The Virtual Librarian Experience: It’s All About the Characters for a Kingsolver Lover

January 7th, 2016

The Virtual Librarian Experience from MomAdvice.com

I am so excited to be unveiling a new feature on MomAdvice this year. The main features that many of our readers come here for are the book reviews and to check out the stories behind the stories in our Sundays With Writers series. As a ferocious reader,  I have reviewed hundreds of books on here, but so many of these reviews for incredible books have sunk to the bottom of our archives and I just have not found a way to bring them back to life…

Until now.

Welcome to the MomAdvice Virtual Librarian series! I have created a quick questionnaire you can fill out to share with me a little about your reading tastes, your favorite authors, and what you look for in a good book. I will act as your virtual librarian to create a list of suggestions for you that I think you will enjoy based on books and authors you already love. My hope is to pair you with a book that may have never been on your radar and it will give the books that I have loved over the years a time to shine again on the site. My favorite thing in the world to do is to share good books with friends so this is a way that I can do that for you and share it with our readers in the process.

If you would like me to pick some books for you, just fill out this questionnaire and submit it. I will send you an email when your post is live to let you know my favorite picks for you! You can also leave comments on books you would recommend for this reader too in our comment section below!

I put this questionnaire together and asked my own Facebook friends if they would fill it out so we could get a solid start on our series. 30 people have submitted questionnaires so I am excited to start diving in and pairing readers with new books this year. I will answer your requests in the order they are received and send you an email with a link to my responses when your turn comes up. At times, this series may be a substitute for our favorite things list when nothing really is standing out to me as something to share for the week. I always want to be honest with my favorites and sometimes I don’t buy/do/use anything worth mentioning so I would rather not force it and keep the consistency true. I think this will be a great substitution for those quieter weeks!

The Virtual Librarian Experience from MomAdvice.com

Reader Profile

Name?

Helen

What is Your Favorite Book Genre?

Fiction

Who Are Your Favorite Authors?

Barbara Kingsolver, Robert B. Parker, Diane Chamberlain, Suzanne Collins, Diana Gabaldon, Anne LaMott

Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver

What is Your Favorite Book of All-Time? 

Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver

What Do You Look for In a Book?

It’s all about the characters

The MomAdviceVirtual Librarian (2)

 

The Virtual Librarian Selects…

Helen has such a wide range in personal taste, but you can instantly tell that she loves a good storyteller. I have read most of the authors she has listed and have enjoyed books by them so I feel pretty confident in making some good recommendations for strong storytellers that I think she will love.

Here are my top selections for Helen based on her reading profile:

 

The Stories Life of A.J. Fikry

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island-from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who’s always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.’s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore that changes his life forever…

This story is enchanting from start to finish. This book is a must-read for book lovers as it references so many of my favorite books and centers around a little bookshop in a seaside town. I could not put this one down and, truly, did not want the story of these beautiful characters to end.

I think Helen would love this book because it is a book that really targets the heart of a true book lover and storyteller and is very character driven, which is something you can tell she really loves.

The Orphans of Race Point by Patry Francis

The Orphans of Race Point by Patry Francis

This book is absolutely stunning from start to finish. It was filled with words that begged to be read again because they felt like poetry to me.  It is a  beautifully woven story with big moral messages about love, forgiveness, and redemption. The plot twists? I never saw them coming, which happens rarely when you are an avid reader like I am.

Set in the close-knit Portuguese community of Provincetown, Massachusetts, The Orphans of Race Point traces the relationship between Hallie Costa and Gus Silva, who meet as children in the wake of a terrible crime that leaves Gus parentless. Their friendship evolves into an enduring and passionate love that will ask more of them than they ever imagined.

On the night of their high school prom, a terrible tragedy devastates their relationship and profoundly alters the course of their lives. And when, a decade later, Gus—now a priest—becomes entangled with a distraught woman named Ava and her daughter Mila, troubled souls who bring back vivid memories of his own damaged past, the unthinkable happens: he is charged with murder. Can Hallie save the man she’s never stopped loving, by not only freeing him from prison but also—finally—the curse of his past?

Told in alternating voices, The Orphans of Race Point illuminates the transformative power of love and the myriad ways we find meaning in our lives.

The author is just as fabulous as this book so be sure to read my interview with her after you finish it- her story of becoming an author is REALLY inspiring and made me appreciate this beautiful book even more!

I am recommending this one for Helen because of her love for Diane Chamberlain. I am a huge fan of her writing and found The Orphans of Race Point to be as compelling as some of  Chamberlain’s stronger novels!

Heft by Liz Moore

Heft by Liz Moore

This is a novel that can be appreciated by all people and is a story that leaves you rooting for some of the most unlikely characters in the most unlikely friendships. I consider this book to be storytelling at its finest, yet, this one really went under the radar when it came out,  making it a great hidden gem for Helen.

Eighteen years ago, Arthur had a promising career as a professor, and loved his work. He is now  a 58 year-old man who cannot leave his home due to his incredible size of 500 pounds. Since 2001 he has managed to stay within the confines of his home relying on services like grocery and food deliveries that can be ordered from his own computer. He has no friends, no family, and the only bit of human contact he receives are letters occasionally sent to him from his old student, Charlene Turner.

When Charlene contacts Arthur, out of the blue, to see if he will help her with her son Kel Keller and offer guidance to him to help him, Arthur hires a cleaning service to help him get his house back in shape. His house is a place that has been grossly neglected because Arthur has lost the will and lacks the energy to clean it, due to his size. When a young 19 year-old Yolanda shows up on his doorstep, he can never know how this will change his life. An unlikely friendship unfolds and brings new purpose to Arthur’s life that he never expects.

The author not only takes you through Arthur’s difficulties in his life, but the story of Kel and his mother Chelsea alternate in these chapters as you see the difficulties that this young man has had to overcome and will leave you begging for the happy ending that this boy so deserves.

Beautifully written and great stories that are woven together in such a way that you can vividly picture each of these characters and feel their stories resonate in your own heart. I think Helen would have a hard time putting this one down because of these compelling characters Moore has created.

11/22/63 by Stephen King

11/22/63 by Stephen King

Jake Epping  teaches high school English in Lisbon Falls, Maine, and is recently divorced from his wife and going through the everyday minutiae of middle-aged life. When he happens upon an assignment from one of his students, a brain-damaged janitor’s story of a childhood Halloween massacre by their drunken father, it brings him to tears and he finds that he can’t stop thinking about what if his life had worked out differently.

When he has lunch at his favorite diner, the diner owner and friend, Al, shares that he has a secret portal to 1958 that he uses to time travel in the back pantry of his restaurant.  He has been taking notes and following Lee Harvey Oswald to see if he can alter the JFK assassination. His dying wish is that Jake can use his notes and actually complete the mission of killing Lee Oswald Harvey before he kills JFK.

Jake decides to fulfill Al’s dying wish and begins a new life in 1958 under the name of George Amberson. What Jake doesn’t expect is how quickly his life can become settled in this new era or how his life would change if he met his one true love?

I loved absolutely everything about this book and when I finished it, I wanted to read the story all over again. It has a beautiful love story, great suspense, and leads to the ultimate question, “Would you change history if you could?”

I am selecting this one for Helen because of her love for Diana Gabaldon and her writing on time travel (and apparently her love for big books). I think she would find this one to be another fantastic time travel escape!

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg

On the eve of her daughter’s wedding, June Reid’s life is completely devastated when a shocking disaster takes the lives of her daughter, her daughter’s fiancé, her ex-husband, and her boyfriend, Luke—her entire family, all gone in a moment. And June is the only survivor.

Alone and directionless, June drives across the country, away from her small Connecticut town. In her wake, a community emerges, weaving a beautiful and surprising web of connections through shared heartbreak.

Clegg ambitiously illuminates how interwoven we are as people in this beautiful and haunting story of a town tragedy and the people left behind. Although the sheer amount of characters that share in each of the chapters (some once, other main characters more often) is confusing to piece together as a reader, you become a detective as each person is woven into another.

The grief-stricken mothers left behind leave you with an ache in your own heart and are written so beautifully they feel real. You are also reminded that even in chance meetings with others you can play a powerful part in someone else’s story. This is, by far,  one of the best books I have read this year!

Don’t miss my interview with Bill Clegg about his haunting book and process for creating this gorgeous story!

I am suggesting this one for Helen because it focuses on an entire town of characters with smart layering of each one in the story and how this tragedy affects them. Since it’s all about the characters with her, this ambitious book would be fantastic for her! 

What would you pick out for Helen based on her preferences? Leave your suggestions in the comments below!

This post contains affiliate links. I only recommend what I love though! 

Amy’s Notebook 01.06.16

January 6th, 2016

Read more this year via Modern Mrs. Darcy

Source: Modern Mrs. Darcy

 

Seven simple ways to read more this year.

Oh, this cowl is gorgeous!

The joy of experiences over things. YES.

The joy of choosing one word for the year. Do you have one?

The best pieces of culture we watched, read and listened to in 2015. Be sure to read the comments for more ideas!

Don’t forget to give thanks.

A big bow DIY with no sewing required!

2016 Goals via Elise Blaha

Source: Elise Blaha

 

Inspiring goals for a new year.

How to read an entire book in a single day.

Have a plain brown paper package? Here’s a few ideas how to dress it up!

Why not try a 30-day shop your closet challenge to try out a capsule wardrobe? So smart!

13 best Google Chrome life hacks.

Snowfall crochet mittens – what a cozy design!

Top 10 mistakes we make when grocery shopping – and how to fix them.

10 ways your freezer can make everyday cooking easier.

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!

3 Ways to Find More Joy This Year

January 5th, 2016

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

3 Steps to Finding More Joy (4)

No matter how many posts and articles I read (or write) about not making New Year’s resolutions and setting realistic goals and starting a new diet (or organizational system or meal plan or reading challenge) on any day other than Monday, I can’t help but start the first day of the first week of the first month of the new year with some degree of expectation.

When I woke up yesterday, I literally began the day with a smile on my face. And, as anyone who’s ever witnessed my reluctant rising can tell you, this night owl does NOT usually wake up happy! But it was a big day, the first “real” day in the new year! A day full of so much opportunity, a day destined for fresh starts and productivity and greatness.

Except, as it turned out, it was just another day.

Another MONDAY at that.

I had to remind my older daughter 17 times to brush her hair and her teeth – and to put her empty banana peel in the trash can, please and thank you. I had to change my toddler’s diaper and convince her that wearing her coat was a good idea, given the 20-degree air blowing around outside. I put on my sunglasses as we walked out the door, only to take them off again when I realized it was actually quite cloudy. And as I backed out of the driveway, I noticed that the recycling truck had knocked over our trash can, spilling bags of garbage all over the street and yard.

It was just another day. Another day we have chores and arguments and projects and appointments, another day with clouds and trash and cat hair and dirty dishes.

But you know what? It was also another day full of beauty and hope and joy. It was another opportunity to choose my outlook, to determine my attitude, to make a difference – even if it’s just for me, even if it’s just for a moment.

See, I believe that we can find joy – true joy! the kind that can’t be stolen by cloudy skies or spilled garbage (literal or figurative) – every single day of the year. I believe it’s possible and even necessary for our mental health and our relationships and our productivity and success. And I believe that just a few simple steps can help us find a whole lot more of this crucial, beautiful joy this year.

3 Steps to Finding More Joy (1)

3 Steps to Finding More Joy in 2016

1. SAVOR YOUR MOMENTS.

My friend Sara said once that moments are her favorite things. Not Oreos or the fifth Harry Potter book or the color purple or spicy queso, but moments. Much as I love all those other things, I’d have to agree. After all, capturing and savoring moments is why I used to scrapbook years ago – and why I love Facebook now. It’s why forgetting my camera is reason for turning the car around, no matter how far from home I’ve driven.

And it’s why I’ve been known to tear up at random times when I look around and realize this – THIS! – is beautiful. This life, this family, this conversation, this laughter. Even when it’s loud or messy or awkward or weird, a moment sometimes strikes me as so beautiful that I can’t contain my ridiculous tears.

Every day – the regular days, the cloudy days, the hardest days – has sweet moments. Even on days that come with banana peels and mountains of laundry and overdue bills, we can find something to savor.So when you’re struggling to find a silver lining or a glass half full of anything, look for those moments: your favorite song on the radio, the first sip of that cold tea or hot coffee, baby giggles or a side hug from a tween, rain showers or sunsets, an encouraging text message or inspiring quote posted on Facebook at just the right time.

Find those moments – and then savor them. Take a mental picture, close your eyes and bask in the joy for a few seconds, and save it for the next “just another day.”

3 Steps to Finding More Joy (2)

2. EXPRESS YOUR GRATITUDE.

I know, I know, this is nothing new! When she writes about how listing out the things we’re thankful for can be truly life-changing, Ann Voskamp boils it down to this: “Being joyful isn’t what makes you grateful. Being grateful is what makes you joyful.” Just like that – even when it’s hard to find something to be thankful for.

Sara, my friend I mentioned earlier (and, as it happens, my co-author in a book about joy), suffered from an extremely painful, debilitating disease. And yet, throughout her life, she learned to choose joy anyway. She wrote about that after spending another Thanksgiving holiday alone:

“I’m not in the least bit bothered to be here alone on the holiday of gratitude, because it’s the same as any other day. I am simply grateful. I appreciate my life because it’s the one God has given to me, and I don’t want to waste a moment of it wishing for anything else.”

She was simply grateful – every day, good or bad, no matter what. Wow! Personally, I’m still working on making that kind of gratitude such an ingrained habit. But I believe we can take strides toward this in 2016.

Perhaps for you it will help to keep a written journal of your thankfulness. Or maybe, like me, you need to commit to verbally thanking someone each and every day. I try to send my husband a text message every night before bed (he works nights), thanking him for something – even on days we argue, even on days we don’t see eye to eye. The habit of gratitude that leads to an attitude of joy is something I’m pursuing big time this year.

3 Steps to Finding More Joy (3)

3. MAKE YOUR CHOICE.

Sara’s and my book is called, Choose Joy: Finding Hope & Purpose When Life Hurts. It was named after Sara’s mantra and mission: choose joy. That’s what she named her blog, and it’s what she painted on a wall in her condo. When she shared a picture of that painting, she pointed out that the biggest word, the most important part wasn’t JOY; it was CHOOSE.

If we’re going to make this year different than the last one, we have to make a choice. We have to choose to pursue joy, just like we will commit to health and love and hard work and fun. We must make a choice. We must draw a line in the sand, step over it and never look back. No matter what 2016 brings us, it will bring us moments of joy and opportunities for gratitude.

Let’s choose to find them and savor them – and to enjoy the beautiful picture they create!

Choose Joy: Finding Hope & Purpose When Life Hurts by Sara Frankl and Mary Carver was released by the Hachette Book Group in 2016. It is a must-have for those searching for meaning and beauty in a world full of tragedy. Sara’s words breathe with vitality and life, and her stories will inspire smiles, tears, and the desire to choose joy. To learn more about CHOOSE JOY, visit TheChooseJoyBook.com.

 

Lemon Paprika Chicken

January 4th, 2016

Lemon Paprika Chicken from MomAdvice.com.

I’m back!! The holiday break was so good for my family and my soul. I trust that you all had a wonderful holiday season too!  It always surprises me how good a break is for getting my creative wheels turning again. I found myself back in the kitchen again over this break and enjoying a slowed down supper or two with my family. I found myself with piles of cookbooks from the library and a new desire to create in my kitchen again.

Our MomAdvice Hangout group has been a really great place to chat with you all about what you are looking for in the upcoming year especially when it comes to food. Two things really stood out to me. 1) You struggle with keeping the grocery budgets down and the eating out to a minimum (ME TOO!) and 2) You are hoping to be inspired to get in the kitchen with a better plan in place (ME TOO!)

With that in mind, today’s meal is for a lemon paprika chicken that our whole family absolutely loved thanks to its light and lively lemon sauce that will be making its way into our weekly rotation.

The reason I really loved it though was that ALDI had marked down their meat that day and I was able to purchase eight chicken thighs for about $4.19. That was enough to feed my family of 4 and have a couple of lunches for another day in our refrigerator. With the accompaniment of a simple potato side (coming soon!), we had the makings for a truly affordable meal.

Lemon Paprika Chicken from MomAdvice.com.

I have always thought chicken breasts were best, but the chicken thigh meat has become our new family favorite after finally mastering the technique of getting a perfect thigh thanks to the inspiration from Damn Delicious in her Garlic Brown Sugar Chicken. Why is meat we haven’t worked with before so intimidating? With all the tools I have at my fingertips, I can admit that I was scared of chicken thighs until I tried her roasting technique and now we eat chicken thighs weekly.

Her technique of browning the meat in butter yields a crispy skin and then throwing it in the oven to roast creates a chicken that is bursting with flavor. While the chicken roasts, I typically add a rotation of other roasted veggies on a cookie sheet or add a quick steam bag of baby peas and a jar of applesauce for times when the cupboard is more lean. These have become my go-to when entertaining and are always a hit with dinner guests.

If you haven’t given the chicken thigh a chance before, you are missing out on the big M word (I will not say it, I won’t…you know that word.). White meat can be very dry and lacking in flavor, this is the opposite of that and I will let you think on that word that I am referencing now.

Once you master that technique the possibilities with a pan sauce are endless and I have made these so often now that it takes me just a few minutes to pull everything together and I have the kitchen cleaned by the time the chicken is done roasting. A one pan dish that is affordable and yields great leftovers? Sign me up!

Lemon Paprika Chicken from MomAdvice.com.

My husband hates a heavy-handed lemon taste, but agreed that this was just the right amount of citrus in this recipe. The lemon not only adds depth to the flavoring, but it helps to tenderize the meat. The smoky paprika adds an additional layer of flavoring that perfectly compliments this sauce. I love that these humble ingredients can bring such a complex and balanced flavor to the chicken. Humble, affordable, and impressive…that’s a winner in our book.

I hope this dish inspires you to give that chicken thigh a try because it will save you a lot of money if you have been buying chicken breasts and I often find these marked down at our store. Bone-in is my personal preference for the word that shall not be said.

These reheat beautifully too so be sure to pack a few away in microwavable containers to keep the cost of lunches down!

Lemon Paprika Chicken from MomAdvice.com.

Lemon Paprika Chicken
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4-6 servings
 
An easy one-pot dish that makes a great weeknight meal or is impressive enough to entertain your dinner guests with!
Ingredients
  • 6-8 bone-in chicken thighs
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Zest & juice of one lemon
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced, divided
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Instructions
  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
  2. In a mixing bowl mix together olive oil, salt, pepper, paprika, thyme, lemon zest, lemon juice, and two minced garlic cloves.
  3. In a resealable bag, pour these ingredients into the bag with the chicken thighs, rubbing the mixture evenly over all the chicken. Refrigerate for two hours.
  4. Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a skillet.
  5. Add chicken and, cooking over medium heat, brown the chicken on both sides; about 3 minutes per side.
  6. Remove chicken from skillet and set aside.
  7. Add remaining minced garlic to the skillet and cook, stirring frequently, for one minute. Do not burn the garlic. Carefully whisk in wine to the skillet and cook for one more minute.
  8. Transfer chicken back to skillet and roast uncovered in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until done.
  9. Serve chicken with the wine sauce spooned over it and garnished with additional parsley.

 Adapted from Diethood

 

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See You in 2016

December 22nd, 2015

Happy Holidays!

We hope you have a wonderful, wonderful holiday season! I am planning to take a much-needed break to rest, read, and love on my people. We are so thankful for your continued love and support of this site and our family.  In January, we will be celebrating 12 years of this funny made-up job and I couldn’t be more grateful.

Sending all of our love as you celebrate all the things! xoxo

Dora Band-Aids for a Hurting World

December 21st, 2015

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When my daughter was small, I remember that each and every hurt required some type of medical treatment. We had a constant rotation of ice packs and tiny bandages, often for nonexistent wounds. It was as though the act of putting that Dora Band-Aid on her superficially scraped up knee was enough to close the floodgates of tears and make the world right again. She needed me to see her hurt, to echo how awful it was to be hurt, and then to show my efforts to repair it.

Last week I discovered that a family I had been working with, through a volunteer opportunity I am involved with, had fallen on some particularly hard times and had been living without things that I would consider basic human needs.  The gas in the home had been shut off, the stove was not in working order, medical needs couldn’t be addressed through their insurance, and there was not even a washer to care for their family’s clothing.

When you have a platform like this to work from, you can often make swift work and can create fast resolutions to problems, simply because of the large circle that comes with this type of job. In a matter of 24 hours, I found I could meet all of these basic needs for this family between our family’s resources and many, many generous givers that I reached out to who helped me close the gap through material and financial donations. If there is one thing I feel proud of, it is is the company I keep.

As I shared those gifts with this family this weekend  I had a flashback of being that mom sharing a Dora Band-Aid again- I was so unequipped. This wound was so beyond the reach of the tiny offering that I had.  I could see so very clearly that there were many other needs that were there and I knew that the gift I offered, while appreciated, was just a small bandage on a problem bigger than I could fill. 

I left my humble bandage for this wound, I echoed the hurt, and I hugged those people and gave what I could.

Those bandages though, those are mine to give out and sometimes I have a whole box at my disposal and sometimes I just have a couple to share that I can sprinkle around. This box is mine to do with what I choose, and yet,  I was surprised at some of the commentary that came from what others said about those bandages.

“Did they deserve them?”

“Were they working?”

“Why had they fallen on hard times in the first place?”

“So many people working the system….”

You have probably heard a few of these before, am I right?

Here’s the thing.

My family?

We worked the system. 

My husband lost his job for a year and we became part of the system that people refer to with that shake of their head.  We found ourselves unable to make ends meet, unable to find employment, and the seeker of any government gift that we could qualify for. My husband and I went without health insurance (a gamble that kept me up every night), we placed our son on a healthcare plan funded by the state, and we eagerly waited for those unemployment checks so we could do things like get groceries and pay our mortgage.

What helped us get through those times were those tiny bandages that so many giving and kind people shared with us. They knew they couldn’t heal the gaping wound we had…it would have been impossible!  Yet, they were happy to share the smaller bandages that made each of those dreary days in my life better.

They brought us meals, they watched our baby, they gave us gift cards to have nights out, they even bought a pizza for the volunteers who later had to move us out of our very own home that we could no longer afford.

I could not even have purchased that pizza for them as a thank you.

Our debt situation?

Well, we needed a full-body cast at that point, not a tiny bandage.

But those bandages made such a difference and I still reflect on the generosity of the people that got us through such a depressing time in my life. 

And now, I’m the lucky one who has a box of tiny bandages to help those in need.

The bandages are often the smallest gifts, but not only are they my gifts to give, but it is their gift to do what they need to do with it. I don’t worry about if that bandage is going to someone working hard enough or if they are deserving of my tiny bandages.

I know God will figure all of that out.

He has a way of sorting things out for me. 

I only hope that other people are sprinkling them in some of the same spots that I am so we can close the gap on those hurts in the world together. When cobbled together, incredible things happen like the small Christmas miracle I got to witness this weekend as we met these basic needs for a family I love.

As we close out another year here at MomAdvice, I hope you will find a way to share your gifts with others, whether they are big or small. Just as I did with my daughter,  I am acknowledging these hurts in the world today, I echo your hurts because I think about them too and pray for resolutions, and I share a tiny bandage with those of you who are hurting.

I am also hoping you are one of the lucky ones holding a box and you won’t forget to share a few Dora Band-Aids of your own, even if the wounds seem too big for such small offerings.

They all matter.

And so do you.

xoxo

November/December 2015 Must-Reads

December 21st, 2015

November/December 2015 Must-Reads from MomAdvice.com

It’s time to wrap up another year of reading on MomAdvice. I hope you didn’t miss my annual wrap-up of the best reads for 2015. What an incredible year of reading it was this year. I want to thank so many of you for your encouragement on how much you appreciate these lists when making your book selections and how these have helped motivate you to really dig in and read again. Reading is a cause that is near and dear to my heart!

With the holidays in full swing, I combined my November and December reading since I wasn’t able to tackle as many books as I had hoped!  I am looking forward to a little R&R with my kids while they are on break and I’m hoping to come back refreshed and with many more great book selections for you to dive into!

In the meantime, I started a small  MomAdvice Hangout Facebook group and we will be running a monthly MomAdvice Book Club discussion there. If you want to join in, be sure to pick up The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende for our January chat!  Each month we will have a new hostess who will be able to introduce to you a new book to read and discuss. If you are interested in joining in the fun, be sure to send me a request. We are keeping the group private for now so people can really chat and get to know one another!

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

I selected this creepy read to indulge in over the Halloween weekend since none of the typical Halloween horror films were grabbing me this year. I must say that this book did not disappoint and I would, in particular, recommend this one for Hitchcock fans!

Malerman succeeds in writing a perfectly gripping and creepy psychological page-turner. With the creatures lurking, a woman and her two children try to flee to safety blindfolded along a river. If they see what is lurking, they die a horrific death inflicting pain upon themselves to stop seeing the horrors of what they have seen. Interweaving past (pre-creatures) and present (a post-creature world), you go along on a horrific ride as Malorie tries to save herself and her children blindfolded, never knowing what is lurking around every turn.

I loved it and I think you will too especially if you love classic Stephen King or if you enjoyed The Girl With All the Gifts as much as I did. Do yourself a favor and read this one so we can talk about it!

Josh will be joining us next month for our Sundays With Writers series! I can’t wait to hear more about how he came up with this unique concept for a storyline!

4 Out of 5 Stars

Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner

Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner

I am slowly working my way through the GoodReads Choice Awards nominations list and Secrets of a Charmed Life was nominated for the Historical Fiction category.

There is so much to love in this story about two sisters who are separated from one another in such a sad way and how they are transformed by this experience and the war. Set in 1940’s England, the book focuses on the bombings that happened in London, following the story of Emma Downtree who ends up losing everything in the bombs including her inability to find her sister after a series of bombs occurs in the building where their apartment resides. This inevitably changes Emma’s entire life path leading her to a different career path, to find love, and uncovering some deep family secrets along the way.

The story does alternate with the past and the current day, but in a really readable way.  Sometimes those present day stories can take away from the story, but this really moved things along in a beautiful way.  The only part that lagged a bit was the ending with the letters, for me.

I am recommending this one for fans of The Nightingale, The Orphan Train,  All the Light I Cannot See.

4 Out of 5 Stars

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

I have been dying to read Brooklyn ever since I saw the preview for the film. Wouldn’t you know that our theater did not have it and then they only had it at weird times so I never got to see it. I’m heartbroken why good films like this don’t stick around and get played more around this area. What the hay, Michiana? You see, I always make a deal with myself to read the book first so I can feel the true disappointment in films…kidding…sort of.

Eilis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the hard years following World War Two. When an Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor Eilis in America — to live and work in a Brooklyn neighborhood “just like Ireland” — she decides she must go, leaving her fragile mother and her charismatic sister behind. When she falls in love, she receives some devastating news that sends her back home again where she must make painful choices about her future.

This was such an achingly beautiful coming of age story that perfectly captures the struggles of growing up and leaving your childhood home and family. The real challenge lies in moving away and then finding yourself back at home again and finding your placement in the world again when you are all that your mother has left. Do you stay or do you go?

A beautiful read, particularly on audiobook thanks to the gorgeous accents, for a great escape. I recommend this one for fans of The Book of Unknown Americans, Everything I Never Told YouAmericanah

4 Out of 5 Stars

The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

I know you are like, ALRIGHT, YOU LOVED IT. WE GET IT! Yes, this one made my top ten list for just a great guilty pleasure escape this year. That said, I read it over the month of December so I had to include it today in our monthly round-up!

I was completely enchanted by The Royal We, a fictional tale of an American getting swept off her feet by a real Prince.

Perhaps, that sounds a little cheesy, but it is anything BUT cheesy.Instead of focusing on the fairy tale romance aspect of the story, Heather & Jessica really dive into what it would take for someone to transition from college student into a Princess and the very real dilemma of losing her privacy, what strains that might put on her friendships, and what her family might go through as she takes on a celebrity status that she had never desired.

It’s funny, heartwarming, and really beautifully executed from a really smart family lineage to what training might be involved to be a part of the Royal family.

It read like a guilty pleasure read that still had lots of depth and soul. I laughed, cried, and was disappointed that I had to close the final pages when I was done. I just didn’t want it to end and I am convinced there is more of a story to tell.

Be sure to catch my interview with the authors for more juicy royal chatter and to hear what’s happening with the film process for this one!

4 Out of 5 Stars

Trail of Broken Wings by Sejal Badani

Trail of Broken Wings by Sejal Badani

Once again, I tackled another read from that GoodReads nomination list and Trail of Broken Wings was another nominee for Best Fiction that I wanted to read.

Domestic abuse is fully brought to light in this account of one family and the man who abused them. As he lays in a coma, each of the sisters and the wife replay the events that happened through their traumatic years and the reader uncovers the dark secrets that they each have carried. 

This one delved a lot into the Indian culture and the traditional roles of women in their culture, many of which I was not aware of! It would make for a compelling book club discussion and did not shy away from some of the demons people battle when they have been abused.

The book had a great twist at the end that really added some depth to one of the character’s storylines. Raw and honest, it would be impossible to read and not feel a new awareness and sadness for those abused.

 4 Out of 5 Stars

November/December 2015 Must-Reads from MomAdvice.com

Read With Me This Year:

January 2015 Must-Reads

February 2015 Must-Reads

March 2015 Must-Reads

April 2015 Must-Reads

May 2015 Must-Reads

June 2015 Must-Reads

July 2015 Must-Reads

August 2015 Must-Reads

September 2015 Must-Reads

October 2015 Must-Reads

My Top Ten Books of 2015

November/December 2015 Must-Reads from MomAdvice.com

What should I be adding to my library bag?  Leave your suggestions in the comments below! Looking for book ideas? Check out our entire Book section of the site! Don’t forget to friend me on GoodReads! xo

*this post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though.

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It’s the 3 Little Things: A Lifetime of Gift Wrap, Faux Leather Midi, & Glorious Holds

December 18th, 2015

A Charlie Brown Christmas Record

Yawn!  We made it through another week and I am giving myself a nice slow clap this morning as we crawl our way to the finish of another busy week. Today I am savoring my last day alone before the holiday break with the kids and finishing up the last of the details as we celebrate our first family Christmas tomorrow.

We had several gatherings with friends this week to celebrate the holiday season and each of them remind me how lucky I am to have my village of people and I am thankful for the new friends we have met along the way.

Bell Ringing

We have been trying to spread a lot of Christmas cheer in our neck of the woods. We volunteered with Clay Church to be bell ringers this year as a family and I plan to make this an annual tradition.  I think my heart grew just witnessing my kids and their genuine love for people and enthusiasm as each coin was dropped into that bucket during their shift.

Teacher Gifts

I usually share our gifts with you each year for all the helpers in our life! This year I did knitted cozies again and just added felt flower pins to this simple knit for each of our teachers and bus drivers (I left out that felt flower detail for our male bus driver & postal worker) on insulated coffee mugs. For our awesome bus drivers I did Fast Lane Tea (hahaha!) with mugs and then I wrapped up two Krispy Kreme Doughnuts in small boxes for them.

For the office staff at school I shared some of my slow cooker pumpkin spiced candles.

For our principal, I knitted a red pair of cabled ear warmers.

For the staff, I did a dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts and attached our holiday card with some washi tape to leave in the lounge.

Our teachers received the same tea & knitted cozies set with a donation towards their iPad drive. It was fun to make deliveries this week!

Let’s move on to this week’s jam-packed happy list!

Leather Midi

Leather Midi

A Budget-Friendly Faux Leather Midi

I am still in a freeze with purchasing for my capsule wardrobe, but I needed to make a wardrobe investment for a holiday party we attended. A faux leather midi has been on my wish list for my wardrobe and I figured I could get away with making the purchase for the holiday festivities, but I didn’t want to spend a lot. I found this faux leather skirt and it is PERFECTION for a mere $22.90. If you look at the model, you will see that it hits a six foot woman at her knees. I am 5’1″ so it hits at the perfect midi length for me. Jealous, six foot woman? I bet you are!

This white mini dress was a little short for my age, but works perfectly as a tunic or under a flaring a-line layer like I have here. I love tunics for their multi-purpose wardrobe uses! The bib necklace was from last year at Flourish Boutique. My favorite nude comfy heels finish the look. Did I mention I tried a new top-bun twist too? Even a hair novice like me could figure that one out! Overall, I felt confident this year with my choices for the festivities and that faux leather midi is going to find itself in my winter capsule this year!

gift-wrap

The BEST Wrapping Paper Investment

“Brown paper packages tied up with string…”  I love the simplicity of brown paper packages and how you can customize them with ribbon, twine, washi tape, and stamps. The possibilities are endless. When I spied this ENORMOUS roll of kraft paper (800 feet to be exact!), I just knew this would be a smart gift wrap investment. It’s the perfect width, perfect weight, and costs a mere $21.76.  I now have gift wrap for every occasion as well as for future craft projects with my kiddos for approximately a decade.

Library Holds

Clark, Your Holds Are In

Library shopping carts can get out of hand quick! I had to laugh and snap a pic when my sister & I had a library date yesterday at the excessive amount of checking out someone did. I mean, geesh. Are you really going to read all of that, Clark?

I certainly am going to try! You can peek at my stack on IG.

The day my holds come in is always the happiest of days!

*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?

 

3 Unique Ways to Package Gift Cards (GIVEAWAY With Shoe Carnival)

December 18th, 2015

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3 Unique Ways to Package Gift Cards  (GIVEAWAY With Shoe Carnival)

*This post is sponsored by Shoe Carnival.  Thank you for supporting the companies that support this site!

I’ve really enjoyed sharing some new holiday gift-giving strategies and traditions that are important to our family with you. Today I wanted to talk about a gift that I really struggle with… the gift card.

While practical in so many ways, I have found it difficult to make gift cards feel personal. I want people to always know that when I give them a gift card, it isn’t because I don’t care about them to shop, but only that I want them to treat themselves to something they really love.

I can tell you that I don’t know a single girlfriend, sister, or mother that would object to a shoe gift card. I may not know their shoe sizes to always shop for them personally, but I know that if I give them a gift card for shoes that they would be more than thrilled to peruse the shoe aisles for the perfect gift. Bonus points if that gift card accompanied a gift card to their favorite coffee shop so they could sip while browsing.

Today I wanted to share with you 3 ways I have created to make a gift card to Shoe Carnival more personal and make it truly stand out!

3 Unique Ways to Package Gift Cards  (GIVEAWAY With Shoe Carnival)

3 Unique Ways to Package Gift Cards  (GIVEAWAY With Shoe Carnival)

3 Unique Ways to Package Gift Cards  (GIVEAWAY With Shoe Carnival)

(Shoes: Nicole Carleigh in Black)

Create a Snow Globe Jar

If you put anything in a jar, I think it instantly amplifies its level of awesomeness on any gift. Jars are very inexpensive gifts to give and this little snowy-filled scene only took a couple of minutes to pull together and requires zero craft skills.

Simply add a little faux snow on the bottom with whatever you might have in your craft supplies or purchase those delicious rolls of snow they have out with all of the snow villages this time of year. Place a little snow on the bottom, add an inexpensive ornament, and finish with a bottle brush tree. TADA!

With just a few moments you have created something really cute for their mantle out of items that they can use for their own holiday decorating or food storage. Best of all, tucked underneath that blanket of white is a gift card to do a little shoe shopping!

WINNING!

3 Unique Ways to Package Gift Cards  (GIVEAWAY With Shoe Carnival)

 

Knit a Gift Card-igan

As you know, I am a knitter, so I always find fun ways to use my hobby for the holidays. This year, I stumbled upon this amazing little pattern for a Gift Card-igan and knitted this out of a little scrap yarn I had left over from another project. It is a perfectly gratifying project since it is so small in size and the pattern is easy enough to execute while watching holiday movies on the couch.

Whatever your craft skill set is, consider using it to create a unique gift card holder of your own. Sewing, embroidery, decoupage, crochet… there are so many fun ways to incorporate your own crafting skills to make a gift card holder that is unique and special. It adds that personal touch to any gift you give and showcases your talents in such a fun way!

3 Unique Ways to Package Gift Cards  (GIVEAWAY With Shoe Carnival)

 

(Shoes: Crocs Cap Toe Rhinestone)

Add Our Free Holiday Sparkle

I’m all about the holiday sparkle from attire to the gifts I give. These Crocs Cap Toe Rhinestone shoes add that holiday touch I love with their shiny cap toes and rhinestone embellishment. Did I mention how comfy these are? They are the perfect shoe for any gathering because you can be on your feet for days without any discomfort! I found the same holds true for the Nicole Carleigh Boots I got, thanks to their low and wider heel.

3 Unique Ways to Package Gift Cards  (GIVEAWAY With Shoe Carnival)

Of course, sparkle can also be added to your gift and I wanted to share this fun printable that our designer, MJ from pars caeli, created just for you to add that personal touch to your gift card this year!

(scroll to the bottom for this freebie!)

3 Unique Ways to Package Gift Cards (GIVEAWAY With Shoe Carnival)

 

Shoe Carnival happens to be running a Give 1, Gift 1 Gift Card promotion this week which is perfect timing with our gathering of packaging ideas. If you purchase a $50 gift card, you can receive a $10 bonus reward card that can be redeemed from 12/26-1/16, in-store only.

Be sure to cash in on this incredible promo and I hope you can use a few of our ideas for your gift-giving needs this year!

3 Unique Ways to Package Gift Cards  (GIVEAWAY With Shoe Carnival)

FREEBIES Galore:

FREE Colorful Cute Shoes Fund Envelope

FREE B&W Cute Shoe Funds Envelope

 

Today I am giving away two $50 gift cards to two winners to add a little holiday sparkle from Shoe Carnival for those upcoming holiday festivities!  Follow the instructions below in our Rafflecopter widget to enter.  Good luck and happiest of holidays!

 

*This post is sponsored by Shoe Carnival.  Thank you for supporting the companies that support this site!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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How We Grew Our Site By 4 Million More Page Views This Year

December 18th, 2015

How to Increase Your Page Views from MomAdvice.com

MomAdvice is celebrating her 12th birthday this year. For those of you following along all these years, I can’t thank you enough for your support. It’s this time of the year where I reflect back on my hits and misses with my business in 2015. After going through our traffic numbers from the past two years, we realized we had experienced a growth of 4 million page views since 2014. Our growth has been holding steady around the same figures overall for years now, so this type of growth was very exciting.  This year I really buckled down and got serious about strategy for our business and I believe the growth is a reflection of that.  

Let’s face it, I’m a dinosaur in this business. Young women are joining my field all the time and I struggle with the trying new things because of the reality of my time constraints coupled with the laziness of doing what already works. That said, there were many new things we tried and I’d love to share them with you, if it might help your business in 2016.  My biggest piece of advice is just try one new thing out a month and really look at your numbers. If you are finding it isn’t helping you grow, don’t be afraid to try something else.

Let’s go through the hits that drove the hits (wink, wink!)

How to Increase Your Page Views from MomAdvice.com

I Drove Pinterest Traffic To The Most Popular Posts

As a lifestyle blogger, Pinterest is my biggest driver of traffic to the site.  If you look at your web stats (through Google Analytics or your web host), you can grab a clear picture of what and why people are visiting you from their search terms to the amount of traffic each post is driving.  In the past, I was really focused on the new content I was creating and pinning that, but those weren’t driving the traffic as much. Although that’s important too, my top ten posts are more important for my traffic.

Once I figured out my top ten posts, I promoted these regularly and I utilized Ahalogy to schedule these pins for optimum times when people would be on Pinterest. 

I’ve been a lazy blogger about affiliate revenue, but I started taking that avenue more seriously for building passive revenue to these top ten posts too.  This diy blanket scarf post now offers fabric options that readers can peek at which generates a small amount of revenue that can pay for things like web hosting, my newsletter, or my editorial assistant.

Driving traffic to these posts only required tweaks on existing content (new headers, adding affiliate links, and pointing people back in their direction), and did not require me to create new content.  It helped me get through times when my creative wells had run dry.

How to Increase Your Page Views from MomAdvice.com

I Paired My Passions With an Interview Series

I think any blog can benefit from some type of interview series. Design Mom & Cup of Jo are two great examples of sites that pair thoughtful editorials with a great balance of interview content. I am a big fan of the Living With Kids series and the Beauty Uniform series always yields fun beauty tips and tricks.

Most of all, I appreciate the fact that doing an interview series relieves my shoulders of some of the content creation, although it isn’t without work.

My passion is for books and writers so I created our Sundays With Writers series to interview authors about their books and to share those with our fellow bookworms. They are very popular with our audience and I have a natural place for affiliate links for books that helps support the site financially.

To continue building upon that concept of making the most of every interview, I asked each author about their favorite book of all-time and compiled these recommendations into a single post that is updated weekly for our bookworm readers. This post is also a top post on our site because my readers are always looking for new book recommendations.

The success in this as a traffic driver though has really relied upon my own ability to create unique interview questions. Many of these have taken an hour or more of research to gather nuggets of information about the author and their books to try and create content that is both unique and compelling. This time-investment pays off because the authors and their publishing houses are happy to push traffic my way to help with book sales. These new readers may or may not stick around to find out more, but a seed has been planted that we are a good resource for book recommendations and for the stories behind the stories.

All in all, I feel like this one was a big win and traffic driver this year!

How to Increase Your Page Views from MomAdvice.com

I Worked On Getting the Balance Back

In 2014, I was really focused on financial recovery which sounds kind of funny, but writing a book in 2013 meant that my site really suffered and we took a financial hit. I just couldn’t keep those two balls in the air. 2014 was our most profitable year and, I admit, the least balanced year on the site because I took too many sponsored jobs. This year, I increased my rates and took fewer jobs. Overall, it was a better balance for the site and for me personally.

I worked on more personal posts that were more community-building or that I thought our readers might find interesting. Our 3 little things (something anyone can replicate) is a weekly happy list that shares everything from what we are watching on Netflix to comfortable lingerie.  These posts are a regular reader favorite and are a place where I can inject more of myself in them. I finally felt confident enough to let you tour my home and that seemed to be a big hit this year too.  We also talked (with my son’s permission) about his ADD diagnosis and how we work with him to succeed at school.

My struggle always is building that intimacy while keeping our privacy. As a protective parent and as a person who lives in a small town, I choose to keep the site as personal as I can with a clear line drawn in the sand about the boundaries for personal content. I grappled a lot with sharing the ADD journey, for example, but the outpouring of emails we received after that led me to believe that this personal series was important to share about, simply to let parents know they are not alone.

We joined a new ad network that has increased our revenue considerably, giving me the ability to write more personal pieces and not having to rely so much on sponsored content to pay our bills. That said, sponsored content is still how I earn the majority of my revenue and is necessary to sustain the site. I am very proud of the content I create (you can see my work here although many posts were duplicates this year for our m challenge series) and I try to always only select jobs that add value to my reader’s life.  It means I turn a lot away and that is okay.  An increased rate though allows me to be more selective and also do a better job for my clients because their products can really shine.

I think restoring balance restored our community and contributed to our higher traffic numbers. 

How to Increase Your Page Views from MomAdvice.com

We Got Serious About Our Newsletter

And when I say WE I mean Jami. Jami blogs over at An Oregon Cottage and she works very hard behind the scenes here at MomAdvice. I am an ideas person while she actually executes half the things I think about, but would have never followed through on.  We hired a designer to design a simple template and got serious about newsletter building by offering free printables periodically that would drive newsletter subscribers.  We keep it clean, personal, & useful each week with all of the happenings in one spot.

I never know how social platforms will change. Facebook, a top driver, no longer drives as much for us without putting in considerable funds & effort. This newsletter helps deliver consistent readers who really love the site back to the new offerings. Moving forward, we will continue the consistency (meaning Jami will continue being consistent and I will be dreaming of other ideas) and we will continue develop offerings that make this newsletter useful to you.

How to Increase Your Page Views from MomAdvice.com

I Diversified & I Did Good Stuff With That Money

Dinosaurs have a hard time changing their old ways, but I tried new things this year. I sold an e-book, I taught a course on creativity, I guest spotted on podcasts, I taught myself iVideo, I finally applied to some affiliate programs for things I was already talking about, and I sold my first product through Hazel & Ruby.  All of these projects, in turn, drive unique traffic to the site and some generated profit that we weren’t expecting this year.

All of these funds earned from diversifying the revenue went to charity. We were able to supply courses and materials for women at a local women’s shelter, we supported a non-profit doing great things for cancer patients & their families, we assisted with gift-giving for kids in need, we provided a large donation of gifts of warmth for a men’s shelter, we supplied items needed for a local food pantry & shelter, and we took care of a family in our community that had fallen on hard times. 

I continue to look for ways to diversify the income to benefit those in need. It’s money we never expected and we know all that good stuff will come back to us. My next focus is on building an Etsy shop with 100% profit to Burkina Faso for wells. It’s a dream of mine to give the gift of clean water to many more there.

That Was Great, But I Can Do Better

The misses? Tons! I know I can always do better. Sometimes I wonder if this is what I should be doing. I have dreams of developing something (still stewing on that!)  for those in need, but when I do it, I want to do it very seriously.  For now, I’m just using this as a vehicle for creativity, connections, and causes.

2016 will be all about continuing to work smarter and not harder. My first goal is to produce an ebook on our journey towards minimizing. I have much to say about our journey. I also have a big dream to publish a cookbook/memoir that I think would sell really well. The concept feels concrete, it’s the doing that is the hard part for me.  January will be about making these things come to life and continuing to be open to the possibility of new projects and new ways to diversify.

how-to-increase-your-page-views

Have questions? Ask me and I promise to try to be as honest as possible! Have tips for growth? I need ‘em!