Show Us Your Books: 2017 Favorites

Merry Christmas! Hope it was wonderful!

and if you don't celebrate, hope you had a good day anyway.

As an extra special gift, it's time for a special edition of Show Us Your Books! Today is all about your favorite books that you've read this year. Here's mine:

I can't recommend this series enough. Three very different women, all trained assassins, and old gods and myths and love and Death and royal politics and war...a great read.

I can't say it any differently- if you have EVER wanted to truly understand the phrase "rape culture," read this book already. It lays it out. It takes a long time to do so- because it's nuanced and important...but the payoff is so huge.

This was great in so many ways. Classic John Green and his introspective teenagers, which I am a sucker for. When you add in representation of OCD and's a win. It's a 2017 win.

Ahhhhh OMG I loved this one. It was everything I wanted in a book. The characters were relate-able and lovable and infuriating and I've met those Mothers so many times in my life. 

Again, everything I wanted in a book. The characters were so real and the relationships were so raw and there was pain and endurance and the slightest hint of bittersweet hope and ugh. Broke my heart so good. 

Sometimes we need a reality check. This is it. Hilarious and insightful- you can't lose.

A super fun and cute and vivid sci-fi reinterpretation of several classic fairytales. Touches on stereotypes and mental health and PTSD and lots of other important things.

This is one of those book that has been a slow burn. I return to it often. It's a fictional account of the lives of the five women mentioned in the lineage of Jesus Christ. I never really paid attention, honestly- those "X begat Y" verses are super easy to skip. But every one of these women had their morality questioned...but they lead to a miracle. It's made me so much...less righteous. How do I know the mistakes I believe I witness aren't leading to something amazing?
Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

 What were your favorite reads of 2017?

Life According to Steph

Celebrating a Christian Christmas


Every year, there seems to be a lot of talk about Christmas is getting more and more commercialized. 

I think everyone hears this at least a little, but it's definitely talked about within the Christian community.

The hard part is...sometimes I'm not sure exactly what it is people are mad about. A cashier saying "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas?" What the cup they drink their 5$ coffee cup out of looks like?

I just have trouble going "Yep, you're right, that's what my Christmas is all about!"

Supposedly it's all about keeping Christ in Christmas. Which, as a Christian, I am ALL FOR. But...I just don't think it comes down to yelling at a cashier.

And these same people are also the ones who would be SUPER upset if I give my kid gifts from me and my husband instead of Santa...but that's another whole conversation.

I'm not personally upset about other people celebrating a holiday differently than I do, or not celebrating at all. Actually, I'm kind of grateful.

Because it's making me really stop and think about what it means to celebrate Christmas as a Christian. Shouldn't it be about more than a flippant saying as I leave a store, where I just spent hundreds of dollars? How is showering my child with dozens of presents from a fat guy with a beard teaching her about the Savior of the World?

What exactly is it that will make Christmas a Christian holiday in my home?

Here are some ideas I have come up with so far:
  • The Giving Manger
    •  The link takes you to an "official" kit, which is gorgeous and I kind of really want. But, I also read about someone who just made their own. All you need is a basket, a baby doll, and "straw." Each day in December, you perform an act of service for someone. It can be big or small, but it's about teaching kids (and reminding adults) to be like Christ by serving the people around us. 
  • Donating Toys & Clothes
    • I remember my mom talking about going through my old toys and clothes around November for donations. It's partly self-serving, because it basically just makes room for new things that will show up soon. But it also teaches how to not be hoarder and generosity and other good stuff. Nowadays there are probably more regulations and lots of shelters, etc want new items- which I totally understand! But even if it means buying new things for others, I really want to make a point of helping others. Which leads into...
  • Operation Christmas Child
    •  We've done this every year for the past 2-3 years. You fill up a cardboard box or other similar sized container with gifts for children and they are distributed (along with Christian pamphlets) by Christian missionaries.
  • Singing Happy Birthday & Birthday Cake on Christmas Day 
    • Yes, this one is kind of silly. But it's the holidays! I always had to say "Happy Birthday Jesus!" before opening any presents from Santa. I'd like to kick that up a notch and do a cake and sing and the whole nine yards. Plus, birthday cake is Tank's favorite. And there are lots of "birthday cake" options- cookies/fudge/dip/etc. Just a little something to tie a traditional birthday celebration into Christmas.
  • Three Gifts from Santa
    •  I was always told that we exchange gifts at Christmas to represent the gifts that the Wise Men brought Jesus. And while I have really fond memories of lots of toys around the tree...I really, really don't want to turn into one of those people who goes crazy with presents. I can already tell it's going to be suuuuuper hard. But hopefully this rule would help keep that in check and also further cement Christ's birth as the center of our Christmas celebrations. We will give additional presents as parents (maybe the four categories) and obviously the grandparents and other family members won't have a limit or anything (because they wouldn't listen if we tried).

Tank & I haven't officially decided on all of these (or even discussed, actually, some of this is just me thinking out loud); Babycakes is still small- not even two. We have some time to figure it out...but I'm actually really grateful for this "war on Christmas" theory that has forced me to examine my beliefs.

I am grateful to have a close group of Christian friends to talk about this with thoughtfully and non-judgmentally. I'm grateful that despite the culture I'm in, good or bad, Jesus is constant. 

Oh, and we also will do some standard not-specifically Christian Christmas things. We go look at lights, either by ourselves or with a city tour, we watch Christmas movies like The Grinch, etc.

And since we are often out of town visiting family I started a tradition of making orange rolls on Christmas morning. I can do this wherever we are, and it can be enjoyed by everyone, at any age, for many years. Traditions that are reliant on a specific location or time or schedule just aren't logical for our family.

If you celebrate a Christian Christmas, what Christ-focused traditions do you enjoy? 

Photo by Gareth Harper on Unsplash, edited with Canva

Three Things: Christmas Edition 2017

 photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash, edited with Canva

Borrowed this from Jana Says, who borrowed it from someone else.

3 Things I Love about Christmas

  1. Decorated Christmas trees. I never think I care...but then I see my tree lit up and it's so peaceful and joyous.
  2. Stockings by the fireplace. Seriously, what is more homey and Christmas-y?
  3. Candelight Christmas services at church. I don't always get to attend, because I have to travel so much to see family and sometimes schedules just don't work out. But they are beautiful and moving every time.

3 Things I Dislike about Christmas

  1. The Elf on the Shelf phenomenon. This was Jana's but YEP. Or actually, NOPE. It's a no for me.
  2. Trying to coordinate schedules with family, and then family acting butt-hurt that they have to be scheduled. Dude, it's life. No, no one single person or family is the MOST important thing in the world. I'm not three, neither is my husband, we gots shit to do and people to see even in December.
  3. Trying to decide what to get people and how much to spend and what they want.

3 Favorite Christmas Movies

  1. Eloise at the Plaza.
  2. The Grinch (mainly because Hubs likes it).
  3. A Christmas Story? Idk, I'm really not huge on the movies.

3 Favorite Christmas Treats

  1. No bake goodies- they are basically peanut butter balls with chocolate chips & powdered sugar & nuts & condensed milk. My mom (who is not a baking type) makes them every year and they are so yummy!
  2. Cider. It's a great drink anytime it's cold, but even better at Christmas (by the fire with the stockings hung, duh).
  3. Eggnog. It's a desert you can spike & drink- yes, please!

3 Favorite Christmas Traditions

  1. Driving around to see Christmas lights. Since we are out of town so much and can't count on doing specific things at specific houses on specific days, our "tradition" for our family (ie us & kids) is to ride around looking at lights. We do a city tour and/or a "scavenger hunt" (found on Pinterest). We can do it anytime and anyplace.
  2. My husband & sister have an ongoing war to give each other embarrassing gifts or gifts that are crazily wrapped (like, three layers of duct-tape or glue). I don't participate but it's funny to watch.
  3. Does opening presents count? I mean, it's pretty fun.

3 Favorite Christmas Songs

  1. Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree
  2. Baby It's Cold Outside (yes, I understand it could be problematic- I choose to view it as coy & playful)
  3. All I Want for Christmas is You, cheesy but fun.

3 Favorite Christmas Gifts Received

I really don't know! Strangely I tend to remember birthday gifts better. Christmas presents get lost in the shuffle of the holiday.
  1. Oh, my Pandora bracelet. That was a really good one from hubs.
  2. My MIL always buys me Barnes & Nobles gift cards- WIN!
  3. I'm out.

3 Gifts I Want to Give the World

  1. Compassion. There is not enough of it in this world.
  2. Open-mindedness. Put yourself in someone else's shoes. Daily. Hourly. Consider it from the other side. We will not solve the world's problem until we learn to respect each other's positions. Ask why.
  3. Hope. Sometimes this feels like a foolish burden of it's own...but it's how we survive.

Current Thoughts: December 2016

  • Already had a family fight regarding Christmas! But, kinda glad we got it out of the way early. Now everyone knows that everyone is unhappy with reality (re: multiple families and inconvenient work schedules and ya know, the fact that we can't duplicate ourselves to be everywhere at once) but we're gonna smile like we enjoy the holidays anyway.

  •  While I super love my non-denominational "contemporary" church, I feel myself drawn more and more to the traditional habits of the Christian faith. We don't do Communion every week, but it affects me whenever we do. Baptisms make me cry, with hope and joy and faith. I want to do more research about these traditional practices but I'm not sure where to go- I don't want just a dry history book. I want something living and breathing the faith of those who follow Jesus. 

  • Took a sick day recently- a legitimate, home in bed alone sick day. Y'all, I needed that. It was 60% physically sick, 40% mental health day. I can't remember the last time I had a day where I did nothing but take care of myself. Usually my "sick" days include taking care of Babycakes, or when she goes to visit the grandparents and I'm "off" Mommy Duty I am still on Wife/Adult duty and bust my butt trying to tackle projects around the house that are difficult with her around.  We did a ton of stuff this weekend, basically our immediate family Christmas celebrations (pictures with Santa, city Christmas lights tour, a birthday party) plus a ton of cleaning and I think the busyness (that looks wrong...) plus the nasty weather just took me down (thinking allergies or a sinus infection, because Hubs & Babycakes are fine, which is why I sent her to daycare). But I feel restored in my soul. Honestly, I need to do that more. Probably need to just schedule an actual mental health day for myself every few months. 

  •  Babycakes' daycare is closed for a full week after Christmas. I'm kind of terrified to be home with her alone that long. It will be the longest time since my maternity leave. I feel like some people think that is weird or bad, but umm...being a SAHM is a specific skill that I haven't fully developed yet. I love my daughter fiercely, and I'm sure there will be some magical moments and I'm so thankful for the time with her. But the fallout from routine will be hard and being 100% responsible for another human drains me sometimes, even when it's also what fills me up. I am already putting out the SOS call to my SAHM friends and asking them to help! Thankfully, they are awesome and gave me suggestions of stuff to do throughout the week and volunteered to hang out with us.

  • I ended up with a 92 in my class!!!! Whoop whoop, yay me, not bad for a 5 year break and working full time and mommying and general adulting.

What's up with you lately? 

Show Us Your Books: December 2017

It's the last SUYB of 2017!!

Actually, that's not true- because in a few weeks on Dec 26th there is the 2017 Favorites link-up.

There are many more books on that list than this one...apparently I've been a bit of a slacker lately.

This book...made me think SO MANY THINGS. It's about a Catholic priest who breaks his vow of celibacy. It discusses sex and religion and while there are things that are obviously sacrilegious and hard for me to's also a freakin' beautiful look at faith and love and lust and grief and responsibility and sexuality and...a completely worthwhile read. It's rare to see a true mix of secular living and desire so fiercely intertwined with a soul deep faith. Full disclosure- I'm not Catholic. But I don't think you have to be to get something from this story- if you have ever felt at all close to a God or a religion, or are curious, it's there.

Dysfunctional family with secret letters hidden in books, which are taking over an old house. I put this on hold literally within 60 seconds of reading the description, which proved to be a solid life choice.

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

I did a thing!

     ecard by Kristi3655

There is a free workout group in my town, and thanks to a good friend agreeing to go with me I have been going pretty regularly for the past few weeks.

Recently there was a burpee challenge- do 30 burpees every day for 15 days. 

Possibly inspired by this article, or maybe just thought up out of nowhere. I don't know.

But I did it. 

Every. Single. Day.

I literally forced myself out of bed one night because I had forgotten to do it before laying in bed after my shower.

I ran (half walked) a 5K like 3 years ago, but other than that this is the first "challenge" or physical event I've ever done.

It's not changing the world, but it's a personal milestone. 


Christmas Gifts that Keep Giving

While lots of people celebrate the winter holidays differently, almost everyone gives presents. Everyone. You might purchase them for a different reason or wrap them in different colors or give them weeks apart- but you probably give and receive gifts at some point in the November/December months.

I want to encourage you to think of long lasting gifts this year. 

The gift of experience and time can be so much more rewarding than just things.

Yes, it's possible to give fantastic random physical gifts that people love. But it's a lot of pressure for a statistically low pay-off. Especially now as a mom...I don't necessarily need more STUFF to keep in my home with my kid. I need an excuse and activity to stop the madness and boredom and routine from being in the same four walls ALL THE TIME. So please, this year consider giving something that will last a little longer and encourage more bonding. They may cost a little more, but not compared to buying 3+ smaller gifts.

Here's a few ideas I know my family and I would use and deeply appreciate:
  • Zoo/aquarium passes
  • Amusement park passes
  • Xbox live/gold/whatever subscription
  • Netflix/hulu subscription
  • Audible subscription
  • Subscription Boxes
  • Cleaning service 
    • This one may be controversial, but I know SO MANY PEOPLE who say a one-time big cleaning day from a service was a GAME CHANGER. For 100$ or less (I was shocked and thought it would have been way more, honestly) you can give the gift of time and less stress and a clean and happy home. Maybe ask ahead of time, but just say "Hey, I know day-to-day life and upkeep can be stressful. Would it be helpful to have XYZ service? Not that you can't do it yourself, clearly, you're awesome! But this is one of those things I personally could/have used and it was super nice to just not have that thing to juggle." 

What are your favorite experience/long-lasting gifts you've given/received?