In My Library Tote: Recent Reads

While I have been known to get caught up in a series, most of the time I like a lot of variety when tackling my to-read list. Here are a few books I've enjoyed lately, and they run the gamut from crime thriller to non-fiction parenting help.

If you want... 

{one} a boring book rut-buster: Trust No One by Paul Cleave. This fast-paced thriller is told through the eyes of a famous crime writer who has been diagnosed with early onset alzheimer's. Soon the lines blur between what is reality and what is fiction, and he starts to confess to crimes like the ones described in his best-sellers. This was a fun read with lots of plot twists and turns. 

{two} an excuse to re-read the Lisbeth Salander trilogy: The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz. Lagercrantz picks up where Steig Larsson left off, continuing the Milleneum trilogy starring Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander. If you liked the trilogy, I think it's worth a read; however, I thought it fell a little flat compared to the original series. While the story itself kept me entertained, I didn't feel the same connection to the characters as I did in Larsson's series. 

{three} history, love, and a little magic: The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler. Simon, a librarian, receives an old book in the mail one day that is a log from a traveling carnival. At first he's not sure why such a book would be of interest to him, but as he reads it he learns that the "mermaids" described in the log book are relatives of his mother. She also was a "mermaid" famous for holding her breath underwater in a carnival, and Simon learns that she drowned on the same day as the other women described in the book. That day is quickly approaching, and Simon worries about his sister, who is also a part of a traveling carnival, and has been acting very strangely lately. This book really did have a little bit of everything, and I found it to be a good book for escaping. I didn't love it as much as I thought I would, but I did enjoy reading it. 

{four} some practical advice on getting your picky child(ren) to eat: French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon. I've mentioned before that around the time Jona turned one, he went from eating everything in sight to protesting just about everything we put in front of him. I'm always looking for ways to get him excited about (or at least open to) trying new things and also getting a wider variety of healthy foods in his diet. I found this book to be not only helpful, but also enjoyable to read. I've been trying to implement some of Le Billon's strategies and have even had a few successes (like soup! he tried soup the other day!). 

{five} a quick, but well-written read: Someone Else's Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson. Shandi, the single mom to a 3-year-old genius Natty, has enough on her plate already, but her life becomes even more complicated after they both survive a hold up at a gas station. Their survival is thanks to William Ashe, who risks his own life to save Shandi, Natty, and the others. Shandi feels a connection to William, but learns that his life is just as complicated, if not more, than her own. I liked this book and was once again impressed with Jackson's writing. I've only read one other novel by Joshilyn Jackson, A Grown Up Kind of Pretty, which I loved. This one I didn't love quite as much, but I look forward to reading more from her. 

Have you read anything good lately? 

From the archives: 

What to Wear for New Year's Eve: Going Out or Staying In

New Year's Eve is one of my favorite holidays. The excitement of Christmas hasn't yet worn off, and I love celebrating the end of one year and the start of another. The idea of a new year bringing a fresh start is always appealing, no matter how good the past year has been. Plus, I love turning the page on a new calendar and planner each year.

Before having Jona, I loved getting dressed up for New Year's Eve and going to dinner with friends. Now, we still spend our evening with friends, but we typically stay in and have a much more relaxed, kid-friendly celebration. (Also, making it until midnight is no longer an easy task.)

I'm sharing New Year's Eve looks for either option, going out or staying in.

For a New Year's Eve night out with friends, I want to dress up a little more than I usually would. A sparkly sequin top makes black ponte pants feel special, and my pink heels are fun but comfortable enough for hours of standing or dancing.

Jacket: Loft (similar in black) | sequined top: J.Crew (similar) | ponte pants: Express (on sale for $30!) | earrings: Loft (similar) | necklace: Silpada (similar for $10) | pink heels: Nine West (similar)

Jacket: Loft  (similar in black) | sequin top: J. Crew (similar) | earrings: Loft (similar) | necklace: Silpada (similar for $10)

Black ponte pants: Express | pink heels: Nine West (similar)

Jacket: Loft (similar in black) | sequin top: J.Crew (similar)

There may come a day when we get a babysitter and hit the town for New Year's Eve, but this year will be one for staying in. For a New Year's Eve in, I want to be casual and comfortable, but still have some special elements that make me feel like it's a holiday. I love my denim leggings and embellished sweatshirt for an occasion like this, because it feels like I'm wearing a sweatshirt and leggings, but looks a lot better.

Embellished sweatshirt: Loft (love this option for $25) | chambray shirt: Madewell (similar) | denim leggings: Loft | pearl earrings: Kohl's (similar) | ankle boots: Crown Vintage (similar at a great price)

Denim leggings: Loft | ankle boots: Crown Vintage (similar) | embellished sweatshirt: Loft (similar)

Embellished sweatshirt: Loft (similar) | chambray shirt: Madewell (similar) | pearl earrings: Kohl's (similar)

What are your plans for New Year's Eve? What are you planning to wear? 

Linking to Mix it Mondays, Hello Monday, Let it Shine, A Lovely Little a la Mode, On Trend Tuesdays, Oh Hey Girl, and Thursday Fashion Files. 

From the archives: 

4 Creative Ways to Use an Address Stamp featuring Simply Alexandra Stationery

Recently I had the chance to work with local blogger and stationer Alexandra of Simply Alexandra Stationery on custom-designed moving announcements. When she mentioned she could also make me an address stamp, I was thrilled... I've always wanted an address stamp!

Mainly I looked forward to not having to write out our return address on all our Christmas cards, but I knew it would get lots of use beyond that. I love how my stamp turned out; the font is fun yet readable, and I love the little detail of the state of Kansas with a heart in the 'burbs of KC where I live.

It will clearly come in handy for sending out mail, but I thought of a few other ways I could use my new address stamp. 

{4 Creative Uses for an Address Stamp}

{one} Use it to make a custom bookplate for your books, planner, or photo albums. 

{two} Stamp a piece of paper or card stock and put it in your luggage tag. You would probably want to also add your phone number to the back, or below your address.  (Aren't these luggage tags fun?) 

{three} Stamp your address on key tag labels to help you keep track of spare keys. If you give a friend or neighbor a spare key, it's very helpful for her to find and keep track of as well. 

{four} Make personalized note cards or note paper. If you didn't want to stamp your entire address, you could thoroughly clean off your stamp and then use a sponge brush to only "paint" the name portion. I haven't yet tried this but want to soon! I love these gold-edged note cards

If you're in the market for an address stamp or anything stationary-related, I would highly recommend Simply Alexandra. She worked with me to make sure I got exactly what I wanted, and her pricing was very reasonable too! Thanks Alexandra!

Do you use an address stamp? Is there anything else you use it for that I haven't thought of? 

I will be back on Monday with a post about New Year's Eve style, see you then! Have a merry Christmas!

From the archives: 

Mom and Toddler Christmas Style

This year, Ada of Elegance and Mommyhood asked me to be a part of a special mommy and child Christmas post with a few other bloggers. Of course I agreed; you know there's no arm-twisting needed for me to coordinate with Jona and put him in a blog post.

Be sure to check out all the blogs below to see more of them and their adorable families. Of course I love seeing beautiful, professional family photos, but I think these real-life, unposed glimpses into real life are even more precious.

ADA of Elegance and Mommyhood: "This was the day we took a million pictures. If you have a very active toddler you understand. Vivian and I still managed to dress up in red and white and take some cute Holiday snapshots among the huge bunch. From myself, my daughter Vivian and her favorite doll we wish you Happy Holidays and a very Merry Christmas!"
BROOKE of Pumps and Pushups: "Celebrating the holidays with these two is so very sweet. I love making the season magical for them and living through their excitement."

RACHEL of Threads for Thomas: "During the holidays, my family tends to keep our gatherings on the casual side. However, I still want us all to look put together, so a nice sweater is usually the solution.  I love dressing the twins in coordinating sweaters, and for me, a sweater dress is the perfect option."
ERICA of Pumps and Pushups: "This Christmas is extra special as it is the first one my husband, family and I will be celebrating with our brand new bundle of joy. Christmas has always been a favorite time of year for me and I am so excited to now have a little one of my own to share in the magic of the season!"

AMY of the Gifted Gabber: "Our after-church photo shoot resulted in a little impromptu porch decorating. My two little helpers had some unconventional decorating ideas, but we finally got things straight. My red plaid dress is a holiday favorite of mine from Old Navy. Little One's black plaid dress is also from Old Navy. Last Christmas season, we bought Scooter Britches' shimmery plaid dress one size up from Target and she has been able to enjoy it for one more holiday season."
SHEA of Shea Lennon: "I'm looking forward to a relaxing Christmas spent with family. Jona and I are ready to eat delicious food and open lots of presents in our comfy jeans and red plaid. Merry Christmas!"

Last week I talked about making everyday outfits a little more glam for the holidays. While I love the excuse to get dressed up, the reality is that for us, Christmas day itself is a pretty casual affair. No matter which side of the family we spend it with, we usually just hang out, chat, and eat.

Therefore, I like to wear something both comfortable and festive for our family Christmas. Jeans, stripes, and boots are a favorite, and my red plaid blanket scarf looks Christmasy and keeps me warm. And while I still can, I like to coordinate Jona with me as well. For him, I chose this red plaid shirt with jeans and gray sneakers.

On me: jacket: Loft (similar) | striped top: Ann Taylor Factory (similar) | denim leggings: Loft | blanket scarf: Target (similar) | boots: Crown Vintage (similar)
On Jona: plaid shirt: Gap via ThredUp (similar) | jeans: Gap | sneakers: Target

{Shop my look}

{Shop Jona's look}

What do you usually do for Christmas? What are you planning to wear? 

Linking with Mix it Mondays, Let it Shine, A Lovely Little a la Mode, On Trend Tuesdays, Bloggers Who Have Inspired Me. 

From the archives: 

Spied it, Tried it: Twine Christmas Card Display "Tree"

I mentioned on Wednesday's Christmas home tour post that my house is still a work in progress when it comes to Christmas (and all) decorations. I tend to get overwhelmed by all the projects I want to do and the ideas I see, so sometimes that means I do nothing. However, I knew this year one thing I did want to do was create a Christmas card display.

The only requirements I had for this card display project were that it had to be both quick and cheap to make. I found a few options on my Christmas Pinterest board.

1 | 2 | 3

I decided to make the twine tree card display to take advantage of the bare wall situation we still have happening at our house. 

Thankfully, it met my requirements of being quick, easy, and cheap to make. The most expensive thing I bought were the clear Command hooks to hang the twine and ornaments from, and I know I'll use them again for other projects. Other things you'll need to make this project are cardstock (for the star), twine, mini clothespins, and lightweight ornaments to jazz up the "tree" a little. 

Here's a close up of my favorite card on the display...ours. Talk about quick and easy, for the card I found a cute design on Shutterfly and used a couple of pictures of Jona I took earlier in the year. Next year I hope to get some family pictures taken (because we've done those, um, never) but this year it just wasn't happening. Luckily I just happened to have some cute pictures of Jona hanging around. 

How do you display your Christmas cards? 

Linking with In Residence for Pin to Present

From the archives:

My Christmas Home Tour and Tradition Wish List

I’m joining The Circle linkup at In its Time today, where we’re sharing our Christmas decorations and traditions. Be sure to check out the other blogs participating for more Christmas fun!

When it comes to clothes, I think I have my holiday style pretty well figured out. However, at home, I still feel a bit lost. My holiday d├ęcor is an eclectic mix of bargain finds, hand-me-downs, and family keepsakes. There’s a lot about this mix I like, but over the next couple of years I hope to make it a little more cohesive and reflective of my style.

{Christmas home tour}

However, I won’t let perfectionism get in the way of sharing my Christmas home work-in-progress with you.

We bought a real tree this year, a wonderfully scented Fraser fir. I love our collection of ornaments. They're a mix of childhood ornaments of Aaron's and mine, several we've received since we've been married, a few for Jona, and even a couple artistic creations thanks to Jona's Sunday School class. 

Handprint ornament Jona made this year | Jona's "baby's first Christmas" ornament

Our living room has some built-in shelving, so I added a few Christmas touches to the existing books and decor. 

This year I was so excited to have a mantel to hang our stockings from, and I couldn't pass up these cute initial stockings I found at Target. (Even the little stocking for Ellie, our dog!) 

Every year I tell myself I'm going to DIY a wreath, and every year goes by that I don't and we're wreath-less. This year, I picked up this one for $8 (!) at Michael's. It's nothing too exciting, but it works until I can get my DIY act together. 

My nativity set was my mom's Fontanini set that she passed along to me. I love getting it out every year and eventually would like to get a little stable for them to sit in. Jona loves looking at it too and always asks to hold baby Jesus. 

This year I decided to get a little crafty and make a card holder display. Stay tuned, I'll share more details about this DIY on Friday. 

{Christmas traditions} 

I've mentioned before that since we tend to be in a different place every year for Christmas (alternating between families), we haven't really started too many traditions. However, I love traditions, especially for Christmas, so I came up with a wishlist of sorts, for future traditions I hope to start.

{one} new pajamas. This is a pretty popular tradition, but it's one I really like. I love the idea of giving everyone in the family new pajamas on Christmas eve night, so everyone has new PJs to wear on Christmas morning. We may start that one this year, at least for Jona. I'm thinking about picking up a cute set from Old Navy

{two} baking day. One of my favorite traditions growing up was baking cookies with my mom, and I hope to continue that same tradition with Jona. I'd like to make a few different kinds, some old favorites and some new recipes (like these salted chocolate pecan pie bars, and make plates of treats for friends and family. 

{three} advent calendar. I think advent calendars are so much fun, and I love all the different ways you can be creative with them. I've seen Christmas book advent calendars, Bible verses, even beer advent calendars! I like the ones that have a little bit of everything, from family activities to little treats. I'd love to make this sweet, simple version from Jen Loves Kev

{four} one new book. I don't buy a lot of new books; I typically prefer to make regular library visits instead. However, I love the idea of building a Christmas book collection, so buying Jona one Christmas book a year sounds like the perfect way to do it. I think I'll start this year with The Polar Express. It's such a classic, and since Jona has developed a love for all things "choo choo train" I know he'll love it. 

What are your holiday traditions? 

From the archives: 

5 Ways to Add Holiday Glam to Your Look

I wish I could say that my Christmas shopping is done, all the presents are wrapped, and our cards have been sent out. Instead, I find myself once again racing against the clock to get everything ready for Christmas. So I don't have a lot of time to worry about what I'll be wearing for various holiday events this year. 

After looking through my closet, I've come up with a few items that always make my outfits feel more festive for the holiday season. Mixed with classic pieces, like a simple cardigan or skinny black pants, these elements add a bit of glam to a look, but the end result still feels like me.

{5 ways to add holiday glam to any look}

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

{one} pops of red. I love red any time of year, but during the holidays I love pulling out all my favorite red pieces, like my red lace-up flats. 

flats: Topshop (similar) | sweatshirt: Loft (similar)

{two} embellished sweaters. Sweaters and sweatshirts with sequins or jewels decorating them are such an easy way to add a little glam to any look; easy, because you don't have to add much jewelry when you wear them since it's pretty much built in. 

{three} bold lipstick. I'm typically a gloss or neutral lipstick wearer most of the time, but this time of year I love wearing bold red and dark burgundy. Adding lipstick makes a look feel that much more special. 

{four} lace. Wearing lace always makes me feel more ladylike and glamorous, so of course it's perfect for the holidays. Also, depending on how you style it, it can go from the most casual to the dressiest occasions. 

cardigan: Gap Outlet (similar) | lace top: Loft (similar) | jean leggings | pearl necklace: Loft Outlet (similar) | ankle boots: Crown Vintage (similar at a great price) 

{five} statement jewelry. Since statement jewelry is my go-to for dressing up a look any time of year, the holiday season is no different. To up the glam factor even more, I'll mix multiple statement pieces, like a chunky pearl necklace and big rhinestone earrings. For me, that would feel like too much most of the time, but this time of year I think it works. 

How do you dress up your style for the holidays?

From the archives: 

5 Healthy Snack Swaps

Because we're apparently masochists, Aaron and I chose this time of year to start a diet. When we put our house on the market and moved, we got into the habit of eating out way too often, and our unhealthy habits only continued after we got settled in. So, after hearing a few bloggers like Megan and Casey sing its praises, we started the 21 Day Fix. And surprisingly, it hasn't been that bad.

However, it has forced me to make quite an adjustment to my snacking habits, which formerly consisted of chocolate, ice cream, and more chocolate. I've been trying to think of snack swaps that will keep me just as satisfied as their sugar- and carb-loaded counterparts.

Five Healthy Snack Swaps

{one} Granola bar swap: Nakd bars. I used to eat a lot of granola bars (the chewy kind with lots of chocolate), but when I started looking at the ingredient list and seeing all the sugar (not to mention other weird things) I stopped buying them as often. But you can't beat the convenience of a bar for a snack, so when the people at Natural Balance Foods offered to send me some of their healthy cereal bars, called Nakd bars, I happily agreed. 

They're made with 100% fruit and nuts, so you can feel good about having them for a snack. Of course I went for the chocolate flavors. While they're certainly no substitute for a candy bar, they are pretty tasty! Aaron liked the fruit flavored bars and the Strawberries and Cream nibbles. 

This simple swap inspired me to think of a few others that I could make in my snacking.

{two} Peanut butter crackers swap: apple with peanut butter. Another favorite snack of mine is anything that involves peanut butter, so lately I've been taking my peanut butter with a side of honeycrisp apple rather than crackers, pretzels, or other salty snacks. 

{three} Butter swap: goat cheese. I LOVE goat cheese. Its creamy, tangy taste pairs perfectly with so many things. This is a swap I've always preferred, so instead of having a whole wheat english muffin with butter, I top it with some goat cheese instead. It's surprisingly low in calories and has a lot more nutritional value than butter does. 

{four} Chip swap: healthy trail mix. I realize that not all trail mix is created equal, but I'm talking the fruit and nut variety. I just bought some I really like with pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and almonds from Target, but I think an even healthier option would be to make it yourself. 

{five} Milk chocolate swap: dark chocolate. This is another swap that I've been doing for years. I love dark chocolate, and it's a lot healthier for you than milk. I'm not eating too much chocolate these days, but I still allow myself a little square of dark chocolate after lunch. 

What are some healthy snacks you've been enjoying lately? 

From the archives: 

How to Tie a Blanket Scarf: 2 Ways

Recently my blog buddy Megan of MeginTime shared a post and video about how she tied her scarf. In her post, she tagged me to share my "scarf tying secrets" for the scarf I wore in this post. To be honest, I don't remember exactly how I tied my scarf in that look, but I tried my best to recreate that look, and also the tie from this post here.

{blanket scarf tie one: twisted loop}

How to tie a blanket scarf in a twisted loop. |

  1. Take a long blanket scarf and fold it in half length-wise.
  2. Fold in half to find the center point.
  3. Place that point around your neck and tie ends.
  4. Take one end and twist through the loop around your neck. 
  5. Repeat that step (with the same end) and twist through the loop again.
  6. Take what's left of that same end (there shouldn't be much) and tuck it under the loop.
  7. Now, take the other end and do the same thing, twisting it around the loop, then tucking the end underneath. 
  8. You may need to fluff it a bit, pulling at each twist a little, to get the look you want. 

{blanket scarf tie two: knotted triangle}

How to tie a blanket scarf in a knotted triangle. |

  1. For this look, use an extra-large square scarf.
  2. Fold it in half diagonally and hold so that the triangle points down towards your feet.
  3. Holding the ends, pull the scarf towards your neck (triangle is pointing down).
  4. Cross the ends in the back and pull them to the front.
  5. Take those ends and tie them (they will be on top of the other part of the scarf, the larger part).
  6. Fluff that knot (pull the ends or twist the knot itself) so that the ends point downwards rather than out to the side. 

Do you have any scarf-tying tricks? I'd love to hear them! 

{shop blanket scarves}

Linking to Bloggers Who Have Inspired Me, Oh Hey Girl, and Thursday Fashion Files

From the archives: 

How to Style a Puffer Vest (and not look...puffy)

Quilted vests are everywhere right now, and I love how they easily add both warmth and an interesting layer to a look. However, it can be a challenge to layer with a quilted puffer vest and not feel a bit puffy yourself.

The trick is to make sure your proportions are balanced. Since the vest adds volume to the top half of your look, it's best to have a sleeker, more fitted bottom half. Puffer vests definitely lend themselves well to weekends, but with the right pieces they can work for a casual work environment too.

{quilted vest with a plaid shirt for work}

If you follow me on Instagram, this will look familiar. I wore it to work, and felt like a glamorous lumberjack, or, a "glamberjack" (just go with it).  I like the balance of dressy, casual, feminine, and masculine elements here. 

Plaid shirt: J.Crew via ThredUp (similar) | quilted vest: Land's End | blue cords: Gap (similar) | necklace: c/o Happiness Boutique | desert booties: Crown Vintage (similar)

{quilted vest with a bright scarf and riding boots for the weekend}

One of my weekend uniforms for fall is a sweater, jeans, and riding boots. To add a little more warmth as the weather gets colder, I've been adding a scarf and my puffer vest. The soft, feminine scarf and the bright color of the sweater contrast nicely with the thick, warm vest. 

Pink sweater: Gap via ThredUp (similar) | quilted vest: Land's End | jean leggings: Loft | scarf: Loft (similar) | brown riding boots: Mia (similar at a great price)

{more quilted vest inspiration}

How do you like to wear puffer vests? 

{shop quilted vests}