Christmas on Mistletoe Lane by Annie Rains

Christmas on Mistletoe Lane is a sweet holiday romance which brings together two strangers who jointly inherit a crumbling bed and breakfast and must work together to revive it. Kaitlyn and Mitch are forced together in a small town in North Carolina and the result is a charming story of healing, redemption, hard work, and creativity. Both hold secrets about their pasts that they’d rather not talk about, yet these secrets inform their lives in ways the other can’t dream about. Working on the B&B forces them to confront their pasts, together.

This was a very sweet, feel-good book that left me wanting more (I can’t wait to see which other characters the next books in the series will focus on, there seem to be so many options!). It captured the holiday spirit perfectly, and had a dose of diversity that was highly welcome in the genre.

What We Owe by Golnaz Hashemzadeh Bonde

To run the risk of using a tired cliché, this book is hauntingly beautiful. Nahid is an Iranian refugee living in Sweden, and she’s just been diagnosed with an advanced stage cancer. In this book, she looks back on her life as a wife and mother as she lives through her diagnosis and her daughter announces her own pregnancy.

Nahid narrates her own story. So while she is an unreliable narrator, she’s frank about her flaws in a non-judgemental way. She doesn’t care for being a mother, but she fiercely loves her daughter and does not feel guilty about this contradiction. She explains how she has become the woman that she is, and thinks about the life she lived.

I enjoy stories that complicate the narrative we’re told about refugees- it’s too easy to be reductivist about a group whose stories we think we know, when in fact we just know one small piece of their story. This book told an immigrant story, but more importantly it told a story of family, womanhood, motherhood, and legacy. The ending was exquisite, and tear-jerking. However, this book definitely has some trigger warnings- particularly for domestic violence.

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What I’m doing to be a better mom

I don’t know about anyone else, but I am a goals-oriented, learning-driven person. This manifests in my parenting as well- I often feel the best about what I’m doing as a parent when I’ve got some measurable plan of attack to “do a better job” and learn more about how to best help my kiddos learn and grow. Here are three things I’m doing lately, and why.

Read parenting books. One thing I’ve been doing is reading this book, “Simplicity Parenting” by Kim John Payne- I read about a chapter a day (sometimes less), so I can have time to process the content. It’s my own copy (rather than the library’s), so I can underline and annotate and mark up the book as much as I want. I try to do some reading early on during the day. Often mornings right after breakfast are when the girls play the nicest together and on their own, so rather than grabbing my phone and scrolling through Instagram, I’ll try to read a page or two. I find this helps me get in the mindset of mindful parenting for the rest of the day- almost like setting an intention for the day- it helps me focus on what’s most important.

Less phone time, more floor time. Inspired by the LookUp Challenge, I’ve been trying to spend less time on my phone during the day and more time on the floor, playing with my kids and paying attention to them. It’s so easy to be on my phone because it feels like a connection to other adults, which I don’t otherwise get, but it comes at too big of a cost. I want the girls to know that they’re the most important thing to me, not whatever is on the phone. I haven’t actually gone through A Friendly Affair’s full challenge (although I have the emails and materials, I just haven’t actually done it yet!)- but the idea behind it is inspiring and I’m working on it.

More me time / volunteering time. I’m finding that when I have a little time away from the girls, I am able to come back recharged and better able to focus on them. So I’m trying hard to make more time for myself and make space for things in my life that aren’t kid related. I’m about to start volunteering tutoring ESL to refugee women, and for some reason even though this is logistically complicated (it’s nowhere near my home!), it’s much easier for me to make the time when it’s helping someone else. That starts this week, so I’ll keep you posted!

What do you do to try to improve yourself as a parent? Sometimes I feel like there’s no such thing as self-improvement anymore– all improvement goes towards the kids, so all the more reason to become better!

Hooks Can be Deceiving by Betty Hechtman

Hooks Can be Deceiving is the twelfth book in the Crochet Mystery series by Betty Hechtman. Full disclaimer up front: I received a review copy from NetGalley, so I haven’t read the previous books in the series- although I’ve already requested the first book from the library so I can catch up!

One of my favorite types of palate cleansers and comfort reads right now is the genre that is cozy culinary mystery. These mysteries incorporate food as a big part of the storyline and include a recipe or recipes in the back. For someone who loves reading and cooking, they’re amazing! This particular version not only had a recipe in the back, but also two crochet patterns- which made it even more appealing. I’ve been a Knitter for my entire adult life (bonus points to you, reader, if you know the reference to a Knitter versus a knitter), but I just taught myself to crochet this year, so I loved reading a book that incorporated crochet and fiber arts along with food and cooking.

Because I haven’t read the others in the series, I won’t provide much of a synopsis- I don’t know what parts of the story are spoilers. But the basic story is: bookstore employee Molly runs a crochet group in the yarn section of her bookstore (side note: please sign me up for this kind of bookstore!). There is a murder committed, and she strives to uncover whodunit. The plot is, therefore, a pretty straightforward cozy mystery.

What the book brings to the table is its portrayal of female intergenerational friendships and a middle-aged protagonist whose love life is unbothered and ambiguous. Too often we see female friendships that are one-dimensional, but in this story, we see both sides of Molly’s relationship with her friends, particularly her best friend Dinah. These are friendships in which Molly is both giving and receiving support in meaningful ways. I felt like these relationships themselves were an important part of the story, not just a plot device. Molly also had a love life, but it was a teeny bit ambiguous, and she was unbothered by this (I’m positive there are spoilers here, so I’m treading lightly). At the beginning of the book I was definitely afraid that the romance was going to get very tropey, but it managed to avoid that and remain focused on Molly herself. She was able to retain her independence and strength in the midst of a romantic relationship that supported her without smothering her. In a world full of books which portray women trying to have a certain type of relationship (or none at all), this book was refreshing. The romantic relationship(s?) in this story felt incidental to the story, and as a nice added bonus to Molly’s life, but not its sole purpose.

Overall, a great cozy mystery with not only an interesting angle to the series, but a character with solid relationship goals.

On prioritizing “me time”

This last week I got the (very rare) opportunity to head to a coffee shop all by myself in the middle of the day and take some time for myself. It was only about an hour, but it was glorious. I had my laptop and my books, a giant cookie and  a vanilla steamed milk- what more could I ask for?

 

A couple years ago, before we moved into our current house, I was walking with an ex-neighbor through our neighborhood- she had a little boy who was about a year older than Big Sister, who was at the time about a year old. This neighbor- someone who I absolutely valued the opinion of and looked up to as a more experienced mom- made a comment about how what she really needed in life was some time away from her son. I’ve always remembered that comment and I mull it over often.

At the time, I remember thinking that it made a bunch of sense, but that I really didn’t feel that way. I loved spending time with my daughter. She helped me to be braver and more adventurous than I was without her (I never would have made neighbor friends before having kids made it a necessity!). She gave me a sense of purpose- she was a really hard baby, and so every day was a battle that we fought together. I had quit a career I’d been working towards for years just so I could get pregnant with her, and lost a job I enjoyed after she was born, so I felt so invested in her.

But the longer I am a mother, the more I agree with this neighbor- I really need time of my own in order to feel whole. I think part of it is having two kids and therefore no naptime to recharge on my own, and the fact that the days are just more jam-packed with two kids. Big Sister is a kid now, learning things on her own and Little Sister has never been as difficult as Big Sister was as a baby, so I don’t have that intense struggle every day. It’s still a struggle, and in many ways it’s a much more difficult struggle, but somehow it’s a more isolating struggle, or a less rewarding struggle. No, I don’t get it either. Little Sister is wonderful and amazing and she laughs and makes the whole room light up, but we don’t have to fight for the good moods for her every moment of every day, like we did with Big Sister. She gives us the giggles and the smiles and the laughs as a gift.

Anyway, whatever the reason- I find that I need dedicated time during the day for myself, in a way that I have never needed it (or that I’ve always been able to get without trying too hard?) before.

I’m extremely fortunate to be able to stay home with my kids and I feel fortunate every single day. I just like to reflect on changing priorities and how I can best take care of my family by taking care of myself. How do you take care of yourself? How do you balance you time versus family time, and have those priorities shifted?