September 2018 Book Reviews

Today is the final installment of catching up on book reviews from my summer reading list. After this, I will just have one book review each month. I’m currently working through my October reading stack so that review will likely come in a couple weeks.

September 2018 Book Review

Let’s jump in to what I read in September – I’ve got an eclectic mix this time around!

You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld

You Think It

I saw this collection on the featured shelf in the library and decided to give it a chance since I rarely read short stories. There is no doubt that this author is talented and the stories are well written; however, I just didn’t connect with or enjoy the majority of them. This is an unfortunate example of how sometimes it doesn’t pay off to start a book you know nothing about – from a manipulative one-night-stand to emotional/physical cheating to contemplation of extramarital affairs, there was subject material that was just not my cup of tea. After the first two stories fell flat for me, I considered stopping but ultimately kept plugging away since the book was short. I did like a few stories (like Bad Latch and Off the Record) but most just left me feeling sad or cynical for one reason or another. This is sadly not one I enjoyed or recommend.

Final Girls by Riley Sager

Final Girls.jpg

Three women, Lisa, Sam, and Quincy, have never met but are uniquely bonded together as “final girls” – they are each the sole survivor of a horrific mass murder. We primarily follow Quincy, who has no memory of how she survived a cabin weekend where all her friends were brutally killed. After Lisa is unexpectedly found dead, Sam shows up on Quincy’s door and forces Quincy to deal with the past she has blocked out, which leads to a heart-pumping race to figure out the truth of what really happened that horrible night in the cabin. I have to start by saying the first 40% of this book went slower than I expected; I could tell it was meant to build suspense but it just wasn’t really working for me.  But then, the first major twist/revelation occurs and my interest level completely changed. The pace picked up, the story became more intricate and suspenseful, my heart started beating faster – I could not put it down! There were some shocking twists that kept me guessing until the very end. I gasped. I shuddered. I turned on ALL the lights. Even now just writing this review, I have literally looked over my shoulder no less than five times. This book is the perfect blend of psychological thriller + slasher movie (and I say this as someone who flat out refuses to watch any even remotely scary movie, let alone a horror/slasher flick). I loved the unique premise, the flashbacks to the night in the cabin, and the surprising twists throughout. So even with the disappointingly slow start, I did enjoy this book and would recommend it!

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

The Great Alone

In 1974, a fairly unstable Vietnam War veteran tries to get a fresh start by moving to rural Alaska with his wife and teenage daughter, Leni. They are welcomed into the small, tight-knit community and things go really well at first. Leni even starts to believe that maybe life will really be different for their family in Alaska. But then, winter comes and it turns out, even Alaska isn’t far enough away for her father to escape his demons. This book was fantastic! In May, I reviewed Kristin Hannah’s book Summer Island and it just fell short of the standard I have for her books after her excellent novels The Nightingale and Winter Garden. I was hopeful that this book would redeem my high expectations for her and it did not disappoint! It is vibrant, poignant, and captivating. The descriptions of the Alaskan wild are so vivid I feel like I have actually seen it with my own eyes. I came to love (most of) the characters and became so invested in their stories. There are some pretty heavy mental health issues included that are heartbreaking to see play out but contribute to an intriguing, emotional plot. It’s not a light read by any means but gosh, I just loved it. Highly recommend!

Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle

Reclaiming Conversation

Sherry Turkle is a trained sociologist and psychologist who takes a deep dive into how the pull of technology has led us away from conversations. She examines how our departure from conversation affects relationships with our family, friends, work, and even our own self-awareness. People are losing the ability to be empathetic and connect with others beyond the surface level. While I did enjoy reading this book and feel everyone would benefit from its message, I realize not everyone wants to read a nonfiction, heavily researched book about the effects of technology and devices on our view of ourselves, our relationships, our work life, etc. This book did get a little long and dense at times which led to me skim some of the sections. In a nutshell: while it can be a great resource, there are limitations with what technology can provide. Use of a device simply cannot serve as a replacement for face-to-face conversation. Conversations bring creativity, deeper relationships, and change and it is important for us to turn outward to others rather than downward to our phones or other devices. Turkle makes some compelling arguments for conversation and overall, I was pretty fascinated and took a lot of notes. I feel like there will be a separate blog post in the future where I can expand more on what I took away from this book so stay tuned for that!

And that’s a wrap on my summer reading! Now what do I need to include on my fall reading list?

 

 

 

Traveling with a Baby {Plane Tips}

Disclaimer: In this post I do mention a few specific items and provide links for them. None of these are sponsored and I was given no compensation for mentioning or linking them. They are all just items that I loved having on our flights and wanted to pass along!

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post where I shared some tips for simplifying road trips with a baby. I’ve mentioned before that Justin and I love to travel and while we have done several road trips with LJ in tow, we have also gone to a few destinations by plane. LJ has flown to Florida at 11 weeks, Texas at 4 months, and Minnesota at 8 months and all seven flights (we had some connections) have gone smoothly.

Austin, TX
Enjoying the view of Austin, TX with four-month-old LJ

We have another plane ride coming up in November for a short work trip so today I wanted to share some of the tips that have helped on our flights with LJ so far.

Travel Tips for Flying with a Baby

Before I begin, I want to reiterate that I know every baby and mama are different and these tips might not be for everyone. These are the things that have helped our family simplify the chaos of flying with a baby so we could enjoy our travels – I share them in hopes that someone else might benefit from hearing what worked for us. Let’s get started!

Tip #1: Take a nursing pillow

LJ in airport
LJ chilling at the airport gate at 11 weeks old.

Even if you aren’t breastfeeding, I absolutely recommend taking along a nursing pillow. I use this one but I think other brands would work just as well. I have used this pillow for every single flight and it has been so helpful in a variety of situations besides just breastfeeding. Even tiny babies get heavy after a while and it’s nice to have something comfy to help hold them. I’ve used our Boppy on top of a muslin blanket on the floor to let LJ lounge at the gate while waiting to board. I’ve also placed it on my lap during every flight so he can rest on it. This keeps me from having to actively “hold” him the entire time which gives my arms a nice break and allows him to be nice and cozy. I have used this item as my “personal item” and it has worked out great!

Tip #2: Use a pacifier

LJ first airplane

If your baby will use a pacifier, I highly recommend taking it along. It helps with the ear-popping at take off and landing and can offer soothing comfort to your baby during the flight. I particularly love this WubbaNub because the stuffed animal helps prevent it from popping out easily and it’s easy to locate in a diaper bag.

Tip #3: Take a baby carrier

Riverwalk
Justin and LJ enjoying the San Antonio Riverwalk

We have not taken a stroller to any of our flying destinations thus far. First of all, I prefer to have my hands free through the airport and not be pushing a stroller. It’s one less thing to lug around and keep track of through the airport and at our final destination. I also don’t want my nice stroller to get banged up and knocked around in storage on the plane. So far, this has worked out great. We have been able to wear LJ in his carrier through the airport and around every destination without a problem. Now that LJ is getting bigger, we will need to start thinking about taking along a stroller. I picked up a gently used umbrella stroller for $4.50 at a consignment sale recently and I’ll be taking it along on our next flight in November. It’s lightweight, easy to fold/carry/store, and won’t be expensive to replace if it gets banged up on the plane.

Tip #4: Backpack Carry-On

Magnolia
Enjoying Magnolia Silos in Waco, TX with our faithful diaper backpack in tow.

I can’t stress this enough – the more you can do hands-free in an airport, the easier everything becomes. If it’s at all possible to pack your carry-on in a backpack, I recommend you do it! Our diaper bag is a backpack and it is so easy to carry around the airport and our final destination. I also recommend consolidating as much as you can and taking the least amount of bags possible. Airports can be stressful as you navigate security and find your gate or rush to make a connecting flight, especially with a baby in tow, and I prefer to simplify things by having fewer bags to keep track of. I don’t take a purse with me anymore and instead use the front pocket of my diaper bag for all my “purse items” (check out my diaper bag posts here and here to see what I mean). When I flew with LJ by myself to Minneapolis, I even consolidated all our items into his diaper bag (the trip was only 1.5 days) so that it was the only bag I had to keep track of. That is a more extreme example and wouldn’t work for the majority of our trips, but the point is, streamlining what we take into as few bags as possible has simplified airport travel tremendously.

Tip #5: Check Airline Policies

I’ve flown different airlines with LJ and I have been pleasantly surprised to find out how accommodating each one is for flying with a baby. Every airline is slightly different so make sure to check out their policies online before leaving. Some things to check for:

  • Items to Gate Check: We have been able to gate check our car seat for free with each airline we’ve flown. LJ has been able to chill in the car seat while waiting to board and it’s right there waiting for us when we reach our destination so we don’t have to go to baggage claim. If you check a car seat, I highly recommend a car seat bag. It keeps the car seat protected from getting banged up and dirty on the flight. We use this one which is a backpack (lightweight and super easy to carry) and fits either an infant seat or a convertible seat. Airlines are different with what you can gate check for free (some let you check a car seat and stroller, some a car seat or stroller, some also allow a pack n play, etc) so just make sure to check your airline’s policy.
  • Diaper Bags: Some airlines will allow you to bring a diaper bag on board without counting it as your carry-on or personal item. So it’s essentially a bonus item you can bring on. Make sure to take advantage if this is a perk your airline offers!
  • Family Boarding: Some airlines allow families with small children to board first. This is nice because it allows you to get to your seat without bumping into people or holding up the line while you get settled.

Tip # 6: Bonus Items

These last few items were all helpful to me to have along to make life a little easier while on the plane.

  • Nursing cover: Nice to have privacy when I needed to breastfeed on the plane and it doubled as a blanket when LJ slept on the Boppy.
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Chlorox/Lysol wipes to wipe down seat, armrests, other surfaces (I did not do this but LJ and I sat next to someone who did this for us and it was nice to know our area was clean)
  • Baby layers: Hat, socks, mitts, etc. Keeps your baby warm on the plane and also prevents strangers from touching his head/hands/feet when you’re trying to minimize the spread of germs
  • Handheld breast pump: I’ve occasionally given a bottle on the airplane and I also prefer traveling with my inexpensive manual pump instead of my electric one.

 

And there you have it! These few little tips have helped simplify our travels greatly. I’d love to hear what has worked for you! Have you ever flown with a baby? What tips/tricks have you learned?

 

Little Brother’s Wedding!

Over the weekend, my little brother got married! LJ was the ring bearer – since he is not walking yet, he was pulled in a wagon by the two-year-old flower girl. It was as adorable as it sounds.

LJ Ring Bearer

This post was originally intended to be a wedding weekend re-cap, but when I sat down to actually write it, I realized I had taken virtually NO pictures of the entire weekend. Aside from a few quick snaps of the wedding ceremony, a few grainy pictures of my little family at the reception, and 33 attempts to get LJ to smile in the above picture, I don’t have any pictures to show for the weekend. At first, I was a little dismayed.

Once I thought about it though, I decided that it is actually pretty cool that I hadn’t taken many pictures. It means that I was absorbed in the moment – so absorbed that I wasn’t even thinking about documenting it. My focus was on other things and I didn’t even have my phone on me most of the time. I was more or less unplugged during a weekend spent with family and I think that is really special.

I don’t have many pictures, but I do have memories. I have memories of helping my mom choose shoes for the rehearsal dinner. I have memories of giggling with my sister as we pampered ourselves with face masks and DIY pedicures on the bathroom floor the morning of the wedding. I have memories of wrangling my son into his wedding outfit (he was not feeling that cute little bowtie at first) and hearing the amused chuckles of the wedding guests when he looked so sweet getting pulled down the aisle. I have memories of crying discreetly at my brother’s beautiful wedding vows, then crying not so discreetly as he surprised his bride by singing to her at the reception. I have memories of tearing up the dance floor with siblings, uncles, aunts, cousins and having such a great time laughing, hugging, and celebrating.

Sometimes, I think I get too focused on making sure to take the “perfect” picture for Instagram or capture memories in a certain way. When my focus is on taking the perfect pictures, I miss out on making the actual memories. Don’t get me wrong, I think pictures can be a wonderful gift for looking back on different moments in life and I will continue to take them! But this weekend was a great reminder that sometimes it’s nice to not worry about getting a perfect picture and just absorb yourself in making memories of the moment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 2018 Book Review

Hi friends!

It’s time for another summer reading list book review. Today I’m reviewing the books that I read in August – and without further ado, here we go!

August Book Review

Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

Girl Wash Your Face

This book has certainly been making the rounds on social media lately and while I had never heard of Rachel Hollis before, I had a ton of people tell me how much they absolutely loved this book so I was excited to read it. I went in with really high expectations and while it wasn’t OMG-earth-shattering from start to finish for me, I did enjoy it. Each chapter in this book is dedicated to a lie the author used to believe that got in the way of her happiness (i.e. “I’ll start tomorrow,” “I’m not a good mom”) and how she worked through that lie to no longer believe it to be true. There were some amazing chapters that really spoke to me and gave me a lot to think about (one section in particular felt like it was written specifically for me) and there were other chapters that didn’t resonate much with me at all. I liked the author’s conversational writing style and I appreciated her insight on things like motherhood, self-worth and self-care. I feel like there are a lot of quote-worthy nuggets in there that are good for daily inspiration or a pick-me-up. I did think it was weird that it’s marketed as a Christian book but didn’t have much reference to how the author’s faith shaped her life and instead was a “you are in charge of you” message. Just something to be aware of if you’re thinking this book will read more like a devotional (it doesn’t).  Even so, I enjoyed this book, gained some wisdom and encouragement from it, and recommend it.

An American Marriage by Tayari JonesAn American Marriage

Celestial and Roy are recently married and starting their life out with big dreams for their future in Atlanta. Unfortunately, they travel to visit Roy’s family in Louisiana and while there, Roy is accused of a crime he did not commit and sentenced to 12 years in jail.  It is hard to put into words how I feel about this book. It is very well written; the characters are vividly described and you really feel for the them and the situation they find themselves in. It covers many thought-provoking topics: the injustice of racial profiling and prejudice in the criminal justice system, the impact of a wrongful conviction on the accused and everyone close to him, how fragile marriage can be if a couple is separated, what loyalty means and whether it’s fair to ask for (and if so, for how long). There are some really hard, heavy moments and tough choices made throughout the book that made it depressing for me to read at times. It just made me so sad and frustrated to think about how things “could have been” without this wrongful conviction. But then, isn’t that the point? The fact that I felt that way is because I was drawn deeply into the story and felt for each one of the characters and so wanted things to turn out well for them.  I do think it’s a remarkable piece of writing and worth checking out!

All the Beautiful Girls by Elizabeth J. Church

All the Beautiful Girls

Lily Decker is orphaned at eight years old and sent to live with her aunt and uncle. Life is less than ideal with them and she finds solace in dancing. When she is older, Lily leaves her tiny hometown with all the bad memories, changes her name to Ruby Wilde, and moves to Las Vegas in the 1960’s where she tries to make it as a dancer but instead becomes a showgirl. I happened to see this book on a shelf at the library and the premise sounded interesting so I checked it out. Honestly, this book wasn’t for me. Lily’s childhood circumstances are very disturbing to read about at times. I was so happy for her when she finally left her hometown and I became pretty interested in the story with Ruby’s transformation and efforts to make it in Vegas; however, as her story continues, things spiraled downhill for me again and I stopped enjoying the book once more. I really don’t want to say more for fear of spoiling something in the plot. The middle third of this book was about the only part I really enjoyed reading, so overall this is not a book I recommend.  (TRIGGER WARNING: I think it’s important to note that if you do decide to read this book, there are some pretty difficult moments with sexual abuse and assault.)

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Truly Madly Guilty

Ugh. I was SO disappointed by this book! I typically love Moriarty’s work but this one was a miss for me. The title makes it seem like it will be super dramatic and gripping but in reality, I felt like it was about 200 pages too long and went along at a snail’s pace. The story alternates between the perspectives of six different adults (three couples), some of whom are longtime friends and others mere acquaintances,  who were present at a barbecue where something happened . . . but you don’t find out what exactly happened for a l-o-n-g time. The chapters jump back and forth between the day of the barbecue and the present time to show the drastic difference in relationships then vs. now and how every character wishes the barbecue hadn’t happened. I think the intent was to build suspense and make you wonder what shocking thing could have possibly happened but it just made me feel impatient and disinterested. This story is not plot-driven so it hinges on character development and the reader connecting with and caring about the characters, and its redeeming qualities and bright spots just didn’t make up for the fact that I was mostly bored and just wanted it to be over. I recommend checking out one of Moriarty’s other works, Big Little Lies, The Husband’s Secret, The Hypnotist’s Love Story, instead.

It feels weird to end on such a dud of a book, but never fear, the September book review is only a week away and I have some fantastic reads to discuss! Stay tuned!

Simplifying the Diaper Bag {Infant}

In a previous post, I shared with you what I carried in my minimal-ish newborn diaper bag. That system worked very well for us for roughly the first 3 months of my son’s life and then our needs started to shift a little. Today, I thought I would share how I updated what I packed in LJ’s diaper bag as he left the newborn stage. I still tried to keep things simple so I had what we needed when out and about without carting around half our house.

Simplifying the Infant Diaper Bag

If you missed the newborn diaper bag post, you can find it here. In it, I spend some time discussing the diaper bag I use. I love its simple, clean look and minimal-ish use of space and pockets! I’m going to try not to repeat the first post today so I’d say start with that post if you want to learn more about the diaper bag. And again, I want to say that I know every baby and mama are different and needs will vary – this is just what worked for us. The list is “minimal-ish” because there are a few things included that aren’t really needs but sure do come in handy. I also link to a few items; I don’t get any compensation for this but just wanted to share products that have worked for us.

Now let’s jump in to what I carry around with my infant!

Infant diaper bag essentials (plus a few extras)

The front compartment is still my “mom” compartment and the only change to this pocket from the newborn stage is the inclusion of a sunscreen stick as summer arrived. This was the perfect size for the pocket and I found it to be super convenient to just swipe on my face/shoulders and go! Otherwise, I still keep the same items as before: my wallet, checkbook, 1-2 pens, headphones, chapstick, hand sanitizer, a snack, hair tie, and gum. I also still have disposable nursing pads and motrin in the small pocket inside.

Infant Mama Compartment

The back compartment remains exactly the same as before and is still used exclusively for diapering needs. I keep 5-6 diapers, wipes in my wipes clutch, a changing pad, diaper cream, and a diaper bag dispenser.

Infant Diaper Items

The main compartment is where the big changes happened. I used to carry around at least 3 burp cloths at any given time because my newborn baby spit up frequently. After 3 months, there was a noticeable change in spit up and now it’s a pretty rare occurrence so I usually only carry one burp cloth. I also carry a lot more toys since he is much more interactive and I need a variety of items to keep him entertained. I have a mix of silent toys and noisy toys so I can adjust what he plays with based on our surroundings. Once he started eating solids around 7 months, I included a bib and a silicone placemat that we could put on a table at a restaurant so he could pick up food and not be touching the surface of the table. I also typically carry around a simple, non-perishable snack such as puffs or melts and a straw sippy cup.

Infant Main Pocket

In addition to these items, I still carry a muslin blanket, a flannel blanket, a light hat, my nursing cover, and 2 outfit changes.  I also still roll my items and store them vertically so I can see almost everything at a glance and grab what I need without much rummaging. In the back pockets of this main compartment I keep socks, 2 gallon ziploc bags (in case of a diaper blowout that soaks through his clothes), a pacifier on a clip, and animal links. I now also include sunscreen since we have been outside a lot.

Depending on where we are going and what food will be available, I might also include a jar of baby food and a spoon but this is pretty rare since we generally can give LJ some of whatever we are eating. 

And there you have it!

A few of my extra tips:

  • I try to regularly check the diaper bag at home to make sure it’s ready to go. Having extra space in the diaper bag means there is room for other things to get put in there (such as an item we bought while out and about or maybe LJ’s shoes we took off or something). I try to leave the house with the diaper bag back to ‘baseline’ if possible.
  • When I check the bag, I also check the diaper compartment. I try to always have at least 4-5 diapers and plenty of wipes so we never have an “oh no!” moment when out and about and we realize we’re out of these crucial things. I love my wipes clutch because I can easily and quickly add more wipes at home.
  • When the bag is back to ‘baseline’ and ready to go, I place it on a certain chair in our kitchen. That way I know I can grab it on the way out the door and not have to worry that I might not have everything I need.
  • I have one of LJ’s toys on a pacifier clip so I can attach it to him if we’re at a restaurant or somewhere where I don’t want to keep picking up toys off the floor. Huge help!

For me, taking less has actually helped reduce stress because I have everything I need and can access it quickly and efficiently without sifting through a lot of extra stuff. If you have an infant and feel like you’re carrying around half of his or her earthly belongings every time you leave the house, I hope this post gave you a few times for simplifying the diaper bag!

I got by with a little help from my friends

It is SO tempting to compare yourself to others on social media. It’s easy to look at someone else’s Insta-perfect hair/outfit/makeup/family/home and assume that they have it all together and you somehow don’t quite measure up.

This picture was snapped after lunch yesterday. We are still dressed up from church and look like just another happy, loving family that has it all pretty much together.

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But can I just be real for a minute?

This past week was a doozy for me. You know those weeks where you feel like you’re running behind from the get-go and just never catch up? That’s what I’ve felt like. Coming back from the vacation high straight into the tasks of daily life with a mile long to-do list, an over-committed schedule, and a teething baby who started waking up multiple times every night. I quickly went from relaxed vacation mom last week to frazzled, hot-mess mom this week.

My default has always been to try to handle things myself. I’m a recovering perfectionist who likes to be able to do it all and do it all well. But it is an absolute LIE to believe that I can do everything all the time. Supermom is not real. She needs help and so do I.

Which brings me back to this past week. How did I manage to make it through?

When Justin had to unexpectedly work late one day instead of come home to be with LJ, I reached out to a friend who was more than happy to watch him for an hour so I could make it to my eye doctor appointment on time.

When another friend made a large crockpot meal and invited us to dinner one evening, I gratefully accepted and crossed “figure out dinner” from my to-do list.

When it was time for my weekly cycling class, I prioritized my own physical and mental health by going to class and utilizing the YMCA childcare services for an hour.

And when Justin and I needed a full night of rest to refill our depleted sleep tanks after this long week, I asked my parents for help. They were SO thrilled to have LJ at their house for dinner and a sleepover. My mom didn’t even mind his waking up at night because it meant she got extra cuddles with him. It blessed my parents to have special grandparent time and it blessed us with a night of uninterrupted sleep. When we were reunited with LJ today, Justin and I were refreshed, recharged, and ready to be our best parenting selves and love on our little man so hard!

So don’t let my cute little family photo fool you or make you feel bad about yourself in any way. In fact, don’t let any picture on social media make you feel that way. There is always more going on beyond the little 2×2 square. Yes, we are a happy, loving family. Yes, I was able to actually do both my make-up AND curl my hair instead of choosing one or the other. Yes, we really were having a fairly pulled-together moment with smiles on our faces here. But it doesn’t mean we just had an easy-breezy week and our life is picture perfect. We didn’t get to this moment alone. It truly takes a VILLAGE and there is no shame in my mom game to say that we had help getting through this past week.

I get it, it’s hard to ask for help. It means that we have to admit that we cannot do it all. It can makes us feel like we fell short somewhere or we aren’t enough somehow. I have felt that way too but I have come to realize that I’m a better wife, mom, and human when I’m not frazzled, stressed, and overwhelmed. And I can’t do it all without help.

If you are having one of those day or weeks (or months or years) where you feel just overwhelmed by whatever life is throwing at you, I hope this encourages you to ask for and accept help from others. We are all in this together. ❤

July 2018 Book Review {Part Two}

Happy Friday! It’s time for another round up of some of the books I finished this summer. Because I was able to get through so many books in July, I have broken up July’s review into two parts. If you missed Part One, be sure to check it out here.

July Book Review Pt 2

Let’s get started!

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant

Eleanor Oliphant is a quirky, lonely individual. She struggles with social interactions and has mysterious things in her past that have greatly impacted her, although we don’t initially know what those things are. The book journeys with her as she navigates new friendships and tries to find love.  Here’s the thing. I started this book knowing it was on the NYT Bestseller list and in Reese Witherspoon’s book club. My expectations before reading one single word were sky high for this to be a blow-me-away amazing book and it just fell short of that category. I felt that it started off pretty slow and even boring for the first several chapters. There is a ton of detail about really mundane parts of Eleanor’s life and I started to get annoyed with it all, particularly because I wasn’t connecting with, and therefore caring about, Eleanor. For those of you who read my review on The Rosie Project, you know how much I loved the protagonist Don and, despite their similar quirks, Eleanor is not as charming or funny as he is. However, around 40% of the way through, the tides turned and Eleanor began to endear herself to me. The story really picks up and I began to root for her. I thoroughly enjoyed the second half of the book and was especially satisfied with how everything wrapped up. I would say that despite the slow start in warming up to Eleanor, I did enjoy this book and would recommend it!

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman

My Grandmother Asked Me

This was my first book by this author and I love his writing style! This story follows a little girl named Elsa and is primarily centered around the apartment building where she lives. It has a fascinating way of weaving in and out of a fairy tale world created for Elsa by her wonderfully kooky grandmother. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, so I’ll just say I found this book to be a charming little piece of literary magic and I am excited to read more by this author. I absolutely recommend it!

The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve

The Stars are Fire.jpg

I happened to see this novel on a shelf as I was walking to the checkout at my library and I knew it had to be added to my stack. I’ve read The Pilot’s Wife and Stella Bain by this author and both were so good! So knowing nothing but the fact that I love this author, this book came home with me. It follows a young mother, Grace, who has a fairly unhappy marriage in Maine in 1947. A devastating wildfire comes to her little town and Grace and her best friend Rosie are left to try to save themselves and their children as their husbands go off to fight the fire. In the aftermath of the fire, Grace has to rally every ounce of her inner strength to help her family survive and thrive even when some really tragic and frustrating events take place. I really liked this book! Grace is a character that you just want to cheer on as she finds strength and freedom that she never thought was possible. I recommend checking it out (as well as Shreve’s other books)!

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

The Wife Between Us

I don’t know how to give any sort of synopsis to this book without spoilers, so I will just say it’s about a woman and how she’s coping (or not coping) with her ex-husband’s new love. I love a good psychological thriller but this one felt a little less than thrilling. I think the overall story line is promising and there are several twists; however, I guessed the “major” twist about 20 pages before it happened which was disappointing. It made the big moment basically just a confirmation of what I already knew. I will say that there were some other twists that I did not see coming, so it was enough to keep me pretty engaged the whole way through. Overall I thought it tried too hard to be shocking and is not my favorite psychological thriller by any means, but it’s a good option if you’re looking for one that isn’t so creepy it’ll keep you up at night with the lights on.

And that’s a wrap on my July books! Have you read any of these books? What were your thoughts?

Stay in the picture, mama

In Monday’s post, I shared a bunch of pictures of my family’s recent vacation to Virginia Beach. After publishing the post, I noticed something about the pictures I chose to share as highlights. Mainly, I noticed I wasn’t in them.

Allow me to indulge in a brief trip down memory lane. When my husband and I returned from our honeymoon 5+ years ago, I posted a ton of pictures of our trip on Facebook. I mean, why not? We had an absolute blast on the trip and we documented it well. In many of these pictures, I was in a bikini.

Honeymoon balcony

Everyone from my best friends to my husband’s grandmother could see my bikini pics and I didn’t think twice about it. I was dang proud of my body. In the months before our wedding, I created and stuck to a workout regimen. I went to the gym for at least an hour 4-5 days each week. I ate healthy foods. I ran for miles. I worked hard for months and months and when the wedding rolled around, all my hard work paid off. I felt confident and proud in my wedding dress.  And on my honeymoon, I rocked my bikini like I never had before.

Honeymoon

Flash forward 5 years, and we took another beach vacation. Once again, we had an absolute blast on the trip and documented it well. Once again, I wore a bikini for a lot of the trip. This time, however, when it came time to post pictures, my bikini pictures remained safely on my phone.

My body has experienced drastic changes over the past 19 months. I gained and lost 45 pounds; I was stretched out and didn’t shrink back the exact same way. To be clear, I am so thankful for my body. I was able to get pregnant and grow a human, something I worried wouldn’t happen after the loss of my first pregnancy. I have breastfed my son for over ten months and am so grateful that my body can provide him nourishment. I take walks with my family, attend a weekly cycling class at my local YMCA, and squeeze in a bootcamp class when nap time allows. I don’t say any of this to brag, but to honestly say that I truly am proud of what my body has done and can still do.

But the bikini pictures remained on my phone.

To be completely open and vulnerable, for as proud as I am of what my body has done and can do, I still struggle to wholeheartedly love the way it looks. It’s easy to post a bikini picture when you have rock-hard abs and nothing jiggles. It’s harder to post when your stomach has a stubborn post-baby pooch and you’re soft around the edges. I felt pretty good about the fact that I even wore a bikini on our vacation, but I wasn’t about to share the pictures.

Until I took the time to really look at them.

LJ and Mommy 1 (2)

Look at my son and his pure joy in this moment. He doesn’t care that his mommy’s belly is squishier than it once was. He doesn’t care that her hips are bigger and her baby pooch never left. He doesn’t care that mommy isn’t standing at a flattering angle to the camera or that oops, her c-section scar is showing (did you even notice that? My inner mean girl sure did).

LJ and Mommy 2

My son cares that his mommy is playing with him. He cares that his mommy is focused on him. He cares that he feels safe and loved and knows mommy is going to catch him every time she throws him up in the air. I see love and happiness in these moments captured from my son’s first beach trip and I’m so glad I have these pictures.

LJ and Mommy 3

It would be easy to hide these pictures. It would be easy to keep them on my phone or in some remote corner of my hard drive where they’re never seen. It would be easy to forget they exist. It would even be easy to stop taking them in the first place.

But here is the truth. I want to be in the pictures. Even if I’m not looking my best, I want these sweet moments captured from this all-too-fleeting baby stage of my son’s life. I want us both to be able to look back years from now and cherish the fun we’ve had together. Plus, I want to raise my son to know that a woman is worth so. much. more. than her outer appearance – I can hardly teach him that truth if I’m not living with the confidence of knowing it’s true about me too!

So I am going to continue to ignore the narrative in my head, the critical inner voice who says my body isn’t “back” and I’m not “ready” to be in a bikini. I am going to continue to throw that suit on and make memories with my son at every stage. I want to be the mom running around in the splash pad with my toddler, sliding down a water park slide with my six-year-old, and challenging my ten-year-old to a cannonball contest. I can’t waste energy comparing my honeymoon body to my mom body. My body has changed and I am not the same 24-year-old who could spend 60-90 minutes in the gym every day. But ten months ago, I brought a human into this world and I am dang proud of all my body has accomplished since then.

If you are a mama struggling to love on your postpartum body, I just want to encourage you today to stay in the picture. Don’t sit on the sidelines, don’t keep out of the frame. Keep loving on your kiddos no matter if you’re bundled up in snowsuits building a snowman or splashing in a pool in your swimsuit. Make those memories. Cherish those times. Take those pictures. Your kids don’t care what you look like. They care that you’re there. ❤

 

Beach Week 2018

Disclaimer: In this post I do mention a few specific items and provide links for them. None of these are sponsored and I was given no compensation for mentioning or linking them. They are all just items that I loved having on our trip and wanted to pass along!

Last week our little family traveled out to Virginia to spend the week at Sandbridge Beach with Justin’s side of the family (his parents, siblings, nephew, nieces). We managed to find a beach house rental where we could all stay together and it was SO nice to get a ton of quality time with each other.  My heart is so full from all the memories made! I buried our three-year-old niece in the sand into the shape of a mermaid. Justin helped our five-year-old nephew learn how to dive into the pool. LJ got to experience the ocean for the first time. I stayed up until midnight just chatting with my sister-in-law about all things big and little in our lives. The grandparents got a ton of baby snuggles with LJ and his 6-month-old cousin. We shared meals, we played games, we talked and laughed and soaked up every minute. It was such a fantastic week!

Justin and LJ at beach

Instead of recapping the whole trip, I’ve decided to just share my favorite memory from the week, which happened on the last day that we were all together. Our rental was only a two minute walk to the ocean and we decided to take one last trip to the beach before my brother-in-law’s family had to leave. We didn’t load ourselves down with beach gear, but instead just threw on our suits, grabbed a few towels and some sunscreen, and headed out. We were only on the beach for about 45 minutes, but it was the most fun 45 minutes of the whole trip.

LJ and cousin

The babies lounged on the towel together and watched Justin and his brother take the big kids to jump waves in the ocean. My niece requested to be buried in the sand again. My nephew and I “raced” away from the incoming waves, laughing the whole time. At one point the entire family ended up in the ocean holding hands as the waves crashed onto our feet. I loved every second! It was such a good reminder that we don’t need a lot of “stuff” to have fun and make great memories. No one brought books to read or sand toys to play with. We just had the sand, the surf, and each other – and that’s all we needed to have the most pure, perfect, magical beach memory.

That being said, we did have a lot of other good memories. I hope you enjoy a few photos of the highlights!

Daddy and LJ
LJ’s first time at the beach – he LOVED it!
LJ + nephew in sand
Justin and our nephew playing in the sand.
Justin, LJ Neice
A sweet moment captured with my boys and our niece on the beach one evening.

LJ and Fiona

My heart can’t even handle the cuteness of LJ in his little floating flamingo, whom we lovingly named Fiona. Our exact one is no longer available but a similar one can be found here. It was such a nice thing to have so we didn’t always have to hold him in the pool, and it allowed him to kick his feet in the water which was so sweet!

Mommy and LJ on beach

As you can see from the picture above from another beach day, we did not always pack light. Ha! This was our typical beach set-up with LJ. My sister-in-law had the brilliant idea to get an inflatable bathtub for the babies to enjoy a little ocean water while staying in the shade. It worked so well!

LJ's beach set-up

The sun shelter was an Aldi Find (anyone else obsessed with Aldi?) earlier this summer. You can find similar styles here and here.

LJ in pool

The inflatable bathtub was also a huge help at the pool! You can find this exact tub here. Also, I have all the heart eyes for LJ’s sweet little striped hat. He does have a brimmed sun hat with a chin strap but he is constantly trying to pull it off his head. For some reason, he tolerates baseball hats much better so this is what we used most often. His hat can be found here.

LJ on Towel.jpg

We are already talking about next year’s beach trip and I can’t wait to see what fun we’ll have! Until then, I’ll just bask in all the sweet memories we made this year. 🙂

LJ looking back at beach

Where is your favorite beach to visit?

July 2018 Book Review {Part One}

Hello and Happy Friday! I am still catching up on my summer book reviews and July was a BIG month for my reading list. Thanks to a road trip to Canada with my parents and grandparents (hello lots of willing baby-watchers!), I got through eight books. Rather than one huge mega post, I’ve broken up July into two posts.

July Book Review Part One

So here’s part one of my July book reviews!

Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Dear Ijeawele

This book is a short, quick read that my sister recommended to me. Just because it’s short doesn’t mean it doesn’t pack a big punch – this book makes several thought-provoking points and I found myself nodding along often. The author has so many wise words but is very relatable and never sounds overly preachy. The overarching message is: everyone deserves respect and equality and everyone matters. While it only took me 45 minutes to read, after I finished this book I called my sister and we spent an hour talking about it. Whether you are a parent or not, I think this is an important work that should be on your reading list.

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

Mudbound

This book was recommended to me by a fellow lover of historical fiction. In post-WWII Mississippi, Laura has moved to a farm with her husband and children and it is not at all what she expected. Chapters mainly alternate between Laura’s perspective and those of two men working on the farm, her brother-in-law and a black sharecropper’s son, who have both returned from the war to very different worlds. This book absolutely hooked me.  It covers such heavy topics that it feels weird to me to say it was a great book – in truth, it wasn’t always enjoyable to read and made me feel sick to my stomach at times. But it was a great book because the author writes in such a way that the characters come alive and you feel invested in their story so when tragic things happen, your heart breaks for them. This book was very well-written and gives a haunting glimpse into life in the harsh 1940’s South.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere

It feels like I have seen this book everywhere this summer and I can completely understand all the buzz. In this novel, the seemingly perfect suburb Shaker Heights is forever changed by the arrival of an artist and her daughter and before long, the community is divided over a very public custody battle involving the adoption of a Chinese-American baby. There are many little stories within this story and different characters find themselves in various intriguing situations. I often asked myself “what would I do if this were me?” and found no perfect answers. I wish I had read this as part of a book club or something where I could have discussed other perspectives of the different scenarios in detail as they played out. I really enjoyed this one and would highly recommend it!

On Second Thought by Kristan Higgins

On Second Thought

Two sisters find themselves with abrupt ends to their romantic relationships and they come to rely on each other in the aftermath and start to move on with their lives. I have read and enjoyed other books by Kristan Higgins so I was excited to dive into this one. Overall the book was entertaining but I did think it got a little slow at times. I enjoyed the alternating narration between the two sisters and I was delighted to find that there were some recurring minor characters from another Higgins book I loved (If You Only Knew). I came to love the characters (except one who absolutely drove me crazy but that was obviously Higgins’ intent) and I was satisfied with how everything wrapped up. While this isn’t my favorite Higgins book, I enjoyed it and would recommend it!

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?