Monday, December 23, 2019

Motherhood Monday: On Creating Holiday Traditions

When Jeff and I moved in together, we started talking about what our holiday traditions would look like. We'd put up the tree and decorate it together, while drinking hot cocoa and watching Christmas movies. We'd (eventually) spend Christmas morning as a family at our house, with a combination of our breakfast favorites from our childhood Christmases (Which from Jeff's means oyster stew and fried tomatoes!! All I can say here is, his stepdad is English?) and listen to Christmas music and open presents in our pajamas, before heading out to spend the rest of the day with our extended families.

But really, that's all we came up with. It's not much, huh?

Now that Mia is here, I've started to think about what traditions I want to put into place to make the holidays magical for her. Some of the things I want to do are:

  • Go for a walk or drive to look at Christmas lights.
  • Give out Christmas boxes after Thanksgiving, with a new pair of Christmas pajamas, some treats like hot cocoa mix or Christmas-y candy, and maybe a new holiday movie. 
  • Visit Zoo Lights and other holiday festivals around the city. 
  • Picking out a toy to donate, or adopting a family for Christmas every year. 
  • Give Mia an ornament every year so that when she moves out, she'll have a collection for her tree (Both my parents and Jeff's grandma did this for us! Pro tip: don't give your kid a bunch of random sports ornaments, because then when he grows up he will feel obligated to put all of those guys on the back of the tree 😂)
  • Write a letter to Santa (and have Santa write a little note back!), and save it in our Christmas book with pictures and descriptions of what we did each year (this is the book we have). 
  • Bake a few of the same cookies every year, including my favorite sugar cookies but also cookies we can decorate.
What are some of your favorite Christmas traditions? Let me know in the comments so we can add them to our list! 

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Thursday, December 19, 2019

A Show-Stopping Charcuterie Board + Our Holiday House

Yeeks you guys, we're under one week until Christmas!! Jeff and I decided to both take off some time from work, so we'll both be off starting tomorrow through the New Year. I cannot wait. We've got a ton of family time planned, as well as two day dates for Jeff and I, and a whole lot of seeing the holidays through Mia's eyes. It's so cute, she loves the decorations and is amazed every time we turn on our tree in the morning. I'm glad though that she's not fully mobile (just starting to figure out crawling over here, but we're very slow) because she is trying her hardest to rip every ornament off of the tree whenever we bring her near it!

So anyway, last weekend we hosted our annual White Elephant party with our friends. Whenever I host a party, I decide where to focus my energy. You can't go all-in on every thing or you'll go crazy. I was making two lasagnas from scratch as well as a champagne punch, so I decided instead of making something for snacks I'd just go for an epic cheese board instead.

How to make a show-stopping charcuterie board

If you're looking to take your charcuterie board to the next level, first think about presentation. In the past, I've just put everything on a big cutting board or tray. To take things up a notch, I pulled out the chalkboard placemats we got as a wedding gift and laid them end to end so that the cheese board could span the length of our whole dining room table. It really made a statement when people came in, and then obviously was fun to eat too! I liked the chalkboard placemats because they're hard so I didn't worry about people messing up my table with the cheese knifes. But, if you pre-cut all of your cheese you could get a similar effect with butcher paper.

My main tip when going for a cheese board is that more is more! Don't leave a ton of empty space, and instead try to fill in the nooks and crannies with additional goodies. I went into our fridge when I had some space to fill, and found some berries to add (sorry Mia, those were defs supposed to be for you!) as well as condiments. If your board ends up being too big for your party, don't worry about it because everything can be saved really easily. We did have leftovers from this, so I just bagged up everything when we were done - it made another great snack the next day!

And then another tip is to not make things look too fancy, so that people will actually eat from the board instead of feeling like they shouldn't mess it up. Cut pieces of cheese ahead of time, sneak a bite out of the dips, and use imperfect piles for crackers and meat.

Since there were kids at our party, I did a lot of my usual fancy cheese board items, but also included some less fancy stuff (see: colby-jack cheese, Ritz crackers, summer sausage) to make it fun for everyone.

Here's what I included on our charcuterie board: 

Sharp White Cheddar
Truffled Brie

Spicy sopressata
Summer sausage

Bruscetta slices
Cheddar Whisps
Ritz Crackers

Whipped Riccotta (I make this for every party. Buy whole milk ricotta and whip it with a lot of salt. Top with good olive oil, more salt, and whatever fresh herbs you have on hand - I did chives here.)
White bean hummus

The Rest: 
Fresh berries
Pomegranate seeds
Candied nuts
Fancy mustard

Usually for holiday boards I include fresh rosemary sprigs too, but I literally saw it on my list at the grocery store and couldn't remember why it was there and didn't buy it. What's wrong with me?! But it's so pretty to add to the board and makes things a little festive.

Our Holiday Decorations

I'm currently in the phase where I'm not loving all of the decorations I bought on the cheap back in the day (some when I moved to Chicago after college, some from as far back as high school!) so I'm slowly trying to work in some more grown up, minimalist decorations. My current motto for all things home is WWJGD (What Would Joanna Gaines Do, obviously) so I was psyched to find the pretty tree candle votive holder at Target. It looked so pretty all lit up with candles!

Obviously a lot of the stuff in our house is old, so I'm linking up what I can for you: 

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Friday, December 13, 2019

Friday Finds

Happy Friday!! Can't believe we're getting so close to Christmas. I love the holiday season and it is going by so fast! I've been having so much fun with Mia, showing her Christmas lights and wrapping paper and Christmas music and movies. You may have seen on Instagram Stories, I kept her home from daycare one day this week because I thought she had pink eye (ha, nope) and was trying to keep her amused while I worked. I put in Elf, and the first shot when Papa Elf came on the screen she literally cheered. Of course she lost interest about twenty minutes later, but still, so freaking cute!!

In case you're looking for some festive clothing for the holidays, here are a few of my finds. I ordered the red top and the hat because I'm obnoxious. I'm hoping the top will be fun for date nights. Whenever I get dressed for dates in the winter I stress myself out trying to find something pretty in my closet that isn't too casual but also doesn't look like it should be for work. This one definitely fits the bill!

one / two / three / four / five

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Wednesday, December 11, 2019

What I'm Reading

I've got more books to share with you!! I can't believe I haven't shared a books post since June, I've read so much since then. Like I said last time, I put the Kindle app on my phone and it is a game changer. Sure, it's not the best reading experience (I would so prefer a real book), but now I read every time I feed Mia. I used to read from my iPad on the train, but now on my iPhone I can pull it out to crank through a few pages anywhere and everywhere. Apparently I read a lot, because I have 15 books for you today! Leaving off a few more, because really, who wants to read more than 15 book recommendations at once?!

My favorite books of the last six months 

American Royals
Okay, picture America today, with everything the same, except that back at the end of the Revolutionary War, instead of choosing to be president George Washington became the King of America instead. It's such a simple concept, but initially what drew me into the story was how interesting the world itself was due to the American monarchy. It's a little bit of a butterfly effect, what might have changed, what wars wouldn't have happened or other historical events might have changed. I found the look into the royal history fascinating, and my sister said it immediately drew her in too. It is a YA novel so the story itself is a little predictable but ultimately a fun, easy read and an interesting fantasy to be a part of. It's the first in a triology, and you'd better bet I'm already dying for the next installment! 100% would recommend.

The Great Believers
This was the best book of the year for me. It follows the story of the AIDs crisis in Chicago in the eighties, as well as the ramifications on some of the characters in the present. I was immediately drawn into the character of Yale, a 30-something living in Boystown, and honestly cared about him more than any other character I've read since Jude in A Little Life. Every time I came up for air I literally had to fill Jeff in with what was happening with Yale and what I was worried might happen next (sorry Jeff). It was also so interesting to me because I lived in Boystown twenty years after the story takes place, and the stories of Chicago and descriptions of the neighborhood were completely fascinating. But whether or not you live in Chicago, I highly, highly recommend this one.

The Heart's Invisible Furies
Cyril Avery is born in Ireland in the 1940's. From birth, he's different - born to an unwed mother and adopted by parents who never treat him like their son. As he grows up, he struggles with being gay and having to hide it in a repressed, religious Ireland - and from his beautiful best friend, Julian. The story follows Cyril throughout his life as he tries to find himself. The story was beautifully written, heartbreaking at times, and really one of my favorites this year.

Daisy Jones & The Six
The Six are a band on the rise in the late sixties, and Daisy Jones is a party girl with a voice that gets her noticed. They end up joining forces to become one of the biggest bands in the world, until they unexpectedly break up. The book is written like a transcript from a documentary, letting you hear each person's side of the story from their own perspective. It was a really interesting read and had me dying for more. I've heard it's really great in the audio book version if you prefer that, as each character has a different actor reading for him or her. And no, in case you're wondering, Daisy Jones & The Six was not a real band, but I thought (and it appears the internets do too) that it sounds a lot like Fleetwood Mac.

Some great relationship-based novels

Normal People 
Normal People follows the lives of two teens in rural Ireland, one poor but popular, the other rich and a social pariah, both incredibly smart and both drawn to each other despite the fact that they won't even acknowledge each other at school. From high school through their years at college, the story follows how they change one another and how their relationship ebbs and flows. It's a little quiet and a little sad, but also beautifully heartbreaking with a lot of depth.

The Girl He Used to Know
Annika is a shy girl on the spectrum attending the University of Illinois back in the nineties, and Jonathan falls in love with her. The story follows the pair through their time at the U of I and then ten years later in Chicago as they try to figure out what went wrong in their relationship and become friends again. There is a twist in the book that I found upsetting, but for the most part the story is sweet and romantic. This was also fun for me to read since I went to the University of Illinois and live in Chicago - they even went to Kams!

Fleishman Is in Trouble
Toby Fleishman is going through a messy divorce, and is quickly learning the fun of being a single man in the world of dating apps. But then one weekend his wife drops his kids off without warning, and doesn't come back. At first I was not so into Toby's story as it seemed one-note on the surface, but the story builds and builds as we learn more about Toby's relationship with his wife, his kids, and his friends. Maybe Toby's wife is just as evil as he thinks she is. Or maybe, he just hadn't ever understood the full picture.

Beach Reads

Okay if you want some cheese, here's some cheese. After a disastrous wedding, the maid of honor and the best man end up going on the honeymoon instead of the bride and groom. The two hate each other, but to keep up appearances pretend to be newlyweds - with quite a few unexpected side effects. A predictable romantic comedy at heart, while I wouldn't call this book "good," it was amusing enough if you're looking for a quick and easy read. 

I expected this book to be total fluff, but I was really drawn into the story and some darker aspects of history I wasn't aware of before. The book follows German-American Elise and Japanese-American Mariko as they become friends after being sent to an internment camp during World War II. Both girls and their families end up being deported back to their home countries before the end of the war, despite the fact that the girls were both American citizens born in the USA. We then follow Elise as she tries to survive the end of the war in Germany and dreams of reuniting with Mariko in New York City. I knew that internment camps were a thing, but I literally couldn't believe as I was reading that the USA would actually send our citizens into war zones. The look at wartime and post-war Germany was completely fascinating too. This is a YA novel so it does err a little young and predictable, but I still really enjoyed it. 

I wasn't really sure of this book at the beginning. Jo and Bethie are born to a conservative middle-class Jewish family in Detroit in the fifties. Bethie is the perfect, beautiful, talented daughter, while Jo can't do anything right. For the first few chapters, this read like a sitcom, with a big problem that is solved by the end of each chapter. But as you go and their problems get bigger and they learn how to be the women they want to be in a world where the expectations put on women area changing. I had really low expectations going into this, but I loved it by the end. It's a real feminist anthem, and makes you wonder how and why women are expected to be Mrs. Everything. 

The weird ones

If you want to read something weird, then Bunny is for you. Are you intrigued, or did you already move on to the next book? The descriptions I had read about Bunny were that it took place in an Ivy League world and that it was hilarious and dark. Well yes, yes, and yes, but the main focus of the story is on fantasy/supernatural elements. The Bunnies are a group of friends who are so sugar sweet and loving that it disgusts their classmate Samantha, who prefers her dark insular world. But everything changes when the Bunnies invite Samantha to join their girl gang. This book read like something dreamed up in my college creative writing class, almost weird for the sake of being weird (or were those just the stories I turned in?). Dark, thrilling, a little gross, and with some fun twists and turns - it may have been my weirdest read of the year, but I also couldn't put it down. How many times should a person use the word "weird" in a single book review?

Bellweather Rhapsody
The Bellweather Hotel used to be one of the most beautiful in the country, but by the time a group of high schoolers descend on the property for a Statewide, a music festival, it has seen better days. The first night of Statewide, events unfold that seem eerily similar to a murder that took place at the Bellweather years ago. This novel was dark and odd, but a fun mystery to unravel.

And a few more

Trust Exercise 
What's the truth, and what has our memory changed over time? In Trust Exercise we follow the lives of several students at a performing arts high school in the eighties. The title comes from the different exercises the theater students do every day to break down their walls and learn to really trust each other. The relationships the students build and break are the bread and butter of this novel. But as the story goes on, we start to wonder - what was it that really happened? Who was exaggerating, who was lying, and what wasn't real? I found Trust Exercise a little dense and difficult to read at times, and the ending a bit too ambiguous to be fully satisfying. I liked it and would recommend it, but I wished there was more.

Tell Me Everything
They're a tight-knit group of seniors in college celebrating the end of their four years on Senior Day. But it turns out their group isn't as close as it appears from the outside, and one of them will die that night. The main character, Malin, has spent her whole college career trying to fit in and be normal after an unusual childhood with her sociopath brother. But the secrets, lies, and manipulations will finally catch up with her and end in disaster. I didn't love love love this book as I had a hard time connecting with Malin's character and motivations, but it was an interesting enough read.

The Hundred Year House
Zee and her husband Doug, two college professors, have moved back home to live in her parents' carriage house for a new job. Zee has always heard about the ghost of her great-grandmother who haunts the house, but now that she's back we start to wonder if the ghost is real. The house also used to be the former home of an artist colony, and an artist Doug is researching happened to have lived there for his work. But as Doug tries to dig further into the history of the artist colony, his mother in law becomes increasingly secretive, leading him to wonder what exactly happened in the house's past. I'm not usually into mysteries, and while parts of this story were predictable I was drawn into the story and found myself racing toward the end. For those of you who are also interested in the local aspect, although they never name it the story 100% takes place in Lake Forest, which is close to where I grew up. I apparently am fascinated by locations for this book post!

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Wednesday, December 4, 2019

November Budget

Every month I post about my clothing budget. My budget per month is $350, which may seem like a lot to some and a little to others, but feels just right for me. You can read my thoughts on my 2018 budget here.

Another month down! I didn't do a ton of shopping in November mostly because I was so busy!! I also always feel like fall items are so classic and timeless that I don't need to add a ton to my wardrobe. This year I was pulling back out a lot of fall things that I didn't get to wear last year when I was pregnant, so it was basically like having a brand new wardrobe.

That being said, I'm pretty psyched about what I did end up buying! Here's the damage for November:

Eliza J Sweater Dress - $118. I was trying to figure out something to wear to Mia's baptism, since most of my clothes are either super dressy or super casual. This was so pretty online I thought I'd order it to try. In person the detailing is gorgeous, and I love the fit & flare style. Had to keep it! You can see me in it here.
J.Crew Boots - originally $198, on sale $99. I'd been wanting these for a couple of seasons, but never pulled the trigger. I realized though that I'm in winter boots for literally six months of the year and didn't want to just be in my Bean Boots every day, so I thought I'd give these a try when they were on sale last week. I like that in the black they look a little dressier than other hiking boots.  I put them on and was like "eh, I don't think I need them." And then I literally kept them on all day! They are so cozy with a full fur lining inside, it's like stepping on a cloud. I've been having issues with one of my feet for the past month or two, and these took the pain away immediately. Definite winners!
J.Crew Factory Earrings - originally $22.50, on sale $10.80. These were the only thing from an order from J.Crew Factory that I kept. So cute in person, slightly bigger than you'd expect and perfect for dressing up any holiday outfits.
J.Crew Great Lakes Tee - originally $29.50, used rewards $24.50. I ordered this way back in September but it was backordered and just arrived this month. For some reason I thought I needed an XXL (I still have some weird body dysmorphia from being pregnant!) so it's really oversized on me, but it's adorable and perfect for wearing with leggings and a cardigan for all of my momming around days.

Total Spent: $252.30
Total Saved: $115.70

I honestly had no idea how I was doing as far as budget for the year, so I decided to actually go back and do the math:

January: $166.95
February: $231.04
March: $149.49 
April: $348.61
May: $334.20
June: $269.85
July: $294.90
August: $17.70
September: $404.54
October:  $360.44
November: $252.30

Total Spent so far: $2830.02
Monthly Average: $257.27

Turns out I am way under budget, which at least makes me feel better about the coat I ordered last week too that I'm waiting on. Technically I have $1369.98 left over for December (ha!) and no, I am not just going buck wild and spending it all. It makes me feel good that I seem to have reigned in my spending a bit. I actually try not to shop for myself a ton in December anyway since I'm busy shopping for others, so we'll see how this month goes.

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