Poached Eggs, Flowers, Quilts and Surrogate Grandmothers

Poached Eggs, Flowers, Quilts and Surrogate Grandmothers

We spent about 12 hours on airplanes over the weekend, swapping time zones to travel to and from New Haven to be there for Grandma Jeanne, and to be in community with everyone whose hearts she had taken up residence in.

We practiced spelling words for the third grade Bee on the plane. We caught up with family, and cried, and dressed up and sat in a beautiful old chapel with impossibly tall stained glass windows, and let the kids play by the creek in their good shoes, and ate delicious little steak-and-horseradish crostini.

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We drove back to Rhode Island and slept hard, and fed the ducks, and toured a house for sale around the corner. The woman who owned it had passed away, she was over 100 years old and I thought about the stories that 1960’s wallpaper could tell.

Bixby clambered into his old ride-on car with his knees pulled up to his chest and zoomed up and down the quiet street. We talked around the table over plates of homemade chicken Milanese, and over mugs of tea, and outside on what ended up being the first really spring-like day.

Mostly though, over the past few days, I’ve listened. See, Grandma Jeanne wasn’t my grandma, at least not by blood. I was content to listen, partly because I love hearing the stories, and partly because it feels awkward to lay claim to a grandmother that isn’t officially “mine”. But Grandma Jeanne has been my surrogate grandmother — something I think my own grandparents would be grateful I’ve had the gift of enjoying all of these years.

I remember when Grandma Jeanne and Pop-Pop still lived in the house on Autumn Street: the steep backyard was terraced into a garden, the structure of it lovely even in winter.

Inside was all sunlight and warmth.

Artwork from their world travels and photographs of family spanned the clean, milk-white walls. Upstairs, presented with pride, were a few gorgeous handmade quilts hung carefully on the walls, their stitches telling stories of their own.

Poached Eggs, Flowers, Quilts and Surrogate Grandmothers

I feel lucky to have met my husband’s grandparents while they were still living in that house: lucky to have witnessed a small slice of their life in that love-filled home, where so many poached eggs on toast were served up and the candy dish was always full.

But most of all, I feel lucky for the time I got to spend with Jeanne in the years after her husband passed away. My own grandparents were all gone by then, and without fanfare, Jeanne took me into her brood like just one more little duckling.

We shared a love of mystery novels — she adored Louise Penny and Martha Grimes — and always talked books when we got together. She took such an interest in my work, always asking to see my latest blog post or a recent article I had written for Houzz. She wanted me to help her design her apartment in the assisted living facility after she moved out of the house on Autumn Street. When I brought photos for her of Bixby, she told me with utter sincerity that she thought I should be a photographer.

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I think a lot of people hold their own families so tightly that there’s no space for anyone else to get in. But if you’re lucky, sometime you’ll run into another kind of person: the kind that has not just a warm smile, but a warm and open heart that seems built for kindness. Especially where grandchildren — and great-grandchildren and surrogate grandchildren — are concerned.

What I've Been Reading This Winter

What+I%27ve+Been+Reading+This+Winter

It’s time for Quick Lit, where, joining with Modern Mrs. Darcy, I share short and sweet book reviews of what I’ve been reading lately. This is a juicy list, y’all — it’s not a stretch to say that there is at least one title on this list for nearly every kind of reader.

We have a twisty tale set on the river Thames, a strange epidemic, a mormon murder mystery, two immersive historical novels, a gorgeous coffee table book and a pair of must-read political picks for non-political people.

Fiction:

Once Upon a River

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

This is a delicious novel. “Old fashioned storytelling” is what immediately came to mind when I thought about how to describe it. Set on the river Thames in an indeterminate period in history, there is a mystery involving an old pub, three missing girls, and one child who appears to be dead and then lives again. A wee bit spooky and utterly transporting — perfect for cozying up with on a cold night.

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The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

I fully admit that the cover blurb by Emily St. John Mandel (author of Station Eleven) sold me on this book. In it, a mysterious sleeping sickness starts in a Southern California college dorm, and spreads to epidemic proportions. The storyline kept me frantically turning the pages, and I found myself thinking about it well after I put the book down, which is always a good sign.

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Not of This Fold by Mette Ivie Harrison

This book was recommended on the Indie Next list, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have picked it up — but I’m glad I did! A Linda Wallheim mystery set in mormon Utah, this felt like a comfort read (if cozy mysteries are a comfort read for you) but also illuminated Mormon culture in a way that, as an outsider, I would never have access to otherwise. If you’re at all curious about what it’s like to be a Mormon woman in the modern world, read this book. The protagonist is married to a bishop and is a feminist, which leads to some really thoughtful examinations of the intersection of beliefs, family life, gender roles and power structures.


Unread Shelf Project:

This year I am embarking on an intentional quest to winnow down my unread shelf a bit. If you’d like some guidance to do the same, I recommend checking out Whitney Conrad on Instagram and her interview with Anne Bogel on the What Should I Read Next podcast.

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To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey

The January Unread Shelf Challenge was to read any unread book on your shelf. I chose a title by Eowyn Ivey, author of The Snow Child. Like The Snow Child, this story is set in the wilds of Alaska, with a few strange and magical twists. Ivey follows a Colonel Allen Forrester, a Civil War hero, on an exploratory mission to map the interior of the Alaska Territory by way of the Wolverine River. Told in alternating perspectives, we see the Colonel’s adventures as well as his wife back at camp, who is learning about the photographic art. The rich descriptions of nature swept me away, and I loved learning about this slice of history I knew very little about.

Manhattan Beach

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

For February, the Unread Shelf Challenge was to read a book that was gifted to you. I chose Manhattan Beach…which was gifted to me by my mother in-law and has been on my TBR pile ever since! This is historical fiction with a twisty little mystery, family drama, beautiful writing, and diving. It was fascinating to learn about the (scary!) early days of diving through our protagonist Anna, who works at the Brooklyn Naval Yard as a diver during World War II. I’ll definitely be adding Egan’s other works to my TBR!


Nonfiction:

Restoration House

Restoration House: Creating a Home that Gives Life and Connection to All Who Enter by Kennesha Buycks

I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of this coffee table-worthy book from the publisher. It is gorgeous and just one of those books that makes you feel all warm and cozy and cared for. Buycks is a Christian, and you should know that this book is centered around a Christian perspective. That said, I see a lot to appreciate here, whatever your faith tradition. The core purpose of the book is to help the reader create a home that nourishes on all levels, from your senses to your soul, a message I believe anyone can get behind.

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Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Five million stars. Can I just leave it at that? Hah. This was my first Goodwin, and I can see now why people love this author so much. I wouldn’t have guessed that reading a presidential biography could be so compelling! Deep-diving into the life of Abraham Lincoln was a hopeful, inspiring experience worth savoring — and certainly worth the page count (which is not small).

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I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening) A Guide to Grace-Filled Political Conversations by Sarah Stewart Holland & Beth Silvers

Necessary reading for every human being in 2019. I’m a huge fan of Sarah and Beth’s podcast, Pantsuit Politics, where they gather each week to talk politics from different sides of the aisle with “No shouting. No insults. Plenty of nuance.” But you don’t have to be a fan of the show to appreciate the book. It’s filled with the duo’s trademark insight, depth of understanding and empathy, while at the same time challenging each of us to do better — to make the effort to have tough conversations about politics with people who don’t agree with us, without falling back on the comfort of our own well-defined party lines.

I hope you enjoyed this little peek into my reading life as much as I enjoyed sharing it. Let's do it again next month! And please feel free to share a link to your own reading list in the Comments.


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Late Winter Self-Care

The tail end of winter is the worst. I may be free from the iced-over car and rock-hard, dirty snow piles now that we’re back in California, but that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten what it’s like. And no matter where you are, this time of year (with its still-short days and iffy weather) doesn’t always make it easy to maintain a positive attitude. Or get out of a warm bed.

I’ve been compiling a mental list of all of the things, big and small, that feel like good self-care, especially at this time of year.

Here are 6 things I’ve learned, in no particular order:

Yoga with Adriene

1. Yoga with Adriene is good for what ails you

I love doing yoga, but rarely make it to an actual class. It can feel like too much effort, especially when it’s pouring rain and my day feels especially packed. I’ve recently discovered Yoga with Adriene, a delightful online yoga instructor. I’ve been doing her 10 minute yoga quickie for neck, shoulders and upper back daily and it feels so good. And her 12 minute wind down yoga is perfect before bed. Total bonus that her dog co-stars in all of her videos :-)

2. Family date nights at the pub can feel like real dates (almost)

On a cold, stormy night with no babysitting in sight we decided to make the most of things and go on a “family date”. We grabbed a game (Exploding Kittens is big in our house right now) and headed to our favorite pub. It’s a family-friendly place stocked with their own board games, a small menu and grown-up drinks for those who choose to partake. We came away feeling like we got our night out, plus a family game night.

3. You totally deserve a treat for your face

I’m pretty low-maintenance when it comes to skin care and beauty: I prefer a quick, simple routine with minimal products. That said, in winter it feels really good to splurge on a little treat (or two or three) and take those extra few minutes in the shower to feel like a real person with soft, lovely skin. In case you’re curious, here are a few products I’ve tried and loved: this vitamin C serum (a few drops will do you); Melissa day cream; and this brightening facial scrub.

Late Winter Self-Care

4. Trip planning in winter is the best

Here’s why you should totally do this:

  • Anticipating a trip can actually boost your happiness.

  • The most popular campsites, hotels and Airbnbs get booked way in advance — now you can be one of those people who plans ahead! (Case in point: we recently snagged a coveted spot at this lake-side Lake Tahoe campground, which you need to do months in advance.)

  • You get to browse photos of gorgeous places and daydream all sorts of fun possibilities.

  • You don’t even have to plan a Big Trip to make this work. This year we made a commitment to do more super-quick weekend getaways just for fun. You might be surprised at how many interesting little trips you can come up with not far from home.

5. KonMari folding is strangely relaxing

I’m not sure why, but for a long time I was resistant to trying the KonMari method of folding (aka “filing”) clothes into neat little packets.

You guys, I don’t know why I waited so long! Once you get the hang of it, it really doesn’t take any more time than folding the usual way (aka messily) and being able to actually see everything in your drawer at a glance is a total game-changer. But what I really wasn’t expecting is how the process of folding the KonMari way makes me feel all Zen. Curious? Watch Marie Kondo fold clothes above (the folding starts at about 1:50) and then give it a try.

6. Audiobooks paired with a paper copy help get us out the door (and back home again)

For Christmas, I bought my son copies of the first three Percy Jackson books, thinking he’d love them. Long story short, he does love them, but felt they were a little too scary to read right before bed. To bridge the gap, I picked up the audio version at our local library so we could listen in the car. This had a wonderfully unexpected consequence: since we now have both versions, I’m finding it helps propel my son out the door in the morning and makes long car rides a treat for everyone. Because he just can’t wait to get back to the story. (We’re still not reading it right before bed, though!)

xx Laura

Process of Elimination

For the past nearly-four years, we have been living in an apartment. It’s a lovely apartment, steps from my mom and brother, a few blocks from one of my oldest friends, walking distance from Trader Joe’s, a delightful cafe, a running path by the beach and a great school we love. My husband takes the ferry to work, 20 minutes later he’s in San Francisco; on the boat ride home he can have a beer and look out at the sun setting over the bay.

But it’s in a city where we can’t hope to buy a house, not anytime in the foreseeable future. It’s an apartment without a yard where my outdoors-loving kid and I crave open, wild spaces. It’s in a city where the air is regularly “unhealthy for sensitive groups” which makes me nervous since I had asthma all through childhood.

Process of Elimination: On the Beauty of Saying Not for Me

These past almost-four years have, in a strange way, felt like limbo. Enjoyable, for all of the reasons above, but with an undercurrent of transience. How long will we be here? Where will we land next? I hate the feeling of not knowing, even though we are the people doing the deciding. I wouldn’t want someone to tell me where to live, and yet in a small way it feels like that would be easier. I crave limitations. When the world is too wide-open, it’s scary not knowing where you’re headed. With a course charted, I can relax into the journey.

I’ve been slowly piecing together a patchwork of not-heres to help determine where that great big “you are here” arrow might land next.

First, after reading This is Where You Belong by Melody Warnick, I decided to cross off any place too far to drive to a good friend or relative’s house within an hour or two. For us, that narrows the options down to just a handful of circles on the map. Unfortunately, some of those circles are still thousands of miles apart, begging the question: how else can we decide where to go?

I know what I want: A walkable town, good coffee, independent bookstores, clean air, beautiful nature, quality schools and public resources like parks, playgrounds, walking paths and libraries. A nice big yard where we can have a dog and a treehouse. My work is portable, but my husband will need to stay near at least a mid-size city.

Process of Elimination

We took a quick overnight getaway to one potential locale over the weekend, and I was instantly disappointed. It was near areas I’m quite familiar with, and I thought I had a better sense of things. But after arriving, I quickly realized that seeing a place with eyes to living there is a different proposition altogether.

I didn’t like the treacherous curving roads with no sidewalks — I imagined my son trying to navigate them on his bike, and felt my heart jump into my throat. The densely oak-y hills felt strangely oppressive. Pulling into the parking lot of the junior high school, we were greeted with a roof that needs replacing and a cluster of mostly temporary buildings surrounded by chain link. I came away feeling dispirited and down.

But as the experience percolated in my head a bit more over the next 24 hours, I realized that this — the ugly school, the tummy-twisting roads, the oppressive trees, all of it — was a gift.

It’s a gift to be able to say, that’s not for me.

It’s a gift to be able to name what’s not working.

It’s a gift to be able to walk away: to cross something off your list and say, nope, not going to happen.

Where has that left us? Honestly, I don’t know. There are still communities near the one we checked out that have potential, and then there are the other (much farther away) circles on our map to weigh. But being able to cross this one place off our list of potential places is like taking a bag or two of castoffs to Goodwill — it’s not the whole shebang, but it’s a beginning.

A bit of space is opening up, and that’s worth celebrating.

2018 Reading Challenge Recap

This was the first year I a) tracked my reading and b) took part in the Modern Mrs Darcy Reading Challenge, and both ended up doing good things for my reading life. As the calendar year is winding down, I thought it would be fun to take a peek back at what I read for my 2018 reading challenge.

Reading Challenge 2018

To be clear, these were not the only books I read this year — after looking back over my reading log, I’m on track to have read 52 books before January 1! Since this was my first year tracking my reading, I’m not sure how many books I usually read in a year, but it seems likely this was more than I’ve read in at least a few years. The simple act of tracking my reading helped keep books in the forefront of my thoughts throughout the year…which led to watching less Netflix and picking up more books. Hah!

Now, on with the books…

Persuasion

A classic you’ve been meaning to read.

Persuasion by Jane Austen

I was gifted a big stack of Austen’s novels last Christmas, and I’ve been slowing making my way through them.

Little Fires

A book recommended by someone with great taste.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Was I the last person to read this book? It sure felt like it considering the number of people (both online and off) who recommended it to me! When I finally picked up my mother in-law’s copy, I devoured it.

The Odyssey

A book in translation.

The Odyssey by Homer, as translated by Emily Wilson

This is the one book from 2018 that I want to press into everyone’s hands. Emily Wilson’s translation of this classic work is shimmering in its simplicity, and the story reads like a thrilling page turner.

There There

A book nominated for an award in 2018.

There There by Tommy Orange

This was already on my TBR, and we scored a copy for Christmas, so it just moved to the top of my list. I’m currently reading it, but I expect to be done by Jan 1!

Holidays on Ice

A book of poetry, a play or an essay collection.

Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris

A few of the stories in this collection are worth the price of the entire (slim) volume.

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

A book you can read in a day.

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli

In preparation for writing my NaNoWriMo story (a YA novel which involved time travel) I gulped down this book in a single afternoon and then moved on to Rovelli’s recent release, The Order of Time.

The Witch Elm

A book that’s more than 500 pages.

The Witch Elm by Tana French

French is one of my favorite authors, and while I didn’t love this as much as the books in her Dublin Murder Squad series, it still came together in that signature twisty way of hers that I love.

Kingdom of the Blind

A book by a favorite author.

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny

Reading Louise Penny feels like coming home to a cozy house with the fire blazing and a big mug of something hot to drink. This year’s book was quite possibly my favorite of all.

I'll Be Your Blue Sky

A book recommended by a librarian or indie bookseller.

I’ll Be Your Blue Sky by Marisa de los Santos

When the indie bookseller squeals as she hands you a copy of a book, saying, “I loved this so much!!!” you know you’re on the right track. This was my first de los Santos, and it didn’t disappoint.

Twilight

A banned book.

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

I read this as part of my prep for writing a YA NaNo novel…I swear!

I Am I Am I Am

A memoir, biography or book of creative nonfiction.

I Am I Am I Am by Maggie O’Farrell

One of the best books I read this year, I couldn’t put O’Farrell’s memoir down for a second.

Americanah

A book by an author of a different race, ethnicity or religion than your own.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I had to step away from this novel about halfway in, but when I picked it up again I was so glad I did — the second half had me completely engrossed.


Have you ever participated in a reading challenge? If so, what was your experience like? Are you planning any challenges for 2019? I’d love to hear!

The Simple List: Holiday Hygge Edition + Mini-Gift Guide

Hello dear ones! I feel like I blinked the week before Thanksgiving, and now we're galloping towards Christmas. What happened?

Well one thing that happened was I won NaNoWriMo! It was my first time making it to the finish line, and I feel so good about completing a (very) rough draft of a fictional work for the first time. The plot holes are a mile wide, but that's what revision is for, right!?

Christmas at the Biltmore

I just rounded up some hygge holiday links and a mini-gift guide for my newsletter subscribers (are you on the list?), but since I haven’t had a chance to post here in a while, I thought I would share it in this space as well. First up is a short list of 5 cozy holiday favorites, including cookie baking tips, gorgeous Christmas lights, cozy bookish art freebies and a very hygge Pinterest board. Scroll a bit further down & I’ve also shared an assortment of highly giftable goodies for all of the people on your list. Enjoy!

1. The Biltmore at Christmas looks magical.

2. My recent writings on Houzz: 15 essentials for bakers24 simple pleasures + treats for your holiday countdown10 times to hire an architect.

3. The secrets to easier cookie baking. (Smitten Kitchen)

4. Freebie alert! Super cozy bookish art + bookmark printable. (The House That Lars Built)

5. Latest Pinterest board: Winter Hygge, oh yessss....

Pinecone Necklace

Mini-Gift Guide 2018

I hope you enjoyed this as much as I enjoyed sharing it! 
xo Laura

Cozy Minimalism

Hello dear ones! I’m just popping in quickly to wish you a happy Friday, and also to share a peek inside a brand new book I just adore…

Cozy Minimalist Home by Myquillyn Smith

The book is Cozy Minimalist Home by Myquillyn Smith, aka The Nester, and I count myself very lucky to have gotten a beautiful advance copy to review. I enjoyed Myquillyn’s first book, but it hasn’t made it into my permanent library. This book feels different. If you’ve been looking for a decorating book that has actual real-life helpful tips that you can apply right away, this is your book.

I saved it for a weekend so I could read it from cover to cover all cozied up in bed with a cup of hot tea, and I was not disappointed!

Cozy Minimalist Home by Myquillyn Smith

Evidence: I can’t remember the last time I pulled out my tin of book darts to use in a decorating book. Hah! Chapter five (about quieting your space), and chapter seven (on the decorating trinity) are totally worth the entry price on their own. Myquillyn does an excellent job of walking us through the nuts-and-bolts essentials of decorating in a relatable, authentic way. These are not the words of a professional interior designer issuing proclamations about how you should decorate your home — these are the words of an imperfect woman who can get sucked in by those Target end-cap displays just like the rest of us.

The concept of cozy minimalism feels like just the thing many of us are craving right now. Minimalism alone can feel restrictive and, frankly, no fun. But having too much stuff simply adds to our stress and overwhelm. Cozy minimalism, on the other hand, feels like hygge to me: it’s about focusing on what matters, clearing away what doesn’t, and connecting with the people and things you deeply love.

Cozy Minimalist Home by Myquillyn Smith

If you order a copy by Saturday, October 27, at midnight (or if you’ve already ordered one) enter your purchase details at the Cozy Minimalist Home website, and you can take Myquillyn’s 4 Seasons Cozy course for free. Enjoy, and happy weekend!

xo Laura

October Quick Lit & Harry Potter Party Planning

Hello friends! It’s time for Quick Lit, where, joining with Modern Mrs. Darcy, I share a few of the books I've been reading lately. I have a nice stack of spooky October reads to share today — it’s been a good reading month! Up ahead we have a dark fairy tale, peculiar children, cozy minimalism, mysteries and one very unusual bookstore.

October Quick Lit and Harry Potter Party

And in other bookish news, my household has been very busy planning a Harry Potter halloween party — hence the Gryffindor banner and in-progress DIY chopstick wands pictured here (we used extra-long chopsticks, in case you’re wondering!). You can find some of the DIYs and ideas I’ve been pinning right here. Now, on with the list!

First, a pair of spooky YA titles perfect for getting in an October mood:

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

I’ll just say it: I didn’t want this book to end. The Hazel Wood is a dark and creepy fairy tale that begins in modern day New York, but soon detours into very strange country. This is officially YA, but it leans towards an older audience. The protagonist, seventeen-year-old Alice, and her mother have been on the run her whole life for unclear reasons — but having something to do with her grandmother, who authored a cult-classic book of very dark fairy tales. When Alice’s mother is kidnapped, she and a friend must travel to her grandmother’s fabled house, The Hazel Wood, to find out what has happened.

Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs

Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs

The third book in the Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children series, this picks up with sixteen-year-old Jacob discovering a new ability, and culminates with an epic battle to save his fellow peculiars. I’d had this title on my bookshelf for ages, and it felt just right picking it up in October. After diving in I found out that Riggs has just released book 4 in the series, A Map of Days.

If you’d like to catch up on the plot quickly, may I suggest screening the Miss Peregrine’s film on a stormy October evening with popcorn and apple cider? I really enjoyed the film — even though it takes some major liberties (main character and love interest Emma has a fire ability in the books, but she was swapped with a peculiar who floats in the film).

Next up, three mysteries for every taste…

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

This title has been out since 2013, but somehow I missed reading it when it was first released — so I was thrilled to be reminded to pick it up when it appeared on my library’s recommended books shelf. Set in San Francisco just after the Great Recession, an out-of-work graphic designer takes a job as a night clerk in a 24-hour bookstore in a seedy neighborhood.

Soon, Clay realizes that more is going on in those stacks than first meets the eye, and he follows a trail of clues that lead him into a secret bookish society that has spanned the ages. I was whisked right into the story, and especially loved reading about this particular setting because I lived in San Francisco during those years, and it was a treat to revisit places I know and love. Anyway, he had me at magical bookstore! :-)

The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel

The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel

I’ve been making my way through the Station Eleven author’s back catalog, and I loved this earlier work. Disgraced and out of work journalist Gavin Sasaki goes to stay with his sister in Florida, and ends up investigating the mysterious circumstances surrounding a child who turns up with Gavin’s ex-girlfriend’s last name and bearing a striking resemblance to Gavin.

The girl soon disappears again, and Anna, the child’s mother, is nowhere to be found. This novel was atmospheric and transporting in a way that reminded me of Station Eleven — next I’ll be reading Mandel’s The Singer’s Gun.

Not That I Could Tell by Jessica Strawser

Not That I Could Tell by Jessica Strawser

I scooped up this Book of the Month Club pick at my local used bookstore and gulped it down in two nights. It’s a tense, slightly creepy domestic mystery that unfolds the night after a bunch of mom friends drink wine around a backyard fire pit — and in the morning, one of them is missing, along with her young twins. This wasn’t my favorite of the bunch this month, but it captured my attention while I was reading it.

Cozy Minimalist Home by Myquillyn Smith

Cozy Minimalist Home by Myquillyn Smith

I was lucky enough to be sent an advance copy to review of this lovely title — and since my full review is still coming, I’ll be brief here. Suffice to say, this is a beautiful, relatable decorating book that offers real, practical solutions for those of us who feel trapped between wanting to simplify our homes and also embrace beauty and objects we love. A must-have for home lovers.

I hope you enjoyed this little peek into my reading life as much as I enjoyed sharing it. Let's do it again next month! And please feel free to share a link to your own reading list in the Comments.

Quick Lit: What I've Been Reading (And Loving) So Far This September

It's time for another edition of Quick Lit, where, joining with Modern Mrs. Darcy, I share bite-size reviews of what I’ve been reading lately. I am so excited about the books I'm sharing this month. We have inspiring handcrafts, an ancient Greek love story, balm for a divided America, and one very resourceful Marsh Girl.

Quick Lit: What I've Been Reading (And Loving) So Far This September

First, a pair of fiction picks I adored (for very different reasons):

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

This lush story follows Kya, a sensitive, intelligent girl who has been abandoned by one after another family member until she is left alone to fend for herself in the wild marshes of coastal North Carolina. Called the “Marsh Girl” and shunned by folks in town as “swamp trash”, Kya must learn to make her own way. I wanted to stay out there, “way out yonder where the crawdads sing,” with Kya a little longer — even after turning the last page.


The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller — Quick Lit September

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

I finished this book and felt completely heartbroken (in the best way). The central focus of Achilles is a love story between Achilles and Patroclus. As I’ve heard the author, a classics scholar, tell it, this story is not meant to be a retelling of The Iliad, but an imagined backstory and complement to the Trojan epic. Since finishing this book, I read a review that complained the plot felt more YA than classical.

I agree that the story, told from Patroclus’s point of view, is a romantic one, but I can't help but wonder whether the same critique would have come up if the protagonists were not a same-sex couple. For me, the love story felt authentic, and the perspective breathed fresh life into an age old tale. I can’t wait to get my hands on Miller’s new book, Circe…maybe next month!


Next up, two nonfiction titles I loved:

Print Pattern Sew by Jen Hewett

Print Pattern Sew by Jen Hewett

I am relentlessly drawn to craft books, blogs, and enticing workshops — even though I don’t often carve out time to actually make the projects. Hah! Jen Hewett is one of my absolute favorite people to follow, and since she is a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, there’s actually a chance I could take a workshop from her not too far from home. Her new book, Print Pattern Sew, is beautiful, and filled to the brim with clear instructions for projects featuring her trademark block prints. I’d love to come back to this one over my next holiday and dig into a few of the projects.


Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown — Quick Lit September

Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown

This was my first Brené Brown book, and I have to admit it was sitting on my shelf for a year before finally making the time to read it — and I’m so glad I finally did. With chapter titles like “People Are Hard to Hate Close Up. Move In.” and “Speak Truth to BS. Be Civil.” the messages in this slim book feel like exactly what our country needs to hear right now. If I could, I would totally beam this contents of this book into the heads of everyone on the planet!

Pro tip: the audiobook is read by Brené Brown, so that could be a great way to get it into your life — if you’ve ever heard one of Brené’s TED talks, you know her delivery is fantastic.

Quick Lit: What I've Been Reading (And Loving) This September

I hope you enjoyed this little peek into my reading life as much as I enjoyed sharing it. Let's do it again next month! And please feel free to share a link to your own reading list in the Comments, or just share the title of one of your recent favorites — I would love to hear about it!

hugs, Laura

Moments of Beauty: A Peek Into My August Gratitude Practice

Hello my lovelies! Some of you may remember that last month I started a gratitude practice. We’ve all heard about the far-reaching benefits of gratitude (it’s been found to boost happiness, strengthen relationships and more) but keeping a gratitude journal can seem like just one more thing to do. Since accountability can help cement a new habit, sharing my list is a good way to boost the chances that I will continue making gratitude a regular practice in my life. Why don’t you join me?

Moments of Beauty: August Gratitude Practice

I had an idea that recording my list on twitter would be a quick and easy way for me to keep up with what had been a spotty-at-best practice, but after testing it out for about a month I’ve decided it’s not for me. Instead, I’ve been keeping a running list in my bullet journal, and I’ll share a segment here each month.

Here are a few little moments of beauty I captured this August…

Little pink baby cheeks and toes on a wee niece.

Finding independent bookstores wherever I travel. It feels like home.

Sand and sea as far as the eye can see.

Big wedges of watermelon on the deck, juice dripping down arms.

Being with so many favorite people, all under one roof.

Heirloom tomatoes from my mother in-law’s garden, carefully packed and driven all the way down the eastern seaboard.

5pm on the deck of our rented beach house, icy G&T in hand.

Finding a Little Free Library specifically for children’s books!

Learning to run.

Waking up at first light, dawn on the beach, just me and the dolphins.

Sunrise over the ocean, all quiet where the wild horses roam.

Fresh heirloom apples, first of the season from our favorite farm.

Honey bee crossing! Homemade sign declaring the presence of a thriving hive.

Saturday morning, fresh coffee, stack of cookbooks. Listing favorite recipes to make this fall.

Escaping town for the cool blue of the reservoir, lush green trees, lizard spotting with my son.

Finishing a book that feels so satisfying you can’t imagine picking up another one.

Camping with old friends. No cell service. Lots of stars.

Next steps: Look for themes to boost your joy.

Looking back at this list, I’m noticing nature, fresh seasonal foods, and books. (No surprise there, hah!) If you make your own list, reflecting on any themes that crop up can be illuminating: if there are certain things, people, or experiences that tend to light you up and bring you joy, why not make room for more of the same? Intentionally choosing to do small things that make us happy (and increase feelings of gratitude) is a wonderful way to gradually move your life into alignment with your truest callings.

What are you grateful for? Feel free to link to your own gratitude list in the Comments.

August Gratitude Practice