Monday, January 16, 2017

My Favorite Podcasts

Full disclosure- this post could almost be titled "The ONLY Podcasts I Listen To" because I don't really listen to very many of them and only started listening to them in the past year or so (aside from Season One of Serial, because holy suspense and intrigue, Batman.) Part of that is laziness on my part, since once I subscribe to a podcast I feel obligated to it and then when episodes pile up un-downloaded, I start to feel bogged down and overwhelmed which is kind of a stupid way for something like podcasts to make me feel. (I'm not getting a grade for my podcast listening, but sometimes you'd think that. You'd also think that at 27 I wouldn't be motivated by a podcast report card, but here we are. Sigh.) 

Full(er) disclosure- I had a totally different post planned for today but didn't get started on it in time and now here we are... phoning it in with a good ol' list post. Such is life with a sick baby and rain all day and cabin fever and wasting time... well, blah blah blah. I supposed I could have written the other post instead of watching the DUMBEST Frank Sinatra/Dean Martin movie... it would have been a much better use of my day and I'll never get those two hours of my life back. The 60s brought us some cinematic gems but this wasn't one of them

After that ridiculously long intro, here are my podcast picks and a plug for podcast listening- it's entertaining, informative, even inspirational, depending on what you're listening to, and what I like best is that while I'm running it distracts me from the fact that I'm dying. =) 

Me with my trusty red headphones, listening to podcasts and taking a questionable number of selfies after running. (If it's not documented online, did it really happen?) Now if only there were a podcast to distract me from the cruel, cruel Texas humidity, we'd be in business.

-What Should I Read Next with Anne Bogel- Anne blogs at Modern Mrs. Darcy (which I've mentioned here many times) and each week she interviews a different reader about their book loves (and hates- so entertaining!) and then recommends new books for them based on their own picks. She has a really interesting mix of guests and of course nothing thrills me more than listening to people talk about reading. If you're looking for new book recommendations or just fun book talk, this is for you! 

-The Eric Metaxas Show with Eric Metaxas- This is one of those that piles up on me because there are new episodes almost every day, but I just love this guy. Eric Metaxas is such a prolific author, an articulate voice for Christians and conservatives, and while he tackles serious issues about faith and Christian liberties, he manages to be absolutely hilarious and light-hearted at the same time. He has an amazing array of guests from theologians to Hollywood stars (like Andrew Garfield, who was just on last week!) and covers topics from politics to sports. He's so funny and entertaining and kind and I really love his show. If you haven't, you should read his books right away. 

-The Big Boo Cast with Sophie Hudson and Melanie Shankle- I know these ladies have been around the Internet for a while now, but I'm late to their party. BUT better late than never because it's a really fun party! I love that they don't take themselves seriously at ALL but their chats about shopping, sports, food, books, music, movies (they talk about just everything) make me laugh so hard. My friend Laura described this podcast as listening to two friends talk on the phone and that's exactly what it feels like (in a good way.) If nothing else, their southern accents fill me with joy. =)

-The Lazy Genius Podcast with Kendra Adachi- I discovered Kendra's blog a few months ago and her blog and Instagram account have been a ray of sunshine in my life. Her motto, "Be a genius about the things that matter and lazy about the things that don't," is totally how I want to live my life and her content is full of ways to do just that. So many of her posts resonate with me, from homemaking to parenting to creativity, and I just really love her stuff. Her podcast only has one season but I've already listened to several episodes and thoroughly enjoyed them (the one with her husband is my favorite.) 

-Happier with Gretchen Rubin- this is the show I've been listening to the longest and is also my very favorite. Every week Gretchen and her sister Elizabeth give tips and tricks on how to build healthy habits and a happier life, and the show is just full of advice that sounds so simple but somehow frames things in a way I hadn't considered before. I especially love all the helpful tips for habit change, something that we're all working on in one way or another. Their discussions about personality types is super helpful and interesting too since knowing your own personality type (and that of those closest to you) can really help in dealing with different relationships in your life. Anyway, there are so many topics covered that describing them all would take forever, but if you listen to this you will definitely receive some good, helpful information. 

There you go! Like I said, I enjoy podcasts because I can listen to them and do other things at the same time (like running, for example) and I feel like they're a slightly better use of my time than listening to music since I'm actually learning something most of the time. (Not that I think it's a waste to listen to music, says the girl who has blared the same Broadway cast album 87 times in the past three days.) But given my limited repertoire of podcasts, I'd love to hear of any great ones you have to recommend! I also have plans to start my own podcast one of these days (gasp!) so I feel like I need to get familiar with what makes the good ones good before I get going on my own. (That's what this world needs- my shaky voice recorded for your listening pleasure. Yikes. We'll see. =) 

Happy listening! And happy Tuesday! =)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Thank You Note Friday

I've wanted to do this for a long time but since I've fallen off the blogging wagon (and been dragged along behind for many a dusty mile) I thought I'd go ahead and kick it off in hopes that I can make a habit of bringing you this post each Friday. Regularly scheduled posts are often the bread and butter of the blogging world (remember when I did What I Wore Wednesdays and posted hideously low-quality pictures of my outfits, complete with the classic hand-on-hip pose? humiliating great times) and while any sort of regular feature seems a bit ambitious, this one is low-key and broad enough that I think I can stick with it. We'll see.

In case you didn't make the connection, Thank You Note Friday is actually the creation of late night's Jimmy Fallon and as a loyal Fal Pal, I thought I'd continue the tradition here. (Now if only I could insert some pensive piano music... Amanda, get on that, will you?) 

Here we go. In no particular order...

-Thank you, Nosy Disguised as Concerned Neighbor Lady, for always being super interested in making sure that I have Alice appropriately dressed for whatever inclement weather we're currently facing. The best part about my interactions with you, aside from the fact that you literally holler across the street to remind me how easily babies can get ear infections, is that you sit on your porch and lurk behind a giant bush so I can't see if you're there until it's too late to avoid eye contact or pretend I didn't hear you (since you're hollering, after all.) Thank you for your concern and no, I don't put ear plugs on my baby in the cold. (I'm certain you mean ear muffs. But if you're offering ear plugs I'll take them and perhaps we'll avoid these awkward exchanges in the future.) 

-Thank you, Target Dollar Spot, for simultaneously being the best and worst thing in the civilized world. You offer all the cheaply made seasonal goods I could ever want, and many things I never knew I needed but suddenly cannot live without. Pink canisters, heart banners, valentine's dishes... I mean, isn't the American Dream defined as, "the chance to visit a conveniently located, carefully curated handful of aisles designed to siphon the money out of your bank account in three-dollar increments and take over your home wire basket by wire basket"? If so, I am living it, my friend, and all thanks to you.  

-Thank you, Library Holds System, for being the saving grace of my reading life. If I couldn't reserve books and pick them up, limiting my library trips to all of two minutes, I'd be forced to wander the shelves with my baby in tow, which sounds fun and meaningful until I remember that my baby loves to screech like a miniature pterodactyl. It's better for everyone involved that you offer this delightful service.

Thank you, Pediatrician's Office, for playing Cinderella in the waiting room. If I have to be surrounded by germy children at an ungodly hour, at least you make it tolerable with your solid movie choices. 

-Thank you, SweetTart Hearts, for being the more attractive, more delicious, less disgusting cousin to the dreaded Conversation Hearts, which look and taste like chalk. I've already purchased my first bag of the 2017 Valentine's season, and it will certainly not be my last. I'm even being generous by eating all the purple and blue hearts and leaving only the best yellow and green ones for my husband. I'm generous that way. 

-Thank you, flustered Target employee, for growing impatient while waiting on your supervisor to price check my seasonal items. I felt sorry for you, since you were powerless to choose a price on your own and your face slowly turned the color of your Target-red shirt while you sensed my urgent, screaming-baby-in-the-car-with-my-waiting-husband vibe, but it was all worth it when you threw up your hands in frustration and I ended up the real winner who got two huge bottles of Peppermint Mocha creamer for three bucks. Don't worry, I wasn't mad at you, and our delightful discussion about Harry Potter plus the creamer deal made it all worth the wait. 

-Thank you, Chip Card Readers, for being designed to make all chip-card-carrying humanity feel incredibly stupid.

"Insert chip here." 
"Oh, no ma'am, you have to slide it." 
"But it says..." 
"Well, I know but you gotta slide."
"But then why do you have..."
*Slides card in shame*

"Insert chip here."
"They won't get me this time." *Slides card instead.*
"Oh honey, those chip things are tricky. You just insert it right there."
"But last time..."
"Well it says insert right there."
"But last time it was..."
"Oh never mind."
*Inserts chip.*
*Inserts chip again and pushes it into the arbitrarily-selected and elusively-placed sweet spot that reads card information when it's in the mood to do so.*
*Survives another harrowing chip card experience.*
*Mentally wishes death and destruction on the makers of chip cards.*

"Insert chip here."
"Man, these things are tricky. I have a bit I do about this..."
*Does bit.*
"Um... here's your receipt."
*Hangs head in shame.*
*Blogs bit instead.*

The end! Happy Fri-YAY everyone, and a wonderful weekend to you all! 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Surprising Myself

Everyone wants to act like 2016 was the Voldemort of calendar years, and in many ways (socially and politically come to mind) there were some unspeakably ugly moments. If you don't think our country is deeply divided, well, let's just say that the comment section of the Internet is still a terrifying black hole of hateful trolls. *Shudder.*

However, and not to downplay major world events, but 2016 was pretty awesome for me. It was our first full year with Alice, and being a mom, while regularly kicking my butt, has been the absolute best experience of my life. When you're the parent of a ridiculously delightful child who can charm a smile from the grumpiest sales clerk, it kind of makes your life happier all around. =) And yes there are hard days (see the Great Nap Strike of June-August) but the good outweighs the bad 100% of the time. Jonathan and I are still those goofy parents who look at each other nearly every day in disbelief that we have such a cute baby (and scroll through her pictures at night. Can't stop, won't stop.)

We also bought our house in March- after a long and incredibly draining roller coaster of a process- and moved in in April. After years of apartment/condo living (and 14 months on the third floor- yikes!) having an actual house with a garage and lots of closets and all that good stuff is still a delight. And decorating it continues to be a fun process, made even more fun by the fact that since having a baby I have become one of those obnoxious people who feel the need to decorate for even minor holidays and therefore put out Valentine's Day stuff today. I don't even know. It just feels right. And it makes Alice happy. (She told me because she's a very bright 15-month-old.)

Signing the papers for our house. Al was so tiny! =(

The other major highlight of the year for me was joining Weight Watchers, starting an exercise routine, and subsequently losing 30 pounds. That's right- thirty! I can hardly believe it myself. I definitely did not have this journey on my radar at the beginning of the year (when I still had a newborn/infant who was nursing 8-9 times a day and struggling to get to sleep at night.) By the time the summer rolled around (and I was rolling with it, literally- ha!) I had a better handle on life with Alice (her infamous nap strike notwithstanding) and it felt like a good time to start.

Plus I was tired of seeing pictures of myself that made me want to weep with shame AND Weight Watchers, which I've used successfully in the past, was having a killer sale. A perfect storm of events to kick me into gear.

I started WW at the end of July and also started exercising every day at the same time. For the four weeks or so, I was doing Tae Bo Cardio (there are lots of Tae Bo videos but the one I prefer is an oldie but goodie from the 90s that I have on VHS because I'm nothing if not cutting edge. The hideous purple spandex, big hair, and Billy Blanks's super-weird bodysuit are all worth the $1.50 I spent on it at Goodwill.) After about a month I started something I never, EVER thought I would be able to complete- Couch to 5k. (My one ill-fated attempt at this program lasted all of two days in 2011.) But I downloaded the app and started. I actually thought I'd drop dead those first couple of weeks. Who starts a running program- with literally zero running experience- in Texas in AUGUST? Me, that's who. #idiot

I definitely don't push Alice every time I run. Ha!

But then the miraculous happened. I lost about 10 pounds that first month. I found that, yes, running was hard, but I could do it. I discovered so much about myself during this weight loss journey, and I thought I'd jot down a few of those little lessons here.

-I can do hard things (and believe me, no one is more shocked than I am.) I've always been a pretty self-deprecating person and have definitely played up my lazy streak and lack of pain tolerance over the years. But after Alice was born and I had some major, um, consequences from that to recover from, my doctor (who was not present at my delivery and shocked at how well I was doing) said, "Well, you're tougher than you thought you were!" I kind of scoffed at that at the time but I've proven it to be true. Anything remotely physically challenging has always been a huge no-no for me, but in the past six months it's become clear that while running or cardio workouts or giving up soda are REALLY hard for me, I can do them. I am doing them, and I've lived to tell about it.

-I have an abstainer personality, at least in the area of exercise. Gretchen Rubin categorizes people as abstainers and moderators; moderators can have a little of something and just that small amount keeps them from being tempted for more, but abstainers have to cut something out completely and that actually gives them a sense of freedom and relief to know that it's completely off the table. Working out is like that for me. If I skip a day, it becomes that much harder to go back, and I can rationalize myself into two days, then three, then a week, of no exercise at all. It's much easier to know that exercise is just a part of my daily routine, not something optional, and unless I'm sick (or it's Sunday, and sometimes even then) I am going to exercise in some way. I don't have to debate and dread and talk myself into or out of it; it's just a fact. (I should probably take Hershey's Kisses off the table too.)

-Losing weight and keeping it off is a whole lot easier with regular exercise. (I know; Dr. Oz is going to be calling soon to get more groundbreaking health information like that truth bomb I just shared.) But seriously- I KNOW that the weight wouldn't have come off as quickly or stayed off as consistently if I hadn't been exercising. I didn't gain any weight over the holidays, despite more than my share of homemade Chex Mix, sausage balls, etc. and it's because I exercised in some form every day. I didn't feel like (and I annoyed everyone by pacing to reach my step goal- ha!) but it was worth it to come home and still fit into the clothes I bought on vacation. =)

-If you're looking for a certain size or weight or any other number to make you feel good, you'll never be satisfied. Here's what I know- I weigh less than I have in a long, long time (like, less than I did when I got married.) I'm a smaller size than I've worn in years. But, especially now that I've switched to maintenance and I'm not seeing big changes from week to week, I have gotten used to my new size and can STILL (thirty pounds later) look at myself and find plenty to criticize. ("Woah, check out those hips, Baby Hippo!" is not really positive self-talk. But such is life for someone who is both self-deprecating and a trove of movie quotes.) So I have to remind myself of all the hard work I've put in and find satisfaction in that and also sometimes do a little side-by-side comparison because that's super encouraging. 

-Accountability is huge for me but doesn't necessarily need to take on the form of a trainer yelling in my face. (Actually it doesn't need to take that form at all. Please go watch Jim Gaffigan talk about personal trainers on YouTube and burn a few hundred calories laughing hysterically. "Can we drop this charade? Why is your shirt so tight?") Anyway, I'm an obliger (another Gretchen Rubin term) and that means I respond much better to outer expectations than inner expectations (although this whole diet thing kind of has me thinking I have upholder tendencies.) SO even something as small as downloading a running app or telling someone, even if it's just Jonathan, that I'm going to be doing something means I'll have a better chance of doing it. Just seeing a notification from the Couch to 5k app was enough to motivate me when I was just starting the program. Weight Watchers has encouraging little messages they send for each milestone and those were embarrassingly exciting to receive along the way. (Perhaps my love language is words of affirmation?) 

-In good and bad and strange ways, losing weight has made me feel a lot better about myself. Not just physically, since I'm stronger, have more energy, and can actually play with Alice without wheezing and/or panting, but also emotionally. I can shop without wanting to cry. I can take pleasure in choosing outfits again, not just "whatever fits and is remotely flattering and loose." I can catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and not cringe (at least not all the time.) It shouldn't make such a difference to my emotional wellbeing to be significantly thinner but it is. Ugh. I mean, I wish it were all just about a sense of accomplishment and feeling strong or whatever but it's a tiny bit of vanity too. I'm not proud of that but it's true. Not that I'm standing around admiring myself or being like, "look at you, Hot Mama!" (Ha- that's not even going to happen no matter what size I am.) And I'm sure you understand that it's not like someone who is the size I was is an obese troll... just that I was unhealthy and unhappy at that size because it wasn't best for me. (obviously.) 


-MOST IMPORTANTLY, if I can do this, you can. Anyone can! For nearly my entire adult life, I have scoffed at dieting, exercise, healthy eating, etc. I've rolled my eyes at fitness posts. I have had little to no interest in being in shape, exerting myself, or sweating (on purpose anyway. Sweating is kind of unavoidable in Texas.) But I think one reason that exercise always made me so "oh puh-lease" is that deep down I was ashamed of my out-of-shape self and secretly wished that I could run a mile or do squats or whatever without passing out or having my legs tremble in pain for days afterward (not that that's ever happened...) But basically since high school (or the semester in college that I took Principles of Fitness and Conditioning and daily exercise was a part of my grade) I avoided exercise like the plague...although, those were the days. I am definitely award-driven enough that getting a grade for my exercise would be a gift at this point in life. Send me a report card filled out in red pen and I will work like a little lab rat for your approval. ANYWAY, this exercise aversion only has one other exception... the summer I was pregnant when I swam every day in the gorgeous resort-style pool in our apartment complex that I had almost entirely to myself. I still want to weep when I think about that pool. Ah... the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. 

But seriously, the first day of Couch to 5k I felt like I was going to throw up. I remember the first time I ran for five minutes without stopping... then ten, then twenty. I am not exaggerating when I say that if I can run a 5k, just about anyone can. If you think, "I could NEVER..." well, just remember that your friend Ash dragged her flabby self through the 400% humidity for eight weeks and gave up Dr. Pepper AND Mountain Dew and existed mostly on light string cheese and roasted cauliflower. There were days when it was absolutely not fun and I did not want to drink another Diet Sunkist or eat another can of Progresso Light soup (only 4 points for the whole thing, God bless it.) 

But on the other side of the whole process (which is definitely still a work in progress and a journey toward healthier food for sure) it was worth all the cravings and sadness and counting out 33 Veggie Straws. And back to my main point, if there is something you don't think you can do, even if it's not diet or exercise related, please look at this modern-day miracle in my life and be inspired. I don't mean that in an, "I'm so amazing" way. I mean, "I never in a million years thought I would start running and consistently exercising and keep off my weight loss but somehow through unexplainable circumstances was able to achieve those things so whatever crazy goal you have is definitely achievable too" way. Very catchy. =)

A recent picture of me since I've been in "maintenance" mode. Feel free to ignore me and look at my adorable nephew instead.

This post has been far too long and possibly even self-aggrandizing (I'm pretty sure people who use words like self-aggrandizing are pretentious and should be shunned) so I'll wrap it up. I plan on writing a post about some exercise specifics that work for me (think of it as the work out guide for lazy, out of shape dummies of which I was the reigning queen for many years) but for now I just wanted to leave you with that last little bit of encouragement. If you think something is too hard, I bet it's not. If you think it's crazy to try to start a project or work towards a goal that seems too far out of reach, I have a feeling you can TOTALLY crush it. Seriously. I am cheering you on! And I'm not even out of breath! Amazing! (hehe) If I can inspire you to attempt something crazy (or even not so crazy!), then to quote the eloquent Lena Lamont, "It makes us feel as if our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'." 

I'll remember 2016 as the year I surprised myself with just how hard I could work and just how much I could achieve... maybe 2017 will blow us all away even more. Onward and upward. =)

Sunday, January 8, 2017

My Favorite Books of 2016

Surprisingly enough, 2016 was my best reading year yet in terms of quantity (180 books total including some re-reads and NOT including picture books, which would have bumped me up significantly. =) Quality, however, was another story. I think 2015 definitely beat out this past year since I felt like 2016 held quite a few reading duds for me (appropriate, eh?). Even though I went through several dry spells (admittedly my fault since I should have abandoned far more books than I did), 2016 still produced some winners and here they are (in no particular order except chronologically how I read them throughout the year.) Honestly, not all of these were fun or thrilling- some were really thought-provoking and informative, though, which I find to be fun AND thrilling. Ha! (#nerd) 

If only we could all look so adorable while reading. =)

Oh, and one more note- honestly, these also represent the most memorable books to me. My brain is not quite as sharp as it was pre-baby (who's with me?) and really there were lots of books, reading through my quarterly lists, that made me stop and say, "What on earth was that one about?". These did not need any prompting to bring them back to mind so that must mean they were pretty good. =)

Fiction first:

1Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. One of my favorite (former) bloggers recommended this to me on Twitter and she was spot on- I absolutely loved it, and as my friend predicted, the little sister is my favorite character. =) It's one of those novels that's hard to describe but the prose is just beautiful. The author's way with words is as much a pleasure to enjoy as the story itself, which is also wonderful. Trying to explain the plot kind of takes away from the "first time" experience but it is about family, faith, and miracles, all told in the most compelling way possible. (Also this one totally deserves its spot on Anne's Books to Curl Up with This Winter list. I read it last January and it's the perfect winter story.)

2. The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom. This book switches chapter by chapter from Lavinia, an Irish indentured servant, to Belle, a slave; both girls are owned by the same plantation family. As they grow up and take different paths in life, the lines that were blurred in their "family" become painfully clear. This was hard to read in places and had more violence than I'm usually comfortable with (for my own HSP self, not the average person), but sometimes it's necessary to be reminded of just how despicable slavery was. (There's a sequel to this but I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as the original.)

3. The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall- I included the entire series (there are four books) because I couldn't pick a favorite. If I had to choose my number one book(s) of the year, these might be it. They are just delightful. Sweet, old-fashioned, clever, hilarious- and about a family of four sisters which I can relate to just a little bit. =) One of my favorite things about these books is that they feel as if they could be set 50 years ago (or really at any time) but also feel fresh and current. So many modern novels (especially for children) seem like they have to throw in an iPad or social media reference every other paragraph and these aren't like that at all. Perfect for girls (and their moms!) but boys would enjoy them too.

4. 101 Dalmatians by Dodie Smith. I bought this for Amy for her birthday because 101 Dalmatians has always been her favorite Disney movie (and we used to call her Rolly, so... =) I had never read it and never even knew it was based on this novel until recently. After she read it and gushed about how great it was, I knew I had to check it out. So sweet and funny, and actually quite different from the movie. I also read Dodie Smith's book I Capture the Castle, which would be on this favorites list if I hadn't been so annoyed by the ending. She's an amazing writer!

5. Up the Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman. Oh, my- this one was so good! It might have resonated more with me than anything else I read all year. As a former teacher, it felt like I was reading a journal written by myself. Ha! I never worked in an environment as chaotic as this one, but every teacher I know can relate to the portrayal of an English teacher's experience in a public high school. The book's unique format (told entirely through letters, memos, notes, school forms, and student assignments) only adds to the experience. Hilarious and gripping and sweet and sad and smart and heartbreaking, all at the same time. And shockingly relevant and current over fifty years after its publication.

Honorable mention: Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit (my first time! And so much better than the movie) and The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (don't let the fact that it's told from the perspective of a gorilla put you off. It's so sweet and surprisingly heartbreaking and completely worthy of its Newberry.) 


1. The Collapse of Parenting by Leonard Sax. I read this book in April and I feel like I haven't shut up about it since. It's just so appropriate for our current culture and terribly important information (especially, I think, for millennial who are now raising their own children.) I already explained it and gushed about it in this post so go read the full review there if you're interested. I really do wish I could force this into the hands of every single parent (and teacher, for that matter.) Just excellent, and I've read almost all his other books now and loved them too. 

2. A Little Salty to Cut the Sweet by Sophie Hudson. When a subtitle is "faith, family, and fifteen pounds of bacon" can you really go wrong? This book made me laugh out loud. Literally, not just the "lol" you send someone when they send you a meme that made you smirk a little. It is so sweet and funny but with actual substance to each story. Sophie's blog and podcast are definitely on my new favorites list and she is quickly becoming my all-thing-southern spirit animal (the fact that she's a Mississippi State fan notwithstanding. =)

3. I Know How She Does It by Laura Vanderkam. I read this at the perfect time- two weeks before the start of a new year. The author specializes in time management (I read this book of hers two years ago and loved it) and she shares in-depth schedules of women who have careers and families and somehow still manage to exercise, go to book clubs, learn new skills, and overall find ways to thrive in their lives without (completely) going crazy or giving up sleep. The first section about work wasn't super applicable since I'm unemployed (unless Alice wants to start paying me, which would be a great Moses/Jochabed situation!) but the rest of the book is so practical and most importantly doable. I think the best piece of advice she gives is to stop looking at your schedule/to do list in terms of a 24-hour day and start breaking it down from the perspective of 168 hours (a week.) That sounds overwhelming but really it makes things seem much more attainable, and I think now that we're home from vacation and back to normal I'd like to track my hours for a week (like she recommends doing) and see what happens after that. 

4. French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon. I am fascinated by French parenting in general (Bringing Up Bebe was a favorite in 2015) but this book specifically explores food and the way children eat better and healthier in France. I think about this all the time and probably need to reread it now that Alice is eating pretty much all "real" food since her teeth finally showed up. =) It really made me think about my own eating habits (which of course I am modeling for Alice) and was much more understanding and less judgmental than French Women Don't Get Fat which was interesting but extremely condescending (we get it- you think all Americans are fat and disgusting. Ha!) In a nutshell- healthy, flavorful food, one good snack a day, no using food as a bribe/punishment, and involving kids in the preparation and experience of their meals.

5. Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Short and sweet- this book is just a little over 100 pages but manages to use them all effectively. Part memoir, part reflection, every chapter employs a metaphor of some kind that relates to the beach or ocean since the author is spending a week at a seaside cottage. By the way, she was married to the world-famous pilot Charles Lindbergh and I think it's kind of cool that she doesn't even mention her husband's fame- it's definitely her own story she's telling. Anyway, I described this at some point as "a little gem of a book" and it definitely is. Also, completely relevant and appropriate wisdom on parenting, work, and balance for the 21st century even though it was written in 1955.

6. Liar Temptress Soldier Spy by Karen Abbott. I've recommended this so many times since I read it in June. I just loved this book! It's the story of four different women who were involved in espionage during the Civil War and it is absolutely fascinating. Every bit of it is true but it definitely reads like a novel. One woman masqueraded as man in order to join the Union army, one carried messages through enemy lines, and all of them took enormous risks in their efforts to aid their individual sides. (Reading about Rose Greenhow, the most famous female spy of the time, was super interesting, especially since she somehow managed to continue her espionage from federal prison.) If you're interested in history at all you should check this one out. 

Honorable mention: This Is Where You Belong by Melody Warnick (so good and thought-provoking) and The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines (I just LOVE them.) 

Like I said, I read a lot this year, and not all of it was great. But I have lots of good reading memories- when you read something good, it's just SUCH pleasure. Reading a great book makes me feel rich in the best possible way, just like having a completed stack of good library books is the most luxurious feeling. And I really loved reading to Alice this year- besides tons of picture books, at night we (and by that I mean I, of course!) read through the Chronicles of Narnia series, all the Ramona books, some Harry Potter, and we're almost through the Little House books. So fun!

Here's to a year of reading great books, of abandoning lame ones, and of discovering new (and old) titles that fill us with joy. =) Happy reading!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Alice Juliet- 12 Months

Let's go ahead and acknowledge the fact that Alice's birthday was almost a month ago so I'm clearly late in getting this update written- the last one of her first year. =( In my defense, we have been pretty busy for the past month but I'm also admittedly in denial about her turning one. My baby is so BIG and it just makes me sad. Plus I have so many thoughts about this first year of motherhood that I've been trying to articulate them mentally before attempting to share them here, but I have finally decided to just press on, organized or not. 

That face!!! (All the heart eyes)
*All these pictures are by my friend Shelbie at Five Star Portraits! She's awesome! 

Weight and Length- not entirely sure because a mixup with her insurance meant we had to push her 12-month appointment back a few weeks, but definitely over 20 pounds (I'm thinking about 23) and probably 30-31 inches long. It seriously blows my mind that her entire body used to fit in the crook of my arm and now she hangs down past my waist. Crazy!

Nicknames- Al, Alice from the Palace, Ali Cat, Squish, Jolly Holiday, Chunky Monkey, Troll, Sugar Bee

Sleep- she is still a champion nighttime sleeper (around 8:30-7:30) and for that I am still throwing up all the praise hands emojis possible. We've balanced out to about two naps a day, around 10 and 2 or 3, and she (mostly) does a lot better about falling asleep although she still cries when I lay her down (only at nap time though, fortunately.) She still isn't a long napper but I've just come to accept that she's a cat-napper like her daddy. It's not ideal but it's okay. =)

Eating- as of this past weekend, she's officially done nursing! She was down to just one bedtime feeding anyway, but it still feels weird to be totally done. (Not that I'm complaining....) She is chowing down on just about anything I give her- seriously, this kid loves her food. And if she is sitting in her high chair, forget it- that location means she expects to be fed! She would eat indefinitely if I left her in her high chair! Ha! Lots of green beans, eggs, carrots, cheese, other vegetables, chicken, soup... she never met a food she didn't like! (Not yet, anyway!)

Clothing- she's mostly in 12 or 12-18 month stuff but definitely wearing some 18 month clothes too, especially tops since she needs the length of the bigger sizes. All the Christmas outfits out right now are SO tempting and we actually did just buy her a little plaid nightgown that is unbelievably adorable. The next few weeks are going to test my self-control for sure!

Pure Magic

Mood- for the most part, insanely happy and jolly. She is SO friendly and sociable (from a distance- she doesn't actually want anyone else holding her =) and typically very content unless she's hungry or it's nap time. She gives big grins to just about everyone she sees and is definitely curious and into everything. She's also starting to, shall we say, express herself more forcefully which is requiring more discipline and consistency on my part (which is challenging for sure.) But she is usually very joyful so I just focus on that as much as possible. And she's a mama's girl all the way. =)

Loves- snuggling with her mama (it only took her like 9 months but I'll take it! 

-Bath time- our number one go-to for a grumpy afternoon!
-Playing with daddy 
-Really anything with daddy- when he walks in from work she goes crazy. I love it!
-Chewing (on literally everything) 
-Mickey Mouse
-Music (White Christmas is our current favorite)
-Dancing (she doesn't dance much on her own but loves to bounce around with whoever is holding her)
-Ice cream- I blame Jonathan
-Riding in shopping carts 
-Snow globes (recent shopping discovery =)
-being read to (my favorite part of the day is her bedtime when I read to her.)

Doesn't Love- her carseat
-Being left in her room for a nap (oh the horror!)
-Sitting in her high chair without food. Ha!
-Having her diaper changed (so fun- it's like wrestling a snake)
-Being stuck in one place when she wants to move around and play (so basically all the time since the world is a death trap to a curious crawling baby with freakishly strong arms and legs)

Little Miss Determined (and Jonathan's twin!)

What I Want to Remember/Milestones- so many things! Her first birthday was so fun and kind of surreal, honestly. I just couldn't believe (and kind of still can't) that a whole year has passed. It has flown by but I also can only vaguely remember life before her (like, what did I DO all day?) We got her Alice pictures done (as you can see) and they were every bit as magical as I had dreamed. And at long last, she has teeth! Her first one arrived just in time for her birthday (about 3 days before) and she's had two more pop up since then with another on the way. Poor little thing was all gums for the longest time! She has changed so much in the past few months. She's into everything, very affectionate, pulling up and "walking" around that way (but not by herself),  and so so sweet. I just love her little arms wrapping around my neck and how she rests her hand in my hair pretty much 99% of the time. Even though she can be very stubborn (again, I blame her daddy =) and tests me daily, we have the best time together and she is just so fun to be around. 

Always happy with a stack of books!

What I'm Looking Forward To- the holidays! She's already obsessed with Christmas music, lights, and snow globes =) so I can only imagine how magical the next couple months will be now that she's much more aware of what's going on. If only I can resist buying ALL the Christmas clothes, books, coffee mugs (oh wait, this is about Alice, not me.)

Me- so, this is the part where I'm feeling super reflective and also so overwhelmed with thoughts and emotions (or feels, as I believe the kids call them these days) that it's hard to put it all into words. This year has flown by and crept by at different times. There were moments when it seemed a whole month had passed in an instant and times that half the morning felt like a week. (Those were usually when we were in the throes of a nap strike, heaven help me.) I've learned quite a bit about myself. I've learned that while I have adapted in countless ways this year, motherhood hasn't caused this massive change in my personality or the core of who I am like I thought it might. I still love to read, shop, sing Broadway songs as loudly as possible, watch Disney movies, etc... but now I do them with a little sidekick in tow. My sense of humor is still firmly in place and I am not a picture-perfect, never-loses-it "blogger mama." (You know the type.) But I am more patient than I ever dreamed I could be. Even when I'm tired, sick, mad, or whatever, I look at that face and (usually) manage a smile or a softer tone of voice than I really want to use or the energy to dance around the kitchen for a laugh. (You know I'm always a sucker for a laugh.) This little girl has brought me so much joy. We're together pretty much every moment, and that can be challenging (for both of us, actually) but she never ceases to delight me. 

I wondered (and worried) about how in the world I would handle being a mom, how I would know what to do, and when, and why. Nursing, food, schedules, sleeping, and round and round and round I'd go. I used to look at my sisters with their babies (especially their firsts) and think, "How do you know what to do? Like, HOW DO YOU KNOW?" (The Kid moment: "But what do I dooooo?") Anyway, they never really could answer me (super helpful) but it's the same for all moms, I guess. It's instincts and prayer and a supportive husband and educating yourself enough to not be ignorant but also ignoring the 17 trillion contradicting opinions available on your local Facebook. (God save us all from the Mommy Wars, amiright?) I've surprised myself not only with how much I've loved being a mom but also how much more natural it has felt to me than what I feared. (I'm not sure where all the uncertainty came from since I'm a reasonably intelligent person and had no plans to tote my baby around like a bag of flour but you know the mind does crazy things.) 

Of course I couldn't have done any of this without Jonathan. From my conversations with a lot of other moms, I know for a fact that he is a far more helpful and shares much more of the load of parenting than the average dad. He doesn't view his time with Alice as a chore or as babysitting. (Um, she's your kid, so...) He is so sweet and playful with her and is definitely the "fun" parent. And he gives me time to myself (cleverly disguised as "daddy/daughter dates"- ha!) and reminds me of all the good I'm doing when I feel like a big flop (which is fairly often.) 

Best daddy ever! She thinks he hung the moon, for sure. 

I may have to write another post on this subject but I'm just rambling now so I'll wrap it up. 

Ugh, I have a one-year-old. A TODDLER. Well, she's is technically a baby but still. "How could this happen, Nina Dickerson?!" I just want to remember this first year. It's been super hard with lots of tears shed but seriously more fun and joyful and hilarious than we thought possible. Everyone who knows Alice loves her. She lights up many lives, not just mine. She's sweet and loving and friendly and hilarious and SUCH a troll (but she knows it.) She is a gift from God to all of us! I don't know what we did without her and I know that our adventure is only just beginning. 

Happy birthday again, my darling girl. Your mama just adores you.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Homemade Baby Food for Dummies

Disclaimer #1- I am not an expert on baby food. I'm not a dietician. I'm not a nurse or a doctor. I just do what I think is best for my baby and what her pediatrician agrees with. If your baby is already eating four-course meals or still nurses 10 times a day, good for you and your well-fed baby. These are just some things that work for me right now. Carry on.

Disclaimer #2- Some of these are mind-numbingly simple instructions. Don't take them as an insult to your intelligence; when I started making baby food I literally had no idea what I was doing and I would have loved a post that told me how to prepare her food. If you're smarter than that (probably) I'm so happy for you. 

Disclaimer #3- If you buy baby food and have never pureed a single vegetable, that's great. I make my baby food because it's cheaper for us and because I am home 90% of the time with nothing better to do. =) And, strangely enough, I find it kind of fun.

I've decided in the past ten months (since Alice was born) that parenting is basically working really hard to adapt to a certain phase and master it only to have it pass by while a new one begins (and the process starts again.) The newborn stage of sleepless nights and painful feedings seemed to be never-ending, but it did, in fact, end (much too quickly, I might add. Well, the tiny little baby part ended quickly. I was not sorry to see the sleepless nights go.)

Just when I felt like I had conquered nursing (which was incredibly difficult and painful for me for several weeks) and we had gotten in a great routine, it was time to start thinking about solid food. For some reason, I was extremely intimidated by the idea of introducing solids and very overwhelmed by all the information (the blessing/curse of the internet) that is available on the subject. I knew I wanted to do some version of baby-led weaning (this post was helpful and pretty much sold me on the idea) but beyond that I was fairly clueless about my plans.

We tried rice cereal like one time (she was not a fan) and even though the actual Baby-Led Weaning plan doesn't recommend spoon-feeding (because you delay solids until they're able to mostly feed themselves with their fingers), we only waited until about six months and I am just too OCD just to let her make a mess for 45 minutes every single meal-time. Therefore, my version of feeding her regular food that we eat (versus buying baby food) was just preparing my own baby food. (This isn't every food we prepare or that she's ever eaten, just the ones we have most often.) 

Also, for reference, I started preparing most of these when she was about seven months old and she would have solids about twice a day- usually applesauce for breakfast and a vegetable around supper time. She was nursing five times a day at that point. Now that she's almost eleven months old (what?) she is nursing three times a day and eating solids (usually two at a time, sometimes three) about three times a day, and we are slowly phasing out into actual finger foods and fewer purees. However, we're not giving them up completely (and still only doing very, very soft foods) because Alice is still toothless and chewing without teeth, as you can imagine, is difficult. For a long time we thinned out thicker foods with a little water when we served them, but now she does fine with the thicker textures. 

Green beans- I cook them until they're softened, then puree in the blender with about half the liquid. (I feel like I always end up with too much liquid, so use even less if you're inclined.)

Carrots- I cover them with water or low-sodium chicken broth (usually a mixture of both) and cook on high for a few minutes before simmering them until they're soft (about 30 minutes) then pureeing in the blender. Make sure to cook them for a good while because I have been dumb and tried to blend hard carrot chunks- no bueno. 

Squash- peel, slice in half length-wise, scoop out the seeds, and cut into chunks. I've covered them with just water and also a mixture of water and low-sodium chicken broth. Then cook to soften (not too long, about ten minutes) and puree. These get really thin and watery so I've actually thrown in a can of green beans to thicken the mixture. 

Avocado- mash with a fork. Ta-da, you're done! (Same with a banana. So easy.)

Black beans (canned)- heat to soften, puree. Nothing extra needed; their own liquid is just enough. Alice loves black beans!

Sweet potato- poke holes with a fork; bake at 400 for at least an hour (sometimes an hour and fifteen minutes.) Split it open and scoop out the insides. Mash them up. Done! (I've mixed applesauce in before too.)

Hard-boiled egg- boil the egg as usual; remove the yolks and mix into whatever food you choose (since you really can't taste them, I've mixed them into all kinds of things, but most often sweet potato and black beans. Protein!) You can save the yolks in the fridge for a few days to use as needed.

Grilled chicken- just add a few chunks to whatever vegetables you're pureeing. Another good protein source.

Any spices or anything are totally up to you; at her 9-month appointment her doctor said that she could have more spices and flavors so we've added garlic to her black beans, cinnamon to her sweet potato, and teensy bits of butter to a few vegetables. (If you think I'm a terrible person, I'm sorry. We are southern people and we eat butter on our vegetables. If my Mamaw were making her green beans they'd probably have bacon grease in them so these are practically grass in comparison.) And we've also blended some entire meals (chicken, rice and vegetables, for example) that she loved too. 

We also love unsweetened applesauce (I buy the individual packs because I'm lazy but the big jars are great too) and also GoGo Squeez pouches for when we're out. (Why is purposely misspelling a marketing thing? Why?) They're organic with no crazy ingredients and super cheap in bulk (we buy them at Sam's.) When she's a little more coordinated and able to handle a pouch by herself without missing her mouth more often than not =) I'll probably invest in some reusable pouches. And even though lots of people freeze portions of their baby food, I've never made it that far in advance; I do about 5-6 days' worth at a time and store it in the fridge. (That sounds really time-consuming but it's not, especially now that I know what I'm doing. Last Saturday I did her food for the week in well under an hour. It would be even less time if I weren't such a spaz with a knife.) 

Just a little black bean lipstick action going on. And this silicone bib is the best. They sell them at Walmart and Target. Go get one! (Also this picture belies her over-the-top enthusiasm for eating, usually displayed by wild clapping whenever I approach with her food. I'm not exaggerating. Ha!)

There you have it! Like I said, this is incredibly basic (even obvious) information, but if you're like me and feel overwhelmed by all the options out there, you may find it helpful. Of course, at the end of the day, what's important is that your baby is healthy and FED. But I do like knowing exactly what my baby's eating, and I enjoy preparing her food for her. It's what works for us right now! Anyway, may your baby eat everything you prepare and never blow a mouthful of black beans directly onto your white jeans. (Not that I would know anything about that. #troll) 

Happy eating and feeding, everyone!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

What I've Learned This Summer

I've been following Anne's blog, Modern Mrs. Darcy (greatest blog name ever, right?) for a couple of years now and I always enjoy her "What I Learned" posts. I knew she wrote them as part of a link-up but it wasn't until this week, while reading Simply Tuesday, that I made the connection that the author is the same person who hosts the linkup! (Sometimes I'm a little slow on the draw...) Anyway, I love the idea of jotting down things throughout the month (or season) that I've learned or discovered or just realized about myself. And Emily has definitely won me over as a reader with her awesome book mentioned above (plus the Kindle version is $2.99 right now- highly recommend!) so here we are.

When you live in Texas, "summer" takes on a different meaning when you consider a) triple-digit temperatures for weeks on end and b) heat that lasts much longer than the standard three month break from school (for reference, Alice was born in October and it was about 95 degrees when we left the hospital to bring her home.) But since I a born-and-bred teacher and will always consider summer "June/July/August" no matter how melt-your-face-off hot it is outside, that's what I'll be using as my framework. =)

Fun fact: I took one look at this picture, changed my outfit, and promptly returned this shirt because I look about six months pregnant in it. Ah! You win some; you lose some. 

1. I've still got it when it comes to bulletin boards. There are a lot of things I don't miss about teaching, but one thing I do miss is decorating my classroom. My friend Jessica is teaching kindergarten and switched districts this year... since she had a lot of other things to deal with (like organizing a new classroom!) I volunteered to help with her boards. I didn't get to do as much as I would have liked since having Alice around, while delightful, isn't always super productive. =) But I knocked out three boards in about two hours the other night and it made me feel so, so good to work with border and letters and all that good stuff. (Maybe I should get out more.)

2. What "they" say is true- once you cut something out for long enough, you stop craving it. This happened for me the other day- I'm doing Weight Watchers (again!) because I'm a total Obliger and need accountability- and since I only have so many points a day I don't use them on my typical beloved Dr. Pepper or Mountain Dew. (My Mountain Dew addiction dates back to high school and was pretty legendary. I blame Amanda.) Anyway, on Sunday I was sick (the worst time to be dieting!) and asked Jonathan to please bring me a Mountain Dew (why yes, sugary soft drinks are the best medicine, didn't you know?) So he brings it to me and I kid you not, I took a sip and almost gagged. I took one more sip just to prove to myself I wasn't crazy... I didn't even want it! I have never turned a Mountain Dew down in my life. But after three weeks of cutting it out, it really has lost its appeal. I'm not saying I'll never drink it again (let's not get crazy!) but that moment in itself was somewhat of a miracle.

3. You only need one(ish) pair of shoes if it's the right pair of shoes. Now that I am a mom and my job's dress standard is "try to keep your pajamas clean," I not only struggle to get dressed in real clothes but also to avoid looking like a frump in the small section of my closet that is both comfortable for being up and down with a baby all day and casual enough not to mind a little drool (or, ahem... other fluids.) Since I usually reach for the same few things all the time, those few things need to be cute! I bought these red slides a while back and I think they just add a cute little "something" to my momiform of bermuda shorts or t-shirt dresses. (Also Jonathan calls them my Gigi sandals after my mom, which is totally fine because she has cute style. Ha!)

4. I need to write. My blogging has dropped off significantly in the past two years, and especially in the months since Alice has been born, but earlier this summer I resolved to get back to posting more regularly. Since I'm home all day, I usually feel like I don't have much to say and that I need to wait for some kind of profound thought to strike... but as Gretchen Rubin says, "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." It turns out that writing, even if it's just about my current reading list or things I'm enjoying, is good for me. It makes me feel slightly productive, it keeps me (sort of) sharp, and I just enjoy sharing my thoughts now and then. It's not that they're super deep or inspiring, but I can't really call myself a writer if I never write, now can I? And every single time I hear from one of you about how you enjoy a post, it prompts me to keep going, so thanks for that.

5. We all spend way too much time on our phones (totally guilty myself!) and it's not doing society any favors. I read this book in June and it made me feel terrible (dare I say convicted?) about how often I'm checking my phone during a face-to-face conversation. Often I excuse myself because all my family and most of my friends live far away, so I'm keeping up with them throughout texting or pictures or whatever, but it's still a bad habit. Of course we all know that it's bad to ignore your kids in favor of looking at your phone, but there are actual physical and psychological reasons why we shouldn't. The author does paint a very convincing picture of the damage that our digital obsessions have done to our culture, and how important it is to have real conversations at home, work and everywhere else. I'm working (imperfectly, of course) at it but am definitely making an effort! 

6. Eating bad and eating less are not the same. I'll lose weight either way (down ten pounds- whoop whoop!) but eating smaller portions of junk is still junk. I'm trying to to break my bad habits of reaching for processed snacks, chocolate (but I waaaant it) or carbs all the time. (Thank goodness for grape tomatoes- I'm downing like two cartons a week.) Anyway, I wouldn't say I'm doing a complete overhaul of our diets just yet but having a baby has really made me conscious of the food I eat and how I model eating for her. "You don't want that salad, Alice... we're bread people." I mean, we are, but everything in moderation. =) 

7. Speaking of weight loss... it's easier for me to exercise every day. Ugh, what a sad lesson learn, right? But it's true. I do better working out seven days a week and knowing it's just going to be a part of my day than to try to skip days (because I know myself and how easily one day turns into two and before you know it Alice is off to kindergarten and I haven't worked out in four years. Oops!) So, every day it is. Skipping just makes it harder to come back, even if it's only once. This week I've been sick but I've still done a shorter version of my regular workout (Tae Bo- don't hate! haha) and even at that I know doing the longer one is going to be rough when I start it back, hopefully tomorrow. (Also, even the "long" one is only like 25 minutes, lest you're picturing me puffing through a two-hour Zumba class or something. No, ma'am.) 

8. Target has a new baby/kids line and I want it all. Well, actually they have a new line called Cat & Jack and it's 100% adorable (I already bought this onesie because has there ever been anything more perfect for my child?)... I want half of it for myself. But there's also a collection in the Osh Kosh line that has a Little Red Riding Hood theme. I basically drool over it every time I'm there but I'll be waiting for clearance because a) it's me, duh, and b) it's all fall stuff so it's going to be too hot for Alice right now anyway. But you better believe when the time comes I'll be snatching up this sweater, possibly in multiple sizes. (Bonus thing I learned: the term "onesie" is trademarked by Gerber and that's why everywhere else has to call them "bodysuits," which sounds creepy and similar to a straitjacket- which is kind of appropriate for babies and toddlers. Ha!) 

9. Our Houston Astros stadium will give you a "baby's first baseball game" certificate. Obviously it's never been on my radar before this year but I'm thinking other professional ball parks do this too? It's a cute idea. And there's a little "family center" with a nursing room that sounded kind of sketchy to me (and I wouldn't have eaten off the floor or anything) but it was a nice place to hang out and watch the game while Alice had a bottle. If you'd rather sit in front of a big screen on a couch with a squirming baby than sweat to death in the stands, it's pretty great. (Plus anything with AC is better than being outside, hello.) Plus the certificate was a cool little memento for Alice's (not yet created, oops) baby book.

10. Making my own baby food is a lot easier than I thought it would be. Actually, I didn't really plan on making baby food. I've planned on doing baby-led weaning- basically you delay giving solids for a while and then just feed the baby small pieces of regular food- and that's kind of what we're doing but I'm still making "baby food" in the blender with green beans, black beans, avocado, peaches, sweet potato, carrots, etc. I'll probably dedicate a post to this soon because seriously if I can do it, anyone can. It's kind of funny because I'm not at all a "crunchy" mom so it makes me laugh at myself a little that I've ended up doing this and even enjoying it. It's oddly fun/gratifying plus I do like knowing exactly what she's eating since I made it myself! 

Bonus! 11. The line that I've never been able to figure out in "Iowa Stubborn" from "The Music Man" is "We can be cold as our falling thermometers in December when you ask about the weather in July." It's bugged me for years that I had no idea what they were saying (does anyone else just make up lyrics for parts like that?) but finally the other day I looked it up. It's great how two-second Google search can answer a question that's plagued me forever. (Yes, I sit up at night pondering the lyrics to old musicals. Don't you wish you were that cool?) 

There you have it. Maybe it's stretching it a little to say I "learned" these things since they're not particularly earth-shattering but hey, they're new to me! And I'm ready to close out this summer chapter and head into the fall (in name only, silly Texas) armed with all this knowledge. Only 11 days until September, which means my pumpkin stuff comes out and my Christmas tunes come on. I am SO ready. Sorry, summer, I'm kicking you out. =)