Getting Personal #51: December Goals Recap


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December was a complete blur. Happy New Year’s Eve, everyone!

Here’s the link to my December Goals post:


Here we go!

  1. Decorate for Christmas. – Accomplished!
  2. Fully clean up / clean out the attached garage. – Semi-achieved.
  3. Enjoy several holiday parties! – Accomplished!
  4. Donate blood. – Accomplished!
  5. Create our budget for 2017. – Semi-achieved.
  6. Help either a child or a family have a good Christmas. – Accomplished!
  7. See Rogue One: A Star Wars Story! – Accomplished!
  8. Make peppermint bark. – Accomplished!

Here’s the breakdown:

Decorate for Christmas – Accomplished!

  • We bought our first Christmas tree! We enjoyed decorating it together. It’s been such a pretty addition to our living room.

Photo Credit: Al Vardaro

Fully clean up / clean out the attached garage. – Semi-achieved.

  • This is something that’s still a work in progress. We were able to clean out several boxes and find places for some more kitchen items, DVDs, etc. However, we still have a ways to go before it’s completely clean.

Enjoy several holiday parties! – Accomplished!

  • We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves at Amanda and Dan’s party on Saturday, December 3rd. I got so wrapped up in playing Exploding Kittens and Cards Against Humanity, that we didn’t leave until 11:45 p.m.!
  • Al’s company holiday party was Friday, December 9th. It was a good time, with a Hollywood theme. Al even won a brand-new FitBit Alta!
  • Later tonight, we’ll gather to celebrate New Year’s and Al’s co-worker Kathryn’s birthday! We’ve really enjoyed getting together with her, her husband Tim, and other friends to ring in the New Year! I don’t know about you, but I’m beyond ready for 2017 to begin!

The selfie we took toward the end of the night at Bauer’s Christmas Party.

Donate blood. – Accomplished!

  • I crushed the hemoglobin test with a reading of 13.1 – Women need at least 12.5 to qualify to give. I was so excited! Plus, my favorite phlebotomist, Spencer, was there. He always makes my giving experience pleasant!

Create our budget for 2017. – Semi-achieved.

  • We started the spreadsheet. I’ve been playing catch-up with our 2016 sheet, cataloging receipts for days.
  • Note to self for 2017: Get envelopes and file receipts immediately, and then catalog at month’s end!

Help either a child or a family have a good Christmas. – Accomplished!

  • Just days after making my December Goals post, a friend from college put out a call to for help. She wanted to help a former student of hers and her family have a good Christmas.
  • I went shopping for the two girls, ages 12 and 15. I thoroughly enjoyed buying some horses with hair they could style and brush, along with a pair of jeans and two sweaters apiece.
  • I wrapped everything up and met Amy for lunch in Hampton on Monday, December 19th. She was so appreciative! My heart was full.
  • On Monday, December 26th, Amy sent a Facebook message that had a photo of the girls and their mom, all smiles. It was a fantastic Christmas for them, and they were overflowing with gratitude and appreciation. It felt awesome to contribute.

See Rogue One: A Star Wars Story! – Accomplished!

  • Al and I first saw it in XD at our local Cinemark theater on Thursday, December 15th. It was very good. The theater was buzzing with excitement and the atmosphere was awesome.
  • Then, our friend Drew came down to stay with us that Friday. We saw it at Paragon Theaters in Newport News on Saturday, December 17th. It was good to see it again – There were things that I had definitely missed the first time around.
  • I will admit, although it was very good, The Force Awakens still has my heart.
  • Cannot wait for Episode VIII!

Make peppermint bark – Accomplished!

  • Here’s the recipe I used: Almost-Famous Peppermint Bark
  • The hardest part was standing up for nearly an hour to melt both kinds of chocolate. However, judging by the look and smell from last night, it’s gonna be delicious.

Final Thoughts

  • I was able to put Accomplished next to 6 out of 8 goals. Hooray!!
  • The two goals that were Semi-Achieved: The weekends this month were exceptionally busy this month, and I wasn’t as diligent on weeknights as I would have liked to be.

Did you have any goals for December?

Come back tomorrow to see my goals for January!

Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #25: “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just Us Girls: 101 Stories about Friendship for Women of All Ages”


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“Friendship is the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words.”

~George Eliot

My beautiful friend, Diana, gave me this wonderful book one Sunday at church. I couldn’t wait to start reading it!

I’ve been collecting the Chicken Soup books ever since I was in elementary school. I think I have at least 20 of them at my parents’ house!

Just Us Girls was published in 2013, and I was excited to read some new stories. I love how these books are anthologies, and feature both new writers and past ones. I even read the writer biographies at the end!

I found that I was reading through the stories so quickly, that I had to force myself to stop reading almost every night so I could get adequate sleep.

A majority of these stories featured moms struggling to find friends when they were staying at home with their child or children. I can’t identify with that right now (Not yet, but hopefully I will be able to do that), but reading their stories made me smile, and gave me hope. All the stories contain a good dose of inspiration, and definitely laughter. It was very hard to suppress my laughter some nights while Al was asleep next to me.

Receiving this book made me want to go to my parents’ house and pick up the rest of my Chicken Soup books. I can’t wait to put all of them on my big bookcase in my office, some day soon.

I sincerely think they’re aptly named – They’re delicious, heartwarming, and each volume leaves you feeling full again.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Tag #15: “I Dare You Book Tag”

I found this tag on Thrice Read!

Here’s the link to their post:

They found it on Marie’s Library. The original creator is Lena.

The Rules:

  • You must be honest.
  • You can’t not answer a question.
  • You have to tag at least four people.


Here we go!

Which book has been on your shelves the longest?

Since my book collection is still divided between our house and my parents’ house, I was racking my brain for a while to answer this question. The one that came to mind the quickest was Airport by Arthur Haley.

What is your current read, your last read and the book you’ll read next?

Currently reading: Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy.

Last read: Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just Us Girls: 101 Stories about Friendship for Women of All Ages by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, and Amy Newmark (Book review coming soon!)

Next read: The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.

What book did everyone like, but you hated?

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce.

What book do you keep telling yourself you’ll read, but you probably won’t.

Argh, I hate this question too. At the moment, I want to motivate myself to read Gone With The Wind, but it’s so daggone big!

Which book are you saving for retirement?

Ha! Gone With The Wind is creeping on to that list, as well as all of Hemingway’s works.

Last page: read it first or wait till the end?

Wait until the end!

Acknowledgements : waste of paper and ink or interesting aside?

Definitely not a waste of ink. I think they’re fascinating.

Which book character would you switch places with?

Another hard question. I don’t think anyone’s asked me this one. I consider myself adventurous, so I’d like to switch places with Nancy Drew! That’s the only character that I could think of that I truly admire and who doesn’t get killed!

Do you have a book that reminds you of something specific in your life (a person, a place, a time)?

The American Girl books defined my childhood. I have read and re-read them, and I hope to have them all in my personal library someday. I remember reading Felicity’s stories aloud to my dad, imagining her life in Colonial Williamsburg. Molly’s stories from 1944 have always been my favorite.

Name a book that you acquired in an interesting way.

I love finding books at thrift stores! There’s a local one called the Book Owl that I absolutely love. Before my wedding last year, I randomly walked in one night after work and I found a near-mint copy of The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

Have you ever given away a book for a special reason to a special person?

Not that I can remember. I love recommending books, but I don’t think I’ve ever given away a book to someone.

Which book has been with you the most places?

The Great Gatsby. I re-read it every single year!

Any “required reading” you hated in high school that wasn’t so bad two years later?

  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  • The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare

What is the strangest item you’ve found in a book?

It may not be strange, but I’ve found lots of address labels of the previous owners, usually in the upper left corner of the inside cover. It’s fascinating! I own books that have been owned by people in Virginia, North Carolina, Connecticut, and New York.

Used or brand new?

Either or. I don’t normally buy brand new unless I have a gift card. I was able to buy four brand new books from Barnes & Noble on Friday with a gift card from my parents, and then I went to the Best Thrift store after lunch and found three used books for $5.00.

Have you ever read a Dan Brown book?

Not yet. Funny story – I happened to pick up The Da Vinci Code in paperback on Friday!

Have you ever seen a movie you liked more than the book?


A book that should have NEVER been published

Fifty Shades of Grey.

Have you ever read a book that’s made you hungry, cookbooks excluded?


Who is the person whose book advice you’ll always take?

Melissa Beebe, Lane, Amber.

I Tag:

Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Writing Prompt #38: My Favorite Christmas Music


Image Credit: The Diamondback

Merry Christmas Eve!

Happy Hanukkah!

I woke up this morning feeling inspired to write a post about my favorite Christmas music! I love listening to music this time of year – It always gets me into a festive mood.

This list has a mix of secular songs, carols, and hymns. I hope you enjoy!

“All I Want For Christmas Is You”

Mariah Carey‘s version is my all-time favorite. I certainly can’t sing like her, but I try! It’s one that always makes me excited for the season.

If you haven’t seen the recent mash-up of the song courtesy of James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke, it’s awesome!

“Carol of the Bells”

I love this song. It gives me chills every single time! My parents play handbells at church. That’s my favorite way to hear it, but I love a good string quartet, too.

Here’s a few others that I’ve found:

“Christmas Canon”

Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO) is one of my favorite musical groups of all-time. I was lucky enough to see them perform in 2012 at our local Hampton Coliseum. Since then, I’ve desperately wanted to see them again!

Their spin on Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” is impressive, titled Christmas Canon.

“Christmas Eve / Sarajevo 12/24”

Another classic from TSO. This is one of my top three Christmas songs of all-time, one that I listen to multiple times every single year. It’s stunning!

“Go Tell It on the Mountain”

This is one of those songs that I look forward to singing every year.

“It Came Upon A Midnight Clear”

I remember learning to play this on my viola. I love singing it, but also listening to it.

“Mary, Did You Know?”

Let me tell you, I went crazy for Clay Aiken after he became runner-up on season two of American Idol.

That’s part of the reason I love this song now. His version was just beautiful. I remember receiving his Christmas CD and playing it on repeat.

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”

This music always gives me chills. It’s almost haunting.

I fell in love with this version the minute it started. I think it’s partly because I played piano, and then viola, so anything with piano and strings captures my heart: O come, O come, Emmanuel – (Piano/Cello) – The Piano Guys.

“Silent Night”

Hearing this song always makes me think of the end of Aldersgate’s Christmas Eve services. We all light candles, and the entire sanctuary is darkened as we sing. It’s just a gorgeous scene.

Lindsey Stirling is my girl. She’s amazing! Seeing her in concert at the NorVA a few years ago blew me away. Take a few minutes and listen to her version of Silent Night.

“You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch”

Sung by Thurl Ravenscroft for the 1966 Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas special, I love this song!

Fun Fact: We watched this on TV last night!

However you celebrate the season, I wish all of you many blessings, safe travels, and cherished time with family and friends!

Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #46: How The U.S. and Others Work with Mental Health Issues (Follow-Up to “A 700-Year-Old Haven for Mental Health”)


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Back in October (Wow! Where did the time go?) I wrote a post about the amazing town of Geel, Belgium, and their remarkable approach to mental health and helping those in desperate need of care.

In case you missed it, here’s the link to the original post:

In my original post, I mentioned how I wanted to research how the U.S., other countries, and even other continents approach mental health issues, and how they are addressing them.

Are they like Geel? Or completely different?

It’s taken a long time to compile this research, so bear with me. My eyes have certainly been opened!

Through my research, it’s become clear to me that the United States in particular has a long, long way to go before reaching a place like Geel. Stigma is everywhere. However, I found some encouraging articles and resources.

The Washington Post published an article entitled Three innovative ways to address mental health issues in June 2014. This article focused primarily on children’s mental health, but this is as equally important, if not more so, to devote time and resources as adult mental health.

Published through Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, the web page titled Community Recovery in the United States was intriguing. There are established programs modeled after Geel in the U.S., but only in certain states. This makes me wonder if there could be community recovery programs eventually established in every state, so that anyone can have access? Granted, this page has not been updated since 2009, but still, I like that these resources have been highlighted.

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Temple University has created a unique Rehabilitation Research and Training Center that focuses on helping those with psychiatric difficulties be independent in their communities: Temple University Collaborative on Community Inclusion of Individuals with Psychiatric Disabilities.

Around the world, there are several organizations that have mental health initiatives. However, there is still much work to be done to help those with mental disorders.

In an article from Wake Forest University in North Carolina from November 2009, Addressing mental-health issues around the world discussed the Mental Health Facilitators (MHF) program that started through a request from the World Health Organization (WHO).

From the Huffington Post in April 2016, Addressing Global Mental Health Challenges and Finding Solutions was a blog post about the author’s work with the International Medical Corps and other non-government organizations (NGOs) to help address these crises all over the world. In 2016, it’s incredibly sad that nine out of 10 that have mental disorders do not receive basic treatment.

Published on August 1, 2016 by the BJPsych Bulletin (Royal College of Psychiatrists, a charity registered in England, Wales, and Scotland), this fascinating article entitled Lessons to be learned from the oldest community psychiatric service in the world: Geel in Belgium was an exploration of the family foster care model that’s worked for so long.

On December 14th, I discovered some encouraging news from my own state of Virginia:

This was published by Richmond news station WRIC.

I read and re-read this article, at least three times. This proposal is full of promise, but it’s just a proposal. Thirty-one million dollars is good chunk of change, but I’m a bit skeptical. I hope it will come to fruition, but it’s going to take time.

I plan to keep following this particular story very closely.

In addition, here are other resources that you may be interested in:

Final Thoughts

It was frustrating and a bit disheartening to write this post, hence why it took so long to finally publish. As someone who has Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), it’s hard to read statistics and stories that show so limited resources, historically, being dedicated to mental health.

However, I’m happy that more attention is being given, and that more organizations are working every single day to make changes. I’m glad there are resources available to many, but it would be nice to see equal resources be available to all. That herculean effort takes time, money, and dedication.

Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Reviews #22, #23, and #24: “The Hunger Games” Trilogy


Image Credit: Scholastic Media Room

“One of the reasons it’s important for me to write about war is I really think that the concept of war, the specifics of war, the nature of war, the ethical ambiguities of war, are introduced too late to children. I think they can hear them, understand them, know about them, at a much younger age without being scared to death by the stories.”

~Suzanne Collins

This is the fourth book from my 2016 Reading Challenge!

I honestly can’t remember the first time I read The Hunger Games, but as soon as I did, I was hooked. I was elated that there was a trilogy, and I couldn’t wait to read all three.

My copy of The Hunger Games is in paperback, but I decided to buy Catching Fire and Mockingjay as hardbacks. I think hardbacks hold up better, in the long run.

I re-read these books for the challenge as voraciously as I had when I first bought them. I think I’ve read the entire trilogy three times now. Katniss’s story just grabs you by the collar and pulls you in within the first few pages.

While preparing this review, I realized that I made a comparison to this trilogy in my book review on the “Divergent” trilogy, published nearly two years ago:

It’s interesting to see how young adult (YA) literature has had its trends over the years. Even more fascinating is how similar The Hunger Games and Divergent are, in terms of structure.

Like the Divergent trilogy, I planned to break down this review into the three books. Here we go!

The Hunger Games


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Like I said earlier, Katniss and her story instantly grabbed me by the collar and pulled me into the world of Panem and its districts. It made me think of war zones, and some of American history. How divided some of our countries are, and how divided our own United States appear to be, too.

Reading her story made me think of courage, honor, family, love, and bravery. I was absolutely appalled at The Hunger Games and how long they had gone on, and how brutal people could be, but at the end, I was left wanting more.

5 out of 5 stars.

Catching Fire


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Picking up at what feels like the moment that The Hunger Games ended, Catching Fire held on to me and never let me go. It was an adrenaline rush the whole time.

This is the one that I powered through the fastest because the story would not let my mind stop to put it down.I detected political waves during the first book, and it became abundantly clear here. We follow Katniss through more tribulations and tragedies than triumphs, but I’ll take it. Like the first book, I couldn’t wait to start the third after finishing this one. Collins has that power that leaves you desperate to find out what happens next.

5 out of 5 stars.



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I’ll admit, the first time I read this book, I absolutely hated it. It was really hard to force myself to get to the end.

The second time through – It was a little easier. I started to understand how important this book was to the overall story. It still wasn’t my favorite book,  and it took longer to read than the other two, but I started to appreciate it more.

This most recent time – I couldn’t put it down. I think part of it is because I started Mockingjay immediately after finishing Catching Fire. I didn’t realize how much of a difference that made until now. The way Collins writes, by the end of Catching Fire, I just couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen to Katniss, Peeta, Gale, and President Snow, among others. There is quite a myriad of characters to keep up with by the time you reach this book, but I think  Collins does a great job of keeping the characters straight. I also appreciated that the narrator was consistent throughout the trilogy, and I didn’t have to deal with multiple narrators.

At the very end, I felt sad. Not because of the book’s ending, but that my journey with the books was actually over. It’s a captivating story, one that Collins created beautifully, with great attention to detail. I felt immersed in the world the entire time. It was hard to get back to reality.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

One more note: I don’t normally do this, but I think this next part is worth mentioning.

I had read all three books once when the movies began to be released. When we first saw The Hunger Games in 2012, I was blown away at how well they had adapted the books to the silver screen. It’s certainly not an easy task to do so, since other book-to-movie adaptations have been criticized. But, I think this trilogy was nearly perfect for movie adaptations, and I think the filmmakers did a great job in doing so. I wasn’t happy that they divided Mockingjay into two parts, and made us wait a WHOLE FREAKING YEAR for Part 2. However, I think it was worth it.

I usually sit and watch them when they come on TV. Plus, these movies made me fall in love with Jennifer Lawrence. I told Al recently that I can totally see why they picked her – She’s a nearly flawless choice.

I highly recommend both!

Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Getting Personal #50: “Tree House, Santa Monica, California” (Reblogged)

Seeing this post yesterday morning made me drift away into whimsical daydreams. Especially since it’s been a wild roller coaster ride of temperatures in Hampton Roads recently. It was chilly on Saturday, then rose to nearly 80 degrees on Sunday, and Monday was frigid and grey all day long.

I love tree houses! I’ve wanted one ever since I was a kid. What about you?

Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Just Wunderlust

Tree House, Santa Monica, California

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