Archive for the ‘Reads’ Category

Sundays With Writers: A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan

Sunday, August 30th, 2015

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I am so excited to be interviewing Elisabeth Egan today about her debut novel, A Window Opens, today! This book is just so relatable and so honest about the struggles of a working mom that I found myself laughing and crying (even simultaneously) at the adventures Elisabeth has created for Alice in the working world. This book is making my top ten reads list and after I finished it, I just wanted to read it again. Since I have to move on to share more great books with you, I’m begging you to read this one so we can talk about it!

Elisabeth makes for an interesting topic on her own, as explored in this beautiful piece from The New York Times  (spoiler alert, don’t read that until you are done with the book!)

A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan

 

I received an ARC from Netgalley in exchange for my honest thoughts & opinions.

In A Window Opens, beloved books editor at Glamour magazine, Elisabeth Egan, brings us Alice Pearse, a compulsively honest, longing-to-have-it-all, sandwich generation heroine for our social-media-obsessed, lean in (or opt out) age.

Like her fictional forebears Kate Reddy and Bridget Jones, Alice plays many roles (which she never refers to as “wearing many hats” and wishes you wouldn’t, either). She is a mostly-happily married mother of three, an attentive daughter, an ambivalent dog-owner, a part-time editor, a loyal neighbor and a Zen commuter. She is not: a cook, a craftswoman, a decorator, an active PTA member, a natural caretaker or the breadwinner. But when her husband makes a radical career change, Alice is ready to lean in—and she knows exactly how lucky she is to land a job at Scroll, a hip young start-up which promises to be the future of reading, with its chain of chic literary lounges and dedication to beloved classics. The Holy Grail of working mothers―an intellectually satisfying job and a happy personal life―seems suddenly within reach.

Despite the disapproval of her best friend, who owns the local bookstore, Alice is proud of her new “balancing act” (which is more like a three-ring circus) until her dad gets sick, her marriage flounders, her babysitter gets fed up, her kids start to grow up and her work takes an unexpected turn. Readers will cheer as Alice realizes the question is not whether it’s possible to have it all, but what does she―Alice Pearse―really want?

This was such a deeply satisfying read that tackles the struggles of every working mother who is trying to balance it all. Egan creates the perfect balance of humor and heartbreak as Alice tries to navigate the tricky terrain of being an employee, wife, mother, and daughter to her ill father.

This book got me in the all the feels. I highlighted many a passage in this sweet story of Alice and found her to be one of the most relatable characters I have read this year. I also teared up at many of the moments in this story because the struggles of being in the trenches as a working parent were ones that I have experienced myself. Alice tries hard, but it’s an impossible juggle and you feel like you are spiraling a bit with her as the story unfolds.

Fans of Where’d You Go Bernadette & Wife 22 (thanks to the hilarious correspondence between colleagues & family) will really love this one!

Elisabeth Egan

 

You are the books editor for Glamour writing about a books editor transitioning into a job in the e-book industry. What inspired you to throw your character, Alice, into this environment and do you think you would struggle as much as she did in this new way of reading books that her client offered?

I threw Alice into this environment because I’d experienced a version of it myself, and the challenge of trying to figure it all out really stuck with me. In real life, I’ve never struggled with reading e-books—depending on the type of book, I don’t mind reading on a screen and you certainly can’t beat the efficiency and certainty of a fully-loaded e-reader if you happen to find yourself stranded on a desert island. What I struggled with really fell under the umbrella of “it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks.”

Your book has been compared to I Don’t Know How She Does It, although I must say that I found Alice’s story so much more relatable to my own. I just want to share with our readers one passage, in particular, that I really loved.

As Alice writes a letter to her nanny she says, “Please don’t waste time wondering whether it is possible to “have it all.” Banish the expression from your vocabulary; make sure your friends to do to.” I just love reading that as a mom.

When have you personally struggled with “having it all” and were any of Alice’s moments channeled from your own struggles with the balancing act of your own job & motherhood?

Many of those moments were drawn from my life or from stories I borrowed from friends. (Thankfully, I hang with a crowd of women who are very open and funny about trying to be everything to everyone and still find time to have coffee together. My personal low moment, as seen in the book: the time I went to read to my daughter’s pre-school class and found myself standing under a clothesline strung with depictions of “How My Family Stays Healthy During The Winter”—or some such. My daughter’s contribution: a charming drawing accompanied by the teacher’s handwriting: “My mom uses everybody’s toothbrush.” I guess we were one toothbrush short, so I was sharing. And maybe I passed this off as a health initiative—in any case, how embarrassing!

You read books for a living which has to be the coolest job ever for a reader…or it was, until you came up with the idea for the Book Lady. I am trying to figure out how I can be the Mary Kay equivalent of a book distributor in my town. How did you come up with this concept and how can I sign under you?

I came up with this idea on my own! My husband is always threatening to host a Tupperware party, so I thought, why not books? I have no idea why I haven’t made this happen. Maybe we can be partners?

You create the idea of a No Guilt Book Club in your story, but I understand that this is really something that exists! Can you explain more and for those of us living in small towns, how can we create our own No Guilt Book Club?

I live in a small(ish) town, and that’s where I created the NGBC. Here’s what you need: one bookstore, several cases of wine. For a small fee, your friends can come to the store, hang out with their friends, get a discount on books—and, of course, drink the wine. I also pass out a list of my favorite books from that season, but this isn’t a requirement. The idea is to have a party in the most fun venue around, and also to talk about books without the pressure and guilt that comes from having to read a set title by a set date. That can be stressful!

One of the perks of being an employee at Scroll is that Alice gets her very own first edition copy of a classic. If you were hired at Scroll, what book would you request from management?

I’d request Mrs. Dalloway and give it to my husband for his birthday. Still, there’s no way the first edition could stack up to the beloved, dog-eared Penguin edition he gave me for our first-ever Valentine’s Day back in college.

There are so many laugh-out-loud moments in your story. My favorite (I am still laughing!), is this one- “I yelled so loudly, the tendons in my neck ached for days. (Name a parent who hasn’t’ suffered from this affliction and I will show you someone who is not my friend.)”

Oh, have I felt this pain in my neck!

What is your favorite funny Alice moment in this story?

I love when Alice tries to flush her colleague’s homemade brownie down the toilet. It might not be her most sophisticated moment, but it really captures the way she paints herself into a corner. Or multiple corners, really.

Although this book is very funny, there were many moments that pulled at my heartstrings, particularly the relationship between Alice & her father as he is ill. What scene was the hardest for you to write and did you have to do any research on this particular type of illness when writing your book?

My dad died of throat cancer twelve years ago so no—very little research required. Actually, I was surprised by the little details of his illness that stuck with me. Words like “subglottal” were right on the tip of my tongue, even though (thankfully) I never have to use them anymore. The scenes with Alice’s dad were the easiest ones to write, actually. Ed Pearse isn’t an exact replica of my dad—nobody could be—but spending time with him was the next best thing to having one more day with my dad. I’d forgotten how good it felt to be with someone who knows everything!

 If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be (we list it with all the recommendations over the year HERE)?

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

You can connect with Elisabeth Egan on GoodReadson Facebook, or through her website! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

*This post contains affiliate links!
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It’s the 3 Little Things: Blenders, Grinders, & Doorstep Deliveries

Friday, August 28th, 2015

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I hope you guys had a wonderful week this week! We are looking forward to a quiet weekend finally. My daughter and I just started this television series and we can’t wait to curl up in our little shed and have a girl’s day together watching it. Did you know that there was a pilot movie that was over an hour and a half long? I don’t know if I ever saw this before so that was surprising to both of us! This picture clearly shows just how happy this is making me!

Here are a few other things that I am thankful for this week!

KRUPS blender

A Blender Built Like a Tank

Five years ago I stopped buying crappy blenders that stopped working annually and did a little research trying to find a blender that would work well for our family’s needs. After a ton of research,  settled on this KRUPS blender (to the tune of almost $300) and it is still making smoothies for me today. My morning smoothie routine is back on now that I am getting the kids on the bus and need some portable protein and this baby grinds up my oranges, ice, frozen berries, and spinach like a champ!  I loaded up my cart with this green smoothie recipe and am loving it all over again!

ePantry

Doorstep Deliveries

I have a mad love affair with doorstep deliveries and ePantry has been such a blessing for our family! With trying to get back on track with school, I had completely forgotten to pick up a few toiletry items and cleaning items we needed that week. It was a happy surprise to get a delivery on our step this week of our standard shipment of goodies that keep our house running smooth. They are offering a free Grove Candle and $10 to give their service a spin this month and I can’t recommend it enough. I love to keep a few of the Mrs. Meyers hand soaps and candles stockpiled for hostess gifts or last-minute birthday gifts!  If you haven’t tried them, I share my experience with it over here. Have you tried ePantry? I’d love to hear if you love it as much as I do!

I have been also stockpiling a few items from thredUP for my Fall capsule that I can share with you in a couple of weeks. Once again, this capsule will be almost 100% secondhand! I had been using Twice as my main source, but now I am discovering the joys of thredUP. They currently are offering customers $20 to spend on their first order!

thredUP

Don’t think about this place just for you though, you can use that $20 to put towards your kiddos too! My grandma is getting married and Emily has been crowned the flower girl for the festivities. I didn’t want to spend a fortune on a dress she would wear just once and I found this beautiful number that would be perfect for the autumn occasion. I’m planning to buy our Christmas frocks through thredUP this year to save on the festivities. Between now and Christmas, there should be plenty of beautiful options to choose from. I also really love that we are helping the environment in the process by purchasing our items gently used. My thinking has been forever changed after seeing this documentary. Please watch it!

Hamilton Beach Coffee Grinder

Freshly Ground Goodness

My coffeemaker died (RIP) a few months ago and then IT DIED AGAIN. I brought back the stupid coffeemaker and replaced it with the same stupid one hoping it was a fluke (and keeping my receipt this time- thank you, Target, for honoring the first purchase without proof). This new coffeemaker did not offer a grinder built in like my old one, but I kind of blame the grinder for my coffeemaker giving out because there was no good way to clean it and I think some of the grounds got trapped inside. That’s just a long story to tell you that I got this Hamilton Beach coffee grinder for less than $15 and it works like a dream.  I just fill it up to the correct measuring line, pulse it a bit, and then take the cup out and dump it in my coffee filter. The cord wraps and stores inside of it so it takes up very little room and I am loving having freshly ground coffee again for my mornings. There is a BIG difference in taste that is worth the moment of effort!  This is a pretty affordable way to have freshly ground coffee back in your life!

*this post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though. Check out past editions of  It’s the 3 Little Things

Now it’s your turn! What’s making you happy this week?

 

Amy’s Notebook 08.26.15

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

Lunch Box Labels via Lia Griffith

Source: Lia Griffith

 

Adorable lunch labels.

A complete checklist for KonMari method.

So much home inspiration here!

10 little upgrades for your whipped cream.

How to talk to little girls.

I can’t wait to see this book turned into a film!

15 inspiring career books.

How beautiful is this? It sure made my bookworm heart happy!

8 misguided ideas to give up to be happier at home.

DIY Yard Yahtzee via Whipper Berry

Source: Whipperberry

 

Yard Yahtzee? I love it!

How to craft a wildly successful newsletter.

A showstopping backsplash.

World’s most adorable playhouse!!

Imagine how many we could feed.

Unicorn Pinata- yes!

There is always room for you.

Career advice from the $9 billion woman.

amys_notebook

I hope you enjoyed our notebook, a collection of gathered links to DIY crafts, food projects, thrifty ways to spruce up your home, and thoughtful reads. Nothing brings me more joy than to highlight other fabulous bloggers. Follow me on Pinterest for daily inspiration!

 

Sundays With Writers: Where All Light Tends to go by David Joy

Sunday, August 23rd, 2015

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Where All Light Tends to Go kept popping up in my list of recommendations on Amazon, like those Suggested Friends on Facebook. After seeing it there so many times, I knew I needed to give in and read it. Within just a couple of short days, I had shut the pages and knew that I had to talk to David Joy about this book. Not only is this guy a gifted storyteller, but his passion for other writers and their stories is contagious.

I particularly love how he admits to immersing himself into his storytelling. I think that showcases how much this book means to him and how much it should mean to us!

Where All Light Tends to Go by David Joy

Where All Light Tends to Go is Southern Grit at its finest in this dark debut novel! Joy creates a compelling coming-of-age story about a teen boy growing up in the Appalachian Mountains whose father deals meth in their small town.

The area surrounding Cashiers, North Carolina, is home to people of all kinds, but the world that Jacob McNeely lives in is crueler than most. His father runs a methodically organized meth ring, with local authorities on the dime to turn a blind eye to his dealings. Having dropped out of high school and cut himself off from his peers, Jacob has been working for this father for years, all on the promise that his payday will come eventually. The only joy he finds comes from reuniting with Maggie, his first love, and a girl clearly bound for bigger and better things than their hardscrabble town.

Jacob has always been resigned to play the cards that were dealt him, but when he botches a murder and sets off a trail of escalating violence, he’s faced with a choice: stay and appease his kingpin father, or leave the mountains with the girl he loves. In a place where blood is thicker than water and hope takes a back seat to fate, Jacob wonders if he can muster the strength to rise above the only life he’s ever known.

If only life were that simple. This story is beautifully told and the ending was a strong one, despite the feeling of hopelessness for these people.

Grab your morning cup of coffee and let’s settle in with David Joy, a truly incredible storyteller!

David-Joy

Congratulations on your incredible debut novel! I was so excited to see that it was selected as one of the best books of 2015 by Indigo.  How long did it take you to write this beautiful book and what has it been like to have it so well received by so many once it has been released into the world?

The novel started with an image. I was at a friend’s hog lot and I had this image of a young boy standing over a pig he’d killed suddenly realizing how much power he had over life and death. I wrote that scene and I knew that the boy had a story to tell. I kept trying to write that story and I kept getting it wrong, at one point burning about half a novel and starting over. After about a year or so of living with that image I woke up in the middle of the night and I could hear Jacob speaking to me clear as day. At that point it was just a matter of trying to keep up, and I wound up writing the first draft of Where All Light Tends To Go over the course of a few months. That’s kind of a roundabout way of answering your question, but I think I tend to live with images and stories for a long time before I ever actually get it right on the page. Once I’m writing, though, things tend to happen quickly.

The response to the novel has been wonderful. I think the highlight for me has been meeting writers I’ve admired for so long—writers like Daniel Woodrell and Tom Franklin and Donald Ray Pollock and Frank Bill—and actually becoming a part of the conversation.

You refer to your genre of storytelling as Appalachian Noir. What can a reader expect from this genre and if they love this style do you have any other recommendations on books to check out that will fill the void while we await your next novel?

I started using that term, “Appalachian noir,” as a sort of adaptation of something Daniel Woodrell originally used as a subtitle for his novel Give Us A Kiss, his term being “country noir.” He’s sort of the godfather of what I’m trying to do in a lot of ways, along with writers like Larry Brown and William Gay and Ron Rash and Barry Hannah and Harry Crews. As far as what I think folks can expect, these are typically stories about hardscrabble lives, working class people making the best of circumstance. There’s often a criminal element to the story, but I don’t know that that’s a necessity. I think more than that these stories are a balancing act between hope and fate, a sort of tightrope walk above brutality on the one hand and the sentimental on the other. Other writers I admire who write within a similar vein are folks like Mark Powell (The Dark Corner) and Charles Dodd White (A Shelter of Others) and Jamie Kornegay (Soil) and Brian Panowich (Bull Mountain) and Rusty Barnes (Reckoning), or even a novel like Robert Gipe’s Trampoline. Then there are some incredible female writers like Steph Post, who wrote a novel called A Tree Born Crooked, or writers like Bonnie Jo Campbell (American Salvage) and Tawni O’Dell (Back Roads). Some of these writers might not consider what they’re doing noir, but it’s that same type of emotional weight being created and for me that’s the key to what I’m trying to do on the page.

I am going to quote one of my favorite passages from your book. “On the pew where I sat though, there wasn’t a damn bit of light to be had. Light never shined on a man like me and that was certain. In a lot of ways, that made men like Daddy the lucky ones to have only ever known the darkness. Knowing only darkness, a man doesn’t have to get his heart broken in search of the light. I envied him for that.”

The light plays such a big part in this book and we see references to it throughout the story and the title. Why do you think the light (or lack of it) is such an important element in your story and how did you come to create this concept for your readers?

With this novel I knew the title before I wrote the first word. That’s not to say that I knew what it meant, and I certainly didn’t try to write toward that meaning, but rather it just sort of matured with the story. I think that idea of light and dark works really well as a metaphor for what Jacob’s facing. We’ve got an eighteen-year-old kid born into very harsh circumstances that he’s not really equipped to handle. There’s a similar line to the one you’ve quoted where Jacob is talking about the idea of light at the end of the tunnel, that sort of hope that one has when they’re coming out of the darkness. But for Jacob, he can’t understand an idea like that because he’s not coming out, he’s walking into the darkness, and, “for those who move further into darkness the light becomes a thing onto which we can only look back. Looking back slows you down. Looking back destroys focus. Looking back can get you killed.” So Jacob can’t look back. This conflict between light and dark is ultimately about hope. When you’re facing the types of things that Jacob is facing, it’s much easier to just accept the way things are than to hope for anything better. Hope leads to heartbreak and that’s why Jacob’s so conflicted. That’s really the key issue in the book, and so I think that metaphor, the idea of light and dark, helps to stitch that seam.

You have a bit of a Breaking Bad opener with a botched murder situation which was rather gruesome to read and kept me on the edge of my seat. Do you think Jacob’s life would have worked out differently if they had successfully killed the guy?

This is probably the toughest question I’ve ever been asked because what happens to Robbie Douglas is the catalyst for things falling apart. Without that trigger, the pin doesn’t hit the shell. In other words, none of what takes place in the novel would have happened. At the same time, the fatalism that we witness is something that I think was inevitable. If Robbie Douglas had died, Jacob might’ve prolonged that unraveling, but things would have still fallen apart. Lives like Jacob’s typically end one way.

Crime, poverty, and meth addiction create a rather hopeless environment for these characters. Do you think your novel has hope in it? Was it difficult to write in such a sad space or do you feel like you are the type of writer where this dynamic really thrives?

I think there are elements of hope, and I think it’s that balance between hope and fate that, with any luck, keeps the reader invested. As for writing within that space, I can remember after finishing the novel I was talking to my sister and I told her, “It’s going to take a long time to find my way out of the darkness I’ve created.” I’d spent months inside of that space, immersing myself to the point that I was walking into walls, to the point that when I had to go somewhere like the grocery store it felt as if I was moving within a dream. The world I’d created was more real to me at that moment than anything else around me. I think for an artist to create anything meaningful it takes that type of immersion. There’s a sort of sacrifice that has to be made, and, for me, the end justifies the means. I tend to tell stories of heartbreak and circumstance and desperation as I think those types of elements allow you to immediately get to the heart of a character. When things fall apart a person can’t be anything aside from exactly what they are. That’s what interests me most.

Jacob says in one scene, “I’d always hoped she’d become a real mother. But with time, I realized that someone can’t give what they don’t have. She was what she was, an addict, and there was nothing that could be said or done to change her. Death was her only savior.”

I don’t know what to say about that except that it was difficult to watch this dynamic between Jacob and his mother and it made me feel sorry for him to have two parents like this. Is addiction something that you have experienced with anyone close that you channeled in this character?

I really like that you pulled that quote as I think that line, that idea that, “someone can’t give what they don’t have,” is the heart of why she can’t be a mother to Jacob. There are some readers who seem incapable of empathizing with Jacob’s mother and father, but, for me, there are tiny pieces, tiny statements that elude to why these people are the way that they are. That’s really important to me: humanization. Without that I’d just be creating caricatures. There are moments where I think we see what she could have been had she not been addicted to drugs. That’s the reality of addiction. That’s a reality that I’ve seen time and time again where I live and where I grew up. I think the easy thing to do is to dismiss those people, to say, “I’m nothing like that.” The harder thing to do is to look at it with empathy. And empathy doesn’t mean coming to justify those actions as acceptable, but what it does mean is coming to recognize and hopefully understand why.

If there was a sequel, how do you see life working out for Maggie?

I have a really great friend, a mentor and an incredible novelist, Pamela Duncan who ran up to me after finishing the novel and said, “Is Maggie pregnant? She’s pregnant, isn’t she?” I just laughed, but I love this idea of wanting to know what happens to her as I think that’s a good sign that I’ve created a character that resonates. As for what I envision, I think Maggie goes to Wilmington. I think a lot of what Jacob holds as truth as an eighteen-year-old is naïve, but I think what he sees in Maggie, that strength and that certainty that she’ll leave, is real. So, for me, I always saw her getting out.

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be (we list it with all the recommendations over the year HERE)?

I’m going to stay true to my neck of the woods and give you three recommendations—a novel, a memoir, and a book of poetry—from Appalachia because I think a lot of what comes out of this region is tragically overlooked. As far as a novel, everyone needs to read Robert Gipe’s Trampoline. It’s bar none the best debut released this year and it’s arguably the best debut we’ve seen from this region in decades. With memoir, I was really impressed with Leigh Ann Henion’s book, Phenomenal. I think her storytelling is brave and her insight into our relationship with the natural world is matured and beautiful. Last but certainly not least, everyone needs to be reading Rebecca Gayle Howell, especially the poems in Render: An Apocalypse, which are just gritty and raw and lovely. She’s writing scripture. So there’re three for you to get your hands on!

 You can connect with David Joy on GoodReadson Facebook, or through his website! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

*This post contains affiliate links!

 

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It’s the 3 Little Things: Frittatas, Boot Cuffs, & a Big Dream

Friday, August 21st, 2015

It's The 3 Little Things

Happy Friday, friends! I hope you are having a great week! It’s been a great first week back at school and it seems as the years go by that the transition goes a little better each year. I hope it is that way for you too! If you want to check out my cuties on their first day, I shared a little picture over here. This will be their last year at two different schools and then they will have one year together before my son heads off to HIGH SCHOOL. So wild!

Have you guys headed back yet? I hope your mornings have been going smooth and I’m looking forward to chatting about better mornings next month in our m challenge series!

Konmari Funny

I also am really happy about this. This will be happening! I hope you snagged that printable from last week! Although I should tackle categories, as recommended in the book, I can’t access my laundry room thanks to it being the family dumping ground so I have a date with that project today while binging on podcasts. After that though, GET READY FAMILY!

Here are three things that are making me happy this week!

Easy Sausage & Vegetable Frittata

Frittatas for Breakfast, Lunch, & Dinner

I have gotten into some terrible summer breakfast routines that involved two tiny pieces of gluten-free bread (AKA ELF BREAD) with a little peanut butter and have been starving before it is even lunchtime. This week I made two of these frittatas for my mornings and I am feeling so much better! Last year I finally invested in this food processor (after I burnt the motor out on my old one)  and it has been a DREAM for grating everything from sweet potatoes to making batches of homemade laundry detergent. Since it works so good, it’s made the process of making a frittata pretty darn painless!

It was also pretty lovely to share one of these on my best friend’s exciting day of sending her last one off to kindergarten. I only waited a decade for that so mimosas and fancy frittatas made a perfect at-home celebration.

Hazel & Ruby Crafternoon Knitted Boot Cuff

I Made a PRODUCT, You Guys!

I have had some serious knitting marathons this week as I put the finishing touches on my first craft kit that I will be selling at JoAnn Fabrics nationwide! Hazel & Ruby has launched the cutest Crafternoon collection and they will be launching a Christmas Crafternoon collection for the holidays.  They asked if I could help them design a knitted boot cuff kit to sell and I have learned so much through this process. From pattern-writing (my first time!) to creating prototypes to packaging… it’s just been a really interesting process for me. They said I could share a little sneak peek so here you go!  I will have more information as we get closer to time, but I’m really proud of how this turned out and what I have learned along the way about product development!

Book Proposal

A New To-Do

I find that saying my goals out loud really helps me with accountability, but it’s always scary putting it out in the world! After doing my first book, I really didn’t think I ever wanted to go through that entire process again, even though I am really proud that I did it. I have felt that way since doing it… until I came up with a really incredible idea for a book. I am so on fire for this idea and what it could mean to others that I am having a hard time keeping my mouth zipped about it. Of course, I am a great idea person and not so great at executing it (anyone else?) so I am putting it out in the world that I want to write another book. This process takes a lot of discipline so if I am a little quieter on social media, you know I am in the trenches trying to get something really incredible out in the world. It’s kind of like birthing a baby!

That’s my happy list for this week and I can’t wait to hear what made your lists!

xo

*this post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though. Check out past editions of  It’s the 3 Little Things

Now it’s your turn! What’s making you happy this week?

Amy’s Notebook 08.19.15

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015

DIY Macrame Chair via Mollie Makes

Source: Mollie Makes

 

DIY macrame garden chair- I’m dying to try this.

What will happen if I don’t take my phone out right now – can’t stop laughing!

Lemon tart perfection.

8 decluttering lessons learned from the Marie Kondo book.

How to properly lace your dress shoes- noted!

Adorable hairstyle tutorial that I’d want to wear anywhere.

This moved me deeply.

Grilled hot dogs with avocado relish via Dine & Dish

Source: Dine & Dish

 

How good do these hot dogs look?

Reading this and loving the transformative power of just one.

Yarn-wrapped sconce cords- an adorable detail and stash-buster.

Does your neighborhood have a tool-lending library? What a great idea!

All the feels.

Make an easy hook rack to go with your decor.

Can’t stop laughing at this, too.

I hope you enjoyed our notebook, a collection of gathered links to DIY crafts, food projects, thrifty ways to spruce up your home, and thoughtful reads. Nothing brings me more joy than to highlight other fabulous bloggers. Follow me on Pinterest for daily inspiration! This post may include affiliate links!

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Sundays With Writers: We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Sunday, August 16th, 2015

Sundays With Writers

It’s such an honor to share my Sundays With Writers space with Vanessa Diffenbaugh this week. Way back in 2011, I wrote a review on her first book, The Language of Flowers and when I saw that her second book, We Never Asked for Wings was out, I could not dive into it fast enough after enjoying her debut novel so very much.

What you might not know about Vanessa though is about the incredible organization she started for foster children and the impact she is having on raising another generation of gifted writers. What a gift to share more about this incredible writer AND incredible giver…two things I have a soft spot in my heart for!

We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Today Vanessa is here to share about her book, We Never Asked for WingsIn this story we learn that for fourteen years, Letty Espinosa has worked three jobs around San Francisco to make ends meet while her mother raised her children—Alex, now fifteen, and Luna, six. But now Letty’s parents are returning to Mexico, and Letty must step up and become a mother for the first time in her life.

Navigating this new terrain is challenging for Letty, especially as Luna desperately misses her grandparents and Alex, who is falling in love with a classmate, is unwilling to give his mother a chance. Letty comes up with a plan to help the family escape the dangerous neighborhood and heartbreaking injustice that have marked their lives, but one wrong move could jeopardize everything she’s worked for and her family’s fragile hopes for the future.

This book is beautiful and it reminded me a lot of, The Same Sky (you can read our interview on that one here!) as it tackles the issue of illegal immigration and two sweet kids neglected by their alcoholic mother, struggling with poverty and placement in society. I would recommend this one for fans of The Book of Unknown Americans  (you can read that interview as well, here). To read my full review, check out this must-read list!

Now grab your coffee and settle in with this  incredible writer today!

Vanessa Diffenbaugh

 

Illegal immigration seems to be a theme in so many of the books that I have read this year (The Same Sky, Americanah, & The Book of Unknown Americans- to name a few). Why do you think so many authors are exploring the topic of illegal immigration and what was the most surprising thing you learned about this issue when writing your book, We Never Asked for Wings?

This is a great question.  For me, it is especially interesting that I wrote a book about immigration because I had no intention of doing so!  I was thinking about economic and educational inequality, and themes of motherhood and family.  But as I got deeper and deeper into this novel, it struck me that I had created a community of characters in which immigration status would be an issue.  It would be disingenuous to write about a low-income community in California and pretend that every citizen in the book would be documented.  That simply isn’t the case, and it has profound implications for the people who live in these communities.  So, to answer your question, I think so many writers are writing about immigration because so many people are living it, and for those of us who are trying to capture this moment in time, undocumented immigration is an issue we can’t ignore.

In your first book you had to learn so much about horticulture, but in this book it was all about the feathers (from the science of them to utilizing them in an interesting art medium). How did you come up with this idea for your story and how did you gather your research to learn more about birds and feathers to shape this theme? Were there any books or documentaries that helped you as you put together this research?

Five days after we were married, my husband and I moved to Guanajuato, Mexico, to learn Spanish and volunteer, work, and travel.  We lived there for a year, and one of our favorite things to do on weekends was to open up a big book we had purchased on Mexican Folk Art, find a work of art we especially liked, and travel by bus to the small village where the artist lived in an attempt to meet him or her.  This is how we got acquainted with the Olay Olay family in Michoacan—we arrived by bus and were directed to their house, where a dead bird greeted us on the stoop.  Senor Olay Olay, a fourth generation feather worker, told us that if a bird died anywhere in Michoacan it always found its way to their door—a line that made its way directly into my book. To this day, that visit remains one of my best memories of our time in Mexico.

When I came up with the idea of the abandoned housing project I kept asking myself—but why would the Espinosa family stay?  Why would they stay, even when everyone they knew had already left?  It was this question that led me to create the character of Enrique, a Mexican feather worker.  He stayed for the birds.  I imagined him at the window, sitting underneath the Pacific Flyway; I imagined his vast and intricately organized feather collection.  It was great fun to research the birds of the bay, and when I needed an idea for Alex’s science project based on his grandfather’s feather collection, I called my brother-in-law, Noah Diffenbaugh, who is a climate scientist at Stanford.  We spent hours talking about all the things Alex could learn from the feathers, and with his guidance I was able to come up with a project idea and describe the science behind it. 

The Language of Flowers was such an enormous hit and has been one of my favorite debut novels in the past few years. When your first book gets such wild praise and accolades, how hard is it as a writer to follow that up with a second novel? Do you feel it created additional pressure for you?

It was very, very hard!  So hard that when I open my new book, my favorite page is the one at the very beginning that says: The Language of Flowers, and under that, We Never Asked for Wings.  I have two titles to my name!  There are so many phenomenal writers that haven’t produced a second book after a first success, and I can completely understand why.  You have all the reviewers in your head, reminding you of all the things you did wrong, and you have all your readers in your head, reminding you of all the things you did right, and sometimes they are the very same things!  It is easy to lose your own voice.  About three years into the book, when I’d completed (another) terrible draft and was losing hope, a smart writer friend of mine gave me fantastic advice.  She told me to imagine what it feels like to open up the latest book of my favorite writer (I imagined Toni Morrison) and she told me to think about that sense of the familiar you get when you are reading the words of an author you love.  Then she said “What is the next Vanessa Diffenbaugh book like?”  When she asked me that, I knew exactly what she meant, and I also knew that I hadn’t written it.  So I started over, again, but this time I remembered my voice.

In the opening of the book, Letty abandons her children to take her parents across the border. We also read of many instances where Letty really struggles as an alcoholic, even risking her son’s life at one point in the story. Do you think Letty deserved to work through all of this with her kids or do you think Letty is a good example of a mom that would have benefitted from having a foster mom come in to help with her children until she got back on her feet?

Letty is a good example of someone who needs support.  Far too often, parents lose their children to the foster care system when what they really need is help to become the parent they want to be to their children.  There are extreme cases in which the child must be removed for their own safety, but we know that more often children and parents do better when they are kept together and given the support they need to thrive.  Youth Villages, a national non-profit, is a leader in the effort to reform foster care and increase positive outcomes for kids.  They are perhaps best known for their Intercept® intensive in-home program, a program that revolutionizes foster care by helping children avoid it altogether. Youth Villages is respected not only for their programs but also for their research and policy–they have a decades-long dedication to outcomes measurement that has resulted in national recognition.  I am thrilled that the small non-profit I co-founded, Camellia Network, has recently been acquired by Youth Villages, and we will be working together to grow a national movement around supporting youth aging out of foster care.  You can become part of the new network at www.lifesetnetwork.org.

As a former teacher to youth in low-income communities and the founder of the former Camellia Network, were you able to use these experiences working with struggling youth to channel them into the children in your story?

It’s funny, with The Language of Flowers, interviewers often asked, or even just assumed, that Victoria was based on the children I fostered.  She wasn’t!  In fact, her personality was as different from my sons’ as possible.  But in We Never Asked for Wings, I drew a lot of inspiration for Alex from my sons.  Both Tre’von and Donovan are incredibly smart, responsible and resilient, and Tre’von, like Alex, liked to read the encyclopedia and recite random facts to his friends and teachers.  I interviewed him a few different times about what it felt like to be a smart kid who loved to learn in a school that didn’t expect anything from him.

You have been working on a really special project leading a Young Authors Club, assisting 40 young authors to help them write their own books. What has your experience been like leading such a large group of young authors and what advice would you give to other authors to do the same in their own communities?

I didn’t mean for the group to be so big—who would have thought that so many kids, after six hours of sitting still and working hard, would want to stay after school to WRITE?  Well, it turns out that many do.  I had a great time teaching these eager young people everything I know—we started by doing close readings of some of my favorite children’s books, and then we spent a week writing spectacular first sentences, and then we moved on to first chapters.  The kids wrote some amazing books, including titles like “Surviving Middle School with Violet Woods” and “The Teddy Bear Detective Agency.”  In terms of advice, I would look at Dave Egger’s nonprofit, 826 Valencia (or 826 National).  He and his wonderful staff have been teaching writing for almost 15 years and run great programs.

As busy moms, I often hear that moms feel like they don’t have the time to take on volunteer opportunities. You are a perfect example of a mom that really does an excellent job doing both. What advice would you give to moms who want to do more to help their community, but feel limited with their time?

I have to be honest here and say that I have a phenomenal full-time assistant, and I couldn’t do half of what I do without her.  I say this because I think we often expect ourselves as women and mothers to be superhuman—to care for kids around the clock, to support our husbands and have immaculately clean homes and still somehow have successful careers and volunteer endless hours in our communities.  It just isn’t possible, and too many of us spend too much of our time feeling guilty about not doing one (or more) of these things well enough.  When I sold my first book, I decided to hire an assistant so that I could spend all my time with my kids or writing my books or volunteering in the community—not booking travel or managing my schedule or picking up dry cleaning or all the other billions of little things that are involved in managing a household and career.  I will say, though, that even before I was in the financial position to hire an assistant, I was always good at prioritizing.  When I wrote The Language of Flowers I was a stay-at-home mother of four, and I would often call my mother and announce that I had just gotten both babies down for their nap and I was kicking the piles of dirty laundry out of the way so that I could open my office door and start writing.  You just can’t do it all! 

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be (we will add it to our list of recommended reads for our readers!)?

Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson.  It is an incredibly intense book about racial inequality in our criminal justice system, but it is beautifully written and powerful, with just enough hopefulness to help you sit with the discomfort of the truth and think hard about how you can help contribute to a solution.  I recommend it to everyone I know.

 You can connect with Vanessa Diffenbaugh on GoodReadson Facebook, or through her website! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

*This post contains affiliate links!

 

 

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It’s the 3 Little Things: Cardboard Safari, Bold Documentaries, & KonMari Dreams

Friday, August 14th, 2015

reflections

Good morning, friends! My son started cross country this week so it’s been a week of girl dates with my daughter while he’s been at practice. We have been hating it so much- just look at that face! I’d like to give a local shout-out to Chicory Cafe for their outdoor seating for coffee/cocoa dates, the South Bend Farmer’s Market for the most beautiful flowers, & Potawatomi Park for such an incredible playground to play on this week. We are definitely savoring this last week of summer in South Bend!

Here are 3 other things that are making me happy this week!

cardboard-safari

Cardboard Safari Love

I have been wanting a fake deer head to go in our front room and I  found these incredible Cardboard Safari animals that I thought would work perfectly. We got Bucky in a large size and I thought I would hang him over our entryway table. I underestimated his size so he was moved to hang above our couch instead, but I just love seeing him when I walk in. I have lots of fun dreams of how to decorate this guy for the seasons and I love what a quirky focal point this has become in our room.

My son and I also had the best time putting this guy together and had lots of laughs assembling him which brought me a ton of joy. If you are on the hunt for a little quirkiness for your home, browse their site for some fun additions to your decor and have fun putting these together with your kiddos.

Vivian-Maier

Bold Documentaries

Documentaries are a big passion of mine because it is a way that I can explore the world from the comforts of my own home. I try to indulge in one a week and to also share the love of these with my kids through our Docu-Pizza nights. I will try and do a round-up of great family-friendly ones for you soon!

This week I caught two REALLY incredible documentaries that you must watch! The first was called Finding Vivian Maier. Vivian is pictured above, and this documentary explores the life of a mysterious nanny who secretly took over 100,000 photos that went unseen during her lifetime. The images are just astounding and this documentary is a series of interviews with all the people who knew Vivian and it was created by the guy who discovered her after purchasing a box of her negatives at an auction.  I wish this one was on Netflix for you, but it wasn’t! I actually snagged it at our local library and I can’t tell you how fascinating it was. If you want to see really incredible street photography, you must browse her collection.

Here is the trailer for that one!  It was absolutely captivating!

the-true-cost

The other documentary that I watched is called, The True Cost.  Friends, I can’t recommend this enough because it just shocked me in so many ways. There is a lot that I did not understand about the farming community, what it really means to donate our items, and the true cost of the fashion industry on our world. I can’t stop thinking about it and I really want you to watch it so we can talk about it.

Embracing the capsule wardrobe has made me think about embracing classics with longevity in my home so I think I was headed down this path already.  I know that I can continue doing better about making smarter purchases though and this documentary really showcases who pays for these inexpensive impulses and what happens when we cast them off.

Seeing this also renewed my commitment to try making most of my wardrobe purchases secondhand. I’m sad to see that Twice is no longer an option (are you disappointed too?), but if you haven’t given thredUP a spin, they are offering $20 to spend on your first purchase this month to try, which is incredible.  Watch that documentary and see if it doesn’t change how you feel about your clothing purchases and renew your commitment to secondhand shopping.  Watch the documentary on instant on Amazon ($2.99) or it is available on Netflix this month!

KonMari

KonMari Dreams

If you don’t listen to the The Lively Show, you are missing out on a wealth of information on intentional living (try out the podcast app I found last week to listen!). This episode was chock full of great information and Jess used The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up to create a printable checklist you could use through your home to declutter. If you aren’t familiar with the book or methods, the one thing I really got out of it was to declutter your home not room by room, but by category. Instead of the closet, you do tops and then go through your entire house to clear out all the tops.

Of course, when I explained to my husband, I said, “Say bottoms will be the category. So I’m getting rid of all the bottoms. All the bottoms that we don’t need are going.”

Cue hysterical laughter and bottom clutching.

You have to sign up for her email list to get the printable (scroll down a bit to find it), but isn’t this just the kick in the BOTTOM you need to get started? I have big dreams of tackling this while the kids are at school!

xo

*this post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though. Check out past editions of  It’s the 3 Little Things

Now it’s your turn! What’s making you happy this week?

 

Amy’s Notebook 08.12.15

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

Avocado-Lemon Zest Pasta via Design Sponge

Source: Design Sponge

 

Avocado Lemon Zest Spaghetti- my two faves in one dish!

The day technology left the building.

25 key lessons when you’re ready for a simpler life.

My jaw dropped- this diy faux marble tabletop is incredible!

100 swoon-worthy romances.

How to email someone you’ve never met (so they’ll actually reply).

Entertaining and educational YouTube channels for kids.

How to manage Instagram in 20 minutes a day.

What’s your spending personality?

Design Mistakes via Style by Emily Henderson

Source: Style By Emily Henderson

 

I need to take a peek at our curtains.

Adding a spiralizer to my wish list. Do you have one?

10 memoirs for armchair travel.

Fight for rest.

I struggle with sleepovers.

So powerful (and brave).

How to write a condolence note.

Nobody ever admits to loving money. Everybody just wants more of it.

#doitfortheprocess

amys_notebook

I hope you enjoyed our notebook, a collection of gathered links to DIY crafts, food projects, thrifty ways to spruce up your home, and thoughtful reads. Nothing brings me more joy than to highlight other fabulous bloggers. Follow me on Pinterest for daily inspiration!

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Sundays With Writers: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Sunday, August 9th, 2015

Sundays With Writers

There are some authors that I have waited for months to feature here and Jennifer Niven is one of those poor hounded authors that I worked so hard to get here for you today.  A girlfriend recommended that I read her book All the Bright Places and as soon as I finished it (you can read our review here), I emailed Jennifer to see if I could secure her for an interview. She happened to just be leaving on book tour though and said she would answer my questions when she returned. This one was worth the wait.

I am so glad she followed through on this interview with me especially amid her enormous undertaking of adapting this movie into a film starring Elle Fanning!! Yup, Jennifer is writing the script and I have been waiting to share that with you today. I’m so proud of this writer and this book she has created.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places is a beautiful story of two sweet kids who find each other just when they need one another the most. Niven sheds light on a topic rarely discussed in YA literature sharing the true struggles of mental illness as Finch, the main character, struggles with bipolar disorder.

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

The stigma attached to mental illness and the reaction of his peers to this, make this a compelling read for any teen in understanding what it would be like to live with mental illness. This was heartbreaking, beautiful, and provided a thoughtful ending with a great resources & info list for kids struggling with (or who have family/friends struggling with) mental illness at the end of the book. I highly recommend this one for a well-captured idea of what living with bipolar disorder would feel like.

Grab your coffee and let’s settle in to learn more about Jennifer’s incredible book and the real-life Finch that inspired this beautiful story!

Jennifer Niven

 

In All the Bright Places, you send your two characters (Finch & Violet) on an epic road trip to discover Indiana. I actually live in Indiana so I really loved how you created this for them. Were these destinations real and, if so, did you visit them?

All of the destinations Finch and Violet wander are real except one—the bookmobile park. (But oh, how I wish it existed!) I grew up in Indiana, but I hadn’t visited all of the places until after I wrote the book. In April, I traveled from California (where I live now) to the sites with the producers and director of the upcoming All the Bright Places We saw the World’s Biggest Ball of Paint, the Blue Hole, Gravity Hill, the Ultraviolet Apocalypse, the Taylor Prayer Chapel, Hoosier Hill, the Purina Tower in my hometown (Richmond), and we even went up into the bell tower of my high school, which was where I envisioned Finch and Violet meeting.

Blue Flash Roller Coaster

But my favorite place of all was John and Sharon Ivers’ backyard roller coasters.We rode the Blue Flash and the Blue Too over and over again. And it was AMAZING.

You tackle the issue of mental illness in this book, specifically bipolar disorder. As someone who has personally known someone with this illness, you truly capture the manic highs and lows of Finch in a very real way. What inspired you to share about this mental illness and what has been your response from kids who have read this book?

Years ago, I loved a real-life Finch and he was bipolar. I witnessed up-close the highs and lows, the Awake and the Asleep, and I saw his daily struggle with the world and with himself. I also saw how funny he could be and how vibrantly alive. In knowing him, I experienced firsthand the stigma associated with mental disorders—both from the perspective of this boy I loved and from mine—and I realized that we need to make people feel safe enough to come forward and say, “I have a problem.  I need help.”  If we don’t talk about suicide or depression or mental illness, how can we expect anyone to reach out for help when they need it most?

The response to All the Bright Places has been emotional and overwhelming, and while I anticipated some of that, I had no idea just how emotional and overwhelming it would be. The thing I hear most from readers is that this book saved their lives in some way, big or small. They’ve thanked me for making them feel like someone gets them, and for reminding them they aren’t alone. But they’ve also written to tell me they see themselves in Violet and/or Finch and reading about these characters who they identify with so closely has helped them realize that the world really can be a bright place, no matter how dark it may seem. I’m hearing daily from many, many teens who are either struggling with their own mental health issues or know someone who is, and the first thing I tell them is to talk to someone they trust, whether that’s a parent, teacher, counselor, sibling, or friend. Being isolated only makes things worse, and you really, truly aren’t alone. (Here are some helpful links to organizations that get it, that care: check here and here for a resource list to assist.

All the Bright Places is going to be hitting theaters starring Elle Fanning as Violet. How involved are you in the adaptation of your book into film and what scene are you most excited to see come to life on the big screen?

I’m so excited! I’ve been asked to write the script, which I’m working on now, and I’m thrilled and honored to have that opportunity. The scene I’m most excited to see on the big screen is when Finch leaves his car by the side of the road because it won’t go fast enough, and as he’s running he passes a nursery where he collects flowers for Violet.

I don’t want to give away the ending of this book for those that have not read it, but I would love to know if you feel that ending the book the way you did ended with the right message about the topic of mental illness and if you entertained another way of ending this story?

I never questioned how All the Bright Places would end. I knew in my bones that the only ending could be the one I wrote, not just because too many stories about teen mental health are tied up in neat little packages with bows on top, but because it’s the ending I lived with the real-life Finch. It was the ending I knew to tell. In terms of the message it sends, from what I can tell via readers, especially readers who see themselves in Finch, they are walking away from the book with the right message: they are not alone. It is important to speak up, to ask for help. And even in the darkest times, it’s possible to find bright places.

I have read that it took you a mere six weeks to crank out All the Bright Places. This is such an incredible feat! Why do you think this story came together so quickly this time?

Because it was a story I had carried with me for a long time, and because it came from the heart.

You have tackled so many different genres as a writer, but this is your first young adult book. Is there a particular genre that you love the most and what did you love the most about writing a YA fiction versus the other genres you have tackled?

I love YA the most. As one reader put it, “Jennifer Niven thinks 18,” which I take as a huge compliment. I feel at home in the voice, and I absolutely love what’s being done in the genre—some of the bravest, boldest topics are being explored, and I think that’s fantastic. YA is fearless, and YA readers are the most passionate and voracious of all.

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be (read ALL the recommendations over the year HERE)?

Wonder by RJ Pallacio.

 

You can connect with Jennifer Niven on GoodReads,on Facebook, or through her website! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

*This post contains affiliate links!

 

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