Friday, March 24, 2017

Friday Five: Favorite NYC Set Books (Historical Fiction)

This is my third post about books set in one of the best cities in the world, New York.  (Here's contemporary fiction and non-fiction/memoir).  We've visited New York three times (so far) and it remains in my top five places I've ever been.  Since I'll never live there (and not sure I would want to long term) I love reading books about people who actually do.  Usually under completely different circumstances than I could even live there, this list for obvious reasons (can't time travel!).  Until we make our next trip, here are a few books to help me get through my New York travel urge.

A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams
Not the first time I've mentioned this book and it remains my favorite of hers, maybe in my top 10 of all time?  (That's list would be almost impossible to put together.)  It's the story of Lily Dane, told both in 1931 and 1938 and how her 1931 life got her to 1938 remains a bit of a mystery that is slowly revealed as both timeline speed towards big events where everything comes together.  There is love, lost love, New Years Eve in New York, college football games, sparkly dresses, and lazy days at the beach.  I've read this multiple times and have so enjoyed it every time.

The Pink Suit by Nicole Mary Kelby 
Jackie Kennedy's pink "Chanel" suit that she was wearing in Dallas in November 1963 might be one of the most famous items of clothing in recent American history.  She wore it two decades before I was born and I still have long known about it.  However, this isn't (much) of a story of Jackie Kennedy, rather the (fictional) seamstress who made that famous suit.  Set in New York in the 1960 with a nice dose of Irish charm.  You know how the suit is going to end up but who knew all the possible drama that (maybe) went into making it.  And it's about a lot more than sewing.

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
You may have heard of this one, having been made into a (pretty charming and sweet) movie recently.  It's the story of a young woman named Eilis living in Ireland in the 1950s.  She doesn't have much going for her there and her sister arranges for a priest to sponsor her trip to New York, on boat (that apparently wasn't very pleasant).  She lives in a boarding house with other women (one of whom is named Diana) and sells hoisery.  She meets an Italian boy.  She's homesick.  She slowly learns to make Brooklyn home (the boy might help).  Family things happen.  Will she make Ireland or New York her home home?  It's slow but sweet and charming, speaks fondly of both places.

The Forgotten Room by Karen White, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig
These three authors tell the stories of three different women, all of whom end up living in the same room of the same building, in different decades (1892, 1920, and 1944).  Their stories might be connected beyond the shared living space but it takes a long time to unwind all the stories and histories.  I drew a chart at one point to make sure I was getting the stories straight (and I was, although there were some surprises) but don't let chart drawing detour you.  It was fun and romantic and a lovely look at different points of history.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin
This one is set in the 1950s and follows Truman Capote and his "Swans": rich, socialites who befriended and The Pink Suit as well. 
coddled him.  They all love him.  He loves them.  Then he ends up writing a book that is (very thinly veiled) about them.  Then they don't like him so much.  I knew basically nothing about him before reading this and still only really know what was in this book.  That might be enough for me.  But it was a fascinating look at a different time, place, and lifestyle.  I will never be a New York socialite, much less one in the 1950s.  If you've ever wondered what it was like to live that life, you might find this interesting.  Bonus: some characters here get a mention in

Most books set in New York just increase my itch to travel there again.  These make me wish I could time travel as well.  What good New York set books do you have to recommend?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Dear Birth Mother...

I've mentioned (here, here) that we've been working on listing with more adoption agencies.  After things not moving much for months (years) all of a sudden, in less than a week, we're filling out applications for two more agencies, agencies we had contacted over a month ago and then were in a waiting period.

One of them required a copy of our profile book with our application.  We had more of a brochure type with our current agency and asked if that would be fine for applying, we'd do the full book if we got accepted.  They said no, they need the book with the application.  We made sure our pastor would sign off on the statement of faith, which he did on a Friday.  Three weeks before the application was due (and just 24 hours after we asked, it was a short window to begin with).  We knew we'd have a wait with getting a book printed and shipped to our house which meant we had about a weekend to put together a 20 page profile book.

You might imagine that that was a slightly stressful weekend around here.  But we knocked it out with about 10 hours of work between the two of us.  We now have a 20 page, hardcover photobook sent in to Snapfish and it should be delivered to our house 9 days before it has to be at the agency.  It should work out just fine.  (I mean, literally just send in, right before I started writing this post.)

It's a really strange thing to make these profiles.  I think it went fairly quick for us because we had guidelines from this new agency (2 pages about extended family, 1 page per child you have, 2-4 pages for your neighborhood and home, etc.) but also, we had done this before.  More than once.  I kept a copy of our last profile right in front of me the whole time I was working on the new one, copying full paragraphs from it.  It's not cheating, we wrote it all in the first place.

I would have thought the words would be the toughest parts but somehow that came fairly easily (see: the above mentioned copying at least 50% of it).  The hardest part was choosing pictures.

What best represents our family?

What makes us look the best?

Is anyone making a funny face?

Are they going to like or hate that we like Star Wars, the Colts, don't have pets, have a jet ski, etc.

Our social worker told us five years ago that most birth mothers chose a family based on the pictures.  They have the same type of dog.  They like the same sports team.  But the same things could be a turnoff for another birth mother.

We were told to include pictures of the front of our house, the inside of our house, our neighborhood, our extended families, and a lot of us.  But nothing that includes local landmarks or local colleges or anything that gives any clue as to what city we live in.  Nothing with our last names.

So is Matt wearing a hat for our minor league baseball team count as showing where we live?  How about Luke sitting on the turtle statue at our (nationally ranked, by the way) zoo?  What about my sister wearing a t-shirt for the school where her husband used to coach football but doesn't any more and isn't even where we live anyways?  What about that shirt Matt is wearing that is for a local company that lists our city, if you look close enough?  What about the family picture taken at the downtown baseball stadium?  What about my brother-in-law wearing a t-shirt for a school where he student taught and is in our town but where neither of us went to school?  What about the random family reunion t-shirt Matt got at Goodwill, over a decade ago, that has some last name on it that belongs to people we don't even know?  Would they think that's us?

How picky are we being?

It was a little exhausting nitpicking over every single picture, every face.  Would they hold it against us that a niece is picking her nose in a family shot? (She was 3 at the time, I would hope not.)  Don't include any pictures where Luke has obvious scrapes on his head, even though he's a little boy, that stuff happens.

(Side note, anyone care to guess how many times Lemur made the book?  He's definitely in it the most after the three of us.)

We ended up using a lot of pictures from recent(ish) trips to Gulf Shores and New York (no clues there as to where in Indiana we are!).  I left in most of the pictures I worried about above.  It'd be near impossible to hide every tiny, possible reference to where we are.  Besides, we're supposed to be telling these people something about us.

We're supposed to talk about infertility, which remains the hardest thing we've ever been through.  (But not too much talking about it, because you can't make adoption sound like your second choice.)  But can't tell them something as basic as to where we went to college.  It's all about reveling huge parts of yourself but leaving so much hidden, putting the best foot forward but also being honest.  Showing them you'll be a perfect parent, even though that doesn't exist.

And we didn't actually use the words "Birth Mother" anywhere in our book.  Because to them, they aren't a "birth mother" or "birth parents".  At the time, they are still just "parents".  They haven't signed over any baby or given up their rights.  They are considering options and parenting their baby is a very viable one.  We know how emotional adoption can be from our side; we can only imagine how emotional it is from theirs (and we saw Luke's birth mother moments after she signed Luke over to us...we kinda know.).

As I wrote in the book, we know adoption is how God meant for us to grow our family, even if it took us awhile to figure it out.  I look at the (almost) 4 year old evidence right in front of me every single day.  The idea of him being in the world but not being ours still crushes me. 

As tough and as stressful as making a book over a weekend was, we're also pretty happy with how it turned out.  I make annual photobooks but this is something different, highlighting the things we like best about our little family, putting together our favorite pictures.  Not everybody gets to do that.  It's a wonderful little snapshot of our family at this point in our lives.

I know, I have to believe, that we will be lead to the child we are meant to have.  Meant to parent.  Meant to join our family.  We are doing our work so our book can be in the right agency, the right hands, to get in front of that woman who is carrying our future child.  Besides prayer, it's all we can do.  It's not the path we had expected to make our family.  Ten years ago I most definitely never considered that spending 10 hours staring at my computer over a weekend is how we'd make our family.  But here we are.  And right now we're feeling pretty at peace about it all.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Clothes Shopping List - Spring 2017

I've posted theses lists twice before, mostly to hold myself accountable.  I first posted last spring with the 7 clothing items to purchase for the spring/summer.  In my follow-up posted in the fall I recapped those the additional 19 items I bought as well...I did well with buying the items on my list BUT not so well with only buying those things.

This time around I wanted to do much better.  I had another 6 items I wanted to buy and I was determined to buy less than an additional 19 items.  It seriously helped me return some items to keep myself under 19.  Internet accountability works!  I mean, I didn't do much less than 19 but still, baby steps.  Hopefully for this spring/summer I can do much much better.

These lists really do help me shop more intentionally and stay within budget.  I try to identify the holes in my closet and mostly look for those items, either through ThredUp's awesome filters or just when browsing Target and Old Navy (I'm just not going to get away from shopping there anytime soon).  I highly recommend it, even if you don't post it to the internet to be held accountable (although I would definitely read it if you did!).

(note: I'm going to mention ThredUp on here a lot, because I love shopping there and I've gotten, what I consider, some pretty great deals.  Here's my original post about ThredUp.  The love still stands.)

Here are the 6 items I had planned to buy for the fall/winter as listed here:

1. Navy and white cable knit, crew neck sweaters

Bought the ones I planned from L.L. Bean.  Thought these would round out my winter sweaters.  Spoiler: they did not.
2. Another pair of booties
I had actually already bought these when I made my list.  Then I thought about returning them but Old Navy changed their return window so I couldn't.  Ended up wearing them more than I planned though so it worked out!  I have these in two colors (the other bought more than a year ago) and get a lot of compliments on them!

3. Nice dress for nephew’s wedding.
A ThredUp purchase.  Not totally what I had in mind but of the three dresses that arrived a few days before the wedding, this is the only one that fit so it won.  And their wedding day was about 80° (in October!) so it worked!  Fall weddings are hard to dress for. 

4. Colored heels (maybe)
Ended up buying these from ThredUp instead and have actually gotten quite a bit of wear out of them!  And they were only $9 and they are a very comfortable heel height.  I've worn these more than I anticipated!

5. Dress for Christmas (maybe)

I wasn't sure I'd buy one dress...and then I kept two (I obviously bought more, thank you, ThredUp).  But we also had multiple Christmas celebrations - the sequins for an adults Christmas party Matt's sister throws every year ("adults" including anyone over 21...since we have multiple nieces and nephews that qualify).  And then the leopard print (from Old Navy) for Christmas Eve celebration and Mass.  The picture comes from my goddaughter's baptism and that's my "I'm trying to look very interested and involved but apparently I just look bored" face.  I swear I wasn't actually bored.    

Totally counting this as ok and that two dresses can count for one item since I'm making the rules around here.

6. Plaid flannel shirt (maybe)    
I bought multiples, one even lived, with tags, in my closet for a few weeks.  And they all ended up going back.  I just never reached for them and didn't like how they looked on me besides with a vest.  I just couldn't do it.  Probably time to hang this up and decide it's something that works well for others but doesn't for me, at least for right now. 

Then the items not on the list (but we're taking away one for the plaid shirt I didn't end up keeping!): some home sewn accessories (are we counting those?  Chalking them up to experience?  They were all pretty cheap to make so they barely count (as in, $9 total...).  

Banana Republic crocheted top (ThredUp) | Old Navy frost-free vest | Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit blue lace dress (ThredUp) | Old Navy relaxed textured sweater

Old Navy classic cable-knit sweater (aqua) | Old Navy thermal plaid shirt | Nordstrom leggings (ThredUp) | Target waffle knit infinity scarf

Old Navy classic cable-knit sweater (ThredUp) | Nordstrom tunic sweater

A.N.A. Faux leather knit jacket | Target Weekend Wanderer sweatshirt | Old Navy mid-rise rockstar skinny jeans | Denizen from Levi modern fit skinny jeans

3 clutches I sewed myself (2 of them pictured in that post!)
1 scarf I sewed myself

Remember above when I said I thought I'd be set with sweaters for the winter if I just bought two more?  And then I bought another 4 on top of that.  So...yeah.  I'm not so good at predicting my sweater "needs".

One of those pairs of jeans are a replacement for a pair that is SUPER close to wearing through on the knees.  I feel like replacement items really shouldn't count... And I bought the thermal plaid shirt to sleep in after wearing one of Matt's t-shirts for so long it was getting holes...I feel like early 30s (because 33 is definitely not mid-30s) is old enough not to be sleeping in holey t-shirts.  I could keep justifying every item on this list, I did it in my mind when I kept them all (like the crocheted top from ThredUp, I did some SERIOUS ThredUp stalking to get that back after I let it sit in my cart too long while waiting for return credit to be processed.  I am still super psyched that I actually got it.)

Anyways, the whole point, I bought fewer extra items than the season before and knowing I'd be reporting back here really helped hold me accountable so, thank you, readers and the internet.

As for spring/summer 2017...  We have 3 weddings, one being my little sister, but I think I bought enough dresses last year, and wore them to weddings with different guests, that I should be set for this summer!  I find that exciting but we'll see if I hold to that...

1) 2-3 Tank Tops

I wear these a lot throughout the summer.  Already bought the one above (ThredUp) but counting it as a summer purchase.  Maybe a couple more?  I'm inevitably going to buy a few so might as well put it on the list!

2) 2-3 v or scoop neck t-shirts
What I wear daily until it's tank top weather.  I could use a few more to get me between laundry days (although I recently had the revelation that I could also just do an extra load of laundry so...that's an option too).

3) Navy Wedges

I have been looking for these for 3 summers and have yet to find any in my price range (these are $200+ and nearly the exact pair the Duchess of Cambridge has worn to multiple events...we obviously have very different budgets).  I have black wedges that I wear a ton in the summer, to work and church, the occasional non-drive-in date nights and would really like a navy pair.  I'll keep looking but not optimistic.

4) A sundress

I've bought a new one the last few summers, wear them almost weekly to Mass as weather permits.  Could maybe use another?  Although searching dresses on ThredUp might be a dangerous activity...

5) A white crew-neck short sleeved with navy stripes
I have the exact shirt pictured above.  It has black stripes.  I wore it to New York for 18 hours on the Amtrak, including a night of not really sleeping with a 3 year old.  It's super comfy.  (I wore it other times too.)  I would like the same shirt with navy stripes but haven't been able to find anything even close.  I looked all last summer, and not just at Target and Old Navy (I mean, ThredUp too).  Maybe I can cross it off the list this year.

So that's my "this is all I'm buying" but probably not really although I gave myself some leeway with the 2-3 thank tops and t-shirts so...maybe I'll do better?  I have been building up my basics more and have filled in my closet pretty well over the last few years so maybe I can keep buying less.  At least I have the internet and public record to keep me accountable!  Seriously, such a huge help!

Do you keep a list of closet holes?  Just buy what suits your fancy?  I'm a huge fan and convert to the list method, even if I'm not the best at sticking to it...

Spring 2016
Fall 2016

Friday, March 17, 2017

Senses of the Season - Spring(ish)

I first posted one of these lists right before Christmas.  It's been three months since and things have changed, a little.  We have more snow on the ground, as I type this, then we did on Christmas.  Hello, spring!  But there are fewer dead trees in my house now (although I'm sure some needles are still lurking somewhere) and spring is coming, soon-ish.  I have hopes of wearing less than 3 layers sometime soon!

1) Smell

Until the real flowers are blooming we're settling for flowery candles and this has been a recent favorite.  I love the smell of real hyacinth, probably should plant some!

2) Taste

A trio of chocolate treats for one (guess who in this house didn't give up sweets for Lent?  Not this girl!).  This being triple chocolate cookies, cookie dough truffles, and double chocolate muffins.  All of which I have been enjoying almost daily lately...I'll start running again soon.   It'll be fine.  Also, this peach honey tea which was a semi-impulse Target buy last week but has turned out to be a nice quiet time treat, with more added honey, naturally.

3) Hearing
Amazon Prime does this thing where sometimes they offer you a $1 credit for a digital song if you agree to slower shipping.  Unless I'm in a hurry I almost always take the $1 credit and it's what I use to buy most of my music, the few songs I do buy.  My last purchase was Florida Georgia Line featuring the Backstreet Boys (you can guess why I bought this), God, Your Mama, and Me.  It's going to satisfy my new Backstreet Boys music until their rumored CD comes out later this year (and I will buy that CD, but you probably knew that). 

If Backstreet Boys and country music isn't your thing, I also enjoyed this podcast episode "The Lazy Genius Shops at Aldi".  If I haven't previously convinced you to give Aldi a try (here or here), at least listen to this podcast...and then try again.  It's only 23 minutes, or about the time it takes me to get through Aldi, which includes getting a cart, shopping, checking out, bagging, and loading up the car.  Not joking. (Note: She says you have to take cash but my Aldi has long accepted debit cards and now does credit cards as well.  Maybe it depends on the store?)

4) Sight
My bulbs started coming up weeks ago!  Here they are in the snow earlier this week.  At least they haven't bloomed yet?  The snow is pretty and I wish we had gotten more this winter, but kinda ready for warmer temps...

5) Touch
Can we just go with a feeling?  Because I've been feeling really cold lately.  It feels like 14° out as I type this.  That's cold.  And my old, 80-year-old, poorly insulated house is feeling it.  I sure would like to feel my toes (with socks and shoes) more often than when I'm working out and under 3 blankets....

What are you feasting your senses on in this (almost) spring?

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Double Chocolate Muffins

First, let's just be honest here.  These barely count as muffins, not cupcakes.  Super barely.  Luke helped me make them and when they came out of the oven he kept asking for a cupcake.  I kept correcting him.  "They are muffins."  Every time he gave me a look that said "No, Mom, those are clearly cupcakes but if calling them muffins lets me eat one sooner then, sure, they are muffins."  And he did get to eat one almost fresh from the oven.  And he loved it. 

They do have slight muffin components - I used some white wheat flour and yogurt and coconut oil, slightly healthier components although all of those could be used in cupcakes as well.  And they do have a more "bread-muffiny" texture more than a light, springy cupcake.  But there isn't much else keeping them out of the cupcake category, other than the lack of frosting. 

After making blueberry muffins very regularly the last 3 years and eating one almost daily as my morning snack, it's nice to change it up a little bit, even if it's just in the interest of eating more chocolate.  Luke and I both highly recommend these if you are looking to add a little more chocolate to your morning!

Double Chocolate Muffins
yield: ~21 muffins
-1¾ cup (8.75 ounces) flour*
-1 cup (7.5 ounces) sugar
-2/3 cup (2.5 ounces) unsweetened cocoa powder
-2 tsp baking powder
-½ tsp baking soda
-½ tsp salt
-1 1/3 cup (8 ounces) chocolate chips/chunks
-2 eggs
-¾ cup milk**
-¾ cup yogurt**
-1 tsp vanilla
-½ cup coconut (melted) or canola oil
~½ cup (3 ounces) chocolate chips for sprinkling on top

*I used a mix of white whole wheat (~1/3) and regular all-purpose flour (~2/3), using all wheat flour will make for denser muffins, all AP flour will make for fluffier ones.
**The original directions called for 1½ cup buttermilk but gave this milk/yogurt substitution which I used.  If you have buttermilk, you can eliminate the milk & yogurt and use buttermilk instead!  (I never, ever, have buttermilk.)

1) Preheat the oven to 375° and line muffin tin with liners.
2) Mix together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.  Stir in  the chocolate chips.
3) In a separate bowl or large measuring cup, combine the eggs, milk, yogurt, vanilla, and oil.
4) Add the liquids to the flour and stir just until combined.  Divide among muffin cups.  Sprinkle with chocolate chips.
5) Bake for 15-17 minutes, just until the tops spring back when touched.
6) Remove from oven and let cool on a rack.

Source: slightly modified from Mel's Kitchen Cafe