows with some lavender, put a few drops in a water glass for myself - I was oil-riffic. While I can't say exactly what healed and when, I will say that the oils really seemed to help LittleM sleep through the night, and we all seemed to perk up the next day. I wouldn't say I'm a believer, but I will be ordering some new ones I think, probably after Christmas. .  You can check out Sarah's page for oils here.
I've been using them all over the place, and will soon use them in our new house

When we live in our new house!!
We are getting a new house!!
We will not live in this house for much longer!

Apparently I'm pretty excited about this.  Excited enough to write an entirely new blog about it down the road.

We had book club last week, at Karen's house, hooray! I love Karen's house - every single nook and cranny has something bright, crafty and beautiful.  Or, as her blog was once called "Thrifty, Crafty, Fun!"  Our book was A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip, or, as it was called by different members: "Radiant Sun", "A Piece of Film-sun", "A Radiant Second."   No one could quiet get a handle on the name.   The book was about a super hilarious and super awkward kid named Kevin who is bullied at school. It definitely triggered an opening of my own memories from middle school which were the worst years of my life, no joke.  Those scars run deep. (Courtney, Hillary, Holly - you know what you did - remember when you made me wish I was a turtle?? A pox on you forever.)

We all came to the same conclusion after a fun discussion, which I typed on Karen's typewriter, which is a running commentary on what happens in the Groves house. (One of my favorite snippets ever was something like: "Laurel took her first steps today!" followed by "TO HELL with carbon fiber.")


  I think we can probably all agree that this perhaps the most truest thing that has ever been typed on an old-fashion typewriter.  And...I think that's it for the late November wrap-up! Like I said, all good things, even in the busyness. I'll be returning shortly to the blog - after I emerge from a fog of boxes, hangars, wrapping tape and Greek Yogurt - to dish all the details with you about the new house.

Two words: Navy Door.
One more: Pergola.

So excited.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Book Reviews: Not That Kind of Girl, The Snow Child and Friendship

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham:
When I picked up this book, I was hoping for so many things: I was hoping that it would be just like Mindy Kaling's book. I was hoping it would capture the same feelings for me that watching Girls does: a hunger to watch more, maybe not in my best interest. Watching Girls is like watching a train-wreck - You can't look away, but at the same time, wonder if you should.  I had hoped that this book would paint a clear and brilliant picture of Lena Dunham. As an author, and as a woman who loathes her own twitter account, I am both intrigued and put-off by Dunham.  She's a little too smart, a little too crazy, a little too much like myself at my low times.  In the extras on Girls, she seems very in control of her career and her life, very unlike the Hannah-mess she portrays in Girls.

Sad news: this book only confirmed my worst fears about Dunham; she is JUST like Hannah. Over-analytical, a hot mess, the type of person who assigns the deepest meaning to the most meaningless events, Dunham barrels through this book (and her own life) fearlessly, like a toddler out of control, overtired and furious.  On on hand, it's brave to write about the unflattering years of your youth. On the other hand, this book really needed an editor who was brave enough to cut out the sometimes repetitive stories and endlessly sad sexual anecdotes and put the rest of the book into a logistical order.  There were times when I laughed out-loud, there were times I thought about throwing the book into a fire.  I appreciate her commentary on tonsil stones (I have them too!) and loved her wielding of colorful language when she leapt off a cliff into a lake in a moment of youthful stupidity and glory. When she was good, she was really good. 

 When I closed the book, I had no more answers about Dunham than I did before.  She remains a mystery; an intriguing, discombobulated voice of a generation that I can't stop listening to, even if I don't always want to hear.  Part of being an adult is knowing that while you may disagree with a person whole-heartedly, it doesn't mean you can't appreciate their art.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey:
Could the authors name be any more magical?  Not only does she have the name of an elven ice queen, but this book was the most delicious, wondrous little treat, my favorite of the books listed by far. I fell hard into it, totally losing myself in the myth and the wonder of this fairy tale for grown-ups.  The descriptions of this ice-cold Alaskan forest are so keen and crisp that I can feel the ice cracking between my teeth. Ivey weaves a beautifully epic tale of love, loss and magic, and leaves the reader never quite sure which area they are in at any given time. The characters were fleshed out and real, the landscape harsh and chilling, and the Snow Child...well, she will leave you breathless with her beauty and her brutally sad story. It's a story about marriage, friendship, and the fact that love doesn't always look the way you want it to.  This is the perfect read to welcome the holiday season, tucked safely under a blanket as you lose yourself in this unflinchingly lovely story.  When you open it's pages, its a small wonder that whorls of snow don't come tumbling out. 


  Friendship by Emily Gould:
Your conversations with your girlfriends were NEVER this dicey. Meet Amy and Bev, two terrible people and even worse friends to each other.  As they stumble their way through a life that is both ridiculously easy and terribly hard at the same time, we get to watch as they grow as individuals - and apart as friends. Emily Gould has obviously experienced both the decline of the adult female friendship and has experience working in the new world of content and blogs and - does this all even mean ANYTHING-ness.  I admired Bev and loathed Amy by the books end, but its safe to say that I loved the book through and through.  The plot is very lose and easy, with nothing big at stake, but that's why it's perfect. Female friendships are complicated and as we grow into adulthood, those friendships are routinely tested, the source of much happiness and stress.  There was a moment in the book where I actually clapped for Bev and said "That a girl!" Anti-heroines are hard to do without the reader turning sharply on the author, but I personally would love be Emily Gould's friend.

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