Here I Go Again, by Jen Lancaster

I have heard a lot about Jen Lancaster, and her memoir has been on my to-read list for quite some time.  So I really didn't have a lot of knowledge of the author before reading Here I Go Again, her newest fiction book. 

Here I Go Again is the purely enjoyable, totally unrealistic story of Lissy Ryder, a high school queen bee who never quite grew out of her immature, self-centered high school personality.  Still, Lissy thinks she has it made:  married to her high school sweetheart, driving a fancy car, with a luxurious home and gym membership.  It's not long before that carefully constructed life begins to crack, however, and Lissy is faced with the reality that maybe she really doesn't have it all.  Lissy soon finds herself broke and back home with her parents, sleeping in her childhood bedroom. 

After a disastrous night at her twenty-year high school reunion, Lissy is forced to sorta-kinda acknowledge that maybe she hasn't exactly been as loved, admired, and envied by her peers as she imagined.  Is it too late to change her course?  When Lissy's wacky high school acquaintance surreptitiously sends her back into the past, will Lissy be able to fix any of her mistakes?

Watching Lissy struggle to overcome her hateful mean-girl instincts was pretty comical.  The "redo" scenes were some of my favorites in the book.  I also liked the fact that Lissy actually came to care about the repercussions of her actions, and that she felt bad when she inadvertently altered everyone else's future along with her own.  We are talking about a snotty, nasty, spiteful character who actually learns a little bit about thinking of others.  I was glad that storyline wasn't overdone, as Lissy clearly doesn't turn into a do-gooder saint after her experiences; she just becomes a thousand times more tolerable and maybe slightly enjoyable. 

I will admit, the very end of the book bothered me a little.  I won't spoil it by saying exactly what; it's just that something turned up in Lissy's "redone" life that I'm not sure fit her character at all.  Through all her changes, parts of Lissy's personality seemed to remain the same, and I felt a little at odds with one detail of her ending.

Despite that little complaint, I thoroughly enjoyed Here I Go Again.  It's fun and carefree chick lit, with just a touch of 80s and 90s music trivia thrown in for good measure. 

Have you read anything by Jen Lancaster?

**I am compensated for my participation in the BlogHer Book Club, but all opinions expressed are my own.  Find many more reviews and discussions of this title here.


Into the Darkest Corner, by Elizabeth Haynes

Sometimes I forget how much I enjoy a good mystery or suspense novel.  I love that can't-put-it-down feeling that keeps me reading until the early morning hours, while I tell myself over and over that I will only read "a few more pages". 

Elizabeth Haynes's Into the Darkest Corner is the first of this type I have read in awhile, and it was definitely worth skipping a few hours' sleep to read.  I was expecting a pretty straightforward plot about a woman hiding out from her psycho ex-boyfriend, but there was actually a lot more to the story.  Catherine has both physical and psychological scars from her experience, including some pretty severe OCD and PTSD.  Watching her work through those issues brought more depth and an interesting angle to the story.

Instead of chapters, the book alternates between present day (2007-2008) and events in the past (2003-2004).  The sections are short, so the details are revealed slowly, over the course of the book.  At first, I was not sure how much I would like that style, but I ended up enjoying it quite a bit.  Moving through the story in small chunks added to the intensity, I think.

I must say, there is a bit of strong language and some violence, which is to be expected with the subject matter.  Just beware, if you're sensitive to such things.  I do recommend checking out this title when you're ready for an intense, suspenseful story that just might have you double-checking the locks on your front door.

Confession time:  I made sure to read the bulk of this book over the weekend, while Jeremy would be home.  I don't scare easily, but I could tell this one had the potential to creep me out a bit, so I just looked at it as a precaution!

I received a copy of this book from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for review.  All opinions expressed are entirely my own.  For more reviews and information about this title, check out the full tour post here.


Haircuts, Etc.

Last week, Addison, Mackenzie, and I finally made it to the salon for long-overdue haircuts.  Several days before our appointment, I started asking the girls if they wanted to have their hair cut short again, or just get a trim and continue to let it grow.  Mackenzie was pretty consistent in wanting to cut hers, while Addison pretty much said she wanted to keep hers long so she could have a ponytail.

I will admit, I was back and forth on the issue of letting them have different hairstyles.  At my most logical, I reminded myself that they are two little individuals who deserve the opportunity to decide for themselves how they want to look (to a certain limited degree at this age, of course!).  But a part of me was thinking, Noooo!!  They're so cute when they look all matchy-matchy!  I can only make these decisions for them for a few years, and I say it stays THE SAME.

In the end, Mackenzie went first and got the short hairstyle we had talked about.  Addison watched the process, waffled back and forth one last time, then decided to go with the short cut, "like Mackenzie's".  {Yes, there was a small sigh of relief from this mama, though I had resolved to let Addison make her own decision.}

I think we are all pretty happy with the results...

New haircuts!

...and A hasn't even asked for a ponytail once!  

I feel like they look so much more grown up with the short hair.  I've even used the hair dryer a few nights, in an effort to get it to fall more smoothly.  We're just getting a small taste of all the hairstyling efforts that will go on in this house over the years, I believe.

A & M aren't just looking grown up these days, they are really acting like it as well.  As I mentioned, there are not many naps happening around here, and we are now making plans to upgrade the girls' bedroom.  I have sold one crib and the dresser/changing table, so we officially on the hunt for a pair of twin beds.  (The couple buying the furniture is not ready for it yet, so no, neither of the girls is being forced to sleep on the floor!) 

I still haven't quite found what I'm looking for in a bed, but I have a few options to consider.  I would looove two white iron twin beds, but the ones I have seen are a little out of the price range.  The hunt will continue, and I'm sure we'll find something before long.  I'm also imagining a vintage-type dresser that I can paint white...hopefully for a very low cost on Craigslist. 

This is the kind of bed I have in mind, but we'll see how it works out.  I hope to get around to a few stores in the next couple of weeks. 

Have you replaced the baby furniture yet?  I can't wait to make some changes and get those giant cribs out!


The No-Nap Debate

Like it or not, we seem to be entering a time of change here in this new year.  My girls are growing up, a fact that is more and more evident every day.

The most dramatic change, according to Jeremy and me, is that A & M seem to be ready to begin dropping their nap most days.  (Cue the moans of horror...)  I don't really want to do this, and J is adamant that we can't give up our weekend naps, but as the weeks go by I am more convinced that's where we are heading. 

On school days, the girls still have nap time and will continue to do so next year, I believe.  But they're so much more active on school days, I think they need it more.  Plus, it's a limited time-frame (I'd say an hour and a half at the most) and it's earlier in the day.  Still, there have been a few days lately where their teachers reported one or both didn't sleep at all or for very long. 

Why am I thinking it's time to mostly drop the nap on weekends and the days they are at home all day?  Well, here's the thing:  When A & M don't have a nap (or they have a school day nap), they are easily in bed and asleep between 8:00 and 8:30, which I consider an ideal bedtime.  They still sleep until 7:00-7:30 (occasionally even later) the next morning, and all is well.  On the days when the girls have quality afternoon naps at home (Fridays and weekends, for the most part), it doesn't matter what time I put them in bed, they don't seem to fall asleep until late.  They aren't acting up, just sitting in bed reading, talking, singing, and playing pretend games between themselves.  While this generally isn't too big a deal, and at least A & M are being good while not sleeping, it does bother me that they can't seem to fall asleep until as late as 10:00 or after sometimes.  They will often sleep later the next morning--Addison has been known to sleep until 9:00 or later on occasion--but still, I'm thinking the steadier, consistent bed- and wake-times are probably better overall.

Also?  I like MY time at night, and if it begins at 8:30, I'm a happy mama.  (I know I'm not alone in this!)

I'm not declaring war on naps and I'm not ending them altogether.  Will there still be days when a nap is totally necessary?  Absolutely...whether it be necessary for A & M or for Jeremy and me.  We LOVE Sunday naps in particular, and those will be hard to part with, so we may just try shortening them a bit.  I'm also a fan of "rest time", during which I might let the girls watch a movie on the couch while I catch a few minutes of precious recovery time myself. 

I never, EVER, thought I'd see this day, where I am debating the merits of voluntarily reducing the quantity and length of the girls' naps. Sigh....

What is the status of naps in your house?  Do you notice a difference at bedtime if you have dropped them?   Were you sad to see them go?

(If I was a stay-at-home mom talking about ending naps, I would cry.  For real.)


Review: Full Cup, Thirsty Spirit

When I received a copy of Full Cup, Thirsty Spirit back in December, I thought it would be a great book to bolster a good attitude for the approaching new year.  Like The Willpower Instinct, it deals with some of the topics that move to the forefront of our thoughts during these weeks of life-evaluation and vows of change.

In Full Cup, Thirsty Spirit, Dr. Karen Horneffer-Ginter shares a mix of "personal stories, client experiences, and practical exercises" aimed at helping people find a balance amidst the busyness of modern life.  Focusing on six "shifts" one can make in daily life--Honoring Our Rhythms, Turning Within, Filling Up, Fully Inhabiting Our Days, Remembering Lightness, and Embracing Difficulty--Dr. Horneffer-Ginter offers some realistic suggestions to help people live a more full life, focusing on what matters most.

Each chapter covers one of the six shifts in detail.  Dr. Horneffer-Ginter's writing is conversational in style and easy to read.  Though it felt like the topics shifted quite a bit even within the chapters, her voice is steady and helps to tie her ideas together.  I appreciated the prevalence of anecdotes and quotes from others sprinkled throughout the text.  I am a habitual quote collector, and found quite a few to record in my notebook. 

Over the last several years, I have learned more and more about how much better I function on the whole when I remember to slow down, take a break, and not get too overwhelmed with the pressures and intricacies of life's obligations.  Accordingly, many of the topics and suggestions in this book felt really basic to me.  Still, it is affirming to know that I'm not the only one who struggles with these things, and it's always nice to have a reminder that it is not only okay to take a break, but so very beneficial.  I think I will hold onto this book to return to when I need a reminder to take care of myself, spiritually, mentally, and physically.


I received a copy of this book from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for review.  All opinions expressed are entirely my own.  For more reviews and information about this title, check out the full tour post here.


These things I know are true

Rarely do I get completely serious here on these pages, in this online space I've created for myself.  I use this area to record memories, to share things with friends, and to start conversations on topics that matter to me.  Tonight, though, I need to process some things I'm dealing with, so this will be uncharacteristically heavy.  Fair warning...

Last Thursday, something happened that has shaken me to the very core.  It didn't happen to me, this isn't my personal tragedy and I don't want to pretend for one second that it is.  There is a family at the center of these events that is torn and broken in ways that I can't even begin to imagine.  Still, so many of us tonight are reeling, aching, and confused.

Thursday evening, we got word that a former pastor of ours and longtime friend of my family committed a horrendous act of violence against his wife and daughter.  To say that we were shocked would be a huge understatement.  In fact, I believe my comment was that if I had a list of all the people I know and ranked them in order of who I might expect this from, Terry would be at the absolute very bottom of that list.  We just couldn't believe it.

Sadly, despite our shock and disbelief (and "shock" is a word that has been very abundant in our conversations over the last four days), this is a new reality.  The man who we all looked up to, admired, and loved for more than twenty years, is in the hospital under police custody, recovering from self-inflicted stab wounds and charged with the murder of his wife and the attempted murder of his daughter (who is thankfully alright...but who can imagine what she is going through?).  Things that would have been utterly unimaginable last week are now undeniably real.

Despite the fact that everything, every memory surrounding this beautiful family, will be altered from here on out, here are a few things I knew to be true, right up until last Thursday...these are the times I don't want to forget during whatever will come in the future:

--Terry loved, loved people.  He had been dealing with a lot of health problems during the last few months (which is the ONLY thing most of us can come up with to explain these bizarre events) and he and Lisa often stated they couldn't handle visitors yet.  All of us now realize just how out of character that was for him.
--Whenever you saw him, he was greeting you with a big hug and asking after everyone in the family.  We are a family of "double names", and he loved that and always used those double names.  I can hear it:  "How's Jenny Ross and Connie Faye?"
--His voice.  This might be what hurts most, to know that I'll never hear that amazing, unique Southern drawl of his from the pulpit or praying at a wedding or funeral (which comprised the bulk of the times we saw him during these last few years).  His is the voice of my childhood church-related memories...I can so clearly remember laying over in my aunt's lap one during a rare Sunday evening service I attended, drifting in and out of sleep to the sound of Terry's voice. 
--When he pastored our church, there was a particular benediction Terry used to say every Sunday.  He would walk toward the back of the church, arms raised, calling out "May the Lord bless you and keep you; May the Lord make His face shine upon you..."  Again, the sound of my childhood church memories...
--When Jeremy and I met with Terry to discuss our wedding ceremony, I asked him to do that benediction.  Though he said it had changed a bit over the years, he recalled the particular one I referred to and promised to include it.  He did, and I teared up, of course.
--The first time Jeremy met Terry, we visited the church he was leading in a nearby city.  From the pulpit, Terry told how glad he was to see us there, how he couldn't believe the little girl from early in his ministry days was sitting down there with a serious boyfriend.  He made Jeremy turn a little red and made everyone else laugh when he said, "I haven't checked him out yet...I've got my eye on you, son!"
--I remember his eyes shining a little and his smile when he concluded our marriage ceremony.  From the moment we began planning our wedding, the only person I imagined marrying us was Terry...luckily Jeremy was on board with that!
--Whenever Terry saw that a couple he married was having a baby, he'd say, "I sure tied that knot tight, didn't I?"  You could just tell how proud it made him to see us growing our families.  

I would be remiss if I didn't mention Lisa here as well.  Sweet Lisa seemed to be always gracious, always compassionate, and always with a kind word.  She was my second-grade teacher the year before they moved from our town (yes, that's how long ago it has been since they were here; that's the kind of hold this family had on people--once you knew them, you loved them forever), and she was so, so good to me during a difficult year.  I think she was the kind of lady who was surely created to work with children, and I would bet she touched a lot of little lives at a time they needed it most.  Lisa seemed to be the soft-spoken, calming counterpart to Terry's bold presence.  I, at least, imagined them as a great team. 

As this article pretty eloquently explains, it is just nearly impossible for most of us who knew him to reconcile the Terry we loved with the man who did these things.  (If you click and read that article, please, please skip the comments.  Offhand online comments seem a million times worse when they're talking about someone you know.)  He loved, adored, and cherished his wife and daughter as far as we ever knew.  We have so many questions that may very well never be answered. 

I wanted to get these thoughts, these memories, recorded here before they are further tainted.  Whatever comes to light in the days and months, these were the things I knew to be true about a family that meant so much to me over the last twenty-six years.

If you pray, please pray for this broken family, for their daughter, and for all of those who love them and are struggling with this.  Our hearts are tired and aching, and there is surely a long road ahead.


The Willpower Instinct, by Kelly McGonigal

There's nothing like starting off the New Year with a book about willpower, am I right?  Actually, choosing to read this book was a little out of my comfort zone, but I am so glad I did.  Turns out, it really was the perfect book to kick off a new year. 

The Willpower Instinct:  How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It is a completely enthralling look at the ins and outs of willpower (or lack thereof).  At a time of year when almost everyone is examining their lifestyle, making resolutions, and committing to change, it was very helpful to read this book and make note of tips that might help me succeed with some changes of my own.

Dr. McGonigal's book is easily organized into ten chapters, each covering a different aspect of willpower.  While she effectively explains the science behind each idea, the scientific details never dominated the discussion.  There was just enough science to explain the hows and whys without overwhelming my not-so-scientific mind.  Each chapter also contains real-life examples from courses she has taught on this subject at Stanford University, which interested me quite a bit.  Finally, and perhaps most helpfully, each chapter also includes a willpower experiment and tips to think about your own behavior as related to the chapter's topic.  McGonigal suggests choosing a specific willpower challenge as you read the book, but most of her tips and experiments can also be applied in small increments to any sort of willpower challenge you're facing.

Some of my favorite suggestions include:
--Take the virtue out of decision making...stop thinking of every decision  as "good" or "bad"
--Emphasis on long-term view and thoughts; Keep your big goal in mind to help with the many small decisions that can affect it (This was particularly helpful for me on some of my challenges, to notice all the steps that go into a decision-making process and to think about the end goal almost constantly.)
-- Committing to any small, consistent act of self-control can actually help increase your overall willpower (ex:  focus on something such as tracking your spending or cutting back on sweets)  (I love this one too!)
--Remember what works as your encouragement--for example, notice how good it feels after you exercise and remind yourself of that.  One lady went so far as to leave herself a voicemail for encouragement.  (I need to do this with yoga and running.)

I underlined and highlighted throughout the book, and I've already shared many things I learned with friends and coworkers.  I can safely say this is a book I will be coming back to again and again.

What kind of shape is your willpower in right now?  Find more reviews and interesting discussion of this book on BlogHer.

**I am compensated for my participation in the BlogHer Book Club, but all opinions expressed are my own.


What I Read in 2012

I fell just shy of my goal of reading 50 books in 2012, but if I'm totally honest, I probably read a trashy romance or two that I forgot to count.  That, combined with the books I started and didn't like, plus the tons of children's books I read last year, should definitely add up to more than 50.  I'm calling it a win.

Here were my ten (okay, eleven including both Sookie Stackhouse books) favorites, in no particular order:

The Flight of Gemma Hardy  If I had to choose my most favorite book of the year, this one would likely be it.  A slightly more modern (think 1950s) re-imagining of Jane Eyre, this book absolutely captivated me.  Lovely, lovely story.

Looking for Alaska  I finally jumped on the John Green bandwagon this fall, and I am not looking back.  I devoured this book in a day and a half, and while I liked it quite a bit at the time, it's the kind of book that I have thought about often since I read it.  There's so much to love in this book:  boarding school, rural Alabama (well, I love that part, anyway!), realistic teenagers I want to be friends with, first loves...the list goes on and on.

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake  This book and its characters stuck in my heart the moment I read it.  Southern preacher Samuel Lake and his precious family may be my favorite characters of the  year.  This book also provided some of my favorite quotes of the year.

The Shoemaker's Wife  A classic epic love story.  Tears were shed, and I am not ashamed to admit it.

The Last Plea Bargain  If you're a John Grisham fan, read this.  I loved it, and totally didn't see the end coming.

The Fault in Our Stars  (Yes, another John Green) The buzz about this book is what finally made me check out the author.  It lived up to expectations!  Fair warning:  tearjerker, but worth it.

Dead Reckoning and Deadlocked  (Sookie Stackhouse, Books 11 and 12)  I love Sookie Stackhouse and I don't care who knows it.  Award-winning literature?  Nope, but a heck of a lot of fun!

The Age of Miracles  Early YA genre, with some dystopian elements.  The details made the book for me.

First You Try Everything  I forgot how much I liked this book until I was going over the list of what I read this year.  A haunting view inside the demise of a marriage.  Loved the ending.

Laugh with the Moon  Technically this is middle-grade fiction, but my 30-year-old self loved it.  

Honorable Mentions:
Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
Saving Ruth, by Zoe Fishman
The List, by Siobhan Vivian
Alabama Moon, by Watt Key
The Leftovers, by Tom Perotta
A Wilderness of Error, by Errol Morris
Heist Society, by Ally Carter
Shadow of Night, by Deborah Harkness
First Date, by Krista McGee
Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
Shooting Stars, by Allison Rushby

What was your favorite book read in 2012?  Did you read any of my favorites?

Nerdy as it may sound, I can't wait to get started on this year's list!