Memoirs with Good Stories

The past few years, I’ve gotten really into memoirs. I have always loved reading biographies, which has something to do with my fascination with history, but lately, I just can’t get enough of this genre! I learn so much from other people telling their stories, and these especially were so good.

Another plus of the memoir genre is they are (usually) not too long, so I can get through them fairly quick. Here are some recent ones I enjoyed!

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  1. Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist

I am pre-disposed to love everything Shauna writes, and I typically refer to her as first-name only, just like we are already friends. With that in mind, this book still has become an all-time favorite. It speaks of a lesson I really have been trying to drive home with myself for the last few years, plus I read it last August right after camp ended. Think of it like a breath of fresh air into our over-committed over-busy culture, so if that sounds like something you’d like, it’s a winner. (And her writing is flawless!)

2. Spoken from the Heart by Laura Bush

I have a mild obsession with the first ladies, but this is the first full memoir I’ve read by one. Sidenote: this book does not fit the “can finish quickly” category. It’s long, but fabulous. This has been on my list to read for years, and I’m so thankful I finally picked it up! Since she is a fairly private person who grew up modestly in West Texas, I found her incredibly relatable. I’ll most likely never end up in the White House, but if I did, I think her book is what it would feel like. Fascinating.

3. The Magnolia Story by Chip & Joanna Gaines

Okay so maybe everyone feels like they know everything there is to know about them now, but this book was SO FUN to read. I laughed and cried reading their stories (the book is narrated by both Chip & Jo to show their different perspectives), and felt so inspired by the end of it! If you’re looking for something light-hearted, interesting, and a look behind a (very successful) curtain, this is a great fit.

4. My Life in France by Julia Child

Ohhh this was so fun to read too! The only thing I knew about Julia Child going into this book was the limited experience of watching the movie Julie & Julia a few years ago, and I didn’t love the Julie side of the story, so I probably only watched it once. I do remember being so intrigued by Julia Child though- living in France with nothing to do, so she took up elaborate French cooking and created an empire. How on earth?! I also knew next to nothing about French cuisine, or French culture, so this was an enlightening read for me. Plus she was a really funny character- one time she sent out Christmas cards to friends and family of herself and her husband in a bubble bath. Ha!

5. Nobody’s Cuter Than You by Melanie Shankle

I may or may not already be tearing up thinking about this book. This is a memoir about friendship, and it is the sweetest! If you have a best friend, or if you want a best friend, or if you want to learn how to be a best friend, you’ll love and appreciate this one. (Bonus points if you went to Texas A&M- you’ll get all nostalgic as she recalls her time there!) This book way exceeded my expectations, and would also make a great gift for a friend!

Happy reading!

The Big 3-0!

Last week, I hit a new decade, and left my twenties behind!IMG_4097

Everyone approaches birthdays differently, and I know this because people have told me about it. I laugh hearing people talk about their “hardest birthdays,” like turning 39 or 28 or 55, because what does that even mean? We know aging is inevitable, yet we do our best to stop it!

Of course, I totally love birthdays. Any excuse to celebrate, right?! TJ makes fun of my “birth-week” mentality, but I still think it’s fun!

This one was especially fun, not just because of the celebration (which I’ll get to), but also because I just felt really good about leaving my twenties behind. They were so full and joyful! I traveled all over the world (Australia, Peru, Israel, Uganda, Thailand), I gained new siblings (!!), I graduated from college, figured out how to navigate the working world in a few different jobs, made new lifelong friends, met my husband, learned grace all over again, and loved it.

There were downsides of the twenties too, like losing a beloved grandfather, not having a clue what to do with my life after the “school roadmap” finished, struggling with singleness, struggling with the failure narrative, hard relationships, and basically refinement on all fronts. But as we know by now, the valleys make the mountaintops even taller, and the ability to learn from setbacks and mistakes are the most important part of getting older.

It was so sweet to celebrate 30 years with a surprise dinner with TJ, and then a party with some dear friends! It all felt like too much, like way more than I could ever deserve, but then that’s the thing about gifts right? That’s the very definition of the word grace, and how sweet is it to accept the gifts of grace.IMG_4105IMG_4102IMG_4103IMG_4101

PS- that surprise dinner with TJ was clearly no ordinary date night- he coordinated with the fabulous local florist we love to get the place for the night, had food set up, and made me feel so special and known! This is definitely typical TJ fashion, thinking so outside-the-box and over the top. But seriously- what a dream!!

Fiction Books Worth Getting Lost In

In 2016, I made a simple New Year’s Resolution: “Read more books.”

That goal breaks all the rules of goals- it’s not measurable, it may or may not be realistic, but sometimes those are exactly the types of goals I need. Well, say whatever you want about goal-setting here, but this one worked for me. I read 29 books (I didn’t take a count till the end, so that kept me short of 30 I guess), and most of them were fabulous.

I’ve kept up the reading trend so far in 2017, and here are my favorite fiction books I couldn’t put down! All of these would be great beach reads, or to get lost in on a rainy day. I loved them.

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  1. The Gilded Years by Karin Tanabe

If you asked me in person for a book recommendation in the last year, the odds are I told you this one. It’s (loosely) based on a true story, set in the late 1800’s at Vassar College in New York. The main character, Anita, is the first African-American to attend the prestigious school, and she certainly wouldn’t be allowed to attend if they knew she wasn’t actually white. This story is so fascinating, because it’s talking about race relations in the late 1800’s, but Anita also gets into the most elite social circles of New York City society. I couldn’t stop reading it!

2. What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

Not everyone loved this book, but I read it last summer and I still think about it all the time. 39-year old Alice wakes up from hitting her head, and has lost all memory from the last 10 years. (Can you imagine?) She doesn’t remember becoming “one of those girls who goes to spin class,” she can’t remember why on earth she would be splitting from her love-of-her-life husband, and she especially can’t remember the 3 kids she birthed in the last 10 years. It’s a good one.

3. The Knockoff by Lucy Sykes & Jo Piazza

If you liked The Devil Wears Prada, you’ll love this. A big-time fashion magazine editor returns from a few month’s leave while going through treatment for breast cancer, and when she gets back, the magazine is in all kinds of transition. The magazine is going digital, and there’s a new super-young, super-millennial, super-know-it-all woman as the co-editor in chief. This was an interesting look into the millennial vs. experience conflict in the workplace, plus fashion and photoshoots. Very fun!

4. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

I can never remember the title of this, and also I tried and failed to read this years ago, but trust me. It’s worth it. The style is different- the whole book is reading letters back and forth from various characters, but if you can stick with it, you will fall in love with these characters. Guernsey is an actual place, an island off of the UK, and this book is set just after World War II. The letters tell the story of what happened there during World War II, and how a “literary society” among people who had never read much before saved their spirits. If you like stories about books with endearing characters, this is for you.

5. Opening Belle by Maureen Sherry

This one’s about a one of the very few high-up women in Wall Street, right on the brink of the 2008 crash. If The Big Short were a book, written from a woman’s perspective, this would be it. It was an interesting “peek behind the curtain” story into a world I know nothing about. She also goes pretty deep into the harassment women in that male-dominated industry have to put up with, so heads up, this one is not PG.

6. The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

Oh my. If you’re into British Royalty at all, this is for you. It’s a fictional account of an American girl studying abroad who just happens to live on the same floor as a certain eligible British prince. They fall in love, and you can imagine how the Royal family reacts! This was SO fun and I could not put it down. Another “peek behind the curtain” book into a world I’ll never see up close. Heads up: this is also not PG.

Happy reading! More genres to come, so stay tuned!

Christmas Gift Ideas

When TJ and I got married, one of the major differences we realized around the holidays centered around Christmas lists. He could not believe I would send my own mother a list (with links!) of gift ideas. Nothing was more normal to me!

Since then, we casually poll our friends to see if they fall more on the surprise side of gifts, or the list side. I’m still  not sure which way is more prevalent across the board, but I do know “What are you asking for Christmas?” is a very common question among my friends each year.

So, if you’re one of the ones having trouble coming up with ideas for yourself or for the other women in your life, here’s some ideas!

1.Art.

Some of my favorite gifts through the years have been big pieces of art I’ve requested for my walls, and there are always so many fun ideas! This makes a great gift because often I wouldn’t have paid for it myself, but it becomes a very thoughtful gift to remember for years to come. These are some favorites I’ve seen lately:

Cool National Parks print (etsy) // Lindsay Letters fabulous Christmas canvas from her brand new holiday collection // trendy vintage-looking black & white felt board (Letter Folk) // prints & canvases with Scripture (amen paper company)

2. Shoes

Christmas is my favorite time to ask for shoes, because I’m trying to buy less shoes that fall apart after a few months or hurt my feet every time I wear them! Two of my favorite “shoe gifts” I’ve received have been Hunter rain boots and Ugg slippers. Both of these are excellent examples of “investment shoes,” because they are not cheap, but they’ll last forever. Also, if self-care is going to be on your New Year’s resolution list, ask for the amazing Ugg slippers! I’ve also got my eye on these sneakers (seeing them everywhere!), or possibly some warm winter boots, even though I live in Texas.

3. Jewelry

Jewelry is a somewhat easier gift to ask for or to buy for others, but if you need some company picks, here are some of my favorites!

Pretty statement feather earrings (Waterloo Style) // go-with-everything stud earrings (Kate Spade) // high quality made in Uganda beaded bracelets (31 Bits) // hands down the best dainty necklaces (Dear Mushka)

4. Books

Not everyone loves getting books for Christmas, but I sure do! I read mostly via library book these days, but some books double as decorations in my world, making them optimal gifts! I’ve loved to give and receive some of these:

Jane Austen books with beautiful covers (anthropologie) // 365 day devotional + recipes (Shauna Niequist-Amazon) // a cookbook on celebrating! everything! (Jenny Rosenstrach-Amazon) // the story behind the studies (She Reads Truth-Amazon)

5. The Foolproofs

Paper gifts, candles, and the occasional lip balm are always my go-to gifts for friends it seems like. (They also make great hostess gifts!)

Custom designed notebooks with endless possibilities (May Designs) // the world’s most beautiful calendars (use them as art prints around the house later!) (Rifle Paper Co.) // the best and prettiest lip balm I buy for everyone (amazon) // favorite non-volcano candle- french cade lavender is all kinds of brilliant, plus these last for a long time! (anthropologie)

 

Well friends, that’s a wrap! There are tons of fabulous gift guides out on the web right now (including Jamie Ivey’s list from her podcast here), so whether you’re making a list or not, enjoy looking around, and happy gift-giving!

xoxo

2016 Books- Part 1

First of all, thank you so much to all of you who were so kind and encouraging seeing me back blogging! I was overwhelmed Monday with all of you lovely people. I’m happy to be back too!

Since it’s been such a long time, I’ll be playing catch up with the books I’ve been reading this year. I always love hearing what other people have loved or hated to read, so here’s part one! I read all of these back in the early Spring.

If you really are on the hunt for more book recommendations, I have gotten most of mine this year from the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog (check out her summer reading guides!), or her excellent podcast What Should I Read Next?

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1. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Oh, how I have loved this book! Of the 6 listed here, this one tops them all. People either love it or hate it, and I’m in the “love” camp. If you’ve been wanting to clean things out, or simplify your life in any way, get this ASAP. It does get a little weird near the end, because she does say things like “socks have feelings,” but the rest is so incredibly practical and helpful.

2. The Lipstick Gospel by Stephanie May Wilson

I came across this book on a Facebook ad which claimed I could “Read this book for free!” So, I checked it out, and downloaded it for zero cost. That’s a pretty good motivator! I really enjoyed reading Wilson’s story of finding Jesus as a college student, and though relatively short, it was a good read for me personally as I disciple a lot of college girls. Note: the target audience for this is pretty much college age girls, plus or minus 5 years, but the book is still a free download here!

3. Sparkly Green Earrings by Melanie Shankle

So far, this is the only book I’ve read by Shankle, but I’ve heard her others are definitely worth reading. This is a memoir of her motherhood life, and this lady is funny! I read this almost entirely in one sitting, at Caitlin’s college graduation, and it was good entertainment! It’s not my favorite or most recommended book of the year or anything, but I enjoyed it. Note: I do highly recommend her podcast: The Big Boo Cast if you’re a female. It’s hilarious, and they talk about nothing. What’s not to love?

4. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

This is everyone else’s favorite book ever, and I will admit the writing is absolutely brilliant and beautiful, but the content is heavy. Set in World War II in France, the story is told through the eyes of two children, one fleeing her home in Paris, and one behind the scenes in the German military. It’s fascinating and terrifying, and definitely not your happy beach read, but worth your time.

5. Party Girl by Rachel Hollis

I first heard Rachel talking about her books on The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey, and I was totally smitten by how fun this girl is. She described her books a little bit, and I knew I would love them. This is light, happy, beach reading. Party Girl tells the story of a girl who moves from Texas to LA to become an event planner, in a Devil Wears Prada type way, and supposedly is similar to Rachel’s experience of moving to LA. Again, it’s not deep at all, but super fun!

6. Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery

I’ve heard they are releasing new movies of this series soon on Netflix! I read this as a kid, but couldn’t have told you anything about the plot line, and I’ve heard so many references to “the Anne books” recently I decided it was worth another go. It was worth it!! It was wonderful to read this as an adult, because I could catch way more themes this time around. No wonder these books are so beloved- Anne is brilliant. If you’ve never read them or if you’re like me and it’s been years, read it again!

 

That’s a wrap for today! I’ll be catching up on book recommendations in the months to come, and if you’re like me you are needing all the books since it gets dark at 5pm these days. So sad! Let me know if you’ve got any recommendations for me in the comments!

I met someone.

It’s been over two years now since I’ve sat down to write a blog post, so before I start talking about my favorite books I’ve been reading, or how I’m still obsessed with capsule wardrobes, there’s some catching up to do!

I took a hiatus from blogging back in 2014, because my life was so full that something had to go. Every moment was accounted for (plus some), and then I met someone.

Yes, I do mean that in the fabulous, movie-famous way- I met someone.

We met in Molly and Monty’s wedding, on September 13, 2014. It was one of those wonderful wedding weekends, where I was friends with all the bridesmaids and most of the groomsmen already through Pine Cove connections, and every moment was a blast. He and I were seated at the same table at the rehearsal dinner, and I’ve never laughed so much. I left that weekend with a crush, but left it at that. After all, I lived in Dallas, and he was in Tyler. Who wants to do long distance anyway?

View More: http://jenmenard.pass.us/spurgeonweddingHere’s the closest we got to a picture together- just a few feet apart in this one! (photo by Jen Menard)

A few weeks later, he called. Well, technically, Molly was calling, but when I answered there he was- the handsome, funny, kind TJ Connor- on the other end. I recognized his voice (because, the crush!), and  he asked if he could take my number from Molly’s phone to keep calling me in the future.

Um, cutest way to ask a girl for her number ever, right? Let’s just say it was lucky for me this was over the phone. Because I was full-on blushing at this point!

A week later we went on our first date, to my favorite pizza place in Dallas, and to a Stars-Flyers hockey game. TJ is from Philadelphia, so we got to cheer for our own home teams at this one!

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TJ posted this on Instagram, right after date #2! I was sweating about it, but I love how excited he was to make us public! haha. (Our second date was to the Dallas Arboretum, which is where we found those scarecrows in the midst of thousands of pumpkins.)

We dated for around seven months, with some of the most amazingly creative dates I had ever heard of, then on May 9, 2015, he asked me to marry him. TJ’s proposal to me matched the way he pursued me in dating- it was loving, celebratory, and completely over the top. It was the best day of my life, and the easiest “yes!”

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Our whirlwind romance continued with a wedding only 5 months later, at Watermark Church in Dallas, on October 10, 2015. I loved getting to celebrate with our dearest family and friends at the church I have grown to love so deeply.

View More: http://oliviaraephotography.pass.us/tjandchelseaView More: http://oliviaraephotography.pass.us/tjandchelsea

TJ is a camp director at Pine Cove, and I knew as soon as we started dating that if this went all the way, I would be joining him in east Texas. I find it funny and awesome to be back in the town where I lived already for nearly 3 years, with many friends still here. The Lord has been so gracious and generous to me.

Here’s to blogging again! xoxo

Noonday: Most Worn

A few months ago, I shared about my decision to become an ambassador for Noonday Collection. You can read why I made that decision here. As predicted, I’m totally loving it!

Because really, what’s not to love? I get giddy every time I get to share the stories of the Noonday artisans with new friends who have never heard. It’s truly amazing to think that I can help families in the poorest communities of the world earn a living and keep their families together! What a gift!

Oh, and I get to show off their creations every day (!!). It’s a win-win-win.

Now that I’m a few months in, I wanted to share the pieces I seem to keep coming back to. I’ve yet to find a piece I don’t like, but here are my tried-and-true favorites!IMG_6700

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  1. Gem Trio Studs $68 {made in Peru}- These just seem to go with everything. I tend to wear a lot of t-shirts, and these are so easy to pair with a casual outfit and add a little pop of color. Plus, with all the time I spent in Peru, I’m always partial to those pieces!
  2. Hanoi Necklace $52 {made in Vietnam}- I’ll admit this one caught me by surprise. I didn’t expect to love it, but I find myself wishing I could wear it every day. Can a necklace be comfortable? If so, this is it. I’m obsessed.
  3. Entwined Bracelet $28 {made in India}- Before getting into Noonday, I wasn’t much of a bracelet girl. This one helped me ease into bracelet stacking, plus it absolutely goes with everything. The simplicity & neutrality of it make it perfect for wearing every day! (Which I try to take literally)
  4. Calypso Earrings $30 {made in Vietnam}- These earrings are so versatile I even wore them to Six Flags. James and Betty forced me into riding those absurdly high swings (the ones you can see from the highway 20 miles away…) and as I sat up there spinning and screaming, I was really hoping my super cute earrings weren’t about to fall out. Thankfully, we survived. I kissed the ground and probably these earrings too.

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  1. Tierdrop Necklace $56 {made in India}- This necklace is SO PRETTY! I’m constantly trying to make it work with any semi-fancy outfit I own. Since it’s more of a statement piece, I haven’t worn it as much as some of the others, but it’s the kind of necklace I get reeeeally excited to wear. Love.
  2. Sofiya Wrap Bracelet $30 {made in India}- I’m not sure if a guy would ever understand this description, but this is my go-to piece of jewelry when I just want to feel girly & pretty. It’s pink and gold and wraps. Enough said.
  3. Cubed Studs, Gold $42 {made in Peru}- I have worn these earrings 10x more than anything else in my wardrobe. They’re simple enough to go with a t-shirt, but just bright enough to be noticeable. I rarely, if ever, go without earrings, so these have become the perfect pair! (they also come in silver, if you’re into that kind of thing)
  4. Everest Wrap Bracelet, Mint $30 {made in India}- I’m pretty into this bright mint color with the gold accents, so I love layering it with a few other gold bracelets. It’s easy to dress up or dress down, and that is the kind of versatility that will always win in my wardrobe!

Well, as I’m examining these pieces now, it looks like I’m pretty partial to the pieces made by Indian artisans… Check out Sofiya’s story here! (yep- she’s the name behind that bracelet I’m obsessed with too!)

So, what about you?! Do you have a favorite Noonday piece yet?

PS- if you’ve ever thought about hosting a Noonday trunk show, let’s chat! Fall/Winter is a perfect time for shopping for all those Christmas gifts! #purchasewithpurpose 

xo