Start A Book Club

Last year some of my best friends, women I’ve been friends with for over 20 years, and I started a book club. We all love to read, but as women who are married, working, and/or raising children, we found that we were not reading as much as we used to. Or we wanted to read but didn’t like taking chances on something we wouldn’t like. Years ago we had a book club. It had a few different people in it and It was short lived as we became busier with life, but we got to talking about it at my daughter’s first birthday party and decided to revive it.

Our book club works like this: We each take turns choosing a book, and that person also purchases copies of the book for everyone. This way, we can stay within our individual budgets. We meet once a month, typically on the last weekend of the month, and whomever chose the book hosts the gathering. We also purchase a gift for everyone that is either on theme for the book or the season, or has something to do with reading. For example, a Christmas ornament in December. Doing it this way allows us to choose any book we want a couple of times a year, and we don’t have to worry about the cost because we are choosing the books we purchase. We can decide on an expensive book, or a cheap one. This also introduces us to all types of different books that we might not normally have chosen ourselves.

And while reading is the central reason for a book club, it’s not exactly the real reason that we started it. We started it because we found that we weren’t spending much time together. Our book club meets once a month, every month. If, for some reason, we aren’t able to make it occasionally, that’s alright. If we didn’t have time to finish the book that month, that’s ok too. Because while we do want to read and encourage one another to read, the book club isn’t about books. It’s about self care.

Women are notorious for putting everything in the world above and before themselves. When we are sick, we still take care of our family. When things need to get done, we put completing those projects ahead of our own needs. We are nurturers, problem-solvers, and we are, if nothing else, dedicated. And I can tell you right now, our mental health takes a back seat almost every time. And it happens before you know it. Having this book club puts reading, something I adore, at the forefront of my thoughts. And so at night, instead of being on my phone before bed and researching things or checking my email, or getting caught up in some Twitter drama, I read a book. It’s far more relaxing, and I feel accomplished as well. I also just love getting lost in a story.

But beyond that, beyond reading or the books themselves, the point is that we make time for each other. We make it a priority. In this way, we remember how important it is to take care of ourselves, and that then remains in the forefront of our thoughts throughout the month. For example, about a month ago my life got pretty hectic. My son started school, both the boys started soccer, and our tenants who lived in our rental home vacated without warning, leaving a mess in their wake. During that time I did what I always do and put my focus on what needed to be done. I stopped working out (a venture I had begun only two weeks before), I stopped reading, and I almost skipped book club. But instead, I remembered that book club is the priority. And so, instead of spending a few more hours cleaning our rental property, I stepped out of the madness and spent time with my best friends. Making that the priority reminds me to make myself a priority.

Our book club is more than just a book club, and that’s what makes it special. I encourage you to start one with the people in your life who you love but don’t seem to make time to see. We started our club a little over a year ago, and in that time we’ve spent more time together as a group than we have in many, many years. And in doing so, we are not only making time for each other, but we are taking time for ourselves. We get one night a month to be together, take a break, eat great food, laugh, tell stories, vent our frustrations, share our dreams, and relax. And sometimes, we even take the time to actually discuss the book.

Here are our picks so far, if you’d like to know what we are reading. Note the incredible variety in the novels we’ve chosen. I’ve enjoyed them all and would recommend them as well!

It’s Time To Slow Down

In 2006 my husband (who was then my boyfriend) got the opportunity to travel to Switzerland for work and he asked me to go with him. It was my first trip to Europe. After we arrived, we took a little nap and woke up around 7 or 8 pm. I was hungry and searched for a vending machine. I found nothing and then went to the front desk. The concierge laughed when I asked about the vending machines. “You Americans.” He said. “We don’t have machines with old food in them.” I asked if there was a convenience store nearby and he laughed again. “No. We aren’t like you. We don’t have everything 24/7. We end our day at 5 o’clock. We do not go, go, go all of the time. What is it you were looking to find in a vending machine?” I told him I was hoping to find some chocolate, and he said, “Well, you are in Switzerland.” And with a smile produced two handfuls of chocolates for me from under the desk. His tone wasn’t one of condensation, but one almost of pity. And now I understand why.

The ten days I spent in Switzerland are still some of the best days of my life. He wasn’t kidding. Everything closed at 5. With the exception of some bars and a few restaurants, the city essentially shut down. And the people stayed home and relaxed with their families. Or they took to the streets. I remember one wonderful evening where we sat on the steps of a museum with many other people who had brought picnics, or were just talking or playing games. It was so relaxing and fun.

One night we found a little restaurant with only about 8 tables. We were expected to dine with the other people there. We were the highlight of their evening. No one spoke English, only German, and so the woman sitting at our table did charades to help us understand what was on the menu. That meal lasted 5 hours. We simply sat and relaxed and ate. The restaurant was in the downstairs of the owner’s home. We were served course after course while we smoked cigarettes and sipped wine and found ways to communicate with the other patrons.

Another thing I noticed is that they took their dogs everywhere. If they owned a shop, the dog was there all day. Dogs were in stores, on public transport and in bars, relaxing under the tables. And the news was so different there as well. While we were there, a man here in the U.S. went into an Amish schoolhouse and shot 8 girls, killing 5, and then shot himself. It was briefly on the news there, and then they were on to reporting other things. I kid you not, the big stories on their news channel were a debate about which is better, black tea or green tea, and a great story on composting, where they interviewed a family about how they compost. I’m serious.

Imagine living in a place like that. Where the news is informative and helpful, and not focused 24/7 on scaring the ever-loving shit out of you. We get moment-to-moment updates on every horror don’t we? Even when the news stations are only speculating or reporting what they think is going on, only to change the story later once they have actual information. They want to be first, and they don’t care if they are right.

We have a failing mental health system. A society in which we are led to believe that we are broken if we aren’t perfect. We live in constant competition. Feeling the need to be as beautiful, as intelligent, as successful as everyone else. We’re in a constant race. And we’re never winning because there’s always more to obtain. We work long hours. We work different shifts. Our children are bringing home tons of homework. They are in several extra-curricular activities at one time. Each day is a struggle to get through. The stress, the pressure, the frustration…never stops. There’s never a break.

I haven’t been shy about sharing the fact that I am on an anti-anxiety medication. What might shock you is to know that I have 6 best friends and 4 of them also take anti-anxiety medication. And a 5th is asking her doctor about getting on something. We have so much stress we don’t know how to manage it, and even if we did, we don’t have time to.

Society needs to change. The acts of horror being committed, the number of suicides, the divorce statistics, the number of children in foster care, the mentally ill without access to help…it’s all a syndrome of a society that has lost some core values: self care, relaxation, enjoyment. The list can go on.

So what do we do? Well, it’s hard to control the outside world. So all we can do is try to control our own.  The first thing I do is set limits. My anxiety recently spiraled out of control and my doctor made me realize that I never take a break from my kids, or for myself. So now, once the kids are in bed, I do whatever I want to. I used to clean, but now I watch TV, do my nails, read, or take a bubble bath. I practice self care. I also ensure that my husband and I go out at least twice a month without our children. That time is just for us to relax and enjoy one another. I also limit my kids’ extra curricular activities. They are allowed only one thing at a time. And if they overlap, it’s a no. I have family members who never attend family functions because their kids have games/practices/recitals all the time. They are so entrenched in that world that they don’t even make exception for family events. To me, that is an issue because it’s another example of moving us away from our roots, our core.

Don’t misunderstand, I see the value in extra curricular activities.  The life lessons our children learn are invaluable. But I believe that those lessons can be learned without being in 6 things at a time. It’s important for our children to have down time as well, and not only on breaks. They are developing and need time to be creative without structure. To be with friends. To relax and figure out what they like and who they are.

The last, and perhaps most important thing that I do, is turn off the news. It’s not helpful. It’s a horror show filled with scare tactics and misinformation. That doesn’t mean I don’t know what’s going on or keep up on current events, but I find ways to keep up that don’t involve mass hysteria. And I think it’s important that we continue to stress these ideals. To slow down and not contribute to the mess. To show that we want a new way, a different world to raise our children in, where we aren’t terrified to let them walk outside and where we aren’t pulled in so many directions that we lose focus on what is truly important: being happy, enjoying life, and making the world a better place for all of us.

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The people of the city on the museum stairs.

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Exploring!

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The owner of that little restaurant.

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The beauty of Basel

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Le Rhine et moi

 

The Joy of Reading

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My favorite collection. From the 1800’s

I’ve always loved reading. I’m not sure why, though they do say that children who are read to have a great chance of becoming avid readers. I don’t remember much about my early childhood. My mother died when I was 5, and they say that tragedy can sometimes block memories. Perhaps that’s why I only have a few memories from that time. I do, however, remember being read to. I also come from a long line of readers. My dad and his mother, my grandma (when she was still alive) are adamant readers. I don’t know if my mom read, but my stepmom is an adamant reader as well.

I remember a dear family friend of ours, her name is Amy Carr, reading Bible stories to me. I remember her helping me try to understand my mother’s death. Helping me to be optimistic that she wasn’t truly gone forever. I remember someone, not sure who, reading the book Are You My Mother?, by P.D. Eastman, to me. And I remember being read several Golden Books and Sesame Street books. And my favorite Golden Book, Where Did The Baby Go? by Colleen T. Hayes.My favorites are still here, in my children’s library.

But most of all, I remember being read to by my cousins, Gretchen and Elizabeth. They would read me my favorite books, Haunted House by Jan Pienkowski and Where The Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. These books were later purchased by me, to read to my children. Once my oldest could read, he read Shel Silverstein books until the pages literally fell out and I had to replace them.

As a young girl I still loved to read. My Aunt Toni would send me care packages, and with them, more books. Some of my favorite books came from her. Behind The Attic Wall by Sylvia Cassidy is probably my favorite book of all time, and it’s one that she sent to me. During that time, I also loved the Sweet Valley Twins book series. I can remember my parents taking me to the bookstore (I know I said my mother died, so not to confuse you, my dad did remarry when I was 10 lol) and letting me choose a book to buy. Sometimes we went to used bookstores, and sometimes we went to new ones. When we went to new ones I could get the next Sweet Valley Twins book. I can remember how excited I was. I’d go home and read the book in one sitting! I can remember my dad telling me to pick a longer book because I’d read them so quickly.

As a teenager, I kept reading. I moved on to teen books. I moved from the Sweet Valley Twins to the Sweet Valley High book series. I also read every book by Christopher Pike that I could get my hands on. And once I was old enough, my stepmom let me start reading her books. My favorites were by V.C. Andrews.

As an adult, I just kept reading. My library continued to grow. I read a lot of Stephen King. I love mystery and horror. I love Toni Morrison. I love Charles Dickens. I love reading. In general.

But over the years, as I focused on my career and then building my family, I stopped reading somewhere along the way. I just stopped having time. I would still occasionally buy a book, thinking I’d get to it eventually. But for years, I never did. Until recently.

My daughter’s first birthday party arrived, and all of our loved ones were there. Including several of my friends whom I don’t see regularly. We were talking and one of us said something about starting a book club, and the others remembered the book club we had started many, many years ago. I don’t think it lasted too long, maybe a few months. But it was a great idea. A book club. A reason to get together with my very best friends once a month. A reason to read again.

I wasn’t sure I’d have the time, but I committed – because I wanted to have the time. I get lost in books. It’s like a vacation for me. I love everything about reading. I really do. And it’s not just the stories that I love, it’s the books. I have zero interest in a Kindle. I want to feel the weight of the book. I want to smell the fresh paper. I want to view the cover of it every time I pick it up.

And so, the first month of our bookclub began, and I read that book in record time. I started making time for myself. Time to read. Time that, I may have used to clean out a closet, I instead sat down and read. Instead of rushing through a shower, I took a bath and spent 15 minutes reading. I started giving my kids playtime in their room for half an hour when the baby goes down for a nap. I sit right outside their room, and I read while they play.

I read the book so quickly that I felt like something was missing. So I got another book. And that’s the one I’m reading now. It’s a paperback, and when I opened it, it was like I’d stepped back in time. The smell of the book took me back to when I was 9 years old, coming home from the bookstore with a new book my parents had bought for me. Sitting down in my room, excited to read the story. The smell was the same. They don’t all smell the same, but this particular one smelled just like that.

And so, I read. I will continue to make this time for myself and to relax and to do something I love. I will continue to make reading a priority. Sometimes we let life get in the way. It’s not that we aren’t choosing ourselves, but we allow the importance of other things – our jobs, our spouses, our children, our duties and obligations – to take extreme precedence over ourselves. To make some time for yourself is not a bad thing. I am still struggling with that. Even now, as a grown woman who can make her own decisions, I feel guilty. Guilty reading when I could be cleaning. Doing laundry. Planning meals. But at the end of the day, I know that not making time for ourselves, not allowing ourselves to relax and enjoy something, is incredibly unhealthy.

So find something that you love to do. And then do it. And don’t feel guilty about it. Don’t feel like choosing yourself occasionally is a bad thing. Making time for yourself is actually the best thing you can do for yourself, the people you love, and the world. Because someone who never does that isn’t healthy. And is too stressed. And can become short-tempered, have difficulty sleeping, and are unhappy. And if we do only get this one life, I think we should make it a good one.

My library, and some of my favorite collections.

 

Being A Mom is Hard

I had my oldest child when I was 22. I always thought I’d have 6 kids. Three girls and three boys. Growing up, that was my perfect family. Then, after giving birth the first time, I changed it to 4 kids. I didn’t want to do that six times.

My first marriage wasn’t good. I didn’t want to have any more children during that time. Then, after my divorce, I met my husband. We did want to have kids, and by the time we decided to, we were in our early thirties. We tried for several years before getting help from a reproductive specialist. Our babies didn’t come easy. We had to do all sorts of things and spend a lot of money. But that’s a story for another day. After they were born, my body couldn’t handle another pregnancy, so we adopted our daughter.

I feel that we are at the perfect number of kids. My oldest is 19 right now, and the others are 4, 2 and 1. They are the little lights of my life and I love each of them more than anything. More than you think is possible. Sometimes it feels like I might explode because my love for them is so intense.

But that doesn’t mean that being their mother is easy. And it doesn’t mean that our life is one of fluff, rainbows and sunshine all of the time. I finally have everything I wanted, but it’s not exactly how I pictured it to be. And that’s OK. I think it’s time that we talk about how hard it is sometimes being a mom. Especially in today’s world, where we see the Instagram and Facebook photos and posts and see everyone else looking picture perfect.

Being a mom is hard. There are days that I have only had 4 hours of sleep, and that time was not all at once. Having 3 kids under 5, with the older two being boys, means that my house is generally a disaster. It’s three against one, so as I am cleaning up one mess they’ve made, they are making THREE MORE. It’s literally impossible to keep up with. The rooms we spend time in average a 12-hour clean time. Meaning that once I finally do get them clean, it will be 12 hours before they are trashed again. And it’s ridiculous stuff too. Not just toys and clothes. But marker on the wall. Juice all over the floor, the carpet, the baby, the pets. My 2-year-old son Bennett is in the throes of his terrible twos, and he ROCKS at it. He’s a little tornado of possibility and improbability. He figured out how to push the nipple of his sister’s bottle in, so that the milk sprays 2 feet out. He sprays EVERYTHING. It’s an unbelievable mess. And it’s EVERYWHERE. Yesterday he got the sugar bowl down and dumped sugar all over my kitchen. He ruins makeup, spills EVERYTHING he gets his hands on, and he is lightening fast. They all are. My friend stayed here to watch them for me for a couple of hours so I could go to a doctor appointment and when I came back she said, “How do you do this? They are so fast. I’m so sorry but they (fill in all the messes they made) and I swear they did it in two minutes.” Yep. Story of my life.

This is, of course, on top of the usual stuff like laundry, dishes, cooking, scrubbing, sweeping and dusting. The dusting doesn’t happen too often, not gonna lie. And it’s usually while I’m doing something like the laundry that they get into everything and make the super huge messes. I’m going to be completely honest here. Some days I feel like I’m drowning.

But then I remind myself that this is only temporary. I’m not a superhero with superhuman powers. I can only do so much. The most important things are that my children are happy and healthy and loved. And they are all of these things. They are vibrant, curious, intelligent little beings. They are exploring and learning and playing. And while I don’t often like the result of that, I understand that it’s necessary for their development. And that’s OK.

Because all too soon, I know that these days will be over. They will go to school. They will go to college. They will leave me. Right now their little worlds revolve around me. They want to show me everything. They want my approval and my attention. They want me to join in their fun. And all too soon, they won’t. That’s the benefit of having done this before. I learned the lesson before it was too late. By having my kids so far apart, I know the course of action they will take. I know that while the days are long, the years will fly by. I know what them at 19 looks like. I know my days are numbered.

So keep all of that in mind when you are having a drowning day. These things are easy to say but hard to live. It’s normal to feel like you aren’t doing a good job when you live in a mess. But you ARE doing a good job. Children are made to explore. To make messes. To play and live and jump. And spill. And break things. And draw. On everything.

Know that these days are numbered and time is short. Too soon, we will look back at this time, looking through pictures and wispy memories. We will say things like, “You used to love….  That was your favorite…. You always…..” And they won’t remember most of it. They will be all grown up and focused on becoming the incredible people we are raising them to be. And in those moments, we will long for these days.

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My little scientists.

 

Why I Love FabFitFun So Damn Much (Updated in 2019)

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My Fall 2018 Box

I will continue to return to this blog to update every time I receive a new box!

FabFitFun is a quarterly subscription box service. They deliver a box to your home once every 3 months, for Fall, Winter, Spring and Summer. The also have Editor Boxes. Those boxes are available if you join in between the seasonal boxes. The are comprised of the favorite items of, you guessed it, the Editors. Members are able to purchase these boxes in addition to the seasonal boxes if they wish. However, you aren’t required to.

Fabfitfun has a wide range of items in their boxes. You can get jewelry, wraps, scarves, socks, makeup, haircare, skincare, tech items, fitness items, and so much more. Every box I’ve received has been worth over $300. (Each box costs $49). Some of the items are a surprise, but some you are able to choose. If you are a select annual member (meaning you pay for the year upfront) you will get to choose more of what is in your box. You also get priority shipping. Contrary to what people think, this is NOT more expensive than paying quarterly. As a matter of fact, it’s a little cheaper as when my bill comes it’s $180, which means that each of my boxes are $45.

FabFitFun also has an Add-On sale at the beginning of each season, where they offer products at up to 70% off of their retail value. They also have Edit Sales that do the same thing. Again, you aren’t required to purchase anything at the sales, they are just available to you if you want to shop them.

I love FabFitFun’s boxes, of course, and I’ve found so many of my new favorite products this way. However, there’s a lot more to it than just the boxes. FFF has a community page on their website where members can go to talk. They talk about FFF, of course, but they also use the community to find support, talk about problems, trade items, and make friends. The discussions are so wonderful, and it makes me so happy to see strangers coming together the way they do in the community. There’s even a group who does a Christmas in July gift exchange. There’s so much to be found there, and it’s completely free when you join FabFitFun.

In addition, FabFitFun has a TON of workout videos available to its members, again, completely free with your membership. They also send out newsletters with helpful tips, healthy recipes, and fun information.

I actually love FabFitFun so much that I became an affiliate. We say #fabfitfunpartner. Which just means that I have a link to use to sign up (and I do earn a small commission on sales). I’ll post it below if you are interested in joining. I’ve taken several pictures of the actual boxes I’ve received as well, so I’ll post those here too. If you have any questions, feel free to ask, as I’m happy to help!

FabFitFun is more than a subscription box service to me. It’s inspired me to live a more happy and healthy life. It’s motivated me to connect with people all over, and it’s helped me find some incredible products that I’d probably never found otherwise.

Get yours here and receive 20% off your first box using the code SANTABABY https://prf.hn/click/camref:1011l7UyZ
(This is my personal referral link.)

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Editor Box – Post Fall 2017
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Winter Box 2017
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Editor Box – Post Winter 2018
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Editor Box – Post Spring 2018
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Summer Box 2018
Editor Box – Post Summer 2018

Two different versions of the same box – Winter 2018

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The Post-Winter 2019 Box

Spring 2019 (two different versions I received, the one on the left was not customized, the  one on the right is the one I customized.)

Summer 2019
Fall 2019

Get yours here and receive 50% off your first box using the code SANTABABY https://prf.hn/click/camref:1011l7UyZ
(This is my personal referral link.)

Younique Makeup Review!

Hey guys! I did a blog on Younique makeup. I tried several of the products at an in-home party, but I didn’t order everything I tried. Here’s what I liked enough to order:

Splurge Creme Shadow in Unapologetic

Moodstruck Brow Gel, Moodstruck Precision Brow liner in Medium

Moodstruck Opulence Lipstick in Loaded and Affluent

Moodstruck Precision Pencil Lip Liner in Posh and Pouty

Moodstruck Precision Pencil Eye Liner in Perfect

Stiff Upper Lip Lip Stain in Sultry, Shameless and Sappy

Lucrative Lip Gloss in Lucky, Lucid and Luxe

Lip Bon Bons in Red Velvet Cake

My go-to’s for this brand have become the eyeliner and lip stains. They are my favorites by far!

 

Nail Polish VLOG!

Hey there! I just recently discovered the greatest thing. Color Street Nails! Have you heard of these? It’s 100% nail polish that you just stick on your nails. It took me about 10 minutes to complete my manicure. I’m so sold. I just wanted to share because I’ve never heard of this and didn’t want anyone else to have to miss out! It’s sold by women like other things, such as Mary Kay, Pampered Chef, etc. So if you want to try it I’d just search out a salesperson in your area. My new FAVORITE thing!

My Evening Skincare Routine and Giveaway!

Hey there! I did a little video sharing my evening skincare routine! This is a non-makeup wearing routine as I don’t normally wear makeup. When I do wear makeup, I first use a makeup remover on my eyes and makeup removing wipes on my face before doing the following steps. Never go to bed with makeup on kids, not ever. I’ll list the items I use below. Thanks for watching, and stay tuned for the giveaway next week!

The products I use: Clinique Liquid Facial Soap, Clinique Clarifying Lotion, Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Gel, First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream, First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Lip Therapy