2019 Wrap Up

I can't believe this year is almost over! I love taking the time to reflect on the year and remember all the ups and downs.

2019 Word of the Year - joy. I chose this word to help guide my priorities and focus on what brings me joy rather than what needs to get done. When I kept this word at the forefront of my mind, I was able to find more joy and let go of some things. However, sometimes the joy got buried in to do lists and "shoulds." Also, one thing I learned in reflecting about the year is that planning ahead often brings me more joy than just trying to go with the flow. Joy doesn't have to mean letting go of obligations, instead I can joyfully plan out the things that matter to me, making sure I prioritize what is most important.

Most exciting trip of 2019 - Arizona. In October Aaron and I took a kid free trip to Arizona for a friend's wedding. It was so nice to get away and take a break from work and parenting. The weather was gorgeous, and we had an amazing time with our friends, riding scooters around Scottsdale, eating, and (my favorite) dancing at the wedding reception.

Books read - 89. See my list of favorites here.

Biggest parenting challenge with Violet - potty training. Overall, this is a win because she is now potty trained. However, with Jona, although he was fairly late to shed the diapers, once he was ready he was ready--accidents were rare. Violet was ready much earlier, but continues to have accidents (only at home--at school she's so good!), mostly when she's playing and doesn't want to stop and go. Sigh.

Biggest parenting challenge with Jona - eye issues. A little over a year ago Jona was diagnosed with amblyopia, or lazy eye. It's not noticeable when you look at him, but the vision in his left eye is far worse than his right. We've been treating it with eye patching for several hours a day, and now we're trying a thin film that goes on one lens of his glasses to mimic the patch (but worn with his glasses all day). We are crossing our fingers his vision will improve, so he does not have to wear an eye patch all day. He has been great in the process; he doesn't complain (much) about the patch or his glasses, and he does everything he is supposed to do. I think that's what breaks my heart even more, I just don't want this sweet kid to have to deal with it any more. I know in the grand scheme of things this is a small problem to have, and I am grateful that his overall health is good, but it has been a challenge for sure.

Favorite new entertainment - Disney Plus. It's been so much fun watching the Disney movies I grew up with and sharing them with the kids. And Jona loves all the Marvel movies of course. I'm also thankful I can watch Moana any time I want. Typically I'm not a big movie watcher, and I'm also not someone who can even watch Disney movies on repeat, but I adore that movie.

Moments my kids impressed me - When Aaron taught Jona about negative numbers. I was quizzing him on subtraction for school, and Aaron asks him, "What's seven minus nine?" Jona goes, "negative two," and I couldn't believe it! I guess that's what you get when your dad is a math teacher--bonus math lessons. With Violet, is was when we were waiting at the doctor's office for her 3 year check-up and she wrote her name on the chalk board there. The letters were huge and some were barely distinguishable (like the "E" with too many lines) but it was her name!

Favorite work trip - Chicago for a conference. I mostly spent time at the hotel where the conference was held, but I got to do a little exploring, which was fun!

Thing I want to remember - our last year with Ellie. Over the summer Ellie started getting sick, and in August we had to say goodbye to her. She lived a long life but was brought down by a tumor that took over her body. She was the best dog and we miss her so much.

{family updates}

Aaron - Aaron is teaching at the same school as last year, and he loves it there. However, he hopes to get a job as a school counselor, so he is looking around for options. He has kept busy at home with multiple home repair projects, from replacing our kitchen faucet to redoing the kids bathtub and shower (still a work in progress). I am thankful he can do many of those things!

Jona - Jona started first grade this year and he loves it! He is excited to go to school every day and talks about it a lot. He still doesn't love to read (although will happily be read to) although I do see him progressing in his reading. He loves science and still can't get enough Lego building. For Christmas he got a ton of Legos but also a "circuit building" set that he has been loving as well. We started reading Harry Potter this year (so far the first two) and that has been really fun. He is such a sweet, helpful kid and still a great big brother to Violet. Watching him grow up brings me so much joy.

Violet - Violet started a new school this year, the same preschool that Jona went to. She loves it and often comes home and pretends she's the teacher in her own classroom. Although she still challenges me constantly, she's grown in a lot of ways this year. She is finally able to sit through picture books beyond her favorite board books, so it's been great reading to her this year. It is never a dull moment with her around, she has a big personality and you never know which side you're going to see. She's sweet one moment and saying something funny, and the next she's shouting "Please stop, I don't like that!" at the top of her lungs.

What are some of your favorite memories from 2019? 

{reading} favorite books read in 2019

Now that that it's December already (how?!) I've been spending a lot of time frantically preparing for Christmas reflecting on the year. I took some time to look at all the books I've read (current count is 86) and decided on a few favorites. Here is my list.

{favorite non-fiction} Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand. As a child I was obsessed with horses, reading books like The Saddle Club series and watching the movie National Velvet over and over. This story took me back to my horse-girl roots, but in a grown up way, telling the true story of a horse who inspired a nation, as well as the owner, trainer, and jockeys who helped make him great. I adored this story.

{favorite fiction} The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall. I can't tell you why this book has stuck with me like it has--there's nothing ground-breaking or sensational about it, but I loved every moment of reading it. See my review here. My close second in this category is The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne, which I read back in February and still think about (review here).

{favorite audio} Becoming by Michelle Obama. I mean, do I even need to explain this one? Listening to Michelle Obama narrate her smart, well-written memoir was just the best. (Original review here.)

{favorite essays} I Miss You When I Blink by Laura Philpott. I don't read a lot of books in essay format, but this was delightful. It's honest, funny, and insightful, and I found myself nodding along with so much of Philpott's observations about her life. I read a library version but should have purchased a copy, as it's one I'd like to go back and re-visit.

{favorite dysfunctional family} Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane. That deserves its own category, right? I loved this story of two families who are neighbors and friends, and how one event changes their lives and their friendship forever. It sounds dramatic, but really it's a story of relationships and forgiveness.

{favorite "worth the hype"} Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. When I heard that this was an oral history of a fictional seventies rock band, I did not for one second think I wanted to read it, or that I would love it. After multiple people expressed a similar opinion, yet stated that they did read and love it, I decided to give it a try. I could not put this book down, and I found myself caring more deeply about this fictional band than I thought possible. Sometimes the hype is wrong. Not this time.

{favorite YA} Heroine by Mindy McGinnis. This was a tough book to read, about a teenage girl--star athlete and good student--who becomes an addict after a car accident. Although it's fiction, it helped me put a face to the opioid crisis, and McGinnis did a great job of showing how addiction goes beyond stereotypes, age, and class. This was a gut-wrenching book that stuck with me for a long time. (My review here.)

{favorite parenting book} How to be a Happier Parent by K. J. Dell'Antonia. Parenting books tend to be hit or miss for me. I keep reaching for them, because my children (especially the sassy three year-old) keep reminding me that I have A LOT of learning to do when it comes to parenting. Yet too often I find the advice irrelevant, obvious, or just not applicable to my daily life. However this one is different, with its focus on how I can make changes in myself as a parent, rather than strategies for improving my child's behavior. See my review here, but if you're looking for a good parenting book that offers a refreshing perspective, pick this one up.

Tell me, what were your favorites from this year? 

Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links. 

{listening} podcast addict

I just talked about audio books, and I do enjoy those, but what's streaming through my AirPods more often than audio books are podcasts. I am completely addicted to podcasts, and it feels like the rest of the world is too, because I keep finding more to listen to. Here are a few of my current favorites.

{listening lately}

Before Breakfast. This is a short, daily podcast with time-management guru Laura Vanderkam. I read and enjoyed her book I Know How She Does it, so when I found out she had a podcast I had to check it out. It is a quick listen--around 5 minutes--and each day she talks about a time management strategy or tip for living more intentionally. Her topics are broad, but to me this podcast is geared toward working moms/working women.

A Beautiful Mess. I have been reading A Beautiful Mess the blog for years, so when I heard they had a podcast I couldn't click "subscribe" fast enough. Elsie and Emma, the sisters behind the blog and brand, chat about everything from home decor to personality types. I love the casual, conversational style, and so far I have enjoyed every episode I've heard.

One Great Book. This one is from Anne Bogel, of Modern Mrs. Darcy blog and What Should I Read Next? podcast. In this short podcast, Anne discusses one book from her shelves and why she thinks it is "one great book." You know I can't resist adding to my TBR list.

Didn't I Just Feed You? This podcast is hosted by two moms and food editors and it's all about feeding your family. They share a lot of great tips and I love their episode themes, like leftovers, cooking for a crowd, and school lunch packing ideas.

1619. Four hundred years ago, a ship carrying over 20 enslaved Africans landed in what was then the English colony of Virginia. This 6-episode podcast series explores how that fateful landing broadly and irreversibly impacted the United States. This one is a departure from what I typically listen to, but it's been excellent so far.

10 Things to Tell You. This one is hosted by Laura Tremaine, who I first listened to when she was a cohost on the Sorta Awesome podcast (another favorite). Each episode has a theme, and Laura shares 10 things about that theme and encourages her listeners to share their responses as well. My favorite episodes are her book episodes, but she's done many other interesting ones as well, and I like her mix of lighthearted and deeper subjects.

Are there any podcasts you love that I should add to my list? 

{eating} a few favorite muffins

I'm very routine oriented, and yet, paradoxically, I also need a lot of variety in my life. I wish I were one of those people who could eat the same (healthy, of course) breakfast day after day and be satisfied. But I love avocado toast and smoothie bowls as much as the next millennial, but after a week of that for breakfast I need a break.

For quite a while now, muffins have been my favorite breakfast go-to. They give me the best of both worlds: I can change up the muffin recipe each week for some variety, but I still get the quick, simple breakfast that a weekday demands.

Here are a few muffin recipes I've been loving lately:

Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

{muffin round-up}

  • Power Breakfast Muffins from Life According to Steph - These are my go-to when I'm feeling stuck in a breakfast rut. My whole family loves these, although I make a few without chocolate chips to satisfy Violet (what a weirdo). 
  • Banana Maple Muffins from Boys Ahoy - These are simple and light, and the maple syrup makes them just a little different from your traditional banana muffin
  • Banana Muffins from Brown Eyed Baker - Don't let the "banana" in the name fool you, these are not the healthiest muffins. But when I'm in the mood for that classic banana bread flavor, in muffin form, these can't be beat. 
  • Make-Ahead Bran Muffins from Mel's Kitchen Cafe - These may not be the most exciting variety, but something about these bran muffins with just a hint of sweetness, topped with a little butter... yum. Also, this recipe makes a TON and the batter can hang out in the fridge for weeks. (Mel purposefully made the recipe that way.) Sometimes I make them all and freeze half, other times I just make what I need for the week and keep the batter in an airtight container in the fridge. 
  • Whole Wheat Coffee Cake Muffins from How Sweet Eats - Despite the whole wheat flour, the addition of the (delicious) cinnamon sugar streusel topping on these muffins makes them a little indulgent. But sometimes, that's just what you need. 
  • Maple Brown Sugar Oatmeal Muffins from I Heart Eating - This one is the newest addition to my round-up, one I tried after seeing Anne share it. The oatmeal gives these a really dense, hearty texture, but in a delicious--not tough--way. They are sweet but not overly so, and I just love them. 

As you can tell, I'm a muffin addict, so I would love to hear some of your favorites as well. Share your favorites below! 

{reading} good on audio

I've gotten into a habit of listening to audio books in the evening while I do mindless tasks like laundry, post-shower skincare, and other non-thinking activities. I've found that memoirs are my go-to for audio books, and even more so if they're read by the author. Occasionally I'll listen to fiction, but usually only if I hear the audio version specifically recommended.

Here are a few I listened to recently that were particularly good on audio.

{Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle} Read by Glennon Doyle herself, this was like listening to a good friend. A good friend who happens to be a superb writer and can tell a story about learning to love and accept herself with raw honesty and just the right amount of emotion. My rating: 4/5 stars

{Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan} I heard excellent things about the audio version of this middle-grade novel, and it did not disappoint. It begins with a mysterious tale of a boy named Otto, three sisters, a witch, and a harmonica. Music, specifically Otto's harmonica, carries the rest of the story forward and ties the separate tales together. We meet three other children, all of whom are facing tremendous challenges, yet who discover the joy of music and share it with that same harmonica. It is a beautiful story, and the audio version captures it (and the music within it) perfectly. My rating: 4/5 stars

{Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain} I've been a fan of Bourdain's since I first saw him on the Food Network in its early years. I found his irreverence and sense of adventure so appealing--such a contrast to my planning, rule-following ways. I was heartbroken when I heard about his death, and yet I'm thankful he left behind a legacy of great work, including this honest memoir about restaurant life (that he narrates himself on the audio version). It is funny and fascinating. As someone who loves to cook but wouldn't dream of trying to hack it in a restaurant kitchen, I loved immersing myself in that life as I listened. My rating: 4/5 stars

Do you listen to audio books? Have you listened to any good ones lately? 

Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links. 

{wearing} quilted vest with bold accessories

Between the time change, several neighbors with loud, annoying vehicles, and goodness knows what else, my children have decided to stop sleeping. Jona is waking up with "bad dreams" (I think lately he just feels the need to come get us when something wakes him up), and Violet will just loudly demand that Aaron or I come in her room until we do. They then wake each other up, and it's all in all a super fun time. That has nothing to do with anything, but if you see me start to slowly go crazy, you'll know why.

After a particularly rough night, I felt like keeping it pretty casual for church on Sunday morning. I usually like to dress up a little, but I'm thankful to go to a church where no one cares what you wear--you see people in dresses and ties as well as jeans and sneakers, it really doesn't matter. I wanted to dress up this casual look slightly though, so I added bold jewelry and my favorite bright pink mules. Hopefully my accessories will distract people from the circles beneath my eyes.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. 

{reading aloud} books to share

I remember when Jona got to the age where I could transition from repeating the same beloved board books over and over, to longer picture books. He always enjoyed sitting quietly and listening to stories, yet I wondered if Violet would ever get there. Sitting quietly and listening aren't exactly things she excels at. However, since she turned 3, her patience for reading has increased significantly. It makes me so glad to know that she relishes read-aloud time now and will happily sit and listen when I read aloud.

Jona will still sit down with us when I'm reading picture books, but if given the choice he'd rather listen to a chapter book or yet another Lego book (or lately, non-fiction fact books about dinosaurs with long, hard-to-pronounce names). But when I bring home a fresh stack from the library, both kids are eager to read them. Here are a few recent picks that both Jona (6) and Violet (3) have enjoyed.

{Have You Seen My Dragon? by Steve Light} This one was Violet's favorite and we read it every night. It's a counting book that's perfect for her age. The dragon is "hiding" on every page, but he's not the greatest hider so Violet was able to find him every time (and was pretty proud of herself when she did). The illustrations are in black and white, but whatever you count on each page is in color, so it's perfect for a preschooler learning to count groups of objects.

{The Incredible Book Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers} Henry loves books, but instead of reading them, he likes to eat them. Eating books makes Henry smart, so he tries to become the smartest person in the world by eating books at an alarming rate. It's the kind of silly concept that makes Violet laugh, but I think the clever illustrations and humor throughout are more well-suited for Jona. They both loved it. 

The Incredible Book Eating Boy

{All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold} In the classroom, everyone is welcome. This book celebrates diversity and the welcoming classroom environment where kids from around the world can be friends and learn together. I loved the message, the colorful illustrations, and the way it lead to conversations about how to welcome people in their classrooms. 

{Look by Fiona Woodcock} This bright, unique book is made up of words with "oo" in them. It was a great book to share because Violet loved looking at the pictures and talking about them, and Jona liked reading the words and learning just how many words have "oo" in them. And I loved the illustrations, they are gorgeous. 


Have you enjoyed any children's books lately? 

Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links. 

{eating} comfort meals - chicken and dumplings

Now that it's getting colder, I'm craving cozy comfort meals. I was thrilled to see Chicken with Buttermilk Dumplings on my Sweet Peas Meals meal plan this week. Although I occasionally try to make my mom's chicken noodle soup recipe, with homemade noodles, I've never made homemade dumplings before.

This meal can't be classified as a 30-minute meal, but the dumplings did come together a lot more quickly than homemade noodles do. Plus, it was delicious! If you're a dumpling fan, this is for you.

Given the lack of natural light, my photos turned out terrible, and I admit my version didn't turn out quite as gorgeous as Jessica's--so full disclosure, this is her photo below.

Photo via How Sweet Eats
Chicken and dumplings are delicious, but if you don't have quite as much time and you'd still like a similar comforting meal, there are still plenty of options. 

  • If you have some prep time earlier in the day, make your soup broth by cooking bone-in, skin-on chicken in water (add seasonings and bay leaves too) for an hour or so. Skim off the foam from the top, and discard it along with the bay leaves. Then shred up your chicken when it's cool. When you're ready to eat dinner, all you have to do is heat up the broth, add the shredded chicken (and whatever veggies you like), and noodles. We like Reames frozen noodles. 

  • If you're really short on time, just buy chicken stock and a rotisserie chicken and all you have to do is shred up the chicken, heat up the stock (or broth), then add in the chicken, and noodles.
What's your favorite comfort meal? 

{reading} subtle vs bold

I read a couple of books recently that made me think about the way authors often have such power over our emotions. Specifically, one book I read was more of a slow build; I gradually grew attached to the characters and invested in their stories. The other was an emotional roller-coaster, and I was moved from the start. Reading these books back to back made me realize, while I enjoy most books that elicit an emotional response, I prefer the subtle build-up to the bold emotional drama.

{The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall} Two couples are joined together when the men are hired as co-ministers of a New York church. Nan, married to James and the daughter of a minister, is a wholly devoted and passionate minister's wife. Her warmth brings her fiery, activist husband down to earth, and yet she is no match for the depression that her infertility struggle brings. Lily is an academic and an atheist, and she and her husband Charles fall in love over intellectual conversation. He tries to understand her atheism just as she tries to understand his ardent faith, but both of their staunchly held beliefs are shattered when they have a child who is eventually diagnosed with autism, a diagnosis few understand at the time. This is a beautiful story of love, family, faith, and relationships. While a lot happens in this story, its unfolding felt quiet and gradual. Subtly my emotions and connections to these characters grew, and by the end I cried, equally saddened by the ending as by the thought of letting these four people go. My rating: 4.5/5 stars.  

{All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood} Wavy is the daughter of meth addicts, and she bounces from home to home when her mother is unable (or unwilling) to take care of her. Her aunt--her mother's sister--means well, but she has her own children to care for. While living with her parents, she develops an attachment to Kellen, a man who works for her father. Kellen takes care of Wavy in a way her parents do not, making sure she has food and clothing, and that she goes to school. Wavy's attachment grows into something more, and although he tries to resist, Kellen falls for Wavy as well. At the time, Wavy is only 14 while Kellen is in his late 20s, so their relationship is controversial at the least, and potentially illegal. This story packed a bolder punch, emotionally, and yet I find that I prefer a more subtle development. While that may be my preference, I would still recommend this one--just be prepared for a few gut-punches. My rating: 3.5/5 stars. 

Do you prefer subtle or bold choices, when it comes to emotional books? 

{wearing} casual sweater blazer

One of my "must buy" items for fall this year was a sweater blazer. I love all the ways I've seen them styled, and I like that I don't necessarily have to put it away when it's coat season. (Don't you hate how regular blazers just can't work under a coat?) Anyway, I bought this one during a recent J.Crew Factory sale and I've worn it about a million times since then.

Usually I dress it up for work, but I thought I'd try it for a really casual weekend look too. I think this proves that the sweater blazer is right up there with my jean jacket as a closet MVP, you know "most versatile piece."

What layer are you reaching for these days? 

Disclosure: this post contains an affiliate link. 

{eating} around Scottsdale, AZ

Last week Aaron and I went to Scottsdale, Arizona for a good friend's wedding. Other than Aaron coming down with a bug while there, we had a wonderful time. We stayed in Old Town Scottsdale, which meant that we were surrounded by shops and restaurants, all just a walk (or a scooter!) away.

We didn't do a lot of sightseeing, but we did do a lot of good eating, so I thought I'd share a few places we enjoyed and would recommend.

At the Saguaro Hotel, where we stayed.

{eating} in Scottsdale

  • Barrio Queen - their tacos were delicious (yes, there was one with an egg on it) 
  • Hula's Modern Tiki - I loved the Jerk Pork and also enjoyed a blood orange martini
  • Morning Squeeze for brunch - Probably my favorite spot, my breakfast burrito (with green sauce) was outstanding, and the mimosa flights--in cute little mason jars--couldn't be beat. 
  • Shakes and Cones - a cute little organic soft serve spot, I had the "Vanutzel" but with chocolate ice cream... so the "Chocnutzel" I guess? Chocolate ice cream, Nutella, and pretzels. Yum. 
  • The Daily Dose - This was our first stop for breakfast after our early morning plane trip, and I had Eggs Benedict Tostadas. They were excellent. 
  • Brat Haus - I didn't get a photo, but I recommend this one for great sausages, the biggest pretzel I've ever seen, and good beer. 
  • Sip Coffee and Beer - After breakfast, we treated ourselves to an arrival brew at Sip (although their coffee looked tasty as well)

Have you been to Scottsdale? I hope to go back again!

{reading} a life, in (almost) deaths

I don't remember where I first heard about The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna, so it was one I knew next to nothing about before I started reading it. A 464-page library hardcover, it was pretty hefty to lug around, but I'm happy to get a little extra exercise (or potential backaches) for a good read.

Stella Fortuna grew up in Italy but moved with her family to the US as a young adult. This is the story of the seven (or eight) times she nearly lost her life. I liked the way the near-death experiences wove the story together, but not in a completely linear way. I liked the subtle ebb and flow of time.

I wasn't engrossed immediately; Stella's story took me a bit to get into (after about a third of the book if I had to guess). Don't pick this up if you like fast-paced, plot-driven novels. However, if you love a family saga that focuses on the ups and downs of one person's life--a life that can't quite be called extraordinary, yet is far from boring, this may be for you.

For a completely different take on a similar theme of a life told in nearly-fatal experiences, try I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O'Farrell. It's a memoir, and much shorter--only offering a glimpse into her life--but a great read nonetheless.

The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna: A Novel

Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links. 

{wearing} purple pants

Jeans are definitely my go-to in fall and winter, but sometimes I want a dressier option. During a recent 50% off Loft sale I decided to try a couple pairs of their dress pants, one classic black pair and a more colorful option.

This one looked more burgundy online, but I was pleasantly surprised by its rich eggplant color in person. Bold purple pants meant I kept the rest of my outfit pretty simple, with a twist-front gray sweater and black tasseled loafers.

I don't think colored pants have really gone anywhere, but I have seen them everywhere lately. Do you like bold-colored pants, or do you stick to neutrals? 

{shop bold pants}

Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links. 

{eating} chocolate snack bread

I love to bake year-round, but we're entering the time of year that spending time in the kitchen and baking feels magical. When it's chilly outside, but the kitchen is oven-toasty and smells like cookies or cake or bread. Mmmm, I love it.

Over the weekend I tried a recipe for Double Chocolate Quick Bread from (a favorite!) Mel's Kitchen Cafe. The time of year when everyone else is reaching for everything pumpkin, I'm still devoted to chocolate with chocolate and more chocolate.

Although I did have a slice with my coffee for breakfast yesterday morning, realistically it's more of a dessert or sweet snack than something I would eat for breakfast every day. To me it tastes just like a chocolate muffin, which is what I was going for: sweet, chocolatey, and a little bit indulgent.

Do you like to bake this time of year? Have you made anything yummy lately? 

{reading} favorite fall series

Fall is such a perfect time of year to curl up with a blanket and a good book. My fall has been packed with activities, so that cozy reading time has unfortunately come less often than I prefer. Yet as soon as there was a hint of cool weather in the air, I placed a hold on the next (for me) installment of my favorite detective series, the Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny.

Despite our busy schedule, I made sure to find time to delve into The Brutal Telling, the fifth in Penny's series. I have enjoyed the books up to this point, but this one pulled me in even more than the others, making me feel as if I was right there in Three Pines, rooting for its villagers and hoping that the the resolution of the murder case won't mean saying goodbye to a beloved character.

If you're looking for a series of books to get swept away by this fall, I can't recommend this one enough. I still have a ways to go (she's up to 15!), but I hear Penny's writing remains impeccable as the series progresses.

I'm typically not a series reader--this one is an exception for me. How about you, do you have any series you love? 

The Brutal Telling: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. 

{wearing} a few favorites

I love shopping for new fall clothes, and I've added some fun new pieces to my closet already this season (including a sweater blazer and cute tasseled loafers that I'll style soon no doubt). Sometimes though, when I need a quick outfit, I like reaching for a few favorites that I know won't let me down.

This is a combination I wear again and again: jean jacket, striped top, black pants or jeans, and bright shoes. It's fairly season-less, and because I can't seem to stop buying striped shirts or bright shoes, I can wear this combination rather frequently and not feel like I'm always wearing the same thing.

What is one of your go-to combinations that never lets you down?

{shop: a few favorite things}

My favorites in this post are from last year (with the exception of my ancient denim jacket), but here are a few new pieces that definitely meet my "favorite things" criteria.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. 

{eating} oven roasted gnocchi

Several months ago I shared about my experience with Sweet Peas Meals, and I'm happy to report that I am still loving this meal planning service. Some of the recipes I've received in my weekly meal plan are things I know I will keep in my "dinner repertoire" for a long time to come.

In this case, it isn't so much a recipe as a method, which is roasting gnocchi rather than boiling it. In case you're not familiar with gnocchi, they're little dumplings made from potatoes, and I find them in the freezer section at my grocery store. When I've cooked gnocchi in the past, I just boil them in water like regular pasta, and toss in sauce.

However, from a Sweet Peas Meals dinner plan I learned something new: gnocchi is AMAZING when roasted on a sheet pan. The edges get a little crispy while the inside is still soft. The best part is I can just dump out the completely frozen gnocchi onto the sheet pan--no thawing required.

When we tried it, we combined the gnocchi with fully-cooked sausage, peppers, and onions, tossed with some olive oil and herbs and roasted on a sheet pan (425 F for 20-25 minutes). It was delicious and ridiculously easy.

Have you tried gnocchi this way before? Have you learned any new mind-blowing methods lately? 

{reading} outside my wheelhouse

While I try to read pretty diversely, there are books I too often ignore because I deem the genre “not for me,” such as science fiction and fantasy. Lately I’ve been trying to push myself to give books that I’d typically ignore a chance.

Two recent reads both fit this bill for me: Sleeping Giants, which would be classified as science fiction, and A Curse So Dark and Lonely, which falls into the fantasy camp.

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel. As a child, Rose discovers an artifact that shapes the rest of her life. While out riding her bike, she falls into a large hole, its walls aglow with intricate designs. From above, the firemen who rescue her can see that she has fallen into a giant metal hand. As an adult, Rose is a scientist, and throughout the rest of the story she is being interviewed about her research on the same metal hand she discovered as a girl, as well as other body parts found throughout the world.

Classified as science fiction, I would not have picked up Sleeping Giants had I not heard so many great reviews from other readers who don’t typically gravitate towards that genre. It was compelling, creative, and well-written, and I was enthralled from the start.

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer. In this retelling of Beauty and the Beast, prince Rhen is forced to repeat the same season--fall of his eighteenth year--again and again until true love can break the curse. Harper, who exists in the modern world, gets taken against her will to Emberfall, Rhen’s kingdom. Often underestimated due to her size and cerebral palsy diagnosis, Harper is different from other girls Rhen has met. Her fierce determination to return to her dying mother and brother who is desperately trying to provide for their family make Harper a lot more than just a potential savior to Rhen’s curse.

I don’t typically go for fantasy or fairy tale retellings, but I kept hearing about this one and decided to give it a try. It went quickly, and I found myself engrossed in the story and wanting to find out what happens next. I loved Harper and appreciated the way cerebral palsy was a part of her life, but didn't define her character. However, I just couldn’t get into the last part of the book. Some of the fantasy elements were too much for me, and I also didn’t like the obvious way she set up the book’s sequel. I knew this book had a follow-up, but I have no interest in reading it. I’m glad I read this one, and it was a fun departure from my usual choices, despite not loving its wrap-up.

{wearing} a jumpsuit

My style is pretty classic, so I’m not one to jump on trends right away. (See what I did there?) Some I skip completely, but more often I just take my time and try things in a way that works for me. That has definitely been the case for me with jumpsuits, which have now been around for a while.

After trying on several jumpsuits with no luck, I recently found this one at Target and was surprised with how well it fit and how much I liked it. It’s not the most practical--unbuttoning all those little buttons in front is kind of a pain, but I love it regardless. The color is perfect for transitioning into fall, and I can imagine it with a thick cardigan and some mules once the weather cools down.

Have you jumped on the jumpsuit trend? 

{shop} jumpsuits 

These two wanted in on the photo shoot and I obliged. I think these photos convey their  personalities quite well: Violet - I'll do my thing; Jona - oh a camera, I'm supposed to smile! 

Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links. 

{eating} easy homemade donut holes

We've been trying to cut back on eating out this month, so last weekend when I was craving donuts, I decided to go the homemade route instead. I know there are lots of ways to do homemade donuts, but this muffin-meets-donut recipe I saw years ago on In Residence felt like the perfect easy solution.

My plan was to make them before everyone got up so that they could have a little surprise donut treat. Jona must have sensed that baking was happening, because he got up and helped me.

These look like little donut holes, but made in a mini muffin tin, so they're a perfect combination of two breakfast favorites. Whatever you do call them, donuts or muffins, they're delicious.

What's your go-to for a breakfast treat? 

{reading} backlist fiction

Over the summer I read a lot of books published this year, mostly because that is primarily what was on the Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide. (Anne Bogel rarely lets me down.) However, new books often mean longer wait times at the library, and recently I wanted a book and I wanted it NOW (just call me Veruca Salt), so I hit up my Goodreads for some backlist.

I picked up Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler, a “big buzzy book” (as they say on the Reading Glasses podcast) from a few years ago. I remember hearing mixed reviews at the time, but it was a win for me.

Tess is a young college graduate who decides to shake up her life and move to New York, and lands a job as a “backwaiter” at a ritzy restaurant in the city. From the restaurant staff she learns all about food and wine, with a hefty side of drugs and partying mixed in. Simone, a long-time server, takes Tess under her wing and educates her on the restaurant and its patrons, cuisine, and fine beverages. However, when Tess falls for Jake, a bartender who has a known history with her new mentor, her laissez-faire restaurant life begins to get complicated.

I worked as a hostess and a server at a few restaurants in my younger days, and while my experience was far different from Tess’s, her story made reminisce about that part of my former life. I liked Tess. She was flawed and made some poor choices, yet I liked her earnestness and honest observations. It was a book I enjoyed getting lost in. I recommend reading this book with a glass of wine.

Have you enjoyed any backlist titles lately? 


Disclosure: This post contains an affiliate link. 

{wearing} tie-waist pants

I can't say that I love to shop, but I do enjoy finding pieces to update my wardrobe. It's the process that I don't always enjoy, especially for certain items, like pants. Now a new pair of shoes I like, I swear I can blink them into existence. But pants? Pants shopping is a slog.

I took a chance on this tie-waist pair from Old Navy when I was ordering some clothes for Violet recently, and I was pleasantly surprised. I'm loving this trend and how wearable it is--no buttons or zippers, just pull these on and go. The downside is they wrinkle so easily, but that's a price I'm willing to pay for comfort and style.

I love the polish that the fun tie-waist detail gives a look. The rest of my look is simple: just a striped tee, neutral sandals, and colorful jewelry. Are you a fan of this style of pants? 

{shop} similar pieces + more tie-waist pants

Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links. 

{eating} caprese pasta salad

While summer is not my favorite season, it does have the best produce, so I’m soaking it up while I can. Tomatoes are delicious right now, so I made a caprese pasta salad over the weekend. We had friends and family over for a barbecue, and I wanted a light, fresh side to balance the pork and ribs that Aaron smoked.

I followed a simple recipe I’ve been making for years from Iowa Girl Eats. I did leave out the arugula, only because I wasn’t sure if everyone would like it. Also, since I use regular pasta (she calls for gluten free because she is a GF blogger), it lasts for a few days in the fridge without getting soggy.

Our basil plant actually grew this year, so between that and the constant supply of tomatoes in my house since Violet LOVES them, a caprese salad may have to happen at least once more before fall.

What is your go-to summer side dish? 

{reading} Literary Mysteries

I love sharing what I read, but I was starting to get overwhelmed trying to recap all the books I read every month in one post. Instead, I'm going to focus on one or two that I loved and would recommend each week.

I am often drawn to thrillers, but too often I walk away feeling disappointed by them. I like the idea of a page-turner, and yet sometimes I find myself turning those pages just to get to the end already. With these books--both of which I would put in the literary mystery category, although Never Have I Ever did have a thriller vibe as well--I couldn't put them down, and at the same time I found them to be well-written along with being all kinds of compelling.


Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson. The neighborhood book club has quite a shake-up when Roux, the new tenant in a run-down house down the street shows up at Amy's door. She gets the women to spill their secrets, yet when Roux hints that she knows things about Amy's past, things Amy has never shared, a game of cat and mouse begins. Roux soon realizes that blackmailing Amy wouldn't be as simple as she thought, and Amy learns that if she wants to beat Roux at her game, she has to face her past.

This was a bit of a departure from the other Joshilyn Jackson novels I've read, but I really enjoyed it. She is such a fantastic storyteller.

The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth. Lucy has always had a strained relationship with her mother-in-law Diana, yet from the outside they appear to be a perfect family. When Diana is found dead, with a suicide note nearby, everyone wonders what made her want to take her own life... if that is really what happened. 

Wow, this one drew me in from the very beginning and kept me guessing the whole time. The characters were incredibly well-written, and I didn't want to stop reading until I had the mystery of Diana's death figured out. 

The Mother-in-Law: A Novel

Have you read anything good lately?