Friday, September 30, 2016

September and Me || 2016

CURRENTLY 

loving. My bed. Because vacation is grand, but no bed is MY bed and it's good to be home.
needing. To figure out what to do with the 750 pictures from Europe. I mean, overwhelm.
wanting. Some fall weather. 102 degrees just isn't cutting it.
writing. Blog posts and such. I'm inspired after two weeks away and BLESS.
reading. Eight Hundred Grapes. I'm late on this one but I can barely set it down.
watching. Survivor. We'd lost interest until this season: Millennials versus Gen X.
listening. To Jack Johnson's Curious George CD. And The Chainsmoker's "Closer".
wishing. Everyone could travel. Going new places is so mind-blowing and heart-expanding.
feeling. Inspired. So inspired. I've craved inspiration for months and now, it is here.
craving. Stuffing. Butternut squash. Smoked turkey. Mackintosh apples. Basically, all the fall food.
eating. A lot. Jet-lag is for sleep and a feeling of constant starvation.
drinking. Green tea in the rare morning chill (so rare).
smelling. Books. I loved my eReader on vacation (six books later), but I missed paper pages.
working on. Custom Christmas ornament options for this season. BE PREPARED.
contemplating. How to stuff more time in my day so I can do all the creative things. 


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

We were gone most of the month so there's not a whole LOT of September writings. But, I gave an adoption update letting you know where we're at in the process.

I was preparing to reopen the shop on Saturday, October 1st, but couldn't ignore that today's my Popsicle's birthday. So, it's open NOW. The month will come with some Christmas offerings and a few (more) new globes that I'm hoping will make you smile (or buy).

I finally read Harry Potter (just the first book) for this month's #Collaboreads. (For the next month, we're reading books with the word FALL in the title and, in case you wanted to know, I'm reading A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner -adore her writing.)

MUST READ:

by Laila Ibrahim

Super Short Synopsis: This rich, deeply impactful, historical fiction stars, Mattie, an enslaved wet nurse, and her charge Lisbeth -a white babe of plantation owners- in their quest for freedom from the societal norms and a redefinition of their identities over the course of decades. 

My Thoughts: Gosh. I don't have enough kind things to say about this novel. The characters were real, relatable, heart-breaking, and perfect. The content painful to realize as part of America's history, but important to grapple with -especially in today's America. We need novels like this to remind ourselves of the healing that has started, but is still profoundly necessary. 

I found myself so invested in the pains and joys of the characters that tears were running down my face on our flight home from Europe. Thankfully, the complete stranger sitting next to me was asleep and Jason was enthralled in a movie so no one was aware of my reader's plight. This easily slips into the Top Five reads I've ever read and, goodness, I can't wait to recommend it all over the place. (I literally want to buy a half dozen copies of it and send it to every brave reader I know.)

Reminded Me Of: The Kitchen House, The Secret Life of Bees, and The Invention of Wings

The rest of my book reviews are going to be in a separate post because I've missed doing them here on the blog (plus I have a new format I want to try out). 

Three Nifty Things You Need to Know
This is here because I'm obsessed with her and missed her so when we were gone. 

1. There are 750 pictures on my phone from our two weeks in Europe. Yes, nearly a thousand shots of all the things we did for two weeks. And in lieu of a book that we order off of Apple or Snapfish, I've set my heart on making a paper moleskine into our trip book... So, I had to order a WHOLE BUNCH of pictures from my phone and the best way: Postal Pix. They're uploaded from my phone and that's all I have to do until the pictures arrive in our mail box!

2. My favorite lotion just released a new scent(?) and you NEED to know about it. I get it at Target in the natural skin care section for about $13.99.  It's coconut, but smells so faintly like vacation. No one else can smell it (so I'm not like a giant pina colada walking down the street) and it keeps my skin so nourished throughout the course of my day! 

3. We just finished registering at Target for baby Thomas and did you know they're so smart and made an APP?!? Yes, I just used my phone to scan the labels of the things we wanted instead of having to check in with the customer service (which is always busy at this start of school time of year). Maybe all the stores do this but, how cool is technology? 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Collaboreads: Or the First Time I've Read Harry Potter


It's the day where the best kind of book club (which doesn't make everyone read the same book) is live!

Rachel and I are thrilled you're here, but first:

If you missed what #Collaboreads is, you can familiarize yourself here.

Short version: Rachel and I pick a random criteria for the book (i.e. Takes Place in Summertime). You pick your book and read it. Then the last Wednesday of the month we meet up and talk about our choices.There's a R.E.A.D.S. review format that we've shared for suggestion's sake (shared in this post), but feel free to review however you're comfortable!

For September we dared you to read a book that's been BANNED in one way or another.

This seemed like the perfect time to take a dive into the world of...


You'll never believe this, but at 27 years old, I've never read an entire Harry Potter book. In fact, I've only ever made it to Platform 9 3/4 before I would jump ship and move from the fantastical life of wizards to something more familiar to me. But this time I told myself I'd make it happen.


By J.K. Rowling
RIVETING. 
I get why people love this series. Rowling can write and she does this play with pace that is admirable, riveting, and envy-making. Just as I'd start to feel tired, prepared to nap or sleep or just set the book down, she'd whip the plot line up to another action-packed peak and there'd be no way I could let the novel rest in that place.

So, I'd keep reading. Then I'd be 100 pages further in the novel and wondering where the night went.

ELEMENTS.
Reading this one was effortless... I know it was meant for Young Adults, but I really struggle with fantastical elements (hence the reason I've never made it through an entire book in the series yet) and I feared I would be pulling out my own teeth in an effort to mark this one off my To Read list.

But I was wrong.

Maybe the wisdom and experience that the last fifteen years of my life held were part of my enjoyment, but I related to the characters. I actually thought, Whoa, I've been in a situation like Harry is with Snape. So, yes, I now understand why it is that grown adults treasure the series so.

Does this mean I'm going to jump in and read them all? I don't know.
But I'll admit this: I've been thinking about the second book and what happens to Harry next.

ASSOCIATE.
Gosh, this is where I struggle.

Parts of the book reminded me of Matilda -almost like if I was going to be a matchmaker I'd totally set Harry and Matilda up because they seem to have so much in common. This similarity makes me smile because Matilda is one of the first books I ever loved.

I know Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl deals with what it means for a beloved series to come to an end (and dances in the realms of fan fiction) so, of course, my heart goes there and thinks of that.

DESIGN.
This feels funny to talk about for me... Mostly because the book cover is something that's been around for over a decade of my life. However, I adored the simplicity and regal look of the digital book covers (which might be blasphemous to my own reading attitudes from just a month ago). 

STARS. 

Four and a half. 

I'm not sure what is keeping me from giving it the FULL five... Maybe part of the issue is there were places where I could put the book down and where I wasn't that particularly interested. I've heard from a few people that the first is, in fact, the weakest of the novels so, I'm holding hope and guessing I'll jump into the second of the series soon.

And now, it's your turn to talk about all the books that filled your month!


Next month's topic we'll see you on 
October 26th! 
And we're going to be reading... 

Books with the word FALL in the title!
Yep, going seasonal and depending on the goodness of  polysemy here!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

An Answer to Prayers || A Marriage Letter

Dear Jason,

Earlier this month I made a crockpot full of our favorite spaghetti sauce, boiled two bags of our favorite noodles, and served over a dozen of our neighbors. It was accidental -the way they all ended up in our backyard-, but oh the depth of purpose in those moments.

You see, we prayed to be a gathering place from the moment we married. We prayed that people would be comfortable enough to come, to sit and pour out, to know we'd pour back in. We prayed and our community grew with care and effort. Then we decided to buy a house. And our prayers changed.

We prayed for the doors to be unlocked, the rooms to be inviting, the neighbors to know how much we adore the act of gathering. And that Sunday evening, we had a full, full house. There were shrieks and tortoise rides, stampedes of small children up and down the stairs. There were moms relaxing around our American flag table on the patio and dads setting up the make shift movie theater out front. There was garlic bread and vinegar topped salad served with all kinds of conversation.

And in a small, hardly quiet moment: I knew our prayers had been answered. All the noise and chaos and the doors wide open were the result of faith well invested.

This extends. This extends to you -the way I prayed for a husband who adored me the way I loved him-, this extends to our town -the roots we've put down in the place where I was raised-, this extends to jobs -the steady, fulfilling places where we spend our days-, and it'll extend to our family.

Our prayers are heard. His will fulfilled.
Our hearts are led. His purpose kind.

Faithfully praying and loving by your side,
Am

- - - - - - - - - -

This letter is one in a series of letters I write to remember mundane moments of my marriage that would otherwise slip away. I write with a dedication to hold tight to him and to remember how life looks right now at this very moment. The chance for these letters to shed light on our marriage before children for our children because they won't know us as newlyweds is a much loved and added bonus.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Coffee Date || 28



If we were on a coffee date, I'd want to serve you up something good and strong because lately, that's all that's keeping me awake in the evenings. I don't know if it's the night coming earlier or the darkness in the mornings, but the blessed rest of night feels SO MUCH shorter these days. I'd probably want to offer your some of my homemade cold brew coffee with coconut creamer because it tastes like summer which is quickly coming to an end. 

If we were on a coffee date, I'd ask about your opinions on fall. Fall gets a hard wrap sometimes like it's the sad, unathletic sibling of the star quarterback that's named Summer. But I love it -and not for the pumpkin spice lattes- because the leaves changing and the evenings cooling are creativity boosters galore. I'd ask if you call it autumn or fall, if you're a fan of pumpkin (I only like some of it), and how much football plays on your TV in these months. 

If we were on a coffee date, I'd tell you I've started journaling prayers. I'd tell you because I'd want to know if you've done the same and then I'd need to know how. I'd need to know because I've realized I left no space to track answered prayers and that sometimes I just want to bullet things and others leave me feeling like I need to edit myself. I guess I should honor each of the rhythms as it comes, but I tend to favor uniformity. Tell me friend, tell me HOW. 

If we were on a coffee date, I'd talk to you about books. I'd probably have two or three to hand off to you as recommendations from our shelves and I'd want to know what's been rocking your world (or boring you to death). I'd mention how I've dived head first into the world of Harry Potter (for #Collaboreads) and I'm loving the second in a detective series called In the Land of Milk and Honey and 

If we were on a coffee date, I'd confess I've been more intentional in the evenings. Jason's been working longer hours in preparation for our trip which means our time together in the evenings is shorter. The moment he walks through the door each night I'm over the moon and my phone -with the texts and emails and apps- doesn't appeal to me. I want to carry this on to the less busy, more mellow times. 

If we were on a coffee date, I'd mention the new MTV show Unlocking the Truth. As a true child of the '90s, I keep up on what MTV happens to be serving and their decision to tackle a Real Crime docu-series in lieu of The Real World has me as a major fan. Think of it as Steven Avery with a smaller time commitment, but an equal as binge-worthy quality. 

If we were on a coffee date, I'd recommend fall be the season of butternut squash. This is blasphemous in the season beloved for its pumpkin spice, but I can't get enough of butternut. My go to recipes are this gnocchi bake, these roasted spicy chunks, this creamy soup, and butternut squash raviolis (which I've never made, but want to). 

If we were on a coffee date, I'd remind you that hard times happen, but you endure. Because, right now my friends are weathering storms that are big and bad and scary and hard. But they're enduring and they don't realize the bravery that fills their days. Sometimes, we just need a reminder that we're more durable than the seasons through which we're required to live. So here, a reminder: 
This is hard, this season sucks and aches and so much more. 
But you, you are strong, you are brave, you are wholly enduring. 

----------
Join us friends. Join Erin and I in community and coffee and all the kinds of general goodness. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Five Years: a Celebration of Mr. Thomas & Me

Five years ago -tomorrow- we sat in matching gold chairs and breathed sighs of relief after saying "I do" in front of our family and friends. We ate smoked ribs with macaroni and cheese, we drank Mike's hard lemonade, and then we danced. Oh we danced and danced and danced.

The night was bliss -a blur of my white dress, his grey tux, and our arms wrapped around each other. They say that your wedding night is just the beginning of the joys of marriage. And they are right. But they are also underwhelming newlyweds.

Because marriage is the joy of sharing laundry and living spaces and bathrooms because you choose. It's the love that blooms in the sweaty throes of yard work, through the pained grunts of moving heavy furniture, under the splashes of interior paint. It's the kindness that surprises you in the depths of night, the first chirps of morning, the full bellies of noon.

Marriage -in it's truest form- happens on the daily, in the minutiae, with little pomp or circumstance. Marriage is the gritty relationship you'll never be able to put into words topped off with some fun vacations and sexy time. Marriage is bigger than your wildest dreams, sweeter than the grandest cake, fuller than the most fruitful of trees.

And so, in honor of five years of the daily, beloved kind of marriage that made me a Thomas, I've shared some superlatives. Nothing like thinking about the last five years in the small (and big) moments:

BIGGEST CHALLENGE:

Learning how to balance our individual goals and how to combine our personal money habits.

MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT:

Hysterically laughing ourselves to sleep at night. This is one of many moments, but they're my most treasured memories of our marriage. 



BEST PURCHASE:

Hazel. (Second best: Jason's boat)

BEST DATE NIGHT RESTAURANT PICK:

Wine tasting followed by our favorite local Italian restaurant.



PROUDEST MARRIED MEMORY:

Getting the keys to our home. I never imagined we'd be able to buy a home in our first five years of marriage.

FAVORITE PHOTO:

snapped by the talented Alexes Lauren Photography

MOST VALUABLE LESSON:

Humility, dropping pride for the sake of loving and being loved in deeper, more honest ways.

MOST LOVED SONG:

"Who Are You When I'm Not Looking" by Blake Shelton

 FAVORITE ROAD TRIP TIP:

Listen to the Dr. Laura podcast and always have a bag of Gardetto's.

MOST REWARDING MARRIAGE LESSON:

Communication. We have seen how hard it is for two people -especially a man and woman who live together- to learn to speak and to listen. This is something we've been really intentional in practicing and it's such a soul-deep reward when we get it right.


FAVORITE VACATION:

Our week in Denver. Tied with our week in Costa Rica (though I'd change a couple of our choices there).

THING I'M MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO:

The next fifty years of him by my side (and then some).

GREATEST GIFT:

Tickets to a Florida Georgia Line concert for Jason's 27th birthday. He sang along the ENTIRE night and I'd never seen so much joy in that man's face.

LARGEST MILESTONE:

Say our final good-bye to my dad last December.
 


And finally, the question I've asked Jason every single week for the last five years,
FAVORITE THING ABOUT BEING MARRIED:

His provision. I married a man who makes sure I'm provided for before anything else and I'll always, always be deeply thankful (and in love with) that part of him.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Five Tips to Amazing Book Review Writing


I've always been an avid reader and in the last six months, I've become an avid reviewer. Part of my love for reviewing is my innate joy in sharing my opinion about anything. And, confessionally, as a reader I highly depend on reviews to influence my reading choices -so in reviewing, I feel I'm paying it forward to future readers of all the things.

While Amazon's review system is clean and interesting, I find myself comparing the star rating (and then grittier reviews) with what's found on GoodReads. I've ended up giving more clout to the reviews that I read on Goodreads because the reviews are more specific in their critique and more bold with their adoration. Engaging with a HUGE social network of readers has allowed me to see how every reader is different, every book is included in life's context and that all the kinds of context are important.

But what kind of reviews are my favorite? Well, there are five things that make book reviews stand out and especially influential to me.

1. Honesty about expectations for the author and book.

When I pick up a book, I've often checked out the reviews for it. I've definitely read the blurb on the sleeve. I've probably heard about the book from a book blog or podcast or friend or my mom and so, I know it's going to be good. This means the moment it is anything but good, I grow frustrated. It took me months to realize this and to identify that my expectations are SO important in determining my impression of a book.

2. Identification of what the reader likes in books.

For example, I adore plot. Minimal character development is okay with me as long as the plot moves, twists, and reveals more about the characters as they are interacting with one another through large narrative events.

3. Realize the context and circumstance in which you're reading said book.

You have to be honest with yourself about what you need from a novel when you pick it up. Are you up for another WWII historical fiction novel or do you need a simple beach read? Can you handle the heavy heartbreak of a grieving memoir or would it be better to read through a wild thriller that leaves some mystery for you to obsess over? Honor your feelings, know your circumstance, and then pick away!

4. Specifically name your struggles.

I've never read any of the classics (besides what had to be read for class in high school). I've always wanted to say I've made it through Little Women. But I dread the book every time I make it to page 150. I am not a classic reader -much to my own sadness. I've come to terms with this fact and have stopped trying to force myself and hallelujah!

5. Point out what would make you love the book.

So the book was boring but you trucked through it. You've thought all the things to think and realize that all you needed from the main character was a brave face at the turn of the novel rather than a serious dependence on her vampire lover. Say that and then some because people desperately want to know exactly what would make the difference in your stars.

What, specifically, do I 
look for in GoodReads reviews?

A score of 3.75 or higher. Getting lower than that ISN'T a deal breaker entirely... But I'm picky and every reader knows there's nothing worse than spending time with a book that sucks when there are so many amazing books out there in the world waiting for you to read them.

You know the one thing that's a review killer for me:
SPOILERS.

There is no -I mean NO- reason you need to spoil ANYTHING when writing a review. There are many ways to reference different places in the novel -the closing, the opening, the turning point, etc. - without specifically saying Harry Potter is a wizard and Albus Dumbledore dies. SO MANY WAYS to share your opinion without breaking the literary tension that we all love and adore.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Public Service Reminders v. 5.0


We stayed on a lake in the mountains with Jason's family at the beginning of August. I watched the weather app on my phone for the two weeks leading up to our trip. I knew what I needed to pack and I was thrilled when I had my suitcase prepared before Jason did. I laid on our bed and bragged while he folded and stuffed his clothes into a bag of his own.

Forty-eight hours after being at the lake, I could be found wearing the same shorts I arrived in. This is abnormal for me, but -you see- I packed wrong. I brought a single pair of shorts because I was counting on cold, crisp mountain weather that didn't happen. I had pants and sleeves all prepared, but they were ill-fitting for the sunny, bright days we got.

I wanted to be embarrassed. I wanted to hide my outfit and I hoped deep in me that his family didn't notice. But somehow, I kept coming back to, this is my family and I'm unprepared. The shorts were a reminder that we're always unprepared. Aren't we naive and confused in one way or another always? It's the odd, blessed miracle when we have all the right things in our bag.

This is a public service reminder: we're all trying to prove our capability.

But we're messes with the wrong things packed in our bags. We've brought band-aids to heal major wounds, we're trying to stop a flood with a tea cup, we're hoping a cocktail umbrella will provide some shelter from life's storms.

- - - - - - - - -

Our office building is being rennovated. Two men are working hard to do the work that's probably better suited for a dozen men. They're busy and making progress and being overseen by a jerk. He swings by at random times and wants to assert his dominance. He tests them on the name of tools (NO THAT'S A CRESCENT WRENCH.) and tells them to do it how they see fit, but then criticizes their choice.

I can't stand the man. He's rude, he's mean, and it takes every cell in my body not to tell him how important kindness is. But, he doesn't even notice me. He doesn't notice my door is open and I can hear his unpleasant management style. He doesn't notice when I walk by and say hello. He doesn't notice anything outside of himself.

And I have spent more time than I can count thinking about him, about how I have do and will do the same. I realize the places and points where I've represented myself so poorly. I try to counteract the embarrassments that result with the moments I'm proud, but humility is a vital part of life, right?

This is a public service reminder: people are watching you and making judgments. 

I know, it sounds creepy and weird. But we have to realize the ripples that extend beyond our initial interactions. Like, our kindness makes an impression beyond the person who receives it. And -in extension- so does our rudeness.

- - - - - - - - -

Speaking of offices, I'm dealing with some frustrations at work. I'm trying to ask some questions and understand the fine points of our union contract. It's completely foreign territory to me -my dad handled all these things many, many years ago. We've let the questions sit for years too long and it's time to take the bull by the horns.

So, I've grabbed tight and I'm trying hard to be kindly stern in getting answers (even if I have to ask so many times that it hurts my ego). This is insanely frustrating because of the many people who make many decisions and the need to talk to all of them. Also, because I don't understand so much of the process so my eyes are being opened to a ton of new information. Also, because the systems in place aren't particularly easy to move within which means I'm calling and emailing a dozen different people in hopes that one of them can point me the right way.

It's all of our faults that this is so frustrating.

This is a public service reminder: frustrating things happen -what matters is how you respond to it. 

I'm not one who claims patience or understanding. I'm also not usually the one to need to rely deeply on the patience of another human. So give patience because one day you'll depend on it.

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