Friday, February 16, 2018

Things I Like - February

My monthly round-up of 5 things I'm liking, with a few affiliate links sprinkled in.  Thanks for helping support the blog! =)  See more here!

1) Invisibobble
These are almost life changing.  They are hair bands that don't leave a mark!  Since we're in the season (winter) where I only wash my hair twice a week but still workout on every weekday mornings, I need something to do with my hair so it's not in my face.  These are the perfect solution!  They keep my hair back without leaving that dreaded crease and while I still usually touch up my hair each morning with the straightener, these aren't the cause!  I don't know that they would be tight enough to keep my hair up while running but if it's warm enough to run it's warm enough for me to be washing my hair more often so that's fine.  Very functional and pretty inexpensive!  Highly recommend (they come in multiple colors.)

2) Blue Sweater
I don't know why I didn't own a sweater in this shade of blue for so much of my life.  I have navy.  I have plenty of gray.  But I didn't have a true blue which is crazy when it's my favorite color and I have so many other clothing items in this shade (at least 4 dresses).  I thought it would be too much blue with regular jeans?  Which is CRAZY because I don't believe in such a thing as too much blue.  Mine was a ThredUp purchase and I am so so pleased with it.  I want to wear it basically every day.  And such a nice change from the usual neutrals in my closet this time of year.  (I'm wearing it here!)

3) Cheddar Cheese Pretzel Combos

How have I never mentioned these???  They are my favorite salty snack, so much that we can only buy the snack bags because I will eat a full regular sized bag in one sitting.  We buy 18 count boxes  at GFS for about $8 and they are SO worth it.  Matt and I each have one bag ever Sunday afternoon and they are such a staple that Matt did an emergency run to GFS on a Saturday evening when we realized we didn't have any for the next day.  (Usually we'll only do emergency grocery stops for milk and sometimes not even then.)  I LOVE these.

4) Women's Work podcast
I've been listening to Tsh's The Simple Show for about as long as I've been listening to podcasts and so I immediately subscribed to her new show, Women's Work.  She's interviewing women in a variety of fields, the only requirements being that they have to be a woman and have to love their job.  It's SO interesting hearing about other people's lives and jobs.  There are only a few episodes so far but I've really enjoyed them all (but especially #2 about Annie Jones who runs a book store).

5) Smash

This first aired back in 2012-2013 and I enjoyed it then and was reminded of that when I recently finished a rewatch of the whole (2 season) series.  It's about the making of a Broadway show (or two) in New York, which, hello, New York.  That's an instant grab for me.  But also, Broadway.  It's so much more complicated than I expected and even though this is the dramatized version...there's just a lot to it.  Of course some people do some not great things and etc. but overall I find it pretty enjoyable.  So much that I started looking at Broadway tickets for our upcoming trip...and quickly cancled that when I saw the cost ($462 for the 3 of us...that would take a significant portion of our trip budget and I don't think I can convince Matt & Luke to give up eating for 3 days instead...).  So I'll have to settle for watching about it on tv.  There's a lot of fun songs that have gotten a lot of play from me in the last 5 years.  I'll rewatch it again some day. 

What have YOU been liking lately?

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Quick Lit - February

So I've been reading a lot.  Part of our winter hibernating.  I try to leave the house as little as possible and that results in a lot of reading time.  Which is a pretty good trade-off for dealing with winter.  I'm here on Goodreads and I use it a lot.  Linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy, welcome if you came from there!

Other book posts in the past month:

 Other reads!

Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York by Roz Chast
A love letter to New York perfectly sums this up.  It's based on a guide the author made for her kids, when she realized they didn't know New York like she did, since they moved to the suburbs when the kids were little.  It had a lot of basic NYC info, like uptown/downtown, how to hail a taxi, the street grid system, etc.  Some I knew, some I didn't.  All graphic novel form.  I think I read this whole book while supervising one bath time.  But it made me (even more) excited for our trip later this year! 3.5 Stars

The Forgotten Room by Karen White, Lauren Willig, and Beatriz Williams
A reread and one of my favorites of 2016.  Primarily about three different women who all occupy the same largely forgotten room, at different times, in a house/boarding house/hospital in New York City.  I will always remember this book as the one I had to draw a flowchart for to try and keep straight all the relationships and connections.  I really enjoyed it even the second time through and mostly knowing how things turn out.  Perfect cozy weekend read. 4.25 Stars

Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton
I've read more sci-fi in the past year, in search of more books for my husband to read (discussing books together = happy wife).   But I don't think I'll be recommending this one to him.  Something happens to humankind on Earth and most everyone seems to have disappeared/died/be out of communication. Except for an older man up in the Arctic and the crew of a mission to Saturn's moons, who are headed back to Earth.  Neither have been in contact with anyone else on Earth for many days/months/years and neither group knows what happened.  AND you never find out, I think I needed to know, at least a little bit more.  Similar to Station Eleven, but with less answers.  3.25 Stars

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown
I love reading books like this, especially at the start of the year.  Figuring out what is essential, especially in January?  YES.  I am all in for that.  This isn't about physical clutter but mental/schedule clutter and how to get your life down to what matters most.  A lesson we could all probably use.  4 Stars

 The Little Book by Lykke: The Danish Search for the World's Happiest People by Meik Wiking
More about Danish happiness.  I really enjoyed The Little Book of Hygge but this mostly felt like more of the same, except less enjoyable.  Or maybe just not as novel.  Of the two I'd recommend Hygge.   2.75 Stars

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
I waited a LONG time for this library hold.  I was surprised how little actual fire had to do with the story, besides the first chapter, when it opens with a house burning down, and then the ending, when it finally comes full circle back to that fire.   It's about complicated families, the value/harm in planning and living by the rules, adoption, and a whole bunch of things.  It was hard to put down because I wanted to know what happened.  I'm not sure I get all the hype but I'm glad I read it. 3.25 Stars 

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
A reread, a favorite read of 2016, and the first solo book review I did on the blog.   It's a little "woo-woo" but also pretty inspring, something I should probably reread every year or two!  4 Stars

The Life Intended by Kristin Harmel
A reread, a favorite read of 2015.  This is about Kate, whose husband, Patrick died suddenly years earlier.  She's trying to move on with a man named Dan but it just doesn't feel right. (She also has a sister named Susan which is only noteworthy because Matt has siblings with all FOUR of those names.).  Kate starts having very vivid dreams of what her life with Patrick may have been like if he hadn't died and she starts to see that the life she's actually living might not be the life she wants.  It's very moving and I enjoyed it as much the second time through.  3.75 Stars

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Oh man, this was a tough read.  Tough as in "how much crap can these kids endure??"  And also "These parents are crazy.  And destructive."  Memoir of the author about her "adventurous" childhood which bordered more on dangerous.  Made me really appreciate, even more, the very stable upbringing I had!  It was tough to read but also very compelling.  I'd recommend, with caution, there is language and some difficult situations.  4 Stars


The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith
Perfectly acceptable YA about a boy and girl who meet by chance in New York City during a blackout.  Their lives only briefly intersect as they go on to live their lives across different countries over the next year.  I enjoyed reading it, it was fun to pick up but it was mostly forgettable after.  3 Stars 

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
I picked this up after enjoying Young Jane Young last year and I would not have guessed they were by the same author, if I didn't already know.  This was the story of a widower who owns a bookstore on a small island (off the coast of Maine?  Somewhere on the East Coast).  He is a bit grouchy and set in his ways, ends up with a surprise family of sorts and he's telling his story through books he's loved.  I may have liked this better if I had read ANY of the books he's mentioned.  I still liked it.  Didn't love it.  3 Stars

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
As far as "immigrant in New York about to possibly get deported" stories go, I liked The Sun is Also a Star better.  BUT, this was a different circumstance and much different (older) characters.  I don't really know what the point was setting it during the economic collapse in 2008.  I liked it, I appreciated the different viewpoint it showed, but I would recommend The Sun is Also a Star first, also I don't think you could consider them read alikes.  3 Stars

If You Only Knew: My Unlikely, Unavoidable Story of Becoming Free by Jamie Ivey
I've been listening to Jamie's podcast, The Happy Hour, for over a year and really enjoy her interviews and how her love for Jesus shines through.  I was, obviously, going to read her book.  It's her story of God's redemptive love, how He never gave up on her, and how He kept pursuing her.  We all sin, we all have secrets.  This book was encouragement that God is always going to forgive and that we need to stop acting like we are all perfect.   3.75 Stars

Hello Mornings: How to Build a Grace-Filled, Life-Giving Morning Routine by Kat Lee 
Mornings have long been a struggle for me and I am constantly wanting to improve them, especially with earlier mornings looming (my sense of accomplishment of being worked out and showered by 8am will not work in the fall when we have to be out of the house by ~7:30).  This wasn't so much about time management but how to start your morning in the right mental state to keep the rest of the day going smoothly (or at least, smoother).  I got some real, practical ideas from it and also loved the encouragement to incorporate prayer and worship throughout the day.  A great read.  3.75 Stars

The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson
This book was about complicated families (don't we all have those?), racism, growing old, the south, comic books, being a nerd, family secrets...a whole bunch of things.  It was interesting and compelling even though it took me a bit to get drawn in.  I'd give this author another shot though, I liked it enough.  3 Stars

Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams
Another reread (and favorite read of 2016).  I remembered liking this book 2 years ago but didn't remember much about the plot so it was really pleasant reading, knowing I liked it but still being surprised at some of the twists.   Escape from Germany during World War II, secret loves, lost loves, lost cars, living on a yacht in the Mediterranean.  Long, sweeping story.  I loved it all over again.  4 Stars

What have YOU been reading?  I'm always open to suggestions, even if my TBR is already pretty full!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Book Love: How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids by Jancee Dunn

First off, I have to clarify that I do not hate my husband.  Not at all.  BUT I was immediately intrigued by this book because, as most parents know, it can be all too easy to let the co-parenting part of your relationship overshadow the actual couple who loves each other part.  I mean, it's pretty easy when the baby comes and is ~7 pounds of adorableness, who also needs a lot of attention and love and time and...can quickly be very consuming.

You don't need to be a marriage expert to know you also need to be pouring love into (usually) the first relationship in your family - your spouse.  They may not be quite as cute as that squishy smiling baby but there is a reason you fell in love with them in the first place.

This book is part memoir, in that "let's focus on something new every month for 9-12 months and see how it improves my life" genre.  Which makes it more real and doesn't distract from the lessons and research.  I don't just want to read about how to improve my marriage but also how they steps you are suggesting actually helped you improve yours.  It's much more compelling to have a personal aspect as well.

We start with the author, Jancee, and her husband, their story and then how they had a kid.  They live in New York (which is always going to be compelling to me but doesn't really impact the story much so don't let that deter you if you aren't the I ♥ NY t-shirt type).  (I own the t-shirt.)  She goes over some of their issues and consults a variety of experts and friends with how they can improve, why they have these problems.

And it's typical: How do we split chores? How do we make our weekends not suck when we are no longer sleeping in and doing fun "we don't have a kid or have to worry about childcare" things?  How do we solve our disagreements?  How do we deal with money with kids - both allowance type and how much to spend on them.  And yes, sex, of course, is covered (which I am not talking about because...I'm not.  But there is a non-graphic chapter on it.)

It was so refreshing to see so many of the arguments we've had spelled out on the page and know it's not just us being crazy (or maybe it is) but that they are common, things many/most parents might fight about.  Healthy ways to resolve and address those issues so we can move past and live happier lives.  There were many times I was nodding along while reading, thinking "Yep...we've had that conversation."  ("Conversation" sometimes being the polite way of putting it.)

It was both reassuring but also a little scary, seeing how things might get a little more complicated when school and all those activities are thrown in.  But mostly reassuring (I'm also hyper-aware right now to any ways school will be changing up our routines.  And really relishing these last months of it not.)  Their daughter was 7-8ish when this was written so it's not about how to deal with teenagers (hold me) and they do only have one kid.  But, hey!  So do we!  So a lot of what I read was applicable to our lives.

There was even a whole chapter dedicated to clearing up clutter which happens to be one of my favorite topics.  I love when books tell me what to get rid of, how to organize.  They even consulted with the author of Secrets of an Organized Mom which I talked about way back here! (And is now on my "to reread list").

You don't have to hate your husband to read this book.  Not even dislike him.  If you have young kids and even consider your marriage to be pretty good...I'd recommend this.  It gave me a lot to think about in terms of how we handle disagreements and what kind of relationship and marriage I hope we are modeling for our son.  It was definitely worth the time.  Who doesn't want to improve their marriage?

Goodreads | Amazon

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Thursday, February 8, 2018

How an(other) app got me to spend less time on my phone

I got my first smart phone, an iPhone 4, in September 2011.  Two-ish weeks later we went to Miami because Matt had a work conference (and we didn't have a kid and it was super cheap and easy for me to tag along, also, it was Miami in September which was super comfortable).  I remember being amazed at how easy it was to check things on my phone while at the beach and laying out by the pool (which I did A LOT of while Matt was in was lovely).  I had barely had my phone and it sucked me in QUICK.

(Taking this picture which I immediately posted on Instagram.  Also, I still own and wear those flip-flops.  )

Fast forward many years.  I know very few adults (or even teens) without a smartphone.  They are ubiquitous.  We can all check all the things, all the time.  I've ranted many times about seeing people on their phones while at social occasions.  It's right up with not recycling as one of my favorite rants.  (For the record, I am VERY pro-recycling and have yelled at people, almost always people I know, for throwing recyclable items in the garbage.  Basically, I'm super fun to hang out with.).

Now I am really trying to spend less time on my phone, pick it up less, have it interrupt my day less.  Just, LESS.

I've written about this before: {7} Ways to Spend Less Time on Your Phone and Weaning Myself off Social Media.  I still follow those.

But I was still on my phone too much.

We all know they aren't super great.  There are plenty of studies.  I'm not linking to any but google and you'll get a lot of options.  Our phones get us addicted, to being connected, to social media, to responding to all the bells and whistles.

I heard this app, Moment, mentioned multiple times and how it helped you spend less time on your phone.  I thought I had that pretty well under control but after reading about it many places I downloaded it.  I keep it running in the background and it tracks how much screen time I have each day.

It was WAY more than I was expecting.

I've been tracking since November and at first I didn't change my habits, just let it record.  I was around 3.5 hours a day.


On any given day that could be 20 minutes on the "home and lock screen" which doesn't entirely count because that's usually my phone flashing awake at a text message and then at the reminder message.  Or me just checking the time.

But still.

I didn't realize how much time I spent on my phone until I started tracking it.  Or how often I pick it up (average: 56 times a day but the weekends really bring that down.  Probably closer to 80 times on weekdays).  Usually not for real long, but picking up, spending a few minutes, putting it back down.  On repeat.  All day.

So I started working down. 

Since January 1st, I've been right about 2 hours on weekdays and about an hour on weekends.  I'm working on reducing both of those by 15 minutes, and then maybe more still.  As the app tells me, that's an average of 10% of my waking hours!

A few ways I've reduced:

1) Turn off (almost) all alerts.
And I mean nearly all.  I get alerts for phone calls, Facetime, and texts from certain (8) people.  Anything else and my phone doesn't make a noise. If I'm not looking at it I will miss texts until I'm picking up my phone again anyways.  And you know what, it's fine.  (I've never had notification for anything on social media.  I have no need  to get an alert every time someone likes a picture or whatever, that is so pointless.)

2) Stick to my social media check schedule
As I wrote about here.  I've moved a few things around as I've changed my computer schedule (spending more time on it at quiet time but rarely in the evenings) but I stick to this mostly as written.  I'm not scrolling Instagram while in the grocery checkout line (also because I usually have Luke with me and he's pretty chatty).

3) Try not to pick it up unless I have at least two reasons
I try to respond to texts from Matt right away (or as soon as possible) or sometimes there is just something I "need" to do.  But I don't pick it up to log my water consumption unless I'm picking it up for another reason too.  I rarely shop on my phone, no more browsing Target online because I "need" a basket.  If it is important, I'll remember to do it later.

You guys, I am FAR from perfect with this.  SO FAR.  But I have reduced the time spent on my phone by over 40%, trying to get it even lower.  I don't want this little device to be where I spend all my time.  I want to control it, not let it control me.

And blah blah blah.  I know.  But downloading this app, has really helped me out.  Waaaaay more than I expected.  Nothing like checking my time to realize, holy crap, I have spent a lot of time on my phone already this morning.  HOW?!?!?

(From what I can tell, the app doesn't add minutes for time spent actually talking on the phone or doing Facetime.  But for all other screentime, as long as the app is running.)

(Also, this doesn't account for the time I spend on my computer, but I try to keep that mostly to "work": blogging, planning vacations, budgeting, tax prep, organizing pictures, photobooks, etc.)

Have you tried Moment?  What other tips do you have for reducing time on your phone (other than tossing the whole thing, which is honestly tempting once in awhile.)?

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

State of the Adoption - Year 6

It's February which means it's time for me to talk about adoption, again.  It was February 2012 when we had our first adoption meeting (here).  It feels like we've been on a constant merry-go-round of adoption paperwork and waiting ever since, although there almost a year off in there, between bringing Luke home, finalizing his adoption, and starting the process for #2.

It's really hard to know what to say about this, especially that I haven't already said.  We started the process for our second right around Luke's first birthday.  He'll be 5 next month.  It's been A LOT of waiting.  A lot of paperwork.  A lot of crying and wondering WHY God is giving us this long wait.  A lot of not understanding but trying to accept it.

Last year at this time I was pretty stressed out, finding more agencies to list with, more places to get our profile out.  We spent over 6 months, going until late summer, working on getting on lists, waiting some more.  We spent more time on adoption related things (meetings, training, and, of course, paperwork) than any other year since we started.  And it really might have been more time in 2017 than in 2012, when we were starting from scratch.

We are now listed with multiple agencies, we get periodic updates from some (largely through  Facebook).  We know our profile has been looked at, at least once last fall.  And finding out we weren't picked was a little heart breaking, even though, after all this time, we've learned to keep expectations LOW.  And then even lower.

It's really hard to think about Luke starting kindergarten in the fall with a very good chance of never having a sibling with him in these years we've been home together.  At the very least, he'll have one who isn't super into playing by the time Luke is out of the house 7 hours a day.  It feels like we'll be starting over from scratch, back to just me and a baby together.  Back where we were 5 years ago, if we even get a baby by August.  Trying not to think about that too much because there is just no point in trying to plan it.

(Which kills me a little bit, as a super planner.)

And we've been through thousands of scenarios over the last 8+ years of "Well if we have a baby by this point then ___________ will be affected because...."  And at some point we just had to stop expecting or planning anything baby related.  

Maybe I'm just extra emotional because our sweet boy is leaving for kindergarten too soon and that alone can make me cry, without even getting into all the "will he ever have a sibling??" thoughts.  He so so desperately wants to be a big brother, at least once a week asking why it's taking so long and why so many of his cousins have younger siblings and when is he going to get to wear his big brother sticker.  He tells me the things he's going to share with a baby and what he wants to teach them (Star Wars, a lot about Star Wars).  How he's going to give them bottles when they wake up in the middle of the night. (I don't actually expect that one to happen.)

It's never real easy but harder on some days than others.  It makes me SO grateful that we have Luke, that the years of wondering if we'd ever even be parents are almost 5 years past.  That we do have one (in my totally unbiased opinion) great kid.  It seems like a few small things could have gone differently and he'd never be ours which...I just can't even think about.  My sweet boy.

We feel like this is the giant elephant in the room that everyone feels sorry for us for but also, nobody wants to bring up.  Which also sucks.  I'm not sure anyone even knows exactly how many agencies we are listed with, because we're so rarely asked.  We gathered with over a hundred relatives throughout Christmastime and were, combined, asked exactly three times about how the adoption stuff is going.  Which I was honestly pretty excited about. "Matt! I had 3 people ask me about it in less than 48 hours! That's a lot!"  It's SO rare that we get asked how things are going or how we are doing with it.  Since I wrote this post almost a year ago we've been asked that questions one time.  And I kinda get it, it's awkward and maybe people really don't care.  But having this HUGE thing we're going through mostly ignored hurts really bad too.

So, all in all, still painful, still hopeful.  We've put in a lot of hard work (and money) and now we're listed many more places.  It feels like we can coast, a little, that we did our part of getting our profile in front of the mothers with babies that need a home.  We have to trust God but also had to do our part, nobody is going to ring our doorbell asking if we want a kid, if they don't know we are looking for one.

Someday I'll write this annual post with much better news!  Or we'll just give up/age out.  Both feel almost equally likely at this point.

State of the Adoption - year 5
State of the Adoption - year 4
ALL adoption posts