Quick Lit, Reviews

The Book You Need on Your Fall TBR (and a few other ideas, too)

Hey friends! Welcome to Quick Lit, where book loving bloggers come together mid-month over at modernmrsdarcy.com to share what we’ve been reading lately.

I read a few great books this summer, but there was one that stood up and said to me as I was reading it, “As wonderful as I am now, I’m really an autumn book, you know.” The book was “Dear Mrs. Bird,” and I adored it. It’s historical fiction, set in the middle of World War II during the London Blitz. The plucky heroine Emmeline Lake leaves her day job in pursuit of becoming a war correspondent. She finds herself shoved into a back office of a dying magazine as an assistant to the fearsome Mrs. Henrietta Bird, a once popular advice columnist. Emmy’s war effort takes on its own type of intrigue and danger as she attempts to do her part for England. Emmy is one of those characters who is an unquenchable friend, loyal and kind, and also drives her friends crazy with her impulsive actions. The book is both humorous and moving, compassionate and light but with the realities of war woven through it. The way A. J. Pearce wrote a book that is both modern and true to the 1940s time period is incredibly rare and special. I’ve read several books written in England during the war years, and Dear Mrs. Bird strikes just the right tone to fit in with books actually written in 1940-45. (And because sometimes it’s nice to know, this book is about a PG/PG-13 level when it comes to adult content – fairly clean, with some mention of adult themes, some language, and of course the war themes). I think this book will appeal to you whether you like new releases or classics or just love a good cast of characters.

A few other ideas for your Fall TBR:

If you like middle grade novels: The Orphan Band of Springdale is a new release that is very good. I would argue that it has themes that put it more in a 6-8th grade range. It’s one of those “children’s” novels that anyone can enjoy.

If you like vintage books set in England: Merry Hall has me in stitches. The narrator is terribly funny in a sarcastic, witty way and his observations, though bogged down with gardening tidbits in my non-gardener’s opinion, are on point. I’m reading this rare book for free here. Internet Archive is a goldmine.

If you have a baby in the house: My baby (17 months) loooves the book Who?: A Celebration of Babies.

If you like non-fiction: I’m both laughing at and moved by Jennifer Fulwiler’s book One Beautiful DreamIt’s her story of how she came to realize that pursuing her passions and callings while raising a young family was actually something she needed to do. I’m hoping she’ll explain how she does that, too, because there are only so many hours in a day… and can I just say that the cover of this book kind of makes me cringe, and I think that was the intention? Fulwiler’s honesty about her real life starts even on the very cover. I admire her courage to put that on her book instead of choosing a cover that would be more Insta-worthy.

If you’re looking for an important and insightful addition to your fall reading, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of Family and Culture in Crisis is eye opening and informative. J.D. Vance writes about his upbringing among the working poor of America. Ideas about how the American dream has come and gone for certain regions in America were especially fascinating.

I’m putting Kind is the New Classy by Candace Cameron Bure on my Fall TBR because her interview with Jen Hatmaker on the For the Love podcast had me very interested in Bure’s ideas about moving our outrage culture towards a kinder culture. I’m one of those strange people who didn’t actually watch much of Bure’s television or movie career develop, so I can honestly say I feel compelled to read her newest book based on the premise of the book alone.

So that’s what I’ve been reading lately and plan to read soon! Our homeschool’s first day of is today, and I’m both excited and nervous about going deeper into this home educating journey with a fourth grader, second grader, Pre-K-er, and toddler. Any ideas on good books about long term vision in homeschooling? I’m all ears.

Happy reading!

Everyday Life, Parenting

Thoughts on Leaving the House in the Morning: A Meme Story

Made my first meme today. It’s brought to you by the moment when I leave the house in the morning. Pretty much every time I leave home, I look around at the utter chaos and disorder, and say to tell myself:

If I arrive somewhere looking like I just barely made it out alive? It’s because I did. It’s like a bank heist gone wrong, a calculated plan poorly executed that doesn’t have as much to do with not tripping sophisticated alarm systems but more with getting the dishes done and beds made before exiting the building. (Although, a one-year-old??? Talk about a sophisticated alarm system. Do NOT take that Tupperware lid away from her).  This is especially true when we’re going to be gone for most of the day and we’re packing picnics, leaving dishes strewn across the counter and drawers and cabinets open everywhere, forgetting to put away hairbrushes, toothbrushes, pretty much everything. Why not just stop to clean it up? We’d be a good hour late, maybe two, and I’d be hoarse from all the “come back and put away!”-ing.  Better to call it a morning and pick up the pieces of dismissed outfits and twelve water bottle lids when we get home. The silver lining? A wrecked house to clean up is a good excuse for making an afternoon cup pot of coffee.

Related image

So, yes, we need some better leaving the house practices. It’s definitely a delegation issue at this point in my parenting. But for now, may the coffee be strong, the afternoon productive, and the evening full of something similar to if not necessarily Chick-fil-A.

Everyday Life, Nonfiction, Quick Lit, Reading, Reviews

A Quest for Sustainability – Summer Reading 2018

A snapshot of my current reading pile on this mid-summer day made me realize that I have a pretty clear theme going on in this season:

Apparently I’m not gravitating towards titles with words like “revolutionize” or “begin” or even “new.” No za-za-zing or va-va-vroom hear, please! No, I’m checking books out that are about “ordinary” and “everyday” and “the middle.” Somewhat unconsciously, the theme of this summer has become the pursuit of sustainability. What good things can I do and keep doing? How can I keep doing the things I must and do them well while also keeping the joy and fun in life? This quest for sustainability is really uncool, very boring-sounding, but I’m drawn to it like a tired person is drawn to a plain white duvet and a familiar pillow. I’m weary of the fads, I’m figuring out some things about what doesn’t work, and I want to be faithful in the seemingly monotonous places in life. I don’t want to struggle along anymore in the everyday, ordinary parts of life. When the summer ends, I want to be ready for doing the school year well. I’m not itching for new– not a new house or a new career or even a new baby (and I treasure my babies) – I’m longing to get the house I currently have fit for a productive and full life, I’m settling into this homeschooling/homemaking/writing/so-much-more career, and I’m trying to squeeze every last snuggle and game of Uno out these four babies that are already here. So on that note, here’s what I’ve been reading this summer:

Everyday Holy is a collection of short devotionals, good for gently waking my brain up a bit in the morning. This is the third devotional I’ve read this year, which is…surprising. I used to dislike the idea of devotionals, but there are times when self-directed study gets hard…when you’re super busy or groggy from lack of sleep or simply a bit apathetic and you need a starting point to get you thinking in the right direction. I always appreciate Melanie Shankle’s blend of humor and honesty, and her constant grappling with the mundane, circumstantial elements of life that can numb us to the life believers are called to and graced with in Christ. My current morning reading practice is half a chapter of Proverbs (I spent the first six months of this year in Psalms and now I’m moving on!), a day or two from Everyday Holy, and a chapter of The Liturgy of the Ordinary or Give Them Grace. (Yes, I read a lot of books at once. No, I do not have ADD).

The Liturgy of the Ordinary is mostly about worship during the mundane chores and tasks we do each day. We fight in this culture against constant entertainment and a fear of the ordinary. Tish Harrison Warren explains in her book how she’s reconciling the ordinary with the sacred and coming to view them as not so separate after all. I liked parts of the book, though I don’t agree with all the author’s viewpoints. On finishing it, I’d give it 2.75 stars. I think I’m going to need to dig into The Quotidian Mysteries by Kathleen Norris next, because this book quotes it often! My biggest yet most unimportant beef with  The Liturgy of the Ordinary Day is that the text is constantly interrupted with bold main points. Listen. I know this is a common practice in non-fiction publishing right now, but I hate it. I already read that sentence, and you’re interrupting my train of thought to read it again??? No. Put it off to the side in the margin if you must, but here’s a thought: maybe you should trust your readers to read the page of text and gather the main points on their own, intelligent selves? This may come as a shock, publishing world, but we are capable of drawing conclusions and recognizing the heart of the message. Thank you, rant over. (But don’t get me started on back and forth, present to future viewpoints in historical novels…gah! Hate it. (See, told you I don’t have ADD. What’s the opposite? Complete focus at the expense of all else? Tunnel vision? I have that)).

Now, onto the cookbooks! I may have mentioned three or three hundred times that meal planning and prep is the bane of my daily existence. This summer, I’m out to conquer my struggles by keeping simple meals on repeat. Usually what happens is I swing from an uber-healthy eating phase to an “I’m sick of all this food prep give me pizza” phase. I stay in the second phase for quite a while before swinging back, but I feel nagging guilt about it all the time, so I end up avoiding buying “unhealthy” foods because I know they’re poison but then I don’t have the energy or forethought to provide my family with healthy foods and my grocery shopping is all a muddle…and then the week is suddenly a disaster. No, I’m not being dramatic. That’s why I was drawn to Eating in the Middle: A Mostly Wholesome Cookbook. Sustainability? Balance? Yes, please. I have yet to cook anything from it, but the Breakfast Egg Salad and Greek Yogurt Pancakes are on this week’s menu! I haven’t made it out of the breakfast section yet…the photos are beautiful. I have tried two recipes from Smitten Kitchen Everyday: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites and they were winners, especially the Chicken and Rice Street Cart Style. Have I ever gotten chicken and rice from a street cart? No. But I will be making this recipe again and again.  One of the best parts of these two cookbooks is the authors are not just good cooks but excellent writers; I actually want to read all the text and introductions to each recipe. Not sure how I became a person who reads cookbooks (or a Goodreads friend whose shelves are cluttered with cookbooks…) but I’m pretty sure it has to do with the pursuit of sustainability, haha.

The Baker's SecretOn the fiction side of things, I haven’t been hitting the novels very hard. I love being outside in the summer, running around with the kids, doing house projects, swimming, so the cold winter months are really when I do the bulk of my reading. I did read The Baker’s Secret,  and really enjoyed it, though there were definitely depressing parts (war novel). If you like WWII historical fiction like The Plum Tree or The Nightingale, you’ll like this book. I also finally got Ronia, the Robber’s  Daughter off my to-read list, and mostly enjoyed it, though it was much darker than I was expecting. I won’t be reading it to my kids…it’s more of a YA book, in my opinion.

Now homeschool planning for the coming year is heavy on the brain, so my reading habits probably won’t pick up til September or October, but I’d love to hear what your summer reading is looking like! Happy summer! And head on over the Modernmrsdarcy.com to see more of what readers have been reading this summer on the QuickLit feature!

Children's Books, Reviews

The Pink Umbrella – A Love Story Worth Reading with Your Kids

It’s pouring rain here…the perfect day for me to tell you about this gem of the book: The Pink Umbrella, by Amelie Callot, illustrated by Genevieve Godbout. This is a children’s picture book, but it’s also the perfectly delightful story for all ages of Adele, a cafe owner in a small village by the sea. Adele is like sunshine to the people around her, but gets very blue on rainy days. In short, Adele hates rain, and the people who love her hate to see her sad. The story develops in a simple way, but it will melt your heart.

Yes, The Pink Umbrella is about romantic love, but in the best possible way. The love story is about a slow, abiding, caring, gentle love, not a sweep-you-off-your-feet, love-at-first-sight kind of love our children are so often exposed to in fairy tales and through all kinds of mediums. Beyond a healthy and beautiful love story, the book gives a good picture of how a hard-working, thoughtful, and generous person in seemingly small ways can change the people and places around him or her. Adele is an ordinary woman, not a princess, and this is an ordinary story, but with gorgeous illustrations and a couple of characters you’ll want to know in real life.

Make an outing to a library or bookstore to get The Pink Umbrella part of your plans this weekend!

{Note: this post is completely UNsponsored}

About Mia The Reader ~ Just a lady with a busy life full of a big family, a background in literature, and an obsession with books ~

 

Everyday Life, Parenting

Giant Balls of String – The Untidy Parenting Journey I’m On

If you’ve been around this blog for a while, you may remember that I write some posts about parenting now and then. You may have noticed that I write those posts far less often now than I used to. Something about having children older than, oh about three years old, can make a parent question why she ever thought she had much parenting wisdom. With my two older kids 9 and  almost 7, and my two younger ones throwing me for loops daily, I hardly ever find myself thinking, “Wow, I should share what I’m learning with the world at large.” For one thing, what I’m learning isn’t neat and Image result for balls of stringeasy to whip up into a tidy blog post. Parenting is beginning to seem like untangling a gigantic ball of string. You start at the beginning with varying emotions and you hit particularly tangled snags and you also go through some smoother parts. There was a clear beginning to this ball of string, but who knows where the end is or what it will look like, or even what kind of material we’re dealing with– I have wool and you have silk? Both? I don’t know. This analogy is getting weird. Either way, giant balls of tangled string don’t make for good blog posts with clear beginnings and neat conclusions. All I really know is as my kids get bigger, my wisdom gets smaller.

Most of us, when we find ourselves lacking wisdom, go looking for it. We skip out into the information age, sure we’ll find some ideas. A few minutes later, we run back and hide our heads under a pillow. So many opinions. So many serious, earnest voices. And so many do’s and don’ts.

“Make your bed everyday and you’ll be successful in life!”

“Don’t make your bed, that’s gross!”

“Throw everything out that doesn’t bring you joy and you’ll be freeeee!”

“Don’t throw that away! Repurpose it into an amazing entryway bench or life-changing crafting opportunity with your child!”

And whoever started the terribly trendy articles titled “5 Things You Should Never Say to Your Spouse” or “The 10 Worst Things You Can Say To Your Teen” should be well, not shot, but maybe sentenced to Antarctica to shovel snow for life. You can find convincing arguments for all sides of both important and trivial issues in books, online, in conversations with friends, in forums (ugh…we should all agree to just skip the forums…). And then, to smooth it all over like peanut butter on very, very lumpy bread, we have the phrase, “You do you.” Thanks. That fixes everything. I mean, at this point I don’t have time to think about who am I, much less how to do me. I’m too busy sorting through mixed reviews on sippy cups. I thought I was just going to jump online and buy a sippy cup, but which one? There’s this one… some people say it will change your life and some people say that it’s so defective it will ruin the interior of your mini-van and you’ll have to buy a whole new van, or maybe it will give your kids cancer. Am I the kind of person who buys a stainless steel sippy cup, anyway? How can there be this many STRONG opinions about a sippy cup?

If we’re reading all these reviews and searching for the right information to help us raise our families, we probably are living life with laser focus on getting things right. That’s a good thing…parenting is important…until we wake up one day and wonder if something might be missing. Something important, like light-heartedness. Something like freedom…you know, the freedom to not feel bad for rewarding your children with popsicles after they clean out the back of the SUV on a hot day, even though you read that viral article on why you shouldn’t use food as a reward. Or something like fun…why do I feel bad when I say “yes” to UNO instead of forcing that phonics card game on my 6-year-old? Games are supposed to be fun! In the grand scheme of things, it’s this all-important Something, the cheerfulness, freedom, and fun, that I know without even having to hear it from someone on the internet is what I want my children to look back and see in their time with me before they become adults themselves. I don’t know about you, but in the past two or three years of my parenting life, I’ve noticed that Something is missing.

This gradual realization that I’m losing cheerfulness, freedom, and fun as a mom in my earnest pursuit of parenting perfection is what has kept me from posting anything about parenting here lately. I don’t want to be one more voice that comes across like I’m telling parents how to do every little thing the right way. I am sick of those voices myself. And, like I said earlier, my parenting wisdom just keeps on shrinking. So I kept quiet until I thought maybe I could be a different kind of voice. In the meantime, I read your messages about this blog. Some of you lovely readers asked me if I would be posting again on parenting or homeschooling again. Those messages and in-person conversations surprised me so much! I’m truly grateful for them. I doubt I’ll ever again think I have tons of good ideas to share about parenting like I must have had when I started this blog with a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old and no clue that I’d have two more children come along and ten thousand moments of doubtful parenting in my future. But if I can do one thing on this crazy internet, I would choose be a voice in a parenting movement of cheerfulness, freedom, and fun, in pursuit of connection and relationship with our children. I’ll get a million things wrong along the way, but I’m starting to understand that being okay with getting a few things wrong is the first step in parenting from a place of strength and lightheartedness, even as we parent with purpose.

And of course, there will be book reviews for you and your kids as a great season of summer reading approaches.

Thanks for reading!

 

Uncategorized

March Quick Lit 2018

Time for some Quick Lit reviews! I’m linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy and other book bloggers to talk about what we’ve read lately Hop on over and find more book recommendations than you’ll know what to do with (which in book-speak, is a very good thing)!

Winter has decided to stay forever. It did not ask our permission, because if it had, we would have said “No.” Emphatically, no. I’m attempting to embrace what will actually be the last few weeks of winter, whether that surly season likes it or not, but it’s similar to when you try to embrace those middle of the night feedings with your sweet newborn baby….you really just need to sleep, and we really just want spring. The silver lining is that winter weather keeps me under my favorite electric blanket with a book in hand. Here’s what I’ve been reading over the past month.

Fiction

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street

I posted on Instagram that I am in love with all the characters from this book, and I really can’t give higher praise to a novel than that. The setting was pretty swell, too, aside from being central to the plot. This book is middle-grade novel perfection, and I would recommend it to anyone, young or old, but especially to people who enjoyed The Penderwicks, The Saturdays, All in a Family, and other family narratives. The theme of an older neighbor who is the grumpiest creature known to mankind is also here, so if you’re a fan of A Man Called Ove or any number of misanthropic character books, you might just love The Vanderbeekers, too.

Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers – I’d put this at the top of my favorite adult fiction read in the past year list. Debut novelist Sara Ackerman tells a tender yet fascinating and page turning story that was not overly sweet (no pun on the title intended) or shockingly harsh. I have read a lot of books set in WWII Europe, but I know next to nothing about the Pacific battlefront, so this was a nice change. Set in Hawaii as soldiers are being sent there to prepare for the invasion of Japan, the plot centers on one family’s strange struggle to find their missing husband/father and to understand the many different kinds of love between family and friends. Could I have done without some of the romance? Yes, but I’m glad it stuck to a PG level. Highly recommend for fans of historical novels and especially fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (though it is not at all written in the same format).

Little Fires Everywhere – This book is well written literature, with all kinds of perfectly fine-tuned details, symbolism, foil characters, universal themes…the list could go on.  It’s got some pretty hard subject matters and adult content, so I wouldn’t turn to this one if you’re looking for a light, beachy read, but it is a great book club pick and will get you thinking from many different perspectives on parenthood, community, and friendship.

The Bookman’s Tale – Though the story has a fun National Treasure type twist to it, I wouldn’t recommend this book very highly. I finished it because it was a book club pick, but it was slow going through unbelievable characters and settings, with way too much detail about some things and far too little about other important components of the story.

Non-fiction

Mom Set Free: Find Relief From the Pressure to Get it All Right – Though simplistic in writing style at times, the message of this book is something I desperately need in my parenting journey. Jeannie Cunnion points our parenting and our treatment of our own selves back to the gospel. I know this is going to be a slow conversion for me, a doer and an authority pleaser at heart, but I truly think it’s worth the trying. I really appreciate all the Bible verses Cunnion quotes throughout the book and the list she gives in the back of verses that she references.

If You Only Knew: My Unlikely, Unavoidable Story of Becoming Free – I wasn’t planning on reading Jamie Ivey’s memoir, but a friend told me she really liked it and let me borrow it, and I’m seriously glad she did (thanks, Erica!). Yes, Ivey tells a story that is messy and vulnerable, but she doesn’t tell it because she feels like spilling her guts – there is an intense purpose to her writing and she constantly points her readers back to the cross and Jesus’ love for us. There’s a chapter at the end called “Sin-shame” about how we treat others who are vulnerable in what they share with us that really convicted me. I was surprised by how great this book was. It was easy to get into, but it was also deep; I was expecting something a lot lighter from the host of a podcast titled The Happy Hour. =)

Comforts from the Cross: Celebrating the Gospel One Day at a Time – Can you tell I’m pretty gospel-focused these days? It’s incredible that I’ve been following Christ since I was an itty-bitty five-year-old yet I can’t seem to accept or give grace and free, unconditional love in my daily thoughts and actions. This devotional has been awesome, even though it has a Chicken Soup for the Soul type title that makes me cringe a little. I’m finding it a great follow up to the devotional Gracelaced, which adored last summer. That’s two more devotionals than I’ve ever enjoyed before, so maybe my feelings on devotionals in general are turning.

Girl, Wash Your Face – I’m listening to this one on audio and still have about 25% left. Having no familiarity with Rachel Hollis before reading this book, I didn’t know what to expect. It has a lot of “own your life” themes. The central idea is we shouldn’t believe lies about ourselves. Sometimes it feels too much like a “girl power” memoir and sometimes I’m left breathless at the insights from this down-to-earth lady who has done a lot and seems pretty different from me but maybe really isn’t. It’s a good treadmill audiobook, if you’re in the market for one of those. I admit, I was mostly grabbed by the title.

That rounds out what Quick Lit for this month. Happy reading, everyone!

Parenting, Picture Books, Reading

Jesse Bear – Our Favorite Books for Preschoolers

Things are pretty busy around here, and I have some great new releases to review for you soon, but I wanted to do a quick post about our current favorite books for the preschool picture book crowd. Check these out if you have little people in your life!

If Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is the show parents want their preschoolers watching, the Jesse Bear books are the books all parents should want their preschoolers reading. I didn’t know about these books when my oldest two were ages 2-4, but my three-year-old and I have recently fallen in love with them. Each book in the series follows a lovable little bear who is experiencing life and the world around him with a cheerful expression and an enthusiastic eagerness to learn. There’s an enjoyment in every day, normal life that’s contagious in these books.

Our favorite is Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear? Jesse gets up and dressed and ready for his day, with rhyming words and pleasant illustrations that take readers through a day with Jesse until it’s time to get back into his pajamas. A close second favorite is Better Not Get Wet, Jesse Bear, which shows Jesse Bear bursting with longing to get wet as he goes through a summer day helping his mom and dad around the house until he finally gets to splash in his very own pool. In Guess Who’s Coming, Jesse Bear, the little bear learns to deal with an older cousin who he isn’t excited to spend time with at first, but soon learns big cousin Sarah isn’t so bad after all.

Every Jesse Bear book is perfectly illustrated by Bruce Degan (Jamberry) and will make you want to go hug a teddy bear and a toddler at the same time. There’s a Jesse Bear book about waiting for Christmas and one about counting, and several more we haven’t read it in this ten-book series.  I hope you and your little people enjoy the Jesse Bear books as much as we do! We’ll be grabbing a few more of these (and the new Fancy Nancy book!) the next time we go to the library.

Happy reading!

Everyday Life, Parenting

Best Valentine’s Day Gifts for Kids (That They’ll Use All Year Long!)

In two days, Valentine’s Day will be here! Did it sneak up on you like it did me? I mean, wasn’t it just Christmas? I love this holiday, but it sort of presents a conundrum. It feels like we don’t need one solitary extra item around here, but the front shelves at every store are stuffed with giant pink unicorns and candy hearts as big as your kid’s head. Those sorts of gifts can absolutely say, “I love you!” loud and clear, but they can also give you a big headache…”Where are we going to put this thing?” or “how can I sneak away half of this candy without them knowing?” So! If you need some last minute ideas for what to give the kids in your life this Valentine’s Day, grab something both thrilling to kids and useful to them, too! (Yes, it is possible, trust me). Here are some ideas to replace all the stuffed minions and candy:

  1. Baking kits – Put together a little cookie dough and some fun cookie cutters and Voila, everyone is excited. Throw in an apron and it’s a gift that can be kept for years. Bonus: aprons are an easy way to use up bigger scraps of fabric if you happen to be a crafty person with remnants hanging around your crafting closet. (Props to Aunt Destiny for this classic at our house!)
  2. Card games – Old Maid,  Go Fish, or for older kids, a fun travel sized game could be a great gift. My oldest daughter (8) really loves the game Authors.
  3. A special mug that’s kid-sized and a packet of hot chocolate – Can anything say I love you every time you use it more than a mug picked especially for you? 
  4. Sticker books – For kids 3 or 4 and up, a sticker book can be hours of entertainment that’s screen free and no mess!
  5. Temporary tatoos – This is what my kids will be getting this Valentine’s Day from me! The metallic ones are especially fun, but be prepared to scrub them off with some coconut oil because they will stick around for weeks (ask me how I know…).
  6. Cups with lids and straws – We call these our smoothie cups. I grabbed them on whim for Valentine’s Day last year and the kids use them several times a week still!
  7. Play-doh or modelling clay
  8. Bubble bath
  9. Books – Obviously. Try your very best to pick something the child you love will actually enjoy reading…maybe not a gushy Valentine’s book? Not saying they’re bad! Just…you know…get something kids like to read, k? ; ) [Check out our favorites in this category here and here].
  10. Pajamas – Okay, okay, this has a reputation as being the classic underwhelming gift, but actually, my kids love receiving new pajamas.
  11. Rainy day gear – rain boots, umbrellas, a poncho – all great fun for rainy days of late winter and early spring!
  12. An invitation – Kids love time spent together more than anything else. Make an invitation for your kids to go get ice cream, go to a movie, or whatever fun thing would be special for you and them. Easy and maybe the best gift in this whole list.

Okay, now hurry, Valentine’s Day is in two days! I hope it’s full of warmth and joy for you and your children (and throw in a little candy, too…).

 

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Everyday Life

What’s Saving My Life, 2018 Edition

We’re halfway there! Halfway through winter, that is. How’s this season been for you? Where I live, it’s been the coldest winter in years and the flu has hit record numbers.  Joy. When I say, “Yay, we’re halfway through!” what I’m really thinking is “I cannot believe we’re only halfway through.” It’s been winter for forever. But! Whether or not the Groundhog sees his shadow today, we have a ways to go.

To get us through this often doldrum-ish time of year, we’re asking the question, “What’s Saving Your Life Right Now?” I’m once again linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy and other bloggers on this mid-winter day to share some of the little things that are making life easier or more enjoyable this winter. Join us in focusing on the good stuff!

  1. Grocery Pick-Up + Plan to Eat – Life. Saved. Weekly. I never thought I would be a mother who couldn’t stand taking her children grocery shopping with her. Oh, but I am that mother x 20. Now, I can simply make a meal plan on Plan To Eat and then put everything from my Plan to Eat list into a cart online at a grocery store (several stores do this but the closest one to us is Walmart), and someone else will get all the stuff for me! And check it out and put it in bags! All I have to do is show up and put it in my car. Yes, thank you. Sure, some mistakes are made, but heck, some mistakes are made when I do my own shopping. It’s a no-brainer for me right now. And my adoration for Plan To Eat could take up a whole post on its own. I have been using it for three years and I hope to never, ever stop. All my recipes are there, and all I have to do is drag them onto the calendar on the day I want to serve them. Then, Plan to Eat generates a shopping list. I loathed meal planning before I started using Plan to Eat. Now it’s not so bad!
  2. Homemade trail mix – Did anyone ever tell you before you had kids that they would be hungry ALL the time? Maybe people told me and I just didn’t understand, but now I do. Therefore, I’m always on the hunt for semi-healthy snacks. My two middle kids snack on their self-made trail mix almost daily. Maybe it’s such a hit because they get to put chocolate chips in it, and they aren’t allowed to have the chocolate chips without other additions. I guess it goes back to this:

Image result for everything is better with chocolate chips meme

But if you can’t have the chocolate chips without the raisins, well then, where I live, you eat the raisins, too.

Image result for illy coffee3. Illy Coffee – New favorite splurge! It’s so rich and delicious. And also pricey, compared to our usual Seattle’s Best/Elixer of Life, but sometimes I find it marked down at T.J. Maxx and then I try not to shriek with glee in the middle of the store.

4. Electric Mattress Pad – I love warmth so much, and hate cold equally. I told myself this is the year I would finally buy some flannel sheets and save myself from freezing cold cotton sheets, but my husband beat me to the punch and purchased this thing when it was on sale before Christmas. It’s heavenly. The only downside is getting out of bed fifteen times a night with little ones is extra difficult.

5. Google Keep– When I’m overwhelmed with tasks and things to remember, I go back to the Facebook Live video by Aimee Kolmansberger that made me realize my brain is meant for focusing and creating and not keeping all the things organized and at the forefront of my mind. A lot of times, the overwhelm will happen when I’m driving or in the middle of something else. Enter technology! I like Google Keep because I can open a note in the app, click the mic button and start telling the app everything I have to do. Then I can go back to it later on my computer or phone and make a plan of attack when I have time to do that. I also keep notes of funny things my kids say, stuff I need to put in Baby books (one day), or books to check out at the library. Another perk of Google Keep is my husband and I can share grocery lists and to-do lists and whatever other notes. It’s like a shared bulletin board that goes with us everywhere. I’m a fan!

6. Seashell wreath – When I look at this wreath above my desk, I remember that there is such a thing as summer, sand, waves and warmth. I’m transported to Oak Island, NC, our family’s vacation spot since I was a little girl. My mom made this wreath for me for Christmas from seashells she has gathered over the years, and it’s by far my favorite home decor in my house right now.

7. The Psalms – I decided to read a Psalm a day in 2018. Best decision of the year so far.

8. The Great British Baking Show – I don’t like to cook a whole lot, but I’m actually inspired by this show. It makes cooking/baking into something more than drudgery. Maybe it’s the English country side and the soft music, but all of a sudden, I kind of feel like an artist when I craft something for my family. I get new ideas and I also relax and watch a TV show, which is a novelty in and of itself! Last week I up and decided to make a homemade chicken pot pie because of this show, and it actually turned out beautifully.

9. Thriftbooks. Even better than The Book Depository! For all your old book needs (which are mammoth in my life).

So those are the small things saving my life this winter! And all of the things on my last winter’s list are definitely still in my daily mix of favorites as well. What’s on your list? I hope the rest of your winter is short and wonderful!

Quick Lit, Reading, Reviews

Winter Reads – January 2018 Quick Lit

Hello! Welcome to January Quick Lit, when readers around the web recount what we’ve read recently. I’m linking up to this event at Modern Mrs. Darcy. Be sure to join in the fun and get way more book recs than I can ever give you!

2017 has come and gone, and already is becoming a blur. I finished with the lowest number of books read in a year probably since I learned to read in kindergarten. 2017 was a different kind of year. However, I did manage to read several books to round out 2017. My last “Books I have Read” update was in September! And two of them definitely qualify as being very wintery in theme. Here’s the quick lit run down.

Fiction

News of the World – 3 Stars – This is the story of an older man living as a sort of newspaper-reading gypsy in the post-Civil War midwest. He begrudgingly takes charge of a recovered German-American child that had been captured by Native Americans. The book has good characters and a vivid setting. I would have liked it better if it had been longer, I think, more detailed and more developed. Also, parts of the storyline was too hard for me to handle (children being stolen from their parents …hard stuff). I might have gotten taken in too easily by the cover and title on this one. It’s a great title, right?

Anna and the Swallow Man – 1.5 Stars – I still have no idea what the point of this book was. It started out very like The Book Thief or a similar WWII account set in Europe, but man did it veer into left field after that. It was bizarre and eerie. I even tried doing some research on this one and came up with no answers. People who are giving it good reviews, please tell me what in the world it’s about! And why you like it! As of right now, it’s not one I’d recommend.

Salt to Sea – 4 Stars – Fascinating, historical, well-researched and based on facts, and even includes some very likable characters…also, it’s a page turner. The details are stark and unflinching, though. I actually had a hard time sleeping after reading this one. I think if you in general like WWII books, you will like this one, but I will say it’s hard to stomach in places, as most WWII books set in Eastern Europe are. Ruta Sepetys is an incredible writer. I felt like I was a freezing cold war refugee in Eastern Germany while reading this book. She makes everything come alive. It’s an excellent novel by a great writer about an event I was completely (blissfully) unaware of before, but it’s not a cozy or comfortable read.

You Bring the Distant Near – 3.5 Stars – A great YA book that put Indian-American family life into new perspective for me, especially when it comes to families with daughters. I appreciated the hopeful and bright tone of the book. Not necessarily plot driven but very well written and a beautiful book.

Nonfiction

Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World That Loves to Be Noticed– 5 Stars – This book goes to the core of so much I wrestle with these days. Most of these questions or struggles go back to motives. I can’t say this book suddenly gave me every answer and made life easy, but it shook my thinking patterns out of their ruts. Here’s my favorite part of the description of the book:

We may be “wasting” ourselves in a hidden corner today: The cubicle on the fourth floor. The hospital bedside of an elderly parent. The laundry room. But these are the places God uses to meet us with a radical love. These are the places that produce the kind of unhinged love in us that gives everything at His feet, whether or not anyone else ever proclaims our name, whether or not anyone else ever sees.

I will be reading this book again.

That wraps up this quick lit edition! I’m currently in the middle of five (yes, five) books, so February’s quick lit could be quite the lineup. Assuming I can actually finish those books before my library loan runs out…Happy reading!

For more Quick Lit reviews on Miathereader.com, just click the Quick Lit tag under the title of this post. I hope this site helps you find a great read!