It’s the 3 Little Things: Ramen, Proper Form, & the Scientology Scoop

December 16th, 2016

love-actually

We have a weekend filled with holiday celebrations with our family and friends over the next few days!  We are praying for the roads to be less treacherous than our last trip, but the weather reports are looking a little rough this week.

Not to mention, I am not sure if I will ever be warm again.

Prepare for a winter of whines about cold temperatures.

Hey, is Love Actually one of your favorite holiday films too? I invited my neighbor over (PAJAMAS REQUIRED) to indulge in this holiday classic with me and we had the best time.

Okay, this is an embarrassingly funny story.

We have been neighbors for eight years and haven’t hung out until this year.

WHY?

I have no clue, but this goes to show that it is NEVER too late to love your neighbors.

It turns out, she’s into books, NPR, Indian food, and independent films just like me!

Seriously, why did we wait so long?

Maybe think about the people who are living near you and see if you can form an unexpected friendship too! It’s the best, even if we did wait eight years to figure it out!

Here are a few other things that are making me happy today!

Lotus Foods Gluten-Free Ramen Noodles

Gluten-Free Ramen is THE BOMB!

OMG! Ramen is such a guilty pleasure food for me and I haven’t had it in years, thanks to this gluten-free lifestyle! A few of my friends started posting about this gluten-free ramen deliciousness and I begged my bestie to snag a bag of it for me from Costco. If you love ramen, but hate the preservatives/high sodium or are rocking the gluten-free life too, these gluten-free ramen noodles from Lotus Foods are so good, you won’t even know you are missing anything.

Unfortunately, it was a seasonal item at Costco, but I do know that they had them at Target too. Amazon has several different flavorings offers and they all look absolutely delicious.

There is nothing more comforting than a big bowl of noodles in the winter so this has made me awfully happy this winter!

Fellowes Standard Foot Rest

A Place to Prop My Feet

I spend a good deal of time at my computer and even though I have a great chair, being petite means my feet aren’t always in great proper placement. I got this no-frills foot rest (you can certainly splurge for one that is higher end!) and I have it under my desk to help give my feet a place to rest and to get my body in a better alignment while working. I can’t believe what a difference it has made on how my back and knees feel at the end of the day.

It is one of those little things that makes a huge difference in my comfort levels while working!

leah-remini-scientology-tv-show

Fascinating Documentary Series

Have you heard about the new A&E Leah Remini: Scientology & the Aftermath series that is airing? It kept popping up in my newsfeed so while I was waiting around for a plumbing estimate (the glamourous life I lead!), I decided to watch the first episode…then the second episode…then the third episode. This is one of the most fascinating documentaries I have watched on this religion, a religion that I knew very little about.  This is an eight-part documentary series which explores allegations of abuse, lies and sexual misconduct within the church that Leah and many of the other leaders experienced during their time there.

In a statement issued by A&E, Remini explained the purpose of her series. She said that she hoped to “shed light on information that makes the world aware of what is really going on and encourages others to speak up so the abuses can be ended forever.”

I am looking forward to watching the rest of the episodes in this series and wondered if you had caught it too?

3-ingredient Instant Pot Ribs

Eating: Instant Pot Ribs on repeat! OMG! If you bought one of these gadgets, you must give this recipe a try!



Loving: Mad love for Bruno, meowing revenge (LOL!), this Chris Pratt prank is hilarious, & I need to make a Wreath Witherspoon for our door (so cute!)!!

Reading: This incredible book that I read about on NPR. It is so beautifully written and I happen to think that cover is exquisite too! Have you read it?

shake-shack-2

Happy Fri-yay!

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

Quick Reads to Reach Those Reading Goals

December 15th, 2016

Quick Reads to Reach Those Reading Goals from MomAdvice.com

One of my favorite things about GoodReads is the ability to set and track your reading goals for the year! I was chatting online with a friend and she mentioned she was really determined to reach her reading goal in these next two weeks. I sent her a quick list of books that she could easily binge on in these final weeks to seal that goal.

goodreads

It got me thinking that I should probably be sharing that list with you here too.

Who couldn’t use a little escape from the stresses of the SNOW (OVER IT!), COLD (OVER IT!), and holiday craziness (ARE WE DONE YET? DID WE DO ALL THE THINGS? IS EVERYONE HAPPY? CAN I HIBERNATE FOR THE REST OF THE WINTER NOW? WHY DON’T I HAVE A BETTER ATTITUDE?)

I typically take a hiatus over the holidays so I will be sharing what I read this month next week , as well as my annual top ten list of best books too. Hopefully, these three posts will help you as you work towards your own goals this year.

Quick Reads to Binge On To Hit Those Reading Goals

Fast Paced Thrillers

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

Leonora, a reclusive writer, receives a surprise invitation from an old friend inviting to her to a weekend away as one last hurrah before she gets married. Set in a glass house in the woods, the four acquaintances share revelations and begin to realize their party is not alone. Forty-eight hours later, Leonora (Nora) awakes in a hospital bed knowing that someone is dead. Nora desperately tries to piece together what happened, forcing her to revisit times in her past that she would rather leave buried.

I’m pretty picky when it comes to thrillers and this one delivers beautifully.  The pacing is perfect and reads like a great whodunit mystery. Enjoy the ride and then get ready to see this one brought to life on the big screen by Reese Witherspoon’s production team.

Check out my interview with Ruth when you are done with this awesome thriller!

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapeña

I am a sucker for a good thriller and The Couple Next Door was a really incredible keep-you-up-past-your-bedtime read. The story revolves around parents that are invited to a birthday celebration party with requests that children not attend. When their babysitter cancels, they decide to still attend the party at the neighboring brownstone, leave the baby sleeping in the crib, with an agreement to take turns checking on the baby every half hour. When they check in, later in the evening though, they find the crib empty and the baby is nowhere to be found. The reader is taken on twist after twist as the couple tries to find their baby and the motive behind it.

I was surprised the book opens right away with the baby going missing and wondered how the story would ever build out from there when such a big part of the plot happens in the opening chapter. The author crafts plausible (and not so plausible) twists though that takes you on a wild rollercoaster ride with these parents. Just the discussion alone of whether or not the couple should have left their baby would make a great one for book club discussions.

This one brings all the twists and builds great tension. This one is worthy of a reading binge-and I consumed it in a mere 24 hours!  I just loved it!

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

Disclaimer, disclaimer, disclaimer- do not read if you cannot handle graphic sexual abuse or violence against women!

More than twenty years ago, Claire and Lydia’s teenaged sister Julia vanished without a trace. The two women have not spoken since, and now their lives could not be more different. Claire is the glamorous trophy wife of an Atlanta millionaire. Lydia, a single mother, dates an ex-con and struggles to make ends meet. But neither has recovered from the horror and heartbreak of their shared loss—a devastating wound that’s cruelly ripped open when Claire’s husband is killed.

The disappearance of a teenage girl and the murder of a middle-aged man, almost a quarter-century apart: what could connect them? Forming a wary truce, the surviving sisters look to the past to find the truth, unearthing the secrets that destroyed their family all those years ago . . . and uncovering the possibility of redemption, and revenge, where they least expect it.

As a lover of horror films and fiction, I can say that this book is the first book that has absolutely terrified me and kept me up at with nightmares at night…and I loved it. Slaughter perfectly crafts each character so well that it is as though you are watching a film. Dark, psychologically twisted, evil, and graphic, the tale is gruesome and horrific and kept me on the absolute edge of my seat from the opening page. Fans of Gillian Flynn will appreciate this twisted thriller, but be prepared for the nightmares…they will be coming!

Defending Jacob by William Landay

Defending Jacob by William Landay

I am  not interested in legal thrillers, but my girlfriend recommended this book to me and I am so thankful she did. This is one of the best thrillers I have read since Before I Go to Sleep, and left me hanging on the edge of my seat for the entire book.

Andy Barber has been a district attorney for over twenty years. He is well respected and knows how to command the courtroom. When a murder happens at his son’s school, he is among the first on the scene and is ready to help bring vindication to the murderer.

What Andy never suspects is that his own son is the one who is charged with the murder. Andy is removed from the case when all clues begin to point towards his son. Andy doesn’t want to believe that his son could commit such a heinous crime, but as mounting evidence points towards Jacob, he is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Does he hide the evidence he finds that he knows that the police might be after or let the justice system decide the fate of his child?

Part family drama, part thriller, I could not put this book down. My heart ached for this family who is now ostracized from their friends and coworkers, while the other part of me ached that Jacob would be proven guilty of the crime. The reader will be taken on a wild ride from start to finish with this book. It is a twisty ending that will leave you breathless.

Whatever you do, add this deeply moving book to your list. I highly recommend this read for book clubs because it gives readers a chance to think what they might do to protect their child.

Editor’s Note: This book contains violence and graphic language.

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

If you are in a reading slump, this should pull you right on out. Behind Closed Doors will go down as my top thriller this year because of this tightly woven and finely crafted story.  I read this one in almost a single sitting and the author does not waste a single page from start to finish while building a plot that will send chills down your spine. This twisted tale is so vividly told that it is as though you are reading a movie with characters that are incredibly well-developed they practically lift off the pages.

I don’t want to give very much away because half of the fun is the discovery of what is actually going on behind these closed doors. A perfect marriage though is rarely what it seems and Jack & Grace are the perfect example of a marriage that looks beautiful on the outside, but is far different on the inside. From page one, you realize the cat-and-mouse game that Grace is in and the reader is pulled along from the first day that they met, giving you a chance to witness a rather unique marriage in a chilling way.

Just know that if you pick this one up, you are going to have a very hard time putting it down. I would recommend a weekend of binge-reading with this for a fantastic holiday escape! Please know that this one is DARK so if you prefer to keep your thrillers in the lighter mystery category, you might need to skip this intense read.

Easy Breezy Chick Lit

One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid

One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I find Reid’s writing to be just the right amount of heart with just the right amount of reality and her storytelling truly shines in this beautiful story of loves found and lost. When Emma’s husband dies in a helicopter crash, she is left to rebuild her life without her high school sweetheart and you feel that devastation through Reid’s words. After years of sadness though, she finds love again with an old high school friend and begins to find that happiness she has been missing. Just before her wedding though she receives a call that her husband, Jesse, is still alive and coming home to be with her again.

A heart aching love triangle is formed and Emma must choose between the man she loved and lost or the new love of her life. I couldn’t put this one down and read it in less than a day! Check out an interview I did with Taylor in our Sundays With Writers series as she discusses her ability to write such believable and beautiful love stories!

A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan

A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan

I could not put this book book down! 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.

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 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. 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!

You can read our interview with Elisabeth Egan this month in our Sundays With Writers series!  I can’t recommend this book enough!

Arranged by Catherine McKenzie

Arranged by Catherine McKenzie

Anne Blythe seems to have everything. She has sold her first book, has a fabulous life, and fabulous friends. When it comes to being lucky in love though, she can’t seem to ever find the right guy. novel. After her best friend announces her engagement and her latest relationship ends, she decides to take a risk and contact a dating service in hopes of finding the perfect match. Upon her first appointment with the dating service though, she realizes that it is not a dating service at all, but a matchmaking service for an arranged marriage.

Once she starts the process, there is no turning back and Anne finds herself traveling to a Mexican resort where she will meet and marry (all in the same weekend) her “perfect,” guy.

This book has great twists and turns that you will really enjoy and after devouring this book in a mere day, I can’t recommend it enough for a fun reading escape!

Meaningful Short Books

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

“The main message of Jesus, I believed, is that mercy trumps justice every time,”- Paul Kalanithi

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.

This book is an incredibly moving story of the fragility of life and death told through Paul’s incredible medical career working as a neurosurgeon and then as a patient facing the end of his own life. Even after a cancer diagnosis, his ability to train and put his own needs aside while still working tirelessly in an operating room are nothing short of miraculous and his words echo the poetic strength of a life well lived.

Lucy’s closing to the book brings it all together in such a beautiful and memorable way that reminds us that all we should ever strive for in our life is to be and give unconditional love.

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

This was an absolutely beautiful story about what it would be like to come to America as an immigrant. Told from alternating viewpoints all from immigrant neighbors in one apartment complex, it gives the reader the opportunity to see America through an immigrant’s eyes. From struggling to make ends to meet, to the struggle to communicate, to finding a job, to sending your child off to school, to the sacrifices that are made when leaving your own country for something you believe will be better than the life you are leading- it looks at it all through new eyes.

The story hinges around two sets of parents who have sacrificed everything for their kids and the blooming love between their children in a beautiful coming-of-age story. Honest, human, and so moving. A must-read this year.

Read our interview with Cristina Henriquez to learn more about the immigrant stories that inspired this book!

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

If you haven’t read it yet, it is an absolutely incredible novel and offers a new take on a pandemic world captured through the storytelling of a Hollywood actor and a band of traveling actors that risk it all to perform their art during a flu apocalypse. The storytelling jumps and weaves through time making it a treat to read from start to finish about what life was like before and after a fatal flu strikes the country.

Masterfully woven characters, particularly with the use of the three wives in Arthur’s life, the author brings these stories together in a way that makes you feel like you know each character.

I’ve both read and listened to this one on audiobook and they are both a wonderful way to squeeze in this beautiful read!

Fast-Paced Historical Fiction

A Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable

A Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable

A Paris Apartment is a  fun summer historical fiction escape to Paris alternating between present day and the past.  It centers around, April, a furniture specialist with Sothebys,  & diary entries from the late 1800’s & 1900’s of Marthe de Florian. It weaves a beautiful story around a Paris apartment that had been shuttered for 70 years and the what lies behind the treasures in her apartment, including the relationship between her & the famous painter Giovanni Boldini, told through these diary entries.

As April becomes more & more fascinated with this woman through her diary, she increasingly becomes unsure if she wants to return to her own life back in the states or to continue living her own life in Paris, caught in the beauty of Paris and the escape from her own difficult marriage.

I would say that it is just enough fluff to pack in your beach bag and enough meat to enjoy reading the backstory on Marthe after closing those final pages. Read my interview with Michelle about her incredible debut novel.

The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman

The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman

The Two-Family House is a sweet literary escape telling the story of brothers living in a two-family house in Brooklyn in the ‘40’s. While the men are away to work, in the midst of a winter storm, both of their wives go into labor and end up delivering their babies at home, thanks to one determined midwife. It’s the birth of these two babies that begins to threaten and unravel the two families, particularly their mothers, as they carry around a family secret that begins to impact them all.

A strong debut novel rich with characters and the raw emotional impact of family secrets, it is one that you will be unable to put down, and a storyline rich with lots to chat about for book clubs. If you prefer character-driven stories, this book is for you!

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

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

Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner

Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner

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.

Binge-Worthy Literary Fiction

The Storied 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. If you need a little winter escape, check this book out. I may just read it again, it was that simply that perfect.

  Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave

Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave

One of my friends is a librarian (Hi, Pam!) and she said Eight Hundred Grapes had been one of her favorite summer reads. I listened to this book on audiobook and couldn’t agree with her more.

The book opens with Georgia sitting in her brother’s bar in a wedding gown. She hasn’t gotten married, but witnesses her fiancée in a moment on the street that rocks her world. Returning home to figure things out, she is shocked to discover that, not only did her fiancée have a big secret, but her entire family has been keeping secrets from her. Her parent’s marriage is failing, her mother is dating, her brothers are involved in a love triangle, and their family winery is in the process of being sold. Yeah, a lot has changed.

This story is part storytelling of how these relationships began, part understanding how wine is really made, and part family drama.

This was a fun little escape and I really enjoyed the audiobook of this one!

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Everyone has been telling me to read this book and I kept putting it off. Why in the world would I read a book about a grumpy old man? Welp. You guys were right. This book was incredible!

Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon, the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him the bitter neighbor from hell, but must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.

This is the most beautiful fictional book on aging that I have ever read. It really served as a reminder to me how we all have things that happen to us that shape us as we get older and how we often neglect to listen to those layered stories of our elders. I laughed and cried over this sweet story of Ove & the stray cat that claimed him.

The touching story of his beautiful bride and the difficulties of seeing your friends age and forget you just really pulled at my heartstrings.

Beautifully written supporting characters in the neighborhood just brought the whole story together for me and rounded out the beauty of finding “home.” I wish I could give this more stars than five because I would!

The Assistants by Camille Perri

The Assistants by Camille Perri

Tina Fontana works for the head honcho at her company who is swimming in money. When a technical error occurs with an expense report, Tina uses it to her advantage to pay off her student loan debt…to the tune of $20K.

Only one problem though… other people in the office have been noticing and want their loans paid off too.  More people become involved, more money is funneled, more loans paid, and more stress that Tina will get busted.

Imagine a Robin Hood story, but with a modern twist. This book is just the medicine for anyone who has struggled with student loan debt (raises hand high!). I love this book so much and found the ending to be pure perfection. It certainly was the sweetest literary escape this month for me!

The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin

The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin

If you are a regular reader on the blog, you know I have talked, and talked, and talked about this book. What I want to say is that you should only read my brief description below and go into this one without knowing anything. It will make the book so much more enjoyable- I promise.

This book reads a bit like a mystery as you try to solve the puzzle of a child’s unusual first years of life. The story intertwines with a doctor nearing the end of his career due to a deadly diagnosis and he could be the only one who could make Noah and his mother’s life better. What Noah is suffering from is beyond what any parent could comprehend.

Gripping, thought provoking, and and an excellent pick for any book club!

After you are done reading it, you can read my interview with Sharon Guskin as we discuss her debut novel. It’s a REALLY interesting interview and it gave me a lot to think about!

Quick & Sweet YA Lit

Mosquitoland by David Arnold

Mosquitoland by David Arnold

I am big on quirky characters and I’m also big on coming-of-age adventures and Mosquitoland now tops my list of incredible YA debuts with this heartfelt story of an oddly charming girl, named Mim,  who runs away from home and takes a Greyhound bus to be reunited with her mother.

After the sudden collapse of her family, Mim Malone is dragged from her home in northern Ohio to the “wastelands” of Mississippi, where she lives in a medicated milieu with her dad and new stepmom. Before the dust has a chance to settle, she learns her mother is sick back in Cleveland.

So she ditches her new life and hops aboard a northbound Greyhound bus to her real home and her real mother, meeting a quirky cast of fellow travelers along the way. But when her thousand-mile journey takes a few turns she could never see coming, Mim must confront her own demons, redefining her notions of love, loyalty, and what it means to be sane.

I really began to fall in love with all of these well-crafted characters that Arnold created in this charming book. Each character that she encounters comes with his own set of quirky oddities as Mim’s bus ends up making an unexpected detour and she ends up on a road trip with two unlikely friends in search of her mom. I really loved this one!

I am recommending this one for fans of Eleanor & Park and All the Bright Places. Be sure to read my interview with David Arnold about the story behind this story (and the surprising spot he crafted it!) in our Sundays With Writers series.

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

Please, please, please read this and come back and tell me what you think! This book is about three unlikely friends growing up in the rural South that are all fighting demons of their own.

Dill’s father is a Pentecostal preacher, known for his snake charming church, that becomes part of a town scandal that has left his family open to scrutiny and struggling financially. Travis is obsessed with a book series called Bloodfall that helps him escape into another reality away from his abusive father. And Lydia is a blogger ready to start a new life in New York while struggling to leave behind what is familiar and those she loves.

These three unlikely people bond together and end up facing a struggle none of them could have ever predicted.  This friendship is beautifully woven with humor and heart. I could not put this book down and read it in a single day.

Be sure to check out my interview with Jeff about this book. Want a fun fact? He wrote the book on his iPhone!

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

eleanor & park by rainbow rowell

Eleanor just doesn’t fit in with her peers, wild hair and patchwork outfits, do not seem to help her blend in better. When she is forced to choose a seat on the bus she ends up sitting next to Park, a quiet kid who is obsessed with comic books and an outsider himself.
When Park notices that Eleanor is reading his comic books over his shoulders, he starts sharing them with her, which later develops into a sharing of great mixed music tapes, and then develops into more than either of them can imagine.
Set in 1986, this book made me laugh out loud and made me cry. Eleanor is one of those quirky characters that you just can’t help rooting for. Although this is written for young adults, anyone who ever survived those awful days of high school will love this book.
Quick Reads to Reach Those Reading Goals from MomAdvice.com

What is a book that you found quick and satisfying that would help someone reach their goals? Speaking of those goals, where are you at right now on your goals so I can cheer you on!! Looking for more great 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.

Word of Mouse (BOOK GIVEAWAY With a $50 Visa Gift Card!!)

December 14th, 2016

Word of Mouse for Middle Grade Kids from MomAdvice.com

This post was created in partnership with Jimmy Patterson Books. Thank you for supporting the companies that support our site! 

It should come as no surprise that when I was a kid, I was crazy about reading. There was nothing I looked forward to more than library day, spent curled up in an aisle with my nose in a book. I adored Beverly Clearly and the shenanigans of Ramona Quimby or those exciting adventures with Ralph & his motorcycle.  The books were wholesome and had fun illustrations that helped bring to life the stories that I had in my head. In fact, they were so memorably illustrated, I can still recall the words and pictures that I saw from all those years ago.

Good quality middle grade books with that charm and innocence have often been a challenge for our family. I long for my daughter to have the same sweet experiences that I have recalling those adventurous stories with good messages. I have relied a lot on the books of my own youth to share with her, but I am always on the hunt for new books that offer this kind of promise and messaging that so many of my own books had.

Word of Mouse for Middle Grade Kids from MomAdvice.com

Word of Mouse for Middle Grade Kids from MomAdvice.com

Word of Mouse for Middle Grade Kids from MomAdvice.com

That’s why I am so excited to share about a new book that came out this week called, Word of Mousethat I believe has all of that old-school charm with thoughtful messages from a rather familiar author. As a reader, I’m sure you have heard of James Patterson, but you might not know about all the good books he is trying to put out in the world for kids! He happens to be a tireless champion for the power of books and reading. In fact, he has created a new children’s book imprint, JIMMY Patterson, with a very simple mission: “We want every kid who finishes a JIMMY Book to say, ‘PLEASE GIVE ME ANOTHER BOOK.'”

This sweet story, written by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein,  is about a blue mouse named Isaiah who has the ability to communicate and feel the same things as humans. He goes on a mission to rescue his mouse family and finds a clever assistant in a sweet girl named Hailey. As they partner together to help save Isaiah’s family, they find the beauty in true friendship together that transcends their own differences.

Each chapter begins with a quote from Isaiah that offers thoughtful advice for your middle grade reader to chew on.

One of the quotes we loved was, “Those who give have everything. Those who don’t have nothing at all.” 

Word of Mouse for Middle Grade Kids from MomAdvice.com

Word of Mouse for Middle Grade Kids from MomAdvice.com

We love giving to others and the happiness that comes from sharing what we have with those in need.  We all have taken up new projects this year that help benefit our community. The kids loved participating in a community project with their school to rake the yards of homes that surrounded their school’s campus. We ring bells for the Salvation Army through our church each holiday season. I picked up a weekly gig stocking and organizing food pantry shelves. I got the chance to help serve a holiday feast at a local women and children’s shelter this year.

Do you know how much this cost us?

Zero.

Do you know how much we get back?

An immeasurable amount.

It builds awareness for all the needs we could help meet.

It also builds awareness for the blessings we have.

These are the messages I like to see in the pages of my kid’s books and that is why I’m very proud to share about this new book with you.  This book is geared towards readers ages 8-12 and is beautifully illustrated by Joe Sutphin.

Today I get to host a fun giveaway where one lucky winner will receive a copy of Word of Mouse as well as a $50 Visa Gift Card! Please follow the rules in the widget below for entry!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thanks so much for entering and best of luck to each of you! To learn more about Word of Mouse, the author, and JIMMY Patterson Books, check out these links:

Word of Mouse

Visit JamesPatterson.com

Follow JIMMY Patterson Books on Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

Follow James Patterson on Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

Word of Mouse for Middle Grade Kids from MomAdvice.com

This post was created in partnership with Jimmy Patterson Books. Thank you for supporting the companies that support our site! 

 

Amy’s Notebook 12.14.16

December 14th, 2016

Slow Cooker Mediterranean Casserole source: foodie crush

I’m dying to make this slow cooker mediterranean casserole for a Christmas morning treat!

Packaging a book like this would certainly make the gift even more special for a bookworm.

I can’t wait to try this Japanese gift wrapping technique!

Whoa, over 55,000 of you viewed this recipe this week. I hope you are making loads of these for your gluten-free friends just trying to get through the holidays!

I love these ideas for small scale holiday decorating!

I do love a good book cover!

This is such a great reminder that mental strength often comes from the things you DON’T do.

If you need an escape from the holiday craziness, this book has me in stitches this week! I’m surprised by the negative reviews- it’s been a relatable, quirky, and light read for me.

Christmas Paper Office Decorations

source: the house that lars built

Absolutely wowed by what one ream of paper can do to make an office feel festive.

I love twinkle lights, don’t you?

These Union Square Cafe Bar Nuts look like a great holiday gift to share!

Pantone’s color of the year is getting a mixed reception. What do you think?

This slow cooker chicken and wild rice soup is going on this week’s menu plan!

Free Customizable Gift Tags from Our Best Bites

source: our best bites

Aren’t these gift tags gorgeous? Best part? Customizable to your packaging- yay!

Yes, the pajama drawer has gotten waayyy out of hand.

Are you guys picking up a new hobby too? This happened to be your top purchase this week. Can you help teach me?

I’m going to be making a birthday cake next week for my little girl. What a beautiful reminder of all that it stands for!

This slow cooker fudge recipe would be a great gift to share this year.

I love to read my friend’s favorite books of the year. Stay tuned for mine!

This list of board games for a crowd had some great picks that I haven’t heard of before!

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! Please note, there are affiliate links that do help support our site- thank you! xoxo

3-Ingredient Instant Pot Ribs

December 13th, 2016

3-Ingredient Instant Pot Ribs from MomAdvice.com

I have heard from so many of you that you are so excited about your new Instant Pot purchases for the holidays, but are also feeling a little perplexed about what to do with that gadget you just scored.  I remember feeling the same way when I got mine and now that I’ve been enjoying it for the last few months, I can honestly say that it has saved us a bundle on dining out thanks to its speedy cooking.

In fact, it has helped me feel more confident taking on dishes that I normally would never try, whether it is because of time constraints or complete intimidation, allowing for a lot more variety in our rather tired menu plan that had I had been executing month after month.

Of all the dishes that we have made in our pressure cooker, I must say that the biggest hit has been these easy 3-ingredient ribs that you can make in your Instant Pot. Ribs are something I have often thought of adding to our menu plan, but I just didn’t think they could ever taste as good as what we would get out in restaurants especially on a busy weeknight. I must say though,  these ribs are BETTER than many restaurants we have been to and are fall-off-the-bone tender every single time.

3-Ingredient Instant Pot Ribs from MomAdvice.com 3-Ingredient Instant Pot Ribs from MomAdvice.com

I have done a rack of Baby Back Ribs in my 6-quart Instant Pot and I have even been able to fit up to two racks in this size cooker without any trouble, although it is a much tighter squeeze than a single rack. Cut your ribs into thirds so you can fit them in comfortably.  Add a cup of beef broth in your cooker and put your steaming rack inside (that little rack that came with your cooker!). Season your ribs generously with salt and pepper and place these on top of the steaming rack.

Lock that baby up, press the meat button on the front, and adjust the timer to 30 minutes.

3-Ingredient Instant Pot Ribs from MomAdvice.com

While the ribs are cooking, line a cookie sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray. In a small bowl, pour in your favorite barbecue sauce for brushing.  This one is always a Clark favorite from the supermarket, but I’d love to hear if you think there are any others we should try!

After the Instant Pot beeps, do a quick release on that valve on the top.

Don’t know what a quick release is?

No problem!

This just means that you are going to move your valve from Sealed to Venting and allow all that steam to come out quickly instead of letting it release pressure on its own. It is going to REALLY steam so make sure you are prepared for that and keep it away from your cabinets, face, and hands. Also don’t scream because you will want to the first time. It’s terrifying.

Ain't Nobody Got Time For That

 

Almost all the recipes I do usually say to do this Quick Release method, rather than a Natural Pressure Release, where you sit around just waiting and letting that pressure to come down on its own which can take on up to 30 minutes.

Ain’t nobody got time for that. We already had to wait for the pressure to build, people, we can’t sit around waiting for the pressure in this gadget to subside. We are BUSY!

After the pressure has released, remove the lid and carefully take out those ribs with a pair of tongs and place them on your lined cookie sheet. Starting with the back of the rib, brush them each generously with sauce.

Turn on your broiler on your oven and slide the ribs in for 3-4 minutes, watching them carefully so they don’t burn.

Flip them over, and repeat with the other side of the ribs.

Finish by cutting them into sections and serving with additional barbecue sauce.

3-Ingredient Instant Pot Ribs from MomAdvice.com

HELLO, HEAVEN! These are SUCH A HIT at our house and I’m guessing they will be a hit at yours too. Keep in mind, if you are new to the Instant Pot cult (totally a thing!), that it takes awhile for these to come to pressure so give yourself a 20-25 minute allowance before that stated 30-minute cooking time I’m sharing.

We have loved these so much that they have become the new birthday request and we even took a couple of racks of these and my Instant Pot on vacation so we could enjoy this yummy treat while we were renting our beach house on break. I now make it a regular habit to keep my eyes peeled in our grocery flier for any sales on racks of ribs to keep stocked in our freezer.

I hope to share many more recipes in the upcoming weeks with you! If you are on the hunt for great cookbooks to make the most of your Instant Pot this one, this one, and this one are all excellent books for a newbie Instant Pot cult member (totally a thing- I’m serious!).

I can’t wait to hear what you think of these 3-ingredient Instant Pot Ribs!

3-Ingredient Instant Pot Ribs from MomAdvice.com

3-Ingredient Instant Pot Ribs
Recipe type: Instant Pot
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4-6 servings
 
These ribs are fall-off-the-bone tender and can be prepared with your favorite barbecue sauce. These are just one (of many) reasons to get an Instant Pot.
Ingredients
  • 1 or 2 racks of pork baby back ribs
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • Barbecue Sauce
Instructions
  1. Cut the racks of ribs into thirds and season generously with salt and pepper. (Note- if you prefer to add a rub on your ribs, this is where you would do that!)
  2. Pour beef broth in the bottom of the pot, place the steaming rack inside, and put the seasoned ribs on top.
  3. Lock the lid, select the Meat function, and set timer for 30 minutes.
  4. Quick release your valve after the timer beeps and remove the ribs from the cooker. Place on a foil-lined cookie sheet (prepared with cooking spray) and brush on your barbecue sauce on the back side of the ribs.
  5. Broil the ribs for 3-4 minutes (watching carefully to prevent charring), flip the ribs over and brush the other side with barbecue sauce. Broil that side again for 3-4 minutes. Place on platter and serve with additional barbecue sauce on the side.

 

Don’t forget to check out my first recipe Instant Pot Korean Street Tacos for another fun weeknight meal! What is your favorite thing to create in your Instant Pot?

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

 

 

Kid Crafts: Easy Techniques for Painting Gift Wrap

December 12th, 2016

Easy Techniques for Painting Gift Wrap from MomAdvice.com

This post was created in partnership with Waverly Inspirations. Thank you for supporting the companies that support our site! 

You may recall that last year I decided to buy a lifetime of kraft paper for wrapping our holiday gifts. It should come as no surprise that we are still using this giant roll of gift wrap in our house. I have found it is a useful item to have on hand, for all of life’s occasions,  and there is so much that you can do with kraft paper to make your gifts unique.

I also consider pretty gifts to be part of the decorating so it thrills me to come up with new ways to use the same paper each year. I love these gorgeous detail under the tree.

As a crafter, I really never got into acrylic paints until this year. It has been so much fun trying new crafts with these fun paints. I love discovering something that I have walked by for years in the craft aisle and finding my own uses for them!

Today  I wanted to come up with some creative ideas to get kids on the action of decorating the paper as a fun winter craft. I love screen-free activities with them so I thought this would be a fun one that you could have them create, even after the holiday season.

There are so many beautiful hues that you could mix and match any hue that you like. I have a big crush on a metallic Rose this year so I am demonstrating this craft with Waverly Inspirations Metallic & Glitter paint offerings in Rose Quartz (in the Metallic) and Rose Gold (in the Glitter paints!) for a pretty modern look.

Easy Techniques for Painting Gift Wrap from MomAdvice.com

 

3 Fun Painting Projects for Kids to DIY Your Gift Wrap

Easy Techniques for Painting Gift Wrap from MomAdvice.com

Supplies Needed (all of these supplies can be found at Walmart!)

kraft paper

Rubber Stamps

Small Ornaments (just the inexpensive ones that come in a tube!)

Waverly Inspirations Ribbon

Waverly Glitter & Metallic Paints (in stores)

Paint Brush

Plastic Cups, Bowls, or a Plate for Paints

Directions for Fun Painting Techniques

Make sure to cut off a section that will be generous enough to cover at least one gift.

Easy Techniques for Painting Gift Wrap from MomAdvice.com

Easy Techniques for Painting Gift Wrap from MomAdvice.com

Stamp Your Paper

Pour a small amount of your paint into a disposable cup, plate, or bowl. Using your paintbrush, brush the paint on in an even layer and then place stamp down and pull directly up to try to get as clean of a design as possible. Repeat across the paper or combine this with other designs for more variety. You want to use the Waverly Inspirations Metallic Paints with this technique because the glitter paint doesn’t create that clean image like the metallic paint.

If you don’t have rubber stamps in your craft supplies, you can use odds and ends around your home for stamping. Shapes can be cut into the ends of potatoes, you can cut up sponges into shapes, the eraser end of  a pencil can make adorable polka dots, the edge of a disposable cup can create rings, or a cork could create a dotted technique. This is a great opportunity for your child to explore painting in fun ways.

Easy Techniques for Painting Gift Wrap from MomAdvice.com

Easy Techniques for Painting Gift Wrap from MomAdvice.com

Create Glittered Swirls

If your child lacks the eye-hand coordination for stamping, give them a paintbrush and let them add swirls to the paper.  Paint strokes are layered in glitter thanks this fun glitter paint. I found with this one, it was best to have a fully loaded brush to bring out both the color and the glitter. Repeat your swirls throughout the paper or have your child come up with their own abstract design.

Easy Techniques for Painting Gift Wrap from MomAdvice.com

Easy Techniques for Painting Gift Wrap from MomAdvice.com

Easy Techniques for Painting Gift Wrap from MomAdvice.com

Add Painted Embellishments

Acrylic paints are so fun and make many inexpensive items look high end with modern color choices. Inexpensive ornaments can be painted in coordinating colors and tied on with string to your package. While the rubber stamps are out, stamp up your own diy gift cards on white cardstock and trim with ric-rac scissors or put your own creative spin on the tags. Finish your gift with a beautiful bow.

Easy Techniques for Painting Gift Wrap from MomAdvice.com
Easy Techniques for Painting Gift Wrap from MomAdvice.com

how-to-decorate-gift-wrap-with-acrylic-paints-4864

I hope your kiddos enjoy this boredom buster! I am the queen of craft stockpiling so I have tons of paints, ornaments, and gift wrap (BOY, DO I HAVE GIFT WRAP!) to keep the kids busy on our next snow day.

Do you want more craft inspiration from Waverly? Try these!

DIY No-Sew Reversible Chair Cushions

Fabric Wreath & Matching Garland

Fabric Bulletin Board Tutorial

Painting Pumpkins With Acrylic Paints

DIY No-Sew Hand Warmers

DIY Ottoman Serving Tray

15-Minute Scrappy Fabric Trees

This post was created in partnership with Waverly Inspirations. Thank you for supporting the companies that support our site! 

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Small-Budget Crushes 12.11.16

December 11th, 2016

Notre Dame Wine Glass

notre dame wine glass (pick a map of your own!)

Cozy Parka Jacket

cozy parka jacket

Jane Austen Books

jane austen books

Jensen Turntable With Radio

jensen turntable with radio (perfect for NPR in the morning!)

Weaving Loom Kit

weaving loom kit

fantastic cities coloring book

fantastic cities coloring book

fair isle sweater

fair isle sweater

library card socks

library card socks

On Your Bust Behavior

on your bust behavior

alexander hamilton book bag

hamilton book bag

Keep on window shopping by visiting all of my Small-Budget Crushes. This post contains affiliate links that help our site! Thank you for supporting me! xoxo 

It’s the 3 Little Things: Cozy Pants, Cushy Slippers, & Christmas Tunes

December 9th, 2016

Advent Calendar Wreath

I caught some wretched bug that’s been going around so most of this week has been spent in my pajamas trying to kick this sickness to the curb. It is also the kind of week where the car breaks down,  the iPhone display screen shatters, and the house is a wreck.

Wait a minute. You came here for a happy list…..

Here is that silver lining for you! Somehow I’ve powered through all of it as I close on the last couple of hundred pages of one of my new favorite reads (the writing is just epic!), listening to this beautiful (and heart wrenching!) book on audio while I catch up on laundry from our trip,  and finishing the American Horror Story Hotel season (guilty pleasure, indeed!) on my iPad.

I also slept for a six hour stretch while my kids were at school.

LIVING THE DREAM!

The kids are loving working through our advent calendar. Since we have such a wee home with few walls, I am always trying to get inventive with holiday decorations and displays. We clipped these on our holiday wreath and the kids open it over our evening meal. We ALL are learning a lot!

I have big plans this weekend to tackle the holiday wrapping, sneak in a board game or two, ringing bells for Salvation Army, and then treating our kiddos to the holiday lights with Steak ‘N Shake Peppermint Shakes (a favorite tradition!). Let’s hope this is the last of day of feeling like garbage!!

Here are three other things that are really making me happy this week.

Fleece Pajama Pants

The Perfect Pajama Pants

As a petite woman, I hate the length and width of pajama pant bottoms because they usually end up dirty and torn at the bottom. For me, leggings and jog pants are a petite girl’s dream because I have less chance of this style of pants dragging on the ground.

I ordered these fleece pants in black and this fun fair isle print (it looks like black sold out- boo!!) and I haven’t taken them off since they arrived on my doorstep. As someone who is constantly cold, these fleece pants are the perfect answer for warmth when lounging around my house. They also make going out to take the kids to their bus stop a little more bearable.

I would recommend sizing up one on these and pairing it with your favorite sweatshirt to live in for the entire winter.  I would also recommend buying these as a gift for a friend or family member who has to suffer through cold temperatures too- at that price, you can afford to buy two! These are a winter must-have!

Ugg Replacement Insoles

 

Cushy Slippers Again

My slippers were looking pretty rough this year and the inserts were disturbingly dirty. Did you know you can replace the insoles on your slippers and boots for less than $15?  I got some new inserts for my slippers and now these feel like the day that I got them.

The nice thing though is even if you didn’t splurge for an UGG product, you can still buy the inserts and make your more affordable shoe options have these cushy bottoms. Heck, if your shoes are a little too big, I can’t think of a better solution for perfect sizing in the winter.

Confession time- I have never bought a brand new pair of UGG boots or slippers. I got my slippers on eBay and my boots were found at Goodwill. I would just buy fresh inserts for these and had no qualms at all about sinking my bare feet into them. There is no need to spend a ton if you don’t want to.

I can’t recommend a fresh insole enough for a treat for yourself!

FRESH Christmas Music

One of my favorite things is to share music with you so I created a FRESH Christmas list for your eggnog sipping and hall decking. There were a lot of great holiday albums that came out this year and I wanted to showcase my favorite tracks from these.

Fun fact, I used to be a DJ in my dorm at college. I also was well-known for my mix tapes that I used to create, in fact, my husband still owns some of them from me. Being a Spotify DJ makes me really happy so I hope you will enjoy this year’s music mix. You can also follow all my other playlists over here! I hope I can introduce you to some new songs!

Pumpkin Chili

Eating: I’m working on some Instant Pot tutorials for all of you that bought this gadget for Christmas this year (or requested it as your gift)!  I am starting with some basic preparations and working my way out for you! Stay tuned for that! For now, it’s been a Pumpkin Chili week over here as temperatures plummeted in Indiana. If you haven’t tried it yet, put it on your planner!





Loving: Today’s highlights include a Very Tired Mary (bahahaha!),  Rudolph kind of Hamilton, Madonna guesting on the Carpool Karaoke (I will love her until the day I die. Amen.), Pentatonix killing it (PS- We were ORIGINAL fans when they were on the Sing Off!),  and the movie that I can’t wait to catch! Doesn’t this film look gorgeous?

Reading: Adored this piece on Flowers in the Attic being the gateway drug to a lifetime of reading. It was for me- was it for you?

Oh, Christmas Tree

pillow source: here

Happy Fri-yay!

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

Amy’s Notebook 12.07.16

December 7th, 2016

Daily Goal Tracker

source: enJOY it

I love this daily goal tracker worksheet.

This Mediterranean pull-apart bread looks like a fun and easy appetizer.

The perfect person just bought the, “Full House,” house.

After hitting the art museum this past weekend, I loved this honest museum audio tour.

This is shaping up to be my dream grocery store- YES!

30 crowd-please non-awkward movies to watch with your relatives.

What it REALLY is like being an Instagram influencer. Hmmmm…?!?!

Take your salt dough ornament game up a notch.

Crispy Roasted Potatoes

source: serious eats

Great tips for nailing the perfect roasted potatoes.

I love these tips for adding completer pieces to your wardrobe.

Never accept pickle juice in your career- amen.

I love this gathering of fun holiday diy ideas.

Adding spaghetti squash to this week’s menu plan after seeing these spaghetti squash pizza boats. YUM!!!

Pom-Pom gnomes- so cute!! I love this pom-pom maker for nailing the perfect pom-poms.

Foolproof Ways to Fake an Expensive Home

source: apartment therapy

5 foolproof ways to fake an expensive home.

Reflections on a year of no-spending.

I’ve been under the weather this week so I’ve been wrapped up in my heated throw and reading one of my favorite reads this year.

Styling tips for those blanket scarves. Don’t own one? Try making one with our no-sew blanket scarf tutorial.

Did you see this year’s NPR Book Concierge? So proud that I read 12 from this list (and counting!)

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! Please note, there are affiliate links that do help support our site- thank you! xoxo

Our Hamilton Chicago Family Review and Experience

December 5th, 2016

Our Hamilton Chicago Family Review and Experience

It’s 4:30 in the morning and I just can’t sleep. I can admit that I am still riding on quite the high after returning last night from a, TRULY, unforgettable weekend with my family. For those of you that follow me on the interwebz, you already know why it was so exciting, but if you are just catching up, I wanted to share with you the surprise getaway I pulled off to see Hamilton in Chicago with my kids. So many people have been messaging me and asking us questions about our experience that I thought I would share it with you so that others could replicate all the fun that we had!

How We Caught the Hamilton Bug

We caught the Hamilton bug a little later than most of my friends, but when we caught it,  we we fell fast and hard for Hamilton. During a marathon on a puzzle, over our Fall break, we started listening to the soundtrack with our kids. As soon as it finished, they begged to listen to it all over again…and again…and again. It happened to be around the time of the PBS documentary, so we curled up on a couch with them and watched that too. As we drove home from our holiday (blasting Hamilton at full volume), we asked the kids IF (and this was a big IF) we could get tickets to Hamilton, would they be interested in doing this for Christmas. Our family is BIG on experiences and not big on crap in our house so this was, of course, a welcome and familiar idea for our kids.  In fact, we have done a couple of our very own Choose Your Own Adventure Christmas gifts that have been an incredible way to give the gift of experience to our children.

We did not talk about it again with them and pretended like this would never happen in a million years. In fact, they did not know until the morning we left where we were even headed, not only because we wanted to surprise them, but because it didn’t even feel real to us.

hamilton

How Did We Get Tickets!?!

We are known for being frugal so thinking about buying tickets when balcony seats are going for $600 (or more!) seemed way out of our comfort zone for pricing. This month was a crazy month for us though on the site thanks to Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the holiday content I had written. We doubled our ad revenue this past month, thanks to that burst in traffic, and we had more sales than we have ever had through the site, sometimes in just a single day!  Each time you make a purchase, we make a small commision off your purchases.  This passive revenue is nothing I ever bank on, it is always just a really happy surprise.

Basically, THANK YOU!

Just in case, I glossed over the whole the site did great stuff, this was the most work I have ever put into it this season. I actually went four days without sleep or a shower, we ate cereal for a week so I could hang out online tracking stuff, and I was pretty awful to everyone around me.

I like to live in a truthful place.

In the end, we pretended like that extra money did not exist and set that amount aside to give our family an experience of a lifetime. It was money that we did not bank upon so it made that a wee bit easier to spend.

 

Privatebank Theater Seating

Just because you have the money though doesn’t make it easier to spend especially if you are unfamiliar with a theater or its seating. PrivateBank Theater  (formerly Bank of America Theatre- VERY CONFUSING!) has some really good seats and some REALLY terrible seats.  My worst fear is to spend a ridiculous amount of money only to find that we can’t see a thing when we got there.

I spent a month scoping out tickets, but also asked for advice from a friend who frequently buys concert tickets and is just a guru in general on ticket buying. His advice was to wait until the last possible minute to insure the best deal on the tickets.

We are a two hour drive away from Chicago so we knew we could do that.

 

vivd-seats-2

After searching on a million sites, we ended up going with VividSeats for two reasons. The first reason was that they actually had the lowest priced tickets after hunting all of the other usual suspect sites. The second was that they offered a 100% buyer guarantee on those seats and it felt less risky than doing something like buying them on eBay.

I used the site,  A View From My Seat to help us figure out if our seats would be good or not. This is a great tool for ANY event you are going to and can help determine if your tickets are a good value or not. Basically, people take a quick phone shot from their seat and tell you whether it is a good one or not. This was the shot that I found from the tickets we were looking at which said, “Limited View.” Because the view was limited, it lowered the value on the tickets and gave us seats in Orchestra Row F for $300 each which ended up being less than the nosebleed seats. Spoiler alert:  the seats were fantastic and better than we could hope for! More on that later…

hamilton-day

Was the process smooth? No, thanks to the seller we bought them from. Waiting until last minute yielded great prices and a panic attack until they arrived. I logged in to check that the tickets had been sent out and Wednesday evening they still had not been sent out for us to leave on Saturday morning. I called VividSeats where I talked to a real-life person who put me on hold, called the seller on another line, and discovered he had not sent them out like he was supposed to. We made alternate back-up arrangements to have them shipped directly to our hotel and she assured me that I would be getting my tickets as soon as possible.

The tickets were overnighted and arrived on my doorstep at 4:30 PM the night before we left. I was so thankful to have them in my hands and practically kissed the delivery man who looked bewildered at the unshowered woman in her pajamas having a near meltdown at the front door. I really appreciated that VividSeats was quick to action and that they made sure that they honored their buyer guarantee to have them to us before our event.

We woke them in the morning and I think they were just stunned. I had packed their bags for them and we were a little disappointed they weren’t losing it about all of this. It wasn’t until we pulled up to the hotel that they were BESIDE THEMSELVES. Much like us, seeing is believing!
thewit chicago

thewit chicago

Where Did We Stay for Hamilton Chicago?

This was our first overnight with our kids in Chicago, but not my own first overnight there. When I did a girl’s trip, one of the gals arranged our stay at theWit. We got the room for a steal and had a really enjoyable stay so it seemed like a great place to try again. The best part is that it was within walking distance of everything so after I booked our tickets, I booked a stay again at theWit. Definitely check for deals through sites like Booking.com, Hotels.com, or TripAdvisor for scoring a really good rate.

Staying for a girl’s trip is a lot different than staying somewhere with your kids though. I was shocked when the concierge emailed me and said that he saw were coming with our children and wanted to be available to me to answer any questions. We knew our kids would love getting Chicago pizza so I emailed a request for a nearby option for gluten-free pizza. They emailed their pick (it was PERFECTION!) and a menu so we could look it over before we came.

The night before arriving the concierge called again to make sure we had everything in place. He explained the valet parking option ($65 overnight and they park it for you!), went over what time we would be arriving so our room would be ready, and assured us they were available moving forward for anything and gave me his number to call if anything came up.

Um, awesome!

We ended up getting there an hour earlier than we said and the staff was apologetic that the room was just being inspected and not ready. After we threw our diva fit about it being unacceptable (JUST KIDDING!)  they got us water and snacks and a few short minutes later, we had keys and headed up to our beautiful room. After breakfast, we came back to a gorgeous complimentary fruit platter welcoming us which was, seriously, the nicest thing ever.

This location was about a 10-15 minute walk to theater and on the way we could see all the beautiful holiday displays in the windows!
Hamilton Chicago Family Review

Hamilton Chicago Family Review

Hamilton Chicago Family Review

What Did We Think of Hamilton Chicago?

As we headed into the theater, an older couple asked if my husband and I were aware of the content in Hamilton since we came with our kids. He grinned and said that they had heard the soundtrack many a time and that we were very aware of what we were taking them to.

There are a couple of f-bombs in the show and there is a sexy number, when Hamilton is involved in a torrid affair,  that is pretty sultry. There are also a few sexual innuendos and such that I doubt went completely over their heads.

Here is what I will say about this. I’m a Christian and we have kept our kids very sheltered from a lot in life. At the same time, there are a few things that have recently happened that gave us confidence that our children had the maturity to see this show.

The first is that they are both in middle school now.

Do you remember middle school?

Hard knock life, yo!

They are already hearing this stuff from their peers and what they saw on stage, I doubt, is any worse than they get to experience on a bus ride.

I’m just having a little flashback to a good Christian girl getting down to Humpty Dance repeatedly at dances reminds me that I’m not too worried about seeing a musical with my kids- hahaha!

The second thing is that this political season has been a doozy and they have been exposed to a lot of garbage thanks to that. Many things happened that I wished I could have sheltered them from, but they still heard all that stuff from their peers, on their news at school in the mornings, and what they have heard on NPR.  This election season, as awful as it was, has created a really honest dialogue with our children about politics and our beliefs. Hamilton is about politics and it is also about a revolution.

You know, our kids are living through a revolution right now and we wanted them to see what happens when people become a part of that narrative for change.

We want to raise kids that are part of the change, part of the good, part of the narrative.

The only worry we had about the Pence drama, by the way, was that it would raise the price of our tickets.

If you thought that might be a worry for us, I encourage you to get to know our family better!

Namaste.

Hamilton Chicago Cast

source: chicago sun times

Being familiar with the original cast doesn’t insure anything though, does it? I have gone to many shows where the current cast was a world away from the original cast. Here is what I want to say, this cast is as incredible as the original cast and does not AT ALL feel like a second-rate show. Being as close to the stage as we were, certainly gave us a very personal perspective of the acting to really witness every nuance and every facial expression. I can’t begin to tell you how moving and how incredibly well done this production is.

Lin-Manuel handpicked their next lead for Hamilton and this is the first leading role for Miguel. You would have never known he hadn’t been the lead in everything he has done and Miguel adds his own flavor to Hamilton, never feeling like a Lin-Manuel knockoff ever at any point in this show.

Every single actor is incredible so it feels unkind to single any out, but I have to do it.

Joshua Henry is one of the most incredible talents I have ever seen on the stage. He played Burr in such a controlled way and the emotions he displayed had me absolutely weeping through much of the show. His voice was unreal good and a perfect rendering needed for Burr.

Ari Afasar’s performance as Eliza was the one that I was most worried about. Phillipa Soo’s voice doesn’t seem like a voice that can be replicated, but Ari’s performance was astounding and perfectly pitched too. It was so much better than I could have ever expected.

Karen Olivo made from an incredible Angelica. There is this point in the show, after her toast to the bride and groom, where the emotion is rawly displayed on her face at this union between her sister & Hamilton. For me, it was one of the moments that made the whole show. In fact, I could burst into tears again thinking about it. That one moment, for me, really showed off what caliber of actress she was.

Hamilton Chicago Cast

source: chicago times

Chris De’Sean Lee plays both Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson and adds humor and heart to this performance. He soars in, “What’d I Miss?” and had my kids belly-laughing through his portions in the show.

Alex Gemignani as King George could not have been more pitch perfect. There is so much about his part that you don’t get to hear on the soundtrack and he adds so much hilarity to an often serious show. In fact, King George ended up being both kid’s favorite in the show.

Even the stage was so cleverly constructed and set designer, David  Korins, shared that they even tried 33 different colors of brick before they found the one that matched the costumes best. Not a detail was spared on this project and it shows.

At the angle we were seated, we could look into the wing of the theater as the actors exited and entered on stage. I have done so many shows during my own time of theater so I was curiously watching them while trying to take in the show. They never once broke character, not once. Each face you would gaze upon was completely in that moment on stage and never strayed. I think that also says a lot!

Generously, after our performance, Alex shared that they were raising money to assist those with HIV. Several members of their cast stood with buckets to take our donations and it was incredibly moving as a fan to get to say, “YOU WERE AMAZING,” in a really intense stalker kind of way to them.

I hope we didn’t scare them.

As soon as we left, my wish was to do it all over again. The show felt like minutes for me, my son, and my husband. My daughter, however, was satisfied with the first act and it took a forty dollar soda to get her back in her seat for the second act.

She loved it, it was just a long day of travel and excitement for her!

At ten and fourteen, I do believe they loved and appreciated this experience. It’s like Disney…you want them to be old enough to appreciate it so you feel like you made a good investment. We really felt like this was a great age for that.

The Art Institute of Chicago

What Else Did We Do After Hamilton Chicago?

The kids were pretty wiped after the show and we were really glad we picked the 2PM one and not the evening performance because of that. We packed a collection of our favorite Christmas movies (these two for them and this one for us!) and scored a DVD player through the guest services at our hotel. We ordered our yummy pizza, got in our pajamas, and had a Christmas movie marathon.

After a lazy morning, we headed over to The Art Institute of Chicago for the day and got to see some REALLY incredible art (it was also within walking distance of our hotel!)If you haven’t been, it’s an incredible museum filled with more art than you can ever imagine. They also have a beautiful cafe to sip some warm drinks in between.

Shake Shack

Shake Shack

We finished our trip with our first visit to a Shake Shack (which was right across the street from the museum!)  and I really hope it isn’t our last. HOLY YUM!! You can get their patties wrapped in lettuce if you are gluten-free. The shakes are divine and a midday glass of wine hit the spot too for this tired mama!

Unfortunately, the weather took an awful turn and my poor husband had to get us back in the middle of a whiteout and slick roads. We were all so thankful to be home after seeing so many people in accidents. Had the weather not done that, the entire weekend would have been absolutely perfect.

The Hamilton Mixtape

We managed to make it through that awful weather thanks, in part,  to The Hamilton Mixtape that came out giving us a chance to hear songs from the show in an entirely different way. If you haven’t heard it yet, you are in for a real treat. Artists like Sia, Nas, Alicia Keys, Andra Day, Jimmy Fallon, The Roots and so many other incredible talents put their own personal spin on songs from the musical. You also get to hear the original demos as well as some original music that was created and mixed just for this project. You must, must, must listen to it!

hamilton-chicago-family-review

This Christmas will definitely go down in our memory books as one of the best we have ever had. Thank you to the incredible cast of Hamilton Chicago for making it an experience we shall never forget and making an incredible family memory that I hope will last a lifetime!

Thanks so much for letting us share about our experience with you!

Have questions? Ask me!

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