January Books in Review

January Books in Review

Fable by Adrienne Young with a Ammie Y'all rainbow mug and an open book underneath, on a light colored blanket

One of the things I’m endeavoring to do this year is be better about reviewing the books I read. For the past seven years, I’ve tracked the books I’ve read each year, but I haven’t reviewed them in any regular fashion. It’s gotten to the point where I’ve often forgotten to give them star ratings, and unless the book was wonderful or terrible, I couldn’t remember if I liked it enough to recommend it. But only recently, when I picked up a book at a used book sale here that I vaguely remembered reading about 20 years ago, (while tucked up in my grandma’s spare room, reading the romance novels I was most definitely not allowed to read) and started to reread it, I realized that reviewing my books might be useful. Because that nostalgic book from my teen years? Not only did it not age well, but it was poorly written. I could have saved myself a few Euros and a couple hours of eye rolling.

In addition, I’ve recently taken the next step as a crazy book lover, and gotten approved for ARC (advanced reader copy) books, and I need to review them. You can follow along with my reading progress in real time on The Storygraph. Here’s my profile, I’d love if you follow or friend me there. 

Books Read: 8

Favorite books: Fable, My Lala
Least favorite books: Monet and the Monster Magic

Portrait of a Scotsman by Evie Dunmore

Portrait of a Scotsman (A League of Extraordinary Women Book 3) by [Evie Dunmore]

Fiction; Historical Romance
⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4.0 stars

A well written novel, and the 3rd in this feminist set of historical romance novels. I didn’t love these characters as much as I did some of the other characters, but as usual, her writing is amazing and I enjoy the modern perspective on historical romance.

 

Shrinkage by Krystaelynne Sanders Diggs

Fiction; Children’s Literature
⭐⭐⭐ 3.5 stars

If you’ve read Hair Love, you’re going to enjoy reading Shrinkage. This book is a sweet, and beautifully illustrated, book about a young girl and her magical hair. She styles her hair in a myriad of ways that show that her hair is magic. Great for all kids, but as a curly haired (white) mom with a curly hair (white) daughter, we especially loved reading it. As my daughter and I read the book, we talked about which hairstyles would work on our hair, and which wouldn’t, and about how amazing curly hair is. While I think this book is beautifully illustrated, there wasn’t much plot, so while we enjoyed it, it wasn’t one that was requested for a reread. 3.5 stars for the topic and the illustrations though!

I was provided an ARC copy of this book through Netgalley. My thanks to the publisher and the author for providing it to me.

Beyond: The Founding of Valdemar #1 by Mercedes Lackey

Beyond (The Founding of Valdemar Book 1) by [Mercedes Lackey]Fiction; Fantasy
⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4.25 stars

I’ve been hoping for a ‘this is how it all began’ since I first started reading these books 20 years ago. On the one hand, it was everything I had hoped for, and on the other, it fell a little short of the court drama that I had hoped for. All in all, I am excited to see where this series goes.
 
 
 

My Lala by Thomas King & Charlene Chua

Fiction; Children’s Lit
⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4.0 stars

Lala is a mischievous little girl who has a box full of treasures and one day, decides to use one of those treasures to let everyone know what all in the world belongs to Lala. This short story is perfect for little adventurers, and features a main character of Asian heritage. It’s beautifully illustrated, and the writing flows really well. It was one that my daughter asked me to read again and again, and I was glad to do so.

I was provided an ARC copy of this book through Netgalley. My thanks to the publisher and the author for providing it to me. This book is available for preorder, and will be out in June 2022!

Sweet by Elizabeth Hunter

Sweet: A Novella (Love Stories on 7th and Main Book 4) by [Elizabeth Hunter]Fiction; Romance
⭐⭐⭐ 3.75 stars

Super cute little novella, and a lovely way to read more about spider and daisy from the other books. I wish she’d written them a whole novel, their stories deserved more!
 
 
 

Monet and the Monster Magic – RE Lockett

Monet and the Monster Magic by [R.E. Lockett]Fiction; Children’s Lit
⭐⭐ 2.0 stars

I wanted to love this story based on the description of it, and the text, but unfortunately, the illustrations were really lacking. Monet is an adventurous child who sees a monster in the woods and goes off on adventures with them. The story is fantastic, and if I was judging this on the text alone, I would give it 4.5 stars. But the illustrations feel rushed and unfinished, and takes away from the story as a whole, leaving both myself and my age appropriate child disappointed with the tale.

I was provided an ARC copy of this book through Netgalley. My thanks to the publisher and the author for providing it to me. This book is available for preorder and will be out in March 2022.

Bear Loves Music by Pang Shuo & Gan Yufang

Fiction; Children’s Lit
⭐⭐⭐ 3.5 stars

When I saw this book, I had high hopes for it, but in the end, it fell a bit flat. Little Bear plays her flute for her friends and neighbors, and some of them react poorly, but then some of them really like the music. While the illustrations in the book are lovely, and it flows fairly well, it didn’t capture the interest of myself or my daughter. And, there’s no real story or moral dilemma in the book, so a problem is never solved. Cute, and something I would enjoy checking out of the library, but not something that I would want to add to my home library.

I was provided an ARC copy of this book through Netgalley. My thanks to the publisher and the author for providing it to me.

Fable by Adrienne Young

Fable: A Novel by [Adrienne Young]Fiction; Young Adult, Fantasy
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5.0 stars!

I’ve seen this book around quite a bit since it was published, and I can’t believe it took me two years to read it. Absolutely breathtaking. The start was a bit slow, but the character development was good. You’re really pulled into Fable’s story. While most of the plot twists were somewhat predictable, the way the book ended was unexpected. Currently impatiently waiting for the second book to come up in my library holds so I can find out how the story ends! As an aside, while I love library books, I’m contemplating buying both Fable and Namesake just because the cover designs are SO PERFECT that I want them in my library.

Year End Review: 2021 Shopping Diary

Year End Review: 2021 Shopping Diary

babaa cardigan natural

Last spring, I wrote about how the pandemic and an international move had affected my wardrobe, and how I am working on slowly rebuilding my closet. My goal was to purchase less than 20 items this year, and for half of those items to be from small and/or ethical shops, or be used.

So, how am I doing? Back in April, I made a wish list of 19 items that I wanted to get in 2021. Of those, I purchased just 11 items, and spent 2/3 of the budget I set for myself. Five of the eleven items have been from small shops, and one additional item is from a company that I believe is fairly ethical (Prana). The most expensive item I’ve purchased this year was the sweater in the photo above. After a lot of dreaming and debating, I splurged on the gorgeous Babaa no 19 cardigan in July. It’s been a wonderful staple in my closet (paired above with a tank from Simply Merino and my trusty old Levi’s 711 jeans.

Narrowing down my closet and taking inventory has allowed me to really dial in exactly what I wanted to add to my wardrobe, and I’ve been super happy with my purchases because of that. If it wasn’t on the list, I had to stop and really evaluate whether I wanted to spend my budget on it or not. The Prana Cozy Up top above was a bit of a jump for me as far as a new color, but it’s quickly become a favorite piece. Of course, the weather has also dictated a few of my purchases. After a late summer rainstorm left me dripping in the hallway at preschool, my shoes squelching as I walked (oh yes), I realized I need some rain boots. But the abysmal summer (read: cold and rainy) meant I hadn’t purchased any sandals.

I’ve also realized that my car-free, apartment-dwelling-dog, life means I’m putting a lot more miles on my shoes than in years past. My shoes and boots are wearing out faster than I’d planned, so that is something I’ll need to take into account going forward. I desperately need to replace a couple pairs of shoes, but I’ve been indecisive about what will fit best in my closet. Last fall, I purchased a pair of Allbirds Mizzles, but I don’t find them to be as comfortable as my classic wool sneakers or my tree skippers, since the fabric is thicker and doesn’t breathe as well. Both my Tree Skippers and my Wool Runners are at the end of their life span, as are my Hausschule (slippers – a staple in German homes). While I can wait til next spring or summer to replace my Tree Skippers, I’ll need a new pair of casual sneakers quite soon. I had debated replacing my slippers, but instead mended the wool and will hopefully get another few months out of them.

Doc Marten’s were on my shopping wish list this fall, but I’ve been debating whether I need them. So, each time I’ve gotten ready to leave the house, I’ve asked myself if the shoes I’m wearing are the best choice (going for a run, absolutely, my running shoes are aces) or if something would be better (a little cold and rainy, maybe the docs would work better here) and that’s helped me dial in my wardrobe gaps as well.

I had planned a trip to Athens for December, and with it, I’d planned to purchase a pair of sandals or two, using up some of my remaining budget, at my favorite sandal maker in Athens. But the trip was cancelled and I didn’t end up buying anything else with the Christmas rush happening. I’m doing a no buy this month, and then in February, I’ll reevaluate my wardrobe again. I think I’ll even do a round up of all the things I bought in 2021, along with links, and then post my 2022 goals then.

I’d love to hear about your wardrobe staples, or if you have favorite cute but comfortable shoes!

Time in a Finite Resource

Time in a Finite Resource

Lahaina Maui Hawaii // Emily Wenzel Photography

Time is finite. You always think there will be more of it. That you’ll have one more chance to visit your favorite restaurant. To wear that dress you love (before it doesn’t fit again). That you’ll watch another sunset or sunrise or ride on a plane and stand in front of something that a group of people built hundreds or thousands of years ago.

But time is finite.

If we have learned nothing in the past two years, I hope we’ve learned how finite our time is. How quickly our days can go from before to after. It’s something I struggle with, every day. This is the last moment you’ll have that is exactly this moment. Think about it. Even if you feel like tomorrow will be the same as today, it won’t be. It’ll be tomorrow, not today. And today will become yesterday. And none of us know how many days we have here on this planet.

I am by no means encouraging you to do stupid shit, but I am saying that we need to embrace each good moment, and remember to be present in them. Remember that chances are worth taking and you can do impossible things too. Today, I’ll cross the 10k mark for my first novel. I feel like shouting from the top of the nearest church tower, and I feel like puking and deleting it. But the point is, I’ve been wanting to do this for years. What if I’d never had the chance?

“There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask “What if I fall?”
Oh but my darling,
What if you fly?”
― Erin Hanson

Time in finite. Take the trip, hug your friends, say I love you. Listen to the voice inside you that guides your heart, let go of the things that aren’t making your life better, and fight for the future. Because I’ve had more regrets about not doing things than I have from doing things.

 

Photo is from my personal collection, taken in Hawai’i.

Another Spin Around the Sun

Another Spin Around the Sun

The author and her daughter at the beach. She had dark curly hair and is wearing a blue-green tank, the daughter is blond with rainbow stripes on her top. All around them is white sand.

It was my birthday in August, and with it, I am squarely in my mid-30s now. In some ways, I feel very old (hello, TikTok stars, how are you all such babies?!) and in other ways, I feel like just gotten to a point in my life where I feel aware of who I am. I am more confident in making decisions based on my desires, and not the whims of the media or outside influences. This ability ebbs and flows though, I am not impervious to outside influence.

The last year was full of artistic and professional burnout. There was a point in there, when I debated never picking up a camera again. I couldn’t find joy in my chose craft at all. So, I stepped back from photography. I finished renovating, painting, and then sold the home I thought we’d live in for decades. I packed our lives into boxes, put them on a ship, and moved across the world. I started writing again, I went back to playing the piano, I started painting and designing and making digital art. I did nothing. I read a bunch of books. I danced in the kitchen.

We spent months without seeing anyone outside our home, with our only contact being on a screen. There were days in the past year when the weight of the world at large, and the world at home, was enough to crush me. To keep me from wanting to get out of bed. To make me question the very fabric of who I am, and what I’ve dreamed of. On those days, I questioned every decision I’d made in recent years, but especially the ones that led to us living abroad. And on other days, the path felt very clear and focused. Clarity in one area of my life often leads to clarity in another area as well.

As I posted earlier this year, I reevaluated my entire wardrobe after we moved. I’ve been working hard to slowly add only pieces I love to my wardrobe, and to shop from smaller, sustainable, and more local, brands as much as possible. It hasn’t been easy, but as much as it’s hard work, I do enjoy knowing that I’ve carefully selected all the pieces that I’m adding into my closet.

And as we venture out into the world at large, as things have reopened and we make more plans for the future, I am also reevaluating where I spend my time, my money, and my energy. Trying to figure out my next steps for work and life, and finding my own voice again. I’ve stopped fighting it when I have the urge to deep dive into something, and instead, embrace it. I research the heck out of something, and then, when I’ve found my answers, I can securely move forward.

I’ve made another trip around the sun and come to the realization that I’m most likely not neurotypical, and that it both makes quite a bit of sense, and doesn’t surprise me much at all. I’ve realized that making new friends is like speed dating and that’s made it easier. I’ve decided that I’m going to conquer my fears and say yes more. I’m going to try things and tell myself it’s okay to suck at them. I’m going remember to make mistakes and not get tangled up in mental self-flagellation afterwards. I’m going to teach myself – and the little human I’m raising – that mistakes are normal, that being perfect isn’t the goal, that joy can be found in the darkest of days, and that the little moments are the most important.

About a year ago, I started asking N to tell me a good thing every night, and we do a bad thing as well. At first, it started as a way to find small joys in the midst of a life changing pandemic. And then, it became a way to remind us both that happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one remembers to turn on the light (Harry Potter). And then, it made me realize that it was a way to know my child better. To know what brings them joy, and to find ways to turn the bad moments around. To find the things that really matter (spoiler alert: it’s time with friends, ice cream, Story Time on Zoom, and calling her grandma) so that we can keep finding that joy in life.

So, in a way, I guess my 4 year old has taught me one of the greatest lessons of the past two years. Figure out what little things make you happy every day, and keep doing them. If you can’t think of one thing that made you happy that day, you need to reevaluate your priorities.

In this Moment // July 2021

In this Moment // July 2021

village of Steinberg am Rofan

A couple weeks ago, I went on a retreat in Austria, a small weekend in a little house with eight other women. It was a fantastic time to get away from Munich, to get away and spend some time with other women who are also entrepreneurs. One thing I realized towards the end of the weekend, is even though we did a lot of talking and soul searching for each of us, I focused on my business side, and didn’t mention my writing to anyone there. I don’t know why, when writing has been taking up a huge amount of my work hours lately. Something to contemplate as I go forward with things.

I took the train down, and it was just a delightful as I’d hoped. My muse is a huge fan of long train rides or flights and I had a breakthrough with my novel. Which also necessitates a huge rewrite and plot rework, but I’m here for that. Anything other than writer’s block. I also got some great planning done for setting up my business here, and am hoping to get everything squared away over the next couple weeks so that I can start taking on client work again in September. Anyone need a VA?

While there, I went for a walk that turned into a hike down a mountain in the pouring rain, which reminded me that a year ago, we were in the Methow Valley and had no clue the turn our lives would take in just a few short weeks. The last year has been hard, in so many ways, and has taught me a lot. I’m not sure what the future holds, but I am hopeful that I’m heading in the right direction.

Your Hobby Doesn’t Need to Be Your Side Hustle or Your Day Job

Your Hobby Doesn’t Need to Be Your Side Hustle or Your Day Job

Joshua Tree National Park - Moon in the blue sky above a curving road with a road curves ahead sign.

I first picked up a camera with the intention of making art, and not just preserving memories, when I was 14 or 15. I loved that it gave me a way to easily share my world view with others, and I enjoyed it. I entered a few photography contests in high school, but mostly just did it because I loved it. This joy of taking photos and documenting life continued into a gap year in the Czech Republic and the first year of college.

Towards the end of that first year, I got the idea of working for the college yearbook and newspaper as a photographer. I was photographing things that were still fun to me, and it was fun to have some extra money in my bank account each month. I had another job slinging coffee, and then working with kids, but photography became a bit of a “side hustle” for me. I liked it.

But after graduating in 2010, applying to jobs day after day after day, and finally, despite a college degree, I went back to slinging coffee (for a large green and white logoed company out of Seattle) because it was the job that paid the most, and where I could get hired. At the same time, my friends were getting engaged left and right, and a few asked me to take some photos of them. From their, the idea grew, and I started working as a second shooter at weddings and opened my business in 2012. It was a proper side hustle now, helping me pay my down my large pile of student loans.

Simple wedding portraits in the Methow Valley

A couple years later, that side hustle became my day job when I quit the last of my day jobs (I had two, because neither had full time hours). Photography became my day and night job. It took over my whole life. All my other hobbies were thrown out the window. I took on more and more work to build my portfolio, to build my brand. I planned and shot creative shoots when I wasn’t shooting paid work, all to have more content. I did shows to get my name out, and shot more to cover those costs. I took on more work to save up for a house. We bought a house. I worked and worked, and when I wasn’t working as a photographer, I was working with my husband to renovate our house.

We had a kid, and I cut back a bit, because we couldn’t afford childcare, even with me working full time. I worked during naptimes, tag teaming childcare with my husband (the first two summers after our daughter was born, I walked out the door as my husband came home 3-4 times a week for consults, meetings, or shoots). I was up until midnight or later most nights working. My days were full of parenting, my evenings were for photography, and my weekend were filled with weddings and working on our house. The little free time I filled with traveling or the little volunteer work I squeezed in. Sometimes I worked out. But hobbies? I didn’t have any. Photography was my hobby. Renovating our home was my hobby.

In 2020, when I cleared off my desk so my husband to work from home for a few weeks, I had a feeling this was the end of the business I built. First, I deep cleaned my house (because I needed to do something with my hands). Then, as the days dragged to weeks and months, as I saw the writing on the wall, I told my husband that this was the end of my photography business. I officially closed it at the end of 2020, because of our move to Germany.

Because somewhere in the past 13 years since that first time I was a paid photographer, my passion for photography, my “muse” had abandoned me. I was constantly struggling to stay focused, I was in a panic to keep booking, more and more, to make sure I was doing it. The pressure to pay my bills, to be a success story has killed it. The passion was gone, and I had let my hobby become my side hustle and then my day job and then a thing I despised.

I went six months without picking up a proper camera. The desire to create was completely gone. But, gradually, that desire has come back. My desire to make photographic art for me, to share it because I love it, is back. I’m not currently interested in shooting for others, but the itch to create it back. I’ve picked up a few old hobbies and I’m looking forward to trying out a few more when we’re allowed outside our homes again. We’ve moved, selling the house we loved. My new and old hobbies are all things I love, but – with the exception of one – I have no desire to make money off of.

The one exception? I’m working on a book. I’m writing a story that I want to write, and maybe someday, I’ll be able to sell that story and make some money. But I’m writing it for me, not for my bank account. If I stay up till the wee hours of the morning, it’s because my muse and I are on a roll. It’s for the passion, not for the dollars.

But all is not lost. In the fractured remnants of my business, I pulled the things I learned, the things I was good at, out. I pieced them together, and am in the process of opening a new business as a virtual assistant. It’s a job, not a side hustle. And my hobbies are things I do for fun. If I start making art again, I may choose to sell that art in some way (because my husband has made some valid points about the limited space on our walls), but I’m here to tell you that you can have fun at a hobby and not turn it into a way to make money.

You can play the piano because it makes you happy. You can paint because you want to learn to paint. You can practice yoga even if you never want to teach it. Hobbies are the way our brains relax, they’re things that bring us joy. And while you shouldn’t hate your job, you shouldn’t rely on your job to bring you joy and money. Find joy in living, and live that joy.

 

Thompson Barn Tekoa Sunset