Tuesday, July 5, 2016

What I Read in June

It's time to recap the books I read in June! I only managed to read 6 books, primarily due to the fact that--surprise, I'm pregnant!--and I've been pretty sick and not even feeling up to reading. The good news is that I gave all of June's books 4 or 5 stars! 

The Assistants // When the administrative assistant to the CEO of a huge corporation chooses not to correct a technical error on her expense report, it quickly snowballs into a full-fledged plan to steal thousands of dollars from the company. I had really low expectations of this book, but I was pleasantly surprised! The plot was different than anything I had read before, it was clever, and I really enjoyed it. 4 stars.

The Kitchen House: A Novel // This is one of my all-time favorite books, and I wanted to re-read it before I read the sequel that came out earlier this year. I enjoyed this book just as much as I did the first time, and if you haven't read it, please go get it now! It's about slaves and the South and family and love, and it's so, so good. 5 stars

Glory over Everything: Beyond The Kitchen House // As I just mentioned, the prequel to this is The Kitchen House, and I was so excited to read this! The writing is once again impeccable and the story is really captivating. I really loved this book, but still love the first one even more! This duo is definitely worth reading. 4 stars

Far Outside the Ordinary // I heard about this memoir from a podcast that I listen to where the author was being interviewed. I found her really compelling as a person and was interested to read her story. She writes of the heartbreaking months of watching her husband suffer and eventually die from cancer. So many interesting (and bizarre) things happen throughout her story, and I even cried a couple of times. It's a beautiful story and really quite moving. 4 stars

Here's to Us // I've mentioned before that I love Elin Hilderbrand, and this is her new book that came out a couple of weeks ago! All of her stories take place on Nantucket, and they are the perfect summer reads, in my opinion. The writing has perfect pacing, the characters are well-developed, and I really enjoy reading every part of the story - from the description of the setting to the food the characters are cooking and eating to the history that she gives for each of the characters. A fun summer read, for sure! 4 stars

Stepping Heavenward // This was another book that I re-read this month, something that I rarely do! I read this book when I was in college and really enjoyed it, but I enjoyed it even more this time as a mother. It's a journal-like account of a 19th century girl that starts when she is 16. It's so candid that it's refreshing and at times even amusing, but her constant desire throughout the book is to know God and become a godly woman. It's a really great read for any woman! 4 stars

Thursday, June 23, 2016


r e a d i n g // This post on grace - "Can we please remember what mercy is like? Can we please remember that we were given reprieve from death by our Savior when we had done nothing to deserve it?" So good. Also this post on an approach to summer. Loved thinking through summer this way!

w a n t i n g // A good decaf cold brew. I mentioned last month that I had found my perfect coffee combo, but it was short-lived due to the caffeine. I have a history of really bad migraines and also an ulcer, so I really am not supposed to have caffeine. I might go back to making these iced mochas, but I wanted something with a little less sugar. Do you know of any good cold brew options, preferably already lightly sweetened? I'd prefer not to make my own, because it never turns out just right for my taste.

w e a r i n g // We're keeping it pretty casual over here in the summer time - I'm talking shorts + tank tops / long tees on repeat. Also not a whole lot of makeup, because I like to keep my face bare when I'm out in the heat and humidity. 

w a t c h i n g // The Bachelorette. Duh. Who are your favorites? I like Chase, Robby, Derek, and James T. Luke kinda weirds me out, something about Jordan seems sketchy, and Alex is so annoying! Fun fact: once upon a time I knew James F. (who got sent home in this week's episode); we met in China and I have a picture of us together on the Great Wall. Too good, right?

l i s t e n i n g  t o // My girl snoring in the next room. Poor thing is teething and is handling it like such a champ. She tries to be so brave when she has a fever and doesn't feel good, and it's so precious. She always snores, but I love knowing she's getting good sleep when she isn't feeling well!

e a t i n g // Fruit pizza. Also Chicken Salad Chick. Do you have one by you? I've loved everything I've tried there - the chicken salad is flavorful without having too much mayo, which is so hard to find! A perfect lunch spot for summer, I think.

e n j o y i n g // Summer! Madeleine loves the pool, I can't get enough fresh fruit, and in the evenings you can find us on our front porch chatting. I've (obviously) cut way back on my blogging, and I'm totally okay with that. Summer always seems to go by too quickly, and I want to savor it as much as possible.

l o o k i n g  f o r w a r d  t o // This weekend! We're heading to Virginia for a long weekend with Caleb's family, and I'm excited about some family time and no responsibilities. Also my sister-in-law is picking up donuts from Carol Lee Donuts (the best donuts on the planet), so there's that.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Blueberry & Mint Lemonade

In the summertime one of my favorite treats is homemade lemonade. I love making variations with different fruits and herbs. Most recently I whipped up this blueberry & mint lemonade. It is so refreshing, and I loved the subtle aftertaste of the mint. This weekend we're supposed to get temps up to 99 degrees, so you'd better believe you can find me with a glass of this in my hand. Happy weekend!

Blueberry & Mint Lemonade
2 cups fresh blueberries (frozen will also work)
1 cup mint leaves, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups fresh lemon juice
1 cup granulated sugar
4-5 cups filtered water

In a blender add blueberries, mint, lemon juice, and granulated sugar. Blend until smooth and deep purple. The mixture will look a bit like a smoothie.

Pour mixture into a fine mesh strainer placed over a medium bowl. Use a spatula to press the liquid through the strainer leaving the blueberry pulp and fresh mint in the strainer. Discard the pulp. Pour the blueberry, mint, lemon juice into a pitcher and add water. Taste and add more water or sugar according to your taste. Serve chilled. Makes 2 quarts.

source: recipe from joy the baker

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

What I Read in May

We're wrapping up the month of May, so it's time for another recap of what I read this month. The pool opened up this past weekend, so I was lucky enough to spend several of Madeleine's nap times in the sun with some good books. I read quite a few books this month, thanks to these tricks for how I find so much time to read. As I mentioned last month, I'm very stingy on my 5-star ratings, and any books with 4 stars I really, really liked! I would also like to mention that I do receive quite a number of books directly from publishers. When I do receive books from publishers, I have chosen the titles o the books I would like to read and review, so they're books that I am genuinely interested in reading! I always give my honest feedback on a book, even if I've gotten it directly from the publisher, so don't ever think I'm fluffing up my ratings to try to help the publisher out. I also often start books that I just can't even get through, and you will never hear about those. Just wanted to give you a heads up so you don't gloss over the books that I received from the publishers, because I really did want to read them and many of them are very good!

Station Eleven // The library classified this as science fiction (something I never read), but I heard rave reviews of this book so decided to give it a try. To be completely honest, I kept anticipating that I would quit reading it. But once I got about 50-75 pages in, I was surprised to find that I was really enjoying it! In the beginning of the book, a flu pandemic hits and civilization as we know it comes to an end. The book moves back and forth between different characters, both before and after the pandemic, and it is so fascinating. This is incredibly well-written, and I couldn't wait to find out what happened next. Once I finished the book I had to tell Caleb all about it. I highly recommend it! Even if this is not your typical genre that you enjoy reading, you might be surprised (like I was) and really love this one! 5 stars.

For Parents Only: Getting Inside the Head of Your Kid // Our small group at church has been working through this book for the past couple of months, and we just finished it up this month. The entire book is based on the results of nationwide surveys and interviews with pre-teens and teens in order to help parents "get" their kids. We are obviously years away from raising a pre-teen, but if you have kids this age I would say it's worth picking up and flipping through. I didn't find anything particularly earth-shattering in the book, but there were definitely some helpful points and things to think about. 3 stars.

This Too Shall Pass // I admit that I picked up this book for the cover alone. And I should have known better. The publisher provided me with an early copy of this book, and I did not like it one bit. I would have quit reading it, but I'm not a quitter and it was super short, so I powered through. The book starts off with the protagonist talking to her dead mother, and that continues throughout the book, but the other half of the book is about a trip that the main character and her friends take to the coast. Too many characters were introduced without any further development of them, and I found the protagonist extremely unlikable. Admire the cute cover, but don't bother picking this one up. 1 star.

Seven Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness // I picked this up because I had heard great things about its counterpart Seven Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness. I enjoy reading biographies, but unless I'm really, really interested in the person, I get a little bored with all of the details biographies tend to have. This book is perfect for you if you feel the same way! The author does a really good job of highlighting the lives of each of these seven women. I thought there was just enough information in each chapter to teach me a little more than I learned in school without feeling bogged down by the details. My favorite chapters were the ones on Joan of Arc, Rosa Parks, and Mother Teresa. 4 stars.

Modern Lovers // This book just came out today! I was able to read an advanced copy of this book through Edelweiss. This book is about two families living in Brooklyn who are very close friends. I wouldn't say anything in the plot is particularly noteworthy: there are marriage difficulties, a midlife crisis, teenagers who sneak around, etc. The thing I enjoyed in reading this book was the change in perspective, from each of the adults to the two teenagers. I thought it gave the book really good pacing, so it was an easy read. It's a perfectly enjoyable and fun book to read. If you enjoyed The Vacationers, one of Emma Straub's other books, then you will enjoy this book as well. It's a good, easy beach read. 3 stars.

American Housewife // This is a collection of short stories, something that I don't normally read, but I was intrigued by the cover and because, well, I'm a housewife. I was expecting these to be really funny, but it was a different type of humor than I had anticipated. I thought the first story was the funniest, to be honest, and some of the others were actually pretty strange. Some of the stories are really short, and in whole the entire collection is pretty short as well. It was an easy read, and though I was a little disappointed in the lack of laugh-out-loud humor, I did enjoy reading several of the stories. 2 stars.

Behave // The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, so here goes: I thought this book was going to be a fun novel about motherhood, raising kids, etc. I should have done a little bit more research before I decided to read this book (second book cover I've been fooled by this month). This is a novel based on the lives of Rosalie Rayner and her husband John B. Watson, who were famous psychologists from the 20th century. I thought the story was depressing and actually a little disturbing. At times I found bits of the story compelling, but mostly I disliked all of the characters and was eager to finish the book. I definitely could have done without reading this one! 1 star.

Traces of Guilt // I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my review. I have read most of Dee Henderson's books, and I always love them! This book is suspenseful, but not so dark and creepy that I didn't enjoy reading it. The writing is really good, and I really enjoyed each of the characters and how she developed them throughout the story. The story is about a detective working to solve two cold cases, and there are lots of details about both cases and her strategies in trying to crack them. The story unfolded in ways that I didn't anticipate, and I didn't want to put it down! I really enjoyed it. 4 stars.

First Comes Love // The published provided me an early copy of this book, and I was so glad because I love all of Emily Giffin's books! Her books are the type of "chick-lit" that I like; they're fun and easy to read, but they're not mind-numbing like other chick-lit that's out there. This story is about two sisters who have a very rocky relationship, mostly due to differences in their personalities and their grieving experiences after losing their older brother.  I really appreciate that all of Emily Giffin's plots are so very different, yet all enjoyable. I think The One & Only is still my favorite of her books, but this was a great one, too! This book comes out on June 28, but go ahead and pre-order it here! 4 stars.

Wild and Free // This book was popping up everywhere on social media, so when the publisher sent me a copy through BookLook Bloggers, I was happy to get my hands on a copy! As the back of the book says, the authors hope is that women will live with "freedom from the cultural captivity that holds us back, and freedom to step into the wild and holy call of God in our lives". My favorite chapters of the book were the two chapters that described exactly what the authors are picturing when they talk about a wild and free woman. I ended up enjoying this book more than I was anticipating! Sometimes I'm a little wary of Christian living books that are targeted for women, because they end up being a little too flowery and touchy-feely for my taste. I will admit that the first couple of chapters I was nervous this book was heading that same direction, but once I got a little further into the book, I enjoyed it. There is a good blend of personal stories and also a lot of Scripture, which I really appreciated. Even though it's written by two different authors, I found that the book read pretty seamlessly. 4 stars.

The Hours Count // This was my book club's selection for May. We had to postpone our book club dinner, so I'm not sure what everyone else's take on the book was, but I enjoyed it! This is a historical novel about a woman who becomes friends with Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, American citizens who were convicted and executed for conspiracy to commit espionage during the Cold War. Like all historical novels, the author takes a lot of liberty in developing the fictional characters and the story around what are known as some true historical facts. I knew nothing about the Rosenbergs, so I found the story really engaging and interesting. I also really enjoyed reading the author's note in the back of the book, which detailed the fact surrounding these events. It was an enjoyable read! 4 stars.

A Fine Imitation // I had seen this book around and liked the cover, but then The Skimm gave a brief summary of it in the Skimm Reads section, finishing with "if you love 'The Great Gatsby,' this is your read." SOLD. Thankfully I was able to get a copy from the publisher through Blogging for Books, and I absolutely loved it! It's a debut novel, and I really hope Amber Brock is planning to write more books! It does feel similar to The Great Gatsby in that the story is set in the 1920s featuring the socialite lives of New York City. The protagonist is the social queen of her building and is utterly unhappy in her marriage. She starts to question her choices in life when an artist arrives to paint a mural in the building. I really enjoyed the story and thought the writing was excellent. 4 stars.

June: A Novel // This book just came out today, but I was able to read an early copy from the publisher. I really enjoyed this book! The book shifts between the past and present, giving the story of a family and its secrets over the decades. I enjoyed reading both accounts, which doesn't always happen for me when a storyline makes that shift throughout the book. The plot had several twists that I didn't expect, which I always enjoy! I thought this was a really good read, and I was very interested to find out what happened! This would be a great book to take on vacation this summer. 4 stars.

The Things We Keep // This is a story about a woman who, at the age of 38, moves into an assisted living facility because she has early onset dementia. The book shifts from her point of view and her struggle with losing her memory to the point of view of the newly hired cook at the facility who is recently widowed. I love the title of this book, and I thought the premise was a really different idea for a book, but something about the story just fell a little flat for me. It was a perfectly enjoyable book to read, but just not as good as I hoped it would be. 3 stars.

The Singles Game // I've read all of Lauren Weisberger's books (probably most known for The Devil Wears Prada), and I think this is one of her best! Charlotte Silver is a top-ranking tennis player who, after suffering an injury she blames on her coach, switches coaches and starts making headlines around the world. The book gives a lot of detail on tennis and the rigorous schedule, rules, etc. of pro tennis, which I found really interesting! It was a quick read and really entertaining. This would be a great beach read this summer! It comes out in July, but you can pre-order it here! 4 stars.

The After Party // This is the story of socialites in Texas in the 1950s. There's one queen bee, Joan Fortier, who is the center of it all. The story is told from Cece's point of view, who is utterly devoted to Joan despite the way Joan treats Cece. The book was entertaining and had a surprising twist near the end, but if you're looking for a story about a bunch of women dressing to the nines, going to parties, and gossiping about secrets, I enjoyed A Fine Imitation a little more. 3 stars.

There you have it - the books I read in May! Tell me, what have you been reading lately?

The books linked in this post are affiliate links, meaning that if you click the linked books and order any of them through Amazon, I may earn a small commission. Thanks for helping support this blog (and my book habit)!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Our wall-to-wall bookshelves

I was reminded after posting this on instagram that I've never shared our bookshelves here on the blog! This is one of my favorite spots in our entire house! Caleb designed and built these wall-to-wall bookshelves for our front living room. He built them to fit perfectly against the wall that you see when you enter the room, and I love the impact that they make! They're screwed to the wall so they're perfectly safe, but he also made it so that we can remove them and take them with us, if we ever end up moving.

We only have about three of the sections filled up so far, but I like that we have plenty of room to grow our collection. We are a family that loves books, so we need a lot of space to store them all!

It makes me so happy to see our gorgeous shelves and all of our books every time I walk by this room! Caleb did such an excellent job with every detail, and they are exactly what I envisioned for this space!

Monday, May 23, 2016

How I find time to read

After starting my monthly series about the books I'm reading, I received several comments and questions about how I find time to read so many books. I will say that this season of my life has been the one where I've had the most time to read! I am a stay-at-home mom (I work only 3-6 hours per week from home), I have just one child, and that child still naps twice a day! It's a unique combination that allows me extra time here and there during the week that I can spend reading if I'm caught up on everything else. I know it's not something that will last, so I am enjoying it while I can! That being said, here are a few tips that might help you spend more time reading.

Keep a to-read list // I've found that if I keep a running list of books that I want to read, whether they're new releases by my favorite authors or books that have been recommended to me, I end up making more time to read because I'm anxious to get to the next book on my list! I currently have 14 books on my nightstand and 8 e-books in my Kindle app, so those piles definitely keep me busy reading!

Read every day // I'm a firm believer that you will make time for what's important to you. If you truly want to read, you can find some chunk of time in your day, no matter how small it may be, to read. I read every single night when I get in bed, something that I've been doing for pretty much my whole life. Sometimes it's only 10 minutes before I start falling asleep, but if it's a particularly gripping book, it may be an hour! This means that even if I have a crazy busy week or we're traveling or have house guests, I can easily read at least a book or two a week.

Join or start a book club // If you love reading but never seem to get around to it, it might help if you join a book club so you have an external obligation of sorts to read (and finish!) a book. Similarly, check books out from the library. If you hate paying overdue fees like I do and the book you're really enjoying is due in a couple of days, you might make a little more time to read so you can hurry up and finish it before it's due.

Read more than one book at a time // This might drive some people crazy, but I really enjoy reading a couple books of different genres at the same time. Typically this means that I'm reading a fun novel, a Christian living/thought book, and maybe a parenting or psychology book. Those are the genres that I tend to read the most anyway, and I've found that if I'm reading the Christian living book after my morning devotions, reading a couple of chapters from the parenting book at some point during the week, and reading a novel every night when I get in bed, I'm spending more time reading and finishing more books than I realize.

(image from here)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Current Skin Care Routine

Do you switch up your skin care routine, or are you dedicated to the same products year after year? While I am pretty loyal to many products and keep my tried-and-true on hand, I enjoy trying new products and switching up my routine. Here's my current skin care routine:

1 // using this face wash every morning when I get up. I won it in an Instagram giveaway, and I'm so glad I did! It's all-natural (and handmade too!), and it feels so good. It's really moisturizing, so for the first time in my life I'm not having to wear any kind of day cream as a moisturizer!

2 // using this body butter for extra hydration all over. It's nothing special--I got it as a sample in the mail and you can find it at Walmart--but I love the coconut scent, and it's really hydrating.

3 // using this scrub to exfoliate my face every night in the shower. It's the one product that I've used every day for about 15 years, and I can't move away from it. My face feels so smooth afterwards!

4 // using this cleansing gel every night in the shower to cleanse after exfoliating. With the humidity of summer I can actually use a gel face wash rather than a creamy one, something I can never do in the winter. This is really cleansing, and I'm a big fan of the anti-aging element.

5 // using this face cream before bed. It's a bit of a thicker cream which helps holds in moisture on my face all night long.

6 // using this body cream on my hands every night when I get in bed. The eucalyptus scent is supposed to be calming, and I've found that it is! I've been using this every night when I get in bed since Madeleine was born, and it's definitely become part of my nighttime routine.