12 Favorite Books I Read in 2016

Friday, December 30, 2016

In 2016 I read 87 books and reread around 15. It's the most I've finished in the seven years I've been keeping track, and I owe the high number to audiobooks. This was the first year I was really into audiobooks and they made it so easy to rack up more books.

The books on this list were the standouts that I read from January 1st until this week, and are definitely my favorites from 2016. In no particular order, here they are:

1. Jefferson's Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
While this book is technically middle-grade fiction, its themes struck me more poignantly than I think they would have when I was younger. It made me think about who Thomas Jefferson the person was, and who Sally Hemings was, and what it would have been like to be their child. I actually read it twice this year because of how much I loved it.

2. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
This book came as such a surprise. It's a classic written in the 1860s in England, and I was expecting something hard to get into like Wuthering Heights. Instead, it was an easy-to-read mystery with fascinating characters and more twists than I saw coming.

3. My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
I've mentioned this book on here at least twice but I obviously loved it. It's a short read but the story and experiences ring so true. As I read I kept marveling on how well Strout understands human nature, especially aspects like longing and loneliness.

4. The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
In general, I love long novels that delve deep into the characters and span decades of their lives. This unforgettable Australian saga tells the loves and losses of three generations of the same family. It almost feels like a soap opera in book form because how could so many bad/crazy things happen to one family?

5. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
I finished this book a month or two ago and sometimes as I fall asleep I'll still run over the various plot points and stories in my mind. The way that Atkinson told Ursula's story of living and dying over and over again, with so many variations and surprises, completely captivated me. It is a unique book that was an amazing read.

6. The Brothers K by David James Duncan
This novel is so brilliant and deep and its strength comes out in the character development. The Chance family captured my imagination and through them comes discussions of family ties, marriage, the war in Vietnam, baseball, religion, and more. It is long and intricate and right up my alley.

1. Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler
If I had to make a list of "Books Every Woman Should Read", this would be at the top. This book is the foremost authority not just on fertility, but on everything from female anatomy to menstrual cycles to menopause and anything in between. I felt so empowered and knowledgeable after finishing it. Don't let the size of it scare you off, it's easy to skip chapters that don't apply to you and focus on the ones that do.

2. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
My cousin recommended this to me and it was a perfect, heartbreaking book. Stevenson works with people in the most dire legal circumstances, including those on death row and those wrongly condemned. The stories can be hard to read but teach important, eye-opening lessons.

3. Walkable City by Jeff Speck
Another book that I have talked about a lot (specifically right here), this one changed the way I look at cities around me. Their planning, execution, and how they fall short in terms of fostering pedestrians are now things I think about on a daily basis. It was a fascinating read.

4. Going Solo by Roald Dahl
I will never understand why I hadn't heard of this amazing book before I happened to see it on Overdrive. It is Dahl's story of working in East Africa before WWII and then his time as an RAF pilot in the war. He is a master storyteller and his experiences are one-of-a-kind. I didn't want it to end and am putting this on my reread list.

5. Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett
Friendships are complicated things but Patchett manages to tell the story of her friendship with Lucy Grealy in a true, uncompromising light. She doesn't shy away from either of their negative sides and conveys a beautiful story of love and strength.

6. Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
Of the books on this list, I finished this one most recently. It resonated with me in a way I wasn't expecting. Aging and mortality are subjects that typically scare me, but Gawande deals with them in a humane way that gave me a lot to think about.

Linking up with Leigh Kramer to share what I'm into

2016 Success: Developing an Exercise Routine

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Looking back on 2016, I am most surprised that I accomplished something I've meaning to for years: establish a regular exercise routine. During the past few years I've usually managed to get some exercise but have failed at doing it regularly or actually setting up a routine. But this year, in small, unexpected ways, I've been able to develop what I hope are long-lasting exercise habits.

It started in January with yoga. I've always loved yoga, and occasionally would go to a 6 a.m. class at my church, but somehow it felt impossible for me to do regularly. I decided to give Yoga with Adriene on YouTube a try and was hooked from the beginning. I didn't miss a day for over two months and have kept it up consistently for most of the year, doing yoga 4-5 times a week. It's been great for my mental health (you can reference this post about that), and I love the thinking and stretching time that yoga gives me. 

In April, I began going on morning walk/runs with James. I was working part-time, but on my off-days I felt at a loss for what to do with him in the mornings before his nap at 10 am. So I strapped him in his stroller and went out for long walks or runs, depending on my mood. Somehow, this turned into something I do most mornings. I don't care about how far I go or how much I run, I just want to be outside and moving. Sometimes we'll stay outside for two hours and sometimes it's closer to 30 minutes, but I love making that time in the morning a priority.

Long walk/runs and yoga have kept my anxiety at bay and helped me feel fit and active. I've also appreciated how easy they are to continue even when I'm not at home. When we spent two weeks visiting family in August and when we moved to California in September, I was able to seamlessly keep up my walks and my yoga. Neither of these things require special equipment or a specific place, which is one reason why I love them so much.

The interesting thing is that I had a friend (without kids) asked if it was harder for me to exercise after I had James. I thought about it and was surprised to realize that it was actually easier for me to exercise after having a baby. 

The reason why it was easier was because I stopped expecting crazy fitness goals of myself. I used to say that I was going to go to the gym 4 times a week and go to the 6 a.m. yoga class twice a week. But guess what? That NEVER happened, not a single week. Once I had James, I realized that to get some form of exercise I needed to scale down my expectations and figure out what would work for me in my current situation.

In doing so, I've found two forms of fitness that I love and actually want to do. Adjusting my expectations has, once again, made me so much happier.

What I Do for Self-Care

Monday, December 26, 2016

Self-care is something I take seriously. I'm prone to high levels of stress and often experience anxiety. While my stress levels are WAY lower now than they have been at other times in my life (specifically, all of college), I'm still prone to over-stressing. To combat those feelings, there are certain things I do every day that help keep me calm.

Here are my self-care activities:

-Read as much as possible
Reading has been my solace for as long as I can remember. It calms me down and helps me unwind like nothing else. I need to be reading good books to feel happy, so I'm vigilant about reading as often as I can, and I'm careful to stop books I don't like or that are making me sad.

-Go outside
Being outside and seeing the sun and sky always does wonders for my mood. I try to go outside fairly early in the morning, although this is something I need to work on. James wakes up around 6:45 and it pretty much feels like from the time we wake I'm up hustling to get us out the door. Yet finally when we're ready to go it's 9:15. How does this happen? I have no idea but I want to change it.

 Anyway, I am extra grateful that I live in Southern California because I get to enjoy being outside all year round. I use the mornings as time to exercise and rejuvenate. I'll stick James his stroller, where he loves pointing out all the trucks, and just listen to an audiobook or podcast as I go on long walks. Being in the fresh air (and out of our apartment, which never gets enough light) helps lift my spirits so much.

-Crochet or cross-stitch
I've read articles about how soothing it can be for people to work with their hands, and I have found it to be true for me. I'm crocheting a blanket right now and I love the time to sit and focus on the stitches and then have something productive to show for myself. It's also a great activity to do while listening to something or watching TV.

-Have long conversations with Brock
 This one is obviously more personal than the other ones, but I realized recently how much calmer and happier I feel when I'm sitting with Brock and we're talking endlessly. I've worked to make these times of connection more of a priority because of the difference that it makes in my stress levels.

-Keep areas around me tidy
During the day when James is around, I just don't care about what messes he makes because trying to make him stay tidy feels like such a losing battle. But as soon as he is down for his nap, I make sure the table is clear and all his toys are put away. I can't relax while I eat if it's messy, so I always put a little bit of time to straighten up (it usually takes around 10 minutes) because the payoff for me is huge. Brock and I do the same after we finish dinner- we always make sure the living and kitchen are spotless because it provides such a calming environment for us.

-Avoid certain time-wasters
I've realized that being on my phone never, in the long run, helps me relax. I feel empty and drained if I've spent a while scrolling aimlessly. I always make a constant effort to limit my time on it, but thinking about it in terms of "how can I achieve the calmest, most put-together version of myself?" has given me extra motivation to be careful with how I use my phone.

What things do you do for self-care? I always love hearing suggestions.

Two Revelations I Had Today

Saturday, December 17, 2016

This morning James slept in until 8:00 AM. He has never slept in this late before and it was wonderful. Brock and I both woke up around 7:00 and started our days without our almost two-year-old demanding attention. It was so peaceful with just the two of us moving quietly around the apartment and I couldn't stop reveling in the calm. No one bothered me while I was putting my moisturizer on and no one cried as we made the bed (James often gets sad to see the sheets put away). I was able to eat my breakfast without a kid hanging on to my leg screaming "Bike!" (his way of saying "bite").

And then it occurred to me that this time that we have now, with a crazy toddler who never stops moving and needing things from us, is fleeting. Someday in the not too distant future, we will wake up on weekend mornings to peace and quiet, and the baby sleeping in his room will be a teenager who won't roll out of bed until noon. We'll have that quiet time to ourselves again, the time that I have been longing for and wishing I had almost every morning. And realizing that made me grateful for the crazy times we have now, because they won't last forever.

While in the midst of me enjoying my quiet time, I realized something else important. Brock has to work today. He's lucky (and I'm lucky) that he can work from home, and it's flexible enough that he was still able to take James to the farmer's market across the street to ride the little train and eat fruit samples. But still, it's hard for me to deal with being the primary caretaker for six days in a row. Thinking on my day ahead made me worry about how it was all going to go.

But then I started remembering what it was like when Brock was in law school before we had James. Specifically his first year, when it felt like he worked every single Saturday. My job never required me to work on the weekends, so I spent most Saturdays alone. I had a few friends in my same situation (no kids, busy husband) who I could and did hang out with, but for the most part my weekends felt lonely. I cleaned the apartment, did laundry, went to the gym, and read lots of books. It was quiet, but solitary and not very happy.

So I asked myself today if I would rather have that life again. If I didn't have James and Brock worked on Saturdays, would I prefer that to my days now? And gratefully, I realized that I like my time much better now. It feels much fuller and more purposeful. It's filled with a lot more laughter and silliness. It is definitely harder and simultaneously more boring (in some ways), but I would choose it every time. Realizing this made me feel so much better about today and my life overall. Even though it's not always ideal, it's always the one I would pick.

Gift Guide: 9 Books for the Baby Book Lover

Monday, December 12, 2016

I'm going to be honest with you: Reading books to babies can get so boring. Obviously, I love reading and I want my son to love reading, but when I first read Pajama Time! to James when he was about 6 weeks old I felt like my brain was falling out. Now that he's older (21 months) reading is SO much fun with him. He gets excited when his favorite pages come up (I love that he has favorite pages) and will try to make the sound effects along with me.

That being said, I definitely have a preference for some books more than others. In general, I like books where the writing flows well (we have a few that James LOVES but I don't enjoy because of how clunky the writing is), and has interesting illustrations that hold his attention.

One additional note- I read about 15-20 board books to James a day and the library has been a lifesaver to keep me from reading our same books over and over again. I check out tons of books at a time (I think I have 17 checked out right now) and it really helps keep our reading time interesting. Just look for books that aren't stained or chewed on and you should be good!

Here are some books we love:

1. Alligator, Bear, Crab
My favorite alphabet book ever. Super simple with pretty colors, it also assigns each letter to an animal, and I loved that the animals are ones I don't usually see in board books, like iguanas and loons.

2. Chu's Day
Something I enjoyed about this book was that it told a story. So many easy board books aren't stories, but this one was fun and simple. James loves saying "AhhhCHOO" along with me.

3. Brown Bear, Brown Bear
Definitely a classic for a reason- it has fun illustrations, lots of animals, and simple writing. James always gets so excited when I pull this one out.

4. Hop on Pop
To specify, this is the easy reader board book edition, NOT the real Hop on Pop, which is about 15 pages longer. This one has cute rhymes and has taught James words like "cup" and "pat". It's short and fun.

5. Steam Train Dream Train Colors
James is just barely learning his colors and we've enjoyed this book that has a train, animals, and colors. All three are big deals with James right now so this one is a winner.

6. Row, Row, Row Your Boat 
I swear there is baby catnip in this book because James is obsessed with it. I enjoy it too- all the extra verses are fun and I often sing this one to James if he's fussy in the car.

7. Orange Triangle Fox
This book is so fun. It uses shapes, colors and animals for the pictures and we both love going through the pages. I've even seen James attempt to say "yellow star frog" on his own, which is adorable.

8. But Not the Hippopotamus
One huge caveat with this one- Brock does not like it, so it clearly is not for everyone. But I really enjoy the silly rhymes about the hog and the frog and the cat the rats. It is one of my top favorite Boynton books.

9. Olivia Counts
This is a fun counting book, and the illustrations in this one are so great to me- I love the black and white with pops of red. James is barely (aka not really) learning his numbers and loves to say "five!" along with me.

Gift Guide for the Book Lover

Sunday, December 11, 2016

I love giving books as gifts. I know many gift guides for book lovers (like Modern Mrs. Darcy's and Everyday Reading's) are for non-book gifts, but the only non-book bookish gift I've found is this tote bag I gave my mom last Christmas. It was a hit, in case you're looking for something similar.

But I want to suggest books for the readers in your life, because books offer a great way to connect with people you care about and can provide new levels of conversation and inside jokes. Without further ado, the guide:

For the Memoir Lover:
1. Rewrites by Neil Simon
 I had never heard of Neil Simon before this book was recommended to me, and I was instantly swept up in his life as playwright and screenwriter. His descriptions of his failures and successes, his wife, and his inner turmoil were beautiful and touching.

2. Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett
Patchett's writing, which is always wonderful, shines in this book about her friendship with Lucy Grealy. It's heart-rending and sweet and I finished it in a day.

3. The Red Circle by Brandon Webb
Webb was a Navy SEAL sniper who served multiple times in the Middle East and ended up as a sniper trainer. His story feels unique and insightful about this group of people I had known so little about.

For the History Lover:
1. Liar Temptress Soldier Spy by Karen Abbott
It's so wonderful to read an account from a fresh angle on the Civil War, and this nonfiction gem about the experiences of these four women spies and patriots was enthralling.

2. Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick
For some reason, I love reading and learning what I can about North Korea. Demick's book is probably my favorite of those I've read. She interviews escapees from North Korea and their individual stories are telling and terrifying.

3. Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
This book is a great description of the Chicago World's Fair. It alternates between all the calamities that went on as the fair was being built and a murderer who used the World's Fair to seduce and kill women. It is kind of an obscure topic in history and makes for an interesting read.

For the Long Novel Lover:
1. The Brothers K by David James Duncan
 Intricate and deep, this book delves into the psychology of the Chance family, parents and six children. The characters are unforgettable and the story is memorable.

2. Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
 Stegner's novels are all amazing, but I loved this one about marriage. The narrator reflects on his own marriage and the state of marriage in the turbulent times he's writing in (1970s) as he attempts to unravel the secrets behind his grandparents' marriage.

3. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
At times this novel is painful, at times joyous, and overall the reading experience is one you'll never forget. The story of a nun and doctor and their twin sons, set in Ethiopia and the United States is so original that you will wish you could read it for the first time again and again.

For the Design Lover:
1. The Perfectly Imperfect Home by Deborah Needleman
With years of experience as the founding editor in chief of Domino magazine, Needleman walks you through each aspect of designing a room, from the smallest lamps to decorating walls and choosing sofas. Its timelessness and great advice make for a wonderful read.

2. The Nesting Place by Myquillyn Smith
 I love the tagline for this book, "It doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful." The author is a big believer in making your home yours right now, which is a message I loved hearing. There is a perfect blend of personal experience and how-tos.

3. Design Mom by Gabrielle Stanley Blair
 I love love love Gabrielle's site, Design Mom, and her book did not disappoint. It was full of practical tips for living with kids and lots of beautiful pictures.

For the Short Story Lover:
1. Brief Encounters with Che Guevara by Ben Fountain
 These stories are eclectic and haunting, with a unique writing style that does an excellent job of inserting you right into the story. I loved how varied the locations of his stories are (Sierra Leone, Haiti, etc.) and the way they made me think after reading them.

2. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
 Lahiri has a gift of being able to make the characters in her story relatable, and this short story collection is an excellent example of what I think is great about her writing.

3. Skin and Other Stories by Roald Dahl
 In classic Dahl form, each of these stories have a weird flavor and unexpected twist. I first read this when I was a teenager, and when I picked it back up years later I was surprised to discover that I could still remember many of the stories because of how memorable they are.

For the Classics Lover:
1. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
An easy to read classic, this book is full of good guys and bad guys with many twists and turns along the way. You'll find yourself rooting for Marion Holcombe and marveling at Count Fosco's evilness.

2. My Antonia  by Willa Cather
 The American West is practically its own character in this book about a young boy, Jim, and an immigrant girl, Antonia. Their experiences in Nebraska as children profoundly influence them and this book is a beautiful telling of their lives.

3. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
 The New York society told of by Wharton is this beautiful classic was made up partly by her own memories, which makes it feel real. The story is about love and sacrifice, and certain passages haunted me long after I finished it.

What I'm Into (November)

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

We went to a new-to-us park and he was so in awe over the buckets and buckets of trucks, aka his favorite toy
For whatever reason, November has not flown by. It seems like Halloween was months ago and I've already been thinking it's December for about a week now so I'm just glad it's finally here. Now Brock and I just need to buckle down and figure out Christmas-related stuff- mostly presents for extended family and a Christmas tree. It will be our first year having a Christmas tree and I am so excited. We're finally growing up!

Here is what I'm into this month:

I just finished We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves and was a little underwhelmed. I recently read another book about dysfunctional family dynamics and that one was a ton better. This one just fell flat for me, but the story itself is pretty interesting.

Besides that, I've been trying to find more good audiobooks. I just listened to Brown Girl Dreaming and really enjoyed it. I'm currently listening to The Wednesday Wars which I've heard a lot of good things about but I'm still not sure I like it. I'm just not very into middle-grade fiction. But for the first time in about 2 months I don't have anything on hold, so any good audiobook recommendations would be appreciated!

Brock and I are huge Doctor Who fans and he just discovered that we can watch season 9 on Amazon Prime. We've missed the show since it was taken off Netflix a year or so ago (maybe longer, I can't remember). So having it back has made me so happy. Also, in case you're a fan too: Matt Smith is my favorite Doctor, Clara is my favorite companion, followed by Donna (why does Donna always get overlooked??), and I could not stand Amy Pond.

I've also watched one episode of Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. I've liked it okay but am just kind of annoyed at Rory's storyline and so I'm not dying to finish it. I'm also one of about 3 people alive who doesn't like binge-watching, so it's totally normal for me to take awhile to finish it.

I've been in a cooking slump lately and just really have not felt like dinner most nights. Brock has stepped in (as he does) and made us waffles and bacon a few nights and some Brazilian cheese rolls (you can find the amazing recipe here from Our Best Bites) other nights to get us by.

But, I did make some delicious fajitas last night. I love this recipe (from Iowa Girls Eats) so much. You don't have to marinate at all and it is just so flavorful. I made some guacamole too and we had wrapped them all up in tortillas. It was so good.

Okay, so like every other mom there are tons of times when I feel so overwhelmed by motherhood and other (rarer) times where it feels like I'm living the life. Lately it's been more on the overwhelmed side but I just want to record the joy that James is. I've loved watching him grow and change and I am surprised by how much I LOVE hearing him talk and learn new words. It just reminds me that he is actually learning things that I teach him.

Linking up with Leigh Kramer to share what I'm into this month.

5 Reasons I Love Living in a Small Apartment

Friday, November 25, 2016

James in his private dining, aka the patio
Brock, James, and I live in a pretty small apartment that makes me really happy. Before we moved to California, we lived in a much smaller apartment in Chicago that was just one bedroom and one bathroom. Now that we've moved to an apartment with two bedrooms and two bathrooms, I've had people ask if our new apartment feels huge to me after our old one. I've found that it really doesn't- it's still small but this one feels like it's the perfect size for us.

There are a lot of things I like about living in a small apartment and I can honestly say I have no desire (at this point) to move into anything bigger. And if we did decide to move and found a place where we lost some square feet, I wouldn't mind at all. Here is why I love living in a small space:

1. Cleaning is not an all-day job
Vacuuming the whole apartment, cleaning up the kitchen, and quickly wiping down the bathrooms will take Brock and me maybe half an hour. Since it is really important to us to have a tidy home, this is a huge benefit of living in a small apartment. Actually, it is for this reason alone that I never want to live in a big house. I would never want to clean all that!

2. No need for a baby monitor
We have never needed a baby monitor in our home because it simply is not big enough for us not hear James cry. We actually did buy one last summer when we were staying at our parents' houses and having to use a baby monitor always makes me slightly paranoid. Is the volume turned up all the way? Is it close enough to our bed that we can hear it? Is it plugged in so the battery won't die in the night? Whew. I much prefer to be able to hear James from the adjoining room rather than using a monitor.

3. You always know where your family members are
I have many memories from growing up where I would have no idea who of my family was home and I would have to comb the whole house to find my mom. Situations like that never happen in our little apartment. You always know where everyone else is and once you walk through the door you can pretty much pinpoint exactly where the rest of the family is. This is extra beneficial when there is a toddler like James around- there is no where for him to hide!

4. Keeps stuff to a minimum
Having a small apartment is really the best incentive (and the best excuse) for me to keep our stuff pared down. I really love how simple it makes things for me- I cannot buy lots of furniture or bulky toys because we have absolutely nowhere to put them. I think having more space would stress me out feeling like I would need to fill it up, but the way we have feels perfectly manageable to me.

5. Easy to find stuff you lost
This reason is key for me. I lose my slippers about 10 times a day. My slippers are extremely integral to keeping my feet warm, which by extension makes them integral to my happiness and overall comfort in life. So, when I cannot remember where I took them off I get extremely frustrated. Luckily, it takes less than 2 minutes to search the apartment so I always find them right away. We're also able to find keys, wallets, water bottles, etc. with (almost) no problems and I'm always so glad for that.

Recently Read: November

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy to share some books I've been loving 
I love looking back over the books I've read recently- there have been some things this month that I have been SO excited about. However, the list doesn't show that I've stopped reading about twice as many books. Oh well. With all that being said, here are some that I have finished and loved (or at least liked).

1. Rewrites by Neil Simon
This memoir was recommended to me by a friend (the same friend who recommended Our Souls at Night, which I also loved) and it was so good. I had never heard of Neil Simon before this, but he is a famous award-winning playwright who wrote his first play at the age of 30. I personally love stories like this and his description of the plays and his family life were so memorable. It is definitely one of my new favorite memoirs.

2. Appointment in Samarra by John O'Hara
I have conflicted feelings about this book- I didn't actually like it that much but it was a really compelling read, which is why I'm including it on this list. It was written in the 1930s and set during Prohibition. It is short and easy to read and highlights the self-destruction and horrible choices of the main character, Julian. Overall, depressing but really interesting.

3. Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler
Z  is about Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald. I really enjoyed the novelization of her life- the book was based around the true events from their life but really made Zelda and Scott, the people, feel real and human. It was so interesting and sad to see their potential and greatness slowly become ruined through jealousy and alcohol (among other things).

4. Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
This book was wonderful and fresh in a way that I hadn't expected. Sandberg talks frankly about women, work and family life. It was inspiring and the anecdotes she shared have really stuck with me. I highly recommend it and really enjoyed reading it.

5. In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume
I have read a lot of Judy Blume and so I thought I knew what to expect with this new novel. But it completely surprised me. It was definitely Judy Blume, yet it was more polished and thoughtful and just more captivating than I had seen before. I liked the characters (although I did not love all their choices) and the story really drew me in. I had trouble putting it down and just wanted to be reading it constantly.

A Gratitude List

Sunday, November 13, 2016

I've been thinking lately about what I'm grateful for. It's been a tough month so far and it always makes me feel better to count my blessings.

1. James sleeping through the night
He actually woke up twice a few nights ago because he has a cold and needed to be comforted back to sleep. It was SO hard getting my sleep interrupted, but I realized he hasn't woken up in the night once since we moved here over two months ago. It has been over a year since he's been sleeping through the night consistently. I don't think I can exaggerate and over-dramatize enough how terrible and traumatic his newborn days were for me in terms of missed sleep, so I am just so grateful for the good sleeper he is now.

2. No winter!
There is a huge weight lifted off me knowing that I don't have to go through a freezing cold winter. No worries about how to keep James from being stir-crazy inside or about getting a deathly version of the flu or driving in a snowstorm, no stressing about winter clothes or slippery sidewalks or lack of vitamin D. It's wonderful!

3. Prime Now
Prime Now is this wonderful app for Amazon Prime users where your orders are delivered within two hours! We had it in Chicago and last night when we were out of milk (which is a code red alert in our house) I checked to see if they deliver around here and they do! So I didn't have to go the store! It was so amazing and I am so so so grateful I didn't have to leave the house to get groceries.

4. Chocolate chip banana bread muffins
James and I have both eaten our weight in these and they are so gooooood. Such a great quick snack.

5. Our couch
We have been living without one for two months but the one we ordered finally, finally came and it has been great. I love how it looks and I love having a place to sit and read while James plays instead of having to sit cross-legged on the floor.

6. Being compatible with Brock
We took a random quiz today and on almost every question we answered the same thing. The first question had us choose among a bunch of colors and at the same time we said "turquoise." The next one had us choose among 5 animals and we both picked owl. Then we both picked Costa Rica for our next vacation spot. We both picked reading as our favorite hobby. It's silly but hearing us say the same things reminded me that we are so good for each other.

What I'm Into (October)

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Linking up with Leigh today to share what I'm into
October has been a month of adjustment. Brock started work and it has been crazy for both of us. We've had to learn to manage our respective schedules and make time for each other. I know we will end up being fine but there is always the pain of that adjustment that takes longer than I want it to (I wrote a bit about it here).

Of course, there was also Halloween this month. James had a little turtle costume and he wore it to Brock's work for their office party and then again yesterday for trick or treating in my hometown. It was seriously so cute, although now I wish I had just walked around with him and not actually gotten candy. I don't want him eating it (he did have a Tootsie Roll this morning when I wasn't paying attention) and I don't want to be eating it, so now we're stuck with a bucketful of candy around the house. Sigh.

Here is a brief sampling of what I've been into this month:

I'm recently finished Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. I started it on audiobook about a month ago but couldn't finish it before it expired on Overdrive. It was so intriguing that I grabbed the book when I was at the library and really enjoyed it. It was a little bit of science fiction without being science fiction-y, which I didn't know I would really like.

I also finished Liar Temptress Soldier Spy which was such an interesting look at four women (two for the Union, two for the Confederates) involved in the Civil War. It felt like fiction as I was reading and I still can't believe that the stories are true! It was so good.

Last night I made some delicious chicken enchilada soup from Gimme Some Oven. It's different than others I've made before because it has corn flour in it and tons of cheese (maybe the fact that I actually shredded my own this time instead of using the pre-packaged stuff helped the cheesy factor). Brock and I ate it with tortilla chips and it was so good. 

Tomorrow I'm planning on making a slow cooker recipe and am going to make the wonderful jalapeno popper chili from Everyday Reading. I only use one jalapeno so it's not spicy at all. I've made it a bunch of times before and it always turns out great, plus there are tons of leftovers.

There are two things that have improved my life this month. First, slippers. I have an undiagnosed circulation problem- actually, let's consider it self-diagnosed. Essentially, my feet are always cold, often painfully so. During Chicago winters I had to wear two pairs of socks with slippers (a very sexy look, let me tell you), and sometimes my feet would ache so bad that I would stand in the bathtub and let the hot water run over them until the ache mostly subsided.

I assumed that when I moved to California a lot of my problems would go away, since it doesn't get cold here. But for whatever reason- our apartment is south facing, or it's super shady- my feet have been cold nonstop. So, about two weeks ago, I was at Target and decided the time had come to do something about my feet. I bought some moccasin slippers, and put them on the minute I walked through our door. They're a lot cuter than my old slippers and have rarely left my feet since. They really have radically changed my life for the better. I wish I were exaggerating but I'm not.

Next, eye drops. My eyes have been so dry lately and sometimes when I close them it feels like they're going to burn through my eyelids. I bought $4 eyedrops when I was grocery shopping and have been using them almost daily. The relief is amazing. Both of these things remind me that taking care of the little things in life (dry eyes, cold feet) can really help me feel better all around.

What have you been into this month?

4 Books that Have Changed My Perspective

Sunday, October 30, 2016

As a huge reader, there are books that have really changed the way I think about certain issues. This list covers four out of many, but they are the ones that first came to my mind. They've all had a deep impact on me and have helped me become a better person.

1. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
I read this book after I moved to Chicago and it really helped me understand why the racial demographics of Chicago look the way they do. This book details The Great Migration, which is the migration of millions of African-Americans from the South to big cities in the North and West (think Detroit, New York, Los Angeles, etc). When they arrived, they were pushed into certain areas that became black ghettos and were offered limited employment options. The ramifications of The Great Migration are still affecting America today and it was absolutely fascinating to get a better understanding of this topic. I think and talk about this book all the time and rate it as one of the top nonfiction books I've read.

2. My Own Country by Abraham Verghese
My Own Country opened my eyes to how appalling and horrible AIDS is, and how terrifying the spread of AIDS was as knowledge about the disease was first coming to light. Reading Verghese's first-hand account as an infectious disease specialist turned AIDS expert in eastern Tennessee was incredibly moving. His stories of the patients and how they affected him, as well as his experience with prejudice, were moving and emotional. This book was unique and wonderful; I highly recommend it.

3. The Girls Who Went Away by Ann Fessler
This book showed me the human side of mothers who give up their babies for adoption. Fessler interviews dozens of women who gave up their babies for adoption when they were in their teens or early twenties, and their stories were heart-wrenching. I had never thought about the emotional impact that giving up a child would cause, and some of the stories about women (girls, really) holding their babies for the first and last time made me sob. This book helped me understand that adopting out a child was a watershed moment in the lives of each of these women with emotional ramifications felt for decades.

4. 168 Hours by Laura Vanderkam
The subject matter isn't as emotional as some of the others, but this book taught me how to rethink my concept of time. Vanderkam's whole argument is that we need to approach time management in a new way and that really, we have more time than we think. Since there are 168 hours in a week, even if you work full-time and sleep 8 hours a night, there is still ample time for you to have quality experiences with your children, exercise, pursue hobbies, take a class, and so on. She has excellent and interesting tips that I've remembered even two years after I read it. Reading this made me feel invigorated because I realized there is so much time to do what I want and it helped rethink the structure of my days and weeks.

What books have changed your perspective?

Aren't We All Good Moms?

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

It seems like having a motherhood mantra is all the rage these days. Without intentionally meaning to, I realized recently that I have my own mantra I use when I'm feeling stressed out as a mom. Here it is:

I am a good mother.

That's it. It sounds simple, and it is, but I love to remind myself of it. I noticed before I became a mom that so many women around me would say things like, "I stopped nursing my son at 7 months. I know, I'm a bad mom." Or something like, "For breakfast my daughter just had fruit snacks. I'm such a bad mom but it was easy and quick." When I heard stuff like this I would think, "They can't really believe they're bad moms because of that. That does not make them a bad mother!" I vowed that I would never call myself that after I had kids.

But once I had James, I understood the feelings of inadequacy and the worry that go along with being a mother. I understood why women would call themselves a bad mother- to air the fear that they are messing it all up. But here's the thing: I lose my temper too. Sometimes I feed my son blueberries for dinner. Sometimes I let him pull all the towels out from under the bathroom sink so I can have peace while I do my make up. And none of this (or the hundred other things I do wrong) makes me a bad mother.

I do a ton of things right- as does almost every mom. I tell my son I love him, I sing him songs and teach him how to do "Head Shoulders Knees and Toes." I read him a million books a day, make sure he gets his nap, and give him plenty of tickles. I shoo him away from the hot oven, and teach him to put dirty clothes in the hamper and blocks back in the basket.

And when I do feel frustrated or when he lays on the floor and screams like a crazy person, I remind myself that I am a good mother. It keeps me calm and helps me rise to the challenge of mothering and nurturing. Because I'm trying and I'm loving and I'm working hard to raise this person. Isn't that what we're all doing? Aren't we all good moms?

Being in the Right Mind-Set

Monday, October 24, 2016

Shonda Rhimes's book, Year of Yes, was inspiring and funny. I love books where people make over their lives, and that is exactly what Rhimes did. Perhaps my favorite bit of wisdom from her book was about the importance of being in the right mind-set.

Rhimes was talking about her weight-loss journey (over 100 pounds!) and how she was able to successfully drop the weight. She didn't want to give specific advice, because she believes one thing matters more than anything else. Here it is:
"Now, I'm betting all of those big-time programs...work. But only if you decide that YOU are going to do the work to make the programs work. Meaning, nothing works if you don't actually decide that you are really and truly ready to do it.
Are you ready? Here's how you know if you are ready or not: Three years ago, if someone had said something to me like 'Nothing works until you are really ready for it to work,' I would have force-fed them butter until they weighed one thousands pounds. Because that sounds like crap. Everything sounds like crap until you are in the right mind-set."
That last sentence is the one that has stuck out to me in the weeks since I finished the book. "Everything sounds like crap until you are in the right mind-set". It is so obvious, yet I don't think I had ever spelled it out for myself before. That is why different things click with me at different times. You have to be in the right mind-set! And if you're not in the right mind-set, you can hear the same thing a hundred times and not have it mean anything!

Things like "practice makes perfect" or "this stage doesn't last forever" often seem meaningless until one day they click. And you just wonder how they never made sense to you before. Realizing it's all about the mind-set put it all into perspective for me.

What do you think about being in the right mind-set?

Life Truth: Adjusting Expectations

Monday, October 17, 2016

Just an unrelated 85 degree fall photo
I want to start a new series where I talk about various truths that I have learned as I have grown into adulthood. This post will be the first among many, and it's about adjusting your expectations.

Sometimes, I hear people (usually other moms) talk about lowering their expectations in order to get through what may be a trying time in their lives. A typical conversation can go something like this:

Person 1: "How was it adjusting to two kids?"
Person 2:"Oh, it was super hard at first but you just gotta lower your expectations and then it's fine."

Hearing this always makes me really sad. I understand the sentiment and have experienced it a few times myself, but I want to look at it from a new perspective. Instead of saying I'll lower my expectations, I prefer to tell myself that I am adjusting my expectations and am learning to expect different/new things for myself.

I really learned this lesson over this past summer. Before the summer, Brock was still in law school and his schedule was really flexible. He spent tons of time at home with James and me, and was able to watch James while I worked. I was working 12-18 hours a week; around 8-10 hours in the office and the rest at home.

That schedule was absolute heaven for me. Working gave me a break from my mom duties and let me have quiet time. When I came home, Brock would have cleaned the apartment and fed James and it was so wonderful. We split parenting and cleaning and were together all the time. It felt like an ideal balance and I felt so grateful for it.

But then law school ended and full-time bar study began, around 8-10 hours a day. As wimpy as this sounds, since I wasn't the one doing the actual studying, this schedule shift was SO hard for me. My work was on the university schedule and had slowed down for summer, and with Brock studying I couldn't go into the office anyway. I constantly moped around feeling sorry for myself. I dreaded trying to fill up the long, hot days by myself with a toddler. Every night ended with me feeling sad and dejected.

But then, after about 5 weeks of this, I noticed something: I had gradually adjusted! I had no trouble filling up our days. I started going on long walk/runs by the lake in the morning, and found fun things for us to do in the afternoons. I went to a fun playgroup with other kids and moms a few times a week and made plans with friends and no longer felt sorry for myself.

I didn't lower my expectations about what my life should look like then versus what it had looked like the previous months; I adjusted my expectations to fit what my life was like then. And that perspective shift provided an important life lesson for me.

I'm going through the same thing now. Brock has started work at his new job. For the past few months before this week, we've spent most of our days with each other. Splitting time with James, doing individual outings, and just soaking up our time together. Now that he's gone all day and I am alone with a toddler with little to no ideas of what to do in our area with a kid, I'm reminding myself to adjust.

It's not going to come together immediately. I will be lonely and stressed sometimes, and I will be more stir crazy than James other times. But I'm also sure that I will adjust and will figure out how to make our life here work. I'm not lowering my expectations of my day-to-day life without Brock around, I'm just addressing how it's going to be from now on.

And I know I'm going to adjust and end up thriving.

Recently Read: October

Saturday, October 15, 2016

I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy to share some books that I have read (and enjoyed) so far this month.

1. Our Souls At Night by Kent Haruf
My good friend recommended this to me and it was a quick and enjoyable read. It gave me a lot to think about, especially about how we change and shift our perspectives as we get older. It reminded me that there is never a set time in our lives when we are 'done', when we have finished learning all that we can from life. I highly recommend it.

2. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
This is the first book by Murakami that I've read and it was very interesting. I love how he describes what running means to him and why it's such a huge part of his life. Also, reading it made me want to be a real runner. Maybe someday.

3. Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
Overall, I liked this book. I listened to it on audiobook and it is read by the author with some audio included of speeches she gave, which just makes for a great experience. So many of her observations have stuck with me and her work is really inspiring.

4. Walkable City by Jeff Speck
I gushed about this book here but I really cannot recommend it enough. I still think about walkability and its impacts all the time.

5. The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
An Australian saga spanning decades, this book totally hooked me. The stories were so interesting that I couldn't put the book down. I got completely wrapped up in the characters and their lives and agonized over every mishap. I just really loved it.


Monday, October 10, 2016

When I was pregnant, the most vivid of all my dreams was when I was handed a new baby and began nursing him. I woke up afterward and thought that nursing seemed like the sweetest, coziest thing I could do with my baby.

James, at 19 months, is now officially weaned. He should have been weaned a few weeks ago, since I was working at it before we left for D.C., but once we came back he nursed a couple more times. But now I can say it- he's weaned.

Sometimes I let my mind drift back to how it was at the beginning. Nursing was so hard at first. When my milk came in I had so much pain I almost couldn't bear it. Latching hurt, sleeping on my stomach hurt, trying to go more than 3 hours between feedings hurt. I asked my mom if it ever stopped hurting and she said that soon the pain would go away. Secretly I thought she was wrong. I thought maybe the pain went on and on and was just dulled by time, so that you even if you didn't feel it anymore it still kept hurting.

When James was one month old, I sat on the couch holding him, looking at the bright yellow blossoms of the tree outside our window and realized I had one month down. I felt like I had accomplished something major, but I also felt that it was only the tiny beginning of a journey that would never end.

But of course it did stop hurting and of course it did end. My baby now runs everywhere and mimics everything I say. He still needs me, but no longer in the same way he did as a small baby.

An accurate portrayal of how I looked the first month or so of James's life
I fiercely loved nursing. I always preferred the term nursing to breastfeeding because nursing seemed to connote comfort and security in addition to nourishment. At the beginning when nursing took two hands and all my concentration, I would stare at his every movement, every face twitch and think how beautiful and sweet he was. I understood that this is how I would fall in love with my baby. The closeness was the aspect of early motherhood that I loved the most.

Nursing was a privilege and a joy.

The Importance of Walkablity

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Walkable City by Jeff Speck is almost certainly going to be one of my top books of the year. The topic of walkability is something I had been constantly thinking about, and since reading it I have felt so vindicated. This issue was something I had been obsessing over and analyzing in my mind and in the first chapter of this book I wanted to scream, "I'm not alone! Experts have the same opinions I do about walking!"

Speck's whole argument is that walkability is the most important factor for a city to be vibrant and attractive to new residents. There are a bunch of aspects that go in to making a city walkable, such as mixed-use neighborhoods where restaurants and stores and residences are all close together. There is the issue of frequent and reliable public transportation, the importance of shade and the necessity of interesting-looking architecture.

He does a good job of explaining the benefits of walking, including health, community, and enviromental. I loved his entire generalist approach to planning cities. It helped me analyze some walking cities I've lived in, like Washington D.C. and Chicago, and how they compare with where I grew up and where I'm living now.

This topic has taken on a special interest in my life due to our recent move. Before we moved, we were living in the extremely walkable Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago. I loved how much I could walk to accomplish my everyday errands and used my stroller much more than the car. Walking was the easiest and quickest way to get to many places, including the produce store, the library, lots of parks, restaurants, my favorite tiny thrift store and the office where I worked at the University of Chicago.

But then we moved to Irvine in southern California and I was shocked by how little I could walk. We live within close driving distance of pretty much everything and yet we can walk to nothing. It felt disconcerting at the beginning to have to get in the car every single time I wanted to go somewhere.

To further illustrate the difference between the two, I looked up their individual walk scores on the website walkscore.com. Speck had mentioned it in the book as a site that assigns a score between 0 and 100 according to how walkable the address is to nearby errands. Anything over 90 is supposed to be an amazing area for walking. My previous address in Chicago had a walk score of 89. My current address? A walk score of 24.

Reading Walkable City has helped me analyze the differences between these two places. I go on walk/runs with James in the mornings and the lack of street breaks, high speed limits (50 or 55 mph!), and the dearth of shady trees makes these walks miserable for anything besides exercise.

Reading this book made me feel better in some aspects. I realized that where I live is not set up for pedestrians to thrive. I don't drive everywhere because I'm wimpy but because this area is car oriented and not walk oriented.

But it did make me feel worse because I wish I was living in a place that was walkable, had a thriving bike culture and frequent public transportation. A life like that seems so much more pleasant to me.

What are your thoughts on walkablitity? This is a subject I can talk about endlessly.

What I'm Into (September)

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Today I'm linking up with Leigh to share some things that I'm into this month.

September was a good month around here. We completely unpacked and have settled in to our apartment and slowly begun carving out our "spots" (library, park, grocery store, church, etc.). Brock and I went on a trip for 8 days, and we finished off the month with Brock's birthday yesterday. We went to the beach (pictured above) and explored the tide pools and played in the waves. It was heavenly.

 There's been a lot of change and a lot of moving around. I'm looking forward to October-it's always been such a fun month to me.

Here are a few things I've been into this month:


I just (as in, 10 minutes ago) finished Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr. It's about his year spent in Rome with his wife and one year old twins. It was interesting but not as readable as I had originally expected.

However, a few lines really stuck out to me. Here's one that I've been thinking about a lot the past few days:
"Leave home, leave the country, leave the familiar. Only then can routine experience- buying bread, eating vegetables, even saying hello- become new all over again."
I've been feeling this so much the past few days- I left home and upon coming back I can't stop marveling over everything. This is my bed? It's so comfy and wonderful! This is my apartment! It fits us so well. The one that has been recurring the most is, this is my son? He's mine? Look at how amazing he is!

I really have been looking at James 20 times a day and thinking, "Wow. He is incredible and I'm so lucky." Leaving home and coming back helped my familiar things to become new again.

In other reading news, last night I started listening to Year of Yes on audiobook and I have been LOVING it. Shonda Rimes has such a unique voice and a unique perspective. I can't wait to finish. I'm also about to start Snow Falling on Cedars, recommended to me by my cousin Amber (personal book recommendations are my favorite).


This weekend is the weekend of my church's General Conference. You can check it out here. I always find it to be so uplifting and inspiring. Also, Brock and I got engaged on General Conference weekend 4 years ago, so every time the October session rolls around I tend to reminisce. I am very prone to nostalgia about our romantic history.

From our engagement photo shoot. Sorry but I had to

Brock and I are in the middle of Stranger Things on Netflix. I heard a million good things about it before we started but it moves a little slow for my taste and also I'm not a fan of alien things. But the acting is really good and so, why not?


Is it weird that this is a category? I love cooking and consider it one of my favorite hobbies. With the move and being out of town I haven't cooked as much as I usually do. But I have made two amazing meals this week, if I can say that about my own cooking.

For Brock's birthday dinner, he requested chicken pot pie. I love this recipe from Betty Crocker and I think last night's was my best pot pie yet. The whole process kind of takes awhile but James and Brock were rambunctiously playing in his room and I was listening to my audiobook so I found the whole chopping, stirring, rolling very soothing.

I also made these great chicken lettuce wraps. They are filling, seem so healthy, and are relatively quick to make. I do feel like a slob as I eat them, so maybe don't make them as a date night meal.

DC Report

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Brock and I just got back from a long trip to Washington, D.C. It was our bar trip (for those not in the law school loop, people often take trips after they take the bar but before they begin working, hence "bar trip") and also what I consider our second honeymoon. I did an internship in DC when I was in college (4.5 years ago!) and hadn't been back since. Brock had never been, so I was so excited to show him around. Getting on the Metro right after we landed and hearing the automated voice say "doors closing" made me so nostalgic. I really felt like if I closed my eyes and focused hard enough, I would find myself 21 again, figuring out how to be an adult and becoming the person I was meant to be. It made me so overwhelmingly happy.

It was an amazing trip. Here are some thoughts and pictures:

-We walked everywhere and it felt great. Something I remembered from living in DC was how walkable everything is. If the Metro didn't get you exactly where you needed to go, walking 20 or 30 minutes wasn't a big deal at all. I found it to be true again this time too. The first few days, we took the Metro, but by the fourth day we just walked wherever we were going. It would take 40 minutes to get downtown (or an hour to get to Georgetown) but that was part of the fun. We loved looking at the changing neighborhoods and fun restaurants.
An side effect of all that walking. Brock said he took this so we would remember what our trip was really like- me stopping to fix my socks every 10 minutes. Ps- Behind me is the new African-American Museum. It just opened this week!

-Brock and I travel well together. It's something I knew before this, of course, but it's always nice to have it reinforced. We both love museums and trying new places to eat, and have so many overlapping interests. It was so fun to be together without any real responsibilities and we really fell more in love on this trip.

-We got to meet up with my college bestie Laurie and her husband Gerhard! I hadn't seen Laurie in years and it was so good to see her again. Since Brock and I just moved to a new area I haven't really made any new friends yet which made it all the better to talk to someone who knew me well. It was just a great way to connect and our conversations together were so fascinating. Definitely a highlight of the trip.

I bet if I looked through Facebook long enough I could find a ton more pictures of us in this exact pose. 

-We stayed in the Bloomingdale/LeDroit Park area in a little basement apartment from Airbnb. It was an interesting side of DC that I hadn't seen when I lived there. It had amazing old row houses and fun restaurants. It actually reminded us a lot of where we lived in Chicago, right down to the nonstop sirens, so that made us feel right at home.

-It was a crazy feeling to be walking around or on a bus and suddenly see something that I clearly remembered from my internship days but that I had completely forgotten. This happened with multiple bookstores and the whole Adams Morgan neighborhood- an "Oh! I've been here before!" moment. It was so fun.
Barlow Center! Where I lived while in DC

-Even though I had lived in DC before there was still a lot of things that I hadn't done, which made it all the more fun to do with Brock. Somehow I had never been to the zoo, which is crazy, but again, was so fun to do with Brock. He is a HUGE animal lover and has turned me into one too, so we try to go to all the zoos we can. And this zoo was amazing- plus, we happened to be in the reptile house during feeding time and saw all the snakes eating their mice/rats! I understand that some people would find this revolting, but Brock and I thought that we had the best of luck to happen upon that. It was so cool. 

Other places we went together where I hadn't been include the Botanic Gardens (so beautiful), the American Indian Museum (slightly boring), and the Supreme Court (which was cool but a million times cooler for Brock, obviously).

Making Brock's dreams come true at the Supreme Court. 

-I was so sad to leave because it kind of felt that our trip had become our new life. I would forget for hours at a time that I had a son and that we actually lived in California and not in the capital. It's been good to come back and so wonderful to reunite with James (he's grown up so much in the past week), but I know that I will always treasure that time together. It's a good thing we have a million new inside jokes and two weeks before Brock starts work so it's not too jarring of a transition.