Fourth of July Movie Party + The Best Dessert!

Fourth of July Movie Party + The Best Dessert!

I love the Fourth of July. I love wearing red, white, and blue; I love that it's the very middle of summer; I love the ice cream and hot dogs and celebration of freedom (even though being patriotic is apparently a sin now, according to Twitter. #whoknew) I don't love the fireworks so much now that I have a baby whose precious slumber is disturbed by them, but other than that it's still one of my favorite holidays. 

I'm not throwing any kind of Independence Day bash this year, but I will be home with my movie-loving child and we'll have almost all of these on the DVR ready to go. I may even get fancy with some kind of red, white, and blue dessert (see below!). But let's not get crazy. You certainly don't have to have "theme" foods to enjoy these movies. Chips and hot dogs are more than adequate. (But they better be on a stars and stripes napkin or I can't trust you.)

This little girl takes her movie-watching very seriously. All of these choices are Alice-approved. 

Take Me Out to the Ballgame- let's start with my favorite, shall we? Even the title is all-American. This is such a great musical and one of Alice's current favorites. It stars Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra as vaudeville partners who also play professional baseball (totally believable, right?) Of course, when one of them decides to mix business and baseball, hijinks ensue. I've probably seen this movie one million times, and I still love it. Patriotic moment/song: "Strictly U.S.A." What more do you want?

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington- only one of the greatest movies ever made. Jimmy Stewart is just phenomenal here as a young, starry-eyed senator who arrives in Washington full of the American spirit and dreams to make a difference to the boys in his state. Unfortunately, he runs into a huge corruption ring backed by powerful crooks who do their best to destroy him before he can expose their plans. There are funny moments but it will also just give you all the feels. Patriotic moment/song: Jeff's filibuster on the Senate floor... pretty much the whole thing. "I guess this is just another lost cause, Mr. Paine." #sobbing

Summer Magic- this movie really doesn't have anything to do with the Fourth of July but it's so quintessentially summer to me. The Sherman Brothers songs, the cast (Burl Ives!), and just the whole experience... when I watch it I'm 10 years old again. Patriotic/summerish moment/song: "On the Front Porch." Just hearing it puts me in a good mood.

At War with the Army- this may be one of the dumbest movies ever, but I don't even care. It's one of the first Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis comedies, and it's hysterical. I may have screamed in delight when I saw that it was coming on TCM and I was finally able to record it a few months ago. Again, it's reeeallly silly/slapstick, but hilarious. This isn't patriotic or a song, but my favorite line is, "You're driving me crazy!' "That's no drive; it's a short putt!" 

Follow Me, Boys!- talk about being hit in the feels.... I hadn't watched this for years when it recently came on TV and I recorded it. I sat down to watch it with Al and literally teared up within the first 20 minutes, then several more times after that. I think it's a mixture of nostalgia and my old age. But seriously. This is such a classic. A traveling musician puts down roots in a small town and inadvertently becomes the new Boy Scout Master, then becomes a hero to all the boys in town for several decades. Patriotic moment/song: "Follow Me, Boys" and the war games. 

Johnny Tremaine- this is kind of a lesser-known Disney movie from 1957, but there really was a Johnny Tremaine during the Revolution and almost all the other characters are real people too: Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, etc. Johnny joins the Sons of Liberty right around the beginning of the War for Independence. It's really good! Patriotic song/moment: "Sons of Liberty" and the speech that James Otis gives in a meeting. "We give all we have. We fight! We die, for a simple thing. Only that a man could stand." 

The Music Man- this is probably the movie I feel most comfortable talking about since, thanks to Alice, I have watched it too many times to count. (I'm not exaggerating... I have to play the soundtrack in the car to get her to stop crying. No regular lullabies for this girl... just 76 Trombones.) Anyway, this is also just one of those "Americana" movies that makes me feel like celebrating the Fourth. In case you're not familiar, a traveling salesman stops in a little Iowa town and convinces everyone that he's a professor of music who will form a boys' band and teach the kids to play their instruments. Only the local piano teacher isn't fooled, but she eventually comes around when the professor gets her little brother to finally come out of this shell. (There's way more going on than that, but it's a pretty long movie.) I have to say that this one has grown on me over the years and now the songs are some of my favorites... good thing, given my hostage situation with the movie in general. (i'm the hostage.) Patriotic moment/song: "Seventy-Six Trombones" or "Ya Got Trouble."

Honorable mention: Pollyanna, the "America the Beautiful" scene in which Hayley Mills and several other girls are dressed as the American flag in what look like straitjackets, and Holiday Inn, for the Firecrackers dance that Fred Astaire does. AH-mazing. 

Okay, now to The Best Dessert! part. I know I said you don't have to do themed food, and you definitely don't, but this is so good and easy AND uses the appropriate holiday colors. Plus it makes enough to feed a pretty big crowd... or provide leftovers the next day for a small crowd. =)

Berry Cobbler

Ingredients: one stick of butter, 1.5 cup sugar, 1.5 cup self-rising flour/bisquik, 1.5 cup milk, one can cherry pie filling, one can blueberry pie filling 

I know. I should be a food blogger.

1. Turn the oven on to 350 and melt a stick of butter in a 9x13 pan. 

2. Mix 1.5 cups EACH of sugar, self-rising flour (or Bisquik), and milk. 

3. Once the butter is melted, pull the pan out and pour the batter in.

4. Add dollops throughout of cherry and blueberry pie filling. If you want the cobbler to be more cake-like, use less fruit filling (about half the can each.) To make it gooier/fruitier, add the whole cans. (I try to leave a little space between each spoonful so they don't all run together.) Don't mix/stir the batter and fruit... just plop the fruit in. 

5. Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes. The edges should be golden brown. 

6. Serve hot with vanilla ice cream!

Happy Fourth, everyone! Despite all the craziness, America is still awesome and worth celebrating! I hope your cobbler is delicious and your movie watching experience less painful than mine, given I'll probably have an Alice pulling my hair the whole time. =) Happy Independence Day! 

Do It Scared

Do It Scared

Ever since college (or maybe even before), I've planned on getting a master's degree. Of course, I decided to be a teacher when I was like eight and never really strayed from that. Not everything in my life has gone according to plan (thank goodness! ha!) but majoring in secondary education and becoming an English teacher pretty much stuck pretty close to my original script.

I loved teaching... don't get me wrong. But after just a few years in the classroom, I was already questioning whether I wanted to do it for the rest of my life. Schools, students, parents, etc. have just changed SO much since I was in school, and I'm not that old. =) I loved my students, I loved the actual instruction part of teaching, I LOVED doing my bulletin boards (still miss that!)... I'm still passionate about education, but I just couldn't see myself doing this for the next thirty years (or even the next ten.)

Four summers ago, being crushed under the weigh of my curricula. 

Still one of my favorite boards ever. Those hashtags! 

That hand on the hip pose, though. #ohdear 

Plus I had also always planned to stay home once I had a baby, at least for a few years. So between moving away from the school job I had and getting pregnant, I took time off from teaching and was spared, at least for a while, from the decision of getting back to it later.

So what would I do instead? When I was a teenager, literally nothing else ever occurred to me. Teaching was it. And even though I had always gotten good grades on my papers, I really didn't consider myself a writer at all. I actually made it pretty clear that creative writing was not my thing and that I was terrible at it. (You may be thinking... "well, yes. You still are." That's fine. hehe)

But I took a composition class in college and got some really positive feedback from my professor (Dr. P! The BEST!) and throughout the semester (and in some other classes with him) he made it clear to me that writing was something I shouldn't ignore. And that maybe I wasn't terrible at it after all. Maybe even...a little bit good? (His words, not mine. =) So that made me feel good considering that he's a genius, but I still didn't consider anything about writing until I started this blog five years ago and wrote my first play a few months later. And obviously I've been writing (albeit sporadically) ever since.

Fast-forward to the past year, where I've been thinking about my future job, whatever it may be, as Alice will be off to school before too long. (Not that I'm ready to even consider that! Ugh. #allthetears) But I knew I had to start making some kind of plans; I just couldn't decide in what direction to go. Education? Writing? Editing? I don't know! Not to mention I haven't worked a regular job (besides being a #momboss) for the past three years. Kind of out of the game.

I've had grad school on my mind all this time but not really front and center given my daily schedule of keeping a toddler alive and all that entails =) but a couple of months ago, I came in from a run (obligatory reminder that I'm a runner now, y'all) and Jonathan said (out of the blue) "I think it's time for you to go back to school."

The thing about Jonathan is that he seems off-the-wall with statements like that but the great thing is that he won't bring something big up without having thought it through meticulously first. So he had already worked through a lot of the logistics (mentally, at least) before bringing it up to me. God bless him.

I immediately jumped online and started looking around at different programs. My first (and really only) choice has always been Liberty University...for many reasons, the main one being that they have SO many options online and we've always had a great experience with them (Jonathan got his master's from LU in 2014.) But I still wasn't sure about which direction to go... getting a generic education degree seemed pointless since I wasn't even sold on going back to teaching, and anything writing-related just seemed so beyond me. Where would I even start? I even briefly considered library science. (I'm not gonna lie; I would still love to be librarian someday. =)

But that day, I found a brand-new program that Liberty was offering- a Master of Arts in Professional Writing. (Sounds pretentious, I know!) I knew instantly that it was the best program for me. Not only does it cover a lot of the "business" side of writing- marketing, research, etc., but it offers education classes too. SO whichever direction I go in professionally- writing or teaching or both- I'll have a ton of tools to help me in the future. It's really the best of both worlds.

I applied that night and then the most horrendously stressful three-week period began. (Basically, getting in was a huge shot in the dark because my undergrad degree is only partially accredited, blah blah blah... it's not that interesting, but trust me when I say that it was torture. All I could do was write an impassioned "purpose statement," pray really hard, and hope for the best. (I guess the admissions department couldn't know that dragging out the decision over such a long time was literally killing me and bringing out the most obsessive parts of my personality. I have forgiven them. =)

So, (spoiler alert!) I GOT IN. And then registered. And then looked at my course guides and nearly passed out. (Holy workload, Batman!) And even though I'm insanely nervous, I'm excited. I've always been a huge nerd who actually really loved school and learning (I vividly remember going back to campus for the last few weeks of classes after our student teaching and feeling a little thrill when I started taking notes for the first time in months. #coughlosercough) And since I'm going in a different direction than what I've always planned for grad school it's even more unfamiliar. Not to mention, I've really never written in this kind of setting before. I've written college papers and my blog and a lot of miscellaneous stuff but I haven't been formally "graded" in years and (given my need for approval and straight A's that's bled over from like second grade), I'm slightly terrified.

My friend Lauren always says, "Do it scared." I've actually applied that little commandment to a lot of areas in my life in the past year or so- starting Weight Watchers, doing Couch to 5k, approaching new friendships... all kinds of things. (Lauren is very wonderful and wise, always. =) And that's how I'm going into this new venture in a couple months- scared. Scared of failure, of rejection, of stress and exhaustion and oh yeah, taking classes with an almost-two-year-old as my study buddy. (I'm sure Alice's pterodactyl screams will only enhance my work environment.) But I'm doing it anyway, with the support of my awesome husband and lots of Dr Pepper, no doubt.

If nothing else I have a stock of G-2 pens at the ready!

Which brings me to this post. I have been insanely lazy about blogging for, really, the past three years. It was almost like losing the rigidity of a school schedule also took the structure of my days (which it did in a lot of ways.) I remember thinking that I'd have tons of time to write, but as Gretchen Rubin says, "Things that can be done at any time are often done at no time." Such is life, and I can't do anything about it now, but one huge disadvantage to not blogging regularly is that it makes it infinitely harder to come back to it when I choose to. It's very much like a muscle that has atrophied (picture my attempt at writing as swinging a scrawny arm that's been in a cast for months and resembles a noodle. That's how it feels.)

I hate it, but over the years blogging has always been the first thing to go when I get busy or overwhelmed or whatever. (I know... what a great writer I am!) But it's easier to cut this out than reading (never!) or cleaning my house (for my own sanity's sake, no) or, you know, caring for my family (kind of a nonnegotiable.) Poor Dash of Ash gets pushed aside every time. And in the coming months, I can't make any promises about how faithfully I'll update here. BUT given the whole atrophied muscle thing, it seems really dumb of me to not write at all this summer and then start back up again cold turkey when I'm actually going to be graded. Yikes.

So consider this post (and the ones coming soon, I hope!) the writing exercises I need to get my strength up for my classes starting this fall. I promise to keep things way more fun than the gym (and I'll never yell at you or make you plank. Have you planked? Good grief.) Think of the exercises as more like the old lady aerobics class that just give you an excuse to wear cute gym clothes but not really break a sweat or experience any awkward locker room TMI. (Aaaand that's enough of that metaphor.)

Okay, I'll wrap this up. Thanks for all the encouragement already and for being so great about still reading what I've written here. If it weren't for this blog and all the sweet comments over the years, I know I wouldn't ever have had the courage to pursue anything with writing at all, let alone "professional." #sofancy. Thanks, everyone! You're the very best! Wish me luck! In the meantime, I'll be reading for fun all I can and stress-bingeing Psych. What could be better?

Bad Day Playlist

Bad Day Playlist

First of all, don't get the idea that this post is a cry for help. I'm actually not having a bad day at the moment. =) I made this list a couple of weeks ago because unlike some people, when I AM having a bad day, I like to listen to music that acknowledges it. For that matter, I like my music to match my mood all the time, on good and bad days. For example, one of my favorite "happy" albums is the You've Got Mail soundtrack, but if I'm grumpy, it will just annoy me. ("Stop being so cheerful, Kathleen Kelly!") And if I'm tired or sad, I don't want to listen to my favorite Broadway cast albums that usually inspire me to belt my face off in the car. =) 

SO, I'm sure many of you look to happy music to lift your spirits on a bad day, and some of these songs do that, but I every now and then you need to wallow a little too. =) (I'm coming across as super melancholy and I promise I'm not. Usually.) 

Here they are on my phone... and as always I'm shamelessly plugging Apple Music because it's the best thing about modern technology. 

Also, I realize as I look at this list that it could practically be titled, "Waiting on Potentially Life-Altering News Playlist" because so many of these songs (and so many "bad days") have revolved around times in my life when we've been waiting in some way... waiting on results, or in transition, or trying to make tough decisions. In case you couldn't tell, waiting on anything is kind of my own personal nightmare. Ha!

Alice is no stranger to bad days. It's hard to be a baby. 

The first few are "sacred" (to quote a favorite family joke, "Does it have to be gospel?") and the rest are not but I love them all. 

My Worth Is not in What I Own by Keith and Kristyn Getty- I first discovered this song sometime last year and have listened to it on repeat many times. Not only are the lyrics beautiful but these two just have the most soothing voices. 

Take Me to the King- I know that Tamela Mann (from the Madea movies- ha!) has recorded this but my favorite version is on Travis Cottrell's album Living Proof. I love this song and even if I'm down when I start it, I'm jamming by the end! You can't help yourself! 

Oh My Soul by Casting Crowns. Mark Hall wrote this song the night of his cancer diagnosis a couple years ago and it may be my favorite of his... ever. During a tough time last year, I listened to this dozens of times in a couple of weeks and it remains a treasure to me. So amazing. 

You Will Redeem It All- another Travis Cottrell song (he's just the best.) My favorite line says, "Hallelujah in the waiting... hallelujah even then." In the 10 days that I waited anxiously to hear about my acceptance to grad school (which doesn't seem like a huge deal but would have had a lot of negative results if I hadn't gotten in... maybe I'll unpack that story sometime) I listened to this one over and over.

Jesus, Draw Me Ever Nearer- also the Gettys, who are so talented and sincere and truly ministers with all their music. I love this song and the message of it. 

Unredeemed by Selah- the summer before we moved to Texas, when Jonathan applied for a job here and didn't get it, we left the life we knew to move in with Mamaw and start raising support, and I desperately wanted a baby, this song was my anthem. Many, many tears were shed while I listened to it, but it will always remind me of that time and all we learned from it. "Life breaks and falls apart, but we know these are places where grace is, soon to be so amazing." #praisehands

Poor Ella!

Cheer Up, Charlie- not only is this a feel-good, sweet song (and literally tells you to cheer up) but it is special to me because last summer (at the climax of her nap strike that nearly killed us all), this became my go-to lullaby for Al. Hearing it now takes me back to those days of her sweet little chubby baby self. (Sobbing now.) And this version by Leslie Odom, Jr. is just magical. 

It's Gonna Be Okay- this one is more upbeat than almost all the other songs, and like I said, sometimes listening to a peppy song when I'm in a bad mood just gets on my nerves. But this is an exception, especially when my 2-year-old niece sings it and knows every word. =) Plus no one is more talented than The Piano Guys!

No One Is Alone- it's hard to believe, but I didn't know any of the songs from Into the Woods until I watched the movie a few years ago. I immediately became obsessed with the soundtrack and this song is my favorite. Plus Anna Kendrick nailing that high soprano? Yes. 

You'll Never Walk Alone- okay, I'm usually a purist about these things, but the original song from Carousel isn't my favorite. I love Shirley Jones, but this is the one Rodgers and Hammerstein movie I've never been able to get on board with, so... yeah. I included Josh Groban's version because it's flawless BUT if you want to hear some vocal insanity, go to YouTube and watch Ben Fankhauser sing it. Unbelievable. Fun fact: my dad used to sing this at high school graduations. (Change "hope" to "Christ" and it's ready for Christian schools. =)

Anchor Me- another one I've listened to a million times. Absolutely beautiful and so uplifting. 

You Will Be Found- if you know anything about Broadway you know that Dear Evan Hansen is THE popular new musical right now. This song starts off simple and touching and ends in the most amazing, choir-like anthem. It's what truly great musical theater is all about and it never fails to make me feel better. 

Bad Day- okay, kind of a dumb song, but how can you have a Bad Day playlist without... Bad Day?? And really, haven't we all faked a smile with our coffee to go? (ha.ha.) 

Here's to going from Ella to Alice. (This remains one of my favorite pictures of all time.) 

There you go. If you're having a bad day, I hope some of these make it a little better. If all else fails, there's ice cream... or literally any Carpenters album. =)



I've always looked forward to my birthday with anticipation and even delight but this year... not so much. I've also always scoffed at people who dreaded their birthdays or were reluctant to reveal their age but the closer the big 3-0 starts to loom in the distance, the more I start to get it. Anyway, since I am definitely still a birthday person in that I want the day to be about me (insert angel emoji) I thought I'd share some fun (?) facts/feelings and hopefully distract myself from the fact that my twenties are almost over. 

My most recent/decent picture. #thisis28

1. My eyes are green and that's probably my (only) favorite physical feature (since I have so many great ones. #hystericallaughter) I like that they're unusual and not that common! Also I guess I like my hair- I'd cut it off because #Texas #hot but short hair, as I regrettably learned in 2009, is not a good look for me. Plus, like Jo March, it is "my one beauty." 

2. I tend to remember the year things happened and also really specific details about events, which I usually have to keep to myself lest people think I'm a creepy stalker. I'm sorry, I really can't help knowing what you wore to a baseball game in 2004. I just do

3. Speaking of baseball, I was a fanatical baseball follower for many years. Need a Mariners stat from the early 2000s? Step right up. (I've fallen way off that wagon, but go Braves! #chopchop)

4. I didn't get my driver's license until I was 21. So knowing me as a fairly spastic driver now makes more sense when you realize I've had a five-year handicap. So embarrassing.

5. HOWEVER, even the full decade+ of driving practice I should have wouldn't have prepared me for driving in Texas, specifically Houston. I refuse to drive on the highway past a certain point toward the city. It absolutely scares me to death and really if I can put off an errand until Jonathan can drive, I do. #noshame

6. I'm super affected by the weather. My attitude, spirit, whatever you want to call it... if it's terribly hot or the weather is seasonally inappropriate I hate it. Probably should have thought about that before moving to the surface of the sun, but you know. 

7. I firmly believe that Tangled is better than Frozen in every way. Yeah, I said it.

8. Singing in front of people makes me really nervous and I have to hold a microphone with two hands so no one can see me shaking. (Thanks for that tip, Melissa! It has served me well.) 

9. I worked at Chick-fil-A in high school and college. Those truly were the best and worst of times, but they left me with SO many good stories and I'm pretty sure I could step into a busy drive-through situation and handle it from memory. Plus I have a deep appreciation for quick-service employees (and a disdain for those who do it wrong.) 

10. Aaaand speaking of Chick-fil-A, I am still making up for not having access to it for the first 15 years of my life. I repay that debt by eating there as many times a week as possible both financially and healthfully (and by that I mean the health of my marriage. #sorrybabe)

11. Things that make me feel warm and fuzzy? People who call me Ash, any time someone says something nice about about my blog, hearing from my dearly beloved former students, and the genius of Lin-Manuel Miranda. 

12. If I don't text you back right away, I'm more than likely looking for the perfect gif. Or meme. But seriously, the gif keyboard has improved my quality of life. 

13. Reading this book two years ago and learning that there's actually a name for my personality type (ambiverts unite!) has made me feel a whole lot less crazy. Do I feel energized or terrified by other people? It depends on the day. =)

14. Dream jobs: personal shopper, author, editor, college English professor but with an assistant to grade papers, stylist/WNTW contributor, ghost writer for Angela Lansbury's personal memoir. (Come on, Ang. Let's make magic together!) 

15. I have a secret (eh...not-so-secret) dream to perform on some kind of stage. Community theater, Broadway... who's to say?? =) But my crippling stage fright kind of derailed that (see #8) so Alice is my best hope. The stereotypical stage mom living out her dreams through her kid? That will be me. 

16. Speaking of the stage... I love, love, love musicals of all kinds (obviously Disney is at the top!) and it makes me SO happy that Alice seems to be loving them too. I have no greater joy than to know that my children walk in truth... and have committed the complete works of Rodgers and Hammerstein to memory. 

17. I believe that skinny fries are the best fries. McDonald's, Smithfield's, Freddy's, Whataburger... I'm looking at you. Steak fries and whatever other garbage you people are serving? Go home. (Except for you, Chick-fil-A, waffle fries. I'll love you forever.) 

18. For whatever reason, people tend to confide in me, which I find ironic because i don't consider myself a great listener. (This stems from a childhood of basically never shutting up.) But maybe it's that I'm a middle child and thus (according to all the research) a born reconciler. I don't know, but people tell me stuff. But don't worry... you're secret's safe with me.

19. ...when I say I can keep a secret, clearly that means I will tell my sisters. I mean, duh. It's the sister code. 

20. Favorite foods in order or nutritional value: green beans, tomatoes, pineapple, breadsticks (or just bread), chips and salsa, mint chocolate chip ice cream. #thatescalatedquickly

21. I took piano lessons for over a decade but you wouldn't know it. (My sister weeps in her shame of my wasted talent. hahaha) But I also briefly attempted to teach myself the guitar and given my lack of natural ability and also the fact that I thought my fingertips would fall off I quit. I can play like 3 songs.

22. I'm 100%, embarrassingly obsessed with my baby. Even though she's 18 months old, I'm still staying up at night looking at her pictures and freaking out over how adorable she is. I guess every mom is like that but yeah, when it comes to Alice I have no chill.

23. After being well-known for my love of Mountain Dew for most of my life, I regret to inform you that I hardly ever drink it anymore. I feel like I've lost a part of my identity but gained a healthier liver. #balance

24. How did I break up with Mountain Dew, you may ask? Well, it certainly wasn't at the pleading of my many dentists who have said to please stop drinking acid. (Not really but kind of.) No, I started Weight Watchers for the ______th time last summer and finally kicked my MD habit (and also lost 30 pounds. Woop woop!) Now I just need to do the same thing but with Dr Pepper. Ugh.

25. After basically being anti-exercise/a couch potato for almost my entire adult life, no one is more shocked than I am that I now work out at least 6 days a week. (Currently 7- curse you 30-Day Shred!) If there is something you think you can't do, picture me huffing and puffing in 99% Texas humidity and know that you absolutely can. 

26. In fits of humiliation, I have thrown away/destroyed most of my teenage journals, but thanks to my obnoxious memory I can still recall passages from them verbatim and am occasionally haunted by the stupidity of what I wrote. On the other hand, one day when I write my fascinating memoir/tell all, I'll probably regret not having access to my 8th grade thoughts. Or not. 

27. If I could combine my family's traits to create my own Super Ashley, I'd use my mom's ease in front of a crowd (or really any stranger), my dad's laid-back nature and gift with words, Amanda's universally likable personality and musical skills, April's beauty and uproarious humor, Amy's apathy towards the opinion of others and lip-syncing ability (plus her hair), and my in-laws' organizational talents (minus possibly Rebecca... but I'll take your wardrobe. =). Plus the combined adorableness of my nieces and nephews. Unstoppable!

28. Even though I roll my eyes when people point out how lucky I am to be married to Jonathan (and they do), it's true. I know and appreciate that I really do have the best husband and married way up and the fact that he knows all these things about me and loves me anyway is truly miraculous. #awwwwokaythatsgrossstopit. I love my little family and our Texas life, heat and all. =)

There you go. I'm going to celebrate today by eating chicken minis for breakfast and at least one chocolate dessert... maybe more. I'm praying this year is full of new creative opportunities, memories with my girl, and the start of my best-seller, "The Wisdom and Insights of a First-Time Mother Living a Very Uneventful Life." Copies will fly off the shelves. 

Happy Friday, everyone! And happy birthday to meeeee! Cake for everyone! (Or banana pudding which is better.)

First Quarter Reading

First Quarter Reading

For some reason, this quarter felt like I fell way off the reading wagon, but when I compared my numbers I had beat 3 out of 4 quarters last year, so what do I know? I guess it was because March was really busy and I did read quite a bit less than in January and February. (This is all very interesting to you, I know.) I don't want to be obnoxious about numbers either, so I'll just keep that to myself. (If you really want to know, I'll tell you. #fakeintrigue) 

Anyway, I don't know what it's been about the past few months but I feel like I have been in a bit of a reading lull in terms of quality. I'm still getting recommendations from my same favorite sources and sticking to tried and true favorite authors, genres, etc. But for whatever reason I feel like a book that really wows me is the exception rather than the rule these days, which makes the following books even more notable. They only represent a small fraction of the books I read this quarter and there's a whopping list of three sooo... maybe I should find some new and better titles? (Also I'm 27 and should probably stop slogging through books I don't enjoy, but it's not time to unpack that side of my personality right now. =) 

I don't look this cute while reading but then no one does. =)

-Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart. Normally a book with this plot would totally freak me out and send my HSP tendencies into a panic, but given the heavy/scary subject matter, it was surprisingly fun. This is based on the true story of the first female deputy in America, and, like I said, I was prepared to be freaked out. (Part of the story is that Constance and her sisters are terrorized by a local thug and his gang... which leads to her involvement with the sheriff and eventual deputization.) But the sarcastic, quirky relationship among the three sisters made me laugh and kept what could have been a scary story really light and fun (for the most part.) There is a subplot that I found a little troubling, at least in a couple of spots, but other than that I *really* enjoyed this and have recommended it probably half a dozen times since I read it. And you should definitely read the sequel, Lady Cop Makes Trouble. I hope there are more Kopp Sisters books on the way!

-The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. I loved this and couldn't put it down! Reynie is a 12-year-old orphan who is "different," aka extremely intelligent. His tutor takes him to a test that was advertised for gifted children and he is one of only four who pass. They find themselves in the middle of a plot to save the world from the underlying evil forces that are working to destroy civilization... and if that sounds dramatic, it's also really fun. I love a book with word play or puzzles and this is full of them. It's a little like a cautionary tale with a bit of a dystopian feel, and even though it's over 400 pages I flew through it to see what would happen. This would be fun to read with your kids, I think. It's a great middle grade book!

-First Women by Kate Andersen Brower. This was SO good. I also read her book The Residence and enjoyed it but this one was my favorite. It doesn't just "dish" on the First Ladies (although I did love those parts!) but it really portrays them as human which is sometimes hard or even impossible to do given their high-profile lives and practically nonexistent margin for error while living in the public eye. I also enjoyed the way she revealed the relationships among the First Ladies. There is so much interesting information here- their personalities, the way they worked with their husbands and the staff, their political and social activities, parenting techniques, decorating and fashion tastes.... ah! This is like a dream come true for a history loving bonus features junkie like myself. I also thought t was very even-handed between Democrat and Republican First Ladies and based on facts rather than opinions. Highly recommend! (P.S. I've read a lot of books about the White House and my favorite is still this one. So good.) 

There you have it! I know, I usually have at least 10 and have to force myself to narrow things down but yeah, it's been a dry spell. If you've read anything good/great lately, do share! I am definitely looking for new titles! And as always if you have read or choose to read any of the ones I just mentioned, let me know so we can have a virtual book club. =)

Alice Juliet- 18 Months

Alice Juliet- 18 Months

Am I celebrating my baby's half birthday? Yes. Am I spoiling her and probably setting her up to be an adult who subjects her friends to an entire "birthday month" and expects gifts for weeks at a time? Maybe. Am I sorry about this? A little, but I'm doing it anyway. =) 

My sister told me that I can't keep doing this half birthday thing because I'm raising her to be an insufferable person (perhaps) and of course I won't do this forever but I am unapologetically celebrating her 18-month "unbirthday" because I feel like this is such a milestone between ages 1 and 2. She has changed SO much since her first birthday and I want to have a record of all her growth and development at this age (plus, you know, I'm obsessed with her and I love sharing her adorable pictures. =)

Weight and Length- she's about 28" long and only 21 pounds (she's weighed around the same for several months.) She'll be long and lean like her daddy, apparently! =) And she doesn't have the same chunkiness that she did as a little baby but she is definitely still a squish! I love it. 

Nicknames- Al, Ali Cat, Jolly Holiday, Princess Pie, Lucky (thanks to her movie obsession), Fatsy Patsy, Chunkers, Alice from the Palace

This is why we call her Lucky. =)

Sleep- 12 hours a night (I know, you can hate me. I don't deserve such a gift.) And her napping is still spotty at best but we're beginning to try one nap so hopefully she'll consolidate all her little cat naps into one good long one. Fingers crossed! 

Eating- she's eating almost everything we do (except spicy food of course, and very few sweets) but she loves sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, string cheese (EVERY day), yogurt, oatmeal, green beans, etc. She isn't really picky! The only thing she just refuses to eat right now is oranges. And (I share this shamefacedly) she would eat french fries every single day if I let her. But, who wouldn't? 

Clothing- she's in almost exclusively 18 month stuff. Some 12-18 and some 18-24. I'm pretty much done with onesies (getting them snapped while holding her down could be an MMA category) and she's in dresses most of the time anyway because they're just so easy. And adorable. =) 

Mood- she definitely has a stubborn streak and likes to, shall we say, express her displeasure when she is not allowed to do something like chew up paper or eat indefinitely or toss my coasters around the living room. But she remains one of the jolliest babies I've ever seen. She's super friendly (but only from a distance- don't expect her to willingly let you hold her!) and loves to wave at anyone and everyone. She is so sweet and happy almost all the time. (Almost. =)

What a time to be alive!

So happy to be swinging

Amused by the big kids at Chick-fil-A

"Alice, let's brush your teeth!" 

Loves- playing outside

musicals (this makes me so very happy)
Mickey House Clubhouse
Mickey and the Roadster Racers
eating string cheese
eating, period
drinking with a straw
waving at strangers
being tickled
bath time
playing/wrestling with her daddy
reading books
the Moana soundtrack 
being scared (I jump out and startle her all the time and she thinks it's hilarious.)
brushing her teeth
Doesn't Love- naps (whyyyyy)

being in her car seat or stroller for long
being away from me (at least initially)
her pediatrician (he's the sweetest man but she weeps at the sight of him. ha!)
FaceTime (she's into it for like two seconds and that's about it)
being restricted (aka being kept safe, since apparently it's her number one goal to pursue danger)
crowds/being surrounded by too many people 
getting out of the bathtub. She would turn into a raisin if I let her. 
not being able to express herself. (Go ahead and learn more words, babe!)

For the doubters who wonder if she's ever grumpy... um, yes. =)

What I Want to Remember/Milestones- ugh, so many things! She finally has most of her teeth (if you remember, she didn't get any until right before her birthday and only had that one and a couple more for a long time.) She started walking in December and has never looked back- she's practically running now! #terrifying One of my favorite things is that she absolutely LOVES musicals. Her two favorites are Singin' in the Rain and The Music Man. Judge away, but having those downloaded on my phone has saved many a shopping trip from going completely off the rails. (#sorrynotsorry) And it's always fun to explain to strangers that yes, my baby is glued to a movie made in 1952. =) Also, the CUTEST thing she's doing these days is waving at the screen when a movie is over. Stop it. So adorable. And her favorite word, besides Mama, is definitely "book." Everything is "book." And when we tell her that it's time to brush her teeth, she immediately gets a huge grin on her face and then opens her mouth super wide and sticks her tongue out. Weirdo. =)

Driving each other crazy at the mall =)

What I'm Looking Forward To- Easter, her baby dedication, and definitely Auntie Amy's wedding so she can meet so many more aunts, uncles, and cousins! I'm also really looking forward to her talking and being able to communicate more. I may regret those words but for now it's true. =)

Me- I'm feeling really good, at least personally. Losing weight and keeping it off and also maintaining a consistent workout routine for the past several months has made a night and day difference in my energy level and even mindset for taking care of her during the day. I'm more active, more likely to play with her, more likely to swing her around or have an impromptu tap dance party while watching Singin in the Rain for the millionth time. =) I actually saw a video from this time last year where I was jumping up and down in front of her crib to make her laugh and I could hear myself gasping for breath between each jump. So embarrassing! Ha! But I am grateful that I've been able to keep up this new lifestyle since it makes me a much more fun mom. =) And, you know, modeling good healthy choices and all that jazz.

Otherwise, I'm turning a corner into a new "era" with Al and it's challenging. I've learned that being a mom means learning a new skill set, getting good at it, and then leaving it behind when your baby goes on to the next stage, rendering your previous skills useless. =) We're in that early toddler stage where she's big enough to make messes and get hurt but not quite old enough to understand all of my instructions (and definitely not able to express herself clearly to me.) As she develops verbally that will improve, I'm sure, but for now I'm just trying to consistently discipline her (as age-appropriately as I know how) in the major areas that I'm concerned with at the moment (aka obedience and also, you know, not screaming like a pterodactyl. #facepalm) 

But even with the toddler years well underway (yikes!) I am loving so much of this age. I love watching her get excited about new things, and seeing her laugh her head off at the silliest things, and agreeing with the many, many people a week who tell me how pretty she is. =) 

Those baby headphones? Stop it. 

Sassy pants.

Mama's girl <3

I can't believe my baby is a year and a half old. I just can't believe it. It's flown by but I also can't really remember what I did with myself before she was born. (Alone time? What's that?) She's just the best, sweetest, funniest, prettiest, cuddliest little squish and we love her more than anything. A very merry unbirthday to you, Alice from the Palace! 

These Happy Golden Years

These Happy Golden Years

One of my favorite things that I do with Alice is our bedtime reading. After she gets her pajamas on and we brush her teeth and pray, I rock her in the big pink chair in her room and read a chapter of whatever book we're on. We've gone through several series and just finished the Little House on the Prairie books.

 (Disclaimer: yes, they're "over her head" and no, I don't think she's actually understanding them. Chill, folks. We read plenty of age-appropriate picture books, but I choose chapter books for night time because the chapters usually take just the right amount of time to read and I can read them in the dark off my Kindle app. Plus the benefits of reading aloud, etc. Anyway.) 

As you probably know, These Happy Golden Years is the title of the second to last book in the series and it's mostly about Laura's final years at home before her marriage to Almanzo. (#spoileralert, yes she marries "the Wilder boy." Is it a spoiler alert for a 75-year-old book?) I'll be honest- I loved these books but about halfway through The Long Winter I was ready to burn the book to keep warm- that's how sick I was of reading about yet another blizzard. Holy cow. Anyway, this one might have been my very favorite. And in it, Pa sings a song to Laura: 

"Happy years are passing by,
Happy, happy golden years.
Passing on the wings of time,
These happy golden years.

Call them back as they go by,
Sweet their memories are.
Oh, improve them as they fly,
These happy golden years."

Well, like the sap that I am I totally started crying while reading those words to my baby. And I immediately wrote them down and also asked my friend Sara to turn them into a printable for me (which she did and which is currently in my kitchen.) 

I love these words so much. And I love them even more on the days when I am in need of them, if you know what I mean. Days like this whole week when Alice has skipped her naps (heaven help us all.) Or days when I just need to run errands and she is fussy in the car seat or stroller or cart or whatever and is screaming in Target and I'm now that mom who can't make her kid zip it and I want to hide under a pile of bath towels. Or days when I'm in a t-shirt and yoga pants and my hair's wet (again, THAT mom going out with my wet hair up like that's hiding the fact that I look like a drowned rat) and I'm definitely not my best self or anyone's #momgoals by any stretch of the imagination. 

Yes, all those days. 

One thing I've learned so far as an adult is that as young people we tend to pine for the future and as older people we tend to pine for the past. Well, I have no idea what the Lord has in store for me or my family, but I know that these are my happy golden years.

A chubby little baby hand holding my hair. (Or yanking. But still.)

That same chubby hand waving frantically at anyone and everyone who will look her way.

The world's CUTEST baby whose bright blue eyes get comments everywhere we go.

Watching musicals with my toddler. What toddler loves Singin in the Rain and The Music Man- on repeat?? Mine, that's who. 

Pushing the stroller through the neighborhood. Or Hobby Lobby. Same thing. 

Getting big belly laughs with the silliest faces.

Watching Alice light up when her daddy gets home from work. 

String cheese. Green beans. Scrambled eggs. 

Books, books, books. (Everything is "book.") 

Alllll the snuggles. 

And the thing is, I know that fun times are ahead- talking! Independence! Kindergarten! (Wait, did I say fun things?) The fact is, it's easy for me to get overwhelmed by the changes that will happen with Alice in the next few years or even months. Parenting is no joke and the idea that I'm responsible for shaping this girl into a decent human being is mildly terrifying to say the least. 

So even though watching her become her own little person is exciting, I know that (nap strike notwithstanding) these days with my one baby definitely qualify as "happy golden years." 

Whether you're single or engaged or a newlywed or waiting for a baby or wrangling your third, or you're planning your baby's wedding or middle school graduation party... these can be your happy golden years. It may not feel that way, but we can all handle a reminder now and then to savor each season of life. There's good and bad in each one, but they can all be enjoyed to some degree.

And if you ever feel like you are about to lose it, remember that the Ingalls family survived basically nine straight months of blinding snowstorms and near starvation and didn't kill each other. Our lives are definitely happy and golden by comparison. 

P.S. If you want to the file to print this poem for yourself, I'll be happy to email it you. Just let me know. =)