Hello, my friends! Happy summer and happy JULY! My apologies for skipping May’s roundup, but I just wasn’t in the right headspace to sit and write. The passion and enthusiasm wasn’t there, and I didn’t want to mindlessly pound out some words; didn’t want it to come across as me just checking a box. There were some life changes and things to ponder, but I’m feeling good and excited to catch up with you all! This post will be longer than usual, because there were things from May I really wanted to share – so I’m combining two months! I hope the last couple of months have treated you well, and that those of you in the midst of this heat wave are hanging in there. ❤️
We managed to get outside a lot before the intense heat hit – whether it was adventuring on some trails or simply hanging in the backyard. Our shared happy place is in nature, so it’s been an adjustment hunkering down inside. More books have found their way into our home, along with some new games – both have been a fun way to pass the time.
Hank is now eight months old and really growing into his big personality. He loves lounging in the chairs outside, digging holes, and finding pine cones. He’s still a cuddle bug (and a bed hog) and determined to play with Rockford and Moxie! We added some extra excitement and a little drama by fostering a three month old puppy (Pebbles) for a few days! Hank absolutely loved having her here and moped for a while when she got adopted.
Speaking of animals, we’ve been working with The Rawley Project here in Bend, and I’m helping to run a monthly pet loss support group! If you’re local to Bend, we’d love to see you! It’s the last Tuesday of every month at 7pm at Bend Vet Clinic. Please message me if you have any questions, and I highly recommend checking out the website that I’ve linked above.
We are also excited to have Josh’s parents here for a couple of weeks!! It had been two years since we’ve been together, and they drove all the way from Vermont – absolutely wonderful to be reunited.
Let’s dive into some new things to review!
P R O D U C T S :
Two frozen treats from Trader Joe’s that we really enjoyed:
Picky Oats Performance Oatmeal >> Game, Set, Matcha!
This was delicious!! The matcha wasn’t super strong, and I loved the add-ins and flavor combo. I did find the serving size to be on the smaller side, but you could easily bulk it up with more quick oats. Rather than using water, I made it with almond milk, because I’m not a fan of oats cooked in water. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a link to this specific flavor, but HERE is where you can read about their other options.
I have been eyeing up this Etsy shop for quite some time – her cloth napkins and facial rounds keep calling to me! But since our dish rags have been well loved and acquired a good number of holes, I opted to try these washable and reusable sponges first. We’ve been using them now for two months, and I know we’ll be ordering more in the future. The duster is also fantastic – actually does what it’s supposed to, and I love that it can easily be thrown in the washing machine. I highly recommend checking out this Etsy shop if you’re looking for ways to replace some one-time use products – they’re high quality and at a good price point!
Dairy-free yogurts: We tried three new-to-us brands over the last two months.
Trader Joe’s Taiwanese Green Onion Pancakes
All three of us really enjoyed these! We cooked them in our ceramic nonstick pan and didn’t need to use any oil like the directions stated. Great flavor, crispy exterior, and versatile – kind of like a tortilla. We paired them with salad and veggie bowls.
Trader Joe’s Dill Pickle Mustard
This has become a personal favorite! I’ve been mixing it with tahini to make a base for kale salad, or adding it to our pasta and potato salads. Oh! And wraps!
4HEARTS Kombucha >> Carda Rosa (Rose, Cardamom, & Vanilla)
Sadly, this wasn’t a win for us. We were excited to try a new brand (and Oregon brewed), but the flavor wasn’t the best. Willow said the aftertaste was bad – the rose notes hit on the tail end, and it’s fairly strong. I think I was hoping for more vanilla and cardamom to come through. I might have been the only one to pick up on this, but I felt it tasted too alcohol-y, which makes me doubt we’ll try their other flavors.
When my sweet friend Natalie was in town, she introduced these drinks to me while we were in Market of Choice. Initially I grabbed just a can of the Strawberry Vanilla, but a few days later I went back and grabbed more! Sweetened with stevia leaf, great flavor, and contains prebiotic fiber…each can has 9g of fiber. Below I’ve listed the ingredients for the Ginger Lemon flavor:
Ingredients: Carbonated Water, OLISMART (Cassava Root Fiber, Chicory Root Inulin, Jerusalem Artichoke Inulin, Nopal Cactus*, Calendula Flower*, Kudzu Root*, Marshmallow Root*, Slippery Elm Bark*), Ginger Juice, Lemon Juice, Cassava Root Syrup, Apple Juice Concentrate, Ginger*, Himalayan Pink Salt, Stevia Leaf*, Organic Natural Mulling Spice Flavor, Cinnamon*
R E C I P E S :
We didn’t try too many new recipes, and I always laugh when I type up these monthly posts because we eat way more savory than sweet…We generally prepare a variation of a salad or veggie bowl that looks something like this:
This was such a refreshing, tart + sweet drink and perfect for summer! I used frozen blueberries (that’s what I had on hand) and monk fruit for the sweetener. If you like apple cider vinegar, I think this would be a fun recipe to try!
I remember when I first went vegan, and before I quit soy for over a decade, I really liked vegan chorizo! But I do remember not liking all of the grease. I was pretty excited to see this recipe from Minimalist Baker because it looked like a much healthier option. The spices were perfect – great smoky flavor with just the right amount of kick, and we enjoyed it in breakfast tacos. Now that we’re eating tofu again, I can see this becoming a great addition to our taco rotation.
These were FABULOUS!!! So good that we made them twice – both times I used coconut sugar instead of cane sugar, and the first time we made them I used melted coconut oil (second time we used unsweetened yogurt). I was trying to be “healthier” by using the yogurt, and that was totally my own experiment – I preferred the texture of the ones made with oil. They had a wonderful crispy top and moist center…and held up beautifully the next day. Once we’re able to use the oven again, I will definitely be making these again!
Josh requested a chocolate cream pie for his birthday, and I could have made a tried and true recipe, but instead I opted to try a new one! We’ve made a lot of amazing, truly decadent chocolate pies before, but since we’re living without restrictions now, it opened up a ton of windows. It’s been a long time since I’ve made a dessert that involved silken tofu, and I have to say…I’m a HUGE fan. Not only does it create a smooth, silky, creamy filling for a pie, but it’s a lot less heavy than cashews. I chose to go with a pre-made crust to save time and an extra step, but I did make the coconut whip which was perfect. Thumbs up from everyone, and it’s already been requested for the next holiday gathering. I don’t have a finished photo of the pie, but below is a pic of the crust we used! I highly recommend! I found it at Whole Foods in the frozen section.
We rarely ever go to Starbucks because there are a gazillion local coffee shops we would rather support, but I had heard some hype about the brown sugar shaken espresso there and we had to try it. Was it delicious? Yes. Would I pay for one again? Probably not and even less likely now that we found this recipe! Ridiculously easy to make and you’ll save a ton of money. We don’t have an espresso machine, so I just used cold brew coffee – it was strong and perfect for this recipe. I LOVED the cinnamon + vanilla combo in the syrup, and I can see us making this a lot over the summer.
B O O K S :
This is a combined collection of books that I read in May + June….
How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
Another book to add to my favorites – what a wonderful story! Told through Tom Hazard’s point of view, this narrative goes between present day and memories spanning over four hundred years. I love how this wasn’t just a fantasy novel, but rather multiple genres woven together (science fiction, historical fiction, romance, and humor). And like all of the previous novels I’ve read of Haig’s, there’s a relatable message about life as well as touching on mental health. I’m really looking forward to seeing the film adaptation in the future!
Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
I started reading this as a physical book, but ended up listening to it with Willow via audiobook, and I’m SO glad we did! It was a lot of fun to hear the inflections and different voices – it really added to the story and made the experience memorable. There were times when we got a little confused with characters changing, but overall we found this to be an entertaining read. I had a little bit of an issue with the ending, but I’m looking forward to continuing this series as a family.
Legacy (Keeper of the Lost Cities, #8) by Shannon Messenger
4.5 stars rounded down because Fitz was ridiculously annoying. I couldn’t handle his immaturity and him being so slow to realize everything isn’t about him. There were quite a number of times I cringed and rolled my eyes with his behavior. But all of the other characters….LOVE. Ro is fantastic, Sophie had a lot of growth in this installment, and Keefe has my heart. Eight books in and this series still has my full attention!
The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave
This was marked as a “thriller,” but it read more like a slow paced mystery, which was a little disappointing. At times it felt messy, rushed, and a little too coincidental, BUT it was pretty entertaining – kept me turning the pages to unravel the twists. The story bounces between present day and flashes back to the past (recent – a few years) – highlighting clues or pieces to the puzzle that went undetected at the time.
I’m so used to family drama mysteries involving alcoholic/dependent women who are emotionally or mentally unstable, so this was a breath of fresh air to have a take charge, intelligent female character. Like most mystery novels, this one is best to go in with little information, so I won’t say much more! There are plenty of twists and moments of wondering who can be trusted, but it lacked the edge of your seat thrilling energy. I would like to try other novels by this author!
Black Sun (Between Earth and Sky, #1) by Rebecca Roanhorse
“A man with a destiny is a man who fears nothing.”
I went into this novel completely blind, and if I’m being totally honest, I took a chance with this book based on the cover alone…It is gorgeous! We jump right into the story with Serapio (The Crow God Reborn), and goodness it starts off dark. The timeline jumps between a span of 10 years, following four separate storylines all leading up to Convergence – “…a celestial alignment. A day when the sun, moon, and earth align, and the moon’s shadow devours the sun.”
I was so engrossed with the writing, the world, and its characters, and while I admit to feeling a bit lost at times, the story held my interest. It wasn’t until after I started this novel that I realized it’s the first installment in a series….And the way it ended certainly left me with some unanswered questions, so I will have to be patient and wait for the next book!
I LOVE Xiala!!!!
The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune
This was one of my top favorite books from last year, and in May, Willow and I listened to the audiobook together. The voices for the various characters were so much fun, the emotion was amplified, and I felt even more like I was part of the island. I know this is one we will come back to anytime we need a heartwarming boost. Willow has been rereading some of her favorite parts. I feel like it’s a story everyone could use and fall in love with.
More Myself: A Journey by Alicia Keys
“On this part of my journey, I’m at last quieting the noise of our world—removing all the external distractions and opinions and judgments and tuning in to my own voice. I’m recognizing my own power and owning it. I’m finally trusting myself, believing I already have inside me the answers I most crave. And above all, I’m discovering who I am at my core—and becoming, day by day, more myself.”
When I heard last year that Alicia Keys had written an autobiography, I honestly didn’t have an overwhelming urge to add to my TBR pile…BUT then I heard the interview Brené Brown did with her about this book, and my interest was piqued. I’ve been a fan of Alicia Keys since Songs in A Minor came out, but never fully knew her story – the woman behind the music.
I own this book and decided to also listen to the audiobook, because not only does Alicia Keys narrate it, but there are several guest narrators as well (Oprah, Michelle Obama, Jay-Z, Bono, and more). Through these pages we learn about her childhood, her struggles and heartaches, the influential people in her life, and how she became Alicia Keys. Yes, she is in a place of privilege, but it wasn’t always that way, and she uses her fame for good. She cofounded the nonprofit organization – Keep a Child Alive – which provides support and services to HIV/AIDS affected communities in Africa and India. She is an activist and advocate – fighting for change.
I really enjoyed learning about how some of the songs were birthed and the collaborations she did. I loved being able to hear her sing some lyrics through listening to the audiobook – and the emotions obviously came through much stronger narrated by her, as opposed to reading the words on a page. Either way you experience this book, it’s powerful and beautifully written – Alicia Keys has a very obvious gift with words and so much of this book is lyrical.
It was fun to learn more about her family and the sweet relationship she has with her husband – their epic birthday celebrations are hilarious and over the top! She really values connection and seems to really hold her friends and family close. I love how much she emphasizes the importance of authenticity and staying true to yourself. I bookmarked numerous pages to return to as reminders about self-worth and self-love…Alicia Keys shared so much about her journey of self-discovery, and reading these pages and hearing her personally speak about her story was incredibly inspiring. She is certainly an admirable woman!
How Lucky by Will Leitch
First, let me say this was very different from anything I’ve read before – The author combined multiple genres while highlighting a serious disability. That being said, I feel like this novel would have been better without the mystery aspect.
The main character (Daniel) has spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), and he’s unable to speak or move without a wheelchair. This is the biggest focus throughout the story – we learn a lot about SMA, clearly the author did his research and provided some insightful/educational representation – I did appreciate his thoroughness. Through the perspective of Daniel, it is hammered home that he just wants to be treated like a human; he doesn’t want pity or to be talked to like a child. But then the other part of this story is the “mystery” – Daniel witnesses a kidnapping.
It felt like the author was trying to do too much in a short book. I thought the banter was great, the friendship between Daniel and Travis was heartwarming, loved Marjani, and learning about SMA through a fictional story laced with humor and quirkiness made it lighter to digest, BUT the kidnapping/mystery part of this story (especially the ending) is what had me feeling a bit meh. Too abrupt and unanswered questions.
Overall, this was a quick, entertaining read with likable characters and positive messages.
The Hatmakers by Tamzin Merchant
This was a fun one to read with Willow! Even though she can read all of these long chapter books on her own, we love to dedicate time to read a book or two together each month. We bounced between the audiobook and physical copy of this one and really enjoyed it. Great characters, twists we didn’t see coming, and a fun world/magic system to get lost in. We’re looking forward to continuing on with this series!
A Wolf for a Spell by Karah Sutton
Another fun book we read together! Just an overall entertaining fantasy/folktale novel.
Verity by Colleen Hoover
Well that was totally unexpected! It’s been a long time since I’ve plowed through a book in a single day, but this one pulled me in with the first sentence and I couldn’t put it down. I definitely had some issues with parts of it, but the overall story was well written.
We follow through Lowen’s perspective with chapters of Verity’s found manuscript….Goodness. Completely messed up, thrilling, and I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. I think this story is going to stick with me for a while as I continue to process and question what is the real truth????
The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
This book was perfection even though it ripped out my heart. I have zero complaints or things to pick at – the story was beautifully written, these characters were not only super likable but also really well developed, and the range of emotions felt while turning these pages…goodness, what a ride. Bittersweet and hopeful.
We follow through the 1940s-present day told via Cyril Avery, and we witness his years with his adoptive family, relationships and heartache, life in Ireland, and the battle to figure out his identity (who he is and where he belongs). As tragic and horrifying as so much of this story was, the characters and coincidences brought in so much to think about. I absolutely LOVED the humor and sarcasm laced throughout as it provided some relief from the heavier aspects (I had several laugh out loud moments). Not to bring up A Little Life in yet another review of mine – I can’t help but be reminded of that novel – Both novels will stick with me for a long time. I greatly appreciate how The Heart’s Invisible Furies managed to make such a deep impact without having to get graphic and overly traumatic.
Fantastic novel from the very first page to the last sentence. I closed the book and felt at peace and satisfied. Definitely going down as one of my favorites.
Where the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah
I really liked the characters in this one and the feel-good story. Definitely a book I didn’t realize I needed at the time. Ursa was my favorite and the glue and heart of it all – following her journey and how it all unfolds was both endearing and heartbreaking. Quite a few side stories that tie together or complete one another…My only complaint was how mental health was rushed through or not quite portrayed as well as it could have been.
Snow & Rose by Emily Winfield Martin
This is such a beautifully illustrated book, but for me, I wanted more from the story. Willow and I really enjoyed reading this one together, and it was so much fun when we both came to the same realization just before everything got revealed.
Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid
This was easily one of my most anticipated books of 2021, and I think my mistake was going in with high expectations. This author has a serious gift for atmospheric writing and memorable characters…she definitely didn’t disappoint there, but I think had the focus been mostly on the four siblings, this would have been even better. I did enjoy reading about Mick and June’s past history, but I have to admit that I found some of it to be a little boring. Nina and Kit were very solid characters, and I wanted more from them.
When we finally get to the party, it’s chaotic with an excessive amount of extra characters. On one hand, all of that adds to and amplifies the mood, but on the other hand it felt like too much – did we really need to know the names of all of these extra minor characters?? But the party is where everything comes to a head – it’s what we’ve been waiting for.
I absolutely loved the character growth and felt satisfied with how things ended. Overall an enjoyable read!
The Other Americans by Laila Lalami
I really enjoyed the writing (very lyrical at times), and the multiple POVs worked perfectly, BUT it felt like too much crammed into 300 pages. I appreciated the author trying to highlight various themes/issues, but I would have rather had a deeper delve into into one or two themes as opposed to the brief choppiness of several. In the end I felt like there were too many questions left unanswered.
Layla by Colleen Hoover
After devouring Verity, I wanted to try another novel by this author. I found myself picking this one up any chance I could because I needed to find out what in the world was going on. Certainly a messed up story with a morally grey main character, and a mix of genres – paranormal mystery and contemporary romance. I really can’t say much more because this is one you should go into blindly.
The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin
This one definitely tugged at my heart and made me cry, but the story was beautiful. An unlikely friendship quickly forms in the terminal ward of a hospital, and we travel back in time to hear their separate life stories. Along the way we meet some characters from the past and situations that both made me smile and crushed my heart. But not all of this book was sadness and loss – it was also about transformation and finding meaning and light in the darkest of times…also friendship and love. The cast of characters was wonderful – I absolutely loved Father Arthur and how much Lenni tested him.
The Last House Guest by Megan Miranda
I think I’m just really picky and hard to please when it comes to mystery/thriller novels. Maybe it’s because I’ve read some great ones in the past that have now set the bar a bit higher?? This was my second go with this author, and while I didn’t like this one as much as All the Missing Girls, it was a good summer read – a quick page turner.
I enjoyed the alternating timelines (bounced back and forth between summer 2017 and summer 2018) and the small town vibes, but the mystery just fell flat for me. I love mystery novels that keep me guessing and second guessing, but I figured out one of the twists pretty early on. The Last House Guest lacked that gripping, edge of your seat pace that I was hoping for, but it satisfied my craving for an easy “beach read.”
The Grief Recovery Handbook by John W. James and Russell Friedman
I am almost done with this one, so I don’t have an official rating yet…But as of now I would give it 4/5 stars. Grief is a normal reaction to loss, but unfortunately, many of us have been ill equipped to deal with it properly. Some have been taught to rush through the process or distract from actually facing the aftermath; some have been made to feel like they can’t talk about feelings associated with loss – as if grieving needs to be done privately. This has been wonderful for me to recognize my thought patterns and habits in times of loss. I’m currently working through the exercise of writing out a loss history graph, and I’m identifying just how much unresolved/incomplete recovery from various losses in my life. I like how this book is part educational and raises awareness, but also helps guide you through the work to heal.
As always, I’d love to hear from you! Tell me about any new things you’ve tried or made, books you’ve read, or maybe a show you’d recommend! I hope you have a great holiday weekend and a fun July!