Tuesday, February 28, 2017

I Love Being a SAHM, But I Don't Always Enjoy It

It's been a rough start to the week, with February blowing out in a flurry of snow and ice and cold temperatures (nothing new here) and my head feeling like a drifting balloon due to the fact that I'm hyped up on Mucinex (thanks to my first big cold of the winter...woo hoo).

I have two kids that should be sleeping--one my own, the other my friend's baby (who I watch twice a week).

Our living room floor is a minefield of Mega Legos and library books, but my head hurts too badly to do anything about it, just like it's conveniently ignoring the fact that Raven is in her crib singing Once There Was a Snowman to herself rather than sleeping.


It felt like I waited a long time to be a stay-at-home mom (although it wasn't long at all, not really even a little bit---just 9 and a half months or so). I still sharply remember the bleary working days of waking up at 5:15 every morning for my teaching job and squeezing in more work before 11 a.m. than most people get done in a day.

I remember longing for days that I didn't have to wake up before the sunrise, days where I wouldn't have to worry about getting dressed in something semi-professional or actually doing my hair. I looked forward to long days spent outside at parks and on play dates, days where we could bake muffins in the middle of the day just because, and of finally being in charge of my own schedule at last.

While there are certainly days in the SAHM life that involve time at the park and baking muffins, the everyday reality is often not so rosy, and I have yet to have too many days when I feel like I am in charge of my own schedule at all.

I think I can define the stay-at-home life with the metaphor of feeling like my arms are always full---

Full of kids,
Full of laundry,
Full of dirty dishes to take to the sink,
Full of tonight's dinner,
Full of books to read,
Full of toys that I'm endlessly picking up.

True, I would much rather have my arms be full than empty...

But if your arms are always full, it can tend to feel, well, heavy.

It can feel heavy sometimes to be the sole one in charge for those 8+ hours my husband is away, the one that has to make all the decisions and enforce all the decisions and deal with the repercussions of all the decisions.

It can feel heavy to realize that it's been days since you've really made an effort to look nice, that it's been perhaps weeks or months since you've felt truly beautiful at all (which you realize suddenly as you're wiping spit-up off your shirt or the soggy Cheerios from the carpet).

It can feel heavy to have to remind yourself regularly that what you are doing is, in fact, important, because often it just feels like an endless chain of to-dos that never really seem to get you anywhere or yield you any visible results.

It can feel heavy to feel like you do so much, only to have people outside of your home and your situation think that you must just sit around and watch movies or do whatever you want all day.

It can feel heavy to be so surrounded all day long, even while going to the bathroom, but at the same time feel so absolutely, utterly lonely.


I don't consider it a sacrifice to stay at home---in fact, I consider it a great privilege.

But I also know now that it comes with its own set of burdens, its own heavy load.

And this week, it's just felt especially so.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Confession: I Feel Guilty Abandoning Books

I have a theory that readers tend to lean towards one of two tendencies---

Either they feel the need to push through and finish a book (even if they don't like the book at all),


They grow restless if a book doesn't pick up fast enough or if it slows down too much in the middle, and so they recklessly leave heaps of books abandoned.

I definitely fall into the first camp.

My problem with just abandoning books I don't like started all the way back in elementary school: I had picked up a copy of Jacob Have I Loved from the classroom library and started reading it, when I was questioned by my teacher as to how I was enjoying it so far.

"Um, I don't really know," I admitted. "It's kind of slow. I kind of don't want to finish it."

My teacher knelt down by my desk and imparted then the words that have perhaps doomed me for life:

"You know, I believe that you should always read to at least page 40 of a book before deciding whether or not it's for you. If you're still not interested by page 40, you can abandon it. But a lot of times, you'll find that it just takes that long to get into a good story."

Her theory seemed sound, so I decided right then and there to adopt it as my own (at the tender age of 9).

The only problem?

Once I was 40 pages into a book, I felt like I'd already invested too much time to just drop it all entirely, so thus began my problem with simply trudging through books I hated until the bitter end (see The Course of Love, Go Set a Watchman, and The Signature of All Things).

With a series, this problem became especially thorny since once I'd finished the first book, I felt obligated to just ride the whole thing out (the one exception to this being the first book in the Mistborn series that I read when I lost a bet to my husband, which remains the only book I've read in that series). 

It is for this reason that I trudged through most of the YA series that became so popular---Hunger Games, Twilight, Divergent---even though I didn't especially like them. (It wasn't until recently, actually, when I got into the Lunar Chronicles series, that I found a YA series that I liked in its entirety since Harry Potter.)

This behavioral phenomenon actually has been widely studied in psychology and has a very specific name--it's called the Sunk Cost Fallacy, and it basically means that once an investment of time, energy, and/or money has been made, it makes it harder to get out of the endeavor, even if little benefit or reward is coming from it. 

However, I AM slowly trying to break myself of this distressing tendency, as I am realizing more and more each year the truthfulness of the common saying: "So many books, so little time."

And I've actually discovered a few things that have really helped.

Surprisingly, one of the greatest helps has been that I've started checking out books (with great regularity) from the library again. For so many years, I insisted on buying any book that I wanted to read, which meant that I REALLY felt like I had to read it all the way through when I finally got around to it (because now I'd invested money in addition to time on it!).

Now, if a book is due back to the library and I can't renew it (and it's not good enough to want to breeze through in the days I have left until its due date), I simply return it without intending to borrow it back again. (This is what happened with the book Simplicity Parenting, which I'd mentioned in a post awhile back. Although the book made some terrific points in the 65 or so pages I'd read, the tone of the book bugged me just enough that it made me not want to pick up the book regularly at night in my usual reading time).

Another thing that has helped me to be better at abandoning books is letting go of reads that have triggers in them that are particularly disturbing or distressful to my (rather sensitive) psyche. Since having Raven, I have become VERY sensitive to anything involving child abuse (which is why I abandoned Justin Cronin's The Passage about 45 pages in), and I also have a really hard time with needless violence and hate crimes (which is why I abandoned Jodi Picoult's Small Great Things, because one of the characters made me physically ill as I read about him). While I know that terrible things happen in the world, sensitive subject matter has to be treated in just such a way that I can handle it, and it has to have a significant reason for being included (like in Homegoing, which I struggled getting through due to the cruelty, but that I pushed through because I saw the purpose in it being included).

The hardest books for me to abandon (by far) are books that I both own and that are considered classics. Since most classics are rather slow to start (and some are slow all the way through), I still appreciate that most are classics for a good reason, so I'm often willing to push through there when I sometimes wouldn't otherwise. This can be a good thing (as was the case with Great Expectations and A Passage to India, both of which took me two or three tries to make it through all the way), or it can be something I almost regret doing (as in the case of Love in the Time of Cholera or Heart of Darkness).

Because of this tendency to push through classics and books on recommended reading lists NO MATTER WHAT, it also really helped when I decided to stop exclusively reading off of such lists and just read whatever the heck I wanted. For years, I felt guilty "sneaking" other books that weren't on those lists, which meant that I would often go awhile without reading much because I wasn't motivated by my current choices.

Now, because I've finally let myself just read whatever sounds interesting (whether it's on a recommended reading list or not), I'm getting much better at recognizing what books speak to me and which are worth pushing through on and which are better off being abandoned.

I know it might seem like an odd thing to be proud of, but I've been able to successfully abandon around 8 or 10 books over the past year (some of which I was over 100 pages into!), which is a far cry from the 9-year-old girl who set out to read 40 pages and ended up always, ALWAYS finishing.

Do you have trouble abandoning books? Or do you have trouble sticking with them long enough to see if they're worth your time in the end?

You might also be interested in:
The Re-Reading Conundrum
Books: To Borrow or to Buy?
Why I Can't Buy Any More Books for at Least 8 Years

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Tax Returns, Tantrums + 3 Other Things

1. I've always been the type to file my tax return as soon as humanly possible because in the history of me filing taxes, I have always, ALWAYS gotten a return.

In years past, Matt and I did various things with our returns---

The year we were married, I convinced Matt to use his rather sizeable tax return to completely pay off his car (which was probably the smartest thing ever, and something that made me fall in love with him all over again...I swoon over financially-savvy decisions).

The year after we were married, we used our return to pay for our cruise to Alaska, which I also don't regret (although it wasn't quite as financially savvy as our decision the year before).

In other years, we've used the return to buy a new mattress, pay off small personal loans borrowed from our parents, and fund the vacation we used to always take around spring break (before Raven arrived).

This is the first year, I believe, where the entirety of our refund has gone into savings.

And, while it's not nearly as exciting or immediately gratifying as some of our other tax-refund purchases, it IS pretty awesome to know that we'll meet our goal of saving $10,000 in our emergency fund WELL before the end of the year, which means we can start throwing all extra money into our down payment account.

If that's not exciting, I don't know what is.

2. We are officially reaching the epic two-year-old tantrum stage, complete with screaming and crying and flailing fists against the floor. Depending on the situation, I either ignore it completely, put Raven in time-out, or use distraction to end the tantrum, but I'm sure hoping that this stage won't last too long since it about sends my stress levels through the roof.

Luckily, she's only thrown tantrums in the comfort of our own home, so I haven't had to deal with the added stress of having random bystanders judging my parenting abilities. If this stage is going to continue, let's all hope that that trend continues of her at least deciding to melt down in a more private setting...

3. After every kickboxing class, I am sore in places I didn't know even know could be sore, and I marvel every week that I'm not seeing more results from my dedication to my gym attendance. But then, all I have to do is log my calories for one day, sheepishly adding in every last Hershey kiss consumed, and the reason for my lack of noticeable results becomes immediately apparent.

Hey, if kickboxing is what it takes for me to continue my chocolate addiction, I guess that's a fair trade.

4. I have definitely done some backsliding when it comes to my social media resolution for this year (where my goal was to severely limit my time on certain social media platforms to certain days and for certain time limits). While I'm still on far less than I used to be, I have definitely been regularly breaking the schedule I set up for myself.

This is partly due to the fact that I've started listing more things from our storage shed auctions on Facebook rather than just on KSL Classifieds (which makes me feel like I NEED to check Facebook more, especially since a query on one of our bigger items went unanswered for about 5 days when I was being more strict about my social media checking). It's also partially because since the snow has come back (goodbye fake spring---you were glorious while you lasted!), all the stir-crazy winter feelings are making me go nuts being cooped up inside while also making me disinclined to do anything productive (a toxic combination, that's for sure).

I think I'm going to try and start fresh next week with my original parameters, and hope that the Facebook sales thing doesn't come back to bite me in the behind.

5. I'd like to take this chance to point out that the only clothing I've bought for myself in the last 6 months has been a cheap pair of jeans from Old Navy back in October. Ever since I realized how much I was spending on clothing, I've been kind of doing an unofficial clothing ban because I really don't need any more clothes for the foreseeable future.

This is actually a pretty Big Deal for me because I've always loved shopping for clothes, and it was always one of the main things I'd spend any extra income on in the history of me making money.

While I'm proud of myself for showing such restraint lately, I AM getting rather sick of my clothes, which means that it's probably time to change out my capsule again (since I've basically stuck more or less to the concept of doing a modified capsule wardrobe for every season rather than having all my clothes in my closet all year long).

Considering that I haven't worn some of them in almost a year, it will feel just like shopping for new threads.

At least, I'm hoping that's my reaction. Otherwise I'll have to hide my debit card and avoid all shopping websites like the plague for about a week...

What's been going on in your world? Any fun plans for your tax return?

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Birth: Always a Miracle

On Monday morning (veeeeery early), I got to witness my third birth (of someone other than my own child).

And, as a labor and delivery nurse once remarked to me while I was cooing over one of these new arrivals, "You know, I've been doing this for years...and it never gets old. Birth is always such a miracle."

It's funny how life pushes you in certain directions. For all of my life, I swore I would never, ever touch anything close to a medical profession---I always said I was too sensitive to the pain of others and that the thought of dealing with ALL parts of the human body grossed me out.

Preparing myself for an unmedicated childbirth before the delivery of my daughter, though, I embraced the fact that my body was literally built exactly for this purpose, and I went into the experience with little fear or trepidation. Although my own birth experience didn't quite go as I'd planned, I still marveled in the wonder of birth and the strength I gained from having my sister there to help me with it, and I was only too happy to offer myself as a birth coach to my friend when she had her first baby 3 months after I did.

Well, that same friend just had her second, and I had the great privilege to be there for her once again, this time as both a birth coach and a birth photographer.

I think sometimes that we put ourselves into self-limiting boxes by saying that we'll "never" try something or that a certain thing is "just not for us."

If you would have told me ten years ago that birth photography would be one of my all-time favorite kinds of photo shoots, I wouldn't have believed you for a second.

But that's exactly what has happened.

I once attended a lecture/demo given by an established newborn photographer who said something to the effect of this:

"Photographers---never forget the sacred trust that your clients have invested in you to capture some of their most precious moments in life. If you look back and think on all the days in your life that have meant the most of you, many married people will list first their wedding day, and then, if they are parents, they will list the days their kids were born. Never forget that you have been invited to participate in some of the most important hours of their life, and so do not take your responsibility lightly."

I have never forgotten that.

Her words have made it so that before each such momentous photo event, I always say several prayers, asking that my talent be magnified, that my eye for detail be keen, and that my thoughts and feelings will be sensitive in discerning what is most needed and what will be most appreciated.

With the births I've been fortunate enough to witness, I've acted in a dual role, both as a birth coach and as a photographer, and both roles have been fertile ground for personal growth and development.

It has been my experience in life that over the years, I am able to handle more and more and more. As a young missionary serving in El Salvador, my first companion and I had to help those we were serving with some very heavy burdens--a dear family was in danger of losing the girl they'd adopted years before, an older woman we'd visited countless times had just passed away, and we had just learned of the abuse faced by several of the young women in our branch while they were at school.

I remember feeling overwhelmed by all that we had just heard and felt powerless as to how to continue. I looked to my senior companion and basically said something to the effect of, "Well, you're the one in charge here. What are we going to do now?"

She replied back in utter honesty, "Hermana, I have no idea. I've never dealt with anything like this before, the same as you."

But as we slowly started working through everything going on, one prayer, one person, one hour at a time, we were both made strong enough to not only "deal with it," but to be the messengers of help we were supposed to be. And as I went on and became the senior companion and later a trainer on my mission, I was given more and more responsibility and, at times, heavier burdens still to carry upon my shoulders.

But because all my prior experiences had given me strength, I had become the woman I needed to be in those all-important situations as they came up.

I've been studying the subject of charity lately, and I've been seeing so many real-life examples of people I admire so much when it comes to serving others (starting with my own mother, who is one of the most service-oriented people I know). And I know where I want to be, yet I know simultaneously that I'm not even close to there, which can often be frustrating, not to mention disheartening.

But then I am blessed to have experiences that push me a little more than I'm used to, that make me get out of my self-limiting boxes just a little more, and I can see that perhaps some of my greatest service might come in places that were completely unthought of even just a few years ago.

I feel so honored to have friends who trust me enough to let me share this most sacred of experiences with them.

It really is something that will never get old, and it's something that helps make me a greater version of myself every time I'm blessed enough to participate in it.

You might also be interested in the post I did full of tips for birth coaches and dads-to-be here.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Financial Friday: Where Our Money Goes Each Month

These pictures have nothing to do with the topic at hand, but they're cute, so they had to go somewhere, right?

I've always found it particularly fascinating to study other people's finances---not because I necessarily want to compare or to see how we're "measuring up" to other people, but just because I think it's so interesting how differently everyone views and spends money. (And also because I'm always looking for creative ways to become even more frugal!)

Ever since we went down to one income so that I could stay home with Raven, we've had to adopt an even more frugal mindset than we had before (which is saying something, since I've always been a pretty thrifty person). 

Although we don't make as much now as we made when we were both working, we make our single income work by following a couple of basic principles:

1 - We rent (an apartment). 

We don't want to be renting forever, of course, but relatively inexpensive apartment living is THE main reason we can afford for me to stay at home right now. Although our two-bedroom apartment can feel a little cramped at times, it's really all the home we need right now with just one kid, so we don't feel the need to move to a bigger place (and we really like the savings we get monthly from renting only the size we really need!).

2 - Each day, we operate from the assumption that we're not going to spend any money that day. 

Let me explain this one a bit---it's not that we don't spend any money ever (that's not possible in our society), but we operate from the mindset that any money spent will be discussed and premeditated and planned (and usually agreed upon with the other spouse). This works for us because Matt, by his nature, is not a spender in the slightest, and since I manage the majority of our finances, it makes it relatively easy to assume that on most days, we won't be spending money (and that we especially won't be spending money just to spend money). 

This means that we don't go shopping for fun, that I always have a specific budget in mind whenever I go to the grocery store, and that we very specifically outline limits on such things as gifts and other personal expenses.

It's so nice that at the end of the month, every dollar is accounted for and we don't have that feeling of, "What on earth was THAT charge for?"

3 - We pay at least a 10% tithing.

For us, tithing is a spiritual principle that comes with real temporal blessings, and I am absolutely sure that it is one of the main reasons we have been so blessed financially. 

And now, just for fun, let's crunch a few numbers and see (on average) where our money goes each month (based on our take-home pay, which means I'm not including taxes or anything like that):

Rent - 25%

We feel very fortunate that our rent is such a small chunk of our take-home pay. This low number is due to two reasons: 1) We're currently renting an apartment instead of paying a mortgage, and 2) We live in a city with a fairly low cost-of-living.

Tithing/Charitable Donations - 12%

In addition to paying 10% of our income to tithing, we also like to make some other voluntary contributions as well (through our church or sometimes through sites like GoFundMe), and on most months, it averages to about 12% of our income total.

Groceries/Household Items - 13%

We keep our grocery costs low by only going grocery shopping once a week (sometimes only once every two weeks), using coupons, shopping for deals, buying the generic brand (usually), and not buying a lot of packaged/processed food. I cook about 95% of our meals at home, which saves us a ton of money each month. For more info on how we keep our grocery bill so low, check out this post.

Eating Out/Takeout - 2%

Since we've had Raven and especially since we've gone down to one income, our habit before of going out about once a week has now been reduced to going out once per month (with maybe one run to Little Caesar's for a $5 pizza thrown in). Raven goes to bed every night promptly at 6:30, which makes going out to eat at night a little tricky, and since we're trying to save as much money as possible anyway, we limit going out as much as possible.

Utilities - 7%

During the spring and fall (when we don't run heat or A/C hardly ever), this will drop even more, but right now it's fairly consistent around 7%, which includes our utilities through the city and Questar bills.

I'm not one to be totally uncomfortable and keep it super cold inside during the winter or super warm inside during the summer, but we do try to be smart about it---we keep our temperatures lower at night, we turn the heat off if we're leaving the apartment, and we mostly keep the lights off during the day while the sun provides enough light from outside.

Gas - 3%

We used to spend more than double on gas than we do now when I was working in a city that was a 30-minute commute away, but since I mainly just use the car to go around town, we don't have to fill up very often (and Matt's car's gas is paid for by his work since he almost exclusively uses it to run work errands). On a normal month, we probably only have to pay to fill up our car twice.

Car + Life Insurance - 5%

We get our car and life insurance through the same company, and they've given us various good driver discounts and such over the years, which means I'm fairly pleased with how much we pay per month (and how much coverage we get for that). Of course, we've also never been in an accident (*knock on wood*), so we'll see how we still feel about all that still if that ever should happen.

Health Insurance + Doctor - 5%

We are extremely fortunate in the health insurance department at the moment due to our limited income and due to the fact that Matt's work doesn't offer insurance (so we had to go through the Marketplace). Since it appears that there will be many changes in health insurance over the next year or two, I don't anticipate that this will stay so low, but it's been really great for as long as it's lasted.

Cell Phone - 2%

Neither of us owns a smartphone, so we both have a very basic phone plan with no data and unlimited texting through Verizon. I know we could probably find something even cheaper, but coverage was sketchy before when we had a different provider, so it's been worth it for us to pay for Verizon since it basically guarantees us coverage anywhere (and because our bill is so low compared to most people's anyway).

Miscellaneous (gifts, car tune-ups, infrequent bills, clothing, etc.) - 11%

Every month, some additional expense comes up, such as birthday gifts, oil changes, or me needing another punch pass to the rec center where I do my aerobics classes, so I plan a little buffer every month for such things.

Savings - 15% 

We might not make much money currently, but we still are able to save at least this much every month because we make it such a priority. I should note that we "pay ourselves first" by having Matt's paychecks deposited into our savings account and then only transferring out what will be needed for the rest of that period. I've found that doing it this way means that I'm more likely to want to transfer out in even amounts (like by $10 or $25), so I'll often save more than I might otherwise just because I like to keep my numbers even. (For example, if I were to do it the opposite way and put the paycheck into checking, I would be more likely to transfer an even amount like $100 into savings rather than $118 into savings. This way, the $18 stays in savings already, if that makes sense.)


And there you have it---our monthly numbers. We're anticipating some extra income this year from side businesses and hopefully through Matt's job, too, but our plan is to keep all of our current expenses fixed and just put any extra into savings (since it's time to really buckle down and finish our full emergency fund and get more into our down payment fund!).

Do any of our numbers surprise you? What does your monthly expense chart look like?



Thursday, February 16, 2017

My Unpopular Opinions on (Some Very Popular) Books

I saw this blog post idea ages ago on the Lady Okie blog (who saw it originally on this blog), and I've had it in my head ever since that I wanted to do one myself (so thanks to Amanda and Kate for the inspiration!).

I've been thinking for awhile that I wanted to do a book post that's all about the books that DIDN'T really do it for me (since that's just as much fun to talk about as the books that do!), and I thought this was a fun format in which to do it.

Here goes:

1. A popular book or series you didn't like.

Where to even start? I feel like I have several. Twilight, obviously (since I've bashed Twilight a bit in the past here on the blog), for its cheesy writing and absolutely terrible climax/resolution in the final book. I will give Stephanie Meyer props for coming up with a cool idea (as well as some interesting plot twists along the way), but the execution was decidedly botched in my view.

I also completely hated the ending of the Divergent series, which made my already-lackluster feelings about the series even more dismal. I just felt like I never really cared about any of the characters, and there wasn't enough fleshing out of scene and setting to make me really feel present while I was reading--I had to keep going back to remind myself of who the characters were and where everyone was currently located. Yeah, not a fan.

And, while we're on endings I hated, I've got to put in that the third Hunger Games also ruined the series for me. I rather liked the first one, but the books went decidedly downhill from there. Guess I'm just a stickler that the ending must be decent in order for me to have any positive feelings about the book.

And, finally, to put at least some books on here that aren't part of a young adult series, I just finished The Course of Love by Alain de Botton (which has a fabulous rating on Goodreads), and I have to say, I was EXTREMELY disappointed by it. The book is a blended genre novel where the author weaves the story of an ordinary marriage with nuggets of philosophical-like insights on love and marriage, and how they change over time. So many people were saying that they wanted to buy this for every couple about to get married, but I was thinking by the end that I wouldn't be recommending this book to anyone. Not only did the section/philosophy on adultery anger me to no end, but I found the two main characters pretty boring and not very likable at all and the whole book to be excruciatingly slow and dull. I definitely had to force myself to push through all the way to the end.

A couple more books worth mentioning here---

I loathed Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature of All Things (for the main character's absolute obsession with her unsatisfied sex drive and the fact that it was waaaaaaay too long for the story line), Gregory Maguire's Wicked (which the Broadway musical was based on), and Julie & Julia (more on that later).

2. A popular book or series that everyone else seems to hate but that you love.

I've been listening to Modern Mrs. Darcy's podcast (What Should I Read Next), and a lot of guests on the show have mentioned how they really didn't like Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch. While I agree with their assertions that the middle section situated in Las Vegas is unbearably slow and not much to my liking either, I absolutely LOVED this book as a whole. The more I hear from people who have actually read it, though, the more I'm realizing that I definitely seem to be in the minority.

3. A love triangle where the main character did NOT end up with the character you wanted him/her to.

Hmmm...well, in Twilight, I thought that Bella didn't deserve to be with either of them, so there was that. And yeah, I didn't like how the love triangle ended in Hunger Games, either, although that had more to do with the fact that the ending felt rushed and that she seemed to end up with Peeta out of convenience, not out of any real depth of feeling.

And I know not as many people have read this series, but in the Matched trilogy, I actually kind of liked the other guy better, although I didn't necessarily have strong feelings either way.

Basically, as long as the main character isn't an idiot and the ending is well done, I'm usually at peace with whoever she ends up with.

4. A popular book genre you rarely reach for.

I don't think I've ever read a Western, and I also don't do much horror or mystery. I'm a self-classified Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), which means I'm very affected by things like violence and gore and the like, so any books that are too intense or that have too many triggers for my sensitive points, I just don't do (like the Jodi Picoult novel I just abandoned--Small Great Things--because one of the main characters literally made me feel physically ill every time the story switched to his perspective).

It's for that reason that I had very mixed feelings on the hugely successful debut novel Homegoing, about the two Ghanian half-sisters (one who is married to a wealthy Englishman who deals in the slave trade and the other sold as a slave herself)---as the story followed their posterity through the generations, I just found it to be so absolutely depressing and disturbing that I had a hard time enjoying my experience of reading it (and honestly, the only reason I gave it as high of a rating as I did on Goodreads was because I knew she was trying to make a point with all the disturbing and depressing stories, and the story was very well-written, too).

5. A popular or beloved character that you do not like.

I've already established that I pretty much despise Bella from Twilight, so no surprises there. I also didn't like Katniss very much by the end of The Hunger Games trilogy because I felt like she was broken and never managed to get it all together again.

Oh, and both the main guy and his love interest in Love in the Time of Cholera (the classic by Gabriel Garcia Marquez) were both completely unlikable to me. In fact, that book was a huge disappointment for me in general (and is another book that I would never, ever recommend to anyone).

6. A popular author that you can't seem to get into.

This answer will surprise some people, but I'm going to say Kate Morton, which is a shame because I think, for the most part, that she does a great job with weaving a compelling story and creating memorable characters (and I like her writing style, which is saying something, seeing as how picky I can be when it comes to that). However, I was SO DISAPPOINTED by the ending of The Lake House (because everything just wrapped up WAY too neatly and, to me, was highly unbelievable) that it kind of turned me off of her indefinitely, especially since many fans of her work have confessed that all of her books have rather tidy endings.

I also know a lot of people are huge Liane Moriarty fans, and while I found the one book of hers I've read so far entertaining enough (The Husband's Secret), her writing style consistently bugged me throughout (for feeling too lighthearted for the darker subject matter), and it's made me not in any rush to pick up any of her other works for the time being.

7. A popular book or series you have no interest in reading.

Oh, there are several. I never did read any of Dan Brown's stuff (including The Da Vinci Code), and I have no interest in reading The Girls (the huge hit from last year about the girl living in a cult).

As far as series go, I'll probably never get into the Maze Runner series, and I know for a fact that I'll never pick up anything in the 50 Shades of Grey series (seeing as how I despise the romance/erotica genre and avoid it at all costs). And although I do plan on eventually reading Ender's Game (just because it's such a classic), knowing myself well, I probably won't go past that first one in the series.

8. A movie that was actually BETTER than the book (going against the popular saying that the book is always better than the movie).

I was highly disappointed by the book version of Julie & Julia (which I read first), but then I ended up absolutely adoring the movie (and watch it all the time). I guess it kind of makes sense, though, because I thought the blogger had a brilliant idea for her yearly project, but I just thought that the writing wasn't executed well (which was something that a good screenplay could override).

And now---it's your turn! What are some of your more unpopular book opinions? 

***Oh, and if you want to follow me on Goodreads and see more of my ratings and reviews, click here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

We Believe in a Low-Key Valentine's Day

I've never been one to have strong opinions about Valentine's Day--

I've never hated the holiday (even on the admittedly rare Valentine's Day when I was unattached), nor have I ever expected mounds of attention and gifts to be lavished on me.

Growing up, my mom would usually make a nicer-than-usual breakfast on the holiday (although my mom ALWAYS made nice breakfasts for us in the morning, so this wasn't a rare thing), and on each of our plates, there would always be something special on Valentine's Day---sometimes something small, like a little paper valentine and a box of candy hearts, or sometimes something bigger, like our own bag of Hershey's kisses or a toy.

No matter our financial situation, we could always expect something, and for me, that was really the fun part---we didn't care so much about what the surprise WAS, but just the fact that we knew that one was waiting for us was what made the day special.

The key to a successful holiday for me is to make it special (aka, different from any other day) without adding undue stress.

So, herein is my formula for the perfect Valentine's Day:

(Average-ish Day + Extra Special Touches) - Undue Stress = The Ideal Holiday

I know that for some, our version of holidays wouldn't be nearly exciting enough---I know a lot of people who thrive on spending a lot of time and attention around special days because that's something they enjoy.

I am not one of those people.

For one, I'm not crafty.

For two, at the moment (and for the past several years, really), we've been in an extremely frugal mindset.

For three, I'd rather spend my time and energy on other things rather than planning something super elaborate for the day. (Or, if I'm going to go all elaborate--which happens twice a decade or so--I'm going to plan something that's not on the actual holiday, but just around it, so we won't have to deal with the crowds.)

So yesterday, our special touches went like this:

- A balloon for Raven (which was all the surprise she needed, really, but we gave her some new bubbles, too)
- Valentines for all of us from my folks
- Little gifts from Matt and I to each other (his included a letter to me, which is all I honestly really want most years anyway)
- Raven's favorite breakfast (creamed eggs over toast)
- A super easy dinner of pizza and salad (a treat for me), and
- Matt's favorite dessert (cheesecake, of course), which we followed up with three rousing games of Carcassonne, which I'd bought Matt for Christmas and which is, apparently, totally awesome to play with just two people.

Our day included all of the normal responsibilities (watching my friend's baby all day, doing the dishes, Matt going to work, me attending my hip hop aerobics class at night), but it included *just* enough special touches to make it the perfect kind of holiday.

Happy Valentine's Day to my two loves---thanks for putting the joy and the delight into each and every day for me (whether it's a holiday or not)!

Friday, February 10, 2017

10 on 10

It's been a roller coaster month, full of cautious highs and terrifying lows, but I somehow still managed to stick with my habit of taking a photo a day.

Take a look.

1// Learning new tricks all the time, from scooping the cookies (mostly) by herself to putting on her own boots (even if it takes a few tries and even if they're usually on backwards) to sneaking the rag we use to wipe her face to use as a hat.

2// Converting the next generation to the glories of 7-11 hot chocolate.

3// Since we used some of Raven's Christmas money from her grandparents to buy her first doll, her "baby" has rarely left her sight for too long.

Imagine my horror, then, when I accidentally decapitated the doll's head one day a few weeks ago when I found a hard plastic thing in the back of its neck and thought it was a remnant from when it was still tied in to the box at the store. (Apparently, it was a zip tie holding the head on, not just a leftover fastener.)

After quickly stowing the beheaded doll behind a bunch of stuff on our counter where she couldn't see it, we took an emergency trip to the store to pick up a second one.

Crisis averted.

(And Matt actually ended up fixing the original one, too, using a new zip tie, so she now actually has two dolls...oops.)

4// Babies in hats. Never gets old.

5// Found: a new use for the kitchen table (aka, "hiding" from everything and everyone).

 6// With Grandpa finally out of the ICU, Raven was able to see him for the first time since everything happened. If you asked her opinion, hospitals are THE place to be since they involve balloons, lots of cousins and aunts and uncles to play with, and even Superbowl parties (complete with snacks).

7// With Matt and I at the hospital so much, Raven got to spend a LOT of time with one of her other sets of grandparents (my mom and stepdad), which she just loved. This little cart/wagon thing is probably her favorite toy over there.

So much gratitude to my mom for stepping in and helping us SO much over the past month!

8// Catching bubbles is probably her favorite way to spend any given five minutes.

9// Reach for the sky / So high, so high!

10// Oh hey, I just noticed you there, Mom. Have you just been squatting there like a creeper this whole time trying to get a good picture?

Bonus Pic #1 (to prove that occasionally I'm in the pictures, too):

Bonus Pic #2 (because it wouldn't be a 10 on 10 post without a pic of her reading...)

Bonus Pic #3 (because look...)

 Aaaaand, a little bonus video showing off some seriously garish lighting (but some seriously cute giggling)...


Here's hoping our next month isn't quite so up and down!

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