Thank You Note Friday

Thank You Note Friday

I realize that last week I didn't write a thank you note post (I knew calling it a weekly feature was ambitious!) but I'm back! It's been a bit of a week- Alice has decided to go on another (albeit less dramatic) nap strike. She was doing so well with her naps and this week she's cried every time I've laid her down and will only sleep for 30 minutes max at a time. It's as delightful as you can imagine. Poor baby wakes up so grumpy (because she's still tired!) and it's tearing up my nerves a *tiny* bit so... keep that in mind as you read this. In other words, I want your sympathy. And I wouldn't turn down chocolate either.

-Thank you, my beloved full-length $5 Walmart mirror, for your noble service to my personal grooming and self-esteem for the past nine years. You were faithful from my college dorm room to our first house and everything in between. Known among friends and family as "the skinny mirror," you gave me many a needed if misguided boost when regular (more truthful) mirrors just didn't cut it. I may never look as good as I did in your reflection again, but you were a true gem. (If you're wondering why I would be so crazy as to throw out a mirror that made me look about twenty pounds thinner, the answer is that it was falling apart and a pretty big risk to my ever-exploring toddler. I figured that even my own vanity shouldn't come at the cost of Alice's safety, however painful it might be to let go. =)

-Thank you, TCM Classics Series, for bringing the most beloved movies to theaters around the country so we can experience them on the big screen. A couple weekends ago, Jonathan and I went to see Singin' in the Rain (celebrating its 65th anniversary!) and it was amazing. There's something so cool about watching one of your favorite movies with a group of strangers and experiencing it with other people, and Singin' in the Rain was just MADE for the big screen. Plus we were surrounded by cute old people who probably saw it when it actually came out, so that was fun. =) Of course it made me love Debbie Reynolds even more. RIP Debbie. =(

-Thank you, Trader Joes, for many things, but mostly your beautiful and cheap flowers (which I've enjoyed for a long time) and your cookie butter (which I just recently, belatedly discovered.) Seriously, TJ's flowers are the absolute best (and best price!) and if you've never had their cookie butter, well... maybe you shouldn't try it. It might be best to have loved and lost out on the cookie butter than to have never loved it at all. Isn't that how the quote goes? (Also, what do you eat it on? I've just been doing graham crackers but I know there are a ton of stuff people use it for. Do tell!)

-Thank you, Chick-fil-A, for doing free breakfast every week this month. I don't even really need the motivation to make yet another visit to the delicious haven you provide me from cooking (oops) but you lured me in with your free minis and biscuits. It's a hard life but someone has to live it. (Later we can talk about my near-clinical addiction to Chick-fil-A sauce but for now I'm fine. It's fine. Everything's fine. *drinks sauce from tub.*) ALSO thanks for hosting the cutest Daddy Daughter Date Night that went great for Jonathan and Alice until she became terrified of the cow and wept. (I'm a mean mama so I laughed really hard at that story.)

Before the cow trauma.

-Thank you, Disney Store, for coming out with an Alice in Wonderland line that simultaneously makes me discontent with my life and leads me to google ways to sell internal organs so I can buy every piece for my baby. I've decided for my own wellbeing and the health of my finances and marriage that no future children can have any Disney/literary inspired names ever again. But seriously, I want every single one of these. All of them. They're just perfect. Especially this one. (Can I justify half-birthday presents?)

-Thank you, blog friend, for a super cute FREE print that, with a new picture from Target and an M stolen from elsewhere in my house, created my new favorite corner right by the kitchen door. =) Also, it's become pretty apparent that my decorating philosophy is "when in doubt, add a monogram" and I'm not even mad about it. Find what works, right?? 

The cutest Madeline quote! I love it!

-Thank you, Melinda, my down-the-hall college friend, for finally, FINALLY being the first and probably only person in the history of my child's life who says she looks like me. You're a gem. And here's the thing- clearly it's not an insult or anything for people to say that Alice looks just like her daddy. She definitely does, and I happen to think he's a good-looking guy. But the way some people say it... "She's BEAUTIFUL! She looks nothing like you, you hideous troll!" "Oh, thanks." *hangs head in shame* I just happen to think she does look a little like me and it's nice that finally someone agrees. 

You see it, right? RIGHT? Don't everybody chime in at once. It's fine. No one thinks that. 

-Last but not least, and on a more serious note, BIG FAT HEARTFELT THANK YOU to EVERYONE who prayed for Luke! My sweet nephew spent two weeks in Intensive Care in the children's hospital in Atlanta, hooked up to high-level oxygen almost the entire time and fighting RSV and pneumonia. His poor little body had such a hard time healing but praise the Lord he was all to go home yesterday! Hundreds of people commented and said they were praying and our family appreciates you all so much. Seriously... social media gets a bad reputation (not for no reason) but when it comes to stuff like this I feel like all the lame, petty stuff is worth it. There's no way we would have been able to reach all the people who prayed for Luke without Facebook. So I'm thankful to you for praying and to Mr. Zuckerberg for giving us the opportunity to connect. =)

Sweetest little man ever. I can't even handle that face! So good to see it without all those yucky tubes! 

There you go, folks! Happy Friday! (Redundant, I know.) 

Quotidian Mysteries (and What Quotidian Means, Since I Had No Idea)

Quotidian Mysteries (and What Quotidian Means, Since I Had No Idea)

Last summer, I read a short little book called The Quotidian Mysteries by Kathleen Norris. It was truly short- barely over 100 pages- but so full of wisdom that I still think about it months later. (Amazingly, it's completely relevant and applicable given that it was published almost 20 years ago, which seems like an eternity given our rapidly changing culture.) The subtitle, Laundry, Liturgy, and "Women's Work," pretty much covers my life right now (ha!) and before we go on, let me tell you that quotidian sounds like a sci-fi word but it just means daily or occurring every day. So the book is all about the things that we, usually women and especially moms who stay home, have to do every day. 

If you're like me and stay home with your kids, you know the power (good or bad) of a routine. (This is true though of being at any stage- sometimes when I was a teacher I felt like I was on a treadmill that wouldn't turn off.) Kids thrive on schedules and I definitely have Alice on one (for my own sanity) but now and then (aka often) it can feel a little bit like the time we rode a tilt-a-whirl at the Cumming Fair and the guy running it (who was probably on one or more illegal substances) wouldn't stop the ride but instead just grinned at us all maniacally every time we passed by him. Am I comparing motherhood to a vomit-inducing carnival ride? Nooooo. (Yes.) 

Our days are structured but not quite as much as when I first read this book, when Alice was still nursing about six times a day and I literally spent what felt like all of my time either feeding her, pumping, or cleaning her bottles and pumping equipment. (It was also around the time of the Great Nap Strike of 2016 so part of my routine included dreading the hours of screaming that preceded a fitful sleep (and that was just me. =) But every stage of motherhood (all 15 months I've experienced so far) has been marked by those daily tasks, even though they change from month to month.

I've been in the nursing/wash bottles a million times a day stage to pureeing food every day to following her around the house keeping her from destroying all our possessions (current stage) but whatever age your kids are, you're doing the same thing all the time. Dishes, laundry, school drop off, school pick up, cooking (unless you're me and it's optional- my poor husband. Mostly kidding) and the worst part is these things have to be done EVERY DAY. You mean to tell me my child has to be fed and bathed every day? I have to tear up string cheese and get soaked by a thrashing toddler every day? (#brandnewinformation)

Seriously though- not only do these things have to be done every day (or almost every day because I don't actually do laundry for three people every day) and that in itself can be draining, but then I feel like I need to find some kind of meaning in all these boring, mundane, seemingly meaningless tasks? (I don't mean that raising my baby is meaningless- I'm obviously talking about stuff like cleaning the baseboards and organizing my linen closet- perhaps not the best examples since those aren't daily tasks either, which one glance at my baseboards would prove.) This is also hard for me because I used to be a teacher and actually felt like my work WAS meaningful- now my most productive task of the day is probably rounding up the pieces of Alice's play food set for the bazillionth time. It's fine. 

An everyday occurrence I don't mind at all- post-nap snuggle time with my squishy baby. (All the heart eyes.) Also note the laundry basket on the bed. Not nearly as endearing. 

The book, then, uncovers these "quotidian mysteries" by finding that meaning and purpose in the daily tasks that we all face. It also talks about how we are more than the menial jobs we do every day and don't necessarily have to find our identity in being the "chief cook and bottle washer" although that's basically my job description. Mysteriously enough, there IS meaning and purpose to be found, and it's by God's design. Intriguing, yes?

Here's my favorite quote:

"The Bible is full of evidence that God's attention is indeed fixed on the little things. But this is not because God is a great cosmic cop, eager to catch us in minor transgressions, but simply because God loves us- loves us so much that his divine presence is revealed even in the meaningless workings of daily life. It is in the ordinary, the here-and-now, that God asks us to recognize that the creation is 'renewed in the morning' (Psalm 90:5), or to put it in more personal and theological terms, 'our nature is being renewed every day.' (II Corinthians 4:16.) Seen in this light, what strikes many modern readers as the ludicrous attention to detail in the book of Leviticus, involving God in the minutiae of daily life- all the cooking and cleaning of a people's domestic life- might be revisioned as the very love of God. A God who cares so much as to desire to be present to us in everything we do."

Wow! So instead of just viewing my laundry mountain as something to check off my list, I can view it as a sign of God's love. That sounds a little over-the-top or maybe too spiritual but I actually like the ability to reframe a typically joyless task as something to be joyful about. God cares about the details of my life, even those that seem insignificant. In fact, he paid so much attention to detail that the Bible is full of incredibly detailed descriptions, rituals, etc. and He wants us to give that level of care and attention to our own work, whatever it may be. 

Instead of only viewing certain (Very Important) tasks as valuable and honorable, I can invite God's presence into every moment and task, no matter how menial it seems. When I view my work as God's plan for my life- remembering that where he wants me at this very moment is right HERE, chasing Al and wiping oatmeal off her bib and reheating my coffee countless times- I can see how worthy it is. Not only am I serving my family (mostly Chick-fil-A, but still) and taking care of them, but it's worth noting that I have a million things to be thankful for- a hard-working husband, a healthy, ADORABLE baby, a pretty house, my own health, and so many more blessings. There are people (like my sister and brother-in-law) whose daily lives at the moment involve hospital rooms and breathing machines and diagnoses and doctors and nurses and treatments... things that are even harder to find joy in and make my own lame problems seem even lamer. Perspective is a healthy thing. 

So, with that said- as you start your Monday and face another week of chores and diapers and cold coffee (not iced, just cold), or ball games and practices and piano lessons, or ministry or school or work (all the hats off to you working moms!) just know that there is beauty and value and worth in the mundane, the dull, the quotidian tasks that keep our lives rolling. God sees you. He wants to be invited into those quiet, sometimes mindless moments that feel like a burden. Use the time you're folding laundry to pray for your kids. Maybe take the time you are using to was the dishwasher to thank God you have money for food. 

If this all sounds a little woo-woo (especially for me) maybe it is, but it's something I've been convicted about. When you're home all day, particularly with young kids, it's easy to feel forgotten or even invisible, or like a housekeeper robot like Rosie from the Jetsons. (Wouldn't it be nice to have a Rosie?) Just ask Him to grant you the grace and peace to go about your tasks with joy. Ask that He join you in those quotidian moments. I think this will help us all be a little happier with our to-do lists and less dragon-lady when our kids empty the storage baskets AGAIN (not that this has happened at my house, silly rabbits.) 

One more reminder- it's really amazing to view daily occurrences as a reminder of the very love of God. And actively pursuing His presence, making Him part of every task, reminds us and our children of that love, which "makes all things new," even laundry. God truly is a God of miracles. =) 

Why I'm Glad I Was a Teenager in 2007, not 2017

Why I'm Glad I Was a Teenager in 2007, not 2017

What do you think of when you picture yourself in junior high or even high school? For me, it's braces, acne, total social anxiety, and basketball games (I was the statistician for all our school's teams. In case you were wondering if you were cooler than I was, the answer is yes.) Even though there were definitely girls at school and in my youth group who were pretty and less awkward than me (not saying much since I got called Mia Thermopolis a lot), for the most part it seemed like everyone my age was kind of going through the awkward Clearasil years together.

One thing that stands out to me (aside from the fact that I THOUGHT I WAS FAT AND I WAS SO NOT #younganddumb) is how even though I am just coming up on ten years since graduation (yikes!) it feels like my teen years were FAR different than the generation of teens today. Not to sound like I'm shaking my cane too much, but being around teenagers (especially day in and day out in the classroom for years) has made it abundantly clear that they are growing up in a world that would barely be recognizable to me when I was in, say, 9th grade. 

Some things are the same- crushes, insecurity, again- thinking you're fat when this is probably the best shape you'll be in in your whole life, sweetie, so enjoy it- "love" triangles, gossip, drama, etc. (Wait, did I just describe high school or adulthood? Am I adulting wrong?) But some things- namely the Big Bad Social Media- are totally different. 

Everyone gripes about how smartphones and social media and the Internet in general are ruining the minds and destroying the souls of children and young people everywhere, and maybe they are... but let's think about how good kids these days have it, shall we??

It seems like more and amore teenagers are suddenly able to skip their awkward, ugly stages and just go straight to looking like normal, functioning human beings, which everyone knows teenagers are not supposed to be. Looking slightly unattractive and out of place is practically a rite of passage and part of the deal of puberty. So where do these girls come from with their contoured faces and perfect yet effortless messy buns? Explain this sorcery!!

We didn't have YouTube (if we did, it was brand new.) There were no makeup channels, no tutorials for how to blend the perfect smoky eye. If you wanted information like that, you might possibly find it in Seventeen but it wasn't guaranteed and there definitely wasn't a video to go with it. (Perhaps this explains my overdosing on sparkly eye shadow or other girls' Jack Sparrow eyeliner phase. *Cough*April*Cough*) We didn't have hair tutorials either- we barely had hair TOOLS. I vividly remember the first girl at school getting a hair straightener and what a huge deal that was and how proud I was when my sister straightened my own bushy hair for the first time. (Straight hair, makeup, my Gap turtleneck- I really thought I was all that and a bag of Chili Cheese Fritos, y'all. It's embarrassing.) 

And what about social media?? If you liked a boy, you couldn't scroll through his Instagram to see what (or who) he was interested in. Our version of that was sneakily scanning whatever was pinned up in his locker and then casually working it into a conversation. "Oh you like... (squinting) Brandon Donovan?" "Um, Landon Donovan?" "Yes, that's what I said... so, soccer, huh? Cool." (Awkward silence.) 

If you were lucky enough to be online at the same time, there was a chance (at least) of talking through instant messenger, since even cell phones were still pretty rare. And maybe you could exchange emails? Maybe? (I found some emails from Jonathan written in 2006 and they were RICH. Rich, I tell you.) Or, of all things, you might even (gasp) talk on the phone. Like, into the little speaker that it was actually designed for. I think some kids today have never even heard their cell phones ring. It's madness! =) 

Even their clothes are better now- I mean, you couldn't pay me to wear a crop top or off-the-shoulder shirt (all the rage) but at least now they have skinny jeans and tunics... we had masculine polo shirts with popped collars (whyyyy) and long khaki skirts (ew) and massive clog-type shoes and Aeropostale graphic tees. Fashion has come a long way, girls. Be grateful. 

Of course... OF COURSE, I'm kind of kidding about all this (not entirely, because it would've been great to be able to plan an outfit by simply opening Pinterest or to keep tabs on a boy without being a creeper who asked his friends) but the honest truth is, I wouldn't DREAM of having had social media to document my life through junior high and high school. I had the most ridiculous crushes, the most pitiful personal drama (another thing to be grateful for, kids- bullying wasn't yet the huge issue it is today and so people got away with it a lot more), and yes, the braces and acne and clunky shoes and ugly clothes. (To be fair, they were cute for their time. Still.) What would my Facebook have looked like? 

"Ashley Baines.... is SO stoked to take stats for the Bulldogs game! Gotta get that W, boys!" (Groan.)
"Ashley Baines.... is wondering why he won't even notice me." (I'm seriously gagging right now.) 
"Ashley Baines.... is headed to Youth Hour. Has anyone seen my nylons?" (Hahahaha- a little humor for those in our youth group.) 
"Ashley Baines... is exhausted from volleyball practice!" (Yeah, maybe because I was terrible.) 

Seriously though, they would all be SO lame. And there would undoubtedly be pictures to go along with them, pictures that do exist but thankfully are limited to the prints from the rolls and rolls of film from disposable cameras we used. (I also vividly remember the first trip to camp when a few people had digital cameras and they were a HUGE deal. No smartphones, obviously.) 

I guess my point is that there are pros and cons to both generations (do I qualify as a different generation? I feel like I do) and while I'm jealous of the instant, endless stream of information that kids today can access, I also recognize how damaging and dangerous it can be and I'm thankful to have had to have actual conversations (or write notes and fold them into cool little shapes, something I never really learned to do, to slip into people's lockers) and do research in actual books and cut articles out of actual newspapers for current events. (Actually the last part was a lie. Current events were a huge pain and I never remembered to cut out my article. Online news for the win.) And while I mentioned bullying, which sadly happened to me, it's not like anyone could spread anything terrible about me in seconds... it would require planning and probably something hand-written. But the instant gratification and removal of a time period to process decisions is a slightly heavy topic that could fill a post of its own. =)

My 15th birthday- braces? Check. Awkward smile? Check. Polo shirt? Check. Bushy (probably used a cheap early-model straightener) hair? Check. (That's Amanda with the death grip on my shoulder. Ha!) 

So, kids, you can keep your messy buns and perfect makeup and leggings-as-pants (actually, please don't keep those; no one should!) and your #squad and #yaaassss and #perfection and whatever. Reading into passing comments was practically a hobby of mine- can you imagine if I had had to deal with SUBTWEETING? I was a nervous, neurotic, awkward, insecure mess as it was- I honestly think the pressure of social media would have been my ruin. Or maybe I would have leaned into it in all my three-point-shooting, stats-taking, glasses-wearing glory. Who can say? I just think that part of who I am (and who all we millennials are, good, bad, or ugly) is due to the fact that we had to struggle through life without the (constant, non-skeeeering AOL boot-up) use of the Internet. In some ways, that was hard. In other ways, it was amazing. I'll keep my memories of disposable cameras, hand-written notes, awkward phone calls, and even face-to-face conversations. Because a hand-made scrapbook page covered in slightly blurry, red-eyed pictures- those are the real #goals. *Always and forever.* Ha! 

Oh, and one last thing- teenagers today do have an amazing gift that we did not- and whatever I say  with nostalgia about a simpler time, I do not ever again want to live in a world without emojis. The horror! ( Insert crying laughing and heart eyes here. =) 

My Favorite Podcasts

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! =)

Thank You Note Friday

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! 

Surprising Myself

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. =)

My Favorite Books of 2016

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!