Books

Books: When You Read This

When You Read This by Mary Adkins is an epistolary novel told through E-mails and blog posts. I was worried this would make it difficult to “get to know” the characters, but Adkins does such a great job developing them through their writing. The novel centers around Iris, a young woman who has since passed away, and her former boss, and her sister. Iris leaves behind some dreams she wanted to fulfill, and those left in her life pursue them.

Despite being relatively positive under devastating circumstances, the book also is a reminder of how harsh the blogging world can be. The protagonist would often write a very deep and vulnerable blog post and the comments posted would be cruel or, worse, completely ambivalent to the writer’s pain.

I really liked this book. I cared about the characters, despite their flaws, and couldn’t wait to read what happened next. Adkins takes depressing subject matter and reminds us of the beauty of love, hope, and moving forward.

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(Image from amazon.com)

 

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Adventures

Because Someday She’ll Leave for College

I took this picture of my youngest daughter the day after she was born. It was one of those lulls in visitors at the hospital and my husband had stepped out to spend some time with our oldest daughter. I just sat there with her by myself looking at this perfect new baby, foggy from the post-Cesarean pain meds, but so happy and in love. I just wanted to soak in every moment, already so aware of how fleeting these moments are.

She is now almost two years old and my oldest will start kindergarten this year. I’m constantly looking for ways to be more present and enjoy every moment. If you have been following A HOUSE WITH CHARACTER, you’ll notice I don’t post as much as I used to. I have started really limiting my time spent on social media. I love connecting in those ways and I’ll keep blogging at least a few times a month, but right now the connections I have with my girls are most important to me.

I often struggle as I strive to be a more present and mindful parent. I don’t want to be distracted by my phone, the endless laundry, or whatever work stress is on my mind, but those issues inevitably arise. I don’t want to be the mom who loses her cool when her toddler spills cereal on the floor for the umpteenth time that day, or my four-year-old is whining because I won’t give her candy.

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I am still a big proponent of parents making time for kid-free experiences like travel, date nights, and outings with friends, but I try to schedule that time thoughtfully. Our travel plans include our kids more often than before and we are loving that. (Ask me again when we are half-way through our flight to Alaska in July with a two-year-old and a four-year-old.)

I have also found that if I make a little more time for self-care, whether I’m stopping at the gym to run a couple of miles before I pick the girls up from daycare, or making some time to read during that small window of time when they are asleep and I am not yet, I an actually a more present, less stressed version of myself.

The quality moments with my two daughters are definitely not extravagant. Some of my most enriching moments with them involve reading a book together or playing “Baby,” a silly game we made up where I sit on the floor and hold out a blanket and the girls run to me. I wrap them in the blanket and they shout “Baby!” Don’t tell the people at Parker Brothers or they’ll surely steal that million-dollar idea.

At the end of the day what I remind myself when I feel like I can’t do it all is that they won’t always need me this much. Someday there will be no cereal on the floor, no diapers to change, no 5:30 a.m. wake-up calls on Saturdays, and no sleepless nights. Someday they’ll go off to college and I’ll be so grateful for every single moment of parenting small children through the good, the bad, and the sticky.

Books, In My House

Books: Looking for Lovely

I write about most of the books I read, and that means writing about the ones I didn’t love. I didn’t love Looking for Lovely by Annie F. Downs, but I really liked certain parts, which was a enough to keep me going. Downs is a public speaker and author of several inspirational books. This is the first of her books that I have read.

In some chapters I was irritated by this woman, but not to the extent that Rachel Hollis drove me nuts in Girl, Wash Your Face. Downs does annoying things like name-dropping country music band Lady Antebellum, but then she throws the reader a real-life gem of wisdom on finding ways to find beauty and joy in the simple parts of life. Her honesty about her battle with food addiction and depression is inspiring and brings meaning to the message of the book.

Downs does a good job of balancing hardship and humor. For instance, she is not afraid to poke fun at herself, writing about things like the earrings she wore in middle school that featured a pig’s face as the front and the pig’s behind as the back. I had those exact earrings!

Looking for Lovely is a quick read that provides the reader some nuggets of genuine, applicable ideas for being joyful and positive. It is worth weeding through a few lackluster chapters to grab onto them. The overall message of finding happiness in simplicity resonated with me, even if it wasn’t my favorite book of all time.

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(Image from amazon.com)

Food

Norman is 10: A Cupcake Recipe for Dogs and People

Norman turns 10 today so it was only natural that his sisters and I made cupcakes for our celebration. This banana and peanut butter cupcake recipe is delicious and safe for dogs, and, well, OK, for us humans, too. The main thing is that the birthday boy enjoyed his.

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This recipe was adapted from a few different ones I found online. I like that it makes just 5 regular-size cupcakes. They’re definitely a little bland for us humans, but Norm gobbled them right up. The girls actually devoured theirs, too. I think that was due to the cream cheese frosting on top.

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I used canned cream cheese frosting for these cupcakes, but scraped almost all of Norm’s frosting off before serving it to him. There are a lot of decent pet-friendly frosting recipes online, too. Happy birthday, dear boy. You really, really need a haircut, but we love you so much anyway.

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Recipe:

  • 1/2 cup plain white flour ounces of cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 1 medium banana, mashed
  • 2 tablespoons of water

 

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Sift together flour and baking soda and set aside.
  • In a medium bowl, stir together the peanut butter, mashed banana, egg, and water until combined.
  • Stir in the flour mixture and mix until smooth.
  • Spoon into a muffin pan lined with cupcake papers.
  • Bake for 15 minutes.
  • Allow to cool before topping with frosting of your choice, or leave plain for your pooch.
Books

Books: Before We Were Yours

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate gave me an intense need to hug my children. Parents with little ones: Do not, I repeat, do not, choose this book to read on a vacation away from your kids. I wasn’t on vacation while I read this, and I was thankful for that. Trust me when I say, you’ll want them close while you’re reading it.

That being said, I really liked this novel. It is a fictional account of real events involving Georgia Tann, Director of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, arranging for the abduction of poor children who were then sold to wealthy families. Wingate tells the story of siblings separated by this injustice, and flashes forward to one of their descendants, an attorney attempting to solve a mystery when she has an unusual encounter with an elderly woman at a nursing home.

Though this is a fictional account, these arrangements truly took place. They went on from the 1920s all the way until as late as 1950. Georgia Tann died before she could be arrested or tried for the pain and suffering she caused.

Wingate’s character development was really effective to me, despite the bouncing between decades. That approach to the story was done in an organized way, which made the story flow well. Heart-wrenching in many ways, the book does offer hope, and is a beautiful depiction of the bond between siblings.

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(Image from amazon.com)

In My House

Valentine’s Day Favorites

I don’t know when exactly I went from despising Valentine’s Day to really loving it, but I think it happened somewhere between marrying my hubby and embracing the inevitable girly antics that come with raising two young daughters. Valentine’s Day is unapologetically girly and I love it! Here are a few things rocking my world for this Valentine’s Day.

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1. The Fiesta heart-shaped dish is the perfect candy bowl. I have it in lemongrass (seen here) but it comes in almost every Fiesta shade. Mine is currently filled with Valentine M&Ms. (Bed Bath & Beyond) 2. This banner is a simple way to add a festive touch to a dining room or across the mantel. (Pottery Barn) 3. Pajama pants are a cute and cozy gift idea. (Gap) 4. These raffia hearts would look beautiful in a bowl as a centerpiece or in vases on the mantel. (Pier 1) 5. I bought these conversation heart leggings for both of my daughters. (Target) 6. A Neil Diamond Valentine card. Need I say more? (Debbie Draws Funny on Etsy)

Adventures

I Know I Should Stop Comparing, but Her Curtain Rods Are So Much Nicer Than Mine

Purusing Instagram, Facebook, and lifestyle blogs can be a fun way to decompress, get decorating ideas, and find inspiration. It can also be a soul-sucking rabbit hole leading to excessive comparison and feelings of inadequacy. Case in point: A couple of nights ago, while perusing a couple of lifestyle blogs I like to follow, I found myself comparing my living room curtain rods to the beautiful ones in that woman’s post.

Yes, my curtains rods. That’s what it has come to, ladies and gentlemen. I was just about to launch an intense search for new curtain rods, tie-backs, and valances, thus ordering $100+ of stuff I really do not need, when sanity began to regain hold of me.

Psychiatrist, author, and public speaker Marcia Sirota wrote: “Choosing not to compare ourselves to others doesn’t mean that we should be complacent. It’s appropriate to be always learning, growing and changing, but we’ll be more motivated to change when we already feel good about ourselves.”

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Photo by Tayhart Photography

The truth is, my happiness is not driven by the same factors as those that drive the happiness of the woman with the perfect curtain rods. Sure, we probably have something in common. We want to be good mothers, and we enjoy connecting with others through blogging, but that could be where it ends. I have never met her. I don’t know her deepest secrets, just that her curtain rods are cool and she loves shiplap. We all live different lives, have different stressors, different sources of joy.

The curtain rod comparison didn’t fill me with despair or make me genuinely feel horrible about myself, but it did prompt me to ask myself some questions. Will spending $100 on new curtain rods fulfill me and bring me true joy? No.

Then what will? Spending a Saturday afternoon playing with my daughters. Reading a good book. Talking with my husband on the couch after the girls have fallen asleep. Beating my personal record for running two miles, which by the way, is not fast by any standard but mine.

Speaking of running, when I run on the treadmill at the gym after work, I’m not worried about how fast or slow the person on the treadmill next to me is. I’m just trying to jam out to some White Zombie and not fall off the track. That’s life.

I have been guilty of posting false perfection, too, and my goal moving forward will be to be more self-aware of that tendency most of us share. When I post something on the Intranet, I want to make sure I am doing so for the right reasons.

Sharing a piece of our lives, connecting with others, even offering nutrition, fashion, or decorating ideas are all worthy reasons of being active on social media. It’s OK to be proud of something once in a while, or to show off a cute new puppy, outfit ideas, or flowers from a loved one. When we are reading others’ blog posts and social media content, let’s take it with a grain of salt and just be happy for them. Let’s find joy where we can, help others feel good, and try not to fall off the track.