Wednesday, February 15, 2017

My Top 10 Books of 2016

What are you reading these days? I've been reading a lot more non-fiction lately, and I kind of love it. It was one of my reading resolutions for the year to read more non-fiction, and I'm happy that I'm at least off to a good start! Sometimes it's hard to figure out what to read next, so I thought I would share my top 10 books that I read in 2016. The first four are the books I gave 5 stars to last year (I am extremely stingy on handing out that last star!), and the other six are the books that I found I enjoyed reading the most. I didn't pick books that were the most literary or well-written; these are just the 10 books that I really, really enjoyed reading, and I think you might, too. 

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.

Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits--to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life // I love Gretchen Rubin's books, and this one was no exception. It was a really interesting read on how we make, keep, and break habits. There were interesting tips and tricks and also fascinating chapters on personality types and tendencies. I kept reading different parts out loud to Caleb, and we actually had a few conversations about what I read and learned. I loved this book so much I wrote an entire blog post on it, which you can read here. 5 stars!

Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way through Great Books // This book combines two of my favorite things: literature and food. The author cooks her way through her favorite books, so that each chapter is a story and recipe inspired by those books. Think: a soft-boiled egg from Emma, breakfast sausage from Little House in the Big Woods, clam chowder from Moby Dick, etc. This was a brilliant idea for a book, and I absolutely loved reading it. 5 stars

Eligible: A modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice // This book is part of the Austen Project--modern retellings of Jane Austen's works. This is the first book of the Austen Project that I've read, but I believe next I will be picking up Emma by Alexander McCall Smith!  Pride and Prejudice is my favorite Jane Austen book and one of my favorite classics. It's no surprise, then, that I absolutely loved this book! I thought Curtis Sittenfeld did an excellent job putting the same characters from Pride and Prejudice into a modern day setting. I couldn't put this book down and stayed up way too late finishing it. 5 stars!

Lilac Girls // This was our book club pick for September, and I really enjoyed it! It's a long book, and I was excited to have a book that I could really sink into and enjoy for a while. This was that book. It's the story of three different women during WWII: one American, one German, and one Polish. I've read a lot of WWII historical fiction, but this was the first time to read one with the perspective of a Nazi. It brought different things to light, and I really enjoyed the added dimension. In the author's note at the end of the book, I found out that much of this story was based on true people and events! I loved finding that out, which made the book even better. Highly recommend! 4 stars

Bel Canto // This was the first book that I've read by Ann Patchett, and I get the hype! The writing was impeccable, and the story was so unique. In some ways it reminded me of Station Eleven, just because the plot itself was not something that I thought I would enjoy. But once I got a few pages into it, it completely drew me in, and I didn't want to put it down. 4 stars

I Capture the Castle // I heard about this book on a podcast and was surprised that for being such a classic I've not heard much about it! The book is the journal of a 17 year-old girl whose poor family lives in a falling-apart castle in England in the mid-1900's. The narration reminded me somewhat of Anne from Anne of Green Gables, with snarky, honest observations and witty conversation. I really enjoyed this book, and if you haven't heard of it or read it either, pick it up! 4 stars

Along the Infinite Sea // This book is two stories in one: a woman who finds herself in a bind in the 1960s, and also a woman in pre-war Europe who has a Nazi husband and a Jewish lover. The book details how these women's lives and stories collide, and I couldn't wait to find out what happened next. This is my favorite of all of Beatriz Williams' books that I've read, and I highly recommend it! 4 stars

The Paris Architect // I have always really enjoyed reading historical fiction, and this was no exception. Unlike many of the World War II historical fiction books that I've read, this was actually about a French architect who was unsympathetic toward Jews. The first chapter was quite difficult to read because of that, but beyond that I really enjoyed this book. The story was unexpected and well-written. I won't give anymore of the story away, but it was a good read! 4 stars.

What Alice Forgot // I've read several of Liane Moriarty's books, and this was by far my favorite. It was our November book club book, and I could not put it down. The story is about Alice, who wakes up thinking she's 29 and pregnant, when in reality she's 39 and has three kids and a falling-apart marriage. We had a lot of fun discussing this book during book club, and everyone really liked it. Definitely worth picking up! 4 stars

Disclosure: Affiliate links are included, so if you click on any of the titles above and purchase the book(s), I may receive a small commission. Thanks for supporting the blog + my reading habit.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

On Losing 55 Pounds // Postpartum Weight Loss

I've been thinking about writing this post for almost a year now. The journey of postpartum weight loss is different for everyone, but for me it was a huge struggle. I'm passionate about good food but self-control is not one of my strengths, so losing the weight I gained during my first pregnancy was not a walk in the park. As I'm now faced with trying to lose all of the weight from my second pregnancy, I thought I would share my story and a few thoughts for those of you that may be walking this same road of losing weight after baby.

When I was pregnant with Madeleine I gained a little over 50 pounds. I had a really challenging first trimester which prevented me from keeping up with any sort of exercise routine, but I also know I ate way more carbs and sweets than I should have. People (and my doctor) made comments about my weight gain, but I honestly felt helpless to do anything about it because my cravings for both the quantity of food I wanted to consume and the types of food I wanted to consume seemed so out of my control. I had a long and difficult birth with Madeleine, so it was a while before I was up for even the littlest amount of physical activity. At my 6-week check up my doctor told me I needed to wait an additional few weeks to heal before I could start exercising. When I finally healed, I started running but only kept that up for so long. I honestly didn't do anything too structured to try to lose the weight: we tried Whole30 (and failed miserably!) and I tried counting calories, but neither of those was sustainable for me. Like I said, I seriously struggle with self-control, and I just didn't want to change how I was eating and sacrifice my normal diet.

It took me four months to get within 15 pounds of my pre-pregnancy weight, but it took another six months for me to finally lose those last 15 pounds and hit my goal. I lost an additional 2 pounds to lose a total of 55 pounds in 11 months. And then I found out I was pregnant two weeks later. My second pregnancy was more challenging than my first, and even though I was throwing up a lot in the first trimester, I was constantly starving and eating everything in sight. Again, I made poor eating choices because I felt so miserable, and I couldn't keep up with any exercise. In my second pregnancy I gained 55 pounds.

My recovery after Cora's birth (her birth story to come at some point, I promise!) has been so much easier than with Madeleine. I've been out walking already, and it feels so great to be moving and exercising! I've lost 20 pounds so far, but I have a long way to go. It's really daunting to be back in this same spot looking down a long road of trying to lose so much weight and working to fit into my normal clothes. It's easy to feel discouraged when I compare myself to other young moms who seem to lose the weight easily. It's easy to make healthy choices one day, only to have a rough night with little sleep and give into the temptation to eat three cookies the next day. It's easy to feel depressed when I feel like I have nothing wear. It's easy to feel like I'm never going to get my old body back, so what's the point. It's easy to feel bitter about the toll childbearing takes on my body, instead of joyfully giving of my body for my children. I think it's probably safe to say that I'm not alone in having these feelings. Pregnancy, childbirth, life with a newborn, life adjusting to multiple kids - these are all very real and very hard things, and losing a lot of weight after and in the midst of them is challenging!

I once read that self-control is just empathy with your future self, and that's really ringing true for me right now. It seems like I just lost 55 pounds, so I remember so clearly how both the struggle and the success felt. It's a little easier for me to make healthier choices this time around. I'm motivated to make exercising more of a priority. I have no idea if losing 55 pounds this time will take less than or longer than 11 months, but I'm trying to be patient with myself and the process. I've been thinking a lot about this passage, which I read in Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches this week:

"...realize that your body is a testimony to the world of God's design.
Carry the extra weight joyfully until you can lose it joyfully. Carry the 
scars joyfully as you carry the fruit of them. Do not resent the damages that 
your children left on your body...your body can more fully praise God having 
been used for His purposes. So don't resent it, enjoy it."

Monday, February 6, 2017

Cora's Nursery Inspiration

We are this close to being finished with Cora's nursery, but I thought I would share some of the ideas that inspired me along the way! 

The feel of the room: I wanted a bright, airy nursery with lots of white and pops of bright colors. 
I found all of these nurseries to be so pretty and cheerful.
1 // 2 // 3 // 4 // 5 // 6

Pops of color in storage & decor: I had my heart set on those sheets, and I knew I wanted baskets in the room for storage. I was also thinking about having a dreamcatcher instead of a mobile.
1 // 2 // 3 // 4 // 5 // 6 // 7 // 8 // 9

Art for the gallery wall: This tends to be the hardest thing for me... I am so picky! I loved the look of the type on these prints, and I also liked the idea of bringing in some fruit prints to the gallery wall.
1 // 2 // 3 // 4

So there you have it - the overall look and feel I was going for, along with some of the specific pieces I had my eye on! Once Cora's room is all the way finished, I will be sharing photos here!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Galentine's Gift Guide

Galentine's Day and Valentine's Day are right around the corner! Below are a few ideas of gifts for your favorite gal pals, because who doesn't love a good reason to celebrate friends with heart-themed gifts and chocolates?

A simple heart mug for her morning coffee.

The prettiest pink polishes for her at-home manis + pedis.

jewelry dish to keep on her bedside table.

pretty necklace she can wear every day.

A delicious-sounding lip scrub for her next date night prep.

card to tell her how much you appreciate her friendship.

A trio of heart socks to keep her toes warm.

A set of chocolate-covered pretzels. Because, chocolate. 

The cutest Galentine's gift box, all ready to ship to your bestie.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

What I Read in January

Staying on top of my reading resolutions for this year with a recap of the books I read in January - and two of them were non-fiction! What did you read this month?

The City Baker's Guide to Country Living // Sometimes I browse bookstores and add every book with an interesting cover to my to-be-read list. This cover was one of the ones that caught my eye, so I was excited to receive a copy of the book from Blogging for Books! I really enjoyed reading this novel! The setting - an inn in a small town in Vermont - felt very Gilmore Girls-esque, which I loved, and the plot had several unexpected aspects which I really enjoyed. I love detailed writing about food, so the cooking scenes and descriptions of all of the food were a big plus for me. A fun, easy read. 4 stars

Commonwealth // This was my book club's January book. I've mentioned before that I love Ann Patchett, and this is my current favorite title of hers. The writing is beautiful, and I loved how the story spanned five decades. This is probably going to end up being one of my favorite books for this year, so I highly recommend! I will warn you that this is not a happy-feel good book; it's about how a divorce affects the children of two different families. That being said, I love books that are well-written and true to real life, and this book was both of those things. 5 stars

Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living // In this book, Shauna says that "present over perfect living is real over image, connecting over comparing, meaning over mania, depth over artifice". The entire book is about her journey to living in a more simple way, being careful with what she says yes to, and taking the time to just be who she is and enjoy what's most important to her. As someone who is a perfectionist who likes to say yes and be busy, this was a good read for me. I didn't feel like it was life-altering, but I enjoyed her writing and found myself resonating with some of the things she wrote. 3 stars

My Heart: Every Beat Surrendered to Our Unchanging God // This book was SO good. It's the first-person account of a young mom who finds herself in active heart failure. The book is a combination of a retelling of her story, her prayer journal during her most difficult days, and the letters she writes to her two young boys as she faces the very real possibility of death at an early age. This book challenged me, encouraged men, and made me cry! Julie has a beautiful way with words, and it was a gift to be able to read her honest thoughts and struggles in the midst of deep suffering, yet at the same time her total reliance and trust in a faithful and loving God. Highly recommend! 4 stars

Affiliate links were used in this post, so if you click through on any of the book links above and make a purchase, I may receive a tiny commission. Thanks for supporting my reading habit + this blog! 

Monday, January 30, 2017

Welcome to the world, sweet girl

I am thrilled to introduce our daughter Cora Elizabeth. She was born Saturday, January 21 at 1:44 PM, weighing 7 lbs 7 oz and 20 1/2 inches long. She is the sweetest little girl, and we are so in love.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Buttermilk Biscuits

I'm not sure what the weather is doing where you are, but it's 77 degrees outside right now! This weather is making it challenging to both dress and cook. The good news is that biscuits go with any dinner, at least down here in the South they sure do. These biscuits are straightforward and delicious and would be perfect with whatever you're having for dinner tonight.

Buttermilk Biscuits
3 cups flour
3 Tbsp sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces or grated
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda.

Using a pastry cutter or your fingertips, cut the cold butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Be careful not to overwork - you really want to see those bits of butter scattered throughout the dough. Add the buttermilk and stir just until moistened.

For each biscuit, scoop out about 1/3 cup of the dough and drop it onto the prepared baking sheet, spacing the biscuits about 2 inches apart. Bake until the biscuit are golden brown on top and a tester inserted into the center of one comes out clean, 15-20 minutes. Makes 12 biscuits.

source: recipe from Kitchen Confidence