Under the Spotlight

There are a lot of things “they” say about parenting, but you really never understand it until you are in it.

As I navigate this new territory of having two kids I have found myself getting lost and yet, exposed. Exposed, not yet found.

Marriage will change you. It changed me. I had someone else to consider, someone who (lovingly) pointed out some things I could improve on and also lovingly praised the things that he loved. Parenthood is on another level. Parenthood is being caught under a spotlight.

Parenthood is having your toddler repeat something you’ve said with the same tone and same face, making you realize you don’t always speak so kindly.

Parenthood is seeing your toddler comfort someone when they are sad, making you realize she sees you care.

Parenthood is losing your s*^t 20 minutes into the day, making you realize you aren’t as patient as you once thought you were.

Parenthood is having your child give you a hug at the end of a long day with a “Lub you” to top it off, making you realize even though you thought the day went horribly, she only sees how wonderful it was.

Parenthood is wanting your kids to go to sleep and then wanting them to wake up because you miss them, making you realize what you really want is just an “easy” day.

Parenthood is realizing there are no “easy” days.

Parenthood is a death to yourself and a rebirth of a new self.

Parenthood is realizing all the ways you can improve and also realizing you are kicking ass in ways you didn’t think you ever would.

There are moments (many moments) where I feel like I’ve failed. At the end of the day, I sit on the couch shrouded in the guilt of who I was that day. Not proud of the way I spoke or lost my temper. There are also moments where the clouds are lifted and the heavens part, and the day seems to go almost flawlessly. Where I sit on the couch at the day’s end and think, “I’m a freaking super hero”.

As I write this, it’s my 31st birthday and I’m reflecting on the past year and what is to come. Last year was difficult. One of the most difficult years I’d ever encountered. I was experiencing depression from living in a new city, being a newly stay-at-home mom, being far from family, having another miscarriage, and then getting pregnant again and feeling more alone than ever. But towards the end of that year, I saw prayers answered. We were brought back home (an answer to prayer) with jobs and a church family that were answers to many years of prayer. Like every year there were highs and lows and I’d be remiss to think that will ever change.

But as I enter this new year, I am allowing myself to stay under that spotlight rather than resent it. I am allowing myself the grace to do some hard work to rediscover who I am, what makes me me, and how to become the version of myself that God sees. Every year is an opportunity to ask myself what I want, and how I can get there. Every year is an opportunity to rise again.

The stars nodded,
The ocean agreed,
The flowers chorused,
”Bloom now-bloom free”.
- rise, again.
— Tess Guinery

Telephone Poles

Recently, as I was driving to my parent’s house I noticed some workers on the telephone poles and realized I hadn’t paid much attention to the wires suspended in the sky in quite some time. I started to think about how crazy it is that somehow those wires allow us to communicate with each other. Then I started to think about wireless phones and how I can’t even wrap my mind around that technology. And how on EARTH did someone have the ability to dream up a system where two people in different parts of the world could see each others faces in real time and then execute that vision.

We have spent so many years with this wireless technology that most of us don’t even stop to think about it or appreciate it anymore. We pick up our phone and expect it to work. We don’t think about how or why.

It made me wonder how many other things we treat in a similar way. Things that have become so familiar we no longer marvel at them. They have lost the magic and wonder.

Five minutes outside with Brighton will make you reclaim some of that wonder. “MOMMY A STICK!!” “Oh Mommy a BIGGER stick!” “Woah there’s the moon!” “Look at the leaf!” When was the last time you found a leaf on the ground and thought “wow, that’s amazing”? In his book, “To Shake the Sleeping Self”, Jedidiah discusses a theory he has about time and how it passes. As children the days never seem to end. We looked forward to Summer vacation and half way through we would wish school would come again because the Summer seems to never end. As adults we almost can’t keep up with how quickly the days go by. His theory is that as children we are full of wonder; constantly trying to figure out how things work, what everything is, what is means, how everything fits together. And then we get older and we decide we know how everything works. Everything is familiar and more understood and in many cases, perhaps we no longer care to understand. I fully believe this to be true.

I realize it’s impossible for us to slow down enough to have the wonder of a two-year-old. We have jobs and responsibilities and let’s face it, we DO know how a lot of things work now. But what if we tried to reclaim a bit of that wonder simply by slowing down? Trust me when I say, I am not very good at this and by no means am I offering advice here. And truthfully, I am in a season that I both want to speed up and slow down. I’d love to move past the exhaustion and waking up at night and move onto well, sleeping again. But with that comes little girls that are becoming bigger girls and that is bittersweet.

For Lent I did a very cliche thing and stayed off social media and time away from that trap never disappoints. I realize how much I don’t miss whatever I’m scrolling to find. Time slowed down. I was present. I wasn’t caught up in comparing and worrying about what I should and shouldn’t be doing. I sat across from people and listened. I soaked in moments with the people I was with, not worried about capturing the perfect photo to share with everyone on the internet. I was inspired to spend more time doing things and spending time with people that made me forget to even look at my phone. I felt more full and less drained. I ate my food and enjoyed it. Well, I still ate faster than I should because I have kids and they don’t let me eat. You get the picture. I was able to reclaim a bit of that wonder because I wasn’t looking at the world through the lens of my phone.

George Foy discusses this idea in an article on Psychology Today. He says, “People can retain roughly 7 chunks of information in short-term memory. Posit a person working on a complicated computer file, fielding two emails from different people on different subjects, staying aware of colleagues, listening to music, thinking of dinner, and you've already got double or triple the number of chunks he or she can successfully retain and process….Release is what I'm truly craving here, and release comes from emptiness. The emptiness of silence, of lonely landscapes, of closed eyes, of lying down in a dark, quiet room. The drop in tension that happens when we take a vacation somewhere calm, the psychic leap of a good joke when it flips the world on its head for a splinter of a second. Such void cuts off the fascist flow of constant information, and allows us to recalibrate. To think better. To question, for a second, our baseline.”

My mind is craving that rest; That “release” l as Foy describes it. Taking time away from social media gave that release to me to some extent, but I’m realizing I have to be more intentional with the little things throughout the day. Not turning on the TV right when Brighton goes to bed, not having my podcasts playing every minute I’m in the car…taking time for silence. Silence has always been my enemy because it’s when my anxiety creeps in and reminds me of all the things I have to worry about. And because I never allow silence, I not only drown out my fears with noise but I also drown out the voice of God who will silence those fears for me.

When was the last time you put down your phone to enjoy dinner with friends? When was the last time you didn’t Instagram a picture perfect moment? Do you struggle to let silence into your life like I do? I’m learning to love it. My addition to noise isn’t going down without a fight, but the wonder and joy of being present isn’t either.

Mind the Gap

What kind of mother did you imagine you’d be?

Most days I find myself thinking: this is not what I expected. I was chatting with a friend recently and she was expressing a similar frustration. Having had so much experience with kids before, she didn’t realize being a mother would be so difficult. She had an idea of how she would be and that’s just not how it’s going.

I knew what we were experiencing can’t be unique to us. I am positive that for a lot of mothers there is a gap between their imagined motherhood and their reality. And when you become a mother it’s staggering how many things you can feel guilty about, these unmet expectations being one of them.

The mother I thought I’d be: I will play with my kids all the time, My kids will always be well behaved, I’ll be crafty and full of fun ideas, I’ll be adventurous, I’ll be thriving when I can stay-at-home, I’ll be patient and soft-spoken…

Saying motherhood is difficult is an understatement and it’s nothing we haven’t heard before. But when it comes to unmet expectations that we had of ourselves, I think many of us could say we are not very gracious and forgiving.

Writer, Jill Churchill, said, "There's no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one." Every single one of us makes mistakes. Every single one of us has a toddler that throws tantrums and has probably hit another kid in Sunday school. Every single one of us has had an accident that ended with bumps and bruises we didn’t intend to give. Every single one of us has been exhausted to the point of insanity. Every single one of us has the “gap” between expectation and reality, but that doesn’t make us bad mothers. I could spend a lot of time tearing myself down for what I am lacking and the kind of mother I am NOT. But I am realizing it’s critical to spend more timing focusing on what I have and the mother I AM. It’s exhausting to feel so disappointed in myself all the time.

The kind of mother I am: I cook my family meals, I make sure their clothes are clean, I create a welcoming and beautiful home, I am dedicated to raising respectful, kind, Jesus-loving children, I dance in the living room, I listen to Disney songs on repeat…I am committed, loving, creative, focused, selfless, serving, compassionate, understanding, strong ….

It look me awhile to come up with this list. I really had to sit and think about what makes me a great mom because I am so conditioned to believing the worst. If that might be you too, you’re not alone. Mind the gap and choose to focus on the ways you are a good mother. Even if it takes you days to come up with a list of why you are amazing, take the time to make it.

Philippians 4:8 is a verse I meditate on a lot to help manage my anxiety, but as I’m thinking about this “gap” I believe it applies here too.

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.

Fill your minds with the beautiful, not the ugly. Mamas, you are doing a great job. You were created to be the mother of your children. Your children have unique needs that only you can meet, nurture, and guide. You will not be perfect. You will make mistakes. But our children are not looking for perfection, nor do they need it. They need women who will show them what love is and how to become human beings that make a positive difference in this world. And you can do it.

Expectant

“God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us. Glory to God in the church! Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus! Glory down all the generations! Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!” Ephesians‬ ‭3:20-21‬ ‭MSG‬‬

Another year come and gone. I truly can’t believe it. It seems like yesterday that we were saying goodbye to 2017 at Shaver Lake with some of our favorite friends while our kids created chaos and the guys tirelessly tried to start a friction fire.

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I have been trying something new each New Year where I choose a word that I will focus on for the year and Jon and I sit together and pray about what we want to see in the New Year. It’s a lot more intentional than picking a resolution and I have never been known to follow through with one anyway. A few weeks ago I read something that I’ve already forgotten about, but the word that stood out to me was “expectant”. I felt like God was telling me that was my 2019.

2018 was full of the UNEXPECTED. We started the year in Orange County and I was really struggling with loneliness. Not long after I got pregnant and miscarried. I turned 30 and shortly after that got pregnant again and began to deal with some minor prenatal depression. 2018 was truly a year of growth and us learning to trust God in all circumstances. I got word that I’d be loosing a contract with a client (not good news for a freelance writer) and with that more panic set in. The desire began to stir in our hearts to move back to San Diego as we anticipated welcoming another baby into the family, but Jon felt like his job in OC was where God wanted him. So we wouldn’t move without a clear door opening and another one closing. In the blink of an eye a door opened that was more perfect that we could’ve imagined. I mean seriously, we’d love to tell you about it sometime (it’s another blog for another day).

So here we are, back in San Diego and getting ready to become a family of four. I am quite literally, expectant.

I am an enneagram 6 and while I could talk about enneagram types forever, I will try to suppress the nerd and simply say that a “glass half full” mentality is not my natural inclination. Sixes are cautious, anxious, indecisive and suspicious. We are reliable, hard-working, responsible, and trustworthy. Basically, when it comes to being expectant, I usually expect the worst. I am looking ahead all all the possible worst case scenarios so I can try to prepare myself for them. This year, I want to change that. This year, I want to be expectant of God’s abundance and grace. He has never failed us. Never let us down. What if this year I expected him to show up because he always does?

So 2019 will begin with great expectance of another family member. And then I will be expectant for the day I will sleep again. But this year I am making it my goal to remember Ephesians 3 and the fact that God wants to do more than we can ask or imagine as his Spirit works deeply and gently within me.

So what about you? What are you hoping for this year? I hope this year you will find yourself drawing closer to God and growing in new ways. It seems that at the end of every year, people are saying “good riddance” and it seems so ridiculous to me because at the end of every year we have the choice to look back and say “that was the worst” or “there were good days too”. The 6 in me will tell you that this year will probably have trouble too. Let’s just be honest, that’s life. But I also want to say that you can cling to what is good and true this year despite the trouble. Let’s be people who don’t let others determine what kind of year we have. It doesn’t matter who is president, what laws are passed, who is the Queen, what shows are getting cancelled or who wins an Oscar. None of that can determine who WE are and the decisions WE make to be better people and create a better world around us. Let’s expect God to show up this year and ask him to let us be a part of the work he’s doing.

Creating Holiday Margin

I love the holidays. LOVE them. I am a repeat offender of cramming my calendar full of holiday magic. Think I’m exaggerating? Currently on my calendar I have 3 different tree lighting events AND the Rockefeller Center Christmas special so I don’t miss it on TV. That is just tree lighting events people. I have a problem.

Today our moms group was encouraged by a speaker, Amanda, to create space in our lives so we can be more generous with our time by pruning the vines and clearing the underbrush. In a nutshell, pruning looks like getting rid of what is draining and saying no to the things that aren’t right for us. Clearing the underbrush involves those little things that start to pile up in our minds each day (negative thoughts, worries etc…) and giving those things up to the Lord to take care of. It was such a refreshing reminder as a mother to be ok with saying no.

She shared Job 34:4 which says “Let us discern for ourselves what is right; let us learn together what is good.” While we learn together what things are good (holiday parties, Christmas tree lightings, family gatherings etc…) we must decide for ourselves what is right for us.

We are so excited to be back in San Diego and already (in addition to my tree lighting obsession) there are 3 Christmas parties on the calendar. There are just so many festive things to do and never enough time. I will drive my husband (and probably my toddler) insane with a calendar that leaves no room for just spending time together by a fire with a cup of hot chocolate. (Actually, that is on my list too.)

As an 8 months pregnant stay-at-home mom with a toddler, I’m learning that it’s ok to say no and how to be confident that what I am doing is enough. Here are 5 ways that I’m trying to create more margin this holiday season and hopefully it helps you too.

  1. Make a list

I love lists as much as I love Christmas. Grocery lists, packing lists, to do lists, give me all the lists. Making a list really helps me visualize all my hopes and dreams for the Christmas season. Create a list of everything that sounds fun to do and even the things you know might show up on your calendar (work events etc…). Lay it all out there so nothing comes as a surprise.

2. Determine your priorities

Are you a memories family? A traditions family? A try something new family? A gifts family? Decide what matters to you most and reevaluate that list. Remove anything that isn’t essential and doesn’t line up with your values.

3. Say no and choose your best yes

There are currently 2 things I can think of that come up every Christmas that I desperately want to do and just haven’t had the time for: Advent Calendars + Christmas Cards. The holidays, as joyful as they may be, are also full of expectations and therefore, comparison. I see the other moms and the cute advent calendars they are doing with their kids and the thoughtful, stylish cards they are sending out with family updates. In the past, I’ve had to continuously say no because it was too stressful to put energy towards planning, styling, shopping, and photo shooting. This year I threw myself a bone and decided we can do Christmas cards because these will be the last photos with us as a family of 3.

The other thing we’ve learned to say no to is gifts. What? At Christmas? Yes. We have always been very minimal, and honestly it began as a necessity because of small space living and finances. But we’ve come to enjoy it and appreciate it. My husband’s love language is gifts, so we don’t eliminate gifts all together. He and I set a limit on our gifts to each other and typically gift each other 1 thoughtful item. Last year, we implemented a 3 gift rule for Brighton. I read this idea from another mom who decided that since Jesus got 3 gifts, her kids got 3 gifts. We loved that idea and it has saved us so much money and stress.

The things we have to say “no” to sometimes are not usually easy “nos” and are not always the most popular with other people. But they work for us. Maybe it’s not forever, maybe it’s just a no for this year, but what do you need to say “no” to?

4. Stop comparing

Don’t let the instagram photos fool you. That Christmas nook might look cute, but the rest of the house is a disaster. Those Christmas cards may look very put together, but they were fighting the whole way there. The crafts that mom is doing look really fun (and like a great way to kill time), but if you don’t enjoy crafts don’t do them. SO much of the stress of this holiday season is brought on by our own expectations and comparing ourselves against other families. I get it. I want the season to be as magical as possible, and it ALWAYS looks more magical in the Magnolia Magazine Holiday issue and on that one mom’s instagram.

This goes back to that verse in Job. You do what’s right for you and celebrate every second of it.

5. Slow down, soak it in

I love getting out of the house, but sometimes it’s good to just put on those matching holiday PJ’s and snuggle to a Christmas movie. I want to make it a priority to have a fine wine holiday season, not a 2 buck chuck season. You know what I mean? Choose the best moments possible and let each moment age to perfection. Don’t settle for an over scheduled, too busy, stress-filled season.

Well there ya go. 5 ways to create some margin this season and hopefully enjoy every snuggle, every moment, every cookie, and every hot toddy (no seriously, please have one for me) there is to enjoy.

Also, check out Amanda’s blog (5oclock-dock.com) to read more about living a generous life. Her words inspired me, I hope they inspire you.

Never Say Never

Last week, I did the thing I said I’d never do. I went to MOPS.

That’s the funny thing about desperation. You’ll do anything.

For the last few months, I’ve been fighting many aspects of being a mom. I don’t want to be reminded that I’m a mom. I’m reminded everyday my toddler wakes me up at 6:30AM and yells at me when she doesn’t get to eat cookies all day. I had this idea of mom groups that involved cheesy crafts and forced conversations and only having in common the fact that we are all moms. I just want to hang out with women, who also happen to be mothers, and do things we’d normally do. So like, a mom’s group? No like a group that happens to be made up of moms. So, a mom’s group.

This is one of the reasons I felt like I was in a prison in Orange County. A stay-at-home suburban prison where hell looks like one eternal park date and awkward interactions with moms at the park. “How old is she?” “Oh so sweet.” “Is that your first?” “Oh I’m so tired. Mom life, you know?!”

I knew that when we moved back to San Diego, life would look different than it did a year ago. I used to work full-time, but now I would be continuing the stay-at-home gig. Our entire community had done major shifting while we were gone (and so did we). Everyone was at a new church. Many of them had new jobs, new babies. Many had relocated. I had to make a decision to not fall back into how life looked a year ago. I recently received an invitation to the MOPS group that meets at the new church we’re attending and I felt this nudging to check it out. As an introvert, trying new things without a wing woman isn’t my favorite thing to do.

Earlier this year while we were still in OC, I signed up for a membership class that’s required for staff and their spouses to take. I signed up alone because everyone else had taken it and figured it would be easy to sneak in and sneak out while remaining anonymous and avoiding awkward interactions. This church is huge, so there would be a ton of people in this class. I showed up to the home it was taking place in right on time. The entry way was adorned with name tags and binders; the table was filled with a spread of food I was trying to avoid eating; 3 host volunteers and a volunteer photographer were positioned to welcome guests and take photos for promotion; the campus pastor arrived ready to teach his attentive members. And then the truth set in. I was the only. one. coming. EVERYONE else bailed. I got a personal lesson on the history of the church and becoming a member. Had a spread of food to myself and got too much attention. Needless to say, it was an introverts nightmare. I don’t like doing new things alone.

But last week, I went to MOPS and second guessed myself the entire way there. Who will be there? Will I be the only one? Who will I talk to? Do I wait for someone to talk to me? Please let there be someone my age. And guess what? I showed up, and I was blessed. There were women who I could look up to and women I could be friends with. There were women who were tired, and women who could assure us we’d survive. The speaker reminded us that sometimes motherhood makes us feel like we have lost our fire, but we can take the fire and instill it in our kids. I got two hours without a toddler needing my attention. You guys, MOPS is my Friday respite.

I guess what I’m saying is never say never. Some things deserve a chance and God can still work wonders through even the cheesiest of mom groups. Being a mother takes hard work. And let’s be honest, our society isn’t set up to really help moms succeed: so many young moms aren’t living in neighborhoods where families get together and children play in the streets; we aren’t living in actual villages where mothers are cooking together, washing clothes together, watching their children gather sticks in the fields. We are isolated behind our phones, comparing ourselves to each other and women we don’t even know, crammed together in condominiums with nowhere for our kids to run free (and get out of our hair).

Motherhood has always been hard work, but I believe it takes even more effort to step outside of our comfort zones and create our village. And not just create a village, but cultivate the village and create a thriving community where families feel loved, seen, heard, welcome. Never say never, because you never know when and where your village will show up.

Blessed are the mothers

A friend (hey J Penn!) recently shared an honest post about how she is struggling with resentment toward her new son because of the change he has imposed on her marriage. I love when women have the courage to speak truth because you can guarantee someone else is, or has felt, the same way. It reminded me of a concept I’ve been wrestling through over the last few months in regards to mourning and waiting in motherhood and I wanted to share.

I had never thought about it much because I figured it was a terrible thing to do. Of course I love my girls. Of course I love being a mother. But sharing that we miss what life looked like when we had more freedom, that seems just wrong. But it’s real. It doesn’t diminish our love for parenthood, but those years when we could sleep till 9, go to dinner without crayons being thrown everywhere, or hang out with friends spontaneously are gone (for now). But of course there will be a day where the children are out of the house, and we can do all these things again and we will mourn our current season. Life is funny that way.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted - Jesus tells us in Matthew. Mothers, we are blessed. It is possible for us to both love our children, and mourn our days of freedom. In our mourning, Jesus promises that we will be comforted. And I really believe it’s important for moms to be honest and transparent with these struggles because God uses community to encourage and strengthen us.

There are countless verses in the Bible about waiting and patience, which is truly not my strong suit. When I think back on my life before Brighton I wonder what on Earth I did with my time and why I didn’t use it better because now I can think of so many things I would be doing. I have always been someone who has felt passionate about many things, but one thing for certain is reading and writer. I know God has called me to be a writer, even if I may not know how those details will play out. But right now, my first calling is as a mother. And so, I wait. I wait for the appointed time. In just a few years, the girls will be in school and my days will be freed up to write to my hearts desire, but for now I wait and I focus on my current task at hand, which is hopefully giving me a lot of content and wisdom to write about later.

A devotional I read by Sharon Hodde Miller in a study of Joshua put it so perfectly and I wanted to just share the direct quote because I couldn’t have written it better:

“Between school and marriage and parenting, my attention was pulled in a lot of directions, and it wasn’t long before writing got put on the back burner. All the while, I watched as my writing friends achieved their own goals. One by one, they grew their ministries and published books, while I was lucky to steal an hour tow rite. My friends had reached the promised land, while I remained just outside it.

Waiting is always hard, but it is made especially difficult by comparison. When your friends or colleagues attain the thing you want, it’s tough to hold on to contentment. The ache is somehow heightened by the sight of another’s success.

Joshua waited a lot, and I wonder how the story might have been different had he been guided by impatience. I wonder how his leadership might have been compromised had his spirit been discontent. Thankfully, Joshua succumbed to neither. He was man who waited well. Rather than pine for the life he wanted, Joshua made himself available to the will of God. His waiting was both active and fruitful.”

God always comes through. By trusting God’s timing, we accomplish a lot in the waiting.

Like Sharon, I’m lucky if I can find an hour to write. And I mourn the days where I could read at coffee shops and write to my hearts desire. But I know that God isn’t wasting the time I have now. Maybe you are waiting for a date night. Maybe you are waiting for new inspiration and vision. Maybe you are waiting for your toddler to quit being a cussword or for more than 3 hours of sleep again. Don’t waste your waiting and don’t ignore your mourning. Call out to God and be honest with your frustration because He meets us where we are at and reminds us that He is good and He is faithful to fulfill His promises. When He places vision in our hearts, He will guide us to our promised land in the right time and he will comfort us through it all.

Currently Reading....

This year I made it my goal to read more, which seems ridiculous given the fact that I love reading. But with Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime, my brain has been wasting away at the mercy of PBC Masterpiece Classics and Bachelor in Paradise. 

I have crossed off so many books off my list already and I always have the most difficult time choosing where to begin next. I thought I'd share a few of my recent and current reads for those of you who are looking for your next novel escape.

1. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Let me be honest and say I am always very apprehensive to try new authors when it comes to fiction. If I'm not sold within a chapter or two, I have a pretty hard time committing to the rest of the book and I know I tend to like the classics like Steinbeck and Fitzgerald. So every year when the NY Times Bestseller list comes out, I almost never read what's on it because I judge every book by its cover and whether or not I know the author. Terrible I know. But this one finally got me. Some of my personal favorite authors have been raving about it, so I gave it a try and it was indeed, great. 

It chronicles a story of an African-American couple in the south and the husband has been accused of a crime he didn't commit. It really gave me insight into the African-American community and some of the struggles they deal with. I would highly recommend reading this book as a way to expand your horizons. Books are such a fantastic way to put ourselves in other people's shoes and gain perspective that we might not otherwise have had. 

2. Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery

I am way late to the Anne of Green Gables game, I know. But I am in love. If I see a show or movie coming out that is based off a book, I love to read the book first when possible. So when Netflix came out with "Anne with an E" I grabbed the books and I'm hooked. While someone might watch the show and be annoyed with Anne's dramatic flair and vernacular, having read the books I have an appreciation for it. These coming of age novels are so endearing to me. So, book two in the Anne series continued to fulfill my expectations of something light, cheerful, whimsical, and youthful (without all the vampire trash).

3. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

I was so excited to start this book because as I mentioned before, I love the old classic novelists and I am fascinated by European History and the Great War. This book has taken me longer to get through and not because I didn't enjoy it but because I was having a hard time following it. It may have been the timing of when I read it, but it has been a great story none the less. If you enjoy classics, this one is always worth adding to your list.

4. Rising Strong by Brené Brown

Read this. Read Brené. Read all of Brené. I was listening to Oprah's Super Soul Sunday podcast and she did an interview with Brené regarding this book and I knew I had to read it. Brené is a social psychologist who specializes in shame and guilt. Her work is extraordinary. It's relatable and practical and I have read this feeling like I know more about myself AND I can make better choices emotionally. I would call that a win. I'm really taking my time through this one because I want to soak in everything she has to say. 

So, in honor of National Book Reading day, I hope these 4 books give you some ideas for your next read! What are you reading right now? 

Next up on my list: 

  • Wrinkle in Time series 
  • Harry Potter (again, round 3)
  • Catcher in the Rye 

5 things saving my life...

Whether you are a mom or not, most of the women I know are busy. Jobs, husbands, school, family events ... the list goes on. As a stay-at-home mom/freelance writer I find myself constantly in between feeling busy and exhausted from monotony. Staying at home with a toddler is exhausting in a way I have never known. Full time work? Piece of cake. School? I wish I could go back. Little child needed constant attention, care, and climbing all over you all day? I need a nap. 

I love hearing from other women what they do to keep their lives a little saner, so I thought I'd share a few things that are "saving" my life right now. Since I'm all about simple living, most of these things are just that: simple. Because I don't have time or money for weekly massages or spa days, I find that creating space for simple joys can make all the difference in a day. 

1. Chocolate covered almonds. 

I told you. Simple. This preggo wants dessert all the time and in the effort of having self- control, I took to my local Sprouts to provide a chocolately treat that feels healthy and can be consumed in small portions to last forever. Let's be real, sometimes fully depriving ourselves of the thing we want isn't always the best solution. Everything in moderation friends. 

2. A night-time routine. 

Now that I'm 30, I figured it was time to get serious about my face. I've been super fortunate to have great skin most of my life, and I'd like to keep it that way. I started investing in products that were all-natural (or making them myself) and committing to making effort each morning and night to take a few minutes for my face. I am never going to be the person that has a 10 step routine. Like I said before, I don't have time or money for that. So I chose just a few things that could make me feel like I'm treating myself and winding down for the day. 

I love UltraViolet's products. She is not cheap, but it's been a splurge for me and I've seen such great results. Marci creates all the products herself and she uses both science + her love for sensitive skin-friendly products to create very natural and gentle masterpieces. I use her cleanser and night masque. I have also heard incredible things about SW Basics which is significantly cheaper than UltraViolet if you are looking for a budget-friendly option. 

I also got a dry brush a few weeks ago. I honestly don't know if I believe anything that it's supposed to do, but at the very least it's a relaxing practice and it sort of starts of my evening "wind down". I never realized how much I would appreciate a steady nighttime routine!

3. My lottas. 

Lotta from Stockholm is one of the great clog brands I know. There are quite a few that make beautiful shoes, but Lotta is (I think) the most affordable considering the quality. These clogs are amazing because they are so comfortable and they make you feel like you put effort into a very casual outfit. But they also go great with something that's more trendy or dressy. All of this is a big plus when you're pregnant, a mother, or just generally a woman who is busy and doesn't always have time to put a perfect outfit together. I have three pairs and they are my go tos. 

4. A physical planner

When I was in school, planners were my favorite thing to buy. I loved choosing my new planner and writing in all the things I had to do from homework to hangout to reminders. My iPhone slowly took over my life and I never wanted to carry around my planner and phone, but over the last few months, I realized my need to actually write things down. There's science behind why writing things help you remember better and Lord knows between having a toddler and being pregnant, I need all the help I can get.

So now I can write down what I need to do for work and I can also attempt to schedule out my week with Brighton so I can have things to look forward to and not lose my mind! My favorite is Moleskine (of course) because it's so simple, small, and has a lot of room for writing notes/lists (oh how I love lists).

5. CloudLibrary 

Do you know about this? It's an app you can download on your phone or iPad and it will connect with your account to your local library. Before I moved, I got my library card for the San Diego Public Library and linked it to my CloudLibrary and now I have access to digital and audio books from their entire database! I will ALWAYS prefer a physical paper book, but since I've had so many books on my reading list this year, CloudLibrary has saved me (and my wallet). 

So there you have it. 5 things saving my life right now. What about you? What are some of the things you are doing that are making your days a little extra special?

 

Ciambella

First of all, if you tell me there is a cake that is acceptable to eat for breakfast, I will be all about it. Normally I'm not a big cake person. I think it's because I don't love frosting. But Italians just do cakes right. 

Ciambella is an Italian bundt cake that is perfect for breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, midnight and any other time you can think of. It also happens to be light, melt in your mouth, and lemony which is great for summer. 

Baking for me will always be a love affair. It reminds me of my Nonna and it's my "go to" therapy when I'm feeling blue or stressed or pregnant. *shoulder shrug* The problem with my love for baking is I really need other people to eat the results because I also have major dessert guilt. So, come on over friends, these treats won't eat themselves. 

INGREDIENTS

Cake:

  • 2 cups (400 grams) granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons fine sea or table salt
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • Finely grated zest of half an orange
  • 1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (325 ml) grapeseed oil 
  • 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon (about 185 grams) plain yogurt
  • 1/2 cup (120 grams) mascarpone cheese
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon (20 ml) vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3 cups (390 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

Glaze:

  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • About 3 tablespoons (45 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice

Make cake: Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Coat bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray and coat with granulated sugar. Knock out any excess sugar from pan.

Place sugar and salt in a large bowl and use your fingertips to rub the zest into it to release the most flavor. Whisk in oil, mascarpone, yogurt, and then eggs and vanilla until smooth. Add baking powder and whisk thoroughly into the batter. Add flour and use a rubber spatula to stir just until batter is smooth.

Drop batter equally around your cake mold, then smooth, and drop on the counter a few times to ensure there are no trapped air bubbles. Bake for about 40 minutes checking in at the 30-minute mark to rotate the pan for even coloring. The cake is done when a toothpick or tester comes out batter-free. 

While the cake bakes, make the glaze: Whisk sugar and 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice together until smooth, adding the last tablespoon of juice just if needed. This glaze should be thicker than normal. 

When cake is done, let it rest on a cooling rack for 3 to 5 minutes, then remove it from the pan while it's still hot. Brush or drizzle glaze evenly over the top of the cake, and sides if you wish and it will set as it cools.

Enjoy enjoy enjoy.