Together At The Table (A Review + Vlog)



I was so excited when I got an email to review Together At The Table by Hillary Manton Lodge! This book is the third in the Two Blue Doors series, and I read and reviewed both of the other books as well (here and here).  I really enjoyed the first two, and I was excited to see how Juliette's story would play out.

In this book we find Juliette struggling to figure out what she wants in her romantic relationships amidst losing her mother and opening the restaurant with her brother.  I won't say too much because I don't want to give it away, but after all personal problems are resolved Juliette travels back to Italy to unravel the mystery of her grandmother's life.

Once again, this book was slow-paced, but not in a boring way.  This is a warm and cozy slow-paced, and I enjoyed it very much.  I was very satisfied with how Juliette's personal relationships worked out.  This book is also full of recipes, and I feel like I can never give it away because I want to try all of them!  The food descriptions in this book make me want to break out my pots and pans and create something.

My favorite part of this book was the last third, when Juliette visits her family in Italy and uncovers the last secrets of her family history. I loved reading about Mirielle and how her story played out.  Then ending was bittersweet to me as we see all that could have been, but not too sad because everyone's lives worked out for good.  If you haven't read this series and you are up for a more contemplative novel, definitely check them out!


Note: I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for a review.  This is my honest opinion.




She's Still A Baby, I Tell You





Sometimes life gets away from you and you realize that your baby daughter turned seven months old two weeks ago, and you never wrote an update for her.  Oops!  Life is busy around here right now, to say the least.  In addition to continuing to work on our home updates (we're getting so close!), it seems that every other day I have been driving into town for some activity.  Not so this week.  As Derek termed it, I am boycotting all events this week that aren't strictly necessary, just because I am in such desperate need of a break.

So far today I have read half a book, put away the laundry, tamed the toy tornado that the kids leave in their wake, and done some baby-lift exercises with Clarice amidst hilarious giggles.  Yes, it was a good decision.


(Clarice holding her grandpa's fingers.)

So my girl has finally learned to laugh!  For so many months her "laugh" consisted of a little throaty hiss with a huge smile on her face.  It cracked me up, because I could tell she was laughing, but it is doubtful whether anyone else could!  But as she demonstrated earlier today, she has it down now.  The belly chuckles and shrieks were in full swing.

Her sleeping has evened out a bit over the last month, and she usually just wakes up sometime between 12-2 AM, and then again around 6-7 AM (which is about the time we wake up, because the big kids will not sleep in - no matter how much I beg).  I can tell my milk supply is peetering out, and this makes me sad because I intend to breastfeed Clarice as long as possible. I'm trying to pay attention to how she looks over the last few days while she nurses, because it seems our time may be more limited than I thought.  She grabs onto my shirt and her eyes get droopy while she eats.  Sometimes though she is wide awake, and she will engage her little baby abs and attempt to look around without losing her latch.  Sometimes she'll look at me and see me watching her, and her little blue eyes sparkle, and her dimples show as she grins at me.  I love it.



We started solid foods this month, and Clarice is a big fan!  She shakes with excitement sometimes when she sees me pul out her little baby spoon, which only intensifies if it happens to be a food she likes.  So far sweet potatoes, pears, and bananas have been the favorites, but she also seems to love carrots, squash, and even green beans.  I need to pick up some teething cookies for her, because she looks so sad when I give the big kids a snack, staring at their treats and smacking her lips.  

No crawling in sight, though she was trying for all she was worth a couple weeks ago.  She is sitting up by herself now, but she doesn't particularly like it.  She prefers that I hold her all. the. time.  As long as I am holding her, she is happy as pie.  If she must be put down, she wants her brothers and sister playing nearby, and I don't dare look at her because she will let me know that this is not her ideal situation.  She does not like to be alone.

(I love that little tuft of hair on top of her head.)

Her eyes are still blue, but her blond, wispy hair looks slightly more full, and her eyelashes are darker.  I keep getting comments about how she looks like a little mini toddler, and I guess she does seem to have such a knowing look in her eyes sometimes.  But I always scold people for comparing my baby to a toddler.  My baby!  She's still my baby, and for pity's sake (literally, have pity on my mama heart), don't call her a toddler until well after her first birthday.  Preferably not until she is walking and has passed the 18 month mark.

My sweet baby is growing up, little by little, every day, and darn it, I'm not ready.



---

Darling Clarice,

Sweetie, you are growing so much!  I say that every month, only because it's so true.  It amazes me how different you can look month to month, because I see you every day - shouldn't the transformation be more obvious to me every morning?  A month, after all, is not that long.   But goodness, I am loving this time with you.  Your little blue eyes just make my heart jump, and I swear it is nearly impossible to be in a grumpy mood when you are smiling.  When you cry, your little eyes get all red, and it is the most pathetically cute thing.  You are cuddly, and squishy, and sweet, and even though I must put you down sometimes, there is always a tiny part of me that regrets it.  I treasure these days where I get to tote you everywhere.  Don't crawl too fast.

I love you more than all the pine needles on all the trees, and all the buds that are just starting to show up too.

Love,

Mama

Two Ways My Two Year Old Makes Me A Better Mom



I was sitting on the couch, reading, when he toddled over to me.  “Mama, sit by you!” He requested.  It cracks me up how full his sentences are at not quite two years old.

I put the baby down and pulled him up next to me, his little fists dragging his blanket and snake stuffed animal up with him.  I thought he would turn around and sit down on the couch with me, but instead he stayed facing me, grinning.  Then I heard little lips smacking, and something soft tapping my arm.  I looked up from my book to find a stuffed snake “nibbling” at my arm.

I looked at his happy little face, and his brown eyes sparkled.  I played along.  “Don’t eat me, don’t eat me!” I shrieked, and he dissolved into a little puddle of giggling before his snake starting snacking on my arm again.

We had a few more rounds of snake nibbling before I grabbed his stuffed friend and turned it back on him.  Then his giggles turned to that shrieking laugh that cannot fail to make me start laughing too.  I tickled him and shrieked some more, then said “A-den, Mama! A-den!”  

(That's "again" for those of you who don't speak Clyde.)

And of course I had to comply.

My sweet little boy turned two years old a few weeks ago (wasn't he just born?).  When I think about him right now I think of these kinds of moments.  He is starting to play games now, and the time I take to play brings such joy to his handsome baby face.  He loves to be tickled.  He wants to “come wif you” all over the house.  He asks to be picked up frequently, and he will snuggle right next to me on the couch whenever he gets the chance.  He is the middle child, not needing as much instruction as the older kids yet, but more independent than the baby.  



When I think of Clyde right now, two things come to mind.

1) He reminds me to be grateful for every little thing.  

This kid is so grateful, it makes me laugh.  He thanks me for making him lunch, thanks me for putting on his shoes.  He thanks me for changing his diaper, thanks me for buckling him in the car.  He says thank you even when I respond with "Just a minute".  He puts me to shame in the thankfulness department.  His thank-you's make me feel like I am doing something important by just being here.  He reminds me every day that this mom thing is worth it, and his gratitude spurs gratitude in me that I get to be a mom to these four precious children.

2) Every day he reminds me to slow down - because right now he needs me, but he won't always.  

My kids all still needs their mama to help them with everyday tasks, but Clyde's increasing independence reminds me that they are needing me less every day.  That knowledge slows me down and makes me appreciate this time more.

Clyde asks for snuggles when my hands are full, but I try to put down whatever I am doing and comply.  I help him put on his little shoes because he can’t quite handle it yet, and he always jumps up with a “Dank you, Mama!” and dashes away.  These little requests don’t always come at the most convenient times, but I try to remember to always stop to help him or hold him.  Because too soon he won’t ask anymore.  He will never need me in the same way that he does right now. Old letters from my own mother tell me that I’ll miss it someday when he no longer needs my help tying his shoes. 



It’s a privilege to get to be the one he relies on.  So I remind myself to enjoy and treasure every little request, because two doesn’t last.  And two is precious.

I love you, my sweet Clyde!  What a joy you are.  Happy 2nd Birthday.


Three Mothering Books Worth Re-Reading





Here is a little confession: as much as I love to read, I am not really a re-reader.

I have been listening to some book podcasts lately (most notably "What Should I Read Next?" which was introduced to me by my friend, Felicia), and it is shocking to me - shocking! - how many people re-read books.  I have only ever re-read one book in full, Anne of Green Gables.  And I actually listened to it through Librivox, so I'm not sure that counts.

However, I have re-read portions of several books, and I notice that the ones I consider most re-read worthy are books that have encouraged me as a mom.  So I thought I would share a few of my favorites with you today, with Mother's Day coming up on Sunday!



Bringing Up Boys/Bringing Up Girls by James Dobson.  

This is kind of cheating because these are two separate books, but I lump them together because they are two sides of the same coin.  I love all the parenting books by Dr. Dobson that I have read, but these ones specifically address different cultural issues that pertain to raising boys and girls today.  Both of these books really made me think about my role as a mother and how my actions will affect how my kids see the world.  I thumbed through them again in preparation for this post, and I may have to start another re-read of certain chapters!

Loving The Little Years by Rachel Jankovic.  

I have re-read portions of this book at different points, especially the sections I have highlighted (there are many).  This book is a quick read and full of encouragement for the day-to-day of mothering.  The chapter I remember most is the one on accepting your post-baby body, and I have quoted it to myself and others many times.

Beyond Bathtime by Erin Davis.  

This is another slim volume, which is perfect for busy moms!  But if you have every questioned whether this motherhood thing really matters, this is a book to check out.  Each chapter really impacted the way I think about my job as a mom.  One statistic I first read in this book has especially stuck with me, and inspired me to write a whole post on the potential of mothering well (check it out on Tommy Nelson's blog today).

These are the three re-read worthy books for moms that came to my mind, but I'd love to hear your list! 

What books have impacted you most as a mom?






How Playing With Your Kids Helps You (With Girt & Grace)



Do you play with your kids?

We recently had a speaker at our MOPS group that talked about the power of playing with our children (Cara Jakab, an author of "The Power Of A Playing Parent"*).  I don't know what I was expecting from her message, maybe just a "play-with-your-kids-all-the-time-so-you'll-have-a-super-close-relationship" theme.  That is great in theory, but not really practical.  I don't believe it's even healthy to keep your kids so constantly entertained that they are not able to entertain themselves.  So I went in not really sure if I was going to get much out of it, other than a nice dose of guilt that I don't play with my kids more often (I'm being honest here).

However, that is not what I got at all.  The speech was totally relatable and much more realistic than I thought.  But what stuck with me most was this:

Sometimes we keep ourselves so busy, with events or tasks at home, because we are trying to escape motherhood.

Not motherhood in a larger sense, because I think most moms truly love being moms.  But there are days, or even seasons, where certain aspects of motherhood are very overwhelming.  And instead of leaning into it, and leaning on the Lord to give us the strength to get through, we run away.  We escape with our phones and social media accounts.  With TV shows or books.  With moms groups or bible studies or trips to the zoo.  We escape with our to-do lists.  Anything to distract us from whatever mothering struggle we are currently facing.

But the thing that helps us remember what we love about this mothering gig is the last thing we think of when we are overwhelmed - spending some time playing with our kids.

I have experienced this first hand - I have had days where I am so overwhelmed, and nothing is going right, and I finally plunk down to the floor in defeat.

And down on the floor, eye-level with three pairs of brown eyes and one blue pair, I remember why being a mom is the greatest job in the world.

They show me a toy, or maybe crawl onto my lap for a minute, and I notice how her hair curls at the ends.  Or how long his eyelashes are.  Or what a compassionate little heart he has for seeing that I needed a hug.  And I fall in love with my sweet darlings, and motherhood, all over again.

As Jakab said at our group, playing with our kids brings balance because it slows us down enough to remember what a blessing it is to be a mom.  

And maybe it also slows us down enough to let the Lord work on our hearts too, through something as simple as a game of hide-and-seek.

---

I have a little confession - sometimes entire days go by before I realize that I didn't really do anything with my kids.  I'm not talking about eating meals with them, or doing devotions together, because I obviously do that every day.  I'm not talking about doing something together by going somewhere, like church, the library, the zoo, or the museum - because we do those types of things weekly too.  By "doing something with them" I mean getting on their level and doing something that has no other purpose than the joy of doing it - which is the definition of play. 

So my goal for May is just to sit down and do some sort of activity with my kids every day, whether it's reading several picture books together just for the fun of it, working on a craft, playing a game, or having fun with their toys.  I want to make this a consistent daily habit, which has been hard to do for the last several years between being too busy and organizing everything around nursing schedules - and let's be honest, just trying to juggle the needs of so many young kids.  But I feel like now is the time to make play a part of my routine, because it really is too important to let it fall through the cracks.

I also realize that I am not very good at goals that require daily participation unless I have some sort of accountability, so I'm going to be posting on Twitter (maybe Instagram) what playful thing we did each day to keep myself on track.  I'm going to do my best to focus on just doing something and then sharing it, rather than doing something so I can share it, but I'm hoping that having a little accountability will help me develop get-on-the-floor-and-play into an actual habit.  I'll update you next month!

I am using the hashtag #ourdailyplay if you want to follow along or join in!  

* I haven't read Jakab's book, but it might go on my to-read list - her talk was really good.








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Update on my home renovation goals last month - I actually only accomplished about half of what I wanted to, which surprised me because I thought it was a pretty productive month before I looked back at what I had planned on getting done.

We finished painting all the doors, and I cleaned out the coat closet, but I never got to our bedroom closet.  I bought a dining room table (though it's not coming in until June - agh!).  But I haven't gotten a rug yet (hopefully this week).  We move Clarice out of the living room and into the nursery, but due to a delayed delivery of some furniture, her room is not finished yet.  Most of the delays were beyond my control, and if I've learned anything t's that this is just how it is when you are doing home projects.  Everything takes longer than you think.

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On to the linkup!





Welcome to With Grit & Grace  – a monthly goal link-up focused on supporting each other as we work towards our goals! Please join us on the first Wednesday of each month at 7:00 a.m. EST to share your goals and progress for the week, month, or year. We are all about building a positive community; please remember to read, comment, and share the posts of others – and let them know you found them at With Grit & Grace!
Just a reminder…
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3 Photo Printing Apps To Try


Once upon a time I started a photo album, sometime after Wyatt was born.  I was a new mom, and I was determined that my child’s every move would be documented and immortalized in our bookshelves (okay, not every move, but close).  I took a million pictures and put them into albums, and I thought I would do this for each child.

Then Gwen was born.  I haven’t had photos printed since.  I am officially three years behind.  

Every now and then the kids will pull out those photo albums documenting Wyatt’s first years, and they love looking at pictures of our family - but every time they do I feel guilty because only Wyatt is featured in the books!  The kids love looking through all the pictures, but I know Gwen and Clyde will soon be asking soon where all the pictures of them are.  I never wanted to be one of those moms that takes less pictures of subsequent children, and I think I have done a pretty good job of documenting milestones for second, third, and fourth child.  But getting the photos printed?  FAIL.

I have been recently trying to get my act together, and I am slowly sorting through old pictures on my computer for printing.  One of these days I intend to get caught up on the three “lost years”, but I am happy to report that over the last few months I have done a much better job of getting photos printed thanks to one thing - photo-printing apps! 

There are three apps I have tried so far, and I wanted to share my thoughts on each for any of you other mamas who have trouble getting those pictures off of you camera or phone and into your hands! 






Service: Artifact Uprising has several photo products, including square prints, calendar prints, photo books, and thank-you cards.  I tried the square prints.

App:  I wasn’t thrilled with my experience with the app.  It only allows you to print from whatever photo apps you have on your phone, so I wasn’t able to print any Facebook photos from it since I don’t have the Facebook app on my phone.  When I went in to choose which Instagram photos I wanted to print, it kept repeating the same photos and wouldn’t show my entire feed.  I feel like my version of the app must have had some bugs, so not everyone may have the same experience.

Product:  The square print set comes with 25 photos, printed on a very slightly textured 5x5” cardstock, with a small white border.  They shipped quickly, and I loved the final product!  The colors were printed perfectly.  I feel like the photos weren’t quite as sharp as I wanted, but I think that was a fault with Instagram, not with the printing.

Price: $21.99/set of 25 prints, plus shipping.  However, I believe they frequently have promotions for a set of free prints and you only have to pay the $8 shipping.  I probably wouldn’t pay the full amount, personally, but if you can get one of these deals it is definitely worth the money for shipping!





Service:  Parabo offers square print sets, color and B&W “engineer” prints (like a photo poster), various other styles of prints, calendars, and photo books.  I got a set of the square photo prints with a code for a free set.  

App:  I actually really liked the interface with the Parabo app (plus the colors/branding within the app was just my style).  You are able to pull photos from Instagram, Facebook, Dropbox, or your camera roll, and I loved all the options.  It was easy to choose which photos to include and to edit the crop on the photos.

Product:  These square prints were smaller than Artifact Uprising, about 4x4”, with a slightly thicker border and smoother paper.  They took a little longer to get to me than with A/U, but I am not sure if this was because they took longer to print or because of my mail carrier.  I thought the prints were adorable and good quality.  Comparing the A/U set to the Parabo set, I would say the quality was equal.

Price: $16/set of 25 prints, plus shipping.  I also had a code for a free set of prints with Parabo though, so I just paid $8 for shipping.  I am hoping they do this promotion again, because I liked ordering from them!  Bonus: I got a coupon for $10 off a photo book from Parabo, so I will definitely be trying that product as well - update coming!





Service: Chatbooks is a photo printing service that will send you little books of your Instagram feed or Facebook albums.  You can either order individual “custom” books with photos from your camera roll, or sign up for a subscription and have a book sent to you each time you reach 60 new photos.  I am signed up for a subscription service of my Instagram feed, and I get an email each time a book is about to print so I know my card is about to be charged, and I can edit the book before printing.




App:  I feel like the app is really easy to use, and seems to work wonderfully with both Instagram and Facebook.  It is also really easy to customize your book by picking a cover or removing photos that I don’t want to include.

Product:  These books are so cute!  They are 6X6”, and look so cute stacked on my end table.  The pages are a glossy photo paper.  I feel like the photos don’t look as crisp on the paper as they do on my Instagram feed, but I think that may be Instagram and not Chatbooks since they look this way through all three of the apps.  The kids LOVE looking through these books, and I don’t worry too much because it would be easy to order a replacement volume if one of the pages rips. 

Price: $6/book, including shipping.  By far the best value for your money of all the services I have tried so far! (Hint: This is not a sponsored post AT ALL - I'm sharing because I've used these apps.  But if you use my referral code "XC9PVVKU" in Chatbooks, you can try your first book for free, and I'll get a little credit to use in the app.  Which I will definitely use, so thank you.)






It is so convenient to order prints and photo products from my phone, and I have no idea what took me so long to try out these apps.  Anything online that gets done these days is usually something that can be done from my phone, and I am loving that I can order prints so easily while I am nursing Clarice!  I’ll probably do another one of these posts to update you all as I try more apps, but I was happy with the products from each of these.  I’ll probably be using each of these again.


Have you printed any photos through apps?  Any recommendations for me?







Letters To My Daughters (A Book Review + Vlog)




5/5 stars. 

They say never to judge a book by it's cover, but I think in this case you absolutely could.  I originally picked up Letters To My Daughters: The Art Of Being A Wife by Barbara Rainey because the cover was just so pretty.  When I received it in the mail it gave me the impression of a gift book that you could give to a newly engaged or married friend.  

(Watch my vlog review on Youtube below.)





However, the content is much greater than gift-book quality, in my opinion.  Each chapter compares marriage to a different art form and includes letters that Rainey writes to her daughters.  I am not sure what I was expecting from this book, but it gave such solid marriage advice.  I love how Rainey incorporated stories from her own marriage on things she did well and things she could have done better, and how any correction she offered through her letters was done in such a gentle and loving spirit.  It really did come across like she was speaking to one of her daughters, even though clearly she is writing this for many young wives.

I had a couple "aha" moments while reading this book, and it brought to mind things I would like to change about how I interact with my husband in the future.  I was not expecting to get so much out of this book, and I so appreciated how biblically grounded the advice was.

The pages in this book aren't just text, they are splashed with watercolor illustrations, pages of lettering, and beautiful photographs.  I think it can be a touchy thing to give someone a book on marriage, but this book is so beautiful that it would be natural to give it as a gift - and the content is solid enough to be a great jumping-off point for brides.  However, I think even ladies who have been married for a while could get some insight from this book.  I certainly did, and it made me wish I did read this earlier in our marriage!

Note: I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for a review.  This is my honest opinion.
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