Friday, June 27, 2014

Staff Picks: Summer Stories

Summer is the perfect time to sit back, sip some sweet tea, and dive into a good book. The days are long and the sun is just begging to shine on the pages of a fun read.  Here are our favorites and a few new ones we've recently found ourselves reading. What's your favorite story to escape into during the warm summer months?

I've really found myself loving audiobooks lately, especially when I'm out for run or a long summer drive. One of my absolute favorite audiobooks from this year was Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. It's hard to describe, but was definitely one that I hated to finish (not because of the ending, but because I wanted to keep connecting with the characters)!

If you're a mystery fan, you might enjoy Lene Kaaberbøl's Nina Borg Series: The Boy in the Suitcase, Invisible MurderDeath of a Nightingale--It's quick paced with fantastically flawed & imperfect, but relatable, characters.

I'm planning on devouring all of Rainbow Rowell's books via Audible this summer, starting with Fangirl.  I, like Cara, am an audiobook lover, mostly because I can work while I listen and it keeps my book list on track, but I also have a plan to turn off the TV more this summer (which will be harder than I'd like to admit) and pick up some good, real life books.  Starting with Lois Lowry's The Giver and going through that series (Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son) and probably squeezing a couple of Sarah Dessen books for good measure.  I also really want to grab B.J. Novak's One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories and Rob Lowe's Love Life.  Lowe's first book, Stories I Only Tell My Friends, was surprisingly wonderful, especially when listening to him read it, so I'm confident his follow-up will be equally intriguing.  The saddest part of this entire paragraph is that I'm only half-way through The Giver and it's the shortest, quickest book on the planet.  So, wish me luck.


I've been in a bit of a reading rut of late, so I'm taking this list with me to the library this week. However, I'm about halfway through Malcolm Gladwell's David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants (I took a break because my Kindle hold of Attachments came through at the library - excellent, although a bit heavy on the swears if you aren't down with that kind of thing) and once again I feel that Malcolm Gladwell is the guy for people who don't love nonfiction but want to read nonfiction. (Yes, I just checked, and my recommendation when we did a post of this kind last summer was also a Malcolm Gladwell. Sorry, but not really. He's awesome.) I just love the way he sees the world and always end up jabbering to everyone I know about how fascinating he is. I also just finished All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior, which was a fantastic book about why it always seems like parents are stressed out and aren't sure they like their children while simultaneously declaring that parenting is the most rewarding thing they've ever done.  It's the perfect mix of interesting studies and real-life interviews (I suppose they are probably case studies, but that makes it sound less interesting than it is). I think it would be interesting for almost anyone, but especially for anyone who wants to know why they love their kids to pieces and kind of wants to run away from them some days. (Also, if you want to be grossed out and fascinated at the same time, I highly recommend anything by Mary Roach, but I really enjoyed her recent-ish Gulp: Adventures in the Alimentary Canal. Just don't read the last third while you're eating, because it's mostly about poop.)


Well, Lindsey beat me to the Rainbow Rowell books, which happen to be my current obsession. I seriously love her style, wit, and storytelling abilities. Her characters are quickly becoming favorites of mine, although I will say that Eleanor and Park is probably my favorite, it is also extremely profane so people with sensitivity to that sort of thing: be warned (WAY more than Attachments which Megan mentioned above). I recently read The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty, which was a fantastic read and made me think about how choices affect those around us. I didn't love it as much as What Alice Forgot, also by Moriarty, but she has a way of making you reflect on your own life through her stories. Finally, I've mentioned Amy Harmon before on this blog, but she is one of my favorite authors, and her new book Infinity + One just came out earlier this month and I'm hoping to get a chance to read it while on vacation this week in Palm Springs.


Guys. If you do one thing this summer, I beg you to rediscover the books of Roald Dahl. Kids books, you might ask? Well, yes, sort of, but these are much more than simply kids books. For me, these are the books that made me realize just how much someone can create with only their imagination. So much of the creativity that I have today was inspired by my early explorations of Roald Dahl. You can go the route of finally reading the original book versions of the many movies he has had made out of his books- James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, or the iconic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Or you can branch out and discover new worlds with The BFG, Danny the Champion of the World or The Witches (which was technically made into a movie, but not a very popular one...). Or, if you simply have to know what on earth a vermicious knid is, then by all means, read Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. Read any of them. Read all of them. I don't care, just go read!

Want more great suggestions? Check out last year's beach reads post!

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. The opinions are our own. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sometimes No Plan is a Good Plan

I only like good surprises. (Pretty obvious, right?) The problem with surprises, however, is that you don't know whether they're good surprises or bad surprises until you're through them. Let me explain.

I'm a planner. For a variety of reasons, I like knowing what to generally expect and when to expect it. I'm a fan of knowing the plan and, for the most part, sticking with it. (Logical instances where this comes in handy: knowing where/when I can eat with my special dietary needs; knowing where a bathroom is and when I might encounter the next one...helloooo long, desolate road trip routes; knowing where I'll lay my head at the end of the day; knowing that I'm saving/working toward something; having approximate knowledge of what the weather will be in order to dress accordingly; and more).

Here’s the deal: Life doesn't always cooperate with us planners. Sudden storms may pop up and, while they are difficult to drive through, ultimately the destination is worth the stress of getting there (and so is the stuff we learned/felt/saw along the way). Sometimes we planners need to trust those around us (who haven't necessarily always known the next step, and still somehow managed to be successful in life) that we'll be fine; we'll get there, and we'll have a few adventures along the way.

Author’s note: I'm still working on this...which means I still plan away, but do my best to roll with the punches.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Life Lessons from Animals (for me, dogs)

  • Sometimes it just takes a kind word (and a belly rub) to rebuild trust
  • When you’re scared, reach out to those around you. (Maybe hide between their legs instead of under the bed?)
  • It doesn't take much to be happy: shelter, food, companionship, purpose 
  • Go out and enjoy the sunshine
  • Go out and enjoy the rain (unless it’s lightning out--then watch from the window in amazement)
  • Go out and enjoy the snow (it is fluffy, after all)
  • When you’re happy, show it (let your tail wag)
  • Snuggle up to the ones you love
  • When it matters, go after it (the big stick)
  • Take a nap
  • You don’t always have to say something to get your message across (actions, not words)
  • It doesn't have to be fancy to be worthwhile or fun (see video below) 
  • Life is simple: love lots

What are some of your favorite lessons learned from animals? 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Flying with Baby: A Letter to the Person Sitting Next to Us

Unfortunately I live in a different state than my family which means that a few times a year I get the unpleasant experience of flying by myself with a helpless baby. It is a time of great stress. Among my concerns about how to keep my son sitting still on my lap without a horse tranquilizer and how to use the restroom with my baby strapped to my chest in a baby bjorn, I also worry about who is going to end up sitting next to us on the flight. We fly on an airline with no assigned seats that boards parents with young children towards the end which means I could wander the airplane in search of the ideal canidate to sit by. On my last flight while waiting at the gate I found myself scanning the crowd for possibilities of who might be a good option to try and sit next to when I realized- I might be the teensiest bit unrealistic in my expectations of a seat mate. So I drafted a letter to use for future flights to make my screening process easier, perhaps you would like a copy to hand out to your future seat mates as well...

To my potential seat mate,

Would you like to sit by my son on an airplane? You should, he's very cute and gives large open-mouth kisses freely. He might poop his pants but that's ok right? I thought so.

There are however a few qualifications you must meet to be granted the honor of sitting next to my baby. Oh it's nothing unreasonable, and if you do these things you will be rewarded handsomely by payment of Cheerios given through sticky fingers. Don't worry. He almost always gets them in your mouth.

First of all, I see that you bought some overpriced snacks before you got on the plane. I'm sure you'd like to eat them but that's not really going to work out for us on account of my son's food jealousy issues. If you could just hide all your food for the duration of the flight that would be appreciated. Don't even think about taking one of those little bags of peanuts either... And also, no complimentary drinks, sorry, my son likes to dip his face in open cups of liquid.

Hmm, I see that you have an iPad. You're going to have to keep that hidden as well. OR you could let my son play with it! He's drooled on my iPhone for months now and it's still working, if that makes you feel better.

And sorry, no reading material either. My son has an affinity for ripping paper and then eating it. If you could just sit there quietly staring straight ahead until he decides he is ready to play peek a boo with you that would be great.

And please no jewelry. He rips out earrings, yanks necklaces, and eats watches. I guess a modest ring would be ok. But just the one, and nothing too shiny please. Glasses would be a definite deal breaker. Do you have contact lenses you can wear? 

Lastly you'll need to wait til you leave the plane to call your ride. We're not allowed to talk on cell phones in his presence.

So you can see that we're not asking much, we're very easy to sit by! One of us will keep our hands to ourselves. One of us won't scream in your ear. One of us won't touch your face with drool soaked fingers... But I can't make any promises about the other one.

Happy flying.

Paige and Cooper

Thursday, June 12, 2014

8 Easy Ways to Cut Your Grocery Budget

I don't profess to be a financial wizard by any means. I'm too lazy to do extreme couponing, and planning my grocery list is something I always kind of dread, which is why my husband and I now do it together so it seems like a fun game we're playing instead of a chore that I have to do every week. However, we've gotten pretty good at the budgeting thing over the past year, and groceries are a huge area where we have found we can spend a lot less than we think we can. Here are a few things that have worked for us, and I'd love to hear what works for you!

  1. Don't go to the grocery store more than once a week. Every time I go to the grocery store to buy a gallon of milk, I come out with $50 worth of stuff. 90% of the time, whatever I need can wait until my weekly shopping day.
  2. Eat more produce. I swear the ridiculously cheap price of most fresh produce was a revelation to my husband. After two years of me hearing, "This bag of gummy bears is only $4," now I suddenly hear, "Yeah, get some bananas! They're so cheap!" (He doesn't even like bananas, but I do, and so does our baby, so that's good enough.) Substituting apples and pears for fruit snacks is not only healthier for your body, it's healthier for your wallet. On that note . . .
  3. Go vegetarian - at least sometimes. We try to plan at least one meatless meal per week, because it saves us some money and it's good for us to eat vegetables. We've found that we really like egg plant, that cauliflower is excellent Chinese food style, that tostadas are just as satisfying without the meat and you don't have to remember to thaw anything, etc. (Also, we've found that some meals don't need as much meat as the recipe tells you it does. Lasagna is a good example.) 
  4. Plan your menu before you go. We have a weekly family planning meeting where we sit down and look at our schedules for the week, and then plan a few meals. Sometimes these get juggled a little, but because we plan it in conjunction with our schedules, we know to fix something quick on a night when my husband works late, so we don't buy a bunch of fancy stuff for a meal we won't get to. We also know that even if we're out of pork chops, if we aren't going to make them this week, they can get pushed to next week's grocery trip, and we can just buy chicken this week. It's much easier to spread out our purchases this way, and we don't have as much food go bad before we can eat it. 
  5. Set a realistic but firm budget, and keep a running total as you go. Ice cream is a luxury in our house. If you want ice cream and you realize it doesn't fit in this week's budget, maybe you should put back the 24 pack of soda. (I'm not saying you should never buy treats. But you should buy real food first and then decide how many treats belong in your cart.)
  6. Pay in cash. Something about having the grocery money in your pocket makes it easier to put things back if you're about to go over the set budget. 
  7. Make a list and stick to it - or make trades. I know, I know. Those chips look SO GOOD. And so do those pita chips. And you really could use some new shampoo just for a change. And doughnuts. You NEED those, right? Wrong. All of those tiny little extra things that only cost a couple of dollars add up more quickly than you can possibly imagine. If you really want something that isn't on the list, figure out what you're going to cut before you add it to the cart. Steak is on sale? Great. Are you going to have that instead of hamburger this week? 
  8. Price Match. Oh my goodness guys. Do you know how easy price matching is? We never buy name brand stuff, so some of those deals go out the window for us, but we save a BUNDLE on produce by just having a list of places where it's on sale. At our grocery store, you don't even need to bring an ad - you just tell them where grapes are $0.98 a pound and you're golden. There are millions of websites that collect all of the data you need so you can just go through the list and decide if anything you need is a fabulous deal somewhere. 
You don't have to overhaul your life to make your budget stretch a little further - you just have to be thoughtful about where your money is going. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

One Billion Mistakes

My daughters are four and two, (five and three by summers end) and in the last five years I don't think I've gotten through one day without any spills, tears, fumbled phrases, inside-out-outfits, etc. It's been an era of my life where I've witnessed approximately one billion mistakes.

These mistakes are frustrating for them, and for me. Parenting little children requires a lot of patience, dedication, endurance, persistence, love, and binge eating. But that's life.

Mistakes are the stuff life is made of, and without them, we'd never reach our potential, we'd never grow, we'd remain stagnant.  

My daughters aren't the only ones making mistakes on a daily basis. Their father makes a lot of mistakes as well, and...okay, I'll admit, I too make mistakes on a daily basis when it comes to parenting my littles. I've been known to lose my patience more than I should, perhaps I don't speak to them as kindly as I ought to all the time, and I've used shameful tactics to get them to obey me, such as threatening to call Santa Claus and reporting naughty behavior.

Our vulnerability makes us human, it connects us to each other, it makes us more empathetic. Just today I became upset at my daughter for disobeying me, after repeated attempts to get her to follow my instructions. She didn't do anything bad or naughty, other than disregard what I was saying, but I lost my temper and yelled at her. She cried, and of course I felt bad. Nobody ever feels good when they've treated someone they love with anger. I took the opportunity (after I'd cooled off) to apologize to her, and explain that I shouldn't have yelled, that even though she should have listened, I reacted inappropriately.

After instances like these, my daughter always forgives me immediately, but what's more important is she takes these things to heart, and when she makes a mistake by lashing out irrationally, she apologizes for her behavior too. It helps me realize, that even when I make mistakes, I have the opportunity to teach while learning.

I just had my third child, a son, and I'm sure he will be the unfortunate recipient of many of his mother's imperfections. That's okay, because every day is a new opportunity to improve and get better, and even though it's frustrating and, at times, utterly humiliating to make mistakes (sometimes repeatedly), I'm never going to give up on being who I hope to become. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

My Feet Hurt. Is That OK?

A while ago I was talking to a friend who was nearing the end of her second pregnancy, I asked how she was feeling and she responded she was feeling quite well, this pregnancy had been much easier than her first during which she admitted that she had gone to bed in tears every night. I told her I was relieved to hear that because I too had a rough first pregnancy, so rough that I had been too scared to repeat the process yet. Then she said something that I'm still thinking about almost a year later, "You know I don't know why we have to pretend we're doing great when we aren't."

Another friend of mine who is weeks away from having her baby recently posted on Facebook that the extra steps she had to take because she forgot her wallet brought her to tears. Yet she was scared to admit that for fear others might see her as ungrateful.

A healthy pregnancy is arguably the greatest miracle that life can offer. So many little things have to go right at the right place at the right time that I've often wondered how anyone conceives children. I believe that most women, if not all, are aware of the great fortune and blessing that comes with the ability to conceive and carry a child. But pregnancy is also very physically challenging, usually the most physically taxing thing that most of us will go through in our lives. For almost a full year pregnant women experience nausea, extreme fatigue, shortness of breath, headaches, back pain, mood swings, sensitivity to smell, swelling, cramps, heartburn, joint pain, bladder problems and more. And those are just the standard inescapable symptoms, not to mention the multitude of common complications that can arise as well. Let's talk about my feet, for example. Every day for four months my feet looked like this.

I couldn't stand or walk for longer than about ten minutes at a time. And you know what I would say when people asked me how I was feeling? "Great! I'm so happy to be pregnant!" But you know what I really, desperately, achingly wanted to say instead? "I'm so happy to be pregnant but my feet hurt."

I didn't want to complain incessantly about every Tum and Tylenol I had to pop. I didn't want to bombard large groups on social media every time I sneezed and consequently peed my pants. I didn't want everyone around me to bring me platters of food and speak to me only about my fetus. But I did want to be able to admit that my feet hurt when someone asked me how I was feeling.

Surely, there has to be a way where pregnant women can maintain their gratitude and still be allowed to openly communicate about their physical discomfort. We allow, and in some cases expect, other people experiencing physical discomfort for reasons other than pregnancy to be open about what they are feeling. Admitting to physical difficulty doesn't have to be considered the same thing as proclaiming irreverence and ingratitude for the miracle of pregnancy. Surely there can be a way for me to say my feet hurt.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Open Closet Policy: After College Edition

One of my favorite things about college was having a whole bunch of roommates who were willing to let me borrow stuff. We used to trade clothes and shoes and music and all kinds of stuff, and because we lived in the same apartment, it was really easy to have a nice little community of sharing bliss. In one of my apartments we had an open closet policy where you were welcome to borrow your roommates' clothes if your closet just wasn't working for you - you just needed to wash it or stick it back in their hamper at the end of the day. "What's mine is yours as long as you don't steal my food without asking!" That was pretty much how I felt about most of my roommates. We took care of each other and let everyone borrow our stuff, because in a three bedroom apartment with six girls, there just wasn't enough room for everyone to have everything. It was easier to share when someone needed something, and assume you would be able to borrow stuff when you needed it.

After spending about 7 years in college living situations, I accumulated a lot of former roommates, as well as some good friends who lived across the hall or just upstairs. The real beauty of the social media world, for me, is that I still have some kind of contact with a lot of these people on a semi-regular basis, even if I wouldn't have made regular phone calls to them in another time. I generally know when they get married, get a doctorate, have a kid, land a job, etc. and they know the same kinds of stats about me.  It's nice to be able to keep tabs on people I like and respect, even if I don't call them to pour out my heart every day. (In fact, quite a few of those friends now write for this blog, and our authors live in 8 different states right now.)

But lately I've learned that one of the greatest perks of staying in touch with friends is that there's always someone who is willing to help. When I lived in Indiana, my friend Amanda was doing an epic cross country road trip on her own and needed a place to stay on her way from Ohio to whatever her next stop was. I offered her a couch and a tour of Bloomington's finest cuisine and prettiest places, and then on she went - and I realized that she was a GENIUS. Good company and a free place to stay? Who did I know who lived in an awesome place?

Now, whenever my husband and I go on road trips, it seems like I think of someone I know who lives there or is at least on the way there. For example, we've stayed at fellow blog author Melissa's house several times on our way to California or Arizona (including once about a week after we got married and were moving to Texas but wanted to stop and see my husband's Grandma on the way - she wasn't even home but left us a key). When we go to visit my husband's family in Texas, we almost always stop to see my former roommate Jennie in Albuquerque, either to stay the night or to just stop and stretch our legs and grab a bite. (Jennie is a really good cook. It's hard to turn her down when she offers.)

On our recent trip to San Francisco, we were offered a house to stay in that was totally unfurnished. As we tried to figure out how we would haul an air mattress and pack n' play in addition to our clothes, my husband's equipment, and a toddler, I realized that I had already made plans to visit a couple of friends who stayed in the area - and as it turned out, one let us borrow everything we needed for our little girl, and the other could lend us an air mattress, bedding and towels. We even stayed one night with one of these friends so that we didn't have to get up quite as early for our 6 am flight.

This is my little girl playing in the sand with my friends' little boys in Oakland, CA.

It doesn't stop with vacations either. When my little girl needed a nebulizer and we had terrible insurance, I asked via Facebook if anyone had one we could borrow and was offered THREE outright, plus had several offers of loaners until we could find something more permanent. When I asked for advice about childbirth classes, I received all kinds of helpful comments and messages, and one friend even loaned me the materials from a class she had taken. When I had a 14 month old in the hospital, I received so many offers of help, from people who simply messaged me to let me know we were in their prayers, to people who lived near the hospital who offered to bring us food or spare clothes so we could both stay at the hospital.

We always talk about how social media makes the world so much smaller, but I think one of the best things about that is the fact that it gives us more opportunities to take care of each other, no matter where we live. We can give and receive advice, offer prayers and support for things we wouldn't otherwise know about, share the joy of happy events, and in some cases, we can even physically take care of each other, offering places to stay, suggestions about things to do, supplies to make a trip easier, or even just good company. We can be there for each other no matter where we live.

So friends, thanks for taking care of me. I hope I get lots of chances to take care of you too. My closet is always open.

Monday, June 2, 2014

You are only as old as the music you listen to, right?

One of the little 13-year-olds I work with at church asked me if I knew who Beyoncé was the other day.

Oh please, child! I've been listening to Beyoncé since before you were born.

I actually answered with something much more polite and leader-talking-to-youth appropriate, but that was what I wanted to say in the moment. Do I really seem that old to these teenagers? I really am not that old. I'm still in my twenties. Barely in my twenties, but it still counts. I am young, people! YOUNG!

Today, however, a Destiny's Child song came up in my morning mix of music and many, many memories of listening to them in high school started popping into my head. Curious, I did the math of how long ago those high school days were and I came to a sad, sad realization: I literally have been listening to Beyoncé since before that poor girl at church was born.

Guys. I might be getting old.

This year is speeding towards my 30th birthday faster than I might like, but the fact is that there isn't a single thing I can do to change it. The best I can hope for is to start counting my birthdays the same way that my mother does: this year won't be my 30th birthday, it is the first anniversary of my 29th birthday.

Luckily, old or not old is all a matter of perspective. I might seem old to a group of 12 and 13 year-olds, but I am sure that to someone else I still seem like a spring chicken. Hey, if anything, if we want to feel young, all we need to do is go find a group of people who have never heard of Beyoncé, right?

Either that, or find strength in numbers. If any of you are feeling old, come on over to my place. My husband works late, so we can all sit around and listen to Destiny's Child together...