Caraval – Book Review

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission (at no cost to you). I only recommend books and products that I genuinely use, read, and love!

Last year there was a lot of buzz about the 2017 release of Caraval by Stephanie Garber. I put it on my list of books to read this year. It took me a while to get to it but I’m so glad I did!

Caraval is an intriguing game in which the audience participates. The game takes place once a year and the events that occur within the game are just as mysterious as Legend, the mastermind behind the Caraval games. Scarlett and her sister Tella long to attend the Caraval games for years but knew that their abusive father would never let them go. Finally, as Scarlett is preparing to marry and give up her dreams of attending Caraval, Legend sends a personal invitation to the sisters.When the girls arrive at Caraval they are told to be careful to avoid getting caught up in the game. The must remember that it is only a game no matter how real it seems. Caraval forces the sisters to question reality as well as their own relationship with each other.

I’m so happy that I finally got around to reading this book. Garber paints such an imaginative picture of the Caraval world. Her descriptive writing kept me engaged through the entire book. It proved to be a quick read for me.  The characters and the imagery were the two things that appealed to me most.  If you are a fan of The Night Circus, I really think you will enjoy Caraval as well.

Caraval is also the first in a series.  I have heard that the second book will be released in 2018 and I honestly can’t wait!  I rated this book a four out of five stars! If you like fantasy, great imagery, and mysterious stories, Caraval is one you should definitely check out!

4 Star Rating

 

 

The French Lemon Received the Liebster Award

The Liebster Award

You guys, I have some really exciting news!  The French Lemon was recently nominated to receive the Liebster Award.  The Liebster Award is an award that recognizes new bloggers!  Blogging isn’t always that easy so it was so nice to receive a little bit of recognition.  Thank you so much Claira at A Little Peace of Home for nominating me! I am so flattered and really appreciate it!

Question Time

Part of the Liebster Award is answering questions posed by the blogger who nominated you, so here are my answers to Claira’s questions!

1. Why did you start blogging?

I started blogging for a number of reasons.  First and foremost, blogging is a great way to document my life with my kids and husband.  It is also an excellent way to share what is going on in our lives with our family and friends.

Another reason that I started blogging is that I need a creative outlet. I love to write and people are constantly asking me how I handle different aspects of raising five kids.  Blogging lets me get my creative juices flowing and lets me share ideas and advice with others.

2. What is your favorite dessert?

Oh man! This is a hard question. I have the worst sweet tooth!  I’m not sure that I can even pick a favorite dessert but brownies and cheesecake ranks pretty high!

3. Do you prefer breakfast or dinner?

Dinner definitely!  I’ve never really been a breakfast person.  I have learned to appreciate breakfast foods more as I’ve gotten older but they still aren’t my favorite.

4. What is something that everyone should experience at least once in their lives?

I think everyone should travel internationally at least once in their lives.  I think the U.S. is a wonderful country but I think it is so beneficial to visit another country and experience another culture.  Travelling internationally forces you to see the world as other’s see it and at times, it can be a wonderful lesson in thinking critically and problem solving, especially in a country where you don’t speak the native language.

5. Where is your favorite vacation spot and why?

My favorite vacation spot right now is Paris. I love the city so much!  It has such a wonderful atmosphere and culture!  There are a lot of places I want to visit on my bucket list but I’m not sure I will ever fall out of love with Paris.

Passing on the Liebster Award

The second part of accepting the Liebster Award is to pass it on to other new bloggers that I think you should check out.  I’m passing the award on to the following bloggers:

Saidy at Simply Saidy

Savannah at Savannah Yost

Catarina at Dear Amelie

Allie at Bohemian Nation

Mallory at Plaid Shirt Yoga Pants

Casey at Hunting for Rubies

Nadia at Blonde the Road

Hev at Average Joe Adventures

My questions for these bloggers:
  1. If you could travel anywhere in the world where would it be?
  2. What is your favorite book and why?
  3. What is your favorite food?
  4. Why did you start blogging?
  5. What is the one piece of advice you would give to bloggers just getting started?

Thanks again to Claira for the recognition!

Fresh Donuts and Our Summer Cooking Plans

Donuts are one of my favorite treats.  There isn’t much that beats a fresh, warm glazed donut and a hot cup of coffee in the morning.  My children share my love of donuts and they often beg to hit up the local donut shop before school in the mornings. A couple years ago, I began to wonder how hard it would be to make our own donuts at home.  I set out to find a good recipe and replicate our favorite donuts. We experimented with a few cookbooks and recipes and finally found a donut recipe that we love.

My children declared this the summer of cooking with mom.  Every day one of them has asked to make something with me. They have decided that they want to spend this summer taking turns cooking with me.  Most of the time they each want to cook with me one-on-one but occasionally they pick a treat that requires a significant amount of work and they all pitch in to help.  This past Wednesday was one of those days. They decided they wanted to make homemade donuts.  Donuts aren’t a treat that we make often because they do take several hours to make.

We had absolutely nothing to do and nowhere to be on Wednesday so we all hustled into the kitchen. It took several hours but by the time Daniel got home from work we had two batches of donuts made. We had blast hanging out together all afternoon!

When I started my quest to find a yummy donut recipe for homemade donuts, I purchased several donut cookbooks.  My favorite one is Doughnuts: Simple and Delicious Recipes to Make at Home. I love this cookbook because the recipes and ingredients are simple.  The author, Lara Ferroni, includes recipes for basic glazed donuts as well as more elaborate recipes like strawberry shortcake donuts. There are recipes for both raised donuts and cake donuts as well as a variety of  frostings, glazes, and fillings.

To help make your donut endeavors successful, I do recommend these products.  They aren’t all necessary, depending on the recipe that you are using, but they are often helpful.

Basic Glazed Donuts

For the donuts:

  • 3 tablespoons active dry yeast
  • 1 cup of whole milk
  • 2 to 2 1/2 cups of bread flour
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup of unsalted butter, melted
  • Vegetable oil for frying

For the glaze:

  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons of milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Directions:
  1. Begin by heating the milk to roughly 115 degrees. In a medium mixing bowl, dissolve 2 tablespoons of the yeast into 3/4 cup of the warm milk.  Add 3/4 cup of the bread flour and stir to create a paste. Cover and let the mixture rest in a warm spot for roughly 30 minutes.
  2. Combine the remaining warm milk and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer.  With the paddle attachment on, add the rested flour, milk, and yeast mixture to the mixing bowl.  Add the sugar, salt, vanilla, and egg yolks. Mix until smooth. Remove the paddle attachment and use a dough hook to slowly alternate adding the rest of the bread flour and the unsalted butter until the dough pulls completely away from the sides of the bowl and is smooth and not too sticky. The dough should be very soft and moist but not so sticky that it is impossible to roll it out.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough for at least 1 hour but not more than 12 hours.
  3. Remove dough from the refrigerator. Line a baking sheet with a lightly floured non-terry dish towel. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until it is roughly 1/2 inch think.  Use a donut cutter, to cut out the donuts.  If you would like these donuts to be filled, then do not cut the hole out.  A biscuit cutter works great for filled donuts.
  4. Place the donuts on the towel lined baking sheet at least 1 inch apart. Cover them with plastic wrap and allow them to sit in a warm spot to proof until they are double in size.  This usually takes about 5 to 20 minutes.  To test whether the dough is ready, tough it lightly.  If it springs back immediately then the dough needs more time.  If it springs back slowly, then the dough is ready. If it doesn’t spring back at all then the dough has overproofed.  Punch that dough down and roll it out again.
  5. For the glaze, mix the powdered sugar, milk and vanilla with a hand mixer on medium speed. You want a smooth, pourable glaze.  If the glaze is too runny, add a bit more powdered sugar.  If it is too thick, add a bit more milk.
  6. While the donuts are proofing, heat a heavy-bottomed pot with at least 2 inches of vegetable oil until a deep fat thermometer registers 360 degrees.  Once the donuts have proofed, use a metal spatula to careful lower the donuts into the hot oil. Fry for 1 to 2 minutes per side or until the dough turns a light golden brown.  Use a slotted spoon to carefully remove the donuts from the oil.  Place on a wire rack over a paper towel to drain the excess oil.
  7. After the donuts have cooled slightly, glaze them.  You can pour the glaze directly over them if you prefer.  I prefer to dip the donut in the glaze so that the glaze only covers about half the donut.

Source

This recipe and techniques are adapted from Doughnuts: Simple and Delicious Recipes to Make at Home by Lara Ferroni


Disclaimer

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission (at no cost to you). I only recommend books and products that I genuinely use, read, and love!

Reflecting On 30 and 40 Before 40

I turned thirty in April.  Since my birthday, I have been reflecting on this whole aging thing quite a bit. I don’t really have a problem with getting older and I certainly  do not feel different than I did at 29. However, as I reflect on the first 30 years of my life, particularly my twenties, I do wish I had done some things differently. Don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of things about my twenties that I wouldn’t change.  That decade gave me ten beautiful years of marriage to my best friend, five amazing children, two college degrees, and a lifetime of memories. However, if I could change anything in my twenties, I would have traveled more. I would have spent more quality time with my husband pouring into our relationship. I would have held my children a bit closer and a bit longer. I would have saved more money and spent less.

Turning thirty makes me feel as if I have a brand new start ahead of me.  I have a new clean and fresh decade to devote more time to the things that I neglected during my twenties.  That feels both exhilarating and daunting to me.

During this fourth decade of my life I want to travel more alone, with my kids, and with my husband.  Fun fact, Daniel and I have never stayed more than three hours away from our home together without kids and that has only happened once in the almost fifteen years we have been together.  We spent a weekend away at a spa in  2014 after Daniel graduated with his master’s degree. We didn’t even go on a honeymoon when we were married. I hope to change that soon. I want to see the world with Daniel and I also want to show the world to my children so I hope to spend more time traveling with them. So far, we haven’t taken them very far from home but now that most of them are getting older, Daniel and I have been talking a lot about the places where we would like to take them.

In addition to traveling, there are so many other things I hope to accomplish over the next ten years. I have goals concerning everything thing from paying off debt to participating in a triathlon. I’ve always been a goal-setter and a fan of lists so I have created a list of things I plan to accomplish before I turn forty. I had a lot of fun creating this list and I am seriously considering creating a lifetime bucket list.  I hope to document it here on the blog every time I cross one item off my lists! So, without further ado, here are the forty things I want to do before I turn forty!

40 Before 40

  1. Pay off our debt. I’m looking at you student loans!
  2. Become my own boss.
  3. Buy myself a “fun” car that all my kids won’t fit in. (Camaro, please!)
  4. Start swimming again. Maybe competitively.
  5. Participate in a triathlon at least once.
  6. Visit all 50 states. I’ve been to 25. 25 more to go!
  7. Save a substantial amount of money.
  8. Visit London and Paris with Daniel.
  9. Go to Disney World.
  10. Take my kids to the beach for the first time.
  11. Visit Las Vegas with Daniel.
  12. Go on an African safari.
  13. See the pyramids in Egypt.
  14. Visit forty countries.
  15. See an active volcano.
  16. See Pompeii.
  17. Spend New Years in Times Square at least once.
  18. Read 750 books.
  19. Write a book.
  20. Host an exchange student.
  21. Go on a cruise.
  22. Ride in a hot air balloon.
  23. Go hiking in a rain forest.
  24. Indoor sky dive.
  25. Face my fear of open water and learn to scuba dive.
  26. Eat at a Michelin 3-star restaurant.
  27. Visit Moulin Rouge.
  28. See the northern lights.
  29. Go zip lining.
  30. Go kayaking.
  31. Diversify my income.
  32. Get my nose pierced again.
  33. Get a tattoo for each of my children.
  34. Hike the Grand Canyon.
  35. See a musical on Broadway and in West End.
  36. Hold a sloth.
  37. Bathe an elephant.
  38. Learn to meditate and practice yoga effectively.
  39. Learn a second language.
  40. Say only yes to my kids for a whole day.  Keep ‘no’ out of my vocabulary.

What else should I aim to accomplish over the next decade? I’m open to suggestions! Shoot me a comment below!

How I Made $200 Online Last Week

I woke up this morning with more than $200 that I made online last week ready to be transferred to my checking account.  Stay tuned and I’ll tell you how I did it!

Bye, Bye Debt. Hello, Travel

I have found myself struggling with not being busy since finishing my master’s.  I like to have a goal in mind and I like to feel productive.  Since I am no longer focused on graduate school all the time, I’ve decided that I need to hone my focus in on other areas of my life that I have wanted to see change in for a while.

One thing that Daniel and I have talked about extensively for years but never really focused on was paying off all our debt (hello, student loans!) I’ve read and own all of Dave Ramsey’s books. We know what and how to tackle it we just haven’t really put in the effort over the past few years.  So many other things have held our attention that gardening our finances wasn’t really a priority. Without graduate school though, I have all the focus in the world to throw at it now!

In addition to eliminating our debt, my dream is to be able to make viable income online so that I can work on my own terms and be my own boss and travel whenever I want. I would love to be able to work from home and be more available for my kids.  So as I tackle our debt and save for future travels, I also plan to explore online employment and freelance opportunities.

It is also important to me to look for ways to diversify our income. In addition to online freelance work, I would also like to begin developing passive streams of income.  I’m not totally sure how I am going to accomplish all this but I know it is possible. At this point, it is one big experiment and I plan to report my findings here as I go along.

How I Made $200 Online Last Week

One of the first things I am doing to contribute to all our financial goals is to begin finding viable online streams of income. Last week I spent time working on two different websites that resulted in over $200 made in just my spare time.

I knew that I needed to find something where my specific set of skills would be useful.  With two degrees in history and working as an English teacher, my writing, editing, and proofreading skills are probably my biggest assets so that is where I started.

The first website that I worked on is Upwork.com. Upwork is a market place for freelancers. Clients post jobs and freelancers submit proposals for specific jobs that they would like to complete. The jobs range from proofreading to graphic design. If you are chosen to work on a job by a client, then a contracted is started. Depending on the contract, you are either paid hourly or a fixed price per project.  I have read many excellent reviews on Upwork. Several freelancers are making $5,000 to $10,000 a month completing projects through this website.

I signed up as a freelancer in mid-May. I landed my first job as a proofreader the last week of May.  I was hired by a publishing company to do a last read through of a novel before it is officially published.  They supplied the novel in PDF format. After I read it, I supplied the client with a list of the grammatical errors that I found. It was a fixed price project and I was paid $150. The project took me roughly three days to complete. After the client approves your work, the money is held in an escrow account for five days as a security measure. After those five days, then you are able transfer the money to your personal bank account.

The other side hustle that I worked online was Rev.com. Rev provides transcription, captioning, and translation services. I signed up as a transcriptionist because I have fairly good typing skills after writing so many papers in college.  The pay for each audio file varies but once you get the hang of it, it wouldn’t be hard to make several hundred dollars a week if you’re willing to put a little time in.  I have been averaging about $30 a week just transcribing a couple of hours after the kids are in bed one or two nights a week.  I imagine if I was willing to transcribe every night or even during the day some I could make quite a bit more.

Rev pays weekly.  On Mondays, your earnings from the week before are deposited into your Paypal account.  This is one of the quickest paying online jobs that I have found.

 

So what are the cons?

There are a few cons to both Upwork and Rev.  We’ll start with Upwork.  First, there isn’t any guaranteed work.  The best you can do is try to write an excellent proposal and put yourself out there.  Of the more than 30 proposals I submitted, I was only hired for one of them.  Once you are hired it is important that you do the best job that you can.  The clients are given the opportunities to rate you as a freelancer.  Those ratings are displayed on your profile for other clients to see.  Once you start getting work and more ratings, your chances of securing more jobs increase.

The second con that I’ve found with Upwork is that they take a 20% service fee out of your earnings.  This means that of the $150 I was paid for the proofreading job that I did, I only netted $120.  While it’s still not bad money, it still stinks having that percentage taken off the top.

Rev is a great option for people who are wanting to break into transcribing work. Most transcribing jobs requires you to have some experience. However, Rev will hire you without any experience so it is a great way to build your transcription experience.  The downside to Rev is that you have to pass several grammar and typing tests to be hired.  I didn’t find any of the tests very hard but if you struggle with grammar and punctuation or typing just isn’t you thing, Rev may not work out for you.

May Online Income Report

I’ve been fascinated by other income reports I have seen posted on several blogs.  After much internal debate on whether or not I should share how much I make online, I’ve decided to go ahead and share my results at the end of each month. I made this decision for a couple of reasons. First, I find other people’s online income reports super inspiring.  It helped me to realize that earning an income online is possible even if it is not a full time income. Second, it allows me to track my progress and see what is working and what I’m wasting my time on.

While earning an income online has been an interest of mine for a while, I really didn’t put any effort into it until after I graduated on May 12.  So, the income I’m reporting was really only earned the last half of May. I did make a small amount of money from the affiliate links and ads that are found on this blog which I have also included in this income report.

Online Income Total for May: $216.83

Here is where that total came from:

  • Upwork: $120
  • Rev.com: $90.52
  • Affiliate Links: $4.66
  • Ads: $1.65

I’m happy with this income for May since this was the first month that I really devoted any time to working on these income streams. And in all reality, I only put that effort in the last two weeks of the month.  These results aren’t too shabby for a couple hour’s work over the last two weeks.  I can’t wait to see what I can accomplish in June. Check back at the end of the month for the June online income report!

 

May Recap

May is quickly coming to an end and it has been a busy month for us but things are finally starting to wind down.  I’m excited for the slow down and I’m looking forward to having some more quality time with my kids and time to read.

Sports Madness

Most of May kept us super busy with sports. Baseball geared up full force during May and won’t conclude until mid-June. I’ve really enjoyed baseball season this year.  Jackson moved up from t-ball to coach pitch. He was so nervous that he almost talked himself out of playing.  Thankfully, we convinced him to just give it a try and he has done wonderful.  He didn’t get very many hits the first few games but after a little practice he is hitting the ball almost every time he is at bat. One of his biggest fears was that he would get hit by the ball and that hadn’t happened until last week. Last week he was hit by the ball twice and now he’s a little skittish at bat.  I’m hoping that experience doesn’t ruin baseball for him but so far he is still hanging in there and trying.  He has four more games on the schedule and then possibly a tournament if his team continues to do well.

Up to bat!

Soccer is finally winding down.  Emily played her last game last night and Jackson played his last Saturday.  Soccer was a bit lackluster this year mainly because of all the rain we’ve had.  Every game but three for each child was rained out.  Emily’s team made an effort to make up several of her games during practice time through the week but Jackson’s team didn’t really make up that many games.  The kids enjoyed what little they were able to play but I do felt like they were more committed this year to baseball and dance.  Soccer may be the sport we have to rethink soon.

Nap time during soccer!

Dance season also wrapped up this month. Thank goodness! After spending three nights a week at the dance studio since last September, I am so ready for a break from dance. Honestly, I think the girls are too. Recital week was pure craziness and left me exhausted.  Because at least one child was dancing in both the Thursday and Friday night recital, we had to be at rehearsals Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday in addition to the recitals on Thursday and Friday nights.  Each recital and rehearsal required us to be at the theater for about three hours each night.  The girls did wonderful though!

Post-recital!
Proud dad!

Graduation

Around the middle of May, I finally walked across that stage and received my diploma for my master’s degree! It was a pretty surreal feeling.  The amount of time and effort I put into this degree was by far more than what I have had to do in the past academically. It was a long road but so worth it.

We made it!

While it was difficult, it was an experience I am very thankful for.  I made some, hopefully, lifelong friends that I could not have made it through the program without.  We compared notes, vented to each other, and encouraged each other every step of the way.  They understood what it is like to read the huge amount of historical literature that we were required to read and try to absorb it all while maintaining your sanity. I’m thankful for their support and friendship all along the way!

Two years of reading requirements!

The day after I graduated, I said good-bye to the graduating class of the high school that I teach at.  I have tried to run up to the graduation ceremony and wish the graduates good-bye each year but this year was particularly bittersweet.  The class of 2017 was the first class that I ever taught at this high school.  When I started my job I taught freshman civics and economics.  The next year I moved to junior English and the year after that I began teaching senior English as well.  Many of the kids in this graduating class had me as a teacher their freshman year, junior year, and senior year.  Needless to say, I was pretty attached to them.  I’m proud of the adults they have grown into the last four years and can’t wait to see what the future holds for them!

So, what now?

School is officially out and I have been home on summer break with my wonderful kids for a week now.  We haven’t really made any summer plans because I really think we just need some downtime. Our little family has been running full force for really the past two years. I’ve went to graduate school. We’ve bought a new house and welcomed two new babies in the past year.  We need a bit of time to relax.  Of course, our version of relaxing probably still seems busy to some.

No trips or traveling this summer but swim team practice starts next week. That will take up three mornings a week and then we will have some swim meets on Friday nights and Saturday mornings over the summer.   I have a list of books that I can’t wait to read and Lauren is looking forward to baking and cooking with me.  That is about all we have planned for the summer!  What are your summer plans?

Me Before You

Me Before You
Me Before You

This book review was originally published on The Wordy Nerd Books on August 28, 2015.

The topic of caring for disabled people is often one that is difficult to approach.  It is often not easy on the caretaker or the patient but Jojo Moyes does an amazing job at exploring the many facets of the life of a disabled person and a caretaker in Me Before You.  She easily pulls the reader in emotionally and makes you wonder what life would be like if you were facing the same circumstances.  I found myself in love with both of the main characters.  When they were sad, my heart was absolutely broken for them.  When they were happy, I found myself rooting for them.

This book does often involve some pretty hard topics that most people have strong opinions about but I still found it to be a beautiful book.  It is one that will probably affect you on an emotional level but I definitely think it is worth a read.  Moyes writes well and her work is easy to read.  I found myself not wanting to put this book down.  Overall, I rated Me Before You four out of five stars.  It’s a great book but be prepared to feel all the feels!

4 Star Rating

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission (at no cost to you).

Go Set a Watchman

Go Set A Watchman
Go Set A Watchman

This book review was originally published on The Wordy Nerd Books on July 16, 2015.

It’s not often that I can sit back and devour a book but yesterday, I did exactly that with Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman.  When this book was announced earlier this year, I immediately pre-ordered it from Amazon and have

been waiting on it to arrive anxiously.  I loved Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and I couldn’t wait to dig into Go Set A Watchman.  And I have to say, I was not disappointed.

Over the past few weeks there has been quite a bit of controversy over this book after it was revealed that Atticus Finch is portrayed as a racist.  Atticus, for many, has come to represent that epitome of humility, equality, and respect.  In To Kill a MockingbirdAtticus stood up for what was right, taught his children valuable lessons about people and race, and became one of the most beloved characters of American literature.  So for many, Atticus as a racist was a hard pill to swallow.  Lee absolutely does portray Atticus with racist characteristics in Go Set a Watchman and that was hard for me to read at certain points in the book.  However, I think it is a dose of reality.  To Kill a Mockingbird is very much a story about Scout’s childhood and a child views her father very differently from the way an adult would.  This novel is set two decades after the events in To Kill a Mockingbird so of course Scout has grown up and now sees things differently.  She sees Atticus differently and notices things about him that she probably wouldn’t have noticed as a child.  Atticus still wants to do what is right but I think Scout is just able to finally see a different side of him as an adult.  I still found Atticus respectable even if I didn’t always agree with everything he said.  Also, just like many readers, Scout also has a lot of trouble rectifying the father she once knew with the new things she finds out about Atticus in this novel.  Scout’s struggle with this is one of the main plot points of the entire novel.

What I think is most poignant about this novel is that it very much pertains to all that has been in the news lately.  The difference between Atticus and Scout in this novel really highlights the conversations that are still taking place in our country.  The conversations between Atticus and Scout are still very relevant.  I think Scout’s plight in this novel is reminiscent of what many people of my generation are dealing with right now.  With all the talk about race in our country right now, I think many younger people are seeing elders that they always respected suddenly showing a very racist side.  Sometimes it is hard to grasp that the people you respect the most are not on board with what you think they should believe.  This book very much seems to me a big dose of truth and reality.

As far as writing, I really enjoyed the writing style.  Lee did a fantastic job.  There were some spots that were clearly not her best writing, however, that is something I could overlook considering that Lee wrote this years ago without the intention to publish it.  She supposedly requested that it finally be published without any changes or input from an editor and I think that has to be considered when judging her writing.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book.  It was hard at times to read, especially if you are attached to the Atticus everyone knows from To Kill a Mockingbird like I am.  However, it is well-written for the most part and I believe it is a poignant and timely statement about racial relations in the U.S.  I gave it a four out of five stars and would definitely recommend it.

4 Star Rating

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission (at no cost to you).

How We Keep the Romance Alive as Parents of Five

Daniel and I started dating a few months after my fifteenth birthday during the summer between my freshman and sophomore year of high school  He is very much my high school sweetheart.  I married him when I was eighteen, just a few short months after I graduated from high school.

In the course of our almost twelve year marriage we have completed four college degrees between the two of us and welcomed five children to our lives.  Between full time jobs, college, and our kids and their activities, keeping our marriage and relationship healthy isn’t always the easiest task.

When we committed to each other through marriage we promised that we would always put each other first, even before our children.  Our children are extremely important to us and we make sure they have everything they need and are well taken care of mentally, physically, and emotionally.  However, in just a few short years (much sooner than I think I will be ready for!) our children will be adults.  When our children leave the house, it will be just Daniel and I.  We don’t want to spend those empty nesting years trying to repair a neglected marriage so we do our best to make an effort now to keep the flame alive and our relationship thriving.

As parents of small children, we struggle to find time together.  Date nights aren’t always a reality for us, especially since the youngest twins were born.  We don’t have many people in our lives who willingly volunteer or that we trust to keep all five kids so we can have dinner together.  Five kids, especially with two babies, can be overwhelming.  So, we do our best to only ask family to babysit if we have work obligations.

Since we don’t feel like we have reliable and readily-available babysitters most of the time we have started making efforts to carve out alone time at home.  I thought I would share how we are doing that as an inspiration to other parents of young children.

1. Date-Night In Box

After the babies were born last August, we were struggling.  I was dealing with a bit of postpartum depression and a stressful semester of graduate school on top of midnight feedings.  Daniel and I were having a hard time connecting.  By Christmas, we were barely talking most of the time.  We both recognized that we needed to refocus on us.  So my Christmas gift to Daniel was a subscription box called Date Night In.  

The Date Night In subscription box arrives once a month.  The box contains everything you need for a date night in with your spouse.  Each box contains the items needed to complete a specific activity, a treat to share, a recipe to cook and eat together, and something to set the mood.  The company also provides a play list to help set the mood as well.

The activities we received in the box have included all kinds of things from writing love letters to playing games together.  Every month is new and unique.  The box costs $34.99 a month plus tax and shipping.  They also have 3-month and 6-month plan that offers a bit of discount as well.  If you have the extra money for this each month, I highly recommend it.

I won’t lie.  The first few months were hard for me.  We were struggling so much that I really didn’t want to participate in the activities but I buckled down anyway and completed the activities included in the box. At this point, I think we both really look forward to getting a new box in the mail each month and completing the dates with each other once the kids are in bed.  It is a guaranteed Date Night In once a month!

2. Dinner for Two

Sometimes even if we can get a babysitter, a night out just isn’t in the budget.  Making a special dinner together for just the two of us is always a nice way to go.  If you have kids and can stand to have a late dinner, I highly recommended waiting to have dinner until after the kids are in bed.  Cook dinner together, light some candles, and enjoy a meal without your kids.

There are a ton of recipe books out there that cater to couples.  One of my favorites is Date Night In: More than 120 Recipes to Nourish Your Relationship.  This book contains full menus to prepare together and enjoy a night in.  Of course, you don’t have to prepare the entire suggested menu.  Just a main course or an appetizer provides a nice quiet retreat.

3. Share a Sweet Treat

Sometimes it just isn’t feasible to cook a full meal so Daniel and I have been sharing desserts after the kids are in bed.  Sometimes he will run up town and bring back ice cream sundaes to share.

Sometimes we bake brownies or cookies and share them with a big glass of milk.  It is nice to curl up together on the couch, share a sweet treat, and have a quiet conversation.  If you need some ideas there are some wonderful cookbooks that have sweet recipes just for two.  Sweet & Simple: Dessert for Two is a great option!

4. Play a Game Together

My husband loves board games.  I’m not so crazy about them.  He is constantly trying to get me to play games with him.  I have put effort in over the past few years to play more games with him.  While games may not be your thing, they do bring some fun and laughs to your relationship.  There are plenty of two player games available out there.

Even if we aren’t together, Daniel and I play games.  We almost always have some sort of game going on our phones. Games are a good way to build companionship and keep the fun in our relationship.

5. Write Letters

Remember those love notes you wrote when you first started dating.  Keep writing them!  Even after being married for almost twelve years, Daniel and I still write each other letters and notes.  We don’t do it as frequently as we used to but getting a surprise letter from Daniel still makes my heart flutter.

Writing letters promotes better communication in your relationship as well.  When you write a letter you have to take the time to actually construct the sentences instead of just letting your thoughts flow out of your mouth.  Taking the time to think about what you want to say to your spouse usually results in more meaningful communication.

Daniel and I have also found that sometimes it is easier to write about something going on in our relationship instead of talking about.  Sitting down to write a letter keeps the emotions a bit less heated during those times that we are having a disagreement.

We actually keep a moleskin notebook that we have written letters to each other in over the years.  He will write me a letter and leave it on my nightstand.  I’ll respond and leave it on his.  Sometimes we keep up with this well.  Other times it falls to the back burner for us.  Writing letters definitely runs in cycles for us but it is an awesome communication tool.

Need More Ideas?

Still looking for more ideas to keep the romance alive?  There are some amazing books available that promote healthy relationships.  We recommend 52 Uncommon Dates: A Couple’s Adventure Guide for Praying, Playing, and Staying Together.  We also own both the husband and wife version of 100 Ways to Love Your Wife: A Life Long Journey of Learning to Love.

What are your favorite tips for maintaining a healthy relationship with your spouse?

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission (at no cost to you).

 

The Girl on the Train

This book review was originally published on The Wordy Nerd Books on April 28, 2015.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins has been on several bestsellers lists for quite a while.  I’ve seen other avid readers raving about it and comparing it to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.  I finally decided that I needed to jump on the bandwagon and pick this book up.

The Girl On The Train
The Girl On The Train

I ordered this book from Amazon and I was so excited when it arrived at my front door.  I dug into it pretty quickly and I have to say, it did not disappoint.  This book was fast-paced and hooked me fast.  The story starts by introducing Rachel, a young woman whose world has fallen apart.  She is divorced and was recently let go from her job.  She spends her days drinking and riding commuter trains into the city so her roommate won’t know she no longer has a job.  She spends so much time on the train that she begins to make up lives for the people that she passes each day.  And then one day she witnesses something that might help the police in a missing person case but with Rachel’s history concerning alcohol, the police aren’t sure they can trust her.

I can absolutely see how this book has been compared to Gone Girl.  While I see the similarities, I don’t think the plot twists were quite as stunning to the reader as it was in Gone Girl.  The Girl on the Train definitely has surprising twists and turns.  I just think the reader can predict some of them. However, I don’t think that it took away from the book.  I still enjoyed it and I didn’t figure everything out so there were still some surprises.

The writing was good but I didn’t find that anything special about it stuck out for me.  Hawkins did a good job helping the reader jump to conclusions about different characters.  She develops the characters well. Overall, it’s easy to read and Hawkins does a good job at keeping the reader engaged.

If you’re into murder, mystery, and crimes, or if you like books similar to Gone Girl, then pick up The Girl on the Train.  It’s a great read.  Overall, I rated it four out of five stars!

4 Star Rating

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission (at no cost to you).