Fascinating Finds

Friday, September 18, 2020

This weekend we'll be spending all weekend waiting for my brother Alex and my sister-in-law Alex to arrive on Sunday. They are staying the night here with us Sunday, and then we'll all caravan up to West Virginia on Monday. We're headed there for the Alexes' baby shower!  

I also have some exciting news coming Monday! Stay tuned. 

Here's what I have for you this week: 

- With fall comes (allegedly!) cooler weather. Some of our favorite recipes that are perfect for fall are brown butter sauce (good on anything, not just ravioli), this sheet pan dinner, and these pumpkin muffins

- Venus has never been my favorite planet (that designation goes to Jupiter), but after I started teaching the Ray Bradbury short story "All Summer in a Day" which takes place on Venus, I've always been drawn to stories about that planet. Astronomers recently reported that there might be a sign of life on Venus.

- I have to admit, I have literally NEVER listened to a podcast until this week. I am not really an auditory learner, so I never thought podcasts would be for me. But my friend Drew (one of my best friend's, Sarah, husband who shot our beautiful wedding video) and his friend Jake started a podcast all about movies, and it's great! Check out Reel Takes with Drew and Jake

- The novels shortlisted for the prestigious Booker Prize were announced Tuesday. Four of the six are from first-time writers, and four are from women. 

- The Coronavirus has officially reached its arms of destruction into the holiday season. 

Some posts you may have missed:

- When it comes to home decor, trust your taste.

- Quick ways to make your home look tidy.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

What I'm Reading Wednesday: Cozy Mysteries

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

For this week's What I'm Reading I wanted to talk about a specific genre of books that I've been enjoying lately: cozy mysteries. In case you don't know what a cozy mystery is, it is a mystery that usually features an amateur sleuth, and the murder usually happens "off screen" -- that is to say it's not violent or graphic. For a longer explanation, read this article. If you've ever seen the show Murder, She Wrote, you have enjoyed a cozy mystery. 

While I have certainly read some cozy mysteries in the past, I have been reading a lot more of them lately because I joined the latest Litsy Markup Postal Book Club on my favorite app, Litsy. I have talked about Litsy a lot in the past, and if you haven't joined yet, you should! Although I have been part of Litsy for over three years now, I have only in the past several months become really active. In late spring, I saw information about a "Markup Postal Book Club"; in essence, participants group together in groups of four people, the group selects a theme for the books they will read, each member chooses four books to propose, and the other three members vote on which of the four will be that person's book. At the end of the month, the first person on the list passes their book to the second person, the second person to the third, and so on. As each person reads, she makes notes in the book based on her thoughts, ideas, or opinions. This goes on for four months so that each member reads every other member's book, and then you get your original book back. (Often, book club members will also send along other fun treats, gifts, and surprises.)  My book club started in July, and I have read three novels now. I will receive the fourth (and final) one at the beginning of October. I am already missing my book club, and it's not even over yet! My group decided to read cozy mysteries, so I have enjoyed three of them in the past couple months, plus one I found to read on my own. It's been a really fun study over the past few months, and I would recommend any of these books!

Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor by Stephanie Barron (BookshopAmazon
This book (which is the first in a series) features Jane Austen as an amateur sleuth. It will not surprise you to hear that this was my choice for the book club! Don't let the idea that it's written in "old" English deter you; it's actually a fun read. It got a little slow at times, but overall it was a really fun story, and I will definitely be reading more of the series. 

Still Knife Painting by Cheryl Hollon (BookshopAmazon
This was my August read and is also the first in a series. It features a protagonist named Miranda Trent and takes place in eastern Kentucky (not too far from where I'm from in West Virginia), so that's why I voted for this one. There were some things I thought became boringly repetitive, but I was hooked enough to want to know who did it, and I did not find the ending predictable.

A Dark and Stormy Murder by Julia Buckley (BookshopAmazon
I really enjoyed this book, which was my September read. Like the others, it is part of a series and features two protagonists: a mystery writer named Camilla Graham and her apprentice Lena London. One of the best parts of this one was that there is a mystery within the mystery, and there will be, I assume, overlap into the next novel.  

Death Wears a Mask by Ashley Weaver (BookshopAmazon
Any book that includes the line "All other considerations aside, it would be quite embarrassing to be murdered" is definitely a book I know I'll enjoy! This book is the second in a series featuring a protagonist named Amory Ames. Accidentally, I read this one before the first, but I'll double back and read that one before I read the subsequent ones. You will especially like this book if you like historical fiction, as this series takes place in England in the 1930s. 

If you like a good mystery but don't really want to read books that are graphic or contain a lot of bad language or involved police procedure, cozy mysteries are definitely for you. 

And, incidentally, if you are feeling a lack of connection right now for whatever reason and really enjoy books, please consider joining Litsy. I have found a nice community of people there -- especially doing this postal book club -- that have made me feel less alone as we have been stuck at home and Joe has been traveling for work. 

If you read any of these books, let me know. I'd love to discuss! 

Summer 2020: The Bright Side of Disaster

Monday, September 14, 2020

At the end of Summer 2016, I wrote a post dedicated to some of the books I'd read that summer, sharing some of my favorite quotations from each. I did the same thing in 2017. And, after not being able to do so in 2018 and 2019, I decided at the beginning of this summer I'd start again this year. This is that post!

If Summer 2016 was "The Summer We Read Austen" and Summer 2017 was "More Alive and Less Lonely" (and Summer 2018 was "The Summer I Got Married and Changed States and Jobs" and Summer 2019 was "The Summer I had a Baby"), then I think Summer 2020 can best be called "The Bright Side of Disaster," for that's what reading was this summer: the bright side of the disaster that has largely been 2020. 

Here are some of the books I read between Memorial Day and Labor Day that had pieces and parts that spoke to me. Instead of sharing summaries, I'll share some of my favorite quotations from each book, and if those speak to you, maybe you'll want to read the whole book!

Us Against You by Fredrik Backman (BookshopAmazon
*Don't read this until you read its prequel Beartown

"The truth always has to stick to what actually happened, whereas the lie just has to be easy to believe."

"It is divided in the way that all worlds are divided between people" between those who are listened to and those that aren't."

"Everyone is a hundred different things, but in other people's eyes we usually get the chance to be only one of them."

"It's hard to care about people. Exhausting, in fact, because empathy is a complicated thing. It requests us to accept that everyone else's lives are also going on the whole time. We have no pause button for when everything gets too much for us to deal with, but then neither does anyone else." 

"Being a mother can be like drying out the foundations of a house or mending a roof: it takes time, sweat, and money, and once it's done everything looks the same as it did before. It's not the sort of thing anyone gives you praise for." 

"We rarely take our anger out on those who deserve it; we just take it out on whoever is standing closest."

"My dad used to hit me if I so much as spilled a  bit of milk. That didn't reach me not to spill milk, it just made me afraid of milk."

"Our spontaneous reaction is often our most stupid."

"It's always so easy to say what everyone should have done when you know that what they did didn't work."

"We will say, 'Things like this are no one's fault,' but of course they are. deep down we will know the truth. It's plenty of people's fault. Ours."

"An ordinary life is long if you live it together with someone else."

"Sometimes good people do bad things out of good intentions, and sometimes the reverse happens." 

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell (BookshopAmazon

"The weren't bad books. They were books you didn't enjoy. It's not the same thing at all. The only bad books are books that are so badly written that no one will publish them. Any book that has been published is going to be a 'good book' for someone."

Small Admissions by Amy Poeppel (BookshopAmazon

"Happiness is not a zero-sum game. It's the only case in which the resources are limitless, and in which the rich can get richer at no expense to anyone else."

Not That I Could Tell by Jessica Strawser (BookshopAmazon

"She still hadn't worked out how 1950s housewives had done it, but she suspected it involved far more ignoring of the children and far less guilt in doing so."

"How much nicer the world would be if people who didn't know what they were talking about would keep their mouths shut."

Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus (BookshopAmazon

"All of Fright Farm's success is based on how much people love to be scared in a controlled environment. There's something deeply, fundamentally satisfying about confronting a monster and escaping unscathed. Real monsters aren't anything like that. They don't let go."

The Longest Day of the Year by Kim Wright (Amazon

"... a woman's first and truest calling is to live her own life."

"It's occurred to me that whatever age you happen to be at the moment, you're all the other ages you've ever been too."

"Our minds are kind. They rewrite our lives even as we are living them, editing out the parts that are too painful to accept."

"If you live your life right, all the best stuff comes at the very end." 

Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor by Stephanie Barron (BookshopAmazon

"Had ever a great family been so determined in bastardy?"

When Life Gives You LuLuLemons by Lauren Weisberger (BookshopAmazon

"Emily led her by the arm to the kitchen table and poured her a glass of cold white wine. 'Shouldn't you be making me chamomile tea or something?' 'Oh, yes. Tea really helps everything.'"

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton (BookshopAmazon

"If this isn't hell, the devil is surely taking notes."

"This old lady's much too herself to be anybody else underneath."

How It All Began by Penelope Lively (BookshopAmazon

"This is how children learn to read, why they do so. You reach them through stories, you lure them with story."

"But who knows their own child? You know bits -- certain predictable reactions, a handful of familiar qualities. The rest is unpenetrable. And quite right too. You give birth to them. You do not design them."

"She read to discover how not to be Charlotte, how to escape the prison of her own mind, how to expand, and experience."

"This happens to me all the time. Things seem like a good idea until suddenly they're not."

"Stories are like the ... currency of connection."

"We push back and forth till the sky goes fully dark. Till it turns the color of goodbye."

"My mother once told me the most disconcerting part of being a parent is that you never get to settle into it, that your child is constantly being replaced with another version you don't recognize."

Hope and Other Punch Lines by Julie Buxbaum (BookshopAmazon

"Even back in my fairy-tale days, I never liked those inevitable opening words -- once upon a time. Their bookend -- happily ever after -- at least made sense to me. The main character ended up happy forever. That was a no-brainer and nonnegotiable, the absolute bare minimum we could expect from a good story." 

"I'm hardwired to try to make other people feel comfortable in uncomfortable situations -- which is both my favorite and my least favorite thing about myself."

This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith (BookshopAmazon

"No matter how long it's been or how far you've drifted, no matter how unknowable you might be, there were at least two people in the world whose job it was to see you, to find you, to recognize you and reel you  back in. No matter what."

The Fifth Avenue Story Society by Rachel Hauck (BookshopAmazon

"A familiar peace hit him. Happened every time he was with books."

The Mothers by Brit Bennett (BookshopAmazon

"All good secrets have a taste before you tell them, and if we'd taken a moment to swish this one around in our mouths, we might have noticed the sourness of an unripe secret, plucked too soon, stole and passed around before its season." 

What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum (BookshopAmazon

"... language seems inherently and irrationally optimistic; we just assume people understand what we are talking about. That we are, as the idiom goes, on the same wavelength. In my experience, we are not." 

The Bright Side of Disaster by Katherine Center (BookshopAmazon

"I ate, drank, and slept motherhood. That was the thing about it. It was so unbelievably hard, and the learning curve was so steep that there was no way to do anything but figure out how to do it."

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley (BookshopAmazon)

"I suppose we all carry around different versions of ourselves."

I hope you find something on this list you will enjoy! If you are somewhat overwhelmed and don't know where to start, may I recommend the following:

A happy read -- The Fifth Avenue Story Society (BookshopAmazon

A book that you won't want to put down -- The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (BookshopAmazon

A great young adult book -- What to Say Next (BookshopAmazon)

A quick read -- The Longest Day of the Year (Amazon

And remember, you can find an ongoing list of my book recommendations here.  

Fascinating Finds

Friday, September 11, 2020

I hope everyone has had a good week! Our big plans for the weekend involve watching West Virginia (finally!) play football tomorrow. (We won't be watching Michigan, though!) Also, today is the fourth anniversary of Joe and my first date! We are thinking we might take Bert out this evening for an early pizza dinner to celebrate. (And it sure beats where we were this time last year.) 

Here are some interesting articles and stories I've collected for you this week:

- Here is a link to a beautiful poem about 9/11 by poet Billy Collins. May we never forget.

- These are the most stylish face masks, according to Vogue. 2020 is weird. 

- 16-year-old Dara McAnulty has become the youngest writer ever to be longlisted for the UK’s most prestigious nonfiction award, the Baillie Gifford prize, for his book Diary of a Young Naturalist, which he began writing at the age of 14.

- A new movie adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca is coming to Netflix October 21. It's hard to believe anything could be as good the Hitchcock classic starring Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier (which received 11 Academy Award nominations), but I'll give it a go for sure. You can check out the trailer here. (How terrifying is Kristin Scott Thomas?!)

- Proof that God doesn't always answer prayers exactly how you'd expect! 

- A defense of one of Jane Austen's most exasperating characters. 

- The moon is rusting, and it's our fault. 

Some past posts you may have missed:

- A book that we could all use

Have a great weekend! 

What I'm Reading Wednesday: The Fifth Avenue Story Society, Where the Crawdads Sing, and The Mother-in-Law

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

As I mentioned in my last post, I am launching two new features this fall, the first of which starts today! It's called What I'm Reading Wednesday where I plan to share -- surprise! -- what I've been reading lately. 

The Fifth Avenue Story Society by Rachel Hauck (Bookshop.comAmazon) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

In this novel, five people -- four of whom are strangers -- receive mysterious invitations to a weekly story society. Their friendships grow as they share their lives and problems. 

Admittedly, I am a sucker for anything related to a story society. I didn't know anything about this author or her previous works when I checked this out of the library. After reading (and loving) it, I realized it was published by a Christian publisher, and I appreciated that the Christian themes were well done and not cheesy like they can sometimes be. This book made me cry at times, made me look at my husband with new eyes, and made me think about the story of my own life. If you're looking for a well-written, uplifting book, this is the one. 

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (Bookshop.comAmazon) ⭐⭐⭐

This novel tells the tale of a young girl named Kya who is, person by person, abandoned by her entire family in the shack in which they live in the marsh of North Carolina. She is shunned and mistreated by everyone in the nearby small town with two exceptions, a married African American couple who, although mistreated themselves, help Kya. Two different young men from town fall for the mysterious Kya, and then one of them turns up dead. The novel alternates between two timelines, telling the story of Kya's past as well as the current murder investigation. 

I put this novel on my holds list at the public library because the world has been raving about it. I have friends and acquaintances who loved it, and it got high reviews on GoodReads also. But, to be honest, for the entirety of this book I kept thinking that I must be missing something. I kept reading, thinking at some point I would discover why people were so enamored with this book. However, it never happened. I didn't mind putting this book down; I wasn't really drawn in at all. However, I did find myself wanting to know what happened to the main character, Kya, and I was surprised by and contented with the ending. It's not a memorable book of the year for me, but it was a solid read.

The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth (Bookshop.comAmazon) ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I have read a few other novels of Sally Hepworth's and enjoyed them all. This novel tells the story of Lucy, a young woman who has had a contentious relationship with her mother-in-law, Diana, since she began dating her husband. Diana is found dead of an apparent suicide; her family believes it is due to her breast cancer diagnosis. But an autopsy finds no cancer. As law enforcement investigates further, homicide is soon suspected. The police feel that Lucy has a strong motive, and she becomes a suspect. 

This novel is compelling and drew me in from the beginning. One of its strengths, I believe, is that it is told from both Lucy's and Diana's perspectives, so there is a very blurred line between heroes and villains. I admit at the beginning I found Diana to be appallingly unlikable, and I definitely sided with Lucy; however, the more I read from Diana's perspective, the more I understood why she made some choices she did. Because of that, I thought about people in my own life whose actions and words I sometimes completely fail to understand and began to have a little more compassion. As I read in another book recently "... language seems inherently and irrationally optimistic; we just assume people understand what we are talking about. That we are, as the idiom goes, on the same wavelength. In my experience, we are not." (What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum)

Other Recent Reads
The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley (Bookshop.comAmazon) ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Bright Side of Disaster by Katherine Center (Bookshop.comAmazon) ⭐⭐⭐

One Day in December by Josie Silver (Bookshop.comAmazon) ⭐⭐⭐⭐

What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum (Bookshop.comAmazon) ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson (Bookshop.comAmazon) ⭐⭐⭐

Post contains affiliate links.

Summer 2020

Thursday, September 3, 2020

I can't believe that we're already at the end of summer. Summer is my most favorite season of the year, and it's hard for me when it goes away. Admittedly, I am ready for the 90+ temperatures to fizzle out to more manageable 70s, but I am not ready to face the winter that is quickly approaching. I also love fall, with the cooler weather, beautiful leaves, great smells, and ... football. As with everything this year, the football season will look completely different, and for Joe and me, we don't know what this means for our lives. Football has been a huge part of our whole relationship (we've been together five college football seasons now), and we are known for sometimes hooking up a second TV in our living room if Michigan and West Virginia are playing games at the same time. With the Big 10 not playing games this fall (insane) and the participating conferences limiting their seasons to conference games-only, things are looking remarkably different, and we have no plan to handle this right now. Yes, we'll still get to see some games, but we all now it won't be the same. Perhaps most depressingly, my mom, aunt, uncle, Joe, and I had tickets to the now-cancelled WVU vs. Florida State game here in Atlanta that was supposed to take place this weekend. I am heartbroken. 

Although our summer, like everyone's, was very different this year, we did have the opportunity to do and celebrate a few fun things between June and now. 

First, Joe and I celebrated our second anniversary June 9. We took Bert and went to an early dinner at local family Italian place near us to celebrate. Instead of gifts, we decided to buy a family pass to Stone Mountain to enjoy it as a family this year. 

Then we had a special Father's Day Weekend for Joe. This was his first FDW with an outside-the-womb baby, and we made the most of it by making Joe a special breakfast, taking him hiking at Stone Mountain, taking him out for pizza, enjoying a special brunch, and making him a special dinner. He is our favorite dad!

Bert got to go to the pool for the first time and seemed to like it okay!

In July we visited Joe's parents at their home on Mullett Lake in Michigan. We were so lucky we had great weather that week and got to enjoy several days out on the boat! Bert was great on the boat, and we all had a really fun time!

Our biggest event of the summer, Bert turned one on August 4! ONE!!! On the day of his actual birthday, Joe and I took him to Build-a-Bear to build a special birthday bear, then we got Chick-Fil-A and had a special lunch in the park, and then we took him to get his first ice cream. I think Bert had a great day! Then the Saturday following his birthday, we had a little cookout at our house for close by family and friends, and we are very blessed that Bert has so many people who could come and celebrate him! He also got his first bites of cake!

I hope that you, too, found some ways to have fun this summer. I am looking forward to a hopefully happy fall! 

Speaking of fall, this fall I will be launching two new regular weekly posts: one on what I'm currently reading and another on fascinating finds from around the internet. Stay tuned, and I hope you will enjoy! 

Bert's Birthday

Monday, August 3, 2020

Today is the very last day of Bert being zero years old. 

Tomorrow he will be one. 

I know all mothers must think and say this, but wow -- I honestly cannot believe it's been a whole year since Bert was born. We've been through so much: labor, his birth, his health complications after birth, a stay in the children's hospital, acclimating to life at home with a new baby, home improvements, yard work, library story time, Joe working out of town, new friends, and, of course, this pandemic. We've gotten into familiar routines and schedules only for those routines and schedules to be completely changed two days later as Bert grew quickly. We've experienced a mysterious fever and a mysterious head lump. We've driven to West Virginia and back four times, plus from West Virginia to Michigan and back once. We have been exhausted by lack of sleep, frustrated with whining we couldn't determine the source of. We have overflowed with joy at Bert's first smile and his first laugh, and we've cracked up at his farting, his hilarious noises, and his goofy life choices. 

I don't really know much more about being a mother than I did this time last year, but what I do know is that you are never ready to have a baby. If left up to Joe and me, we probably wouldn't have had Bert because it was the wrong time, the wrong place we were living, the wrong job. But luckily, it wasn't up to us, it was up to God, and we got the best little boy at the best possible time. 

I've read two things in two different novels recently that really struck me as I prepare for Bert to turn one. 

"But who knows their own child? You know bits -- certain predictable reactions, a handful of familiar qualities. The rest is unpenetrable. And quite right too. You give birth to them. You do not design them."

- Penelope Lively, How It All Began

"My mother once told me the most disconcerting part of being a parent is that you never get to settle into it, that your child is constantly being replaced with another version you don't recognize." 

- Julie Buxbaum, Hope and Other Punchlines

My little boy, whom I met as a newborn baby, is about to cross the first line into being his own person, not my little baby. I will have to prepare myself to meet my new Bert tomorrow. 

On Saturday Bert will be joined by some family and friends for a cookout in his honor. But tomorrow, Joe and I will quietly celebrate Bert's first year, just us three. We will think back to everything that has happened to us this year -- everything we have survived -- and be so grateful for everything God has done for us this year. 

If you'd like to read the story of Bert's birth, you can find it here: Part 1 and Part 2

Pictures of Bert's first birthday and his first birthday cookout to come!

Thank you to everyone who has loved, cared for, and supported our family this year. We love you. 

The Best Inexpensive Products

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

If there is one thing in life that I love, it's finding a good deal on something. But honestly, if I could love something even more than that, it would be when I find a great product that has a price that is always a good value, no sale or coupon required! (And I am the kind of person who's like don't even come at me with the word "clearance" unless it's at LEAST 70% off, so you know I'm serious when I say I'll pay full price for these things!) I don't know about you guys, but I don't have endless amounts of money to spend, so today I've rounded up a list of products that I love that I feel are an excellent value for the price.

1. Raw Sugar The Moisture Smoothie Conditioner, $9.99 for 18 fl. oz., Target
I don't really have great hair. It's very oily, but the ends are also really dry. (Could some of this be because I haven't had a haircut since before Thanksgiving? I mean, maybe. Don't worry, I have one scheduled for this Friday!) I love this conditioner. I bought it on a whim at Target based on some good reviews I saw, and I'm so glad I did. I think it's what allowed me to have hair that didn't look TOO terrible for all these past months. It's hydrating, yet light. 

2. Coppertone Sport Clear Sunscreen, $7.97 for 5 fl. oz.,
If there's one thing I know, it's sunscreens. I am obsessed with wearing sunscreen any time I am outside, and I reapply frequently. I've been known to use an entire can or bottle of sunscreen during one pool or beach day. This sunscreen goes on so smoothly, doesn't leave your skin feeling greasy or dirty, and is incredibly light. 

3. Day Designer Day Planner, $19.99 for 8.5" x 11.0" (also comes in a smaller size),
I am a die-hard devotee of the paper planner, and trust me when I tell you I've tried a ton of them. I've done the Kate Spade, the Erin Condren, and, most recently, the Plum Paper. These babies aren't cheap! This year I decided to try a less expensive planner, and I am very happy with my choice! This planner features both month at a glance (which is a requirement for me) as well as weekly options. It also comes with a pocket folder as well as some fun stickers. If, like me, you live by the academic year, you can buy a 2020-2021 planner now. There are also a lot of pretty cover options! Consider splurging on some great pens to go with it, like I did. It's an inexpensive way to feel good!

4. imPRESS Press-On Manicure, $5.99, Target
Guys, I almost didn't want to tell you about this one because I don't want there to be a run on my favorite colors. But I couldn't keep it from you! I always like having my nails done. No matter what I look like or what I'm wearing, having my nails done just really makes me feel put together. I had been getting my nails done every couple of weeks for a few years, and man, it's nice, but it can get so expensive. On top of that, it takes up a lot of time, and on top of THAT I have tried so many nail salons in the greater Atlanta area and just haven't found one that I really like. My nails grow fast, so I need the polish close to my cuticle, and I also just can't deal with chips or peeling polish. Someone I know mentioned these nails on Facebook several months ago, and I was like -- yeah this SOUNDS awesome, but press-on nails, really? Like is it 1992? But I decided I'd buy one box, thinking I'd give it a try, they'd pop off, and I'd just be mad and go back to doing whatever else the next day. I was so, so wrong. These nails are incredibly easy to apply (NO GLUE!), they are incredibly easy to remove (NO ACETONE!), and they last about seven days. I'm not kidding when I tell you I wash dishes in these, I work outside in the yard in these, I go to the pool in these. They stay on so well and look great! And the truth is, even if one of them does pop off, there are so many extras in the box that you can find a similar sized one to replace it with. I usually buy mine at Target or Walmart where they are $5.99 a box, but you can also get them at Walgreens or CVS where they are $7.99 a box. (Still a great deal!) The only place I wouldn't buy them, weirdly, is from the imPRESS website. Their customer service and communication aren't great, but I've never had an issue just buying them straight from the store! If you change these nails weekly for a month, you are spending around $24.00 for your entire monthly manicures when just one gel manicure plus tip is around $40. My advice for these is to apply them at night so that you give them some time to adhere before you get your hands wet. 

5. Auden brand bras, $9.99-$21.99, Target
I have been either pregnant or nursing a child for about a year and a half now. Bert is slowly being weaned from nursing, and I realized I needed some new bras. Bras are expensive. SO EXPENSIVE. And it's not like you can go without them. The thing is, I needed more than one, meaning I couldn't really spend $50 on a single bra. I don't know how I stumbled across this brand, but I saw these bras on the Target website for prices like $14.99 and $16.99. I couldn't believe it. I read the reviews, and they were generally really good. I ordered three (two different kinds), and I was so impressed when they arrived. They fit great, they are comfortable, and there aren't any weird gaps. I will be honest that I haven't had them long enough to speak to how they hold up to several washings, but right now I am really impressed. 

6. NYX Eyebrow Powder, $5.49, 
My good friend Story inspired me to start filling in my eyebrows several years ago, and shortly after I started I couldn't live without it. Filling in your brows just totally changes your face. I am serious when I tell you that if I could only keep a single makeup item in my life it would be this eyebrow powder. Honestly, ask me if I filled in my eyebrows when I was in labor with Bert, and I will not be embarrassed to say YEP! I didn't have any other makeup on, but I just had to use this powder! Even on days when I don't leave my house, I use this product. I love it! I use Black/Gray, but it also comes in Brunette, Taupe/Ash, Dark Brown/Brown, and maybe some others, too. 

Are there any inexpensive yet great products you can't live without? Let me know! 

Best of the Summer So Far

Monday, July 6, 2020

I hope you had a great Fourth of July holiday! Can you believe it's already July?! I feel like June flew by -- after a spring that seemed to last for years -- so I'm hoping and praying time will slow down a bit again so that summer will feel like it lasts forever. We are gearing up to take a trip next week, so this week will bring a lot of list making, laundry, and packing. And, of course, reading! I have five unread books from the library, plus one I need to read for my Litsy markup postal book club, plus another two to review for Netgalley. Oh, and I'm scheduled to do another library pick up tomorrow. Have I gone a little overboard with my to be read list lately? Mayyyyybe. Point is, I need to get reading! 

Today I wanted to share with you some of my best of the best summer reading so far. We're one month in, and I feel pretty lucky to have read so many good books so far this season. (Book links will take you to my shop on or to via my affiliate link.

Best Book With a Sequel 
This one is a tie between two sets of really great books:

The Book: Beartown by Fredrik Backman (Find at or at
A small, dying town is holding on to its junior hockey team as its last hope for success. One night, an incident occurs between two teens that rips the town apart. 

The Sequel: Us Against You by Fredrik Backman (Find at or at
A dying rural town is about to lose its beloved hockey team. The ex-players are mostly transferring to a rival team. A new team is built around a few hardworking young men. Sadly, tensions between the two towns escalate to a point of no return. 

The Book: One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus (Find at or at
Five high school students students go to detention, but only four make it out alive. It's The Breakfast Club turned deadly in this novel.

The Sequel: One of Us is Next by Karen M. McManus (Find at or at
In the wake of the shocking events of the first novel, a new mystery student starts a Truth or Dare game at Bayview High that turns deadly. 

Best Book About Loving Books

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman (Find at or at
Nina Hill is a book lover who works in a bookstore. She is anxious, organized, and a planner. She also values her solitude and quiet life. Out of the blue she meets the (large) family of the father she never knew. 

Best Book By a British Author

The Nanny by Gilly Macmillan (Find at or at
A young woman returns home after suffering a tragedy. She has always had a strained relationship with her mother while harboring fond memories of her childhood nanny who abruptly left. The woman soon learns that what she thought was true might not be. 

Best Book by an Author With a New Book Coming Out Soon

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware, new book One By One out in the US on September 8 (Find at or at
A woman gets a job as a nanny in a remote house in Scotland. As soon as she arrives, strange things start happening, climaxing with the death of one of the children. 

Best Early Book by Someone Who Became Famous With a Later Book

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn, her most famous novel Gone Girl was released in 2012 (Find at or at
A reporter just out of a psych hospital is sent to her small hometown to report on the murders of two young girls. By the end of her stay, she unravels the mystery surrounding the death of her own sister as well. 

Best Young Adult Novel

Fragments of the Lost by Megan Miranda (Find at or at
A 17-year-old girl begins packing up the bedroom of her boyfriend who has just died. As she goes through his things, remembering parts of their relationship, she learns things are not what they seem.

Best Book to Read With Your Book Club

Not That I Could Tell by Jessica Strawser (Find at or at
A woman and her two young children disappear the morning after she spent an evening drinking wine around a fire with her neighbors. The novel examines the lives of several women as they struggle to find out what happened to their neighbor. 

Best Book by an Author You've Never Heard Of

The Longest Day of the Year by Kim Wright (Find at
Four women sit on the beach and talk. They are different ages and have seemingly different backgrounds, but somehow they are all connected. As they talk about their lives, it becomes clear that the one thing they all love is their precious beach. 

I hope you have a beautiful week! 

Happily Ever Krafter Recommends

Thursday, June 11, 2020

One of my favorite things is when I find a source I trust to recommend books. Of course, we all enjoy different things, but when you find a good source whose taste seems to match your own -- or who will provide a thorough enough review that you can decide whether or not a book is for you -- you latch on. There are so many great books out there, and sometimes deciding what to read next can be overwhelming!

With that in mind, I have opened up a "shop" on Have you heard of this? is an online bookstore that financially supports independent bookstores. Their website states:

As more and more people buy their books online, we wanted to create an easy, convenient way for you to get your books and support bookstores at the same time.

If you want to find a specific local bookstore to support, find them on our map and they’ll receive the full profit off your order. Otherwise, your order will contribute to an earnings pool that will be evenly distributed among independent bookstores (even those that don’t use Bookshop).

Doesn't this sound great? 

When you visit my page on, you will see several lists of books I recommend in different categories; I like to think of it as my own virtual lending library! So far my categories include:

Book Club Picks -- Looking for a new selection for your book club? Here are my suggestions for compelling books that would make for interesting discussion!

Middle Grade Readers -- As a middle school teacher, I love finding out what my students are reading. Here are some great ideas, both classic and contemporary.

Books About Reading -- If you love reading about reading, these books are for you!

Bert's Books -- Here is a list of books my baby loves!

Summer Reads -- Perfect books for lying on the beach or lounging by the pool!

Classics to Rediscover -- Maybe you forgot how much you loved them; maybe you never read them at all!

Suspense and Thrillers -- Do you like to be kept on the edge of your seat with a little mystery? These are the books for you!

Fiction -- Some of these novels are serious, others funny, but the one thing they have in common is that they're compelling!

I'll be adding books to each category as I find new things to recommend, and I will probably add more categories too. If there's a category you'd like to see, let me know!

Please visit me for book recommendations at at my shop, Happily Ever Krafter. As always, you can also find me on Litsy and Goodreads. Happy reading! 


A little disclaimer: if you purchase a book on through my shop, or via an Amazon Affiliate link, I will receive a commission of 10%. You know I will never suggest any book I don't love (NO MORE BORING BOOKS, remember?), so you can trust that all opinions are my own. I appreciate you supporting this blog and the stay-at-home mom who runs it! 

Summer Reading 2020

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

GUYS. IT IS TIME. The best reading season of the year: SUMMER!

In August of 2016 (theme: The Summer 
We Read Austen) and August of 2017 (theme: More Alive and Less Lonely) I wrote posts detailing all of the books I had read those summers and included my favorite quotations and pieces of books that really spoke to me. At the end of summer 2018 I didn't do this as I had just gotten married, moved, and started a new job. I also failed to do this in summer 2019 because we had bought a house and I had a baby. But I am determined to complete another summer round up this August because I have missed looking back on my summer reading.

Things will look a little different reading-wise for me this summer than in summers past. This is the first summer I've had a child to take care of and not the endless amounts of hours I used to have to read. Admittedly, this is a little hard for me. I love my husband and son, but I sort of just wish that they'd leave me alone so I could read! I mean, Bert will be 10 months old tomorrow; he can watch himself now, right? I frequently take a nostalgic look back to the summer of 2016, heretofore named "The Perfect Summer." This was the first summer I had since I started teaching where I was a. not working and b. not taking a full-time load of graduate courses. I did take on some part-time work at church two days a week, but five days a week I had nothing whatsoever to do. On Tuesdays I would take a morning yoga class, stop by the library to pick up my stack of books, and then head to the pool. I'd stay at the pool until I finished a book, then I'd head home and continue to read. No one needed me, I didn't have to go anywhere, I could just read books in peace. Sigh. Those were good days. I mean, I like my life now, too, don't get me wrong, but sigh -- those were the good old days! 

Truthfully, though, I have been attempting to train myself to do some reading while Bert is asleep in the afternoons and after he goes to bed and we eat dinner at night. I try to complete all my house chores and responsibilities in the early and mid-mornings and leave some time later in the day for reading. I enjoy it, yes, but I have also found that I am a much nicer person when I've had time alone to read. It just makes me who I am. I am excited that our library is back open for pick ups, and I have been weekly for the past three weeks and will go again Thursday. I might not make it through my stacks as quickly as I used to, but I am still making it through the stacks! Also, both Bert and I are registered for our library's summer reading program. I am so excited for Bert's first summer reading program ever. (The first of many, I hope!)

It sounds like it would be the opposite, but I actually read LESS during quarantine. One reason is because Joe was working from home, so we had more time for yard and house projects that kept us really busy. The bigger reason, though, is, I GOT STUCK WITH THE MOST BORING BOOK WHEN THE LIBRARY CLOSED! Remember at the beginning of the year when I vowed NO MORE BORING BOOKS?! Well, apparently someone up there was laughing because after an on-fire January and February, I got stuck with a super boring book in March when the library closed. So, although I had made that promise to myself, I tried so hard for weeks -- months! -- to read that boring book until one day I was like THIS IS STUPID. Guys, just stop reading boring books. 

I'm still keeping up with my Modern Mrs. Darcy 2020 Reading Challenge, but not exclusively so. Here's what I've been reading lately:

Beartown by Fredrik Backman
- I highly recommend this book. I had read two of his books previously, and this one did not disappoint. A note to people who have read his books before: I found this one to be much heavier than the other two I've read (My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She's Sorry and Britt-Marie Was Here). I am now reading the follow up to Beartown called Us Against You.

- I can't remember the last time I read a modern heroine that so totally reminded me of myself. The main character is anxious, a planner, organized, loves books and trivia, drinks wine, and loves being alone. It's like Abbi Waxman looked into my life. I recommend this if you are looking for a light, fun read with a plot that talks about a love of books!

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane
- I'd love to talk about this one with someone who has read it. It's an intense family drama, and I usually enjoy these types of stories, but this one felt to me like it was, I don't know, unfinished maybe? Let me know if you read it so we can talk about it!

An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena
- I have read two of Shari Lapena's prior books (The Couple Next Door and A Stranger in the House), and I liked this one as well. She had me hooked from the first few pages because there were so many parallels between it and my favorite novel of all time, Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None. Reading the beginning vignettes about each character's arrival to the inn where the story takes place is so like Agatha Christie's novel that I almost expected to see the characters from that book show up in this one too! Shari Lapena is known for a good twist ending, and this one did not disappoint! 

Tweet Cute by Emma Lord
- This is a young adult novel, and I like to keep up with these as much as I can since I enjoy talking about books with students and former students. I really enjoyed this debut novel about two teens who get involved in an all-out Twitter war between their families' restaurants. 

If you want to keep up with everything I'm reading, and more importantly, my ever-growing list of things I want to read, please follow me on Litsy or add me as a friend on Goodreads


This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase a book through this page, I may receive a small commission. All the thoughts shared here are my own.

June 1

Monday, June 1, 2020

Today is June 1. 

We've all been looking forward to this, haven't we? Or just me?

There's something beautiful about the beginning of a new month, and it seems even more magical when the first is on a Monday. It seems like a double fresh start. And, for me, June 1 means summer (even though I know it technically isn't, not yet) which is the best time of the year. And after the dumpster fire that was March, April, and May, I think we were all hoping that June would bring some sort of peace to our lives. 

But it didn't happen, did it? 

I was hopeful this morning when I woke up, hopeful in the far-fetched, no real reason to be kind of way that I sometimes am. Then Joe read aloud some of the news he was looking at this morning. When he got to the part where there are reports that people in Austin, Texas were laughing as a homeless man's possessions were set on fire, I couldn't hear any more. 

I've recently learned that I'm a highly sensitive person. I mean, I've always known that I am really sensitive, but I've recently learned that being a highly sensitive person is actually a thing. Honestly, it helps me to put a name on it because I feel that the more you can learn about yourself, the better you  become at making choices that help you and your mental health. For me, when I hear about a homeless person's belongings being set on fire and people laughing, or a person being literally murdered in the street because of the color of his skin by a law enforcement officer sworn to serve and protect while other people just watched, or any of the other many, many sad and awful things that seem to happen on a daily basis, I am broken up about it for a while, and it affects my daily ability to live life. When Joe told me what he told me this morning, I literally sat there in bed rolling it over again and again in my mind. A HOMELESS man's belongings were set on fire and people were laughing. A HOMELESS man's belongings were SET ON FIRE and people were laughing. A HOMELESS MAN'S BELONGINGS WERE SET ON FIRE AND PEOPLE WERE LAUGHING. That sentence joined the other ones that are still taking up space in my head: A BLACK MAN WAS LITERALLY MURDERED BY A POLICE OFFICER IN THE STREET WHILE PEOPLE WATCHED. PEOPLE ARE DAMAGING AND STEALING FROM SMALL BUSINESSES THAT ARE OWNED BY LOCAL PEOPLE WHO HAVE DONE NOTHING WRONG AND HAVE FAMILIES TO SUPPORT. What happens is, it makes me unable to engage with my baby who is smiling and playing right beside me. So I made I decision I have been thinking about for the past couple of days. 

I am getting off Facebook. 

At first it might not sound like Joe telling me something relates to me staying off Facebook, but the truth is I've spent the past couple of days being disturbed all day long by things I see on Facebook. I don't spend much time on it, truthfully, but as a stay at home mom who is isolated at home with a baby who can't talk all day, sometimes I need to see what the world is up to. And lately it's been dragging me down. Probably not just lately. Forever. Joe is not on Facebook -- or on any social media (except Pinterest, long story, and I know it sounds hilarious!) -- and he is always saying how awesome it is to just live his life. And he's right. On Facebook lately all I've seen are people saying awful things, numerous headlines about violence of all kinds, and people posting statuses like they are experts on literally everything and their opinions are the only ones that matter. I can't even get on my neighborhood's Facebook group any more because there are people on that page who say rude and aggressive things to other neighbors. We're supposed to use that page to talk about the hours of the pool and to check in with each other about safety issues and things like that! 

Please don't take what I'm saying as meaning that I plan to bury my head in the sand and just pretend things aren't happening in the world. That's not true. All it means is that I can control the time and place I choose to read news and take in headlines, which will allow me to be more mentally and emotionally available to my husband, son, other family members, and friends. It also gives me the time and clearer head I need to decide how to take action and find out how I can best help. 

I plan to jump on Facebook to update my Happily Ever Krafter Facebook page with any blog updates, but other than that, I won't be there. The app is already gone from my phone. So if you'd like to engage with me via social media, find me on Instagram (which just seems generally to be a nicer place; maybe I'm wrong) where I might be from time to time, or, better yet, on Litsy, my most favorite app because it's all about books, and Goodreads because I will most likely just be online to read about reading all summer.


When I came downstairs this morning, I was overcome with the need for a little pleasant company. Joe was getting ready to leave for work (they were cleared to start working outside the house again on Friday), and I just needed a little light company. We don't usually have the TV on during Bert's awake hours (except on Friday mornings when we let him watch a little Batman), but today I decided to turn on Sesame Street. We have access to the HBO Go app courtesy of my parents' cable package, and you can watch classic Sesame Street on that app. I want Bert to watch a little Sesame Street because first, it's a great show that I've always loved, and two, well, his name is Bert! I watched a lot of Sesame Street growing up, and I remember loving Maria, Gordon, Bob, Linda, Luis, Mr. Hooper and all the characters. 

I turned it on and put Bert in his high chair to eat a few Cheerios while I emptied the dishwasher, made coffee, started laundry, and made Bert's breakfast. At one point I looked up, and this is what I saw:

Do you see what I see in this photo? We have Gordon, Olivia, David, and Susan who are African American; Bob, Linda, and Mr. Hooper who are white; Luis who is Mexican; Maria who is Puerto Rican; Mr. Hooper who is Jewish; and Linda who is deaf. This show that started in the 1970s has always had a beautiful and diverse cast, and it is a beloved show. People are all treated the same on Sesame Street and differences are celebrated and used as opportunities to learn about others' races, religions, and cultures. Sesame Street has been getting it right for decades, but in actual America we are still ... well, you see where we are and what's going on. 


Sesame Street is still on, and Bert and Ernie just finished singing a song that goes, "I don't like everything you like, but I like you." 


Yesterday we got to go to mass for the first time since March, and it was wonderful. We love our pastor, Father Jack, and he always knows just what to say. He frequently talks about current issues and sensitive topics, but it is always done in a way that is hopeful and centered on Christ. Yesterday, Pentecost, he made the comment that, "They [the apostles] spoke different languages but understood each other. In our country, we speak the same language, but we don't understand each other." That really struck me as so true and so sad. He also reminded us that God has something to say in every situation, and we have to look and see what He is trying to say to us. Father Jack also said that it is our responsibility to stand up for -- and lay our lives down for -- people that are more vulnerable than we are. He said that Christ did not wait for justice, he was willingly crucified and brought justice because He brought mercy. There can be no justice without mercy. 


My friend Sarah got me a wonderful daily calendar that features scripture or uplifting sayings on each page. Here's today's:

As always, I appreciate the time you take to read what I write and the kindness you show in allowing me to say it. I hope you have a beautiful week. 


I just saw that I posted this post on June 14, 2016, almost exactly four years ago. It begins with a sentence I could have begun with today. In that post, I also cited another post that I wrote in November 2014. It breaks my heart to read it all over again. 
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