The Siberian American

Monday, March 11, 2019

Ten Books I Read in February

Hey there, book friends! I am excited for another month of book reviews. I read 11 books (I posted one of them last time) in February, which is a lot for me, but Christopher has been on nights, which means I have to wait for him to watch our shows, and I read after Anthony goes to bed. I also decided to do the bonus round for Erin's Book Challenge, so the list of books is very diverse. I included the categories again in case y'all are curious!

This post contains affiliate links. If you click on them, I receive a small commission. 


(c/o NetGalley)
Erin's Challenge: A Title with Six Words
Katherine Center is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. She writes romance novels, but there is always so much depth to them. I loved the main character in this novel, an incredible firefighter who no longer believed in love. I try not to read late into the night anymore, but I couldn't help it with this book. The firefighter culture was interesting, and there were several great twists. It was heartbreaking but also beautiful, and I loved the message of forgiveness.


(c/o Goodreads Giveaways)
Not Part of Erin's Challenge
I wasn't sure how much I would like this book, but I ended up loving it! Consuelo Vanderbilt led an extremely fascinating life, and I read it much faster than I thought I would. This book made me google a bunch of random things about the Vanderbilts and Blenheim Palace, which means it was a good historical fiction read!


(c/o NetGalley)
Erin's Challenge Bonus Round: Favorite Book of Family/Friend
This book started off slow, but it ended up getting interesting fairly quickly. It is more of a mystery than a thriller (it has a bit of an Agatha Christie vibe to it), and it is one of the most complicated books I have read in a long time. The twists were really good, and it is one of those books that I will think about for a long time. I would definitely recommend reading it, but only when you are in the mood for something with a slower pace and a lot of little details that add up to a fascinating story.


(c/o NetGalley)
Erin's Challenge Bonus Round: Title Starts with N
Lisa Gardner's D.D. Warren series is one of my favorite detective series. D.D. Warren is such a great character, and I like the recurring minor characters, too. I enjoyed this book-it was fast-paced, and the plot was exciting. It was interesting to learn more about Flora's abduction and the details of the dark web. I did figure out what happened pretty early, but it didn't detract from the rest of the story. I read this one out of order for a challenge, so I can't wait to go back and read the D.D. Warren books I missed.


(c/o NetGalley)
Erin's Challenge Bonus Round: A Title with Six Words
I have mixed feelings about this book. I enjoyed the first 3/4 of it, and it was a quick read. I originally thought it was going to be a sweet second-chance love story, but it is so much deeper than that. I liked the back and forth between Annika and Jonathan's college years and 10 years later as it showed Annika's progression and confidence. That said, I didn't love the last part of the book. I get why the author decided to do it, but it felt like it was a little much. I also didn't really like the ending. Right now the book is 3.5 stars for me, but I rounded up to four stars.


Erin's Challenge Bonus Round: Originally Published in a Different Language
I read WWII historical fiction often, but this book didn't work for me. There were way too many characters, and it was hard to get invested in their stories because the chapters were short, and you would constantly flip from one character to another. I thought it was interesting to learn about Turkey's involvement in World War II, but the author would randomly throw out facts that felt like you were reading a textbook. The writing seemed a little off at times (maybe a translation issue), and I think some chapters were completely unnecessary to the plot.


(c/o NetGalley)
Erin's Challenge Bonus Round: Set in Europe
I really liked the "IOU" premise of this book and liked the family business concept, but I had a hard time with the main character of this book. I couldn't believe how horrible the people around Fixie were and how she had no backbone and did everything they wanted. It was really frustrating to read. Parts of the ending seemed super unrealistic to me, too. I definitely liked parts of the book, but it wasn't my favorite Sophie Kinsella novel.


Erin's Challenge Bonus Round: Newberry Award Winner/Honor Roll
I read this book in elementary school, and now reading it as an adult, I'm surprised by how many adult themes there are in it. I really enjoyed how all the clues came together, and the ending was surprising.


Erin's Challenge Bonus Round: Published 100+ Years Ago
I think this book was a case of reading the right book at the right time, but I thought this book was delightful. Pollyanna was such a great character, and I loved reading about how she brightened the lives of those around her.


Erin's Challenge Bonus Round: Cardinal Direction in Title
I've seen this book described as the Pride & Prejudice of the Industrial Revolution, and I thought it was a perfect description. I really enjoyed it and am glad I selected it for a challenge.


Favorite reads in February: Things You Save in a Fire,  The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, Pollyanna, Never Tell, and North and South. 

Linking up with Steph & Jana.


I love book suggestions. What have you read lately?

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Five Delicious Instant Pot Recipes

Hi, friends! I've decided to switch my posts (other than book posts) to Wednesdays for now because it works better with my schedule. Anyways, I promised I would share some of our favorite Instant Pot recipes, so I'm doing that today. We originally got the Instant Pot to steam vegetables for Anthony, but we realized that it was great for dinner, too! We've enjoyed most of the recipes we've tried and will be definitely making more in the future. The one thing I have noticed, however, is the time on these recipes is never correct. It usually takes about 20-30 minutes more to cook than what is stated.


Instant Pot Award-Winning Chili
I love a good chili recipe in the winter, and this one was delicious! The only problem is it did take about 30 minutes longer to cook than what the recipe suggested.

Instant Pot Honey Sesame Chicken
Chicken is my favorite meat to cook in the Instant Pot. It just melts in your mouth! I really liked the flavor of this dish.

Instant Pot Brisket 
Brisket usually takes forever to make, so we decided to try it in the Instant Pot and were pleasantly surprised!

Instant Pot Sunday Beef Roast
We don't eat pot roast often, but we are going to have to add it to our rotation because this was delicious! It was so tender and juicy. I am planning on experimenting with some spices to add a bit more flavor next time, though.

Instant Pot Corn on the Cob with Cajun Butter and Lime
I love a good corn on the cob recipe, and this is now one of my favorites!

Have you ever used an Instant Pot? What's your favorite recipe?

Monday, February 25, 2019

The Ultimate Biltmore Estate Guide: What to Know Before You Go

I have wanted to go to the Biltmore Estate since I was a kid, so when we were planning our Smoky Mountains road trip, a stop in Asheville was on the top of my list. I’ve always loved history, beautiful architecture, and extravagant homes, so I knew I would love the largest privately owned house in the United States! I’ve been wanting to write a guide to the Biltmore Estate since we visited, so I’m super excited to share this stunning home with y’all today.


Before You Go

Buy Your Tickets
Tickets to the Biltmore Estate can be purchased here (https://www.biltmore.com/visit/plan-your-visit/buy-tickets/daytime). Not only do you save $10 per ticket by buying it online more than a week in advance, but you also skip the usually long line once you get to the reception & ticketing sales center. Keep in mind that if you are going to the property during a busy time (holidays, school breaks, and most weekends), you will be required to make a reservation. With your reservation, you will receive a specific time to enter the Biltmore House.


Purchase Your Tour Tickets
Unfortunately, the price of admission to the Biltmore Estate does not include a tour. You are welcome to take a self-guided tour, but in this case, I would strongly encourage taking a guided tour. I’m usually a big fan of audio tours, but due to the size of the house and the amount of people visiting at the same time, I think a guided tour is the way to go.

Tour Options
We did two tours while visiting the mansion, so I wanted to share what I liked about each one.

Guided Biltmore House Tour
This was the standard 90-minute tour of the house, which provides a very detailed overview over many rooms. I loved learning interesting facts such as the most guests that were at the house at one time was 38. If you only have time for one tour, you will receive a fantastic overview of the house with this one.


Rooftop Tour
I absolutely loved this tour. If you are interested in stunning views and amazing architecture, this tour is a must. The rooftop tour explains all the little details about the intricate architecture. For example, the two gargoyles are different because the tail broke off on one of them (so they added a butt). Plus, the views from the balcony were absolutely stunning! I personally preferred the rooftop tour to the house tour, but I would still do the house tour to see more of the rooms.


Plan to Get to the House Early
Plan to get to the Biltmore Estate as early as you can, even if you have a reservation. The drive to the entrance can get really backed up. The Biltmore Estate recommends getting there at least 45 minutes before your reservation time, so you have enough time to park and take the shuttle to the house. We got to the house around 8:30 a.m., and I noticed that it was already getting crowded by 10 a.m.

Once You Get There

Go on a Tour
I’ve already shared about the two tours we did, but I think a guided tour is the best way to experience Biltmore. We learned so much about the Vanderbilts and everything that went into building the estate.

Visit the Gardens
The gardens are a must! I really enjoyed the beautiful mixture of flowers and plants, and I could have walked around the area for hours. I especially loved the Rose Garden and Conservatory.


Visit the Antler Hill Village and Winery
A wine tasting is included with your ticket to the Biltmore Estate, and it’s worth checking out! The Antler Hill Village also includes temporary exhibits, a farm with a historic barn, trails and outdoor adventures, and several places to shop and dine.

Eat Lunch at Stable Café
The food at the Biltmore Estate was surprisingly good! I really enjoyed my burger, and I’m still dreaming about that peanut butter cake with raspberry jam.

When Should You Visit?

The Biltmore Estate is beautiful throughout the year. We went to the Biltmore during the fall, and the fall color was spectacular (though it would have been even better if we had gone a few weeks later). They had already started to set up for Christmas while we were there in October because it takes them that long to decorate the whole house, and I would love to visit during Christmas someday to see all of the gorgeous decorations. The gardens are also stunning to see in the spring, but if you go during the spring, try to avoid Spring Break weeks to minimize the crowds.


Where to Stay

I honestly wouldn’t stay at any of the hotels on property. The prices are really high, and they don’t add anything to the experience. If you are looking for a luxury stay in Asheville, I would pick the Omni Park Grove Inn, which has a fantastic spa and stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Other Smoky Mountains Road Trip Posts:
Have you ever been to the Biltmore Estate? Tell me about your visit!

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Anthony's Milestone Photos: Six Months, Nine Months, and One Year

I know, I know. Let's file this under "blogs Olya should have posted last year," but I really wanted to share some of my favorite photos from our milestone sessions with y'all. I loved doing milestone sessions because even though I take photos of Anthony often, we only really take photos as a family for special occasions. I already love looking back on these and seeing how much Anthony has grown, so I know they'll always be special to me. Also, I have to give a big shoutout to Brittnie Renee Photography for being a great photographer!

Six Months

This was our first session after our newborn photos, and I wasn't sure how it was going to go. Anthony ended up loving the camera, though! He kept staring straight at Brittnie. It was also one of the hottest days we'd had in April in a long time. The other memorable thing from this session was Chris and Brittnie ended up getting chigger bites from our time in the grass. Thank you, Texas.


Nine Months

For Anthony's nine month session, we decided to do another home session. We had moved by that point, so it was nice to have a session in our new place. Once again, Anthony loved the camera and had so much fun! He was really on the move at this point, so getting those shots on the bed was entertaining!


One Year

His one year photos might just be my very favorite! The State Fair of Texas has always been special to our relationship, so we knew we wanted to take Anthony this year. Since he has an October birthday, I thought the fair would be perfect for his one year photos! He loved looking at all the lights, and I'm a big fan of how these photos turned out.


Did you do milestone sessions with your babies?

Monday, February 11, 2019

Let’s Have a Coffee Date: Vacation Planning, Instant Pot Fun, and Residency

Hey, friends! It’s been a while since I’ve done a coffee date post (not since we were in DC in September), and I thought it would be a good way to share some of the random news I haven’t mentioned on the blog yet!


Life has been really busy lately, and Chris has had barely any time off. Thankfully, it will be a bit slower for a bit (and then more nights. Yuck). We’re planning some fun things with Anthony to take advantage of our time together! Also, Chris just got elected chief resident by his fellow residents and attendings! It’s a huge honor, and I’m super proud of him, but it does mean he will have even more work. He also has several conferences coming up, and he has to take the intense radiology board exam in June, so the next few months will be interesting!

All of that to say, we are looking forward to him taking two weeks off in July. We are celebrating our 30th birthdays and 10-year wedding anniversary during the same week this year, so we’re hoping to go somewhere fun. We haven’t actually planned the trip yet because we won’t know the exact dates we can go until the residency schedule for next year is final (the Medical New Year is July 1). Anyone have any ideas for us? It’s been hard to narrow it down since it is our first big trip since Anthony was born.

Speaking of it being our first trip since Anthony was born, I am already having a hard time with the idea of leaving him. I know we need time together as a couple, but I work from home, and the longest I have been away from Anthony is three hours. I know it’s healthy for both of us to spend time apart, and he will be in extremely capable hands, but I can’t promise I won’t be crying on the flight to our destination!

Anthony has been so much fun lately. He’s running all over the place, and I feel like he learns a new word a day. I just love seeing his personality come out more and more. For example, he loves cleaning up and putting everything in its correct place. He didn't get that trait from me. Haha!


I messed up last week and posted my books reviews a week early! I’ve read two more books since I published my books reviews, and they were both super good (Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center and American Duchess: A Novel of Conseulo Vanderbilt by Karen Harper). I’m currently in the middle of The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, and it’s one of the most complicated mystery novels I’ve ever read, but it’s really interesting. I’m definitely curious to see how it ends!

We finally got an Instant Pot for Christmas, and we have really loved using it for many different recipes! We just made a quinoa chicken fried rice in it yesterday that was super delicious! I might do a roundup for our favorite Instant Pot recipes soon if anyone is interested.

Since I didn’t blog much last year, I don’t think I ever mentioned that Chris decided to stay at his current program for his fellowship in neuroradiology (in an oversimplified explanation, he will be reading brain scans and doing procedures). He decided he didn’t want to spend the money to interview all over the country again (been there, done that), and it would be hard for us to move somewhere for just a year. He will be starting his last year of radiology residency in July and doing neuroradiology fellowship the following July. It still feels like we’re a long way away from the end of training, but we’re getting closer!