Show Us Your Books Link-Up: 2018 Favorites

Hello, fellow readers! Hope you have had a wonderful Christmas/holiday season. Today is the day we look back over our favorite reads of the year.

I had a lot of great reads this year, and kicked my reading goal's ass with 52 books read, 12 over my goal of 40!



This was such a beautiful read of an emotional puzzle. Deals with marriage and love and fame and work and racism and LGBT+ issues and parenthood and the ties that bind us. Highly recommend. 


If you have any questions/concerns/judgements about poverty in America, read this. It was a supremely logical explanation of the psychology of poverty and provided self-realization (which, for a classic overthinking introvert, is a rare thing). Made me angry, but in a "more aware" way.


So late to the party on this one. But it was Southern creepiness done right.


This book is hard and controversial and I get it, but ugh. Made me think and feel and hurt and cry and rejoice. It questions right and wrong and love and sex and protection and rules and family and youth and life. It is not an easy book or a book you want to read if you live in a black and white world. But if you believe in the gray, it will ruin you in the best way. 


Ahhh! Callie may be one of my favorite characters of the year. She is good and bad and strong and sassy and insecure and I looooooove her. And Millie. And everything about this book. Wonderfully fun in a YA way but so thoughtful. 


This was such a fun roller coaster of a read. It is a collection of stories about females in America. It moves in chronological order, but the stories have nothing to do with one another. Some are fantasy, some are current-day fiction, some have humans as protagonists, some have fantasy or mythological beings as protagonists, some are rich, some are poor, some are black and some are white and some are Hispanic...overall just a super cool collection of stories by females about females. 


 I definitely still found some problematic issues with this book, but I love the way it delves into the divisions and differences within Christianity. Too often, both inside and outside the faith, Christians are painted with a broad stroke. But there is a good bit of diversity within the faith and we all need to acknowledge that. 


Keeping with the somewhat theme of strong women, Circe rocked. She's a quiet but emotional witch from Greek mythology, and one of my favorite characters this year. I can't even describe exactly what it was that I loved about this book, but I just loved it. It was a reminder of myself and a hope and a comfort and...yeah. Sometimes books come at the right time, and for whatever reason this was right for me.

ETA:
 
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
I finally finished Children of Blood and Bone on December 30th, after this link-up went live, but I'm coming back to add because THIS BOOK WAS GREAT. I knew it would be, and I'm so pumped for the rest of the series. The first time I read it I just wasn't in the mindset to focus and give it the proper energy, but that was my issue and no reflection of this book. Once I finally committed, it sucked me in and captured my attention and I loooooved it. Just read it.

What were your favorite reads of 2018? 
Link-up & let us know!
Life According to Steph

Following Your Program



Recently Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess, talked about published a post called Working the Program. She was talking to a friend who was in AA and the friend mentioned working the program, aka "doing the steps you continually need to do to stay healthy."

Jenny struggles with mental health issues and related to this a lot, as do I. I've been thinking about this a little because of listening to the Armchair Expert podcast from Dax Shepherd. He is also in AA and talks about having a list he runs through when he is feeling poorly- has he exercised, reached out to someone, etc...I don't remember exactly because it's been a quick mention here and there but each time it came up it struck me as very smart (lots of things he mentions about AA sound smart and helpful, actually, which is probably why it's been around so long with so many advocates).

While there are some basic things that could probably be on everyone's list- working out, for example- the program is going to look different for everyone. 

Dax has mentioned that he has a weight room in his house that his kids sometimes come into with him and that he hopes that is the one habit his children form before leaving the house, Jenny's doctor prescribed 30 minutes of walking a day, and I definitely tell a dip in mood if I can't go to FiA at least 2x a week.

I'm still figuring out my individual program. 

  • It includes working out.
  • It includes getting up earlier, shockingly enough, so I have enough time to actually wake up before I have to jump into my day. 
  • It means looking around and seeing if there is something in my house I can clean or organize, because being surrounded by a mess stresses me out. 
  • It includes praying and reading my Bible. 
  • It includes spending time with my kid without screens. 
  • It includes reaching out to my friends and planning social time together. 

Most of us probably have things like this that bolster us in life. But I'm a big fan of having it literally spelled out so I think this is worth really considering.

It's hard to dig yourself out of the hole, so anything that helps prevent you from falling in the hole is a good idea.

Show Us Your Books Link-Up: December 2018


Last monthly link-up of the year! And thankfully, the last month has been an awesome reading month.

3 Stars
★★★


This was a similar vein to The Reading Group (see below), but I didn't enjoy it quite as much. It discussed a smaller group of lifelong friends, death and mourning, motherhood, found family, and jealousy. Not a bad read, but not a must read.

Think I found this on the link-up last month. It was...okay. Interesting, but didn't suck me in quite as much as I wanted. May just be over this genre. Basically like reading a Hallmark movie. I didn't really like either of the main female characters...each had moments where they were understandable, and then other moments where they were completely awful. Kind of reminded me of The Marriage Pact- each had a lot of possibility but something about the pace and writing just didn't do it for me. Worth checking out though, if that's your genre.



4 Stars
★★★★  
Continuing my chick-lit/female friendship vibe from last month, this was an enjoyable read. It follows the lives of several women who intertwined to varying degrees, for varying lengths of time. The women join together for a book club, where they rotate taking turns picking a book and discussing it monthly. I am actually not normally a fan of books about books/readers (or songs about songs, FYI), but it was thoughtful and moving and I enjoyed it a lot. Discussed female friendship, family, motherhood, lack of motherhood, love and marriage, adultery, and youth.



This was a really fun fantasy mystery. It follows a doctor to...monsters? Non-humans? Vampires, ghouls, etc. Basic plot problem- someone, or something, is attacking both humans and the undead. Can't exactly go to the police with additional information like "Hey, they are also specifically targeting undead" because...well, the undead aren't supposed to exist and that would just make things worse. So Greta and her Scooby-Doo like gang are on their own. I feel like they identified the problem almost too easily, but giving a pass because I enjoyed the characters and specifically the way modern medicine and traditional monsters interacted. Definitely checking out the rest of the series.



 Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty
 I checked out Caitlin's books after watching her YouTube channel Ask a Mortician. While her second book (From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death) sounds more interesting to me, this one was available right away via audiobook so I downloaded it. It was an interesting sneak peak behind the death industry and worth picking up if you like learning random facts about random things like...the death industry. Caitlin is funny yet respectful and thoughtful. 



5 Stars
★★★★★


This was my favorite read of the month...and will probably stand as one of my favorites of 2018. I had been wanting to read more about Greek mythology and this follows one of the witches, Circe, probably most notable for turning Odysseus' men into pigs in The Odyssey. Some have complained that the pace is very slow or boring, but I personally really enjoyed it. It worked with the idea of an immortal being, the almost calm version of time, unconcerned with the hustle and bustle of hurried and short human lives. I loved the background story and development of what could easily be seen as a villain. I loved Circe's quiet power and determination and sight/intuition. The beginning pushed a little too much of the "non-human" aspect, repeatedly talking about her golden eyes/etc. But thankfully that calmed down after the first quarter of the book or so and everything flowed very smoothly.


What have you read this month? Link-up & let us know!

Life According to Steph

Brittany's Guide to Surviving the Holidays

Hello, lovely people of the internet!

We are officially in full swing of CHRISTMAS/THE HOLIDAY SEASON!

It's the most wonderful time of the year...right?




Kind of.

Some magical things happen at Christmas. But, at least in America, we have rejected the idea of Christmas spirit and instead believe in forced Christmas perfection. Therefore, the holiday season can also make you hate your family and pull your hair out.

Just me? 

Liars, I've read the Facebook and message board complaints! IT'S MOST OF US, at one point or another.




So I lovingly and gracefully bring you BRITTANY'S GUIDE TO SURVIVING THE HOLIDAYS.

You're welcome, folks.



  • Shop EARLY
    •  Okay, I realize we are week into December already so this one may have passed you by already. But my goal is usually December 1st for having purchased all my Christmas presents. It doesn't happen, but I knock about 80% of it out by that point. This can be the most stressful part for me, which is exactly why I do it early. For one, it is better for my budget because I buy gifts mostly one month and then pay for the gas/food/etc of actual holiday celebrations the next month. Also, it means that the biggest stress is out of the way and I can actually enjoy the holiday season's parties/get-togethers/events. Bonus- I avoid the worst of the crowds. I can make time to wrap presents by my pretty tree with hot chocolate and Netflix binging in December way easier than I can make hours to drag my toddler around a crowded mall.

  • Schedule It
    • The great and awful thing about my husband's job is that he does not get the option of taking holidays off, ever. If he's scheduled, he works, the end. However, he knows that schedule way in advance. So in November I went ahead, took the plunge, and said "He's working on Christmas, these are our available dates, when do you want us to show up?"  Everyone has time to accept that we won't be there on the day (but really, who cares, not me) and gets over their crying by the time the holiday actually rolls around. Yay, enjoyed family time not clouded by grumpiness!

  • Actively choose something NOT to do
    • There's so many Christmas activities. So. damn. many. And once you have a kid it's even more intense. Choose something you are NOT going to do. 
    • For me, I don't drive my two year old to large lighting events to stand for hours in the cold. We will do a Christmas Light Scavenger Hunt from the warm comfort of our car, with hot chocolates in our thermos, sure. But no fighting hundreds of other people and paying money for a monstrous display.
    • One of my friends doesn't do Christmas cards. That's fine- personally, I love sending and receiving Christmas cards. But she doesn't, so she opts out.


  • Booze
    • I'm not advocating drunkenness as a lifestyle or even an option for every person. But holidays got a hell of a lot easier once I turned 21. Just sayin'. 


  • Decide what you want your holiday to be about. Stick to your guns.
    • I hear people complain all the time that Christmas just isn't like it used to be, it's too commercial, etc.  I have a family member who was bummed last year that things weren't as family-centered as they used to be. Well one, it's a lot easier when you are 6 versus 60...like most things in life. But I wanted to say "Your family is RIGHT THERE. GO MAKE IT ABOUT YOUR TIME TOGETHER INSTEAD OF WHINING." 
    • I want my Christmas to be about spreading the love of Christ. I've always celebrated Christmas as His birthday, so I want to this season to be an extra push to be more like Him. I will give gifts out of love, not obligation. I will focus on spending time with family, not on perfectly wrapped presents. I will focus on being generous to those around me when I take part of community events rather than being annoyed at people bumping into me because we're in an extremely crowded area.



What is your guide to getting through the holiday season?

Becoming a Friend rather than an Inspiration

Completing the Boho Berry Challenge for October 2018 here on the blog meant I was able to pre-schedule a month's worth of posts. It was kind of awesome.

During that time, I was able to draft several other blogs also- one being my fear of normal. While I wrote this post several weeks ago, it's still something I think about multiple times a week. Figuring out an issue and writing about it is helpful, but it doesn't always immediately solve the problem.

This morning on my way to work, I had another realization.

Not only does normal feel uncomfortable and lazy and close-minded...it feels shameful

Again, I'm supposed to do more and be better than...someone. Or something.

Sounds real stuck-up when phrased that way, but it's how I feel. I don't necessarily know who or what I'm competing against, but it's important to my pride that I...am basically perfect, according to pretty much everyone. Well, not everyone, but most people.

I've pushed this reality down with a lot of excuses over the years.

Oh, I'm just different.

Oh, I don't want to be the kind of person who backs away just because things are hard.

Oh, it's one of the great things of human nature that we can choose to constantly improve instead of remaining stagnant. 

And like...all that is true- to a certain extent.

But in reality, I have linked so much of who I am to what I'm doing externally. You would think after quarter-life crisis due to not getting into grad school originally that I would have learned not to base my entire self-identity on any one aspect of my life...but I didn't.

My husband has this super annoying habit where I will ask him to do something, he'll sigh and say yes but grumble, then tell EVERYONE how demanding I am and what a saint he is. He plays it for comedic relief, but I fucking hate it. JUST SAY NO, JACKASS. Or say yes, and accept that YOU SAID YES and stop painting me like tyrannical bitch.

TBF, he does this almost every aspect of his life and it's just become his nature. It's just most clear with me and with his job. He will volunteer/accept a lot of shit almost on purpose so he has something to complain about later, probably not as dramatically as it seems to me because I take it personally.

I absolutely cannot stand this trait. But while I may strive to not do this on a small daily basis, I did it on a large one by constantly adding more to my plate.

Part of this is culture-I have a friend who has kind of been frustrating to deal with lately. She seems to need to win the "I have it busiest/worst" game. Maybe it's because anytime I hear this now, I think of the Girl's Girls podcast where they flat out said "WE ARE ALL BUSY, NO ONE GIVES A SHIT," but I'm over this topic of conversation.

We are all the star of our own movie. We all think we have it the worse. And sometimes we have it bad, but we don't get to look at one scene from someone else's movie and tell them that they have it good/bad/better/worse than we do.

We don't get to decide when someone else reaches too bad.

And that means we don't get to decide if they are currently struggling because they are on the road to too bad either. 

Until very recently, I felt like I had to play that game and win too. The difference in my friend is that she thinks she automatically is winning just with her current state, and I spent years going "Well if I can't win with my current state, I'm going to one up everyone by adding XYandZ to my plate!"

To be clear, this friend has been a very good friend and helped me out a lot and I love her. I just can't help her right now because I am currently having to help myself (and probably vice versa) and as a helper I want to do that but can't which is frustrating on top of the issue itself- it will smooth out. This is a small, concrete example that recently highlighted a bigger issue I was already reflecting on which is why I'm discussing it here.

I think part of the reason that game is so appealing is because we think it is going to lead to a twisted sense of admiration. "Oh my gosh, look at everything she is dealing with. I just don't know how she does it."

Ugh, even as I type it I want to smack myself. THERE IS SO MUCH WRONG WITH THIS. HOW BLIND HAVE I BEEN. GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER, BRITTANY.

I mean, I want to think of another reason...but I can't.  Why else would we voluntarily punish ourselves?

(I'm sure there is another reason/tendency that is just not coming to me because this is my truth, so feel free to share if you have a different answer)

And that was my long and winding road to the thought I had this morning, which is:

If I start leading the calmer life I actually think feels good and right, I won't be the modern/on-fire type of woman I think I should be.

But while I won't be an inspiration, I feel I'll be a much better friend.

Repeat that sentence, but change the word friend to mother-wife-daughter-granddaughter-Christian-person

I'm always adding labels to myself. And that's fine- I fucking love labels, guys. I know it's super unpopular in today's culture but I do! I like being able to clearly define different aspects of my personality.

But I've been so caught up in adding labels that I have been neglecting the ones I already have.

I've been so caught up in having impressive titles that society-at-large would recognize and respect and validate that I neglected myself and the people who are already in my life.

Guys, I've built a pretty nice life for myself. 

One that lots of people would probably kill for. On the outside it looks totally normal- house, husband, kid, job, church.

But here's the thing- that house, is a home. It is a sanctuary that I still look around after 5 years and go "Ahh." It is a place where I have loved my husband and raised my child and watched drunken Jeopardy with my friend and cried and lived and I am so damn grateful for it literally almost every day. That is sadly not true of all houses.

That husband? I like him. I love him. I am attracted to him both physically and mentally. He stands up for me and teaches me and listens to me and challenges me and drives me crazy and always has my back and he is the one I want by my side for all time. That is sadly not true of all marriages. 

That kid? Physically birthing her changed my mind and body. Some of those changes were hard and some lead to good things and some lead to bad things. But she is so amazing. And I get to see her grow even more amazing every. single. day. She is funny and smart and beautiful. And while the thought of being her mother is incredibly intimidating, the idea of having her on my team* fills me with a crazy unbelievable of joy and excitement! That is sadly not true of all parent-child relationships.

Leslie: It’s not about trying to make your life perfect. Nobody’s lives are perfect. You have kids because you and Andy are a team, and you wanna bring in some new team members. [Parks & Rec, 7:12/13]

That job? To some I would seem overqualified, and to most it sounds dreadfully boring. But it actually fits great with my personality and skill set. It lets me listen to podcasts all day and provides a great work-life balance. That is sadly not true of all jobs.

That church? It can drive me crazy and concern me and challenge me and it's definitely not perfect. But it's a group of people that I truly believe care and wrestle with faith like I do. It's introduced me to some of my best friends, and provided us with a framily here where it could have been so easy to remain outsiders. It provides an opportunity to reach out to the community in small but impactful ways. It nourishes my spiritual growth as a Christian which is vital to my desires and needs and mental health. That is sadly not true of all churches.

My life may look normal...but that doesn't mean it's not kick-ass and amazing, or that I'm not kick-ass and amazing.

Current Thoughts: November 2018


 
 
I decided not to take any classes next semester. One consequence of not registering for this semester is the fact that I will have to re-apply to the program whenever I am ready. Part of me does get a sense of accomplishment and joy from continuing my education, and in a lot of ways the classroom is a very comfortable place for me. But it took a lot of effort to lay down all the things that were adding to my anxiety, and I don't know if it's a good idea for me to pick them right back up already. Every time I think I've decided, something came up that pushed me to the other side. And it's time I recognized that "Maybe I can't handle it" is a good enough reason to pause. 
 


It sometimes worries me that Babycakes might turn into a Super Pretty Girl™. I know all parents think their child is cute, but she truly has the potential to turn into a classic All American Beauty type. I know there is all this hype about Gen Z being less stereotypical than mine but in my head I have this weird concern that since I was not a Super Pretty Girl™ that we will have trouble bonding since our experiences will be so differently (because like it or not, attractiveness does typically have an effect on how you are treated). TBH, this is not a surprise though because my mom is a Super Pretty Girl™ and I had a feeling my child would be as different from me as I am for her so...I sort of expected it. Still don't know how to handle it. 


 
I don't know if it's age or specifically having a child (both physically carrying/birthing her and/or having a little person to care for) but Daylight Savings Time is friggin' killing me. I can tell I am waking up and only being half-asleep for the last hour or so before my alarm goes off, regardless of how early I go to bed or how quickly I fall asleep (and snore, which is how you can tell I am OUT according to Hubs). So I am tired all day...plus Babycakes is waking up at 5:30 ready for her day. Very perky, and way before Mama has downed her coffee. 
 

 
 

What's up with you lately?

My Prayer Life

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash


Lately I've been thinking a lot about prayer. I've been trying to pray more, because if I claim to be a Christian then I should want to talk my Savior right?

But guys...it's hard. It's kind of weird to talk to someone/something that doesn't respond like a human or any other being I've ever had contact with. Even my dog will look at me and make expressions or move in a way that I've come to understand.

But the Lord doesn't always answer in a super clear manner. And because prayer doesn't have the same back-and-forth rhythm of conversation that I'm used to, I've gotten into a very lame routine.

My prayers basically consist of going "Oh thanks for XYZ, Lord. And can you please fix ABC? Kthanksloveyoubye." 

That's a pretty crappy way to talk to someone who is supposed to be the center of my life. 

Granted, I do try to do it a little more in-depth and respectfully than that. But essentially, it's very repetitive and consists of a Praise and a Please.

I'm not exactly sure what to do about this. But I want my conversation with Jesus to be more. It drives me bananas when Hubby is just going through motions of conversation with me instead of really paying attention. And that's essentially what I'm doing to the Lord.

I don't really have an answer for this...I'm working through it. 

But one thing I'm trying is to include a time of silence within my prayer time instead of filling it with those incessant requests just to keep up the idea of a conversation.

Dan Rather, CBS anchor, once asked Mother Teresa what she said during her prayers. She answered, "I listen." So Rather turned the question and asked, "Well then, what does God say?" To that Mother Teresa smiled with confidence and answered, "He listens."
Source

We could all stand to listen a little more.

Bookshelf Scavenger Hunt

Borrowed from Jana who borrowed from someone else. Some of them I've read, some I haven't...but here we are.



A title that starts with N
In the summer of 1864, sixteen-year-old Rhoda Strong lives in the Lumbee Indian settlement of Robeson County, North Carolina, which has become a pawn in the bloody struggle between the Union and Confederate armies. The community is besieged by the marauding Union Army as well as the desperate Home Guard who are hell-bent on conscripting the young men into deadly forced labor. Daughter of a Scotsman and his formidable Lumbee wife, Rhoda is fiercely loyal to her family and desperately fears for their safety, but her love for the outlaw hero Henry Berry Lowrie forces her to cast her lot with danger. Her struggle becomes part of the community's in a powerful story of love and survival. Nowhere Else on Earth is a moving saga that magnificently captures a little-known piece of American history.

    A cover that’s mostly brown
You've seen the fantastical films—now, discover what life was really like aboard a pirate ship!
No need for a bottle of rum to enjoy the exploits of these famous and fearsome swashbucklers.
There's a galleon's worth of daredevil action in this awesome exploration of the weapons, adventures,
legends, language, and lost treasures of the pirate world. A famous cast of characters make their appearance—a rogue's gallery of notorious names from Blackbeard to Calico Jack to Captain Kidd. Find out about their hand-thrown projectiles, pistols, and cutlasses; the punishment and torture they meted out; and even their most famous song. Cool maps and plenty of pictures of men, ships, and flags make this the book that armchair pirates dreaming of the high seas will want!
 

A book based on a true story
The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan
Partial Goodreads description: Set at a moment of profound artistic, cultural, and societal change, The Painted Girls is a tale of two remarkable sisters rendered uniquely vulnerable to the darker impulses of "civilized society." In the end, each will come to realize that her salvation, if not survival, lies with the other. Marie throws herself into dance and is soon modeling in the studio of Edgar Degas, where her image will forever be immortalized as Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. There she meets a wealthy male patron of the ballet, but might the assistance he offers come with strings attached? Meanwhile Antoinette, derailed by her love for the dangerous Émile Abadie, must choose between honest labor and the more profitable avenues open to a young woman of the Parisian demimonde.

A book with multiple perspectives
Bound South by Susan Rebecca White
Partial Goodreads description: From the outside, Louise Parker seems like a proper Southern matron. But inside, Louise seethes. She’s thwarted by her seemingly perfect husband, frustrated with her talented but rebellious daughter, scarred by her philandering father, and exasperated by her unstable mother. A gifted actress, Louise’s daughter Caroline can make any character seem real when she takes the stage. But Caroline is lost when it comes to relationships, especially when dealing with her mother. Missy loves Jesus nearly as much as she misses her father, a part-time minister who deserted his family when Missy was three. She accompanies her mother to work as a maid at the Parker residence, for two reasons: to help her mother to clean the house and to save the Parkers’ irreverent son Charles.By turns hilarious and poignant, this is a richly compelling debut novel of family, friendship, and folly.

A book you read last year
Turtles All The Way Down by John Green
Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis. Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.
  
    The book you bought most recently
    A book written this year
(I'm combining these two)
An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green
The Carls just appeared. Coming home from work at three a.m., twenty-three-year-old April May stumbles across a giant sculpture. Delighted by its appearance and craftsmanship--like a ten-foot-tall Transformer wearing a suit of samurai armor--April and her friend Andy make a video with it, which Andy uploads to YouTube. The next day April wakes up to a viral video and a new life. News quickly spreads that there are Carls in dozens of cities around the world--everywhere from Beijing to Buenos Aires--and April, as their first documentarian, finds herself at the center of an intense international media spotlight. Now April has to deal with the pressure on her relationships, her identity, and her safety that this new position brings, all while being on the front lines of the quest to find out not just what the Carls are, but what they want from us.  

A cover you don’t like
Lucky Us by Amy Bloom
Brilliantly written, deeply moving, fantastically funny, Lucky Us introduces us to Eva and Iris. Disappointed by their families, Iris, the hopeful star, and Eva, the sidekick, journey across 1940s America in search of fame and fortune. Iris's ambitions take them from small-town Ohio to an unexpected and sensuous Hollywood, across the America of Reinvention in a stolen station wagon, to the jazz clubs and golden mansions of Long Island. With their friends in high and low places, Iris and Eva stumble and shine through a landscape of big dreams, scandals, betrayals, and war. Filled with gorgeous writing, memorable characters, and surprising events, Lucky Us is a thrilling and resonant novel about success and failure, good luck and bad, the creation of a family, and the pleasures and inevitable perils of family life. From Brooklyn's beauty parlors to London's West End, a group of unforgettable people love, lie, cheat, and survive in this story of our fragile, absurd, heroic species. 
  
A retelling
Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers
California's gold country, 1850. A time when men sold their souls for a bag of gold and women sold their bodies for a place to sleep. Angel expects nothing from men but betrayal. Sold into prostitution as a child she survives by keeping her hatred alive. Then she meets Michael Hosea. A man who seeks his Father's heart in everything, Michael obeys God's call to marry Angel and to love her unconditionally. But with her unexpected softening come overwhelming feelings of unworthiness and fear. And so Angel runs. Back to the darkness, away from her husband's pursuing love, terrified of the truth she no longer can deny: Her final healing must come from the One who loves her even more than Michael does ... the One who will never let her go.

A book that’s also a movie TV show
Doctor Who: The Silent Stars Go By & Touched by an Angel by Dan Abnett and Jonathan Morris

The Silent Stars Go By: The winter festival is approaching for the hardy colony of Morphans, but no one is in the mood to celebrate. They're trying to build a new life on a cold new world, but each year it gets harder and harder. It's almost as though some dark force is working against them. Then three mysterious travelers arrive out of the midwinter night. Are they bringing the gift of salvation, or doom? What else lurks out there in the dark--and what else might be about to wake up?

Touched by an Angel: In 2003, Rebecca Whitaker died in a road accident. Her husband Mark is still grieving when he receives a battered envelope posted eight years earlier, containing a set of instructions with a simple message: "You can save her." As Mark is given the chance to save Rebecca, it's up to the Doctor, Amy, and Rory to save the whole world--because this time the Weeping Angels are using history itself as a weapon.

   
A nonfiction book
The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin
Gretchen Rubin had an epiphany one rainy afternoon in the unlikeliest of places: a city bus. “The days are long, but the years are short,” she realized. “Time is passing, and I’m not focusing enough on the things that really matter.” In that moment, she decided to dedicate a year to her happiness project. In this lively and compelling account, Rubin chronicles her adventures during the twelve months she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific research, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier. Among other things, she found that novelty and challenge are powerful sources of happiness; that money can help buy happiness, when spent wisely; that outer order contributes to inner calm; and that the very smallest of changes can make the biggest difference.
  
A book you’ve told others to read
Scandalous Women: The Lives and Loves of History's Most Notorious Women by Elizabeth Kerri Mahon
Throughout history women have caused wars, defied the rules, and brought men to their knees. The famous and the infamous, queens, divorcées, actresses, and outlaws have created a ruckus during their lifetimes-turning heads while making waves. Scandalous Women tells the stories of the risk takers who have flouted convention, beaten the odds, and determined the course of world events.

A book with a tree on the cover
Bag of Bones by Stephen King
Four years after the sudden death of his wife, forty-year-old bestselling novelist Mike Noonan is still grieving. Unable to write, and plagued by vivid nightmares set at the western Maine summerhouse he calls Sara Laughs, Mike reluctantly returns to the lakeside getaway. There, he finds his beloved Yankee town held in the grip of a powerful millionaire, Max Devore, whose vindictive purpose is to take his three-year-old granddaughter, Kyra, away from her widowed young mother, Mattie. As Mike is drawn into Mattie and Kyra's struggle, as he falls in love with both of them, he is also drawn into the mystery of Sara Laughs, now the site of ghostly visitations and escalating terrors. What are the forces that have been unleashed here—and what do they want of Mike Noonan?
    
A book with an author who has the same name as you
I didn't have a single thing for this category...so here are the Shutterfly photo books I made for our family, which I guess are by ME! Bahaha. Babycakes loves looking through these- I have one for my pregnancy/her first year of life, and then one for last year. Hoping to make this a tradition and do one each year. They're a lot of fun and pretty easy!

A book you’ve read more than once
Born in Ice by Nora Roberts
When the harsh storms of winter descended upon western Ireland, the locals stayed indoors - and visitors stayed away. Brianna Concannon's bed-and-breakfast became a cold and empty place. But that was fine with Brianna. She enjoyed the peace and quiet, even when the icy winds howled at her window. But this year, cool, capable and thoroughly domestic Brianna is expecting an unusual guest - mystery writer Grayson Thane, from America. A restless wanderer with a painful past, he plans to spend the cold winter alone. But sometimes fate has a plan of its own. Sometimes a fire can be born in ice...

A book you didn’t finish
The Way We Never Were: American Families & the Nostalgia Trap by Stephanie Coontz
The Way We Never Were examines two centuries of American family life and shatters a series of myths and half-truths that burden modern families. Placing current family dilemmas in the context of far-reaching economic, political, and demographic changes, Coontz sheds new light on such contemporary concerns as parenting, privacy, love, the division of labor along gender lines, the black family, feminism, and sexual practice.
   
A book with a king in it
The Story of King Arthur and His Knights by Howard Pyle

In this enchanting version of the story of King Arthur, the renowned American illustrator and storyteller Howard Pyle displays his unique talent for capturing and stimulating the imagination of the young. Inventively retold and vividly illustrated, these stories describe the perilous and thrilling adventures of King Arthur and his knights in that glorious age of chivalry and honour. After showing how Arthur established his right to the throne by drawing the sword from the anvil, the author then relates the story of Arthur's battle with the Sable Knight and his securing the sword Excalibur. He tells of Arthur's confrontations with the Duke of North Umber and Sir Pellias, describes King Arthur's wooing and wedding the Lady Guinevere, and tells of the establishment of the Round Table. Tales are told, too, of Arthur's knights, including Sir Pellias or the Gentle Knight and of course, Sir Gawaine.

A book that’s purple without the dust cover on i
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by Harry Potter
When Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince opens, the war against Voldemort has begun. The Wizarding world has split down the middle, and as the casualties mount, the effects even spill over onto the Muggles. Dumbledore is away from Hogwarts for long periods, and the Order of the Phoenix has suffered grievous losses. And yet, as in all wars, life goes on. Harry becomes captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team, while Draco Malfoy pursues his own dark ends. And classes are as fascinating and confounding as ever, as Harry receives some extraordinary help in Potions from the mysterious Half-Blood Prince. Most importantly, Dumbledore and Harry work together to uncover the full and complex story of a boy once named Tom Riddle—the boy who became Lord Voldemort.  [sic] the teenaged Riddle became deeply interested in the Dark objects known as Horcruxes: objects in which a wizard can hide part of his soul, if he dares splinter that soul through murder. Harry must use all the tools at his disposal to draw a final secret out of one of Riddle’s teachers, the sly Potions professor Horace Slughorn. Finally Harry and Dumbledore hold the key to the Dark Lord’s weaknesses... until a shocking reversal exposes Dumbledore’s own vulnerabilities, and casts Harry’s—and Hogwarts’s—future in shadow.

A book you’ll read by the end of the year
The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan
Tom Cole, the grandson of a legendary local hero, has inherited an uncanny knack for reading the Niagara River's whims and performing daring feats of rescue at the mighty falls. And like the tumultuous meeting of the cataract's waters with the rocks below, a chance encounter between Tom and 17-year-old Bess Heath has an explosive effect. When they first meet on a trolley platform, Bess immediately recognizes the chemistry between them, and the feeling is mutual. But the hopes of young love are constrained by the 1915 conventions of Niagara Falls, Ontario. Tom's working-class pedigree doesn't suit Bess's family, despite their recent fall from grace. Set against the resounding backdrop of the falls, Cathy Marie Buchanan's carefully researched, capaciously imagined debut novel entwines the romantic trials of a young couple with the historical drama of the exploitation of the river's natural resources. Skillfully portraying individuals, families, a community, and an environment imperiled by progress and the devastations of the Great War, The Day the Falls Stood Still beautifully evokes the wild wonder of its setting, a wonder that always overcomes any attempt to tame it. But at the same time, Buchanan's tale never loses hold of the gripping emotions of Tom and Bess's intimate drama. The result is a transporting novel that captures both the majesty of nature and the mystery of love.

What's on your bookshelf?

Yay, Me!


Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash


A few weeks ago Emily posted about the importance of tooting your own horn.

This is not something that seems natural, or even fun to me most days. But I think it's something that I need to do more- in fact, most people probably don't do this enough.

I really, really dislike arrogance. It's one of my least favorite traits in a person.

But this isn't really about that...because arrogance is when you need other people to know how great you are.

This is about reminding yourself how great you are.

So here's some things that have happened in my life that I am happy to have accomplished, and even yes, proud of.

  • Happily married to my high school sweetheart for over a decade.
  • Became the first person in my family to obtain a college degree! 
  • Ran a 5K, and am signed up to run another!
  • Blogged for a decade.
  • Went on a cruise to the Bahamas.
  • Mothered a super cool kid. 
  • Went white-water rafting. 
  • Cared for two doggies for over 9 years. 
  • Trained multiple employees within my department. 
  • Obtained a job that is well-suited to my personality and allows for a good work/life balance.
  • Read over 450 books (possibly more, but that's what I have tracked via Goodreads). 
  • Been accepted to graduate school.
  • Bought a house and made it a home.

I started to explain or talk about these...and then I realized, nope. I don't need to justify them to anyone. I'm proud of all these things, they make me happy, and the memories strengthen me.

What's on your "Yay, Me" list?

Morning Devotions


 original photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

 I've never been a morning person. It comes honest- my mom was legit the worst person in the morning. We are big on our sleep and take a while to become functional.

I thought for most of my life (until about 4 months ago) that because I wasn't a morning person, I needed to sleep as late as possible in the mornings and get ready as quickly as possible before rushing out the door. That's what makes sense, right?

But I am slowly learning that...that's not what works best for me.

My favorite times are Saturdays. I can get up early and don't get dressed until at least 9:00-10:00. I can take an hour to drink my coffee. I can give my body and mind the time it needs to prepare for the day.

Recently, I've started doing this on the weekdays too. I've started getting up an hour earlier...and it's been magic.

The catalyst for this change was my church. The church has been portable for years- meaning, we didn't have a specific building just for church. Over the years there were something like 4-5 different meeting places as the church grew. So this was a big deal. And in the weeks before our first official service in this building, church leadership challenged us to fast alongside them.

Fasting traditionally refers to abstaining from food and/or drink, for the purpose of growing closer to God. This has historically happened across many religions, feel free to google.

However my church also suggested things like "fasting" from social media or from the snooze button. I had been kicking around the idea of following a more scheduled bedtime/morning routine so this seemed like a good reason to go for it.

Because fasting, at least within Christianity, is supposed to be done for a purpose and to draw closer to the Lord, I decided to use this "extra" time in the morning to read my Bible.  My church also had a devotional prepared for this time period, which was great.

I didn't gain time exactly, by this practice. I was still eating breakfast and getting dressed and getting Babycakes ready at the same times.

But I gained clarity. The extra time made all those mundane morning preparations go faster and smoother.

I gained peace. Taking time to center myself and focus on Christ has been wonderful and hopeful and peaceful.

I gained spiritual growth. I'm still great at talking about my faith naturally (TBF, I'm not great at talking in general). This is hard to explain and probably where non-religious folks will get wary. But I feel...more focused. More in touch and more likely to remember I am surrounded by the Holy Spirit.

Not saying I am magically calm and peaceful and serene constantly with the light of Christ just shining out. But...I'm closer than I was before.

Update on Anxiety Meds

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash


My provider stated that it would take 4-6 weeks for my medication to really even out and get in my system. It's been longer than that, so it feels like a good time to do a personal review.

I definitely feel like it's helped a lot. 

Instead of living at an anxiety level of 5 and peaking at 7-8, I am now living at a 1-2 and peaking at maybe a 4-5. Not only are the peaks lower, they are much further apart and last for less time. So overall definitely an improvement. I feel actually happy and energized.

It's the energized that is the strangest to me me. 

I've been focusing on my faith more, along with working through some of the steps of The Happiness Project like developing my Personal Commandments. So I don't think all the improvements in my mental health are solely due to the medication; but it's been so long since I could properly motivate myself that this feels super weird.

I definitely had some high points that I'm almost certain were caused by the medication specifically- for like 2 days I couldn't stop smiling, which is very weird since I normally have a pretty strong case of RBF. Also sometimes when sitting down and talking to hubs I would notice that I was bouncing or swaying side to side. These weren't drastic or something that prevented me from going about my day to day, but it was noticeable if you paid attention for longer than 30 seconds at a time.

These have both decreased but I still find myself wanting to move...not in a bad way necessarily, but I can just tell I have energy that is not being used. This can be good- my house is more organized and cleaner, I'm more interactive with my kid, tasks are being done in a timely manner, etc.

But it's weird to wonder if this is me or the medication. 

To be 100% clear, I am so thankful for the medication. 

And as far as side effects go, this one could even be seen as a really positive one. This is just a difference I have noticed, and I don't know if it's me getting back to my "normal" state or a side effect of the medicine or if I actually was depressed and didn't know it (because I really thought it was only anxiety, not depression).

I am almost hesitant to even talk about this, because I know multiple people who were on anxiety medication but kind of...resented it in a way? That's not really the right word, but they were never comfortable having to take medication every day. And that is not the place I'm in. I am 100% okay with taking this. I love it the way I love birth control- you may not need it, it may take a few tries to find the right one, but it's fucking amazing and everyone should have it as an option and some of us may need it for a short season and some a long one and that's fine either way.

I talked to one of those friends and mentioned this, and they agreed that it made it easier to focus.

This doesn't even feel like focus though. More...efficiency. I'm just doing stuff, with so much more clarity and energy than I have in years. I sat down this morning and made a list of ideas for stocking stuffers for both Babycakes and Hubby.  Normally this would be a soul-sucking energy drain that I spent hours on, and I was done within 30 minutes.

I think I mentioned that Hubby has said he can't tell a difference since I started, other than the smiling thing (which he only realized after I pointed it out).

But I think maybe this is the biggest thing. 

If my anxiety was all internal, the sense of relief is internal also. I don't feel manic- I'm not necessarily doing more than I was before, especially since I've dropped my class. But I am doing things faster and I feel lighter. I'm getting through things almost without realizing it, instead of dreading it.

It's really, really great.

Show Us Your Books Link-Up: November 2018


Hello, fellow readers! Hope it's been a great reading month for you. I have passed my Goodreads goal of 40 books for the year with 44. Seeing as how we are officially into the Holiday Season (which is basically October-November-December), it's nice to know that the (very light and self-applied) pressure is off, since stress either makes me read EVERYTHING or NOTHING.

That being said, here is what I read this past month.

I really enjoyed this book! Self-help type books are usually either hit-or-miss, depending on my mood, where I love them completely or hate them with every fiber of my being. This one I loved. It almost doesn't feel like Happiness is the correct term for this book, although that is what is used every other sentence.  It may have been started in an attempt to be happier, but it really seemed more like a plan to live out her general life values, and that's something I have been kicking around in my own head for the past few years anyway. If you enjoy thinking about your core values and/or applying a logical approach to your life, give it a read. People have complained that Rubin is a well-to-do white woman in modern America, so it's stupid to the point of offense that she is preaching about happiness. However- I think it's a perfect example of the human tendency to believe that everything would be better "if," while never actually being satisfied when we get to that special place with the greener grass.

Side note- I actually bought Rubin's other book, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, first but she referred back to The Happiness Project so much that I had to stop and read it first. I will definitely be reading the Habits book but I'm still mulling around The Happiness Project right now.


This book has been on my TBR for years guys. I had the hardest time finding it, but didn't want to pay $25+ for it either.  Eventually I was able to get it through a InterLibrary Loan via the NC University system- yeah, it was that intense to track down! But after reading, I kind of understood why. It seems that this started as a thesis, and the author was either a TA or very new professor. So while it was interesting, it very much read like a long paper versus a story, if that makes sense. Things were summarized more than they needed to be, etc. It focused specifically on "heavily tattooed women," so women with sleeves and much more of their body covered than myself (I have multiple tattoos but they are small and discrete). It was an interesting read, but just be prepared for the writing style.

I found this randomly at my local used book store, on a day when I was apparently in the mood for female-focused stories. I didn't know necessarily that this series was Christian-faith based, so that was a nice surprise. This was a nice story about friendship and faith and family and chasing dreams.

Ditto the above. I liked the backstory for SOTL much better, the beginning of this story was a little awkward but it smoothed out into a good story. I sincerely hope the insight on Hawaiian culture was well-researched and honoring to the culture, because it was central to the story and beautiful and it will bum me out if it was just white-washed fiction.

What have you been reading this month? 
Link-up & let us know!



Life According to Steph