“The Hopefuls” by Jennifer Close

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I was super excited to read The Hopefuls because it’s all about life in Washington, D.C. I live about 70 miles northwest of D.C.,  or “over the mountain,” as us Shenandoah Valley folks call it, so I was looking forward to reading something about a city with which I’m somewhat familiar. The vast majority of people with whom I went to college moved to D.C. after graduation, mainly because of the multitude of jobs, but I always had the feeling I’d despise living there. This book absolutely reaffirms that!

Now, let me be clear: the author certainly never bashes D.C. whatsoever, and neither am I. But, her story vividly describes the intense political and social scene, which really just isn’t my cup of tea. I’ve never been into social status, who’s who, or what’s next on the ladder of success. And I could really give a shit about your impressive sounding title or where you rank on the GS pay scale. But, for the movers and shakers of politics, I guess there is no place quite like “The District!”

I checked this book out from the 7-day rental collection at the library on Saturday. I was so paranoid that I wouldn’t finish by the time it was due, that I spend most of my weekend reading. I ended up finishing in two days! Which is pretty successful for me, as I don’t consider myself the fastest reader. That, in itself, is a testament to how enthralled I became in this book. No library fines for me!

The Hopefuls, by Jennifer Close, begins with Beth and Matt Kelly’s move to D.C. from New York City. Matt is a former employee of the Obama campaign, trying to make a political name for himself and eventually run for office. Beth is an unemployed journalist yearning for her life back in the Big Apple. Not having a career in politics makes Beth feel like an outsider in the District, and she is struggling to find her place to fit in, both socially and professionally.

When Beth and Matt meet Texas-born Ashleigh and Jimmy Dillon, it instantly seems like a match made in double-date heaven. Jimmy works for President Obama’s “advance team” and Ash is somewhat, casually, not really looking for a job herself. Beth and Ash quickly become best friends, despite their many differences and in light of their mutual exclusion from “The Hill.” The women pass their days lounging poolside and exploring the Smithsonian, while Matt and Jimmy rise through the ranks together in the White House.

However, Jimmy’s star soon begins to rise faster than Matt’s, leading to increased pressure amongst the foursome and strained relationships all the way around. The tension reaches its explosion point when Jimmy runs for office in Texas and hires Matt to be his campaign manager.

The Hopefuls was vivid peek into life in the cutthroat world of politics and the emotions of the family members of politicians, who are often unwillingly thrown into the public eye.

While in some places void of true action or drama, The Hopefuls kept my attention and interest throughout with its humor, candor, and relatable characters. I recommend this for a quick and easy read, especially for those of us wanting to know a little bit more about life on “the other side of the mountain.”

4 out of 5 stars.

An Appreciation for Reading

I’ve always considered myself an avid reader. One of my favorite things to do as a child was to go to our local library with my parents and pick out my weekly limit of seven books. My typical lot included plenty of Curious George, Jan Brett, Eric Carl, and Shell Silverstein. I adored the library and was in awe of the millions of books on the shelves, the glass floors, and beautiful spiral staircases leading up to the famous copper dome. Mind you, my local library is probably prettier than yours. Like, unless your public library is That of Congress, I’m willing to put money on mine winning in a beauty contest. See for yourself how easy it is to fall in love:

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I know, right? Who wouldn’t want to get lost in those stacks for hours? The Handley Library in Winchester, Virginia, was built in 1913, thanks to an endowment from Judge John Handley, and is, rightfully so, one of the crown jewels of my small town. Judge Handley also endowed my high school, appropriately named John Handley High School,which is pretty darn impressive itself:

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Anyway, back to my point:

I’m extremely grateful to my parents for instilling in me the value of language and literature at a young age, and encouraging this passion throughout my teenage and early adult years. My grandmother has audio tapes of me reciting original poetry from times she babysat me, before I even knew how to read. I remember being enrolled in half-day kindergarten, but some weeks staying the whole day with first-graders, just to have extra reading time. My parents would read to me every single night before bed, without fail, a tradition we kept up through middle school. My dad and I read the first few Harry Potter books together when I was in the 6th and 7th grades, and to this day I am still awaiting my invitation to Hogwarts.

As I grew older and matured, so did my literary taste. I went through years where I was obsessed with The Babysitter’s Club, Sweet Valley Twins and The Boxcar Children. Then in high school I grew fond of the YA genre, “Sloppy Firsts” and “Angus, Thongs & Full Frontal Snogging” being some of my favorites. Early college brought about exploration into chick-lit authors such as Sophie Kinsella, Jane Green, and Emily Giffin (many, of whom, I am still big fans today.)

These last few years, I’ve really gotten into thrillers and crime stories, as well as hot titles on the Best Sellers list. I’m really into Karin Slaughter, MJ Arlidge, Laura Lippmann, Jodi Picoult, and the oh-so-hot-right-now Gillian Flynn.

I’ve found myself getting oddly sentimental writing this post, truly appreciative for the many lives that books have allowed me to live. There really is nothing like getting lost in a good story, completely detached from the worries of reality, even just for a few moments.

Throughout this past year, I’ve probably read more than I ever have before. I recently went back into the Handley Library for the first time in about four years, having gotten caught up in the ease and accessibility of the Kindle instant download. And immediately upon walking in the doors, I was filled with a feeling of belonging, contentment, and gratitude. I had come back to my happy place.

 

WEDNESDAY: BBQ Ranch Salad Bowl & Yogurt Parfait

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BREAKFAST: Fruit & Granola Yogurt Parfait

I’ve posted about this before, but it won’t hurt to reiterate the recipe. I make it every week because of how easy and cheap it is to put together. For this week’s,  I got some new granola at Aldi–coconut chia seed, and it is delish. Plus, it’s organic and cheap! It’s really outrageous how expensive some granola can be.

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What you need (1 serving):

  • 2 small yogurt packs (I used Dannon Activia mixed berry and black cherry, but you can use any yogurt you prefer.)
  • Small handful of berries (I used blueberries and chopped strawberries)
  • Small scoop granola

What you do:

  1. In a small airtight jar, layer the two yogurts on top of one another.
  2. Top with berries and granola.

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LUNCH: BBQ Ranch Chicken Bowl

This is a brand new recipe that I haven’t tried before. I threw it together based on some leftover ingredients I had from last week, and it turned out amazing! BBQ sauce and ranch are always a great combination, and you really can’t go wrong with it on chicken. I love ranch on a salad, but it is notoriously unhealthy, so by drizzling just a tad and mixing the salad with other ingredients such as rice and corn, you get the taste without all the calories.

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What you need (for one serving):

  • 1/2 cup pulled chicken
  • 1 tsp BBQ sauce
  • 1 tsp ranch dressing
  • 1/2 cup canned corn
  • 1 cup greens of your choice (I used romaine spring mix)
  • 2/3 cup brown rice

What you do:

  1. Cook rice according to packaging.
  2. In an airtight container, place chicken, corn, greens, and rice in separate sections.
  3. Drizzle BBQ sauce over chicken. Repeat with ranch.

When you’re ready to eat, just mix everything all together and dig in! The chicken tastes reminiscent of BBQ wings and the vegetables and rice make it quite a bit healthier! I will certainly be adding this into my rotation of meals, as it’s one that both my husband and I loved!

TUESDAY: Apple Cinnamon Oats & Southwest Sweet Potato

Apple Cinnamon Oats

BREAKFAST: Apple Cinnamon Overnight Oats

This is probably one of my favorite combinations of overnight oats. And I know I say that every time I post about them, but I think I really mean it this time! The apples and cinnamon taste like apple pie–with a lot fewer calories!

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What you need (for one serving)

  • 1/3 cup rolled oats
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup vanilla Greek yogurt
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1/4 apple, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 packet stevia

What to do:

Combine everything, put in airtight container and refrigerate at least overnight!

This is so delicious when it is hot and gooey for breakfast. I made a second batch for later in the week, but I might not make it that long without eating it!

LUNCH: Southwest Sweet Potato

I am really digging the stuffed sweet potato thing. The buffalo chicken sweet potato from last prep was amazing, and this southwest sweet potato is another one of my go-tos. Directions for the southwest mixture are exactly the same as from my burrito bowls and burritos from last prep. This would be another great option if you have leftover chicken mixture from another recipe.

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What you need (for two servings):

  • 1 cup shredded chicken
  • 1/2 can black beans
  • 1/2 can corn
  • 1/2 can Rotel tomatoes & chiles
  • 1/2 packet taco seasoning
  • 1 tsp water
  • Several leaves of cilantro
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, cleaned

What you do:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Poke holes in your sweet potatoes all over using a fork.
  3. Place potatoes directly on center rack of oven and bake for ~50 minutes, turning halfway through.
  4. In a greased medium skillet, combine the first 6 items. Simmer on medium heat ~10 minutes.
  5. When potatoes are cooked through, slice down the center and use a fork to “fluff” the inside of your potato.
  6. Scoop a heaping portion of chicken mixture into your potato.
  7. Top with cilantro. Feel free to add hot sauce, salsas, fat free sour cream or plain Greek yogurt, etc.

 

MONDAY: Sweet Potato Scramble & Berry Salad

I try to pair my breakfasts and lunches to complement one another. When I have a salad for lunch, I try to pack something heartier for breakfast. When I eat something denser or higher in carbs, such as a sweet potato or rice, I do a yogurt or smoothie for breakfast. Today’s pairing is sausage sweet potato egg scramble for breakfast, and berry spinach salad for lunch.

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BREAKFAST: Sausage, Sweet Potato & Egg Scramble

This is one of my very favorite breakfast meals. It’s a variation on my egg scramble from my last prep. In this version, sweet potatoes and maple sausage pair well with savory eggs and red bell peppers. I was a little worried how the sausage and eggs would reheat, but no problem whatsoever. Ever had one of those Jimmy Dean Sausage Bowls? Consider this a cheaper, and much healthier version. While I love the taste of the maple sausage, I do want to try using turkey sausage next time, instead.

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What you need (4 portions):

  • 1 lb maple flavored breakfast sausage
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch squares
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 6 eggs, scrambled (with milk, salt & pepper)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp marjoram

What you do:

  1. Bring medium pot of water to boil. Add sweet potatoes, reduce heat to medium/high and cook ~7 minutes.
  2. In a large, greased skillet, cook sausage on medium heat until browned.
  3. Drain fat from sausage, discard.
  4. Add red pepper, cinnamon and marjoram. Cover and simmer on medium ~5 minutes.
  5. In a separate pan, cook scrambled eggs until light and fluffy.
  6. Combine eggs, sweet potatoes, and sausage mixture.

 

LUNCH: Berry, Walnut & Chicken Salad

This is one of my go-to mason jar salads. It uses simple ingredients that I normally always have on hand. I bought a big bag of walnuts at Costco a few weeks ago and I swear it’s going to take me 5 years to go through them all! I use measurements like “handful” for this recipe, because it’s really up to you how much of each ingredient you want to add.

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What you need (1 portion):

  • Handful walnuts
  • Handful blueberries
  • Handful strawberries, chopped
  • ~2 tbps strawberry vinaigrette dressing
  • Handful blue cheese
  • ~2 cups spinach
  • ~1/2 cup shredded chicken

What you do:

In the mason jar, layer your salad in this order:

  1. Dressing
  2. Blue cheese
  3. Walnuts
  4. Chicken
  5. Strawberries
  6. Blueberries
  7. Spinach

Just shake it up and eat straight from the jar or pour on a plate! Having the dressing at the bottom keeps the produce from getting soggy, and the mason jars keep everything fresh all week long!

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Meal Prep Week 2

IMG_8780Last week I didn’t get around to meal prepping. The weekend was crazy and my Sunday was packed with Mother’s Day events. By the time I got home, all I wanted to do was relax! Plus, last week, I had breakfast and lunch provided by my work several days, so there wasn’t a need for a full-on prep. I did still meal plan and packed breakfasts and lunches for my husband and myself, but I usually prepared them the night before, or morning of, which usually resulted in me being late for work, oops. It’s just so hard for me to force myself to wake up any earlier than absolutely necessary!

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This week, I decided to get back on the grind and do a full Sunday prep. I tried to use ingredients I already had at home, and leftovers from the previous week. I spent $25 total for 8 breakfasts and 10 lunches (one morning we will just eat cereal at home before work!) I repeated some breakfast items from the previous prep, but al of the lunches are different.

I spent about two and a half hours cooking yesterday afternoon (and after that, I still cooked dinner!) By the time I was finished, I was exhausted and my feet hurt from standing, but I’m pretty proud of my results, and know I’ll be relieved to not have to pack any more throughout this week.

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FRIDAY: Banana Overnight Oats & Chicken Burrito

So I am a little late and delinquent with this post, it was my meal from last Friday! The final day of my meal prep. Life has gotten crazy and I haven’t had time to write until now. But, I will say that with all the craziness, it has been a blessing to have meals already prepped ahead of time–one less thing to do!

Chicken Burrito

BREAKFAST: Cinnamon Banana Overnight Oats

As previously mentioned, overnight oats are so versatile and have endless varieties. Adding banana gives the oats a thicker consistency, and the taste pairs so well with cinnamon. I like to add walnuts or pecans to the top to give it an extra crunch. This version I made using steel cut oats, which are a thicker and grittier consistency than rolled oats, but are nice to use as something different.

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What you need (for two servings)

  • 1 banana
  • 2/3 cup steel cut oats
  • 1/3 cup vanilla Greek yogurt
  • 2/3 cup milk (or almond or soy)
  • 1 packet stevia
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • Handful walnuts, for topping

What you do:

  1. In a large bowl, mash the banana with a fork until smooth.
  2. Add in next 5 ingredients and stir well.
  3. Pour into airtight container and top with nuts.
  4. Leave in refrigerator overnight.

Eat cold or warm for ~1 1/2 minutes in the microwave. This tastes just like a good old fashioned comfort breakfast!

 

LUNCH: Southwest Chicken Burrito, Veggies & Hummus

This recipe utilizes the leftover southwest chicken mixture from Wednesday’s burrito bowl. It’s a great way to have a second meal from the same ingredients, with a different twist.

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What you need:

  • 1 small can tomatoes & green chiles blend (Rotel)
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 can yellow corn
  • ~1 1/2 cups pulled chicken (again, I used rotisserie)
  • 1 packet taco seasoning
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 2 whole wheat tortillas/wraps (burrito size)
  • 1/2 bag baby carrots
  • 1/2 bag snap peas
  • 2 tbps hummus

What you do:

  1. In a large skillet, combine the first six ingredients.
  2. Simmer on medium ~10-15 minutes.
  3. Spoon chicken mixture onto center of tortilla. Tuck in corners and roll into burrito.

Add your veggies into your travel container, and spoon hummus into a small condiment container and you’re ready to go! I like to drizzle a bit of Cholula (Mexican hot sauce) onto my burrito and eat with a side of plain Greek yogurt, which tastes almost exactly like sour cream!